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Posts from the ‘Genre Observations’ Category

Guest Post on A Dribble of Ink: Gene Wolfe


So while this blog has been quiet for some time (stupid offline life getting in the way of proper blogging), I did just have a guest post published over at the Hugo-nominated A Dribble of Ink.

Entitled Gene Wolfe: The Reliably Unreliable Author, the piece provides a fairly broad analysis of the novel-length work of Gene Wolfe, one of my favorite speculative fiction authors (despite some problematic issues).

If you’ve read or heard of Wolfe’s work, I suggest you check out the piece, and in general take a look at A Dribble of Ink. It’s one of the best genre blogs out there, and fully deserving of its Hugo nomination!

Voice as Narrative Lens and Reader Lubricant


While at Readercon a few weeks back, a friend and I had a fascinating discussion about narrative voice, the role it plays in multi-book series, and the effect it has on the reader within and across narrative arcs. I keep coming back to voice here because I think it is perhaps the most powerful tool in a writer’s toolkit. But recently, while reading and re-reading a great many books in other genres (romance and thrillers, in particular) I’ve realized that voice achieves its power and utility by simultaneously fulfilling two very different functions:

Narrative Lens Reader Lubricant
Voice is the lens through which we view the story’s other pieces (e.g. style, structure, plot, setting, theme, characters, etc.). Voice is the lubricant that determines how quickly we invest in what matters to us as readers of a particular story.

What Constitutes Narrative Voice?

To be clear, when I talk about “narrative voice” I actually mean something very technical, at perhaps the most granular level of storytelling: words, sentences, paragraphs. Narrative voice is a way of selecting words and putting them together into sentences, an approach to constructing paragraphs, a “way of speaking” that comes through in the prose.

Lots of writers talk about the “authorial voice” as some quasi-mystical emergent property, and I’m honestly quite uncomfortable with the very concept. At the end of the day, the most basic thing writers have control over is our words. Some authors may choose to write in a consistent narrative voice (it’s often a practical requirement if you’re writing a long-running series), but I believe that should be a choice.

A professional writer should be able to choose the narrative voice to suit a particular story’s creative needs.

For example, compare the narrative voices in Elizabeth Bear’s Dust and Blood and Iron. The same author, excellent storytelling, but two very different narrative voices. Or compare Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné to his Behold the Man. Despite both novels’ creative effectiveness, their narrative voices are completely different. And that is as it should be, considering their different priorities.

Focusing on Story Priorities

What’s a story really made of? At the most reduced level: those letters, words, and sentences. But for most stories, they aren’t the story’s point: They are merely the substrate through which its points get communicated. Those words and sentences combine to create narrative artifacts like character, plot, setting, theme, etc. and to produce reader reactions like tension, excitement, terror, cognitive dissonance, etc.

But here’s the catch:

The priority given to any narrative element is going to differ between individual stories, and differ even more across genres. When people say that science fiction focuses on “plot over character” or that literary fiction focuses on “character over plot”, they may be making sweeping generalizations as wrong as they are right. But at the same time, those sweeping generalizations give us insight into the narrative conventions which apply to a given genre. And the prioritization of narrative elements is one such convention.

Consider, for a moment, the thriller genre. When it comes to narrative elements, I would say that the thriller genre is downright defined by its focus on/prioritization of pacing and tension. In a similar fashion, the romance genre is defined by its focus on/prioritization of interpersonal relationships and inter-character power dynamics. In much of the literary fiction genre, the aesthetics of the voice itself are often the priority/focus.

And in each case, it is the narrative voice which focuses the reader’s unconscious attention, and sets the stage for the story (through its priorities) to affect the reader.

How does the Narrative Lens Focus?

Narrative voice focuses the reader’s attention through its word choice, sentence structure, and paragraph construction.

The words we use establish a tone, carry emotional connotations, or set off unconscious associations. Whatever the narrative voice mentions imbues the mentioned with authority in a very direct sense: if the narrative voice doesn’t mention something, then when reading we will consider it unimportant (except for where it is important, when over time the voice focuses our attention on what hasn’t been mentioned – see Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground, Nabokov’s Pale Fire, or Wolfe’s Peace).

When we put our words together into clauses and sentences, we give those associations, connotations, and unspoken perceptions direction. We give them a pace, a rhythm, a progression. The consistency of that direction, the timing of its application relative to the story’s events, shapes our perception of the story’s pacing, its tension, its themes, and even its characters.

I’ve written before about the use of simile in noir and hard-boiled crime fiction, and that is precisely the type of vocal focusing which I mean. When used carefully, narrative voice becomes a magnifying glass that intensifies the reader’s focus. However, it doesn’t always intensify that gaze: at times, the narrative voice can become transparent…which itself prioritizes certain facets of the story.

The Use of the Transparent Voice

What do writers like Dan Brown, John Sanford, Daniel Silva, James Paterson (et al), etc. have in common? For one, they all tend to top the bestseller charts writing in the thriller genre. But aesthetically, none of them are known for the quality of their prose. Quite the contrary, in fact: Each has had their prose roundly criticized at one point or another.

And yet, I contend that that their prose is just fine for their purpose and for their story’s priorities: Their narrative voice is transparent because – in their genre and for their stories – the narrative voice should be transparent. If the narrative voice employed Kazuo Ishiguro-esque metaphorical flourishes or John Le Carré-ish neologism, it would occlude both the pacing and events of the plot…which seem to me to be the focus of their stories. For such stories, a transparent narrative is a feature – not a bug.

However, when we look at ostensibly comparable work by Jeff Lindsay (Darkly Dreaming Dexter) or Michael Connelly (The Black Echo), we find a very different narrative strategy. Such authors use a distinctive narrative voice, applying particular vocal techniques to focus our attention on character at the expense of plot. Their narrative voices are more noticeable, but that is because they use their narrative voice to reveal character.

And still other authors – like J.R.R. Tolkien – use voice to focus the reader’s attention on the world and setting.

Our Love Affair with Narrative Voice

And yet, despite the infinite variety of narrative voices we fall in love with voices. In fact, I would argue that we fall in love with narrative voices long before we fall in love with a particular story, or a particular author’s work. And the relationship there is – to a large degree – causal: The story’s narrative voice is what first grabs us, and aligns our mental state with the story’s priorities.

When well handled, the narrative voice primes us to be affected by the story. In this sense, narrative voice lubricates our experience of story.

