Why Ignorance is Bad For Feminist Glittery Hoo Haas

Over at According To Hoyt today (linky), Sarah has quite a bit to say about the sterility of what the Social Justicy Glittery Hoo Haas call “proper” creative/artistic/literary pursuits. She’s right. More than that, she knows the emptiness of the kind of ideologies that have to lock people inside neatly labeled little boxes to “protect” them from the big bad world outside (hint: if merely being exposed to something else is enough to turn someone against your faith (or ideology or whatever the hell you want to call it), your thingummy belief whatsis sucks.

One of the side-effects of the sterility and mental walls is breathtaking ignorance from people who should – in theory at least (wonderful place, theory. Everything works the way it’s supposed to) – know what the freaking hell they’re talking about. And that in turn leads to the kind of nonsense that I, being a charter member of the Evil League of Evil (but not the Beautiful Evil Space Princess – that’s Sarah’s job) am obliged to poke fun at.

Exhibit howtheheckdoIknowIlostcountmonthsago: a book review column from the NYT. A little over halfway down the page you’ll find the review for the sequel to the Hugo winning Ancillary Justice (yes, yes, I know, but trust me I do have a point here. Remember what I said about breathtaking ignorance a paragraph back?). Now, the esteemed reviewer starts with the credentials of Ancillary Justice, then moves on to a truly impressive piece of ignorance, which I quote:

The central question is whether the story’s structural gimmick — the protagonist’s tendency to refer to all people as “she” regardless of actual gender or even humanity — is sufficiently mind-blowing as to merit all the accolades. It isn’t a gimmick, though; it’s a coup. Rather than seriously entertain the endless, if stupid, debate on whether women have a place in stories of the future, Leckie’s book does the literary equivalent of rolling its eyes and walking out of the room. Her refusal to waste energy on stupidity forces her audience to do the same: A few pages into the first novel, the reader gives up trying to guess each character’s actual gender, and just accepts that this will be a story full of interesting women doing awesome things.

Okay. First – if you have to say “It isn’t a gimmick”, it’s a gimmick. Second, this is only “mind-blowing” for a) English speakers who are also b) criminally ignorant of science fiction. Aside from the well-known efforts of Ursula Le Guin, I recall books from the Golden Age where there were species with sexes that completely defied human or earthly categorization. Of course, those were written by males, so they must not count.

Second, the grammatical gender one uses is a cultural thing. English has three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. Most English-speaking cultures consider it highly impolite to refer to people by the neuter gender: if you’re talking about a person, you’re supposed to use he or she. Not, under any circumstances, it. Heck, some people are uncomfortable referring to their pets with neuter pronouns (which, just in case anyone is thinking of saying so, has nothing to do with getting said pet neutered).

Third, picking one quasi-random grammatical gender and using only that is not by any stretch of imagination, a coup. I’ve seen frigging fan fiction – and crappy fan fiction at that – do a better job of questioning so-called gender norms.

Fourth, while I agree that the so-called debate on whether women have a place in the stories of the future (when did they ever not have a place? There have always been women in science fiction and they’ve occupied the same wide range of niches that the men occupied. Sometimes you just have to know enough about the conventions of the times to read between the lines to see it) is as stupid as it’s become endless, the book (and its sequel) does not do “the literary equivalent of rolling its eyes and walking out of the room”. Would that it had. No, the book goes into a lengthy explanation (in the first damn chapter) of the POV character’s native language not having separate gender pronouns. The author could just as easily have rendered the pronouns as the English masculine or the English neuter but that wouldn’t get the Glittery Hoo Haas of Social Justice all hot and happy, would it?

Finally (well, not really finally but I can’t be bothered wasting any more time on this: it’s a work night and my alarm goes off at oh god AM each morning), just because everything in the book is referred to by a grammatical feminine pronoun does not make the book “a story full of interesting women doing awesome things”. For starters, the preview that was available before the Hugo ballot was anything but awesome. For seconds, since there’s some familiar anatomy there the odds against every character of note being actually female is kind of small. And for thirds, anyone desperate and stupid enough to claim that a bit of pronoun trickery is enough to make the book full of… well. Yeah.

