Tag Archives: culture

You Will Work in This Town Again

Jeff VanderMeer has a great post up on why no one should put up with harassment from “big names”, no matter what they say about advancing your career if you tolerate them or hindering your career if you don’t. I want to add something personal to that–not about harassment, though I’m tremendously glad that it’s being talked about and deprecated this way, but about genre career trajectories in general.

When I was a high school student, I interned for a major SF/F imprint. If I named them, you’d know them. My high school had a great internship program and many of the other people who interned for this imprint went on to work for them during and after college. It was expected that this would be my first step on a smooth path to a predictable career. Instead, I pissed off an editor and got fired.

I want to let that sink in a moment. This was my big break! My golden opportunity! And I got fired. Summarily canned. My internship advisor refused to stand up for me, which I still resent, but I expect she was in shock; people who entered that internship program didn’t get fired. Certainly not smart people with bright prospects, like me. This reinforced my perception that this was a Really Big Deal.

I was absolutely certain that I would never work in the field again.

I knew just how much people talk to one another in genre circles, because I’d grown up hearing endless gossip about authors and editors and publishers. I’d read fanzines. I’d heard stories of conventions. My immediate assumption was that one angry influential person would spread the word far and wide and make sure I never got my foot in another door. I set aside my dreams of being my generation’s Terry Carr, and I went off to college and majored in computer science and mathematics because there was no point to even bothering to major in something like English or publishing. I was through. My tiny little career had been squashed before it ever had a chance to grow up.

In case it isn’t obvious, I was completely wrong. Not only did I end up working in this town again (via a hilariously circuitous route), I occupy a moderately prominent place in it. I’m even on passably cordial terms with the editor who fired me. Looking back, I suspect it never occurred to that editor to badmouth me beyond maybe a few grumbles to friends; I was only that terrible and that important in my own head, the mindset that I’ve heard described as “the turd at the center of the universe”. To the rest of the industry I was a blip, a little stone that sank instead of skipping merrily across the pond. While I was bemoaning the death of my dreams, they got another intern and life went on precisely as usual.

So the next time you annoy someone in the industry, as you inevitably will because we’re all imperfect people and we all get on one another’s nerves sometimes, don’t panic. Our incestuous clan has tolerated and even welcomed a great many people whose behavior should earn them nothing except epic quantities of side-eye. You have vanishingly small odds of being the very first person to make the entire genre publishing world so angry that it closes ranks against you. This isn’t license to be an unrepentant, unremitting jerk–asinine behavior is generally neither enjoyable nor practical, and while no one is entitled to threaten you, people are quite entitled to individually decide they don’t want to work or play with you–but it is certainly license to take a deep breath, let it out slowly, and not let yourself see disaster in every personality clash.

If that perspective gives you the courage to stand up to ludicrous claims that any one person can make or break your career, so much the better. The only person who can make or break your career is you. And if this town is the one you should be working in–as it is and always was for me, even when I had given up–then you may find your career is rather less breakable than you thought.

Men Read Men and Women Read Everyone, Still

March 8 is International Women’s Day! In honor of the occasion, have some interesting statistics on SF/F book review blogs:

In the beginning, I was fairly sure of what I was going to find: men discussing mostly men, and women discussing both either equally or more. Does the data follow?… Men still dominate the literary conversation, but women are in there, too. I was initially surprised by this result, because my gut back in 2011 had said it was not this even. However, if you start rearranging the data a bit, things change. There are women being reviewed by men, yes, but there are also women being reviewed by women. My initial instinct was correct…. the 40/60 is an average, and that average is the way it is because the women reviewing women drive it up.

The more I think about it, the more I think this industry is really poisoned by the marketing-driven self-fulfilling prophecy that boys will only ever read books (watch movies, watch TV shows, read comics) about boys, but girls will read anything about anyone. It reminds me of Harry Connolly’s recent post about fans arguing over which author’s books are better:

Here’s a general guideline I would like people to follow: If you like a particular author’s books and someone unfamiliar with them suggests that the description so far makes them sound kind of dull? Please PLEASE do not start the “… displays an ignorance and shallow judgment that frankly says you’re not worth [author]‘s time as a reader anyway” stuff.

If you like a book or book series, do not try to drive away readers you consider unworthy.

Given all the blather about the death of the industry, why are we still essentially driving men away from books by and about women? If we like these books enough to write and publish them, why aren’t we trying to give them the widest possible audience? You’d think this would make sense purely from a marketing and financial standpoint, in addition to being a step toward real equality.

As more books by and about girls and women become available, there are two types of equality we could end up with: the sort where most people only read books about people who resemble them (that is, girls stop reading about boys because they no longer have to), and the sort where most people are omnivoracious readers (that is, books about girls are marketed to boys and girls alike, the way books about boys are now, and we make it culturally more comfortable for boys to read and enjoy them). I think we would all do well to encourage the latter.

(I’d also love to see more clearly intersex and genderqueer characters and writers, but that’s a topic for a separate post.)

How to Suppress Women’s Writing, Part N

This post of Mely’s has been linked around a lot, but it deserves all the exposure it can get:

The Locus Roundtable on Genre Accessibility has a lot of things going for it, although much of the discussion is at cross purposes: many of the participants have different notions about whether the topic is commercial success or critical respect, and do not realize this needs clarification until fairly late in the conversation. One of the things it has going for it is a reasonably even gender breakdown; seven out of seventeen participants are women, as is the moderator. And yet.

