In Which I Engage In Multiple Multimedia Projects

Keen eyes on social media may have noticed that I quietly began a new vlog called The Tempest Challenge in which I recommend books to read if you’re interested in taking up my reading challenge. The first two episodes are up and subsequent ones go live on Saturdays.

I created a landing page here on the site with info on the challenge, including the official hashtag for recommending books: #KTBookChallenge. Once I get a few more episodes going I’ll probably create a Tumblr for the vids and reblogs of book recs.

I don’t mind telling you that Alethea Kontis is to blame for all of this. She has an ongoing web series where she rants about fairy tales (because she writes amazing books that weave fairy tales together). And, since I’ve been hanging out with her for the past six weeks, she’s had me on as her special guest a few times. Here’s the latest one:

And my favorite one in which I sing the first song to ever be banned from the radio:

And the one where I try to mimic Wagnerian opera…

And a playlist of them all:

As you can see, we had a fabulous time. And it inspired me! Thus my own vids.

Depending on how things go, I may start another web series in which I rant about TV shows or something. But first I need to get the hang of editing and possibly find some better software for Windows. (iMovie is the only thing I miss about having a Mac.)

Video is not the only form of media I’m indulging in lately. As I pointed out the other day, I was also on the radio. And after that I was interviewed by the esteemed Minister Faust for his podcast–I’ll drop the link once it’s live–and after that I lucked into being in the first episode of the JEMcast! That was a lot of fun to do and I shall return as a guest host any time they ask. Because I never get tired of talking about Jem.

I suspect there are more things coming up in the near future. In the meantime, if you want me to be on your podcast or radio show or whathaveyou, please use the handy contact links on the sidebar :)

Let’s Talk About “Comfort Zones”

Danger Zone

Of the reactions to the piece on challenging yourself to read non-white, cis-het male authors for one year, I find one to be very telling about people’s assumptions of reading experience. Paraphrased, it goes something like:

But in her piece Tempest said that she only read fiction within her comfort zone!

What I’m understanding is that these decriers think that when I made the choice to not read fiction that bored me, made me mad because it wasn’t good, or offended me, I was looking to only be comforted.

I think the fault lies in the conception of what “offended me” means. Because people who are steeped in some kind of unexamined privilege often see Being Offended as Being Made Angry or Being Made To Feel Mildly Uncomfortable. That’s what I see as being behind all those “You’re just looking to be offended!” cries when a woman or person of color or any number of people from a marginalized or oppressed group points out offensive stuff.

The assumption is that I can choose not to be offended[1].

A white man might read stories written by other white men that have offensive to black people stuff in them and not even notice. At all. Or care. At all. Or, if they notice, the experience may be one of, “Oh hey, that’s not all right.” But it doesn’t hurt that white male reader.

Offensive stereotypes of black or brown people as ignorant savages hurts me. Fiction wherein women are only in the story to be sexual slaves without agency or even names hurts me. Even casual, offhand, not blatantly racist/sexist/whathaveyou offensive crap bourne out of a writer’s ignorance hurts me. Literary microagressions.

When I read fiction–especially for pleasure, but even for the purpose of analyzing it so that I can grow as a writer–I don’t want a majority of my experience to be about getting hurt. And a lot of the time the white, cis-het male writer behind those stories has not given two thoughts to privilege or stereotypes or that social justice warrior glittery hoo-ha crap[2]. So I stopped reading them.

However, in sticking to women, people of color, LGBT, and other authors from marginalized identities, I was not reading in a “comfort zone.” I was not more comfortable, I was just less likely to run across fiction that hurt me. But the stories were certainly not universally comfortable to read. Not at all.

I’ve never sought out comfort when looking for new things to read. A thing may become a comfort read once I finish it. In fact, much great fiction makes me uncomfortable, which is a big plus.

The first time I experienced this was in high school. I read Octavia Butler’s Kindred[3] and it made me profoundly uncomfortable. I still remember the almost panic feeling I got when I imagined for a moment if what happened to Dana happened to me. I was sure I would not have made it at all. The thought that it might happen was terrifying.

This was the first time I understood how fiction can affect a reader. No book, even books I loved, had ever made me that uncomfortable. And I had never identified with any protagonist so deeply.

Same thing happened with Derrick Bell’s The Space Traders. Oh man, that story jacked me up for years. Because everything Bell wrote in that story was so true. 100 percent truth.

Truth is rarely comfortable.

So no, I did not escape into my comfort zone when reading non-white, cis-het male authors. In fact, I put myself more and more out of it as I went. Because not all of the fiction I read catered to the mainstream gaze. And the gaze it catered to wasn’t necessarily mine, either. There were stories that challenged my notions of how stories are supposed to go, how plots are meant to unfold, how characters must be constructed and revealed and relate[4]. This is what happens when you step out of mainstream culture’s comfort zone.

That’s probably why so many people are scared.

Footnotes

  1. Which is… no. I can choose not to tell you I’m offended. I can choose to hide that I’m offended. I can also take the offense to heart, consciously or unconsciously, and feel like I’m worthless. I’m not going to do that just so you don’t have to hear me talk about offensive shit.[]
  2. This is not true for every single one of these writers. Noting is true for every single one of any kind of people. But these days I am less willing to give a new author from this group a try unless I see some evidence that they have thought about these issues. That’s not a hard thing for me. Thus I end up reading some of the best white, cis-het male SF/F authors publishing today. WIN.[]
  3. This was assigned reading, too! Yeah, I don’t know how that happened.[]
  4. If this all sounds like some awesomepants to you, then I suggest you go through my Favorite Fiction archive here on the blog and check out my column at io9.[]

You’re Excluding Stories By Straight, White, Cis Men? J’accuse! J’accuse!

You're Excluding Stories By Straight, White, Cis Men? J'accuse! J'accuse!

A year or so ago some dude (whose name I’ve forgotten) who writes reviews of SF/F books noticed that in the year or two (or longer) previous he had not read or reviewed any books by women. This caused him to pause and go: “Huh….” and noodle on in some surface way about how he really should make an effort to read more women.

I suggested that, since he was now aware of the issue, he should do something more “radical” and spend an entire year reading books by nothing but women.

“But I can’t do that!” book review dude exclaimed. “That would be tipping the scale too far. That would be BIAS. That would be excluding men for arbitrary reasons! That would be wrong![1]

I knew, of course, when I made the suggestion he wouldn’t accept it. Because it’s just too much of a hardship to read only women. He even said some shit about how he’d miss out on too many good books by limiting himself that way. There was not enough side-eye in the universe for that conversation.

If you’ve spent most of your adult life reading mostly men without consciously thinking about the fact that you mostly choose books written by men or mostly have books written by men recommended to you or shoved at you as Good, then a year of reading only women is not even enough to balance the scales.

Reading only women for a year takes some thought and effort. And if you do that, people hardly ever assume that it happened Just Because or On Accident or because you were Just Reading The Best Books Regardless Of The Identity Of The Author.

Unlike if you just happen to read only men for 10 years at a stretch.

Funny that.

I told you that story to tell you this one.

The first comment on my latest io9 post pointed out that all the stories I featured are by women, and asked if that was a coincidence. I’ve been running this column regularly since July 2014. It took until February 2015 for someone to notice that. Or, I should probably say, it took until now for someone to ask me about it.

A few hours later another dude came by to confront me about this in more detail. His comment is still “pending,” so it’s not initially visible when you look at the page.

