Sunday, 23 August 2015

Proud to be an SJW

I saw this piece in Wired this morning while looking through Twitter, and against my better judgement, have decided to share a couple of cents on the whole Sad/Rabid Puppies controversy, now that it's over (at least as far as the 2015 Hugos are concerned).

Amy Wallace's article does a good job of showing both sides of the argument, and she did well to get comments from Brad Torgerson and Larry Correia, among others. In particular, while noting that the two slates had right-leaning (or hard-right) ideological underpinnings, she was also right to point out the feelings of some fans, overheard on the con floor at Sasquan or cited as sources, that some of the other nominated fiction can be self-indulgent or redolent of academia, rather than of what people want to read.

On the other hand, Sad Puppies kind of lose their credibility when they go after stuff like Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice.

Apparently Ancillary Justice winning the Hugo last year was a bleak moment for some folks, because Leckie was writing about a society that doesn't care about gender, and uses the personal pronoun "she" to refer to everybody, whether they're biologically male or female.

I suppose this could be a bit disconcerting to some, but I remember it fondly, because it's something different (at least in my reading experience, which admittedly skews white and male), and because I appreciated it as something that would be very difficult to translate to another medium. Regardless of your politics, surely you can appreciate that a book's been written to be a book, rather than with an eye toward being adapted into a movie or TV show.

(Which is also not a dig at books that are being adapted, as I'm quite excited for SyFy's version of the Expanse books by James SA Corey)

That Ancillary Justice is troubling to some fans also seems odd because it really is a well-written novel, and an excellent example of classic-style science fiction. It strikes me as a great book to show people who think SF is dumb, or who don't know much about it, or who simply want to read something different. Frankly, the fact that I read it is odd enough - I stopped reading primarily science fiction soon after college, and switched to fantasy, in part because a lot of it was getting boring, repetitive and derivative (I hated Altered Carbon and the Reality Dysfunction, for example). When a book comes with a lot of critical buzz I'll check it out, and Ancillary Justice didn't disappoint.

(As another aside, I will admit that the sequel, Ancillary Sword, didn't grab me quite as much as Justice - it was still good, but the best analogy I can think of is Justice was like that really satisfying roar you get when you start a sports car engine, and Sword is the engine settling into more of a continuous growl. #litcritFTW).

The other point that's worth making is that if science fiction is a literature of ideas, as some fans like to insist, then you need to be open to ideas. And ideas don't always come from white dudes writing about super smart engineers in space, to use phrasing from the Wired article. In fact, when you get too many white dudes writing about engineers in space, then people outside the genre think that's the only thing that it's about, and you don't get new readers, because not everyone wants to read that.

And finally - can we stop using the term "social justice warrior" as a pejorative? How can you be against social justice, and against people getting a fair shake? One of the Sad Puppies guys, Torgerson or Correia, mentioned the stamping out of blue-collar voices from SF, which I actually agree is a bad thing. But let's not use that as an excuse to raise the barriers against other historically under-represented groups - more freedom for one group should translate to more freedom for all groups, and infighting only serves people who want to control a thing (whether it's SF voices, or politics, or economics) for their own selfish purposes.

And we don't want that, do we? We want to be able to read stuff that we like. Let's go back to that, shall we?