Diversity in Science Fiction

unproven conceptI asked fellow author James Young to give me a guest post on diversity, rather unfairly, as he is a new writer, and this is a sticky topic. But he was game enough to rise to the challenge and send his thoughts along. Thanks, James, and I know, there is no good way to tackle this topic. But it needs doing, and I appreciate your contribution very much. 

Diversity in Science Fiction

(Or “Y’all are about to kill us all with your shenanigans…”)

Diversity (n.)– The state or fact of being diverse; difference; unlikeness: diversity of opinion.

Sorry for the dictionary quotation, but I’m just getting a definition out of the way before I set about getting myself uninvited from all the right parties.  Thanks to Cedar for maneuvering me into giving her a week off, I mean, asking me to guest blog.  Imagine my joy at opening up my “guest blogger” gift box and finding a topic for which there is no clean end to pick it up: diversity in science fiction.

Due to recent events, diversity in Sci-Fi is in the news a lot lately.  I mean, between some members of the Science Fiction Writer’s Association (SFWA) crowing about an all women Nebula slate, accusations of Hugo padding, the announcement of Tim Bolgeo being disinvited from Archon (gee, guess I won’t be driving to Collinsville), and the unveiling of a Kickstarter for a project entitled Women Destroy Science Fiction, I must have missed the memo directing the formation of a self-destructive, circular firing squad within our genre.  What both sides don’t realize (and boy howdy is that amazing for people who craft wastelands) is that the “Diversity War” is going to end up like Hamlet’s duel with his uncle: one side dead, the “victor” wondering why the lights are getting dim.  There are way too many options these days, and rather than listening to a bunch of spoiled brats whine about their feelings being hurt battle a cohort of wrongfully maligned people proceeding to take said idiots (and their enablers) to the woodshed, consumers are  likely to limit their Sci-Fi exposure to the leviathan franchises and gaming.  There are not enough hours in the day as is, and those without a dog in the fight aren’t going to waste their leisure time putting up with either side.

Given this, it’s time for the more mature side to stop trying to counter the other side’s idiocy head on.  There’s a saying about wrestling with a pig in mud, and it certainly applies to anyone who is going to try to bean count your characters based on race.  Yes, they’re guilty of exactly what they’re trying to accuse more traditional writers of, but no matter how many times it is pointed out that withholding publication without a given quota is in and of itself racism the other side will still do it. Zealots are funny that way, and unfortunately most site admins are more interested in appearing “fair” than in doing their jobs.  (Note: Fair is tossing out the asshat who is ruining the party for everyone, not letting him be rude because he has “just as much right to be there.”)

This is not my way of saying conservatives should concede the field.  Instead, I’m saying perhaps it’s time for the conservative, established side to vote with their check books and time in several ways.  First and foremost, it’s time to start organizing events that are truly diverse by example.  For example, there are people to the left of John Ringo who are perfectly capable of sitting on a panel without falsely interjecting race and gender.  Invite these people to every con possible, then buy their books when they put together a good story.  If you know of someone in an “underrepresented community” who loves Sci-Fi, take them to a con as a gift.  Word of mouth is a powerful weapon, so when this individual talks about what a great time they had at LibertyCon, perhaps it will make others question the larger narrative. In that same vein, if you’re a conservative invited to a convention where the hosts have a spine and a willingness to apply pepper spray to unruly protestors, go.

“But why should we go where we’re not wanted?”  Because if there’s one thing I have learned in a lifetime of being either the sole or one of two minorities in a room, there’s more gained by a minute of articulate discussion and quiet dignity than hours of rage.  Is it easy?  Hells no.  Indeed, sitting on a school bus while listening to fellow bus riders chant “Biggity biggity boo, the Klan is after you…” or having to flee another town because the local racist welcoming committee was sure to drive by and show me a noose was not easy (thanks Warsaw, MO!).  However, rather than screech about how I was oppressed, I found that the judicious application of logical jujitsu on the resident racist gained lots of allies in a given room even if the original idiot was unmoved.  You will never silence the screaming nimrod brigade who thinks they are owed something, but simply explaining your plot will probably convince dozens of folks on the fence that conservatives do not possess tails or horns.

