It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible

Home truths

22 Comments

Truth #1
Isaac Asimov was a rubbish writer, and his Foundation is a rubbish book. It has cardboard characters who act as though they belong in 1940s middle America and not a galactic empire. The invention is minimal, the prose is bland and uninspired, the plot doesan’t make sense, and how the book has come to be consider a classic is beyond me. I am embarrassed when people think to suggest it as a good introduction to science fiction, or one of the genre’s best books.

Truth #2
The majority of male science fiction readers are sexist. They not only refuse to read books by women sf writers, they refuse to acknowledge that not doing so is wrong. They attempt to justify the evident unfairness in the genre through such mealy-mouthed justifications as “The gender of the writer is irrelevant” or “why should I impose quotas on my reading?” or “what about the men’s studies?” This is sexism. It is wrong.

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22 thoughts on “Home truths

  1. Never read any Asimov but aren’t most SF readers white males with geeky tendencies who fear all things female?

  2. I have been following your writing for the past few weeks –here and at SFMistressworks — and I certainly agree with your evaluation of sexism among SF readers.

    I am a woman who earned my PhD by studying Feminist SF. The texts I looked at were all written by women. I had several conversations with male colleagues that went like this:

    Them: “What are you researching?”
    Me: “Science fiction primarily.”
    Them: “Cool! Who are you looking at? Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke?
    Me: “Um, no. I’m looking at recent SF written by women, like …”
    Them: “Oh …” (interest now lost, gazes away)

    It always irked me. As if the only legitimate form of SF is hard SF written by male writers. Don’t get me wrong, I like all kinds of SF — both by men and women — but I do feel that much of women’s SF is discounted to readily as soft SF or as something else entirely that is not worth reading.

    If anyone doesn’t think that women writers are under represented in SF, go to a bookstore and look at the SF selection on offer …

    PS. I would very much like to contribute reviews to SFMistressworks, but you are quite good in protecting your contact info 🙂 I entered my info in the comment form, so if you prefer to check me out first, I’d be more than happy to get back to you.

  3. I grew up on “the classics” of SF. In my teens I thought Heinlein particularly unreadable. I was engrossed by Foundation because i was an adolescent male. Otherwise, it is hard to take and i certainly wouldn’t recommend it. However, This is a point you repeat at regular intervals and I wonder why you take such exception to it.

  4. I think Asimov had his moments – some very clever and even poignant short stories, some entertaining mystery stories and at least one good novel – The Gods Themselves. But, like the Dune books, Foundation enjoys the regard it does more for historical and nostalgic reasons than as a work of astounding literary merit. But you know that, and I guess that is part of your point.

    Heinlein bothers me more because he was so wrong about so many things – from his belief that floggings were necessary to discipline both dogs and people (Starship Troopers) to ‘But boss, birth control is a *girl’s* job’ (I Will Fear No Evil) to….argh just so much. But people actually think of him as a serious and profound thinker because (a) he did have some storytelling chops and (b) he spent the long years of his decline leveling at some pretty obvious flaws in modern civilization alongside his own asinine prescriptions to overcome said flaws.

    • And he had SEX in his books, Jay, don’t forget that. A guy writing about bonking every vagina in sight. (Not every orifice because, for all his ::yawn:: “startling” sexual relationships, he was actually very much a prude. As a good friend also pointed out, all his sex takes place AFTER the major two characters have gone through some kind of marriage ceremony.) He was ground-breaking to spotty adolescents without being ground-breaking, if you get my drift. So, with the exception of being such a malign influence on SF, he was a non-event.

      From a psychological pov, however, he is a very interesting study. That heady mix of military influence + right-wing dogma + inherent sexism + confused views on sexuality + … well it goes on and on, doesn’t it? 😉

  5. I agree with Ian, Foundation isn’t very good. And I probably think this because I read it as an adult instead of in my teens. I was a lot less critical as a reader when I was younger.

    Ammonite, male SF readers may be more than 50% of the whole, but they aren’t an overwhelming majority by any means. And the argument that SF is written by men for men because fans are nearly all men is one of the things that makes women fans observe that they’re apparently invisible to men. We exist, trust me, and there are a lot of us.

  6. Ian: Do you enjoy any of Asimov’s works? I didn’t care for the Foundation Trilogy that much — however, I did enjoy some of his Robot material and The Gods Themselves (somewhat).

    • I read many of them and enjoyed them as a kid, but revisiting a few of them as an adult has made me wonder how I managed to enjoy them so much. I don’t even think ‘Nightfall’ is a good story, and that’s considered a stone-cold classic by many.

  7. If I remember correctly I disliked Nightfall (the novel version)… And Nemesis… I haven’t returned to Asimov for many years — I might eventually but I have too many other authors to read at the moment.

  8. I’ve been using several of your lists and well as the SFMisstriss works to augment my science fiction reading list, but what I would like to see is a list of Science Fiction books by authors of color. Maybe if you and your readers have some time, this would be a great list as well.

    • David: The most famous which comes to mind is Samuel R. Delany (he’s also very outspoken about his homosexuality) — famous for his top-notch works Babel-17, Dhalgren, The Einstein Intersection, Triton, Nova… He’s won multiple Hugos and Nebulas so he’s gotten a lot of recognition over the years.

    • Steven Barnes is best known in the field for his collaborations with the likes of Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle but is, in my opinion, a better writer than either of them. Try ‘Lion’s Blood’ for an alternate history that’s more unusual than most.

  9. Octavia Butler, Robert Asprin, spring to my mind. All of literature, not just SF, is ill-served by a dearth of writers of colour. I remember a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode that attempted to tackle this (a black sf writer writing for one of the pulp magazines, and a female colleague having to write under a male pseudonym) but it was handled in so heavy-handed a fashion that even I tuned out.

  10. Pingback: Apology, explanation and – oh well, it didn’t work… « It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

  11. N. K. Jemisin (Hugo and Nebula nominee) is an African American writer fantasy/sci-fi — her work is predominately fantasy though….

  12. “what about the men’s studies?”

    Yes, I’ve been there (albeit in a different context).

    In my recent past, I was the senior trade union representative for an entire Government department (albeit a fairly small one). I also served on one of the union’s national executives, and had a role in promoting the union’s activities. One of these roles was getting more women and other under-represented groups to take part in union activity; and our section of the union ran a specific seminar for under-represented groups to try to do just this.

    In promoting this, I came across the sort of attitudes that the quote “what about the men’s studies?” typifies. I explained it like this:

    “There’s no shortage of union reps who look like me.” (Ian’s met me, but others will need it confirmed that I’m white, middle-aged – and beard’n’glasses to boot.) I’d then go on and say “If other blokes who look like me want to get involved, that’s great – come along to a meeting, volunteer and you’ll be in. But people who don’t look like me may need some encouragement. Some won’t, and that’s great, too. But there’s not enough of them for the union to reflect the diversity of its membership in its activist level. And that’s why we’re encouraging people to get involved by having this special course. After all, a three-day seminar – one and a half of which is spent observing a bigger conference – isn’t all that much in the Great Scheme of Things, but it’s a start.”

    I never had anyone disagree with me after that explanation.

    Looking at my sf collection, I’d suspect that the proportion of female writers represented would be around the 12% mark. i haven’t done the statistics, though. I’m more likely to try new writers – including women writers – if I see their works reviewed, or see short stories in Interzone (my only source for new short fiction, by and large). I hope I’m not sexist in the selection of my reading matter, but I’m prepared to admit to being found wanting. The first step in making change happen is for people to admit that change is necessary and that they have a personal role to play in that.

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