What I’ve been up to lately

So, it’s been awhile, blogosphere; my apologies. I would’ve updated sooner, but I had some technical difficulties (now fixed thanks to a move to a new web host) and a series of cascading deadlines that was… well, not fun. But for the first time in awhile, I’ve got room to breathe! So here’s what you missed, if you don’t follow me on Twitter or FB.

“The Awakened Kingdom” and Inheritance Trilogy omnibus are on the way!

You can preorder the ebook version now. Just sent off the page proofs today! And here’s the cover, if you missed it:
Awakened Kingdom ebook cover - shows stylized brassy stars exploding on a burgundy background, and book title.


I came back from Clarion into a massive deadline and a fresh bout of bronchitis, so didn’t update at the time. Fortunately, a number of Clarion students have blogged about this summer, including Martin Cahill’s account of how the dreaded Week 4 went with me on deck. (Hint: I shot them. I SHOT THEM ALL.) It was grueling, inspiring, frustrating, and humbling in the best way. Clarionites, I miss you guys!

Some members of Clarion UCSD mugging for the camera, and me

Photo credit Vida Cruz, July 2014


Sept 19th was my birthday, so for a personal treat I finally got around to doing the thing I’ve wanted to do since 2004 when my first novel got me an agent, which I consider to be the starting point of my pro-writer career. I’m a big believer in the importance of acknowledging personal milestones; without those, I don’t feel like I’m making any progress in life. So to demarcate the point where I took a great flying leap toward the achievement of a lifelong dream, ten years later I’ve gotten my Gatherer tattoo. Those of you who’ve read the Dreamblood may recall that when a Gatherer-Apprentice is accepted into that path, he is marked with an identifying floral tattoo (since Gatherers’ faces are generally unseen — everyone knows them as “the Rose”, or “the Nightshade”). Nijiri’s is the blue lotus. I started to go with an Egyptian design originally, and some of you may recall that I solicited ideas from readers about what the Gatherer tattoo should look like. I got several good designs — thanks, folks. But nothing really grabbed me, and since I didn’t have the money to spare at the time, I set the idea on the back burner again. But then lo and behold, artist Lee Moyer and I got to talking about some things re Arisia (where we’ll both be GoHs next year), and he showed me a pretty, and that was it. That was Nijiri’s lotus. So with his kind permission, I have applied his art to my flesh.

This is the tat freshly done. Can’t show you the final form because it’s still healing and looks kind of gross right now. -_- Maybe later.

Image of Jemisin's left shoulder with tattoo of a stylized blue lotus

Design by Lee Moyer, tattoo by Willie at Brooklyn Tattoo.

And a little something more…

ETA: Almost forgot; I’ve been busy with a few other things lately. A few reprints newly out, plus another NYT SFF roundup review is coming soon. I can’t talk about the review, but I suppose I can gloat a little about at least one of the books I’ve gotten to read lately, thanks to this NYT gig…

Photo of three books -- two anthologies featuring Jemisin reprints, the third a review copy of Ann Leckie's ANCILLARY SWORD

So that’s all the news that is news in Noraville. How’s by you guys?

A survey of my recent gaming

And by “recent” I mean “I played it recently”, not that these are recent games. ‘Cause I’m busy, and sometimes it takes me awhile to get around to things. Spoiler warning on all of these, so I’ll put them behind a cut, but these are all old games anyway, so my guess is that nobody really cares about spoilers anymore.

Continue reading ›

Small Acknowledgements

I miss WisCon. One of the reasons it’s been one of my favorite conventions — during the years I wasn’t personally boycotting it, anyway (it’s a love-hate thing) — is that I learn so much, often despite myself, and that kind of learning is always a pleasure. (So many mind blown moments.) But that said, it’s a 1000-person con, and while I’m a very functional introvert, I am an introvert; I need space and silence to recharge and reflect. So I’ve been doing a lot of that in the slightly-more-than-24-hours since I got home.

In particular I’ve been reflecting on the speech of my fellow Guest of Honor, Hiromi Goto. It’s a beautiful speech; she has more poetry in her little finger than I could ever muster in a hundred years, and given that I was sitting in the audience dripping nervous sweat when I heard it, it gave me strength. (If you’re reading this, Ms. Goto, thank you again.) I’d noticed the thematic congruity of both speeches before fellow author Sofia Samatar “remixed” them to show them in conversation, though her reconstruction really brings it home.

But in particular I want to focus in on something that Ms. Goto chose to do at the very beginning of the speech:

I would like to acknowledge the Ho-Chunk and Dakota Sioux Nations and their traditional lands. I am a guest, here, and I am grateful.

