On Legitimacy, Academia, and the Hugos (or, Someone Needs to Take a Class)

If you've been following the Hugo Awards fiasco, you might have come across Philip Sandifer's fascinating analysis of Theodore Beale / Vox Day, his followers, and the Hugos.  Sandifer has since become a minor target within the Sad / Rabid Puppies discussion, but not so much for what he actually said as for who he declares himself to be:  an educated man.  Why would this matter in a conversation about the Hugo Awards?  What is so offensive about being a PhD in English (or any other individual with a PhD in the humanities)?

As someone who is roughly a year away from acquiring a PhD in English, I find this blatant anti-academic stance rather perplexing if isolated to the science fiction and fantasy world.  After all, so many of our greatest writers were academics -- mostly in the sciences, but occasionally in the humanities.  But once I think about the wider culture -- in this case, U.S. culture -- it becomes abundantly clear:  it's anti-intellectual posturing.  The U.S. has always had a strong anti-intellectual perspective, but in recent years that has reached alarming levels, with mountains of outright derision lobbed at those who are identified as intellectuals -- especially academics in the humanities.  And as an academic, I still struggle with how to respond to this derisive viewpoint.  How do you convince people who already view intellectuals (and academia) with contempt that there is value to be had among the intellectuals (and academics)?  That's a question to answer another time.

All of this leads me to R. Scott Bakker's recent post on the Hugos.  In particular, I'm interested in Bakker's conclusion, since the majority of his post has little to do with academia, except insofar as he demonstrates a significant dislike for us (we're fools and clowns, apparently, for believing we can teach critical thinking).  That dislike also seems to extend to Sandifer, though I'll admit that it's difficult to parse posturing or rejection of ideas from actual dislike (and, hell, they may not be that different anyway).  Sandifer is a necessary starting point here, because what Sandifer argues about the effects of the Sad / Rabid Puppies (and Beale in particular) on the Hugo Awards can be boiled down to "damaging the Hugo Awards" and "damaging the value of fandom by infected it with bile."  To this argument, Bakker eventually concludes the following:
And let’s suppose that the real problem facing the arts community lies in the impact of technology on cultural and political groupishness, on the way the internet and preference-parsing algorithms continue to ratchet buyers and sellers into ever more intricately tuned relationships. Let’s suppose, just for instance, that so-called literary works no longer reach dissenting audiences, and so only serve to reinforce the values of readers… 
That precious few of us are being challenged anymore—at least not by writing.
The communicative habitat of the human being is changing more radically than at any time in history, period. The old modes of literary dissemination are dead or dying, and with them all the simplistic assumptions of our literary past. If writing that matters is writing that challenges, the writing that matters most has to be writing that avoids the ‘preference funnel,’ writing that falls into the hands of those who can be outraged. The only writing that matters, in other words, is writing that manages to span significant ingroup boundaries. 
If this is the case, then Beale has merely shown us that science fiction and fantasy actually matter, that as a writer, your voice can still reach people who can (and likely will) be offended… as well as swayed, unsettled, or any of the things Humanities clowns claim writing should do.
There are a number of problems here.  First, Bakker assumes (or wants us to assume) that the so called "literary works" aren't reaching audiences.  This is easy to refute by looking at the mountains of so called "literary writers" whose works appear on bestseller lists or are invited to give talks in performance halls fit for a thousand or more people.  The challenging works of the "literary" form are already reaching audiences.  Salman Rushdie, David Mitchell, Margaret Atwood, Jennifer Egan, Karen Russell, and on and on and on and on.  This is, after all, what we are concerned with, no?  Challenges to our literary and personal sensibilities.  Within science fiction and fantasy, that becomes much more difficult to measure.  What constitutes "reaching an audience"?  Bestseller lists?  OK.  If so, then we might as well assume that sf/f is utterly stagnant, since its most compelling and memorable work isn't hitting those lists, which is a problem too complicated to explore here.

I am, of course, setting aside the reality that "literary" doesn't exist in any realistic grouping.  As a genre, it is even less well-defined than science fiction, which at least has identifiable traditions.

What I will say is this:  while Bakker seems to view people like me as clowns, we do have a significant hand in what continues to be discussed as "significant" in the sf/f field.  What I teach when I teach a science fiction class influences what thousands of everyday people think of when they think "science fiction and fantasy."  There are thousands and thousands of teachers just like me, and thanks to a massive shift in public and academic interests, we're now teaching sf/f more than we used to.

And what I teach isn't going to be the repetitive, stagnant sf/f of today.  Why would I teach an sf/f adventure novel from 2005 which offers nothing new when I can teach its more compelling predecessor from 1895?  When I teach my space opera course in the fall, I'm not going to teach contemporary works which read like E. E. "Doc" Smith.  I'm going to teach Smith.  I'm not going to teach Heinlein pastiches.  I'm going to teach Heinlein.  And when it comes to the contemporary writers I want to explore, it will be Ann Leckie, Yoon Ha Lee, Tobias Buckell, and so on and so forth.  And I don't feel any shame in saying that this class will be amazing.

Second, Bakker seems to confuse what Beale / Day does as an online troll and moral thug with what Beale / Day writes OR what the Sad / Rabid Puppies have repeatedly claimed they wish would make a come back.  If Beale / Day challenges us, it is not because his fiction does so, as may be the case for Rushdie, Mitchell, or Atwood (or Delany, Butler, and Le Guin); it is because the ideas he espouses are a reminder that our community doesn't have clear boundaries to keep out the undesirable (and perhaps for good reason).  Bakker does address this in his final paragraph (see below), but the initial framing isn't about Beale's ideas so much as his literary output.

But the Sad / Rabid Puppies aren't asking for literature that "challenges."  Rather, they're asking for the opposite.  Time and again, they've espoused a desire for the return of the Golden Age of sf/f -- a Golden Age that has been repeatedly rejected as a fantasy.  They want adventure and entertainment, not stories about complicated human subjects.  They want repetition, simplification, and routine.  They want reduction.  This is not a call for "challenging literature."  It is precisely the opposite.  Bakker misunderstands the literary roots of this so called "war."  It's not simply about diversity, but about the very quality of sf/f as a progressive medium:  a field that is always exploring the possibilities, the "what if."  That sf/f can be entertaining and adventurous is a given; it always capable of this and always will be.  But reducing quality arguments about sf/f to a single rubric does the field a disservice.