I do not have the patience to perform a comparative word count, but it is fairly obvious which sex is talking the most.

[data]

9/24, or a little over a third, of the writers women mentioned were other women.

[more data]

10/60, or one-sixth, of the writers men mentioned were women.

I am not suggesting that the participants are consciously sexist or intend to suppress or erase the existence of women writers. I am saying that this conversation follows a typical social pattern in which (a) men talk more than women in mixed company; (b) men promote male writers significantly more than they promote women writers; (c) the criteria which determine value or worth inherently favor men’s contributions over women’s, which are deemed trivial or inapplicable; (d) women’s contributions to the critical or cultural canon are systematically devalued, forgotten, or erased.

There’s much more; I highly recommend reading the whole thing.

(The mention of Twilight in Mely’s post reminds me to also highly recommend Ana Mardoll’s ongoing deconstructions of the Narnia books and the Twilight books.)

For Books Are Not Absolutely Dead Things

From John Milton’s Aeropagitica:

I deny not, but that it is of greatest concernment in the Church and Commonwealth, to have a vigilant eye how Bookes demeane themselves as well as men; and thereafter to confine, imprison, and do sharpest justice on them as malefactors: For Books are not absolutely dead things, but doe contain a potencie of life in them to be as active as that soule was whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve as in a violl the purest efficacie and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous Dragons teeth; and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men. And yet on the other hand, unlesse warinesse be us’d, as good almost kill a Man as kill a good Book; who kills a Man kills a reasonable creature, Gods Image; but hee who destroyes a good Booke, kills reason it selfe, kills the Image of God, as it were in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the Earth; but a good Booke is the pretious life-blood of a master spirit, imbalm’d and treasur’d up on purpose to a life beyond life. ‘Tis true, no age can restore a life, whereof perhaps there is no great losse; and revolutions of ages do not oft recover the losse of a rejected truth, for the want of which whole Nations fare the worse. We should be wary therefore what persecution we raise against the living labours of publick men, how we spill that season’d life of man preserv’d and stor’d up in Books; since we see a kinde of homicide may be thus committed, sometimes a martyrdome, and if it extend to the whole impression, a kinde of massacre, whereof the execution ends not in the slaying of an elementall life, but strikes at that ethereall and fift essence, the breath of reason it selfe, slaies an immortality rather then a life.

cc: Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly

In a desperate attempt to look at recent events in some vague sort of positive light (because for the most part I’m sitting here absolutely heartbroken and scared and angry), I’m heartened to see that the destruction of books is still a cause of outrage. Tonight the National Book Awards are being announced just a few blocks from where the NYPD is reportedly continuing to confiscate books from people in a public park, and Ron Hogan and Edward Champion are hotly tweeting about both Occupy Wall Street and the NBAs (it sounds like Ron won’t be satisfied until the audience and presenters collectively abandon the ceremony to deliver books to Zuccotti Park). McNally Jackson is offering discounts on books purchased as donations. A friend told me today that her husband wasn’t keen on OWS but was absolutely horrified by the dismantling of the library. Whatever you think of our current book culture and our current political climate, in all their turbulence and uncertainty, it’s indisputable that books still matter, all these centuries after Milton spoke so brilliantly and fervently in the defense of the unrestricted press.

Now I’m going to go turn off Twitter and eat comfort food.

Downloading Books for Dummies

The big news today is that Wiley is suing 27 unnamed Bit Torrent users for seeding copies of For Dummies books. According to the Wiley spokesperson quoted in the PW article, “Our objective is to approach them and to settle if they will agree to stop the infringement, sign a release to that effect, and agree to pay modest compensation… Our goal is to educate and settle.” I think this is an interesting approach and certainly preferable to the Metallica approach of picking one person to make a very expensive example of, though I do wonder how much “education” the defendants want or need.

Coincidentally, longtime Genreville reader Celine Kiernan just sent me the link to an essay by Susan Connolly discussing the ethics of book piracy, as well as the full text of the interview Connolly conducted with Kiernan on the topic. With regard to educating pirates, Connolly writes:

The arguments around ownership and rights to work are well established…. However, I think that rather than simply bang a drum about the inherent validity of intellectual property rights, we must seek to understand why it is that certain individuals find these arguments to be unpersuasive, or outweighed by other moral and practical considerations.

Without this understanding, I do not feel that we can come to accurate conclusions about the ethical status of book piracy and any policy considerations that result from this status.

And Kiernan, like many others before her, notes that piracy is inextricably linked to how easy it is for a reader to legitimately obtain a book. (This tweet about “Piracy is demand not met by the publishers” was among the most retweeted comments from the Books in Browsers conference last week; at a glance, I didn’t see anyone arguing with it.) “I can only bring this western European perspective to the subject, but I am aware that piracy has different resonances in different parts of the world,” she says. “There are many other portions of the world who do not have access to well distributed fairly priced books nor a working library system.” And she adds:

In so far as I feel in any way qualified to comment on this problem of global distribution (again, I would much prefer to hear from those who are directly affected by it please – can we get those voices included in this conversation?)  it seems to me that the longer piracy is used as a Band-Aid for distribution/pricing problems, the longer it will remain the only available solution. Radical change is needed and that can only come about with a large vocal public objection to the problem and then a concerted effort by political and business interests to change the current situation. If the ‘solution’ continues to be the use of pirate copies coupled with business/political apathy then nothing will ever change.

