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Oh good grief.
I signed up to receive email notifications from Tor.com because they occasionally offer free downloads of books that I (or someone) think I should read. I opened up one such email this morning and discovered this article: Power, Responsibility, and Revenge: Ancillary Justice Ten Years On.
Whenever the word “Justice” is used in a title or text of a work, and given Tor’s obvious political bent, I start to make assumptions. In this case I wasn’t wrong. Here’s a couple of quotes from the article by Adrienne Martini:
With her first book, (Ann) Leckie recombined the DNA of a space opera into a surprising work that captured all of the gee-whiz of empires in space while at the same time interrogating what such empires were good for.
In that early scene, Leckie efficiently sets up one of the key features of this world: the Radchaai language doesn’t gender people. Breq defaults to she/her pronouns for everyone unless she is speaking the language of the colonized. We only know Seivarden is a “he” because a bartender on Nilt refers to him that way. Frequently, Leckie shows Breq struggling with finding the right pronouns for the languages that require them.
But she’s doing something decidedly different in Ancillary Justice. Rather than pin down how a character identifies, she’s removed gender as a factor altogether. In Radch space, gender is irrelevant. All humans are “she.” As a reader, the default feminine is noticeable until it very much isn’t. It doesn’t matter to Breq, whose head we are in most of the time. In short order, it stops mattering to us, except if we stop to think about how irrelevant gender can be in many science fiction stories (though of course, it’s absolutely central to others).
So gender is irrelevant except by calling it out, it becomes supremely relevant.
I’ve been trying to stay out of the gender identity, representation, progressive, and if you’ll pardon the expression, “woke” controversies on this blog, but it seems like science fiction is just dying to shove all this stuff in my face.
You may think the above image is over-the-top, but it’s pretty much accurate relative to social media and all forms of entertainment. In my day-to-day lived life, it doesn’t exist. Really. My actual life doesn’t reflect what we see in social media, and entertainment, and in memes like the one above.
It’s not only Tor.
I’ve been pursuing various open submission calls for SciFi short story pieces. Naturally, they all have requirements. This is one I have been seriously considering but I also have significant doubts about writing for it.
pulp, bizarro, and transgressive writing are all a-okay; anything that could be a right-wing talking point is emphatically not
to be clear, I’m saying that misogyny, sexism, racism, ableism, and/or homophobic and transphobic bullshit will not be tolerated
pro-capitalism, pro-cop stances are also going to be a (very) hard sell
The spacing of lines and lack of caps are accurate from the announcement.
I don’t mind and rather prefer not writing pieces that are discriminatory, prejudicial, and bigoted. However, this publisher seemed pretty aggressive in the way they expressed their preferences. Not only that, but you can’t write anything pro-capitalism or pro-cop.
Yes, the publisher has the right to set parameters on what they will and won’t consider and writers can either choose to submit or not submit based on those parameters. Actually, the other requirements sound like fun (“short stories based around the theme of “mad science.” Cackling Victorian scientists, giant atomic monsters, and Cronenbergian body horror”), but it seems like not only does the publisher have highly specific requirements, but also a chip on his shoulder.
I’m leaning against writing the story because A) I don’t want to waste my time crafting a piece that this person (especially if they look me up on social media) will almost certainly reject and B) while I wouldn’t write a bigoted story, it’s hard to write about heroes and avoid “ableism” since most heroes, especially in anything action-oriented, have to be at least somewhat physically fit.
But my larger point is how the science fiction industry, both (some) indie and (almost all) big box, is swinging in one particular direction ignoring all other perspectives (no, I don’t mean Nazi’s are heroes writing, but what about space-cops and societies that don’t pretend totalitarian Communism is the best human community in the universe – yes I’m exaggerating a bit but to make a point).
I’ve already reviewed every season one episode and commented heavily on the modern re-creation of the classic TV show Quantum Leap. You can pick up on my general opinion of the show in my review of the season one finale and my season one wrap up.
As I’ve said many times before, science fiction has a long history of political and social commentary and there’s nothing wrong with that. Absolutely nothing.
That is unless that’s all it is. If good writing is pushed aside for the sake of your characters’ demographics, then the stories are likely to be not very good and drifting into the area of preaching if not indoctrination (as in “Accept my perspective as good and right or else”).
The current WGA strike is going to delay or cancel a lot of TV shows and films, including Quantum Leap. While I do want writers to be treated fairly, and I do believe that with the changing landscape of entertainment, conditions for writers need to be updated, I can’t say I’m sorry.
I’ve lived through various WGA strikes before and many of my then favorite shows were delayed. I found that annoying. Today, I couldn’t care less. In fact, maybe this is a good thing (okay, I’m overly optimistic).
I’d like to believe that these writers (activists) would learn that in order to have a job, you need to give the audience what they want. As far as I can tell (the She-Hulk TV show comes to mind), writers and showrunners are offering stories written only for themselves as they imagine their entire audience is just like them.
Actually, that’s not true. Partly, they’re writing for what they think the audience wants, but they’re also weaponizing the stories to thumb their collective noses at those of us who aren’t 100% on board with how they perceive the world. It’s a “F*ck you” to anyone who might disagree with them on anything and people who might believe there’s more than one way to conceptualize the universe.
I know that Quantum Leap writer/director Shakina, who blocked me after I re-tweeted her and commented on my honest review of the strike and the nature of modern writing, has been very outspoken that the show is less about entertainment and more about representation.
I was told by someone that modern SciFi novels don’t really emphasize identity politics and such, but the previously mentioned Ann Leckie novel seems to tell another tale. I just reserved a copy through my local public library system and will read and review it. Yes, I’ll be fair or as fair as humanly possible given that we all have biases.
I know. I shouldn’t say such things. People won’t like me if I do. I may lose followers. I’ll be labeled in some “awful” manner as a Nazi or Neanderthal.
But the people who call themselves “diverse” really aren’t. They actually are selling a very specific kind of uniformity of belief and saying anything else is a “phobia” or something.
If you want to read any of my stories, please point out anything you think is prejudicial or bad or anti-your values. I don’t promise to write to every progressive talking point, but I also don’t think that means I’m writing hostile or bigoted content. There’s room at the table for everyone.
Yes, I don’t have to like everything being produced, but then again, there are good stories out in the world who capture a different view, one where traditional perceptions of gender are okay (since most human beings fit those perceptions), being anti-crime is okay and stopping crime is okay (if you’re the victim of a crime, are you going to call a social worker?), and capitalism doesn’t automatically mean “the masses are being screwed” (that’s corporatism which is a different thing).
I may always be an indie writer since the big box companies have pretty much aligned with a single, rigid set of requirements. Ironically, true diversity and acceptance for all will end up in the realm of independent writing and publishing.
Above all else, as I wrote HERE and HERE and to echo legendary Lester Del Rey, science fiction should be fun. Let’s put all that other stuff away and have fun.