I keep pondering Tade Thompson’s recent post at SAFE: “I Own SFF Fandom (and so do you).” He cuts to the heart of something that has been very much on my mind.
The Sad/Rabid Puppies claim a moral basis for their attack on the Hugos. They say that identity-based politics have polluted our storytelling traditions. They long for a return of the good old days when SFF stories were not about race, or gender, or sexual orientation, or cultural appropriation, or all those other pesky social-justice matters, but instead favored just-great-romps, without all the politics injected into them. And at this point my Spock ears appear and my right eyebrow floats up. I think, Fascinating.
You know what? When I read a story about a woman, especially an older woman, kicking ass and taking names in an exciting space opera or fantasy setting, I certainly don’t see politics. I see an exciting space opera or fantasy with characters I can really relate to. And I’m willing to bet my friends in the LGBTQI, dis/ability, and POC communities don’t see politics, either, when they read a story that has someone whose demographics match their own. They see that person who, like them, is fighting to find their way in the world, despite all the obstacles they face. (Obstacles that can differ, based on who we are and what we’ve encountered in our lives.) Who struggles to hold onto their humanity in the face of implacable hostility. Of denial of who they are.
The Sad/ Rabid Puppies seem to think of themselves as the true descendants of the grand masters of our modern pulp SFF tradition. I find this…interesting. The idea that stories about white guys overcoming obstacles—struggling to hold onto their humanity in the face of implacable hostility and denial who they are—is somehow less political than anyone else undergoing all those struggles—is simply so illogical to me that I can help but shrug and go, whaaaa? Because you know, the Grand Masters of SFF are my forebears, too.
Seriously, dudes. What would Spock say? (WWSS???)
I wrote recently about how the books of SFF writers like Heinlein and Silverberg and Simak and Asimov and Vance and Bradbury and Tolkien saved my life, when I was young. I was an abuse survivor (post1 | post 2), not to mention a really weird kid who didn’t fit in, and those science fiction stories I found in Prospect Branch Public Library saved my life. I didn’t care if they were written by a bunch of white guys. I cared that, like me, they spent all their time gazing at stars and poring over old tomes, dreaming up all these wild tales. Connecting our future with our past. Imagining all these different rich, complex, beautiful, scary worlds. Showing me that I wasn’t the only person who thought that way, and that my life wouldn’t always be crabbed and limited as it was then.
Speaking of Spock, I had the great good fortune of being around when the original Star Trek series ran, in 1966-1968. Only my parents were really strict about bedtimes. I was too little for ST seasons 1 and 2—my bedtime was 7:30, and the show came on at 8. By the time it started, sleep had gotten hold of me. But by the time the third season came on, my bedtime was bumped up to 8 pm!! So they would send me to bed, and turn out the light, and I would crawl into the hall, creep into the living room behind the couch, and watch the show—terrified of being discovered, but unable to resist the pull. And so I had the great good fortune to watch the last season of their original run.
I loved Star Trek. And when I discovered the written works, I loved Lord of the Rings. I loved Have Space Suit, Will Travel. Ring Around The Sun. I, Robot and Tau Zero. I loved all those books I discovered in the library that had been by old white dudes. I didn’t care who wrote it. I cared about the stories they told. It was my legacy, too.
To my fellow SFF siblings who are white guys and don’t understand this: you know, most of the time, anyway, I’m not mad at you. For one thing, anger takes a lot of energy. For another, #NotAllStraightCisWhiteGuys—there are lots of guys out there who get it. And for another, frankly, I quite fancy straight white guys. I married one. He’s brimming with awesome sauce (just saying).
Even so. Your demographics don’t give you first dibs on our SFF forebears. We are our ancestors’ children. All of us. Even if the field was mostly straight cis-gendered white guys back then (which, I honor their contributions, but btw, there were plenty of women, queers, and POC back then, too), the world has shifted. SFF is a powerful meme that has spread far beyond its origins, and will continue to do so.
So now I’m going to put on my mom face and say boys, you need to share those Tonka Toys. Stop with the defensive clutch. Share the sandbox. Because it’s the right thing to do.
And you know what else? When we let more writers with various points of view in, they’ll bring more readers with them. And that means more readers for you, too, you know. Because lots of people will want to read your stories, if you’re a good enough writer, regardless of their demographics (or your politics). I promise.
And maybe, if you get a good close look at the sand castles the rest of us build with those Tonka Toys, you’ll come to understand that you are part of a much bigger universe than you seem to realize right now.
‘Cuz, you know. Sensawunda, and all that.