In all seriousness, not trying to be a dick here, but you do seem to be purposefully excluding white men from these roundups, correct? I mean you post almost entirely women writers, and the small handful of male authors you do include are either AOC or queer authors. If you have a criteria other than quality to select or filter authors, then shouldn’t you state so somewhere in these posts? I mean at least be straight up about it. At this point there seem to be far more opportunities, in the short fiction marketplace at least, for authors of color/LGBT authors, since there are magazines who won’t accept submissions from white men altogether. And then you have magazines like Lightspeed who were recently only accepting submissions from LGBT authors for the “Queers Destroy Science Fiction” anthology. I guess I’m seeing a lot of editors/magazines making an effort to increase their magazine’s diversity, when it actually seems like there isn’t a bias against minority authors at all? If I’m wrong then please tell me how so. But if only certain types of people are eligible for these “Best Stories” posts, and if many magazines are refusing submissions from white or straight or male authors, while many others explicitly state they’re looking for diverse voices (Shimmer, Strange Horizons, Crossed Genres, Lightspeed, et al), then where exactly is the bias? Is it possible this preoccupation with identity politics has gone too far? I guess I’m just saying, if these “Best Stories” posts really mean “Best Stories By Women, LGBT, or AOC” then shouldn’t you say so?

I am certain that this person is not such a regular reader of my column that they know off the top of their heads the makeup of the authors featured. This person went back through all my posts and tallied this info up before coming back with his observations. And in the process assumed not that I just happen to like stories by women, people of color, and LGBT folks better than that of straight, white, cis men, but that I am actively excluding that last category and should be up front about it.

Funny that.

Sunil Patel, who reviews books for Lightspeed, recently tweeted:

Promoting diversity is about boosting underrepresented voices. It is about leveling the playing field. It is no coincidence that my book review column features no white male authors. They can have EVERYWHERE ELSE. Do I feel like I’m discriminating against white male authors? I kind of do. But I also know that women and POC are reviewed less. Those with privilege are getting by just fine on their own. We need to use what privilege we have to boost marginalized voices.

What I do in my column isn’t precisely reviewing. It’s more signal-boosting of the fiction I read that I liked or loved. That’s why it’s called “The Best Stories from…” and not “Stories out this week” or whatever. When I did this on my own I called it Favorite Fiction. It’s a link, an excerpt, and a short paragraph, maybe two, about what struck me about the story, why I liked or loved it, what elements I appreciated. I rarely do anything that looks like a full-on critical analysis–that’s not what the column is for. I also don’t include stories I don’t like in order to explain why I don’t like them.

Still though, I am very aware that my signal-boosting carries meaning. I’m also aware of which kinds of authors often get more boosts in what venues. That kind of thing matters to me.

I will say this plainly: If I read a story and I like it a lot, I would never not include it in my column based on the identity and background of the writer. Because the whole basis of this is what I read and liked.

I’ll also say this plainly: A reviewer who makes the choice to focus exclusively on marginalized voices is making a good choice. There are plenty of places for the privileged to get and gain attention. Making a space for everyone else is not bias, it’s a step towards balance.

Footnotes

  1. I am paraphrasing.[]

Calling Out, Collecting Receipts, And The Line Between Creepy and Conscientious

Receipts

In the midst of the discussion around Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s outing as Requires Hate, I had several conversations about the Internet “community” Fail Fandom Anon (FFA). I had to explain to people why I didn’t trust any of the anonymous commenters in the threads even though my default position is to believe the victim, even if the victim won’t reveal their name or full identity. I’m unfortunately too familiar with the tactics of the anons that hang out in FFA and the people like them. Tactics that include pretending to be a person from a specific identity in order to add more credibility to what they have to say and discredit their mortal enemy, the SJW.

FFA isn’t just about the community/meme, they also have a wiki where they collect receipts on the people they hate most in order to catalog all the reasons why they are The Worst. Requires Hate has an entry there, as do several other writers and fans in our community.[1] I’ve glanced through several of them and even went through the Cat Valente one in detail, clicking on every link. And there are a lot of links.

Why did I do such a soul-crushing thing? I wanted to know whether or not any of their grievances had a basis in fact.

I have a surprise for you: most don’t.

Claims are made about a lot of bad behavior and unnecessary whining and evil appropriation and just plain wrongness. But when I clicked through to the original sources I either didn’t see what the anons saw at all, saw the situation distorted, or saw people desperately trying to fit words or actions into a pre-determined narrative based on an existing hatred. There were some situations represented fairly (by my own view), but they were far outweighed by the other stuff.

That was a couple of years ago. I had a deja vu moment earlier this year when I did the same thing with a call-out post about the blogger behind MedievalPOC. Once again, there were several accusations of lying and appropriation and bullying and terribleness, all allegedly backed up by a list of receipts. I started clicking and, lo, I did not see a lot of evidence to back up these assertions. What I did see was people engaging in grudgewank, uncharitable and distorted readings of situations and words and intentions, and statements of “She did X” when I very clearly saw her doing Y.

The call-out post and the entries on the FFA wiki come across to me as disingenuous in a generous reading and creepy and terrible if I’m not being generous. It’s not the collection of links and context that bothers me, because that’s never all it is. The MPOC post included deep speculation on the woman’s racial and ethnic background based on pictures and amateur analysis of skin tone plus invasion of privacy-style sleuthing into family history. The folks who contributed to Cat Valente’s wiki entry spent time going back through something like 10 years worth of LJ posts in the hunt for evidence of her awfulness. I’m sure some of them just remembered things they found irritating, but there’s a level detail there that smacks of creepiness.

These aren’t the only examples of this. They’re just the ones that have come to mind of late. I’m sure plenty of you have examples of your own. It’s not as if this stuff is uncommon.

As much as I am against the kind of nasty, mean-spirited, stuff that goes on in the FFA Wiki, I can’t outright dismiss the need for comprehensive receipt collection[2]. Two recent occurrences have prompted me to ponder the validity of doing so.

A little over a year ago I became aware that a woman I’ve known for several years (I’ll refer to her as SL) was dating two other people I know (a married couple — this is a poly thing)[3]. Based on some things said on social media, I had a gut feeling that this relationship would not last long and when it ended, it would end badly. SL has a pattern that repeats regularly and she was about due. This spring things went boom in a very public way. I and others who’ve known SL as long or longer expressed little surprise. We’d seen it all before.

At the time and in the months since, I’ve had people ask “Why didn’t you/others say anything?” and “People should have warned us about her!” Part of the reason is assumptions — folks in this community tend to assume that the dramas and flareups that consume their corner of things is also known to the wider group. Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes it isn’t.

How many people outside of Harry Potter fandom knew about the Cassandra Clare/Claire plagiarism thing before the long expose/explanation showed up on Bad Penny and angry fans valiantly tried to ensure all the pro writers knew about it? How many people reading this still have no clue what I’m talking about? But to the people embroiled in it, and the people who knew the people embroiled in it, that shit was major. It tore whole communities apart. They are genuinely surprised when others don’t know.

Same with SL’s behavior. In certain corners of the community her pattern is well known and even documented. I’m sure there are people who would be surprised that the couple SL hooked up with didn’t know about her long history in various fandom and poly communities.

For my part, I didn’t feel it was my business or my place to say anything. The couple involved are folks I’m friendly with, though not close to. People don’t always react favorably when you point out that someone they like or even love is a problem. And anyway, it wasn’t MY relationship.

Then I wonder: what if there had been an FFA Wiki-style post detailing all of SL’s past public behaviors with links to LJ posts and screencaps and emails and chat logs? What if, whenever I or someone else saw that SL was integrating herself into a pocket of the community or starting a relationship, that link magically appeared in an inbox, or a social media post, or an IM? Is that being creepy or protecting the people you care about? Maybe it’s And.

How about a less personal example:

The other day Karnythia tweeted this Storify pointing out how Gamer Gate harassers are the same people who harassed Fem Frequency years ago. Same names, same tactics popping up over and over.