Reader Lubricant Going In and Coming Out

When we turn to the first page and begin reading, the narrative voice is our first experience of the story. It is through the narrative voice that we begin to understand the characters, the plot, the setting, the themes, and – by an unspoken and unconscious implication – the priorities of the story. It simultaneously sets our expectations and delivers (in the literal sense) the payoff.

Controlling the speed with which this happens is – I think – one of the hardest tricks to learn. In some genres – notably YA, thrillers, romance – the market prefers for the reader’s engagement in the story to be immediate: First sentence, and go! But in other genres – notably literary fiction – there is more room for a gradual build. The vocal techniques that accomplish each are quite different.

But while voice controls the speed with which we engage with the story, it also affects our propensity for engagement with subsequent stories. In series fiction (particularly in episodic fiction) narrative voice becomes a shorthand for the reader’s mental state.

At the conclusion of Jim Butcher’s Storm Front or Harry Connolly’s Child of Fire, we have associated those respective narrative voices with a set of narrative priorities, an emotional way of feeling. That association then becomes almost Pavlovian in nature: When we pick up Fool Moon or Game of Cages, we recognize the narrative voice and it immediately puts us in a frame-of-mind reminiscent of the previous books.

Figuring Voice Out

I’m still working on figuring narrative voice out. I suspect that I’ll be figuring it out my entire life. It’s somewhat galling for me – as a writer – to have such difficulty finding the words to articulate what I’ve learned about. It’s simultaneously an abstract concept and a very concrete object, and somewhere between those two poles lies the nebulous reality of narrative voice. But with all of the cross-genre reading I’ve been doing over the past couple of years, I have – however – learned one incontrovertible fact:

The best way to understand narrative voice is to read widely, read analytically, across as many different genres as possible. Because narrative voice – and the priorities it focuses our attention on, and the speed with which it engages us – is itself a genre convention.

CROSSROADS: Degrees of Estrangement in Speculative vs Espionage Fiction


It’s Thursday again, and that means it is time for another installment in the ongoing Crossroads genre mash-up series over at Amazing Stories.

This week, we continue this month’s “espionage” theme by exploring how estrangement is both the shared and dividing element of espionage fiction and speculative fiction. In particular, I take a look at how SF/F’s degree of estrangement affect the narrative tension and applicability of espionage themes to readers’ real-world tensions. There’s even an info-graphic!

I hope you’ll stop by and join the conversation.

Crossroads: The Challenge of Espionage in Speculative Fiction

SFWA Sends a Message of Professionalism


Over the past several months, I’ve written a number of posts about professionalism in the speculative fiction field (here, here, and here). Today, at least one of those threads of controversy – the question of Theodore Beale/Vox Day’s continued membership of SFWA – has reached an inflection point.

Today, the SFWA Board communicated to Vox Day (privately, though its recipient proceeded to publish the relevant correspondence on his blog) that upon review of the initial investigation findings, and consideration of his response to those findings, that as a Board they had voted unanimously to expel him from SFWA’s membership. Per Twitter, they communicated that a member had been expelled (without naming that member) to SFWA members via e-mail. And finally, the Board released an official statement confirming the expulsion (here), still without naming the expelled member.

I have no doubt that this has been a long, difficult, and stressful process for everyone involved. Such a decision should never be made lightly, and SFWA’s official statement acknowledges that fact. Difficult or not, I believe that it was a wise decision by the SFWA Board. Many people both inside and outside of SFWA seem cheered by the fact of Day’s expulsion. I’m one of them: I find Day’s views reprehensible and his behavior ugly. But pleased as I am by news of the expulsion, that isn’t the most significant – or even the most important – facet of today’s news. Instead, consider this:

SFWA’s expulsion of Theodore Beale/Vox Day makes a powerful statement about standards of professional conduct in the field of speculative fiction.

SFWA’s Board has demonstrated that bigotry and the abuse of official professional platforms to promulgate the same are considered grossly unprofessional. In other words, SFWA and the professional SF/F world it represents have taken a big step forward to catch up to the standards of professionalism that apply outside of our genre.

That is good news. I’ve already seen some folks on Twitter muttering about how such news is overdue. I can understand – and in many instances share – their frustration. But our indignation today would be neither constructive nor helpful. Instead, I’d rather focus on the most positive and far-reaching consequence of today’s announcements:

SFWA has put unprofessional bigots on notice, and thus raised the professional caliber of the organization and the field it represents.

The organization, its membership, and the entire SF/F community still have work to do. Establishing, communicating, and maintaining standards of professionalism cannot be accomplished by a single stroke of the pen. But today’s announcements make the SFWA Board’s intentions – and the direction of their leadership – plain.

I support a leadership which consigns bigots to the dustbin of professional irrelevancy. I support SFWA’s decision to expel Theodore Beale/Vox Day. And as soon as I am qualified? I will support SFWA and the speculative fiction field with my membership dues.

CROSSROADS: Diving into Spy Fiction


Another Thursday has dawned, and that means it’s time for my weekly Crossroads post over at Amazing Stories.

Continuing this month’s exploration of espionage fiction and the ways it intersects (or fails to) with speculative fiction, this week I take a deep dive into the narrative techniques and thematic focus characteristic of spy fiction from the last century.

From William Le Queux and the pre-WWI British invasion stories down to today’s work by Daniel Silva et al, I discuss how these authors build their worlds, play off their reader’s pre-existing apprehensions, and how they generally approach their stories and themes. I hope you stop by!

Crossroads: Society, World-building, and Estrangement in Spy Fiction

The Limits of Wonder and Defining Speculative Fiction


Much as I love genre theory, I typically steer clear of taxonomic debates. I find that genre classification tends to put the cart before the horse, to be the critical equivalent of describing an engine in terms of its color. Most such debate reduces to a collection of observations that do little to advance our understanding of how narrative mechanisms actually function. Yet over the weekend, Ian Sales posted a thought-provoking essay which diverges from this general rule. Unlike most attempts at genre taxonomy, Sales’ definition of speculative fiction tries to be systematic and comprehensive, built from a set of first principles articulated in previous essays on wonder and the source of agency in SF/F. On balance, Sales’ focus and clarity of thought make his proposed definition that rare critical beast: a critically helpful taxonomic construct.

Unfortunately, Sales’ definition of speculative fiction is also flawed.

Where Do Definitions Come From?

There is much in Sales’ essay that I agree with, and I think the most important point he makes is this:

A useful definition has to describe something intrinsic to the text, not something extra-textual.