That's what slate voting does:  it pits one groupthink against another.  That there was no groupthink outside of the Sad / Rabid Puppies miniverse this year is significant because it demonstrates the danger of one viewpoint controlling a semi-public award.  The irony of the Sad / Rabid Puppies campaign is that the very thing they have harped on for years only applies to themselves.  They are the problem they misapply to the nebulous non-entity they claim has taken over sf/f.

Bakker ends his essay with the following:
‘Legitimacy,’ Sandifer says. Legitimacy for whom? For the likeminded—who else? But that, my well-educated friend, is the sound-proofed legitimacy of the Booker, or the National Book Awards—which is to say, the legitimacy of the irrelevant, the socially inert. The last thing this accelerating world needs is more ingroup ejaculate. The fact that Beale managed to pull this little coup is proof positive that science fiction and fantasy matter, that we dwell in a rare corner of culture where the battle of ideas is for… fucking… real.
I'm not sure what Bakker has against the Booker or the National Book Awards.  These are perfectly decent awards serving a particular viewpoint of literature.  They are no more or no less legitimate than any other award, I suppose.  Given that Sandifer never mentions these awards in his essay (I checked), it seems odd that these would come up at all.  In fact, the only awards Sandifer ever mentions are the Hugo Awards and the MTV Movie Awards, both popular awards of a kind.  And it's obvious from Sandifer's post that he loves the award.  A stuffy humanities teacher loves the Hugos.  My god!  If you don't believe me, you can just read Sandifer's anger about this year's slate voting fiasco for what it is -- love:
Fuck you for making me feel that way. Fuck you for the way you’ve brought this thing that I love, this celebration of great science fiction, to a point where it is full of the sort of mean and hateful desires that seem to animate you. Fuck you for dragging us all down to your sorry level. Fuck you for being so odious that we have to go there. 
Sandifer certainly has his own tastes and interests.  I do, too.  And as it turns out, we don't entirely agree, which is perfectly fine.  Two educated smarty pants academics who don't agree!  My god!

The point I'm poorly trying to make here is that Bakker's assumption about Sandifer's (and other anti-Sad / Rabid Puppies) motives or interests is a false one.  To be frank, I have never felt the need to conform to everyone else's tastes.  I still didn't much care for some of the non-Puppy short fiction on last year's ballot, and I know many other who didn't.  And so long as we're not running about screaming to high heaven about how much we hate X, nobody seems particularly bothered.  We're allowed to like different things.  It's OK.  Really.  We're an ingroup, I suppose, but hardly one that is bound to enjoy all the same things.  If we were bound in such a way -- as the political messaging implies about the Sad / Rabid Puppies -- the ballot would have looked very different this year.  Of course, by "we" I mean a nebulous non-entity, since I can't for the life of me figure out who the "we" actually is.  But I will continue to use it here anyway.

As one can imagine, we all didn't agree.  There was no groupthink.  There was a sea of people who might like some of the same things, but who didn't come to a natural consensus about much of anything.  If we could see the long list going all the way down to everything that got 1 or 2 votes, I bet the Hugo Awards would look like a grab bag of different opinions about the quality of sf/f.  Bakker might think we are all likeminded, but he would be wrong.  We might care about the same political issues (many of us, anyway), but to assume we are likeminded is to suggest that we don't care about quality, or that we don't debate amongst ourselves.  I don't know anyone who shares my point of view who doesn't care about the quality of a work.  I'm sure some exist who pick works because it fills in a checkbox, but they're hardly taking over sf/f anytime soon.

No.  Taking over sf/f is someone else's game.  And they're doing a smashing job thus far.  That it has so thoroughly backfired probably didn't come as a huge surprise to the Sad / Rabid Puppies.  When you deliberately piss in everyone's cereal, what do you expect?  Balloons and a party?  I think not.

The irony here is that the real challenge occurring in sf/f isn't coming from the Sad / Rabid Puppies side.  They might think they're challenging some imaginary status quo, but in reality, they are a reactionary group.  And what they are reacting to is quite clear:  sf/f doing what it does best.  The Hugo Awards have not only begun recognizing more diverse writers, but they have also begun to recognize sf/f that pushes against the actual boundaries of our society in a more concentrated fashion -- against racial constructs, sexism, gender norms, etc.  This is actually one of the most exciting times to be a scholar (let alone an sf/f fan).  And as Sandifer says, this isn't going to stop.  Even if the Hugo Awards are forever mired in political nonsense, people will still write the kinds of stories that challenge us.

Good.  I, for one, can't wait to read every bit of it.

On the Raging Child of Science Fiction Neo-Snobbery

On a foundational level, the most visible element of SF awards discussions concern subjective assertions about literary quality.  I have participated in some of these discussions over the years, podcasting about nominees I disliked for whatever reason and otherwise raging against what I perceived as the absence of taste within certain award-giving communities (mostly the Hugos).  The further away from those first instances I become, however, the more I realize how foolish these discussions really are.  Why rage against a difference in literary tastes?  I can no more tell someone what they should like than they can me.  At best, I can make a case for what I consider to be "good," but even then, the most effective arguments are those that explain why a text is interesting, not why it is qualitatively better, since the latter is, for the most part, impossible.  What we consider "of quality" could make for a very confusing, intersecting Venn diagram.

This is not to suggest that there isn't anything of value to discussions about taste.  How we develop our individual literary tastes is influenced by a variety of factors, from our upbringing to our education to our politics and so on and so forth.  Discussions about how these elements influence our perceptions of quality are, I think, quote useful, since they provide us with insight into the way different frames color our literary vision, for good and for bad.  The key word here is "discussion."

Unfortunately, SF still finds itself embroiled in sometimes vicious debate about merit, often to little effect.  Hackles are raised; authors and voters are defended or derided; and the "discussion" inevitably moves to the wrongheadedness and stupidity of those involved.  There are no "solutions" here.  These occasionally rage-feeding arguments do little to advance the discussion; in some cases, they may do more damage than good.

In the last few years, this foundational discussion, which can provide few solutions to the "issues" it raises, has been re-mobilized as a political act, not in the kind of abstract "all awards" or "all voting" or "all literary list are political" everyday but in the manner of a deliberate, directed political act which subverts the narrative of literary taste by exchanging it for literary rectification.  While these political acts might add comfort to one's sensibilities and may serve as rational correctives to historical erasures, they are sometimes bitter assaults on the "awards process" for the purposes not of correcting such erasures, even though such acts may utilize the corrective rhetoric to bolster their claims; rather, these acts project disdain for awards to "stick it" to another group, to hijack, to damage, to create and revel in chaos.  This element might be called the second face of SF's neo-snobbery.

