Two debates are currently raging across the online SFF sphere, namely the debate about the appropriateness of awards eligibility posts (see my previous posts here and here) as well as the debate about “masculine stories” initiated by Paul S. Kemp (see my post here).
Let’s start with the masculinity debate:
At Dreamwidth, Ithiliana responds to me responding to Paul S. Kemp and points out that gender debates have been with us since the beginnings of SFF fandom and that we’re still not much further than we were approx. ninety years ago. Ithiliana also makes a very important point, namely that all responses to Paul S. Kemp so far are still stuck in the same straight, white, cisgendered, able-bodied paradigm with all the attendant problems.
Kameron Hurley (who is one of my picks for best fan writer BTW) has a great post in which she explains how gender-switching the stereotypical lone wolf hypermasculine action hero shows how problematic such characters really are and that in order to be fully human, people should embrace both their traditionally masculine and feminine traits regardless of gender.
At The Bathroom Monologues, John Wiswell breaks down Paul S. Kemp’s characteristics for masculine characters bit by bit and concludes that nothing is exclusively masculine. Bonus points for pointing out how harmful the stereotypes of men having their emotions in check are to young boys who are emotionally crippled by being told to “man up”.
Teresa Frohock responds to Paul S. Kemp by pointing out that she wrote a character who ticks all the boxes of a manly man according to Kemp. Unfortunately, that character is a woman – oops. Teresa Frohock also points out that rigid gender stereotypes and honour culture hurt both men and women.
At Fangirl, Lex wonders what Paul S. Kemp’s views on gender mean for the future of the Star Wars novels, since Kemp is still under contract for further Star Wars novels.
This post is very illuminating, since it sheds light on where Kemp, a writer whose name was vaguely and whose work not at all familiar to me, is coming from. Apparently, one of his Star Wars novels has no significant female characters at all, while another fridges the lone woman, so that the men can escape (whatever happend to women and children first, as extrolled as a manly virtue by Kemp?). And there is even more problematic stuff.
Fangirl also points out that Paul S. Kemp’s ideal of hyper-masculinity as virtue does not really fit into the Star Wars universe as it’s been portrayed in the films and many of the novels. Because for all its gender issues such as the fact that in all of the Star Wars films men vastly outnumber women or that the original trilogy fails the Bechdel test with flying colours, Star Wars doesn’t really present hyper-masculine and ultra-feminine characters. Luke, Anakin, Obi Wan, Lando, Qui Gon Jin, etc… are not the sort of manly man Kemp prefers. Han Solo comes closest and he is hardly Conan either. As for the women, I have been suspecting for a while that the fact that Leia was so damn awesome was a lucky accident, but none of the few Star Wars women are wilting flowers.
Now I have never read any of Paul S. Kemp’s novels and I gave up on the Star Wars novels years ago. And a large part of the reason why I gave up on the Star Wars novels (and indeed rarely bother with tie-ins in general, even if I love the franchise) was that the Star Wars universe presented in the novels was not the Star Wars universe I had fallen in love with. For starters, most of the writers focussed far too much on the Jedi, while none of them seemed to get that the Jedi aren’t a good thing nor are they really portrayed as one in the films. Indeed, Kemp’s “masculine virtues” as practiced by the Jedi order, e.g. stoicness, having one’s emotions in check, an emphasis on honour, contribute to the downfall of the Old Republic and are directly responsible for the fall of Anakin, since none of the Jedi are willing or able to recognise how the conflict between the (impossible) demands of the Jedi order and Anakin’s feelings for his mother and Padme are tearing him apart, until he goes totally off the rails and becomes Darth Vader. Anakin practically begs for help at several points during Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith and is blown off with Jedi platitudes.
Meanwhile, the debate about awards eligibility posts is still raging as well. But first of all, if you are a Hugo nominator and have problems deciding whom to nominate in the art categories, the Hugo Award eligible artists tumblr might help.
Larry Nolen declares genre awards irrelevant in general at the OF Blog, since only very few people bother to nominate and vote and the financial advantage is likely to be small to non-existent, particularly in the short fiction and fan categories. And besides, writers and publishers don’t behave in nearly such an undignified way regarding nominations for the literary awards that really matter according to Larry Nolen, namely the Booker Prize or the National Book Award.
