Following our post on Heinlein and racism on Friday, maybe we should just do an American Week on the WSB? It seemed to have raised some interesting discussions across the Internet, as N.K. Jemisin writes.
There’s still a lot of debate going on right now post-Readercon and Genevieve Valentine’s complaints of being sexually harassed there. It appears the same person who did the harassing popped up at Worldcon serving drinks at a party (and apparently being up to his old tricks).
This in turn drew some support from people called SMOFs (Secret Masters of Science Fiction and no, we’re not making this up!), one of whom said that the incident, “which probably happens at every convention every weekend, was blown up [and the reaction to it] caused a huge overreaction.”
N.K. Jemisin has much to say about this and more at her blog:
On Heinlein and fandom:
the larger literary continuum in which Heinlein’s work existed was both created by *and contributed to* that flawed society. Heinlein’s work is one of the reasons why SFF has spent years calling itself progressive, and utterly refusing to listen to complaints about the racism embedded in the genre’s bones. That resistance is one of the things that’s made my career a greater struggle than a white author’s might be. The reason I read FF in the first place was because, when I first got active in SFF fandom and tentatively complained about some stuff that bothered me in the first Heinlein works I’d read, Heinlein fans yelled at me that he wasn’t racist or sexist, and Farnham’s Freehold was the proof of that. After I read that book I realized two things: a) that Heinlein was racist as *fuck*, and b) most of science fiction fandom was too.
Then you complain about the behavior of Valentine’s friends. But you don’t mention that Walling’s friends have not only protected him from con rules enforcement, but they’ve gone after some of the women who’ve complained about his behavior in the past. Some of the authors haven’t been invited to other cons as guests, some of the con staffers have been marginalized until they quit. In other words, Valentine’s friends are hurting his reputation, but Walling’s friends are hurting women’s careers.
And Nick Mamatas adds some more.
What’s your position? We’d love to hear from you, as always, in the comments.
Author N.K. Jemisin asks what should science fiction sound like?
A short story of mine, “Sinners, Saints, Dragons, and Haints, in the City Beneath the Still Waters”, was published in the UK anthology Postscripts a few months back. I’ve sold the audio rights to Podcastle, which is going to run the story sometime soon — and I’m glad for this, because it’s one of my favorites. See, this story is set in New Orleans
. . .
Tookie [the story's hero] talks like a young, poorly-educated black man from the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. He conjugates the verb “to be” in ways that will send any composition teacher into conniptions; he says the n-word; he curses like a sailor; and he’s not stupid by any stretch. I’m not usually a fan of writing “in the vernacular”, but this story is one of my attempts to do so, and I don’t know that I did it right. I only lived in NOLA for 4 years — grew up in a completely different part of the South, with a different accent — and I didn’t spend a lot of time in the Ninth Ward. But that was long enough for me to notice that Ninth Ward-dwellers have their own unique accent among the multiple accents of New Orleans — and yeah, I said multiple. Folks who’ve never lived in the South tend to think there’s only one Southern accent, but I’ve heard dozens. Anyway, any defects in the rendering of the accent are my fault, thanks to the failure of my ear and memory.
But there’s another problem with rendering this story into audio: Podcastle apparently has no black male readers.
. . .
We need realistic representation at all levels — we need to see it, sure, but we also need to hear it. And I’m not talking just about my story here, or just stories featuring black male characters. Where the race of the character isn’t specified, we should be hearing non-white voices as often as we do white ones. If it really doesn’t matter, why not? We should be hearing English speakers with non-English accents, and Southerners whether the story demands “Southernese” or not, and Midwesterners, and Alaskans. We need to hear more people who talk like members of the lower class of whichever culture they come from, and people who talk in all the various creole mishmashes that exist. Because that’s what society is like, dammit. We don’t all speak BBC English and we don’t all sound like actors in a Hollywood blockbuster.* SFF needs to reflect who we are, as well as who we want to be.
So. The folks at Podcastle are on this. They were trying to solve the problem before I even knew it was a problem, which is one of the reasons why I keep sending them stories. They put out a call for readers of color a few months back, specifically because of my story. (!) But the results have been… well, not good. To put it bluntly, they got a number of white men offering to read for Tookie, which is awkward to say the least.
So I’ve decided to help them out by adding to the call. I care less about the accuracy of the accent than I do about the accuracy of the identity; black and male and Southern foremost among the other facets of who Tookie is. Now, I’ve actually read this story myself, at NYRSF last year, and did a passable-enough rendering that I think I can endure hearing a woman’s voice instead of a man’s, if it’s done right. I know a few good black female VAs (and the latter is a kickass audio producer). But there has to be a black man out there somewhere who can do this.
And even if it’s too late to solve this problem for my story — cf the rest of this post. There’s still a need — for my story, for all stories. The folks at Podcastle don’t pay, alas, but they can loan you the microphone and walk you through the basics of using audio recording software. They helped me do it, and they can help you. So please — help them.
