Gah and gag and arrrrrrgh
No, it’s not “Talk like a pirate day” nor am I trying to cough up a hairball. What I’m trying to do is keep from throwing my laptop across the room. Over the last few months, Dave, Sarah, Kate and I have written about the idiocy that has been happening in SFWA specifically and in publishing in general. I honestly thought things had calmed down a bit — until a couple of days ago that focused more on what our ethnic background and sexual preferences were than about what we liked to read and why. I could fisk that survey and the reasoning behind it and, to be honest, had planned to but then the latest bit of idiocy came across my facebook feed and, well, I can’t let it pass.
To start, I’ll admit that I have issues with companies and publishers making decisions like the one DC Comics has apparently made regarding Batwoman. Part of the current iteration of Batwoman story arc is that she is gay and is in a relationship with a Gotham City policewoman. This isn’t something that is alluded to but something the readers are well aware of. Yet the powers that be at DC have decided that they will not allow the couple to get married — which would, from what I can tell, be a natural progression of the story arc and character development. But the corporate suits said no and that was the final straw that broke the back of the current creative team for Batwoman. They will be leaving after issue #26 in December.
I don’t care if the suits are afraid such a wedding would draw attention to Orson Scott Card and his association with Superman. Frankly, I don’t care what Card’s beliefs are. He can shout them from the rooftops if he wants, no matter what a certain faction in the SF community thinks. This is the US of A and that means he has the right to say pretty much anything he wants (with a few limitations) just as he has the right to believe what he wants. You don’t have to like it nor do you have to agree. All I care about is if he writes an entertaining book. Part of that means he doesn’t beat me over the head with his beliefs in some attempt to “educate” or “enlighten” me, something his naysayers are all too often guilty of doing.
Then there is this next piece of “what the bleep were they thinking?” also from DC. I appreciate the fact the suits are looking for new art talent. I even appreciate the fact that the character involved, Harley Quinn, isn’t your normal girl next door. Far from it, in fact. However, one of the required scenes the artists entering the contest have to depict is a naked Harley in her tub about to kill herself. Here’s how DC describes the scene:
Now, and this is where I’ll get in trouble with the “right thinking” folks, I don’t really have an issue with Harley being naked. She’s in a tub filled with water, after all. My issue is in the set-up. If you read the previous three images DC is looking for, they are all out of the ordinary — and dark humored — scenes where Harley is putting herself in the jaws of death without success. This last panel is an all too real scene and there is nothing humorous, evenly darkly humorous, about it.
But the PC folks are screaming because Harley is to be depicted naked in the scene. That’s wrong. It shows what’s wrong with comics and graphic novels and SF. It’s anti-woman and perpetuates all the bad things men think about us. Gah and gag and arrrrrrrgh.
No, as with refusing to let Batwoman marry her female partner, is goes against character and story arc. Harley is anything but normal. Just adding more electrical appliances about to drop into the water doesn’t make it fit her. So, nope, don’t buy it.
And that brings us to the true source for my irritation. Part of me wants to follow the example set by a friend when he commented about the article on Facebook. He didn’t link to the article because he refused to give the author any more PR than he’d already received. (Hat tip to Steve Simmons). However, to properly fisk the article, I have to link to it. Besides, there are some interesting comments — from both sides of the argument — following it.
So, here goes and you can blame Sarah for what happens next because she’s the one who inflicted this article on me in the first place.
Let be start by saying I was already in the mood to not like what I was about to read simply by looking at the headline: It’s time for science fiction to face up to discrimination
Followed immediately by: Why are most SF authors straight, white western men? Science fiction writers can’t ignore the diversity that exists on planet Earth
Basically, according to this author, science fiction is just too darned conventional, too darned white, too darned male and too darned heterosexual. Oh, there’s more, but I’ll let you read the post for yourself. It’s too darned early for me to go back to it and get upset all over again.
However, here’s my issue with the article. Well, my issues. First, the author states that the majority of sff authors are white males from the US and Great Britain. But what’s his source for this? We don’t know because he doesn’t say. As one FEMALE author pointed on in the comments, by SFWA count as well as by another survey, that gap between male and female authors in the genre isn’t much and I’d put to you that it is closing even as we speak.
