Loving and Fearing SF/F Fandom

EDIT: I picked up some additional material on the twitter stream and thus the content. Any changes I’ve made in this blog post are bolded.

I started following fantasy author Jeannette Ng on twitter after she gave a rather “unusual” acceptance speech upon receiving what used to be called a “Campbell Award.” I recorded my reactions HERE.

I follow her, not because I’m likely to read anything she’s written, or even that we agree on much (if anything), but to understand differing points of view. Most of the time, I don’t give her much thought, but today, I saw a thread on twitter that caught my attention. I only read part of it since, due to the nature of twitter, threads get nested in interesting ways requiring a lot of clicking and time to open them and read.

So I took a screenshot (several actually, and I edited them together) to capture what I thought were the most representative points. Apparently, the discussion was about what got various people interested in Science Fiction and Fantasy (SF/F).  However it was also a debate regarding progressive vs. traditionalist voices in SF/F, and if it were possible to speak to the positives of what an author crafted while setting aside the more “difficult” aspects of their life (More text beyond the screenshot).

Update: Someone I know on twitter captured a much more straightforward vision of this thread Here. Since people sometimes delete their material, I redid the screenshots and updated the image below. Oh, and Ms. Ng, if you ever get around to reading this… “Stale, pale, male crowd.” Cute.

ng

Updated screenshot of author Jeannette Ng’s twitter thread.

For instance, one of Ng’s early influences was Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “The Mists of Avalon,” and I can’t say I’m a fan based on what I recorded HERE and HERE. That doesn’t make Ng a bad person, but to the degree that she bitterly complained that a very flawed John Campbell had an award named after him (which was subsequently stripped), if she hasn’t done so already, she might want to look up Bradley’s history of child abuse and neglect. Can we discuss what is positive about “Avalon” while setting aside Bradley herself?

As I looked through people’s different tweets, I saw pretty much what you expect. People gravitated to works of SF/F that mapped to who they are as people. I also saw people who read SciFi/Fantasy as kids in the ’80s and ’90s lamenting on how erroneous they find some of the material now in 2020 (Context, kids…it’s all about historical context). You can read the text in the image I’m sharing to get an idea.

The world of SF/F is a diverse landscape so those mappings are more diverse, which again, is why I follow people like Ng. I would never tweet to her (except I’ll “tag” her when I post a link to this commentary on twitter) because I know that neither she nor her followers would want to read anything I have to say. In fact, I may end up blocked by her and others because what I’m writing doesn’t agree with their perspectives.

Diversity is funny like that.

However, I do choose to follow a diverse collection of folks on social media, and for those who can “tolerate” me, we actually have discussions. And yet it’s also a little like negotiating a mine field. I’m not famous and I’m highly unlikely to be, so fortunately I’m pretty insulated from it all (except as a fan, I can be “roasted” by other fans and writers on social media).

A little less than a year ago, I wrote a blog post called Toxic Fandom. I don’t know where the sense of entitlement of fans comes from, but apparently after an author (or any creator) crafts a product and a large number of people fall in love with it, they, the fans, think they own it. This includes the idea that the fans can shape the direction of novels and characters to fit their narrative, whether or not that would ever be the author’s intention.

I read an article on The Guardian a few days ago stating that fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss has become the latest victim of “toxic fandom.” You see, he’s been a bit slow at producing the next book in the beloved “Kingkiller Chronicle” series, and not only are his fans pretty miffed, but his publisher is, too.

Here’s a wee quote from the essay:

Fan entitlement, particularly around fantasy authors, is nothing new. In 2009, Neil Gaiman informed a fan that “writers and artists aren’t machines” and George RR Martin was “not your bitch” for having spent years writing the fifth Game of Thrones book, A Dance with Dragons (which wouldn’t be published for another two). Today, 29 July 2020, also happens to be the deadline that Martin gave himself last year to finish the sixth book, The Winds of Winter. If he didn’t, he told fans they had permission to imprison him “in a small cabin on White Island, overlooking that lake of sulfuric acid”. He hasn’t. Calls to lock him up have already (jokingly, I think) begun.

I can’t remember the source right now, but I recall reading something about how a fan asked Ray Bradbury some decades ago why he didn’t write more stories about women. My understanding of Bradbury, which isn’t extensive, is that he was a fairly easy going person. In this case, he snapped back at his fan rather shockingly.

I can’t speak for any other writer, but for me, when I write, I write for you second and me first. It’s my imagination, these are my dreams, I created these characters and worlds from nothing but what was spawned by my dodgy brain chemistry, and if I find it necessary to kill a character that you loved, I will sympathize because I loved that person, too. But I still have the right to kill the character.

I imagine if by some miracle I managed to write a body of work that attracted actual fans, I’d be thrilled. I’m human and I like it when people say, “I really enjoyed your story,” and then talk about my characters as if they are actual people who are walking around in the world just like we are.

However, a part of me would come to dread the idea that at least some of those fans might imagine they owned those tales and those worlds (and thus me) more than I did.

Decades ago, when I first read Philip Jose Farmer’s novel To Your Scattered Bodies Go and realized it was a series, I prayed (not literally, because I wasn’t a Christian then) that he wouldn’t die before he finished it.

He didn’t, and the series is complete, and like many of these series that started out terrific, the ending didn’t live up to the beginning. No, I’m not angry, but as much as I enjoyed “Riverworld,” in the end, it belongs to Farmer and not me.

You want diversity? You’ve got it. However, remember that including one group doesn’t mean you have to exclude anyone else. That’s not how inclusiveness works, at least to my simple mind.

New Ending: I don’t know if Ng would agree and I suspect some of the other people tweeting with her wouldn’t, but you can’t throw away the old just because it was written decades ago and no longer fits what you’ve been taught is relevant.  Also, when you think of the “evolution” of SF/F, maybe you shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss things that are superversive.

You don’t have to be a dinosaur to appreciate a protagonist who is heroic, or that people can be basically good. In a diverse, progressive, ever-changing world of SF/F, being kind, loving people, having faith in something bigger and better than you are isn’t evil, and it may not even be old fashioned. Most of all, hope isn’t obsolete and maybe, just maybe, there are transcendent and universal truths after all.

6 thoughts on “Loving and Fearing SF/F Fandom

  1. You cannot build a house without a foundation. Your house cannot continue to stand if you remove the old foundation. The foundation of SF is those “pale, stale, males”.

    Yeah, some of the attitudes in the old classics are a bit painful to read today, but I judge them against the attitudes of the time they were written. I don’t like Lensmen series because Kit is a white male, I like it because Kit is a cool hero. I’ve said before, and I will continue to say, that I will take the Red Lensman and Lady Greystoke, even in their subordinate roles, over most of the modern feminist characters. Because they are solid characters who offer hope.

    For me SF has been about Hope: Hope that we’re not alone. Hope that there is more out there, somewhere. Hope for a future. Hope that man can be more than he is right now.

    Like

    • Actually, I was thinking of the Lensman series. I’ve tried to read it recently and made it through part way, but OMG it is old. I read it because, when I was in Junior High in the 1960s, all the guys were reading Lensman and Tarzan while I was reading Skylark (also by Smith) and John Carter (also by ERB). The twitter thread said that there is more than one history to SF/F and more than one entry point. That’s true on the level of the individual fan, but history itself (ideally) is objective, not “socially just.” We take the good with the bad, or just the older with the newer. E.E. “Doc” Smith wasn’t even that good a writer, but the Lensman series is the father of the space opera. Without that painfully old stuff, that these people seem to now enjoy (and I’ll revisit this later as I research and review this year’s Hugo drama) would not exist.

      Liked by 1 person

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