SFWA – let’s shrug off the straitjackets, gentlemen!

angrySFWA stands for Science Fiction Writers of America, and the organization is one of the most prestigious in science fiction. Apparently it’s also a boyz-own club where the odd female writer may be tolerated, but never truly welcomed.

As an Indie, I’ve never taken much notice of the SFWA because Indies aren’t welcome either. That’s one reason I had no idea of the $hit storm brewing over at the SFWA until I read this article on the Passive Voice this morning. Once I’d read the excerpt, I followed the link to the original article, which you can find here.

Now I’m not a rabid feminist, but some of my all time favourite science fiction writers are women. Ursula K. LeGuin opened my eyes to the wonder of ‘social’ science fiction. Margaret Atwood blew me away with The Handmaid’s Tale, C.J. Cherryh introduced me to cloning, and Mary Robinette Kowal finally made me see the beauty of short stories.

Just for the record, Mary Robinette Kowal won a Hugo award for her short story ‘For Want of a Nail’, and you can read my review here.

So you can see that I have enormous respect for Mary Robinette Kowal, which made her treatment by the SFWA all the more shocking.

Science fiction writers used to be avant guard. They used to push the boundaries. In some ways, breaking out of mental straitjackets used to be the raison d’etre of science fiction. My, how things can change in just a few decades.

To be honest, I haven’t read much traditionally published science fiction in the last two years. Not because of any political motivation, but because the science fiction that truly excited me was being written and published by Indies. Social science fiction, cross-genre science fiction, political science fiction, philosophical science fiction, literary science fiction. All from Indies.

I did try reading one of the novels recommended by John Scalzi on his blog, but I couldn’t finish it. The story was well written, in terms of craft, but the plot bored me to tears – a sort of cross between James Bond and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But I digress.

Until this morning, I believed this renaissance of science fiction was due to Indies being able to write what they wanted to write, instead of having to conform to the arbitrary standards imposed by traditional publishers. However it appears the straitjacket was also being tightened by the SFWA old guard. Little wonder then that the truly innovative writing is coming from Indies who don’t ‘belong’.

I think it’s time we had a new organization, one that is open to writers of any gender, race or publishing platform. We could call it the IISF – International Indies of Science Fiction. Okay, that doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, but I’m pantsting it here.

What do you think? Are you sick of the same old, same old? Are you sick of fanciful space battles and ‘hard’ tech that is just one step removed from a sorceror’s wand? Or do you think I’m biased in favour of Indies because I am one?

Don’t let my rant put you off. I’m open to different points of view, especially if they come with recommendations for truly innovative, traditionally published novels. So have your say, I promise not to bite. ;)

cheers

Meeks

About acflory

I am the kind of person who always has to know why things are the way they are so my interests range from genetics and biology to politics and what makes people tick. For fun I play online mmorpgs, read, listen to a music, dance when I get the chance and landscape my rather large block. Work is writing. When a story I am working on is going well I'm on cloud nine. On bad days I go out and dig big holes... View all posts by acflory

20 responses to “SFWA – let’s shrug off the straitjackets, gentlemen!

  • Yvonne Hertzberger

    I do not read much sci-fi so can’t really comment on that end, but I have been reading more and more Indies in various genres and find them less formulaic and so more interesting than books I used to read. Movies, too, are becoming boring for their sameness, as though we ALL want to see nothing more than what everyone else is doing. That’s one reason I think we will see a huge shift soon. The change always comes after the slump.

    • acflory

      Yes! The last movie I saw at the cinema was Gravity – ok, but fundamentally predictable. And don’t get me started on books. Change can’t come soon enough for me. :)

  • Carrie Rubin

    Politics everywhere, I guess. I’m not involved in the sci-fi community so I have no suggestions, but it’s sad to see the old ways fester on. There are so many talented writers out there. Of both genders.

    • acflory

      I agree, Carrie. The days of so called hard sci-fi are numbered but the dinosaurs aren’t ready to walk into the tar pits yet. I think in time they’ll simply become irrelevant. :)

  • Candy Korman

    I’d like to say that I’m astonished, but… there’s a crazy amount of sexism in conventional publishing.

    A few years back a big mystery editor (with an imprint at a leading publisher) — who happened to be a friend of my mom’s because they were both involved in the same local charity — who had been encouraging, while rejecting my manuscripts, said to my mother, “Candy should write a nice little cosy about Tango dancers. Women writers should write cosy mysteries.”

    As the this editor, who shall remain nameless, had rejected a mystery novel of mine with a subtext about child sex abuse. My mom reported this with more than a little dismay. To make this story worse — yes, it get’s worse — the editor was in the hospital and, although she was expected to recover, this conversation took place the day before she took an unexpected turn for the worse and died.

    Until that incident, I’d thought of her as a mentor/supporter who might one day publish my work if she deemed it good enough. It was only on what amounted to her death bed, that I learned she might have risked more on me had I been the son of her friend.

    Sexism has always been rampant in genre fiction. I guess the guys who write romance feel a similar sting.

