Here in Germany, Walpurgisnacht, i.e. the night from April 30th to May 1st, is traditionally a time for partying and having fun, especially since the following day is a public holiday. Most of the time, that fun takes the form of “Dance into May” parties, though in some bigger cities – most notably Berlin and Hamburg, but also Bremen in years past – it’s also a time for rioting.
I’m not much for partying and tend to stay as far away as possible from riots (never mind that the expected riots didn’t even materialise this year), but nonetheless I had a lot of fun on Walpurgisnacht.
When I logged onto the Internet for an hour or two before going to bed, I saw people discussing and snarking about this fantasy short story contest sponsored by Baen Books. Now it’s absolutely understandable why people would be snarking about this contest, since the wording is sexist and includes jabs against whole genres like YA paranormal romance as well as “political drama with no action” (a.k.a. stories that don’t match the US conservative view of the world) and the final judge is a writer who had just relieved himself all over the Hugo Awards. And considering that this contest was announced less than two weeks after the Hugo nominations, at a point when the controversy surrounding those nominations (more here, here and here) still hadn’t died down, it’s kind of obvious why many people would be discussing and mocking this contest.
The discussion quickly turned to wondering what sort of stories would be candidates for the award, based on the sort of books and themes that make up the majority of Baen’s output. So the #BaenAwardStories hashtag sprung up for 140 character summaries of the sort of stories expected.
It was all good fun – and there was a side conversation about a naked Captain America, too – until a couple of men decided to take exception, because “there are good people working at and writing for Baen, so why are you smearing them?” As you can imagine, this rather killed the mood.
At Dreamwidth, someone called legionseagle has a summary as well as some thoughts about the whole thing (and also includes two of my own contributions). Found via The Radish.
This post largely sums up my own feelings about the whole issue. Because “Can’t you take a joke?” is a very common response whenever women, people of colour, GLBTQI people, people of non-Anglo-American origin, etc… speak up about problematic or flat-out demeaning jokes. But make a few good-natured jokes about the tropes in books that are clearly targetted at a largely white and male American readership (and it is worth noting that unlike other genre publishers you can’t even find Baen books on European bookshelves, you need to order them online).
Never mind that no one was suggesting boycotting Baen books or marching on their headquarters to burn it all down. Indeed, there were a lot of side conversations about Baen books and authors we loved. All people were doing was mocking a rather mockable contest with a badly phrased announcement and yet this mockery was immediately slammed down by the tone argument.
legionseagle also addresses some of the problems I had with Jim C. Hines’ much publicized gender-switched cover art parodies. Now I think that Jim Hines is generally a really great guy and supporter of gender, race and GLBTQI issues, but his parodies of cover art, mostly urban fantasy covers at that, left a really sour taste in my mouth, especially when they went on and on. Because here we had a man mocking the largely female dominated subgenre of urban fantasy – how original! Especially since it’s not as if the SFF community, mainly the male half, hasn’t been dismissing and mocking urban fantasy for ages, because it contains such pesky elements as female protagonists, emotions, love and sex. Did the authors of those books, not to mention the publishers and their employees, deserve to be mocked for the cover art? No, of course not. As for a man trying to tell women what kind of cover art they should find offensive – no, just no. In fact, I quite like many urban fantasy novels, including some of the covers, and I’m not a bad feminist for doing so. I even drafted a detailed blog post just why those cover pose parodies left such a sore taste in my mouth, but I never posted it, because by that point the fad had passed.
So Jim Hines has no problem mocking a largely female dominated subgenre and – by association – its authors, but a couple of women (though there were men involved as well) mocking a male dominated subgenre and a publisher whose cover art makes even the worst, most cliched urban fantasy cover look like Da Vinci by comparison is somehow offensive and smearing the good folks who work for said publisher. Yeah right.
As for how offended the good folks at Baen were by the Twitter mockery, check out this contribution by yours truly:
I swept the amazon warrior off her feet and bent down to kiss her, when her pointy brass bra took out my left eye. #BaenAwardStories
— Cora Buhlert (@CoraBuhlert) April 30, 2014
Among those who favourited the tweet is… drumroll… the official Baen Books Twitter feed. So that’s how offended they are.