These forms of neo-snobbery are not indicative of a field in growth.  They suggest SF's deep discomfort with the possibility of differing and multimodal tastes, some of them born out of individual political, religious, or social acculturations.  The Hugo Awards are the prime example of this problem.  We all recognize the Hugos as partially-open popular awards which reflect the literary tastes and interests of its registered voters.  Yet, year after year, this community has bitter discussions about the content of the annual ballot, accusing one side of having no taste or another of playing politics or another of committing some other literary sin.  Though some of these charges may be true, the overall feeling is that of bitterness.  That I've participated in these discussions doesn't mean I'm immune, either -- far from it.  And as the last few years have shown, the Hugos are also a battleground of sorts for a cultural war that, quite honestly, only one side believes it is fighting (a side that, as I noted above more generally, revels in chaos).

But the fact that the Hugos are a popular award in which anyone with $40 can participate, the rage over taste or politics seems mostly misplaced.  As John Scalzi noted, you can't take back what you already have.  There's nothing but $40 stopping anyone from participating in the Hugos.  You can vote for whatever you like every year (unless, of course, it's not actually science fiction or fantasy, because them's the rules).  And so deliberately creating chaos or continuously raging over Hugo selections because you don't like how things are run is pretty close to childish -- and I do mean "rage," not simply disagreeing (exceptions for flagrantly unethical practices aside, of course).

In writing this, I hope it becomes apparent that my perspective has changed since I was one of those raging types all those years ago.  I still disagree with selections that appear on the Hugo ballot or other award ballots, but I find myself less interested in fuming about how much I dislike those selections; rather, I want to have a discussion about why these books are interesting (or fail), or why other books that I think are good should still get a little love.  I want to talk about what makes me love SF/F and literature in general.  I want a discussion.  A dialogue.  Not the political gerrymandering.  Not the raging.  Not the anger and vitriol.  Dialogue.

I want this because I think this field needs it.  I want this because this field needs to grow up from one insecure in its own "skin" to one celebrating the diversity of literary interests.  There's too much interesting stuff to talk about to let every Hugo Awards discussion, eligibility post, novel review, etc. end in people screaming from the towers.

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No, Repetition Does Not Mean Science Fiction is Stagnating…Per Se

(This is going to be a bit ranty.  Be prepared.) 

There's been a bit of talk lately about Project Hieroglyph, an Arizona State University anthology (and website) which attempts to address the argument in Neal Stephenson's "Innovation Starvation."  I recommend reading that essay yourself; it makes some compelling points about science fiction and the failure of contemporary culture to meet the demands of the 1960s imagination.  Here, I'd like to talk about Ed Finn's (editor of Project Hieroglyph) article at Slate.com:  "The Inspiration Drought:  Why Our Science Fiction Needs New Dreams."

In fairness, I came to this article via a wildly misleading headline on io9.  Finn's actual argument concerns the recycling of ideas within and outside of science fiction proper and its impact on science.  Finn argues that

Hollywood special effects have depended for years on the same kinds of high-end computer modeling that physicists, mathematicians, and other researchers use to solve technical problems. Film design gets cited in patent disputes over product design. And then there’s James Cameron, explorer of real and invented abysses. 
But the issue is not sharing tools—it’s the limited pool of metaphors behind those tools. Right now, almost everyone is working from the same conceptual playbook. All of these engineers watched Star Trek...[It’s] why the X Prize Foundation wants someone to build a Tricorder. 
[The] fact that we are all so steeped in the same shorthand of the future (intelligent robots; warp drive; retinal displays) is a hint that we’ve become complacent about our dreams.
Part of the problem I have with Finn's argument is that it relies too heavily on an assumption that the repetition of ideas is necessarily tied to intellectual or imaginative stagnation.  I've left in the line about the tricorder to illustrate a point.  As far as I can see, the reason we continue to talk about warp drives and tricorders has less to do with the inability to imagine new technologies, but rather than fact that these tools are utterly absent from our everyday lives.  And we notice that absence because we feel a need for these tools.  The tricorder serves a function.  Our desire for it is largely utilitarian -- we have nothing that can replicate its functions, and yet having one would fill a need gap in the same way the now-old-hat calculators we used in school also filled a need gap.  Many of the science fictional things we keep turning to in our everyday lives arrive from a center of need, not an inability to imagine beyond the confines of reality.  Whether the functions of a real world tricorder will be the same as described in the Star Trek universe is secondary to the symbolic function of the device itself:  it's a catchall term for a tool which serves a variety of scientific and biological functions (and its name will likely change when we actually build one).

The exoskeleton is another example.  Is it original to the now?  Nope.  Does it serve a need in the now?  Yup.  Is creating a real exoskeleton an act of innovation?  Well, Finn's argument requires him to say no, but I'm inclined to say "hell yes."  There are a sea of common, repeated terms in everyday life that come from science fiction.  Repeating them in our narratives doesn't suggest stagnation to me.  In a way, the repetitions are necessary to convince our culture that we do, in fact, need some of these imaginary tools from our literary past.  Would we be talking about exoskeletons without the repetition of the term (and related terms) in our narratives?  Probably not (or maybe).  Would we continue to strive for faster-than-light travel in the form of a warp drive without Star Trek and the constant reference to the past?  Maybe, but it wouldn't have the same cultural resonance.  The same language.

That's the thing:  these repetitions are for Finn a mark of stagnation, but I see them as a mark of a cultural language of need and fulfillment.  That we share this language -- the warp drive, the tricorder, the ansible, the exoskeleton, etc. -- is significant.  Without that shared language, without shared reference points, we would have no way to talk about innovation and desire.  There would be no way to talk about a possible future or a future that we desire.  Rather, we'd be trapped with no way to conceptualize the future as it might one day be.  This is not to suggest that science fiction cannot continue to add to that language; indeed, it must by continuously imagining new technologies and ideas in response to the present.  Who would have imagined we'd live in a world where a huge number of people have access to immense amounts of data from the comfort of a pocket?  Star Trek.  Science Fiction.  The common language.

