Since before the Great Exclusion Act of 1939, the science-fiction community has had its share of controversies, feuds and flame wars -- between pros, between fans, between pros and fans. Maybe more than its share. Discussion about these controversies -- whether in fanzines or online -- has often generated more heat than light. How can we research and write about controversial issues in the field? Is it ever possible to just stick to the facts? Panelists talk about what they've learned about how to approach these issues.
– writes as M.J. Locke
Mike Glyer – fandom journalist
– fan moderator
Eric Flint - novelist
Will sets down The Law. There is much applause!
Opening question for the panel: what is your experience writing about a controversy. Mike says that one of the principles of the internet is that people like to attract attention to themselves, and that some of the very large kerfluffles there might be 10 or 15 people covering something and that the interlinking feeds off each other as a firestorm of interest. Scalzi talks about his time in journalism writing about controversies professionally which he said was kind of awesome. In some sense it's almost Hegelian, starting with thesis, and then synthesis, etc. He says that internet interactions has caused that progress to accelerate. Flint talks about Napoleon's Dictum of you shouldn't ascribe to malignancy what can be developed from incompetence. Laura says that if something is a serious issue and a potential threat, start from the facts, review your responsibilities to relating those facts, and put them out there so people can evaluate them for themselves.
Will asks Mike about historical-wise, are there more people being stupid, or just more people period. Mike says probably both. While we still tend to have in common reading SF and being interested in the creators of it, but his background equips him to compare things to what was active in the 80s. Eric says that the 5th of his 6 rules is remember the internet effect, which is that you do not see the person you are arguing with, and that emoticons are no substitute for faces and posture, etc. That online interactions tend to be more belligerent than otherwise because of that distance imposed, and that one should try to remember that.
Laura says that the rules of behavior in corporate environments are completely different, and that she was surprised to compare that to how writers behave without as much tact and analysis and diplomacy. Scalzi says that the internet is face blind and you can't recognize that and sometimes the only thing you have to deal with is the words. To him the way you interact with people online is much more akin to writing than it is face-to-face. The ability to edit and be more forceful can lead to people sometimes being less careful about their phrasing and like you're yelling into people's face. Brings up the “The failure mode of clever is asshole” thing that he's brought up elsewhere.
Will asks about how much you can report just the facts. Asks the panel what their experiences sorting out facts from opinions. John says that one of the problems is a lot of things get presented as factual in a rhetorical way that are in fact just opinions asserted as fact. That it is one's job writing about these things and determine whether things being asserted as true are in fact based in reality or based in the agenda they may be trying to promote. That it may be the job of people writing about things like this to pop that bubble of assertions and take it down to facts. Laura says that she has tried to keep that in her mind when doing her research.
Will asks about sourcing, and how do you find your facts. Scalzi interrupts saying “Wikipedia.” Will asks Mike what techniques he uses, and he responds with card playing advice “Don't play the cards, play the players,” and he will assign weights to information based on whom it may be coming from and his awareness of them in the past. He tries to formulate useful questions that will reveal what may actually be going on. Eric says that his 3rd rule is “Double check what you think you know” and if you find yourself using paraphrases or generalities then make sure you can document what you're saying in their words, and if you can't don't do it. His publisher only had one criticism of what he wrote, which he had difficulty getting rid of because it was such a great turn of phrase. John says that in cases where you are doing something for rhetorical effect you can be persuasive, but when you do that you must be clear that you are not actually saying things that are so just because you so strongly believe in them. A trap that fools people of all levels of effective communication and competencies, brings up Dunning-Kruger effect. Mike says that his impression is that people don't want you to be free of a point of view, that they want you to disclose them so they can predict it. Will says that if your biases are on record, at least they're known. He asks if Eric's publisher has given him any feedback on his controversial stances. He says that his publisher has been standing well away from it, and has done it well. He thinks that authors are in a somewhat strange position because they can express themselves clearly as an individual, that it's harder if you have yourself a relationship with a professional association that might limit your expression. Laura says Tor has been similarly supportive to Eric's experience with Baen, and were uninterested in their author's interests and political agendas. Scalzi can't imagine any of his publishers trying to rein in his personal and political public speech, because he's not an employee. When writing at a newspaper he was limited somewhat to what could go into a family-friendly publication, but otherwise not very. Will asks Mike if he's ever gotten off-the-record type things from publisher employees. He says yes, as recently as last year got a tip that he was able to independently verify. Scalzi says that if you get out in front of something that turns out to not be true, admitting that right out that you were wrong about something gains you lots of credit. Names the incident where there was a sock puppet claiming to be him that Mike published on and then corrected when John repudiated the commenter.
Question about navigating safety and privacy issues, threats of violence and doxxing, etc. John says that for him there's an extension of the dilemma of reporting identifying information about people to verify them while exposing them at the same time, which is magnified now when the context is global compared to local like a newspaper. When he knows that he's talking about someone who's not as public a participant in the world as he is, he takes care not to really closely identify that person while still responding to them. That there is a responsibility of public figures to use discretion in the service of private individuals. Laura says disadvantaged peoples are less safe, and more statistically likely to be harassed and stalked and so forth, and they want to be part of the community and the conversation, but also have a need to be private and kept safe from those kinds of repercussions.
