A Sad Puppy/Rabid Puppy supporter posted an op-ed on the men’s rights site Return of the Kings (he links to and heavily paraphrases one of the Sad Puppy podcasts), “How Female-Dominated Publishing Houses Are Censoring Male Authors” that is a great example of several of the issues that I believe underpin the Sad Puppy position. Never mind that the statistics show that men make up more than 65% of the annual publishing lists of most of the publishing houses, and male-authored books comprise more the 80% of books reviewed in the major publications, this guy is here to tell us that men are being censored!
His proof is an anecdote told to him by a veteran who had written a book about his experiences while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan who claimed to have gotten his book through several phases of the publishing process, only to be rejected at the last step because a senior editor who happened to be a woman was offended by one line in the book and said, “he’s an asshole, we don’t want to work with him.” I have a hard time swallowing the story as stated. But even if we take it at face value, the story boils down to an editor deciding that someone who is difficult to work with wasn’t worth the time, effort, and stress required to work with them.
He’s a first-time author, never been published before, has no name recognition, no proven track record. I don’t believe for a moment that it was a single line in the book that set anything off. I suspect that the author had behaved abominably to several people in the process up to that point and the book itself was of only middling quality. An important part of an editor’s job is to recognize which stories their readers will enjoy reading. Another important job is to weigh the costs and benefits of working with a specific story and author. If a particular book does not look like a blockbuster that will sell zillions of copies, it isn’t worth the time and effort to put up with a lot of assholery through the process of re-writes, galley proofs, et cetera.
That isn’t anti-male prejudice, that’s good business practice.
The fact that this anecdote is swallowed without examination—without considering the possibility that one could try to figure out what behaviors led to the characterization of asshole and try changing those behaviors—shows just how big the privilege blinders are on these guys. Imagine! If you’re nice to people they’re willing to help you. If you aren’t, they have no motivation to stick their necks out for you. And deciding to expend your employer’s money and the time of yourself and other employees on turning a manuscript into a published book and then distributing it is sticking your neck out.
This is one of the fundamental blind spots of the various puppies: they are convinced that the only reason their stories aren’t bestsellers and award winners and the only reason that they aren’t met at every convention by crowds of screaming fans must be the result of a conspiracy. It isn’t possible that their writing is mediocre. It isn’t possible that their subject matter isn’t of interest to anyone but other angry misogynist racist homophobic men such as themselves. It isn’t possible that their predilection for making outrageous statements comparing gay people to termites in need of extermination might make anyone who knows or loves a gay person less than thrilled to hear more of what they have to say. It isn’t possible that characterizing some woman’s clothing as an all-day slut walk might be off-putting to anyone who is or loves a woman. It isn’t possible characterizing people of color as half-savages might make people less than enthusiastic about cheering everything you say.
Instead of exercising our own judgement about what works to read and who to be fans of, apparently we should all feel grateful that they would deign to allow us to bask in the glow of their wit and wisdom.
Reblogging my own post from last year, because Memorial day requires remembering Grandma…
Originally posted on Font Folly:
Flowers for Grandma’s grave. Grandma always called it by the older name, Decoration Day. As I’ve written before, the original holiday was celebrated in many states as a day to gather at the grave sites of your parents, grandparents, et cetera, to honor the memory of their lives. It was often a time of picnics and family reunions. At least as much a celebration of their lives as a time of mourning. The connection to military deaths didn’t happen until 1866, and particularly in the south, was often seen as a pro-Union, pro-war, anti-southern celebration.
I didn’t understand most of those nuances when I was a kid. The modern version of the holiday, celebrated on the last Monday in May, didn’t even exist until I was a fifth-grader, when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act went into effect.
Grandma observed it faithfully. Every year, as May rolled around, she would…
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It was in the pages of Galaxy that I first “met” Spider Robinson, who wrote their book review column at the time. The books he reviewed were books that either had just come out in hardback or were going to be coming out soon, so they were never books I would be seeing in a while. If a book wasn’t purchased by the local public library, my only option back then was to happen upon a paperback book when the family took a trip to the larger town (across the state line) where they actually had bookstores!
Even though I often didn’t see the books he reviewed until years later, his book reviews gave me a sense of belonging to the sci fi tribe. And they were just fun to read!
Robinson wrote his own science fiction, too. I believe I read a few of the Callahan’s short stories out of order as they appeared in the magazines. It wasn’t until I was in college when I found a copy of Time Traveler’s Strictly Cash in a used bookstore that I read a bunch of them in order. I immediately became an even bigger Spider Robinson fan.
