Yeowch

And there you have it. The default voice/viewpoint of F&SF is white, Middle American, male – and doesn’t even try to reach out and become the Other imaginatively. Where’s the alien archeologist exploring the remains of post-Catastrophe Terra, trying not to get shot by sling-armed natives as gtst loots, ahem, recovers the artifacts from the tombs of their ancestors, the Renaissance kabbalist trying tragically to wield mystic power against oppression in Isabella’s regime, the Queen of California’s reaction to conquistadors arriving on her shores as she saddles up the gryphons? Even the female writers self-identify with the patriarchy, even when reviewing Tiptree.

From here, which in all fairness is described as “a red-hot rant of a review”. The issue under discussion is the October/November 2006 issue — you’ll want to familiarise yourself with the table of contents here, since the reviewer pretty much expects you to know and just keep up. Let it be noted that the issue includes stories by Geoff Ryman (“The mind boggles – mine at least – at the amount of hubris and Western Privilege entailed in this endeavor, particularly given what I know about contemporary Cambodia”), Carol Emshwilller (“… nothing subversive or original here, yeah Strong Women On Their Own only they behave utterly conventionally in the Wimmen Are Naturally Wicked, Wanton, Jealous, Untrustworthy, Cruel & Uncooperative left to themselves without men to govern us”), and Paolo Bacigalupi (which is the part of the review that really made my head spin; it’s also how I discovered the post, since it links to my review, which obviously came over as less critical than intended), and that the patriarchy-self-identifying Tiptree reviewer mentioned is Elizabeth Hand.

EDIT: Just to be clear about this: the reason the above-linked review frustrated me, and the reason I linked to it, is not that I disagree with its assessments of the stories under consideration, though I do in almost every case, but that by being so sloppy in detail, by drawing such damning conclusions about the beliefs of the authors in question on the basis of such weak evidence, and by embracing such a hostile tone it makes itself too easy to dismiss. That seems a waste to me, because the actual issues involved are, self-evidently, important.

51 Responses to “Yeowch”

  1. Peter Hollo Says:

    Yeowch is right. Haven’t I read some pretty bizarre ranting from bellatrys before?
    The head does spin. Describing Elizabeth Hand, from that review, as patriarchy-self-identifying is something of a clue, though. If that’s patriarchical then nobody much has much of a chance, do they? Which perhaps also explains why she hasn’t heard of a number of really big names that appear in this issue.

    I didn’t read enough of it to work out how much of it I’d take seriously (I’m certainly not in the “there’s nothing wrong with the gender ratios in F&SF and the other big name sf mags” camp and), but it is the sort of writing that makes me repeat “I am a feminist, I am a feminist” in my head. Not that I would make the cut, obviously…

    I should add that understanding your review as uncritical also belies a pretty one-dimensional standard for what counts as critical.

  2. Ellen Datlow Says:

    Too bad the ranter hasn’t fact checked her words before spouting them. Easy errors I found on a quick skim:
    Alice Huntingdon’s for “Alice Sheldon”
    Carol Emschwiller for Carol Emshwiller who is NOT a California writer but a New York writer (she summers in California)

    And let’s see, this supposed feminist has read none of of Elizabeth Hand’s fiction or any of Carol Emshwiller’s novels.

    “Revelation” by somebody named Albert Cowdrey,–condescension alert
    “Pop Squad,” by someone named Paolo Baciagalupi, –condescension alert–just because SHE hasn’t heard of them, they’re nobodies in her terms.

    She admits that she’s never been to contemporary Cambodia yet assumes that Geoff Ryman hasn’t either (I believe he has)

    For some reason she judges “Pop Squad,” “reads like it could have come from the pages of Columbia magazine, or one of those other conservative Catholic propaganda sheets which occasionally lapses into (acknowledged) fiction.”

    By Good Intentions,” by someone else I don’t know named Carrie Richards–another condescension alert

    Booring

  3. Jonathan M Says:

    At the risk of being lynched…

    I don’t think that this rant has as much to do with actual discrimination and “patriarchy enabling” as it does with intellectual posturing. I don’t mean that necessarily in a bad way.

    I think the point of the review is to enthuse and enrage the kind of female fans that invariably complain about sexism in the short story mags. I think that the rant is fueled by a desire to energise the grassroots of a potential movement and fire a few rounds across the bow of the SF literary establishment. Hence to rather loose adherence to facts or context.

    I wouldn’t have put Elizabeth hand down as a “patriarchy-enabler” and I also think that Ryman actually has been to Cambodia. I’m not sure that fantasy is a female genre either.

    Compared to a generation ago there are FAR more women in fandom but this massive increase in grassroots fandom hasn’t really transferred over to a massive increase in professional female SFF writers. I think the ranting is more about getting people angry than it is about making a coherent argument. It’s target audience isn’t me or Niall. In fact, I suspect that the target audience isn’t even wider fandom but rather the people who hang out on and obsess over short fiction magazine forums etc.

  4. Niall Says:

    Peter:

    but it is the sort of writing that makes me repeat “I am a feminist, I am a feminist” in my head.

    Indeed. I’m all for standing outside a text and being sceptical of its assumptions and context, but that tends to work best if you can prove that you understand said assumptions and context. I have reservations about “Pol Pot’s Beautiful Daughter” myself, to do with the fact that there is a real equivalent of the character in the story, and yes, to do with Ryman’s conciliatory impulses; and the argument that it’s ok because he’s not American and because he’s been to Cambodia strikes me as unconvincing because the story should stand by itself. (The extent to which the author’s identity matters is something I keep worrying at when I think about cultural appropriation.) But clearly assuming the story is American because it’s published in an American magazine, and then basing a lot of your criticism on that assumption, is dodgy ground, not to mention simplistic.

    Ellen:

    Yes, there are lots of errors like that — talking about Elizabeth Hand “reviewing Tiptree” in the bit I quoted, for example. But to be fair, getting Carol Emshwiller’s name wrong doesn’t invalidate Bellatrys’ points about Emshwiller’s story. What does make them questionable, I think, is that her review reads very much as though she’s been led to expect a certain kind of thing from F&SF, and then read the issue with that expectation in the forefront of her mind and, lo and behold, found that thing in spades. (That the expectation is so established is a bit worrying.) Her reading of “Pop Squad”, in particular — it’s a reading that makes a sort of sense but only if you assume (a) the narrator is reliable and (b) the narrator holds the author’s views. Both of which are, well, they’re not assumptions I’d want to have to substantiate.

