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May 13, 2009 11:06 AM   Subscribe

There's been more and more rumblings lately about the inclusiveness (or lack thereof) of diversity in the circles of sci-fi and fantasy. Pam Nole's classic Shame essay hits a lot of points and while the Carl Brandon Society has been fighting the good fight for some time, more and more people are gathering their own projects, such as Transcriptase or Verb Noire to create spaces and publishing arenas less biased. Are these even necessary? It seems the fans think so.
posted by yeloson (91 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
What an excellent and timely post, yeloson.
posted by Mister_A at 11:12 AM on May 13, 2009


I like to focus on the positive.
posted by yeloson at 11:20 AM on May 13, 2009


I'm at work, and can't view all of your links, but I can't wait to get home to do so.

SF&F should be fertile ground for a diverse group of contributors, and it has always saddened me that it never seemed to be the case.
posted by never used baby shoes at 11:20 AM on May 13, 2009


The genre may have been largely white and largely hetero male at its incept, but that hasn't really been the case, in terms of written sf at least, for decades -- certainly not since Chip Delany started publishing. Conventions in particular have been pretty decent little melting pots. This may not be so much the case with fantasy, but written sf has been pretty inclusive.

Tellingly, for me, yelosin, you use the term "sci fi" up there, which pins the discussion to movies and television in the minds of most fans (and I am being specific to "fandom" here, in the sub-cultural sense of the milieu in which "Carl Brandon" was created).
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 11:33 AM on May 13, 2009


The genre may have been largely white and largely hetero male at its incept, but that hasn't really been the case, in terms of written sf at least, for decades -- certainly not since Chip Delany started publishing.

Wow, that's amazing. I mean, Delany is a great writer, but I never knew he was a one-man demographic.

Yes, Delany is a great SFF writer and rightly celebrated for such. He is also someone who self-identifies as black and gay.

But Delany's success did not automatically make SFF no longer white-dominated or straight-dominated. Nor did Delany's success improve the male-to-female skew of SFF at all, since a black gay man is a man.

The argument that "SFF is not male-dominated or straight-dominated or white-dominated! Look at Octavia Butler! Look at Chip Delany (he's a twofer)!" is ridiculous. Social and economic communities can be dominated by a particular group without being 100% made up of that group: it's not a binary opposition.


Tellingly, for me, yelosin, you use the term "sci fi" up there, which pins the discussion to movies and television in the minds of most fans (and I am being specific to "fandom" here, in the sub-cultural sense of the milieu in which "Carl Brandon" was created).

Wow, I have nothing to say about this except CHECK YOUR FUCKING CONDESCENSION. Also, trying to school someone on terminology while spelling their name incorrectly makes you look like not just an arrogant douchenozz, but an incompetent, arrogant douchenozz.

FANS AREN'T SLANS.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:43 AM on May 13, 2009 [8 favorites]


When are we going to learn that Sci-Fi is a reflection of today's society, not tomorrow's utopia?

Our present concept of our personal interactions, gizmos, and adventures are not only reflected and modified according to our best guess as to what the future will bring, but also used to curtail our vision and expression of the future.

Decades ago, in the era of the original Star Trek, we were just becoming aware as a society that the prejudices of the day simply could not last into the future. It was quite amazing to see people of different races mixed on that bridge, and it was a reflection of a new, controversial hope for an imaginable future. Safe Sci-Fi did not even get into these issues of controversy because it was entertainment. Entertainment requires an audience in order to make money, and although the imagined future may have been of an advanced culture, the images on the screen were meant to be viewed by the people of the present time.

Today we have arrived at a new stage in our cultural evolution and that allows us to view yet another alternate future. We can more easily imagine a complete mixture of our various peoples and cultures. For the first time we are going to see mainstream Sci-Fi embrace same sex couples. Why? Because the audience of today is ready to embrace entertainment that includes such people of tomorrow.
posted by Muddler at 11:45 AM on May 13, 2009


Shortest love-in ever, eh NUBS?
posted by Mister_A at 11:46 AM on May 13, 2009


Well, that certainly perked up the thread.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:47 AM on May 13, 2009


My sense is that while books and comics (sci fi and in general) are steadily getting more diverse, the Hollywood films that derive from them are not. I think if the studios spent $10M on ten films instead of $100M on one film, then they might be more willing to take financial risks and grow a little. The tacky, artificial feel of most movies in theaters in the US is why I don't bother wasting my $5/hour on them.

Regarding the Shame essay, I watched that Earthsea movie on DVD a few days ago and it was really pretty bad. Being reminded that the main character was black in the book but white (well, kinda dirty off-white) on the screen made me wish I hadn't even bothered watching it.
posted by mdoar at 11:49 AM on May 13, 2009


When are we going to learn that Sci-Fi is a reflection of today's society, not tomorrow's utopia?

I think we all know that. Which is why speculative fiction/sff/sci-fi/science fiction that defaults to an all-white, all-straight, all-male-except-for-the-hotties-and-telephone-operators imagined universe is such spectacularly lazy and irresponsible writing.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:50 AM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


I didn't say Delany was a one-man demographic, and I can't see how you got that out of what I wrote. What I was trying to say was that his success opened the field up. Besides, Delany wasn't out when he started publishing. After all, he was married to Marilyn Hacker for years.

Insofar as your flaming me for trying to be clear about the difference inside fandom between sf and sci-fi (skiffy), I suggest you check your own condescension. I am entitled to my stupid, wrong opinion just as you are.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 11:54 AM on May 13, 2009


A smile swept across my face when, in the new Star Trek movie, there was an establishing shot of a black woman with a GLORIOUS afro manning a console on the bridge of the Enterprise.
posted by Jon_Evil at 11:54 AM on May 13, 2009


Much of F&SF, like most genre fiction, is inherently conservative. I mean "little c", don't change things all at once now, you durn kids! conservative.
posted by Mister_A at 11:55 AM on May 13, 2009


Shortest love-in ever, eh NUBS?