Question asking about advice for new or more fragile authors who feel compelled to write about controversial topics. Eric's is “Do it!” John says there's an article from an RWA publication warning people to not do it, and John thought that was terrible advice, particularly to tell a primarily female publication's audience that they should be quiet in the face of controversy! At the end of the day, he says that the question is are you requited to be silent because you are in the stream of commerce, and the answer is No, the fact that you write fiction for an audience does not define you, and that no person should be enjoined not to participate in the public life of our world because of their job. That that makes the world worse, because the fearless tend to be idiots. “Tragedy of the Commons” says another panelist. Eric says he's been a Socialist in America his whole life and the best protection he's had is to be open about it, because it makes it impossible for someone to leverage him on it. You may lose readers because of it, but you'll probably pick up as many because of it at the same time.
Question of if you make a mistake and don't delete it you are leaving misinformation out there. John says no situation is the same, sometimes it makes more sense to remove it, sometimes it makes more sense to update and flag it as false. Mike says he has yanked an entire post because he found out that the person he'd based it on had given him completely contradictory information regarding an incident from a different trusted source.
Laura closes about how we need people of good will standing up and sharing their thoughts and feelings with thought and openness to other perspectives and an awareness of real people being on the other side of the screen. Eric closes with most controversies tend to get overblown really quickly and stepping back and getting perspective is an underutilzied tool. Says he tries when he finishes composing something that may be controversial he tries to sit on it for a night. John's final statement is “write what you need to write.” Mike's last statement is that it's interesting that agreement does not always resolve conflict.”
Comics are more than superheroes. There have been and are many SF and fantasy comics, ranging from Sandman to Astro City, from Adam Strange to Fables. What SF and fantasy comics should all fans -- even those who aren't comics fans -- know?
Mark Van Name
Scott Edelman is sir-not-appearing on this panel
Brenda asks “I love Superheroes, why should we go beyond it.” Kurt's answer is that comics are an art form and not a genre, so they should expand wherever comic artists want to go. Mark says he thinks it's worth going back and reading the SF comics from EC in the 50s.
Brenda says that she loved Prince Valiant. Mark recommends stuff by Windsor McKay. Kurt observes we're in a Golden Age of comics reprints. Kurt says back in '78 he decided to finally read a pirate comic that was published in the papers and read it on newspaper microfiche over the course of a summer. Mark recommends Planet Comics which was golden age SF stories as comics. Kurt recommends Saga and Sex Criminal in more modern day stuff. Kurt has a book coming out that will be Epic Fantasy as comics with “Animal People.” Also mentions Archie Goodwin's Star Wars comics.
Audience question about blurrier genre lines in comics. Brenda says that a lot of the divisions in books are purely marketing things, and comics don't divide them the same way. Kurt says “Well, in comics we do it badly.” But he also observes that the superhero genre just tends to take over all the other genres. Mystery fan? Read Batman. Fantasy fan? Read Dr. Strange. Etc. He thinks all genres have blurry edges except those that are defined to strict historical periods like regency.
Question about Sandman as a superhero. Brenda says that he was a reboot of a superhero story, while Kurt says that Neil's Sandman owes more to Dunsany than anyone in comics. He occupies a place in a superhero world, and has greater than human powers, but he thinks it's something different. To Kurt the Super in Superhero is the same as the super in Supermodel.
Question about the idea of the introduction of a super character in a fantasy world. Also wants to ask about an idea of a sub-hero like Covenant. Kurt says that Donaldson had a letter published in the Avengers at one point talking about how Hawkeye was his favorite.
Returning to the panel description Kurt says that the first 10 years of Conan comics are top notch high fantasy that any fantasy fan should read.
Science fiction rarely discusses what people will eat in the future. Denny Zager and Rick Evans' 1969 hit song, "In the Year 2525," predicted "Everything you think, do and say is in the pill you took today." Will the future really replace barbecue and burgers with capsules and protein drinks? How far can nutriceuticals go? Will we print our food in 3-D or carve it from Chicken Little? How are cuisines and tastes evolving? What drives food trends?
– host of Cooking The Books and author
– author and cooking blogger high priestess in the holy taco church
Amy Thomson – author and ag/gardener person
– author and blogger interviewing authors about meals
– author and bringer of Challa for the audience to share, hardcore foodie
Amy asks if we're past the whole pills in space. Someone says that was invented by men who didn't want to eat, Lawrence says it was invented by women who didn't want to cook. Audience erupts, Scott tries to change seats, water gets spilled. Fran says she's actually been given food in pill form that was delicious and says that Haldeman talked about how anything can be dehydrated and compacted and then ideally rehydrated. Scott introduces the idea that you'd have a chip that might give you the experience and taste of something palatable while eating textureless nutritive food base.
Discussion of how space food needs to be extra flavorful to overcome sensory changes.
Amy doesn't believe in food pills because really fresh food is so wonderfully pleasurable. Lawrence says so much of the act of eating is so much more social than fueling up.
Fran points out that you can tell if people writing about space are tea or coffee people Amy points out secondary world fiction where there's always a tea or a coffee substitute.
