So today, on that outrage machine known as Twitter, I saw that there’s a new consortium of science fiction and fantasy writers out looking for members, going so far as to dive into the mentions of an established author to get her to sign on. (No, I was not invited – and I’m really fine with that.)
Putting aside this very mild breach of Twitter etiquette, this group’s stated goal is to create an inclusive organization for all genre creators that steers away from “non-SF/F issues” and does not get bogged down in divisiveness over race, creed and politics.
When a respected agent chimed in with the belief that all art is political, the group’s Twitter scribe responded by saying that such an opinion was a “cancer” on science fiction and fantasy.
OK, full stop. Wut? No. (Rant ahead. You have been warned.)
First off, let’s recognize the fact that this very statement is very much divisive in and of itself. If you’re going to create an all-inclusive group of creators from all walks of life, all opinions and backgrounds, then the debate as to whether science fiction and fantasy is or is not political should not be an issue, right? But there’s the first barrier already erected – we’re all for inclusion except for this opinion, which is cancerous and bad.
Out of all the possible responses to the agent’s opinion, this was probably the most logically inconsistent and certainly not the best look.
Secondly, politics and SF/F have been joined at the hip since the genre was invented. Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo had some very strong opinions on imperialism and poverty. H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine has classism as a central theme. Heinlein was very political, and has been lauded by both liberals and conservatives alike. Star Trek has “infinite diversity in infinite combinations” as a core tenet, and envisions a hugely inclusive and largely peaceful (and liberal as hell) future. Tolkien’s work was heavily influenced by his wartime experiences and concerns about industrialization.
Star Wars is about fighting space Nazis. I mean, come on.
There are SF/F stories, of course, that don’t tackle politics head on, but to deny that the author’s moral and political beliefs don’t inform those stories is willful blindness. If you envision a future with largely white, heterosexual men waving an American flag triumphantly on Titan, that’s as much a political statement as anything. And there’s nothing wrong with that! Write what you want and, chances are, there’s an audience for it. But recognize you’re choosing to write a white, straight, American guy as opposed to, say, a Latina woman or a gay person from China. That choice has political underpinnings.
So to decry “politics” in science fiction and fantasy, to my ears, is to basically say, “I’m really not a fan of your politics.” If you throw in “social justice” as a kind of pejorative, well, that speaks volumes. Ultimately, claiming that SF/F should be apolitical shows an incredible lack of imagination.
All literature is a mirror of the human experience. We tell stories about ourselves to entertain, yes, but to also help come to a better understanding of who we are and what we want out of life, individually and collectively as a society. Genre fiction is the larger-than-life funhouse mirror of that experience, where we get to explore a ton of what-ifs and really play with the fabric of society and humanity in ways that, while impossible, can be nonetheless thought provoking. These genres have long been workshops for a staggering array of political thinking.
But I get that perhaps this group isn’t necessarily being that willfully ignorant. Rather, this may be a response to the perception that conservatives are unwelcome in genre circles. The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (of which I am a member) has certainly had its share of issues on that front. Maybe it’s not about politics but the discussions around politics in the genre.
Does science fiction and fantasy need to be more welcoming of conservatives? Yes, I’d actually agree with that to a point. The genre has always skewed liberal, along with the rest of art and literature. I have no doubt that conservatives with deep-seated, genuinely held beliefs can feel rather excluded, and given that we should be able to geek out freely together, that’s not good.
There are some right-leaning folks who have nonetheless found a place within the genre and its organizations. The late Dr. Jerry Pournelle was a past president of SFWA, and a very active member up until his passing last year, and he was no flaming liberal, to be sure. The incomparable Gene Wolfe, whom I’ve had the pleasure to meet, is a deeply devout Catholic and has been lauded in conservative circles. There are other conservatives I have met who fit in comfortably and well.
That said, the genre can do better – but I’m going to caveat this to a degree.
Dr. Pournelle was, by all accounts, something of a hard-ass, but no one doubted his devotion to the genre or to SFWA. Having attended a group dinner with Gene, I can vouch that he is an absolutely lovely and charming man. Most of the conservative writers I’ve met and spent time with are really good humans.
Yet our politics today is extremely divisive. And while there are those who would accuse left-leaning SF/F creators of playing politics and excluding conservative voices – and sometimes they even have a point – these accusations often come with an equal or greater amount of division and contempt.
There’s a small cadre of right-leaning creators who demand acceptance into the broader genre – but on their own very distinct terms. They claim discrimination and demand that politics be left at the door, but will go on to explain it’s because of the liberal, feminist, race-card-playing malcontents “ruining” science fiction. One gentleman, for example, recently sought to document this unwelcoming atmosphere by signing up to attend a convention – and promising to make video recordings of all his interactions to prove how intolerant “the left” could be. (The convention decided he was unwelcome to attend because of this.)
I’m not sure why any group of people, of any political persuasion, would want to welcome someone into their house so that the guest can freely tell them how awful they are before proceeding to take a dump on the carpet. And then video it to prove how intolerant the hosts are of soiled carpets? Dude.
I am very much a white, heterosexual American male. Hell, I’m a middle-aged guy with a beard and a dadbod, and I have never felt unwelcome in any genre circles whatsoever. Quite the contrary, I am deeply thankful for the generosity of my fellow writers who have included me in their social circles and supported my career. And I, in turn, try to welcome and support newbies as they come up.
And politics never entered into it. Nobody ever asked me what my politics were. I didn’t really even start blogging or tweeting about politics until after the 2016 election. Most of our conversations at cons are basically about panels and book contracts and writer-life issues and, yes, geeking out over movies and books and fun stuff.
Personally, I think that genuine conservatism – not this nationalist, isolationist scorched-earth crap masquerading as conservatism – has a vital place in American society. I think conservatism can be a sound balance against unfettered liberalism, and vice versa. Maybe we could use more of that back-and-forth, rather than the bomb-throwing.
Basically, it comes down to this. I don’t think “the genre” – which isn’t nearly as monolithic as it sounds – gives a crap about your politics, so long as you present yourself as a decent human being and not a troll. Are there exceptions? Sure. I think if you express sympathy for the Charlottesville tiki dudes, no matter how politely, then don’t let the door hit you on the way out. That said, if you do indeed have those sympathies, I think you’re quite used to not being welcomed by anybody at this point.
Anyway, if this new organization wants to try to be apolitical and such, then best of luck. I think, however, that an organization on the record as being against “social justice preaching” is not going to sound super-inclusive to many people. Sounds like politics to me.
Let’s be clear – while some folks may judge based on politics, everybody’s gonna judge you on whether you’re a jerk. If you’re deploying your best dank memes about the libtard, feminazi, SJW agenda in science fiction and fantasy and also complaining about how unwelcoming the genre can be, maybe your politics aren’t actually the problem here.