CW – discussions of rape, racist and misogynist language
As an English major and general lover of fiction, I’ve always been intrigued by literature’s ability to reflect the (frequently dominant) values of the time in which it exists. Science fiction and fantasy (SFF) work in particular has always held a special place in my heart because, in addition to their ability to capture cultural zeitgeists, these genres also have an eye forward and a head in the clouds. To me, sci-fi is a wonderful, speculative space where we can dream of the future, sometimes as a harbinger of dystopian possibilities, but frequently as a beacon of hope.
At least, that’s how I used to see SFF. Now I can’t help but be aware of the imperialist, white supremacist, patriarchal, and frequently misogynist origins of the genre. I can remember sitting in a literature course my freshman year of college discussing the physical description of Mary Shelly’s famous monster (often considered the birth of hard science fiction) as an amalgamation of various racialized features used to distance Dr. Frankenstein’s monster from what is considered human. Undoubtedly, the popular pulp fiction serials of the 1920’s and 1930’s focused on space exploration as a response to an ever-shrinking world in an era of Manifest Destiny and are, thus, rooted in imperialism. These roots are highly problematic.
“Science fiction is not predictive; it is descriptive.”
– Ursula K. Le Guin, p. xii, Introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness
However, many modern SFF writers, the ones I fell in love with, are progressive, boundary breaking authors who write about important issues concerning race, class, sexuality, and gender. These are the Margaret Atwoods and Ursula K. Le Guins of the world. So there’s hope that the genre can overcome its troublesome past, right? Well, I remain hopeful, but there are threats.
Despite the rise of some prominent folks of color, female-identified, and trans SFF authors over the years doing some great work, there is a small but persistent group of folks intent on sending SFF back to its white supremacist foundations. As we have seen the rise of groups like the alt-right in the world, similar sentiments have made their way into the SFF community, as evidenced by what has been happening with the Hugo Awards the last few years.
A community of members nominates and selects a number of works to be recognized with a Hugo Award. Membership is open to anyone who pays dues to join Worldcon (further discussion of the nomination/voting process can be found here). In 2013, two (white, male) SFF authors (who I won’t even bother to name because they certainly don’t deserve the recognition) grew tired of the titles being awarded to what they considered obvious attempts at political correctness and advancing progressive agendas. I mean, how deplorable of those leftist writers, amiright?!
As a response, these two authors began the Sick Puppies platform, which was an attempt to undermine the Hugo Awards process by loading the ballot with works they considered to be free from political propaganda and deserving of merit. To get a better insight into these idiots’ thought process, here is an early message from one of the founder’s blogs explaining his perspective:
just imagine with me… Should I vote for the heavy handed message fic about the dangers of fracking and global warming and dying polar bears and robot rape as a bad feminist analogy with a villain who is a thinly veiled Dick Cheney? Or should I vote for the LAS VEGAS EXPLOSION SHOOTING EVERYTHING DRAGON HELICOPTER CHASE ORC SACRIFICING CHICKENS BOOK!?! Grglglgggggsllll………BOOM!
Ugh. The entitlement is unbearable. Clearly, these are reasoned, mature folks.
The Sick Puppies have continued to proffer voting blocs each year with varying degrees of (un)success (I won’t go into too much detail about the various failures, but one of my favorites is that one of the nominations they got onto the ballot came in 6th place…out of 5 choices). Unfortunately, however, this is considered the *moderate* group of awful in the SFF writing community. An offshoot group calling themselves the Rabid Puppies has taken their anti-progressive stance even further. The Rabid Puppies group is led by a hateful author who has been described (quite colorfully) by author N. K. Jemisin as, “a self-described misogynist, racist, anti-Semite, and a few other flavors of asshole” (source, and I highly recommend reading her whole speech – it’s pretty amazing).
In response, the Rabid Puppies leader fired back and called Jemisin, an African American author, an “ignorant half-savage” before going on to insinuate that she is genetically inferior (source, CW – racism, misogyny). Thirty-one flavors of asshole, indeed.
I apologize for dedicating as much space as I have on these appalling people, but I wanted to provide adequate context for the vitriol these folks spew at every available opportunity. The majority of their presence is dedicated to dismantling any instances of progressive literature that dare to encroach their hyper-masculine, white supremacist, bullshit view of SFF.
But where does this perspective come from? Largely, I think this stems from their delusion that we live in a colorblind or post-racial society (which they vehemently suggest while simultaneously spouting some of the most racist statements I have ever read). These are men who are so entrenched in their cis-gendered, heterosexual, white, male privilege that they can’t see the value in the representation of any other identities in fiction. In reading through the Rabid Puppies’ leader’s blog posts (which I really don’t recommend, unless you want to experience seething anger), the discussion in this course about the critique of liberalism come to mind. This self-proclaimed libertarian is someone who clearly believes in individualism (at one point, he discusses the importance of individuals having the right to shoot “half-savages” who threaten their property or safety). This is a person who believes that the politics-free SFF writing is objectively better and therefore deserves recognition in the Hugo Awards process. (But again, I can’t stress enough that the nominating/voting pool is full of “normal,” or perhaps a better descriptor is non-industry folks, people.) So this is someone who calls for meritocracy, but actually continues to lose by those criteria. Instead of admitting inferiority, this is someone who cries foul at the system – clearly something is broken if he’s not winning! Hmmm… now where have I seen similar behavior before??
This warped perspective comes from entitlement and the belief that because they believe that “politically neutral” (as if such a thing exists) fiction is superior, it must be the truth and should thus be reflected in the Hugo Awards. Ultimately, what’s happening in the SFF community is no different than, but just as concerning as, the increasing presence of alt-right perspectives cropping up around the globe. Our best defense is to keep fighting because there are more of us than there are of them.
And again, I’m so, so sorry that this is an infuriating post, despite the inclusion of the word “puppies.” You deserve this.
[.gif of puppies playing with pine cone]