It’s a common thing in this genre for us to acknowledge our mentors and allies, our families, our readers, anyone else who’s helped us get to where we are within the scope of our career. What’s uncommon is a broader acknowledgement; one which stretches past the individual and into community, and history. My nation is one which encourages its people to think of the present and future as something neatly divided from the past; one which values, valorizes, rugged individualism. The problem with this kind of thinking, though, is that it lends a false gloss of accomplishment to everything we do. Like businesses built on public land using public utilities and roads which then refuse to pay workers enough to keep them from them going on public assistance in order to survive… and which then demand a tax exemption because they’re doing the public such a favor by existing. Of course individuals who succeed usually work hard to do so; it’s just that their accomplishment doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and we are a country that likes to pretend otherwise. Particularly when the people who got us to where we are are those we’d rather not acknowledge, for various reasons.

Ms. Goto’s acknowledgement is, I think, modeled on the Australian Acknowledgement of Country that I alluded to in my Continuum GoH speech last year. And though I’ve come to believe in the time since that it might be too soon for reconciliation in SFF — that we have not yet earned that level of closure — I do think there’s value in emulating some of the other cultures which are trying to do this. What many of these cultures seem to have figured out is that acknowledgements, however small, matter. It’s not just the thefts, the violence, or the exclusions that hurt, but also the rewriting of history to pretend none of that shit happened. Injustice keeps the wounds festering, but it’s the lies that salt and sting.

And maybe this is the kind of thing that can help. It’s a simple gesture, only a few words, but words have power. I did not include an acknowledgement like this in my speech, and I feel instinctively that it should be different to an acknowledgement of country; as I understand the Australian practice, those are done at events using public space and/or government funding, for the obvious reason that the government wouldn’t exist without the land it stands upon, and the people who’ve funded it — all of them. In the US, that’s a more complex statement, because so much of this country was built not only upon stolen land but stolen labor. And in the literary field, our foundations were built in different ways.

So this is my Acknowledgement of Genre. Or Art. Still noodling. I welcome suggestions on changing/improving this, BTW.

I acknowledge the Lenape people on whose ancestral land I stand; the African people whose bones were buried unmarked in this city’s foundations; and the involuntary and exploited labor of people from every land which helped to make New York City great.

I also acknowledge the literary ancestors without whose sacrifices and inspiration I would not be here: Mary Shelley, W. E. B. Du Bois, James Joyce, and Octavia Butler. You are joined most recently by Maya Angelou, an inspiration to us all.

I’m aware that this is too simple a statement to encompass the totality of any one person’s literary debts owed — just as the acknowledgement of country is too simple a statement to acknowledge the totality of any colonial nation’s debts. And I’m aware there’s substantial controversy regarding acknowledgements like this, which — without a real effort at memory, and unaccompanied by a serious attempt to redress past wrongs — can seem superficial, trivial.

Still, I think it’s a start. I kept it short because a complete acknowledgement would take forever, and because this is meant to be symbolic, not literal. The first paragraph is obviously specific to my locality. For the second paragraph, I chose four names so that two could be male and two female. For my first two names I deliberately chose people whose place in genre history is often forgotten or elided in favor of white men; then Joyce because he’s probably my strongest actual literary influence; then Butler because I would never have tried to get published in this genre without her example to lead the way. Obviously I chose only people who are no longer living — thus “ancestors” — because acknowledging the ancestors is a tradition that my own family has adopted, and which I suspect a lot of African American families do as well in an effort to reclaim lost aspects of our heritage. And I included Maya just because it felt right.

For now this is a thought exercise. I’m not giving any more speeches anytime soon — my next GoH appearance will be at Arisia — and I’ve got novellas and books to write as well as a whole bunch of short fiction to read before Clarion. But I think I’m going to try including this at the beginning of any future speech I give, once I refine it to my liking. You’re welcome to use it too.

A note on my Wiscon speech

Some friends asked me about a part of the speech that bothered them — namely the quote that I included from Delany’s 1998 essay, this line in particular:

As long as there are only one, two, or a handful of us, however, I presume in a field such as science fiction, where many of its writers come out of the liberal-Jewish tradition, prejudice will most likely remain a slight force—until, say, black writers start to number thirteen, fifteen, twenty percent of the total. At that point, where the competition might be perceived as having some economic heft, chances are we will have as much racism and prejudice here as in any other field.

Since other folks may have the same questions, let me address them here. I can’t speak to what Mr. Delany meant, and wouldn’t presume to try. He’s perfectly capable of speaking for himself, if he wants to do so re a 16-year-old essay quoted by some woman he met once and probably doesn’t remember. I can only speak to why I chose this passage, and what it meant for me. To me it seemed a straightforward description of the SFF genre of the 50s and 60s, especially from the perspective of an outsider trying to break in: that is, mostly white liberals — by the standards of the time, however we might describe them today — and people who were at least Jewish if not liberal, and thus theoretically accepting of black writers because they got the concept of discrimination. (Delany’s essay details how accepted he actually was in those days. Might want to go read it, for context.)