We had our moment. Of course, all those moments will be lost in time.
posted by never used baby shoes at 11:56 AM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Insofar as your flaming me for trying to be clear about the difference inside fandom between sf and sci-fi (skiffy), I suggest you check your own condescension.

I'm happy to condescend to people who are being condescending about a ridiculous shibboleth/distinction that exists only to puff up those who get off on thinking that they're King Nerds.

I didn't say Delany was a one-man demographic, and I can't see how you got that out of what I wrote. What I was trying to say was that his success opened the field up.

And I'm saying that that didn't actually happen, and that the field is still dominated by straight white men.

Besides, Delany wasn't out when he started publishing. After all, he was married to Marilyn Hacker for years.

So what were you suggesting when you wrote that "The genre may have been largely white and largely hetero male at its incept, but that hasn't really been the case, in terms of written sf at least, for decades -- certainly not since Chip Delany started publishing"?

Words mean things. I think that suggesting that the genre of sff hasn't been "largely white and largely hetero male" since 1962, which is when Delany started publishing, is so wrong that it could be no wronger.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:02 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Insofar as your flaming me for trying to be clear about the difference inside fandom between sf and sci-fi (skiffy), I suggest you check your own condescension.

I should say that I know yeloson from another context (LJ), so I am aware that your condescending explanation of this particular outdated shibboleth is misplaced as to its target.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:04 PM on May 13, 2009


Oh jeeze, not this shit again.
posted by eriko at 12:04 PM on May 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


Sidhedevil, you have to consider the place of birth of much of this fiction, and your saying "well duh" to me and lashing out at others doesn't offer a very cordial forum for conversation.

Sci-Fi is written largely by white males. They write about what they know. Maybe they are lazy, but so maybe is the audience and the culture of the audience and all those of many other cultural backgrounds that simply don't even try to write Sci-Fi. It seems to me that the "there's no gay/latino/black/asian/etc. person on that space ship" argument is just a reflection of the same complaint we can and do make about every other aspect of our present lives. Walk into a professional office and count the multi-cultural events; walk into government, walk into a classroom, watch T.V. advertisements or sit-coms...this is an old argument and a good one, but not one particular to Sci-Fi.

I am not sure it is fair to simply say that Sci-Fi writers, who are trying to entertain and tell a specific story, are necessarily burdened with carrying the weight of multiculturalism or be branded "spectacularly lazy and irresponsible." I've read a great deal of Sci-Fi that is anything but lazily written. If it is fair, then we might as well just blow this whole post up to "the world is spectacularly lazy and irresponsible." Maybe it is.

However, this debate runs rather shallow if we don't put the Sci-Fi genre into present day terms of our society, then look at society and ask ourselves why is it the Sci-Fi doesn't seem to get that the future should reflect a different world. Alternatively, we can just sit back and say how wonderful it was that way back when the Enterprise had a black woman, a Russian, an Asian and a Scottish guy as main characters and pat our selves on the back for "not" being lazy. What makes the conversation interesting is the context.

If anything, I think the writers should adopt multi-cultural aspects to their story because it is going to add authenticity to the story of the future and it is going to open up very interesting story telling avenues.
posted by Muddler at 12:05 PM on May 13, 2009


Sci-Fi is written largely by white males.

That perception is what all the projects discussed in this post are about.

The science fiction that is published in the US is largely that written by white heterosexual men. The projects discussed in this FPP are about opening up the field.

your saying "well duh" to me and lashing out at others doesn't offer a very cordial forum for conversation

Your bringing out the "tone argument" strikes me as a classic strategy of derailing.

Also, why don't you and Guy_Inamonkeysuit argue about whether or not sciencefiF is "written largely by white males" because he seems to think that hasn't been the case since the early 1960s?
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:11 PM on May 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


if we don't put the Sci-Fi genre into present day terms of our society

I am saying that the current mainstream sff publishing environment favors books that present a future that is less progressive and less diverse than present-day real-life society.

Many people have this sense, which is why they created the projects yeloson linked in the FPP. I am sorry if my impatience and anger made it difficult for you to follow the point I was making.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:13 PM on May 13, 2009


You know what, folks? I'm clearly not going to be able to discuss any of this without pissing people off, so my apologies--I'm out of this thread. Feel free to knock all my arguments into a cocked hat of nonsense; maybe you're right and I'm wrong.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:15 PM on May 13, 2009


Wait guys, wait:

I came to this thread expecting a serious racism/sexism meltdown, and we're berating each other about SF vs. sci-fi? For shame.
posted by TypographicalError at 12:16 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wasn't trying to be condescending, Sidhedevil, just to clarify a point -- which is, skiffy is what you see on TV and in the movies, and sf happens in books and magazines. But you threw a name-calling hissy fit instead of responding like an adult. Boy, that sure convinces me I was wrong!

Nor do I claim that the field isn't still dominated by straight white men. But not as much as it used to be, and it's still a pretty fertile ground for new ideas. I still contend that Delany's success helped open it up. So did the success of Leguin, Russ, and others. That's what I was suggesting.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 12:17 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


My God, I just read Wizard of Earthsea for the first time a couple of months ago. (I actually deeply disliked it, but that's neither here nor there.) I never realized the characters weren't white. Jesus, talk about being colorblind.
posted by shmegegge at 12:19 PM on May 13, 2009


I guess I don't understand why there is so much hostility being pushed out by you, Sidhedevil. I also don't see where you are adding to the comments of the post by simply taking a hostile tone towards the comments of everyone else. Do you have a point? What is your contribution to this discussion? You are so passionate, you must have something interesting and novel to say.