But my issue goes beyond that. Everything this person decries as happening in SF/F is because of the editors and publishers. Authors have tried for years to write stories with persons of color and characters that might be gay or bi or whatever. Editors have rejected those stories, saying the public wouldn’t read them. Publishers refused to publish them or buried them by refusing to give the book any push. For years these same publishers demanded women write under pen names or use only their initials because the sf/f reading public wouldn’t read science fiction written by women.
BTW, that’s the same argument that’s been used when men have tried to sell romance books to publishers.
So if you are going to take anyone to task for not publishing books which meet the diversity of the world, look no further than those publishers and editors in their ivory towers in New York and London. These self-proclaimed liberals (in most cases) who have no problem telling their authors they need to write socially relevant books decrying big business, the military and pushing global warming and socialistic policies. Ask yourself why these so-called enlightened editors and publishers weren’t pushing their authors to write novels with these more diverse characters in them.
Oh, I can already hear that side of the argument saying it isn’t the fault of the editors and publishers any more than it is the fault of the authors. It’s the reading public’s fault because most readers of science fiction are pimply faced boys who also like to play video games like Grand Theft Auto (whichever the latest number is) and other video games where they can beat and rape women and kill persons of color for the hell of it. Give me a break. Those guys aren’t reading — at least not much — and if you want to reach other readers, you write books they want to read. End of story.
But if you buy into that argument, why aren’t you out there protesting a lot of the urban fantasy/paranormal romance genre with equal vigor? After all, the driving plot device in many of the books in those genres is sex, often non-consensual sex until the girl realizes that the hunky male creature of whatever flavor is her life mate. I guess the only reason those books aren’t condemned is because most of them are written by women. Funny, seems like a double standard to me.
Back to the article. Another problem I have with the basic premise of the article is that it demands we put today’s so0-called sensibilities and “diversity” into our stories about the future. Stories that might not take place on this planet and, even if they did, time and events have changed the way the world looks and people act. I would like to think that in a thousand years, we will have gotten past the issues that plague us today. Even if some of those same issues still exist — and religious conflict certainly may — most will not. We’ll have other things to worry about.
There’s something else to consider and I’ll go back to gaming for the example. Borderlands 2 from Gearbox has been out about a year now. It is an over the top science fiction action/shooter game set in what could be called a dystopian world. It garnered rave reviews when it was released.
And then, as people started playing through it, there came the naysayers. Why? Because of one character, one non-playable character. Suddenly there was a spate of posts calling the game racist because it had an over the top white, female character talking in what the detractors called a bad imitation of black slang. How dare Gearbox allow this. It was insensitive. It was racist.
It was a lot of bull.
And it is what I’ve seen happen in the science fiction community as well. All you have to do is go onto Facebook and see how some — and it is a very small minority — writers of color (as they call themselves) condemn any writer who doesn’t happen to fall into their group and who then tries to write a character of color. According to this small group, we can’t do it because we can’t identify with the generations of prejudice, etc., that they can. Funny, we can imagine what it is to be an alien from another planet or to live on a spaceship traveling across the cosmos but we can’t do the research and talk to our friends in order to get a handle on what a character of color might feel and do IN THE FUTURE.
So, for the author of the article saying we need to start showing the diversity of today’s world, I have one thing to say: that’s fine for stories set now and in the near future. For stories set in the distant future, the realities will be different and if we’ve done our world building right, we will have characters that are necessary for the story, no matter what their color, religion or sexual orientation. The key is to write a story that the readers will enjoy. Instead of telling the rest of us what needs to be done, perhaps the author should have taken the time necessary to write the article to do a little research and look at the number of female authors and authors of color there are in the genre. Compare it with a list from a hundred years ago and tell me things aren’t getting better.
If you think we need more diversity in SF/F, write it. Ask your publishers why they aren’t putting it out. If they won’t, then put it out yourself. Believe me, science fiction fans have reveled in the new selection offered by Amazon and Kobo, etc. As long as you write a good story, you can slip your message in. Just don’t make it a sermon.
In the meantime, look at your bookshelf. How many of your science fiction novels have female lead characters? Gay characters? Characters of color? How many were written by women? Now, how many of them are by a certain publisher that most of the “right thinking people” love to condemn because it is conservative and — gasp — pioneered e-books?
Now pardon me while I go look for the brain bleach to get the after-effects of that idiotic article out of my head.