Concern trolling and “gratuitous diversity”

I really wasn’t planning to engage with this semicoherent muddle by Felicity Savage over at Amazing Stories. Half my Twitter feed has been laughing at this article for days — it’s usually amusing when people who don’t understand a thing attempt to critique it — but I don’t find it funny, just sadly exemplary of the kind of cluelessness that abounds within this genre, and Anglophone society as a whole.

But it got pointed out to me that Steve Davidson, the AS editor, has jumped into the discussion to try and clarify the muddle. It hasn’t helped much, but I think the gist of what he, and ostensibly Ms. Savage, are trying to say is right here:

I think that calling into question gratuitous examples of diversity advances a valid argument: stating that a character belongs to a particular minority while not backing that character up with background and characteristics that make them genuine representatives of that minority is, in many respects, gratuitous. The point of featuring non-majority characters is to expand our experience and knowledge, not to make a work more marketable. (And other things, like creating more opportunity, providing good role models, etc)

I, for instance, am bothered by television commercials where it is obvious that some corporate hack somewhere demanded that “one of every kind” be visualized in the commercial. They’re not genuine portrayals, they’re contrived and as such distort.

Really, Steve? That’s what bothers you?

Let me tell you what bothers me.

Concern trolling. Y’know, when someone “participates in a debate posing as an actual or potential ally who simply has some concerns they need answered before they will ally themselves with a cause. In reality they are a critic.” (From here.) It’s not lost on me that neither Mr. Davidson nor Ms. Savage have done or said much to advance the cause of “genuine diversity” in SFF — whatever they think that means — unless they’re doing it in so esoteric a way that I simply can’t recognize it. Quite the contrary: Ms. Savage seems to have advocated against full inclusion for women in adventure fantasy*, and judging by her ridicule of Expanded Horizons in the article, it’s clear she’s not all that interested in racial inclusiveness in SFF either. Not fictionally, and not in real life:

Fandom has tried to develop this literal-minded concept of diversity in real life with the establishment of “safe spaces” for female and non-white fans at conventions. It hasn’t always worked too well, owing to a problem with gawkers. The Angry Black Woman, a blogger, had an unfortunately typical experience at WisCon in 2010: her squee was harshed by “people who just stared into the POC safe space room like it was a particularly interesting zoo exhibit complete with pointing.” Pity the poor black fan who can’t attend a convention without people touching her hair or asking her to teach them about negritude. But also spare a wee drop of compassion for the straight, white, able-bodied, cis-gendered male! He’s lectured on his lack of diversity, told to read more stories about and by people with diverse perspectives–and yet when he tries to approach them in real life, it all too often … doesn’t end well.

Yes, pity the poor straight white guy, endless recipient of profane anger whenever he drops a bit of earnest, well-meaning bigotry. (Warning for Shetterly, linked and in the comments.) So pathos. Much meanies. WOW.

Indeed, the only kind of diversity Ms. Savage expresses a positive interest in is this kind:

Twitter post by Felicity Savage dated 11-29 stating: Valid disagreement. This is my kind of diversity - diversity of opinion! Personally I like...

Twitter post from Felicity Savage dated 11-29, stating: ...SFF that doesn't get bogged down in contemporary identities, but builds worlds I couldn't have imagined.

She concludes: “I want characters to be themselves, not reflections of us.” To which I can honestly say good luck, if she intends to write nothing but characters who are unimaginably non-reflective of human identities. I’m thinking the only way to write a character who reflects no human identity is to write a non-human — since after all, all humans have gender, and all humans have race, even if these are only things which have been ascribed to them by the reader. But y’know, I kinda don’t think what she’s doing here is some revolutionary call for more non-humans in SFF. I get the impression that what she’s calling for is unmarked default characters — i.e., characters whose identities aren’t mentioned, or who at least don’t force her to pause and think about whether and how they belong. But presumably she understands the point of all this gratuitous diversity that so irks her — which is the fact that in English-language literature, only straight white men are granted the privilege of unquestioned ubiquity. If we want to change that, we need to see more non-straight non-white non-men popping up in SFF, as gratuitously as straight white men do.