    I didn’t go over and comment there because I suspect it would result in a discussion that would eat my weekend without being terribly productive.

    Jonathan:

    Its target audience isn’t me or Niall. In fact, I suspect that the target audience isn’t even wider fandom but rather the people who hang out on and obsess over short fiction magazine forums etc.

    Hang on, are you saying I don’t obsess over short fiction magazines? Clearly I haven’t been talking about short stories enough lately!

    I agree that we’re not the target audience, but I think the target audience is precisely “wider fandom” — people, like Bellatrys, who don’t know who Paolo Bacigalupi is because the focus of their fannish interest is not on F&SF, Asimov’s, etc.

  5. Kev McVeigh (Pigeonhed) Says:

    I have to say that I haven’t regularly read F&SF/Asimov’s etc for a few years, simply because I dodn’t have the time or the money, but at one time I did, and Bellatrys lost credibility for me right at the beginning with the assertion that s/he has never found a story in any of them in all the years of reading that made her want to rush off and buy it.
    So I grabbed the nearest box of back issues and saw Fowler, Cadigan, Murphy, Goldstein, Tiptree (several times) and more. I saw the stories that first brought me to Shepard, Sterling, Kelly, Hand, Butler and Waldrop, and brought me back to Silverberg, Ellison and LeGuin. And I found personal favourites who i know aren’t everybody’s cup of tea such as Judith Moffett. Authors who now account for probably over a hundred books on my shelf just within a few issues. If Bellatrys has never had a discovery like any of them then her view of what makes great modern SF is seriously skewed away from mine, and I suspect most of the people I know.
    And whilst I don’t know if I’ve read Paolo Baciagalupi (or how to spell his name), I have seen him talked about, and am aware that I probably should take a look.

    The question this then raises for me is that is it a fault of F&SF etc that a reader like Bellatrys hasn’t found all this history or just a sign of Bellatrys ranting without substance?
    I vote the latter.

  6. Jonathan M Says:

    Niall : It’s just that whenever people start screaming and shouting about feminism, it tends to come from the communities that have built up around short fiction zines. If you look at the Slapfight community (now sadly drying up) you’ll see what I mean.

    It’s comparatively rare for someone to start bellowing about discrimination and patriarchy in non-short fiction related communities.

    I don’t mean this in an “Oh it’s those uppity bitches again!” sense, more that I think there’s quite a specific sociology involved in these anti-patriarchy, SF’s completely misogynistic rantfests.

    Firstly, I think these rants come from communities of people specifically trying to get into SF Fiction Magazines and so are perhaps more obsessive over rejection letters than wider fandom might be.

    Secondly, I think that a lot of SF magazines tend to either be edited by or prominently feature writings by male SF bods of an advancing age and as such tend to put their feet in it when it comes to dealing with the concerns of feminist SF. for example, there was the Martini thing and now the Helix thing where the editor got a kicking for doing an all-female author issue but then wanting credit for it.

    I suspect that there’s a specific sociology at work here because non-white, non-anglo-saxon, non-straight fiction is hideously under-represented but this seems to generate comparatively little anger or even concern… prompting me to think that this is more about a specific fandom sub-culture flexing its muscles than anything else. As such, the fact that that particular issue of F&SF might not be the patriarchy enabling piece of agitprop the poster accuses it to being is really not that important.

  7. Kate Nepveu Says:

    I have reservations about “Pol Pot’s Beautiful Daughter” myself, to do with the fact that there is a real equivalent of the character in the story, and yes, to do with Ryman’s conciliatory impulses

    Niall: educate an ignorant person? I just read it last night and I thought it would be a very nice story if it were about a secondary fantasy world, but obviously it’s not and I wasn’t sure how that affected it, because of my ignorance–though the ending made me twitch a bit.

  8. Ellen Datlow Says:

    Niall,
    Of course Bellatrys’s misspellings aren’t lynchable offenses ;-) but…she continually misspells Emshwiller’s name on her site –and obviously has not read anything else by the author, most of which is indeed feminist. To judge a writer’s whole oeuvre by one story is just lazy. Unfortunately, I DID go over there, discovered some sideswipes taken at me and had to respond…fool that I am.

  9. Kate Nepveu Says:

    (I have since learned that Pol Pot _did_ have a daughter, which I had imagined from the story to not be the case. This bothers me. I’d still like to hear your thoughts on the “concillatory impulses,” though.)

  10. Kameron Hurley Says:

    As the target audience of the rant, I believe, I’ll say I found parts of it interesting. Or, at least, parts of it entertaining.

    Emshwiller is an awesome feminist writer (she was also one of my Clarion instructions), but I do remember her saying something to the effect of, “I don’t know why everyone keeps calling me a feminist. I had three brothers. I really like men,” and I know that particular quote pisses off a lot of feminists – radical and otherwise (in the “oh gawd, I’m not a feminist but..” cliched way), and I do think there’s a lot of push and pull in Emshwiller’s stuff where you can see this grappling with feminist issues while still winking toward a male audience saying, “It’s all in good fun, yes? We’re just having a good time here, but I think this is really important, but I don’t hate men. But this is really important.”

    I found much of the rant, honestly, unreadable, mainly because of the way it was put together, and as Ellen said, some of the blatantly false statements and assumptions about particular writers bugged me (Ryman was *also* one of my Clarion instructors), and so I took the whole thing less seriously.

    At the same time, I recognized some of the despair and angst about short Sf/f. There are some absolutely wonderful things out there I love (Chris Priest shorts, Kelly Link, some VanderMeer, Emshwiller, old Russ) but you’re not going to find a *lot* of that stuff in *any* short SF/F mag out there (except SH, but that’s not a print zine). The short SF/F mags do, I think, cater to an older, more traditional SF audience. Me, I’m fine with that; it’s why I don’t read them. I get all of my short fiction online (when I read it; I’m also not a great fan of the short form. I don’t get that b is either, and to be honest, if you don’t like the short form so much, it’s better to stick to sure-fire collections like Link than to try and wade through the periodicals).