If a taxonomy is to be valid, true, and useful then it must emerge from the texts being analyzed. While I know some in the arts who look askance at the scientific method, basic logic suggests that a viable theory must be supported by repeatable observation.

If we wish to define a genre, we must point to the identifiable and unique features of that genre. Romance, for example, benefits from a beautifully succinct definition: “Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending.” One could likely come up with something just as elegant for mystery/crime or westerns.

But it is the broad, all-encompassing categories like speculative fiction and mainstream literature whose defining characteristics become harder to pin down, and that is because the reasons we enjoy them often occlude their underlying structures.

Dragons, aliens, magic, faster-than-light travel, etc. are extremely rare in mainstream literary fiction. When we read speculative fiction, they can offer us that pernicious “sense of wonder” which so often muddles critical analysis of the genre. On a superficial level, identifying speculative fiction by its devices has the simultaneous benefit of being easy and rarely incorrect. But it is a superficial and facile approach that fails to tell us anything about either how the narrative is constructed or how that construction contributes to its effects.

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan

Sales is right to point to the weakness of identifying genre based on the devices that appear in the text. Just because a book features dragons or elves does not mean it is fantasy (or rather, does not mean it isn’t science fiction).

Consider the science fictional treatment of dragons in both Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent (which I discussed at greater length here) and Michael Swanwick’s The Iron Dragon’s Daughter, or Gene Wolfe and Jack Vance’s fantastical treatments of hard science in The Book of the New Sun and Tales of the Dying Earth, respectively. As these works make clear, genre taxonomy cannot be reduced to a checklist of tropes. How such devices are used in the text and their relationships with the narrative’s characters, plots, themes, and settings have a greater significance than the mere fact of their mention.

While Sales’ stated goal (to define speculative fiction using characteristics intrinsic to the text) is one with which I am in complete agreement, I fear that his definition falls wide of the mark. Of his two defining criteria (wonder and [the source of narrative] agency), fully one half is external to the text and based entirely on a reader’s subjective, individual experience of the narrative.

Critically Pernicious Wonder

“Sense of wonder” is a critically contentious term that seems to come in and out of vogue every generation. I personally subscribe to the belief that it does have critical value, but only insofar as one of several diagnostic tools. Its utility as a criterion for definition is limited by the fact that our mileage may vary.

Sales argues – in line with reasoning by Romanian SF critic Cornel Robu – that “wonder” is centrally concerned with scale, and that science fiction fosters a sense of wonder through the actualization of scale in the reader’s perception. To be clear, this is not a bad way of thinking about wonder. But it is a very specific, highly individual, and rather limited one.

In my own reading, I find that many concepts, images, devices, and even phrases can foster a sense of wonder. For me, it isn’t all about scale: It may also relate to emotional intimacy (e.g. John Crowley’s Little, Big), or spirituality (e.g. James Blish’s A Case of Conscience), or mathematical or rhetorical elegance (Greg Egan’s The Clockwork Rocket and Elizabeth Bear’s Dust, respectively). Many have written about “wonder” as touching on the sublime, verging on the transcendent, or as enabling a reader’s conceptual breakthrough. As a concept, it has descriptive value. But its own definition is imprecise, and that very imprecision stems from the term’s innate subjectivity.

Wonder is a quality intrinsic to the reader’s experience, and not to the text.

As a result, an epistemological definition of speculative fiction that uses wonder as one of its two legs cannot stand. “Sense of wonder” is neither a quantifiable nor an independently repeatable observation that can be made for a given text. This weakness is further supported by Sales’ own (admittedly tongue-in-cheek) equation for quantifying wonder, which itself relies on four inputs which are personal to the reader and have nothing to do with the text in question.

An Alternative Definition of Speculative Fiction

However, Sales’ definition does have value. I particularly appreciate his insight into the source of narrative agency. I’ve been thinking about his breakdown for the last couple of days, and I think he makes an excellent point:

Science fiction and fantasy can be differentiated by the narrative text’s implied prime mover. Fantasy’s implicit prime mover is the author, while science fiction’s implicit prime mover is deterministic natural law (which is, admittedly, often conceived and communicated by the author).

Of course, the author in all cases has control over both the narrative and their fictional world. However, what Sales really highlights isn’t the question of how the story is imbued with narrative agency. Rather, it is the implied author’s relationship/attitude towards their fictional reality.

If the text communicates the implied author’s attitude as explicitly deterministic or naturalistic, then the work is likely to be science fictional. If the text communicates that attitude as either unexamined, theological (even given a fictional religion), or metaphysical, then the work is likely to be fantasy.

Such a characterization seems to be broadly consistent with Sales’ use of “agency”, yet such a distinction is useful inasmuch as it helps us to differentiate science fiction from fantasy. However, it does little to differentiate speculative fiction from other more mainstream genres.

A Definition of Speculative Fiction

Rather than utilize “wonder” as the definition’s second axis, I would instead suggest the centrality of the speculative/impossible to the plot. The more speculative the plot, the more likely a given work can be deemed speculative fiction. That seems somewhat tautological, but it allows us to neatly place any work of fiction along a spectrum of “speculation”.

This alternative definition seems to be less susceptible to edge cases than Sales’ original: By taking into account the totality of the implied author’s relationship to their fictional reality, works like Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination can still be comfortably classified as science fiction despite their central speculative conceit going relatively unexamined. At the same time, by exploring the speculative elements’ relationship to the plot (as opposed, for example, to the theme) we can differentiate works of magic realism like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude from secondary world fantasies like Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

This lets us construct several precise definitions actually based on characteristics that are observable within the text:

  1. Speculative fiction is fiction where speculative elements (i.e. devices of the fantastic, scientific extrapolation, impossible conceits, etc.) are central to the narrative’s plot specifically, irrespective of their relationship to either theme or character.
  2. Fantasy is speculative fiction where the implied author’s relationship to the fictional reality is unexamined, theological, or metaphysical in nature. A fantasy’s implied author accepts the fictional reality without necessarily trying to explain it.
  3. Science fiction is speculative fiction where the implied author’s relationship to the fictional reality is deterministic or naturalistic. A science fiction’s implied author assumes and communicates an explicable fictional reality.

By focusing on the relationship of a narrative’s speculative elements to its plot and the implied author’s attitude towards their fictional reality, we gain the ability to discuss the use of the fantastic and the speculative as metaphors and conceits, and to apply that discussion against narrative structure, techniques of characterization, and narrative subtext.