There’s more ignorance to the review, claiming new and original for plot lines where Star Trek has gone before – repeatedly (and frankly in at least some episodes Star Trek did it a damn sight better). No, Ms Jemisin, Leckie is not “attacking the self-absorption of science fiction itself”. She’s following a very well-trodden path of which you, with your breathtakingly arrogant ignorance possess neither knowledge nor understanding.

172 comments

        1. You know there’d be more than one. As well as any other combination you can imagine. I’m actually kind of surprised there isn’t one here already with the Area 51 connection and all.

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  1. If she really wanted to be “cutting edge” (or fall off the edge) she would have used the xi/xie/zer or whatever the made-up pronoun of the month is. But then 1) the editors would have had vapors, 2) sales would be even more dismal, and 3) she’d get clobbered by the hard-core anti-gender activists for misusing and “appropriating” their terminology.

    I wish I could track down the original writer/speaker of (more or less), “Any god that has to be protected by his followers can’t be much of a deity.” Replace god with ideology and it’s still true – modern feminism, hard green environmentalism, communism, anti-theism, what have you.

    1. It’s a factor of not believing in absolutes… If there are no absolutes, then you can’t ever be absolutely sure which seems to be what they want. If Truth is actually True (and there by itself whatever we think it may be) it will prove itself. If it is the perpetual moving target it has to be pinned or tapped down for it to be ‘real’ and any opposing view threatens to cut it back adrift.

            1. BFR’s, dropped from, oh, a few a.u.’s out, with a bit of energy to get them going…

              Well, the only big difference from a nuke is no radioactive fallout. Big Effin’ Rocks, for when you absolutely, positively, must clear out a state or three.

            2. I’d suggest “Rods from God” not only because of the sheer kinetic kill, but also because it would offend them so to die by a weapon with that name.

              1. Instead of the ones they planned for those, can we use rods the size of the Titanic?

          1. Anyone who names or joins a movement with a name that is a contradiction should be cursed. Or at least mocked.

            1. Mocked AND cursed! The best sort of movement is the one you start when you overdo it on the prunes, anyway.

    2. Hm. Maybe I really should write a story in modern Finnish, then translate it to English while keeping some of the Finnish grammar and word uses, like keeping our word for ‘it’, ‘se’, which nowadays is used for pretty much everything in everyday talk – humans, animals, objects. Maybe I’d get to the next Hugo ballot.

      1. BTW, that kind of gimmicks do make works using them damn hard to translate into my language. You can’t possibly get the point across without at least some rewriting instead of doing just a plain translation.

        1. I can imagine. It would be worse than trying to translate puns (and with less reward, too).

      2. You just might… particularly since “se” is *just* close enough to “she” to get the glittery ones all hot and bothered.

        1. I remember one round of proposed Gender Neutral Pronouns proposed in the late 80’s early 90’s. Sie and Hir. I pointed out, very unpopularly to the feminist proponents of such pronouns that they had the same structural failure as the feminine pronoun, in that they used the same word, “hir” for both the objective and possessive case. They were soaking in the dominant culture and not realizing it.

          They never did come up with a third word. The fact that in non-usenet communication they were homophones for See and Hear probably also helped in avoiding adopting them.

  2. _Ancillary Justice_ didn’t seem sterile to me, and I’m looking forward to the sequel. Just gotta finish _Portal_ first.

    1. Cat said “_Ancillary Justice_ didn’t seem sterile to me, and I’m looking forward to the sequel.” Everybody enjoys different things. Literary equivalents of tricophagia and coprophagia, however, just aren’t that appealing to me. Your tastes, however, are your own. Everybody needs a hobby, I suppose. Not everybody else has to agree it’s the bees’ knees, though.

