Benjanun Sriduangkaew apologises

Benjanun Sriduangkaew/Requires Hate has broken her silence and apologies for her actions, first at Requires Hate:

Apologies aren’t easy to make. I’ll do my best and acknowledge that it’s not a magic word. First, I will say that I stand by the substance of most of what I’ve said on this blog. But not how I said it. I’ve gained a much better understanding of consequences and how people work, and the way I said much of what I said ignored the humanity of those on the receiving end. It’s a failure of empathy on my part. I make no excuses about this: I own up to what I said, and I own up that I conducted myself fantastically badly. I believed I was doing good and was punching up, and that my methods were perfectly fine weapons when in actuality they really weren’t. No excuses: many things in life can contribute to you conducting yourself one way or another, but generally you have your own agency.

And then at her new blog:

But I want, at least, some measure of a chance to explain myself. I’m not owed this chance. You aren’t obliged to read beyond the line. You don’t have to, at all. But please know that, if I’ve hurt you, I’m sorry.

I’m not one of the people who were attacked by Requires Hate or deceived by Benjanun Sriduangkaew — I doubt I’m on her radar — so it’s not up to me to say whether her apologies are good enough. But I hope they’re sincere and that this can be the start of healing the wounds these actions and those undertaken in defense or retaliation against her have created in science fiction fandom.

It strikes me that Nick Mamatas, by bringing the Requires Hate/Benjanun Sriduangkaew connection out in the open as he did, had it by the right end. Her real identity was an open secret before that, but only if you were in the loop. Mamatas made it impossible for Sriduangkaew to keep up the pretence and he cut down the whispering campaign against her off at the knees.

On a Red Station, Drifting — Aliette de Bodard

Cover of On a Red Station, Drifting


On a Red Station, Drifting
Aliette de Bodard
116 pages
published in 2013

I wasn’t too impressed with the first story of Aliette de Bodard I read, when it was linked from Metafilter. I found the story, set in a Vietnamese or Vietnam inspired far future “too laboured, too trying to be interesting, but in the end it’s just another Orientalist allegory”. Which is somewhat ironic, as De Bodard is actually of Vietnamese descent… Can a writer be Orientalist if she’s actually writing from her own cultural background? That’s a question we’re going to come back to in discussing On a Red Station, Drifting as it’s at the heart of the problems I’ve had reading this book.

The reason I bought On a Red Station, Drifting, after that rough start I had with de Bodard was because she was nominated for the novelette Hugo and I discovered that her nominated story, The Waiting Stars, was “an excellent slice of Banksian space opera, a story of love, family and two incompatible views of the world”. On a Red Station, Drifting promised to be more of the same. It’s set in the same universe as The Waiting Stars, where the Dai Viet Empire ruling the stars makes a welcome retrieve from the usual Roman Empire model. At the time of this novel however it’s in trouble, with a weak emperor on the throne and rebel warlords springing up and taking over star systems.

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Does a Bee care?

Requires Hate is an abrasive blogger from Thailand who made her name pointing out and critiqueing the racism, sexism and orientalism found in science fiction and fantasy, often going after supposedly liberal writers. In the best of circumstances being accused of these things can lead to a defensive response and Requires Hate could be rather aggressive in her criticism. Case in point: her review of Tricia Sullivan’s Double Vision:

It’s a white woman who, through a fictional black woman as her mouthpiece, is describing Japanese men as “little robotic bulls” (the idea of East Asians being robotic itself echoing offensive stereotypes) and “like little Nazis”: not necessarily the comparison that’d first leap to mind when you are describing people who move like robots or even like soldiers at a drill. Later on, after hearing about the sexual assault (perhaps in an attempt to make light of things and make the survivor feel better), Cookie’s friend Gloria idly asks whether it’s true what they say about Asian men’s penis sizes.

And this was for a writer she actually liked at the time. With writers she didn’t, she could be far more biting, if not downright nasty, as with her posts on Cindy Pon’s novels. Furthermore, under her Livejournal persona, Winterfox, she was also accused of bullying and harassment. In short, she made a lot of enemies before she disappeared late last year as it seemed she’d lost the will to blog.

Benjanun Sriduangkaew is a science fiction writer from Thailand who started getting published in 2012, got a fair few excellent short stories published, enough to get her nominated the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer this year. Like any other new writer, she’s active online, on twitter and her blog, which is light and happy and nice and more than a bit twee. You can understand why the moment she got any attention, rumours started that she and Requires Hate were the same person. These rumours apparantly started to intensify around the Worlcon, though the first time I became aware of them was early September, when it was mentioned in the comments at James Nicoll’s blog. Glad I didn’t comment back then so I look smart now, as I was sure it was just stupid to think two people could be the same just because they were from the same neck of the woods and active in sf/fantasy.

Because it turned out to be true this time, as Nick Mamatas officially revealed that yes, Sriduankaew had been blogging as Requires Hate/Winterfox:

Anyway, Benjanun Sriduangkaew used to blog under the name Requires Only That You Hate. I like Bees’s writing, I liked the RotyH blog, and I’ve known (without exact confirmation, but Bees had a contracted story in PHANTASM JAPAN) for quite a while. I suppose I am most interested in the reactions of the people who were yelling that to even suggest that Bees and RH were the same person was racist, which should be hilarious.