But I’m not Jewish, and I don’t have a radar that pings whenever “Jewish” and words like “economic” are mentioned in close proximity. It didn’t even occur to me that the statement could be read as an allusion to the stereotype of Jewish people being parsimonious. That’s certainly not how I read it, obviously — but I get that this is one possible interpretation of the passage, and that my own privilege as a non-Jewish person is why I didn’t notice that. And especially in light of (TW for anti-Semitism and general bigotry) ongoing bullshit happening both here and overseas — I also get why some of the folks who heard those lines were… concerned.

Sooooo not my intention, ya’ll. Really sorry for that. And from here forth I’ll try to keep a closer lookout for those kinds of “stereotype keyword” combinations, to avoid confusion/alarm.

[ETA: fixed broken link.]

Wiscon 38 Guest of Honor Speech

[ETA 3/28/14: Added markup; text is still the same. Also, please note a discussion here about a line in the Delany quote that concerned some people.]

Thanks to all the WisCon volunteers, members, and other supporters, who have given me the opportunity to speak to you now.

Trigger warning: I’m going to refer to rape, harassment, racism, and other forms of bigotry and abuse in this speech. Also, profanity warning. That’s sort of standard with me.

I’m going to start this off with a quote from Chip Delany, writing in the essay “Racism and Science Fiction” which was published in NYRSF in 1998. It’s online, you can look it up.

“Since I began to publish in 1962, I have often been asked, by people of all colors, what my experience of racial prejudice in the science fiction field has been. Has it been nonexistent? By no means: It was definitely there. A child of the political protests of the ’50s and ’60s, I’ve frequently said to people who asked that question: As long as there are only one, two, or a handful of us, however, I presume in a field such as science fiction, where many of its writers come out of the liberal-Jewish tradition, prejudice will most likely remain a slight force—until, say, black writers start to number thirteen, fifteen, twenty percent of the total. At that point, where the competition might be perceived as having some economic heft, chances are we will have as much racism and prejudice here as in any other field.

We are still a long way away from such statistics.

But we are certainly moving closer.”

I’m tempted to just stop there, drop the mic, and walk offstage, point made. Chip’s a hard act to follow.

But it has been almost twenty years since his prophetic announcement, and in that time all of society — not just the microcosm of SFF — has racheted toward that critical, threatening mass in which people who are not white and not male achieve positions of note. And indeed we have seen science fiction and fantasy authors and editors and film directors and game developers become much, much more explicit and hostile in their bigotry. We’ve seen that bigotry directed not just toward black authors but authors of all races other than white; not just along the racial continuum but the axes of gender, sexual orientation, nationality, class, and so on. We’ve seen it aimed by publishers and book buyers and reviewers and con organizers toward readers, in the form of every whitewashed book cover, every “those people don’t matter” statement, and every all-white, mostly-male BookCon presenters’ slate. Like Chip said, this stuff has always been here. It’s just more intense, and more violent, now that the bigots feel threatened.

And it is still here. I’ve come to realize just how premature I was in calling for a reconciliation in the SFF genres last year, when I gave my Guest of Honor speech at the 9th Continuum convention in Australia.

For those of you who don’t stay on top of the latest news in the genre, let me recap what happened after that speech: I was textually assaulted by a bigot who decided to call me a “half-savage” among other things. (Whoops, sorry; he calls himself an “anti-equalitarian”, because why use a twelve-cent word when you can come up with a $2 word for the same thing? Anyway.) He did this via the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s official Twitter feed, which meant that he was using the organization as the tool for a personalized, racist, sexist attack; because of this he was later expelled from the organization. He was just the inciting incident, though; the really interesting thing is what surrounded this whole affair. I got the expected rape and death threats from this man’s supporters and others, which I duly reported to various authorities, for whatever good that did. During the month or so that it took SFWA to figure out what it wanted to do with this guy, a SFWA officer sat on the formal complaint I’d submitted because she thought I had “sent it in anger” and that I might not be aware of the consequences of sending something like that to the Board. A SFWA affiliate member posted a call for civility on his website; in the process he called me “an Omarosa” and a “drama queen”, but of course he didn’t mean those in a racialized or gendered way. In a semi-secret unofficial SFWA forum there was intense debate — involving former SFWA presidents and officers, and people who weren’t members at all — about why it was desperately important that SFWA retain its harassers and assaulters, no matter how many members they drove off, because their ability to say whatever they wanted was more important than everyone’s ability to function in genre workspaces, and SFWA’s ability to exist as a professional association.

