I was reminded of this the other day, one of those late nineties hits you see on MTV every day for a month or so and then never again, making you wonder whether you dreamed the whole thing up. That’s Tony “the way to Amarillo” Christie doing the vocals, Jarvis Cocker who wrote it and All Seeing I what did the music.
Even on their own merits these easter eggs are tone deaf, considering how much Alan Moore loathes and despises DC and Before Watchmen, so you must be pretty clueless as artist or writer working on it to think, “hey, I know, I’ll show my respect by putting in a little wink to the original series”. Worse though, when, as Darwyn Cooke and/or Amanda Connor did, the “homage” is to the rape scene where the original Silk Spectre was attacked by the Comedian in the first issue of Watchmen, here reimagined as her daughter beating up a pimp. That he’s a huge, fat black man (with all that implies, considering all those racial fears about what black men want to do to white women and how that worked out in real life) is just the racist icing on this particular sexist shitcake.
I do hope it was Darwyn Cooke who thought of this, because it’s exactly the sort of half-clever idea he tends to come up with and I think more highly of Amanda Connor, though you do wonder what she thought when drawing it. Cooke on the other hand is the epitome of the conservative fanboy turned professional, with no ideas of his own, spreading his bland nostalgia over everything he works on, in that sickening cutesy style of his.
Wearing smiley earrings and a cute pout on her face, Laurie is a badass chick delivering rough justice to a mean black dude. Like father, like daughter. It is blatantly obvious what effect Cooke and Conner are aiming for here. But the question they apparently didn’t have the wits to ask themselves is what on earth led them to think it’s okay to use Moore’s serious critique of misogynistic violence as a vehicle for their shallow indulgence in kick-ass theatrics. Cooke may do all the talking he wants about respecting female characters and Conner may present herself as a champion of her gender in a male-dominated industry (e.g. Zalben, “FanExpo” pars. 4-7); but to take the most well-known rape scene in mainstream comics and turn it into a celebration of the rapist’s progeny bespeaks gross insensitivity and moral blindness, not to mention being deeply offensive to the spirit and intelligence of the original Watchmen.
Then again, the whole idea of the Comedian as unseen father figure watching over Laurie goes so against the spirit of the original series that it’s not that surprising DC, Cooke and Connor see nothing wrong with paying homage to a rape.
There is a great deal of potentially excellent writing and brilliant storytelling to look forward to this year, especially from women writers of speculative fiction. A number of titles that I am looking forward to are from writers of colour, many with stories set outside of the usual Eurocentric/American diaspora.
Sure, you can make up any culture you like as a writer – as long as your worldbuilding is authentic and strong, we’ll buy it. But when you’re not from the mainstream, when you’re not a white, heteronormative writer from the UK or US, you’ll probably be bringing your own cultural background, your own myths, beliefs and baggage to your work and it will probably be a whole lot richer and more interesting for it.
What Molly Knefel talks about in wasn’t my childhood, but is a great piece of writing:
Girls who wanted to be my friend wanted to help me get better at being a girl. Like a Bridget Jones-esque makeover montage, I let them burn my forehead with curling irons, poke me in the eyes with eyeliner pencils, and look me up and down in dressing rooms. I was so thrilled for the friendships I was convinced I enjoyed the forehead burning (my same friend, always burning me in the same place, before every quarterly Junior High dance, as reliable as the changing of the seasons). What began in early adolescence– genuine friendships forged through drag-like gender performance– continued well into adulthood. I’ve made wonderful friends through playing dressing up with them. The friendships are real, and even the girlness was real, at the time.
Oh, and — people who signed that petition: you want to know the real reason why you’re getting so much disrespect from the rest of the genre right now? It’s because you and your friends keep pulling shit like this while the rest of us are just trying to keep the lights on and put food on the table. It’s like Republicans passing bill after bill to fuck up reproductive health rights while the economy’s in the toilet; what the hell does this have to do with anything that matters? You got yours. You’re still getting it. You had every advantage in your favor, and you used the hell out of it. Good on you. But stop pitching shitfits just because the rest of us want a piece of the pie — the pie all of us helped to create — too.
Are you getting excited for the Guardians of the Galaxy movie? Stoked or curious to see Rocket Raccoon, the most unlikely of Marvel’s cosmic superheroes on the big screen? Then you might want to throw some love to Bill Mantlo, Rocket Raccoon’s creator.
