The Winter of our discontent
“Now is the winter of our discontent,
Made glorious summer by this suitable POC LGBQXYZ non-heteronormative part of the collective of (New)York….”
Richard the turd – A play as typed by an infinite number of modern monkeys.
We’ve been cursed to live interesting times. Times in which we are assured there is a right side of history. Usually we’ve managed to get onto her wrong side, which is also her right side, it seems. It’s a very confusing situation, even if you’re not as dim-witted as moi, your local furry-pated simian.
The world is changing very fast. There is a sort of inverse law in this: when the King/President/Emperor/ Pope, the establishment politicos start telling you something is definitely going the way the PTB have been pushing it… You can bet the tide is running the other way. Historically the shrillness is inversely proportional to facts and the zeitgeist. When they tell you the sun never sets on British Empire (yes I know that meant it was around the world) it’s about to go down. When Neville Chamberlain tells you it’s peace in our time, you know that just ain’t going to be so. It’s obvious to anyone that economic and social factors are running us towards a change. History will be history, and although written by the victors (and later revised by the next victors), its sides will change. As a reaction to the Charlie Hebdo atrocities by Muslim terrorists… we have various Left wing SJW people telling us that it’s the victims fault and that really we need not to protect freedom of speech, but to stop nasty homophobic racists offending Muslims (who, um do quite well at homophobic racism, but it’s un-PC to point this out). And lo, some governments seem to be thinking about going along with them.
At which point someone of my acquaintance said ‘why don’t these lefties learn, instead of doubling down?’
My answer (and be patient, this does apply to writing), is that it’s actually not just lefties. It’s a power problem. At the moment, that’s pretty left wing. Those in power tend to be surrounded by sycophants, live in their little bubble. Some of course are devout believers in their own rightness. Others are just so used to winning without any effort always they’ve forgotten the possibility of losing. It’s been their way or the highway as long as they can remember. Nowhere has these been more true than in traditional publishing and among their camp-followers.
It started to change in socio-politics a while back. Looking back, 2007 was probably the apogee. In publishing it might have been two or three years later (publishing trails, it does not lead much). But there have been many canaries in the coal mines whose singing has gone silent in the last while. The key with pendulums is to remember the higher you push them, the harder they swing back.
I don’t really care where you sit on the political spectrum, what is happening in sf/fantasy needs the brakes put on that pendulum. Over the years there have been some great writers from across the spectrum, and we’re all poorer for losing that. Yet that’s exactly what has happened. I’d hard put to put an exact date on it, but when the Hugo and Nebula awards slipped over into being entirely left wing, and gradually further and further left-wing. Always remember: there is no concrete reason why SF/Fantasy (in English) readers should not largely reflect the reading population of the English first language countries. Now, there are some reasons why certain parts of that spectrum don’t read. They might be too dumb, or have cultural objections to it. But broadly speaking if readers do not reflect the demographics of the EFL countries… we need to know why. The writers are product of the readers, therefore they will always follow the reading trend. If it’s not there: you’re losing some great writers, and also the money their reader section represents. If you have to ‘lose’ anyone make sure it is a small group, but there is no real reason for that. It’s a numbers game for us readers (and for writers, as a result). If sf becomes more popular… there will be more of it, and more means more good stories will emerge. Which is something that everyone (regardless of creed, color, political persuasion or sexual orientation) who loves sf/fantasy should want. Political affiliation is something we know a lot about the numbers of supporters of. It isn’t 99% left, let alone hard left. Actually the hard-core supporters of either right or left are a minority, in roughly equal numbers, and there is a large ‘floating’ pool. As has been displayed, repeatedly, political parties can come from nowhere (Nazis, Communists both provide recent examples) and capture that floating pool. Centrists or ‘I don’t care or like any of the candidates’ win the majority of elections, except when they’re caught up by a sudden change. Yet this is not reflected in the awards for the last twenty years or so. They are ludicrously improbably all far left.
There are two factors at play in this. The first being that traditional publishing had become increasingly left wing (principally because they believed it lead, and could be used to shapes hearts and minds), and they’d become so ‘in control’ that quality no longer dictated sales. Distribution and promotion effects could mask quality. Great books could easily be sunk without a trace, at an editorial nod or wink. Mediocre rubbish could be hyped and put in every bookshop on every display and at least that one would sell well. Of course it ate at the market, but certainly short term, they could get away with it. Absolute power corrupted as it always will. The inner circle – distributors, bookstores critics, the ‘trusted’ fans and minor authors (kissing up hard, ever ready for ‘who will rid me of this troublesome priest’) could even hurt the sales of those few books that sneaked through from Baen. And they did. I lose count of the number snide comments and outright sneers and condemnation as ‘right wing gun porn’ that I saw and heard Baen books get, unread. Yeah, ‘Mother of Demons’, right wing gun porn. Baen at least bought across the spectrum. In the last twenty years, they became the only house doing so. And thus diversity of opinion in Sf/fantasy died. The left were always better at doctrinaire parrot-thought and operating in concert to orders. The right, especially the libertarian right, tend to be more like herding Sabertooth Tigers. They didn’t nominate to ‘instruction’ or follow ‘leaders’. They only did so in the sad puppies to poke fun at their detractors.
That takeover of publishing led directly to second factor. You can’t nominate books (or vote for books) that aren’t there or you have never heard of, and if there are twenty times the far left wing’s books being bought by editors than all the rest (remember the far left is probably about the same size as the far right – depending on where define you ‘far’ between 2-5%.) I think that we’re pretty well into the 2% range now, but there are still some authors (who simply could not sell to anyone BUT Baen as new authors today) who are in from earlier days. People like Orson Scott Card, or John C Wright.