Also, I realize what the links are about - I looked at them before commenting. Current popular Sci-Fi is largely written by white males. So has been the case with a great many things in our culture. What is changing is society, and as society changes and doors open to people other than white males to do a great many things, some of those opening doors include Sci-Fi writing opportunities. Even if white males continue to dominate, as culture changes so does the white male perception of culture - and future culture. The stories told can and do mimic the perceptions of their authors.

Nobody is trying to derail you or ignore the issues of bias in Sci-Fi. Enhance your calm.
posted by Muddler at 12:24 PM on May 13, 2009


Tellingly, for me, yelosin, you use the term "sci fi" up there, which pins the discussion to movies and television in the minds of most fans

I've been reading SF for over 300 years and I've heard of this "distinction" somewhere between 0 and 2 times. I certainly would never think to "honor" it when making a post.

THUS SAY THE ELDERS
posted by DU at 12:24 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


I've been writing and publishing sf (and fantasy, and horror, and mysteries) since 1973, and I've been nominated for the Nebula and the Pushcart Prize, but I feel like I ought to apologze for being a straight white male. But that's okay, because I think I just got fucked up the ass.

Oh, and you Elders over there? You can fucking bite me.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 12:27 PM on May 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


I guess I don't understand why there is so much hostility being pushed out by you, Sidhedevil.

It can be incredibly frustrating talking about racism, sexism and classism on MeFi, where most of the members are white, straight, male and middle class. Add into that a topic (like SF, technology/science, videogames, etc) that further restricts to those categories and you get a LOT of defensiveness going on. (And I say this as a white, straight, middle class male.)
posted by DU at 12:28 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


shmegegge, it's right there in the text. It stopped me dead when I read it, all those years ago. Of course I still wished that Le Guin had been able to imagine Earthsea with powerful women; I love her essays and admire her more than I can say, but I've often had problems with gender relations in her novels.

Which is why speculative fiction/sff/sci-fi/science fiction that defaults to an all-white, all-straight, all-male-except-for-the-hotties-and-telephone-operators imagined universe is such spectacularly lazy and irresponsible writing.

I'm the only person who was dismayed to read that the new Star Trek movie goes right back to reinstantiating the old roles? All about white boys and their stuff and being a rebel and all that shit? (I'm going by the reviews, which seem delighted by the whole thing, enough so as to refer to 'chicks in miniskirts' and Kirk's virility Isn't it fun! and blah blah. I haven't seen it.)
posted by jokeefe at 12:29 PM on May 13, 2009


I've been writing and publishing sf (and fantasy, and horror, and mysteries) since 1973, and I've been nominated for the Nebula and the Pushcart Prize, but I feel like I ought to apologze for being a straight white male.

Oh come on. I mean, Nebula and Pushcart nominations are Real World successes, and congratulations, but you don't win arguments by trying to wave your Staff of Authority at people. And nobody's asking you to apologize, just to think a little. Christ.
posted by jokeefe at 12:34 PM on May 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


shmegegge, it's right there in the text. It stopped me dead when I read it, all those years ago.

I'm sure. It's entirely possible that I had just gone into one of my zoned out reading modes where I realize that I don't recall what I just read on the last page. It's also entirely possible, however, that I was so secure in my assumption that fantasy characters are white that I didn't get it. I'm kind of shocked at myself right now, to be honest.
posted by shmegegge at 12:36 PM on May 13, 2009


Great post yeloson. I'd never run across Pam Nole's essay before and I'm glad to have read it. Even growing up as a geeky white kid, I was always struck by the total lack of diversity in the genre(s).

Also- I've been reading SpeculativeScienceSci-FiFictionWhatevertheFuckitis for most of my life. I've never been able to stomach being a fandom-type person. I don't go to cons, don't read the forums, don't really subscribe to anything related. Scroll up this thread to see why.
posted by eyeballkid at 12:42 PM on May 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


*rolls eyes* I am not waving a Staff of Authority, jokeefe, I'm saying I have a fucking track record, I'm not just spouting off in a forum without having some cred to back up my opinions. I have thought about this stuff, and pretty deeply -- trying to write it, and write it well, sort of mandates that. I am saying that I feel like I am a part of a tradition, in a way. I'm not apologizing, for chrissakes.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 12:44 PM on May 13, 2009


I do not think that science fiction, as a very abstract literary concept, has to be automatically burdened with going through any number of checklists of What Someone Else Thinks They Should Do. It is fiction, with a science bent or backdrop, at very least. ("What is science fiction?" is a discussion only slightly smaller than the unknowable behemoth "What is art?" We dare not summon it.) I do not feel that responsibility accrues automatically beyond making good fiction, and putting science in it as more than a simple enabler.

When it turns into science fiction as social fiction, which it so often does, more criticisms might be leveled, but the burden is not automatic. Some of the current diamond hard SF is not terribly social, nor are some of the very old stories social. You might recall them, wherein the characters are essentially characterless, talking plot devices meant to make us care about the science, to explain the science, etc.

Not every author is going to address about all of the issues in the set of issues which are the union of issues cared about by the tireless crusaders for ... whatever. That's a lot to pack into a story. Not everyone is going to write "The Crooked Man," (now that would be a great Twilight Zone) or even needs to. Some authors, like Effinger, can make a whole span of books around a handful of social concepts, but others will not. Yeah, you can hit The Speed of Dark for a new twist, but demanding it seems difficult to work. I am trying to imagine it now, in my own little sci-fi scenario. "Okay, I need a transsexual angle, an invisible disability, and a social/racial stigma for the novel before they'll let me publish it. Damn, I need to find something obscure nobody else has done yet for at least one of them."

A more reasonable approach might be Varley's Steel Beach: a couple is found dead but holding hands after a disaster. Neither the news nor the author draws attention to the fact that both are men aside from the listing of their clearly masculine names. Merely sketching out a couple of details would help and would be about the most I would ask.

