James May, who keeps posting here, is the gift that never stops giving. In one of his most recent posts, he insists once again that the SJW (social justice warrior) hordes are a menace to science fiction. So, in this essay, I will go through his points one at a time to show how ridiculous they are whether examined in part or (especially) as a whole.
Letâ€™s start with his first two paragraphs:
â€œI donâ€™t have to pretend anything. Itâ€™s not my imagination this crusading feminist movement exists nor that itâ€™s baked into core SFF at every level as the new go-to ideological orthodoxy. In fact they do amount to squat. This is a very specific ideology that speaks a very specific faux-academic language and has very specific goals and issues. It is radical lesbian-centric racialized feminist to its core and its central bogey man is the straight white man.
â€œAs an example, just the 5 ideologically same-page winners of the Nebulas last year alone outnumber the entire imaginary racially and sexually supremacist culture supposedly bound by a similar opposite number ideology from Burroughs in 1912 to Niven/Pournelle in 1974. There is no semantic or thematic ideology that binds Burroughs, Heinlein, Van Vogt, Asimov, Herbert, Zelazny and Niven into such a club. That is a matter of record, as is the non-fiction writings of those 5 2014 Nebula winners.â€
The first thing to notice about this rant is that in the name of attacking a â€œcrusadingâ€ movement which is an â€œideological orthodoxyâ€ that â€œspeaks a very specific faux-academic languageâ€ James May immediately proceeds toâ€¦
Use crusading terminology which is ideologically orthodox and speaks a very specific faux-academic language: â€œIt is radical lesbian-centric racialized feminist to its core.â€ That phrase is practically dripping Rush Limbaugh-speak.
He then informs us that allâ€”yup, each and every oneâ€”of the 2014 Nebula winners were â€œideologically same-pageâ€ which is a â€œmatter of record.â€
Wow. A dire menace, indeed.
By the way, the five Nebula winners last year were:
- Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Novel: Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie
- Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Novella: â€œThe Weight of the Sunriseâ€, by Vylar Kaftan
- Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Novelette: â€œThe Waiting Starsâ€, by Aliette de Bodard
- Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Short Story: â€œIf You Were a Dinosaur, My Loveâ€, by Rachel Swirsky
Iâ€™m not quite sure who James May is categorizing as the fifth horsewoman of the apocalypse, but Iâ€™ll assume heâ€™s not objecting to the movie Gravity which won the Ray Bradbury Award. Although I will note that itâ€™s highly suspicious that the movie stars a woman. Granted, Sandra Bullock is an Academy Award winner and a number of her movies have done very well at the box office. Stillâ€¦ why couldnâ€™t they have made a man the central figure in the movie? Why the gratuitous choice of a female?
Itâ€™s suspicious, at least, and possibly further evidence that the dread radical lesbian-centric racialized feminist crusade has been at work here.
But, moving on, Iâ€™ll assume that James Mayâ€™s objection is to Nalo Hopkinson winning the Andre Norton Award for Sister Mine. (Boy, you want to talk about an inflammatory radical lesbian-centric racialized feminist title!)
Hereâ€™s whatâ€™s most interesting, though. Having leveled the accusation, James May does absolutely nothing to substantiate it. He simply makes the assertion that all the winners are part of this â€œradical lesbian-centric racialized feministâ€ cabal and goes on his way.
This is quite typical of the anti-SJW crowd and itâ€™s something George R.R. Martin has criticized a number of times. These people make sweeping generalizations at the drop of a hat and they paraphrase with wild abandon. Scrupulous documentation of their claims? Not so much.
Okay, moving on to his next paragraph:
â€œ100% of the most important Hugo winners last year were all supporters of this cult. How do I know that? Itâ€™s easy. Their obsession with whites, men and heterosexuals together with equally odd phrases like â€œwhite privilege,â€ â€œwhite savior,â€ cis normative,â€ â€œneurotypical,â€ â€œrape cultureâ€ and much more mark their lingo as much as â€œgraciasâ€ marks Spanish. They stand out like a sore thumb and donâ€™t even try and hide this stuff; quite the contrary. If youâ€™re not reading their non-fiction comments it has nothing to do with people who are. This stuff is a simple matter of record.â€
A simple matter of record whichâ€¦
Again, James May feels no need to record.