In other words, these definitions provide us with increased analytical clarity and precision – which is what definitions are meant to provide.

Crossroads: I Spy with My Little Eye…Espionage in Speculative Fiction


Welcome to August! Today’s the first Thursday in August, which means that it’s time to kick off a new Crossroads series over at Amazing Stories. This month, I’m going to be taking a look at the ways in which spies, espionage, and spy fiction in general intersect with science fiction and fantasy.

This week, I start by describing a bit of the history of espionage fiction, and then wonder about if and why (despite mainstream spy fiction’s commercial and critical success) its archetypes, structures, and techniques are not frequently adopted by speculative fiction. I hope you stop by!

Crossroads: I Spy with My Little Eye…Espionage in Speculative Fiction

The Convergence of Utopia and Science Fiction


A couple of weeks ago – amidst all of the craziness involved with packing, moving, and unpacking – I managed to take a weekend and go up to Readercon in Burlington, MA. I’d been to Readercon two (more accurately, one and a half) times before, and every time, I find the panels thought-provoking (and the conversations between panels, at the bar, and at the parties hilarious and often thought-provoking, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post).

Readercon This year’s Readercon featured a theme that’s been on my mind of late: utopia. There were three or four program items dedicated to the subject, and I managed to get to almost all of them. While the discussions were all very interesting, I felt that they had danced around two ancillary questions which form the heart of my interest in the subject: What are the drivers of utopian thought? And what makes utopian fiction effective?

Where Does Utopia Come From?

Utopian fiction has a long history, but it’s become increasingly thin-on-the-ground (or the bookshelves) of late. Why? This is the kind of question we can come at from many angles, but to really do an effective job answering it, I think we need to understand how utopian fiction comes about. And here, I’m going to speculate widely, generally, and with any luck reasonably.

Utopian thought (and the fiction which explores it) is a consequence of humanity’s tendency towards systemic thought.

Our minds are pattern-matching machines: From the moment of birth (and possibly even before) our brains are assembling a complex collection of cause/effect responses. If I drop my Cheerios on the floor, mommy gets upset. If I pull the dog’s tail, the dog runs away. When we assemble a bunch of those cause/effect responses – and when we chain them together and interrelate them – an incredibly complex system emerges.

We interact with the world around us – with physical objects, with individuals, with organizations, with groups, and even with ourselves – based upon expectations borne of that complicated system. While the individual action might be simple (turn up the thermostat so that the room becomes warmer), it is predicated upon a complex set of imputed underlying (and inter-related) systems. So what does this have to do with utopia?

Utopian thought comes from an awareness (however flawed) of the systems shaping society. It stems from a philosophical tradition in which one can comfortably place Plato, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Engels, Marx, Rand, and just about any individual who has ever had a political opinion. Utopian thought is a systemic “what if game: If we adjust the systems that shape our society, how will our society change?

This may seem like a simplistic characterization of utopian thought, and to some extent, that’s a fair criticism. But despite its simplicity, it remains precise. And that precision is what makes it helpful for exploring utopian thought’s evolution through the centuries, its relationship to science fiction, and its structural portrayal within fiction.

Our Changing Understanding of Societal Systems

Utopian thought is always grounded in the philosophical zeitgeist of its time. As our understanding of the systems underlying our society changes, so too do the structures and systems depicted in our utopias.

Utopias – like science fiction – are as much commentaries on their present as they are prescriptions for the future.

When Plato described his Republic, or when More’s traveler came upon his island, they were writing in their time and for their time. Their “ideal” societies were built upon their understanding of the systems underlying their contemporary society. Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward and William Morris’ News from Nowhere are both rooted in the social, economic, and cultural debates of the rapidly-industrializing 19th century. Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Ivan Yefremov’s Andromeda, and Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed cannot easily be divorced from the political and economic debates of the mid-20th. Joanna Russ’ The Female Man and Samuel Delany’s Trouble on Triton are products of the culturally tumultuous 1960-70′s.

Utopian works rely on a philosophical context shared between reader and author. To remove a utopian work from the philosophical context of its time is to reduce it to quaint over-simplicity (an easy critique to offer when looking backwards) or abstruse incomprehensibility (a hypothesized critique when looking forwards – I suspect Plato might have had difficulty grokking Trouble on Triton, for example).

This relationship between utopian thought and the philosophy of its day is, I think, the reason why we have seen relatively little utopian fiction since the 1980s. Before the ’80s, political philosophy, economics, and even psychology were often founded on reductionist principles (i.e. if we can break each system down into its elemental components, we can understand how those systems function). The past thirty years, however, have witnessed the burgeoning popularity of anti-reductionist “systems thought”, “complexity theory”, and “holistic approaches”.

Berlin Wall Tumbles To over-simplify: before the 1980s, it was reasonable for any one philosopher to articulate a “complete” political, social, or economic philosophy. Yes, that articulated philosophy would be flawed and overly simplistic (see Plato, Rand, Heinlein, Yefremov, etc.). But the practical applications (and limitations) of such articulations could be observed in the wild: Soviet Communism in the Eastern bloc, Maoist Communism in China, American Capitalist Democracy in the United States, and mildly-Socialist democracy of varying strains across much of Europe. But then the world changed in the 1980s: Soviet Communism unraveled, and Western society realized that our reductionist models had missed something (or many things).

Since the ‘80s, in every field of social science (including economics, history, sociology, psychology, etc.) we have come to embrace the idea of complex and irreducible systems. This has progressed in line with the increasing specialization of our education systems. For example, the average (educated!) person on the street is unlikely to be able to explain how money supply or the quantity theory of money works. And even amongst economists there is much debate about how various systems affect and shape the money supply, and how that money supply in turn affects and shapes society at large.

I’ve heard time and again folks say that the world has gotten more complex. That’s not true: The world has always been this complicated. But our awareness of the world’s complexity has increased substantially in the last century. As a result, we have shifted from a society which believed it could explain the world to a society which now recognizes its own inability to do so. As a result, our what-if scenarios (reliant as they are upon a shared understanding between reader and author) have grown more tentative.

That makes the creative challenge of producing effective utopian fiction harder. The audience comes to the text already predisposed to reject our utopia.