I highly recommend reading both Connolly’s essay and her interview with Kiernan for an idea of where the “education” of book pirates–and of publishers–might begin.

EDIT: Literary agent Ted Weinstein points me to his rebuttals of the “demand unmet by publishers” concept.

Berkley/NAL Digital Imprint Encroaches on Mass Market Territory

In the clearest sign yet that e-books are starting to replace mass market paperbacks in publishers’ eyes, Berkley/NAL is launching a new digital imprint, InterMix, that will publish genre fiction at mass market prices (around $6.99). More info is here.

This positioning is rather clever, as $6.99 is actually quite high for a romance e-book but calling it “mass market” sets it up to be compared to print formats instead of other e-books. It also raises the troubling specter of a world without mass market paperbacks for people who can’t afford digital reading devices. Seanan McGuire wrote very eloquently about this last month, and I think her post bears rereading, especially this part:

I grew up so far below the poverty line that you couldn’t see it from my window, no matter how clear the day was. My bedroom was an ocean of books. Almost all of them were acquired second-hand, through used bookstores, garage sales, flea markets, and library booksales, which I viewed as being just this side of Heaven itself. There are still used book dealers in the Bay Area who remember me patiently paying off a tattered paperback a nickel at a time, because that was what I could afford. If books had required having access to a piece of technology—even a “cheap” piece of technology—I would never have been able to get them. That up-front cost would have put them out of my reach forever.

I understand that demand for mass market paperbacks is down, and demand for e-books is up, and publishing companies don’t really have a lot of spare cash to throw at formats that don’t sell well. All the same, I hope to see a world where mass market imprints like Berkley Sensation can happily coexist with InterMix, and where the rush to the digital frontier doesn’t leave anyone behind.

Authors Clamor to Join “Occupy Writers” List

The statement on OccupyWriters.com is simple:

We, the undersigned writers and all who will join us, support Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy Movement around the world.

Scroll down and you’ll see dozens of names, in strict alphabetical order with no concern for genre or fame. But unlike the wikis, Meetups, and other collectively compiled resources of Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Together, this list is maintained by a tiny handful of people. “Some people have asked us why we don’t automate the list,” says OW founder Jeff Sharlet. “Ask ‘Henry Kissinger,’ ‘Herman Melville,’ and the ghost of Howard Zinn, all of whom have tried to sign up. Worse have been pranksters adding names like Thomas Pynchon’s. We’d love Pynchon to sign, but we’re pretty sure that wasn’t really him; if we didn’t check it out and just let any name go on, it’d soon be filled with obvious fakes that’d allow people to discredit the whole thing.”

Sharlet, a college professor, had no idea what to expect when he put the site up. Within a day, he had received 1200 requests to be listed. He and collaborator Kiera Feldman (who answered my email at 4:30 in the morning, saying that they’re working around the clock on verifying and adding names) estimate that hundreds more come in daily, creating a substantial workload for a small group of volunteer fact-checkers. “We don’t add people if they fail to identify themselves according to the formula that’s there on the site,” Feldman says. “So: if people just write ‘John Smith, student at Any College’–we’re not adding that. It needs to be name, author of TITLE (self-published is great–lots of self-published writers on the list).” She adds, “I can understand the frustration of people not seeing their names on the list immediately, and I can imagine it must feel crappy to think that there is some kind of ‘weeding out’ happening. Don’t worry–there’s no judgment about who is a writer or who is not a writer.” The only qualification needed is “a real title of something, whether it’s a book or a magazine or whatever, that people can go out and read.”

Sharlet suggests, with the acerbic tone of someone severely deprived of sleep, that anyone impatient with how slowly things are going could always offer to help clear the backlog, which is currently over 1000 names. “I think we’ve been doing a good job at getting them done fast,” he says. “I know we’ve been doing a good job at shirking our paying jobs, telling our kids to hold on a minute, and getting red-eyed from sleeplessness. If you’d like to help, the most valuable thing you could do right now is to spread the word that yes, the names have been received, yes, they’ll be published, no, there’s absolutely no discrimination against self-published or genre (just the opposite–this list was always conceived as a democratization of such lists, normally very exclusive and anti-democratic). That’d help a lot, because it’s a real downer, when you’re exhausted, when your own work is languishing, when your kid is saying, ‘Can you play with me,’ to be accused of nefarious discrimination by people who are supposed to be expressing their solidarity.”

I’m personally kind of surprised that individually verifying each name is seen as less work than putting up a wiki and keeping an eye out for prank edits, but since Occupy Writers is now publishing original works by authors as well-known as Francine Prose and Lemony Snicket, its fame has begun to spread, and that sort of publicity inevitably brings in the trolls. Either way, it seems like an epic undertaking. If you have some spare time and want to help out, you can volunteer–or add your name to the backlog, or share your thoughts on the Occupy movement or your local Occupation–by emailing info@occupywriters.com.

Genreville’s Borders Expand Again

In a perfect illustration of the ways that the fantastic has become mainstream, Fox has purchased the TV rights to Lev Grossman’s The Magicians (and, I assume, will do similarly with The Magician King if the first project goes well). According to Deadline.com, the series “will be written by X-Men: First Class and Thor co-writers Ashley Miller & Zack Stentz and produced by Michael London (Milk), Shawn Levy and Michael Adelstein.” I note that it is being referred to as a “drama series”.

