So for grins and giggles I looked up the definition of totalitarianism: Totalitarianism is a political system in which the state holds total authority over the society and seeks to control all aspects of public and private life wherever possible.
Of course the state doesn’t have control over every aspect of public and private life. But it is undeniable that it’s seeking it. More importantly, the people who want the state to have ever more power, those who are convinced that the individual can’t be trusted, those who agitate for every group to be considered as a group composed of equally privileged/victimized widgets, are pushing shock-troop like into every facet of our lives. No facet can be free of social-justice ideology. You shouldn’t be able to collect stamps or arrange flowers without being told to check your privilege and without being examined for thought crimes. No fun, no relaxing, no mindless activity can remain free of ideology. And absolutely no human relationship, be it friends, acquaintances or lovers can remain free of Marxist-Leninist ideology and classifications.
I won’t promise this is my last post on the Hugo — and this one is only starting from that situation — but it will be my last post on it for a while (and btw, if you’ve dreamed of seeing your name in lights at ATH, I’m trying to get a house ready for sale and finish books, so you have as good a chance as any now) mostly because thinking of it from your perspective, it has to be getting boring. For you the science fiction field and the travails of authors who don’t conform are not life and death struggles. They are certainly not fascinating. For me, of course, it’s different.
The thing is, though, that I’ve heard of this happening — the exact same process — in atheist societies, in birding clubs and in fiber arts culture. So, one more post is warranted.
We’ll start with where I was at the beginning. Most science fiction writers weren’t quite real to me. They were Olympian figures striding through a landscape of dreams. They were people able to create cogent realities in which a very lonely child might get lost. I never expected to meet one of them. In fact, I didn’t find out conventions EXISTED as anything but TV sitcom jokes until I went to my first writers’ workshop. As for writing to them, which admittedly I could have done, would you have considered climbing Olympus and poking Zeus on the nose just to tell him that you liked his thunderbolts? No power on Earth could make me write a letter even to Simak or Heinlein. My husband tried to make me write to RAH before he died. He managed to convince me to write to Ginny after older son was born only because of postpartum confusion.
So that’s where we start. I read everything (except Romance. Read my first Romance at 37) but mostly mystery, historical and science fiction. Of those, science fiction was my favorite. As much as I shared dad’s love of mystery, and as much as Agatha Christie is my go to for sick days and down time, I always identified as a sci fi geek.
And to begin with I read everything. I think I’ve talked here, or perhaps it was in the podcast a couple of days ago, about reading the truly bad sf of the seventies, when sf was very popular and so the publishers bought everything that vaguely resembled it. Also when publishers were very leftist (at least younger editors, it was the hep thing to be — leftist, I mean) and often picked books simply because they skewered the west or the expected narrative or whatever. I read them. The unthinkable thing was being without a book to read. Now, I didn’t enjoy them and I probably didn’t re-read them (unless I were all out of cereal boxes and newspaper that used to contain fish) but I read them once (usually borrowed from someone.)
Before my eyes went (I need to get a new prescription. Right now they’re very bad) and I started getting ill with what culminated in this surgery (probably a slow creep over the last fifteen years, and a very bad escalation since the last “serious” miscarriage and D & C eight years ago) I used to read six books a day. This while looking after kids/house and writing two novels and two dozen short stories a year (trunk, of course, and yes, some of them will bear rewriting. Others are just trash.)
In adolescence I read a book an hour which, my being broke, meant I couldn’t be choosy.
By the time I was in my mid thirties, married, with two small children, and a house I was more or less rebuilding from the inside out (when we bought that house there had been six families living in that Victorian and… well… it wasn’t very well kept.) I became more choosy. Suddenly, I needed a book to capture me, or at least not to make me yell.
And my reading changed almost completely to mystery and historical. I wanted to read science fiction (and fantasy, though I was never a big fantasy person.) I still thought of myself as a science fiction geek. BUT I had trouble finding stuff to read.
It wasn’t just the politics in the books. To a certain extent it wasn’t the politics at all. I could take or leave politics and was really good at skimming past stupid stuff. If it had been politics I wouldn’t have run headlong into mystery. And it wasn’t the grey and dreary future that everyone assumed (and had been assuming since their little red wagon was broken when Carter wasn’t reelected — or at least that’s how I track it) was on its way. It wasn’t even the despondent “we can’t write about the far future because humans won’t resemble humans” (says who?) or the loony “We’re living in a science fiction world so what’s the point of writing sf?”
No, what chased me out was boredom. I realized that given the same subgenre, I could be reading two books at once (often. I usually had one in the bathroom, in the unlikely event I got five minutes in there alone, one in the kitchen to read while cooking, one in the kids’ room to read while supervising, and one in the living room, again, in case I got five minutes to JUST read.) and not realize I’d changed books. (Names didn’t stop me, because being dyslexic I often don’t even know the character’s full name. He’s just “name that starts with J”. Remembering names is a higher level of engagement than reading-while-cooking.)