In one of my former lives I was a TA in the history department at UCLA. In that capacity, I read and graded a lot of essays written by students in which they attempted, with greater or lesser success, to advance an historical proposition.
So far, James Mayâ€™s essay advancing the proposition that science fiction as a genreâ€”or at least its most prestigious awardsâ€”have been overwhelmed by a radical lesbian-centric racialized feminist crusade is getting an F. Heâ€™s made no attempt to substantiate a single one of his claims. Literally, not one.
But, finally, after the first three paragraphs of his tirade, he starts presenting concrete evidence. He begins by quoting from the two most recent presidents of SFWA (which, for those of you who donâ€™t know, is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, an organization of F&SF writers).
â€œHard as it to believe, somewhere right now, a white, straight male is explaining to a woman or POC (person of color) what they =really= meant.â€ â€“ Steven Gould, science fiction (SF) author and president of the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA)
â€œIâ€™ve been thinking of a way to explain to straight white men how life works for them, without invoking the dreaded word â€˜privilege,â€™ to which they react like vampires being fed a garlic tart at high noon.â€ â€“ John Scalzi, SF author, winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, five time nominated, three time winner of the Hugo Award, Nebula Award nominee and president of the SFWA
James May apparently finds both of these statements outrageous and proof positive of the pervasive influence of the radical lesbian-centric racialized feminist crusade. Presidents of SFWA, no less! Oh, the power they wieldâ€¦
Iâ€™ll start with the second statement, that of John Scalzi. Which:
- I agree with completely.
- Think is quite witty.
- And the truth of which James May himself is a perfect illustration.
Moving on to the statement of Steven Gould, I find myself in complete agreement with it also. All Steven is doing here is referring to the commonâ€”indeed, well-nigh ubiquitousâ€”practice known as â€œmansplaining.â€
What is â€œmansplainingâ€? As an accomplished mansplainer myself in my youth, I feel competent to address the subject. I will do so by using an incident from my own past.
Mansplaining has been around for, oh, a very long time. Way back in 1968 or thereaboutsâ€”almost half a century agoâ€”I was sitting around a table in UCLAâ€™s Student Union. One of the people at the table was a woman about my own age (21, at the time) named Ronnie. In the course of expounding on something or other, I happened to use the term â€œchicksâ€ to refer to women.
Ronnie immediately objected to the term. Not stridently, but still firmly. She said she found it demeaning to women.
Immediately, my mansplaining reflex kicked in and I mansplained to her that the term â€œchick,â€ so far from being derogatory to women, was actually a term of jocular affection, much like referring to men as â€œguys.â€
Ronnie got a stubborn look on her face and said she didnâ€™t like it. Period.
At that point, thankfully, other reflexes kicked in. Because whatever else Iâ€™d imbibed from my parents, one of the things theyâ€™d taught me was what is called Good Manners. And when someone tells you that he or she doesnâ€™t like being called something, it is simple Good Manners to cease and desist. It doesnâ€™t matter what the â€œmeritsâ€ of the issue might be. â€œMeritsâ€ are irrelevant. Whatâ€™s really involved is basic decency and respect for another person.
The only people who donâ€™t understand that are boors and oafsâ€”that is to say, the very people Steven Gould is referring to in the quote.
I stopped using the term â€œchickâ€ around Ronnie. And, quite soon, stopped using it altogether because upon inquiry I discover that a lot of women didnâ€™t care for it either. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that Ronnie became a good friend and wound up marrying one of my close friends and roommates, to whom she is still married to this day. Perhaps thatâ€™s partly because he stopped using the term â€œchicksâ€ also. Amazing how that works.
Since this seems astonishingly difficult for the James Mays of the world to understand, I will try to explain it by subtracting females, gays and lesbians, and people of color from the equation, because I suspect his hyper-alertness for any trace of the much-feared Political Correctness Gestapo may be clouding his judgment.