Let’s get beyond the complaints that It’s Popular, Now It Sucks. If The Magicians is a drama and Terry Pratchett is a satirist, this isn’t about genre media getting a bigger audience. This is about the audience no longer caring, positively or negatively, that genre media are genre. We shouldn’t be surprised by this, either. It’s been happening in the film world for decades, and in the video game world for even longer. My first “aha” moment on this topic was in 2006, when I realized The Lake House was being billed as a romantic drama without a word of warning about its fantastical elements. A friend told me the other day that the best science fiction story he’d encountered recently was the video game Portal 2. How many people loved Portal 2 without ever thinking of it as SF?

Our obscure little dialect has, somewhat mysteriously, become the lingua franca. That means genre fans are going to have to sit down and seriously contemplate what it means for our identities as fans to have our genre become so thoroughly embedded in, or subsumed by, the mainstream. The sets of “people who actively enjoy speculative literature” and “people who participate in discussions and gatherings devoted to speculative literature” used to overlap extensively. Now the first is vastly larger than the second. If you define “fan” as “someone who actively enjoys speculative literature”, fandom isn’t shrinking and greying; it’s expanding and diversifying to a really thrilling degree. If you define “fan” as “someone who participates in discussions and gatherings devoted to speculative literature”, fandom is rapidly dispersing among the general population and losing its precious uniqueness in the process, like a drop of dye in a bucket of water.

My unofficial tagline for Genreville has always been “Welcome to Genreville, population: more than you think”. Genreville has no immigration policy and no protectionist regulations. I would much rather expand the definition of “fan” than restrict it. I want good conversations about books, and that means inviting in as many viewpoints as possible. Coincidentally, there are more people reading and thinking about the literature of the fantastic than there have been since the Great Genre Schism between fantastical and mimetic fiction–and actually, given the increase in world population since then, there are probably more people reading and thinking about the literature of the fantastic than there have ever been. That’s amazing. And let’s not forget that their money funds the industry, and their opinions (in the form of their book-buying habits) shape it. We longtime fans truly can’t afford to dismiss the newcomers as unworthy of our attention.

Instead, I think it’s incumbent upon us to reach out to them and learn from them. They may not have read the classics of the genre; what were they reading, watching, and playing instead, and how did those other media experiences influence their experiences of fantastical literature? Maybe they could turn us on to things we might have missed out on. I haven’t played a story-based video game in years, but my friend’s description of Portal 2 made me want to give it a try–and made me wonder what else I would love that I haven’t even heard about.

I don’t think conventions and zines and other fanac (including terms like “fanac“) will disappear altogether. I think the ones that are primarily about interaction will be replaced–are being replaced–by online socializing. I think the ones that are primarily about books will stay around as long as they can make themselves attractive and relevant to mainstream readers who are just starting to realize they like that fantasy stuff. Will this mean more 101-level conversations, fandom’s eternal September? Probably. Is it worth it for old-timers to stay around and contribute to those conversations? Absolutely. Those mainstream n00bs need us, and we need them.

Tab Clearance

Some miscellaneous links that have piled up in my browser tabs over the last few days:

  • Ursula K. Le Guin on the unwritten rules of fairyland. “The fantastic tale may suspend the laws of physics—carpets fly; cats fade into invisibility leaving only a smile—and of probability—the youngest of three brothers always wins the bride; the infant in the box cast upon the waters survives unharmed—but it carries its revolt against reality no further. Mathematical order is unquestioned. Two and one make three, in Koshchei’s castle and Alice’s Wonderland  (especially in Wonderland). Euclid’s geometry—or possibly Riemann’s—somebody’s geometry, anyhow—governs the layout. Otherwise incoherence would invade and paralyse the narrative.”
  • Michael Dirda on the tyranny and tragedy of the bestseller (or “better-seller”) list. “If one were to magically eliminate every form of the list, in print and online, as well as all those best-seller tables in Barnes & Noble, what would happen? People would spend more time browsing a bookstore’s stock, they would skim a page or two of various interesting-looking titles, and eventually they would plunk down their twenty dollars. In short, they would actively engage with a greater portion of our literary culture.” (via Aliette de Bodard)
  • Reactions to the new Dropbox terms of service, which give them rather broad rights to copy and modify your documents:
  • The hosting of the next Westercon is won by a hoax bid after the only legitimate bid fails to gain sufficient traction. Kevin Standlee offers a pro tip: “When you’re trying to get three-fourths of the people in a room to vote for you, and when you know there’s a pretty good chance that many of them are the people who voted for your opposition back when you only needed a majority and didn’t get it, you are not helping your cause when you say that anyone who voted for your opposition should be ashamed of themselves and start personally insulting the opposition’s leadership.” (via Cheryl Morgan)
  • Jane Litte on what she learned at RWA. “While Courtney Milan says that we shouldn’t make predictions, I have to make one. I think that the most successful self publishing authors will be those who love the business side of publishing as much as they love the creative side. There will always be the exceptions, but generally, I think that the entrepreneurial authors are the ones who we will still see self publishing five years from now.” Interesting reading even if you’re not a Romancelandian.
  • SFWA is looking for information to consider while they review Night Shade Books’s probation status. The probationary period ends July 8, so if you have relevant info regarding your dealings with Night Shade, send it over soon.

There, now Firefox can take a deep breath and relax.

