Fiskception: Dissecting Correia’s Critique of MacFarlane
1/30: Comments are back on, in case there are points you feel you need to make that haven’t already been covered in the ~350 posted comments from yesterday. The goblins (and fire-spider) stayed away yesterday, but will be munching comments today as needed.
Hint: if you demean a human being’s gender or sexual preference by equating it to an attraction to animals or furniture? If you question the mental health of an individual who doesn’t fit into your narrow worldview? The goblins will eat your comment.
While we’re at it, I’ve noticed a few people responding to arguments from both me and Correia by basically saying, “Well, his books suck!” Can we not do that? Unless it’s directly relevant to the argument, it feels like a cheap shot, and doesn’t actually address what’s being discussed. So yeah, the goblins will be munching on off-topic book-bashing, too.
1/31: I don’t believe I actually have to say this, but telling someone that they, or people just like them, made Naziism what it was, will also get your comments fed to the goblins.
3/21: I’m closing comments for good. People have moved on to other arguments, and this post seems to be getting spam-bombed pretty heavily for some reason…
This is gonna be a long one.
The backstory: Author Alex Dally MacFarlane wrote an article called Post-Binary Gender in SF: An Introduction over at Tor.com, calling for “an end to the default of binary gender in science fiction stories.”
One week later, author Larry Correia wrote a response to MacFarlane’s piece, called Ending Binary Gender in Fiction, or How to Murder Your Writing Career. (Side note: you’ll probably want to avoid the comments on that one.)
I tried to ignore it. There’s no way I’m going to change Correia’s mind about this stuff, any more than his post changed my thinking. But of course, there are a lot of other people lurking and participating in the conversation, and while I know this is going to do bad things to my blood pressure, I think it’s a conversation worth having.
I’m following Correia’s general style here. My responses will be italicized. His original content is indented.
This was sent to me on Facebook the other day. I made some comments there, but then I got to thinking about it and decided this thing was such a good example of how modern sci-fi publishing has its head stuck up its ass that it really deserved its own blog post. My response is really directed toward the aspiring writers in the crowd who want to make a living as writers, but really it works for anybody who likes to read, or who is just tired of angsty emo bullshit.
I wonder which is more angsty … an author calling for our genre to move beyond binary gender, or another author spending 4000+ words about how people like MacFarlane are symbolic of everything that’s wrong with the genre, and are destroying fun.
Okay, aspiring author types, you will see lots of things like this, and part of you may think you need to incorporate these helpful suggestions into your work. After all, this is on Tor.com so it must be legit. Just don’t. When you write with the goal of checking off boxes, it is usually crap. This article is great advice for writers who want to win awards but never actually be read by anyone.
I agree that if you’re writing a story with the kind of checklist Correia describes, you’re probably going to get a bad story. But what exactly are the suggestions Correia objects to? MacFarlane never says all writers must now include at least one non-binary character. She says only that she wants readers to be aware of non-binary texts, and wants writers to stop defaulting to them. Not that authors should never write cismale or cisfemale characters. Just be aware that there are other choices, and make conscious choices about your writing.
Now do yourself a favor and read the comments… I’ll wait… Yeah… You know how when my Sad Puppies posts talk about the “typical WorldCon voter”? Those comments are a good snapshot of one subtype right there.
From the comments to Correia’s piece:
- “I am so tired of these pretentious twats. Err, dicks. Err… pre-op alternative genitals.”
- “The hilarious thing is my books are filled with characters who are non-white, non-male, non-straight, occasionally trans and from a mixmaster of genetic and cultural backgrounds … But I don’t write books for leftist pussies so they’ve never read my books.”
- “If this is the level of education of the typical WorldCon voter, it’s no wonder the GOOD writers don’t win awards. These loonies wouldn’t recognize good writing if Earl Harbinger yanked out their guts and used the intestines to piece out quotes from Jane Austen.”
Do we really want to start arguing about what one’s commenters say about one’s audience?
I also know from that Facebook thread that a lot of people tried to comment and disagree for various reasons, but their posts were deleted. (and some of them even swore that they were polite!). But like most modern lefty crusades, disagreement, in fact, anything less than cheerleading, is “intolerance” and won’t be tolerated. Meanwhile, my FB thread had lots of comments and an actual intelligent discussion of the pros and cons from both sides (and even transsexual communists who actually like to enjoy their fiction thought this Tor.com post was silly), so remember that the next time a snooty troll calls my fans a “right wing echo chamber.”
If Tor.com is deleting comments for disagreement, then that’s a serious problem. But skimming through the 100+ comments on the article, I find plenty that disagree with MacFarlane, or argue with what she’s saying. Tor.com does have a moderation policy, so I’d expect comments that violated that policy to get booted. Beyond that, I don’t know the details of the allegedly polite commenters who claim to have been booted for not cheerleading enough, so there’s not much more for me to say about this one.
ETA: I’m told one comment was deleted for stating that non-binary people are mentally ill, which would seem to violate #1, #2, and #4 on Tor.com’s moderation policy. There may have been other deletions, but this is the only one I’m aware of.
ETA2: One of the Tor.com moderators comments on the deletions here.