    So I have some idea of what bellatrys is raging about. Now, I *especially* have an idea of what she’s raging out if, as has already been put forward, she’s a newer writer and hasn’t been published much. When you’re a feminist SF writer first getting started, it can be really fucking aggrevating to feel like you’re getting the brushoff and yet all this other rubbish is getting published. You start to think that maybe it’s because you’re just too radical. Or too feminist.

    To some extent, that can be true: somebody’s more likely to take a risk on a sure-fire traditional mediocre story than a feminist (or, worse: didactic) piece of mediocre fiction (and sometimes you just get lucky. One of the first shorts I published happened to be a mediocre story of *exactly the right word length* that the editor needed in order to fill up his issue. No joke).

    The secret, which I think all feminist SF/F writers should get told immediately: is to write a story so fucking good that no editor in their right mind would pass up on it – liberal, conservative, feminist, misogynist or not.

    When you’re good, you’re good, and at some point, the editors will start coming to *you.*

  11. Jackie M. Says:

    The secret, which I think all feminist SF/F writers should get told immediately: is to write a story so fucking good that no editor in their right mind would pass up on it – liberal, conservative, feminist, misogynist or not.

    When you’re good, you’re good, and at some point, the editors will start coming to *you.*

    In science I’ve heard that referred to as “Marie Curie syndrome”: if I work hard enough, and I’m good enough, and I don’t rock the boat, eventually the establishment will give me tenure and a salary and office space that’s on par with my male colleagues. Equal pay for equal work will happen if I just keep my head down long enough.

    (but, man. That review is vile, Niall. More’s the pity, because I suspect there are some good points in there… but it’s buried in all the categorical generalizations and lazily ignorant assumptions. Can’t you find something similar, but in a nice, thoughtful, articulate shade of activist?)

  12. Susan Booth Says:

    Just to remark that the reviewer is better known in (media) fan fiction, where she gets as upset on similar themes about amateur writers working in other people’s worlds.

  13. Jonathan M Says:

    Looking at the comments on the original post, it seems like there’s a lot of anger there but it’s not particularly well directed or focussed at anything. I think they’re now trying to argue that Ellen has no insight into the issue because she may or may not have come from a middle class background.

    It, again, seems to me that this is all about a certain section of fandom “not gettin’ enough respect”.

  14. Niall Says:

    Ellen: I was offline for most of yesterday, so I hadn’t seen how the comments had developed. Yeowch all over again. (But all hail La Cadigan!)

    Kate:

    (I have since learned that Pol Pot _did_ have a daughter, which I had imagined from the story to not be the case. This bothers me. I’d still like to hear your thoughts on the “concillatory impulses,” though.)

    Ryman’s recent work — specifically this story, Air and The King’s Last Song — seems to me to have a belief in the essential goodness of people, not to mention their capacity to accept change, that verges on the disingenuous. Abigail Nussbaum describes “Pol Pot’s Beautiful Daughter” as “a fairy tale in which a magical balm soothes Cambodia’s aching soul”, and I can see her point. I have less strong but similar reservations about The King’s Last Song; see Abigail’s review, my review, and a conversation we had.

    Kameron:

    I do think there’s a lot of push and pull in Emshwiller’s stuff where you can see this grappling with feminist issues while still winking toward a male audience saying, “It’s all in good fun, yes? We’re just having a good time here, but I think this is really important, but I don’t hate men. But this is really important.”

    Huh, that’s interesting. I haven’t read as much Emshwiller as I should — a couple of collections, plus stories here and there in other magazines; none of the novels, though I have a couple in the TBR pile — and I have to say I haven’t got that sense of compromise from her writing. Mostly what I feel about it is unsettled, forced to question all my assumptions. I think that comes down to what Micole says here, about how there is almost no authorial voice, so something that appears very straightforward almost certainly isn’t. Or you can never be sure whether it’s straightforward or not. It’s similar to how Gene Wolfe makes me feel, actually, except with Wolfe the uncertainty tends to limit itself to the story, whereas with Emshwiller the uncertainty extends out into issues beyond the story. Does that make sense?

    Jackie:

    Can’t you find something similar, but in a nice, thoughtful, articulate shade of activist?

    Trust me, when I do, I will (a) link to them and (b) badger them into writing other reviews for me. :)

  15. Kate Nepveu Says:

    Niall, thanks for the links. I’m still wrestling with this story, and it’s helpful to see other people’s thoughts as a means of calibrating.

  16. Ellen Datlow Says:

    I honestly think it comes down to what the editor enjoys reading. I would never intentionally buy a didactic story (unless it slipped by me, which to me would mean it wasn’t didactic) because I think they’re boring. Lessons can and should be taught by being embedded in great fiction. It has always irked me when critics of William Gibson’s short stories and early novels said his work was not political. ALL (or maybe most) fiction is political –usually the political point of view of the writer shows through. It certainly didn in the sprawl stories of Gibson.
    The great thing about the magazines is that there ARE so many of them with all kinds of sf/f now. A reader can probably find what she’s looking for if she just read a bunch of reviews by astute reviewers. These days, I’m mostly reading the mags for horror so my brain doesn’t concentrate on most of what I skim unless it’s really engaging (or horror). There seem to be a lot of newer writers in Asimov’s and F&SF and a pretty good variety of types of stories. Realms of Fantasy is more consistently solid than it was for it’s first five years although too many stories can seem of one tone (to me). Fantasy’s first issues were stronger (in my mind) than they are now–they were darker. The last two issues disappointed me but that’s because –as I say–I’m looking for horror and very dark fantasy.

    Regarding Carol Emshwiller, some feminists behave in the holier than thou mode and perhaps Carol was bridling at being stamped with the “you’re not feminist enough,” “you’re not writing feminist literature obviously enough for us”–Carol has gotten it from both sides: Truesdale attacks her fiction for being male hating after all. And that’s basically his definition of “feminism.” (although he’ll deny it).

    Arghh. I see I’ve started to blather. Maybe more later.
    thanks for providing this area for discussion–it’s much more fruitful than B’s blog.

  17. Kameron Hurley Says:

    Jackie – re: keep your head down and keep producing. Yeah… I don’t particularly like my own conclusion, there. Having to be twice as good in order to be considered “just as” good is still rampant pretty much… well, everywhere. Like you said, in science, too. I guess on some level, I’ve taken up that “I just have to work harder” mantra in so many aspects in my life these days that applying it to this bugs me less.