Star Trek, in its numerous incarnations, has been about Billboard Style Fables for so long, and so many have sought to ape it, that I think some have forgotten the humble and somewhat smaller point of SF, and the genre is now unfortunately viewed as requiring some kind of Moral Point. I've taken science fiction courses where it was all "social fiction," and what I felt like I got was an agenda with rayguns, MacGuffins, and space fabric unisex tunics. You haven't cringed until you've sat through a dissection of "The Game of Rat and Dragon" as a critique of men's desire for the unattainable woman-image.

Social justice? Enlightenment? Noble goals indeed, but to criticize writers for not picking up those goals when many wish merely to entertain, make a living, and explore scientific concepts makes me wonder if we are not attempting to hitch our plow to the entirely wrong snow beast. If this kind of science fiction is so desired, perhaps efforts might be made to write it by those who this lack most bothers, rather than to chastise others for not writing it by proxy.

I am told that now the barriers to writing are lower than ever before, which is its own kind of social SF. Writing well and serving as an example might have more effect than lists of shortcomings.
posted by adipocere at 12:44 PM on May 13, 2009 [9 favorites]


I wouldn't worry too much about it, shmegegge.

This seems like a good time to proclaim my love for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. There are things about the book that I wish were different, but I don't want to get into them as they are inconsequential next to the pleasure it brought me.
posted by Mister_A at 12:45 PM on May 13, 2009


I've been writing and publishing sf (and fantasy, and horror, and mysteries) since 1973, and I've been nominated for the Nebula and the Pushcart Prize, but I feel like I ought to apologze for being a straight white male.

oh christ.

let's set a few ground rules:

1. When someone says "there isn't enough diversity in [x]," it's safe to assume that they are NOT also saying that you're wrong to be a member of the non-diverse culture.

1a. In fact, it's safe to assume they're not saying anything about YOU at all, even if you're a published author.

2. Being a professional in (much less a decades-long fan of) the given field of [x] does not give you the right to dismiss the statements of other people without qualification simply because you are supposedly an authority.

3. "Things are getting better, so stop talking about it," is never the appropriate response to concerns about diversity.

for fuck's sake.
posted by shmegegge at 12:45 PM on May 13, 2009 [13 favorites]


This thread does indeed prove out Sturgeon's Law (which isn't what he originally called it). And I am not exempting myself.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 12:47 PM on May 13, 2009


*rolls eyes* I am not waving a Staff of Authority, jokeefe, I'm saying I have a fucking track record, I'm not just spouting off in a forum without having some cred to back up my opinions.

Ah, sorry, where I come from there's not much difference.
posted by jokeefe at 12:49 PM on May 13, 2009


adipocere, there is no checklist – fiction that is deemed saleable gets published. Those who deem the fiction thus are often conservative when it comes to their decisions, especially at the big imprints. They don't want to take a chance on a story about an overweight Vietnamese lesbian and her pet pig when there are so many well-executed but humdrum stories about space cowboys to publish.
posted by Mister_A at 12:50 PM on May 13, 2009


This seems like a good time to proclaim my love for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

If this is going to turn into a Wao love-in, I'm down for that.
posted by eyeballkid at 12:51 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Dude right on! There is going to be a love-in in this thread no matter what. The Man can't stop us!
posted by Mister_A at 12:52 PM on May 13, 2009


*sigh* again.

1. and 1a: I was flamed, I responded, trying to clear it up. Jesus, this is consuming my afternoon.

2. I didn't dismiss anyone's statements. Show me where I did that.

3. That isn't at all what I said.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 12:54 PM on May 13, 2009


The worst part about this post is that it uses two really worthless LJ links, when there was a controversy on this very subject just a month or two ago that metafilter's own jscalzi got embroiled in on his blog The Whatever, which eventually resulted in a few guest posts. You can find them here, , and here.
posted by TypographicalError at 12:57 PM on May 13, 2009


Ah, sorry, where I come from there's not much difference.

Well, then, I guess experience doesn't count for a lot where you come from. I sure as hell don't see myself as an authority, but this is something I've had in my life for many years, as apparently you have, but I've tried to get deeper than just reading or watching movies or holding forth. Despite what you may think.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 12:57 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hm. I failed at html, but the links are still there.
posted by TypographicalError at 12:57 PM on May 13, 2009


Of course, all those moments will be lost in time.

Like snark in the basement...
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:58 PM on May 13, 2009


*sigh* again.

I'm sorry, what was that? I'm afraid I can't hear you sighing all the way over there. I'm over here, in the "adult conversation" part of the thread.
posted by shmegegge at 1:01 PM on May 13, 2009


Reminder: Everybody needs a hug.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:01 PM on May 13, 2009


OK, I'm in for a love-in. Let me throw out two titles I love:

Coyote Kings of the Space Age Bachelor Pad

From the Notebooks of Doctor Brain

I haven't heard of Wao, but it is now on my reading list.
posted by never used baby shoes at 1:07 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


This reminds me very much of the argument that there needs to be more female-centric comic books and more female creators. The problem is the use of the word need, it puts the cart before the horse. If someone actually needed it, that implies that there's an untapped audience out there waiting for more inclusive content. Looking at both genres and knowing that both are seeing declining sales, it's hard to believe that someone wouldn't already be trying to open up into these untapped markets. If there were an audience to support the work, the work would be there already.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:08 PM on May 13, 2009


The genre may have been largely white and largely hetero male at its incept, but that hasn't really been the case, in terms of written sf at least, for decades -- certainly not since Chip Delany started publishing.

Not according to Delaney: Racism in Science Fiction by Samuel R. Delaney.
posted by nooneyouknow at 1:12 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Doh! In my previous comment, the first sentence is a quote and should have been italicized.
posted by nooneyouknow at 1:13 PM on May 13, 2009


A more reasonable approach might be Varley's Steel Beach: a couple is found dead but holding hands after a disaster. Neither the news nor the author draws attention to the fact that both are men aside from the listing of their clearly masculine names.

