I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t a fan of fantasy and science fiction. Which is not surprising, since my mother accidentally taught me how to read at an early age by reading to me from her favorite authors (Agathe Christie and Robert Heinlein) and making me repeat back entire sentences. Tales of the fantastic by Heinlein, Andre Norton, J. R. R. Tolkien, Edgar Eager, Edith Nesbit, Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. Le Guin, Leigh Brackett, Gordon R. Dickson, Lin Carter, and so many others fed my imagination, encouraged my curiosity, fueled my thirst for science and math, and provided a refuge from the cruelties and contradictions of life.
One might wonder how cruel an existence growing up as a white boy in mid-twentieth century America could be. When you have a physically abusive alcoholic father heading up your working class rural evangelical fundamentalist family, real life can be quite unpleasant—especially for a gay, nerdy kid who talked to himself and was more comfortable with books than kids his own age. Science fiction and fantasy promised worlds where all you needed to defeat evil was a bit of courage, a lot of cleverness, and people you could count on. Every time my dad’s job transferred us to a new town, I would quickly ingratiate myself with the local librarians and proceed to devour every science fiction and fantasy book I could find on the shelves. Not to mention mysteries and science non-fiction books.
It wasn’t just the imaginary worlds of the various stories I read that provided a refuge, but from the introductions and interstitial texts of anthologies such as The Hugo Winners, Volume n, Best Science Fiction of the Year XXXX, and so forth, I also learned of conventions, where the creators and fans of these fantastic worlds gathered to talk about their favorite books and stories, encourage each other to write more stories, collaborate in various ways, and maybe even have a fun party or banquet where awards were handed out. And that sounded so amazing. Before middle school I knew about the Nebula Awards and the Hugo Awards. I knew that the Nebulas were voted on by members of the Science Fiction Writers of America, and that you had to be a professionally published SF writer to get in. But the Hugos were voted on by the attendees of WorldCon—by fans and professionals alike. So in theory, at least, I didn’t have to wait until I’d been published to participate in those.
I’d decided to become a writer sometime around the age of five or six. I’d been making my own books out of whatever notebooks or paper I could get my hands on since before I could write. I started writing my own stories as soon as I could assemble my sloppily-drawn letters into words. I was determined to be a writer. And I hoped that someday I might be a member of that community of writers vying for a Hugo.
As an adult, I’ve been attending sci fi conventions for decades. I’ve even been a staff member at a few. I’ve had some of my own tales of the fantastic published, even though most of my published stories have been in fanzines and other small semi-pro publications. I’ve had the good fortune to be the editor of a fanzine with a not insignificant subscriber base. I count among my friends and friendly acquaintances people who have been published in more professional venues, people who have run those conventions, people who have won awards for their sf/f stories and art, even people who have designed some of the trophies. Not to mention many, many fans. I have even occasionally referred to that conglomeration of fans, writers, artists, editors, and so forth as my tribe.
All of that only begins to scratch the surface of why I find the entire Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies mess so heart-wrenching. Yes, part of the reason the situation infuriates me is because the perpetrators are all so unabashedly anti-queer. For this queer kid, sf/f and its promise of better worlds and a better future was how I survived the bullying, bashing, hatred, and rejection of my childhood. To find out that there are fans and writers who so despise people like me that they have orchestrated a scheme whose ultimate goal is to erase us goes beyond infuriating.
But it’s worse and so much more than a bloc-voting scheme.
This is hardly the first time I’ve encountered homophobia, misogyny, and racism in the fandom. It’s certainly not the first time I’ve encountered it among the professionals! While it’s disheartening to have people sneer and make denigrating comments; and it’s chilling to be told people like me deserve extermination. The worst part is to be told that even putting characters that are like me into stories about space battles or post-apocalyptic worlds or bio-engineered futures makes those stores cease to be “real science fiction.”
If your imagination is so small that you can’t conceive of a future where gay people and women and non-white people actually exist and do interesting things—that those people can sometimes be the heroes of the tale—then I just don’t see how your speculative fiction can be very creative. If you can’t conceive of a world with gays and straights, women and men (trans* or cis), and people of all races, living and working together, you’re hardly a visionary. If you’re so afraid to share imaginary worlds with such people, you’re the exact opposite of an intrepid adventurer.
Update: Some of the Sad Puppy supporters have decided to send me messages, accusing me of blindly believing propaganda. The implication seems to be that the various organizers of the Sad Puppies have never said the things alluded to here.
Let me be clear: I’ve been reading the blogs and other postings of John C. Wright, Brad R. Torgersen, Larry Correia, and Vox Day/Theodore Beale for years, because they’ve been on their anti-SJW and anti-gay kick for a while. Everything I’ve mentioned in this post and previously I have seen myself, from their own words. That they have deleted and revised many of their old posts to obfuscate that doesn’t change anything. They can claim they didn’t say what they said, but we have screen captures and Google caches and Wayback Machine caches that say otherwise.
And even the revised posts are still clearly anti-gay: [The unraveling of an unreliable field | Brad R. Torgersen]
6 thoughts on “Visions and Ventures: why I love sf/f”
Some people use fiction to explore things they don’t understand. Others use fiction to crush the things they hate.
I suppose it’s their loss, really, for being so close-minded. They’re crippling only themselves, and we should pity them.
The wonder of speculative fiction, and fiction in general, is that pulling back of the curtains, throwing open of the windows, and that leap out into the unknown. Into possibility.
I think you’ve stated perfectly what I love about this genre.
I feel as if I should have said more about what is wonderful about fantasy and science fiction. So maybe I well. 🙂
My mother dragged me to the library after I exhausted my father’s “meant to read” Asimov and Heinlein collection. Good for me that dad never read them (orgy porgy anyone?). The librarian pulled only Hugo and Nebulas for mum and that small act of kindness saved my life the same way it saved yours.
This will be my first WorldCon in attendance. I supported and voted last year. I tried to explain to my friends what this meant to me to be able to actually attend the Hugos. I’m going to wear a beautiful dress and cry no matter what happens.
More importantly, I’m going to VOTE more intelligently from now on. We exist and SFF is the best place for nerds like us. The only upside I can see from this is finding blogs like yours. Thank you for speaking for us queers.
If these events do nothing more than get more of us paying attention and voting, at least some good will come of it.