Choosing “Sides”

“I am not doing it because I was pressured by anyone either way or on any ‘side.’” -[Author]

“[Author] is everything any good leftist could ever want in a Hugo nominee, and they got hounded off the ballot by the LEFT.” -Brad Torgersen

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I’m conflicted about starting this post with those particular quotes. A handful of people have withdrawn their names from the Hugo ballot, and have asked to be left out of the anger and arguments, which I can certainly understand. I removed the name of the author in question because I don’t want them getting dragged into my rant here. But at the same time, this pair of quotes is one of the best illustrations of something I’ve been frustrated with for years.

I am so damn tired of the insistence on shoving everyone and everything into an artificial “Us vs. Them” framework. The Puppies thing is just the latest example. The only clearly defined “side” in this mess is the puppies themselves, and even that’s a slippery argument. Is Theodore Beale of the Rabid Puppies on the same side as Brad Torgersen and Larry Correia? Correia suggests they are: “Look at it like this. I’m Churchill. Brad is FDR. We wound up on the same side as Stalin.” But what about the commenters? Can people support some of what the puppies said they wanted — say, greater awareness of tie-in work in Hugo nominations — without having to swear allegiance to all things rabid?

What about the people on the respective puppy ballots? Is Sheila Gilbert of DAW on the puppies’ “side”? (Given that she has basically zero online presence, and that I’ve chatted with her about this, I can state for a fact that she was not contacted about being on any slate, nor did she know anything about it.) What about the creators of The Flash? Mike Resnick was on the slate, but has spoken out against the kind of bloc voting the puppies represented. (I’m unable to find the link where I read his comments on this, however.) Does choosing not to remove yourself from the slate or ballot mean you’re in lockstep agreement with Beale, Torgersen, and Correia?

I keep coming across commentary and arguments that assume you have to be either pro-puppy or anti-puppy. In broader discussions, you’re either us or you’re the enemy. Left or Right. Puppy or CHORF. Lately, I’m seeing more accusations of blacklists and gatekeepers and people’s careers being hurt because of their politics or beliefs or whatever, because some publishers are for Us and some are for Them, and you can’t succeed in this business without swearing allegiance to the Evil Gun Nuts of Baen or the Evil Tree-hugging Lib’ruls of Tor.

To be honest, that last bit is funny as hell. Baen publishes folks like Eric Flint and Lois McMaster Bujold. Jim Baen wanted to buy my very first book, and Baen continues to buy my shorter work for some of their anthologies. Then there’s Tor, which publishes Rabid Puppy darling John C. Wright, as well as Hugo award-winning author Orson Scott Card.

The “Us vs. Them” framework does nobody any favors. It’s simplistic, childish thinking. Pointing out that a particular author is a homophobic bigot based on things he’s said? Fair enough. Accusing anyone who likes said author’s work of being a homophobic bigot? Sorry, no. Torgersen and Correia have gotten a lot of ugliness hurled their way in all this — some of it has been truthful, and right on par with what they’ve been hurling, but some has been absolutely over-the-line and unacceptable.

I’ve talked to conservative friends who’ve described various microaggressions and flat-out attacks toward them and/or their religious beliefs. I’ve been attacked for beliefs I don’t have, simply because someone assumed I was on the other side. More recently, when I criticized the Sad Puppy slate on Twitter, I had someone accuse me of being a child molester. I spoke out against GamerGate and got a doxxing threat in my email within the hour. Then there’s the editor on the Sad Puppy ballot who publicly blacklisted and badmouthed me and a few other authors for not being on his “side”…

And I don’t get a fraction of the abuse, harassment, threats, and worse that people in more marginalized groups do, simply for daring to exist and speak out. Simply because people decided they were “Them,” and therefore fair targets for abuse and hate.

I know some of the Sad Puppies desperately want there to be some kind of Social Justice Warrior Conspiracy that’s been manipulating the Hugos and persecuting them for years, because that creates a simple narrative with them as the feisty rebels striking a blow against the Evil Empire. But there’s been zero evidence for it. Correia himself said he’d audited the Hugos a few years back and found no sign of anything suspect.