Ok, we’re not sure what “a teachable moment” means, exactly, but it’s an Americanism and we loves Americanisms. As James Gunn so helpfully pointed out, American science fiction is the base line against which all the other fantastic literatures in languages other than English must be measured.
No, seriously. Apparently it was the idea that Elizabeth Moon could be invited to Wiscon not as a guest-of-honour but to be educated, a little like a child being sent to summer school, and there was a lot of behind-the-scene discussion about it and the other guest-of-honour, Nisi Shawl, talked to Elizabeth Moon, though we’re not quite sure about what. Shawl said:
Part of my reluctance to go into detail stems from the fact that Elizabeth Moon will be calling me again, in about a month, when I hope to have the time to go return to the matter more fully. Note that this “teachable moment” is arranged around my schedule. And that it’s taking place before the con.
I hope that after our second talk Elizabeth Moon will have things to say to the community at large, and apologies to deliver. And that’s not just a rhetorical formula I’m mouthing; based on what she has already said to me privately, I really do actually have hope on that score. I really do.
So, very cloak-and-dagger stuff. Very Dumas, if you like. Moon, of course, has been silent about the matter ever since deleting the 500 comments on her blog. So we don’t know what she thinks.
Then there was a big debate over whether Moon’s invitation should be withdrawn. Apparently the convention organisers weren’t that keen on doing that. In fact, they said:
Even though we strongly disavow these elements of Ms. Moon’s post, we have not rescinded her invitation to be a Guest of Honor, nor do we plan to do so. The WisCon planning committee selected Ms. Moon earlier this year based on her past work and our feeling that she would make a positive contribution to WisCon. After extensive conversation in recent days, and having spoken directly with Ms. Moon on the subject, we continue to believe that her presence will contribute to the Con.
Then there was a lot more stuff and N.K. Jemisin ended up quitting Wiscon in protest:
On the WisCon concom’s mailing list, I was honest with the folks there about my feelings: that bringing a bigot to WisCon as Guest of Honor was counter to the con’s feminist mission, not to mention a slap in the face to a whole bunch of people. I advocated for her GoHship to be rescinded because of this — and I also said that if she came to the con, I planned to participate in protest efforts already being discussed among WisCon’s former and current attendees (e.g., turning my back on her during her GoH speech, challenging her when she’s on panels). For this, I got verbally slapped by several other concom members with accusations of being abusive, unreasonable, too emotional, hysterical, and worse. I got into a particular battle with one woman who, when I pointed out that second-wave feminism was inadequate for dealing with this issue and it should be considered from a third-wave intersectional perspective, proceeded to try and inform me about how much second-wave feminism had done for me, and the poor black, Irish, and American Indian women who are my immediate ancestors.
Leaving aside the mind-boggling ignorance of statements like this, I was seeing another dynamic at work. All kinds of irrelevant points got brought up during this period: one guy wanted to discuss WisCon’s future in light of the advent of the internet (I don’t even know), another wanted to revisit the PoC safe space and whether it should exist (yeah, I know), and so on. Basically, WisCon’s concom wanted to talk about something, anything, other than the cranky, stinking elephant in the room.
Then things got quiet for awhile, as the concom exhausted itself and we waited for… something. I wasn’t sure what. But when two weeks passed in silence, it seemed clear that the Troika had had plenty of time to hear from the WisCon membership, and was either not going to change its mind or was simply waiting for the member rage to blow over. So, annoyed by this, and still pissed off over the Racism 101 reactions I’d encountered on the concom — I kept thinking, didn’t any of these people actually attend any of WisCon’s panels? — I sent a note to one of the Troika members with whom I was familiar, and let her know I was quitting in protest. She let me know about the SF3 organization’s resolution in favor of rescinding Moon’s GoHship… but also let me know that it didn’t really mean anything. In point of fact, that resolution had been passed almost two weeks before (nobody bothered to make it public), and nothing had happened since. It was a pretty, but empty, gesture.
And then, today, a notice has been posted on the Wiscon parent site (an organisation called the SF3) that simply said: “SF3 has withdrawn the invitation to Elizabeth Moon to attend WisCon 35 as guest of honor.”
So, to be honest, we’re not quite sure why she was disinvited – was it because of her statements, or because of public pressure, or because of sunspot activity? Hard to tell.
Meanwhile, Moon’s response (ok, we’re only inferring that), was on her blog:
Last night, well after dark, the squirrels were still at it. This morning, before dawn, the squirrels were at it again. They beat the early birds out of bed. They prefer this side of the house when they’re in the mood, and although it’s sometimes fun to watch them flirting their tails and chasing each other up and down trees and turning somersaults (however many are in the mood at the time) they make enough noise to be disruptive. Both vocally and in the noise they make rushing around or falling ka-thump! on the water tank (which, when not full, booms like a big drum) and rustling in the leaves.
I wish they’d just go on and get it over with. They won’t, of course. They’re going to be leaping, running, chasing and being chased until the last pair finally give up sometime in December. (Ah. The first bird just spoke up–a blue jay. And that pair of squirrels is now silent (or much farther away. Back to work.)