Fran points out that the process of cooking in space is incredibly complicated and fraught with hazards. Scott observes that the wonder of airline foods gives him no faith that space food will be worthwhile. Fran, prompted by audience interjection, says that food printing may be the actual implementation that best works in the future.
Amy relates a story of going through the plastic food sales section of Tokyo and being starving because there are no restaurants nearby.
Audience brings up Soylent, no real interest from the panel in discussing that, they start talking about ST replicators. Amusing anecdotes about food experiences are going on. Audience member says that food printers may be especially challenging to clean.
Lawrence thinks that there's going to be an increasing divide between social haves and have nots, the haves eating real food and the nots eating processed.
Audience question about GMOs dismissed more or less immediately by the objection that most food we eat has been modified by agricultural processes over time. Amy says Roundup is the real danger.
Question about synthetic spices. Fran says that her husband was a biochemist working at McCormick and she says what she thinks you will see are flavor enhancers that improve specific aspects of tasting. And things that let people who can't taste cilantro correctly enjoy that. Amy says that we have lots of artificial flavors in our foods already, and people don't think of that as an exciting new spice.
Contrary to the covers on many old SF books, not every character was Nordic and blue-eyed. Yes, there were people of differing colors in some classic SF, despite the common white-washed marketing of the time. We'll talk about the early writers who had some surprisingly diverse casts of characters.
Brenda Clough (m)
Brenda says this panel may be a puppy ploy. She says that the whole point of this seems to be that the field has been diverse since its roots. Beth says that Shelley's Frankenstein was the first SF novel written about a disabled creature who was hated for his differences. Brenda points she was the only one who finished her project in her writing group, too.
Brenda did some research on 19th century African American dystopia/utopia fictions, rattled off a bunch of titles and authors I was unable to catch :(.
Steven says it can be a lot more useful to look at the percentages and in terms of science fiction's racial depictions, it's broken its arm patting its back on how open minded it was, and 99% of it is a representation of or from white vantage points. He observes that the number of people who will stand up and admit they're a racist is not nearly enough to accomplish the structural racism seen in our society. That it's not about being in SF, it's about being human and tribal by our nature. He never read any SF that had a commercial product made in Africa. He's irritated by people who object to “SJW's” because they were not objecting back in the day. Credits UKLG and Heinlein for encouraging diverse characters while at the same time other writers just said characters were supposed to be black but never really wrote that in their book.
Patrick says that this panel could have gone in a very bad direction, as an apologia to SF being vastly more diverse and progressive back in the day, and that we've nicely forestalled that possibility from happening. He says that there are probably many more works that have been written and even published over time that have just been subtly left behind and not discussed and taught and the diversity was made to fade away where it was present. Some discussion about Leigh Brackett, who is almost entirely out of print but was writing great diverse fiction. Beth says that the point of the cover of a book is to sell to the book buyers for distributers, and that meant marketing to a very limited (usually middle aged Southern white men) audience. Patrick says the buyer at B&N, who is possibly the most important person in buying books, is a black man, but pointing it out as an exceptional circumstance.
Discussion about women who were forced to write using gender neutral or initialized names because of the belief (valid or not) that it would not sell. Steven thinks it wasn't invalid to think it wouldn't sell, points out that it took until DS9 for a prime-time TV drama to star a black man. Patrick says that part of moving beyond that is the modest amount of courage of realizing that people who aren't default white male want to read SF. Amazing story about how Steven's first published book had a white man on the cover, and no one at Ace would take credit for the decision. Beth was his editor at the time, and the head of sales told her that the people who would buy it and shelve it would not buy the book with a black man on the cover. Steve talks about how Chip Delany and Octavia Butler were impoverished trying to write SF starting out. Patrick points out that Tor took the sequel to Steven's first book and it was the first SF novel published with a black man on the cover, and it sold quite well!
Steven says he's incredibly proud of the change that has occurred in his lifetime, not forgiving the slack. Steven says Michael Jackson was our first trans-racial celebrity. Says that we're continually moving towards greater communication, complexity, and interaction. Patrick says that Chip Delany said that one of the reasons there wasn't much overt hostility against PoCs writing SF was just because there were three of them, one of them being Steven, and that as soon as those numbers picked up, so would the objections, and he was clearly right. Lots of discussion about terrible casting decisions and white-washing and its rare flip-side and the controversies thereof. Steven says it's about how you don't mind if your tribal group is poaching into the territory of another but you do the other way around. He says that if you wake up, if you realize you have these tendencies you can make a decision to do the right thing. Praises the SJW as his favorite people in all the world. General bafflement at how that term has become a pejorative to anyone.
Audience question about Elijah Bailey, who he had always imagined was black, panel says they don't recall any evidence of that.
Question about how characters might be described as having various shades of brown skin, but that's the only trait the character has that identifies them as not the default white, no cultural difference. Steven says that we are developing a one-culture world and that he expects and hopes that to be the reality in the future.