Are there systemic problems that permeate the genre, and our cultures in general? Of course. Malinda Lo has done a tremendous amount of work and analysis of diversity in fiction and the overall lack thereof. That doesn’t mean everyone has to be drafted into one of two like-minded armies of Pro-Diversity and Anti-Diversity warriors.

Some of the problems are linguistic. Hugo-nominated author Eric James Stone said recently, “In my opinion, accusing someone of racism is one of the severest charges one can make against someone’s moral character.” I disagree. I’ve absorbed the racism, sexism, and homophobia of my culture for almost as long as I’ve existed. I blogged about that a bit back in 2010. It took me years to recognize my own problematic attitudes, and to start actively working to change them. If I say I believe someone is being racist, I don’t see it as the severest charge against their character; I see it as recognizing we’re all imperfect beings who should be working to do better. (I recommend reading Stone’s entire post. I don’t agree with everything he says, but he has some good and valid points.)

MCA Hogarth talks about fear of being attacked for being one of Them, of deprecation and insults and criticism that generalize from “This individual is a nasty, bigoted human being” to “Christians and Republicans are the Enemy.” Once again, I don’t agree with everything she says — I’m particularly skeptical that anyone has the power to destroy a career with one Tweet — but I also think the fears she talks about are real and valid and worth thinking about. In many contexts in the U.S., to be Christian or Republican is to be the majority. To have power. But contexts vary, and this isn’t always the case in SF/F and fandom.

Part of my anger at Torgersen and Correia is because I feel like they deliberately encouraged this Us vs. Them mentality in order to win support and votes. They invented an evil cabal of “Them,” then rallied people to join their side against this fictitious enemy. Which only increases the abuse and the hatred. And please note: I’m angry at them as individuals, not because they’re conservative, or because of their views on gun control, or because they might have a different religious belief than I do. I’m angry because whatever problems were out there, these two individuals actively made them worse, and they hurt a great many people in the process. Themselves included.

Fandom is not two distinct sides. It’s a bunch of people who like things in a really big genre, a genre that has guns and spaceships and dinosaurs and dragons and magic and manly men and genderfluid protagonists and grittiness and erotica and humor and hard-core feminism and sexism and racism and hope and stereotypes and anger and messages and politics and fluff and were-jaguars and superheroes and so much more.

Criticism is not war. Choosing not to read or support things you don’t like isn’t censorship. Liking something problematic doesn’t make you a bad person.

We’re not perfect. And we’re going to keep arguing and fighting amongst ourselves. It’s part of being human. It’s part of being a fan. We’re really freaking passionate about the things we love. (If you diss Season Four of Legend of Korra, then hell yeah I’m gonna argue with you!)

But I swear, the next time I see someone arguing not against what someone said or did, but against their own imagined cardboard caricature of “Them,” I swear by Asimov’s Mighty Muttonchops I’m gonna feed that person to a goblin.

As always, I’ll be moderating comments if necessary — not based on what imaginary “side” you’re on, but based on whether or not you’re acting like an asshole in my space.

ETA: I’ve made several minor edits for clarity since this post went live.

Saturday Author Event in Grand Ledge

This coming Saturday, I’ll be part of Michigan Authors on the Grand from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. at the Main Branch of the Grand Ledge Area District Library. It looks like there will be at least sixteen of us hanging out to chat and network and sign books and so on.

Michigan Authors on the Grand

I’ve never done this one before, so I don’t know exactly what to expect. There could be giant mutant badgers battling bionic warrior squirrels from the twenty-eighth dimension! And also raffles! Definitely one of those…

Sword, by Amy Bai

Sword, by Amy BaiI am so far behind on posting reviews. Let’s start with Sword [Amazon | B&N | IndieBound], by Amy Bai. I believe this is Bai’s first novel, and it’s an impressive debut. Sword is a YA fantasy with swords (duh) and magic and kingdoms and betrayal and all that good stuff. From the publisher’s description:

For over a thousand years, the kingdom of Lardan has been at peace: isolated from the world, slowly forgetting the wild and deadly magic of its origins. Now the deepest truths of the past and the darkest predictions for the future survive only in the verses of nursery rhymes. And prophecies are just nursery rhymes for gullible fools. Right?