Yeah, but Steel Beach shares a setting with a bunch of other Varley short stories and novels that explored the fluidity of sex, gender, and orientation, so maybe he's not the best example. He's actually a white male who does a really good job of writing socially-oriented science fiction that's also really compellingin terms of plot. Or, as I'm sure he'd prefer it stated, he writes really good science fiction stories that also happen to delve into some pretty deep and interesting social issues.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:15 PM on May 13, 2009


Clean out your desk, nooneyouknow. You're done here.
posted by Mister_A at 1:16 PM on May 13, 2009


Great link, nooneyouknow -- thanks.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 1:23 PM on May 13, 2009


I've got a copy of the Vintage edition of Dhalgren on my shelf with the William Gibson foreword, and on the cover the author's name is spelled "Delany".

/pedant
posted by Prospero at 1:25 PM on May 13, 2009


Prospero,

You're right. I think I hallucinated that e. I swear I saw it in his byline for the Racism in SF article, but now it's gone. My bad.
posted by nooneyouknow at 1:31 PM on May 13, 2009


If by "dominated by white hetero males" we're talking quantity, then yes, I'd say it's clear that the bulk of disposable thirty-seven-volume series SF fits that bill. But once we start comparing what I'll vaguely call "quality SF&F" the gap narrows quite a bit. Nancy Kress, Maureen McHugh, Connie Willis all come to mind. Kelly Link and Carol Emshwiller aren't too far afield. Liz Williams, too. And obviously long-time heavy hitters like LeGuin are still going strong. For LGBT themes, Nicola Griffith, say, and even the testosterone-soaked hard SF author Richard Morgan's new one come to mind. Of course we just lost Disch. Ted Chiang has to be one of the best SF short story writers working, and I'll guess that he might possibly be Asian-American. So the picture doesn't seem to be hopelessly bleak. Plus the boring old white guys are getting more interesting, too (Ken MacLeod, Charlie Stross, Jay Lake). Hmm, maybe I read too much of this stuff...
posted by blacksmithtb at 1:33 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


skiffy is what you see on TV and in the movies, and sf happens in books and magazines.

This sounds very inside baseball to me, a sometime consumer of both written and moving-picture types of....what do I call it when I mean both? I didn't know there was a difference.

I've skipped around the edges of sf/sci-fi for years, largely because the most visible forms of the genre mostly seem to be about men, and if there are women (on the covers of books), they are usually dressed in not very much. Judged some books by their covers, yes I have.

I've read some Delaney and I've read some Butler and I've read (more than some) Le Guin, and then I didn't really know where to go from there. The genre presents itself as boldly going where no (man) one has gone before, but every book I pick up in a bookstore that I do a page 1/page 30 test on seems to be a not-very-different variation on Man does a Difficult Thing, Gets in a Tough Spot, Gets Out of It. And while I love me some brain candy sometimes, and I certainly don't usually have a problem identifying with a protagonist who is not my sex/gender/race or sexual orientation (as a lesbian of color and lifelong reader, I've had lots and lots and lots of practice), it gets....old. It gets dull. I don't know how many of you have read a steady diet of books where you never really see yourself, but it gets pretty tiring.

So, I'm about as far from an expert on the genre as a person can be and still have a basic familiarity with it, but that's my view of things.

Maybe I should post an AskMe and ask for some recs (although I need more books like I need more holes in my head).
posted by rtha at 1:36 PM on May 13, 2009


This reminds me very much of the argument that there needs to be more female-centric comic books and more female creators. The problem is the use of the word need, it puts the cart before the horse. If someone actually needed it, that implies that there's an untapped audience out there waiting for more inclusive content. Looking at both genres and knowing that both are seeing declining sales, it's hard to believe that someone wouldn't already be trying to open up into these untapped markets. If there were an audience to support the work, the work would be there alrea

I hear what you are saying, however, the monolithic non-inclusiveness can often put people off. Its not that there is no audience; its that that audience has either been put off from the beginning and never pursues it or (like me), they read the genre anyway and furvently wish for good stories that include them as anything other than a token or sidekick.
posted by anansi at 1:36 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh! I forgot Connie Willis and Nicola Griffith! Love them. Thanks for the reminder, blacksmithtb.
posted by rtha at 1:37 PM on May 13, 2009


The idea that fantasy and sci fi genres of fiction literature are dominated by white male authors to a greater extent than other genres is easily testable.

Here is the list of the top 10 popular books, their authors, sex and race in the Science Fiction & Fantasy category on Amazon. Obviously it isn't rigorous but will probably do for our purposes.

1. Breaking Dawn, Stephenie Meyer, WF
2. Dead and Gone, Charlaine Harris, WF
3. Assassins Apprentice, Robin Hobb, WF
4. Red Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson, WM
5. Elric: The Stealer of Souls, Michael Moorcock, WM
6. From Dead to Worse, Charlaine Harris, WF
7. Settling Accounts Return Engagement: Book One, Harry Turtledove, WM
8. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne, WM
9. The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman, WM
10. Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand, WF

5/10 Female
5/10 Male
10/10 White

And here is a similar list for the Literature & Fiction category.

1. The Last Olympian, Rick Riordan, WM
2. The Shack, William P. Young,WM
3. The Shack, William P. Young,-
4. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows, WF, WF
5. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Jane Austen, Seth Grahame-Smithy, WF, WM
6. The Help, Kathryn Stockett, WF
7. Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout, WF
8. Losing Mum and Pup, Christopher Buckley, WM
9. Vision in White, Nora Roberts, WF
10. In the Skin of a Lion, Michael Ondaatje, WM
11. The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet, Reif Larsen, WM

6/12 Female
6/12 Male
12/12 White

I didn't include sexual orientation since that information wasn't as easily available.
posted by euphorb at 1:41 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


"We should have access to more good SF!" - now that's an argument we can all get behind. Mathematics. If any group is under-represented, and they have a similar proportion of awesome talent that the over-represented group has, then we, as readers, are being robbed of awesome talent and forced to wade through another fucking Neoconservative Space Mercenary book in the vain hope it somehow gets better.

