Insensitivity

From time to time the topic of sensitivity readers comes up in my writing circles, and naturally most artists I know in the independent world balk at the concept. I tend to agree — I think it’s a scam of a few people who are telling people what’s okay and what’s not to write, which amounts to a soft censorship. As Big Publishing adopts this more and more, we’re going to get more watered down, monotone sounding books as a result.

What’s occurred in the fantasy and science fiction field over the last decade, and has recently trickled into YA is this: there’s a few active book bloggers who are extremely negative, extremely bitter, and scream at people if the book doesn’t match what their utopia worldview of phony skin-deep diversity looks like. These book bloggers have armies of readers ready to go onto a book’s amazon or goodreads page and torch the author and work with fake reviews without even having read the book.

Publishers, attempting to be business-minded, met this shrieking with a smile, trying to get good reviews out of this cabal for their books, promising and virtue signalling that they will make a “commitment to diversity.” You started seeing calls for women and minority authors more often, and then projects where only women and minorities were invited to work on projects. At first it was a “hey, we’re just giving equal representation” concept, which was innocuous enough, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. As time went on, the innocuous publishers were replaced with some of these more rabid people from the book blogosphere in editorial decisions, and the entire industry came to a point where it actively attempts to blackball and discriminate against white, male, Christian or Conservative authors. If you’re a mix of those, your chances of being published diminish significantly — if you’re all of them, consider yourself blackballed.

In content itself, the conversation shifted in the last year away from one of “you should include a diverse representation of characters”, which I always found to be fine. Depending on your world, it makes sense to have the people you’d see in a day to day environment now in the future extrapolated. I take exception with putting token representation into historical fiction or alt-history, as it comes across as really forced and it’s inaccurate, but for visions of the future, having different characters from different backgrounds feels natural. I feel like Firefly accomplished this without sounding preachy, and created a cool setting with it, for example.

But now it’s “you’re culturally appropriating.” Now a white Christian writer isn’t allowed to put those cultures in the work, but simultaneously their work is constantly being hammered as “not representative enough.” It’s not about actual content anymore, it’s about censoring a certain class of individuals listed above. And that’s where this is dangerous.

A writer should be able to write what they want. If you want to write a message, do it. If you want to write about other cultures, do it. If you want to make the villain in your book an allegory for Muslim terrorists, that is just as valid as every villain being a type-A white male that we see in almost every book and film these days. Most of the time fiction isn’t about a message, and one’s overly-read into it to the point where it’s absurd. I took a lot of flack for being “too anti-corporate” in my debut novel for example, to the point where I had people calling me a fraud for actual my political/religious identity. That’s a prime example of reading too much into a villain (though I mean… big corporations are pretty bad, that’s kinda the point of this article too!).

I don’t believe in censoring myself, and I don’t want other writers to censor themselves either. It’s very easy to see how this creeps in from “you must have representation” to “you can’t write about that culture because you’re appropriating!” These mandatory diversity ploys aren’t concerned with actual diversity at all, but with forcing social justice politics into every aspect of our lives. There’s a reason that in the science fiction elite spheres you don’t see many Hispanic writers for instance. If you think it’s because Big Publishing underrepresents Hispanics intentionally, you’re dead wrong. It’s because the biggest name hispanic authors are all politically conservative, and that doesn’t fit their narrative agenda. The applause for “diversity” only applies to those who play up their identity grievances with the right politics.

The only way to put a stop to this is to mock the concept of sensitivity readers. Mock the concept of cultural appropriation. If you think about it — all cultures appropriate, that’s how culture works. You take what is good for your society from the zeitgeist around you and extrapolate on it. That’s what fiction is. Instead of fretting, openly and unabashedly culturally appropriate and be insensitive in your work.

Don’t care what anyone thinks except for your readers. They’re all that matter. Chances are, if you’re having fun and telling a compelling story, they’ll like it too and won’t give two craps about whether you’re culturally appropriating.

A Moon Full Of Stars by Jon Mollison!

There’s another Jon out there in SF who’s very much worth your while, and his name is Jon Mollison. He writes in the vein of the old school pulps like very few I’ve seen. If you’re into hard action/adventure in your sci-fi, this work’s for you. Fun fact: he’s also an audiobook narrator, most recently known for John C. Wright’s Somewhither (in which he did a stellar job, about one of the best readers I’ve ever heard on a book).  This story looks to be a planetary romance-style book in the tradition of Leigh Brackett. I’m pretty excited.

Here’s the blurb:

All Rome ever wanted was to earn a place in the village as a hunter, so that he could explore beyond the safe confines of the village farm fields, but when monstrous slavers destroy his village he is forced to head west into the irradiated wastelands in search of anything that might give him the power to save his people. Accompanied by his chief rival, his journey takes him farther than he ever imagined.

You can buy A Moon Full Of Stars here. 

Review: Brandon Sanderson – Snapshot

Snapshot is the recent “between novellas” project by Brandon Sanderson. This one is a little different, a science fantasy near-future world where police can create these “Snapshots” which are direct copies of the world before a crime occurs. Police can go into these snapshots and investigate by seeing what actually happened for a period of hours. Any action they do inside creates ripples called “deviations” which tarnishes the evidence, so they have to be careful. It’s not explained how this works, or really anything about it other than a cursory “I don’t know how it works” by the main character, which is why I call it science fantasy. I’m fine with that, as it’s a neat concept. It reminds me a little of his 2016 novella, Perfect State, in the sense that this is a tech-driven story rather than a magic one.

