The New Weird might be the only literary movement that wasn’t so much still born, as murdered in its crib by the very same people who first created it. Yet as Jonathan McCalmont explains, it still left a lasting impact on science fiction. Reading that history however, something struck me, especially when reading the quote below by Steph Swainston:
The New Weird is a wonderful development in literary fantasy fiction. I would have called it Bright Fantasy, because it is vivid and because it is clever. The New Weird is a kickback against jaded heroic fantasy which has been the only staple for far too long. Instead of stemming from Tolkein, it is influenced by Gormenghast and Viriconium. It is incredibly eclectic, and takes ideas from any source. It borrows from American Indian and Far Eastern mythology rather than European or Norse traditions, but the main influence is modern culture — street culture — mixing with ancient mythologies.
The New Weird was the last science fiction movement that could still get away with thinking about diversity only in terms of what’s being written about, rather than who is doing the writing. It was the last movement to be able to assume that writers and audience both would be largely white, largely male, largely middle class. Fast forward half a decade and you got Racefail where science fiction and fandom got their noses rubbed in the fact that this was no longer the case, if it ever had been. Another half decade and you got the culture wars instigated by a bunch of sad losers angry that their lazy, rightwing power fantasies no longer win Hugos. It’s a point jonathan McCalmont makes as well:
If the TTA Press forums discussion marked the point at which genre culture gave itself permission to begin ignoring genre boundaries then Racefail was the point at which genre culture began to both recognise its historical failures and begin appealing directly to its readers rather than simply working on the assumption that the default reader of genre fiction was a white, middle-class male and that everyone who wasn’t would just happily put up with the fact that virtually nothing was written with them or their concerns in mind.
As said, diversity when looked at from that white, middle class male perspective tends to focus on who’s being written about more than on who’s doing the writing. Not that this isn’t important in its own right, but it will still reflect the same limited perspective and no matter how well intentioned, often reducing anybody who isn’t (white, male, middle class) to the exotic. Diversity from this perspective is always from the outside looking in, making it easy to fall into stereotypes, cultural appropriation, orientalism and othering. You get things like making mutants as a metaphor for the Civil Rights struggle and thinking that’s enough, or writing alternate history in which America is conveniently empty when the Europeans land. This sort of diversity is only possible if your audience and peers are the same as you, or you can at least pretend they are.
The New Weird happened at arguably the last time that you could still hold up this pretence without immediadely being contradicted by the very same people you’re denying the existence of. Twitter, Youtube and Facebook didn’t exist yet, blogging was in its infancy and existing fannish and science fiction online spaces were still dominated by, well, white middle class men. What made Racefail not just possible but inevitable was that between the New Weird and Racefail the internet became not just mainstream but ubiquitous as both access and ease of access increased; it’s no coincidence that much of Racefail took place on Livejournal, one of the earliest social media sites and one that had long been home to sf fandom. Tools or sites like Twitter or Tumblr have only made it easier for everybody to let their voice be heard, harder to ignore people when they address you directly. It has its advantages and disadvantages, but the upshot is that science fiction can no longer pretend to be just white, middle class or male.