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fiction theory

The artist is not afraid

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You're hurting my head again, SF/F
default3, writing!wench
I imagine some kind of buzz is getting started concerning just how much FAIL is inherent in Patricia Wrede's new novel The Thirteenth Child in which she decides to retell the history of the Americas by erasing the people who were here long before Europeans decided to come. Instead of finding people, the Europeans who come over find magical animals and as a bonus, none of those troublesome native peoples who so stubbornly refused to see that they were dirty, ugly, and wrong and standing in the way of shiny new WHITE progress!

There are probably a lot of people who are saying things about this much better than I am. And there is some very useful links about the entire situation compiled by naraht on DW.

But the smartest and most accurate comment is from holyschist on DW who said:

Basically, to imagine an America (perhaps a world) without genocide and slavery, she erased the victims.

I can't believe that there were people who read this novel and thought that somehow it was okay to do this. Seriously. There were editors and agents and thinking human beings who all green lighted this project. And this is not to say that the novel probably wasn't well written or even interesting. I'm sure it is. I'm sure Patricia Wrede got all the mechanics right.

But saying a novel can't be hurtful and wrong if it's well written is like saying a gun isn't a weapon because it's pretty. You can put flowers and hearts and chrome on it all you want and it will still blow a person's brains out when you pull the trigger.

Same with literature. You can write a spectacular book and still hurt so many people with it. I believe that deepad said as much in "I Didn't Dream Of Dragons" (the link takes you to DW, not LJ because her LJ has been f-locked). But of course, if RaceFail09 taught us anything, it's that a bunch of people aren't listening

The discussion at Tor.com about the book and papersky's review of it is kind of disheartening. Well, some of it. Some people are definitely speaking up and saying that they were very bothered by what's going on.

Some are getting defensive, which is to be expected. I find it especially disgusting that somehow Lois McMaster Bujold thinks that somehow she comes out on top by saying we can't change the past and then listing a few charities and magically, she's done her part to change racism. Because it's always nice when White Ladies fix racism with the click of a button. The problem just needs you to throw some money at it and then nobody can accuse you of having racist attitudes because you donated to charity.

I get smacking urges as a historian whenever I see someone saying this kind of crap:

The past is beyond anyone’s reach, and history is fractal -- one sperm over, and we would all have been our siblings, and our own self-centered universes would never have sprung into being at all

Because it's bullshit. The past is not beyond the reach of people who are still getting smacked in the face by it, the people who are getting fucking erased in mainstream literature. It is not beyond the reach of those who are using it to their advantage. The people who have the privilege of being able to revise the books, texts, and mainstream narrative of How Things Came To Be The Way They Are.

Nor is history fractal. History is a living thing (cliched, but pretty true) and it can be edited, changed, revised, but it is not fractal.

Think of it like this: in math, two points make a line. If you move any of those points, the line changes and becomes different. The past is a point. And yes, it is possible to move that point, at least in the way that actually matters.

No, you can't time travel. But you can tell people something different happened, you can change perception. And in the human world? Perception is reality. What actually happened in the past takes a backseat to what we are told happened and what we believe happened. This is why our criminal justice system is so problematic, because when we put somebody on trial, we're not really making a decision on objective truth. We're making a decision on whether a jury believes the evidence is sufficient to put them in jail. Whether they actually did or did not commit that crime often doesn't matter.

It is not the past, but completely 100% objective truth, that is beyond anyone's reach. Which is why it is so incumbent upon us, if we know that none of us is going to be entirely accurate, to make sure that our inaccuracies aren't hurting anyone. That is why we must realize the limits of our perceptions, our realities, and do our best to make sure that our narrow views aren't costing someone else dearly.

This is why it matters if you write an AU in which you wipe out one group of people and then decide that it's okay, because you'll have another stand in as your People of Color because somehow, they're interchangeable.

And on a biological note: no, one sperm over and you would not be your sibling. That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. You might be a different gender, have different looks, etc - but you wouldn't be your sibling. Because your sibling came from both a different sperm and a different egg all coming together at a different time and gestating under different conditions than you did.

So, again, the stupid is burning. And this is just another reason why:

a) authors (especially well known ones) should really stay out of comment threads, bulletin boards, LJ discussions and other places like that. Because the chances of looking like an ass just multiply exponentially.


b) Tor.com is not actually a site for SF/F. It's a site for a clique of certain SF/F folk to hang out and do what they want (including posting reviews of completely irrelevant TV shows that aren't even SF/F because it's their favoritest show ever and they're special snowflakes) and pretend like it's supposed to be a cool SF/F site.

But that's all kind of irrelevant. What matters is that I speak up and that I make it clear why I'm so terribly offended.

As a woman? I know all too well how easy it is to be erased even when you're a queen. I know how easy it is for historians who are uncomfortable with acknowledging sexism and the ways in which women have been abused to just simply pretend they weren't there. I know about the first time a male history student boldly proclaimed that "women just didn't matter to history until recently" and the utter rage I felt because not only did he say it, but so many others agreed.