My friend and frequent co-author David Weber is male, white and straight. (And for good measure, heâ€™s also politically conservative and a devout Methodist.) He prefersâ€”for whatever peculiar reasons he may haveâ€”to be called â€œDavid.â€ I try my best to adhere to his wishes, simply because itâ€™s his name and thatâ€™s what he wishes. See reference to â€œgood mannersâ€ above.
Occasionally, I lapse and call him â€œDave.â€ In my defense, there are way too many David and Daves in my lifeâ€”three co-authors, Weber, Drake and Freer; an old friend (Dave McDonald), a relatively new friend and fellow author (David Coe), a brother-in-law, the list seems endless. Itâ€™s sometimes hard to keep them straight.
But hereâ€™s what Iâ€™ve never done. Iâ€™ve never mansplained to David that his first name should really be â€œDaveyâ€ because in my superior wisdom I have come to understand that he is intrinsically a â€œDavey.â€ Should he notâ€”the author of the Honor Harrington series (okay, the protagonist is a damn woman but weâ€™ll let that pass)â€”share a name with the bold frontiersman Davey Crockett rather than the effete and probably-influenced-by-radical-lesbian-centric-racialized feminists David Bowie?
No, no, Eric Flint knows best. David should be a Davey. And if he objects, then clearly he too is being influenced by the radical lesbian-centric racialized feminist crusade. (Sadly, thereâ€™s already a lot of evidence to that effect. Leaving aside the suspicious behavior involved in making a female the central figure in a series devoted to manly military action, thereâ€™s all the evidence scattered thought the rest of the series. Letâ€™s start with the fact that the Queen of the Star Empire is, first, a queen; and second, sheâ€™s black. Why didnâ€™t he pick a white guy, dammit?)
Steven Gould is also quite correct is saying that mansplaining is alive and well today. Indeed, at this very moment and for the past several years, weâ€™ve all been presented with a splendid and very prominent case of mansplaining.
For some time now, Daniel Snyder, the billionaire owner of the Washington Redskins football teamâ€”and a boor and an oaf of the first orderâ€”has been mansplaining to American Indians that the term â€œredskinsâ€ is not derogatory to them as they so erroneously believe, but is instead a term of honor and respect.
All right, letâ€™s move on and see if James May can come up with something better than taking exception to two statements which are completely accurate and non-objectionable.
Finally, we get to something that seems more substantial:
Â â€œSFF is, alas, dominated by white westernersâ€ â€“ Aliette de Bodard, science fiction and fantasy (SFF) author , five-time nominated, two-time winner of the Nebula Award and two-time nominee for the Hugo Award, SFWA member.â€
Oh, the horror. Well, okay, the only horror is in the one word â€œalas.â€ The rest of the sentenceâ€”â€œSFF is dominated by white westernersâ€â€”is a simple statement of fact.
Why does de Bodard think â€œalasâ€ needs to be added to the sentence? I have no ideaâ€”and since James May (typically for his crowd) always quotes out of context, I have no way of knowing. She may simply have been making a wisecrack, along the lines of the joke favored by many of my Latino friends: â€œAlas, poor Mexico. So far from God, so close to the United States.â€ Iâ€™ve always thought that was pretty witty, and since I know the history involved I donâ€™t have any trouble understanding why a Mexican might feel that way. But Iâ€™ve run across people who are deeply offended by the joke since it fails to appreciate American Exceptionalism. (A term which has no coherent meaning except for serving its proponents as a general purpose Get Out Of Jail Free card. â€œItâ€™s not Americaâ€™s fault if we did X,Y, or Z. Weâ€™re exceptional. Rules donâ€™t apply to us.â€)
Alas, having been influenced by the radical lesbian-centric racialized feminist mindset myselfâ€”starting many years ago, at thatâ€”I have picked up the unmanly habit of trying to put myself in someone elseâ€™s position. On the other hand, maybe thatâ€™s part of the reason I sell a lot of books.
