Feb. 15th, 2016

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Yet another all-white guy Awesome SF through the decades post went up this weekend, this one on SF Signal, written on the theme of “Cutting Edge SF.” Cue outrage and upset because a. this kind of post is so commonplace as to be ridiculous and b. these lists? They get replicated and boosted and quoted, often forever. “Best SF of the Year?” “Cutting Edge SF?” “Recommended Science Fiction and Fantasy?” “Best Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror of All Time?” Lots of them, all with very similar problems. If you have enough reach for your magazine or your online entity host and you, as the author, decide once again that only white, male voices from U.S. count as “science fictional,” it gets spread around. And around, often unquestioningly because So and So said this was great, sensawunda stuff.

Do you, the blogger/poster/reviewer have some level of responsibility to attempt to include other voices, other names? In my opinion, if you are writing for publication, by which we mean the consumption of more than the 10-infinite number of people who may read your personal blog and you are writing something that suggests that this work is the BEST, yes. You want to celebrate what you view as the awesomeness of Golden Age SF or F or H or whatever on your personal blog as the “No Girls/POC/LGBTQ folk allowed,” no one’s going to stop you. You put it out in any platform that has major reach (fanzine, the Guardian, etc.) and you’ve earned yourself some unpleasantness. It’s not 1940 anymore, folks (and even then, there are a number of prominent sfnal women writers that you’re conveniently ignoring).

The other side of this coin is that there is no obligation on the part of any publication to accept these posts, articles or lists as is. You, yes you, the editors of same, can make editorial suggestions. You can turn things down as not a great fit if the author doesn’t want to make changes and you can’t come to an agreement on changes. You can approach authors, scholars and fans who celebrate diverse SF/F/H and ask them to write your annual best of, your most awesome SF ever, etc., etc. You can post companion pieces that do talk about other authors if you feel the need to run the other version without changes. All of these should become standard practices if the genre is continue to grow and pull in new voices.

This is a bigger problem than any one magazine or site, unfortunately, one that perpetuates itself endlessly, despite efforts to change it. Am I saying that you can’t extol the virtues of Lance Insklinger, legendary author of orcs in spaceships and well known straight white dude with no time for those pesky wimminfolk? Eh, I’ll take a pass on reading it (or him), but there’s a distinct difference between celebrating one author or a small subset of authors and suggesting that for an entire year or 40 years, no worthwhile work has been produced by anyone not matching Lance’s demographic.   

“But I don’t read/like/know of any authors who aren’t in Lance’s demographic!” You cry. And verily I say to you that if you are unwilling to read more broadly (or learn to use a search engine), it is time to embrace truth in advertising and admit that you are not actually writing about the most awesome sword and sorcery or space opera of the millenium. Instead, you are writing a fan post about what you like and it is not “cutting edge of SF or best sf of the century,” it is a fan post about a subset of genre work that appeals to you. Try calling it “A Limited and Short List of Works on Theme X That Appeal to Me as a White Dude Fan.” I bet that would get circulated a lot less.


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