As a queer person? I know about being explained away, denied. I know how easy it is for historical queer figures to be swept under the rug, or stripped of their obvious sexuality. I know about English teachers in high school who posited the theory that Oscar Wilde wasn't really gay, that his trial was just political and all the accusations were false and he really was straight. Because of course, enjoying a play written by a gay man would be wrong.

I think it's even more heinous to write this kind of thing as YA. Because I'd really hate to be the kid who is Native American or First Nations or derives lineage from there and has to realize that they couldn't be in that book, because in Wrede's world, they don't exist.

Just for the record, I wouldn't exist either in that universe. And not because of some inkling of Magical Indian Princess blood. I mean my grandfather, my father, me would all not exist at all. Not to mention many members of my extended family and many, many friends of mine.

This book just erased my grandfather and his entire people. Cut him off and said that his people and his family and his past and his heritage weren't as interesting or worthy of consideration and respect as a bunch of Europeans coming over and discovering magic mammoths. Because heavens forfend that, in the quest to imagine a world without slavery or genocide or conquest, you erase the offenders instead of the victims.

And let's not even consider the possibility of writing a novel where Europeans live and keep their hands to themselves and the people of the Americas get to ride the magic mammoths and have awesome adventures? Because that would require considering them as interesting and worthy of respect as Europeans, and obviously, that isn't happening.

So thanks for that, Patricia Wrede. It's nice to imagine a world where I couldn't possibly exist. It's like every other fantasy novel I've read where women or bisexuals either don't exist or don't matter, except this time it's with race.

Also? I hope that Lois McMaster Bujold is kidding about the entire idea for this story starting with Wrede watching Walking With Mammoths on the Discovery Channel. I really do. Because I hope this author did not just erase an entire people, contribute another book to the piles of books that completely insult and demean Native Americans and marginalize them further, and posit a world where I'm not worthy to exist because she saw something on the Discovery Channel. Please tell me that this did not all get started because somebody said "Ooh, mammoths are cool!" and then couldn't think of ANY OTHER WAY to possibly put mammoths and people together without erasing Native Americans.

Because that would just extinguish my remaining faith in the SF/F establishment and take a few hit points off my faith in humanity in general.
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Re: sentence retry, was Re: requested response

reaching into spaces where they were formerly invisible.

Let me rephrase this: "reaching into spaces that are visible to the white gaze." But why are these spaces privileged? Why not recognize, explicitly, that when FoC did have conversations in other spaces in the past (and continue to do so), those conversations had value? There is nothing uniquely legitimizing about the white gaze. The conversations have not gained importance just because white people are now hearing them.

You might also stop for a moment and think about what made them "formerly invisible." Because what you are really saying is that white people chose not to see them. Nothing about the Internet magically makes that problem go away. Plenty of white fans continue not to see FoC on the Internet today.

Re: sentence retry, was Re: requested response

Thank you, that is helpful. I was going to suggest "... into spaces where they were formerly underrepresented." But the "white gaze" thing brings in that other axis much better.

I realize, I think -- I've been wrong several times before -- that thirty years of ingrained habit has me compulsively going back to try to fix my words, when what is being said is that I need to fix myself. But you are not my critique group, and this behavior pattern isn't appropriate here.

Lots of shifts in my head this week. Apologies again to any my words have pained.

bests, Lois.

(Gah, this is too interesting. Now I want to start a whole conversation about the limits of gaze, to test my experiences against your perceptions, and I'm pretty sure this is not the time or place.)

Ms Bujold,

This interesting is people's lives. Yeah it's great and all you're having a learning moment - bully for you. But it comes at a price. You don't seem to be understanding that.

You're caught up in theory and intellectual intrigues and THIS IS MY LIFE, and hers and his and his and hers and those red folk and those brown folk and this set of black folk and those golden folk over there.

Your experiences against a Person of Colour's perceptions is not a game of MATCH. And BINGO is only an analogy, you're not meant to actually play.

I'm glad you realize this isn't the place or the time for this, but unless you've got a really good friend who's willing to 101 you, it won't ever be the place or the time. It's something that maybe you might want to look up some books for, starting with Frederick Douglas, through Marcus Garvey and Malcom X, with some Audre Lourde thrown in.

Let me put it this way. It'd be like someone going up to Miles and going "I've never thought before how our perceptions on life differ based on the differences between us as individuals growing up in the culture of Barrayar. It's so interesting. I want to know more."

All of Miles' pains? All his quiet suffering? All the iniquities and abuses of assumption he's been through? Would that person deserve to hear ANY of that, unless they really were a good friend? And how could they be a good friend and not have thought about it before? Not have empathized before even knowing they could never imagine the full scope. Not be aware that asking such a questions and wanting such knowledge would be deeply, deeply personal and intrusive?

