First Contact


So, Heavy Ice is lying fallow until I’ve got enough perspective to see the shape of it and turn it into a second draft, and I’m busy with research for the new thing. Well, I say ‘research’ – for every hour of’Exactly what shape was this particular building, and where can I find an etching of it?’ or ‘Where and how do you mine neodymium?’ there’s at least another hour of trying to work out how I write about a particularly British myth-set without implying that the rest of the world doesn’t quite exist in quite the same degree of depth and focus, and scripting the footwork for the dance of story and flashback so that neither ends up choking the other to death, and all the other stuff that happens when you’re building the skeletons of books.

And, meanwhile, the genre I love is continuing to convulse like an angry dying kraken in a silted-up harbour. Heavy Ice is all about a first contact situation that goes… well, not as catastrophically badly as it could have done… so here’s a piece I wrote a while back over on Livejournal about why I wasn’t getting round to sending The Maker’s Mask off to SFF blogs to see whether they’d review it.

So, for some time now I have been failing to send my books off to be reviewed by science fiction and fantasy review bloggers. This is partly because I don’t like rejection and partly because I don’t like cold-calling strangers even by email, but it’s mostly because the SFF blogosphere feels like nowhere I want to go without a functioning invisibility cloak.

If I wrote romance, I’d probably be a little leery of the romance blogosphere too. But the romance blogosphere’s problems are, if not comprehensible, at least recognisable to anyone who grew up female. Sometimes both sides of an argument yell ‘bullying!’ at one another, sometimes there are hurt feelings, sometimes the sugar-coaters square up against the forces of Any Sugar At All Is Bad For You And Don’t Even Talk To Me About High Fructose Corn Syrup, but amongst all of it there are enough people with a sense of humour and a sense of proportion that it all somehow works.

And also, romance’s central metaphor is that Love Wins Through. This sometimes leads to annoying prescriptiveness about exactly how Love should Win Through, but in general it’s a metaphor that everyone out there can go and pursue on his or her own terms, and involving as many throbbing love-stalks as they personally find necessary.

SFF fandom, though… that’s familiar in a whole other way. It’s Geeks Gone Bad.

And I really don’t want to admit that geeks go bad or that geek culture sometimes turns toxic, but they do and it does.

The problem with SFF fans, as far as I can tell, is that there are a lot of articulate people out there, many of them with hair-trigger tempers, with a range of political views that tend either to cluster at one end or the other of the conventional political spectrum, or to be so wildly individual as to need plotting on a whole extra set of axes. And then there are the various one-note soldiers who I don’t need to tell you about, because you’ve already seen them in blog and LJ comments repeating that it’s all the fault of whatever their pet hobby horse happens to be this week.

And a hell of a lot of them think they’re Ender Wiggin.

Because the metaphor at the heart of SFF is ‘Trust your own vision’. SFF is full to the brim with heroes and heroines who are the only one with the moral courage to get things done. More than that, if you want to put an impassioned critique of organised religion, managed economies, or the necessity of hair-tugging in human relationships into your book, SFF is probably the best genre to do it in, because you’re going to need to do some worldbuilding anyway and obviously your own view of how the world works is going to play into that.

SFF puts a lot of faith in trusting your own vision, which is necessary when you’re a bullied teenage geek, but is a hindrance when it causes you to neglect examining your own vision to see whether your vision could in fact use some improvement.

SFF is also full of aliens. In particular, it’s full of messed-up first contact scenarios. Which is interesting to me, because ‘messed-up first contact scenario’ generally seems to be what happens when any two factions in the SFF fandom universe meet. Oldschool fen versus people who regard fandom as a much broader and mostly online church? People who expect respect for their industry or con experience, versus people to whom those hierarchies don’t mean much? People for whom free speech is the highest value, versus people for whom challenging hate speech is more important? Every time there’s a confrontation, it’s like we keep discovering whole new planets full of incomprehensible aliens. And they’re not on the other side of the galaxy. They’re right there in our very own solar system yelling that it’s their solar system and has been all along.

And I am just not going to sign up for that particular five year mission. Because I don’t have the energy, and I don’t have the patience.

Well, it’s not 2010 any longer. Am I willing to sign up for that five year mission now? I’m not sure. I don’t think one self-published author with one not-very-often-read blog can do much. But I’d like to direct you to Maria Dahvana Headley’s posts about con harassment, and tell you that I feel violent outrage at the idea that the genre I write in has become entwined with systematic, toxic failure to treat women like human beings.

But He Didn’t Know He Was Hijacking Your Ship: On Conference Creeps
Pirates of Despair and Neon: How Not To Be A Conference Creep

There’s also an excellent roundup, as always, at Radish Reviews.

Image from Bad Postcards

3 thoughts on “First Contact

  1. I’ve not read a great deal of SFF as an adult, though I did as a teenager/early 20s – I enjoy it, but I’ve been doing other reading – so my impressions are largely from the outside, but I am afraid that my impression as an interested outsider is of a whopping great superiority complex. There appears to be an investment in being better than other people, more enlightened, and demonstrably untrue as that is, there appears to be a great deal invested in maintaining the illusion.

  2. I think the “First Contact” metaphor is a pretty damn good one — and, like you, I wish that less of the contact involved *groping*.

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