Taking a brickbat to the readers of SF isn't as productive as aiming same at the publishers and large-scale book buyers.

"You should be reading more diverse authors!" - no, they should be reading entertaining science fiction. Claiming someone does or does not have a valid voice because of who they are rather than what they have to say is pretty much a non-starter.

As Walt Mosely said, "Literature has assigned me a niche. As an African American, I must address the nature of my chains. When I write science fiction, I can write about anything."

In the rush to broaden the scope of who reads and writes SF, lets not usher in the prejudices and cubbyholes that riddle mainstream fiction as well. Oh, I'm sorry, did you think that mainstream lit is anywhere near inclusive? Next time you read a novel by an American author that doesn't involve genre themes, try to guess which pigeonhole the author is nestled in. It's not hard... provided the author isn't a white male protestant. Those guys get to write about whatever they please.

Also, there is the persistent problem of tokenization, which then results in reinforcement of stereotypes as the writer uses cultural short-hand to portray the character "accurately" in the hope no-one sniffs out that the author has riddled the cast with token characters in a deluded attempt to be diverse. What's deadly is that this actually works.

As an example that's been bothering me lately, the character Franklin in "Peanuts" is often decried as a "token" African American for being an ordinary kid who happens to be black. His dad is a war hero, he can swim pretty well, and goes to school with white kids like it was nothing, he is insightful and grounded when those around him are self-centered and short-sighted. That's not a token, that's a barrier-bursting breakthrough character that addresses both race and the thematic needs of the work itself. Yet, Chris Rock wants him to "talk black." So, let's completely undo Franklin as a person and a political statement so the audience can feel more comfortable about racial stereotypes. Now, that's promoting diversity!

"You should write SF because you can tackle any theme, tell any story, explore any character and put whatever part of yourself you decide to into your work!" - this is a strong siren call to talent of any and all backgrounds that needs to be sung louder.
posted by Slap*Happy at 1:42 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


doctor negative, I hear the same kinds of comments about the comics industry. It's frustrating because the untapped market of women readers is out there, they are desperate for good female-focused work, and there are creators actively trying to reach them. A lot of times I see the problems cropping up on the publishers' side of things: muddled or condescending marketing attempts, not bothering with outreach beyond the usual comic shops, making failtastic assumptions of what this untapped market wants, and giving up trying if the attempts aren't immediately successful.
posted by cadge at 1:45 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was sure I'd written "knock my arguments into a cocked hat," not "continue scolding me about my tone." Sorry for the typo!
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:25 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


But Sidhe, if we don't judge messages on tone instead of what's actually being said, how can we have a rational discussion of the problem of prejudice based on superficialities? :P
posted by yeloson at 2:39 PM on May 13, 2009


The science fiction that is published in the US is largely that written by white heterosexual men. The projects discussed in this FPP are about opening up the field.

Sidhedevil, I don't think you know as much about science fiction as you think you do. "Largely written"? What percentage do you think is by straight white men? I think you're greatly overstating things.

Is it a plurality? Absolutely. Is it a huge majority? No way. And I'll go one step further: My guess is that the representation of straight white men as authors of science fiction is actually significantly less than the representation of straight white dudes as readers of science fiction.

Frankly, I'd even be reluctant to bet the house on straight white dudes as a plurality depending on how broadly you define "sci-fi". If you're only talking about nuts and bolts rocket ship stuff then we're talking huge majority. But that's completely unsurprising and not problematic because of the cultural context of those types of books. If you're including fantasy and so forth, that's much broader. And if you're including all the new fangfucker books, men are quite possibly a minority.

I don't think the numbers say what you think they say.
posted by Justinian at 3:23 PM on May 13, 2009


So I just flipped through the tables of contents of several recent science fiction magazines (Analog, Asimov's, F&SF).

At least a quarter of the writers are female. As far as I can tell, that's a greater proportion of female writers than female readers.

I do find this all very weird. Generally you have no idea of what race or even gender your SF writer is. I had no idea that Samuel Delaney was African-American until perhaps four years ago. James Tiptree, Jr. managed to become very successful over years without anyone suspecting "he" was a "she". And historically science fiction readers are more progressive, more "liberal" and more accepting of unusual lifestyles than your regular person.

Women and people of colour are underrepresented everywhere of importance and I agree it's a combination of neglect, malice and aggressiveness on the part of the minority white male controlling group. But science fiction is better than most fields.

"If you're including fantasy and so forth, that's much broader. And if you're including all the new fangfucker books, men are quite possibly a minority."

I defy you to wander around the SF/fantasy section of your average Barnes and Noble and not be struck by the large number of white males between 12 and 25 there...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 3:47 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Much of F&SF, like most genre fiction, is inherently conservative. I mean "little c", don't change things all at once now, you durn kids! conservative.

I'd say a big chunk of it is pretty damn reactionary, actually, with it's distrust of democracy, fascination with monarchy, and idolization of the "superior man" over society at large. It's like it's stopped at the Heinlein era, never moved on, and growls at any of the movements to modernize it.


I do not think that science fiction, as a very abstract literary concept, has to be automatically burdened with going through any number of checklists of What Someone Else Thinks They Should Do. It is fiction, with a science bent or backdrop, at very least. ("What is science fiction?" is a discussion only slightly smaller than the unknowable behemoth "What is art?" We dare not summon it.) I do not feel that responsibility accrues automatically beyond making good fiction, and putting science in it as more than a simple enabler.