      But the SJW crowd says that *everybody* should agree – but only with them! – and disagreement is attacking. So I’ll consume my favorite kielbasa and sauerkraut and giggle when the aroma starts to encroach on their cuppa Coproltine.

      1. But… but… by not enforcing agreement with their views you’re imposing other views on them! (Yes, I have seen this argument put forth. When it comes to that the only real answer is “okay, go live with your delusions. I’ll take the facts, thank you very much.”)

    2. Cat, you’re welcome to your opinion, but I’d appreciate you actually reading what I actually wrote instead of what you think I wrote. That would make your comments a bit less non-sequitur-y.

      I’d even welcome some disagreement with substance – you know, giving evidence that Star Trek didn’t cover questions of what it means for a part of a collective intelligence to be suddenly isolated from the rest of the hive-mind, or maybe evidence that Ursula Le Guin and others didn’t cover the whole issue of gender years before Leckie (I’d love to see that evidence. It would make quite the work of fiction).

      That is what I mean by sterile. There’s nothing new or fresh in the central conceit. If you enjoyed it, fine. I hope you enjoy the sequel as well.

  3. NK Jemsin? Isn’t that Vox Day’s BFF?

    I do belive it is, and that explains the lack of clue evident in the review

              1. But her political lens is her colon. In fact, because of the peculiar position of her head, she has to look out through her colon to see anything at all. I rather thought I was making that point obvious.

                1. And I’m politely disagreeing because a colon actually has a use.

                  Her political lens doesn’t.

                  Yes, I know where her head is, but I was simply trying to raise the insult to her. I also thought the point was rather obvious. *sigh*

                  Clearly, it wasn’t.

                  1. But since her political lens is a colon, per my construction.… *sigh*

                    What we have here are two different jokes that tread on each other’s toes and can’t be told together.

    1. Also why is the NYTimes having Sci-Fi reviews from someone who is on record as hating the genre, especially the classics of it?

      1. That’s easy to answer:

        Because the NY Times also hates classic SF and agrees with its reviewer about the previous state of the genre?

        1. The NYT thinks SF is beneath its hallowed self, but will make an exception for suitably glittery hoo haas.

      2. That after all is what passes as edgy and sophisticated at the NYT. And not just for book reviews.

        1. Well, yes. When you have no actual originality, the only thing you can do is piss on the original efforts of others, praise your own kind to the skies, and stick your fingers in your ears when anyone tries to enlighten you.

  4. Just read that NYTimes review column. That’s 10 minutes I’ll never get back.

    And the booby prize, was to learn it was written by one of the matriarchs of the SJWs, N.K. Jemisin, a woman who has made an entire career out of Identity Politics and “Social Justice”. . .

    And still the damned book will likely get at LEAST a Hugo and Nebula nomination.

    I really DO need to sit down and write “If you were a SJW, my gender-neutral affection-object”. . . (evil grin)

      1. “If you were a man, my love, I would have to be a man as well, because making this a heterosexual story would just be icky…”

        1. The psychological aspects of that don’t seem like they would work with my intent.

          It seems more plausible that a female would defer understanding the qualities that make a man, and whether they are present in their male lover, until a moment of epiphany after a tragedy, than a male. At least, one expects a different internal mix if the person realizing that this was influenced by tolerating less than manly qualities is male.

          Contrast with, say, hypothetical Otokojuku slash that doesn’t skimp on the life and death battles.

    1. It sure did- From the Amazon description– Winner of the Hugo, Nebula, British Science Fiction, Locus and Arthur C. Clarke Awards.

  5. She’s the one who went to Australia and made a speech claiming that in America it was legal to shoot her.

    1. Yeah, she never does explain how she is still alive in such a case. I mean, if it were legal to shoot her, I’m pretty sure someone would have done it by now.

      1. Well perhaps she routinely gives specific people valid reasons to fear for their own lives, and the lives of their family, but those people manage to resolve things non-lethally, to help manage the litigation risk.