It’s hard to describe the Callahan’s stories. Most of them are set in a bar that somehow manages to attract aliens, time travelers, and various mythical creatures each lost in different ways. They were sort of like Twilight Zone episodes… except (almost) always uplifting. Originally, the Callahan stories were semi-standalone stories, most of which were published in the magazine Analog Science Fiction. The stories often illustrated the Law of Conservation of Pain and Joy (also known as Callahan’s Law): “Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased—thus do we refute entropy.” Robinson wrote the Callahan’s stories as ideas occurred to him, so he didn’t have a grand plan for continuity. So in the later books as he transitioned from short stories to novels things occasionally went off the rails. But even then, the stories had more than enough heart to patch over the plot holes.
He’s also written novels outside of the Callahan’s universe. My particular favorites are Mindkiller and Telempath, though he is probably more famous for the Stardancer series written in collaboration with his wife, Jeanne Robinson. He’s won three Hugo Awards, a Nebula, the John W. Campbell Award, and the Robert A. Heinlein Award for Lifetime Achievement. So I’m not the only one who likes his work.
I read pretty much every single thing he wrote from 1970s, through the 80s, and a bit into the 90s. He kept writing and still is writing. His most recent novel was published in 2008; he’s been reporting off and on about progress on his next novel on his web site, but he’s also been dealing with serious health issues (both his own and in the family), which has slowed him down.
As I said, I kept reading everything he wrote into the 90s. Around 1993 or ’94 I found myself drifting away from Robinson. Some of it was just issues in my life. I finished coming out of the closet, I got divorced, and a lot of family upheaval happened. This is also the time period when, in my opinion, the Callahan stories started going off the rails. I had also come to the conclusion that I just didn’t agree with the philosophy that seemed to underpin every story he wrote: if only people could communicate more clearly, all conflict would cease. So I stopped reading his new material. I would still pull out my old favorites from time to time to re-read.
In 2000, I read a book review by someone else (unfortunately I don’t remember who) of a new Callahan novel, Callahan’s Key. The reviewer mentioned a similar dissatisfaction that had caused him to stop enjoying Robinson’s writing around the same time I had quit. And the review said that this novel captured at least some of the old magic. The reviewer said the new novel was a joy to read.
So I picked it up. And I read it, and it did have a lot of the fun of the earliest stories. It was not, in any way, a rehashing of them, though most of the characters make an appearance (and team up to save the world, literally). It reminded me of why I had loved his writing to begin with.
I think what appeals to me most about Spider is his unabashed enthusiasm for the idea of science fiction itself. That came through in his book reviews, of course, but also in other essays, introductory material he wrote for the short story collections, but also in the stories themselves. I still remember one comment about Dune Messiah, the first sequel to Frank Herbert’s Dune: it had plot holes you could drive a truck through, but you didn’t care, because the rolling grandeur of Herbert’s vision swept you along.
And he was right.
Robinson’s work epitomizes the giddy hope for a better tomorrow that is at the heart of some of the best science fiction. That exuberant expectation of better things to come is what first drew me to the genre. I’m grateful to have had Spider has a guide and companion in my own search of that wonderful tomorrow.
I was tired of playing concerts to a nearly empty theatre. I had recently seen the fall concert of the music department of the other high school across town, and their auditorium was not only packed, they actually charged an admission fee! And their shows were fun.
Anyway, my opinion column did not go over well with some of my fellow music students. But at least none of them felt the need to be anonymous with the threats of maiming and murder.
The first anonymous threats happened when I wrote about abortion and sex education—in the same high school newspaper in the late 70s. And again at community college (and later at university).
But the most vicious, virulent, and disturbing threats came when I started reviewing exhibits in the small free art gallery at the community college. Express an opinion about art, and people completely lose all sense of proportion. Remember that the next time someone tells you that art (or music, or literature, or movies, television, et cetera) doesn’t matter.So, by the time I was active on QueerNet and such in the early 90s, getting homophobic death threats and the like on the internet seemed like old hat.
Anyway, since the whole Sad Puppies thing has happened, I’ve been getting a few more comments here than usual. Okay, sometimes more than a few. Though it isn’t a deluge. Besides having comments set to moderate (a comment doesn’t appear until approved, unless I’ve added the commenter to the whitelist), anonymous commenting is disabled. And the comment system records IP addresses (and alerts you that it will). So the number is high for my blog (since my average is less than one comment per post), but low by typical internet forum standards.