People of Colour deserve no less respect and compassion and self education before interaction than your fictional physically disabled character.

This interesting is people's lives.

Now that's just a minor detail!

Re: sentence retry, was Re: requested response

If I may be so bold, Lois,

You're full of shit.

Yeah, that new "Person of Color" coinage makes me dubious as well. Not least because I keep reading the 'net abbreviation, PoC, as "Pirates of the Caribbean" instead, which derails my HO-gauge-train of thought big time.

You're trollish and mocking, pointedly ignoring the PoC that corrected you in your shenanigans.

I sincerely hope anyone that reads this in light of your comments here, sees that you are quite comfortable with your racism.

Your apologies in this post, (much like yourself) are worthless, my dear.

Re: sentence retry, was Re: requested response


As the person you originally started this conversation, might I make a further suggestion?

I'm glad if this has taught you something, but please understand that the people who are commenting here, the people who are standing up and telling you that they exist even when you said they didn't - they are not here just for your education and enlightenment.

These responses, these things that they're saying? Are not theoretical or academic arguments. They're things which pertain very importantly to real people. Yet I don't feel you're treating the discussion with that sort of respect. I feel there has been a thread of condescension in your responses, especially in the assumption that some how your experience makes up the sum total of all experiences with SF/F. As though what you don't see doesn't exist.

Yes, that's what you said. And actually, that's what you meant - what you didn't intend was for people to get angry. In my opinion, you thought that if you said something nice and shiny about there being lots of new Fans of Color and made it clear that the old racism is so last century for you that people would say, "Oh, she's not racist at all!"

Sadly enough, it had the opposite effect because it proved the opposite thing. While you may not be a racist, you certainly have some behaviors, attitudes, and views that are.

First of all, such a thing proves that you've been either ignoring fans of color or wrapping yourself in an all-white environment for a very long time.

Second, it proves that you're trying to deny the racism that is still here with us and still affecting people of color daily.

Neither of which is cool, and very rightly enrages people who have had other authors and other big name people and mainstream culture in general (especially in SF/F) saying the same damn thing over and over.

The twist of the knife comes in when you're saying these things to fans of color who were fans of your books. It really tends to piss people off when a favorite author that they've supported with their hard earned money says they didn't exist and that their problems don't exist.

As for the people who are speaking up and saying truth? They are not here as fun new novelties or educational toys. They are not here for your entertainment.

They're people. People you, apparently, felt didn't exist until circa 1998 or something.

And, yes, I read your "sentence retry". Franly, it wasn't that much better. Let's try a metaphor. It's like you said, "Well, before when there weren't as many planets..."

Whether or not you can see Neptune (or Uranus, which everyone else has unfortunately had to see), it's still there. Since then, you've been trying to backpedal because you've now been proven wrong. The answer is not making more and more statements to wiggle out of the original one. The answer is to accept responsibility without condition and apologize sincerely.

Know that an insincere apology is going to cause you more trouble than even this. Doubt me? Go ask someone to tell you the Tale of Elizabeth Bear and the Apology She Didn't Really Mean.

So, I would suggest not doing that or continuing to do any of the things you're doing. You're flailing. And the more you flail, the more you're going to smack people in the face even when you think you don't mean to.

I have my doubts that you actually are carefully considering the multitude of wise, witty, and completely right responses you've gotten from the folks here. Why?

Because I think if you really had, then you'd be doing a lot more listening and a lot less talking. Or, perhaps, no talking at all.

As so many people have said again and again, these arguments are not theoretical. They have consequences for people and their ability to participate and be recognized, respected, and included in this field. Everything from which conventions can feel safe going to and finding books about and by people like themselves to being able to attain professional publication.

So, please go and do that "carefully considering and listening" thing you said you were going to do. Only this time, really do it. Don't just come back a day later and keep going. Until such a time as you do this? You're not doing anyone (especially yourself) any kind of favor.

Re: sentence retry, was Re: requested response

Ma'am, I say this with all the kindness an Internet stranger can muster: please stop talking.

If you think you can muster a sincere, humble apology that addresses all the things you've done wrong since you joined this conversation, I suggest you do that. Then I suggest you stop saying words and start reading them instead.

You may find these resources as interesting as you've found the responses in this comment thread, or more so:

I implore you once again, however, not to engage in the conversation any further until you've educated yourself. It should be clear to you from the responses here and in the Tor thread that the things you say in discussions like this tend to cause pain and offense among the interlocutors. That tendency is a problem with the network of assumptions underlying your statements as much as with the statements themselves. The solution is, indeed, to fix yourself before you try to fix your words; if you try for the second before the first, it's likely you will manage neither.

Of course, I'm just some white boy who happens to be passing through, and you should listen to the people you're hurting before you listen to me. But since my comments seemed to reach you in the Tor thread, I hoped they might do the same here.

-Learn Hexadecimal

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