It’s the story that matters

I’m going to state this right up front. If you are a fan of political correctness, if you teach your sons to be apologetic because of their sex, if you believe that anyone who is not a “person of color” cannot understand the plight of a PoC or is inherently prejudiced, then you don’t want to read any further. To paraphrase Obi-Wan Kenobi, “carry on. There is nothing to see here.”

This rant started taking root a day or so ago when I saw a post by another author who, after seeing a photo of the staff of ConCom, laments the “lack of diversity”. Apparently everyone in the photo was, gasp, white or close to it. Where were all the persons of color? The fact that there were none shown was obviously an indication of the problem within the con community and science fiction in general. We are just too white-centric.

If that wasn’t enough, he posted a follow-up later that he really hadn’t meant to dissuade anyone from attending DetCon. That most certainly wasn’t his intention. The last thing he wanted to do was accuse them of being racist. He was just trying to point out that this was an ongoing problem with fandom’s diversity and inclusiveness. If I remember correctly, he called it a cultural problem.

When someone dared comment that she is on a concom and it isn’t that easy to get anyone to volunteer to help, it was “suggested” by another that they needed to extend invitations to a more diverse group of people to serve on the concom. That brought about a discussion about folks either not responding or agreeing to, not because they want to be part of the concom but because they feel trapped.

Then there came this announcement. The language in the announcement that caught my attention was this: this year’s scholarship has a twist: instead of just need and merit, we’re also looking for diversity.  Selecting only on merit isn’t enough, according to the announcement, because the pool of candidates is limited to the “small, self-selecting group of people who feel comfortable applying.” The so-called proof that this isn’t enough came about because the attendees last year were, gasp, predominantly white. There was only one person of color. That, of course, meant there was something wrong.

So by golly, they are going to correct that problem right now. Forget about finding people who are qualified for the scholarship. Forget even awarding it to someone who has need for the scholarship. They’re going to go out and find folks who meet their need for diversity. Why, because they feel we need more diversity IN THE PEOPLE WHO WRITE SPECULATIVE FICTION.

I’ll come back to that in a moment.

The final straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back came this afternoon when Larry Correia linked to a post over on the TOR blog. It is evident TOR, at least on the blog, is taking the example set by SFWA and taking it even further. The post is what appears to be the first of a regular column on Post-Binary Gender in SF. Yep, you read that right. Post-Binary Gender in SF.

You see, all those stories we’ve loved over the years have been doing it wrong. We need to get away from male and female genders. There are so many more genders out there.

I’m not going to debate that issue. What I object to here and with regard to the attacks on concoms and the scholarship announcement is this stance we are seeing coming from SFWA, TOR and a subset of authors that everything we write has to meet their view of what is politically correct. Not once have I seen anything mentioned that this will make for a better story nor have I seen convincing evidence that forcing concoms to diversify will increase attendance. For one thing, with regard to the concoms, diversity can come in many forms and the color of one’s skin is only one way. The thing that struck me with the photo of the DetCon committee is that it was almost equally split between men and women. Some of them were very likely gay or bi or possibly even straight. Some probably believe in God while others follow other religions or none at all. Political beliefs probably ran the gamut as well (or at least I’d like to think so). But you know what, none of that matters as long as they do their jobs.

As for the TOR column, the irony of the moderators coming in and removing comments that might have been a bit in your face or, frankly, dismissive of the idea wasn’t lost on me. Several years ago when TOR did a series of posts on Heinlein, no such “sensibilities” were shown when commenters were allowed to attack Sarah A. Hoyt for her column about Heinlein. Why? Because she wasn’t following the glittery hoo-hahs’ agenda of demonizing Heinlein as a misogynistic pig. But now, dare to suggest that putting “an end to the default of binary gender in science fiction stories” is a crock and you get tossed off the blog.

As Larry Correia said in his Facebook post about this, what this sort of thinking is doing is making science fiction – or speculative fiction, if you prefer – boring twaddle that no one will read. The fact that main stream publishers, Baen excluded, continue to follow this road to failure is beyond me. That’s especially true when you look at the number of indie sf books that are selling and selling well. These are books where story matters more than the “message”, especially when that message is being pounded into your head with a sledgehammer.