So what we have here in Ms. Savage’s post is an expression of concern about the rise of “gratuitous” diversity… framed by a call for more straight white men. And what we have in Mr. Davidson’s call for “minority”** characters who genuinely represent their own background is… the very gratuitous superficiality that he claims he doesn’t espouse. Because, well, he only demands that “minority” characters justify their existence in a given narrative. Only women and people of color (etc.) risk being less-than-genuine for appearing alongside dragons and spaceships without reason. There has to be a point, see, whenever people like me pop up in fiction. We’re there only to “expand our experience and knowledge”, to educate; we can’t just be kicking around for the same reasons white men would be. I mean, really: if we’re not doing something black (or gay or Jewish or whatever), why are we even there? Because, amirite, God knows we’re not marketable.

And we never will be, with friends like these.

* Yeah, OK, we live in a world where 95-lb child soldiers have been used to conquer nations, with and without modern weapons; women soldiers really shouldn’t be that hard a stretch of the imagination.

** Scare quotes are because it’s a bit silly to refer to 3.5 billion women or 1 billion Muslims (or whatever) with a term that suggests they’re only a small portion of humanity.

Contemplation, at the end of a season

It’s the end of awards season in SFFdom. The Killing Moon was published in May of 2012, and I meant to address this in May of 2013, after it had been on the market for a year — but when the book got nominated for a Nebula, a Locus, and the World Fantasy Award, I decided to wait and see if it won any of them. Alas, it did not. (The Shadowed Sun won a Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice, tho’!) That said, the old aphorism that it’s an honor just to be nominated is very much truth for me, and here’s why.

I consider The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun to be my first novels.
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Reading along with Mark

I’ve been enjoying the hell out of my own books lately, thanks to Mark of Mark Reads/Watches/Does Stuff. I mentioned before that he’s been doing a read of the Inheritance Trilogy lately, and I’ve been following along. He’s at the penultimate chapter of the first book now, and… well, hell, just watch him:

For bonus points, count the number of times he says, “FUCK!” or “THIS BOOK!”

Let me tell you guys: it’s an unbelievable thrill for me as an author to watch someone react to my work like this. A good chunk of writing is trying to manipulate your reader’s emotions — yeah, I said it — and seeing if it worked is better feedback than even the best writing group or critique can offer. It’s also so gratifying to know that someone noticed a turn of phrase or line I was especially pleased with, and it’s awe-inspiring to know that someone finds my words, my little words, profound. Even though I wrote The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms years ago, watching this is doing wonders for my writing now, because it’s helping me refine and better-understand just how hard to hit something, or whether a delicate glancing blow would be more effective. Mark, if you’re reading this, thank you. And fellow authors, if Mark decides to do a reading of your work, brace yourself, because you’re in for an amazing ride.

To that end, I have just commissioned 10 videos for the last few chapters and end-material for The Kingdom of Gods. I feel a little weird commissioning readings of my own work, though, so to make myself feel better I’m going to throw down a challenge gauntlet and rope you into the fun too. :) Most of The Broken Kingdoms and The Kingdom of Gods have not been claimed thus far. So if you’re enjoying these videos too, then please commission a chapter yourself — it’s only $25, though please note the rules on length — and I will match your commission, up to $250. So if just 10 of you commission a video, I’ll do 10 more, and between us we could get most of the trilogy covered!

But even if you can’t commission anything right now, please spread the word about Mark’s awesome Reads. Seriously, these deserve to be seen far and wide.

New York Comic Con

After taking last year off, I’m heading back to NYCC this year — though only for a day (Saturday), since I generally find comic cons overwhelming and exhausting. But I’m making a nice packed day of it!

First off, I’ll be doing a signing at 1 pm at the Orbit/Hachette booth. I’m told there will be copies of The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun available! Second off, at 2:45 I’ll be on a panel sponsored by The Mary Sue on underrepresented groups in geek media. Lastly at 6:30, I’ll be on Geeks of Color ASSEMBLE!, on specifically PoC in fandom and media.

Maybe I’ll see you there!

How Long ’til Black Future Month?

In celebration of Janelle Monae’s new album, which I’ve bought but haven’t listened to yet since I’m holding it as a carrot/reward for meeting certain writing goals over the next few weeks… here’s an essay that I wrote for Jonathan Wright’s ADVENTURE ROCKETSHIP! Let’s All Go To The Science Fiction Disco anthology. If you haven’t done so yet, check out both!

Note: this is the not-fully-proofed not-final draft of the essay.