It’s not so surprising, right? If you’re spending your time saying ridiculous and hurtful things and engaging in harassing behavior and you didn’t just log onto the Internet for the first time yesterday, chances are you’ve been involved in this kind of thing before.

The same names tend to pop up when you poke your head into RaceFail, GropeGate, SFWA Fail, MammothFail, and other related terribleness. But that’s not always evident unless you remember or someone keeps track.

It’s almost to a point where one might want to put together a dossier so that when the same old assholes pop up to spew the same old shit in all new places you can immediately dismiss or call them out or warn other people. Because it’s really easy to forget.

However, it takes a certain kind of stamina to do this work. Crawling back through post after post of triggering, upsetting, harmful, hurtful material and compiling it is rough work. As someone pointed out to me not long ago, there’s a reason why Racefail historians and link gatherers burned out and stepped back for their own mental health.

There are those who would take glee in doing such a thing. You can find a lot of them in Fail Fandom Anon. There are those who would claim that they don’t take glee in it, but in their heart of hearts they know the task energizes them. If I found that to be true, I’d be worried about myself in such a case.

There has to be a balance between ensuring that important information is not forgotten or swept away or allowed to fade. The recent resurgence in interest around the case against Walter Breen and Marion Zimmer Bradley illustrates this well. There is a website with all the publicly available information about Breen’s predatory behavior toward young people and Bradley’s complicity in it. Yet it was a super surprise to many when this came up again. Maybe it matters less because both of them are dead. Or maybe it doesn’t–a question Moira Greyland might have an answer to.

Figuring out where to draw the line between creepy and conscientious is not easy. I’m sure there are many who struggle to navigate those waters all the time. I don’t know how to do it, for sure. I just know what side of the line I want to be on.

Footnotes

  1. If you decide to go look this wiki up, take note of how many people who have dedicated entries are women. Curious that….[]
  2. For the uninitiated, Collecting Receipts and Showing Receipts is the colloquial for citing your sources with screencaps and links and such.[]
  3. You’re probably wondering at this point why I am not just naming the people involved. There’s no need to. Also, there are already too many posts linking the three people’s names together in a way intended to cause harm. I’m not in the mood to add to the Google juice.[]

Steampunk without POC is so 1899

Saw the other day that Hullaballoo, a new steampunk animation project by former Disney animators, reached it’s funding goal on IndieGoGo. Good for the project. It looks like a worthy one. The animators involved want to prove that hand-drawn, 2D animation is still where it’s at. I’m down. The story takes place in a cool steampunk world and has two female leads. More down. The animators themselves are not all white dudes. Very down.

But then we come to the characters. All of them are white.

hullabaloo poster

Seriously??

When I pointed this out to Mary Robinette Kowal, one of the voice actors, she pinged the producer to bring up this point. The answer she got was that the team didn’t have time to make changes to the trailer and concept art before the IndieGoGo campaign, but that there would be a “diverse cast.” Mary also suggested that raising this question in the comments on the IndieGoGo page would not be a bad idea.

I agree. But that shouldn’t be the limit to where we raise that question. It needs to go on the Facebook page, mentioned in YouTube comments, brought up via the contact form on the website, and raised wherever you see someone posting about this project.

Because while I do really want to see this succeed, it would be ridiculous to make a steampunk film with only white characters. There’s no justifiable reason for this cast not to be racially diverse. Even if we’re sticking with Victoriana, it would not break the world to make one of the protagonists Indian, Black, or Asian, just to name three obvious choices among many. And let’s not stop there–diversity among secondary and background characters is just as important as it is for the leads. Hullabaloo could be a great opportunity to show what a racially and culturally diverse steampunk world could be like.

So my challenge to you is this: make that happen. Tweet, post on Facebook, leave a comment on the IndieGoGo page, write blog posts about this. Advocate for positive change. The time to do so is now when the project is still in a nascent form.

Erasure Comes In Many Forms – A ReaderCon Report

Erasure Comes In Many Forms - A ReaderCon Report

The other weekend ReaderCon happened and, on the whole, I had a great time. I am sad I had to leave early to go to a wedding in the city, but that’s way better than missing everything. ReaderCon is usually a good time, even as much as we snark about multiple references to Proust.

There were a couple of things that marred my enjoyment of the con and I’d been trying all last week to write about them. Instead of trying to temper my anger and aim for tact, I’m just going to be blunt.

The fact that none of Andrea Hairston’s books were in the dealer’s room is bullshit of the highest order. Andrea was a Guest of Honor. You don’t fucking NOT stock the book of a guest of honor at a con where you are a book vendor. How is this not con vending 101?

Andrea Hairston is not here for your bullshit

 

The ReaderCon dealer’s room is called The Bookshop for a reason: almost 100% of the stuff for sale is there are books. Every now and then there might be a T-shirt vendor or maybe a flash of jewelry. But it’s ReaderCon, so it’s all about the books. This makes sense.

Some of the booksellers are publishers who are pushing their own books and maybe the occasional extras by smaller presses who can’t afford a table. Those dealers not carrying Andrea’s books makes sense–they are not her publisher.

Some of the booksellers deal in used books or rare books. They also have some excuse for not selling Andrea’s books.

But to the several vendors who sold current, regular books? You all need to have your asses kicked.

Throughout the con attendees asked these sellers if they had any of Andrea’s books. I know for a fact that one of them, Larry Smith Booksellers, told people that her books are out of print. Which is a lie. When I asked, a guy I can only assume was Larry Smith himself yelled this at me. He was angry–really angry–that I had dared to ask him about this and proclaimed loudly that he only sells new books. Meanwhile, Andrea’s most recent book came out weeks ago. Guess that’s not new enough for him.

As an aside, the selection of books on offer by Larry Smith and the other general book vendors is hardly any better than what I can find in the Barnes & Noble. So what value are they adding to ReaderCon, exactly?

If you can’t be bothered to order the books of a guest of honor at the con and you’re rude as hell to con attendees? You shouldn’t get to vend at ReaderCon. And I’m filing a report with the con chair to that effect this week.

In addition to that indignity, the newest issue of Locus contains this:

Alaya Dawn Johnson wasn't even there

That’s from their article on WisCon. There’s a picture of Andrea (with correct attribution) to the right of these words. So it’s a real mystery why the 2011 Tiptree award winner is identified as Alaya Dawn Johnson, who has not won any Tiptree nor was she at the con at all. Seriously, not at all.

Alaya Dawn Johnson wants you to stop saying she was at WisCon

Ever since I started going to cons I’ve joked about how (mostly) white folks can’t tell the POC at the con apart from each other. I don’t even mean just mistaking one black person for another black person or one Asian person from another. I mean mistaking an Asian-American for a Latino dude (this happened at WisCon).

This happens all the time. ReaderCon was no exception. I watched a guy come up to John Chu at the Meet The Pro(se) party and ask him to sign the issue of F&SF with Ken Liu’s The Glass Menagerie. John was very polite when he said “I’m not Ken Liu.” That was, apparently, only one of the times that people mistook him for Ken Liu at ReaderCon this year. I heard that someone congratulated Sofia Samatar on being the guest of honor. I heard that someone started up a conversation with Mikki Kendall and then continued that conversation with a different black woman later on, not realizing that the shorter, lighter woman looked absolutely nothing like Mikki.

Here’s the thing: at cons, we are all wearing name badges. Thus, it is not at all shameful for you to look at said badge to confirm that you are, indeed, addressing the person of color you think you are. Especially if you have not ever met said person of color. It’s okay. But assuming that the Asian man standing in the room must be the Asian man you’ve heard of and asking him to sign a thing? No, people. No.

Over the years I’ve often joked about this. In fact, in my introduction of N. K. Jemisin at WisCon I referenced this phenomenon for the purpose of making folks laugh. I do sometimes find it funny.