The pattern was most obvious in the fantasy of mid eighties to the mid nineties (part of the reason I wasn’t big on fantasy.) I remember going down a shelf at B & N desperately looking for something to read (we had a day without kids.) and getting annoyed at the blurbs. They were all the same — ALL OF THEM — young female magic user. Abusive father. Escape to magical society. Validation. Saves the world. Lather, rinse, repeat.
The science fiction was close enough, though by the early nineties we had the truly crazycakes feminist SF with “the women planet is really very peaceful” (I think that this was bought by editors jonesing on the lesbian scenes, but I am a really jaded person) and various would be utopias with males “confined”. Since I like men and prefer the company of men, this left me cold. The ecological disaster left me equally cold (though in the early nineties there was this hilarious period where authors weren’t all on the same page and some wrote about us all freezing to death due to industrial civilization, and some wrote about us boiling to death due to ditto. But unfortunately not enough to carry the books.) Everything was rusty and leaking, and everyone was living in a danker and less hopeful version of 1984, only in this case it was all the fault of eeevil capitalism and industry and if ONLY big Brother had been watching.
The sameness and a weird sense the writer hated the genre and was smirking at me while he/she wrote as in “Oh, so you want to dream of the future, you nasty little human. See what I do to your dreams” had me reading less and less science fiction and fantasy as time went on.
Curiously I found I wasn’t alone. Years later in a group of sci fi/fantasy writers, I found that most of us had made that journey, out of sf/f, out of mystery by the mid 2000s, into historical creative non fiction (not sure how to describe it otherwise. History told as a story.) I’d been chased out of that into Romance four years ago, when indie came in, Amazon destroyed publisher control over what was on the shelves, and I could go back to reading sci fi.
This is of course a high-gloss, not instance by instance description of my relationship with the genre. It wasn’t all bad, and my feelings weren’t all cut and dry. All through this, I could read some sci fi and fantasy, mind, beyond re-reading my favorites. I discovered Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones, and eventually I came back to science fiction with Connie Willis’ Lincoln dreams, which is a very odd book and perhaps marginally science fiction, but which did draw me in and keep me reading. And then I started looking and would now and then find an author/series worth reading.
One thing that became obvious in short order is that I could neither read “the years’ best” or “award winning” after a while. I don’t remember the exact date, but I remember buying a year’s best fantasy and finding it was all “the west is bad, bad, bad, bad” and noble savage fantasies (often without a supernatural element.) After that I stopped buying them. (Had to be mid nineties because I just packed up through then for charity store. No, not getting rid of all books, but getting rid of 2/3 of the paper. It’s that or not be able to live in the house, since I’m allergic to dust.)
I became a professional writer sometime in the late nineties. (I’d sold short stories before, enough to classify as pro, but the novels were the real education.) And that’s when I found out that the game was rigged.
Let me explain — I won’t claim to be the best writer ever. There are certain quirks in my expression that can still be traced to ESL and some of the acculturation might be less than perfect, so what fascinates me tends to be highly individual and targeted. I’ve been getting better — more transparent in writing, better at story telling — but I am no Heinlein. H*ll, I’m not even Simak. I’m not fit to untie Pratchett’s sandals.
But I know where I stand, and I have the publications to prove it. People don’t keep buying authors that don’t sell at all or who can’t write, and I published 23 (25? — I lose count and keep forgetting pen names, particularly since some are secret) novels, one way or another. Also, the one novel that is not under my name and which the house has no reason to play games with (it’s a house name, and they get the lion share) is still paying royalties 12 years later.
I’m not stupid, and I work hard. I’m used to obtaining a MODICUM of success in any field I attempt, from academic to furniture refinishing. I expected… oh, I don’t know, high mid-list. Never happened.
In publishing, everything I did and every work I started was like throwing a pebble in a bottomless lake. There weren’t even ripples.
I won’t explain here the methods by which publishers controlled distribution and the crazy method of ordering to the net that is now putting bookstores out of business (they deserve it. It was a stupid idea.) I’ve talked about it elsewhere on this blog. (Look up “He beats me but he’s my publisher” in the search bar.)
Let’s say I discovered then that it wasn’t “no one is writing the good stuff” it was “the publishers are pushing the stuff they think I should be reading and the rest is impossible to find.” Some of this filtering was loony, like when the publishers decided that cozies weren’t real mysteries. Which means the demand eventually “created” craft mysteries. (They brought this on themselves.)
I just knew the game was rigged. As for awards — well, the mainstream ones, like Hugo and Nebula — it wasn’t just as Dave Freer put it that the same names kept coming up over and over again. No. Older friends in the field told me that if I wanted awards I had to make friends with the right people and log roll.
Well, I was never good at that sort of thing. Part of me wants to win awards and be recognized, yes, but I want to do it by knowing I deserve it, not because I kissed the right… er… hand. And the closest I’ve come to campaigning for one is “you could consider voting for x”. I mean, even AFGM which I think is my best book, I could look at it and go “there’s better stuff out there. I can give you some titles.” I wouldn’t have been able to live with the knowledge I’d taken an award someone might deserve more. Even though I knew people were doing just that.