Quite poignant, really.
Anyway. We really weren’t going to comment on this beyond our initial post, but the sad reality is that that single post generated more hits on this site than anything else we’ve been posting for two years. When we posted about French author Georges-Olivier Chateaureynaud recently, do you think anyone read it? When we posted on Islamic steampunk, or a new manifesto for Islamic science fiction, do you think it got the same amount of hits? Or our recent exclusive interview with Indian author Samit Basu?
Which, to me, is the real tragedy. What Moon proved is that there is more interest in the negative comments of a single American writer, than there is in the entire body of work of a mass of international writers. Which is what this blog is about. It’s not about Moon, or Gunn, or whether the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) will ever give another woman writer a Grand Master Award (3 out of 27, at the last count).
So, if you come to this post because you wanted to follow the last bit of controversy surrounding Moon – I like MoonGate myself for it, as a name, but you can pick your own! – why not stick around? Check out some of the other hundreds of posts? Try a short story highlight, or an interview, or look at some of our other original content? Check out Arabic science fiction. Or African science fiction. Check out what’s happening in the Philippines. Or France. We don’t mind which!
Or pick up a copy of The Apex Book of World SF. We’re having a sale on. If memory serves, there are a couple of Muslim writers there and, really, you could do worse than check them out. Let’s all have a teachable moment! Who knows, it could be fun.
Over at the Apex Blog, Michael A. Burstein is extending the debate started by Norman Spinrad’s controversial “Third World Worlds” column in Asimov’s. Burstein focuses on American writer Mike Resnick, and his treatment of African themes and settings:
Mike loves Africa, and has done more than just go on a safari. Mike has actually gone on six safaris
You can also follow the dialogue with N.K. Jemisin in the comments section.
Wednesday Editorial: On Book Covers
We actually had a guest-editorial scheduled this week, but we’re pushing it back a week to talk a little about book covers.
There’s been a lot of interest surrounding yesterday’s post about the Dragon and the Stars anthology cover (see responses in the comments thread, as well as from Jolantru, Janet Chui and Sean Wallace), but that merely ties into a larger discussion going on at the moment. And that, in turn goes back to the fact 2009 saw a first large-scale discussion on race in science fiction, which is still on-going.
Now, the World SF News Blog is dedicated to highlighting international SF, but that is not to say we can, or should, ignore what is going on within the American and UK world of publishing. A discussion on race is important. So are discussions on gender, and sexuality, all of which are going on still, and will continue for a good long while.
N.K. Jemisin discusses Why I Think RaceFail Was The Bestest Thing Evar for SFF:
it used to be very noticeable that I could at least broach the subject of race in every other aspect of my life — academia, the counseling psych field, political activism of course, literature/art in general — but not in SFF. The conversations would simply shut down, often thanks to respected personages/fans who would emphatically declare that there was no racism in the genre outside of a few unimportant loudmouths, and no need to discuss race since there was no racism, so let’s move on to something interesting like quantum physics.
Now, suddenly, everyone’s talking about race, and I cannot tell you how happy that makes me. – read the rest of the post.
Lots of comments in the thread above, as could be expected. And yet the current topic stirring people is that Bloomsbury had once again featured a white model on the cover of a book about a dark-skinned girl:
Prompting Ellen Datlow, amongst others, to write an open letter to Bloomsbury:
I was very aware of the controversy over Justine Larbalestier Liar last year (for one thing, she’s a friend of mine) and note that Bloomsbury backed off and changed the cover image from a young white woman to a (very light) African American woman. But it seems that your company still hasn’t learned that this kind of racism is no longer going to be ignored by the children’s lit community. You’ve done it again with Jaclyn Dolamore’s first novel Magic Under Glass about a dark-skinned young woman from the far east. Please stop assuming that 1) no one (black or white) notices and 2) that we don’t care.
I’ve been in publishing for over thirty five years so you don’t need to inform me about marketing, etc.
These things affect all writers. Just an an anecdotal instance, a South African friend of mine was asked to change his main character from South African to British because “the readers don’t want to buy stories featuring South African characters”. Which is reminiscent of John W. Campbell Jr. asking one of the writers for Astounding to change his name for the magazine because it was “too Jewish, and readers won’t pick up the magazine”. As Isaac Asimov pointed out in his memoirs, Campbell meant it was too Jewish for him.
You can always blame the readers, it seems to me. And so, it is nice to see at least one publisher who seems to have no problem with black people on the covers of their books, which happens to return back to proper WSNB territory: the recently-revealed cover for South African writer Lauren Beukes‘ second novel, Zoo City (art by John Picacio):
Who earlier also released the cover for Maurice Broaddus‘ first novel, King Maker (cover by Steve Stone):
And so we get discussion, which is a good thing – and we get to question some basic assumptions of the publishing world, and of the people who make decisions in it, which is a good thing, too. There’s a lot to talk about, a lot to question – and isn’t that the point of speculative fiction?
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