Moving on, we come to this outrage:
Iâ€™m increasingly less likely to pick up a book if it is another straight white dude story.â€ â€“ Kate Elliot, Nebula-nominated SFF author and SFWA member
And this one, in a similar vein:
Â â€œSunil Patel@ghostwritingcow It is no coincidence that my book review column features no white male authors. They can have EVERYWHERE ELSE.â€
Um. As â€œoutragesâ€ go, these are pretty lame. Any reviewer has the right to review whichever author she wishes to. I wonder if James May is equally outraged by the fact that Soldier of Fortune magazine rarely (in fact, never, so far as I know) reviews romance novels.
But leaving that aside, the key issue here goes right to the heart of the whole dispute weâ€™re having. What James May does, following the standard playbook of the anti-SJW crowd and at least some of the Sad Puppies, is go around and collect statementsâ€”almost always taken out of contextâ€”that he feels exhibit the outrageously radical lesbian-centric racialized feminist attitudes of the â€œSocial Justice Warriors.â€
In half the cases, from what I can tell, there isnâ€™t anything outrageous about the comments anyway. But even if they were all â€œoutrageous,â€ I repeat what Iâ€™ve been demanding since my first essay;
SO FUCKING WHAT?
The real issue is whether any of this amounts to anything beyond a tempest in a teapot. The fact that someone somewhere makes a jackass comment does not mean that either that person or the comment have any real significance to The Big Wide World. The claim James May has to substantiate is his claim that it does really matter. But he never makes any attempt to do so. He seems to think, as do all the people who share his stance, that itâ€™s enough to simply quote an outrageous statement by somebody, somewhere, sometime, to prove that This Is A Really Big Deal.
No. Itâ€™s. Not. And I will substantiate my claim.
Letâ€™s start with this last issue, concerning the unwillingness of some reviewers to review books written by white men, or at least their increasing reluctance to do so.
As a professional author, this is supposed to outrage meâ€¦.
I very rarely get reviewed anyway, in much more prominent venues than the ones being managed by Kate Elliott and Sunil Patel. To the best of my knowledge, in a career that has now spanned almost two decades in the course of which I have published almost fifty novels and a fair amount of shorter fiction, I have gotten a total of twoâ€”count â€˜em, twoâ€”major reviews in major SF magazines. (For the record, a review of Mother of Demons in SF Chronicle and a review of 1632 by Charles de Lint in The Magazine of F&SF.) Both of those reviews date back many years ago. There may be a few reviews I missed, but it canâ€™t be many. For sureâ€”I just checked their own data baseâ€”I have never gotten a review in Locus other than a few very short reviews by Carolyn Cushman a long time ago, mostly of some novels I co-authored with Mercedes Lackey. This, despite getting a large number of my novels on Locusâ€™ own bestseller list.
So it goes. Nor is this peculiar to me. Many popular authorsâ€”not all, but manyâ€”donâ€™t get reviewed in SF magazines or do so very rarely. (They do, however, get reviewed quite often in publishing trade journals like Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist and Kirkus. But while those have an effect on distributors and library buyers, theyâ€™re almost never read by the mass audience.) When I mentioned some time ago to Lee Modesitt that Iâ€™d never gotten a major Locus review, he nodded and told me he hadnâ€™t gotten a review in something like fifteen years.
Why does that happen? The reasons are somewhat complicated but itâ€™s a subject for another day. Just believe me when I say that it does.
Andâ€¦ who cares? My career does not depend on Locus reviews, or those in any other SF magazine or web site. It never has and it never will. Thatâ€™s because all the SF magazines put together are so manyâ€”or rather, so fewâ€”very small fish in a very large pond. For every F&SF reader whoâ€™s heard of Locus, there are at least twenty or thirty whoâ€™ve heard of me. And there are at least a hundred whoâ€™ve heard of David Weber or Mercedes Lackey.
Meaning no offense to either Kate Elliott or Sunil Patel, I simply donâ€™t care whether they review my work or not. So why am I supposed to be outraged by their attitudes? Especially when they have every right to hold that attitude and act on it.
This is just silly. Am I supposed to be outraged that Soldier of Fortune magazine has never reviewed any of my novels either, despite the fact that lots of my novels have lots and lots of really really manly action in them?