If you can’t stomach the comments long enough to hear what a typical WorldCon voter sounds like, let me paraphrase: “Fantastic! I’m so sick of people actually enjoying books that are fun! Let’s shove more message fiction down their throats! My cause comes before their enjoyment! Diversity! Gay polar bears are being murdered by greedy corporations! Only smart people who think correct thoughts like I do should read books and I won’t be happy until my genre dies a horrible death! Yay!” (and if there is beeping noise in the background, that’s because they’re backing up their mobility scooter).
So let’s break this pile of Gender Studies 101 mush down into its component bits and see just why some sci-fi writers won’t be happy until their genre dies completely. Like my usual Fisking, the original article is in italics and my comments are in bold.
Because calling for an awareness that not all people fit into a simple binary gender system = KILL ALL THE SCIENCE FICTION!!!
In other news, I believe we should do something about racism in this country, which actually means I WANT TO DESTROY AMERICA!1!!!1!
Post-Binary Gender in SF: Introduction, by Alex Dally MacFarlane
I want an end to the default of binary gender in science fiction stories.
I want lots of things too, doesn’t mean I can have them. Right out the gate that’s a pretty bold statement. And by bold, I mean ridiculous.
How dare people want things! How ridiculous that people want things I don’t personally agree with! You empty headed animal food trough wiper! I fart in your general direction.
What is this “default of binary gender” he wants to end? It is that crazy old fashioned idea that most (as in the vast majority) of mammals, including humans, can be grouped into male and female based upon whether they’ve got XX or XY chromosomes. Sure, that’s medically true something like 99.999% of the time, which would sort of make it the default.
1. Alex MacFarlane is female.
2. You ask what the default is that she wants to end. She answers that in the following paragraph. Which doesn’t seem to stop you from running off to declare gender = chromosomal/biological sex.
Oh, and “default” means that is your assumed baseline.
So that whole thing where people are male or female except for some tiny exceptions and that is kind of the assumption until proven otherwise is standard, so this guy wants to end that. (I’m assuming Alex is a dude, but then again, that is just me displaying my cismale gendernomrative fascism)
Cismale gendernomrative fascist? Whatever. What Correia is displaying here is his awareness that he’s making an assumption, his awareness that the assumption might be wrong, and his unwillingness to do 30 seconds of research to verify his assumption. Or just read the bio at the end of MacFarlane’s article. Either because he’s lazy, or because he doesn’t see any need to treat people he disagrees with respectfully. Or both.
What do I mean by “post-binary gender”? It’s a term that has already been used to mean multiple things, so I will set out my definition:
Post-binary gender in SF is the acknowledgement that gender is more complex than the Western cultural norm of two genders (female and male): that there are more genders than two, that gender can be fluid, that gender exists in many forms.
Wait… male and female are Western Cultural Norms? Uh… No. That is a biological norm for all the higher life forms on Earth so that species can replicate themselves (keep in mind, this is SCIENCE fiction he wants to change). I like how Western Culture is the root of all that’s evil though, even though male and female are cultural norms in pretty much every human society there has ever been.
Read more carefully. The Western cultural norm is to genders; that doesn’t mean two genders is exclusively a Western cultural norm. See also, nickels are coins, but not all coins are nickels.
And yes, male and female are cultural norms in pretty much every human society EVER! Except Mesopotamia, India, Siberia, Illiniwek, Olmec, Aztec, Maya, Thailand, Lakota, Blackfoot, Indonesia, Swahili, Azande, and all of the other cultures that historically or currently acknowledge the existence of more than two genders.
Also, nitpick. Gender was a grammar term for how you referred to the different sexes. Being male or female is your Sex. Or at least, that’s what the word meant until colleges invented the Gender Studies major for those students who found Liberal Arts way too academically grueling.
Paraphrase: “Ha, ha. People who disagree with me are dumb!”
Now, before we continue I need to establish something about my personal writing philosophy. Science Fiction is SPECULATIVE FICTION. That means we can make up all sorts of crazy stuff and we can twist existing reality to do interesting new things in order to tell the story we want to tell. I’m not against having a story where there are sexes other than male and female or neuters or schmes or hirs or WTF ever or that they flip back and forth or shit… robot sex. Hell, I don’t know. Write whatever tells your story.
But the important thing there is STORY. Not the cause of the day. STORY.
Because readers buy STORIES they enjoy and when readers buy our stuff, authors GET PAID.
I … actually, I pretty much agree with him here. People read for story, not for checklists or quotas or lectures. I see nothing in MacFarlane’s article to suggest she believes any differently. Calling for authors to be more thoughtful about their craft doesn’t mean you’re telling authors to abandon story for MESSAGE.
But you know, readers also tend to enjoy stories where they can find characters like themselves. Which is easy if you’re a straight white dude, and gets progressively more difficult the further you stray from that default. Maybe if we want to write enjoyable stories, we should try looking beyond the same old default that’s been done again and again throughout the history of the genre.
Robert Heinlein had stories where technology allowed switching sex. Great. That’s actually a pretty normal sci-fi trope where in the future, there’s some tech that allows people to change shape/sex, whatever, and we’ve got grandmasters of sci-fi who have pulled off humans evolving into psychic space dolphins or beings of pure energy. If that fits into the story you want to tell and you want to explore that, awesome for you. I’ve read plenty of stories where that was part of that universe. If your space whales that live inside the sun have three sexes, awesome (that one was my novella push on Sad Puppies 1).
