MUMPSIMUS MINDBLOWING SF

Matt Cheney has a list of some mindblowin’ SF, much of it by women.

I don’t know Mike Ashley, I don’t know his editorial methodology (assuming there is one, other than to gather a bunch of stories, stick a title on it, and send it out there), and I am not interested in sitting in judgment or being righteous, especially based on one book. It’s also unfortunate that’s there’s an implied guilt by association that sticks to the contributors to the anthology, who have absolutely nothing to do with the decision-making process.

That said, it is mindblowingly stupid in this day and age not to make more of an effort to find more diverse sources for fiction for your anthology.

That said, if I knew in advance that an anthology would only have white males in it, I would not be interested in having my work in said anthology.

Do I think this is a result of blatant prejudice or sexism? No. I think mostly it’s the result of carelessness, lack of thought, and lack of effort. Pure laziness, and editors who come across more as packagers.

But it’s also a result of lack of access, which does speak to marginalization. It also speaks to the Cult of the Personality, and the weird idea that experienced writers hit a home run every time out. Yes, I know this is a tangent to the main discussion going on out there in the blogosphere, but I have nothing original to add to that discussion. So, takes deep breath

While there’s something to be said for new writers serving an apprenticeship, and slowly making their way up a food chain or hierarchy in terms of their access to anthologies and the like, I have never believed in the tyranny of writer brand when it comes to the quality of short fiction. (The effects of popularity, and the ways in which a writer’s popularity dictate market response–that’s another another topic.)

Which is to say, I do not know, in my experience, a single writer out there whose short fiction I find satisfying every time out. Not a single one. What I do find are interesting and satisfying stories by a variety of writers of varying overall reputations. Experience helps in terms of receiving a story that doesn’t have an extra tail and enunciates its words correctly, but it does not guarantee excellence.

This is why open reading periods–allowing access–is so important to not just diversity but quality in anthologies (and I mean true, lasting quality, not just hype), especially to a field that tends toward the insular like SF/Fantasy. Yes, we’re very welcoming to new writers at conventions and the like. We also have good support systems. But there’s definitely a lack of access for new writers in certain areas, and for writers who don’t appeal to what I’d call core genre, or don’t fit into certain categories.

Although Ann and I can’t have open reading periods for every anthology, given how quirky and specific some of them are, we do try to have reading periods whenever possible.

Case in point: Steampunk II, which will have an open reading period. An open reading period for a reprint anthology? you say, incredulous. Well, it’s not doing anything but standing on the shoulders of efforts such as John Joseph Adams with his reprint anthos, where he actively solicits suggestions. We’re just allowing writers to submit their reprinted stories directly.

When Leviathan 5 comes around, we will also have an open reading period. Why? Every single time we have an open reading period, we encounter great fiction we would never otherwise have encountered, and we are enriched by encountering a multiplicity of new voices.

Does this guarantee diversity? No. For one thing, you can never predict what quirks of luck and fate, even if you proactively make it clear you promote diversity, will lead to who submits to you, and what they submit.

For another thing, much of the time we have absolutely no idea of the ethnicity or the sexual orientation of the submitter. (Gender is more obvious, but not always a given.) And Ann, I can guarantee you, doesn’t even look at the name or bio details when doing first reading for Weird Tales. (If I had my druthers, someone would strip the name and other identification from each story before either of us read it for anthos, to ensure complete objectivity–within the context of our own predilections for certain types of stories, although our tastes are pretty broad.)

Nor, I must point out, is diversity in and of itself desirable–not if it means simply counting up the number of women and POC in the TOC. No, it also means not taking stories from anyone that reinforce cheap stereotypes and cliches about…well, anyone

Why? Um, that’s bad writing. Period.

Still, this does still come closer to a system in which pure quality has a chance of rising to the top, and it keeps editors from becoming insular.

Meanwhile, I see nothing wrong with not supporting editorial projects that do not reflect diversity–this is the reader’s individual choice, and one way to express a strong opinion.

Nor, however, am I happy to see Paul Di Filippo pilloried during the discussions that have arisen from the announcement of the anthology’s contents. I don’t think his metaphors were well-chosen, but I’ve known Paul for a long time and he’s a sweet man who has been very kind to any number of writers, of all genders and ethnicities. Which is to say–we all need someone to cut each of us a break from time to time, unless we want to reduce our electronic world to a series of mini tribunals.

15 comments on “MUMPSIMUS MINDBLOWING SF

  1. Rose Fox says:

    Everyone I know who knows Paul and has criticized his behavior in this has started by saying “Paul’s always been so nice to me in person”. I tried to cut him a break by emailing him privately, reminding him of our friendly past associations, and attempting to gently and–sure, let’s bring tone into this–calmly and politely explain the ways that I found his choice of words problematic. He replied first by copying and pasting in an email he wrote to another woman (not the best way to refute the perception that he is failing to see or treat women and minorities as individual people) and then by telling me I “look eagerly for genocidal implications where there are none” and comparing some of his other detractors to “Jerry Falwell, Savonarola, Osama bin Laden, Bill O’Reilly and Aimee Semple McPherson”. I find myself unwilling to cut him any further breaks at this point; it’s no longer a matter of poorly-chosen metaphors, a description that I incidentally find rather insufficiently strong. I am not corn, nor lettuce, and as I wrote to Paul, while I would really like to think of him as someone I want to hang out with, that’s hard when hanging out with him apparently entails watching him vilify a number of my friends and colleagues.