Honestly, when I’m reading a story, I don’t care if a characters is male or female, if they are gay, straight, bi or whatever as long as it fits the story. I feel the same way about sex. If it isn’t something that propels the story along, it doesn’t belong. To simply put a character in of a certain orientation to meet a diversity quota is counter-productive.

To those who want to push their political or social agendas by forcing the rest of us to follow your lead, get over yourselves. I will continue to buy and read books that interest me. And, yes, a lot of them have characters that do not follow the monogamous, male/female, Christian-centric relationship mode. Not all of them are straight. Certainly not all of them are white. But, what they all are are characters who fit the story being told. Nothing more and nothing less.

Just as I want my characters to fit the story, and hopefully it is a story that is entertaining and will keep my interest as a reader, I expect the people running an event I go to to be able to conduct their duties and put on the best event possible. I don’t care what their personal preferences are in their private lives. I also expect any group I support to award scholarships to the most deserving student. Sure, advertise your scholarship widely. But do NOT toss out need or other qualifications just because someone else – who might not need it as badly financially – comes from a more “diverse” background.

As for needing more diversity in the authors who write speculative fiction, give me a break. People are going to write what they want to write. I couldn’t tell you what background, sexual preference, religious affiliation or non-affiliation or even political leanings most of the authors I read fall under. What does it matter except that it might give them some insight into how a character thinks?

But wait! We’re talking speculative fiction – science fiction – much of which happens IN THE FUTURE where I would hope most of the issues these same authors are concerned with no longer exist. There will be new concerns and worries. There will be new “colors” as the gene pool blends even more.

Worry instead about telling a good story, something a reader would be willing to pay for.

 

31 Comments

  1. Samuel Delany is a writer that I consider one of my main influences–“Einstein Intersection” is one of the books that made me decide that I wanted to be a writer (and “Nova” very nearly convinced me there was no point to it because I was never going to be that good.)

    He is, in my opinion, one of the best speculative fiction writers out there, and he’s a gay Black man. Yet the Secret Masters Of Diversity have all but forgotten him. Why?

    1. Because they’re fools and are so busy making up issues that they don’t see there are already authors out there doing exactly what they’re calling for and have been doing so for a number of years and in ways that are both entertaining and profitable.

    2. He is? huh, never knew that. Then again, I never knew the color of Octavia Butler’s skin until I ran across someone waxing rhapsodic about it. Except for the authors I’ve met and a few I’ve heard mentioned, I honestly don’t know what genetics, religion, preference for barbeque (does that count as a religion?), and living/dead status most of the authors I like actually are/hold. What would it matter?

      The story is the thing, wherein you’ll catch the conscience of the… reader… (and message fic gets tossed like all other rejects, including the message-fic Hamlet tried to put on.)

      1. Dorothy, I know what you mean. I don’t care what an author’s skin color, religion, sexual preference might be. Now, I may have to be worried if they don’t like barbecue — coming from TX, it is a very strong religion here 😉

        And you are right. The story is the thing. Too bad so many seem to have forgotten that.

      2. Are they Pork BBQ or Beef BBQ? And if pork, is it tomato sauce or vinegar sauce? Because those vinegar sauce on pork people are SPLITTERS!!!!!

  2. I have been going to cons for more than thirty years. At every convention I’ve attended, more than a hundred, no one gave a rip what color you were. I’ve seen every color under the sun at conventions. It is clear to anyone with a brain that con attendees reflect readership and for whatever reason, some minorities are under represented. That is self-selection, pure and simple. No one forces people to attend a convention. And as for con coms not being diverse? I had to laugh when I heard that. Con coms draw their members from the pool of people who volunteer their time at conventions. I have never, ever, heard of a con com that turned volunteers away.

    Anyway, I wouldn’t worry too much about Tor; they won’t be around much longer. And neither will SFWA, for that matter, if they don’t become more relevant. And hey, I have seven books up on Amazon and another couple coming this year. I still can’t join SFWA even though I’m making my writing pay.