We like to think that US democracy is the ultimate and best form of government. But the world has seen many different forms of government over the centuries, and even today many different forms exist around the world. What will governments in the US and other countries be like in the next 10, 50, or 200 years? How will changing technologies and world conditions (e.g., climate change) affect those forms? Are there forms of government that have been proposed that have never existed in the real world, but might?
Karl says that how we view ourselves and that how we run ourselves is rapidly changing, and that in recent years there have been new options revealed to explore. Joe says that putting his cards on the table he's sort of a wishy-washy person who will go along with anything that works for the time being. He's very forgiving if you don't screw up, and very cynical of rhetorical solutions. Says he's sympathetic to leaders who are trying to lead the masses. Says that may disqualify him for the panel. Bradford says his specialty is intellectual history, when he's not working with a startup company he works as a political consultant, running campaigns, and understands the cynicism, but that it's something that has to be dealt with to handle running a society.
Ada is an author and historian (intellectual history again) lots of weird modes of government from history.
Charlie is “allegedly a member of the Scottish Socialists Vanguard Drinking Party.” His next trilogy is near future comparing and contrasting political systems in parallel worlds.
Karl wants to talk about how we're coasting on the tech of governance developed in the 18th and 19th century, and yet we're rapidly moving into an era that everything else we do is moving into different areas. He also wants to talk about whether there's a crisis of legitimacy happening, and what the future of authority might look like.
Asks panel about whether our systems are outmoded and need updating, or if they'll last for all time.
Joe says there's a push/pull feedback system going on, no matter what you name it. That the governed have some power over the governors, and that governors have to understand the people they're representing. Karl observes that he's distinguishing those two.
Charlie says he's fundamentally wrong, and that it's a very American viewpoint. That somebody living in Greece would see things very differently. That the externally imposed austerity is brutal, and that the government doesn't want it, but that the culprit isn't even the bankers, but Merkel's administrative policy. That her ministers don't understand economics any better than he does string theory. That her rhetoric is driven by her political goals that are entirely internal to Germany, meanwhile the Greeks are suffering. Says that corporations are AIs invented 300 years ago, who have been optimizing our world for their survival ever since.
Schroder drives it back to the point. Bradford talks about how young the founding fathers were, and a book about the quartet of Washington, Madison, Hamilton, Jay...about how the Articles of Confederation were frustrating to everyone except a very limited few, and the constitution's genius was that it was incomplete but it provided the forum of argument and change. Says that originalists are perverting the intents of the framers by trying to freeze things, that the founders wanted to be remembered, but not embalmed. Thinks the constitution is under attack because people are trying to discover a mythical original absolute intent that has no place in a document that is an exercise in compromises.
Ada says there have been many governments that have had many changes in wealth disparities and personal power, points to the Roman Senate and how it changed from governing a small number of people to millions of people and the addition of an empire, and that the Senate, as an entity, survives through many changes in overall government and population until well into the middle ages. That corporations may be the new elements of change causing governments to be repurposed around them.
Karl makes a joke about Canada's government lacking a history of revolutions and civil wars that I missed the punchline of. :( Says that a new technology of governance is a block chain, like that employed in BitCoin, and he expects the decapitation of corporate structures via this mechanism. That corps based entirely online via distributed systems are already starting to emerge.
Ada says that an exciting recent development is the EU as theorized, rather than implemented. That they wanted to create a dynamic system that would change over time and whose institutions would change as it integrated different peoples. That it would have been self-destroying and self-replacing over time, which she says is unique through her understanding of history.
Charlie wants to talk about the Dark Enlightenment. Says that so far we've been talking about politics back to the French revolutions and the Enlightenment. The DE is characterized as what happened when libertarians discovered capitalism. He says we're looking at a Sigmoid curve that rises and then tops off. That we may be going through a constrained period of tech growth, and that our current political situation is coinciding with that. Proponents of DE think we're going to go back to authoritarian/feudal type social structures, and that democracy may just be a blink in history. He finds it deeply pessimistic, and that there's an alarming overlap with MRAs, who would naturally be the dukes and princes over the peasants. Thinks that all of our current ideas of good governance are relatively recent.
Karl goes back to legitimacy, asks Joe to talk about it. Joe wants to go back to systems that structurally acknowledge that they must change themselves to grow and improve. Karl says the principle of agonistics is what drives our current civilizations. That you can fight and win but not for all time. That some groups out there are attempting to fight and win for all time, which erodes all of our models of civilization.
Audience question about whether political and the geological are diverging with distributed and online groups. Bradford says that Hardington(?) wrote about H.G. Wells as one of the first cosmopolitan thinkers, who was a technocrat. He says he argued Wells lost faith in parliamentary structures because of their limits in time and space. That Wells thought direct polling in government would be the ideal, as overseen by a centralized technocratic elite. That if things proceed with such speed it changes the shape of governments is accelerating.
Ada says that because kids are now growing up identifying more with their distributed online social networks more than geologically proximate fellows, that this will cause a disconnect with political wisdom who expect people from certain areas to feel and think in certain ways. Charlie doesn't think that we're going to revert to geological limits anytime soon, because it's so easy with accessible technology to travel and get to places around the world. That similar dialogs about, for example, illegal immigration is occurring throughout the world essentially simultaneously. That he says that it's driven by economic immigration, seeking a better life.