And donâ€™t bother telling me that Soldier of Fortune doesnâ€™t claim to review SF novels. I know that. But if that magazine has the right to delineate its intended subject matter and audience, then why doesnâ€™t Kate Elliott or Sunil Patel?
As for the statements he quotes from two recent SFWA presidentsâ€¦
Again, even if their statements had been outrageousâ€”which they werenâ€™tâ€”so what? Is James May under the delusion that SFWA is a mighty organization that controls the careers of authors and whose presidents wield power unmatched since Tamerlane strode the stage of history?
If he does, he can check with John Scalzi or Steven Gouldâ€”or any previous president of SFWA going back to the ghost of the organizationâ€™s founder, Damon Knight. They will quickly disabuse him of the notion.
Okay, moving on. Letâ€™s look at the next instance of outrageous SJWism.
â€œsounds like something a straight white cis dude does, secure that his position and privilege will always be there.â€ â€“ Veronica Schanoes, Nebula nominated SFF author and SFWA memberâ€
Oooooohâ€¦Â Now this does look really juicy. Thereâ€™s no question that Schanoesâ€™ statement is saturated with radical-lesbian-centric-racialized-feminist-speak. Jeepers. When my eyes fell on â€œstraight white cis dudeâ€ my headâ€¦
Iâ€™d say â€œmy head almost explodedâ€ but thatâ€™d be a bald-faced lie. Actually, I just laughed.
Iâ€™m going to stop here because after a while this gets to be a pointless exercise. The more posts James May and people who think the way he does put up here, the more something becomes blindingly obvious.
Is there anything in the world that does not upset them? I mean, Jesus H. Christ. How fucking insecure can you get?
The best James May can come up with is a handful of statementsâ€”okay, two handfulsâ€”all of them taken out of context, and at least half of them statements that I have no problem with anyway. (And I canâ€™t tell whether or not I would with the rest because context is actually important.)
What James May has completely failed to do is back up his central thesis, which is that â€œthis crusading feminist movementâ€ is â€œbaked into core SFF at every level as the new go-to ideological orthodoxy.â€
At every level? Really? Does that include the level of sales to the mass audienceâ€”which is far and away the most critical level there is? If so, then please explain the ongoing popularity of such â€œcis dudeâ€ (God, I love that term) white authors as Jim Butcher, David Weber, Raymond Feist, R.A. Salvatore, Brandon Sanderson, Terry Brooks, Neil Gaiman, John Ringo, Terry Pratchett, Kevin Andersonâ€”oh, itâ€™s a very long list. (And my apologies to any cis dude whom I overlooked.)
Not to mention John Scalzi, Larry Correia and, well, me.
It finally occurred to me to conduct an experiment. Since some people complain so loudly, constantly and angrily about the all-pervasive power and influence of the â€œsocial justice warriorsâ€ (aka SJWs) I decided to find these monstrous creatures.
So, this being the Age of the Internet, I searched for them on Google. Andâ€¦
Made a fascinating discovery.
They seem to exist mostly in the minds of their enemies.
Iâ€™m not kiddingâ€”and you can do this experiment for yourselves. Right at home!
All you have to do is Google â€œsocial justice warriors.â€ Hereâ€™s what youâ€™ll find:
Of the entries on the first few pagesâ€”I stopped somewhere in the middle of the fourth pageâ€”only one of them, so far as I could see, is clearly pro-SJW. Leaving aside several entries about a new game called â€œSocial Justice Warriors,â€ most of the links are to sites which are hostile to â€œsocial justice warriors,â€ and some of them rabidly so. The most entertaining (to me, anyway; okay, sometimes Iâ€™m a little quirky) is a site that seems mostly devoted to â€œpick upâ€ advice to (presumably young) men unsure of how to go about getting laid.
What stands out to me is that so far as I can tell most of the shrieking about â€œsocial justice warriorsâ€ comes from people who seem to have a level of insecurity and anxiety that can only be described as astronomical. (Thatâ€™s a more polite way of saying â€œpathological.â€) Let an author (hell, anyone) anywhere make a statement that in any way offends their oh-so-very-offendable sensibilities, and they immediately start screaming that they are being downtrodden by the SJW behemoth.
