Wednesday, June 15, 2011

For the Fairest

Yet another rescued comment, and one which probably requires more background than most, in two directions.

Firstly, the British newspaper Guardian recently asked a number of notable SF types to name their favorite single SF novel, and then opened up the question for comments from their readership. The results, as has been typical for SF for seventy years or so, were heavily weighted towards several-decade-old works by white men. This, also as is typical, caused a furor, and this time the furor focused on the "men" portion of that result, rather than "several-decade-old" or "white." SF Signal, sensing an opportunity, asked a bunch of people to comment on the furor, and, as commentary is ever-extensible, the SF Signal collection of comments on the furor about the comments on the original Guardian list itself spawned a mildly contentious set of comments. This was my very late contribution to that far end of the hall of mirrors. [1]

Secondly, I direct readers who wonder about my tone to this post.
This is a fine start, but it doesn't go nearly far enough. What about writers of color? What about writers who work in languages other than English? Both of those groups are vastly more underrepresented in the original list, and thus any efforts to increase the market-share of marginalized groups should begin in those areas, rather than with women.

For that matter, the list utterly ignores writers of romances, westerns, and nurse novels, not to mention non-fiction. Clearly, Guardian readers don't know who their favorite SF writers should be, and it's time for a massive reeducation effort.

What we need now is a body to determine what we all should read, in what order, and how much we all should prefer each of those works and authors -- perhaps Paul Graham Raven and Ian Sales can form the nucleus of such a group, since they seem to be the most keenly interested in proportional representation of readership.

And perhaps they can begin by assigning those of us in this comment thread our appropriate favorite novels, so we can immediately stop "perpetuating the status quo."

[1] No one seems to have noticed the irony that all of this furious argumentation is about what a random bunch of British commentors should have chosen as their favorite books, or caught the whiff of Thoughtcrime blowing through the proceedings. I haven't read as deeply into this as I could have, so I don't know if there's any direct argument going on, that, for example, Ken MacLeod is not allowed to have A Canticle for Leibowitz as his favorite SF novel, since it's by a dead white man. But the argument certainly tends in that direction.

(Though that is not to say that the UK market and readership isn't inexplicably -- from my side of the pond, at least -- biased against women writers of science fiction, for reasons I really don't understand. And the Russ Pledge itself is an entirely positive reaction -- though I'm not sure I would agree with the characterization of "suppressed," which carries serious political baggage.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This again? It seems like we have this discussion every few months. And you know in cases when it's been very obvious. That anthology that had all mail authors for instance I agreed with them but they've cried wolf too many times. I also find it amusing that some of them seem to think that Guardian readers are conservative.

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