    1. I don’t worry about TOR except in how my blood pressure rises when I read such idiocy. Frankly, the sort of mindset the powers that be appear to have now make it obvious they are no more cognizant of what the reading public wants — and what many of their authors need — than the head of Kensington proved to be the other day over at Passive Voice.

      In the meantime, I will do just as you are doing. I will continue to write and put my books up either indie or small press and laugh all the way to the bank.

    2. “At every convention I’ve attended, more than a hundred, no one gave a rip what color you were”

      That was the ideal I was taught when I was a kid. Sadly, these days we’re told that NOT judging someone primarily on the color of their skin is “racist”.

    3. Minorities do tend to be under-represented at literature-based cons. The same is not true of pop-culture based cons. In my opinion this has more to do with the general cultural preference of various groups than it does with active or passive rejection of those groups by others. You can’t *make* minorities into science fiction fans any more than you can make majorities into them. Either they are or they aren’t. “Broadening” the topic will not significantly increase the likelihood that the formerly uninterested will become interested, but it will sure as Hell increase the likelihood that the formerly interested will become interested.

      Also, it should be noted that people often have a very bad idea of what under-represented really means in terms of minorities in the US. Twelve percent is twenty percent of sixty percent. For every ten people at a US con, assuming the same ratio as the general population, there should be six whites, one black, one Asian, and one “other/multiple/not identified.” Ish. (Canadians are even worse about this. They think that Canada has similar race/ethic ratios to the US, and are often shocked to the point of cognitive dissonance/denial when you tell them the actual numbers.)

      For an example from a different field, I did a statistical analysis on the contestants and winners in the show “America’s Next Top Model” once after hearing several claims that women of color were severely underrepresented.

      I learned two things:

      1) Women of color were slightly overrepresented in the contestant pool, and hugely overrepresented in the winner pool.

      2) Math is racist.

  3. Now that I am done sputtering.

    I read the Writing Excuses post. ” safe and welcoming environment” Right. I think I am going to be nauseous. Some how I don’t think I would feel welcome. I tend to be too .. .. opinionated to fit in with the diversity crowd.

    That other page .. .. I didn’t make it past the third paragraph.

    Did the Reconstruction era teach us nothing? You can’t force diversity. You can’t force people to change their minds. You can only guide them. This borders on force feeding.

    It also leaves me with a question. If a person is 1/8 Native American, but looks White, are they scored as White on the diversity chart or Native?

    “To those who want to push their political or social agendas by forcing the rest of us to follow your lead, get over yourselves. I will continue to buy and read books that interest me.”

    Amen. I will second this whole heatedly. I don’t care if the MC is male, female, human, robot or dragon, as long as the story is well told, and entertaining, I’ll read it.

    1. Whenever I read posts like the ones I linked to, I keep asking myself if they never paid attention in history class. Then I remind myself that many of them have been indoctrinated with the new revisionist history. Others have drunk the koolaide of political correctness. The sad truth is, they won’t understand what hit them when it all blows up in their faces.

      I read fiction for enjoyment. That means I want a story I can get into. It is a way to forget the trials of my everyday life. Reading, I am once more like that kid so long ago, escaping to another time or another place and letting my imagination go. If I want to be preached to or if I want a sociological study, I’ll read non-fiction. And I do. But for fiction, the story is the king.

      That’s the rule I do my best to adhere to in my writing as well. I hope I succeed at it.

    2. “If a person is 1/8 Native American, but looks White, are they scored as White on the diversity chart or Native?”

      Technically, I’m that guy (‘cept when I’ve got too much sun, and shave my beard off). The Army and the state colleges want to check that box “minority,” which I have not and never will claim, because I wasn’t raised that way. One, to lie, or two, as a Native American, taker yer pick.

      I’ll read the nonsense later, when I’m awake. But from what I’m reading now, hells, Mary Poppins would be disappointed in me (but probably not Julie Andrews). Yes, you can fit that many syllables in an expletive, if you run them all together.