But this post wasn’t about, hey write whatever mind expanding sci-fi ideas you want, nope, it want to end the norm in order to push a message. Post like this are all the same. You can swap the message around, and whatever the particular norm is, or whatever the particular message is, when you put your pet-peeve message before story, odds are you are going to bore the shit out of your reader.
Yep. Putting message before story will tend to bore your reader.
Now, if the only way you can imagine including a “non-default” character in your story is to make it a Message Story, then guess what — you’re probably a shitty writer. You can have gay characters in a story without making it a Gay Story. Austistic characters without having to write an Autism Story. Black characters without having to write a Race Story.
It’s a pretty big world out there. Why are we so scared to write about more than a limited, narrow piece of it?
People who do not fit comfortably into the gender binary exist in our present, have existed in our past, and will exist in our futures. So too do people who are binary-gendered but are often ignored, such as trans* people who identify as binary-gendered.
Will exist in the future? Probably. Should they be the default for your story? No way. Ignored? Hardly. Is that denying reality?
I don’t know what he’s saying here.
Okay, so I write a book, and let’s say that it has 20 characters in it. What is the acceptable percentage of them that should be transgender? How many boxes must I check in order to salve a blogger’s liberal angst? Let’s see… Only like 1 in 50,000 people have sex changes performed. So at 20 characters a book… If I have one character who has had a sex change show up every 2,500 books I write, I’d be statistically accurate.
Oh, yay. We’re back to quotas and checklists.
Ignoring the uncited and inaccurate statistics here, let’s flip this around. How many musclebound manly white men do I have to write about in my stories in order to convince people like Correia that it’s not a secret subversive left-wing liberal Message? How many big-busted blonde women need to throw themselves on my hero’s penis to satisfy his insecurities that non-white, non-male people might start to have an actual voice?
Oh, but now you’re going to tell me that gay people make up anywhere from 1-4% of the population. Fantastic. Except gay people are still the same sex they were born with. Gay dudes are still men and gay chicks are still women. This blogger didn’t say he wanted an end to default sexual orientation, he wants an end to default binary sex. If you think sci-fi doesn’t have people who don’t swing both ways, you’ve not read much sci-fi.
Right, so you’re throwing bad statistics out about a made-up argument that you acknowledge MacFarlane didn’t even bring up.
I think you’re wrong, because kitties are cuter than puppies. Which has nothing to do with anything Correia actually said, but that seems to be how we’re playing the game now.
Now, if I’m writing a sci-fi story set in Space Berkley or the Tenderloin District of the Future, then I’d probably have plenty of Hirs and Shmisters or whatever. Whatever fits the story, but until then how about not trying to enforce Equal Opportunity against our imaginary people?
(and if you really want to get crazy in the speculative fiction department, what with all this BS with made up pronouns to get rid of Him and Her, what the hell are romance languages supposed to do? Latino. Latina. Latinu? Latinsexyrobot?)
Language should be static and never evolve, which is why all future blog posts will be written in ancient Sumerian.
Here’s the problem. From a nuts and bolts story telling perspective, your readers are going to assume that everything in your book is similar to the world they currently live in, until demonstrated otherwise.
In talking to readers, I find that most of them assume SF/F books will portray worlds dominated by straight white folks. Not exclusively, mind you, but the representation in our genre is most certainly not that close to the world we currently live in.
Unless you say that in the future everybody has been genetically modified to have 3 legs, they are going to assume that all your human characters have two legs. If you are going to demonstrate that something is different, then there needs to be a reason for it. So if you say all humans have 3 legs, but it doesn’t play into the story at all, then why bother? And every time you change something to be different from the expected, there had better be a reason for it or you will quickly just annoy your reader.
I agree. When you make a choice about character, you should have a reason for that choice.
Making a character male or female is a choice. Making a character white is a choice. Making a character straight is a choice. But it’s a choice often made because these are the default, and the writer is lazy.
Reading sci-fi like that grows tiresome. It is like listening to an inexperienced little kid saying “Look, I can do THIS! And now I can do THIS! Isn’t that the neatest thing EVAR!?” And your response is “Yeah, yeah, that’s special…” when you’re really bored as shit and don’t care how tall their Lego tower is the 50th time.
I’m not sure what sci-fi he’s referring to, and I’m a little skeptical about how much of it he’s actually read, given his arguments. But I find stories that explore a more diverse world, that present different characters and stories I haven’t read a thousand times before, to be much more interesting. There’s comfort and enjoyment in reading the same-old genre tropes and tales too, but Correia sounds a lot like he’s bashing a genre you’ve never read.
Also, screw you. My LEGO tower is AWESOME.
If your story is about exploring sexual identity, awesome. Write that story. But only a fool is going to come along and tell you that you need to end the default of all your characters having ten fingers, because there are people in the world born with twelve and how could you be so insensitive to those who have lost fingers? Because awareness.
So if humans having 5 or 6 sexes in the future is part of your story, write it. If it isn’t part of the story, why would you waste words on it? Oh, that’s right, because MESSAGE.
ProTip: Focusing on message rather than story is a wonderful way for writers to continue working at Starbucks for the rest of their lives.
ProTip 2: If the only reason you can think of to include characters who aren’t the default is because MESSAGE, you’re a shitty writer. You might be a popular writer, because there are certainly plenty of people who want to devour books that don’t challenge them in any way, but that doesn’t make you a good writer. That’s probably an argument best saved for another blog post, though.