        1. Nah. Can’t be.

          I mean, it’s legal to shoot her and all that, so there’s no litigation risk, right?

          Or, conversely, she’s just as full of it as I always imagined.

          Which do you think it is? 😉

          1. Wait, wait, it’s legal to shoot her? Why is there nobody calling for volunteers? Honestly, when she’s practically begging for it…

            1. If it is, I think there would be a line.

              But damned if I can find anything but the laws against murder anywhere.

              Really, she should know better than to tease like that.

      2. Her theory was that the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case meant that the American courts had declared that it was legal for white people to shoot black people. She ignored the fact that the decision was race-neutral, that it was based on the pre-existing law of self-defense, and that in fact there had been considerable persecution of the defendant, Zimmerman, including an outright call for his murder, which the Federal Government had declined to prosecute.

          1. Which amused me to no end. I mean, he was just as white as Barack Obama, who those same people classify as a black man.

            Funny how that works, isn’t it?

        1. Yeah, there was a lot of that crap after the Trayvon Martin case. I guess the fact that he was allegedly trying to slam Zimmerman’s head into a concrete sidewalk was complete irrelevant to her.

          My thing is, if she’s so fearful, I’m sure she can find some other place to live. Maybe she can find one of those nice, progressive, women focused countries in the Middle East that I hear so much about. 🙂

          1. The whole Trayvon thing pisses me off, because of idiots who prefer the narrative that Zimmerman stood there and shot Martin from 20 paces in a Weaver stance barking orders, rather than trying to hang onto his gun while Trayvon sat on him beating his face in and tried to take it from him and use it on him, saying “You’re gonna die now.” And even with the truth coming out, they have to keep the lie alive. Just like they have to keep the lie about Furguson going, rather than admit that the guy was a thug, and was attacking the cop in his car trying to take his gun. “Hands up, don’t shoot!” my ass!

            1. What pisses me off is how it’s always about race, even if there’s zero evidence that it’s about race. With Zimmerman, NBC edited the recording of Zimmerman calling the police until it sounded racist, but the unedited tape showed that the dispatcher had to press for Martin’s race. Zimmerman was describing everything else. The last thing that crossed his mind was that Martin was black.

              In Furguson, well, I haven’t been following that one nearly as much. Mostly because there aren’t the second amendment ramifications in that case. However, a cop shooting someone doesn’t automatically make it racial. There needs to be a really good reason to believe so, and some people in this country don’t need one. They just need to know the shooter was white, the bullet sponge was black. That’s enough for them.

              1. And the same week (day?) a black cop shot a white perp in Nevada. Press coverage? Zip.

                SOMEBODY wants a race war. Or at a minimum does NOT want peaceful coexistence. And given that the media is working to maintain this state, we can guess which side that is.

      1. Cyn, in the southern states at least there is no closed season on feral swine and other invasive pests. I’d say it’s applicable in this case.

          1. If we could classify certain person types as invasive species there wouldn’t be any yankees left in the south

            1. You all would be fine with transplanted Aussies, though, right? I might not be in the south right now, but I may end up back that way some day.

                  1. Marriage is a valid immigration route. As long as it’s not just for the papers. We’ll have to make sure.
                    *grin*

          2. I calls em like I sees em, Kate.
            Wasn’t meant as an insult by the way, not of the swine at least. I loves me some whole hog BBQ, but they are still in truth a non native invasive species, and a rather destructive one at that.

  6. I started Ancillary Justice, largely to see what the hoopla was about, but it felt like homework, so after a couple of chapters I toodled off to read a Destroyer novel, followed by some Daniel Abraham. I don’t regret my choice.

    I didn’t buy her central conceit-not that of a culture using the feminine as the all encompassing pronoun; that’s a perfectly reasonable supposition. I didn’t buy that a culture could be so sex normed that they literally could not tell the difference between the sexes. That the main character couldn’t, maybe, but not the culture as a whole. Moreover, her use of the trope carried over into when the character was speaking other languages, which made no sense.

