On freedom of speech

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FeatherPenClipArtThis is something that is generally misunderstood. The First Amendment of the US Constitution promises freedom of speech, which also includes freedom of the press. Other countries may or may not have similar provisions. The US Supreme Court has also ruled that a number of other forms of expression are covered by this amendment, such as symbolic gestures. Most people think this means they’re free to say whatever they want, whenever they want. However, this really is a misconception. The First Amendment only says the government can’t restrict freedom of speech. There have been some glaring infringements on this in recent years, but I won’t get into that here. The fact is that you can say what you want, but you have to take the consequence.

This means everyone needs to consider what they’re saying and whether it’s appropriate. The classic example is yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. Because this can cause a stampede where people are hurt, it’s a safety issue. There are cases where private firms can restrict their employees’ speech because it represents the company, but in general, everything goes as far as the government is concerned.

There is no exception in the First Amendment for “hate speech.” However, there is a legal exception for “fighting words” and harassment. During the SFWA sexism scandal and the more recent Hugo kerfluffle, many exchanges fell into this category. When people engage in this kind of behavior, then it should be no surprise that there is a negative response such as name calling and further escalation of hostilities. The fact that the word “fascism” has entered the public commentary in a big way suggests ideological struggles in general are going over the line.

Where to from here?

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55327_girl-writing_mdSo, should we conclude from all this that paintings of Red Sonja with a skimpy costume and pumped up attributes are now verboten? I don’t think so. There exists a strong market for both male and female sexual fantasies within the SF&F market. You just have to dig a little below the surface to find it. The question is whether something like this ought to be sent out to the whole membership of the SFWA. Clearly not. It is also clearly poor form to discuss the physical attributes of fellow professional writers in public columns, forums and list-servs. These things do get around.

However, I’m not sure the other side has been completely innocent in the controversies, either. There’s lot of discussion of that term “fascism” right now (read intolerance) in the press because of student demands at various universities. It’s true that many of the commentators are from conservative political backgrounds, but even minority writers have pointed out that current student demands amount to out-of-control liberalism and extremist views about what defines social justice.

A little bit of respect is likely what everyone needs to aim for in the SF&F community, and professionalism.

The SFWA sexism scandal translates to the Puppy slate


By April 2014, John C. Wright and Brad Torgersen had both resigned from the SFWA, citing the organization’s support of a “political agenda.” Larry Correia published comments to the effect that SF&F is currently in the grip of a “systematic campaign to slander anybody who doesn’t toe their line.” His response was to attempt to put together a Puppies’ slate for 2014 that featured “neglected” traditional authors.

Because of hard feelings left from the sexism scandal, this was not well-received. A more determined slate presented in 2015 was even less well-received. However, I can’t say the Puppies are wrong either about the political agendas advanced during the sexism scandal or the fact that many very talented authors are never considered for awards. Read through past blogs for a discussion of these points.

Their basic problem is now that the Puppies have set themselves up in an adversarial position to the main body of the SF&F community. Because of their responses to the sexism scandal, they are now pretty much outcasts. People are still hot about both the scandal and the Hugo kerfluffle, which means no one will really look at what the Puppies are saying. They are off the mark in a number of ways, but I think they have pointed out some real trouble in the SF genre.

The 2013 SFWA sexism scandal

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In case some of the reading audience is unfamiliar with this, I’m thinking I should explain. This is likely one of the issues that laid the foundation for the 2015 Hugo debacle. You can read a full timeline of the upheaval here, faithfully recorded by S. L. Huang, mathematician and SF writer. The fuss started in January with issue #200 of the SFWA Bulletin. It featured a cover painting of Red Sonja with a skimpy costume and pumped up attributes. Nothing new. Most people either a) failed to notice or b) rolled their eyes. However, there was a column inside written by Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg about “lady editors” which discussed their physical attributes. This was not well-received.

In April, Bulletin #201 featured an article espousing Barbie as a role model. Again, this was not well-received. In May, Bulletin #202 featured Resnick and Malzberg’s response to criticism of their January editorial. They called the complainants “liberal fascists,” and groused about censorship. Then everybody piled on. Language became immoderate.

Then president John Scalzi tried to put out the fire. He apologized and took responsibility. Resnick and Malzberg were fired as columnists. As the controversy continued, women bloggers started to get hate mail. The bulletin editor resigned.

Author N.K. Jemisin mentioned the controversy in the Guest of Honor speech at the convention Continuum in Australia. She discussed Vox Day’s conservative views and his failed bid for the SFWA presidential position. Day responded by calling her a “savage,” which got him expelled from the SFWA. Later in the year, forums and list-serv threads were publicized with sexist comments about women writers and editors from well-known male SF writers. By February 2014 a new editor was hired for the Bulletin, and apologies began to circulate.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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turkey-clip-art-MTLKerBTaI’m taking a holiday today to indulge in the annual feast and family event. I have cousins coming to visit that I haven’t seen in a long time. Safe travels to all!

Changing roles of women in SF

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Regardless of whether space opera (and similar action adventure SF) is written by men or women, the roles of women have changed over the years. SF written by celebrated writers as late as the 1950s and 1960s is now generally considered misogynist and sexist. Women’s roles consisted of supporting their man and looking pretty as a damsel in distress. However, in the 1970s and 1980s, stout women began to appear in the literature. Early examples include Supergirl, Red Sonja and She-Ra. Soon the woman bad-ass had taken over everywhere, in often highly unrealistic action scenes and with highly unrealistic results.