Very often I do not. Because this is a form of erasure. It’s a microaggression with a subtext that says: I do not care to figure out the difference between one non-white person and another. And it makes us feel like you don’t eve think of us as people, but interchangeable entities.

And it needs to end.

Stop erasing our humanity by assuming that any brown person might be any other. Learn how to tell non-white people apart. Check name badges. If in doubt, ask us: “What’s your name, again? I’m good with faces but not names.” Don’t ask us: “Are you [other person]?” Stop erasing our accomplishments by assigning them to other people. Check your facts. And for the love of Seshet, stock our books in the damn dealer’s room!

This Is Why White People Can’t Have Nice Things

This Is Why White People Can't Have Nice Things

Years ago when the Carl Brandon Society first announced the formation of the Octavia E Butler Scholarship for Clarion and Clarion West, I got into a heated argument with a white, male friend over the need for such a thing to exist in the world. At the time, I was surprised–shocked, actually–at his vehement objection to this scholarship. It wasn’t right, wasn’t fair, excluded people like him, and was likely some reverse racism. We argued, got nowhere, and stopped talking for a while[1]. It was my first time engaging with a person on an issue like this, it was not my last.

Just last month I found myself in the position of explaining the need for a scholarship specifically for People of Color yet again after the announcement of the Writing Excuses/Carl Brandon Society retreat scholarship. If you scroll down to the bottom you can see my very long response to several comments, most of which boil down to:

This isn’t right, it isn’t fair, it excludes white people like me, reverse racism!

And then today I looked at the comments[2] of the io9 post about the Con or Bust auction to see yet more white people complaining that such a thing exists. Giving people money to go to a con based on skin color! What about all the white people like me who can’t afford to go! I haven’t noticed a lack of diversity at the one con I go to! Reverse racism!

It makes me want to facepalm and headdesk at the same time.

Since it seems that this is going to keep happening over and over until the aliens arrive to solve all our problems or take a select few of us off to an otherworldly paradise, I wondered if it would be useful to put together a general FAQ. Instead of battling the seven-headed hydra that is the comments section on any post of this nature, why not crowdsource answers to the most common questions/complaints/ridiculous screeds? Then when someone is Wrong on the Internet, you can drop the link to it and mambo away DJ Older style.

FAQ topics could include:

  • Rebuttal to any comment about how it’s about “skin color”
  • Reverse Racism!
  • I’ve never noticed a need for this, therefore there is no need for this
  • I’m poor and white, how come no one is offering to give me money to attend cons/workshops/retreats?
  • What about women/LGBT/people from outside the US/any other group I can name? Why doesn’t your scholarship/grant cover these groups? Aren’t they minorities, too?
  • Not everything is for you, white people

Please do add any others you can think of. Suggest a FAQ topic, answer, or both in the comments. Your answer can be a condensed version of an existing blog post you wrote or found to be useful. Be sure to include a link for further reading.

Oh, and: get ready for the Con or Bust auction! There are so many awesome things!

Footnotes

  1. That particular friend later on realized his error and apologized to me and we resumed our friendship.[]
  2. I heard tell that Will S showed up in the comments but don’t see him now. He might have gotten moderated into oblivion, but be aware that he may return.[]

Are You Shocked?

Are You Shocked?

Yesterday I spent more time than is strictly necessary reading blog posts by Vox Day and some other people of his caliber. I started my journey at Vox’s response to N. K. Jemisin’s Continuum GoH speech and ended up in some serious weeds once I got to a giant manifesto about how John Scalzi is the soul of racism against whites. No, I’m not linking. I read it so you don’t have to and TRUST ME you do not have to. I’ve also read many responses to Vox’s post, including this one from Amal calling for him to be booted from SFWA. Amen to that.

In several posts and status updates I came across variants of this sentiment: don’t dismiss Vox Day as just some troll. I feel like this isn’t getting said enough. Not because there needs to be more vehement objection to his very existence (there is plenty), but because I think a lot of people have a tendency to consider him extreme and way far out of the mainstream and maybe even purposefully jerking us around not because he believes what he says but because he gets joy from making us all angry. Old Theo probably does enjoy making everyone angry. He also means everything he says. That is important to realize. He’s not a parody, he is serious, that is really the way he thinks. And there are plenty of other people who think just like him. Not only the pathetic commentors on his blog. There are tons of people with his same attitude in the world.

I know why so many people look at him and want to just dismiss it as whiney baby attention grabbing bullshit. There are likely many people who, like me, are pretty selective about the people they allow in their lives or selective about the circles they socialize in or spend more time on friendships that are mainly digital due to distance. I spend most of my time with awesome people. So when I run across someone who says something super misogynist or blatantly racist I’m often taken aback for a few seconds because: really? People like you still exist? Somebody honestly thinks it’s okay to say something like that to me? Or to her? Or him? Why, yes.

Mind you, I’m used to people saying or doing bigoted things out of ignorance or blindness or unexamined privilege. That’s different. That is understandable if not forgivable. But people who just outright call a black person a savage by virtue of them being black? Who does that?

The image of the type of person who does that is often the southern redneck with a KKK hood in the closet. That person surely exists. They are not the only type of person who would unashamedly say that sort of thing. That’s the reality. You and I may not encounter a person like this every day or every month or year or for many years. They still exist. And pretending they’re just some dismissible hillbilly does not, in fact, make them go away or make them less dangerous to our culture.

Make no mistake, the Theodore Beale/Vox Days of the world are depressingly common.

Instead of being OMG Shocked! by it, acknowledge it and make a determination of what you’re going to do about it. I don’t mean going after the dude with torches and pitchforks. he probably would enjoy that too much. You can go after his ideas, though. Drag them into the light and expose them for the vile entities they are. You can provide counterpoint, a less hateful view, and support for the types of people he seeks to put down and belittle. Make it clear where you stand and who you stand with. Demand the best of yourself and your community.

And realize that by doing so you are not making this all about him but all about the people you do want in your community or your life or your inner circle.

Demanding The Best

Demanding The Best

A couple of weekends ago at WisCon I attended a party where one of the hosts asked people to write down a sentence or two about why they love WisCon. One of the answers was: “I love WisCon because it demands the best of me.”[1] I believe I screamed YAAAAAAS because that is exactly why I love WisCon. The conversations are awesome, of course, and getting to see people I love or really want to meet and discovering how intelligent and fun they are is high on my list. But WisCon isn’t just some old con, it’s a feminist convention with a specific aim and community vibe. And while I am well aware that there have been and continue to be issues and problematic aspects of the con on a systemic and individual level, there are plenty of people who demand the best of all of us and it makes the con a better place year by year.

There are many who don’t agree. I remember being quite pissed at a certain someone saying that WisCon isn’t a “safe space” for him, but when you count safety as “no one ever challenges me on my behavior or speech, even if that behavior or speech is hurtful” then yeah, it’s not safe and that’s good. Those who don’t want to be challenged for hurting other people are best off staying at home in general and away from WisCon in particular because, yes, we demand you be better than that.

Demand is a really strong word, and I know that there are plenty who will bristle at the use. I don’t care. When it comes to the things WisCon attendees demand, such as equality and the ouster of -ist attitudes (sexist, racist, homophobic, fatphobic, plus way more), you have to go right to the strongest possible terms. The history of this country and of many others shows that equal treatment does not come from asking politely, but demanding on the basis of what is right. Even people who want to trot out that old Malcolm vs Martin crap need to understand that MLK never politely, meekly asked for equal rights, he stood at podiums and in front of microphones and demanded it in very strong terms. So, if you want to puff out your feathers and get all harrumphy about the idea of someone demanding you be better? Then you clearly have no place in polite society.

