Diversity in Science Fiction
I 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.