Let me be clear: all of these were racist and sexist attacks, not just one on the SFWA Twitter feed. And let me emphasize that I am by no means the only woman or person of color who’s been targeted by threats, slurs, and the intentional effort to create a hostile environment in our most public spaces. People notice what happens to me because for better or worse I’ve achieved a high-enough profile to make the attacks more visible. But I suspect every person in this room who isn’t a straight white male has been on the receiving end of something like this — aggressions micro and macro. Concerted campaigns of “you don’t belong here”.

This is why I say I was premature in calling for a reconciliation. Reconciliations are for after the violence has ended. In South Africa the Truth & Reconciliation Commission came after apartheid’s end; in Rwanda it started after the genocide stopped; in Australia reconciliation began after its indigenous people stopped being classified as “fauna” by its government. Reconciliation is a part of the healing process, but how can there be healing when the wounds are still being inflicted? How can we begin to talk about healing when all the perpetrators have to do is toss out dogwhistles and disclaimers of evil intent to pretend they’ve done no harm?

(Incidentally: Mr. Various Diseases, Mr. Civility, and Misters and Misses Free Speech At All Costs, if you represent the civilization to which I’m supposed to aspire then I am all savage, and damned proud of it. You may collectively kiss my black ass.)

Maybe you think I’m using hyperbole here, when I describe the bigotry of the SFF genres as “violence”. Maybe I am using hyperbole — but I don’t know what else to call it. SFF are dedicated to the exploration of the future and myth and history. Dreams, if you want to frame it that way. Yet the enforced SWM dominance of these genres means that the dreams of whole groups of people have been obliterated from the Zeitgeist. And it’s not as if those dreams don’t exist. They’re out there, in spades; everyone who dreams is capable of participating in these genres. But many have been forcibly barred from entry, tormented and reeducated until they serve the status quo. Their interests have been confined within creative ghettos, allowed out only in proscribed circumstances and limited numbers. When they do appear, they are expected to show their pass and wear their badge: “Look, this is an anthology of NATIVE AMERICAN ANCIENT WISDOM from back when they existed! Put a kachina on the cover or it can’t be published. No, no, don’t put an actual Navajo on the cover, what, are you crazy? We want the book to sell. That person looks too white, anyway, are you sure they aren’t lying about being an Indian? What the hell is a Diné? What do you mean you’re Inuit?”

But the violence that has been done is more than metaphysical or thematic. Careers have been strangled at birth. Identities have been raped — and I use that word intentionally, not metaphorically. What else to call it when a fan’s real name is stripped of its pseudonym, her life probed for data and details until she gets phone calls at her home and workplace threatening her career, her body, and her family? (I don’t even need to name a specific example of this; it’s happened too often, to too many people.) Whole subgenres like magic realism and YA have been racially and sexually profiled, with discrimination based on that profiling so normalized as to be nearly invisible. How many of you have heard that epic fantasy or video games set in medieval Europe need not include people of color because there weren’t any? I love the Medieval PoC blog for introducing simple visual evidence of how people like me were systematically and literally excised from history. The result is a fantasy readership that will defend to the death the idea that dragons belong and Those People don’t.

Incidentally, the person who runs the Medieval PoC blog estimates she has received something on the order of 30 death threats in recent months.

And let’s talk about the threats — including the ones I’m likely to get for this speech. The harassment. The rapes. The child abuse. Let’s talk about how many conventions have been forced to use disturbingly careful language to basically say, Don’t assault people. Let’s talk about how much pushback statements like that have gotten from people whining, “Aw, c’mon, can’t I assult someone just a little?”

Worst of all, the violence has at this point become self-perpetuating. I can’t tell you how many times I was told, with great vehemence and hostility, that there was no chance of me having a career in SFF — by other people of color. Yeine, the protagonist of THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS, was almost a white man because I listened to some of what these people were saying. (Imagine if I’d listened to all of it.)

I have no idea what to do about all this. Just keep doing what I’ve been doing, I guess — just write, and try to improve my writing, and publish, and try to stay published. Every few months, pause to deal with some bigot’s bullshit. Then get back to writing. For the first time in my life I was diagnosed with high blood pressure earlier this year. It’s back down to normal, now, but bigotry kills, you know. Gotta be more careful of my physical and psychological health. Gotta survive. Because that’s all anyone can do, if we’re ever to make it to the point that reconciliation is possible. We aren’t there yet.

There are some signs of hope, I guess: SFWA did throw that one bigot out, though plenty more remain. Chip Delany’s been honored as a SFWA Grandmaster some fifty years after one of his novels was rejected for serialization in ANALOG because its editors didn’t think anyone could relate to a black protagonist. WisCon invited me here to be one of its Guests of Honor, five years after I ragequit the Concom over the Elizabeth Moon affair. We are talking about what’s happening. We are fighting back. But I am desperately afraid that Delany’s prediction will continue to prove true, and that the violence will escalate as more of us step up and demand that our contributions be recognized, our personhood respected, our presence acknowledged. If that’s the case, then we haven’t seen the worst of it yet. And we need to prepare.

