Yesterday, in the time between ALMOST finishing unpacking the kitchen (there’s a box to go. It’s cleaners) and scrubbing the floor, I got involved in a sort of argument on facebook.
It wasn’t exactly an argument, because the person who was lecturing me and an Indian gentleman wasn’t arguing. She was lecturing. She was absolutely sure of her ground, and she was in her role of lady bountiful enlightening the benighted. If you picture her with a long suffering expression, arms half-open and light issuing from her hands, you have the right mental pictures.
The other benighted and I weren’t having any, and we were becoming increasingly more upset, but I doubt she saw it. If she saw anything, she saw us being very rude indeed to our betters.
It started with Dave Freer’s sharing of his brave post, in which he admitted that we as Sad Puppy supporters are responsible for everything bad in history. Since we have a time travel machine, we’re responsible for everything from the extinction of the dinosaurs to the eventual heat death of the universe. The heartbreak of psiorasis, leaf mold, and that embarrassing little problem one of you gentlemen suffered last night are our fault, and I’m glad Dave admitted it, since he is far more eloquent and gifted with language than I am.
However this shocked one of his facebook friends, who I am to understand is also one of our colleagues, though I’ve never heard of her. (There’s dozens of successful practitioners of science fiction I’ve never heard of, because there’s branches of sf/f that only marginally interest me. My reading is selective in urban fantasy, non-existent in paranormal romance, post apocalyptic is not a good idea for a chronic depressive (unless it’s done by Ringo who does post-apocalyptic like a shout of rage in the face of darkness), and 99.9% of “literary” science fiction could double for a soporific.)
She knew, you see, that Dave writes women and people of color (ever so much less racist than “colored people”. Don’t ask me how. It’s a sort of magic) and therefore she couldn’t possibly see him supporting Sad Puppies.
At which point I entered the fray with flame thrower blazing. And she fell back on “both sides are wrong” (though to give her credit, she also admitted she didn’t know the difference between Rabid and Sad. Have I mentioned Grandma used to say there are none so blind as those who won’t see?)
This was fine, or rather she was boring me, so my ADHD had pointed out that I REALLY should unpack the kitchen machines, until an Indian gentleman joined (I think what discomposed her was that he called her ma’am) and pointed out he really doesn’t want world changing or anything from sf/f. He just wants a fun adventure and somewhere he can escape to from the difficulties of life.
This is when we were told that SF/F has to a) be representative. You have to have however many minorities have been head-counted into being statistically relevant or whatever, because only by writing minorities will minorities want to read sf/f. b) Write about oppression and discrimination to change the world. c) have “diversity” in our stories, because “diversity” enriches and blah blah blah.
Forgive me, I come from a small Latin village where, when things got on our nerves, we (women) put our hands on our hips and spoke without delicacy.
(Sarah turns the picture of Heinlein to the wall to spare his sensibilities.)
Let’s start with C, shall we. Why? Why is diversity enriching? What the hell is actually meant by enriching? And what the hell, for that matter, is meant by “diversity”.
We can establish it’s not diversity of thought or diversity of artistic vision, considering how the advocates of this “diversity” react to actual different opinions or ideas. I think it involves trembling lips and extended pointing fingers and “not one of us.” It even extends to calling near-anarchist libertarians like me “nazis”, because as we all know nothing says national socialism and death camps as “that government is best which governs the least.”
Is any work actually enriched by describing a character as being this color, another as another color, and have their oppression follow the hierarchy of their color? Is any work actually “enriched” by being filled with little stereotypes designed to be oppressed by other stereotypes.
Who knows? Perhaps they are in the sense that Literature Professors understand them better, and find a lot more in them to bore classes with.
Pfui. And also meh.
Let’s move on to B. Change the world with your writing? Sure. Of course. Heinlein arguably is responsible for us still having a space program. Almost all of us space-struck nuts grew up reading Heinlein and almost all of us think only sissies and bores don’t want to space.
If you don’t think that’s changing the world, you are entirely clueless.
BUT what changed the world, what made us move in directions we would otherwise not have taken, was not his preaching at us that we must go to space. He did that too, in several essay which even he admitted were largely failture.
No, it was his creation of a compelling place to dream upon.
You want to change the world? Great. Though first, perhaps you should pay attention to what you want to change it FOR. After all some of Heinlein’s early advocacy for things like an international governing body were misguided at best, as he himself admitted later. And we won’t go into other things writers of his time advocated. Unilateral nuclear disarmament aka the plan to surrender to the USSR was so stupid even the left no longer thinks it’s a good idea. (All except our current president. Never mind. Fourth generation red diaper babies must be granted special dispensation.) But once you’ve decided what you want the world to be, write it. Write it in a compelling enough manner that people want to go/live there. DO NOT just preach and “show oppression.” Most people who want sermons go to church.
It is perhaps no coincidence that most people mad about this plan of berate-to-change-the-world are from puritan ancestry. What’s bred in the bone will out in the flesh and familial cultures take very long to change. I invite them to consider their preachy ancestors didn’t make much headway or much change in the world.
And now A. Ah. A.
(Sarah makes sure that Heinlein’s picture is still turned to the wall, then puts her hands on her hips and realizes there will be no subtlety here.)
If any of you think that you “need to show minorities” or need to have some head count of a particular skin shade in your book, you are not only unredeemed racist, you are also culturally imperialistic and so blinkered idiotic you shouldn’t be allowed to cross the street without adult supervision. And by adult in this case I mean any five year old who hasn’t spent a lot of money to be indoctrinated into stupidity, as you clearly have.