Question to Joe asking about a story where a billionaire dedicates his life to nuclear disarmament, hoping that a real billionaire might take up that cause. Asks what advice he would give to Trump. Joe: “Go home and stop bothering us!” That someone with a lot of money has political power greater than any individual worker.
Charlie points out that it takes a constitutional crisis to really implement any changes, including improvements. Ada talks about Lessig's run, as being SFnal as a referendal self-destroying administrative end-run. Karl points out that's the original Greek idea of the tyrant who would be elected to power and then step down when no longer needed.
Joe thinks we need to base progress on our permanently damaged system, that can never be completely improved, that it's a big shambling machine that manages to plug itself in, turn around and unplug itself, and plug it in again. Bradford says that we need an informed citizenry to keep things running. That our tradition as americans is of a system that postpones the collapse and violent revolution through imperfections. Ada says that when we're speculating about politics in both an activist and a creative sense, that the canonical historical events ( the American Revolution, the French Revolution, etc) tend to loom hugely, and that smaller changes that were not so rupturous can be instructive as well. Charlie says never trust a political ideology that isn't comfortable with altering itself as things get real, and never trust anyone who doesn't admit the sincerity of their opposition.
There was a time when most science fiction writers were geeky white guys with military experience, so most of their characters tended to be geeky, white guys with military experience...including often the aliens. What are some of the tricks to creating diverse characters? What are some better examples of fiction with diverse, well-written characters?
– editor “Octavia's Brood” activist “All activism is scifi
– author/editor activist bi/queer rights
Randy Henderson (whom I'm unable to tag, for some reason) – author “straight white male representative” Kameron observes said member always must point that out.
Kameron, moving the panel away from the straight white male, wants to ask “what is a diverse character”
Walidah: lives in Portland, the land that loves diversity “that you can talk about diversity and talk about nothing” talks about Portland's liberal coded language and diversity as representing everything from alt culture to PoC. When people ask how to bring PoC into their org, she says make it more of a just organization rather than bringing “PoC into their hot mess”. Warns against tokenism and the PoC as someone who's just there to be there and save the white protagonist.
Grá would love to throw out the title of the panel and feels like if you're writing actual human beings you will be writing diverse characters. That it's learning something in relation to people who are not you.
Mary says that there's a representation of characters who are less powerful in fantasy and that can be reflective of varying levels of privilege.
Kameron asks how do we write about people who are not like ourselves, when that narrative of the default white guy is so prevalent.
Mary says “well, how do women write about men” says it's really just about daring to do it, and that research has its place, but just starting it is important. Walidah says the research is really important, said when she wrote about a quantum physicist she didn't think she could just wing that. That a default man setting a book in 15th century Spain wouldn't just assume he would know that was like, and that people should have that same respect for marginalized individuals as characters.
Henderson says respect is the key, that you can't know another person's life, but you can look for primary sources of people who are disadvantaged and try to treat it with respect. Grá observes you're likely to fuck it up anyway.
Kameron asks if we screw it up, will the sky fall and will we be immolated in the street, Walidah says “Yes.” Much laughter.
Walidah reads from Ursula K. Le Guin: “I have heard, not often, but very memorably, from readers of color who told me that the Earthsea books were the only books in the genre that they felt included in—and how much this meant to them, particularly as adolescents, when they'd found nothing to read in fantasy and science fiction except the adventures of white people in white worlds. Those letters have been a tremendous reward and true joy to me.
So far no reader of color has told me I ought to butt out, or that I got the ethnicity wrong. When they do, I'll listen. As an anthropologist's daughter, I am intensely conscious of the risk of cultural or ethnic imperialism—a white writer speaking for nonwhite people, co-opting their voice, an act of extreme arrogance.”
MSL has one, too: “What happened in the 17 years between Farthest Shore and Tehanu was that feminism was reborn, and I became 17 years older, and learned a good deal. One of the things I learned was how to write as a woman, not as an honorary, or imitation, man.
From a woman's point of view, Earthsea looked quite different than it did from a man's point of view. All I had to do was describe it from the point of view of the powerless, the disempowered - women, children, a wizard who has spent his gift and must live as an "ordinary" man. The same place, but how changed it seems! Some people hate the book for that. They scold me for punishing Ged. I think I was rewarding him.”
Grá says he's scared of screwing up, he doesn't want to hurt anyone or be yelled at. But the only way to not write “default” characters is to try, screw up, do the best you can, learn and go forward. MSL says she has trouble writing another culture and having a villain from another culture and casting aspersion on them.
Kameron loves the idea of seeing criticism of your work as a favor to you. Cites an example from her work where a line was problematic towards trans women, how someone pointed it out to her and she went from indignation to realization and gratefulness, and the line was corrected in subsequent versions.
Henderson says if you've hurt someone you can't argue that their truth is not true, you can only apologize and try to do better.
Walidah says you have to expect that person may be coming from somewhere they've never seen themselves represented in a positive fashion. Talks about Avery Brooks and how it was so important to him to be a representation of a PoC in the future as a successful, good human being. To tell children that they have no future is an act of psychological aggression.