    I didn’t find the book groundbreaking-using a particular pronoun regardless of sex is about as banal an innovation as one of Malcolm Gladwell’s observations. There was an interesting story to be told there, but it was hampered by both her rather ridiculous literary choice, and a main character lacking in anything resembling an interesting personality. Leckie seems to be another one of those writers who thinks “female” is a sufficient character trait.

    1. In Pterry’s Dwarf society it was (originally) extremely hard to tell the difference between the sexes, since everyone a) had a beard b) did the same things c) wore the same clothes and dating was, to say the least, fraught 😉 And yet I don’t think that’s what the darlings had in mind…

      1. In Pterry’s Dwarf society “They were both dwarfs!” is the accepted response to awkward questions about which one had which anatomical bits.

        Of course, dwarfs also have more or less normal attractions, so that couldn’t be what the dear thing intended.

      2. Which somehow reminds me of a minor bit from the old 80’s movie “Sixteen Candles” :
        ****
        Geek 1: Female extraterrestrial?

        Geek 2: It’s better than…

        Ted the Geek King: Shh!

        Geek 2: Better than female extraterrestrial? How do you tell if it’s a female?

        Geek 1: ‘Cause it’s got tits.

        Geek2: What makes ’em different than regular tits?

        Geek 1: They got four.

        Ted the Geek King: Just get the camera.
        ****

    2. You mean “female” isn’t enough to make a character interesting? I’m shocked. Really.

      And the pronoun thing, well, there are languages that don’t use gendered pronouns. People who speak those languages still manage to figure who has what bits just fine.

        1. Although I am an unreconstructed heterosexual, I find that merely female is never enough to be interesting for more than a few seconds. I know, that makes me a bad person. I’ll just have to live with that.

          1. Well, if she’s attractive enough, I could find her interesting for more than a few minutes.

            But not all that long, and I was the stereotypical guy in regards to that.

    3. Beavers. Ever wondered why the genus name is Castor? It is impossible to determine a beaver’s sex without surgery or X-rays (which leads to a hysterical story of why the Oregon Zoo now has *three* beavers instead of two…). So, one wonders about an alien species where the differences between male and female, beyond some plumbing, are as near zero as makes no odds — same general strength, same general dexterity, same general intelligence, same general wisdom, same general charisma, same general THAC0 — oh, wait…. 😉

    4. The usual way the all-encompassing pronoun has been used is in science fictional dystopias, to show societies so collectivist that each person calls itself “This one” or refers to another as “That one.”

  7. “The author could just as easily have rendered the pronouns as the English masculine or the English neuter but that wouldn’t get the Glittery Hoo Haas of Social Justice all hot and happy, would it?”

    No. It wouldn’t. That would take the verbal (or written) equivalent of a Roto-Rooter.

      1. It takes a strong mind and an immunity to really “interesting” mental images to be a regular here.

  8. On the “he or she” issue, that EVIL WHITE MALE David Weber has his characters (in the Honorverse) refer to “hypothetical” persons by the “gender” of the person speaking about them.

    IE when one of his female characters talks about a possible opponent (not a specific person) she refers to the opponent as another female.

    Likewise, one of his male characters would refer to the possible opponent as a male.

          1. And Z has a special volume of grievances against the other letters, because of the horrible horrible alphabetism by which the Oppressors use it least and put it last.

            (OK, J and Q are used a bit less than Z, but they don’t have to come last, so they count as Oppressors too.)

    1. Even one of their own has already done something similar a long time ago. Brin’s uplift books used “ers” as the base generic gender pronoun, at least in the second trilogy (I merely can’t remember the usage in the first three).

      1. Of course. The whole fuss and bother over a central conceit that’s been used many times before is probably the thing I find most irritating.

