Escalation of the SFF culture war?

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55327_girl-writing_mdThe second uncomfortable issue that solidified over the last week is the perception that the gender/race/worldview war within the SFF community is getting nastier. This despite calls for a stronger community and initiative for the We Are ALL SF con. Nobody seems ready to let this go.

A little while back, I reviewed what I saw as the origins of the Hugo debacle of last summer. Here’s the core of the issue again:
•The SFWA Bulletin publishes various covers and articles that could be considered sexist.
•Resnick and Malzberg respond to criticism of their editorial by calling their complainants “liberal fascists,” and grousing about censorship.
•Resnick and Malzberg are fired as columnists.
•Women bloggers start to get hate mail.
•The bulletin editor resigns.
•N.K. Jemisin complains about Vox Day’s conservative views and the 10% of members who voted for him for SFWA president in her Guest of Honor speech at the 2013 Continuum in Australia.
•Day responds by calling her a “savage,” which gets him expelled from the SFWA.
•Conservative authors mount a slate for the 2014 Hugo Awards.
•Vox Day spearheads a largely successful effort to sabotage the Hugo Awards in 2015.

That brings us up to now. Looking at this rundown, I can gather that at least 10% of the SFWA membership holds a conservative worldview strong enough to vote for Vox Day for president. There’s been a lot of focus on Day, who is acting as spokesman for the conservative faction. I agree that his extremism makes him an attractive target for harassment; however, everyone seems to be skimming over problems like Jemison’s dissing of the 10% of conservative SFWA membership at Continuum. This 10% is likely just the tip of the conservative iceberg, too—it’s likely half the SFF community holds at least some conservative views.

This is not to attack Jemison. As an African American woman, she certainly has a right to hold a progressive viewpoint. However, it is likely this speech inflamed the ideological split within the SF community. This is also not to support juvenile assessments of the attributes of “lady editors” as published by Resnick and Malzberg. We all need to be professional here.

So why do I think the war is getting nastier? It took a while for my Nebula reading to settle in. I mentioned in my review that Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory contained suggestions I found offensive. One of these was that all women are two-faced. Another was a subtle attack on white men. In light of this, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Mercy also contained what I think is an attack on male privilege. This one is even more subtle, as Leckie uses only female pronouns. Still, she gave out enough clues that I suspect who’s what. These novels are both high up in consideration for the Nebula nominations. I don’t know that this is constructive—it feels like more sexism. Everyone needs to remember that conservatives are part of the diversity package and they’re not going to go away any time soon.

Before everyone checks in to assume I’m a conservative, my worldview tends toward liberal progressive. However, I do look at the issues and think cooperation is better as a way to deal with diversity than fighting it out.

Typical female viewpoint, eh?

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Review of Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

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55327_girl-writing_md
Ancillary Mercy (2015) is the third installment of this space opera trilogy, preceded by Ancillary Justice (2013) and Ancillary Sword (2014). All books are published by Orbit.

This novel picks up where the last one left off. Breq and members of her crew are on Athoek Station where a recent attempt on Breq’s life has resulted in massive damage to the dome above the gardens that help supply air for the station. The floor of the gardens has failed, allowing lake water to flood the Undergarden where a large number of homeless people have been living. Cleanup and reconstruction would seem to be simple, but Ifian, priest of Aamat, has refused to sanction the repairs to the Undergarden. The priests have gone on strike, and the homeless have staged a peaceful protest, forming a long line for services. The governor and administrator of the station are at an impasse.

In the midst of this, administration has located someone who turns out to be an ancillary of a ship lost for 3000 years. Breq has been publicly identified as an ancillary fragment of the Justice of Toren, and the AIs from the ships and station are pushing for recognition as independent intelligences. An emissary arrives from the Presger, a powerful, non-human race, apparently to investigate the death of the previous emissary who was killed by Station Security. Then one of the clones of Anaander Mianaai, the Lord of the Radch, arrives with four warships to take over the station, and Breq deploys a desperate plan to stop her.

This trilogy is an adventure tale, meant to be entertaining. The conclusion was a fairly smooth read. There was minimal background, but this time I had done my homework, so didn’t have to wonder who was who and what they were up to. What made the previous two books stand out was the sharp edge and the social/political commentary woven in. The series is well known for the Radchaai’s exclusive use of female pronouns, which has lost its novelty here. There are still moments of genius. Although the Presger are terrifying, Translator Zeiat is an ingénue. Still, I was disappointed to find the text has lost its edge. This installment slid into the warm, fuzzy over-protection mode that I’ve identified as a current trend.

Breq as a character has radically changed over the course of the trilogy. In Ancillary Justice, she’s cold and hard-edged enough to just shoot humans that stand in her way. In Ancillary Sword, given the responsibility to protect Athoek System, she develops a social conscience. She makes decisions on what she means to support with her new-found resources and works to provide social justice for the exploited. In this book, she is humanized, less an action figure and more a symbol that has won everyone over with her virtue and social conscience. She is warmly supported by everyone and only has to set her plan in motion to have others work it successfully to a close. There is no recognition that she is any kind of aberration. Also, I’m put off by what looks like bullying of one of the officers by others on the ship because of perceived privilege. The buildup is good, but tension falters at what should be the climax. It’s a good story, but this one has a sexist feel. Three stars.

Left vs. Right, Now vs. Then

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royalty-free-writing-clipart-illustration-1146779Looking through the reviews I’ve recently posted, you can see the different sides of the current Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies debate fairly clearly represented. On the left/SJW side, we have Ann Leckie’s gender-neutral space opera and Monette’s goblin novel with its warm, fuzzy inclusiveness and women seeking to be scientists. On the right/traditionalist side, there’s Wright with his characters’ search for Christ and sexist views of Marilyn Monroe. In between there’s a lot of other stuff, presumably aimed at entertainment. Reading through the main part of this, I can see why there are some issues.

I gather that Leckie is considered a problem. Since Leckie’s novel is space opera with slightly leftist views, I have to think this is an example of the “unreliable packaging” Torgersen was complaining about back in February (link from File 770). You’ll notice I’ve given it more stars than, for example, Anderson’s “more traditional” novel. Leckie is interesting but not preachy, and the SJW slant seemed to be about gender, imperialism, reforms and stamping out corruption. The gender thing is eventually funny, as we get to watch the protagonist AI struggle with gender identification in various unfamiliar languages. The imperialism is front and center, but Leckie uses this to explore the costs of human expansion and on whose back this will be built. She asks philosophical questions about man vs. superman and whether reform becomes a “weakness” in the drive to expand the Dyson sphere of human civilization outward. There is nothing wrong with this as space adventure. I would have voted for Ancillary Justice for the award, but Ancillary Sword comes across weaker as a stand-alone novel.

In response to comments, I have to admit I’ve scratched my head a few times at past Hugo winners, well before this year. I’d expect the winners should say something especially creative, profound or hard-hitting. Instead, recent winners have sometimes tended more toward sentimental, feel-good works without any real, serious inspection of costs and human tragedy. Compare Connie Willis’s win for Doomsday Book (1993) to her Blackout/All Clear (2011), for example. Compare Daniel Keyes’ “Flowers for Algernon” (1960) to Ken Liu’s “The Paper Menagerie” (2012). There’s just no comparison for the gut impact in these earlier stories. Does this represent a change in who’s been voting at WorldCon? I suspect so, and of course that affects the nominations, too.

Tomorrow: More on the condition of traditional SF.

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