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Another round of SF/F vs. romance

I sometimes link to Cora Buhlert, so it was nifty to see her getting linked to by Dear Author today, for her post Of Hard SF and Messy Emotions.

She was inspired to post in turn by this article at Uncanny Magazine, asking the question “Does Sex Make Science Fiction Soft?” It’s a question I think needs to get asked more often, because a lot of the SF/F genre’s tendency to go “LALALALALALALALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU” every time a relationship of any kind shows up in a story–particularly if that story is written by a woman–is maddening.

Tansy Rayner Roberts says it beautifully here:

One of the most important things that science fiction can do as a genre is to show how scientific breakthroughs and changes might actually change the way we live as humans, and that includes issues to do with sex, family, and love. Famously, social change is also the thing that science fiction has been least successful about predicting. But that just means it’s an exciting challenge for the future, right?

Maybe science fiction readers and romance readers have more in common than they might think.

Speaking as someone who likes to read both SF/F and romance: YES. YES WE DO.

And I particularly like Cora’s describing how she got into reading more modern romance, since it tracks pretty well with my own. Popular perception of the romance genre is still very much “bodice-ripper”, and that seriously isn’t fair.

There are reasons that the majority of SF/F novels I tend to read are in fact by women–because that dramatically improves the chances that I’ll get a story in which one or more female characters contribute in meaningful, multi-dimensional ways to the action. Meanwhile, over there in the romance genre, the vast majority of the works written are indeed stories in which one or more female characters contribute thusly. And indeed, my top romance novelists–and for that matter, my favorite novelists in general–are the ones in which the heroine and hero are participating as equals in moving the plot along.

Yet the SF/F genre is still flailing about this. Massively enough that I’ve seen more than one woman on the Net posting about how she wanted to like science fiction, but the genre drove her away because of its misogyny. And frankly, I can’t blame any woman who makes that decision.

As a fantasy novelist I’m certainly not leaving the genre any time soon, and I take heart from seeing others calling out SF/F for its snubbing of stories with any whiff of romance in them.

And clearly, I need to be reading Saga.


Well, that sure didn’t take long, did it?

Two days ago I was pleased to receive the official announcement, via the backer notifications I was receiving due to having supported the Kickstarter, that the special Women Destroy Science Fiction! issue of Lightspeed had gone on general public sale.

And last night I saw a link going around reporting on how, on one particular site, reviews of the material therein included some reactionary editorials. Very reactionary editorials. Natalie Luhrs reports on it over here. And James Nicoll relayed Natalie’s link here.

I wish I could say I’m surprised at how little time it took for the cane-shaking sexist bullshit to spring up in response to this project. But I’m not. Nor am I surprised that Natalie is targeted in the comments on her thread with the “I’m on your side, I swear, but your shrill argument is just going to drive me right over to side with this guy you’re arguing about” tactic.

This, this right here, is exactly why the Women Destroy Science Fiction! issue needed to exist, and why I was proud to be one of its supporters. So I encourage you all to check it out.

Likewise, I commend to your attention Amal El-Mohtar’s beautiful response to this latest brouhaha, in which she provides several quotes to illustrate exactly how long cane-shaking sexist bullshit has existed. Including Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley herself.

And Rachael Acks lays out why throwing “shrill” around is rife with sexist baggage.

At the end of the day, though, one of Mohtar’s quotes from Christie Yant is the crux of the matter:

We need your voice—don’t let it be silenced.

This is me talking. Because Yant is right.

Now pardon me, I feel some destruction of science fiction coming on.

News, Publishing

Thoughts on current events, racism and sexism in SF/F, and #YesAllWomen

I’m not a well-known writer by any stretch of the imagination. In any given month I’m lucky if my sales numbers crack two digits. This means, Internets, that every time a reader reaches out to me, it’s a rare and special occurrence.

I mention this because I was contacted on Goodreads by a reader who thanked me profusely for Faerie Blood, specifically because she’s a reader of color, and it meant a lot to her to see Kendis, a heroine of color. She told me that she talked the book up to her friends as well, because she was so excited to find a book with a heroine like her.

