This is why Science Fiction can’t have nice things
The General SF Reading Public: WTF there are only men in that anthology.
Many SFSignal Commenters: OMG this is messed up! Only men? Boo.
Some Black Chick: Yeah and also: no POC.
Many Other SFSignal Commenters: EVEN WORSE, omg.
Paul Di Filippo1: Dear Friends of SF–
I generally steer clear of controversies in my senescense, having participated in more than my share as a card-carrying cyberpunk2–but I simply cannot allow the unanimity of asinine comments on exhibit here to go unremarked-upon3.
Every single commenter here seems to me to be committing a logical fallacy of tremendous dimension, one so big it distorts entire worldviews:
DEMANDING THAT EVERY SINGLE INSTANCE OF EVERYTHING COMPOSITE SHOULD BE ABSOLUTELY STATISTICALLY REPRESENTATIVE OF THE COMPOSITION OF THE ENTIRE COSMOS4
You know what: a potato field is not likely to contain corn plants5. A pine forest might feature an oak or three, but be 99% pine trees6. The Beatles were 4 white guys7. Sonic Youth has no people of color8! My ream of copy paper is all white, with no sheets of lettuce included9!
Variety is great. Heterogeniety is great. Bias and prejudice suck. A genre–VIEWED AS A WHOLE–must feature a million different voices to be accurate and interesting10.
BUT NOT EVERY SINGLE BOOK OR MAGAZINE OR BAND OR WORK OF ART NEEDS TO CONFORM TO THE LATEST CENSUS RESULTS11.
SFSignal Commenters: WTH was that shit?
Paul Di Filippo: But let me reiterate that there is no law of the universe or of sensible human culture that demands that every institution or product fully represent every possible choice in its compositional makeup12.
If you go to a restaurant, do you demand to see the staff of the kitchen to ensure that they represent the full spectrum or genders and races and ethnicities13? I hope not! You order food and if you like it you patronize the place again. (We’re omitting elements of atmosphere, price, fellow customers, etc. here14.)
If this particular anthology delivers stories that fulfill its premise and title, then it’s done its job15. If you or someone else chooses not to support its existence because it does not meet extra-literary criteria16, then that is perhaps a morally superior, wonderfully principled, honorable stance17. Or perhaps it’s an addled, PC, chip-on-the-shoulder stance18. But there was never any obligation or constraint on Mike Ashely to satisfy these demands19.
Now, if you got the annual LOCUS survey of books published and pointed out to me that there were N number of anthologies published in 2008 featuring Y number of stories, and that only X percent of these stories were written by folks who were not WASP males, and then you argued that X percent was way too low, I would consider you had the beginnings of a rational argument and gripe20.
SFSignal Commenters: Are you HIGH?
Some Black Chick: Dear Paul Di Filippo, What the hell is wrong with you?
Paul Di Filippo: I’d like to raise two matters: First, how are anthologies assembled? By 1) an editor’s reference to his past reading experience, for reprints; 2) “invitation only” for new stories; 3) “open call” for new stories.
The book in question was assembled by a combo of 1) and 2). Obviously, Mike Ashley recalled only stories by men and invited stories only from males21. (Or possibly, invited women who did not respond or qualify22.) This resulted in a men-only book. Is this sexism23, or is it a function of the phenomenon illustrated in the SEINFELD episode of the big-breasted waitresses? Elaine was incensed that a certain diner featured only big-breasted waitresses–until she discovered that all the women were the owner’s daughters. In other words, what seemed to be sexism was “family bias.” Mike relied on his “family connections,” to the dead or living24. And that family included no women. Limited family maybe, but sexism? Your call25.
Second, I think in any such argument it’s always useful to ask “whose ox is being gored?” and to “follow the money.”26
I don’t want to cast aspersions on anyone’s motives, or attempt to mind-read27. But I have to say that when ANY WRITER (not just female writers or writers of color) complains about being excluded from a venue and cites issues of platonic principle and idealism, I always first posit underlying jealousy28 and a desire for status underneath all the lofty hypothetical talk29. Why do I posit such a cynical thing30? Because I’m a fucking writer31, and guilty as all others32! I vividly recall my sense of exclusion from the “adult table” after having had one or two stories published, but before being able to sell regularly33. Hell, I still feel this way, being without a major publisher34.
Now there’s nothing wrong with wanting a place at the table for one’s personal, individual works. If a writer did not believe in her stuff, why would she bother? And if you believe in your stuff, you’ll want it to get the best possible treatment. But to cloak one’s personal gripes, however subconsciously, in the cloak of solidarity with all downtrodden is just plain disingenuous–to use the nicest word35.
I really wonder, as an unperformable thought experiment, whether if the MAMMOTH book had included a token one or two writers of color or female gender, if these writers would have returned their paychecks or even spoken out when the current controversy arose36.
“Walk it like you talk it” remains the operative phrase37.
SFSignal Commenters: What. The. Hell?
Paul Di Filippo: I don’t have time to answer all your petty questions about my ridiculous statements, I have a story to write! Email me if you want, but I have more important things to take care of. *flounce!*38
SFSignal Commenters: What. The. Hell? No, just no.
Paul Di Filippo: Oh, also, Walt Whitman is gay, so therefore you won’t mind if I quote from him. What does Walt Whitman being gay have to do with anything here? Well, Some Black Chick said that he hated men! Okay, bye for realz now! *flounce again!*39
SFSignal Commenters: [attempt to pick up the pieces of the conversation and return it to something resembling sense, all the while on the lookout for further resurgences of greater internet fuckwaddery.]