So thinks Kyali Corwynall, daughter of the Lord General and the court’s only sword-wielding girl. She’s never bothered believing in faery stories. But one day, an old nursery rhyme she’s heard since childhood begins to come true, naming her as Sword and her brother and best friend as Song and Crown, saviors of the kingdom. When that ancient magic wakes, the future changes for everyone. In the space of a single night, her life unravels into violence and chaos.

The opening few chapters felt a little slow to me, mostly because what I was reading seemed familiar. We’re introduced to Kyali and her skill with fighting and swordplay, her brother Devin and his bardic magic, and their close friend the Princess Taireasa. But once the plot picked up, I was hooked hard. Much of the book made me feel like a kid again, getting caught up in the excitement and the battles and the prophecies and the characters and their relationships. It hits many of the notes of a good page-turning fantasy.

That brings up my other stumbling point, because while I love the tropes of fantasy and I’m generally thrilled to revisit them, there are a few I could do without. Early on, Kyali finds herself holding a room against multiple enemies while the princess escapes. They ask where the princess has gone, and naturally she refuses, which leads to this exchange.

“I think you will tell us eventually, general’s daughter.”

His meaning was plain.

Oh, gods, she thought — death, she had braced herself for. This possibility had never occurred to her.

She would just have to find a way to die, then. After she killed as many of these as came near her.

I almost stopped reading here. Not because the scene was bad or badly written, nor did it feel gratuitous. It’s simply not something I wanted to read.

But I kept reading, and I’m glad I did. The consequences to Kyali are intense, and shape her character for the rest of the book. But her internal struggle isn’t solely from the implied sexual assault (it’s never explicitly spelled out). There’s another kind of trauma related to her magic, and that turns her into…not a stone cold warrior, but a woman trying desperately to project that coldness in order to protect the people closest to her.

I enjoyed the use of prophecy. It’s another trope, but something about the way Bai wrote the story brought new energy to the idea. Prophecy isn’t a mysterious riddle. It’s not a set of plot coupons to be collected. Its a burden. It’s as much a mystery to be unraveled and understood as the political machinations and the clashes between armies. And it puts Kyali in the role of warrior, with her brother as the bard, which was a nice reversal.

The secondary characters were interesting and engaging. (For those who’ve read it, am I the only one who was shipping Devin and Prince Kinsey?) There’s a lot going on in this book, and all of the players fit the story, and were people I wanted to read about.

There’s an energy to the story that’s hard to describe. It might be a first novel thing. You should take this bit with a grain of salt, because I’m pretending to read the author’s mind, and that often ends badly…but reading the book, I could almost feel how excited the author was to share the story and these characters. That excitement and love and affects my own reading, which is a good thing.

Sword is book one in what I’m guessing will be a trilogy, so the end of the book isn’t the end of the story. No cliffhanger ending though, which I appreciate.

Overall, I think it’s a good book. I also recognize that some elements may not be to everyone’s taste.

The first twenty-four pages are available online, if you’d like to check it out.

It’s Alive!

My web host, SFF.net, has been down for close to a week while they wait for Verizon to fix … I don’t even know anymore. SFF.net has been posting updates over on Twitter, and it sounds like things still aren’t completely fixed yet, but they’ve hotwired some servers or duct taped some fiber optics together to get most of their services working.

So, some stuff to catch up on…

Transformers: Age of Extinction: I said I’d livetweet this movie if y’all raised at least $500 for RAINN and other rape crisis centers. So far, people have contributed closer to $600, so I sat down and subjected myself to almost three hours of Michael Bay’s vision on Saturday. The results are all collected on Storify. Note to self: next time, ask for more money…

Book Stuff: I’ve signed and returned contracts for a Spanish edition of all four Magic ex Libris books, to be published in Latin America. Which is pretty darn cool!

