Examine Your Priorities

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice.
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July 13, 2015

Changed Priorities Ahead sign

https://twitter.com/merrittkopas/status/620633306674130944

I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised that all of Ernest Cline’s favorite books are by white men. After reading this review of his new book, Armada, it’s pretty clear he’s not writing for people like me. And that’s fine, not every book is for everybody.

(An aside: These two sentences say so, so, so much about gatekeeping and I really want to unpack them sometime soon:

Geek culture has long been preoccupied with trivia; the ability to recognize and make references to games, movies, and TV shows beloved within various “geeky” subcultures is often considered an in-group badge of honor, a signifier of credibility and even power. Armada is a book designed entirely around getting the reference—high-fiving the readers who recognize its shoutouts while leaving everyone else trapped behind a nerd-culture velvet rope of catchphrases and codes.

Back to my main thesis.)

But the thing is this: white men don’t require the support of women and persons of color to be successful in the field of science fiction and fantasy. But women and persons of color do need to support of white men to be successful and they often don’t get it.  I see it time and again: women writers and writers of color signal-boost widely. White male writers often do not. I haven’t been tracking this in detail (because who has that kind of time), but it’s definitely a pattern that I’ve noticed–and I’m not the only one.  Women tend to boost signals of both women and men about equally, men boost mostly other men. And it’s frustrating.

What’s also frustrating is to see a Twitter Q&A session in which someone asks a white male writer which contemporary science fiction writers he would recommend to a high school student and this is his answer:

https://twitter.com/andyweirauthor/status/620676396151496704

Of those six names, three of them are dead. The three living authors all have relatively new releases (I checked). And they’re all white and male. (There also seems to be a bit of backscratching going on, as Cline recced Weir in his list and vice versa, but whatever, that happens.)

E. Catherine Tobler decided to email Andy Weir and ask him about this. This is what happened:

https://twitter.com/ECthetwit/status/620700102018011140

https://twitter.com/ECthetwit/status/620700310818820096

https://twitter.com/ECthetwit/status/620701330210844673

https://twitter.com/ECthetwit/status/620702016344436737

https://twitter.com/ECthetwit/status/620703239617380352

So, you know. Some people have the privilege of being able to claim that they don’t have to pay attention to this stuff–and interestingly enough, when they don’t pay attention to it, they only recommend things by people who look exactly like they do.

This list also doesn’t make me happy (also I think of Butler as an SF writer, not a fantasy writer) because it generally reinforces the idea that men write science fiction and women write fantasy. It also implies that the books on the list are obscure and little known–which is certainly not the case for many of them.

Some women who have written science fiction:

Joan Vinge, C.J. Cherryh, Joanna Russ, Octavia Butler, Lois McMaster Bujold, Nnedi Okorafor, Athena Andreadis, Aliette de Bodard, Pat Cadigan, Elizabeth Bear, Connie Willis, M.J. Locke, Rosemary Kirstein, Kage Baker, Diane Duane, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Elizabeth Moon, Jody Lynn Nye, Julie Czerneda, Nalo Hopkinson, Nisi Shawl, Nicola Griffith, Ann Leckie, Karen Joy Fowler, Ursula K. LeGuin, E. Catherine Tobler, Margaret Atwood, James Tiptree, Jr.

…and many, many, many more. That was just off the top of my head.

I don’t know what to do about all this except to keep pointing it out when it happens.

So, hey, Andy Weir and Ernest Cline? Maybe you should diversify your reading a little bit? Maybe examine your priorities? Just a suggestion.

Edited to add these two items from S.L. Huang (another woman who writes science fiction):

https://twitter.com/sl_huang/status/620756114544685056

https://twitter.com/sl_huang/status/620756398872371200

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11 Comments

  1. E. P. Beaumont

    In the last years, I’ve learned something extremely valuable: don’t give energy/help/attention to people who don’t give it back.

    Dudes with all-male recommended reading lists: NOPE, not gonna read your ‘masterpiece.’ Not even gonna mention it. Ditto if the list’s all-white, all-USA, all-whatever. It’s the sign of a reader with undiagnosed intellectual tunnel vision.

    I make a very particular point of signal-boosting work that deserves attention, and I watch the community behavior of creators. You only boost white dudes? I don’t need to help you out. In fact, I add you to my list of stuff that can be safely skipped.

    And just a thought, folks: I’m not the only one doing this.

  2. delagar

    I love that answer– I don’t even see color! I don’t even see gender! You people who notice those things, YOU’RE the problem! The fact that I just HAPPEN to read all white guys is pure coincidence!

    Or hire all white guys.

    Or listen to all white guys.

    Or put all white guys in our museum.

    And, you know, they honestly think that’s true, that it does just “happen” to work out that way. That’s the truly sad part.

    As Terry Pratchett said, there’s no justice. There’s just us.