    • acflory

      -hiss- Don’t speak ill of the dead and all that, but….GAH! I know some of that must be a generational bias but it still makes me mad. I’m glad you didn’t take her advice and write nice cosy mysteries!

      As for sexism, I have so little to do with the industry as a whole, I had no idea ANY of this was happening. Sure, I knew that adventure type sci-fi sold better than the more social sci-fi, but I thought…nvm, I’d better not say what I thought. :)

      I’m still a bit shocked though. Thank god ebooks came along, that’s all I can say.

  • Jeri Walker-Bickett (@JeriWB)

    Sexism is definitely alive and well in publishing. I’m still trying to find what genre best suites me, but I just may have to accept I’m always going to be in that sorta un-genre land of literary fiction, but still. I gravitate toward mystery or horror when I read and write genre fiction. But the sense that nice girls can’t write un-nice things just really pisses me off!

    • acflory

      Me too, Jeri! It’s as if we’re still living in the 50′s and a woman’s place was in the kitchen, preferably bare-foot and pregnant… or in the bloody parlour knitting socks. :(

  • metan

    I think the Indie/ebook revolution has the old boys club quaking in their boots….. Who do those upstarts think they are, just publishing without grovelling to the old guard…. ;)

    I love sci-fi, I read little else! I’ll read anything that is good, regardless who wrote it or where it came from. I generally don’t even pay attention to the name of the author until I’ve already decided I’m going to read it.

    As self publishing is so easy now we see great writers getting out there. Can you imagine how many brilliant ideas or dusty manuscripts are in the bottom of drawers, cast aside by hopeful female sc-fi or, as Candy said, male romance writers, who were never going to get a chance in the discriminating world of ‘real’ publishing? Bring on the revolution I say!

    • anne54

      So agree. And I think you are just the woman to do it, Meeks!

    • acflory

      -giggles- Do you suppose a lot of those romance writers are now guys? I know I shouldn’t laugh – it’s reverse sexism of the worst kind – but it is kinda funny.

      And yes, I think every corner of publishing is going to get a clean sweep before this revolution is done. I hope that at the end of it, little boys are allowed to cook and little girls are allowed to write, or play footie. We’re all just people, dammit.

  • Jon Jefferson

    It’s a bit strange to me. 20 years ago I might have pushed to join the group. But now as I embrace the Indie world, the recognition of sfwa means little to me.

    Over the past year I have heard the claims against women writing fantasy and sci fi and wonder where this is coming from. Quite a few of the writers I know are writing in both areas and they are, um, women. Go figure.

    • acflory

      I”ve never belonged to any organized group, but I’m sure there are still some benefits to being a member, even if it’s just the networking. But I agree, Jon. The relevance is fading with every year. If we’re still having these discussions in ten years time, then I’ll be worried.

  • EllaDee

    I like to think I don’t discriminate about many things while at the same time honouring my right to my own preferences. I really hate being told what to think or do. I prefer to think of rules as guidelines.
    But, something seems to happen when people participate in organisations. Is it nature or nurture? Do organisations attract people who feel the world is bereft without their expertise. Or is it the environment of organisation that nurtures it?
    So, I’ve gone about my life where possible under the auspices of Groucho Marx word’s – I won’t belong to any organisation that would have me as a member.
    That’s my quandary. Indies would do well to have an organisation, but by their nature they are independent.

    • acflory

      What a great point, Ella! I suspect banding together in organizations is some kind of hardwired herd instinct – safety in numbers perhaps? But when that organization become codified it’s already past its use-by-date.

      It would be nice if there were some, influential body that would speak up for Indies, but by the same token, I think it would quickly turn into an ‘institution’. That’s hardwired, too – just look at politicians world-wide!

      I’m so glad there’s another anarchist in the house. :D

  • davidprosser

    Oh no. Who let you out of the kitchen and who gave you slippers to wear.? I’ve told you before those alien feet don’t suit you. they’re best left for the dinosaurs at SFWA.
    The trouble is they’ve started to believe their own hype and have become very elitist.
    It would be good to have an International Science Fiction Writers Group but as many are cross-genre these days and much more adventurous they might resist classification.
    The Indies because they lack the self imposed writing restrictions of the old guard are taking over the world ( the SF share anyway) and it’s opening up so much more in terms of imagination or the readers. As with everywhere else, the dinosuars will either be wiped out or learn to evolve.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    • acflory

      Apologies, David! I shall slink back to the stove forthwith!
      -giggles-
      And I think you’re right about Indies and organizations. As Ella said, it’s almost a contradiction in terms.

      Maybe if we all ignore the SFWA it’ll go away. Pity about the Nebula award though. At least we still have the Hugo. :)

  • chrisjames282

    Great post and links, Meeks, thanks for this. It’s an irony, isn’t it? That Science Fiction authors – those who would tell us what the future holds – behave like 17th century mill owners. I’m glad I’m self-published so my name isn’t sullied by association with such backward people…

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