Invisible 2: Page proofs will be going out to contributors soon. I’ve also seen a draft of the cover art, and I’m quite happy with it. So far, so good!

Hugo Awards: I started up a #HugoProposal tag on Twitter the other day, trying to create a bit of humor in the midst of this mess. Here’s one of my favorites:

Three Hugos for Mil-SF and their space marines;
Seven for the grimdark-lords in their halls of blood;
Nine for mortal fans doomed to blog;
One for Neil Gaiman on his dark throne
In the Land of Worldcon where the Shadows lie.

There’s more, including a bunch of book reviews I need to do, but I’m gonna go ahead and click “Publish” to make sure this goes up before Verizon breaks anything else.

Guest Post Roundup

My thanks to everyone who contributed to this year’s series of guest posts about representation in SF/F — both the authors of the essays and the commenters who joined the conversation. Between the seventeen posts and two bonus reprints I’ll be announcing later, it looks like Invisible 2 will have significantly more content than its predecessor, which is sweet. I’ve got contracts back from almost everyone involved, and I’m still hoping for a mid-May release.

In the meantime, here’s a roundup of all the guest posts from this year:

I received more than 60 pitches this year, which means I had to turn down a lot of good and important potential essays. Here are links to several of those essays that people went ahead and posted on their own sites.

Thanks again. These are important conversations, and speaking for myself, I continue to learn a great deal from all of you.

Back from Chicago

The kids had spring break last week, so we took a few days to drive down to Chicago and visit the Legoland Discovery Center, Shedd Aquarium, and Brookfield Zoo. It was fun to get away from work and various genre/internet wars for a little while.

Pictures are on Flickr, for those who care. Here are some of my favorites:

LEGO R2D2 Baby gorilla! Giraffes: Not so good at hide-and-seek.

Dolphin close-up Parrot kisses Bear hug!

Got home late Friday night, and spent the weekend working on page proof corrections for Fable: Blood of Heroes, doing an interview about the Sad/Rabid Puppies Hugo thing, putting together the rough ebook file for Invisible 2, drafting a new book to pitch to my editor at DAW, and getting through a few thousand more words of Revisionary.

And now I kind of want another vacation…

Rape Center Fundraising Update

Amount Raised So Far: $530

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This week is spring break for my kids, so I’ll mostly be away from the internet doing spring break stuff . Or, you know, as much spring break stuff as a 40-year-old geek is likely to do…

In the meantime, an update on the Bad Movie Fundraiser for Rape Crisis Centers. The goal is to raise at least $500 for RAINN or your local rape crisis center. So far, there have been a handful of donations, and we’re closing in on $100. (With two people who told me they donated, but didn’t provide an amount.)

If you want to get in on this, just email me at jim -at- jimchines.com letting me know how much you donated.

Once we get to $500, I shall subject myself to Transformers: Age of Extinction, and livetweet my thoughts for your amusement and entertainment. And possibly your sympathy.

Making that goal would be a lovely thing to come back to at the end of the week. I’m just saying…

Prime and Grimlock

What Do We Look Like in Your Mind? – Kat Tanaka Okopnik

Welcome to what I believe will be the final guest blog post on representation in SF/F. In addition to working on Invisible 2, I also plan to put together a round-up of links to all of the guest articles, and if I can make the time, to pull together a reading list as well, based on comments and conversation around the posts.

In the meantime, my thanks to Kat Tanaka Okopnik for bringing us to a close with her personal and powerful piece about seeing your own children shaped by problematic tropes and stereotypes, and the urgent need to do better.


Before you read further, indulge me please. Picture, if you will, a young (East) Asian American protagonist. If you can, do a color drawing, or write down your description. If you feel ambitious, please do the same with White, Black, Latin@ friends for them.

What made that character seem plausibly East Asian to you?

Was it the golden skin, and the tilted eyes?

Where do they live? What do they eat? Where did their parents grow up?

I hate writing this essay.

I wish there wasn’t such urgent need to write it.