  9. I tried to read Ancillary Justice. The whole pronoun thing was too damn distracting, so much so that I wanted to scratch the back of my eyeballs with an ice pick.

    I thought one of the key things to do as a writer was to not pull the reader out of the story, but when an advanced AI is incapable of comprehending gender differences (which are based on human biology), it’s going to pull me out of the story. It only got where it did because the GHH and SJW brigades can’t see beyond their own politics to look at whether a story is genuinely well written.

    1. I tried to read Ancillary Justice a couple times, but I just couldn’t do it. I’d get two or three chapters into it and give up. Didn’t hold my interest. I found the protagonist bland and boring, and nothing interesting was happening.
      Basically, the story couldn’t make me care enough to keep turning pages.

          1. That’s because the author was being So! Clever! doing something No one Had Ever Done Before (er… sorry… I just made myself want to barf).

          2. Agreed. After all, “she” even acknowledges that there are different genders and that some people actually care about that sort of thing, then promptly exerts no effort to adjust.

    2. The GHH and SJW brigades are way too fond of obnoxiously self-conscious blather – which usually kicks people out of the story.

      1. Which is why they hate our stuff, because we actually try to keep people IN the story…which results in a complete lack of obnoxiously self-conscious blather.

        Obviously, we’re doing everything wrong or something.

                  1. On the contrary, it is very unlikely that any quantity of Monopoly money will ever make the nice IRS agents go away. Monopoly money may buy more of anything else, but as long as it isn’t accepted in payment of taxes, those Federal shinplasters will occupy a special position.

    3. Never read the story, but from what you’re all saying, the people in this society actually DO have sex differences, they just try to pretend they don’t exist.

      Boring.

      Interesting speculations would be based on how people might interact in societies where they REALLY DIDN’T have sex differences — they were either asexual (reproducing artificially) or hermaphroditic, but still had Friendship and Romantic Love, expressing it differently.

      Of course, that’s been done in science fiction before. But at least it’s interesting.

      1. That was pretty much it. Rather than explore real gender differences, Leckie decided instead to just remove the male pronoun and confuse the hell out of the reader.

        I think a lot of my upset at it is that I think she’s better than that. She’s got real skill at the craft, and she took the cheap, easy, and stupid way out.

  10. I’d would second the better treatments from low quality fanfic, the much better treatments higher quality fanfic, and some decent enough treatment from free original fanfic on the internet.

      1. I think that’s an internet rule. Along with the one about seeing the horrible typo immediately after hitting “post”, and that says every spelling or grammar snark will have at least one glaring spelling or grammar error no matter how carefully it’s proofed.

        1. Oh yeah. I spotted a kind major minor “woopsie!” in an excerpt for the next novel that I posted on the website yesterday. So now I have to track through the manuscript and correct the thing.

  11. Technically, the review is of the sequel, Ancillary Sword, but it does reference the original.

    Other than that, a fine way to start my morning. 🙂

    1. I did actually say that, but to be fair it’s buried in the middle of the snarkage – and who’s at their best first thing in the morning to see things like that?

  12. http://www.tor.com/blogs/2014/10/ancillary-justice-tv-show-option

    It gets better. AJ has been optioned for TV. This means of course they’ll have to cast men and women. Which will expose the gender pronoun gimmickry for what it is. After all, the average TV audience will be confused by the main character referring to males as females, and then they’ll wonder what all the hype was about.

    And let’s not forget that on Doctor Who, we have the character of Strax, a Sonataran from an all-male clone society. He constantly refers to women as “boys”. It’s a running gag. I’m sure there will be more than a few viewers who think about that when watching Ancillary: The Series.

    Last of all, I’d like to quote from the comments of the Tor.com article: “I am constantly stunned by the reception this utterly mediocre piece of literature receives.”

    You and me both.

    1. Oh, yes. The Powers that Be are convinced everyone else is a complete moron. There’s no other explanation for the idiocy they expect us to swallow.

