Be the Boojum -Charlie Martin
For the last couple of days, there’s been a bunch of discussion prompted by a tweet by John Scalzi to the effect of:
I normally ignore Scalzi and the other SJWs. They’re clearly the sort of penny-ante fascists who congregate in the elective posts in community theatre, school boards, and homeowners’ associations, who like being able to lord it over a bunch of other people but don’t have the balls to actually run for something important. In any case, I no longer aspire to be an SFWA member, and I no longer think writers are somehow special, except perhaps in the sense employed in “special education” or the “special bus.”
I mean, I’m a writer; how special could they be?
But what has started to gall me is the arrogant ignorance of some of these damn kids.
Not to long ago, Sarah did a piece in Book Plug Friday that had its start in the somewhat silly notion that science fiction or fantasy hadn’t had many female writers until very recently. My reaction was basically “sure, kids, whatever”, but Sarah and one of the Diner-zens did the research and discovered that in fact the majority of award-winning writers for the last 20 or 30 years had actually been women. People of vaginitude. Oppressed womyn under the heel of the patriarchal publishing establishment.
Thinking about people I’d known personally: Connie Willis. Marion Zimmer Bradley. Karen Joy Fowler. Joanna Russ. Other big names, like Ursula K LeGuin, C. L. Moore, Leigh for Gods’ sakes Brackett, who not only wrote SF but wrote what I think may be the best screenplay of all time, Rio Bravo.
Ah, but they didn’t address sexual roles — well, no, Joanna Russ’s The Female Man. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness — except that wasn’t, somehow, really “groundbreaking” enough. (Hey kids: I was there. If you don’t think LHoD was groundbreaking, it’s because you’ve been plowing and replowing that same patch of ground that LeGuin took the arrows for breaking.) Marion Bradley’s Darkover books, especially the later ones, that have everything from gay and lesbian relationships to group-sex sex magic.
Or, of course, John Varley’s Nine Worlds stories, where characters change sex more or less on a whim — and subtly change their behavior to match.
The thing is, these kids think there really wasn’t a “past” — everything they might read was written, essentially, now, in a world with exactly their sensibilities. This is creeping in, I think, from the outside world of politically-driven literary criticism.
The paradigm for this is criticism of the most vehemently anti-racism and anti-slavery novel of the 19th century, in which the main character literally resigns himself to eternal damnation — and not in some cute, ironic, hipster sense, these people believed with all their hearts in a literal place of eternal torment — in order to help his friend escape slavery.
Only this book is now condemned as “racist”.
Why? Because one of the main characters is named, consistent with practices in the antebellum South, and in contrast with the continuing goodness and loving kindness of the character, “Nigger Jim.”
Well, get a clue kids. In another 120 years, Mark Twain will still live, and your great-grandchildren will need a genealogy to know your names.
So now we hear that old SF was “sexist”. The women do make a lot of sandwiches in The Skylark of Space, and Dorothy Vaneman Seaton is the damsel in distress at the start of the book.
Now go read the copyright page, kids. Or Wikipedia. Skylark was written between 1915 and 1921, basically a hundred years ago — and still Dorothy Vaneman pulls a gun on a murderer and is not just a musician, but has a Doctorate.
Go look up some other novels written during the First World War. Find me another one that was more “feminist”.
Along the same lines, it was a point of some controversy that apparently at some point shortly after LeGuin’s marriage to Charles LeGuin, Robert Heinlein said to Professor LeGuin that since they were married and he had a job, if she didn’t want to continue writing, she didn’t have to.
In all honesty, given Heinlein’s own troubles with stopping writing — it produced an effect he compared to “another attack of pulmonary tuberculosis” — I suspect this was not a serious suggestion. But grant, for the sake of argument, that it is. Then we have a man who was born in 1907, advising a young married couple sometime in the late 1950’s, that if the woman doesn’t want to work she doesn’t have to.
For Gods’ sakes, kids, have you never watched even one episode of I Love Lucy? As silly as it sometimes was, Ricky goes to his job, while Lucy stays home and cooks, wasn’t just a sitcom setup. It was the goal to which most adults of either sex aspired. If mom “had to work” is was a shame and a sad thing.
(And another little aside. This is about the time Atlas Shrugged was written. We read it now and think nothing of it, but Dagny Taggart being an engineer and a railroad executive was immensely unusual. Transgressive, even. It was probably more shocking than her having multiple lovers and being a little kinky.)
The point is, to judge the attitudes and morés of 100 years ago by what you think now is childish and silly and ignorant.
The problem now is that the silly children have taken over the fifth grade class and are trying to duct tape the teacher to his chair. (Yes, his. Remember when there were male grade-school teachers?) The solution is for the adults to say, “Isn’t that cute?” and then exert control again. But how?
It’s actually pretty easy.
Number one. Don’t buy dumb books. The last time — or was it the time before — the new upstarts were called “New Wave writers” and the “old wave” writers were eventually having trouble, not because their books didn’t sell, but because editors didn’t buy. Now, go pick up the Dangerous Visions books. There are some absolutely stellar stories there, like “Gonna Roll Them Bones”. There’s also a lot of pretentious crap. The New Wave writers made fun of Star Wars and Star Trek. Well, Star Wars is still around, and a lot of those writers ended up writing Star Trek novels for the money. Or getting fellowships. (Obligatory Harshaw quote: “A government-supported artist is an incompetent whore.”)
Number two. Do buy good books. Unlike during previous academic-publishing fads, this is easier now, because publishing no longer has gatekeepers. As hard as the gatekeepers are fighting to regain their supremacy, e-publishing has made it impossible. So write for indie, read from indie, find the books you like and tell others. This is a really new industry and we don’t quite know how to do it, but eventually someone with some funding is going to find a way to promote indie effectively.
That’s the boojum the trad pub world is worried about, anyway. They know that when people can reliably find and buy fiction they want — instead of the fiction they’re supposed to take like good little boys and girls, grimacing at the taste — the trad-pub writers and editors will softly and silently vanish away.
Number three. Make more Sad Puppies. But let me suggest one addition: Nominate indie.
Be the boojum.