How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? The Toxins of Speculative Fiction, and the Antidote that is Janelle Monae

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Wah! I’ve been so busy at work I didn’t have time to post this here. But fortunately The Mary Sue is on the case. Here (and there) is the cover for the previously-Untitled Magic Seismology Project:

Book cover featuring a stone embossing flecked with gold inlay. Text reads "THE FIFTH SEASON. Every age must come to an end. N. K. Jemisin"

I haven’t talked much about this book because busy. But I absolutely love this cover. The Fifth Season is set in a world which has suffered frequent, repeated Extinction Level Events for millions of years, and all life (and magic) in this world has adapted to it. Hundreds of years might pass between these events — easy, plentiful years in which great cities rise, and people have the leisure for art and science and rapid advancement — but then, again and again, the cities fall. The world is littered with the detritus of these times of plenty, and this cover hints at them: past ages of decadence, now decaying; stone that endures beneath flaking gilt. Lauren Panepinto (Orbit’s Art Director) has nailed it again.


Stuff! Going! On!

Hokay! Belatedly realized I’ve been quieter than usual here, aside from occasional long philosophical screeds about SFF politics and global domination stuff. That’s because I’ve been phenomenally busy, and frankly when I’m busy it’s much easier to Tweet about stuff than take the time to do a blog post. But since it’s been so long since I’ve talked about Just Stuff here, I figured it was time to do an update.

First, I’ve finished the UMSP! My writing group, editor, and agent are now chewing on it, and I’m in Deep Thoughts mode, letting the heat of writing the first draft waft away so I can start the revision with a cool head.

Second, some upcoming appearances: Brooklyn Book Festival on September 22nd, New York Comic Con in October, Arisia in early 2014, Wiscon later the same year. And there’s one more thing I’ll be doing after that, but I can’t tell you about it. ::looks Terribly Mysterious::

Third, I’ve adopted a new cat! Yeah, that’s news, if you’ve been following my feline roommate saga here. This new fellow was adopted from a family I know which couldn’t keep him, and he and I seem to be getting along well thus far. His given name is Ozzy, but given that he’s huge and rambunctious and kind of larger-than-life, I have embellished his name as KING OZYMANDIAS (yes, it’s supposed to be in all caps).

Orange tabby cat sitting on a couch.


Fourth, book recs (sorta)! Been reading two in particular that I’m enjoying thus far (not quite done yet with either):

  • While I was down in Oz, I met a lovely author by the name of Amie Kaufman, who along with co-author Megan Spooner is about to release YA novel These Broken Stars. It’s not at all my usual fare, but I’m actually enjoying the heck out of it so far, so I’m pre-recommending it! (That’s when I recommend something before I finish it.)
  • Also, I’ve been reading Annalee Newitz’ Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction. Which, since I’m working on a post-apocalyptic fantasy right now, counts as research. But it’s fun research; the book is written in an easily accessible and engaging way. Another pre-rec!

Fifth, I’ve been following along with the Mark Does Stuff reading of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I don’t usually get to see someone reacting to my work in realtime, so this has been a treat — and Mark gets the most hilarious facial expressions. You can actually SEE HIM GO ALL CAPS. It’s delightful. And it turns out someone has commissioned him to make videos of his readings of the whole book! If something’s on his Confirmed list that you want to see videos of, you can commission him, too! Plus there’s two more books of the Inheritance Trilogy to go, and I’d love to see him capslock over them too. I think it would be a bit squinchy, ethically speaking, for me to commission those, but [blatant hint]maybe if someone here is interested…?[/blatant hint]

So that’s all the news that is news in Noraville. So, how ya been?

The Ten Percent

Note: Since I had 10 weeks to think about SFWA’s potential decision re Mr. Beale, I wrote two reaction posts. The one I posted last week is, thankfully, the “if he’s expelled” version, and I followed it up by renewing my SFWA membership. Below is what I would’ve posted if he had not been expelled, and I would’ve preceded it with a membership cancellation. As you can see, both posts use some of the same elements and arguments, though I think there’s an emotional difference that makes posting this one worthwhile. I also think it’s worthwhile to continue the larger conversation about the future of SFFdom — so I will cautiously open comments on this one, though let me remind everyone of my informal comment policy. Comments are moderated, so there might be a delay between you replying and me approving; sorry, but I’m a busy girl.

Warning for profanity.

Sign cautioning casino gamblers to set yourself a limit and DO NOT EXCEED IT

Random photo I took in Australia, just testing out my camera. Seemed apropos.