The Relationship between Utopia and Science Fiction

Several paragraphs ago, I offered a reasonably concise description of utopian thought, characterizing it as a systemic “what-if” scenario. If such a what-if game sounds suspiciously like a working definition of science fiction, well, there’s a good reason for that: Every work of utopian writing can be considered a work of science fiction. And the obverse likewise holds: Every work of science fiction can be considered a work of utopian thought.

I can imagine the complaints now: How can works like E.E. “Doc Smith’s Lensmen series, Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot stories, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, Paulo Baciagalupi’s The Windup Girl, Madeleine Ashby’s vN, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, or Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games be credibly called utopian? They have very little in common, it might seem, to works like H.G. Wells’ A Modern Utopia, or Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward.

But those differences are superficial at best: beneath the stories’ plot, underneath their characterization, and independent of their narrative structure lies an underlying question (what if) which is central to the vast majority (though not all) of science fiction. The differences? Those are differences in expression, differences in technique, differences in the method by which the author’s conjectures are explored. From a philosophical perspective, those are differences in aesthetic.

The Changing Aesthetics of Utopia

When I look at the evolution of utopian fiction, I see a path of convergence. By today’s aesthetic standards, the “classics” of utopian fiction can be considered dull at best, and didactic at worst. A “perfect society devoid of conflict makes plotting difficult. A society which assumes the uniformity of the human condition either a priori or as a consequence of society’s perfection makes characterization tough. By the aesthetic standards of the 19th century, the philosophical question of “what if” alone may have been enough to support a novel-length work.

By our aesthetic standards today? We demand more: tension; conflict; drama. We want pathos in addition to our logos. Utopian fiction’s gradual evolution throughout the twentieth century has marked the gradual shift to more emotive expressions: compare the conflict in H.G. Wells’ A Modern Utopia to that of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and then that to the conflict in Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. One could plot a timeline of explicitly utopian fiction based upon the reader’s emotional proximity to the characters, and those character’s explicit articulation of philosophical conjecture.

The commercial and aesthetic requirement that fiction must feature conflict and drama stands in tension with that fiction’s ability to examine social, economic, or political philosophy. The closer our gaze is focused on the characters, the more oblique becomes the presentation of philosophical conjecture.

Where the philosophical conjecture is viewed head-on, as in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, or Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, we are left with a dystopian work (or in Le Guin’s case, a heavily ambiguous one). The conflict stems from the philosophy, and the “perfect” world is shown to the reader to be so flawed as to fail in its stated goal. This is, of course, a valid and powerful technique in both utopian thought and in science fiction. “It will fail” is a reasonable response to the question of “what if”.

However, in works where the utopian philosophy is presented obliquely – implied through what goes unstated or otherwise baked into the world-building – we can still identify fascinating utopian themes. Whether that’s in Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot stories, Madeleine Ashby’s vN, Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels, M. John Harrison’s Nova Swing, or Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy we can identify strains of utopian conjecture and examination. They are explored – typically – between the lines, sometimes closer to the story’s surface and other times buried a little more deeply. It works, however, because it is baked into the story’s underlying world-building using the techniques of the science fiction genre.

Utopian Fiction Looking Forward

Contemporary utopian fiction has fully converged with science fiction, to the point where separating the two has become all but impossible. One can make the argument that this discussion is tautological navel-gazing, or as relevant to contemporary writing as asking how many angels can dance on the period at the end of this sentence. I disagree.

Like any branch of either philosophy or writing, utopian fiction is subject to the pressures of its society. In this case, under aesthetic pressure, utopian fiction has had to embrace narrative conflict. This has happened in parallel with society’s rejection of reductionist socioeconomic philosophies, and this societal acknowledgment of nuance has forced a further narrowing of the narrative’s focus to individuals within a hypothetical society. The surrounding society may be idealized, or have utopian elements, yet the lives of the individuals living within it may still be conflicted. Today’s science fiction and utopian thought have both rejected narratives of simplicity.

The mechanism that enables utopian thought (what-if style conjecture) is the same that enables science fiction’s world-building. If it looks like a duck, and acts like a duck, it stands to reason that it is – in fact – a duck. Can we have science fiction that isn’t utopian? Or can we have a utopia which isn’t science fictional? Given the above, I am hard-pressed to think of examples.

Philosophical travelogues with thin characterization and prescriptive didacticism are passé by today’s standards. But the deep and philosophically relevant questions that utopian fiction has traditionally explored can still be examined. But this creates a two-fold challenge: On the one hand, we must consider the complex systems underlying our fictional societies and the relationships therein, while at the same time considering how those systems will affect individuals within those societies on emotional, functional, and even spiritual levels.

Where those systems fail, it is far easier to shift the story into dystopia, to derive narrative tension from those failures.

A far more difficult trick is to show those systems as functional, while still featuring emotionally resonant narrative tension.

A Healthy Dose of Professionalism


So for much of the last two weeks I’ve been kept offline by travel (yay 4th Street Fantasy!) and offline life doings. Now that life is starting to settle back down, I’ve entered catch-up mode. When I left for Minnesota, much of the discussion was focused on the controversy surrounding SFWA’s Bulletin, N.K. Jemisin’s GoH speech, and Theodore Beale/Vox Day’s racist response to it. I wrote about these issues here and here. While I was away, the SF/F corner of the internet has been quite busy (for a good timeline, I recommend S.L. Huang’s post here).

Since the last update (on July 3rd) to S.L. Huang’s timeline, several notable events have happened which give me hope for the science fiction & fantasy community:

  • Convention Harassment Policy Pledge. Former SFWA president John Scalzi posts a public description of his newly-adopted convention attendance policy, wherein he categorically states that should a convention not have a harassment policy or fail to communicate such policy clearly to its members, he will not attend that convention in any capacity (e.g. as a Guest of Honor, panelist, fan/member, etc.).
  • Scalzi’s Policy Gains Co-signatories. Many other writers, fans, publishers, and editors (as of this writing, over 550 and counting) across a myriad of genders and backgrounds co-sign Scalzi’s Harassment Policy pledge.
  • SFWA Bulletin Task Force Announces Next Steps. SFWA’s Bulletin Task Force (established in response to the SFWA Bulletin controversy) announces that all Bulletin contributors have been paid for their contracted work despite the Bulletin’s publication being suspended. SFWA’s statement furthermore reiterates and clarifies plans for a survey to be delivered to members to get a better sense of what the organization’s membership expects of The Bulletin.
  • SFWA Proceeds with Vox Day/Theodore Beale Matter. Following complaints about SFWA-member Vox Day (aka Theodore Beale)’s racist attacks on fellow SFWA-member N.K. Jemisin and his abuse of SFWA promotional tools to disseminate same, many SFWA members have begun calling for Day’s expulsion from the organization. SFWA has responded by following its organizational procedures and compiling a confidential investigative report and sharing it with Vox Day for his response. Vox Day chose to publish the e-mail correspondence in question (note: again, FWIW, I choose not link to Vox Day’s blog here, but a quick Google search will find it), though not the contents of the investigative report itself.