Although many of the comments have been angry, so far none have risen to a vitriolic level. Not being able to post wholly anonymously contributes to that (just the fact that one has to type into multiple fields is probably too much of a hurdle for many troll), I’m sure. I suspect that because there is simply so much being written about this particular topic, and my little blog isn’t exactly drowning in traffic, that there are too many other places for the trolls to go.
Anyone who has ever met me and talked with me for more than a millisecond knows that I do not shy away from debate. And I don’t believe that simply ignoring all trolls is an effective way to deal with the problem of vicious harassment. I’m not ignoring them. I’ve read the comments, and made a determination based on the contents of the comment of whether the person is here to discuss the issue or just wants to yell. I see no reason to approve the latter type of comments and subject any of my readers to an angry tirade that adds nothing to the discussion. I certainly don’t have the time to try to reason with someone who seems bent on nothing more than trying to shout down and insult dissenters.
Make an actual logical or reasonable argument. Indicate that you understand there is more than one side to the issue. Then we can talk.
The awards are supposed to be about the artistic merits of the nominated pieces, right?
The WorldCon committee hosting each year’s awards traditionally assembles packets of either electronic copies of the nominated works, or excerpts (whichever the publisher will allow) to send to all voters. The Hugo Packets have not been sent out yet (but may show up any moment) so I’ve been locating the short stories that are available on-line to read (Much thanks to the Adventures in Reading blog for gathering all the links in one place; I wish I’d found this list much earlier). Other folks have been posting reviews as they read the stories.
So in this post, I write a short review of each of the short stories available on-line… Read More…
A few bits of news came in after I had scheduled yesterday’s Friday Links to post, but before they actually posted:
Legendary Blues guitarist B.B. King passed away Thursday night. He was 89 years old but just a few months ago still touring and charming audiences with his velvety voice. B.B. King: A Tribute to Blues Brotherhood.
William Zinsser, writer, editor, and author (and frequent updater) of the legendary On Writing Well, died this week. He was 92 years old. William Zinsser, Author of ‘On Writing Well,’ Dies at 92. He is less famous for another book he wrote, in the early days of personal computing, when a lot of professional writers were up in arms about how word processors would destroy the craft of writing and make literature robotic (seriously), Zinsser wrote Writing With a Word Processor, extolling the virtues of the tool.
At least one of the virulent anti-gay bills the Texas legislature has been cooking up as fast as they can in anticipation of a summer Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality is dead for the moment: Same-sex marriage license ban bill dies in Texas legislature. On the other hand, 93 of the 98 Texas House Republicans Sign Shameful Anti-Gay Letter Pledging to Defy Supreme Court on Marriage.
And this pair of tweets went across my timeline yesterday afternoon. If you don’t know who Vox Day is, you’re lucky. Let’s just say he’s a virulent bigot who hates just about everyone:
Anyway, I thought it was a good thought to remember: holding people responsible for their hate speech is merely that, holding them responsible.
My dad’s idea of a vacation was to go camping and catch fish. Unfortunately, these trips not only never involved a camper, they also never included tents. We slept in sleeping bags under the stars gathered around the dying embers of the fire we’d cooked dinner on. If it was raining, the whole family would crowd inside the cab of Dad’s pickup and try to sleep sitting up all squeezed together.
I wasn’t terribly good at any “outdoorsman” sorts of skills, and Dad never missed an opportunity to tell me just what a clumsy, stupid, sissy I was whenever I did anything incorrectly. Though, for the record, he never called me anything as nice as “sissy.”
So I didn’t much enjoy those vacations.
The last one we took, before my parents’ marriage took its final turn for the worse, was when I was 13 or 14 years old. Shortly before we had left on the trip, I had acquired a paperback copy of The Early Asimov, Volume 1, and had packed it along. I’m not sure why that particular book had jumped out at me in the small bookstore that we had visited with my Great-grandma on a weekend trip to a nearby town that was large enough to have an actual bookstore. My best guess is that, since Asimov was at that time the author of a monthly science essay that appeared in each issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction that I had recognized his name.
I remember waking up early in the morning several times on that camping trip, my parents and sister still asleep, and going to the pickup to retrieve the paperback book from my bag. Then I sat and read until Dad woke up. Just looking at the cover of my worn old copy of the book brings back memories of the early morning light, the sounds of the leaves overhead, and the nearby creek.
