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Catch-up 1

By Adam Roberts | August 10, 2009
Categories: Book News

A while since my last post here (though there's been a deal of business here, here and here). A quick newsy catch-up, then.

I have a picture of a Finnmug to share; but am having trouble getting the image posted. Before the end of the week, though, surely.

I finished a working draft of my next novel, to be called New Model Army: at the minute my editor has it, and I've also sent it to three of the most deftly expert novel-readers I know, who have, with fantastic kindness, all agreed to have a read too. In the light of their feedback I shall revise.

The Mammoth Book of Mindblowing SF (which I'm in, and which I praised here) has been the occasion of a heated SFSignal thread. Commentors noted that all the contributors are white men. This is, clearly, not good. Some commentators attempted a defence of this aspect of the collection, which in turn inflamed the tempers of other commentators, and it all became rather shouty. My view is bound to be a little compromised by virtue of the fact that I have a story in the volume; but in many respects it is close to what Al Reynolds (also a contributor) says. Like him, when Mike Ashley approached me to see if I wanted to contribute a story, I had no idea who else was being asked, or what the overall collection would look like.

You should read the whole thread, really; it's interesting, if often intemperate. So: I believe there should be more diversity in published SF, especially in terms of gender and non-white ethnicity. It's a shame this anthology doesn't do that; but the claims of several of the more choleric contributors don't seem to me tenable, specifically (a) accusations that Mike Ashley is sexist, or actively misogynist: I really don't believe he is; and (b) the belief that this anthology deserves to be held up for particular rebuke (instead of, let's say, the 2009 Hugo best novel shortlist) because it claims to be in some sense representative of SF. I don't think it does; not even in terms of the cover tagline's characteristic publishing-hyperbole (I don't know if the editor was responsible for this tagline anyway; probably not).

Actually, I think Jonathan M's first comment (also on that thread) may be closer to the truth: the problem isn't this anthology as such, it's a more generalised sexism and racism in SF publishing; and the point of getting so angry here, and of throwing so much vitriol around, is to turn this book into a deterrent case: to make future editors think twice. I can see some merit in that, although it seems to me hard that Ashley, a decent and conscientious man, must have this torrent of anger poured onto his head. It also seems to me a shame that Paul di Filippo gets so roasted in the thread, given that he is to the best of my knowledge neither a sexist nor a racist: his attempt at genial 'let's all calm down' commenting sparked some furious and indeed frumious responses. One interesting thing to come out of it, though, was a specific suggestion from Reynolds: a genuine ethical question that I am currently pondering ... should authors who are approached to contribute to anthologies make their agreement conditional on the finished product including an appropriate diversity of other authors? I wonder how that would work, practically: whether it falls within an author's responsibility; whether, indeed, it would tag the author in question as 'difficult' and reduce future commissions; and whether that would be a price worth paying for the larger good. What isn't discussed in that thread, and indeed can't be since, by their own admission, most of the people commenting neither have nor ever (on principle) will read the stories it includes, is literary quality. That seems to me high, although my judgment is of course, as noted, of course problematised by the fact that I'm also a contributor.

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2 Comments to-date;

2 Responses to “Catch-up 1”

  1. Tony Keen Says:
    August 11th, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    The thing is, it's very easy, if you don't think about it, to end up with this sort of list - for instance, I got most of the way through organizing my first year of BSFA London meetings before realizing that I hadn't invited any women. So I can imagine how Ashley ended up with this list, without being actively sexist/misogynist.

    That doesn't mean the selection can be defended against the complaints that have been made. Maybe Paul de Filippo is neither overtly sexist or overtly racist. But his defence of the Ashley volume on the grounds that an individual collection doesn't have to be representative in that way is, to be frank, rather clueless. Because it isn't just the Ashley volume. It's the Hugo shortlist as well. It's the Strahan volume last year that didn't have any women on the cover. It's many similar instances. If you can apply the di Filippo defence to the Ashley volume, there's no logical reason why this can't be applied to the other instances. So you end up saying that the whole sf field has no obligation to recognize anyone other than white males if it doesn't want to. And that isn't on.

    The only sensible response to the Ashley volume's contents list is to recognize it as a mistake, and hope that everyone learns from it.

  2. Adam Roberts Says:
    August 11th, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    There's a great deal in what you say, Tony. Indeed, I agree with you that the problem is systemic, not individual. And that, it seems to me, is precisely what makes it tricky when individuals -- in this case, Ashley and di Filippo -- are the focus of the ire and frustration. Hard for them, but more to the point unproductive, since Ashley and di Filippo aren't themselves, as individuals, the problem. That it may be harder to think systematically than to think on the level of individuals doesn't mean we should give way to the impulse to demonize particular people. Not least because then it becomes as much about the extent to which we like or dislike the individuals themselves.

    Take the Hugo best novel shortlist, which you and I both mention. All white men; something that has gone un-lambasted. Of course it's not the 'fault' of any of those five particular white men that they got shortlisted for the Hugo blue riband prize and that no women or writers of colour did; just as it's not di Filippo or my 'fault' that we have stories in this collection and that no women or writers of colour do. One difference is that the 'author' of that list is not an individual but 'fandom' as an amorphous quantity ... but that makes it much more relevant to the general case! I'd say the reality is that all five of the people on that shortlist are widely liked in SFdom: they're widely liked because they're all likeable, and because a lot of people admire their work (and, it's worth adding, they're all pretty right on about gender and ethnicity questions). So Ashley gets the metaphorical beating, really, largely because people don't like him (which is to sayL don't know him the way they know the five Hugo shortlisted writers). He becomes a faceless figure for others' contempt. That's not healthy.

    We could say more: three of the five Hugo shortlisted novelists are Jewish, or of Jewish extraction. We might want to celebrate that as an example of diversity; might want to point out that SF has a long and proud tradition of great Jewish writers (Asimov, Silverberg etc). By the same logic, though, SF has a long tradition of great white male writers (Asimov, Silverberg etc): but we don't celebrate that. We call that oppression.