I will acknowledge that out here in the non-WisCon world, it isn’t always possible to be in a community that demands the best of people. I accept that and I have my ways of dealing with it. It is in that context that I’m watching the newest argument around SFWA unfold. There is tons of background here[2], so I’m only going to give the short version. In the latest SFWA Bulletin there is a column (ongoing) penned by Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg in which they have a dialogue about censorship and bullying that boils down to: Young people and women are liberal fascists because they want to silence us for saying some sexist stuff. Not even Jerry Fallwell ever tried to censor us! You can read their ramblings here[3].

Plenty of right-thinking people are upset about this and plenty of non-right thinking people are upset at the upsetness. There’s been a lot of discussion about how this reflects on SFWA as a whole. Mike and Barry aren’t officers or representatives of SFWA, but the column appeared in the official publication of the organization. What does the publication of the column say about SFWA and the people who run it and the people who are in it? There are many answers to that question and many debates around it and plenty of great things being said about the complexities. I encourage you to read them.

I know that SFWA is made up of a multitude of people, some of whom are quite despicable, some who are just annoying, and some who are working to improve the organization. The improvers are tackling issues around how the org works, how it can better help the writer members, and how SFWA can better reach out and tell people about itself. All wonderful things. Then there’s the aspect of SFWA that’s about dealing with the culture of the community. SFWA represents professional authors, not all of fandom. Still, the cultures sometimes mirror each other. And depending on the time and place, fandom might take cues from the culture around the pro writers (many of whom are fans, too). Whose job is it to address cultural issues such as sexism, racism, oppression, bigotry, etc. within SFWA’s ranks? That is the big question, and that is part of what people are wrestling with right now.

The officers and board members can set a tone but they can’t control people. The membership (and outsiders) cannot put all of this on them. What needs to happen is that the all of people who belong to and run SFWA need to demand the best of their community[4]. Demand that sexism no longer be treated lightly, that it be called out and put down and not tolerated. Unless you demand the best of people there will be plenty who will be completely comfortable giving you their worst.

How do I know this to be true? Read the SFWA Bulletin. All the proof you need is there.

Footnotes

  1. If anyone remembers who wrote this, please tell me![]
  2. Jim Hines has a nice link roundup which should lead you to many more[]
  3. Scroll to the bottom for images of the column and an OCR text version[]
  4. I know many SFWA members already do this. Most of them (on this issue) are women. They need all the other members to step up and help them and have their backs. Especially the men.[]

eBook Library Lending Is Still A Mess And Now I Know Why: Publishers

eBook Library Lending Is Still A Mess And Now I Know Why: Publishers

Yesterday at Book Expo America I attended a panel titled “E-Books From Libraries: Good For Authors?” because I’m writing a piece for a magazine on the state of eBook library lending. What I learned is that the reason things are going so poorly in the world of eBooks and libraries is because publishers, agents, and people who claim to be representing the best interests of authors are super ignorant and will probably destroy everything if allowed to continue making decisions. Since I can see no pixel-stained techno peasant uprising on the horizon, I think we’re all in for a bad time.

The panelists were as follows: Ginger Clark, Literary Agent (Moderator); Carolyn Reidy, President and Chief Executive Officer, Simon & Schuster; Jack Perry, Owner 38enso Inc.; Maureen Sullivan, President, American Library Association (ALA); Steve Potash, President and CEO, Overdrive; Paul Aiken, Executive Director, Authors Guild. I’m going to point out from the start that both Ms. Sullivan of the ALA and Mr. Potash of Overdrive both had really great things to say on the panel and are both very smart about this issue. This is not surprising since they both understand the issue from the side of the libraries. Mr. Perry didn’t say too much at the panel. And Mr. Aiken arrived late, and by doing so saved us from having to listen to him be aggressively wrong for too long. That leads us to: Ms. Reidy.

Early in the panel the moderator asked her to talk about Simon & Schuster’s strategy around eBooks for libraries. This is part of what she said:

Publishers didn’t resist coming up with programs because they didn’t think it was good for their business. … They’re protecting not only their business but every author’s, too. We’re the representative of the author in this transaction. Why would we ever want to do anything to destroy that? Publishers have always thought that having an author’s work in a library is a good thing.

What changes with digital is that you can sit at home and if you have a library card you can order any book, you never have to go anywhere. And if you could get every book you wanted free, why would you ever buy another one? That’s the question we had about it in our first meeting. … That is the danger. You could literally undermine the market for every author and for [the publishers]. … Obviously, there is some discovery through libraries. There’s also some ability for people who people who aren’t ever going to buy books to read them and be a part of the conversation. We’ve always believed that the cultural contribution of libraries is important.

But this frictionless ability for people to download books does make a sea change difference.[1]

There is a lot to argue with in this statement, but what struck me is that last line: “frictionless ability.” That right there is an indication of why S&S and possibly many other publishers will continue to have wrong thinking on this subject.

Borrowing an eBook from a library is Not Frictionless. It’s just not. In the past few years, Overdrive and a small number of other companies that actually build the lending technology have made the process a little bit easier, especially if you have a smartphone, tablet, or other iOS, Android, or BlackBerry device. However, if you have an eInk device from B&N, Sony, Kobo, etc., the process for setting things up and moving library books over is more complex than it needs to be and confuses a lot of people. I’m very tech-savvy and I don’t do it because it’s a damn hassle. Think of all the people who want to do it but don’t have access to the technology needed (it’s less expensive to buy a Nook than a computer or a tablet or to own a smartphone) or just don’t understand how to work it. Now realize that this is a major segment of the population that libraries serve.

This is Not A Frictionless Experience.

When Q&A time came I brought this up and then asked: Why are people in publishing so worried about this problem now? No one is having panels with hand-wringing about all those free paper books in the libraries.

Ginger Clark jumped in to answer that question: “Because [eBooks from libraries] can be pirated quite easily.”

Piracy was the big, scary demon in the room for a lot of this panel. But I thought that most of the speakers were thinking about it in correct ways. At one point Clark asked if “windowing” was going the way of the dinosaur. This is the practice of not selling new books to libraries for months or even years after initial release in order to increase sales. Everyone agreed that it was going away mostly because it didn’t increase sales, it increased piracy. Plus, there was a lot of talk of not making the same mistakes as the music industry.

So for Clark to say that there’s this worry about eBooks in libraries because they’re easy to pirate? Guess what: that’s all eBooks. The DRM scheme that Overdrive uses for EPUB is the same DRM that B&N uses and Kobo and Sony and Google and just about everyone else (except Apple). It’s not hard to strip that DRM (so I’m told) and it is no harder to do so if you buy the book than if you get it from the library. So what it seems that Clark and others are actually worried about is that library patrons are more likely to be evil pirates than everyone else. Leaving out that most of the time when media is put up on a torrent or file sharing service, the original was purchased by someone.

I will also point out that NetGalley, a service that provides free eBook ARCs (advanced reader copies), uses the same DRM. And yet I don’t see any hand-wringing about that. Maybe because the people with access to NetGalley can supposedly be trusted? Because they’re not poor people in libraries.

This fear of library pirating also makes no sense in the face of the data brought to the table by Overdrive President Steve Potash, who said that there weren’t many (or any) complaints of library books ending up on torrent sites. This doesn’t surprise me, since Reidy kept saying how there was “no data” on which strategies for library lending would work best and Potash repeatedly said that he had plenty of data, up to 10 years worth, and yet still there was talk of no data.

After Clark got done saying ridiculous things about pirating, Reidy made an answer that showed she has not ever actually used the technology under discussion.

It may be difficult to download a file onto an eReader — although most of them are made so it’s not — but let’s just say that it is today. It could be completely different in six months the way technology goes. We’re not trying to make decisions on what to do just based on what we see in front of us today. After all, it’s taken us a while to get here and things were much clunkier even a year ago. It’s the fact that a digital file can in fact be downloaded very easily. And once somebody learns how a library system works… it will become easier for them to use.