So. If they think we are a threat? Let’s give them a threat. They want to call us savages? Let’s show them exactly what that means.

Arm yourselves. Go to panels at Wiscon and claim the knowledge and language that will be your weapons. Go to sources of additional knowledge for fresh ammunition — histories and analyses of the genre by people who see beyond the status quo, our genre elders, new sources of knowledge like “revisionist” scholarship instead of the bullshit we all learned in school. Find support groups of like-minded souls; these are your comrades-in-arms, and you will need their strength. Don’t try to do this alone. When you’re injured, seek help; I’ve got a great list of CBT therapists, for any of you in the New York area. Exercise to stay strong, if you can; defend what health you have, if you can’t. And from here on, wherever you see bigotry in the genre? Attack it. Don’t wait for it to come directly at you; attack it even if it’s hitting another group. If you won’t ride or die for anyone else, how can you expect them to ride or die for you? Understand that there are people in this genre who hate you, and who do not want you here, and who will hurt you if they can. Do not tolerate their intolerance. Don’t be “fair and balanced.” Tell them they’re unwelcome. Make them uncomfortable. Shout them down. Kick them out. Fucking fight.

And maybe one day, when the fighting’s done, then we can heal. On that day, all of us will dream freely, at last.

Thank you again.

So, about that Seekrit Project I’ve been working on…

This is actually two! two! two! announcements in one, sort of.

First, Orbit’s putting out an omnibus edition of the Inheritance Trilogy! Cover art is below, and it’s lovely, innit? Feels to me like it ties together my first published works with my upcoming works nicely, since the art’s in a similar vein with that of The Fifth Season. It will be available in print and ebook form.

But second — note that little bit of text at the bottom of the omnibus cover.

Cover shows a photorealistic, ornate stone door, superimposed with text reading THE INHERITANCE TRILOGY. At bottom, INCLUDES A BRAND NEW NOVELLA SET IN THE SAME WORLD, THE AWAKENED KINGDOM

So, yeah. That’s the seekrit. I needed a bit of a palate-cleanser after writing The Fifth Season, and this idea had been tickling me, so I decided to scratch the itch.

Here’s what “The Awakened Kingdom” is about:


As the first new godling born in thousands of years — and the heir presumptive to Sieh the Trickster — Shill’s got big shoes to fill.  She’s well on her way when she defies her parents and sneaks off to the mortal realm, which is no place for an impressionable young god.  In short order she steals a demon’s grandchild, gets herself embroiled in a secret underground magical dance competition, and offends her oldest and most powerful sibling.

But for Eino, the young Darren man whom Shill has befriended, the god-child’s silly games are serious business.  Trapped in an arranged marriage and prohibited from pursuing his dreams, he has had enough.  He will choose his own fate, even if he must betray a friend in the process — and Shill might just have to grow up faster than she thinks.

The long awaited sequel to the Inheritance trilogy — a novella by award winning author N. K. Jemisin where a godling must struggle to grow in the shadow of her parents. 

Now, please note, this is a novella and not a full novel, so it’s perfectly appropriate to keep calling the Inheritance Trilogy a “trilogy”. (No, I will not start calling it the Inheritance cycle. You’ve been down that road, Neo.) A few old faves will appear, but for the most part this is a new story with new characters. Also note that it’s not finished yet, so a) don’t ask me about it, b) I don’t know how long it will ultimately be, and c) a lot of things change between my drafts anyway so see point A again.

At the moment the story is a bit more lighthearted than the main trilogy, which is to say not quite as many people have died horribly yet. (C’mon, ya’ll, you know me by now.) Shill is a true child god — unlike Sieh, who just played at childhood — and frankly I’m loving her; writing her basically means contemplating how a being with an adult-level intellect, Phenomenal Cosmic Power, and no freaking clue about anything blunders through complicated events. But as the marketing text notes, a good chunk of the story will take place in Darr and focus on a young Darren man, in a society in which men have few rights and forced male circumcision is a thing — so still some Serious Stuff therein.

The novella will be available as a standalone ebook, note. And everything will be out December 9th of this year.

Confirmation bias, epic fantasy, and you

Ya’ll, MedievalPoC is (hopefully) going to be at WisCon. By a funny chance, I will be, too! (Imagine that.) I am totes going to fangirl all over them. Posts like this are why:

Seeing this post reminds me that someone I’ve known for years, and who has a rather expensive college degree, said these exact words to me in regard to ASOIAF/Game of Thrones this past Tuesday at a gaming tournament:

“Things were just like that back then.”