Additionally, I'd argue that the common language is a necessity.  It is inevitable that whatever device we create that falls under the title of "tricorder" will serve an entirely different function from the tricorders of Star Trek fame.  Function will outweigh the fiction.  But by referring to it by the same term, we create a narrative of that device's creation that is recognizable by a larger population.  Everyone knows what a tricorder is (well, most people), and so using that concept to describe a device with similar properties as the fiction gives us all a frame of reference.  "This is a tricorder."  That means something.  That meaning is transferable.  It has no immediate affect on innovation, since what we might create to fall under the name will be different by default.  Even so, Finn can't honestly think that we're not creating innovative technologies all over the world despite science fiction's input, right?  Look at the cell phone.  Look at medical technology.  Look around you.

Finn, of course, is right to point out that there is a certain degree of stagnation in filmed science fiction, which more often than not offers nothing new to the table, even if the technologies behind the creation of those films are the product of, to put it loosely, scientific innovation.  Ideas repeat in conjunction with narrative repetition -- reboots, sequels, and copycats -- even if the technologies in the background are new.  Avatar's narrative may be almost indistinguishable from ideas science fiction and fantasy have explored in decades past -- hell, the narrative itself is an unintentional copy of familiar ahistorical narratives about Native Americans -- but its creation was undoubtedly a product of serious innovation.  Peter Jackson's efforts to expand the use of motion capture to create realistic CG characters has had a massive impact on film as a whole, right up to the point that ideas that otherwise would have been difficult to do some 30 or 40 years ago are now doable (Rise of the Planet of the Apes may be a reboot, but it also succeeds where its predecessor could not -- in the realm of technology).  Hollywood's problem is not the repetition of ideas, but the repetition of narratives and the endless cycle of franchise-itis -- the desire to turn otherwise singular films into sequences of nearly identical sequels (Transformers, The Hobbit films (not science fiction, but whatever), etc.).

The problem with science fiction film is also that its innovation is unseen by the average viewer.  Unless you watch those behind the scene documentaries, you'll never learn about innovations in motion capture, new methods for producing practical and computer-animated effects, and so on.  The real problem, then, isn't that filmed science fiction lacks metaphors to describe its tools, but that their narratives are hardly science fiction at all.  The technologies behind film are innovative, but the stories those technologies are asked to create are, at best, mediocre narrative with a side of science fiction trope.  The metaphors exist, even outside of the standards (Star Trek, etc.); they're just not being used in film.  Literature, on the other hand, is a whole other thing entirely.

And on that note, I'll stop ranting.

The Purpose of Science Fiction (and, Technically, Fantasy)

In the 200th episode of The Coode Street Podcast, the hosts (Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe) and guests (Kim Stanley Robinson, Robert Silverberg, and Jo Walton) briefly discussed the seemingly nebulous question, “Does science fiction have a purpose?”  It's worth a listen.

I would respond initially by saying that the question is somewhat malformed.  In what sense does any literary product have a purpose except that provided by the author, which is necessarily individual?  Even if the author defines a purpose, should that have any bearing on whether the text is perceived as having that defined purpose?

I personally subscribe to the view that in matters of interpretation, intent is irrelevant.  What the author meant to do, insofar as we can even know it, has no bearing on how the work can or should be perceived, in no small part because what a reader perceives is more valid than what the author thought they were creating.  Perception is the conversation.  I also tend to think that unless we can have universal access to intention, by which we would need not only biographical and personal writings, but also actual access to the mind, then an author's intent is useless to us.  How am I supposed to know what the author really intended to do?  This is not to suggest that we can't discuss intent, mind; rather, I'm suggesting that we shouldn't assume intent as the sole arbiter of interpretation or perception.

However, purpose is something quite different from intended-reception.  whatever the author intended as the purpose of a written work need not determine how we interpret that text’s purpose.  Intent and purpose, in other words, are different beasts, as the former concerns the activity of production while the latter merges production and perception together.  We can, after all, discuss the success of a text in its presentation of a message while also discussing the other interpretative possibilities of a given text.  Indeed, the purpose, insofar as one is defined, only offers possibilities, as it does not suggest "this is the only way to read the text," but rather that "the author meant to do Y, but what we see are A, B, and Q."  (Alternatively, it might be helpful to avoid the total linguistic separation and simply make a distinction between "purpose" as an intention" and "purpose" as an end product.  But maybe that's abstract, too.  Oh well.)

To return to the question of science fiction's purpose:  as I noted in my post on the taxonomy of genre, science fiction doesn't seem to me to fall under the traditional category of genre anymore because it lacks the narrative devices which define all of the other market genres (crime, etc.); science fiction, in other words, is a supergenre because it is conceptual, though it s possible to think that at one point, science fiction had a narrative practice.  In a similar sense, I think the purpose of science fiction has been obscured by time.  At one point, the most obvious purpose for the genre might have been to entertain (as in the Pulp Era) or to expound upon the radically changing world of the 40s, 50s, and 60s, and so on and so forth.

Now, I think the genre's purpose is less apparent, and perhaps for good reason.  It can entertain, experiment, extrapolate, examine, elucidate, and encapsulate.  There is no singular purpose anymore than there is a singular narrative space.  And that's another reason why I think science fiction is one of the most important literary genres, as its narrative spaces, purposes, and perspectives exist in an endless sea of variations.  One can write science fiction for any number of reasons -- and one should feel comfortable doing so.  Entertainment, experimentation, whatever.

The idea that we can identify a singular or minute number of purposes for this genre is an exercise in futility, because science fiction cannot be a genre of limits if it is to also be a genre of endless narrative possibilities.

What do you all think?

The Taxonomy of Genre: Science Fiction as Supergenre

I recently stayed with Maureen Kincaid Speller and Paul Kincaid, two wonderful people whose book collections would make almost any sf fan drool.  One of the brief discussions we had before I headed off for my final days in London concerned the often pointless debates about what science fiction “is.”  Paul suggested that thinking of sf as a “genre” in the narrative sense is not accurate to the use of “genre.”  Unlike romance or crime, there is nothing unique to the narrative practice of sf that can be separated from everything else.  This might explain, for example, why there has been so much discussion about the nature of sf as a cross-pollinating genre – crossovers being so regular an occurrence that one would be hard pressed to find an sf text which does not cross over into other generic forms.


Paul’s observation, it seems to me, is spot on.  Even if I might define sf by such vague features as future time and extrapolation, these are merely functional terms to explain sf to someone who does not know what it is; outside of that narrow space, these definitions are practically useless, as the academic world has yet to define sf in any concrete, generally accepted sense – as opposed to other fields, such as biology, whose name defines itself (the study of life).  Likewise, no two people can agree on what sf “is,” with academics and non-academics alike debating the wide range of critical definitions, from Darko Suvin to Carl Freedman to Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr.