There is a real difference between a digital file and a physical book. And the fact that you have to go to the library and pick it up ad check it out vs. hit a few buttons.

This woman has a real talent for packing in the fail, doesn’t she? Before we even get to how she completely ignored the part about access to technology, let’s address the part where she handwaves away the difficulties and is sure the ones I’m imagining won’t be there in six months.

First, it’s really not as simple as just clicking and downloading a file, particularly if you’re working with an eInk eReader. Even once you’re in the system it’s not that easy. Second, I spent a long time yesterday talking to reps from Overdrive and 3M (who also have an eBook lending platform) and Kobo, and I specifically asked about how they are working toward making the lending process easy and seamless. Every last one of them said that, yes, it’s a goal and, yes, they are working on it, but they can’t always get it done because the eReader companies have to partner with them, except the eReader companies say that the lending software people have to make it work and it’s all their fault.

The only company with a mostly easy mechanism for eInk devices is Amazon, and apparently publishers (or just S&S) don’t like how Amazon brings library patrons into Amazon’s system in order for this ease to happen, and so some books just aren’t available to the Kindle.

Has Reidy spent even the hour I did talking to Overdrive and 3M and Kobo and B&N and Sony about this? Sounds like not. Because from the answers they gave me, this problem is no where near being solved in six months because no one is really working in concert to make it happen. Including the publishers.

Third thing is that last bit about how eBooks are different because a person just has to click, whereas with physical books you have to go to the library and pick it up. What this immediately brought to mind is that the difference is difficulty. It’s okay to let people have free books if there are barriers in place to ensure they won’t take too much advantage of it. Because how dare they. When I countered with this, Reidy was all: No, that’s not what I mean! But then Paul Aiken of the Authors Guild took control and told me that I had made my point in a tone that suggested I should shut up.

He launched into some tirade about how eBooks mean that people don’t have to come to libraries anymore and then we’ll lose libraries and that will be bad for everyone and did we hear about some library in California that was getting rid of all physical books and going digital only and redesigning their library to look more like an Apple store AND ISN’T THAT JUST TERRIBLE THINK OF THE CHILDREN!? I don’t know why anyone allows the Authors Guild to represent them because this dude is all kinds of out of touch.

You can imagine the look on my face as this all went down, but what made it better is that Maureen Sullivan of the ALA spoke after him and said pointedly that my question was a fair one and also addressed some of the stuff I raised about access to technology and how librarians are often the ones called on to help patrons navigate and understand the eBook lending system. She said very many awesome things over the whole discussion and kept bringing it back to how what librarians want is to ensure that everyone has equal access to knowledge and literature at a fair price. One of the things she said in response to my question really shows how much more she (and probably librarians in general) understands the eBook landscape.

“…this is the classic example of disruptive innovation. It causes a lot of misunderstanding, it brings fears to light. … When we experience disruptive innovation, it’s much more effective to think not ‘either/or’ but ‘and’.”

Yes. That.

Many of the people in the audience were librarians and the ones who got to ask questions also seemed concerned with the attitudes of the publishing folks about a host of things. They swarmed the Overdrive guy once it was over to thank him for standing up for libraries in a similar way to Ms. Sullivan. Overall, I would trust the two of them to look out for the real interests of authors on this issue than some of the others on that panel.

It’s so disheartening to go to an event like BEA and have supposed industry experts show you how clearly they do not understand the deeper issues surrounding eBooks or even the underlying technology. Before Carolyn Reidy makes any more decisions about eBooks and lending, she should be forced to use the system. And not just with one piece of technology, but one from every platform: eInk, iOS, Android, computer, NO computer, library computer. Before Ginger Clark talks about the ease of piracy for library eBooks I need her to talk about all the worrying she’s doing over piracy of eBooks from a major retailer and how that is different. Before Paul Aiken opens his mouth ever I need him to not do so.

Until all of these people and the others like them actually do some real work in concert with the software/hardware developers and the librarians on the eBook lending ecosystem, it’s not going to get any easier or less confusing for library patrons and it’s not going to get any better for libraries themselves. But considering the desire to keep eBook lending from being too “frictionless” lest people stop buying books forever because of Free, I suspect this problem isn’t going to get fixed. Not in six months and maybe not in six years.

Footnotes

  1. I have a recording of this panel which I will provide to anyone who wishes to listen. On this quote, I re-arranged some of what she said to make it flow better, but I did not change the context at all. Also: emphasis mine.[]

Seanan McGuire on why she will not add rape to her stories to add “realism”

Seanan McGuire on why she will not add rape to her stories to add "realism"

If you’ve been reading my blog long enough, you know my feelings about the way rape is used in most fiction. If you’re unaware or have forgotten, please click over to my post here, my post on ABW, and my post on Jeff Vandermeer’s blog about the subject.

The bottom line of each of those is that I really do not like it when authors decide to have their female (and it’s almost always female) characters raped for bullshit plot or character development “reasons”. The kind of writers who do this are generally not very good ones since they have to use cheap tricks in order to show that the female character is “strong” or the male character is “evil” or to wink and nod to any reader out there who might think that a female character could possibly ever get away with being smart and confident and badass without being taken down a peg.

I also get angry at this trope because I firmly believe that it contributes to rape culture in a big way. When the message from fiction is constantly that rape is inevitable, especially if you as a woman step outside of the box of what is acceptable, and that’s just how it is. Whenever I suggest that authors just NOT include rape as an inevitable consequence of being a woman in fiction, I get told that this is completely unrealistic.

Thus, I am not at all surprised that this happened to author Seanan McGuire:

Last night, I was asked—in so many words—when either Toby or one of the Price girls was finally going to be raped.

Not “if.” Not “do you think.” But “when,” and “finally.” Because it is a foregone conclusion, you see, that all women must be raped, especially when they have the gall to run around being protagonists all the damn time. I responded with confusion. The questioner provided a list of scenarios wherein these characters were “more than likely” to encounter sexual violence. These included Verity forgetting to change out of her tango uniform before going on patrol, Toby being cocky, and Sarah walking home from class alone[1]. Yes, even the ambush predator telepath with a “don’t notice me” field is inevitably getting raped.

When. Finally. Inevitably.

My response: “None of my protagonists are getting raped. I do not want to write that.”

Their response: “I thought you had respect for your work. That’s just unrealistic.”

Go and read the whole post, because everything that Seanan has to say in response to this nonsense is right on and should be read by every person ever, especially authors.

I’ve said this before and I will say it again: Writers, when you write fiction you get to create the world. Yes, even if are writing in the “real” world and not that of the speculative, you get to decide what happens to your characters and why. Spec writers in particular get to create stuff out of whole cloth, if they like. And more of them should choose not to bring rape into their narratives. Because if we want to create a world in which rape happens less, we need to show worlds where rape isn’t the inevitable consequence of being a woman.

Then maybe there won’t be readers out there who claim that no rape means a book is unrealistic. Because: really? Gross.

Footnotes

  1. Does it occur to anyone else that this person has thought way too much about the ways in which these characters may end up raped? If I were Seanan I would stay away from the fan fiction for a bit…[]

10 Better Choices For The Next Doctor Who Companion

10 Better Choices For The Next Doctor Who Companion

Yesterday the Doctor Who crew announced that they’d chosen the new Doctor Who companion that will take over from Karen Gillian and Arthur Darvill: Jenna-Louise Coleman. Moffat has heaped much praise upon Miss Coleman and said that her energy matches and even exceeds that of Matt Smith, so we should all rejoice.

Yet my first thought upon seeing her was: another young, white female? Really? That’s the best we can do?