Steven Gould, SFWA’s new incoming president, is the first person who told me I was a good-enough writer to pursue a professional career. He was one of my mentors at Viable Paradise — a workshop I attended 10+ years ago in order to try and decide whether to turn the hobby I’d enjoyed since childhood into a real career. I went there with a partial novel, a little hope, and a lot of cynicism — because even as a newbie it was blatantly obvious to me that openly being who I am, writing the kind of stuff I wanted to write, meant facing a steeper uphill battle than most aspiring writers. Steven was one of the people who eased my cynicism, and encouraged my hope, such that I finally started submitting (and publishing). I will be forever grateful to him for that.

I’ve started with this so you will understand how hard it is for me to say the following: I have just cancelled my SFWA membership.

The sad fact is that Theodore Beale is right in one respect: this whole affair is really about the future of the SFF genre. He and I are ultimately irrelevant, just symbols of a bigger conflict — him gleefully so, while I have unfortunately been drafted into the role. Naturally I don’t agree with his particular gloss on the problem, which really just echoes all the stock white supremacist/misogynist/etc. rhetoric you could hear in Stormfront’s forums; he’s not really saying anything new. I’m not either. But in my view, what this boils down to is basically adaptation versus stagnation. Will SFF be an art form that evolves and grows with its audience, allowing it to survive the ages? Or will it go the way of Milesian tales and plantation tradition literature, becoming something studied in esoteric humanities courses but no longer relevant to modern life?

SFWA isn’t Ground Zero in this battle; that’s been raging for decades across movie and TV screens, game interfaces, and in the wallets of consumers worldwide. SFWA is a symbol too, however; a microcosm of this larger struggle — and frankly it’s the battleground that’s small enough for all of us to see and easily grasp. So this is why I feel driven to take this step: because if we as a genre are to choose adaptation over stagnation, we have no choice but to shed certain traits which are no longer compatible with our ability to survive. Put simply, we cannot embrace bigotry in any form and expect to appeal to the broad, diverse, international audience we’ll need to become the kind of literary form that lasts. And if SFWA is more concerned with protecting the paranoid, salacious interests of a few members over the best professional interests of all of its members, then I’d be shooting my own career in the face to support it.

But let me break this down to the personal level. Bigotry is inescapable in American society; I wish this weren’t true, but whether we admit it or not, it’s the foundation our country was built upon. I can deal with the usual cliché bigot — I did grow up in Alabama, after all. Mr. Beale is just a slightly more erudite version of the Klansmen’s kids I went to school with, and a significantly less genteel version of the Paula Deen-types I met everywhere else. But the KKK in Alabama was sued into bankruptcy, and Paula Deen lost her job, so I have come to reasonably expect that in public or professional spaces — in a civil society — blatant bigotry will be answered with blatantly severe consequences. Such consequences send a necessary message that bigotry will no longer be tolerated. By [censuring/temporarily suspending/retaining] rather than expelling Mr. Beale for promoting his hate speech via SFWA, SFWA has offered not a severe response, but a wishy-washy one. The message sent is that bigotry within SFWA won’t be tolerated for now. Much. But check back later.

I repeat: bigotry is incompatible with survival, for this genre. A tolerance for hate speech is incompatible with function, for an org that claims to welcome all pro writers regardless of their background. It’s definitely incompatible with my own ability to remain a member of said org.

Right now I cannot trust that any SFWA communication I receive in my mailbox or inbox will not contain grotesque insults to my intelligence or humanity, or the intelligence and humanity of others who do not fit the most privileged moulds. I cannot trust that a person who voices such insults, or who threatens me in however veiled a manner, will be regarded as unprofessional (to say the least) and therefore unwelcome in this “professional” organization. I can trust that I will be vilified by fellow SFWA members for complaining about such treatment, because it’s already happening. Frankly, that’s what’s happened every time a woman of color, or some other member of a marginalized group, has dared to discuss incidents like these. (It happens to white guys who complain too, but do I wonder how often they get death and rape threats for doing so.*) I can also trust that more incidents of blatant bigotry will happen on SFWA’s watch, along with more vilifications of those who protest, because SFWA’s tepid response to this incident will encourage more. It’s not surprising; 10% of SFWA’s membership thinks hate speech, attempts to intimidate, and incitements to violence are OK. (I do not have the luxury, or privilege, of assuming that the people who voted for Mr. Beale did so out of ignorance or anything benign. Reminder: death threats.) And now I can trust that SFWA will remain a haven for many other bigoted embarrasments to the genre, because it cannot even manage to rid itself of the loudest and crudest of them.