Why do these four events give me hope? Because they are all markers of an increasingly professional response to the cultural drama unfolding in the SF/F community.

Harassment Policy Pledge as an Articulation of Standards

Scalzi’s harassment policy pledge is a statement of professional standards. It articulates a clear set of expectations that all conventions can and should be held to. One can quibble as to whether or not his standards go far enough or fall short, yet they remain a reasonable set of standards nevertheless. And while they are his personal standards, the fact that so many people active and involved and passionate about the genre agree with them lends credence to the belief that those who disagree are a small and dwindling minority in the community.

I am saddened that as a community we still need such clear and plain-spoken standards. I am disappointed that such standards are not simply a “given” in our cultural makeup. But I am proud that as a community we can articulate these expectations and that so much of the community supports them. I see this as a sign of burgeoning professionalism in the community.

SFWA’s Steps on the Bulletin

I sympathize with SFWA’s new Board. They probably had a rough first week. However, SFWA’s behavior speaks well of the Board’s attitude towards professionalism. The Board treated its business partners (the writers who had been contracted to write for the Bulletin) honorably and correctly, as befits a professional outfit. As an organization that represents writers, it would have been an egregious act of bad faith to have stiffed its own constituents. Thankfully, SFWA took the high road and did exactly what it should have. I applaud the Board for its professionalism.

I have more mixed opinions on the announced Bulletin survey. On the one hand, seeking to get insight from SFWA constituents is a professional response to the high emotions and rhetoric surrounding the recent controversies. Regardless of the task force’s ultimate decision(s), such a survey will simultaneously help give SFWA’s leadership insight into the current mindset of the membership and will give that membership a chance for its voice/views to be heard. This is good. This is professional. This is as it should be.

However, having spent my professional career in the world of market research, I am less confident that a survey of dissatisfied customers (i.e. Bulletin readers/SFWA members) is a good way to design a better product going forward. It is notoriously difficult for a survey respondent to offer meaningful recommendations to a researcher, particularly in a quantitative tool. Yes, it can be done, and yes, a survey can be well-designed to elicit more practical / meaningful data. But it is not easy, and the quality of data that SFWA gets from its survey will be directly dependent on both the questionnaire that SFWA designs and the response rate that SFWA achieves. It leads to me wonder whether SFWA will be designing the questionnaire or conducting the research in-house or contracting it out to a professional?

Still, that is ultimately the technical challenge of executing on the published plan. As it stands, SFWA’s Bulletin Task Force has been proceeding exactly as it should in responding to the controversies surrounding the Bulletin. The Task Force’s response has been measured, responsible, and professional. Which is exactly as it should be.

A Comparison of Two Approaches: SFWA and Vox Day

SFWA’s proceedings on the Vox Day matter are equally telling. From an outsider’s perspective, the e-mails which Vox Day chose to publish (which I currently assume are accurate) are procedural, bureaucratic, and precise. They are unambiguous and procedurally even-handed. They are downright boring. Which is again exactly as it should be in a professional organization’s professional conduct.

Some may complain that SFWA should move faster or should make its proceedings in regards to Vox Day public, but I strongly disagree. Due process – even in a private organization which defines for itself what such due process is – matters. Responsibly and completely investigating the complaints against Vox Day/Theodore Beale and giving him time to respond is exactly what the organization should do. And this cannot – and should not – happen overnight.

The confidentiality of these proceedings is a somewhat more debatable choice. I can see arguments both for making the proceedings public (to give constituents insight into the proceedings/decision-making process) and for keeping them confidential (to protect everyone: those who complain, those who have been accused, those who defend the accused, and the organization itself). As it stands, SFWA’s Board has chosen to keep the proceedings confidential. I am not certain I agree with that choice, but I can respect it as reasonable, responsible, and (again) professional.

Vox Day has chosen to only partially respect the confidentiality of SFWA’s proceedings, attempting to use that very confidentiality as a stalking horse to appear victimized. This is an unprofessional attempt to shift the proceedings into an inappropriate forum: it is not the internet’s job to adjudicate this matter. That is the right and responsibility of SFWA’s Board.

As I said in my last post on this subject, I won’t opine on whether Vox Day should remain a member of SFWA or not. I’m not (yet) a member, so my voice in this regards should be meaningless. In this process, it is SFWA’s Board (and ultimately SFWA’s membership) which sets the rules. That’s just the way professional governance works. By publicly flouting the rules, Vox Day is sending a clear message to SFWA’s Board and its membership: He does not respect SFWA’s right to govern itself, nor does he respect the professional approach SFWA’s Board has adopted.

But in all of this, what makes me smile is the fact that SFWA – and SFWA’s freshly-minted Board – is approaching all of this with a reasonable, responsible, and professional approach. Which is exactly what I would want from a professional organization. And all of this gives me increased hope that – slowly, very slowly – the tempest I first wrote about a month ago is beginning to ebb.

Personal, Professional, Official? Standards of Professionalism in SFWA


A little over a week ago, I wrote a post responding to the dialogue written by Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg and published in SFWA’s The Bulletin #202. In that post, I tried to point out the (serious) flaws in their reasoning, and to simultaneously question the wisdom of including such flawed content in an official trade publication.

Since that post went live, I have watched the Internet (or at least our genre corner of it) explode with fury: directed at Resnick/Malzberg, directed at Bulletin editor Jean Rabe, directed at SFWA, directed at SFWA’s leadership, directed at critics, directed at men, directed at women, directed at young people, directed at old people. Watching the cultural debate unfold across blog posts, comment threads, forum discussions, and tweets, it often seems that the only ones who have escaped unscathed are dogs, cats, and certain species of tropical fish. For a decent sense of the rhetoric flying around, I recommend Jim C. Hines’ link roundup post.