    Not that it doesn’ t piss me off. I don’t have a solution for this, except to read more and more mags like SH and popularize stories that break out of the Golden Age box, perhaps, in order to encourage people to buy more.

    Niall – yeah, dunno, I could be just projecting insofar as Emshwiller’s fiction goes (gawd knows *I* deal with a lot of push and pull), but Ellen’s right when she says that Emshwiller gets in coming and going, too: “you’re not feminist enough” from radicals, and “you’re a man hater” from weirdos like Truesdale. What this actually means is that she’s probably got it just right.

  18. Ellen Datlow Says:

    I hear from male writers who are just as frustrated as female writers–they can’t understand why the editors aren’t publishing them. And I tell them the same thing: just write a terrific story and if I like it I’ll buy it.

    I don’t think that either F&SF or Asimov’s are publishing anything like “golden age sf.” The struggle all of us short story editors are facing is to actually get science fiction submissions at all, rather than fantasy and the stories that fall between the cracks. In fact, although I’m partly responsible for the shift (in what I’ve been publishing occasionally from OMNI on) I bemoan the fact that most of the submissions I would read at SCIFICTION weren’t sf or fantasy–but “weirdish” fiction–but usually not weird enough for me to like it.

  19. Kameron Hurley Says:

    Ellen – and I think that can be a really difficult distinction for a young woman writing feminist SF. How much of this is “the patriarchy keeping me down!” and how much of this is really that you’re just a young newbie/Clarion grad who needs to bust it up for another five years before you get really good (just like everybody else)? And how much of it is a combination of that?

    It’s not always an easy question to answer, especially when you’re young and don’t have a real handle on how you compare to other writers yet.

  20. Niall Says:

    I just dug out my copy of the relevant issue of F&SF and read “Killers”. (I don’t think I read it first time around.) My first reaction is that I’d put “Killers” with stories like “The Library” and “My General” and “Boys”, which I sort of think of as “Emshwiller’s War Stories”, which are all about (from one angle) gender roles during and after conflicts. (They would make an interesting collection. I think there’s almost enough for a collection by now, although some were in I Live With You.)

    Bellatrys is right that the near-future-ness of the story is a bit odd — I think all Emshwiller’s other stories in this vein have been set in worlds that are sort of abstracted, that don’t necessarily connect to ours in a logical way even if they’re not fantasy. But “Killers” mentions that the local K-Mart has become a “big looted barn”, and nods to climate change and current in racial conflict, yet without ever (for instance) specifying the nationality or ethnicity of “the enemy” — “You never knew who to trust, and we still don’t. Our side put all we could in internment camps, practically everybody with black eyes and hair and olive skin, but you can’t get them all”. I don’t like Bellatrys’ prescriptiveness about what You Must Do when writing a near-future story, but “Killers” does have this weird half-way quality, which is interesting when you compare it to the other war stories, but perhaps makes it less successful on its own.

    I think Bellatrys misses some relevant details in her plot summary. The not-quite-women-only town (there are four men) is surrounded by hermits, who are almost all men driven mad by their wartime experiences. One of the hermits starts killing the others and dumping their bodies on the town border. The (female) protagonist lures him into her house, perhaps hoping he would turn out to be her lost brother, by making it seem as though she’s packing up and leaving. Crucially, he’s not one of the Enemy — he has pale skin, when she cleans him up. But he’s been killing, and even if he says he’s not going to do it any more she knows she should turn him in; she doesn’t because “in spite of my better judgement, I’m thinking of keeping the man. Trying to. I like the idea of having him around even though it’s scary.” So she makes up a cover story that he’s a visitor from another town, and introduces him at the next town meeting. They do not have a sexual relationship — the most affection that we see is that she tells us “Once he takes my hand and squeezes it — says how grateful he is.” But this seems to be the sort of over-interpretation that people with crushes invariably make, since at the town meeting the man’s attention is drawn to another, more attractive woman. At this point, the protagonist, hurt and excluded (but, realistically, not being “cheated on”), decides to do what she should have done in the first place and expose him, at which point the town council decides to hang him.

    Bellatrys’ summary:

    you know, nothing subversive or original here, yeah Strong Women On Their Own only they behave utterly conventionally in the Wimmen Are Naturally Wicked, Wanton, Jealous, Untrustworthy, Cruel & Uncooperative left to themselves without men to govern us, it’s Circe and Medea and Alcina and the f. of the s. more d. than the m., and the fact that it was written by one of us? BFD: the expression “colonized mind” was invented for a reason.

    First, I don’t think the story argues, or even supports the idea, that women need men to govern them; the women in the story are not a perfect and harmonious cooperative, but then they’re human, and by all indications the town is doing perfectly well for itself in hard circumstances. Clearly the protagonist’s actions at the end of the story are to a degree conventional, being motivated by sexual jealousy — but I think that’s something we’re meant to notice and think on, particularly since it’s a near-future story. I would argue for “Killers” as a story asking how deeply ingrained — how persistent — our contemporary gender roles are, asking whether even a near-apocalypse would wipe the slate clean. (And answering pessimistically.) Not Emshwiller’s best, but I don’t see it, as Bellatrys apparently does, as a simple and uncritical restatement.

  21. Ellen Datlow Says:

    I get the impression that Bellatrys is not a careful reader, everything being filtered through her own prejudices. (at least from her judgments of everything in the issue of F&SF from the fiction to Liz Hand’s review and to the science article by Pat Murphy and her co-worker.

  22. Micole Says:

    It’s fine to take issue with Bellatrys’ criticism — I have responded myself to the comments on stories or books I’ve read — but the psychologizing and ad hominenm attacks in these comments are outrageous. Jonathan M. attributes the force of Bellatrys’ argument to anger at not getting published (in response to a post where she explicitly says she is not particularly involved in the pro side of sf fandom), and says, “Compared to a generation ago there are FAR more women in fandom but this massive increase in grassroots fandom hasn’t really transferred over to a massive increase in professional female SFF writers. I think the ranting is more about getting people angry than it is about making a coherent argument. It’s target audience isn’t me or Niall. In fact, I suspect that the target audience isn’t even wider fandom but rather the people who hang out on and obsess over short fiction magazine forums etc.”