All of which would only be mildly interesting if not for the enemies RH/Winterfox had made as a blogger. Because allegedly some of those had been waging a whisper campaign against her, revealing her true identity to her editors and other influential people to try and derail her career. Mostly it’s been done behind the scenes, but at least one author publically called on her readers to write to Sriduankaew’s editors. This sort of doxxing, revealing of real life identities, is one of the worst crimes you think of in many online communities, if only because it’s so often used against people with good reason to be anonymous or pseudonymous. I may have the privilege not to have to worry about keeping my online and offline lives separate, many people don’t.

On the other hand, as has been argued forcefully in James Nicoll’s thread on the news, what’s so wrong in making people aware that sweet butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth Sriduankaew is actually a notorious online bully and abuser? Somebody who’s been careful to not reveal her past, who in fact has been busy memoryholing it?

Which is the biggest problem in getting to the truth of this. So much of what happened has now devolved into he said/she said territory, what with the deletion of posts and comments as well as the general entropy of the internet. None of the people claiming to know the truth are impartial and what’s abuse to one party are just forcefully expressed opinions to the other. What’s more, there are good people on both sides; this isn’t a GamersGate situation or a Vox Day inspired witch hunt. Some of these people genuinely believe that RH was fighting the good fight against racism and orientalism, perhaps a bit abrasive in how she went out it, while others believe that she just used this as a shield to attack women of colour she disliked. The point is, it’s almost impossible for an outsider to find out the truth and at this point it really doesn’t like much like there are any high minded motives behind this fight anymore.

No, this is a good old fashioned fannish feud, where the original cause for the feud are not so much forgotten as irrelevant at this point. People have been hurt and upset on both sides and have caused hurt and upset themselves. Neither side is innocent.

For me personally, I’m going to try and stay out of this fight because I’m far from sure it would solve anything to come down on one side or the other. I like Sriduankaew’s writing, but I also think it would credit herif she was to break her silence and make it official that yes, she was Requires Hate, to be honest about her history. It would credit her enemies to stop trying to ruin her career, or, at the very least be open about believing she’s a toxic influence on science fiction. Don’t keep it festering in the shadows.

Ancillary Sword — Ann Leckie

Cover of Ancillary Sword


Ancillary Sword
Ann Leckie
356 pages
published in 2014

Ann Leckie’s debut novel, Ancillary Justice, won about every major science fiction award going: the BSFA, the Clarke, The Nebula and the Hugo, the first time any author won the four most important awards in the field with the same book, let alone with their debut novel. Anticipation has therefore been high for the sequel, not least on my part. Would Leckie been able to keep up the high standard of her debut? Would Ancillary Sword build up on it or be more of the same? Is Ann Leckie really the major new sf talent she seems to be or just a flash in the pan?

The main reason for Ancillary Justice‘s impact was Leckie’s use of gender. The Radchaai culture she created uses female pronouns exclusively, making no distinction between male and female in their language. but it goes further than just mere language. Leckie’s protagonist, Breq, struggles with establishing gender, has to consciously evaluate gender clues even when she does speak a gendered language. Possibly this is because she’s an ancillary — one of the meat puppet extensions of a ship AI — because from what we saw in the first novel other Radchaai had no such difficulties. Breq is also the last surviving part of her ship AI because her ship, The Justice of Toren was killed by the immortal ruler of the Radch, Anaander Mianaai, at war with herself.

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Judgement on Janus — Andre Norton

Cover of Judgement on Janus


Judgement on Janus
Andre Norton
188 pages
published in 1963

It’s a miracle: I actually managed to start an Andre Norton series in the right order: Judgement on Janus is the first of a duology, together with Victory on Janus. Another minor miracle is the fact that my copy lasted long enough for me to read it as the cover was flaking off something fierce. Normally Ace paperbacks hold up better. This is actually one of the first Norton novels I’d bought, years ago, but had never read so far.

Naill Renfro is a young man who, caught up in the slums of the Dipple, sells himself as indentured labour (just like Charis Nordholm) in order to have enough money to give his mother a dignified death. He ends up on the planet Janus, where dour religious fanatics fight a never ending battle against the primeval forests covering the planet. These forests they consider a source of evil, as they do many things, especially the alien relics or treasures occassionally found. These are supposed to be reported and destroyed immediately. Those who don’t report it and try to keep them for themselves are punished by god with the green sick and left in the forest to die. Three guesses what happens to Naill.

