Is it too late for SF?

So yesterday I went to Crunch Gym to take part in my first Cardio Sculpting class. The instructor was a handsome young man whose name was either Steven or Sven. I suspect Steven since he was black and most black mothers don’t go in for Swedish names, but it sounded like Sven. Sven did cruel and unusual things to that class, and I’m not entirely convinced that he likes humanity. I don’t much like humanity after that class, because I’m in a remarkable amount of pain today. Ow.

In line with my newfound distaste for humanity, I had an incredibly bitter thought this morning (as I creaked and groaned my way out of bed). Speculative fiction and the GOP: separated at birth?

Remove (most of) the hats, and this could be a panel audience at most of the SF cons I’ve been to. Add in a few more women, maybe, and the occasional child. But this is what I saw at Boskone, at Worldcon 4 or 5 years ago, and at Readercon. (Wiscon is better — mostly female, a wider color palette, broader range of sexual identity. Arisia was younger and kinkier. But Wiscon and Arisia are niche cons, deliberately targeting audiences that don’t feel comfortable at the general cons, so they’re probably not a good measure.) I’m planning to go to World Fantasy this year for the first time, so we’ll see if that’s any better. But really? I’m not expecting much of a difference.

I bring this up because I am convinced that the GOP is Dead Party Walking. Politics are secondary to this conclusion on my part; just look at that photo. Even the Washington Post noticed it and was like, WTF? The Republicans have basically given up on trying to diversify. Apparently they feel they don’t need it; they can do fine with the audience they’ve got. Worse, they don’t seem to see a problem with it. Their anti-immigration stance has lost them the extremely powerful Latino/a vote; none of them seem to care. Their anti-gay-marriage stance lost them the GLBT vote ages ago. The gloves have been off through this whole presidential campaign on the subject of race, but now they’re not even bothering to hide their contempt for middle/upper class people of color. I think Palin is a sign too: she’s another Ann Coulter demagogue, perfectly content to allow herself and her family to be used by the old white men in power, happy to deny other women the same freedoms she’s enjoyed. This is the only kind of woman the GOP seems to find acceptable.

And that photo is the result. It’s like they wanted it this way from the very beginning.

Now, here’s what gets me. Even if the GOP manages to get the White House and some seats in Congress in the next few years, they’re not going to be able to hold on to them unless they make some drastic changes to the political system of this country. Think about what America looks like, and what that image looks like. In less than 40 years, simple demographics will make the GOP as anachronistic as the Know-Nothings, and consigned to the same place in history. And their strategy for dealing with this long-term doom seems to be… fetch handbasket, climb in, chart course for Hell. I understand that the role of conservativism is to resist progress, but this is effing ridiculous.

But my ugly thought was this. SF is headed down the same dead-end path. There have been efforts to steer it elsewhere, yes, some with greater amounts of success than others. The appearance of new magazines that contain a more varied ToC than just “old white guy ad infinitum” makes me happy. The fact that book publishers — including my own — seem more willing to take a chance on female and PoC protagonists makes me happy too. But these are glacial changes, and dammit — the asteroid has already hit. We’re in the Brave New World. The warning signs are already here: the abysmal circulation numbers of the “Big Three”, the poor advances for book authors (yeah, OK, I know, but bear with me), the graying of the fandom, the successful poaching of our potential readership by the romance and YA markets. Yet though many people in the industry are worrying about this, discussing it, ranting about it, I still see almost no effort on the part of the influencers and the gatekeepers to make necessary changes. Hell, I still see many influencers and gatekeepers protesting that there’s no need to change. Everything’s fine. The handbasket won’t start burning until we’re actually in the Ninth Circle, so don’t sweat it.

The consequences of our failure to adapt will not be catastrophic. There’s lots of interest in SF subject matter out there. But those of us who produce that subject matter will have to move into other niches to do it, because the niche known as “the speculative fiction genre” will be gone.

That’s cool by me. I already write “novels with strong romantic elements” according to the RWA, so if I play my cards right, I can jump genres if the worst should occur. Been thinking about writing some YA, too. But where does that leave the other thousands of SF writers who do category science fiction and fantasy? All the young writers hoping to make a living in this genre? Those readers who don’t want strong romantic elements or plucky teenaged protagonists in their stuff? What will they do if genre SF dies?

And at my most bitter, I wonder if it’s already too late. I wonder if SF has traveled too far down the dead-end path; if we’ve already turned off too many potential non-old-white-guy readers with no hope of luring them back at this point. I’ve written off the GOP. Should I also write off SF?

(Photo gacked from Alas, A Blog.)

5 thoughts on “Is it too late for SF?”

  1. I hope the Republicans are a party in the throes of a painful rebirth into something better, because (historically speaking) major parties almost never go away.

    The SF community has always been puzzled by the shortage of fans of color, and the low percentage of nonwhite pros. I’ve seen a lot of theorizing about it, but most of that was written by white fans, so I won’t quote it lest I embarrass myself.

    As far as I know, the community has one out-of-the-closet racist: Vox Day (Theodore Beale), who is obviously unbalanced. The primary targets of his hate are feminists, conservatives, and atheists, but he’s been known to put in a good word for the Nazis and what he conceives would be their approach to the problem of illegal immigration. For obvious reasons, there’s no telling how many closet racists we have, but I don’t imagine it’s a lot. Where we fall down is in understanding how race operates in society right now.

    Political leanings: First, while we do have some hardboiled conservatives, they’re a minority. The U.S. SF community is a lot more liberal than you’d guess from looking at it, Canandian fandom is even more so, and on average British fandom is significantly to the left of U.S. fandom. (I should know more about the Australians and New Zealanders than I do.)

