Wow, what a week!

And it’s only Tuesday. Even though I’ve been keeping my head down in an attempt to finish getting Jaguar Bound ready for release, the ripples in the universe became so strong, I had to find out what was going on. Imagine my surprise (well, not really) to find an article in GQ castigating guys because they aren’t reading the “right” type of novels. Then there’s the debacle that happened over the weekend regarding Mercedes Lackey. In other words, life as usual in the world of publishing.

I’ll admit, the first I heard about the GQ article was a FB post by Larry Correia. Then I saw the article mentioned on The Passive Voice. You know I had to check it out and the snark poured out. I couldn’t help it. 

The first indication this would be an article rife for snarking comes with part of the title. I mean, how can you ignore the possibilities when the second part is, “why men need to read more novels”?

From the beginning, you can hear the sneer in the author’s voice as she describes checking out “the tomes” on the boyfriend’s e-reader. Gasp, he’s got science fiction, politics and a combination of the two. The horror, the disappointment. When he “wrinkles his nose” to see her reading Jane Austen and say “it’s all chitter-chatter” you can almost see her withdrawing in horror as he “hunkers down” with his choice of reading material.

From that first paragraph, you see the author, Ash Sarkar, turning their nose up in the air about his choice of reading. You see, he doesn’t like literary fiction despite the fact he’s is an enlightened being.

It’s not that he’s a protein-powder-where-a-brain-should-be bro. Indeed, he bears all the hallmarks of a fully reconstructed man: NTS on the radio, bell hooks on the shelf, a yoga membership used at least thrice-weekly. But literary fiction, as opposed to non-fiction, history, or sci-fi, just doesn’t interest him. Why prod the nooks and crannies of the human heart, when you can terraform planets, or dig into the CIA’s murky psy-ops in Indonesia?

Boo-hoo, only about 20% of the literary fiction audience is male. Whatever are we going to do to save civilization if the rest of the world, and soooo many evil men, are reading dreck that interests and entertains them?

Part of this may be down to the changing landscape of authors themselves. In 2000, men made up 61% of the UK’s top selling hardbacks. By 2020, this number fell to 43%. Where straight white men used to dominate bestseller charts and prize shortlists, now it is people of colour, LGBT people and women who are both at the avant-garde of writing and driving sales in stores.

And we all know those best seller lists are never, ever manipulated and publishers only buy books they think readers want to read. Let’s forget about all the small press and indie authors out there who are making good livings writing anything but literary fiction. Then there’s the little issue of bookstores no longer being the main way folks buy their books. Ebooks, audio books, subscription services, Amazon and other online retailers all have an impact on the sales the article’s author seems to value so much.

I could go on. Read the article for yourself. It is a flawed article that basically comes down to two misconceptions, imo. The first is that literary fiction sells more and is more important to the average reader (you know, the one who actually buys books ad reads them) than it really is. The second is that women read for different reasons than men. This is the sort of absolute statement that drives me up a wall. For one, I might be reading for enjoyment and escapism or I might be reading to learn something. I might be reading as background for a post here or over at Victory Girls. 

And guess what, that’s how it is for most folks, be thy male or female. Having spent several hours the other day talking books with my son, I know for a fact he reads. More than that, he is broadly read. But, like me, he doesn’t want to be bored when he reads. Even if he is reading to for education purposes, the text doesn’t need to be so boring he falls asleep. Guess I raised him wrong because he also doesn’t need to read a book to be able to understand people. He does that by observation, conversation and engaging.

And there’s not a copy of Mansfield Park or Little Women or modern literary fiction in sight.

Gasp.

Maybe the problem isn’t that women have come to dominate the fields traditionally occupied by men, but that men don’t really want to think about how economic conditions and changing cultural values have made them more like women. . . women don’t just read novels to understand ourselves: we read them to understand each other. Literary fiction is how we can study human frailty, making the world of feelings, friendship, love, personal dilemma, rivalry, money and psychology rich terrain for exploration.

Nope, nope, nope. There is one very major issue with this statement, especially the last sentence. It assumes the person writing the literary fiction does so without their own biases in play. It assumes the women reading it can’t figure out how to understand other women without having the playbook put out by some publisher that explains the world to them. 