I wish I were writing about it in the past tense, rather than as a pressing need that I’m finding exhausting. I have two young children who are surrounded by media that are leading them to perform the very same problematic tropes about (East) Asians that I grew up around. It’s 2015. Aren’t we supposed to be done with this?

I wish all the blithe pronouncements of our colorblind, postracial society were real. I wish there were actually enough mention, by other people, of the issues facing Asian America so that I could write sense of wonder stories instead—but my child has said to me, “Mommy, my skin is ugly!” Further discussion reveals that he’s come to think of lighter and darker skin than his own as beautiful, but his light olive is unacceptable in his mind. I spend months working even harder to make sure that people who look like him are presented as attractive, too.

It’s a rare week when I don’t see yet another case of yellowface and exoticization of East Asians dismissed as a non-issue. The excuses are predictable: it’s historic, it’s satirical, it’s humorous, it’s tribute, it’s realistic, why do we complain when there’s representation? it’s not just East Asians! actually it’s punching up, hey my Asian friend said it was okay, oh it’s someone East Asian doing it.

I’m known to have an interest in finding non-problematic media, and so I’m offered a pretty steady stream of recommendations. The majority of “diverse” stories and shows that are offered to my children come in two categories: East Asian kid as a member of the tokenized team of sidekicks to the white protagonist, or stories of East Asia or the recent diaspora. Often, the indicators of East Asian identity for the team player are an East Asian-language name and “golden skin and straight black hair and slanted eyes.” There’s a parent or grandmother who speaks in fortune cookie Wise Oriental proverbs. Unfamiliar words are dropped into the conversation, with an echoed translation into English immediately afterward.

The rest of the stories happen long ago or far away. They’re just as much unreal fantasy as dragons or turtle ninjas. Actually, my son seems to want to become a ninja partly because that’s the expected pipeline for “an Asian kid”. (His peers mostly want to be turtle ninjas because that would be cool.)

They’ve been taught by the culture around them that “Chinesey” is a performance based on wearing cultural artifacts, and that East Asians are defined by accents and tinkly background music. There’s a continuum from Tikki Tikki Tembo through The Runaway Wok and The Mikado that portrays Asia as a place of silly sounding names and illogical people. And yet these are the things that well-meaning educators are presenting to them and their peers.

My children don’t see themselves in these stories. They know that people from all sorts of backgrounds have small or slanted or “slitty” eyes, because they’ve grown up in a diverse community—they’ve seen living examples in peers whose family heritage is from Africa, or Europe, or more southern parts of Asia. They see the range of skin color in the families around them, including the ones they are most closely tied to by genetics and history. But they are getting a persistent message that’s showing through in their expectations and in the behavior of their peers: skinny blonde girls are the heroes, except when the hero is some sort of white boy. Asians speak funny and are from far away. Sometimes there’s a character who’s black, and the world is divided into black and white. My children have no context for Asian American protagonists. They resort to identifying themselves as white, and my daughter wants her hair to be “yellow.”

I can work hard to give my children a healthy sense of belonging and potential, but I can’t change the world they’re interacting with on my own. It’s their peers’ sense that Asianness is defined by otherness that causes me the greatest concern.

Now that they are reading fluently, I wish I could just hand them an age-appropriate book. Where’s the “Heather Has Two Mommies” of cultural etiquette for the single digit set? It may be out there, but it’s buried under the pile I review and reject for my children. I know we can do better as a society.


​​Kat Tanaka Okopnik started writing about Japanese American history at age 13 and has gone on to write about geek culture, food, parenting, social justice, and stepping outside the confines of narrow social expectations.

She’s pleased to note that she has an essay forthcoming in WisCon Chronicles 9. Her current big project is the Dictionary of Social Justice. 

She’s available as an editor, copy editor, and writer, and offers private consultations and group encounters on facilitating difficult discussions on social justice topics. She also does cultural consultation for writers, editors, and others on East Asian representation, with a focus on Japanese diaspora history and contemporary issues as well as for general social justice pitfalls.

​​Kat Tanaka Okopnik