    The U.S. community’s third political tendency is Miscellaneous Other: Marxists, Trotskyists, Bakuninists, misc. commies, and whatever Ken MacLeod is, plus libertarians, minarchists, anarcho-capitalists, Objectivists, extropians, a few monarchists, and heaven knows what-all else. (We might even have a few elderly Esperantists or technocrats left.) Taken collectively, they’re colorful but politically ineffectual, except for the ones who write saleable fiction.

    Here’s the news you really need to hear: one of the hottest areas in the genre right now is upper-YA sf and fantasy. Some excellent books are getting published, and are selling briskly to a new generation of readers.

    In short, we’re not dead yet.

  2. I’m more concerned the Republicans will dissolve as a party, then send “spores” of anti-progressive hawkish nutjobs out to infiltrate every other influential sphere of American life. Which they’re probably already doing anyway, but when they’re in “Repub” mode, I can see them. It gives me comfort.

    There’s been a lot of theorizing about the dearth by fans of color too, but I’m not sure if anyone in influential/gatekeeper position is listening. This thread convinced me that SFWA doesn’t care about the problem. Other organizations do, but they don’t have SFWA’s clout. It doesn’t help that there are a lot more out-of-the-closet racists out there than just Vox Day — Larry Niven recently made some pretty heinous comments about seeding the Spanish-speaking community with rumors that hospitals were harvesting organs; this was intended to keep them from seeking out healthcare, which he proposed would lower costs. And you’re probably aware of the skirmish some of us recently had with William Sanders over his anti-Arab/Muslim comments. Such gestures are next to useless; these cranky old crazies are institutions within the community, and nobody cares if they offend a few young punks (or brown punks, or female punks, or whatever), because they’ve done it before and nobody shut them down then. It’s that tolerance that disturbs me — that willingness for the SF community to welcome all comers, even if they’re frothing hatemongers, and not just tolerate them: give them awards, put them on decision-making teams. That, along with the frequent and continued publication of books containing stupid racial cliches of the kind you mentioned at NYROSF, suggests there are a lot of closet racists out there. Of course that sends a message to fans and writers of color: you’re not welcome. If you come here, be prepared to do battle with the SF Establishment. Not exactly a welcome mat.

    So I’m glad that YA seems to be taking up the torch. My suspicion is that YA appeals particularly to younger writers who don’t feel like wading through the anti-progressive morass of SF fandom; there’s more freedom in this marketing category, more interest in appealing to those audiences that SF still snubs. Maybe YA can revitalize SFdom, by bringing in more young fans who will raise a stink about the kinds of things that are allowed to slide now. I dunno. I won’t hold my breath, though.

    Oh, just FYI — there was a lot more discussion of this post in my “unofficial” blog, if you want to go read. =)

  3. Hey Nora!

    I wanted to ask a few questions/leave a comment but couldn’t find a way to contact you. So I decided to leave a comment on this post because I found the story of Sven quite entertaining.

    I freaking loved your book! I have over the last two years developed an addiction for buying fantasy novels, and I read yours in a day. I love the way you have written it, how it kind of dips in and out of stream of consciousness, and not everything is always spelled out for the reader. But I couldn’t help but feel some things were totally left unexplained, or there were some holes?

    How exactly did Itempas kill Enefa, and defeat the others and why were their chains linked to Yeine at the end? Why could the Arameri just not command the Enefadeh to kill one another, and if they couldn’t physically harm one another themselves, why did Yeine fear going to visit Relad? I didn’t get till the end that Nahadoth had two parts … who was the mortal day being? What was the point of the Enefadeh altering Yeine’s blood sigil in the beginning, and what was their original plan they spoke of, and why was it abandoned?

    I didn’t get the succession story and I thought the reasoning was weird? Why would Dekarta LET Yeine choose the successor? Why did she have to become an heir to get to that position? Couldn’t Relad just kill Yeine, thereby nullifying any leverage Scimina had – why would Dekarta then make the new ‘chooser’ choose Scimina? And, if she chose Relad, wouldn’t that then save her country, as Relad would surely have Scimina killed?

    I found the way in which you created the world absolutely stunning, and you have gained my utmost respect for the originality and detail of your story … but I just felt that some key points were a little shaky and didn’t really fit with the facts.

    Hope to hear from you soon!

  4. Wow, Josh. That’s a lot of questions.

    I think that, rather than me re-explaining the novel to you, I’ll just point you in the direction of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms Open Chat Thread, where you can ask your questions and maybe get answers from other readers. I don’t think anybody else is paying attention to a nearly two-year-old blog post. =)

    I will say that it sounds like you missed a few points that were explained in the story, but it would take me awhile to find the page numbers and point out the specific lines — I don’t have a copy of the book handy at the moment. For example, Nahadoth explained to Yeine that Itempas used a demon’s blood to poison Enefa, as demon blood was the only thing that could kill a god. (Yeine later sees a vision of Itempas using a demon-blood-tainted knife to do the deed.) Later, Sieh explains that as Enefa lay dying, Itempas tore out the piece of her body that became the Stone of Earth. It contained the last of her power, and allowed Itempas to defeat Nahadoth (and the other Enefadeh). Because the Stone was used to subdue them, the Stone is the key to their imprisonment. The Enefadeh’s imprisonment was linked to the Stone; the Stone later becomes part of Yeine; ergo the “chains” (which were metaphysical, not real) were linked to Yeine.

    Most of chapters 10 and 14 were dedicated to explaining this, so I’m not sure how you missed it. But most other readers seem to have understood the story, so again, maybe you can ask them to help you figure it out. :) Hope that helps!

  5. Thanks! Yes I remember those parts, I just thought there might have been something more. I think the way it was written kind of threw me because it was so different to anything else I’ve read … but that was totally a good thing!

    I’ll check out the chat thread :) Can’t wait for the next book.

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