Audience objects to claim that there's no demand, Kameron and Grá point out that's obviously false; points to packed room
Kameron asks how do we check our privilege, suggests first readers, Walidah also says readers are a resource, but reading works by people who are “diverse” themselves is invaluable. Grá thinks just asking people is a good idea, but wants to point out that those people don't owe you an account of their experience, either. Henderson observes that no single person can give a representation of a culture as a generality. Says when he was writing about Iranian peoples he reached out to people who would read for him. Walidah says that reciprocity is important, and that if people are helping you by being this kind of resource you should consider contributing back to what is valuable for them.
Kameron gives the author recommendation call. MSL points to Ursula K. Le Guin. Also points to Guy Gavriel Kay. Llyn Flewelling (warns it's not high lit). Later comes up with Ann Leckie. Kameron recommends Tobias Buckell, Aliette De Bodard, Nnedi Okorafor. Walidah point to Octavia Butler, warns against authors who slot characters into black, asian, immigrant, gay and that OB writes about people with intersectionality.
Grá says that it's important to understand the consequence of how your diverse characters will have an effect on the culture and people around them, and that ignoring the consequences of a diverse character base is lazy.
Asks if writing outside your identity is an advanced, beginner, or intermediate skill. Grá says that it's important to experiment and not worry too much about how precious your words are. Kameron says she started writing with default males, and it wasn't until later she realized she wanted to write mostly about women and not just white people, and that it was emulating what she saw in media. Walidah says she wrote her first fantasy novel as an 11 year old to capture a book where there was a character like herself; “writing herself into existence” as an act of survival.
“How do you deal with these issues in a fantasy world that isn't supposed to relate to this one?” MSL says that in what she's currently working on (joke that “purple people are underrepresented in Fantasy”) that she uses a shortcut of recognizable names from Earth cultures. Randy says that you can't just paste fantasy elements on top of marginalized groups from our world and assume that's not going to be offensive. That when borrowing you need to keep that respect in mind. Kameron emphasizes imaginative worlds. Walidah observes that often we're writing about power disparities, privilege, and that these are relationships that are in our world and that we need to remember both this world and that one when writing. Points to N. K. Jemisin as an example of that done right. Grá says there's an exercise where you write 10 endings to your story, and that to represent a culture in your work, try writing a bunch of versions to get the crap you see on TV out of your system.
Question about pushback from publishers. Grá says “Writers of the Future” wanted him to gay things down a little bit...but they're run by Scientologists.
As consumers and readers what can we do to find diverse authors and works with diverse characters. MSL says poke around on Goodreads. Grá says go to a community that shares those interests. Kameron says that as readers of this stuff we need to spread the word so others with that question have answers.
Closing words from Octavia Butler via Walidah: there are no borders or limitations in SF, that any that are there we put there. And another from Ursula K. Le Guin, again, who said “I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries — the realists of a larger reality.”
U need dis! MOISTURIZE!
I'm looking at you, especially, , , , , , etc.!
Is science fiction becoming more diverse? Where can we find the diverse writers we need? How can we make speculative fiction more diverse, both in terms of the content and writers?
Cheryce Clayton – Native American and Romany author
Cynthia Felice – author and blogger
– blogger and author
Mark asks what the current state of diversity in our community. Cynthia says that in the Southwest of America the SF community is dominantly white, despite sizable populations of other races in the area. Cheryce knows 3 SF pros that are Native American but publish as white because they're concerned about their publishability. Arthur says that from a fan perspective we are in interesting times. He says things used to be a lot more quiet, but it shouldn't be confused with peace. Talks about how #blacklivesmatter is prominent because now we can see the violence, not because it's worse, that it may actually be better, but it's visible. That the polite, genteel sexism and racism is no longer viable because the population is larger and refuses to be quiet.
Question from Cynthia of whether intent matters. Cheryce as a veteran does various events and you get the old guys who pat you on the ass as you walk by, and they don't mean anything by it, and she cuts them slack because their world has changed and they're dinosaurs. In Fandom she has a higher expectation. Mark says that of 50-60 cons he's been to there's been maybe 3 where he was not harassed. Brings up the N-bomb at LonCon last year and the lady who harassed him about it. Arthur brings up the Overton window, and that the range of what is acceptable is necessarily limited. That a big part of making progress on these issues is shifting the Overton window in a desired direction. Debates very rarely change people's minds, so at some point you have to just set a limit and say that things are not acceptable and make that clear to others. Mark says that you make a case-by-case basis on how much slack you cut based on relationship and context of the conversation. Arthur says that in this context of fandom there is a huge asymmetry, and that people who are public figures they have a lot of people approach them.
Mark asks the panel what they see as major roadblocks to increasing diversity. Cheryce became a ghost writer because she was being told over and over again that she was being told it was a really great work, but could she change her name? Eventually she said you can put someone else's name on it for this much money. Cynthia says that one of the first recommendations she got from an editor was to take a male pseudonym. She says it was a risk sticking with her name, and she doesn't think it hurt her much, but that it was something pretty much all women her age in the field experienced. Arthur says the worst part is being known as the survivor of the harassment, not for your own accomplishments. Mark relates a story that by the third diversity panel at a convention it was the same 4 people. Audience member mentions that he sees a lot of tokenism in media and fiction, and how do we get past that. Mark says that minorities and other disadvantaged groups hang out in packs, and that's rarely represented in fiction.