    First of all, feminism and coherent argument are not mutually incompatible. To claim that they are, that the feminist fan audience isn’t “wider fandom” (wider being male fandom, by definition?), or that the only people who care about inequities in gender representation are people who “obsess” over short fiction magazine forums (unlike our host?), is both condescending to and dismissive of a movement Jonathan claims to be sympathetic to. I have no problems with male feminists. I have a lot of problems with people who claim to be feminists but don’t think feminism is grounded in logic or objectively verifiable inequities.

    Second of all, the implication that only someone jealous because they’ve been rejected would complain about the gender ratio in sf/f markets is simply untrue. People involved in the slushbumb project included Charles Coleman Finlay, who has been published by F&SF frequently, and a number of writers and fans (both male and female) who provided statistics to back of the decline of female-authored stories in F&SF after Gordon took over from Kris Rusch–and since Gordon and John Joseph Adams did agree to track the gender ration of submissions briefly, we know that the acceptance ratio for men is disproprotionate to their submission ratio.

    Thirdly, if you’d like to see fans responding to gender and race ratios in long-form fiction as well as short form, the Wiscon LJ community and the feministsf wiki have plenty of links.

    Again, it’s perfectly legitimate to criticize Bellatrys’ tone or readings. But attributing motives to her, or minimizing the general feminist and anti-racist criticism of sf (both as a literature and as a social community) in order to defuse her criticism, is condescending, inaccurate, and *poor argumentation*.

    Niall, I actually agree with you more than not about the fiction/authors discussed, but “Yeowch” as a header strikes me as belittling.

  23. Niall Says:

    In Jonathan’s defence, I don’t think he claimed that feminism and making a coherent argument are incompatible, I think he claimed (somewhat tautologically, I admit) that ranting and making a coherent argument are incompatible.

    As I said upthread, I do disagree with his assessment of who the “wider audience” in this case is. Those of us of who read and discuss Asimov’s, F&SF, Interzone etc are (alas!) a minority when compared to the number of people with fannish involvement in sf in some form. I think Bellarys was expecting her audience to be that majority rather than this minority.

    Micole, I agree that in principle it’s more effective to respond to the substance of what Bellatrys says; that’s why I went and read the Emshwiller story. But Bellatrys makes plenty of ad hominem attacks of her own, about the authors she’s discussing, to the point where it’s not easy to believe she’s open to debate. That’s why I posted about Emshwiller’s story here. (I did actually get drawn into a thread on a subsequent post of Bellatrys’, which I regret. What I ended up saying is that the reason the review frustrated me is not specifically that I disagreed with it, but that in its style and sloppiness — in being so easy to criticise for superficial reasons — it seemed to marginalise itself. And that seems a waste.)

    Lastly:

    “Yeowch” as a header strikes me as belittling.

    My bad there, then; it wasn’t actually intended as such, but I can see how you could draw that conclusion.

  24. Kameron Hurley Says:

    I think that when reading something that’s been written, wondering over why the writer wrote a particular piece is a valid topic of discussion. I think bellatrys does the same in her review where she makes assumptions about the writers of certain stories based on those stories. And, as people who know some of those writers, we were really interested in where she’d gotten those impressions. That was our focus here; I know many of us have either addressed or discussed or read about the gender divide and sexism in SF in many other forums and through far more coherent threads. So that wasn’t our focus here.

    I think we try and understand a writer’s particular motivation for writing something regardless of who the writer is. As feminists, I know that we get a lot more shit from other people when we get angry (gawd knows I’ve dealt with my fair share of “why are you so ANGRY?”), but I do think that, in Sf/F circles, particularly when we look at short fiction markets, a lot of rants – from men and women, feminists and nonfeminists – take on a particular tone of “why is this crap published and mine’s not?” and I think some of us were mulling over how much of that we saw in bellatrys’s post.

    I don’t think that’s an attack, personally. I had a lot of people call me a ranting newbie when I attacked Baen Universe’s idiotic “we want a man’s beer money” rejection letter, too (I believe one of the editors at Baen, on a message board, called me a “twat” at one point. Which I would, indeed, call an attack rather than, say, an observation or actual discussion point or criticism about my style).

    That said, I see my part of this discussion having a lot more to do with how I, at least, felt that bellatrys may have undermined her argument by getting some facts incorrect and by the style of the post, which was longwinded and verbose. And by saying that, again, I don’t think I’m attacking anybody, I’m saying: man, I think there was some good stuff in there, but I got sidetracked by the weird declarations about the intent of the authors and the weirdly compressed chunks of text. I wonder why she did that?

    And then we discussed, and the discussion went off into different directions based on our interests. As discussions do.

    Sadly, I think the lack of coherence in bellatrys’s argument is why there’s not more here about the discussion of gender ratios in SF/patriarchy in SF (of course, it’s also been more coherently discussed, by us and others, elsewhere), because a lot of that ended up getting buried in that post (the problem with the gender ratio in SF is probably undisputed in many circles at this point; there are a lot of stats to back it up, in addition to personal and professional experience, but alas, we were, indeed, sidetracked and talked more about the actual review and the fiction under review, because that was a newer, undiscussed topic). Also, nowhere in here have I heard somebody say that bellatrys is only interested in gender ratios/”old white guy”ness of SF because she’s having trouble getting published. That’d be BS in every sense of the word.

    Hell, I’m getting published and it still irritates the *crap* out of me that there aren’t more women in SF (far more women in F, but yes, the Hugo ballot still sucks ass). However, that goes back to my point above: how much of the issue of young feminist writers not getting published (including me) is “being new” and how much is due to “patriarchy.” I still think that’s an interesting question, and I still think that being a new, feminist, writer, you’re facing the duel problem of being new *and* being feminist.

    I could also say that I resent the assumption that by having a discussion about the style, accuracy, and tone of a particular piece of writing (as opposed to addressing the subject of gender ratios and racism the post talked about, which most of us here have read or discussed elsewhere) is somehow “condescending, inaccurate, and *poor argumentation*.”

    And, indeed, if we’d wanted coherent links about racism and gender ratios in feminist SF/F, there are a ton out there, and I believe pretty much everybody who’s commented here has either been a part of those discussions or read a great many of them. But we were not, alas, commenting on those more coherent threads. We were interested in looking at the particular arguments made in *this* thread about *these* particular stories in *this* particular issue.