This is the "Writing = Art = Not for Critics" idea. It takes the position that writing is completely independent of the society it is made in, and has absolutely no moral or ethical aspect. Criticism should only be addressed to characterization, plot and style at most, and ideally the audience should be passive consumers, doing nothing but putting their money down and giving a polite golf clap for clever turns of phrase.

I think that's bullshit, frankly. I don't accept that art is either separate form the cultural milieu it was created in, OR the cultural milieu of the critic. And that's especially the case right now. If there are things in someone's artwork that is problematic, whether from a technical standpoint or an ethical one, I have a right and a duty to point it out.

For instance, let's say someone decides to do a historical fiction, set in a time and place where a historical people experienced brutal genocide. And in order to deal with the knotty problem of portraying these people accurately and the issues raised by the genocide (as well as allowing the people committing the genocide to be heroic and sympathetic), the author pretends that they never existed. Would that be acceptable in a historical novel? Now how about if the author calls it an alt-history fantasy?

And if the still-living survivors of those have a continuing history of being marginalized and deleted from history books, do you think they just might have a valid reason to be annoyed at the author? Because that's the controversy gong on right now.
posted by happyroach at 3:49 PM on May 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


I don't know how many of you have read a steady diet of books where you never really see yourself, but it gets pretty tiring.

I can only imagine how that feels, rtha. I know for me, my love of SF was rekindled when I was introduced to the works of Octavia Butler and got to see the world through characters very, very different from me. And that's why I want to see more diverse voices in the field - I don't just want fantastic worlds and visions of things to come to challenge me, I also want to be challenged with a different viewpoint.
posted by never used baby shoes at 3:51 PM on May 13, 2009


I'd say a big chunk of it is pretty damn reactionary, actually, with it's distrust of democracy, fascination with monarchy, and idolization of the "superior man" over society at large.

Deep Genre had a series of posts that discussed some of these criticisms (at least, as they apply to fantasy) late last year. They were a pretty interesting read:

[1];[2];[3];[4]
posted by never used baby shoes at 4:06 PM on May 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


Hey! I was nominated for a Pushcart Prize!

I'm going to call it SCIFFIC.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:12 PM on May 13, 2009


I don't know how many of you have read a steady diet of books where you never really see yourself, but it gets pretty tiring.

Speak for yourself. I read sci-fi precisely because I don't see me in them.
posted by tkchrist at 6:04 PM on May 13, 2009


Interesting discussion, and interesting that these calls tend not to be so loud for other branches of publishing, when without a doubt publishing is most definitely a while male game, almost regardless of genre, platform etc (romance being an easily spotted and notable exception).

I think what discussion like this highlights is the deep ties that sci-fi has with utopianism. Some here have pointed out that other genres have no more expectation than be entertaining/sell, but sci-fi has a different yardstick (at least in this discussion).

We want the future - even an imagined, written future - to be, better, and thus sci-fi takes on an element of advocacy that we may not hold to other types of fiction. I think the high degree of interplay between sci-fi authors and their public is also a contributor to this.

I actually find it quite gratifying and heartening, in some respects. That we want people writing in some way about a 'future we can believe in' - whether it's merely the fact of an 'outsider' as author - that we are prepared to have this debates and arguments
posted by smoke at 6:06 PM on May 13, 2009


Is this something I would need a shallow self-identity and a warped view of the importance of American SF/Fantasy literature to understand?
posted by fleacircus at 6:16 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


rtha: I've read some Delaney and I've read some Butler and I've read (more than some) Le Guin, and then I didn't really know where to go from there.

Here you go:
Carl Brandon Society Reading Lists
List of sff writers of color - a list of authors of color in sci-fi/fantasy and their works.
Fantasy Literature by People of Color and/or including PoC and diverse cultures
Index to Women SF Writers of Color
Another List of sff writers of color
Science Fiction for Lesbians - Hasn't been updated in a long while though.
GLBT Fantasy Fiction Resources - "We review fantasy and science-fiction books with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered protagonists, and invite you to join us."
Female, queer & chromatic Book Recs (as a spreadsheet) "About a little than a week ago, I asked for some recommendations of books with a queer, chromatic or female protagonist, preferably explicitly stated and if possibly written by queer, chromatic and/or female authors." Not all are scifi but lots are.

Re: scifi (aka skiffy) vs science fiction - don't worry about it. Old school written scifi fans used "sci fi" solely to refer to "crappy" (i.e. tv and movies) science fiction. And "science fiction" to refer to the "good stuff" (i.e. books). However, they have pretty much lost that battle, and nowadays, most fans use the terms interchangeably.
posted by nooneyouknow at 6:18 PM on May 13, 2009 [6 favorites]


Is this something I would need a shallow self-identity and a warped view of the importance of American SF/Fantasy literature to understand?

No, but you'd probably have to not be a dick.
posted by Justinian at 6:31 PM on May 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Some great links in this thread.
Makes it totally worth wading through the train-wreck of a pissing match at the start.
posted by nightchrome at 7:26 PM on May 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


This reminds me very much of the argument that there needs to be more female-centric comic books and more female creators. The problem is the use of the word need, it puts the cart before the horse. If someone actually needed it, that implies that there's an untapped audience out there waiting for more inclusive content. Looking at both genres and knowing that both are seeing declining sales, it's hard to believe that someone wouldn't already be trying to open up into these untapped markets. If there were an audience to support the work, the work would be there already.

No, what happens is that comic book publishers don't accept work like that; there are women and men out there drawing and writing good stuff, but they don't get published unless they self-publish or get stuck in the alternative ghetto. Gatekeepers matter; the Invisible Hand of Excellence does not rule the media.