I am not interested in discussions about the existence of these gender identities: we might as well discuss the existence of women or men. Gender complexity exists. SF that presents a rigid, unquestioned gender binary is false and absurd.
Yes. Topic of the Day X exists! You know what else exists? Child abuse. So I’d better make sure I put that in every book I write.
It’s so much easier to argue with people if I deliberately misinterpret and oversimplify what they’re saying, isn’t it?
Because readers love that. If I’m telling a story about rocket ships, readers love it when your characters pause to have a discussion about animal cruelty, pollution, the dangers of over prescribing psychotropic drugs, or how we need to be sensitive to people with peanut allergies too. Readers are totally into being preached at about author’s favorite causes.
Have you ever gone into Barnes and Noble, went to the clerk at the info desk, and said “Hey, I really want to purchase with my money a science fiction novel which will increase my AWARENESS of troubling social issues.”? No? This is my shocked face.
Not that you can’t get a cause into your story, as long as you do it with skill. But the minute you destroy the default just to destroy the default, congratulations, you just annoyed the shit out of the reader. You want to slip in a message and not annoy your customers, that takes skill, so until you have developed your skills, don’t beat people over the head with your personal hang ups.
How about if my story isn’t in any way, shape, or form concerned with sexual identity (or whatever some reviewer’s personal hang up is today) I don’t waste words writing about it, and readers who want to can just assume that those people exist in the universe but they don’t happen to have speaking parts in this particular novel, if they care enough to think about it at all, which they probably won’t.
“Those People exist in my stories. They’re just not important enough to have speaking parts in this book. Or those other books. Or the majority of the books in our field.”
I intend to use this column to examine post-binary SF texts, both positively and critically, as well as for discussions of points surrounding this subject.
And I intend to use this column to go beyond Ursula K Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.
Read that a long time ago among the thousands of books I read as a kid. Vaguely remember it. Thought it was good, if I recall correctly.
I liked it, though I have to admit I find LeGuin’s nonfiction even better than her fiction.
Kameron Hurley wrote several years ago about the frustration of The Left Hand of Darkness being the go-to book for mind-blowing gender in SF, despite being written in 1968. Nothing written in the decades since has got the same traction in mainstream SF discourse—
Maybe that’s because Le Guin told a story that happened to have this blogger’s pet topic in it, that was still a story readers found interesting, as opposed to crafting a message fic manifesto, that readers found boring and forgettable?
I think the argument here is that LeGuin is the only one in the past 45 years who’s written about non-binary gender without writing a MESSAGE story. Which is a ridiculous argument, unless you buy into the tautological silliness that any story about non-binary gender = MESSAGE story.
and texts have been written. For a bit of context, 1968 is almost twenty years before I was born, and I’m hardly a child.
HARDLY! Well, there you go. I know when I’m looking for professional advice about how to succeed as a professional writer, I’m going to listen to somebody in their mid-twenties.
Hey, you’d better listen up. I’m betting this blogger went to COLLEGE!
“MacFarlane is wrong because I’m older than her!”
One of the reasons Hurley considers for this situation (raised by someone on a mailing list she belonged to) is that:
“…perhaps Le Guin’s book was so popular because it wasn’t actually as radical as we might think. It was very safe. The hetero male protagonist doesn’t have sex with any of the planet’s inhabitants, no matter their current gender. We go off on a boys’ own adventure story, on a planet entirely populated by people referred to as ‘he,’ no matter their gender. Le Guin is a natural storyteller, and she concentrates on the story. It’s not overly didactic. It’s engaging and entertaining.”
Holy shit… Wait… You mean this story has stuck around because “she concentrates on the story”? Engaging and entertaining? Blasphemy!
Yet, people like this don’t get why message fic books win piles of awards, yet totally fail in the market. See, the problem the modern literati twaddle peddlers run into isn’t that readers are insensitive rubes who don’t understand the plight of whatever their liberal cause of the day is, it is because they want to enjoy what they read. Their entertainment time and money is limited. Why spend it being preached at?
Once again misrepresenting the argument or just missing the point.
The next few paragraphs are very interesting, because they give you a glimpse into the mind of the modern literati.
Alex Dally MacFarlane IS the Modern Literati! She should totally get that on a T-shirt, or turn it into a superhero costume.
The Left Hand of Darkness certainly has been radical, as Hurley says, in its time, in the subsequent years and in the present. I have spoken to several people who found The Left Hand of Darkness immensely important: it provided their first glimpse of the possibility of non-binary gender. The impact that it has had on people’s realisations about their own gender is not something I want to diminish, nor anyone else’s growth in understanding.
However, I do think it can be very palatable for people who haven’t done a lot of thinking about gender. It is, as Hurley says earlier in her post, the kind of story that eases the reader in gently before dropping the gender bombs, and those bombs are not discomfiting for all readers. Of course they’re not. How can one text be expected to radicalise every reader?
I don’t want to cast The Left Hand of Darkness aside. It’s an important part of this conversation. What I do want to do is demonstrate how big that conversation truly is. Other texts have been published besides The Left Hand of Darkness, many of them oft-overlooked—many of them out of print. Some of them are profoundly problematic, but still provide interesting questions. Some of them are incredible and deserve to be considered classics of the genre. Some of them are being published right now, in 2014.