Bill Mantlo was one of Marvel’s more prolific writers in the late seventies and eighties, being their go-to guy when it came to adopting existing properties into the Marvel Universe e.g turning Rom from a crap plastic toy robot into one of the more fondly remembered cult Marvel eighties titles. He also had a lengthy run on the Hulk, together with Sal Buscema (amongst others) during which he had the Hulk visit a strange alien world filled with strange furry creatures, including a certain Raccoon.
The SFWA, the Science fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, sort of a union for sf&f writers, was in a spot of bother last summer, as some of its members turned out to be a little bit sexist and racist and worse, they were being sexist and racist in official SFWA publications. Credit to the organisation though, they did attempt to clear their house, getting rid of the biggest bigot and starting a consultation process to see what could be done to prevent further unpleasantness. (For a good overview of last year’s events as well as what’s happening now, S. L. Huang’s timeline is invaluable.)
Things went quiet for a long time, until last week, when it emerged that One Dave Truesdale, supposedly a bigshot in sf reviewing circles, found all the changes in how the SFWA would handle its publications censorship and a danger to the first amendament and all that good stuff and started a petition. This sadly got quite a few elderly, big name sf writers’ signatures, some of which (Robert Silverberg, C. J. Cherryh) I’m more than disappointed in seeing add their support to this nonsense; others not so much.
“The problem is that the ‘vocal minority’ of insects who make up the new generation of writers don’t scramble for the shadows when outside lights shines on them—they bare their pincers and go for the jugular. Maybe it is a good thing that SFWA keeps them locked up. The newer members who Scalzi et al. brought in are an embarrassment to the genre.
In one of the funniest developments so far this prompted John Scalzi, together with Mary Robinette Kowal and Ursula “honey badger” Vernon to create the Insect Army to “swarm to make science fiction and fantasy awesome” and hospitable for everybody, even people who aren’t white or male. (And which of course immediately put Bill Bailey’s classic song, as featured above, in my head.)
But the best commentary I’ve read so far came from the Crime and the Forces of Evil blog, on what’s being lost:
And that leads to the sad part, the fundamental misunderstanding of the world part. The part wherein lives the idea that all these people they’re excluding won’t keep creating, somewhere else. The part where it’s still 1978, and you have the Big 3 Magazines, and the paperback publishers, and that’s all that matters. The part where supposed futurists so fundamentally fail to understand the modern world that they think someone can sue the entire Internet for libel. The part where they think it’s possible to keep that gate.
In this it seems, part of science fiction fandom are no different from the aging audience of FOX news and other rightwing fearmongers, aware that the world as they knew it and their place in it is gone, that the privileges they enjoyed just for being white, for being male, are slowly disappearing and that actually few people care anymore about their opinions, except when it hurts or hinders others.
I asked him on Twitter what his favorite books by female authors were for the year, and to his surprise, he realized he hadn’t read any female authors in 2013. Nor, it turns out, had he read any female authors in 2012. (Octavia Butler made his best-of list in 2011.)
“In my defense,” Chris tweeted when a couple followers made author suggestions, “it’s more coincidence than ailment that needs a remedy.”
Then, I asked him if I could blog about this, because…
It’s a remarkable oversight, to exclude a whole gender from your reading without even noticing and that for two years in a row. However, I can’t help but feel sympathy for Christopher, as it happened to me to. In 2010 I discovered that only ten percent of the fantasy and science fiction I’d read in the past decade had been written by women. Now I knew I read more blokes than women, but it was a real shock to discover how lobsided the ratios were. I wasn’t the only one; in my little corner of the science fiction internet quite a few people came to the same sort of conclusion and attempted to do something about it.
it’s more coincidence than ailment that needs a remedy.
Again, I can sympathise. I never set out to exclude women from my reading, or to read only male writers; it just happened that way. Because I was just following my reading instincts, read whatever seemed interesting or from authors I already knew and trusted, my reading was channeled into a mostly blokeish channel. Clearly something had to change if I wanted to be more inclusive in my reading. If I thought this was important enough, I couldn’t keep up with the same habits. If Christopher feels the same way, if he thinks this important too, there is one thing that he can do to fix his reading.
He should set himself quotas.
Because quotas work.
Good intentions and a vague will to change aren’t enough, you need something you can measure, preferably in public so you can hold yourself accountable for your choices. You don’t necessarily need to keep these quotas up forever of course, just as long as it takes to change your outdated reading habits. Otherwise it’s just too easy to slip back into them, or to let fear of the unknown chase you back to safer grounds.