Now, y’all, I’m a white woman. And I’ll say straight up that I was a bit nervous about making Kendis a heroine of color–because since I am a white woman, by definition, I’m not going to be able to write about a PoC with the same perspective and experience that writers of color can. It’s very likely that as I continue to write Kendis (because Bone Walker IS on the way, I swear!), I’ll probably screw something up in that regard.

But on the other hand, I felt like it was important to make Kendis non-white. As with a lot of aspects of my writing, this grew out of my love for Elfquest and the simple fact that I saw the Sun Folk–elves of color!–so vividly portrayed on the pages of that series. I’m also very aware, after a lifetime of reading SF/F, that protagonists of color are still pretty damned thin on the ground. The ones that do get written about run the risk of being whitewashed on their covers if they’re written by white authors–or of being exiled to non-SF/F sections of the bookstore if they’re written by authors of color.

And I’m aware that as a white author, I have a certain level of privilege that may get my book looked at twice when an author of color’s book might not be. The same applies to Valor of the Healer, where I also have a distinctly non-white heroine (and I’m grateful to Carina for making sure that’s clear!). At the same time, I acknowledge that yeah, I might screw something up, and that I need to listen if a reader of color comes and tells me “hey, you wrote this wrong”.

I hope I have the grace and sense to listen when that happens, to learn, and to do better next time.

But for now, I want to send a public shout-out to Colette on Goodreads. Thank you, Colette!

* * *

Along the same lines as above, some links y’all should be aware of if you haven’t seen them already.

N.K. Jemisin gave an excellent GoH speech at Wiscon this past weekend, and posted the transcript of it on her site here. Jemisin is calling it like she sees it in re: racism in SF/F, and she’s not wrong. It’s ongoing, it’s horrible, and it needs to stop.

Likewise, I’d like to call out Hiromi Goto’s GoH speech from the same convention. Pretty much her entire speech resonates with me, especially the closing where she talks about the Japanese word kotodama. We are, in SF/F, writers and readers. Words are powerful to all of us. They can effect change, and as both Jemisin and Goto so passionately proclaim, there’s much our words can do if we let their spirit move us.

Just before Wiscon, too, Mary Robinette Kowal put up an excellent post on the need for diversity in SF/F over here. I’d particularly like to point out the discussion in the comments, wherein the question is raised by a straight white male writer about what he can do to promote diversity. It is very, very important to note that in the replies he got, one of the big points made was that diversity does not mean that straight white men have to shut up or stop writing. Or that they even have to stop writing about characters like them, i.e., straight white men. Diversity includes SWMs too.

Diversity isn’t a zero-sum game. It doesn’t mean that just because minority writers are getting more of a voice, majority writers have to stand down. It does mean that those of us who enjoy majority privilege–whether because of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or whatever–need to have the grace to let others have their say too.

* * *

And this also applies to sexism. Like many of you, I’ve seen the horrible news going around about the shooting in California, and the virulently misogynist motives of the shooter. I’ve seen the response of #YesAllWomen springing up on Twitter, and roundup posts like this one on The Mary Sue, featuring some of the most powerful tweets with that hashtag.

I have seen men I know posting their bemusement about what “rape culture” means, and what on earth they can do in the face of such vicious hatred. I’ve seen other men I know, however, posting their sentiments that they need to stand up and say enough and this is not okay. They’re right. Because women keep screaming this–and mind you, we’re not going to stop–but the simple bitter truth is that there are a lot of men out there who aren’t going to hear us simply because we’re women. Men need to say it too–and turn their gender privilege into a force for good.

I’ll close this post with a pointer over to this post of Vixy’s, in which she lays down a lot of words of wisdom on this very topic. Go listen to her.

Then go speak, too–because we’re all stronger when we’re speaking together.

ETA: Adding this link because thank you, Arthur Chu. Who uses his aforementioned gender privilege as a force for good.

The Internet

Link salad for Sunday

Here are a few links of interest that’ve come across my radar over the last few days. Posting them here, just to clean out some browser tabs, and to give y’all an idea of what I’ve been reading on the Interwebs!