Question to Cheryce by a Native American fan about how much pressure she gets to be more visible as a fan. She says that there is pressure. Cynthia has hopes that men and women will continue to improve writing people of all kinds.
Mark says what are easy things I can not fuck up. Arthur says that fragility is a useful term to keep in mind. That issues like this can be very emotional in discussion. It can feel like you're being painted as a villain if you're on the “wrong,” oppressor side of a discussion of diversity. That if you can take a minute and suppress that reflex to defend yourself and just accept the criticism, you'll come out the other side better for it. Cheryce brings up the assessment of a crowd for threats she automatically does in every room she goes in, as a survivor. Mark says he has to do the same thing, and it's a huge drag on you.
Over the last 20 years, the publishing industry has changed dramatically, moving away from traditional models to online sales, self-publishing and ebooks. What could the next 20 years bring?
– author from Japan, previous publishing executive in Japan
– author from Georgia
Toni Weisskopf – Editor at Baen
– executive editor at Tor
– author and editor, reacquiring his backlist
– surprise panelist: former publisher, obtaining backlist for digital publisher and private editor
Betsy describes how Open Road, where she's currently working, started. Her boss had this realization that a lot of people had no digital publication rights specified in their rights, so they're getting names that have been left behind in digital publication out there. RJS says that older contracts simply did not deal with that issue. Some publishers had amendments done on their old contracts getting them ebook rights. Describes the percentages that pay out to authors who publish directly rather than through a publisher, and how the “fair split” is up for discussion now. Beth describes all the services publishers bring to the table in counterpoint. There's a brief upset as they go past each other. Toni points out that for an established author from print like RJS the situation is pretty different from a new author who is trying to make their way in the world. Taiyo says in Japan the payout is even lower for authors, for both print and e-book editions. TW asks TF how new authors are publicized. TF says they don't have agents there, the publishers have a much more direct role in publicization. ZK says that print runs are very small, and it's a very risky market to publish in because the number of readers is small. He got famous for putting poetry on walls that was taboo at the time, and then published poems on a website to get wider exposure.
TW asks RJS where he thinks technologies are leading us in publishing. RJS says Tor is not abandoning print, contrary to many pundits saying that print will disappear entirely. That even many younger readers prefer print. RJS says that in electronic publishing the author is entirely empowered. RJS also says there's something really cool about having a book in paper, as an ego thing. He says it's the two channel thing that keeps the dialog alive. TW doesn't think the two-channel thing is reality, and that publishers will remain relevant in all channels of publishing books because its a mature industry that knows how to do what it does. Observes that self-publishing is not new, and that lots of historical examples of self-publishing exist. RJS yells over Beth saying that it's free and goes on a tirade in that regard. Betsy says that yes, you can hire all the services of a publisher ala carte, but there's cache and leverage in having a publisher, and advantages thereto. Beth tells a story of trying to get corporate executives to begin to understand the changes coming in e-books and convincing them it was a real thing that would be a big deal. Beth observes that because space doesn't matter and manufacturing obstacles aren't present, publishing shorter works is becoming more acceptable, and Toni agrees, saying that short fiction has always been a great field for the genre and yet it was discouraged in some ways because of manufacturing costs. TF says that translation is an obstacle for self-publishing. ZK says in Georgia intellectual property as an idea is essentially dead, and everyone basically pirates everything.
Betsy says she's very fond of the Kickstarter model, boosting artists who have fallen out of conventional models. RJS says that he recommends the Author's Guild for their statement about equitable funding splits, as opposed to the “cackling editors” to his right. TW says “Baen is very pleased to have the rest of publishing join it.”
Question about if an author has done most of the work to prepare for self-publishing then a publisher approaches them, should the author get more of a share for having that done for them? Counterpoint from TW being that self-published authors often do well, but when they get published by a firm they can do much, much better, Correia as an example.
Question about Kindle Unlimited, RJS says that Amazon is not your friend, and recommends a bunch of different platforms. Beth says the KU contract can be particularly limited.
Question about how to get well placed by the Sales team. Beth answers by “be the person they don't mind answering the phone for”
Question about audiobook market. TW says that they really took of for SF after digitization and small listening devices. RJS points out that Audible does a very good job, and are on the same quality as traditional publishers. He says that audiobook consumers are straight up additional consumers, and do not cannibalize book sales.
Question about Amazon being a disruptive technology. How do you address the position of Amazon's position of extreme power. RJS says the department of justice needs to address that imbalance. Beth says the way traditional publishers stand up to Amazon is with very strong negotiating tactics. TW says that long-term there will be challenges to Amazon, and that we've got an interesting future.
Question about 99c ebooks and where pricing is going. TW says pricing follows what people will pay. Betsy says that she often amuses herself reading 99c book reviews.
Question about a multi-format purchase option (bundled e-book/audio). Completely dismissed by TW. “Do you buy a hardcover and expect a paperback?”