    If you wanted to pull out the arguments in bellatrys’s thread in an effort to get them discussed in depth here, great. But please don’t rush into a forum, call everyone a belligerent sexist misogynist or straw feminist because they disagree with the style and innaccuracies of someone’s post but aren’t addressing the parts of it you feel are most important but weren’t sufficiently coherent, and tell us to go to the Wiscon forum (or go to Wiscon. I’ve been there four years running), research all of the gender equities in SF/F (oh indeed, we know about them. We’ve argued about them and posted about them and read about them quite a bit), and talk down to everybody like we need a feminism 101 primer . It’s condescending and belittling.

  25. Jacob Weisman Says:

    Reminds me of when I carried Mao’s Little Red Book around for at least two months in high school and quoted passages like “Political powers grows out the barrel of a gun” at dinner parties.

    I can’t see how anybody could say anything definitive about Carol Emshwiller’s work on the basis of any one story. Her themes shift subtly from story to story; her narrator’s are unreliable. I edited her last short story collection and her last novel, have read most of her work, included stuff that hasn’t been published yet, and I have no clear grasp of what to expect (politically speaking) when I read one of her stories.

    The criticism of “Pol Pot’s Beautiful Daughter” is short sighted. To suggest that Western writers keep their hands off Eastern culture is to suggest that we should make no attempt to understand it except, perhaps, on its terms.

    And none of us probably has a bad word to say about Liz Hand, much less see her as a tool of the oligarchy.

    I think we’re all in a bit of shock that some of the people we love, our best and brightest, have been broadsided by this well intentioned attack. Although its nice to have Ellen Datlow with us in the trenches firing back.

    Go get ’em Ellen.

  26. Karen Burnham Says:

    To my mind, bellatrys fell into at least one common, tempting area where reviews shouldn’t go: criticizing everything the authors *didn’t* write instead of what the author did write. Thus Paolo comes in for a lot of criticism for Not writing about the various additional problems of the immortal society, and how exactly the future he wrote about arose from the present we are in. Likewise, she’s angry at Liz Hand for Not writing about how many problems women still have to overcome when she was writing that Alice Sheldon would have an easier time today.

    It’s a trap I sometimes find myself in as well – one of the things that bothered me about Accelerando was that Stross never showed what the Singularity would look like to someone living on a farm, or in Africa or rural China or what have you. I thought it was almost myopically western-centric, given that its scope was global and solar-system-wide. So I understand the impulse, but not every book can contain every thought an author might have on a subject. To stay focussed, readable, and within word count, every piece (be it a story, novel or review) has to leave some stuff out, and attacking pieces on that basis is a little unfair.

  27. Miggy Says:

    Can we all agree to stop wasting our time on a unsophisticated, barely coherent rant. Ellen, I can’t believe you actually posted over there. But good job nonetheless, giving them what fore. I agree with Jacob that we’re all emotionally charged here because of the people who are included and not because of the subject matter. Hell, if we take a minute, much of what’s said is true. Just picked the wrong targets to make those points. And didn’t read Paolo’s moving Locus interview earlier this month, either. Jacob, did you really carry the little red book with you in high school? I was much more into Lenin and Trotsky. Always thought the chairman was a bit of a thug.

  28. Ellen Datlow Says:

    Hey Miggy,
    I did it in the heat of the moment (hence the initial anonymous posts)–but also because I found myself personally under attack –something I hadn’t expected when I read the rant.

    But I think the discussion generated here might be worth our initial annoyance at the rant itself ;-)

  29. Micole Says:

    I had a longer response, but IE ate it; sorry if this seems abrupt.

    Niall — Thanks for clarifying about the title; I am a little sensitive on the matter of complaints getting minimized. I appreciate the care you’ve taken with the follow-up arguments.

    Kameron — I meant to respond specifically to Jonathan’s comment here and here, not as a general reproof to participants in the thread. I apologize for being unclear about that. If that strikes you as unfairly condescending and belittling to Jonathan, well — I can’t apologize for taking an action I’d take again. He didn’t sound like someone aware of feminist critique of the field going on outside short fiction circles.

    I haven’t called anyone a belligerent misogynist, although I’ll cop to “straw feminist” as a fair paraphrase of my response to Jonathan.

    I’ve responded to Bellatrys’ post to disagree about the stories/books I’ve read; I’m not going to follow up on the comments because it seems like a big cluster-fuck over there. I agree that there’s name-calling in the comments, but I agree that the main post has ad hominem attacks, for all its ranting tone, and for all that it may sound like that to people who know the writers in question; there’s a difference between broken textual critique (what’s going on in the original post) and personal attack (what’s going on in the comments and subsequent post).

  30. Micole Says:

    Sorry — “but I agree that the main post has ad hominem attacks, for all its ranting tone, and for all that it may sound like that to people who know the writers in question; there’s a difference between broken textual critique (what’s going on in the original post) and personal attack (what’s going on in the comments and subsequent post).”

    should be

    “but I disagree that the main post has ad hominem attacks, for all its ranting tone, and for all that it may sound like that to people who know the writers in question; there’s a difference between broken textual critique (what’s going on in the original post) and personal attack (what’s going on in the comments and subsequent post).”

  31. Ellen Datlow Says:

    I missed the whole rash of new personal attacks luckily (until now) because I’ve cooled off enough to not give a damned what they continue to say about me and my work. ;-)

  32. Ellen Datlow Says:

    “damn!” you know I mean “damn”…

  33. Jacob Weisman Says:

    Ellen — Double damn. I’m just glad your on my side.

    Mig — Yep carried the little red book with me wherever I went for a period that must have been, the way adolescents view time, between two weeks and three months. What I was trying to articulate in my post was that by carrying those books with me in a very visible manner I was trying on an ideology and challenging cold war authority. We all did things like that. Our parents called them phases. Sometimes they were even right. It wouldn’t have taken much, though, to puncture my rhetorical bubble because I just didn’t know that much about the subject besides what I’d read in those little red books (yes, there was more than one), no real knowledge of the cultural revolution. Bellatrys’ posts reminds me keenly of that. I was fortunate to go through that period in my life without broadcasting to tens of thousands semi-anonymous people. The analogy is rather rude of me since it equates Bellatrys with my 15 year old, somewhat misguided self. But hey, I was feeling entitled at that moment, something we white males have been accused of more than a few times.