- Who is, incidentally — or perhaps not — in the anthology in question [↩]
- this is the part where he tries to position himself above everyone else in the conversation — oh, ho ho silly beings. I will lower myself to your level, but only this once! [↩]
- if he allowed it, it would be like some free speech or something. [↩]
- notice how actually no one was demanding this. [↩]
- what? [↩]
- And this is relevant to the discussion how? [↩]
- … [↩]
- and strawmen have no brains, what the hell is your point, Paul? [↩]
- So, I’m given to understand that women and people of color SF writers are like lettuce in copy paper? The Othering going on here is just astounding. [↩]
- But viewed as just a section we don’t need all that pesky diversity! Gotta have some safe spaces for the white men. [↩]
- I again wonder who ever suggested this? Oh wait, no one. Okay then. [↩]
- Show me a universe or sensible society where a deliberate selection is uniform by accident. [↩]
- No, but that’s because I assume that any business that wishes to stay in business will conform to laws that say it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of several factors, including gender and race. SF anthologies are not subject to this law. Nor should they be. But it would explain the variation in how I approach two completely different and unrelated situations such as you have posited here. [↩]
- also omitting anything that makes any damn sense at all. [↩]
- if that job is presenting its readers with a heteronormative, white and male view of SF, then yes. If it claims to be presenting the “The 21 Finest Stories of Awesome Science Fiction”, then no. [↩]
- Here’s what you don’t get: the specifics about the authors are not extra-literary, Paul. Who a writer is, where a writer comes from, how they see and experience the world, all feeds into their writing. I thought you were a writer, surely you understand this. [↩]
- Only inasmuch as it doesn’t exclude and marginalized oppressed groups, yeah. [↩]
- Oh, you’re about to pull THIS argument out? [↩]
- Nope, there sure wasn’t. And look what he produced: 21 stories of the same old monochromatic maleness. [↩]
- Actually, I believe people have done this and more and left out the bad algebra to boot. [↩]
- Yes, obviously, and if you had any damn sense you would see why that’s extremely problematic. [↩]
- I guess they don’t qualify if they only write stories about “people and feelings and crap”. [↩]
- Yes. [↩]
- And while it’s acceptable to have your family staff your restaurant, if you’re putting together an anthology of “best” stories and you only ever choose authors you’ve heard of, you’re not really choosing a best, are you? You’re choosing the best of a narrow subset of stories. That is: the best by white men whose writing appeals to someone who can’t be bothered to read anything by women or people of color. [↩]
- Oh good. Cuz I say: yes. Or, at the very, very least: bias borne out of lazy ignorance. [↩]
- Yeah because women and POC don’t have money to spend, or when they do they don’t buy books. I think they buy pretty dresses and “bling”. [↩]
- Liar. Cuz you’re about to do just that. [↩]
- ABW takes off her earrings. [↩]
- So, let me see if I rightly understand you: the only reason anyone would ever have to complain about this kind of thing is jealousy and a desire to be included? Even when the people complaining are readers, not writers? Even when the writers complaining are not just women and people of color but white men? Even when other publishers and editors are like: “Dude, that’s not right.”? Even when ALL of those groups get together to call this out as a problem it all comes down to some jealous, whiny women and darkies causing a fuss because they want to be included? Listen, Paul, I have something very important to say: FUCK YOU, ASSHOLE. You are NOT, I repeat: NOT allowed to dismiss the concerns of readers and writers and editors and fans and lovers of the genre and those who strive to erase racism and sexism and other forms of prejudice just because they have an issue with an anthology you are in. Seems to me that the reason this upsets you so much, the reason you obviously find it so threatening, is that if someone were to judge your writing up against that of, say, Octavia Butler, Nisi Shawl, Nnedi Okorafor, Samuel R. Delany, Stephen Barnes, Tobias Buckell, L. Timmel Duchamp, Elizabeth Hand, Nancy Kress, Connie Willis, Yoon Ha Lee, or any number of the amazing women and POC writers in this field, it would be found wanting and you’d find yourself in fewer anthologies. And while I strive to see more diverse voices in anthologies just for its own sake, I have to say that the idea of them edging you out is just buttercream icing on the cupcake. Because I don’t care how good a writer you are, this genre and this community does not need people like you spewing this utter, utter bullshit all over its public places. What we need are people who don’t use the term PC like it’s a dirty word, who don’t compare women and minorities to pieces of lettuce, who don’t stomp into conversations around contentious and important issues and proceed to pull down their pants and wave their asses around with vigor. Get out of my genre, dude! We do not need your crazy! [↩]
- because you’re projecting? [↩]
- Wait, you mis-spelled that last word. Should be: wanker [↩]
- yeah, projection. Look, our issues are not yours, Paul. [↩]
- …if sitting at the adult table means being next to creepy uncle Paul who no one ever leaves you in a room alone with then, um, yeah I’ll stay over here at the kids table. [↩]
- No comment. [↩]
- THANK GOD YOU’RE USING THE NICE WORDS. [↩]
- I guess we’ll never know, since the editor doesn’t believe in tokenism. But good to know that if there had been some women or people of color in there, they’d just be tokens and undeserving! Also of note: had there been any women or POC, we would not be having this conversation because the controversy would not have arisen. People don’t get all upset when anthologies are inclusive. Well, normal, sensible people. [↩]
- Indeed. It just doesn’t mean what you think it means. [↩]
- This one is paraphrased. [↩]
- Yes, paraphrased. But yes, Walt Whitman and gayness did randomly come up. [↩]