With regards to telling the stories, do what’s natural to you and do not lose heart.  First off, despite what the current crop of thought police claim, science fiction was never a seething cauldron of racism and misogyny.  To cite a few examples, I must have missed the part where Honor Harrington was an oppressive male, Elizabeth Winton is as pale as Queen Elizabeth I of England, and Poul Anderson’s Emerald Moody and Hope Hubris could have qualified to lead an Einsantzgruppen.  Or alternatively, maybe the folks crying about a lack of diversity need to read farther afield, as I’m pretty sure space opera and military sci-fi have had minority characters for at least the last five decades.

Does the above mean that minorities, LGBT, and women are necessarily well represented?  Not just no, but Hell no.  However, the solution to this is not to demand all writers start complying with some arcane formula lest the powers that be freeze them out.  That sort of thing never ends well, and to keep with my Hamlet analogy there is a horde of proverbial Danes just waiting to waltz right into sci-fi’s current market space if that becomes the new norm.  Instead, perhaps the journey to having a more diverse character field has three paths.  In lane one, rather than yelling about how conservatives need to start “writing more inclusively,” the burning keyboard brigade needs to get off their collective asses and write stories themselves.  Second, established writers without these characters can provide help on how to break into the market, learn the ropes, etc. when politely asked.  Last but not least, we can stop defining characters by their plumbing, orientation, melanin content, etc..  Considering I still have the comment sheet from a prominent sci-fi magazine that says, “This character is black, but he talks like a white man…”, it is readily apparent to me that this is not only a widespread problem, but that people are apparently comfortable with it.  It is well past time to start having characters who are people, period, and through that mechanism create true diversity in our views of what the future holds.

James Young is a Missouri native who escaped small town life via spending four years at a small, well-known Federal institution in upstate New York. After being set free from the Hudson River Valley, Mr. Young spent the next six years of his life in various locations (both foreign and domestic) having the cost of his education repaid one nickel at a time. Along the way he collected a loving, patient, and beautiful spouse…and various animals that did not fit any of those descriptions.

After leaving the Republic’s employ, James returned to the Midwest to pursue his doctorate in history–a process that has taken approximately twice the time he planned. Currently living with the same great woman and roughly three times the weight of pets (in the form of a snoring, flatulent Newfoundland/Lab mix), Mr. Young spends his time researching history, working for the Republic (again), and plotting new and interesting ways to torment characters.

Check out James’s fiction on Amazon. You can begin with the free short Ride of the Late Rain, which opens his tales set in the Vergassy universe. 

26 Comments

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26 responses to “Diversity in Science Fiction

  1. Christopher M. Chupik

    Speaking of diversity-mongering run amuck, I’ve just run across a conversation where people are complaining that the Dresden Files don’t have enough gender/racial/orientation diversity. Seriously.

    Andy Warhol had it wrong: in the future we will all be Emmanuel Goldstein for 15 minutes.

  2. Upstate Federal Institution?
    I got the Point, James! Hehe.
    You got the education, then paid back the cost; I prepaid for mine, 21 years worth.
    But: diversity. How long before it becomes a non-issue? I don’t confront it, nor do I avoid it. If/when it crops up, I’ll deal with it. Maybe when I revise Talent for publication I can make it clear that Bobby is Black. That would fit within the story, but even so, I won’t do more than briefly mention it.
    One character in the Wizards series has recurrent PTSD, another is missing a leg from military service. Both are things I treat carefully and sympathetically, but without letting them become more than a side-issue to be overcome.
    Meantime, there’s another group with problems I’m sensitive to, the elderly. A number of characters in my Wizard series fall into that ‘oppressed’ minority.
    As for others, if/when, they’ll be dealt with in the same way, as people. I’m writing books, not pushing an agenda. It seems somehow wrong to confuse those two objectives.
    Which is something the people who are attempting to dictate how SciFi should be written need to understand; it’s about the story, not the agenda.

  3. Heh. I’m just not a fan of breaking out the alma mater card in a blunt manner. People tend to immediately make assumptions based on it, and I prefer to earn a person’s opinion of me on my own. 😀

    I’d love for diversity to be a non-issue tomorrow. Unfortunately, I think as long as there is a benefit to trafficking in it, people will use it as a wedge issue. Not to tip my hand too much for things down the road, but suffice to say enough fecal matter has hit the fan in my own sci-fi timeline that race isn’t all that important. I occasionally throw last name curveballs on purpose, but other than that whatever the random name generator throws out, there’s that person’s appearance.