So, I kept going. Recently someone at a conference referred me to the young hopefuls as someone to ask about the field and said “You want to listen to her. She’s an old pro. She’s been through the mill. She knows what’s what.”
And it startled me, but it’s true too. Dave Freer says we have that thousand yard stare, that battle fatigue of working and working and seeing no result, but being unable to give up.
The unable to give up is important.
I decided to help Brad and Larry with this (last year too, but I was so ill I didn’t even realize there was a story of mine on the slate) because I am an old pro, because of what Brad was doing. Larry proved the awards were rigged (see Dave Freer’s posts on the subject at MGC. If you can’t find them, someone will point you to them) and was ready to quit, but Brad wanted to restore the awards. He wanted to make them mean something again and maybe that way to change the culture of the field to “stuff worth reading” instead of “academic blather and log rolling” again.
That was something I was willing to work for. I mean, given diverse enough (in thought. Genetic diversity is poppycock and only counts if you think everyone who tans alike is a widget and thinks like everyone else with the same melanine level. Also, if you think that, you’re a stone-cold racist) nominees, stories, winners the field would have to embrace its multitudinous variety and become a home for fans of all stripes again.
That’s all we wanted to do — restore the awards.
You know, I read a lot of history and I should know better. The elites never go quietly into that good night, and they’ve had it so good so long, and controlled it so well. Getting on the ballot has caused a storm of … character assassination.
They started out with the Creepy Pasta at Entertainment Weekly, Guardian, Wired. When that failed to stick because of who we are and because accusations of racism/sexism/homophobia are self evidently stupid in our case (I think I have more gay fans than Lackey does, and most of those who contact me become friends over time) they’ve now descended to the Stalinist tactic of associating us with VD who copied the logo and some of the slate. They have their big names — the names that even non-sf people recognize, like Martin and Willis and Gerrold — come out and punch down. There is an element of the macabre in this as most of these people are on the other side of the age divide. They came in when the field was fairer; they are if not internet illiterate, internet naive; they get pointed at the Daily Kos and think it is in any way a credible news source. (It’s like when the village kids yelled a triggering sentence at the old lady, then hid, to get her to throw things at the next group of kids who walked by.)
Some of this has hurt me, just as it hurt me when people I thought were sane lost their sh*t when I pointed out they couldn’t win elections with a third party absent a massive cultural trauma (like us getting all our major cities bombed) and consequent fracture (and that third party then would more likely be totalitarian, not pro-freedom.) Those people didn’t argue the idea, they attacked me and called me names.
In the same way, these people are not in any way trying to credibly pretend there were no cliques and no secret slates before (whereas ours wasn’t secret.) Martin admitted there were. No. They are attacking us. It started with being wrong fans having wrong fun. But it always defaults to calling us racist/sexist/homophobic. Even if they have to tie us by third degree association to someone else, to do it.
And that part hurts, because some of the people acting most crazycakes are people I’ve enjoyed and admired and I keep thinking “I remember when they were sane.”
However — however — remember this for when the Hugo war comes to whatever you like to do; whatever your hideout and corner of fun; whatever your sacred space and privacy is: there is no backing down.
There is no backing down, because each battle the beast wins, each area they take total control of, causes them to want to devour more. And having seen the totalitarians up close and personal, having seen how they’re willing to speak power to truth and punch down and obliterate characters and careers JUST to keep their power and their fake prestige, I can’t let it happen. Yeah, I’ve been through the wars, but the battle is still going on, and so I must continue fighting.
Yeah, I get so bitter, I consider quitting — but it’s more of a “I dream of quitting.” Only I don’t. Because legionaries don’t cry and I don’t quit. I wouldn’t do them the favor. And they have to learn the limits of their power. Yes, they can shred my name and my reputation, but I’ll be back. I’ll be back under another name they can’t guess at. I’ll be back with more experience. I’ll be back and build another career. They can’t stop me. And I’m not in the mood to give them what they want.
I keep getting emails lauding my courage. My younger son said, “They mistake ‘all out of flips to give’ for courage.” (Only it wasn’t flips.)
He’s not wrong. And you know the best part of it? Courage can be destroyed, beaten down, threatened.
“All out of flips to give?” That’s forever, and the more they attack the more out of flips I am.
Like the dead or the long gone, they can no longer touch me. You’d think a bunch of writers, if they were minimally competent would get that if you want to create an invincible foe you take away everything the character cares for that you can control.
But apparently not.
And so, courage or lack of flips, I’m here to stay.
Because if this goes on none of you, none of our children, none of our hobbies, none of our fun, none of our family life, no area of action or love or thought will be safe from the all pervasive “improvements” and will to power of the totalitarians.
And that is a future I don’t want to live in.
UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers and thank you to Glenn Reynolds for the link!