There were not enough faces for me to palm. I just ended up yelling, “When was that again?? In the good old days of Westeros??”

P.S. literally the only reason there are almost no people of color in ASOIAF is because George R.R. Martin decided there wouldn’t be, and the reason they’re portrayed the way they are is because he decided they WOULD be. With great acclaim comes great accountability.

I suspect this was not aimed at GRRM, specifically. MedievalPoC has made the same point about “historically accurate” medieval European video games that make conspicuously inaccurate choices in development, and so forth. MedievalPoC points this problem out as endemic to the genre in general, which isn’t really a surprise since it’s endemic to our society. The blog is dedicated to pointing out the literal erasures and revisions that have been inflicted on art of the era to make it conform to modern — and quintessentially white supremacist — beliefs about how medieval Europe “should” have been. (And if you haven’t figured it out yet, you should be following MedievalPoC. Like, now.)

But this isn’t just a problem of revisionist history (by which I mean white supremacist history, though this term is typically applied to history that attempts to correct the supremacist stuff; isn’t that interesting). It’s a problem of psychology, so permit me to switch hats for a moment. To the Wikipedia!

Confirmation bias (also called confirmatory bias or myside bias) is the tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs. People also tend to interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing position. Biased search, interpretation and memory have been invoked to explain attitude polarization (when a disagreement becomes more extreme even though the different parties are exposed to the same evidence), belief perseverance (when beliefs persist after the evidence for them is shown to be false), the irrational primacy effect (a greater reliance on information encountered early in a series) and illusory correlation (when people falsely perceive an association between two events or situations).

Confirmation bias doesn’t cause the phenomenon of Mysteriously Whitewashed Medieval Europe. (Or Peculiarly Denuded of Women Europe, or Puzzlingly Focused On The Nobility Europe, or any of the other bizarre things we tend to see in medieval Europe-flavored fantasy.) Confirmation bias causes the freakouts that occur whenever somebody points out these phenomena, and names them as inaccuracies. Like the “go kill yourself” messages Medieval PoC has gotten for simply pointing out that people of color could easily have been present in a game set in central Bohemia. Or, for that matter, the rape threats that Anita Sarkeesian (no actual rape threats or misogyny in the article; just showing some of the harassment she deals with; avoid the comments, however) gets for pointing out that there should be a lot more women in fantasy games, and they shouldn’t all be buxom wenches getting rescued/laid by the male protagonist. Or the death threats that I sometimes get for, y’know, posts like this.

Like the Wikipedia entry suggests, confirmation bias is usually worst when a person feels threatened by anything that challenges their preexisting beliefs. Since the preexisting beliefs associated with bigotry are all tied up in identity and privilege, it’s not really surprising that the sense of threat is there, merited or not. Identity and privilege are things of the ego; they’re about what we think of ourselves. Bigotry tells privileged people that they deserve to be privileged; that they should have an easier life and a better self-image and more power because they are special; that the reason less-privileged folks don’t get the same preferential treatment is because they are inferior in some way. Challenging this thinking means saying to people: actually, no, you’re not all that special, or maybe you are but not because you’re [insert identity], and also those other people aren’t inferior at all, they just weren’t “lucky” enough to be born with your identity. For people who get used to being incessantly told “You’re awesome!” being told instead that, “Eh, you’re just okay” is a little bit of a comedown. (But a comedown is not oppression. Anyone who thinks that really has no concept of what oppression really is.)

But what surprises a lot of people — especially people who don’t think of themselves as racist or sexist or classist or whatever — is how much they’ve come to expect those positive-but-bigoted messages. How much they’ve come to believe them. So when you hit them in the face with contradictory facts or logic or, in the case of MedievalPoC, actual visual evidence of just how skewed and inaccurate those beliefs are, those privileged folks have to swallow that not only are they not special, just okay, but they’re also suckers who fell for the racist okeydoke. They’re thinking like racists.

And since our society tries so hard to position the word “racist” as some sort of inhuman, barely-comprehensible evil — instead of, y’know, the way our society functions — those people who’ve just realized they swallowed a bit of bigotry immediately suffer pangs of cognitive disonnance. They can’t be racist. That would make them an inhuman, incomprehensible evil! DANGER WILL ROBINSON DOES NOT COMPUTE bluescreen 0011010 reboot. What are they to believe, that they’ve turned into inbred hicks wearing white sheets? (Or whatever cartoonish image exists for “racist” in their mind.) Unpossible! So instead they reject the contradictory evidence. They reject it vehemently; they repudiate it, they throw holy water at it, and they toss a Molotov cocktail after that. And then they decide that the person who showed them this contradictory fact must be Evil Incarnate for causing them psychological pain. This person must be stopped. Or at least, intimidated into silence.