On the topic of why the notion of “Mary Sue” is oftentimes sexist, a thing which has been bubbling around in my brain for a while now:

Mary Sue, what are you? or why the concept of Sue is sexist, from adventuresofcomicbookgirl on tumblr

An Introduction to Mary Sue and Her Critical Uses and Abuses (text) from author Kate Nepveu on her dreamwidth account

On the entitlement and sexism of one particular asshat’s posting of a picture while attending a school play:

“I’m Not Apologizing for Voicing My Opinion”: Entitlement Goes to a Middle School Play from Bitter Gertrude

And on Disney’s imminent shakeup of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, relevant to my interests as an owner of QUITE a few Star Wars novels, not to mention my stint on Star Wars MUSH:

Op-ed: Disney takes a chainsaw to the Star Wars expanded universe, on arstechnica


Not enough facepalm in the world

Jesus jumping Christ on a pogo stick, this again?

I just read Foz Meadows’ post over here responding to Paul Cook’s piece at Amazing Stories about “When Science Fiction Isn’t Science Fiction”. Foz has several quotes from the piece in question, and, SPOILER ALERT: apparently, according to Mr. Cook, SF isn’t SF when it’s written by women. Because they’re writing about girly things that only women with their girly brains would be interested in, and that people like Lois McMaster Bujold are writing thinly disguised romance novels, not “real SF”.

Lois. McMaster. Bujold. Let that sink in for a minute, you guys.

Also, he has a side helping of going all ranty mcrantypants about steampunk, especially when steampunk involves zombies, so apparently Cherie Priest isn’t writing real SF either.

And I’m not sure what makes me go WHAT IS THIS I DON’T EVEN more: that he’s got it in his pointy little head that only women are interested in reading about things like balls, gossiping in corridors, palace intrigues, and the like; that presumably, by contrast, he must therefore also believe that women aren’t interested in reading about rocketships or whatever ground he feels that “real SF” actually breaks; or that he pulls in comparisons to Alexandre Dumas. Comma, the guy who wrote The Three Musketeers, which last I checked was chock full of swashbuckly manly action and palace intrigue, so I can’t even figure out where the hell he was going with this.

(I don’t even know where the hell I’d fall in this guy’s perception of readership, either. I am a female reader who gives exactly zero fucks about fancy shoes or fancy purses in my personal life. I’m way more interested in spending my money on computers and musical instruments. I also generally give zero fucks about sex scenes, but I do like reading about a love story. I’ve got some hard SF on my shelves, too. None of which would make a damn bit of difference, I think, since I am after all still a girl.)

And don’t even get me started on the digs against the entire romance genre. I’ve expressed my deep frustration before with SF readers snarking on romance (and how a LOT of it is driven by sexism). A whole HELL of a lot of other writers have continued to express their frustration over this as the year continues, including this excellent post by Ann Aguirre, asking exactly what the hell is wrong with having sex in SF, anyway?

I saw James Nicoll link up to this a couple days ago too, and only paid passing attention at the time. I kind of wish I’d continued to pay passing attention. But on the other hand, women in SF/F don’t really have the luxury of not paying attention to this.

We have to keep talking about it until it stops.

ETA: Link roundup for other people’s commentary!

J.B. Whelan has a great skewering of this entire concept, written by his wife Stephanie, quoted in full over here. BWAHAHAHAHA.

Chris Meadows points and laughs.

Cora Buhlert facepalms right along with the rest of us.

Steven Brust pretty much makes the o.O face over here.


PAX followup

Saw a couple more links go up today about the PAX controversy that spawned this week, with the Return of the Dickwolves.

From Lesley at “What Are Dickwolves, And What Do They Have to Do With Rape Culture? A Cautionary Tale of How Not to Respond to Feminist Criticism.”

And from Rachel Edidin at Wired: “Why I’m Never Going Back to Penny Arcade Expo”

To these I will further add that Dara has commentary here as to what it would actually mean to try to boycott PAX, and here as to what she’d really like to ask people to consider taking as an action in all of this.