Meanwhile, Back in SFland

While I was off enjoying the company of several thousand women (“and an increasing number of men,” as Sharon Sala graciously noted while accepting her lifetime achievement award) in Romanceland, the gender wars seem to have broken out in SFland again. Some links:

  • The TOC for Solaris Rising: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction, edited by Ian Whates.
  • Kev McVeigh: “Oh yes, The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction by Boys volume one has Mary A Turzillo as token feminine contributor. One woman from eighteen listed authors.  Volume Two is obviously the feminist volume with a remarkable three women out of fourteen involved. Neal Asher gets two stories though, to restore the balance. It’s back to normal for Volume Three as fifteen stories allow room for just one woman.”
  • Ian Whates: “Yes, there clearly is an issue here, but don’t blame the awards for reflecting an imbalance that’s inherent in the pool of material they have to judge, nor the editors [...] the rot goes deeper and is far more fundamental than that. It really does lie at the grass roots. If we want to see more female SF authors coming through, the first thing we have to do is alter the way our genre is perceived by the wider public and make it more open, more accessible, to women. Good luck to all of us with that one.”
  • Jennifer Pelland: “This doesn’t surprise me. When I was invited to submit to the Solaris SF 3 anthology, it was because they’d noticed that they didn’t have enough women in it. Imagine my surprise upon opening my comp copies to discover that ‘not enough’ meant ‘none until they invited me.’”
  • Tricia Sullivan: “I’m hard-pressed to imagine another UK anthologist who could have done better than Ian Whates with this book.  Ian is proactive when it comes to women writers.  He goes out of his way.  (That’s one reason I made certain I got my story in, even though it was a real stretch for me with my current schedule.)  Now, in the current climate it may be judged (particularly by USian standards) that he is not proactive enough.  OK.  This then begs the question, how proactive is enough?  To what lengths should anthology editors be going? [...] I want to see change but I don’t want to work in a climate where individual people are at risk of being brought to ground, cornered and shamed for issues that arise out of a much more nebulous problem in society–and in this case, in the peculiarities of the SFF scene in Britain.  I don’t think editors in Britain are chauvanist pigs.  I’ve worked with several book editors in this country and have never had a whiff of old-school sexism from any of them.  Do we live in a sexist culture?  Yes, absolutely.  Fucking yes.”
  • DMS at GeekaChicas: “The 2011 [Hugo] ballot is out, but at the time of this writing, voting is still open. In a year where 43% of novels published were by women, 4 out of 5 nominees in the novel category are women. Before we break out the Champagne or lament the suppression of men, I should also point out that 3 of the last 5 Hugo Awards for Best Novel were awarded based on ballots without women. The 90′s only had one year with an all male ballot. This century, we’ve had 4. That means 40% of the Hugos awarded this century didn’t shortlist a woman for the novel category.”
  • Liz Williams: “A large percentage of the book editors in SF in this country are female. Their hands are tied by the accounts depts of publishers: I don’t think that it’s because they want to fail to commission other women – on the contrary. It’s a numbers game, of which many male authors are also falling foul (in SF – not, e.g., in urban fantasy where women do seem to be on strong ground). I think it is an issue with SF selling at all, no matter who writes it.”
  • Cheryl Morgan: “If you are running a small press (which is something I happen to do) you need to make a choice as to whether you are doing it for love, and hope that your projects break even, or you are doing it to make a living. In the latter case, if you believe that you are operating in a market where most male readers won’t buy science fiction by women — and, let’s face it, that’s what the big publishers in London are telling us — then you would be daft to publish much SF by women. You have to take a conscious decision to risk sales if you want to diversify your content. [...] various women writers have come forward and said that they were invited by Whates, but for various reasons were unable to deliver. If that is the case, a less inflammatory response would have been to suggest that perhaps women writers have more pressures on their time, thereby preventing them from submitting as often as men, rather than suggest that they are no good. (This is a very common feminist response to allegations of, ‘it’s all the wimmin’s fault for not trying!’)”
  • Charlie Stross: “I think there is a problem with unconscious cognitive bias on the part of some male anthology editors — not naming anyone here — so in future my response to an anthology request by a male editor with a bad recent track record (or no track record) will be ‘can you confirm that your list of invited contributors is at least 30% female and 10% minorities?’ I hope in most cases to get an ‘of course’ by return of email, but if it makes just one editor sit up and question their assumptions about who to invite, I’ll consider it a job well done.  I don’t insist that the final outcome should be quota-based, but if a male editor can’t be arsed inviting women and minorities to contribute then I can’t be arsed letting them use my name for publicity.”
  • Aliette de Bodard: “The Solaris Rising TOC (4 women authors out of 16-17 stories) doesn’t strike me as particularly horrifyingly sexist either–there’s just no way you can guarantee you’ll have 50-50% female representation in anthologies, both because of the sample (less women writing SF for a variety of complex reasons), and because of the way things shake out (as an anthologist, you can try invite 50-50% men-women, but you can’t even be sure the responses will be balanced).”

Plus lengthy comment discussions here and here.

I will certainly be keeping an eye on the discussion as it develops, and I’m glad to see people providing solid statistics and discussing market forces (and the perception of market forces–not always the same thing) as well as talking about ideology. I don’t think the ideological conversation is sufficient. We have to talk about real-world factors too.