When the classic fairy tales were first told, they were about people living in places much like those known by the storyteller, mostly small towns and rural areas. Now, people live in more urban areas. Does today's urban fantasy serve the role as fairy tales once did?
After intros, (and a diversion on publishing variations), Megan asks where did you start in your stories as far as an origin in a city. Patricia says that the setting has to be part of the story, that it should be a character as much as any others, with traditions and that her setting of tri-cities with rivalries is integral. Rhiannon is in favor of a broader definition of UF where it should have a modern esthetic but is not necessarily restricted to cities. She's been reviewed as “suburban fantasy” which she says misses the point, that UF is about being in a connected community and having modern information access in a fantasy story. Yanni says that the relation to fairy tales is that fairy tales are often about underdogs succeeding, and that in large settings with lots of people you can tell that dynamic more readily.
Megan asks how modern communication techniques can short circuit traditional fairy tale failure of communication plotlines, and how that can be resolved. Michelle says you can still do Hansel & Gretel in NYC. Yanni says that because the urban setting is so easy to portray as the massive unknown it's very easy to still do. Rhiannon says you have to step back from the details of a fairy tale and look for the fundamental fear behind it, like the Big Bad Wolf is the fear of something stepping out of the darkness and getting you, and in a city that might be a mugger or a serial killer or whatever.
Megan asks what a favorite new urban fantasy done interestingly is. Patricia says James Eliot's “Charming” is brilliant, particularly his women characters. She hates him for how good he is. Yanni suggests Aliette De Bodard, recommending both her Aztec trilogy and her latest urban fantasy trilogy starting with “House of Shattered Wings.” Michelle doesn't feel that last counts as UF, that it doesn't fit structurally. Rhiannon doesn't read much UF because she's writing it, but recommends Randy Henderson's necromancer series, with it being an unusual take as a sort of family action comedy as part of the setting. Megan recommends Seanan's Encrypted series, another family of monster hunters. Michelle recommends Discount Armageddon as a starting point.
Megan asks what are the things you have to make sure you're including in your Urban Fantasies right now that are unique to the genre. Michelle says there's a lot of stuff in UF that you don't have to fill in, because there's no secondary worldbuilding taking up space, leaving you more room for your unusual elements and characterization. Patricia agrees, that UF shouldn't be identified with a checklist and can be identified better by the feel of it, a mood, and that is where the distinction between UF and Supernatural Romance can be found. Rhiannon says that she's not sure how much people's expectations are for sex in UF, while it's pretty well defined in SR, but people do seem to expect an inclusion of that romantic element in UF as a genre. Michelle says that there's not a lot of romance in her books, that she takes lumps for that sometimes. Yanni says that Gladstone's Three Parts Dead has no romance but is definitely UF, and she didn't miss it at all. Patricia recommends Mike Carey also. She thinks the sex thing comes in because there was an initial crossover with romance readers, and that she and Butcher were some of the only initial breakouts in the genre that don't have a whole lot of romance and sex in their books. Michelle points out that if you're writing with a male name there's not as much of an expectation of sex being needed, but if you're a female name you're expected to put more sex into it. Someone mentions a service that you can pay to insert sex scenes in your books.
Question is “What is the new Happily Ever After” Yanni says she thinks it is a partner you feel like the character can move on to the next level of life with, that gives you something to mover forward from the end of the book. Michelle says if you're writing a series with a continuing character you can't give them a HAE ending, because you need them around next book. Megan says it's a character becoming a complete human with realization of their goals as a person, and objects to stories that end with the romantic relationship. Rhiannon says the type of character that makes a good hero/heroine is someone who comes to a place that its an extenuation of their heroing skills in a less critically dangerous. Patricia says that UF is generally serious-based, and that an HAE for a fantasy character is a hopeful ending.
Question I missed, Patricia observes that many traditional fairy tales are very conservative with status quo conserving messages, trying to keep the reader safe in their social roles and peasant roles.
Question regarding shift from fairy tales being for children and UF as an adult genre. Michelle disagrees with the proposition that fairy tales were for children. That that was a later development, culturally. Patricia says that part of it is because of the recent invention of childhood which didn't function the same in older cultures. Adults were the ones transmitting these horrific gory stories. Rhiannon observes that fairy tales are weird as a cultural institution because it was an oral tradition and then it wasn't and then it was and now it's a media thing, and that if you compare it to an illiterate community's oral tradition, they told stories to each other through all ages as a community. Patricia talks about East of the Sun West of the Moon being based on the Greek story of Psyche with a thousand years of oral tradition layered on top of it.
Question is what led them to the genre, was it fantasy elements or something else. Yanni says it was that it was prominent women characters who weren't tokens or flimsy. For Rhiannon it was a more accessible fantasy when she was overwhelmed by epic fantasy. Patricia says she read Esbe's Tale (sp?) by Linda Haldeman when she was younger, and then Huff's Blood books she really loved. LK Hamilton's books mesmerized her and she got a phone call from her editor asking her if she'd consider writing a UF, and she was about burned out on what she was writing and that suggestion propelled her creatively immediately. Michelle says that it was Portal fantasies; Narnia, Gardner (who made her claustrophobic).
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