    By contrast, Mike Ashley made one attempt to defend himself and then very sensibly bowed out of the conversation, saying that he was listening to what people were saying and would take it into consideration in his next anthology. That seems like a perfectly reasonable response, and from what I hear from friends of his, a completely sincere one. I very much wish Paul had followed his example.

  2. Fair enough, and I take your point. I’m sorry he chose to follow up with you that way–that bothers me.

    Metaphor is the core of communication to me, in a sense, so when I say I don’t agree with his metaphors, that’s extremely strong. It may not be to you, and that’s cool. But it is strong to me. I thought his metaphors were stupid and didn’t make any sense, if that clarifies it.

  3. Eh. There are reasons I don’t like this post any more. It’s kind of rambly, for one thing. Side effect of having all kinds of deadlines. Tempted to just delete it and start again, but no time and don’t like to delete stuff.

  4. Rose Fox says:

    Heh, I know that feeling. “Did I write this? …Why?! Oh well, too late now.”

  5. jeff vandermeer says:

    kinda like “oh look at the old fart go on again bout his favorite open anthos topic,” splicin’ t into whatever’s around.

  6. jenn says:

    I think you did a fine job because I *do* understand what you are trying to say here and I appreciate it.

  7. Laurie says:

    The ‘but he’s a nice guy!’ argument is one that gets rolled out for every -ism argument that ever comes up – I’m sure he is a nice guy, but he said some things that were both monumentally stupid and hurtful. Women and POCs wish they could catch a break, too, but guys like this just keep popping up and saying the same silly things every time you so much as blink.

    I guess what I’m saying here is that whether he’s a nice guy or not is completely irrelevant, because people’s ire at him has nothing to do with him in the first place.

  8. Jeff, I think it’s an excellent post that shows your editorial process and why you do it that way.

  9. John Klima says:

    As you say, angry discussions like this (not the one here, the one you’re referring to) are the exact reason why I try to be open about what I’m doing editorially with a project. Why I try to include as diverse a field as possible.

    Here’s the thing for me, who are my readers? Are my readers a diverse group? Then maybe my writers should be a diverse group, too. It can be difficult, in this field, to find non-white male writers. But that just means you to have work harder at it. And if you put a lot of effort into the editorial side of things, it should make the final product better, too.

    I like the idea of an open reading period. I wasn’t able to do that with LOGORRHEA as we had a full table of contents when I sold the anthology. I will be using an open reading period on any future projects that I do.

    Great post, Jeff.

  10. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Laurie: Your point is taken, and I agree. Lots of people who are nice don’t engage in best practices or always behave in a positive, diversity-friendly way.

  11. I also emailed Paul about the posts he made. He responded in a coherent manner, with no sticking of the shift key :) I still disagree with a lot of his comments on the matter (and have sent him a reply stating as much) but I feel like he and I are engaging in a more honest and clear dialogue than what happened in that thread.

    Anyway Jeff, maybe you think it’s rambly, but I think it’s still a good post, topic-wise at the very least :) Being on the writing-side of the fence instead of the editing-side makes it so I don’t know how anthologies are put together. I’d love to hear how more editors work on their ToCs!

  12. John McCarthy says:

    Jeff,
    You are far more lucid and wise –even when distracted– than most.
    Cut yourself some slack: it’s a fine post.
    –JMc

  13. chimp with pencil says:

    I haven’t posted in a while — since the wombat haiku, which was glorious. But this discussion reminds me a bit of the debate about the new supreme court justice.

    Someone told me it was time to put another woman and a Hispanic on the court. I just thought it was time to put a good judge on the court. Someone fair minded and honest. If she fits that requirement, then great. But if an Irish American man was more qualified than she is, I’d want him to get the job. I simply want the most qualified person regardless of their gender or ethnicity.

    Anthologies should have good stories. The best stories from among the submissions should be the ones to get published — it doesn’t matter who wrote them. I don’t care what the writer’s gender or color or political affiliation is — I just want to read some good stories.

    To me it’s sad we’re still even having this debate. Jeff, I really like your thought about stripping the author info from the stories and judging them strictly by their merits. I wish all magazines and publishers would do that.

    But then again, I am, after all, simply a chimp with a pencil.

  14. John Randolph says:

    I too was a little surprised at Jeff’s statement above, highlighted by “Observations”.

    It reminds me of something I heard another author say recently , which was something to the effect that he would not be writing any characters in a gender or race other than his own because the “professional risk” of being misperceived or accidentally putting your foot in your mouth was too great (i.e. potentially career ending).

    This all seems a bit of a slippery slope to me. Then again, I am in no way in the public eye, and have nothing to lose.

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