And what no one seems to understand is that successful male artists do not burst fully formed from an egg; they get mentoring, they get breaks, they get a chance to prove their worth and learn the business.

See: game companies that try to "open up the market" to girls by creating Barbie dress-me games and virtual baby-raising games. When all they really need to do is put more girls into their plots and storylines (who aren't there to be killed, rescued, or wanked over).

See: cartoons and "justice leagues" that consist of 4 dudes and one girl..maybe two. Who usually has to be rescued at some point and seldom if ever is a true badass. And who is always pretty or hawt, and usually less fully clothed than the dudes.

See: kid's shows where the "genius" character is always a white boy in glasses. (though this has begun to improve).

Oh, and speaking of whitewashing, the previous Avatar discussion bears linking.
posted by emjaybee at 7:51 PM on May 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


The themes of tolerance and acceptance are firmly entrenched in the speculative fiction genre, more so generally I would say than in mystery, thrillers, romance, etc...

I'm heartened by the idea that Earthsea's characters were people of color, but I'm not sure why that matters if there's not a cultural parallel. If the reader can't even tell if the characters are 'black' or tanned white people, is it really broadening our cultural experience?

Bringing new people to the table to broaden the range of cultures that impact on Sci-fi would be awesome. I know I've read few Authors who depict a predominately South American, African, Caribbean or Aboriginal Australian culture.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:07 PM on May 13, 2009


It can be incredibly frustrating talking about racism, sexism and classism on MeFi, where most of the members are white, straight, male and middle class.

It's freaky, but someone can reject your political model for reasons neither seated in their own social identity nor susceptible to an ad hominem. I know!

And there's not another conjunction of race, gender, and class that fucking guarantees such heaping stripmines of depleted wit, wisecrack, and copypaste insult than White male. Which reminds me - I'd like that Nth iteration of that privilege bingo card strawman on my desk by Friday. And Saturday... And Sunday... The laughs are shallow, like gulps of airplane air, but over time they come to sustain you.
posted by kid ichorous at 4:13 AM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


And there's not another conjunction of race, gender, and class that fucking guarantees such heaping stripmines of depleted wit, wisecrack, and copypaste insult than White male.

Hopefully a "White" male will be nominated to the Supreme Court to reverse the decades of oppression they've suffered.
posted by DU at 6:35 AM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, and speaking of whitewashing, the previous Avatar discussion bears linking.

Has there been any hue and cry over Indian actors being cast as the Fire Nation? I remember the whole "Ang's Not White" community, but have not seen any "Zuko's Brown, But Not That Brown" groups.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:10 AM on May 14, 2009


Robocop,

Actually, there's a pretty big concern that casting an Indian Zuko isn't -just- a token throwaway action, but also that there's a problem that the villainous oppressive nation is going to now be all brown, committing genocide against the (now) white nations.
posted by yeloson at 7:57 AM on May 14, 2009


Somehow, this thread highlights many of the problems with race dialogue today in the U.S. And they are not what I had suspected they would be.
posted by jabberjaw at 9:26 AM on May 14, 2009


The argument that "SFF is not male-dominated or straight-dominated or white-dominated! Look at Octavia Butler! Look at Chip Delany (he's a twofer)!" is ridiculous.

Sidhedevil, total agreement. Something like 99% of science fiction and fantasy has been set on Honkeyworld. Until the '90s, book packaging often did the Reverse Oreo: characters were white on the cover and dark-skinned inside the book. (This happened to me more than once.)

My God, I just read Wizard of Earthsea for the first time a couple of months ago. (I actually deeply disliked it, but that's neither here nor there.) I never realized the characters weren't white. Jesus, talk about being colorblind.

shmegegge, it's not really your fault. Le Guin took a tactic that was popular then--she didn't want to make a big deal about the color of people's skin, so she didn't. Heinlein did that in Starship Troopers. I did the same thing in my first novel. I regret it now. When you're trying not to be blatant about something, it's easy to be too subtle.

I'm the only person who was dismayed to read that the new Star Trek movie goes right back to reinstantiating the old roles? All about white boys and their stuff and being a rebel and all that shit?

jokeefe, no, you're not. Once they mess with time, they're free to assume the change would affect the instant a character is conceived. If I'd been doing it, Chekhov and Scotty would've been female, and the dress uniform would've consisted of kilts for everyone while the working uniform consisted of pants. Also, Uhuru would've gotten a couple of butt-kicking scenes. (I don't think this is spoilery: she should've joined in the bar fight in the beginning to help the person who was outnumbered, and she should've been along with the folks who beam aboard the Romulan ship near the end, because someone who knows Romulan could be extremely useful.)

Looking at both genres and knowing that both are seeing declining sales, it's hard to believe that someone wouldn't already be trying to open up into these untapped markets. If there were an audience to support the work, the work would be there already.

doctor_negative, it's a chicken or the egg problem. So long as publishing has to make a profit, it's going to be conservative about trying new things. That's slowly changing, thanks to publishers like Tor publishing authors like Toby Buckell.
posted by shetterly at 7:16 AM on May 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


Does agreeing with Will Shetterly mean someone is automatically wrong, or only probably wrong?
posted by Justinian at 6:32 PM on May 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Justinian, excellent question, don't you agree?
posted by shetterly at 10:47 PM on May 16, 2009


P.S. Justinian, in case it's not clear, that's said with a smile. I was amused by the logic, but after I left the comment, I realized the tone could be interpreted in any number of ways.
posted by shetterly at 11:08 PM on May 16, 2009


Hold it hold it. Will Shetterly? As in Will Shetterly and EMMA FREAKING BULL, one of my favourite SF writers EVER? Um, yeah, you know, I just.... OMG EMMA BULL. [/foaming fangirl]
posted by jokeefe at 6:49 PM on May 18, 2009


Yep. She's just that awesome.
posted by shetterly at 5:27 PM on May 21, 2009


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