    • Tully

      Spent those six years of globe-hopping on the tab of a rich uncle, eh? But a demanding one. Works you hard for those nickels. 😉

    • AndrewV

      James,

      I’m going to one of ‘those’ Universities myself, and I completely agree with you. Everything changes when I say the name, so I avoid saying it unless explicitly asked. I want my views to be taken seriously based on my own thoughts, words, and actions, not because I studied somewhere prestigious.

  4. Synova

    “Women Destroy Science Fiction”… well, that’s sort of cute. I’ve often said that humans (meaning me) are far more creative when they’ve got something to react to… even if you’ve got to make it up whatever it is you’re reacting to.

    I suppose that there are actually people out there somewhere who think that women ruined science fiction… I’m guessing they’re the same ones who fuss that the space opera isn’t “real” SF and they’d really like “hard” science fiction. I ignore them. Well, if they’re just saying what they’d like to see more of, that seems legit, but when someone starts with how what I like isn’t the right sort of thing.. I ignore them.

    Related to that… since no one can tell you’re a dog when they’re reading your book any more than they can on the internet… well, I think that we (a very general we) might be taking the wrong lesson from Tiptree or Andre Norton. No one knows. No one can tell. It’s not at all possible to tell from how a person writes “what” they are. So is the *problem* that the right people aren’t writing… or is the problem that they’re not writing the correct things… or is the real problem that people want to read the wrong sorts of things? We like adventure and romance… stuff girls might write… instead of “hard” and manly science fiction. Or maybe we like adventure and space battles and monsters… instead of non-binary gendered message-fic.

    The peasants… as they say… are revolting.

    • Oh the “Women Are Destroying Science Fiction” is very much counter to what its title suggests, i.e. the purpose is to counter a perceived male bias in science fiction. In my mind, I just hope the stories are good and it sells based on merit, not because people want to buy something to send a message.

      I personally like my science fiction with stuff blowing up. 😀

      • Synova

        I got that they were making a point and that it was going to be an all-female issue of the magazine. I hope it’s good, too. Obviously I think that women write good science fiction… particularly when it involves blowing stuff up. 🙂 I was just trying to figure out where they got the idea that someone, somewhere, thinks women have wrecked science fiction, because a joke has context or it doesn’t work as a joke. And mostly I think they’re making that part up because it’s invigorating to have something to strive against.

  5. Synova

    Inviting people to science fiction conventions seems like a really good idea to me. I’d like to work on “outreach” as far as diversity goes in inviting people to attend conventions. In some ways they’re definitely in the category of “things white people like”… and full of odd weirdos to boot. I’m sure it all is quite intimidating. Good ideas about that would be good.

    • I’m fairly sure that dragging a reluctant person into a mess at a con is a bad idea. But yes, sponsorships might be nice for a local who might not otherwise be able to go? Although I wonder whether the younger people wouldn’t already be attending the less literary cons, anime, and gaming ones.

      • SBP

        My nieces go to anime cons fairly regularly. I don’t know if they even know that literature-based cons exist.

  6. robfornow

    Almost every bit of this is centered around cons. Sure Alex Whatever said that she wanted to see more troubled gender stuff and some of us tried to tell her that story came first and we were accused of ‘attacking’ her. (Associate member, I have nothing published yet) However, that only helps us in the Indi field because the coven, uh, hashbags, uh, message writers won’t have any books on Indie where the shift is going or if they do, message vs story will lose. SFWA has something like 1800 members, only thirty or so are ruining it. Who’s fault is that when 1770 sit quiet? What effects all of us is the cons. And we have nothing to do with them as far as who gets invited. Someone gets invited to speak, the thirty or so start their whine. If the convention organizers will stand up and say- “We are the ones to set up the table of events, we set what rooms are to be used for … And we chose who to invite to speak. We will also define and enforce harassment policy. If you want to see/hear who we chose, come and enjoy yourself. If not, don’t buy a ticket. Until I see a con willing to do that (Liberty con excepted) I am not going or inviting some one else.

    • Synova

      Well it wouldn’t make any sense to invite someone to a convention that you don’t go to.

  7. My point is if a con start to ignore the majority, _do not go to the con_. After this latest controversy, I know that I am going to be a lot more discerning in who a con invites and plan accordingly. I think if enough people start to do that, the spoiled children are going to start getting told “Shut up and sit down…” more often. Then again, maybe I’m being optimistic.