Reading through this post, I couldn’t help but be struck by the privilege on display. Because apparently, Larry Nolen cannot even fathom that for many women or writers of colour or international writers or GLBT writers, being nominated for a genre award, even if it’s in a fan category, is an affirmation that they belong here and are part of the genre, that their books and stories and other contributions to the genre are welcomed and recognised. Never mind that he does underestimate the impact winning a Hugo even in the short fiction categories can have on a writer’s career. Because editors are a lot more willing to look at your work, when you are a Hugo or a Campbell winner. Especially, if you aren’t a straight white cisgendered man.
On a similar note, Martin Lewis at Everything Nice explains in great detail why he considers awards eligibility posts selfish, destructive and counter-productive. The post is a bit of a mess, but apparently awards eligiblity posts disenfranchise readers (How? People posting lists for their eligible works doesn’t force me to vote for them and indeed some of the writers I will be nominating have not made any posts) and don’t help diversity of shortlists, because people should be nominating based on the literary merit of the work in question and not because the author ticks a certain demographic box. I do agree that nominations should be based on literary merit, but if the only works of literary merit are written by straight white men, there is something wrong. Though to be fair to Martin Lewis, his own recommendations for awards worthy works include at least two women as well as an artist of colour.
At Jenny’s Library, Jenny Gadget has a thoughtful response to Martin Lewis and explains how writers talking about their own works on the internet helped her find speculative fiction that she could enjoy, often books by female authors that were not on any of the officially approved “best of the genre” lists, books that were not reviewed and pushed by booksellers and the genre press. She also points out how awards eligibility lists by women and writers of colour and other marginalised writers are less about genuinely expecting to be nominated or believing their own work to be one of the five or six best works of the year and more about pointing out, “Hey, we exist, too, and it would be nice if you could remember and maybe read our work instead of erasing us.” Post found via Radish Reviews, a great site operated by Natalie Luhrs who would coincidentally also be a good pick for best fanwriter.
Jenny’s post really resonated with me, because my own journey as a speculative fiction reader and fan was very similar down to having books I found hugely problematic recommended to me over and over again before stumbling into a vast realm of SFF books by mostly female authors which were neither discussed nor mentioned at all.
Coffeeandink also weighs in and points out that it’s easy for straight white men to say that awards eligibility posts are tacky and that the market a.k.a readers will automatically find and nominate the best and most worthy works, when it’s known that works by men are more reviewed and generally given more attention.
Take this post by Jaime Lee Moyer, who wrote a wonderful Edwardian set fantasy novel called Delia’s Shadow, for example. Jaime Lee Moyer points out how there are many great books written by women, but when you check out “Year’s best” lists, it’s always the same handful of male names. Indeed, I quickly gave up looking at “Year’s best” lists for SFF, unless the list was compiled by a woman or to be found at a notable women-friend site, because how many times do I need to see Doctor Sleep or A Memory of Light or The Ocean at the End of the Lane or NOS4A2 extolled as the best books of the year? I already know about those books. However, it would be nice to find some new to me books on those lists.
While on the subject of A Memory of Light, apparently there are attempts to nominate the entire 15-book Wheel of Time series for a best novel Hugo. Leigh Butler at Tor.com is pleased (understandable, considering who the publisher is), Damien Walter at the Guardian less so. I’m inclined to agree with Damien Walter on this one. Whatever one thinks of the literary merits of the Wheel of Time series (I can’t comment, because I’ve never read the series), if there is one speculative property that does not need the attention boost of a Hugo nomination, it is Wheel of Time. Yet the series is familiar to a whole lot of people and may well end up on the shortlist. Which would put me as a Hugo voter in an unpleasant situation, because I honestly have no idea how to vote on Wheel of Time and there is no way I am reading a whole series of 15 very thick books I have very little interest in.
If there were no recommendation and awards eligibility lists, we would probably see even more examples of people nominating the familiar, simply because it is familiar. And is this really what we want?