Cognitive Dissonance

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice. And I give absolutely no fucks.
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May 26, 2014

Rabid Jungle Cat takes a nap.

Rabid Jungle Cat takes a nap.

Last night on Twitter was an interesting experience.  A lot of the people I follow were at WisCon, attending N.K. Jemisin’s Guest of Honor speech–the excerpts being posted were awesome and luckily for us all, Jemisin’s put the text up online.  It’s a great speech and I bet it was even better seeing and hearing it live.

It’s a rousing call to action for those of us who want to see the full range of human experience represented in science fiction and fantasy to fight for that to happen:

And from here on, wherever you see bigotry in the genre? Attack it. Don’t wait for it to come directly at you; attack it even if it’s hitting another group. If you won’t ride or die for anyone else, how can you expect them to ride or die for you? Understand that there are people in this genre who hate you, and who do not want you here, and who will hurt you if they can. Do not tolerate their intolerance. Don’t be “fair and balanced.” Tell them they’re unwelcome. Make them uncomfortable. Shout them down. Kick them out. Fucking fight.

Really amazing stuff.  I’m so very glad we have people like Nora in genre–voices like hers are so important.

But at the same time, a call for submissions (screencap, cache–post has been edited several times, screencap of cache) went out for an anthology called World Encounters edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt (and more!)

If I were a short fiction writer interested in writing and publishing diverse works, I wouldn’t consider submitting to this anthology if it were the only one in existence.

First off, let’s talk about the way in which Schmidt sets himself up as an expert in other cultures–he cautions the writers to be very careful when writing about Africa because not only has he been there, he’s getting a story from Mike Resnick who, apparently, is an expert in all 54 countries in Africa but also in the hundreds or thousands of ethnic groups and cultures there. He also has a Mexican friend or two.

He’s also reserving some slots in the anthology for “up and coming foreign natives”–my initial response to that was frankly unprintable because if you’re editing an anthology of first contact stories and the inevitable culture clash that will follow, of course you’re going to want people writing from a diverse array of backgrounds. You don’t need to say that you’re going to be operating a quota system or imply that you’re going to accept sub-par work from people who aren’t white Westerners.

Schmidt would also like to keep politics out of his anthology and I am just not really sure what he means by this because everything is politics. Unless he means that politics are only things he doesn’t agree with? Wouldn’t first contact stories be, by definition, political stories? There’s something about not wanting this to be a divisive anthology, too, but does that mean that he’s not going to publish stories that challenge his worldview?

But he also thinks that “Africans seem to find joy in the little things and lack of things which we take for granted as well” (link) which is just really fucking gross and paternalistic.  Later in that same post he draws a comparison between visiting prisons and visiting other countries.  I can’t see any way to interpret that in a way that isn’t gross.

It’s also pretty clear that he sees the audience for this anthology as white Western readers–his use of the phrase “we Westerners” is extraordinarily telling–he’s expecting the “foreign natives” and POC writers to take on the burden of educating white Western readers but he’s not going to give them any word count allowance  to define non-English words or phrases or provide any sort of translation assistance.

Finally, he wants to keep this anthology PG-rated so kids can read it with their parents but he’s not going to read submissions from people he thinks are assholes or people who have been mean to him on the internets.  I wish he’d publish the list so people on it would know not to waste their time.

Then again, if I were a writer and if I read a call for submissions that was this poorly written and edited, even if I didn’t have concerns about the content of the call, I would have serious reservations about the editing process.  I’d be concerned that it wouldn’t be a collaborative effort to make the story the best it could be but that it would be a series of top-down dictates (“Must be willing to respect the editor’s editing requests” which, okay, does anyone who submits to an anthology go Anne Rice on the editor?). I’d also be concerned that the editor would break my story and not even realize it in an attempt to make it fit his narrow conception of the world.

I’ve had some private discussions with folks about his editorial process and I think I can safely say that without revealing specifics, Schmidt is likely the sort of editor who browbeats you until you agree with his edits and if you don’t, he becomes disrespectful at best and dismissive at worst. Very much a “Father knows best” sort of editor.

In conclusion: this is a terrible call for submissions because it’s so badly written but, on the other hand, the editor’s biases are right there for interested parties to see, so that’s something. It’s not a lot, but it is something.

ETA: Hiromi Goto’s Guest of Honor speech at WisCon is also wonderful. A small taste:

How important, then, that published stories come from diverse sources; from the voices, experiences, subjectivities and realities of many rather than from the imagination of dominant white culture. For even as we’ve been enriched and enlightened by tales from Western tradition, stories are also carriers and vectors for ideologies. And the white literary tradition has a long legacy of silencing, erasing, distorting and misinforming.

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