For example, if Anthologist J solicits a story from Writer K, and K thinks the anthology sounds grand and interesting, what makes K more likely to actually be able to contribute? The obvious answer is: having a suitable unpublished story that could be submitted, or having time to write a story that’s appropriate to the anthology. Is that sort of availability and/or backlog more common among men than among women? Maybe. Women certainly tend to have less free time than men (because women do disproportionate shares of household work and child-rearing in addition to working). More free time over the course of years translates to more trunk stories, too, and maybe a broader range of them. And if an anthologist has to look further afield for women to invite, those women may be less likely to have a story handy that fits the anthology’s theme.

I’ve been putting together the program for Readercon, and I was entirely shocked when two women we invited told me they don’t feel smart enough to be on our panels. I’ve never heard anything like that from a man. [EDIT: A woman has emailed me to say she heard a man once say "Readercon is where I go to feel stupid"--though I wouldn't classify that the same way as withdrawing from the program.] I’m also pretty sure I received more “may I be on your program?” requests from men than from women (I’ll try to remember to keep statistics next year). It’s pretty well known that that sort of behavior is socially gendered. I would not be at all surprised if female authors are more likely to self-sabotage by saying “I’m not good enough to be in this anthology” or “I don’t have anything that works for this” or “I can’t write in that genre”, while men might be more likely to send in a story that’s a little off-topic, or send something unsolicited even if the anthology is supposedly closed to submissions.

I’m taking the Russ Pledge to talk about women’s writing, of course, but talking isn’t enough. I hope anthologists will pledge to solicit stories from as diverse a group as possible and to advertise open reading periods in places where people who aren’t “the usual crowd” will see the ad and submit stories. I also hope female writers will pledge to submit stories more often and more widely, and to find ways to say “yes” when they’re invited to contribute to an anthology. Remember the Slush Bomb? (Did anyone ever keep an eye on F&SF to see whether the number of published stories by women went up after that?) Let’s make every day Slush Bomb Day and see what happens.

On Invisibility

To the BBC, speculative fiction doesn’t matter:

Author Stephen Hunt watched the BBC’s coverage of the day, and noticed that there was something missing. Something big.

Apart from a brief mention of Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights as a YA crossover, SF, fantasy and horror were not represented. No Pratchett. No Rankin. No Tolkein or Lewis. No Iain M. Banks, no JK Rowling. No China Mieville or Joe Abercrombie. No Clive Barker, no Christopher Priest. Genres that between them take between 20 and 30% of the UK book market were roundly ignored.

To the people running this year’s Eastercon, women and queers don’t matter:

The scheduling is, um, interesting. In particular the Women Invisible panel has been scheduled against David Weber’s GoH talk. From one point of view it rather clever: the sort of people who love military SF won’t be interested in feminism, and vice versa. On the other hand, it acts to perpetuate exactly the sort of problem that the panel is all about.

…Of course the Hugo announcement has been scheduled against the LGBT Meetup, because no prominent UK LGBT fans have any interest in the Hugos, do they? *headsmack*

Update: It has been pointed out to me that Peter Hamilton’s GoH talk is scheduled against Women in SF.

Also Roz [Kaveney]’s poetry reading has been scheduled against the BSFA Awards.

It’s very hard for me to blog about these things because they leave me incoherent and shaking with rage. Why do we rail against bigotry and enforced obscurity from the outside world and then turn around and do exactly the same thing within our own communities? It’s unbearable.

We have to stop this. We have to fix it. I wish I knew how.

Is the Free the Enemy of the Paid?

When I posted my list of places to get legally free fiction online, commenter T Moore replied: “As a struggling writer and publisher you just put a nail in my coffin.”

I’d like to open this up for wider discussion.

People have more options for ways to spend their sitting-and-looking-at-something time than ever before. Books used to compete with newspapers and magazines, and then with films and television; now they also compete with video games and the entirety of the internet. So I’m not surprised that Moore feels threatened by a blog post that promotes cut-throat competitors who can’t be undercut because they’ve already dropped the access price to zero. Obviously, all things being equal, people will choose free entertainment over entertainment they have to pay for.

My question is whether all things are in fact equal.

There are lots of reasons that people spend money. Some people pay $30 for exquisite hardcover reprints of novellas while others read the same novellas online. They’re paying for a sensual experience that cannot be had for free. I get lots of books for free from work, but I still buy books written by my favorite authors, or published by my favorite publishers; I see those purchases almost like charitable donations, a way of saying that these people make my world better and I want them to be able to keep doing that. I’m paying for the feeling of contributing to my community. People also happily pay for scarcity (limited editions), personalization (author inscriptions), and convenience (faster shipping).

Most pertinent to this conversation is that people pay for the expectation of quality. I would suggest that those legal free fiction venues introduce readers to new authors, help readers build up an expectation of quality work from those authors, and thereby encourage them to later pay for those authors’ new works.* In addition, the readers get lots of information and entertainment for very little investment of time and no investment of funds. As someone who’s in favor of reading and encouraging readers, I think this is a pretty valuable service to provide to the reading community.

* It’s no coincidence that many people, most recently and famously Neil Gaiman, say the same thing about pirated books. That conversation has been had many times in many other places and I don’t feel a need to recapitulate it here, but I figure someone else will bring it up if I don’t head it off. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s focus solely on legal entertainment.