And where in all that is the entertainment factor? This is fiction. FICTION. Most people picking up a novel are doing so to escape from the cares of the world for a few minutes or a few hours.

I could go on, but I’m sure you get my gist.

As for the other disturbance in the publishing force, all you have to do is go onto Twitter or Facebook or other social media platforms and do a search for Mercedes Lackey. Seems she offended some people by calling fellow writer Chip Delaney a “colored writer”. She did so in a way that was not meant to be demeaning. The moderator of the panel she was on at the time did nothing to deal with the hurt feelings of some of those in attendance. Delany himself later said he was not offended. But SFWA, reacting in typical knee-jerk fashion, decided to kick Lackey and her husband, Larry Dixon, out of the con. It did so without (as far as I have been able to tell) the chance to explain why she said what she did or even giving her the chance to apologize. What’s worse, Dixon wasn’t on the panel and, iirc, not even present at the time the comment was made. But, because he is married to Lackey (I guess), he’s guilty by association so he was kicked out as well.

Full disclosure, I haven’t checked the status of things this morning. While it doesn’t surprise me that this is the action SFWA took–after all, it has proven time and again that it will react to the screeches of outrage without giving the other side the chance to defend itself or even to apologize–it does prove the organization no longer cares about anything except making the person who cries the loudest happy. Yes, it has a code of conduct in place. Technically, the word could be seen as being in violation of it. But are we now to a point where we have to make sure no one is ever upset by anything? Let me tell you something, that is never going to happen.

Frankly, I wouldn’t have given the story a second look if SFWA/the con had 1) talked to Lackey to get her side of the story, 2) given her the chance to apologize to the con and those offended if she felt she had crossed the line and 3) made sure panel moderators knew to deal with any “issue” at the time it happened. But it is #2 that bothers me the most when it comes to a number of comments I’ve seen online. Those condemning Lackey for her used of the term keep doing so because she didn’t apologize. Guess what, folks? She wasn’t given the chance to when it would have made a difference. SFWA made sure of that.

It is a shame. Whether you like her work or not, whether you agree with her politics or not, Lackey has been an important part of the SFF community for years. She wrote stories with gay and divergent main characters long before that became the vogue. The day before all this went down (again, iirc), she was installed as the newest SFF Grand Master. Anyone want to take any bets on whether or not there’s not at least some folks out there now trying to get that honor removed because of her bad speak?

And they wonder why more and more readers are turning to indie and small press published books and why they don’t take organizations like SFWA seriously any longer.

Featured Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

26 comments

    1. They’re trying to excuse that because it’s over 100 years old… forgetting that Lacky’s 72. And the term was the polite one for much of her life. I don’t like Delany but he’s on record basically calling all this stupid.

  1. I’m thinking of purchasing a Lackey book (she’s not one of my favorite authors) just to show my support.

    1. I honestly had no idea of her politics. I just remembered she wrote the really cool Napoleon expy who got killed when the Octagon got nuked.

      1. I think that was Weber.
        I have a fair number of Lackey’s books. I appreciate the strain of common sense she puts into a lot of her work. She can be heavy-handed at times but on the whole she writes solid, entertaining stuff.

        1. I’d thought that one was one of the characters she had created for the collaboration?

          But I agree. She’s one of the handful of authors who I actually recognize the name and know the book will be good.

        2. “A Whiff of Grapeshot” by S. M. Stirling introduced her but David Weber killed her off later.

    2. I’d highly suggest Exile’s Honor. Probably her best character.

      Although the romance novels she started after reading too much* Pratchett are also good– 500 Kingdoms.

      * As in, triggered a reaction, not “it is objectively possible to do this.” 😉

        1. heh. I just picked up one of her latest of that series (which is overall very readable, with only a couple of clinkers) which is titled “Jolene.” Yes, as in the Dolly Parton song. Which has been suggested could be interpreted as addressing a fae woman. Apparently she saw that too and ran with it 😀

          While I don’t care for her politics in general, the one time I saw her at a con, as well as other things she has said/that I have seen/read she and her husband both strike me as pretty nice folks. Unfortunately, they helped feed the monster that just devoured them.

        2. I think a few years back I read the entire set of those. They were a lot of fun.

          A couple of them did veer off into the preachy, but overall they were enjoyable books.