  3. Lillian

    @delagar: Yes. I hate that answer; it betrays a complete lack of reflection or deep thought on the matter. It’s also the kind of lazy thinking that particularly disappoints me in science fiction writers–where’s the analysis? Where’s the thinking of the future? Where’s the questioning of the status quo?

    Weir is still pretty new to the public eye; I hope that at some point he will take a moment to step back and listen. (And I hope that some of the authors he’s getting to know will take a moment to dig into these ideas with him.) It’s possible for people to develop and learn!

  4. Lillian

    P. S. This might be one of those times where someone needs to hear from, well, someone who’s like them. (Paging Mr. Scalzi…)

    P. P. S. Not a criticism of the OP’s approach at all. I’m glad someone said something.

  5. James Davis Nicoll

    Aside from Lynn Abbey, Eleanor Arnason, Octavia Butler, Moyra Caldecott, Jaygee Carr, Joy Chant, Suzy McKee Charnas, C. J. Cherryh, Jo Clayton, Candas Jane Dorsey, Diane Duane, Phyllis Eisenstein, Cynthia Felice, Sheila Finch, Sally Gearhart, Mary Gentle, Dian Girard, Eileen Gunn, Monica Hughes, Diana Wynne Jones, Gwyneth Jones, Leigh Kennedy, Lee Killough, Nancy Kress, Katherine Kurtz, Tanith Lee, Megan Lindholm, Elizabeth A. Lynn, Phillipa Maddern, Ardath Mayhar, Vonda McIntyre, Patricia A. McKillip, Janet Morris, Pat Murphy, Sam Nicholson (AKA Shirley Nikolaisen), Rachel Pollack, Marta Randall, Anne Rice, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Pamela Sargent, Sydney J. Van Scyoc, Susan Shwartz, Nancy Springer, Lisa Tuttle, Joan Vinge, Élisabeth Vonarburg, Cherry Wilder, Connie Willis, Marcia J. Bennett, Mary Brown, Lois McMaster Bujold, Emma Bull, Pat Cadigan, Isobelle Carmody, Brenda W. Clough, Kara Dalkey, Pamela Dean, Susan Dexter, Carole Nelson Douglas, Debra Doyle, Claudia J. Edwards, Doris Egan, Ru Emerson, C.S. Friedman, Anne Gay, Sheila Gilluly, Carolyn Ives Gilman, Lisa Goldstein, Nicola Griffith, Karen Haber, Barbara Hambly, Dorothy Heydt (AKA Katherine Blake), P.C. Hodgell, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Tanya Huff, Kij Johnson, Janet Kagan, Patricia Kennealy-Morrison, Katharine Kerr, Peg Kerr, Katharine Eliska Kimbriel, Rosemary Kirstein, Ellen Kushner, Mercedes Lackey, Sharon Lee, Megan Lindholm, R.A. MacAvoy, Laurie J. Marks, Maureen McHugh, Dee Morrison Meaney, Elizabeth Moon, Paula Helm Murray, Rebecca Ore, Tamora Pierce, Alis Rasmussen (AKA Kate Elliott), Melanie Rawn, Mickey Zucker Reichert, Jennifer Roberson, Michaela Roessner, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Melissa Scott, Eluki Bes Shahar (AKA Rosemary Edghill), Nisi Shawl, Delia Sherman, Josepha Sherman, Sherwood Smith, Melinda Snodgrass, Midori Snyder, Sara Stamey, Caroline Stevermer, Martha Soukup, Judith Tarr, Sheri S. Tepper, Prof. Mary Turzillo, Paula Volsky, Deborah Wheeler (Deborah J. Ross), Freda Warrington, K.D. Wentworth, Janny Wurts and Patricia Wrede

  6. I_Sell_Books

    And Linda Nagata.

  7. John

    All these lists never seem to mention Marge Piercy, who has written some of the most compelling near future post-utopian stories I have ever read.

    As a white dude, I may have been guilty of just not remembering the names of women writers as well as the men, but there is also trouble with me finding women writers in the first place. I had to find Piercy and le Guin on my own.

    Hmmm. How about if I use this list posted here as a guide for my next library trip?

    • Natalie Luhrs

      That sounds like an excellent idea, John. I am more familiar with Piercy as a poet than a SF writer.

  8. Tess Lecuyer

    And fresh new voices like K. M. Herkes!

  9. Jennifer Newmark

    How about some classics like C.L. Moore, Anne McCaffrey, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Susan Cooper and Andre (Mary Alice) Norton?

  10. Josh Lukin

    I love Natalie’s, James’s, and Jennifer’s lists. Among the major authors I don’t think have yet been mentioned are Leigh Brackett, Katherine MacLean, Judith Merril, Vandana Singh, Leslie F. Stone, and Kate Wilhelm.

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