  13. One of the commenters on Vox Day quoted Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged’ 1943, A writer named ‘Lois’ supposedly did the despicable same gender thing in her writing. Ann was calling her out.

    I think that “Sword” will be her proving point when it comes out. If it garners the same type of reviews or not. If it sells as well or better is the real proof.

    1. I’d look at the sales, not the reviews. The same crowd will do the rave reviews for their darling.

    2. Didn’t Ayn Rand do a variant herself in Anthem? Though that was an obvious and horrible dystopia.

  14. “. Most English-speaking cultures consider it highly impolite to refer to people by the neuter gender: if you’re talking about a person, you’re supposed to use he or she. Not, under any circumstances, it. ”

    Consider this conversation:
    “Who was it on the phone?”
    “It was your boss.”
    “What did it want?”

    Two out of three those are apparently not under any circumstances since they are standard English.

    1. One could argue that the first two “its” referred not to a person, but to the event of a phone call. May be stretching the point, I know, and after all a foolish consistency has never been a strong suite of the English language anyway.

      1. Quite correct. There is a great difference between ‘it’ as a standard pronoun (as in the third sentence of the example) and ‘it’ as a grammatical placeholder (as in the first two). Under no circumstances is ‘it’ ever used as a personal pronoun. When the word ‘it’ is used with reference to a specific person, it is always done with the intent to insult by depersonalizing the referent.

        In the first two sentences, ‘it’ is used in the same way as in ‘It is raining’ or ‘Soon it will be November.’ Some languages (Russian, for instance) don’t require this kind of placeholder. But the distinction between personal and impersonal pronouns obtains in all Indo-European languages. In fact, it is an older distinction than that between masculine and feminine.

        The historical linguists hold, on pretty strong evidence, that Proto-Indo-European had two classes of nouns – animate and inanimate – and that the masculine and feminine genders (along with their pronouns) were later evolved out of the animate class. You can see a reflex of this in the third declension in Latin, where words have one set of endings for both masculine and feminine, and a second set for neuter.

        1. After learning a bit about Latin, I decided that I would in some cases refer to my neuter characters as ‘it’. As a consistent stylistic choice in those stories.

    2. Interesting. Around here it would be: “Who was on the phone?”
      “It [the generic caller] was your boss.” Because “it” could also refer to a robo-call machine. (Thanks be to [deity] only 6 more calling days until the elections!)

      1. Yep, same around here. “Who is it?” when someone calls or knocks is, I guess on the assumption that the din could be caused by an “it”. “It was your boss” in the same way assumes that “it” is the call/knock.
        I HONESTLY have never heard “What did it want?” although I could imagine answering that if I were, say, to get a phone call from an SJW and my husband informed me of the fact. But it would be scathing, not natural.

        1. “What did it want?” Deliberately insulting to show derision. That seems to work for me. Referring to people as neuter is insulting in English as the OP stated. I’m confused as to the kerfuffle.

              1. I’ve always taken that to be a distinction without a difference. I mean: neuter = drone = useless = thing.

                1. Because “It’s your boss” is understood to mean “the call/knock/whatever” is your boss. It doesn’t refer directly to the person, but to the call. Granted, the grammatical bits can get squiggly, “It’s your boss calling” but I think it might have evolved in a time of carried messages to avoid naming a gender. “Who is it?” “It is a traveler who sends for me to–” As opposed to once you know it’s a specific gender/person, saying “He wants shelter” and “What else does it want?” would be insulting. It is imperfect for the non gendered indeterminate pronoun we don’t have, when someone doesn’t want to treat “he” as referring to both genders, which at various times has given people the pip, even before SJWs

                2. Because, as I discussed above, the ‘it’ in ‘it’s your boss’ does not have a genuine referent at all. That ‘it’ is a grammatical placeholder to give the verb a place to hang from. It is not even an ordinary impersonal pronoun, let alone a personal pronoun.