The Early Asimov was first released as a hardcover, single volume book a couple of years before I found the paperback. It is a collection of a bunch of Isaac Asimov’s short stories from the first nine or ten years of his career; specifically stories that had not already been included in any other anthologies. But the book isn’t merely an anthology—in between each story, Asimov wrote about how he came to write the story, along with describing other stories who wrote at the time that either had never been published, or had been and were in other collections. These interludes were much more than mere introductions to the story, they amounted to an autobiography. And the story this autobiography told was how a Russian-jewish kid from Brooklyn discovered science fiction in the magazine rack of his family’s candy store, and became a published profession sci if writer before he exited his teens.
Isaac’s personal story gave me at least as much hope and wonder about the possibilities of the future as his science fiction did. The stories themselves were entertaining and thought-provoking. Asimov clearly loved science, and he was perpetually optimistic that great things could be accomplished with the proper application of knowledge.
And he wrote good stories.
Not just a few stories. He published over 300 books. He wrote science fiction novels, of course, and collected his short stories into anthologies, but he also wrote science fact books, history books, books on literature, and so much more. I mentioned his monthly science column—he wrote 399 of those from 1958 until his death in 1992. Abut every year and a half he collected the last 15 to 17 of them into a book, wrote additional introductory information, and published them(Janet Todd Rubin gives a great explanation of the importance of Isaac’s science columns here: (Almost) Everything I learned about science I learned from Isaac Asimov). And then there were the many limerick collections…
But back to the sci fi:
His Foundation series, besides being the first collection of novels to be awarded a Hugo as a collection, established the concept of psychohistory: a science of applying mathematical formulas to the actions of large populations to predict various outcomes. His Robot stories were the first to posit artificial intelligences that did not turn on their masters, and he was the first person to coin the word “robotics” which has become the name of the real engineering discipline he describe in the books.
And then there were his mysteries. Science fiction mysteries at first (including the Wendell Urth science fictional science mysteries), but also a series of mystery short stories set in contemporary setting (Tales of the Black Widowers, and sequels), and two straight murder novels. Though my favorite of those, Murder at the ABA which was set at a booksellers convention, isn’t entirely serious. One of the supporting characters in that one is Asimov himself, and he portrayed himself very self-deprecatingly, making his character the comic relief of an otherwise serious murder investigation.
I didn’t really know all of that at the time, but reading that book over the course of several mornings on that vacation, Isaac Asimov gave me hope that I could write science fiction and get it published, too. Hope not only that I could write and get published, but that there were people out there interested in the things I was interested in. I didn’t have to remain trapped, like the protagonists of “Marooned off Vesta” stuck with no propulsion, no radio, a limited amount of air, and a year’s supply of water. I could rig up a propulsion system from the things I had, and get to a safer place.
His writing style was described as unadorned. Some people complained that he very seldom described his characters of the settings. I think that was a strength. His stories focused on the plot. His characters were defined by their words and deeds. He described only those things that needed to be described to understand the story, leaving the rest to the reader’s imagination. Allowing the reader to imagine characters who weren’t always white, for instance.
He raised questions, and answered them with a mix of science and humor that made the future seem like a very inviting place. And his willingness in many anthologies and essays to share anecdotes of his encounters with other writers (not to mention the many stories of the times he was Toastmaster at a Hugo Award ceremony) made the world of science fiction writers and fandom seem an even more welcoming place.
He was quick to laugh, and quicker to make others laugh. Sometimes too quick. He had to have thyroid surgery at one point in his life, and when they gave him the tranquilizer before they move the patient into the operating room, he began singing and joking with everyone. When the surgeon came into the operating room, Isaac sat up, grabbed the doctor’s scrubs in both hands, and blurted out, “Doctor! Doctor! In green coat! Doctor, won’t you cut my throat? And when you’re finished, Doctor, then, Won’t you sew it up again?”
The nurses got him back down and the anesthesiologist put him under. The nurses later told Isaac’s wife that the doctor couldn’t stop laughing for nearly five minutes. When he included this story in one of his essays, he noted, “They say I’ll do anything for a laugh, but I think that making a surgeon about to take a scalpel to me laugh so hard he can’t hold an instrument may have been a step too far.”
I could easily ramble on and on about Asimov, the awards he won, the records he set, the serious science circles he moved in, and the many, many bookshelves in our house filled with his books. He loved knowledge and he loved explaining things (two traits that I know more than a little about), and he wrote in a way that encouraged you to think, to be curious, and to meet challenges with confidence and a smile.