Spent last weekend at the wonderful and thought-provoking Potlatch convention (http://www.potlatch-sf.org/). It’s a con for readers of speculative fiction, and I’ve been going to it for years and years.
Instead of a “Guest of Honor”, Potlatch has a “Book of Honor”. This year’s book was the anthology Women Destroy Science Fiction, produced by Lightspeed Press. It’s a response to the all-too-frequent claim by men that women writers are DESTROYING science fiction! Ever since H.G. Wells wrote the first sci fi book! (Actually, though, he wasn’t the first. That honor goes to a woman, the author of Frankenstein.)
The book is great! Where else can you read stories about dystopias where everyone lives in a mall? Genetic and cybernetic modifications that turn people into mermaids and spaceships? Or watch a corpse decompose in a spaceship after the artificial gravity system disappears? Who can resist an essay titled “How to Engineer a Self-Rescuing Princess”?
It was also wonderful to be able to have conversations about the book, in the form of audience-participation panels, and outside the panels — in the halls, in the hospitality suite, in restaurants, and afterward in blogs.
The conversations, though, seemed to lack focus. We’re in the middle of change — women are respected science fiction authors in some contexts, but not in others — and I don’t know that anybody was able to come up with a clear and coherent vision about the exact nature of the problem or how to handle it. So it seemed like we were talking about all different kinds of problems. And we were. Some people were talking about respect, some people were talking about the disproportionate publishing and reviewing of men’s work, and some people expanded the conversation to include the difficulty of publishing in general.
You can see some of the comments here:
“Notes on ‘Women Destroy Science Fiction: Not Again'” — posted on the Aqueduct Press blog
The focus that conversation lacked can be found in Nisi Shawl’s Lightspeed anthology essay “Screaming Together: Making Women’s Voices Heard” —
“Wouldn’t it be fantastic if . . . women’s genre stories and poems and genre-related nonfiction being published and read and noticed–happened every single day?”
She goes on to give a bunch of solutions, such as:
- reading books by women
- talking about books by women on social media
- nominating women for awards
- helping one of the many organizations that support women’s writing
- for editors: repeatedly asking non-assertive women to participate in creative projects
- for editors: issuing women writers public deadlines
- supporting women who are writing
- publishing women who are writing
- for writers, using alternate publishing resources such as Book View Cafe, Indiegogo, and Kickstarter
This particular conversation, though, didn’t make it into the panel. Nor did a conversation about how far we have come, or maybe more important, what we are aiming for. We want women’s genre writing to be heard, but by whom? Is our goal equal representation in the Big Five publishing houses, and if so, why? Is it just women’s writing we want, or do we care about race, class, ability, gender, and more? Do we need a Combahee River Collective Statement for genre writings?
Well, this explains why the conversations seemed to lack focus. They’re tackling a big topic. Why not make it just a little bigger by introducing publishing problems faced by men and women alike? Here you go:
“Notes on ‘What Dreams May Come'” — also from the Aqueduct Press blog.
That panel, which drew its inspiration on a speech Ursula Le Guin gave at the National Book Awards about authors, publishers, capitalism, and freedom. However, many of the audience members (including myself) hadn’t seen it, and the conversation dissolved into a conversation about big publishers and Amazon.
Where to next?
I left Potlatch mulling over a couple different concepts, so here they are, in their preliminary form.
1) It’s about building power. The question of who is published and reviewed, and who isn’t, has a little to do with quality and a whole lot to do with power. A group of people working together to read, edit, publish, and review each others’ works will build power.
2) Is it about competing with money, trying to get into the top publishers? I don’t think so. Money is a form of power. A noxious one. It’s a form of power best countered by striving for freedom. Whatever that means. Again, Ursula Le Guin’s speech is worth watching.
3) Is this a problem best solved by the individual, or the community? Is it about what the individual wants to read, or write, or edit, or publish, or about what our communities need to hear and say and dream?
4) Speaking of community, Potlatch itself is a community-building con. It’s a place for readers and authors to meet each other and support each other. Over the years, it’s exposed me to a diverse range of authors, and it certainly has supported me as a woman author. Part of the solution, that.
5) Do women destroy science fiction? No. Science fiction is indestructible. Here — bring me some rockets and robots and TNT, and I’ll show you what I mean.