The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Monday, November 10, 2014

Diversity and the progress of SF/F

Vox Day: If Diversity led to better stories, then SF/F would be better than the SF/F of 30 years ago. It's not. It is considerably worse, by virtually every standard.

There are several assertions packed inside this short quote. The first is that science-fiction and fantasy are more diverse today than they were in the middle 1980s; everyone concedes this, and this much I'm not going to dispute. The second claim is that SF/F is now worse by most metrics. The synthesis is that diversity is to blame.

It is certainly true that there is a lot of crap out there now; but it's not all that hard to wander into a used-book store and to see what was being put out in the 1980s. I've been buying up several of these books lately. Yanno what I found? It was crap then too. Take Vardeman and Proctor, as a representative sample of 1980s swords-and-sorcery. In fact, don't even take it from me - take it from Nick Lowe (good and hard). Lowe was writing at the time. He knew. He also knew that the awards weren't helping; the Nebula was useless as far back as 1982.

So Vox Day is overstating the case. He could have stated that SF/F today hasn't got any better, and that the mainstream publishers and awards have been rewarding the worst. Vox Day could also have stated that Diversity hasn't helped improve SF/F. In both cases, he'd be on firmer ground, since he's got plenty of blogposts in his own back-catalogue to help him out here.

For the quality differential: I would just say the crap out there is not representative of SF/F today, that's just the crap on the shelf. And on the SF/F shelf at that; the young-adult shelf has been doing pretty darn well.

For Diversity: I'd argue that Diversity is helping in epic fantasy. I'd argue that Durham's Acacia series makes some trenchant observations about majority / minority relations and about compromises made to hold together a kingdom; both themes are clearly vital to the black experience in the Anglosphere. Note that Acacia doesn't say that life gets any better when "bottom rung up, boss". The Tribe is, admittedly, still lagging on the fantasy front; Grossman's Magicians desperately wants to be "the Jewish Narnia" Narnia As Seen Through Jewish Eyes, but in my opinion fell short. Still. It is a riveting read and it treats Narnia - if not Lewis, with respect - if not with justice. (I hope this makes sense to somebody.)

I suspect that Vox Day's perspective has been fogged, or blinkered. Vox Day doesn't have to deal with Durham and Grossman, who are genuinely thoughtful people who don't get in fights; he has to deal with Jemisin and Scalzi, who are insecure and unthinking people who can't get attention unless they do get in fights.

UPDATE 7/11/2017: Yeah, "The Jewish Narnia" was a stupid way of describing Grossman's attempt. Even in 2014 I should have known better.

posted by Zimri on 21:00 | link | 0 comments

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