Unfortunately, a lot of that old sexism seemed to cling to these women characters. They’re generally portrayed in skimpy costumes with pumped up attributes. Cue the sexism scandal in the SFWA, circa 2013. So where do we go with this now?

Clearly a sizable portion of the SF&F audience has a taste for this kind of character. Are they offensive to women? Growing that way? Should male writers be more sensitive to how these characters could be perceived by women? Should women just ignore it?

More on male vs. female taste in space opera

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I’m not sure why, but popular film franchises tend to get taken over by the male taste in action/adventure. I can name a long list. The Matrix, for example. I really liked the first film, and for that reason slogged through the whole series. It degenerated from a thoughtful, complex, high-tech adventure in the first film to long, boring action scenes that did nothing to advance the plot in the second film. The third was actually offensive. (My opinion, of course). The Hobbit: This was a thin book. In order to make it into three long feature length films, Jackson fattened it with endless boring action scenes. This should be a good story, but my buddy who went to the first film with me disappeared to the restroom and never came back.

Eason, reviewing Dark Beyond the Stars: A Space Opera Anthology, suggests that this level of action is necessary for male-oriented fiction. That’s cutting off 50% of the audience. Still, part of my gripe with Leckie’s Ancillary Mercy is in the quality of the action (as well as the philosophy). Isn’t there some way to find a level of action that suits both men and women?

Do men write better space opera?

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The back-to-back blogs on Bova and Nagata got me to wondering about how men and women approach science fiction. The general stereotype seems to be that hard SF is a man’s genre. See Jack Choros’ article on a recent Amazon kerfluffle here, for example. Jack Eason, reviewing Dark Beyond the Stars: A Space Opera Anthology, says, “I’m sorry to offend fifty percent of the population but it has to be said that when it comes to writing Science Fiction, it still remains a purely male domain.” This is assuming that space opera (with its tropes and clanking hardware) is actually science fiction. Checking TVTropes Mohs’ Scale again, I see it actually falls pretty far down the hardness scale and often slides into fantasy.

Carolyn Cox, responding to Eason, suggests it’s still a good idea for women SF writers to use a male pseudonym (this nearly 30 years after James Tiptree is gone from the earth). So why does this prejudice about science fiction exist?

Eason based his comments on the “shoot-em-up,” action style of space opera, noting that men always seem to do this better. He later admits to posting the review as a promotional effort for his own book, but he’s still made a real point. I tend to be a space opera fan, myself, and I think there’s a definite split in the length of action vs. the length of character-oriented scenes preferred by men vs. women in both literature and film. This means the definition of what good space opera is will vary. Maybe we need separate genres for men vs. women?

Kneejerk nominations


Apparent kneejerk nominations is one of the things the Sad/Rabid Puppy contingent was criticized for last year. I’ve already discussed this to some extent. The popular story is that Puppy management asked for works to put on their slate, but nobody in the group had any suggestions, so they all just nominated their friends. This is something of an uncharitable view of how it might have gone. I’ve already noted the difficulty of finding “traditional” SF that actually is SF and of suitable quality to submit for an award. I’ve also noted that the Puppies next step seemed to be picking well-known “traditional SF” authors and submitting their works on the slate. Unfortunately, this seemed to be without evaluating the SF content of the stories.

Do fans do this in the standard (un-slated) nominations as well? Are there certain authors who have a large enough and loyal enough fan base that their works are sure to get nominated? Previous wins certainly count for part of the tendency. I notice Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Mercy is high up on the Nebula Awards’ suggested reading list, although I thought her latest novel was a definite fall-off in quality from the first two installments. I was actually offended by the direction this one took. Oh well, that’s what my opinion is worth.

Don’t nominate me for any awards

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I don’t want to be left out of the trending commentary. Seriously, this seems to be what SF&F writers have to say about the announcement that the Nebula ballot is now open for nominations. I’m not sure how to take it. One possibility, as indicated by Anne Bellet, is that the Hugo Award process last year was so stressful that nobody really wants to go through that again, ever. Another possibility, it’s a way to suggest one’s work for awards without suggesting one’s work for awards. Last, John Scalzi has posted that he has enough awards and that people should look elsewhere for deserving candidates.

That’s an interesting comment. At face value, it’s very generous of Scalzi to say something like that. There are also nuances. The statement suggests his work is always award-worthy, and if he never, ever gets another award nomination, it’s because he requested it. It also suggests that his fans may have a kneejerk tendency to nominate his work regardless of what it is, a possible inconvenience for an author. Hm.

I’ve already commented on the fact that I see the same names over and over again, not only in fiction publications, but also in the award nominations. Of course, this may be because of the quality of a particular person’s work. It could also be because they have a loyal fan base. Whatever the reason, as Scalzi says, nominating the same people over and over again means there’s less diversity in SF&F. It also means nobody is reading outside their comfort zone.

P.S. Dang. WordPress has changed their editor. It looks like it will be a while before I can post photos again. You’re likely to see weird html artifacts, too.

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