And meanwhile, they double down on the original problematic belief. Because if the person who contradicted this belief is Evil Incarnate, well, that must mean the original belief is good, right? So of course there were no people of color in medieval Europe. Evidence to the contrary? La la la can’t hear you. Can’t fool me with logic. So there’s no need to diversify any medieval European fantasy novel because Things Were Just Like That Back Then.

And here’s the thing: us fantasy readers are particularly susceptible to confirmation bias because we tend to be binary thinkers. Just look at the works that have become bestsellers in our genre: how many of them contain a force of good and a force of evil? A Dark Lord versus warriors of light? A Shadow in the East versus the good Men of the West? This is comfort food for most of us — yeah, me included. Binary thought was our formative meat and milk. And even though a lot of us have moved on to accept shades of gray since — as GRRM fans can attest — there will still come a point where we’re faced with facts that threaten us on some level of privilege. When that happens, a lot of us default back to these formative modes. We react to the ego-threat with confirmation bias and other cognitive defense mechanisms; we double down and raise shields and prepare to defend our psychological selves to the death. Us vs Them. We stop thinking, in other words, and lose our goddamned minds.

So if you catch yourself getting upset when someone puts something in a fantasy that “doesn’t belong” — women in positions of power who aren’t sexualized, for example, or people of color in a part of the world where you think they never “existed”*, or a trans woman in a patriarchial society, or an important disabled person in (this! is!) Sparta, or whatever… Take a breath. Calm down. Do some research. Don’t immediately reject the contradictory information, and don’t assume that the person giving it to you is trying to hurt you. Ask yourself why you feel hurt, if you do. Why is this making you so mad? Why is it so important to you that Things Were Just Like That Back Then? Why does it bother you so much to realize things weren’t like that? We can’t always control our reactions to psychological threats, but sometimes understanding why those reactions happen can help us at least short-circuit them before they really blow up. It takes work, but you can shake it off.

And if you’re a writer, and you catch yourself getting defensive when someone suggests you add something to your fantasy novel that “doesn’t belong”… again, take a breath. Do some research — beyond the basic stuff you got in high school history class, that is. (You should be doing that anyway. It’ll improve your worldbuilding.) Write whatever you want, of course; handwave the historical evidence if you feel like it. But own your decisions, if you do so. Recognize that the Things Were Just Like That excuse is just that — an excuse. Existential angst manifesting as unjustified certainty. You wrote what you wrote because you wanted to write it that way. And if you don’t like what these choices imply about you… well. Then you’ve got some work to do, too, haven’t you?

* Scare quotes because, FFS, people of color have “existed” everywhere, in every age of human history. Most of the world is people of color, and always has been. Sometimes I’m just amazed at the leaps of non-logic white supremacy tries to put over on us.

An update on the update and the progress of the progress

Just occurred to me I’ve been really quiet here, aside from yelling at old men yelling at clouds. Yikes! Sorry ’bout that. I haven’t been quiet anywhere else, of course; it’s just that it’s usually easier for me to microblog on Facebook or Twitter than to macroblog here. Still, some things work better when discussed at length.

So, I’ve been getting lots of questions lately about The Fifth Season, and I have a marketing blurb for you, which my editor and I recently hashed out:


Three terrible things happen in a single day.

Essun, masquerading as an ordinary schoolteacher in a quiet small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Mighty Sanze, the empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years, collapses as its greatest city is destroyed by a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heartland of the world’s sole continent, a great red rift has been been torn which spews ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

But this is the Stillness, a land long familiar with struggle, and where orogenes — those who wield the power of the earth as a weapon — are feared far more than the long cold night. Essun has remembered herself, and she will have her daughter back.

She does not care if the world falls apart around her. Essun will break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

This will appear on jacket copy and in distributor magazines and stuff like that, as I understand it. I’ll publish sample chapters here too, the way I have for all my previous books. That said, these things won’t be appearing for awhile, because the publication date for TFS has recently been pushed back to 2015.

Now, there’s a good reason for this: TFS is the first of a big, complicated trilogy, requiring a ton of research and in many ways taxing my creative abilities to their fullest — it’s the most challenging novel I’ve ever written, craftwise — and these aren’t exactly the kinds of books I can crank out like popcorn. So even though the first book is finished, I don’t think I can spit out the second one in, like, three months, which is what I’d have to do if the second book was to come out a year later! And Orbit (rightly, IMO) tries to arrange for its epic fantasy series to come out on a relatively compact timescale, so they’re pushing back the first book to give me more time to work on the second and third. I don’t think it’s fair to readers to keep them waiting for years and years between segments — except for writers whose last name is Martin and whose readers are obviously cool with that :) — so I’m completely on board with this decision.