Today, two events occurred which build upon and extend the previous week’s controversy:

First, Vox Day (a SFWA member and losing candidate for the SFWA presidency, a.k.a. Theodore Beale) publicly posted a racist screed attacking N.K. Jemisin in which he repeatedly refers to her as a “half-savage” and states that a “society of NK Jemisins…” (read: people of color) “…is [in]capable of building an advanced civilization, or even successfully maintaining one without significant external support from those white males”. I won’t link to Vox Day’s blog here, but Google will quickly lead you to it.

Day’s post (on his personal blog) would be just another instance of him spewing racist and misogynistic vitriol on the internet were it not for his abuse of SFWA platforms in its dissemination. In particular, Day made use of the @SFWAauthors twitter profile (which retweets promotional tweets of SFWA members) to increase the reach of his post. Considering the content of that post, this is in flagrant contravention of SFWA’s terms of service for the @SFWAauthors Twitter handle:

Not every blog post is appropriate for @sfwaauthors. If a post is not about writing, or about fiction or publishing, do not mark it for inclusion in the @sfwaauthors twitter feed. Repeated violations of this policy will be grounds for removal from the feed. SFWA reserves the right to determine what posts are appropriate.

Marking blog posts for inclusion that include threats or personal attacks or obvious trolling will also be grounds for removal.

(quote via Amal El-Mohtar, emphasis mine)

SFWA members and non-members alike have responded to Day’s detritus by criticizing his reprehensible and hate-filled views, and calling for his expulsion from the organization. Amal El-Mohtar in particular has written an eloquent and logical indictment of Day’s actions, making a case for his expulsion from the organization based on SFWA’s current by-laws.

Today’s second event relevant to the discussion is SFWA’s publication of a three-step plan (apparently mis-titled as a four-step plan) to address concerns about the SFWA Bulletin. The plan is brief (having only three steps), but it lays out a reasonable and professional approach to examining options, formulating plans, and implementing them in a reasonable time frame.

SFWA’s plan is a step in the right direction, and raises the question of how it should be done. And here is where today’s two events – and the past week’s controversy over the Bulletin – converge on the issue and definition of professionalism, and SFWA’s role in promoting professionalism amongst its members.

Vox Day, Resnick/Malzberg, Sexism, Racism, and Relevance

The current controversy surrounding SFWA has two facets: the first is criticism of individuals for their condescending attitudes, offensive words, and reprehensible actions. When it comes to Resnick/Malzberg’s condescending and offensive “dialogue” I agree with much of that criticism (as I said unequivocally here). When it comes to Vox Day’s vile hate speech (which I have not discussed before), I would like to state my position clearly: such discourse is disingenuous, argued in bad faith, and offensive in the extreme. It is designed to do little more than stir greater controversy. Our genre and our species deserves better.

While I agree with criticism of the individuals and the views they espouse, I don’t think either Day or Resnick/Malzberg are likely to change their words or values based on such criticism: Resnick/Malzberg implied as much in their much-maligned most recent Dialogue, and I take them at their word. Which is why (as I said earlier), I think it is pointless to argue with them. In a similar fashion, I think it unlikely that Vox Day (given his longstanding penchant for racist and misogynist writing) will ever re-examine his positions.

Yet the second facet of this controversy arises from the relationship of such individuals to SFWA as a professional organization. And here, the cases of Resnick/Malzberg and Vox Day are very different.

In the case of Vox Day, his actions today were in clear violation of the terms under which SFWA members can benefit from the @SFWAauthors Twitter handle. The organization responded promptly and correctly, deleting the (presumably automatically generated) retweets. Whether this violation is sufficient to expel him from the organization (as Amal El-Mohtar advocates here) is unclear to me, but I would not shed a tear if the Board were to expel him. This is a question of SFWA’s bylaws, and their application by SFWA’s Board.

But Vox Day and his racist views are personal views, separate from the SFWA Bulletin. We can and should condemn them vocally. But Day is not a representative of SFWA, and to outside observers it would be difficult to construe his hate-filled words as being endorsed by the organization. Most of us can spot a crank when we see one, and the organization was quick to rectify the retweet of his blog post. More troubling are the cultural implications of Day getting about 10% of the vote for the SFWA presidency. But those implications are a separate issue, with long-term consequences for the genre and for broader society. We will continue to debate them for years to come, and hopefully we will do so in a polite and professional fashion.

Resnick/Malzberg – and the attitudes they displayed in their Dialogue – are a more immediate concern, and a more complicated case. Unlike Vox Day, they were published in SFWA’s official publication. The organization (read: the members) paid for their words. This lends their words greater weight than the essays of Vox Day. The implied official sanction of Resnick/Malzberg’s attitudes raises questions about SFWA’s commitment to diversity, its openness to new voices, and its respect for all writers and readers.

The Danger of Assumptions

Resnick/Malzberg and the SFWA Bulletin controversy highlight a disconnect between the standards of professionalism many of us assumed applied to The Bulletin, and the standards which were actually applied by the Bulletin’s editor (and tacitly approved by SFWA president John Scalzi, as he states here). In this dimension of the debate, it is not the single, specific offensive article that matters but rather an escalating pattern of publishing “unprofessional” material.

These issues are important. They were important when I wrote my earlier post and they remain important now. Considering the hate mail people have been receiving for speaking out (see here and here), and Vox Day’s escalation of hate speech, these issues may be even more important today. And yet, within all of the righteous fury, personal animus, and hyperbolic vitriol, I fear we risk losing sight of some important questions:

  • What does it mean to be a “professional” trade publication?
  • Who makes that decision?
  • And what implications should that have decision have on the content of The Bulletin?

I’ve been thinking about these issues for the past week or so and discussing them with uniformly civil, respectful people in the comments here, on Twitter, and on various discussion boards. For your consideration and debate, this post will answer them according to how I think. I may be wrong, and I may be foolish, but only by focusing on those questions are we likely to affect any kind of systemic change (whatever such change may be).

Let me address those questions in reverse order:

Implications of “Professionalism”

The Bulletin is an edited magazine, produced by SFWA and distributed to SFWA members and non-members alike. It is a trade publication, meaning that its mission is to discuss the business of writing. Because SFWA is an organization for science fiction and fantasy writers, The Bulletin focuses its attention on the business of writing science fiction and fantasy in particular.

As an organization, SFWA puts great store by the term “professional”. Consider its painstaking definition of what constitutes a “professional” market, and by extension the qualifications necessary to be an Active member. Since its members are specifically “professional” science fiction and fantasy authors, by logical inference one could expect its trade publication to adhere to certain standards of professionalism.