  34. Ananke Jones Says:

    As an outsider (i.e. someone who has a long long history of reading sff, some fandom exp., nothing to do with publishing) this seems really over the top. bellatrys made a lot of similar points to what I would have made, as a reader. I pretty much agree with a lot of what she said, because I’m not one of the in crowd, I’m not a writer or a publisher. I’m a general reader who really does like sff but I pretty much don’t ever read any of the short fiction anymore, or newer stuff because so much of it is so terribly self-concious or so far behind when it comes to actually pushing socio-political boundaries that I cringe just reading the blurb.

    Reading these comments just kinda solidifies that really – “I know X so I know they didn’t mean it that way” doesn’t count for much as a reader. Doesn’t change how it came across. It just means you’ve got more information than me, info that I don’t/won’t have access to. It seems to also mean that you get to act like our interpretation has no value because YOU are published/a publisher/know that guy. When it really means you’re working with even more of a bias.

  35. Niall Says:

    Ananke: while there are people here who know the writers under discussion, the errors being objected to almost all relate to information that is readily available in the public domain — such as, most obviously, the fact that Geoff Ryman isn’t American.

    Tangentially, I’d also be interested to know who you do read and consider to be pushing socio-political boundaries.

  36. Tony Keen Says:

    Ananke: I don’t think that’s an entirely fair point. Much of the commentary above is based upon information that, in one way or another, is in the public domain. You don’t have to know Geoff Ryman personally to know that he’s spent a lot of time in Cambodia, as he’s said it enough times in interviews. And the responses to the attacks on Hand and Emshwiller aren’t based on a personal knowledge of those authors, but on a wider knowledge of each author’s body of work than bellatrys has. It is one thing to say ‘if only you know what I knew’, quite another, and rather more legitimate, to say that a piece of commentary is not an informed one, on the basis of knowledge that the writer could have got had they wanted.

    That said, this is just a rant in a LiveJournal, and I’m not sure it’s fair to hold it up to the same standards we’d expect from something in, for instance, Torque Control.

  37. Kameron Hurley Says:

    Ananke – fair point, but I think the fact that we know these writers and/or their larger body of work is what fueled the discussion in this particular direction (content of the factual innaccuracies of bellatrys’s rant, rather than the fact of SF/F gender ratios, lack of diversity).

    I cringed when Jacob posted “I think we’re all in a bit of shock that some of the people we love, our best and brightest, have been broadsided by this well intentioned attack.” Because these writers – ANY writers, should not and are not immune from criticism – from writer, fan, editor, publisher, whatever. That’s the name of the game. I couldn’t imagine ever making that assertion.

    But yeah, the issue was more an objection to lazy criticism because, again, bellatrys is talking about great, important stuff, it just gets lost in there with some of the obvious inaccuracies and bloated style. And I don’t think that’s a personal attack, BTW. It’s my impression of the writing style; totally different thing. Two cents.

  38. Hannah Says:

    >Yeowch is right. Haven’t I read some pretty bizarre ranting from bellatrys before?

    You may (or may not, depending on your friendslist) remember her from a last-winter rant about Sarah Monette’s The Virtu. I do love a good skewering, but it was about 5,000 words long and quickly blew past “clever” and “entertaining” into the realm of “tedious.”

  39. Ellen Datlow Says:

    Ananke,
    Bellatrys’s criticism of Elizabeth Hand as being a patriarchal tool was so off base that anyone who knows Hand (personally or professionally) has to step in. B’s judgment was based on the fact that Hand didn’t attack contemporary sexism in her review. This to me demonstrates ignorance of what a review (that isn’t on a blog) is. Her extrapolation from one story of Emshwiller’s that Emshwiller the person is misogynist is ill-informed and misguided. That’s what we’re offended by –if B had kept her rant out of the personal but talked only about the text she was reviewing I would have kept my mouth shut. (but maybe not, once I noticed that I was mentioned in various comments on her blog).

  40. Jonathan M Says:

    Micole,

    I wasn’t inferring or implying anything about feminism from the weakness of Bellatrys’ arguments and I don’t appreciate being painted as the kind of person who would reject feminism as the preserve of hysterical ninnies incapable of recognising a good argument when they see one.

    My point was that Bellatrys was rabble-rousing. The real audience for her review was not wider SF fandom as much as it is her immediate feminist SF peer group and, in particular, the cooler and smarter kids who are able to throw ideas and accusations like those used by Bellatrys but actually make them stick. I think it’s unfair to judge Bellatrys by the standards of contemporary SF criticism when the point of her post is primarily expressing rage. When such feelings are out there, it seems somewhat uncharitable to swat them aside because they’re not as precisely accurate as they could be.

    On a side note, I’ve never in my life claimed to be a feminist.

  41. Jonathan M Says:

    Ah… your comments now make a lot more sense :-)

  42. Ananke Jones Says:

    As a reader, not a participant, I don’t (as a rule) read interviews, entire back catalogues or any other ephemera. I read the books, occasionally reviews by friends/family/media I find on my lunch break. Which was more of the point I was trying to make – not just that you all seem to be writers/editors/publishers, but that your participation in sff is far beyond the average reader.

    It was an lj rant about an example – of course there were errors, she isn’t as involved as you seem to think we all should be. It wasn’t a referenced and cited essay, or even an article. It was a rant about why that particular volume shows why she doesn’t read short fiction any more. And as a feminist sff reader, I agree with her sentiments.

    As for what I read, it is mostly YA at the moment (I’m a YA librarian and doing my MAppSci) – so social issues are being written about all over the place in what I read, so coming across a *shock horror* gay person, or non-white person, or even a *female!!* person in my sff just doens’t cut it anymore. Swapping gender roles isn’t enough. It probably doesn’t help that I come from a feminist literature background academically, so I’ve probably got higher standards for feminist literature, or at least non-misogynist literature.

  43. Hannah Says:

    Ananke, I think the trouble with the Bellatrys review isn’t so much that she doesn’t know anything about the writers as that she makes false claims about them. LJ is down as I’m typing this, so I can’t access the review to pull quotes, alas.