Of course, some people might think it unfair on the hypothetical male authors who miss out on your reading attention, but considering there are well over a 1,000 books of genre interest published each year, you should feel guilty already no matter who you chose to read…
The other fear you might have is that of missing out on reading the people everbody else is reading, but this is also something that’s deeply gender unbalanced. Male authors get a disproportionate share of fandom and media attention, so a grassroots attempt to change this is long overdue anyway. It’s this what’s at the heart of the Russ Pledge Nicola Griffith came up with a few years ago, to not just read more women, but also pay more attention to women, the necesssity of which is proven by the simple fact that even a well connected, well read person like Christopher DeFillippis can go two years without reading women and not even realise it.
Finally, as Anil Dash found out in a different context when he made the decision last year to only retweet women, the rewards of being more gender inclusive can be immediate:
For me, for my experience, it’s better. I feel happier about the time I spend on Twitter, and it’s made me try to be more thoughtful, and more disciplined with other things I do in my time online.
Personally, I found something similar when I made the decision to prioritise female authors over male. I discovered authors I’d never would’ve noticed otherwise, as well as authors writing the kind of books I didn’t get from the ones I was already reading. My sf reading has become richer and more rewarding.
So, give it a go. You never know, you might like it.
And if you don’t know where to start or whom to read? That’s what Sf Mistressworks is for.
published in 2010
I find Alastair Reynolds hard to review. I like his work well enough to keep reading his novels, but I find it hard to say anything useful about them. As a writer, he has his feet planted firmly in the hard science fiction camp, where “hard” means no FTL ships or time travel and only the right sort of technobabble and jargon. He is however, unlike far too many American hard sf writers, not blind to literary virtues and not half bad at creating plausible, lived in futures either. All in all, most of his novels are solid, core science fiction, where if you like that sort of thing you’ll like them, but perhaps with not much to talk about other than the plot or the setting. They’re evolutionary, rather than revolutionary novels.
Terminal World is a case in point. This is a standalone adventure story set in the far future, where the world as we know it has changed considerably. It’s slowly dying, with what remains of humanity clustered on and around a gigantic artificial spire called Spearpoint, which from top to bottom is divided into zones of ever decreasing technology: Circuit City, Neon Heights, Steamtown, etc. Transfering from one zone to another is not easy: people who do it suffer from zone sickness, while higher technology stops working in a lower tech zone. Away from Spearpoint the world is largely wilderness, with the various zones becoming much larger as they spread out from the spire. What we have here in fact, is the planetary equivalent of Vernor Vinge’s Zones of Thoughts he divided the galaxy in, in A Fire Upon the Deep and sequels. It’s a great setting, with a never quite revealed secret at the heart of it observant readers might puzzle out for themselves.
So Alex Dally MacFarlane started a series on gender diversity in science fiction which some obnoxious little wankstain “author” called Larry Correia took exception to, whose nonsense was aptly but slightly more charitably than I would’ve done dissected by everbody’s science fiction pinup, Jim C. Hines. The gist of Correia’s ranting was that nobody was interested in all that gender nonsense and it was all political correctness and message writing and people want story, not strange queer or agender people in their fiction, anyway, you know the type.
I love opening a book and sinking into the story and discovering that a character is like me. Whether that means they’re asexual or agendered or just have a weakness for knitting with cashmere yarn, it’s a little bright light that goes on, a link between me and the person whose story I am following, and it makes me want to read about them even more. It’s a very selfish impulse to want to read about people in whom I can see myself reflected.
But that doesn’t make it a bad thing. It makes the character real, because I am real. It makes them a person, because I am a person. It means they have no point, because I have no point, but why should that mean that I and everything about me should disappear for the comfort of people who already have far more options to see themselves reflected in the pages of the novels they read? My existence doesn’t depend on someone learning a lesson from me. I am not an after-school special.
And I’ll set him straight on the second. You know, these days I not only reading science fiction that doesn’t feature the kind of protagonist I can see in the mirror, but actively seek it out. I bought Ascension because its cover featured a black woman; heck, this is my FemShep. Why? Not out of some poofaced desire to know what it would be like to be a black woman in the future, that would be slightly offensive, but because it’s fun, it’s interesting to read the adventures of somebody who isn’t you.
And that’s something people like Correia just can’t understand, that people can be genuinely interested in post-binary gender, even if they’re not personally involved in it. Which is just sad for a science fiction writer.