      1. Dan, ya gotta keep up with the times. Didn’t you know that the “one drop” rule is back in effect?

        No, really, it is. Just check out how many ways a college student qualifies as a minority these days. The sad thing is that you wouldn’t be lying, but just fulfilling their requirements for aid.

        If you really want to become ill, google “20 actors you didn’t know were black” or close to that.

  4. Good article.

    I am trying to complete a speculative fiction of sorts (editing is such a drag) in which the main character is both black and a woman. I mention the woman part in it but not the black because, er, it is irrelevant to the story. I just happen to see her in my mind as a very capable black female who doesn’t need to prop her life up with ‘issues’ of gender or skin tone.

    She is just what she is. However as a white male, am I allowed to do any of this?

    1. My response is that you are allowed to do whatever you want as long as you write an entertaining and compelling story. But note, however, there will be those from the politically correct side of the argument who will contend that as a male you can’t write a true female character because you aren’t female but are, instead, of the oppressor side. These are the same folks who say a woman can never enjoy sex and that, indeed, all sex is rape where the woman is concerned. Do NOT get me started on that.

      But the more evil — yes, evil. At least in my opinion — accusation that may be thrown at you by these same darlings of PC is that as a white, and especially as a white male, there is no way you can or even should write a character who is a “person of color”. You haven’t walked the proverbial mile in their shoes. You don’t understand how bad they’ve had it. Etc., etc., etc.

      All of which is hogwash. Don’t let any of that deter you. As I said at the beginning of my comment, write an entertaining and engaging tale. That’s all that really matters. And good luck to you.

    2. That didn’t stop Poul Anderson much. Ever read any of his Dominic Flandry stuff? Try The Game of Glory.

      H. Beam Piper included black characters, but he didn’t wave it around. You have to pay attention to descriptions to catch some of them.

      1. And that is the way it should be, imo, Casey. The race/color/creed/sexual orientation is just part of the character — not THE thing about him — in most stories. So, unless it is a major plot point, make a big deal about it?

  5. I couldn’t agree more Amanda. As an avid reader I’m interested in the content and quality of the story. I tend to avoid books with an overt pc or political message because that usually just gets in the way of the story. I certainly don’t care about the gender, race, sexual orientation/identity, or political views of the author. I don’t see those things as relevant , unless the author uses the story to try and preach at me in which case the book generally goes in the trash and I don’t buy that author’s books again.

    For example I didn’t know that Samuel Delany was gay or black until I read the comment above, but knowing that can’t change the fact that Babel-17 is one of my favourite stories ever.

    1. Melvyn, I know what you mean. Until I started following Delany on FB, I didn’t know. Didn’t and still don’t care. All I care about is the fact I enjoy a lot of what he writes. This attempt to artificially promote writers or stories because of the color of someone’s skin or the flavor of their sexual preference drives me batty.

  6. It’s just another white knight wantabe, trying to become part of the group by finding a field to excel in. Larry treated him like the child he is and gave him enough education, which I’m sure he won’t listen to; but, other readers will catch and the good ones use. That’s all you can do with stupid, other than laugh.

  7. “However as a white male, am I allowed to do any of this?”

    Ever read R. A. Heinlein’s “Tunnel in the Sky”, “Friday” or “I Will Fear No Evil”?

    Rod Walker from Tunnel is black.
    Friday from the titular novel is, well technically she is a created life, however for arugments sake, she is multiracial.
    When RAH wrote “..Evil” he did so with two photos on his desk – one white, one black. (Interesting note, according to the http://www.nitrosyncretic.com/rah/rahfaq.html#0504 “Heinlein later made explicit references in correspondence to Joan Eunice as being black.”

    That being said, sir, if the first Grand Master of SF could write strong female characters, and treat race as a non-issue, I see no reason why you should not be able to do the same.

    Good luck. 🙂

  8. “Persons of color” are overrepresented in Klingon and Christian fandom groups, but that’s icky stuff that doesn’t count. Asian people in anime fandom also don’t count. And brony fandom is mostly guys, so it’s evil unless the guys happen to be gay, but even then they’re guys hanging out with other guys so they’re evil.

    I’m getting very tired of this junk. Can you tell?

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