            1. Indeed, E. E. “Doc” Smith did many of the alternate-sex-system possibilities in his fiction. He had asexual aliens, hermaphroditic aliens, male-dominated societies, female-dominated societies, etc. etc. His obvious preference was for cultures with at least rough sexual equality, and he was very open to alternate styles of maleness and femaleness (remember the Tomingan girl from Masters of the Vortex? Or the Chickladorian couple (same book)?)

              He died around when I was being born, fifty years ago.

              Oh, and his stories were fun to read.

              But for some reason this new book is super-original because it postulates alternate attitudes toward the sexes. Sure.

    3. “Who was it on the phone?” – If anything “it” refers to the call – the person is already covered by “who” – and the meaning of the question isn’t changed by saying “Who was on the phone?”

      “It was your boss” – In this case “it” is again referring to the call – it’s acting as a shorthand for “The call was from your boss” or “The caller was your boss”. Again, “it” is not referring to the person, but to some property or action of the person.

      “What did it want?” Man, someone really hates his boss. I’ve never known anyone to use this phrasing. Mostly it will be “What did he want?” or “What did she want?” depending on whether the boss is male or female. Occasionally “What did they want?” which I think may be bleedover from the trend to use plurals in place of gendered singular pronouns because English doesn’t have gendered plural pronouns.

      And yes, English is – like most languages – capable of some pretty subtle assignations of meaning.

      1. Here and there on the internet I use this as my signature quote: “English is a marvelous edged weapon if you know how to wield it.” C.J. Cherryh

        I only wish I wielded English half as well as she does!

      2. For some reason, when I saw the “it” in the last I thought of all sorts of interesting possibilities. For instance Lois Bujold’s Bah, who are sexless. Or his boss is an android. Or one of Masamume Shirow’s cyberained prosthetic bodies, some of which looked more like industrial robots than humans.

      3. If it were the call, it would say “What”, not “Who.”

        Again, we would say it was “Your boss’s,” if it were the call, not “Your boss.”

        1. ‘It’ isn’t the call. And ‘it’ isn’t the boss. ‘It’ is not anything at all; ‘it’ is just there to fulfil the requirement of English grammar that the copula shall have a phrase on each side.

  15. What really made me laugh was when one of the Usual Suspects (don’t remember who, not checking) declared that AJ was a novel that “could have only been written by a woman”. Because imperialism, or something. Yes, we men have certainly never written anything anti-imperial. Nosiree. Not one single book.

      1. Especially not Heinlein. Who would never write a novel with a female protagonist who uses “she” as the default pronoun.

  16. Wasn’t Queen Victoria known for “We are not amused.” because imperialism or something.

    1. The royal (and editorial) we, used when the monarch was speaking as the monarch Queen Victoria and not as the individual Victoria von Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (to use part of her married name). A bit (wee, teeny tiny) bit like when the pope speaks ex cathedra.

    2. I’m sure she was really a man! Though that must have been a surprise to Prince Albert. Especially after she bore him numerous children …

  17. As for the review’s comment “Leckie’s book does the literary equivalent of rolling its eyes and walking out of the room”… Um. Not so much.

    From the few chapters I did read, while it did roll its eyes, it also made sure to stamp its feet loudly and sigh dramatically to get everyone’s attention. Then it walked out of the room, leaving everyone else to scratch their heads and wonder “what the hell was that all about?”

    As I said upstream, I just could not get into it. To me, the book felt like it was violating the living hell out of Larry Niven’s 4th Law of Writing (“It is a sin to waste the reader’s time”). Maybe if I was 10-15 years younger, I would have trudged through it to see what all the buzz was about: I was young and foolish like that, but after a few experiences that ended with something like “I suffered through 441 pages for THAT?!?!?!?”, I learned my lesson. It took me a while, but I eventually learned that there is no shame in not finishing an uninteresting book — it steals time you could have used to read something that’s actually interesting.

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