As I was about to post this essay, I saw that James May had just put up another post in my web site that, by God, did name more names. More than a dozen!
Okayâ€¦ What the hell, once more into the breach.
Hereâ€™s Mayâ€™s post, in its entirety, with my comments afterward:
Comment: Hugo nominated Skiffy and Fanty podcaster Cecily Kane: “The straight white dude perspective is basically the Dunning-Kruger effect apex of all civilization.”
John W. Campbell nominee two years running Requires Hate: “Beetori Sritruslow @talkinghive 9h9 hours ago It’s like white men literally don’t understand how anything works.”
SFF Convention Guest of Honor and Game Developer Brianna Wu: “Women seeking equality on one side. Vicious sexists on the other. White, cishet men with all the power, smiling as they decide what’s fair”
SFF author and blogger Amal El-Mohtar: “White people talking about how inclusive fandom used to be when there were fewer brown people & queers to make them uncomfortable.”
2016 WorldCon Guest of Honor Teresa Nielsen-Hayden: “I was being unfair to all the perfectly reasonable straight white guys out there.”
Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Award-winning SFF author Ken Liu: “‘authentic’ seems often to mean ‘what white people would approve'”
WisCon organizer and blogger K. Tempest Bradford: “You know, whiteness is a hell of a drug. It really is.”
SFF author Sunny Moraine on diversity: “If your writing is full of white men, itâ€™s shitty writing.”
SF blogger, Readercon panelist Natalie Luhrs: “Man, so great seeing all these white dudes talking about how fucking awesome they are for standing up to G—-Gate.”
WisCon SF Convention organizer and panelist Jaymee Goh: “Seems lately every week is white stupidity week. And they complain about a month in a year!”
Reviewer at Lightspeed Magazine and writer Sunil Patel: “Curious: how many of you refuse to watch/read something if it’s about Yet Another Straight White Man?”
Reply from SFWA member and Nebula nominee Kate Elliott: “Same is true of books. I’m increasingly less likely to pick up a book if it is another straight white dude story.”
Second reply from another SFF fan: “I’m taking a yearlong break from books by men, full stop, and dramatically scaling back on stories about them.”
Last reply from SFWA member and review editor of SFF at Publisher’s Weekly Rose Fox: “Alas, my job doesn’t let me refuse.”
We have here a total of fourteen Outrageous Statements. Or, at least, Statements That James May Finds Outrageous. So letâ€™s go through them.
First, we have to subtract the three statements that actually arenâ€™t outrageous at all. Those are the statements by Teresa Nielsen-Hayden, Ken Liu and K. Tempest Bradford. Nielsen Haydenâ€™s statements is an apology for perhaps being a bit over-the-top and acknowledging that the world has plenty of â€œperfectly reasonable straight white guys.â€
How is this â€œoutrageousâ€? It seems perfectly sensible to meâ€”even commendatory, in that it indicates an ability to self-criticize which is sadly lacking in some other parties in this dispute. I will name no names. (But I could. Oh, yes, I really really could.)
Ken Liuâ€™s statement (“‘authentic’ seems often to mean ‘what white people would approve'”) is also perfectly non-outrageous. My only criticism of it is that heâ€™s being too narrow. I would have added that not only does â€œauthenticâ€ often seem to mean â€œwhat white people would approveâ€ but so do such terms as â€œreasonable,â€ â€œun-biased,â€ â€œnormal,â€ â€œclassicâ€ (does anyone remember that jackass TV announcer who recently remarked that Viola Davis was not â€œclassicallyâ€ attractive?)â€”oh, the list goes on and on.
Does this make me, as a straight white man, a â€œself-haterâ€?
Trust me, if I told my wifeâ€”or daughterâ€”that I was a â€œself-haterâ€ theyâ€™d fall down laughing. No, it just means Iâ€™m not an insecure jerk, thatâ€™s all. I donâ€™t automatically get upset whenever someone criticizes common bad traits of white people or male people or straight people because I often agree with them.