What do you mean racist? You want to include all these minorities. You want them to see themselves represented in science fiction. You are lady (or lord, but, pardon me, most males like this are ladies too) bountiful enlightening the world.
Get off the pedestal, milady, and look the f*ck around. We people who tan, in varying shades of tan, are not only capable of agency and thought. We are also capable of common humanity with you people of pallor.
WE CAN SEE OURSELVES IN CHARACTERS OF ANY COLOR. In fact, most of us who read genre literature (literary is different, being read mostly by college professors) couldn’t give a good goddamn about the skin color of a character. For one, the character description tends to be brief, and then we can reset our brain to be more like the way we want him. It’s not a movie. And even if it were a movie, we could still enjoy a character who doesn’t look “ethnic.”
Do you know why?
Because — hold on. Sit down. Have a cup of tea, because this is going to be a shock — we are not toddlers or mentally disabled. We don’t need to “see ourselves” in a book to want to read it. We need the BOOK ITSELF to be interesting or gripping, or stimulating.
IN FACT a great part of the attraction of good fiction is that you can be someone else, for a while, there in the space behind the eyes that is normally the loneliest place in the world. You don’t have to be whatever color you were born, or whatever gender, or whatever orientation. You’re set free to dream.
I’ve BEEN characters of many colors and many orientations and many genders. THAT is why I read. To experience being someone else. To just watch a story, I see movies. It’s not the same thing. (And arguably this is why I prefer to read and write first person.)
I know this goes against all your training, but people of different colors or genders or orientations than the mean, DON’T need your help or your white-knighting. We can fight our battles ourselves, and judging from the world, most of what oppresses us are NOT (I know, shock) white people, but broken, dysfunctional cultures, some of them hinging on very old errors, and some on very new Marxism.
Your racism is so deep, so profound, that you would make people of various shades of tan into PETS for you to caress and comfort, and feed.
Sorry, milady, we’d rather be human.
And before you say that people like me only want to read about white people, doing white things, or whatever. Please see above. I don’t care what the color or gender or orientation of a character is, provided he’s alive and interesting. Or she. Or it. Or multiple gender martian.
What I DO care about is alive and interesting. The character has to hold my interest.
And now we come to “But won’t diverse settings/backgrounds/people” make it more interesting.
Well, hell, yes. I loved Barry Hughart’s tales of a China that never was. I have actively sough out science fiction, mystery and fantasy set in other places and other times. Most often these are a disappointment, as they are the US “elite” version of these places and times. The oppressed are being properly oppressed, and there’s much blinkered preaching. But sometimes there are gems. There was a very good Margaret Ball novel set during the Crimean war. (And eventually I’ll remember the title, but not enough coffee yet.) I love Stephen Saylor’s Roma Subrosa mysteries and Lynda Robinson Egyptian mysteries. I love P. F. Chisholm’s Elizabethan mysteries, even if I disagree with her interpretation of some historical personalities. I LOVE BEING SOMEONE ELSE for a little while.
This is arguably why I loved Agatha Christie and Enid Blyton, both exotic foreign writers to me and both setting their work in a land so strange it might as well be SF/F. Ditto for a lot of early American SF/F.
Because, you see, from the other side, white people and anglo-saxon civilization are exotic and exciting. It’s all on account of us being REAL PEOPLE and not Marxist constructions.
I know. Unbelievable, right? You know who doesn’t believe that people darker than him/herself or of different genders and orientations aren’t fully human and capable of enjoying things without “similar” people in it? Bigots. Racists.
Also, innocents abroad.
The truth is that these people have never met any of the oppressed face to face. Not to live among. If they did interact with those less fortunate than themselves, it was as part of some international charity, there to dispense a bounty. (And if you think people present themselves frankly to such charities, you ARE an innocent.) Else, they talk to people at their own level of comfort and wealth in other countries, and don’t even realize these people were indoctrinated with the same Marxist cant, or else are catering to the gringo’s obsessions, and laughing behind their hand. It was obvious from another part of the conversation that this person had no idea how UNFREE other countries are nor that people who can create art in Iran, or even in Europe, are doing so, largely with government financing and approval, and so what they’re creating is really propaganda.
And here we hit on what I have against these people writing “by the shade” and “exotic oppression” books. I am against their writing those books, because they can’t SEE the real “exotic” or “other” or “different.”
All they actually see is what their sociology professor taught them to see. Vast shambling groups of “by the numbers oppressed” people. They don’t see these people as people with agency at all. They’re just targets for the white knighting of the “enlightened” writer.
As such these books are incredibly boring for anyone who went to college… anywhere. There is nothing new there, no life. We might actually find it interesting and exotic to read about tight-*ssed white people in an affluent environment where the voicing of the wrong opinion can get you ostracized. You see, it’s different from where we live.
But reading about stereotypes clad in various skins? — yawn — give me a break.
Open your eyes. Then open your eyes again. Learn to see real people around you, and write that. And be damned what color they are. People obsessed with color are called racists. If you have different cultures, great.
But the important thing is that the book be fun.
Wanna change the world? First your book has to be interesting and successful.
Wanna be read by people around the world? First your book has to be interesting and successful.
Wanna make it clear that people are people regardless of skin color? Write people as people, and whatever skin color they need to be.
JUST dream and write, and let the paper pushers and button counters worry about details no reader is interested in.
Dream. Write. To the devil with what your professors taught you to fear or love.
DARE to be human.