Hello again. I tried the newsletter thing but it wasn’t for me. I’ve abandoned Twitter (I read my feed occasionally but don’t tweet now), and while I like Mastodon as a microblogging platform, it’s still finding its identity as a community, and the decentralization means it’s harder to find kindred spirits. So it’s a work in progress. But I still read a lot of blogs even though blogs are apparently dead dead dead, and they’re still my favorite form of conversation, especially about quotidian activities like reading and organizing my life. So I’m back.
Like a lot of people I know, I had trouble reading in the last quarter of 2016, especially after November 8. I found a bridge solution in reading fiction and nonfiction about people who had experienced or been raised in the shadow of collective traumas and managed to come out the other side. Robert Graves’ Goodbye to All That, Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory, Alejandro Zambra’s My Documents, and some post-apocalyptic genre fiction. Then this past January we took a week’s holiday where I read a lot in a short time, and I was off and running on the reading front, excepting times when work was overwhelming my waking hours.
I’m back to reading some romance, but only from a small handful of autobuy authors. Most of the romance novels being published today are emphatically Not For Me, at least not now. I’ve gone through these kinds of stretches before, where I read mostly other genres. Six years of reviewing at Dear Author meant that I neglected other types of fiction I’ve always enjoyed, and I’m catching up now.
This week, we have a little more on the Hugos and a lot more on reading and writing. First up, Gili Bar-Hillel, an Israeli translator and editor, talks about another way in which the Hugos are narrow in scope. The rest of the world snickers when we call the US baseball championships the World Series, but we call the Hugo con the WorldCon even though it’s overwhelmingly North American and UK oriented:
So what am I saying here? I am saying that OF COURSE the Hugos are dominated by Americans. This should be of no surprise to anyone. I am also saying that if you truly want more world in your WorldCon, it will require conscious effort, not only to attract and encourage fans and writers from other countries to attend, but to actually listen to them on their own terms when they arrive. Stop with the tokenism and the pigeonholing. Don’t cram all of your foreigners onto special panels for and about foreigners – just as you wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) relegate women only to panels about gender, and POCs only to panels about race. Not only does it rub our noses in the fact of our being outsiders, it makes it far too easy for the insiders to skip our panels for lack of interest, and not really expose themselves to us at all…
People like me, who are comfortable in more than one culture, can serve as bridges and connectors. We bring a different perspective just by being who we are. But not if we’re cordoned off and observed from a distance as alien objects. Non-Americans who come to WorldCons do so because we love science fiction and fantasy just as much as Americans do. We want to participate, not to be held up as examples of difference. I’m afraid that too often, the programming, while well intentioned, is inadvertently alienating – the opposite of what it purports to achieve.
This is the same kind of essentializing that we do when we talk about “people of color,” as if their color is their defining characteristic. Sometimes it is, of course, especially in terms of how they’re treated in society. But sometimes it’s not, and we do the US/UK-centric thing there too. (This topic is too big for a links post, but I’m working on something longer.)
The author Aminatta Forma strikes a similar chord when talking about the way she and her book have been received and categorized by the UK and US literary communities:
This week’s links lean heavily toward the Hugo awards. I’m sure most of you have read plenty about them; Robin has been providing links in several DA news posts, and Natalie has done an excellent, comprehensive job in rounding up a wide variety of reactions and canine defensive maneuvers. I’m linking to a handful of pieces that I don’t think are in either of those locations and which you may not have seen.
First up, Pep at Two Dudes in an Attic talks about the Puppies from the perspective of a white, male, Mormon reader of SFF. I found the Two Dudes blog a few months ago because Pep (I think it’s mostly Pep) wrote three great reviews of Aliette de Bodard’s fantasy trilogy. And he’s a political scientist, so his reviews sound the way I think. It’s not at all because the Dudes’ pseudonyms are Pep and Jose and the early ratings are in terms of football teams. Nope. Anyway, his take on the Hugopocalypse is pretty unambiguous:
Brad’s religion expressly forbids any sort of diversity-motivated hatred, and I have no doubt that Brad himself is a decent guy. Unfortunately, Mormons have a checkered history of racism, homophobia, and misogyny, and there is a deeply rooted strain of benevolent bigotry in Mormonism. (Full disclosure: I am Mormon myself, for those who are new to the party here, and I am allowed to say things like this. Anti-Mormon spittle flinging from anyone, no matter the political or religious affiliation, will be squashed like a loathsome cockroach.) I fear that Brad, no matter how well meaning, has a blind spot right where all the non-white, female, and/or LGBT people are, a blind spot endemic to his native culture that I am not immune to either. I don’t think he sees the full implications of what is going on here.
Worse, he refuses to repudiate the spiritual leader of Puppy-dom, the singularly distasteful Vox Day. (Speaking of loathsome cockroaches.) If the gentle reader is not acquainted with dear Vox, count your blessings. Anyone looking to be outraged is welcome to Google the man, just be ready for a shower afterwards. Possibly in hydrochloric acid.
I encourage you to read the whole thing, and to bookmark the blog. The posting schedule is erratic but the content is worth waiting for.
The second post is one Athena Andreadis linked to in one of her great posts on the Hugos. You should follow Athena’s blog too, if you aren’t. She writes about science, gender, and SFF, and she writes stories and edits SFF anthologies in her spare time (I guess days on the East Coast are longer, because that’s the only explanation). Joshua Herring takes apart Abigail Nussbaum’s troubling and confusing post about why she is going to vote No Award rather than vote for Laura Mixon. I don’t know Herring, but this is an excellent demolition of an argument that should have collapsed of its own weight:
Last year social media was abuzz with love for Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor, a fantasy novel written by Sarah Monette under a new pseudonym. In fact, there was so much buzz that I doubted I would ever read it because I frequently don’t do well with non-romance novels that are beloved by my romance-reading buddies. I was tempted, despite the 18-year-old protagonist and the elves & goblins setting, because the emphasis on politics and court intrigue was right up my alley. Still, my TBR was huge, I was on a book-buying fast, and I was enjoying what I had queued up in my near reading future.
Then the Hugo nominations furor hit, and I was struck by the fact that the two non-slate novel nominees were The Goblin Emperor and Ancillary Sword. I’d been underwhelmed by the first half of Ancillary Justice and put it aside but was still mulling why, and now another book I had ambivalence about was nudging me to read it. So I decided to give it a try.
I read the first chapter and found it well written but not particularly engaging. It takes a huge suspension of disbelief to accept that the ruler of a nation whose sovereigns are endangered regularly through that nation’s history would let his entire line of succession (at least the part he approved) ride with him in the same vehicle. But if he hadn’t, our hero wouldn’t have stumbled onto the Throne of Elfland (not the real name of the nation but Addison makes up lots of names and they’re even harder to spell than they are to remember). I lowered my eyebrow and decided to keep reading. And I’m glad I did. I didn’t love this book the way so many people do, but it has many features to recommend it.
I found The Goblin Emperor to be a warm, fluffy, blanket of a book. It was never particularly surprising; the good people stayed good, the villains were who you expected them to be, and the hero and his immediate circle were unfailingly decent, honorable, and admirable. Maia, the accidental emperor, was sweet and obviously sympathetic, but in some ways it was too obvious. I would have to have an even harder heart than I do not to be moved by his plight, but it felt like something I accepted as part of the story rather than something that reached out to me and gradually brought to me care deeply for his fate. His problems were external, rather than the result of the internal struggles of a complicated personality, with the exception of his reflexive self-loathing, and even that dissipated as he realized that he was not that unusual, he just had an awful, awful father who made innocent victims pay for his own poor decisions.