During this conversation, I suggested that it might be more fruitful to think of sf as a supergenre rather than a straight genre, as doing so would allow us to apply the crossover potential of sf to a different set of parameters:  namely, the interaction of subgenres or genres with the supergenres to which they belong.  The supergenres would include realism, science fiction, and anti-realism, with the traditional genres of crime, romance, historicals, fantasy, and so on underneath.  These supergenres would not necessarily define the genres beneath them, but they would suggest a relationship between genres that moves beyond narrative practice, but never quite leaves it behind.  A fantasy novel might be as much historical as it is anti-realist; the former is a narrative practice, while the latter is a conceptual “game.”

In this respect, sf would be defined by its most basic roots – its conceptual concerns, not its narrative ones.  Futurity, extrapolation, and social or hard science, to give a rough sketch.  Of course, sf can interact with the other supergenres, producing sf-nal works which are more realistic than not (or the other way around); this seems a supergeneric necessity, as to define “realism” as anything other than “literature which attempts to represent the world as it is” would not allow for the widest range of possibilities, which I submit a supergenre requires in order to be defined as such.  A terminological shift from “as it is” to “as it could or might be” is fairly negligible in the long run.  Thus, an sf text can adhere to the rigors of science in its imagining of a possible real future, and a realist text can do the same in reverse order; whichever conceptual mode is dominant would determine the supergenre to which that text most aptly belongs, but the divisions would never be hard so as to discount the cross-supergeneric influences.  One might think of a typical Asimov or Bacigalupi novel as more sf-nal than realist and a Jane Rogers novel as more realist than sf-nal.  Naturally, this could make things rather messy.[1]  In a similar fashion, one might think of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings as both anti-realist and realist at once, which might suggest a contradiction if not for the fact that the rigor with which Tolkien wrote LOTR would seem to subvert the anti-realist tendencies of fantasy, if only minutely.  I’d suggest that LOTR is dominated by its anti-realist practices simply by being more tied to myth and folklore than to the Realist tradition (in the literary sense, not the supergeneric sense).  In that respect, one would place myth, fairy tales, and folklore firmly under the anti-realist banner.

Defining genre this way would also kill the endless discussions about how to classify texts which seem to borrow narrative traditions from all over the place.  A romantic comedy featuring a detective could be shoved into three separate genres (or subgenres), neither marring the value of the other in relation to the text.  Whether dominance should determine classification at this point is up to debate, though I suspect out of a need to keep conversations about texts relatively smooth and unencumbered one would need to focus on the dominant trait rather than apply a text’s multiplicities.  Outside of conversation, an acronymic practice might make things easier.[2]

These are all preliminary thoughts – ones which I’m expounding upon while on my train to London Victoria.  I do think they are worthwhile ones, though.  Expect more on this in the future.

And on that note:  I leave the comments to you lot.

***

[1]:  Obviously, this concept is only useful outside of the marketing apparatus.
[2]:  If one is clever, the acronyms could be turned into clever words.  A romantic comedy set in 18th century France would become a HRC, or “horic.”


On Grit, Gore, and the Fantasy of Everyday Life in SF

I'm not going to re-hash old arguments about grimdark or gory fiction or whatever.  Originally, I had meant to respond to the question "can fiction be too gritty?"  I'm not convinced that fiction has limits in any standardized sense.  Some of us may not like gore or grit (or that grr feeling we get when an author kills a favorite character), but others do; the idea that fiction as a whole cannot have material for each of us on the basis of some arbitrary standard about what is "too much" seems preposterous to me.  You like gory fiction?  Great, here's a whole bunch of stuff just for you (says Fiction)!

I think the more interesting question is "why does grit bother some of us?"  There are a lot of ways to approach that question.  Take Game of Thrones as an obvious example.  (Spoilers ahead)
As a show, Game of Thrones is often violent and "unsafe" in the sense that its characters are always on the chopping block.  People die painful, horrifying deaths when we least expect them to.  The recent death of Oberyn at the hands of the Mountain is a great example.  Most of us who had not read the books had a few expectations:  either he would defeat the Mountain, he would die by getting quickly cut down, or he would survive long enough to be killed at some other time.  Up to Season 4, I think most of us loyal viewers knew that Oberyn was too good to be true (or too awesome to live).  What we got was one of the most gruesome death scenes in the show's history.
Personally, I had two reactions to Oberyn's death:  one of absolute shock that a favorite character died (putting another favorite character, Tyrion, at risk) and one of horror at the imagery I was shown.  Oberyn's death was graphic.  It was gory, it was "real," and it was the kind of gritty realism we've come to expect from the show.  And it shocked us (well, it shocked me).  If you're curious, the scene can be found here (I can't watch it again... Warning:  it is extremely graphic).

Perhaps what bothers us about these instances is a kind of subconscious longing for a fantasy -- not necessarily for a world that literally does not exist (i.e., a fictional fantasy), but rather for a fantasy of action wherein some small piece of the good vs. evil dichotomy is maintained.  Game of Thrones consistently shatters that dichotomy.  Villains survive while our heroes fall.  Villains become our heroes.  Heroes become our villains.  Everything is gray and messy.  Gritty fantasy represents a kind of hyperreal that counteracts our everyday fantasies -- fantasies we maintain for ourselves by selecting what we see, hear, and read (and in a totally meta way, reading/viewing Game of Thrones is a deliberate action on our part).  Fantasies about right and wrong, good and evil, life and death.  They make up life on this planet.
Those fantasies are, I think, partly why some hold onto the idea that Superman is a kind of adult boy scout.  Man of Steel (2013) broke that -- to a certain degree.  It took what many have come to love about the character and shifted it ever so slightly to the side (in my estimation) so that what we saw was a Superman living in a world not unlike our own.  A Superman who had grown up with the fantasies of everyday life tossed aside by the gritty truth of what it means to be an alien super being in a world that can barely handle its technological powers.  Man of Steel never needs to talk about weapons of mass destruction, but the commentary is always there.  Superman is a weapon of mass destruction.  But he's worse than that:  he's a weapon that nobody can seem to control, much like his Kryptonian counterparts.  There's a brilliant scene in Man of Steel where Superman willingly gives himself over to the authorities after the Earth is threatened with destruction by Zod; the military shackles him, but it's all a show on Superman's part, as he eventually breaks the bonds to make a point:
Let's put our cards on the table, General.  You're scared of me because you can't control me.  You don't.  And you never will.  But that doesn't mean I'm your enemy.
In the context of the United States' attempts to control who has WMDs, Superman is the ultimate threat -- a veritable bomb waiting to go off in mankind's backyard that nobody can control.  And that bomb does go off in Man of Steel.  Superman's very presence serves as a flashing beacon that says "super beings can come destroy shit here."  And they do.  Superman included.  They destroy a lot of shit.  It's only a natural response on humanity's part to try to determine where Superman lives at the end of the movie.  That Superman tries to wave that away by saying "hey, no worries, I'm an American, dude" shouldn't inspire any of us.  After all, America is hardly the bastion of restraint.