Then, finally, thereâ€™s Bradfordâ€™s â€œoutrageousâ€ statement: “You know, whiteness is a hell of a drug. It really is.”
Yup, it sure isâ€”as is belonging to any elite group in a society. In earlier times, nobility was a hell of a drug. As I and multiple co-authors have spent a fair time of time in the 1632 series depicting. In modern capitalist times, being wealthy is a hell of drug. If you donâ€™t believe me, contemplate the public behavior of Paris Hiltonâ€”and even more, the behavior of her younger brother Conrad. (If youâ€™ve forgotten the juicy details, here it is: http://www.nbcnews.com/pop-culture/celebrity/paris-hiltons-brother-conrad-hilton-charged-after-alleged-flight-ruckus-n299691).
So letâ€™s start by subtracting those three perfectly reasonable statements. That leaves eleven Outrages. Of those, however, no fewer than eight of themâ€”those by Cecily Kane, Brianna Wu, Amal El-Mohtar, Natalie Luhrs, Jaymee Goh, Sunil Patel, Kate Elliott and â€œanother SFF fanâ€â€”are impossible to assess properly without knowing the context.
Which, as always, James May neglects to provide. He seems to think itâ€™s enough to quote someone saying anything that seems to be negative toward white men or men in general (or sometimes all white people) to â€œproveâ€ that they are â€œsocial justice warriorsâ€ andâ€”this is the real laugh, as Iâ€™ll get to laterâ€”are really really really having a profoundly negative impact on science fiction awards.
For Peteâ€™s sake, Iâ€™ve been knownâ€”and way more than onceâ€”to say negative things about a) white people; b) male people; c) straight people; d) any possible combination of the above. Sometimes my comments may have been a little uncalled-forâ€”maybe; then again, maybe notâ€”but if you put any of them in context Iâ€™d probably defend 99% of them. Maybe even one hundred percent of them.
Okay, so that brings us down to three Outrages that might be worth considering. Letâ€™s start with the one by â€œJohn W. Campbell nominee two years running Requires Hate.â€ The statement itself actually belongs in the previous category, i.e., those that require context to assess properly. The statement is â€œIt’s like white men literally don’t understand how anything works.â€ A statement whichâ€¦
Hell, Iâ€™ve been known to mutter myself when confronted with a particularly egregious example of the White-Man-Deeply-Offended Syndrome. If you arenâ€™t familiar with that syndrome, just go back and read all of James Mayâ€™s posts. Most of them are classic illustrations of it.
The reason I decided it needed to be singled out isnâ€™t the statement itself but the origin of it. â€œRequires Hateâ€ has a rather notorious reputation, and it is indeed the case that a number of her statements are screwy at best. If youâ€™re not familiar with the controversy surrounding her, let me introduce you to a magic word:
Moving on, the next possible really really outrageous statement is this one:
SFF author Sunny Moraine on diversity: “If your writing is full of white men, itâ€™s shitty writing.”
This statement isnâ€™t really outrageous. Thatâ€™s because itâ€™s too stupid to generate much in the way of outrage. In one short sentence, Sunny Moraineâ€”whoever the hell she is, and weâ€™ll get to that in a momentâ€”has dismissed such novels as Tolstoyâ€™s War and Peace, James Joyceâ€™s Ulysses, Herman Melvilleâ€™s Moby Dickâ€”not to mention the epic of Gilgamesh and Homerâ€™s Iliad. If she thinks she can write better than that, have at it. But donâ€™t anyoneâ€”especially herâ€”hold your breath.
Finallyâ€”finallyâ€”we get to the only one of these fourteen â€œoutragesâ€ that amounts to a hill of beans. And it doesnâ€™t actually amount to a hill of beans, but just to a little bitty pile of beans. Thatâ€™s this one:
Last reply from SFWA member and review editor of SFF at Publisher’s Weekly Rose Fox: “Alas, my job doesn’t let me refuse.”
She was responding to the previous comments by Kate Elliott and â€œanother SFF fanâ€ to the effect that they are less likely (in the case of Elliott) or absolutely refuse for one year (in the case of â€œanother SFF fanâ€) to read books about straight white men.
