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Discrimination and the Ice Cream Backlash

I was making decent progress on the book tonight, when I made the mistake of checking social media. I quickly got caught up reading a complaint by a self-identified older white male author, talking about how his demographic is discriminated against in the genre.

Some of his comments were anecdotal, and not statistically meaningful. I pointed out the 2017 #BlackSpecFic Report from Fireside Magazine, which showed that black authors are still underrepresented in SF/F — though there’s been some improvement over the past several years.

One claim was that white men can’t even get on the Hugo ballot anymore, let alone win. So I pointed out that 2/6 authors on the Best Novel ballot this year are, in fact, white men.

But while it’s demonstrably false to say white men can’t get on the ballot, it’s true that last year’s winners were almost entirely women. I mean, with the exception of Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form, and Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form, and several winners who identify as genderqueer. But if you limit it to just the prose categories, then yes — not one man among the winners.

This is pointed to as proof of discrimination. Voters are deciding not based on the quality of the story, but the identity of the author. Because Statistics!

Now, nobody I’ve spoken to has talked about voting for someone because of their race or gender or sexuality. They’re voting for books and stories they love. Maybe you don’t love the stories that won, but I’ve seen people squeeing about the books when they come out. I see how excitedly they’re talking about these stories and sharing them and telling everyone to go read them. That love is real — even if you don’t personally share it.

“But if people aren’t discriminating, why aren’t we seeing the same love for stories written by white men?”

I mean, the current NYT #1 bestsellers are all by men, most-or-all of them white. But let’s stick with just the Hugo awards. Doesn’t the lack of men prove discrimination against us?

Stand back, everyone — I’m going to try metaphor!

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Imagine you like ice cream. But for your whole life, all you’ve been able to get is vanilla.

Don’t get me wrong — I like vanilla ice cream. There’s nothing wrong with it. I love it in root beer floats or ice cream sundaes or with apple pie or whatever. It’s good stuff.

Then one day, the shops finally start putting out other flavors. Strawberry! Mint chocolate chip! Mackinaw fudge ripple!

After a lifetime of vanilla, what are you going to get?

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SF/F has been dominated by white male authors for so long. In many ways, it still is. Is it any wonder people have gotten a little tired of the vanilla? That they’re excited about stories written from other perspectives, other cultural backgrounds, with other characters and settings and worldbuilding and default assumptions?

“But authors aren’t ice cream, and white men can write other perspectives and backgrounds and characters too!”

First of all, you’re wrong. I know for a fact that Pat Rothfuss is actually twelve pints of Rocky Road held together with hard-shell chocolate.

And you’re right, white men can write other perspectives, backgrounds, characters, etc. But a lot of the time, they choose not to. And a lot of the time when they do, it’s done…poorly. You get men writing women thinking about how their breasts boob boobily, bosoming in zero gravity.

Even when authors take the time to listen and do the research, there’s a difference between writing based on research and writing based on real, lived experience.

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It’s not that people hate vanilla ice cream. It’s that we’re finally seeing some push for other flavors, and people are excited about it. Their homes are stuffed with vanilla, and they’re trying to get some variety in their freezers.

Can you blame them?

Don’t worry, the grocery stores still stock plenty of vanilla. Lots of people still enjoy it. But it’s not the only option on the shelf anymore. We have 32 flavors and then some.

As for older white men no longer being wanted or welcomed in the genre? Well, it’s only a single anecdata point, but this 44-year-old white dude has felt nothing but welcome here. I’m all for working to make the genre more broadly welcoming to all.

A Study in Honor, by Claire O’Dell

Cover Art: A Study in HonorA Study in Honor, [Amazon | B&N | IndieBound] by Claire O’Dell, is a near-future twist on Sherlock Holmes.

And according to O’Dell’s Big Idea post over on John Scalzi’s blog? It’s my fault. As she explains,

“Back in 2014, Jim wrote a blog post about his experience writing fanfic. I’d never felt the tug of fanfic before, but after reading about how satisfying and involving it was for him, I decided to take a stab at writing some myself. After all, fiction is a conversation with itself, and what else is fanfic but a very intimate conversation?”

Now, the book sounds really interesting. Watson and Holmes as two black queer women in a future Washington D.C. still reeling from the New Civil War? Here’s an excerpt, if you’d like to start reading the first few chapters now.

I haven’t read the book yet, so I’m not in a position to talk much about it. But I’m still reeling a bit over that first line in O’Dell’s blog post.

A Study in Honor is all Jim Hines’s fault.”

Now, I’d argue this point. O’Dell did all the work of actually writing the book, after all. But the fact that it started with a random blog post I did four years ago, talking about my silly Frosty the Snowman vs. Rudolph fanfiction? That’s … that’s a metaphorical boot to my head right there.

I struggle sometimes, as I imagine many of us do, with the question of whether any of this stuff makes a difference. The blog posts, the social media, and so on. Is it really worth the time and energy it takes to keep posting? How many people actually read and remember any of it?

I don’t want to overinflate my own importance here. O’Dell/Bernobich is a good writer with a solid publication history behind her. Her new book is getting some good buzz, and that’s all her.

But in some small way, I was a part of that. A thing I wrote sparked something new for someone else.

What more could a writer hope for?