And in the interests of clarity and forthrightness, I note that I’ve seen Gabe’s post here and have read what he’s got to say about the matter.

Me, I’ll repeat that to some degree I have no horse in this race because I’ve not been much of a PAX person or a Penny Arcade reader, either. On the other hand, I do have a horse on the very edge of the race because people close to me are PAX people and Penny Arcade readers. And in several cases, they are also survivors of rape. And it bothers the hell out of me, on their behalf, that this kind of shit keeps happening. It encourages the creation of a space that is actively hostile to them. And from a bigger picture perspective, it contributes to the ongoing misogyny of gamer culture. That, yeah, I do have a problem with.

And for me, it’s less a question of any specific bullshit remark the man makes, and more of a question of a repeating pattern of behavior. Gabe’s new post certainly sounds sincere, and if his heart is in the right place, awesome… except his heart being in the right place only means so much when he keeps making remarks like this over and over and over and over and over. He keeps getting called out on them, and keeps not stopping making these remarks. And since he is indeed half of the public face of the giant Godzilla of gamer culture, he is a huge influence on how that culture responds and behaves.

To paraphrase what I said in comments in response to my last post on this: I’ll be happy to stop calling bullshit on his behavior when he stops doing it. I have nothing personal against the man. I don’t hate him. But this ongoing pattern of behavior is bullshit, and if he wants his apologies to be taken seriously, it needs to stop.

We’ll see if it manages to stop this time, before next year’s PAX rolls around. It’ll be a deciding factor in whether I choose to go again, myself.


Friday link roundup on yet more sexism in SF/F

There’ve been a new round of links on the question of Fake Geek Girls and general sexism in SF/F and online that I’d like to bring to your all’s attention.

First up, Dara has put up this post describing a couple of experiences she’s had online this week, experiences which spell out that there is a non-zero chance that when they try to call out issues of sexism, women will get pushback and be accused of being misandrist. Even if they’re being polite.

And for those of you who read me who don’t already follow Seanan McGuire, she’s got a couple pertinent posts up as well. One is about things she witnessed at SDCC this year, including an Emma Frost cosplayer telling male con attendees they couldn’t take her picture if they couldn’t identify her costume–and more than once, finding that they couldn’t. Some of the attendees respected her wishes and backed off. Others did not.

Seanan’s followup post here reiterates why it has become exhausting for the female portion of SF/F fandom to have to recite their laundry lists of “yes, dammit, I’m a geek, I like X, Y, and Z” credentials.

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel has something to say on the matter, too. She’s yet another woman who’s written SF/F and who’s gotten shit for it because she’s a woman. She’s also got no time for the bullshit of defending her geek credentials, because she can play that game, but honestly, she has better things to do.

And to all of this, I’ll add: all of us have better things to do. So why are we continuing to have this argument?

Because, sadly, it will continue to be necessary as long as female fans are getting the pushback that Dara describes, that Seanan describes, that Katharine describes, that keeps getting described over and over and over and over again. The main difference now is that women are shouting louder about it.

Look, guys? I like you. I want to geek out with you over all these awesome things we have available to us to enjoy in our genre. I love a lot of the words, art, and music you’ve helped create. But I’m saddened, wearied, and angered that we still live in a world where Seanan McGuire can get dismissed because girls couldn’t possibly write a zombie story–which is bullshit of the highest order, because I’ve read the Newsflesh series. Seanan slings her virology like a goddamn boss, and yet because she’s a woman, it doesn’t matter. Because GIRL COOTIES.

If you’re one of those guys who feels even momentarily threatened that women are invading your treasured space of SF/F, if you’re one of those guys who picks up a book in a bookstore and immediately dismisses it because there’s a picture of a woman on the back, and especially if you’re one of those guys who’s started slinging accusations of misandry around because you keep seeing us women pointing out that this shit is not okay, there’s a really easy solution to this.

If you want to stop getting called out on sexist behavior, stop doing sexist things.

Listening to us when we give you data would be a real nice start.