Fascinating. To the literati, books are all about dropping truth bombs. (as long as the truth agrees with their predetermined notions, obviously) This one is about sex, but you could swap that out for the evils of capitalism, or whatever bullshit they’re hung up on today. And of course, since publishing is an insular little industry based in the Manhattan echo chamber of proper goodthink, all the message fic that gets pumped out is stuff that just annoys the regular reading public.
More straw-manning. Yay. But yes, there are in fact people who think that maybe — just maybe — we should have stories that are more than mindless fluff perpetuating the same tired stereotypes. There are also people who recognize that all stories carry certain assumptions and messages and “truths.” Good Triumphs Over Evil. Freedom Is the Bestest Thing in the Universe. Intellectual Arrogance Will Destroy You. If Correia thinks his own personal bullshit doesn’t shape the stories he writes, then he’s a fool.
Also, damn. Bitter, much?
You want a truth bomb? Readers hate being preached at. Period. Even when you agree with the message, if it is ham fisted and shoved in your face, it turns you off. Message fic for message fic’s sake makes for tedious reading. Yet, as this stuff has become more and more prevalent, sci-fi has become increasingly dull, and readership has shrank.
Of course, the literati won’t be happy until everything is boring ass message fic and nobody reads sci-fi anymore, because then they’ll be super special snowflakes.
You know what’s boring? Yet another book about manly straight white dudes doing manly straight white things. You can’t preach about how boring conformity is bad for the genre, then spend 4000 words arguing with someone trying to challenge a piece of that genre conformity.
Okay, obviously you can do that, but I think it’s rather silly.
Amal El-Mohtar wrote a piece about the process of finding—having to find—a pioneering woman writer, Naomi Mitchison, and followed it up with a post where she said:
“It breaks my heart that we are always rediscovering great women, excavating them from the relentless soil of homogenizing histories, seeing them forever as exceptions to a rule of sediment and placing them in museums, remarkable more for their gender than for their work.”
Ah, pseudo-intellectual university humanities department speak… How I have missed you.
Writing should be simple and basic. “Invisible prose.” Because Conformity. Or something.
Yes. Because you shouldn’t elevate a book because you thought it was good and you want to share it with others, you should elevate a book because the sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, or personal philosophy of the author checks a box on the liberal angst/white guilt checklist.
The typical WorldCon voter, when presented with 5 nominees for a category, and their clique’s personal favorite writer isn’t on there, and not having actually read any of the works, will go through the authors and rank them according to the order that best assuages their hang ups. Oooh, a paraplegic transsexual lesbian minority abortion doctor with AIDS who writes for Mother Jones? You’d need a wheelbarrow to carry all the Hugos.
Quality? Popularity? Staying power? Influence? Isn’t that what makes something a classic? Not to the modern literati. We have to elevate works by people according to what they checked on their EEOC form. Meanwhile, hatey-McHatertons like me read books and like them, even when we don’t know anything about the author. I didn’t know what sex Lois Bujold or Wen Spencer where the first time I read one of their books, but I knew the writing was good. I couldn’t tell you what writers are gay or like to cross dress either, but I can tell you who I enjoy reading.
You realize that’s what El-Mohtar is saying, right? That we need to stop recognizing women writers as curiosities, noteworthy because, “Hey look, a woman wrote something good!” That we need to move past the assumption that all of the great works of literature were written by men. That we need to stop ignoring women’s accomplishments just because they’re women.
And of course, I know you would never poo-poo a book because it has girl cooties, but historically, that’s certainly been the trend. I’m glad to know you’re on board with wanting to do away with that trend.
It seems to me that there’s a similar process for post-binary texts: they exist, but each reader must discover them anew amid a narrative that says they are unusual, they are rare, they sit outside the standard set of stories. This, at least, has been my experience. I want to dismantle the sediment—to not only talk about post-binary texts and bring them to attention of more readers, but to do away with the default narrative.
Because nothing is going to make an author successful like copying things that were unpopular before.
MacFarlane: “I want to talk about these books and stories that don’t get a lot of attention, and expand the kind of stories we read and create.”
Correia: “Copying unpopular stuff will make you unsuccessful!”
That process of (re)discovery is probably inescapable. A bookshop, a library or a friend’s/family member’s bookshelves can’t contain every book ever published, so new readers will always have to actively seek out stories beyond the first ones they encounter. What if, El-Mohtar wonders, the first books often included Naomi Mitchison? What if the first books often included multiple post-binary texts as well?
Wait… So the purpose of reading is to get people to accept non-binary gender? Well, huh… All this time I’ve been under the impression people primarily read for enjoyment. So that’s what I’ve been doing wrong!
Bored now. I hope Correia moves on to something new and interesting soon. The same old misreading and straw-manning is getting dull.
The English professor says: “For young people and new readers, wouldn’t it be nice if we shoved IMPORTANT WORKS about Special Topic X down their throats rather than something they might enjoy? Now I wonder why most Americans don’t read for fun anymore after we beat them over the head through their entire education and forced them to read tedious classics until reading was seen as a chore… Odd.”