I know nothing about Coleman and I have no reason to believe she’s not a good actress. So, nothing against her personally and all. This is more about the general banality of choice here. I shouldn’t expect much from Mr. Moffat given his track record — he did choose Matt Smith, after all — but is it so much to ask that a TV show about an 1100 year old time traveling alien be more than just the same old tired stuff all TV is about? Do we really need another young, white cis woman to compliment the young, white cis man at the center of the show?

Say what you will about Russell T. Davies (and I have said plenty in my time), he at least had the balls to change it up a bit when it came to companions. There were two companions of color on his watch, plus an omnisexual man, plus a woman with some years and experience on her.

Given the show’s penchant for picking actors and actresses from past episodes, I can think of 10 really good choices for companion that each bring things to the table we haven’t seen in a while and break the young, white, human female mold in different and interesting ways.

Madame Vastra and Jenny

Madame Vastra and Jenny

I’m starting with these two because I know so many people will agree. Moffat introduced them in “A Good Man Goes To War” and I’m pretty sure the entire fandom went nuts for them right away. They’re clearly lesbian, clearly in love, and would clearly bring some welcome snark and spark to the TARDIS. Especially because Vastra is all about not putting up with the Doctor’s bullshit. Yes, Jenny is a young, white female, I know. But this combo works so well. Plus she’s from our past and it’s been a while since the Doctor pulled a companion from sometime other than contemporary Earth. Vastra is non-human; again, something the show used to do and hasn’t yet since it came back. And with the whole lesbian thing we can finally leave behind the whole Girl Moons Over Doctor thing.

Canton Everett Delaware III

Canton Everett Delaware III

Any excuse to allow Mark Sheppard to take up more screen time on my TV is a good one, right? Beyond that, it seemed clear to me that when older Canton shows up in “The Impossible Astronaut” he had been through many more adventures with the Doctor than we saw. Why not add him to the TARDIS crew for a season? Let him bring the man he loves along (a gay black man from the 50’s in space? YES. Call Idris Elba).

Amara Karan

Amara Karan

When “The God Complex” first aired I remember a bunch of people said that they wished Rita hadn’t died because she’d make a fantastic companion. I wholeheartedly agreed. Just because Rita is dead doesn’t mean that Amara Karan can’t be a companion. It’s what happened with Freema, after all. She’s such a fantastic actress, just give her another great character and she’d be fabulous. Plus, she’s a woman of color. Honestly, the show needs to prove that Martha wasn’t just a token by being a little less white for no good reason.

Alonso Frame / Russell Tovey

Russell Tovey

Since we’ve seen Alonso twice now, I think he’s a good candidate to be a companion, but I’m not wedded to the character from “Voyage of the Damned”. Russell has a nice wide range and does crazy flustered really well. Maybe even better than Matt Smith. I don’t think he’d make a good solo companion, but perhaps teamed up with Amara or Lenora in a non-romantic way it could work. He’d also make a great alien with those big ears.

Lenora Crichlow

Lenora Crichlow

Ever since I saw Lenora in “Gridlock” I have loved her. I definitely don’t want to see her play the character from that episode as a companion, but someone new. As a Being Human fan it would give me no end of squeezing to see her and Russell Tovey as companions together, but that might just be too Brit-TV incestuous. Pair her up with Canton, maybe? Then you have a nice triad. An older guy to be sort of steady and reasonable, Matt being all muppety, and a younger woman to be the balance between them. Though, honestly, I’d love to see Lenora play someone 180 degrees from the roles I’ve seen her in so far.

Naoko Mori

Naoko Mori

I’ll say this up front: there’s no good reason why Torchwood’s Toshiko Sato is dead. Though I wouldn’t be down with them bringing that character back for Doctor Who, Naoko Mori should definitely get another chance at the Whoniverse. She’ll be the first Asian companion since the dude in the American movie. My only fear with her is that, once again, the writers will go for the easy stereotypes – shy, good at maths, bad at interpersonal relationships, computer wiz. Ugh. Naoko is so much better than all of that, as the show should be.

Clyde Langer (Daniel Anthony)

Clyde Langer

Bringing in someone from The Sarah Jane Adventures would tie the Whoniverse together even more. I like Luke, though I don’t think the whole innocent super genius thing would work all that well on Who, especially up against 11. Clyde is a different sort of person, and his personality would compliment Matt’s manicness well, I think. Plus you get the benefit of a person of color and someone who won’t be over-wowed by all the strangeness yet remain grounded.

Dichen Lachman

Dichen Lachman

Dichen slips in as a Whoniverse alum just barely since she had a small part in Torchwood: Miracle Day. However, my recommendation is not based on that. I had to watch every episode of Dollhouse so I could write about it. Despite the absolute torture of such a thing, I did notice that Dichen outdid most of her co-stars on a regular. One of the few good things about Dollhouse was watching her and Enver Gjokaj school everyone on how the whole new character every episode/scene thing was done. Not that most of them learned. I see her as a companion with a lot of mad energy. Or maybe even a Time Lady. Let’s rescue Romana from E-Space and revive her as a mixed-race woman of color!

Gina Torres

Gina Torres

This entrant right here is just some wish fulfillment. I’ve watched Gina Torres be a badass awesome lady through many a TV show, both good and bad. I say let’s bring that to the TARDIS’ doorstep and see what comes of it. She’s a woman comfortably above tweenage with some gravitas to her, has the body to do all the running necessary, won’t let the Doctor walk all over her or fall in love with him, and is probably comfortable destroying whole galaxies if you get in her way.

There you go: 10 awesome choices that aren’t the same old banal young, white female we’ve already been there and done.

Who would you add to the list?

Let’s Talk About Human Nature

Let's Talk About Human Nature

Specifically, the Doctor Who series 3 episodes “Human Nature/The Family of Blood”.

Those of you who read my Chicks Dig Time Lords essay know a bit about how I feel about this episode, specifically Martha in this episode, but I’ll give a small bit of explanation and background for those who don’t.

In this two-parter, the Doctor runs away from the Family because they want to capture him and feed off of his Time Lord essence. So he hides the Time Lord bit of him in a watch (aided by the TARDIS) and hen goes to live as a normal human for a bit so that they can’t find him. The species the Family belongs to apparently have a short lifespan, so the Doctor knows if he can just wait them out in hiding, they will eventually die.

So the Doctor becomes human and hides out in pre-WWI Britain as a teacher in a rich boys school. Martha is his companion, so she has to hide out, too. So she gets to be his maid. Since he brought her along with him to this job as a teacher (I think the explanation was that she was his family’s maid) she focuses most of her energy on caring for him, but is also made to do work around the school. At one point we see her cleaning floors with another maid she’s become friends with.

Then, of course, the Family shows up, stuff happens, big adventure[1].

I have a lot of problems with this episode.

  • For a long time I wondered what possible justification the Doctor had for taking Martha to this time period and this place on earth when he had, oh all of time and space to choose from?
  • People have pointed out that the Doctor did not choose the time and place, the TARDIS dd. Well, TARDIS: wtf? Still not okay[2].
  • It’s yet another example in a long list of examples where Martha is put into the Mammy role. I might have let it slide except it happens so often it’s a damn theme, and that’s really problematic.

There are a lot of different strings tying this all together. To start, this episode was based on a Doctor Who novel written by the dude who also wrote the script: Paul Cornell. Apparently RTD liked the book so much he asked Cornell to make an episode of it. But the book was written some time ago starring a different incarnation of the Doctor with a different (white) companion. And thus the companion’s role was very different in the book.

By doing this episode during season 3 Cornell and the creative team introduced a tricky element that wasn’t in the original. They did address race more than once, and that’s good. But they only addressed race in the more surface, basic ways while letting other deeper issues stand.