This led directly to the situation today, where your chances of being published as a new author by any traditional house (outside of Baen, who break the rules) is way higher as any one of the ‘minorities’ – especially as an ‘intersectional’ one (with extra victim points for belonging to more parts of the PC hierarchy. ) Let’s say you’re a left-wing female black homosexual, it would be more likely for you to sell a book to a traditional publisher it would be if you were a right-of-center heterosexual white male. Let’s play the numbers game. Assume that 1 person in every half million Americans can be a successful traditionally published sf/fantasy author (the real figure is much worse IMO). Let’s – for the sake of making this easy to visualize – make that 1000 instead of 700-800. Let’s start male : female split. They should be roughly equal. 500 each. If we take black as 13% – 65. that If we take 5% as an estimate of homosexuals -3.25 – If we assume – on the basis of figures that somewhat more women vote left than right and grant 60 % of being left wing (assuming a very moderate definition of left) – 1.95. So roughly 2 (as quite a generous estimate) of every 1000 or 0.2% of any author group should – by demographics – fit that description, and be fairly represented. That’s how probable it is that any publisher’s slate should be without selective bias. That’s the chance of one winning the Hugo on merit alone. Running the same figures for the official PC scapegoat. 500 men, call it 70% white – 350, Heterosexual – 332.5, and as you can’t have 60% left for women without having the opposite true for men (as the two are more or less balanced)- 199.5 out of every 1000. Call it 200 or roughly 20%, or to put it another way, 100 white heterosexual right wing men for every gay black left wing female would be fair and expected. Needless to say, this is not true in reality. The same numbers could be run for white heterosexual left wing women – but the contrast is less stark, because there are quite a number of those (over-running the probabilities in the younger cohorts, methinks) and there are very few of the white heterosexual right wing men. Yes, I know, you can split hairs on trivia and method (I tried to keep it simple rather than precise), but the thesis remains true.
This isn’t a once-off situation. If you’re talking about cohorts (which you should as writers stay active for many years) this goes back many years, and even if they started buying today without discriminating for their chosen PC point holders, it would take thirty years plus to make ‘minorities’ anything but majorly advantaged in traditional publishing. You can claim being an xyz victim means that the world is mean to you, but you can’t in publishing.
So when you’ve got the likes of our East German… detractor running off at the mouth (the brain, no) about the wonderful possible POC and LGBT ‘minorities’ for the Hugo awards, And eeeeeevil the sad puppies are, maybe you need to ask who the real ‘minorities’ are (compared to their numbers in the population) and whether you really want push pendulum up further. Already I am seeing things which just wouldn’t have happened a few years ago creeping in. A few years back badmouthing and blacklisting and ‘I won’t read’ and you’re a jerk (or racist or or homophobe or bigot etc. etc.) ostracization if you read XYZ (yes, Baen) was the sole property of the left. It was ineffectual for anyone else, as there wasn’t much else. In the last few years, particularly last year, that has changed. The insults became a joke, or a badge of pride. The sad puppies, and particularly the attacks on Larry Correia and Brad Torgersson (Vox Day thrives on it, and so does his audience, something his detractors don’t seem to grasp) have had large numbers badmouth and backlist the darlings of the left like Leckie and Hines and Scalzi. Yes, I know, they’ve done the same in the inverse. But… they always have. It’s nothing new. So what? No loss to the authors the left are demonizing to their followers, who didn’t buy them anyway, and always sneered at them. Those are not lost sales, but the same is not true in converse. It’ll spread to those who support them, and for some of those very sales stand between them and being dropped. And the demons of absolute power are coming back to haunt them, with pedophile praise-singing and elevation of internet bully-trolls like Requires Hate (now reborn and rehabilitated as Benjanum Somethingorother (another fake persona?) And of course, independent publishing of e-books has revealed that the demographic of readers reflecting the population is real, and their little subsection is over-served.
It all shapes up for pretty mess. I reckon in the next ten years the pendulum will swing very hard and far. I hope those on the winning side of that bit of future history will have the sense to not push the pendulum higher when sense says to damp it. It’s probably 30 years off, at least, so I’ll be dead. Not my problem any more.
So what do we readers and writers who love our genre need to think about now, if we’re actually going to be long sighted and care about our genre? The answer depends on whether you sit as one of the pampered darlings getting benefits way, way over your demographic rights… or the other 90% of us. The latter… not much. Buy books from those who have been discriminated against – people like yourselves. You don’t have to buy the output of Traditional Publishing, or nothing. Write your own, support (with promotion and friendship, and maybe a good critique or two) people who have been marginalized by traditional publishing, but are like you. Support the Sad Puppies newest version, if you choose. If people choose to badmouth your favorite authors, vote with your dollars or cents. The demographics of those dollars and cents works against special perks for favored darlings.
If you are one of the other side, try panic. It looks good on you. Seriously, if you don’t want far left wing intersectionality crushed… and books and authors who write what you want to see, driven out, and get what you’ve handed out, you better start damping that pendulum down. I think last year’s Hugo Awards was about your last real chance, but you could all get together in your little cabals and nominate something other than the totally improbable usual suspects.
Anyone want to bet they won’t be just as dim-witted as last year?
Yeah, me neither.
I can scent spring… and it’ll be a hot summer.