The attempt to make Superman a grittier figure is, for me, a good thing, in part because Superman is supposed to exist in our world.  It makes little sense for him to have developed a sense of morality and justice that doesn't represent a reality that is accessible.  But I understand why people disliked Man of Steel and Snyder's/Nolan's gritty reinterpretation.  The film performs the same attack on the fantasy of everyday life as Game of Thrones.  Worse, Man of Steel shatters the double-fantasy of the comics by discarding the Superman many have come to love in favor for a gritty alternative.
The idea that a fantasy pervades our everyday lives or that it can be supplanted by another fantasy property suggests, I think, the intersection between the desire for narrative depth and the relationship between grit and complexity.  As television properties become increasingly more narrative-based and series like Game of Thrones or movies with the same agenda as Man of Steel pervade our screens, the more apparent this intersection becomes.  Audiences are demanding more of this not-so-new thing because many of us enjoy having our everyday fantasies challenged, as if breaking apart our daily lives exposes us to the possibility of a deeper relationship with fiction, to our individualistic fandoms.  Grit bears the traces of complexity (perhaps in its false form), but it is also condensed into "bite-sized" chunks of narrative.  We can experience the complexity of life without living it.  We can harbor fictive love for villains without sacrificing our humanity.  We can infuse our shattered everyday fantasies with a new kind of gritty, gory, messy hyperreality that is itself its own kind of fantasy.  And in doing so, we offer ourselves a new escape from the hopelessness of the actual.  We don't have to deal with unemployment or mass murder or war in the hyperreality of Game of Thrones, except insofar as we can become engrossed in a non-place.

That's how I'm going to think about gritty fantasy worlds from now on:  they are not utopian non-places; rather, they are non-places that provide a kind of catharsis.

What say you?

Kim Stanley Robinson and Exposition (or, No More James Patterson, Please)

Just this past weekend, I saw Kim Stanley Robinson give a talk about narrative and time at the Marxist Reading Group Conference at the University of Florida.  During this talk, Robinson suggested, as I'm sure he has elsewhere, that science fiction has been the victim of casual writing instruction, which has mistakenly convinced us that exposition is terrible writing.  He argued that exposition is, in fact, the bedrock of sf, as it provides much of the formal variance necessary for the genre to thrive, particularly given the genre's history.  In a sense, what Robinson argues is that the formal uniqueness of sf lies in its ability to represent what does not exist, and so exposition, by dint of representing the unreal, is a necessary tool for any writer of the genre.  His argument likewise reduces the "show, don't tell" rule to a curse of narrative zombification -- what he calls a zombie meme.


I find this view rather compelling as a way to define sf by what it does, as opposed to what it is.  Much like Delany, who Robinson probably intentionally hinted to by referencing Heinlein's oft-cited sf-nal sentence ("The door dilated" from Beyond This Summer[1] (1942)), Robinson seems to view sf as a genre without definition; rather, it is a genre best understood by its applications and methods.[2]  The method Robinson is perhaps famous for (or infamous, depending on your interpretation) is exposition, a fact which he seemed delighted to declare in his talk.  Even in something like The Gold Coast (1988), exposition is almost a necessity, for the sf-nal frame of the work only works within a functional world.[3]  One can't quite fully understand the conflict between Jim McPherson and his father without the in-depth examination of this "new" culture in which they exist.  Much of that examination has to come through exposition, lest The Gold Coast become a 10,000-page monstrosity which has to show us every little darned thing so we really understand why Jim acts the way he does.

Much of this made me wonder why this rule -- "show, don't tell" -- has stuck with us when it so clearly compromises any work which wishes to do more than simply "entertain" in the most banal definition of the word.  In this respect, I agree with Robinson that the removal of exposition may have helped some sf reach wider audiences -- particularly among the "I don't write sf even though I do, but don't tell anyone" NYT bestseller crowd.  But it's that limitation on the language and vision that often produces inferior works -- works which do little more than present a story without requiring the author to provide an explanation for the world itself or some deeper examination of the world as a container for criticism.  This is not to suggest, as Robinson doesn't either, that one must become Tolkien to produce an sf work which engages with the best activities of the genre; rather, I'm agreeing with Robinson that a genre which seeks a universalization of its modes of writing is, indeed, a zombie genre.  Repetition.  Rinsing and repeating.

This might be why I find works like Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (2013), Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson (2013), or The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar (2013) so fascinating.[4]  At the same time, this assertion about exposition cannot possibly be universal.  Indeed, I doubt Robinson would suggest that the absence of exposition is necessarily the default of an inferior work, as the removal of exposition could serve a literary purpose.  For example:  while I cannot speak for Robinson, I suspect that a surface level view of Tobias Buckell's Xenowealth Saga would result in a number of loaded assumptions, the most of important of which is that these are just not good books because they aren't loaded with exposition.[5]  But part of what Buckell's writing style does, whether this was intentional or not, is tied to Buckell's oft-cited desire to represent "people like him" or "people he saw while in the Caribbean" within the genre he has so come to love.  This is a charge we've heard from other writers who put QUILTBAG or PoC characters into their work:  so much of sf/f doesn't include characters who look like me, and so I'm going to fill the gap on my own.[6]  That is that Buckell's Xenowealth Saga takes characters which have been perhaps "trapped" in the literary sphere or the literary sf sphere and throws them into the high-flying adventure and mayhem universe of Space Opera.  He plays in a particular literary mode, albeit a modern re-imagination of the form.  His books do not contain mountains and mountains of exposition; they are rather subdued in that realm, in fact.  But they are also excellent books precisely because of what they do with the mode.  If it's not clear, I'm not suggesting that Buckell is a bad writer; rather, I'm suggesting quite the opposite.