  8. Book

    Welcome to the blog, James! Great post, so refreshing to see this subject tackled straight on. And I completely agree on the subject of inviting people to the inclusive cons. It really should be that simple.

  9. I’m…kind of starting to wonder how much longer ‘Cons will be relevant to the field, and to the market dynamics.

    • cons like Gencon, and the various comiccons, are growing by leaps and bounds. The litcons are, I think, shrinking. And the recent kerfluffles will not help that process at all.

      • AndrewV

        I’m one of the people who’s always wanted to go to a Lit Con and now have changed my mind. Everything within New England is too far left of center. Why should I burn my vacation time so I can be lectured to about how awful I am and pay for the privilege? I’d rather go have an enjoyable experience instead and refuse to feed the monster.

  10. robfornow

    “My point is if a con start to ignore the majority, _do not go to the con_.” Agreed. There’s only about thirty to seventy; plus, a bunch of commentators that will send a protest to the con. Half of the initiators probably won’t go either and ninety percent of the hanger-on that send in petitions won’t go either. The fans may be disappointed; but, it’s doubtful that they will know why. There will be less and less over time.
    I’m a hermit and much as I hate to admit it, I’m having to reconsider my previous statement. We need the cons. Not for sales but exposure. Every city has a library, a bookstore, a literary or writer’s club. When the local news has a morning slot about the convention, we get exposure. We can not limit ourselves to the Internet.

    The SJW know this, that is why they are taking control. If they can’t make us, their competition, go away, they can limit our exposure. Every time they see Sarah take down a Liberal or Kate take control of a panel, they lose. Every time an Indie bookstore in the con sells a book, it’s a nail in their coffin. The only thing is we need to organize, not like the SFWA but, let the organizers know we have their back, so to speak.

  11. Thank you everyone for the kind words.

    I’ve joked a few times that maybe it is time to field a rival organization to the SFWA. If things continue on this arc, it may become less joke and more reality.

  12. Wes S.

    Hi, James, fellow Missourian here. Lake of the Ozarks native; grew up in Camdenton, which is down the road (and the river, and the lake) a considerable bit from Warsaw; you really got run out of there at noose-point? Yikes.

    Just downloaded “Unproven Concept” to my Kindle. Looks fun. Although between this blog, Sarah Hoyt and Correia I’ve been spending way too much money lately, even at Kindle prices. 😀

  13. David Lang

    I had a 7 hour drive today (San Francisco to Los Angeles and I listened to an Irving Berlin CD that I hadn’t gotten to before.

    In 1950, he composed the song “Free” for “Call me Madam”, but it was cut from the show (and so isn’t in the movie as well)

    The lyrics however, are extremely relevant to the current issues

    Free–
    The only think I want on earth is to be free.
    Free–
    To disagree with those who disagree with me.
    Free–
    To close my door at night and never turn the key.
    Free–
    To fall asleep and know I’ll slumber peacefully.
    Free from bending down on my knees, to be pushed and shoved.
    free to work and play where I please.
    free to love and be loved.
    Free–
    the only think worth fighting for is to be free.
    Free–

    A diff;rent world you’d see if it were left to me.
    Ev’rybody would be free, free, free

    alt:

    The only thing worth fighting for is to be free.
    Free.

    Like many of his best songs, plain, simple, powerful.

  14. I had a 7 hour drive today (San Francisco to Los Angeles and I listened to an Irving Berlin CD that I hadn’t gotten to before.

    In 1950, he composed the song “Free” for “Call me Madam”, but it was cut from the show (and so isn’t in the movie as well)

    The lyrics however, are extremely relevant to the current issues

    Free–
    The only think I want on earth is to be free.
    Free–
    To disagree with those who disagree with me.
    Free–
    To close my door at night and never turn the key.
    Free–
    To fall asleep and know I’ll slumber peacefully.
    Free from bending down on my knees, to be pushed and shoved.
    free to work and play where I please.
    free to love and be loved.
    Free–
    the only think worth fighting for is to be free.
    Free–

    A diff;rent world you’d see if it were left to me.
    Ev’rybody would be free, free, free

    alt:

    The only thing worth fighting for is to be free.
    Free.

    Like many of his best songs, plain, simple, powerful.