I get emails from readers from time to time, and 99% of these emails are positive and welcome. (Thank you!) But every so often I get one that’s… soooo very not. It isn’t exactly “hate mail”. Generally I only get those via the comments on my more “controversial” blog posts, like when I complain about messed-up video games or movies. (Yeah, I don’t think those are controversial either, but the fact remains; I get more crap over the stuff I watch/play than the stuff I write.) I’m quick on the banhammer, so most of you don’t have to see those gems.
What people do occasionally send me, however, are what I’m starting to call “ignorant mail”. These are usually superficially-polite screeds full of passive-aggressive hijinx, many flavors of ‘splaining (man-, white-), and so forth. I’ve been lectured at length on how I disrespect the venerable epic fantasy genre by rejecting Campbell’s “hero’s journey” paradigm* in favor of heroines who don’t go anywhere. I’ve been helpfully advised by non-readers that they might eventually get around to buying my work, if only I make a greater effort to be like [their favorite author]. And today I got told that I was “playing the race card” because I wrote this story. Because most of the characters are black, see, and because the story actually talks about the racism of the era. Doing this is just like inviting some friends over to play a game — pointless and unnecessary, that is. The kind of thing you do just for fun, or as a tactic to win some prize.
“The Effluent Engine” is meant to be a fun story, of course, because how could I not have fun writing a story full of bustle-wearing spies and derringers and secret societies and pecan penuche? But given the era it’s set in, I included some story elements that IMO it would’ve been disrespectful of history to ignore. It’s not real history in many ways; there’s an obvious divergence from the timeline of actual history at the point of the Haitian Revolution, which — in case you didn’t know — was not won by dirigibles. But I took pains to stick to history in every other way, as much as the narrative allowed. Norbert Rillieux was indeed a Creole inventor, though he probably wasn’t as much of an ass as he is in the story; his innovation to prevent Yellow Fever outbreaks in New Orleans was thwarted, and possibly stolen, by a rival named Forstall (Edmund, rather than Raymond). Norbert did have a sister named Eugenie, though I made up her personality from whole cloth. Rochambeau’s barbarous war crimes against the Haitian people are well-documented, and although I altered the name slightly, the Order of the White Camellia is based on the very real secret society called the Knights of the White Camellia, who thankfully were less effective than my creation. (Although they are theorized to have morphed into the very effective White Citizens’ Councils, later on.)
Of equal importance to me was trying to acknowledge the psychological and social impact of life in a slave society; for example the friction between Creoles and other free black people, between freedmen and slaves, and between women and men of color. The legacies of colorism, classism, sexism, and internalized racism still linger powerfully in American society today, so I tried to have all the characters reflect the earlier forms of this to some degree or another.
But working these things into my story, rather than ignoring them, was the wrong thing to do according to my detractor.
I’ll spare you this person’s rambling, condescending, self-contradictory WTFery; suffice it to say this one wasn’t even worth grading. But congratulations, Detractor! You at least merited a (brief) rant on my blog. Good job!
On a more positive note — I’ve been insanely busy lately, hence the slow updating. Sorry! But here’s some interesting stuff to tide you over in the meantime:
- At Scalzi’s blog, a medical doctor encourages fellow docs to practice civil disobedience, in response to the slew of Republican-backed laws appearing around the US which essentially mandate rape as part of an unnecessary medical procedure.
- And a followup post also at Scalzi, talking about why he’s glad he’s male. Hint: nobody legislates sticking a 10-inch wand into any part of his anatomy.
- Shit men say to men who say harassing shit to women on the street. Er, warning for profanity. Used for good.
- A Kickstarter campaign for an interesting anthology, to feature some big SFF names: Scheherazade’s Facade.
- I’ve been following the Trayvon Martin case, for the same reasons I wrote “The Effluent Engine”. I’m sure this poor boy was just playing the race card too by, you know, walking around with Skittles, unarmed.
- A hilarious “how-to” comic on Hollywood’s love of whitewashing and racebending.
- Free “Go Away, I’m Reading book covers! Alas, they don’t have an “In the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, give or take 99,999” one.
- DS9 was my favorite of the Star Treks for a lot of reasons, but Ben Sisko is one of the reasons why.
*I reject Campbell’s philosophies on the whole, because if not for him there might be more writers of color in the genre today. I don’t really care if he was right about some things. He’s wrong for me.
ETA: As folks have pointed out in the comments, I’ve been conflating John Campbell with Joseph Campbell, apparently for years. D’oh! Going to have to go back and re-read Monomyth!Campbell now; I might find my opinion of the theory improved if I no longer think of its author as a bigoted asshat. (Probably not, but we’ll see.)