So who loses out, in this world? As far as I can tell, only authors who haven’t earned that readerly expectation of quality (because their work is poor or because they haven’t gotten a lot of exposure), and publishers that don’t provide an unusual and valuable service or experience. And in both cases, I don’t think the existence of free entertainment options is really the problem.

Bring on the discussion; just keep it reasonably civil, please.

Science Fiction and Black Children’s Literature

This just came across the GothamLit list (which anyone in NYC who loves books should be subscribed to):

Science fiction scholar Marleen S. Barr will present the paper “Why Science Fiction is Pertinent to Black Children’s Literature Pedagogy” at the State of African American and African Diaspora Studies Conference held in New York on January 8. Barr is scheduled to present at 10:15 AM in room C-205 at the CUNY Graduate Center.

This sounds totally fascinating. I’ll be out of town, but if you decide to go, please do report back!

The Future of News is the Future of Book Blogging?

If you’re a regular blog follower, you might notice that some non literary focused blogs have began trends in book blogging.  Outside of places like Tor.com and John Scalzi’s Whatever, blogs with communities in their comments section are starting to house part time book clubs.  Ta-Nehesi Coates’s blog at The Atlantic hosted a long term, in depth discussion of Battle Cry of Freedom that caught my attention.  On a more genre focused trend  Firedog Lake, a progressive political blog is covering China Mieville’s new novel, Kraken.  While blogs like Instapundit were good places for John Scalzi to get a recommendation, I’m more interested in the idea of well known political and social blogs being courted by publicists in the same way that TV talk shows are.

Kraken‘s appearance on Firedog Lake includes a discussion in the comments section with the author. This takes advantage of the interactive nature of blog comment sections.

Do you think I’m overhyping a nonexistent trend?  Has it already gone as far as it’ll go?  Is it the future of book clubs?  Have publicists for fiction, specifically genre fiction already turned to big league non-genre blogs for attention? Let me know what you’ve heard.

[Edit - readers or detractors of Instapundit, please take notice, this blog entry is not an appropriate place for you to air your approval or disapproval of Instapundit or to debate said topic, thank you.  Comments of that sort will not pass moderation]

Hitting the Ground Running

Congrats to Jeff VanderMeer on his new Science Fiction Chronicle column for The New York Times.  It’s exactly what I’ve been wanting in mainstream coverage of genre fiction: nuanced, knowledgeable, multicultural, and respectful.  Jeff reviews Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord, The Dervish House by Ian McDonald, The Gaslight Dogs by Karen Lowachee, and A Life on Paper (Stories) by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, translated from the French by Edward Gauvin.

It’s exciting to see a paper like The New York Times cover small presses like Small Beer  (Redemption in Indigo and A Life on Paper) as well as a mass market release (The Gaslight Dogs).  It looks like Jeff is trying to explore not only the solid center of the genre with respected authors like Ian McDonald, but also its more experimental periphery. I hope future genre coverage in The Times is this well crafted.

The New York Times Profiles China Miéville

The Times profile begins with a paragraph that exemplifies the paper’s handling of genre fiction:

If your idea of a science fiction writer is a scrawny guy with computer-glow pallor who’s a little too interested in whether warp speed is a realistic rate of travel, China Miéville is not that person.

To be fair, that is most people’s image of a science fiction writer.  But it’s arguable that Miéville’s novel The City & The City is not actually science fiction as most would define it, if they bothered to think about a definition.  To be fair, the Times claims:

For the record, Mr. Miéville, 37, calls himself a science fiction writer — or, for those steeped in genre subdivisions, a purveyor of “weird” or “new weird” fiction. But he stands out from the crowd for the quality, mischievousness and erudition of his writing.

Is it just me, or is “quality, mischievousness and erudition of his writing” sort of like saying that he stands out because he’s “articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy“?  While the profile is a good one, and I’m glad to see Miéville getting mainstream attention, the Times still lacks continuity in its genre reviews.  Since David Itzkoff abandoned his hipster snark filled “Across the Universe” column, the Times book section has only had one review by Jeff VanderMeer. It has otherwise returned to a general stable of people who mostly hold the genre and its authors in some form of mild contempt and can be surprised by something like China Miéville having a nicely toned body.

That said, the mainstream attention Miéville is gathering, combined with his notable personal charisma, could well propel him to a level of recognition enjoyed by writers like Neil Gaiman. Miéville’s writing is even more quirky and highbrow than Gaiman, and he lacks the fan base created by Gaiman’s start in comics. Despite that, among the genre crowd, he is known as a “rock star”.

I bemoan the NY Times focusing on his physique, but I’ve known plenty of fans, writers, editors and critics who get twitterpated about Miéville’s good looks.  So perhaps the Times was on to something. Will genre rock-stars of the future have to look the part as well as write it?

A Stage Production of “Nightfall”?

Just got this email from the Brooklyn Lyceum:

As part of a Sci-Fi convention  the Brooklyn Lyceum is working on a treatment/adaptation of the story “Nightfall.”

In 1970, “Nightfall” was voted the best science fiction short of all time by the Science Fiction Writers of America, and it is now one of the most anthologized of science fiction stories.

We don’t have the rights yet but are putting together a treatment and then an adaptation for review by the rights holders.

What are your thoughts?  Would you be interested in a play based on this story?  Would you like to participate in the production?

Email us at pd@gowanus.com.

p.s. Isaac Asimov spent his childhood in Brooklyn.