And for the small and dwindling percentage of us that still actually like to buy and read books, what I’m getting from this blogger is that they’re thinking “Let’s get this mind blowing stuff out there. Yeah, that’ll rock their little bourgeois world!” Okay, dude… They’re SCIENCE FICTION readers. You’re probably not going to stun them with your big shocking ideas. You really want to shock a sci-fi reader with your book nowadays? Actually entertain them.
As an interesting side note, the Guardian just did a report that revealed how much published authors really make. For most of us, it isn’t that much. I think the average was like 30k. The majority of published writers still have their day jobs. Only the top 1% made six figures.
I am the 1%.
So aspiring authors, if you want to actually make a living doing this, you can either listen to me and put story first, or you can listen to the grad student and focus on the pet message of the day.
Regular readers will know that I always say writers should have GET PAID in their mission statement, the reason I do that is because most of us DON’T.
Correia makes more money than you. Therefore he’s right.
I’ll certainly grant that Larry Correia is a successful writer. Therefore you should do what he does.
So is Ursula LeGuin. Who wrote an amazing novel about non-binary gender that’s still popular today. Therefore you should do what she does.
Look, NOBODY IS SAYING THAT STORY ISN’T IMPORTANT, or that you shouldn’t put story first. What they’re saying is that there are more stories out there, and more characters, and more possibilities to explore.
Conversations about gender in SF have been taking place for a long time. I want to join in.
Judging by how they’ve been “grooming” the comments there, when they say conversations they mean shut up and listen while they lecture you about something.
I want more readers to be aware of texts old and new, and seek them out, and talk about them. I want more writers to stop defaulting to binary gender in their SF—I want to never again read entire anthologies of SF stories or large-cast novels where every character is binary-gendered. I want this conversation to be louder.
Read that paragraph again and think about it… Think about it really hard. Nuts and bolts. Every single SF book, he wants to default to something other than what your audience thinks is normal. I want more people to seek out not just great books, or mind bending books, but books. Period.
Yep. How dare she wish for books to more accurately reflect the diversity of the real world…
Speaking of great sci-fi, wouldn’t Firefly have been so much better if Captain Mal had been a pre-op transsexual? And just think of the hilarious banter they could have about Jayne not being a girl’s name… never mind, because in the future that is insensitive.
Of course, good writers will just write their characters so that they’re interesting and compelling, rather than to check a box to make a special interest group happy. If I’m writing a story and it would make the story better to have some character be something other than the default, then I can put that in. If it doesn’t have a point, then it is a distraction to the reader.
Characters who are not straight or white or cisgendered male or whatever Larry Correia thinks of as the default have a reason to be included in the story. (Fortunately, white dudes like me don’t need a reason to exist. We’re the normal ones, you see. We’re supposed to be here.)
Here’s a reason: because people other than your narrow-minded “default” exist in the world. Because if you want to write a story that’s in any way reflective of the real world, you have to acknowledge that fact.
Except even then, a Hatey McHaterton like me will still probably do it wrong. There was a bad guy in Swords of Exodus named Diego. This guy was an enforcer for an international crime syndicate. He participated in underground knife fighting arenas against Yakuza and Russian Mafia members for fun. Diego could match Lorenzo in a fight. He was also a gay cross dresser who made a very convincing Celine Dion, so obviously, I got a review that talked about how I hate gay people… Even though in a book where almost all of the characters, including the protagonists, are some degree of bad guy, obviously this character is a demonstration of my homophobic hatey hate mongering.
Then there’s Big Eddie, but really, you can’t think of Eddie that way. His sexual orientation was Hurt People. If you were to give him a psych evaluation to see what his “gender identity” was, he’d check all the boxes, then burn the test and stab the psychologist.
As far as a character’s proclivities, for all you know my books are filled with pre-op transsexuals, only I’m not going to stop and talk about them and what they do off screen. In fact, the only time I talk about a character’s feelings on any topic in a book are when that helps flesh out that character in a manner that helps tell the story I want to tell.
“See, I wrote about a gay cross dresser, so you can’t accuse me of being homophobic!”
To that end, I’ll be running this column: posting every two weeks, with discussions of books and short stories, as well as interviews and roundtables with other writers and readers of post-binary SF,
Oh good. Because this topic really needs to be beaten home. I hear that there are actually some consumers out there who still actually read sci-fi, and we will never rest until this genre becomes so incredibly boring that we drive everyone away!
because I strongly believe it’s important to hear multiple voices.
Just not the ones that disagree in the blog comments.
Again, try reading the comments. Also, you seem to be accusing MacFarlane of deleting comments, when I suspect it’s the Tor.com staff who are responsible for moderating. I’m not 100% sure on that, but I suspect you’ve got your snark crossed here.
I’m particularly interested in science fiction at the moment, but I expect I’ll cross genres as I run the column.
Yeah. I can’t wait until he gets to urban fantasy. Yay.
I hope you’ll join me in making the default increasingly unstable.
Wow. Yeah. I’ll show you, Dad! You can’t tell me what do! Down with your cismale gendernormative fascism!
And back to the mockery and criticizing the author’s age rather than her ideas.
Well that was fun. My congratulations to anyone who read this far.
A reminder: I do moderate comments here, because
I’m a freedom-hating commie I don’t have time or interest in trolls, name-calling, threats, etc. You’re welcome to comment, but as Wil Wheaton says, don’t be a dick.