And then there’s the bullshit. There have been calls to expel me from SFWA because of my Continuum GoH speech, and/or out of some people’s misguided sense of evenhandedness — because I guess calling for an end to bigotry is the same thing as calling for the disenfranchisement of women and people of color? I can’t really follow the reasoning on that argument, sorry. I have been called a racist for mentioning race and an ageist for mentioning age and “incivil” for airing the dirty laundry of this genre’s history and present, as if pretending hate doesn’t exist is somehow polite. I’ve been told that I provoked Mr. Beale’s attack; that I was “asking for it.” I have quietly seethed while a SFWA officer informed me that they’d sat for several days on a letter I’d asked to have forwarded to the Board — a letter stating that I would cancel my membership if Mr. Beale was not expelled, and why; basically a shorter version of what I’m saying in this blog post — because s/he felt that I had sent it thoughtlessly, in anger. They then urged me to change the “inflammatory” content of the letter, for fear of alienating Board members. I told this person about the threats of violence against me, and that I was fully aware of the potential consequences. Alienating SFWA Board members is the absolute least of them.**

The word “professional” becomes meaningless, past a certain point.

Now let’s get back to that speech which so offended Mr. Beale and his friends.

I’ve been reading about reconciliation processes, these past few weeks — not just Australian Reconciliation but other countries’ attempts to reform themselves after historical evils. The first step of any reconciliation is to acknowledge that a problem exists. SFWA has had repeated opportunities to do so, and failed on almost every occasion. I understand why. We’re a community of geeks, which is a good thing… but geeks are notoriously conflict-averse. Thing is, seeking to avoid conflict is the wrong response in all these situations. Supporting the status quo is not a neutral choice — not in an institution which carries the history of racism, sexism, etc., that SFWA has. There is no neutrality when bigotry is the status quo. By showing any tolerance for bigotry, and by choosing to retain Mr. Beale in any capacity as an organization member, SFWA has made a clear and firm choice… to stagnate. So.

I’m sorry that this hurts Steven Gould, John Scalzi, Rachel Swirsky, and all the other people who I know are working their asses off to save SFWA. I sincerely wish them luck in their efforts. And I am fully aware that my quitting SFWA plays into Mr. Beale’s hands to some degree — though please note that I am not the one who chose how SFWA would respond to his actions. On a purely selfish level I’m sorry that I’ll be losing the value SFWA provides to its members — but right now I’m forced to conclude that 10% is still too much shit for my tastes. Maybe I’ll come back when that percentage is down to 5%, or 1%. Those of you who’ve read this far will need to decide for yourselves how much you can put up with.

* If you’re wondering, I’ve been getting death threats since about the time I started publishing at a pro level. Only gotten the rape threats recently, tho’; progress! Not.

** Since I’ve gotten a lot of questions about this, an FYI: I’ve since had some conversations with folks on SFWA’s Board about this, and have been assured that this person — who is not elected; also, this was with last term’s Board — will be Spoken To and that this sort of gatekeeping won’t happen again. I’m content with that. Also, just a note: you can send a letter to any Board member, and it will get to all of them — or send it to all of them yourself. I wasn’t clear on that at the time.

Time to pick a side.

I’ve written two different posts about this issue. Circumstances decided that this one got posted first; good. I might post the other. Depends on how I feel over the next few days.

So, I’ve had a few weeks to think about the fallout from my Guest of Honor speech at Continuum. I’ve also had a few weeks in which to observe the SFWA controversy that was brewing before my speech, in response to the Malzberg & Resnick articles in the Bulletin. Lots of other things have happened during that time, on both the micro and macro scale: yet another incidence of sexual harassment at a con — or rather, someone finally naming names re a serial harasser about whom I’ve heard whispers and warnings for years. The US Supreme Court clearing the way for federal recognition of gay marriage. The Supreme Court also clearing the way for the return of modern-day poll taxes (complete with old-school grandfather clauses [PDF]!) in the form of voter ID laws. Queer people of color trying to figure out how the hell they’re supposed to feel in the wake of both. Some guy I never heard of mansplaining on how to (badly, in his case) write women. Julia Gillard getting booted as Australia’s Prime Minister. Penny Arcade offending a swath of the human race, again. And as always, everywhere, people fighting back.

I mention all these seemingly disparate things because they’re not disparate at all. Continue reading ›

World Fantasy Award nomination #2

…is for The Killing Moon. Yeah, baby! And congrats to the many other nominees — especially the writers also published in John Joseph Adams’ EPIC anthology, because that one got nominated too. Dreamblood-world short story “The Narcomancer” is in that one. This spotlight is crowded with awesome people.