Of course, I could be wrong.  Perhaps what Robinson was pointing to were the extreme forms of anti-exposition writing found in, say, James Patterson, who I personally think is one of the worse prose stylists whose works routinely appear on the NYT Bestsellers list.  His writing lacks the kind of depth that Robinson called for in his talk, so much so that I couldn't finish one of his Alex Cross novels.  It was too limiting.  Too removed.  Too oriented around the plot and not oriented enough around the characters.  In the case of science fiction, which Alex Cross most certainly is not, I think Robinson sees exposition's value in its ability to convey the unreal in potentially liberative ways -- in the sense that our understanding of a world and our ability to immerse within it can be, in some cases, contingent upon that world seeming fully realized, allowing us to extricate ourselves from our (mundane) lives into the otherworldly.  Patterson's prose, if I'm honest, does not do that.  I am not extricated.  I am not compelled.  I am simply "there," reading, aware.

But I want to be immersed.  I want to feel connected to the world and to the characters.  And perhaps that really is facilitated largely by the exposition, and to remove that is to remove, in a way, the soul of the work.

------------------------------------------

[1]:  I just realized that the quote everyone uses -- "the door irised open" -- is falsely attributed to Heinlein (or misquoted, more like).  The correct quote is "the door dilated," which, I'm told on the Internet, may appear elsewhere in his work.  Robinson, and, indeed, a lot of folks, used the misquote in his talk, which I have amended in my own summary of the issue in question.

[2]:  This is something Samuel R. Delany writes about in a number of his works, including Starboard Wine (1984; re-released in 2012 w/ an introduction by Matthew Cheney).  I recommend Delany's book.  It is academic in places, but it is far more approachable than a lot of academic works on the genre.  I tend to think of Delany as a good entry point for folks interested in sf criticism.

[3]:  There is something utterly eery about The Gold Coast's prescient "prediction" of our own future.  Much of the novel concerns military contractors and drone warfare, with a hint towards what may be in our own future (the response to drone warfare).  As someone who only read it within the last year, I found the work a bit uncomfortable in the way all good literature is.

[4]:  Granted, the latter of these is likely not sf in the traditional sense, but certainly speculative fiction.  I think Robinson's point likely applies there, too, though he might argue that fantasy doesn't have nearly the hangup as sf proper.

[5]:  I could be very wrong on this, though.  I don't know if Robinson is familiar with Buckell's work.

[6]:  My amendment would be this:  so much of sf/f doesn't include characters like my mom, and so I will include characters who are single lesbian mothers with three kids living on welfare (in outer space) because I want to see people like her in my fiction.  That's very much a personal choice for me, as it is in the non-amended version above.

Post-Post-Event Thoughts on Loncon3 and Jonathan Ross

Jonathan Ross is not hosting the Hugos this year.  He's made what I think is the right decision and stepped down.  If you have no idea what I'm talking about, then you missed all the "fun" on Twitter.  You can get a decent overview of the situation over at The Wertzone.

In any case, what I'm going to talk about here aren't the things everyone was throwing out on Twitter -- mostly.  Here, I'm interested in some of the whys and hows and whats that are underneath all of this and why, ultimately, Jonathan Ross was a poor choice within the current climate of sf/f.

First, I'll say that I hold no animosity towards Ross.  I don't know the man, as you'd expect, and have, in fact, viewed some of his material and found him rather amusing.  I also agree with Adam Whitehead that the motivation to bring in Ross, who himself is a supporter of sf/f and its various properties, is a good one:  high profile tv personality who happens to be a vocal fan = good for business.

But the problem Ross posed was two fold:  

1) He is, as Whitehead and Farah Mendlesohn (who stepped down from the Worldcon committee over Ross' appointment) and others have noted, a divisive figure, most notably because his comedy has frequently gotten him into trouble.  You can read about some of that on his Wikipedia page or here.

If I'm fair to you and myself, I have found some of his more offensive jokes humorous, though not necessarily the ones most have cited (mostly because I wasn't there and don't have the full context in which these things were said).  In fact, I've enjoyed other shock comedians such as Jimmy Carr from time to time, though even he crosses lines I just can't handle (rape jokes are not funny to me).  The question, in my mind, is not whether it personally offends me or other individuals, but the repercussions such offense has on the larger community.  I think it was Kate Elliot who noted on Twitter that individual acts aren't the problem, but a collection of those acts adding up to a whole.  Which leads me to...

2) The sf/f community is, as Charlie Stross rightly asserts, in the middle of a serious discussion/debate about inclusion (a.k.a. house cleaning).  Though I seriously doubt that Ross would have treated sf/f fans with ridicule, there is the very real problem that Ross' public profile poses for sf/f fans:  in certain respects, his comments damage the potential for a safe space.  It doesn't matter that Ross' comments are frequently meant in jest.  We live in a society where these types of things are also said with the utmost seriousness, such that people who are attacked for (seemingly) being "overweight" or "white and adopting non-white children," for example, do not necessarily feel these jokes as jokes.  For them, these sorts of comments are not unlike pouring lemon juice in a wound and saying "but it was only a joke; why did it hurt you so much?"  This is why Seanan McGuire went on her mini-Twitter rant about feeling anything but safe at the Hugos.  She has previously been in that beautiful front row for nominees, and may appear there again in the future.  She is a prime example of this problem.

There is also another side to this:  in the interest of creating inclusive spaces for people, we have to realize that in the absence of those spaces, humorous pokes at previously excluded individuals just reminds them how much they are not in this community.  Everyone's experience varies, of course, but the sad fact is that we do not exist in an sf/f community which has set aside its sexist past en total (or its racism, for that matter).  It's still here, albeit missing one of its scaled legs.  It's still fighting to keep things like they were.  That's why there is such a concerted effort to push sf/f forward so those excluded-now-included groups can feel at home.

However, the pain doesn't go away just because we include people.  The pain goes away when their inclusion is coupled with a sense of safety:  the idea that you won't be harmed, cast out, or burned for being a woman or person of color; that any criticism you receive is, with exception, appropriate, not a reflection of an individual's opinion of you based on factors you cannot control.  That your weight or your health conditions are not the subject of public scrutiny as a method for discarding your worth as a contributor to the community.

Our community is not safe yet.  It's not.  Seanan McGuire doesn't have the benefit I have:  she doesn't always feel safe because things happen to remind her how far away from others she is/was/might be/could be.  Me?  I'm going to be cast out if I say something monumentally stupid.  If I do something horrible.  I'll be cast out because I did something, not because I've got some stuff dangling between my legs or because of my heritage or because of where I was born.  That's an important distinction.