Weekly Links & Wrap-up (Feb. 2, 2014) - Here There Be Books
February 2, 2014 @ 2:33 pm
[…] Jim Hines smacks down a jerk regarding binary gender in scifi. Point by point! It’s pretty awesome. […]
February 2, 2014 @ 3:17 pm
That comment really struck out at me as well. We might see Heinlein’s choices at representing his characters as incidental at this point, but they had a significant political point at the time, which was to imagine a ‘post-racial’ future. You can see a similar gesture in the work of Ursula LeGuin, with her Earthsea novels.
February 2, 2014 @ 8:46 pm
how can their be an end to non binary gender when gender is based on whether a person has a xx chromosome or a xy chromosome it is pretty clearly a binary solution set, that means either you have a xx chromosome making you male or a xy chromosome making you female, unless you can find another human chromosome it’s an impossibility to have a non binary gender, and all the wishing or medical proceedures in the world will not alter this single simple fact end of story.
Jim C. Hines
February 2, 2014 @ 9:01 pm
1. Biological sex =/= gender.
2. There exist chromosomal combinations that aren’t XX or XY.
All of this has been covered many times in the comments here, in discussions elsewhere, and in plenty of scientific literature. Please go forth and read a bit before jumping into the conversation.
February 2, 2014 @ 9:23 pm
Nice try Jimmy boy, I assume your a boy, however true hermaphrodites appear so infrequently that they could and probably should be called the exception to the rule, rather than a rule killer, except once again by biased left wing zealots who will always trot out some obscure factoid to proclaim that their version of the truth is the whole truth when it is in fact a statistical blip on the scientific radar
Jim C. Hines
February 2, 2014 @ 9:30 pm
Oh, look. Another troll whose ignorance and BS has gotten him tossed into the moderation queue.
February 2, 2014 @ 10:47 pm
Don’t forget y’all and y’alls
February 2, 2014 @ 11:12 pm
Because time to time is what we have now. Most stories are cis and hetero but every now and then a write writes a trans or queer or other story. There is no reason to get rid of the default. I mean go back to the original article. The first 50 responses or so are “oh and book x is my favorite trans book.” One of my favorite books of all time is When Gravity Fails by George Alec Effinger. The hero is a straight whitish male with a trans male to female girlfriend. One of his best friends is a woman to man trans. His other best friend is a black cannibal. He complains at one point in the story that one of the strippers at a night club was a ciswoman and she wasn’t as good looking or as good a dancer as the transwomen. Your stories exist. Their nice every now and then but most of the time the majority of us just want to read the cis hetero stories. Trans stories lose all their unique edgy flavour as they gain ubiquity. Once they lose their uniqueness your cis hetero readers are going to stop reading them and then your readership will go down. Yall lambast us saying how the straight white male hero turns off minorities and women. If that is true then how much more damage will be done to scifi sales by alienating the majority straight white people.
February 2, 2014 @ 11:17 pm
No she’s not what? Your answer is extremely vague.
February 3, 2014 @ 12:09 am
It is their art and their lively hood. There are probably thousands of gender queer stories written every year that never see the light of day because they weren’t written well enough to pass an editors muster. There are probably hundreds of short stories or independent stories written about gender queer issues that didn’t get enough sales or word of mouth hype to hit a blip on Alex’s radar. Heck she missed dozen of stories from major authors as pointed out by the comment section over there at Tor. And what Larry is pointing out is that sometimes you have to sacrifice your art to make a living and it is stupid to sacrifice your art and lively hood for someone else’s passion.
February 3, 2014 @ 2:50 am
Won’t somebody think of the straight white people! You know, us straight white people, we’re such special snowflakes and withering flowers, we NEED almost every story to be about people like us, especially the males of our type! Don’t make us think! Don’t dare to write books where I need wait for further information before I can decide whether a character is white or black or cis or trans or straight or gay. Our brains, they can’t take it! Really, we can’t actually enjoy stories in which characters are black, or trans, or gay or anything not straight white cis able-bodied guys.
You minorities you have it so good! YOU can enjoy stories written from a different perspective than your own. YOU are the actually privileged here!
Genre Fiction Is a Small World after All | Brian Niemeier's Web Journal
February 3, 2014 @ 12:47 pm
[…] The spooky chain of coincidences began when Hines posted a critique of Correia’s critique of MacFarlane’s post. […]
February 3, 2014 @ 1:43 pm
I think he was going for Herr(sp?). Implying Nazis not woman.
February 3, 2014 @ 5:45 pm
Or Black Agnes, or the other female characters that Howard wrote about, you mean? You can criticize REH about a lot of things, but badass female characters isn’t one of them.
February 3, 2014 @ 7:38 pm
I don’t think it’s unfair to criticize Alex on claiming that she’s “hardly a child”. I’m about a decade older than her, so to me, she’s basically saying “Hey, I’m all grown up! Listen to me!”
I don’t know why, but it somehow rubbed me the wrong way…I suppose it’s that she was drawing attention to her youthfulness while trying to claim it doesn’t matter.
Which it may or may not, I don’t really care. But even so, having read a range of SF myself, I personally thought that her idea that there doesn’t already exist significant exploration of non-binary sexuality in SF to be somewhat quaint, myself, whether she has age and wisdom on her side, or not.
February 3, 2014 @ 8:22 pm
I think losing the “unique edgy flavor” is part of the point here.