And this is complicated by the fact that I’m working on something else in the meantime — a Seekrit Projekt — which is going to keep me off the TFS sequel for a few months. But I think most of you are going to be very happy when you see it.

So, that’s the state of the state. Any questions? (No, I’m not telling you what the Seekrit Projekt is. It’s a secret, good grief.)

Pretty much the only comment I’ll make here on the current SFWA shenanigans

Because dozens more people* are talking about and archiving it already. Nothing but admiration for folks who have the patience and blood pressure left to spend on this, but I can’t headdesk anymore. I need my head, and my desk, to write. Doing this pre-coffee, BTW, and hepped up on cold medicine, so brace yourself.

But here’s the thing: I am all about the First Amendment**. Most writers are. And if this current brave blow in defense of artistic expression had been actually about artistic expression, I might’ve been in their corner. If they’d gone to bat like this, poured out all this sturm und drang and all these Privileged Writer Tears, over the kinds of things the First Amendment was meant to protect — the voices of the minority; the rights of those who need to speak truth to power; subversive art, incisive journalism, political protest — then I would’ve signed the damn petition myself.

But context matters. Ethics matter. The guy initiating this petition has an extensive history of filling some of the most visible parts of the SFFsphere with his misogyny, homophobia, and other choice bigotries. He often wraps these ideas in anti-political-correctness freedom-fighting MURRICA flag-waving, but when it comes down to it, that’s what this petition is pushing for — this guy’s right to be a bigoted asshole, essentially unchallenged, in SFWA publications. Ditto a few other (mostly older, white, straight) guys’ right to do the same; this freedom to spout hate and fear and contempt for whole swaths of people is a privilege they once gleefully embraced, and they’re mad because it’s not the norm of professionalism anymore. They want it re-normalized. And by standing up not for artistic expression, but for the violent, exclusionary rhetoric that has made SFFdom such a hostile environment for many non-male non-straight non-white people, every signatory on that petition has basically laughed at the First Amendment. This has squat to do with freedom of expression. It’s about making sure the old (sorry, “The Old”) white guys get to talk how they want about the “furry pussies” and the “savages” and the “metrosexuals”, while making sure the targets of their vitriol STFU, waste energy defending their right to exist unobjectified, or leave the profession. That’s basically the opposite of what the First Amendment is supposed to do.

And yeah, I get that part of the problem here is that some of the petition’s signatories feel marginalized. Yet somehow Truesdale had a column in F&SF for years, and somehow Malzberg and Resnick had the SFWA Bulletin as a platform for years. And somehow lots of these signatories are bestsellers or former SFWA officers or have earned the highest awards in our genre, as the petition so-helpfully emphasized.

But you don’t get to claim marginalization when you’re at the center of a thing. You can’t endorse the efforts of bigots to establish a safe space for their bigotry, and then plausibly claim you’re not one of them. You don’t get to pretend that you’re in the demographic minority when you’re… not. And like I Tweeted yesterday before I had to go offline for some therapeutic Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer, you don’t get to pretend you’re being mistreated when really, you’re just being treated like your voice isn’t the only important one in the room anymore.

Oh, and — people who signed that petition: you want to know the real reason why you’re getting so much disrespect from the rest of the genre right now? It’s because you and your friends keep pulling shit like this while the rest of us are just trying to keep the lights on and put food on the table. It’s like Republicans passing bill after bill to fuck up reproductive health rights while the economy’s in the toilet; what the hell does this have to do with anything that matters? You got yours. You’re still getting it. You had every advantage in your favor, and you used the hell out of it. Good on you. But stop pitching shitfits just because the rest of us want a piece of the pie — the pie all of us helped to create — too.

Freedom of artistic expression does not trump good common sense, and at least a perceived modicum of morality (whether divinely inspired or by human agreement and consensus), or an innate sense of fundamental ethical awareness.Dave Truesdale***

Yeah. Right.

* And that’s just one week.

** Despite the fact that the First Amendment has nothing to do with this situation, because SFWA’s not the government. The “spirit of the First Amendment”, right. Funny how they focus on the Amendment’s spirit of free expression but not its spirit of inclusivity, etc.

*** Hat-tip to Nick Mamatas, for reading through Truesdale’s stuff so I didn’t have to.

Fave Reads of 2013

Yikes! This went up days ago and I forgot to link it here. Bad author! No biscuit. In my defense, though, I’m up to my neck in trying to finish a revision of The Fifth Season, so all the little things are kind of falling by the wayside. Like — oh. Happy new year. :)

Anyhow, my favorite stuff of 2013 is up over at The Book Smugglers, if you’re still looking for a way to burn those holiday gift cards and whatnot. Enjoy!