    But it’s the difference between saying, “Here are some things that I found troubling about this review,” and, “Here are some things that I found troubling about this review, and here is what they mean about the person who wrote it.” If that makes any sense? The former is an argument about content. The latter is an argument about character. And you’re absolutely right: a reader shouldn’t have to know a writer’s background or personality before commenting on their work.

    But if that reader comments on the background or personality of that writer that they don’t know–if they’re making a false factual claim?–at that point, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for people who _do_ know the writer to say, “Wait, that just isn’t true.”

    And if a reader is being sloppy in some areas, or overstating their case, it’s harder (at least for me) to take ’em seriously in other areas. Which, on the one hand, is maybe a little unfair of me. But on the other hand, if their judgment is questionable over here, why would I expect it to be any better (or worse) over there?

    I’m not sure what all short fiction Bellatrix has read. My memory of the post indicates that it was mostly the digests? Which makes me curious what she might think of some other magazines (online and off), or some anthologies. Neither here nor there, but while I’m typing, etc.

    >It probably doesn’t help that I come from a feminist literature background academically, so I’ve probably got higher standards for feminist literature, or at least non-misogynist literature.

    You’re preachin’ to the choir on this count. I think that very few (if any) of the folks commenting here really find it sufficient to come across a *shock horror* gay person.

  44. Ellen Datlow Says:

    Ananke, as I and Hannah (and I think everyone else here agrees) have said no one believes you have to know the background of those whose fiction you read. However, B has made _personal_ judgments about all the writers whose work she read and didn’t care for. That’s not acceptable. Judge the work, not the author of it.

  45. Niall Says:

    As a reader, not a participant, I don’t (as a rule) read interviews, entire back catalogues or any other ephemera.

    An author’s back catalogue comes under the heading of “ephemera”?

    It was a rant about why that particular volume shows why she doesn’t read short fiction any more. And as a feminist sff reader, I agree with her sentiments.

    I can — and, in broad terms, do — agree with her sentiments up the wazoo and back. As Hannah said, you are pretty much preaching to the converted around these parts. That doesn’t make Bellatrys’ post good or useful, or her assessments of these particular stories any more accurate. I’ve read most of the stories she talks about, and if you stripped out the names I don’t know that I’d recognise them from her descriptions.

    I was hoping you’d name names when it came to your reading, because I’m always on the lookout for new authors to investigate. I will say that if you’re writing off all sf short fiction, you are missing some excellent work. You’re missing, for instance, Kelley Eskridge, and most of the rest of Aqueduct Press‘s range; you’re missing, looking at the stack of recent Asimov’s and F&SF by my side, new stories by Karen Joy Fowler, Holly Phillips, and M. Rickert; you’re missing, for goodness’ sake, Margo Lanagan and Theodora Goss and Kelly Link. (Or are you? Lanagan is published as YA, after all, and Link has a YA collection coming out next year.)

  46. Ananke Jones Says:

    While you (and I) don’t think having a gay character makes it all better, a lot of writers (sff and otherwise) show a tendency to use them as placards to show how liberal they are without that liberalness actually playing a part in the story. Like Conan with breasts – adding on a facade doesn’t make a damn difference if the foundation is lacking.

    I didn’t characterise back catalogues as ephemera, but added it to the list of things I don’t read – I generally wouldn’t touch a discussion like this with a ten-foot-pole. I generally avoid industry blogs because the name-dropping makes no sense. Hell, I rarely read the intro. I just read the story. Occasionally I seek out the author, but mostly I just read the story. And judge it on it’s own merits, rather than as part of a larger body of work. Because I am not writing an essay, or a dissertation, or part of the industry. I’m a reader.

    As for names: I don’t like Link (at all) and have several Lanagan books sitting in my TBR pile. I don’t write off all short fic, just most of the commercially published stuff. Particularly that which prides itself on either being ‘edgy’.

  47. Peter Hollo Says:

    I would’ve thought perceiving a piece of fiction as “being edgy” is paying a fair bit of attention to the ephemera rather than the work itself, but anyway…

  48. Hannah Says:

    >While you (and I) don’t think having a gay character makes it all better, a lot of writers (sff and otherwise) show a tendency to use them as placards to show how liberal they are without that liberalness actually playing a part in the story.

    Ahhh. Now this is when it gets interesting. Name names, please?

  49. Kathryn Cramer Says:

    I am familar with bellatrys as someone who tends to make thoughtful, intelligent blog comments.

    I sometimes have reactions like this when reading fiction. But I mostly don’t publish them. This item probably should have been marked Friends Only on LJ rather than being unleashed on the Internet at large (and the target authors).

    By the light of day, I think it should be recognizable that the writers she’s talking about are not the enemies of feminism. I think if she were sitting here across the picnic table on my screened porch, she would be able to conect to that.

  50. George Potter Says:

    Perhaps I just don’t get it.

    I’m sitting here trying to remember what race the narrator and the Visited Girl were in Sturgeon’s ‘A Saucer Of Loneliness.’ For the life of me I can’t recall. All I know is that every time I finish the story I’m reading the words through tears. I’ve never pondered the repressed sexuality or class based fears of Gully Foyle as his hoped for rescue passes him by and in the fiery hate of that moment he becomes a new and deadly creature. I simple marvel at the transformation and — on a small but very real part of me — understand it. I can’t quite remember at what point I learned that a fellow named James Tiptree, Jr. was actually a lady named Alice Sheldon — but the flavor and mind-blowing electricity of ‘The Girl Who Was Plugged In’ and ‘Her Smoke Rose Up Forever’ changed not at all with the knowledge. I do remember wondering idly if this great new writer Kage Baker was a man or a woman and deciding that the only thing that mattered was that the stories just thrilled me.

    Those are the reasons I read SF and Fantasy. There is, of course, a place in the genres to question power and class and race and gender. The incredible open format of the field is its greatest virtue. Those are some of the issues we have to deal with as human beings, and deal with them our genre should.

    But it shouldn’t obsess over them. The writers and readers should not feel the need to insert them in every story or attempt to ferret those issues out of every piece they read. To do so is to miss out on the vast and wonderful spectrum of thought the field can explore and does explore. Regularly.

    Give me the stories that are born around those moments. Give me the stories that involve such interesting characters living through those moments. Learning from them not what it means to be a race, a creed, a gender or an orientation, but what it means to be a human.

    I’ll be perfectly happy with those stories.


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