February 4, 2014 @ 5:11 am
Dear Sean – thank you! I’ve been somewhat otherwise occupied the last few days and didn’t check back here – but I hope you get this. I’ve a new book coming out shortly which isn’t in the Babylon Steel series – it’s a steampunkish tome called Shanghai Sparrow – but I am planning on more Babylon. In the meantime there are some extracts from her world at http://www.scalentine.gaiesebold.com if you’d like something to keep you going!
Ahem – sorry for the derail. Back to your scheduled discussion.
February 4, 2014 @ 8:58 pm
Didn’t read the comments (517 as I write!), but wanted to make a couple notes:
* According to the last study I read, more people are reading for entertainment than in previous years. So I don’t know where he got his numbers. I’d have to go get a citation to back my point though.
* I buzzed over to Tor.com and noted that I hope MacFarlane will take a look at Triptych by J. M. Frey, which was amazing and I loved it and it should get more press. So I’m recommending it again here for general consumption (in case anyone reads the 518th comment). 🙂
Jim C. Hines
February 4, 2014 @ 9:04 pm
I can’t speak for anyone else, but *I’m* still reading ’em!
Phoenician in a time of Romans
February 4, 2014 @ 10:04 pm
Well, if you’re still reading, do you have any explanation why, in a 517 odd comment discussion on gender and sf, not one single person mentioned _Stars in my Pocket like Grains of Sand_ by Samuel Delaney? Not one.
I mean, I can understand it from “sf writers” who are too busy stroking their guns and drooling over fantasies of shooting people, but honestly – does no-one read anything written before 1980 anymore?
Jim C. Hines
February 5, 2014 @ 7:52 am
“Well, if you’re still reading, do you have any explanation why, in a 517 odd comment discussion on gender and sf, not one single person mentioned _Stars in my Pocket like Grains of Sand_ by Samuel Delaney?”
Haven’t read that one myself. I take it you’d recommend it?
Phoenician in a time of Romans
February 6, 2014 @ 10:20 pm
Only once. It’s worth ONE reading if only for the moment when you twig to what he’s done with the language of gender. Absolutely brilliant.
Other than that, it’s too literary for entertainment, IMIO.
February 8, 2014 @ 8:10 pm
FWIW, I did actually buy a book solely because the author claimed it was Third Wave Feminist Steampunk and that sounded so awesome I almost sprained my finger on the buy button at Amazon.
(And then it was very disappointing so I wrote my own, but that’s another story)
person who likes a little intersectionality with her textuality
February 8, 2014 @ 8:17 pm
ugh. not clear enough. try again: so i meant this comment to contrast with the “ppl read for entertainment” =/= “ppl read non-white-penis heroes” argument.
I think third wave feminist can be entertaining.
(and sorry i’m so late to the party, found you through a Good Reads discussion board)
February 8, 2014 @ 9:22 pm
I’m a little uncomfortable that you’re putting anarchist and libertarian in the same sentence.
My friends who identify as anarchists define it as a radical removal of kyriarchy, and not as a goal but a process. It’s why consensus is a big part of what they do. And “tolerate” suggests there’s a reason they shouldn’t, like I tolerate a little scum on my bathroom grout.
I don’t understand what you’re afraid of.
Another Day, Another SWFA Bunfight | R.P.L.Johnson
February 11, 2014 @ 7:24 pm
Characters: Binary Gender vs. Post-Binary Gender….A Debate??? | The Nourished Geek
February 16, 2014 @ 4:36 am
[…] McFarlene’s post before SHTF on January 22 Larry Correia’s Response Post on January 28 Jim C. Hines Response to Correia’s Post on January 29 Alex Dally McFarlene’s Post on her own site on January 29 Book Staffer’s […]
Characters: Binary Gender vs Post-Binary Gender…A Debate? |
March 3, 2014 @ 9:15 pm
[…] Jim C. Hines Response to Correia’s Post on January 29 […]
Science fiction needs to reflect that the future is queer – The Guardian | Best Books Market
April 11, 2014 @ 1:36 pm
[…] sci-fi fans. For writers and fans like Larry Correia, whose virulent attack on MacFarlane was excellently dissected by Jim C Hines, sex is a biological imperative and the idea of gender as a social construct is a damn liberal lie! […]
Diversity in Science Fiction, Two Examples | Views from Medina Road
April 11, 2014 @ 5:22 pm
[…] sci-fi fans. For writers and fans like Larry Correia, whose virulent attack on MacFarlane was excellently dissected by Jim C Hines, sex is a biological imperative and the idea of gender as a social construct is a damn liberal lie! […]
Larry F. Correia, International Lord of Hate | Monster Hunter Nation
April 15, 2014 @ 1:31 pm
[…] excellently dissected by Jim C Hines, sex is a biological imperative and the idea of gender as a social construct is a damn liberal […]
A Marvel from A.D. 801702 | John C. Wright's Journal
April 15, 2014 @ 5:17 pm
[…] excellently dissected by Jim C Hines, sex is a biological imperative and the idea of gender as a social construct is a damn liberal […]
Obligatory Hugo Nominations Reaction Post | Geek Melange
April 21, 2014 @ 7:13 am
[…] of someone’s work can be colored by their political opinions and actions. After reading Larry Correia’s “critique” of Alex Dally MacFarlane’s essay about not defaulting to gender binary characters, I can […]