Finished Draft and LEGO Transformers Break

During my eight-day writing staytreat, I wrote about 22,000 words to finish up the first draft of Project K! There was much rejoicing!!!

And now I get to…well…sit down and start rewriting Project K.

I’m pretty happy with this first draft, and it gave me a decent idea what the book’s really about and what changes I have to make to pull everything together.

I did give myself a small break before diving back in, though. My son and I caught up on Steven Universe together, and we spent some time playing with the LEGOs. I decided I wanted to try to make an old-school Jetfire, one of the Transformers I had when I was a kid.

It’s not perfect, but I’m pretty happy with how he turned out. He can actually transform into either a relatively stable robot and a bulky, slightly less stable jet. The jetpack is removable, and can be worn in both modes, just like the toy. His gun is skinnier than the real thing, but shaped roughly the same. Not bad for working with LEGO.

Jetfire - Jet Mode Jetfire - Jet Mode

He can stand on his own on solid surfaces. Not so much on the bed I was using when I took the photos. So he got to chill and lean up against a pillow.

Jetfire - Robot Jetfire - Robot

Yeah, so this probably isn’t the most exciting blog post to read, but I’m pretty pleased, and it helped me to relax and refocus.

My favorite photo:

Jetfire - Robot

How’s your week going so far?

VERY IMPORTANT LINGUISTICS POST About Petting Dogs

Over on Twitter, I started a Very Important Linguistics thread about how to ask to pet someone’s dog in other languages.

I took several years of French in high school, and yet when I went to a French book fest/convention last year, I lacked this vital knowledge!

Here are the results so far, sorted by language. Pronunciation is included where provided. I can’t vouch that these are 100% accurate, and for most languages there are multiple ways of asking. Hopefully these should at least be good enough to get your point across so you can get on to the more important task of petting the dog.

Feel free to add additional languages or refinements in the comments, and I’ll update as things come in. I’m particularly interested in feedback/suggestions from native speakers. Pronunciation guidelines and assistance are also welcome.

Thanks to everyone who contributed!

Arabic

ممكن ألمس كلبك؟ (Moomkin almas kalbek?)

يمكنني أن داعب كلبك؟ (“Yumkinuni an da’aeb kelbik?” Or “kelbak” if asking a man.)

Chinese – Simplified

我可以宠你的狗吗

Danish

Må jeg gerne klappe din hund?

Dutch

Informal: Mag ik je hond aaien?

Formal: Mag ik Uw hond aaien?

Filipino

Pwede ko ba siyang hawakan?

Finnish

Saanko silittää koiraasi? And to thank if the answer is yes, Kiitos.

French

Puis-je caresser votre chien? (Or “votre chiot” if it’s a puppy)

Alternate version: “Pardon?” *Indicate dog.* “Je peux?” *mime petting* “Il-est gentille?”

German

Darf ich bitte deinen hund streicheln?

Beißt er? (“Does he bite?”)

Ilonggo/Hiligaynon

Pwede ko siya matandog?

Italian

Posso per favore coccolare il tuo cane?

Posso accarrezzare il suo cane?

Japanese

Inu o sawate mo ii desu ka? (Vowels follow the same phonetics as Spanish.)

Inu wo nadete yoroshii desu ka?

Korean

(개를) 쓰다듬어도 될까요?

(The (개를) part means dog, but since that part would be obvious from context you don’t actually need to say it.)

Latin

Licetne mihi, quaeso, canem tuum mulcere?

Polish

Czy mogę pogłaskać pana/pani pieska? (Che (very short e sound) moga po-gwa-ska-ch pani (female)/panna (male) pye-ska?)

To say thank you: Dziękuję bardzo. (dyjen-koo-yuh.)

Portugese (Brazilian)

Posso fazer carinho no seu cachorro?

Pulaar

Tinno mbodo yidi tuche rawandumaa.

Russian

Могу ли я погладить вашу собаку, пожалуйста? (Mogu li ya pogladeet vashu sobaku, pahzhaloosta?)

Можно погладить вашу собаку? (Mozhno pogladit’ vashu sobaku?)

Scots Gaelic

Tha mi airson do chù a’ shlìobadh? (Ha me air-son doh hyu ah shleeohpehk?)

Am faod mi an cù agaibh a sliobadh?

Spanish

¿Puedo acariciar al perrito?

Swedish

Får jag klappa din hund? And “Tack,” if the answer is yes.

Writing Staytreat

Last week was supposed to be a writing retreat. I was gonna finish up those final revisions on Terminal Uprising, then (hopefully) get through the first draft of Project K.

And then on Friday we had a medical issue arise. Nothing life-threatening, but I ended up staying home to help out. They’re mostly healed up by now, which is good. But it threw a fire-spider into the writing work. While I did get the revisions done and turned in, that was the entirety of last week’s wordcount.

C’est la vie. We’ve got several chronic medical conditions in this family, and that means sometimes stuff happens. I’m disappointed not to have gotten the chance to spend time with some cool writer people, and I’d love to have a finished draft of Project K, but I’ll get there.

Now that the hurt party is mostly better, I’m going to try and make this week my writing retreat week. Even though I’m not retreating anywhere. I’d love to get that draft done by this coming Saturday, if possible.

Only 800 words so far today, but it takes a little time to regain that momentum, and there are plenty of hours left in the day!

Jim C. Hines