Such standards – whatever they may be and however they get defined – fundamentally shape the magazine’s content. They affect which articles are bought for publication and which illustrations are purchased for the magazine’s cover. They influence the interior design and the ordering of articles within each issue. And they inform how content is revised prior to publication.

Whatever standards (lax or not, appropriate or not) had been applied to The Bulletin are the proximal cause of the current controversy, and all concomitant unpleasantness.

The Arbiters of Professionalism

So who decides what those standards should be? Considering that it is SFWA – a member-funded, volunteer-run organization – who publishes The Bulletin, it stands to reason that SFWA members should ultimately decide those standards. But how should that work in practice? It is laughably impractical to subject every editorial choice to a vote amongst SFWA’s almost 2000 members.

SFWA needs (and I believe has) mechanisms to define and arbitrate such standards, particularly through the executive authority of its elected Board. I am not well versed in SFWA’s bylaws, but my understanding is that SFWA members elect its Board and its Board manages the execution of the organization’s mission. Publishing The Bulletin falls within that mandate, and by extension so does the setting of standards to which The Bulletin should adhere.

Does that mean that a Board vote need be taken to approve every editorial choice? No, because that too would be ridiculously impractical. Instead, the Board delegates such editorial choices to The Bulletin’s editor – in this case Jean Rabe (who has since resigned). For such delegation to be effective, the standards of professionalism determined by the Board should be articulated and agreed with the editor. In the case of The Bulletin’s most recent issue, and judging by John Scalzi’s statement, it would seem that such shared understanding was not achieved.

As SFWA moves forward, I believe that the Board should specifically take considered steps to ensure that The Bulletin’s editor and the Board are actually aligned on whatever definition of “professional standards” the Board (or Task Force) settles on. That’s just responsible management, and I am pleased that the Task Force’s initial plan seems to recognize this need. In the event that SFWA members disagree with the Board’s managerial decisions? Addressing such concerns is what SFWA’s election process is for.

So what should “professional” mean in this case?

Which brings us to the question of what “professional” means. This is something I have been thinking about quite a bit in the past several days, particularly observing the hurt, offense, and sense of betrayal that this controversy has spawned on all sides of the debate. And the more I think about it, the more convinced I become that any discussion aspiring to “professionalism” should focus on the work, and not on extraneous considerations which distract from that work.

Consider: when was the last time we saw such controversy erupt over an article in Plumbing and Mechanical (a plumbing trade journal)? Why don’t we see such vitriol and controversy in most professional trade publications? I think the reason is because they keep personal issues and opinions out of the publication. The gender attitudes, racial prejudices, political opinions, religious beliefs, fabric preferences, etc. of someone writing about spot-welding techniques, contractor advertising strategies, or the history of copper tubing are utterly irrelevant to the work.

Why should it be any different for someone writing about plot structuring techniques, book publicity strategies, or the history of the SF/F genre?

When I go to industry conferences outside of the SF/F community – when I hang out at media research cocktail parties and speak to other professionals – you know what rarely comes up? Politics. Religion. Gender values. Racial prejudice. Why? Because that’s not what we are there to discuss. We are there to discuss the work.

I have no more right to force my views on others than they do to force their views on me. I may disagree with those views (and boy do I ever disagree with Resnick/Malzberg and Vox Day!), and I may voice that disagreement, but that’s as far as it goes. The best way – therefore – to keep the conversation at a professional level is to avoid personal issues that have no bearing on the subject at hand.

Does this mean that we should “ban” gender, racial, or political discussions from our professional discourse? I would hope not! Questions of diversity, inclusion, and openness are vitally important to the genre’s long-term health. But there is a fundamental contextual difference between discussing personal gender attitudes as a subject in itself (e.g. “Person X is a misogynist!”, or “Person Y is a liberal fascist!”, or “SFWA endores sexism!”, or “SFWA is ruled by liberal fascists!”) and discussing gender as evidenced in the work (e.g. “Covers depict women in X fashion, and that has implications of Y”, or “Author X subverts traditional gender power dynamics in their work by doing Z”, or even “Historically, women editors did Q, as compared to male editors who did Z”). Note the distinctions in punctuation, subjects, objects, comparatives, and conclusions. I would hope professional SF/F writers can grok the difference in approach, tone, and context.

Many people have noted the difference in reaction to Resnick/Malzberg’s original dialogue (in issue #200), CJ Henderson’s “Barbie” article (in issue #201), and Resnick/Malzberg’s most recent piece (in issue #202, here). The original articles were problematic: They used language in a fashion out-dated by today’s standards or employed condescending metaphors unwisely. Their language made me and many other critics wince. Many people voiced their complaints about this rhetoric then, but the reaction was relatively muted. Not so after issue #202. Why the difference in reaction? Several reasons, one of which may be that the earlier pieces were (for all of their myriad problems, most of which I consider to be significant) more professional in their content by the standard I propose above than Resnick/Malzberg’s most recent screed.

I think that as a genre we can do better. We already do better in many places. If we look at the discussion around gender bias in reviewing, if we look at the debate around this year’s all-male Clarke Award shortlist, if we look at Jim Hines’ writing about cover art, if we look at Kameron Hurley’s essay about women warriors, it is clear that as a genre we can do it right.

As professional writers, we should all have the rhetorical chops to focus our writing on the work itself. After all, isn’t that what we all have in common? A passion for science fiction and fantasy? Focusing on the work is the very soul of professionalism, and I do not believe that should be too much to ask of SFWA’s trade publication. Ensuring that the publication adheres to such standards should be the responsibility of its editor, and by extension the SFWA Board.

This particular issue of professionalism is far less exciting than the vocal outcry against perceived sexism, perceived thought control, or outright racism. It’s not as likely (I think/hope) to get emotions riled. But if we don’t explore and address this more prosaic question (and do so – dare I say it – in a professional fashion), then we’ll just end up having this furious debate yet again.

Instead, I think we should all be focused on telling better stories, selling more books, entertaining more readers. And that focus should be reflected in our professional trade publications. If we do that, the offensive attitudes of individuals like Vox Day and Resnick/Malberg will be consigned to the dustbin of professional irrelevancy.

(Of course, this may just be one aspiring SFWA member’s futile attempt to close the barn doors after the horses have fled…but I felt it needed doing anyway.)

PLEASE NOTE: If you are a SFWA member and have an opinion on the expulsion of Theodore Beale/Vox Day from SFWA, you should bring it to the attention of SFWA’s Board and your regional director.

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