This is more complicated by the fact that I really like the episode overall. It’s well-written and the story itself is interesting and the dilemma the Doctor faces in the end is crunchy and thought-provoking. I’ve found myself wishing many times since watching it that they’d done this episode with a different companion, because obviously there just wasn’t enough deep thought about race to do it the way they did without being super problematic. Or, that’s the way it seems from the result.

So what precipitated this post? Over on Tumblr I reblogged something from Karnythia about this ep where people expressed their frustration with it. It’s the part where the nurse that the Human!Doctor has fallen in love with is talking to Martha, who reveals she is a (medical) doctor. The woman then says: “Women might train to be doctors, but hardly a scivvy and hardly one of your colour.”  Karnythia points out:

“Black women had been training to be doctors in the UK & the US for almost 40 years at this point. Were there a lot of them? No. But there was a lot of coverage of the ones who did succeed. If she knew women were training to be doctors, then she knew some of them were women of color.”

Perhaps she would have, but the writer and the creative team apparently did not[3].

That gives me a whole other reason to be mad at this episode.

As I said in my Chicks piece, I don’t think anyone was being intentionally racist here and it’s clear that some thought was given to race when they decided to do these episodes with Martha. That’s a good thing. But when you’re dealing with something as thorny as this, you can’t just put some thought into race. And as many people have pointed out, there is all kinds of just on the surface or just under the surface problems with race in the new Doctor Who[4].

These episodes are a source of great rage because of the lack of deep thought about race. For me, the rage is informed by that and by the knowledge that it could be such a good episode if not for this stuff.

And it all makes me realize I need top hop on getting this book started with Karnythia.

Footnotes

  1. If you want a full synopsis, check Wikipedia.[]
  2. In the world of the show that is bad enough. But I find it to be handwavy and bull on the part of the writer/creators/whoever came up with this idea. It looks like they’re trying to absolve the Doctor of responsibility here, and that’s a dick way to do so. Plus, it doesn’t fly for the TARDIS, either, as it’s been well established by this point that it has a consciousness, too.[]
  3. Or there’s another explanation. I think we may find out.[]
  4. The classic episodes, too, of course.[]

My Thoughts On The Latest #YesGayYA Developments

My Thoughts On The Latest #YesGayYA Developments

I meant to post this yesterday, but work things got in the way. Then the ever-wonderful Cleolinda posted the long, long post I was going to write and said everything I was going to say. So I’ll keep mine short. I suggest you click over to Cleolinda’s blog for the full story. Seriously.

A few days ago Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith wrote a guest post for the Genreville blog over at Publisher’s Weekly about their experience with an unnamed agent who asked them to make changes to their YA manuscript to erase the fact that a main POV character was gay. At least for the first book in the series. The pair went on to say that they’d heard that this thing with erasing gay characters in YA was something other authors experienced and thus they felt the need to write about it and bring the overall issue to light.

They did not name the agent or agency. They moved on from their specific example to the broader issue. They pointed out that this seemed to come from a concern over market forces rather than labeling anyone Homophobic or Gay Hating. If you don’t believe me, go read the original.

The post sparked a big conversation about the issue and I saw in the comments and on blogs and social networks that several other authors, published and not, talk their stories of having agents and/or editors tell them to remove gay characters from their YA.

Then Joanna Stampfel-Volpe, an agent with Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation, posted on Colleen Lindsay’s blog, The Swivet, outing her agency as the one in question (though claims she is not the specific agent in question) and essentially called Rachel and Sherwood liars. Under the guest post part, Colleen added this:

FACT: Both these writers already have their own agents. At least one of those agents reps YA books. So what does it say when the respective agents for both these well-established writers advise them to find a different agent for the book in question because neither of them wanted to rep it themselves?

It tells me that homophobia was most likely not the reason that this book has thus far not found representation.

And that made me see red because that just looks like a personal attack and an attempt to dismiss what Rachel and Sherwood said by saying that their book is no good. Further, on my Facebook page, Colleen claimed that she knew other agents who turned the book down because it had structural issues.

I like and respect Colleen a lot, but I’m calling bullshit on this. Though she says she didn’t mean for the above words to be an attack, that’s what it looks like. And, even if other agents passed on the book for structural reasons, that does not mean that the conversation as represented by Rachel and Sherwood didn’t happen. One does not preclude the other.

Putting that aside, at this point we’ve reached He Said/She Said, and it comes down to which side you believe. Stampfel-Volpe said that at no time did they say they wanted make the character not gay or take away references that he was gay in the book in question[1]. Rachel and Sherwood maintain that this is indeed what was said.

For my part, I believe Rachel and Sherwood. My main criteria being that my interactions with Rachel online and the interactions and friendships she has with people I know and trust do not lead me to believe she would lie in this way. I don’t know Sherwood well, but nothing I have ever heard from her good friends leads me to believe she would perpetuate a hoax for publicity or lie for profit.

Rose Fox of Genreville apparently felt the same way. Colleen mentions something about how the piece wasn’t fact checked, but how was that supposed to happen? The agency wasn’t named. And even though there are claims that the gossip identified the agency, the majority of us wouldn’t know without their self-outing. These are not the kind of “facts” that can be easily checked because the other party can say “That didn’t happen” and they could be lying just as easily as the authors. Rose used her judgment based on what she knows about the two women and, so far, I haven’t seen any reason for her to have doubted that.

Additionally, Stampfel-Volpe’s post is filled with the kind of red flags I see every day as an anti-prejudice activist. The tone is too defensive[2] and unconvincing. Plus, what exactly do you expect the agency to say? “Yes, we did that”? No. Hell no.

Think about it. If they did request the changes Rachel and Sherwood claim and did so because of market forces and such, they wouldn’t admit to it especially if they aren’t homophobic themselves. It’s just like the whole cover controversy with Justine Larbalestier’s Liar. I’m sure that her publishers are not racist people, but they put a non-black person on the cover of her book at first because they assumed that systemic racist attitudes would hurt sales. That is not something you want to admit in public, because it’s gross. It happens, though. We all know it happens. And thanks to #YesGayYA we know that the erasure of gay characters in YA happens, too. And it’s still gross.

No one wants to admit when they give in to prejudiced bullshit.

The other reason I just don’t believe Stampfel-Volpe is that she made this whole thing personal:

One of our agents is being used as a springboard for these authors to gain attention for their project. She is being exploited. But even worse, by basing their entire article on untruths, these authors have exploited the topic.

Someone explain to me how the agent in question is being exploited when he/she wasn’t named. Also, bringing a topic to light is not exploitative. The kind of people I see using language like that are the folks who try to tell me that by bringing up racism or “inventing” it when it’s not there, I am the one being racist. This is a classic defense. It may even be on the BINGO card. When I see people using this kind of language, I immediately distrust what they have to say. I’ve been on the receiving end of this too often to not recognize it.

I suggest you read the original Genreville post and the other excellent links at Cleolinda’s blog before you come down on one side or the other, especially if you don’t know any of the people involved. The readiness of some people to immediate jump to HOAX! based on absolutely nothing but one person’s word would astonish me if I didn’t already have plenty of experience watching people readily dismiss real prejudice that exists right in front of them as not-prejudice. It’s so much more comforting to think that someone is just a lying liar than that there’s a serious problem to tackle.

Tackling problems requires thought, effort, and often sacrifice. Who wants to deal with that?

Footnotes

  1. Edited to make things clearer. I didn’t read my original sentence a second time and should have. Thanks Helen.[]
  2. Especially the parts added by Colleen, who emphatically claims that the agent is a good friend and not homophobic, even though Rachel and Sherwood didn’t say he/she was. A person might not be personally homophobic, but still perpetuate the idea that mainstream readers are too homophobic to deal with gay charcaters. It’s a systemic problem, and one need not be personally prejudiced in order to bow to the system.[]