          I will admit, pretty much whenever an author engages monologue mode, I do tend to just skim until they get out of it. Kind of how I made it through the last few chapters of War and Peace and most of Moby Dick.

    3. Personally, I’ve never really been able to get into her work. Even when she collaborates.

    4. Hey Paul do you remember when Lackey left the the Bar and Baen in 2004? In an online message she said this. “Ringo and all the unpublished jerkoffs with right-wing agendas” So it’s the left eating the left again. And yes I’ve been told not to mention this on the Bar!

      1. Yes, I remember it and yes this is another example of the “left destroying its own”.

        There is a discussion on what happened to Misty on the Bar (in Politics).

        Nobody is discussing her 2004 leaving the Bar.

        Oh, IIRC Jim Baen “banned” discussion of Misty leaving the Bar mainly because she left and couldn’t counter anything he said or what Bar-Flies might say.

  2. Telling that the author of the GQ article chooses to invoke a revered classic author by referencing, not the two or three ultra-popular novels that have been adapted five bazillion in multiple languages, but the least accessible, second-most-plot-challenged, and most stereotypically “literary” work of said author.

  3. F’ literary fiction and the horse it rode in on, and the f’ a’holes who try to force it upon people.

  4. Guess what? I don’t care what the SFWA thinks. I’ll continue reading Lackey’s books – and keep buying them.

    How do I read books without buying them? There are things called public libraries, and I make sure mine keeps buying her titles. I also get a lot of review copies free. Including Lackey’s. But she is one whose books I buy based on the author. (She also has an extensive backlist I hunt down.)

  5. I’ve got a shelf of Lackey’s books. I really like her stuff. THAT is what the brouhaha is about? I heard there was something and thought to myself, “Oh no, not another Marion Zimmer Bradley!” I’m relieved that’s not the case.

    I stopped buying them somewhere in the midst of a series when I realized each book in the series had the same plot: Poor abused youngster destined for greatness. It’s not a bad plot, but in one book after another it got tiresome.
    Does she ever explain what the white horses of Valdemar really are? That was leaking slowly out when I stopped reading that mega-series (rivals Wine of the Gods for number of books). I think the mercenary (Kira? Kyla?) with the talking sword was the last I read of those. Might be time to go back to those. I can at least see what’s been published and what the pricing is like.
    Did Heirs of Alexandria ever wrap up? It either just stopped or I caught up to the authors; I don’t recall which.

  6. Yes, Mercedes Lackey is unpersoned by the PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATION for SFF writers, of which she is a very famous and no doubt paid up member, for using the incorrect race circumlocution in a speech -praising- the writer she was talking about. My eyes are rolling.

    This is like a doctor getting kicked off a panel by the American Medical Association for saying “disabled” while praising another doctor who was in fact disabled. “He didn’t say ‘differently abled’!!! REEEEEEEE!!!!”

    That’s what this is. The evil intent is quite obvious.

    Proving once again that you can only walk around wearing the skin of a dead organization and demanding respect for so long before the stench of rot becomes overwhelming. Once you kill something like that the carcass goes bad fairly quickly.

  7. Update, according to the Vile hive of scum and villainy, the stupidity extends to a tweet in which “comfort elves” were mentioned in jest, along with airships and sylvan glades.

    China Mike is of course fully on board with the witch burning. Quoth the bot-farmer: “Introducing the word shibboleth is an unwelcome attempt to ask white people to give intent priority over the clear statements from black people who take offense at the word. Even if Delany or Steve Barnes aren’t condemning Lackey, the status of the word is plain to see.”

    Delaney of course being the one about whom the word was said. And let’s recall that the word they’re reeeing about is “coloured”, said in passing on a panel while Ms. Lackey was -praising- Delaney.

    That, and freaking comfort elves, ffs. I swear they’ll start ree-ing if somebody says ‘shoehorn’ these days. This is why we don’t like the Vile hive.

    On the bright side, the woman who started the witch burning yesterday, who shall remain nameless because I’m not going to give her a free click, is catching some back-blast on social media. Live by the shirt-storm, die by the shirt-storm.

    And by the way lurkers seeking offense: Wankel rotary engine. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

  8. I have always liked Lackey’s work. I’ve got a couple of her books on my Amazon wishlist for when the ebook price drops to paperback prices.

    This is just another example of how the left destroys their own.

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