Now, does this mean Ross can never be a part of sf/f?  No.  Does this mean he can never host the awards?  No.  But it does mean that the decisions our entities make need to keep in mind their long term impact.  I'm not sure Ross would have been so good for sf/f.  He might have brought a lot of attention with him, but it's also possible he would have done a lot of damage to a field which is still trying to figure out how it can include everyone without pissing on everyone's toes.  We're just not there yet.  Maybe one day soon.  Then, perhaps Ross will return.

-----------------------------

A few corrections from my day of Tweeting:
  • I originally argued, as many have, that Ross shouldn't host because he's not a fan.  I was flat wrong on that front, and tried to correct that as soon as I could, mostly by way of correcting others who fell into the same trap.  Additionally, it seems to me that the host doesn't necessarily need to be a fan to qualify.  That is that someone who, perhaps, likes some sf/f properties, but is not an uber fan could still do the job justice.  In that respect, I think the "not one of us" argument should be discarded whole hat.  It's stupid and I am sorry I contributed to it.
  • I'm not convinced that Ross is a sexist himself.  The primary reason for this is that I think it is necessary to disentangle actions from belief.  One can engage in sexist behavior and not themselves believe that women are inferior or deserve different treatment or what have you.  We live in a culture in which certain behaviors are encoded into our daily lives, such that it is quite difficult to eradicate sexism from our activities in the world.  There might be more information on Ross that could sway me, but I'll keep the distinction until later.
  • I do think it's worth noting that the clincher for me was Ross' response to his detractors, in which he sometimes dismissed them as unworthy of inclusion.  He told one critic that they could sell him their Worldcon membership so someone so stupid wouldn't be there.  This is one of those moments when comedy -- if that is, in fact, what he was doing -- really doesn't work... Perhaps Ross simply didn't understand the field as it currently stands, and so he stepped into it instead of taking a different route.  I don't know if he could have allayed fears that he would bring unwanted criticism to the awards, though.
  • It's also unfortunate that such a high profile individual would bring such controversy to the awards.  That's expected, of course, since Ross has stepped into it a number of times throughout his career.  I wonder if this is what we should expect in almost every high profile cases.  But then I think about other major figures who are somehow tied to our field, and I realize there's a sea of folks out there who would be perfect for the Hugos...

Fishing (or Publishing); Whatever

Person One:  There is only one way to fish.  Fly fishing.  Obviously.  You would be a fool to try anything else.
Person Two:  Nu-uh.  Angling is the only valid method, sir.  I have clearly done better than you via this method, so you really don't know what you're talking about.
Person Three:  Oh yeah?  Well I know better than both of you.  Netting is clearly the best method, because you can catch more fish at the same time, and that means you can be as fat and pompous as you like...I mean, you can eat lots.
Person Four:  You're all wrong, and utterly stupid for not realizing that the best method is clearly spearfishing, which has the ability of bringing you closer to the medium of the fish.  Without the spear, we would not be fisherman.
Person Five:  Bullshit.  You're all morons.  Hand gathering is truly getting "into the fish."  This is how the masters do it, and if you can't be bothered to do it this way, then I'd rather piss in your cereal than let you anywhere near the fish.
Person Six:  I kinda like all of them.  Sometimes it's nice to have all these different ways to do things.
Persons One through Five:  FUUUUUUUUUUUUU SHUT UP YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT I HATE YOU I HATE YOU I HATE YOU DIE DIE DIE GGRRRRRAAAAAAA!

The traditional vs. indie vs. self-publishing debate in a nutshell.  Involving fish.  As metaphors.  The end.

For the record:  I don't know anything about fishing, except that there are lures and things.  And that you catch fish.  And then eat them.  I want fish...

How to Destroy the SFWA…err, no, I’m not going to talk about that after all

This post began as a parody or a satire.  Whatever it began as, it was a scathing critique of someone else whose post I'm not going to link to because I just don't see a point in directly addressing anything said there or using my website as a link vehicle for what amounts to "people screaming about things they don't understand."  Phew.  Big sentence.

So, I've come to this point where I either shrug, shake my head, and walk away to other things, or I write parodies/satires because I don't want to repeat myself.  I'm going with the first route (except the walking away part).

The SFWA nonsense shouldn't be so nonsensical.  It shouldn't be this difficult for some people to articulate a position that doesn't make them look like assholes.  It shouldn't be this difficult for those same people to understand what some people are saying.  It shouldn't be this difficult for those same people to acknowledge that their worldview isn't the only one or that it shouldn't be just because it makes them comfortable.  It shouldn't be this difficult for those same people to realize they're arguing over a straw man and to start actually addressing what really bothers them, or to understand that gender matters, race matters, that our field is not perfect, that there are real structural problems here, that how people feel matters even if you don't understand it because you're not like them, that the world and its sf/f traditions matter, that how you represent others in a professional venue matters...

It shouldn't be this difficult.

But it is.  And it's incredibly frustrating to see name after name after name argue "1st Amendment" this or "political correctness" that.  To see them argue about things that aren't happening, using definitions of words that make no sense (apparently "no politics" and "professionalism" means "say whatever you want in a professional venue without repercussions" -- who knew?).  To see other people explain why the views of this group is skewed by straw man arguments and misunderstanding, only to get ignored because...reasons?  To see perfectly intelligent people refuse to acknowledge that gender and sexuality matter, and that giving up something like a pronoun really doesn't cost any individual person anything worth hanging onto, or to see them hypocritically argue that the SFWA shouldn't have anything to do with gender/sexuality/etc. while supporting inappropriate behavior from a while male author or two in a professional venue.  To see a female author get pissed on by someone in a position of authority because she didn't dress conservative enough to qualify as a "feminist" (another redefined term).

To see discussions of diversity dismissed as "political correctness," which roughly translated means, "I used to be able to say offensive things to these people, but now I'm unhappy because I can't without getting called out for it."  To see a member of the community write a mini-manifesto on how to fix the SFWA, when really it would completely destroy the organization's ability to represent the interests of sf/f writers and prevent the organization from celebrating its diversity (of all sorts).  As if somehow this would make things better.  As if somehow the organization does nothing today, when it obviously does.

To see the complete inability of certain people to have the basic level of respect for others, even insofar as it might mean letting those others be represented in a journal designed for their profession.  Not as a political game.  Not as a manifesto for something.  But as an acknowledgement that people like them exist and are writing books or movies or whatever, and that there are particularities to the field that are relevant to them.

SF/F deserves better than this.

And that's all I'm going to say about that.