But why, you ask, have I singled out the comment from Rose Fox when I gave those by Kate Elliott and â€œanother SFF fanâ€ a pass and assigned them to the â€œneed to know contextâ€ pile?
Itâ€™s because Elliott and â€œanother SFF fanâ€ are referring to their personal reading habits whereas Rose Fox mentioned those preferences in the context of referring to her actual job, which is that of being a reviewer for a trade journal. In other words, itâ€™s conceivable that her attitude might be biasing her professional reviews.
I hasten to add that I have no reason to believe they actually are biasing them and I am making no accusations. I am simply bringing the issue up in order to demonstrate thatâ€¦
Speaking of the relative sizes of hills and/or piles of beansâ€¦
James May has huffed and puffed and produced exactly one bean. A pinto bean, I believe. He has demonstrated that there may exist one (out of many, I might add) reviewers working for Publishers Weekly who mightâ€”might, mind you; there is no evidence of itâ€”be biased in their reviews of works by straight white males.
Oh, the horror. On the other hand, given that Iâ€™m a straight white male author and Iâ€™ve gotten several starred reviews from Publishers Weeklyâ€”including of my best-known novel, 1632â€”I guess Iâ€™ll be able to go to sleep tonight without checking under my bed to see if a Social Justice Warrior Maniacally Anti-Cis Dude (God, I love that term) book reviewer is lurking there waiting to pounce and rend me to pieces.
All right, enough on the statements themselves. Itâ€™s now time to deal with the ultimate absurdity of James Mayâ€™s argument. Let us suppose, for the moment, that each and every one of the fourteen Outrageous Statements that May cites were actually outrageousâ€”and clearly so, regardless of context.
So. Fucking. What.
Who are the originators of these fourteen statements? In what sense do they constitute, either one or all, a Really Big Force in the world of science fiction awards?
Of the fourteen statement-makers (or should I call them Outragiosas?) only three of them have any real prominence in the world of science fiction: Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Ken Liu and Kate Elliott. And none of them, taken alone or together, is able to do more than exercise a moderateâ€”I mean, really moderateâ€”influence on people who vote for Hugo awards. (Or Nebula awards.)
Of the remaining eleven, leaving aside the Publishers Weekly reviewer, theyâ€™re either minor authors, podcasters, bloggers or local convention organizersâ€”and two of them seem to have as their major â€œpower sourceâ€ the fact that theyâ€™ve been panelists at SF conventions.
Panelists? For Peteâ€™s sake, every SF convention in the country usually has dozens of panelists, most of them people who are generally unknown outside of their local convention areas.
My point here is not to sneer at minor authors, podcasters, panelists, or any of the rest. Like almost every author, I was once a minor author myself. (Oh, and such a wee tiny minor author I was, too, for more years than I like to remember.) My point is simply that, objectively speaking, people in these positions are not the great shakers and movers in the world of SF awards. Insofar as anyone isâ€”which is itself a dubious proposition. As a rule, people who vote for Hugo awards are not standing at attention before the reviewing podium at Nuremberg waiting for The Leader to tell them which way they must vote. My cat sneers at them for their lack of discipline.
Bah. Again and again, we get the same thing. One or another person generally aligned with or supportive of the Sad Puppies comes charging up with a fistful (sometimes two!) of quotes torn out of context from people most of whomâ€”meaning no offense to anyoneâ€”nobody has ever heard of outside of their immediate friends and family. These quotesâ€”many of them perfectly fine and most of them impossible to judge out of contextâ€”are then presented as â€œevidenceâ€ (sometimes even â€œproofâ€!) that the dreaded Social Justice Warriors are indeed a mighty and omnipresent force in the world of SF awards.
Iâ€™d say I was at a loss for words except that Iâ€™ve spent some time now demonstrating that, push comes to shove, Iâ€™m pretty much never at a loss for words. But I figure Iâ€™ve devoted enough words to the issue for the moment and will close by simply citing another magic phrase:
The scientific method. In which a hypothesis, having been advanced, is then subjected to empirical scrutiny. Sometimes known as â€œfact checking.â€