Of course I’m completely intrigued. Which convention? What sort of stage treatment? What possessed SFWA to vote on “the best science fiction short of all time”? Sadly, I suspect at least one of those questions will go unanswered.

The folks at the Lyceum are no strangers to unorthodox SFnal productions; among other things, they hosted the launch party for Cat Valente’s novel Palimpsest and were home to the occasional restaurant Jack, which held a Palimpsest-themed dinner. I’m very curious to see what they would do with a “Nightfall” performance/play/show/thing.

A Good Few Weeks for Catherynne M. Valente and Fans of Boundary-Busting

Many congratulations to author Catherynne M. Valente for winning the Norton Award for The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and the Lambda Award for Palimpsest, the latter of which is also a finalist for the Mythopoeic Award and the Hugo.  The only novel to win both the Lammie and the Hugo was China Mountain Zhang by Maureen McHugh, which also won the Tiptree Award, won by Valente for The Orphan’s Tales: In The Night Garden.

The Norton is a ground-breaker in many ways.  Fairyland (for short) was first published as a crowd-sourced novel, and uploaded in installments to the author’s web site, along with audio recordings of the author reading the story.  I’m pretty sure this is the first time that a self-published novel has won a major science fiction award.

Before the award was granted, Macmillan imprint Feiwel and Friends bought publication rights to Fairyland, and they’ll be putting out an illustrated edition next year.  Some vehement proponents of ebooks, especially free ebooks, took exception with Feiwel’s requirement that Valente remove the last chapter of the book from her website.  I’m frankly appalled at the rudeness and entitlement in some of the criticism.  But this is also a learning period for publishers and authors, as the web can allow an author to get a large following of vocal fans without the usual path to traditional publishing.  Feiwel will offer a color print book, distribution, and promotional efforts for Valente, and she will bring a loyal following, as well as attention from sites like Boing Boing, and fellow authors.

Moving on to the Lambda awards, Palimpsest was a great choice.  Most of the previous Lambda SF/F winners have been for books primarily featuring gay or lesbian characters, and it’s heartening to see that the Lambda judges (who this year, in full disclosure, included Genreville’s own Rose Fox) took this opportunity to reward a book with bisexual protagonists.

Palimpsest also benefited from some unorthodox publicity moves.  As the recent rounds of layoffs hit Bantam Spectra, the book was given less attention than it might have if there had been the same person in PR dealing with the book throughout its launch and early career.  The launch tour was mostly funded by the author, who traveled from city to city with musicians, jewelry artists, and at times a performance art troupe.  This culminated in a train trip from Chicago to New Orleans with performances in both cities.  It was a unique and impressive artistic venture, and Rose and I were lucky enough to go along for the ride.  The train tour created a close knit group of core fans who feel a personal connection with the artists and help promote Valente and Tucker’s other work, acting as evangelists for it in a way a typical fan might not.

And finally, the Mythopoeic Award is a good follow up to Valente’s win in 2008 for her Orphan’s Tales books.  The award is less well known in the mainstream than the Hugo, Norton, and Lambda awards, but it is well respected among academics and scholars of myth and fairy tales.  Many of the stories within stories in Palimpest are reflections and refinements of real world myths.  In fact, Fairyland was such a story, included in Palimpsest as a fairy tale that a character loved.  In this way, the recursive theme of Valente’s fiction mirrors the real life life cycle of Palimpsest and Fairyland.  An adult novel, with sexual themes, gave birth to a charming book for children.

Both books had an unorthodox life cycle, and were embraced nonetheless.  An author with determination, skill, and a solid network of supporters can create a marketplace for books that might otherwise slip through the cracks, and publishers and literary awards are willing to consider books with unusual provenance.  With Amazon looming on the horizon experimenting with Amazon Encore, publishers must be willing to innovate, and to trust their authors.  SF/F/H fandom is particularly open to innovation: look at the reception for  Cory Doctorow’s model of making all of his books available online for free. But most of Tor’s authors don’t get the leeway to experiment in that direction. As publicity budgets drop and staff are spread thin, publishing companies need to loosen the reins on what authors can do to self-promote, and to accept the risks that come with trying wonderful new things.

Where Are All the Fat Zombies?

Eyeteeth (the creator of the wonderful occasional comic Small Peculiar) asks:

Is it possible that the recent fad for zombie stuff really is about America’s increasing terror of fat people? The prevailing media picture of both is of mindless eaters with no ability to control themselves, who are growing in numbers and must somehow be stopped. They look like humans but are devoid of human dignity, and if you don’t remain hypervigilant you might turn into one of them.

I’ve been pondering the popularity of zombies, and I think she might be on to something there. Don’t forget that zombies are physically clumsy and their bodies are degenerating; fat people are portrayed much the same way. Obesity is also supposedly a harbinger of death, to the point where many media depictions of the obese include some expression or implication of surprise that they’re not dead already. Zombies are likewise supposed to be dead and yet walking around.

Of course, it could just be about the very weird American relationship with death and not wanting our loved ones to leave us and our brains being consumed by grief. Or both! Intersectionality lives… again.

I haven’t missed the fact that on all those book covers depicting zombies, I’ve seen very few zombies who were more than slightly pudgy. (The cover of the forthcoming The Living Dead 2 bucks this trend.) Maybe all those obese people weren’t so slow and close to death after all, or maybe the cultural bias against images of large people extends even to images of undead large people. Augh, this crazy country.