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Exiles of the Stars — Andre Norton

Cover of Exiles of the Stars


Exiles of the Stars
Andre Norton
249 pages
published in 1971

It was clear from the first page that Exiles to the Stars was a sequel and a quick trip to Librarything confirmed that this was a sequel to Moon of Three Rings, which I’ve never read. It’s neither the first nor likely the last time I’ll read a sequel before the original novel and in Norts on’s case, since she wrote before the rise of the epic fantasy series, her novels always tell complete stories, with anything you need to know from earlier books neatly explained. In Exiles of the Stars the things that need explaining are the protagonists, Krip Vorlund and his companion Maelen. Both are not what they seem. Krip outwardly looks like a Thassa, a humanoid alien race, but his midn is human, having taken over the thassa body when his original was destroyed. The same thing happened to Maelen, now inhabiting the form of a glasssa, a small four footed hunting animal where she once had been a woman and priestess on a planet where the priesthood was adept at body switching. All this of course the result of the action from the previous novel.

Their prediciment shows up the important role psi powers and mind control play in Norton’s space opera, as it does here. Many of her heroes either encounter ESP or discover their own talents during their adventures. It can feel a bit old fashioned, on a par with the navigation tapes used to steer the spaceships. But in this case it also shows how large and strange Norton’s universe is, where her heroes are lucky to survive, let alone thriumph. Occasionally in the wrong body.

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The Zero Stone — Andre Norton

Cover of The Zero Stone


The Zero Stone
Andre Norton
221 pages
published in 1968

You can’t accuse Andre Norton from starting her stories slowly. When The Zero Stone opens, its protagonist, Murdoc Jern is fleeing through a primitive town on an alien planet, barely one step ahead of a mob of religious fanatics wanting to kill him. They already killed his boss when the priests of a local cult indicated the both of them for their next ritual victims, but Murdoc managed to escape. He finally manages to reach the dubious safety of a free trader ship, where his only friend is the ship’s cat, but when it falls pregnant after ingesting a strange stone on the traders’ first stopover and he himself falls ill of a strange plague once the cat gives birth, he learns not only that the trader’s crew plan to abandon him on an airless moon, but also that they had been hired to kidnap him. Luckily for him, the cat’s mutant offspring turns out to be a mysterious and powerful alien intelligence who calls himself Eet and who sets out to save Murdoc from his predicament.

The reason for Murdoc’s continuing bad luck turns out to be the old memento that was the only thing he’d taken from his adopted father’s home, who had been not just a gem trader but also a retired crime Guild boss. This memento is a ring too large to be worn and containing a dull, lifeless stone; it was found on a corpse drifting in space but Murdoc’s father could never find out anything more about it, which is why he called it the zero stone. As you’d expect in a story like this, his son has more success in finding out at least some of the story behind the stone, if only by being dragged behind it in a series of increasingly desparate escapes from danger, aided and abetted by his alien companion.

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Diversity doesn’t mean Tobias Buckell should write magic realism

Tobias Buckell talks about being light but not white, diversity and how it can become mired in cliche:

But even as that happens, I also get annoyed with narratives that try to require me to fit into a certain ‘type’ of diversity. It seems the white power structures like immigrant narratives and magical realism from brown-identifying folk. Man, is that ever true, and even allies can fit into this. There’s been a heavy pressure on me to drop doing the action and to write about magical immigrants. I’ve been offered book deals and better money, and it’s funny, I’ve had three editors in the last ten years point blank sketch out the outline of the same novel: immigrant from the Caribbean arrives in the US and does something magically realist.

The reasoning here seems to be: Buckell is from the Caribbean, that’s almost Latin America and Latin American writers write magic realism, not technothrillers or space opera. It’s a Small World diversity, with your cultural background reduced to a series of cliches and no clue that you might want something else instead. It’s the dominant culture looking for the exotic, the thrill of the novel but only within rigidly defined borders.

In science fiction, as in much else, the dominant culture is American and American assumptions about race, gender and culture drive much of the debate about diversity. Somebody like Tobias Buckell who can (ugh) “pass as white” can fall through the cracks. Not exotic enough that he can be easily pigeonholed, but not “assimilated” either. A novel like Hurricane Fever is driven by assumptions and a worldview an American writer wouldn’t share, even if at first glance it’s just a technothriller.

As readers we should always be wary of cliches, of the conscious and unconscious ways we ourselves think about various cultures. It’s not just that we expect writers to adhere to certain cultural cliches, it’s also that we may see them where they aren’t. We’ve seen that with dialect and the use of “non-standard” English in science fiction, not just dismissed as a literary trick by some, but also seen as racist when writers use e.g. African-American vernacular English.

I’m not innocent of these things myself; I’ve tried several times to get into Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring but keep getting stuck on the first few pages, by the way one of the characters talks. Similarly, with several of Aliette de Bodard’s science fiction stories which draw on Vietnamese history and culture, I’ve felt they came uncomfortably close to cliche images of despotic and authoritarian, hivebound Asia, but is this her fault or am I guilty of seeing a much more complex setting through orientalist lenses?

Get the complete Bold as Love series for under 12 pounds

Moving on from yesterday’s post, the bad news is that Gwyneth Jones had to self publish The Grasshopper’s Child, the sixth novel in her Bold as Love series as an ebook. The good news is that her entire series is available as ebooks on Amazon.co.uk for less than 2 pounds per book. That’s a little under 12 pounds, way less than a normal priced hardback for what is one of the most important, if much less well known than it should be, British sf series.

(My review of Bold As Love.)