Because Sanderson’s books are so twist-dependent, there will be spoilers. If you want to avoid those, stop reading now.

This story follows two detectives who are investigating a murder, but that’s not the main crux of it as they solve that relatively quickly. There’s a serial killer on the loose that they discover, that the department hasn’t been talking about or letting them in on at all. It’s not abnormal as they’re snapshot investigators, separate from the rest of the force, but it does appear it’s covered up. They take it into their own hands during the snapshot time left to uncover this information and catch the killer.

The characters are a little hard to connect to. Sanderson’s been using a formula lately of straight man / comic relief buddy, and while it’s okay once or twice, I’m seeing it as a pattern in all of his work that made this a bit rough. I really didn’t start connecting with the characters or being interested until about 25% into the book, where some personal stuff develops that makes it a little more interesting.  Still, they come across as vehicles for a plot or comic relief jokes a lot of time rather than real characters.

This is a short book so I’m going to jump to where it gave me the biggest problem. Sanderson also does a “two-stage twist” in all of his books. He gives you one where it’s obvious and you’ll call well in advance, in order to lull you reading wise into not realizing what the big twist is. Since again he employs this formula with extreme regularity, I was prepared for it. What threw me off was what happened. The twist was that the main perspective character was in the snapshot to uncover his partner boinking his ex-wife and kill him for betrayal. It’s actually a cool plot point, but the problem is– it was the perspective character. We went along the whole book without the guy thinking about killing his partner. There were points he was mad at him, calling him a liar, but it seemed almost in fun. He was never concerned about the event until it happened, which means the reader was cheated the entire time to put a twist in there. The story fell apart for me because of this. This was the “twist you don’t expect”. The twist that you do expect was that this was a snapshot of a snapshot to investigate this whole thing, which we discover later on. Usually the order of these are reversed for Sanderson — and in the essay after in the collector’s edition, he does address that he would have liked to have reversed those but didn’t find a way to in the story — but that was pretty flat and expected, and I didn’t buy the big twist because of the above.

With low character work that made the story tough to get into, and a twist that imminently didn’t work and felt forced for the sake of it, this is probably my least favorite Sanderson work to date. I really wanted to like this, and read it fairly quickly — as the pacing is the element that saves this, but found that this story didn’t work at all.  5/10

For Steam And Country Cover Reveal!

The moment everyone’s been waiting for is here! For Steam And Country is set to be released next month, my second novel, and my first venture into Fantasy. I had an incredible time writing this book, and early reviews are saying it’s even better than my award nominated debut novel. You’ll not want to miss this. Below is the cover by one of the best artists in the business, Shawn King:

Make sure to share everywhere and let everyone know how hyped you are for this book!

There will be some fun giveaways, rewards and more, including a FREE short story for those who help spread the word. Updates are in a facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/519333975122120/  go ahead and join or ping me and I’ll get you in there.

Or my mailing list:

http://delarroz.us15.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=3c0d4761bf596db6605e25975&id=e7c61287b0

Tally ho!

 

#SpaceOperaWeek Round-Up

There’s been a lot of cool content for Space Opera Week, and we at the #PulpRevolution created one of the best weeks of content for Science Fiction in a long time. If you missed any of my guest contributions to awesome science fiction sites this week:

Realism is Dumb

Jon Del Arroz’s Definitive Top 5 Space Opera Series

Five CURRENT Space Operas You Should Be Reading

And of course my interview with Darkship series author Sarah Hoyt.

Some of my favorite articles on the topic from other #PulpRevolution writers:

What Space Opera Means To Me – By Jay Barnson

Ordinary, Everyday Lives: Good for Dramas, Not For Epics by Corey McCleerey

Wonder And The Soul’s Desire by Dominika Lien.

Even Tor.com got the memo by the end of the week with a good article. Took the whole week but perhaps we pushed the conversation to some extent:

Is Space Opera Merely Fantasy Set In Space by Emily Asher-Perrin

 

And of course don’t forget to check out my first space opera book, which certainly won’t be my last, Star Realms: Rescue Run, which hit top-10 in the genre on Amazon and garnered an Alliance Award nomination! 

#SpaceOperaWeek Geekchats Special: Space Opera and Woldbuilding with Sarah Hoyt

It’s #SpaceOperaWeek and I’m excited to have one of my favorite authors working in the field right now, Sarah Hoyt, on tomorrow to talk about her Darkship series, her inspirations, what space opera means to her and some of the helpful tricks she used to come up with such a rich and imaginative world like Eden. It’ll air live May 19th at 12:00 PM PST:

Chris Cornell Tribute

Going to have a pretty busy day but wanted to acknowledge all the beautiful music Chris Cornell brought me. I actually found his 1999 solo album to be the best. Saw him with a backing band in 2001 and he was inspiring both vocally and on guitar. Some of the last true rock ‘n roll:

Tordotcom Celebrates #SpaceOperaWeek By Censoring Popular Space Opera Author

When I first heard about #SpaceOperaWeek, I was excited. It provided a chance to talk about the sub-genre of Science Fiction that I love more than any other, and cross-platform across the internet through the use of the hashtag to where I’d be able to reach and connect with a lot of people.

Unfortunately, the promise that Tordotcom made in #SpaceOperaWeek turned out to be nothing but thin air.  The launch page really didn’t talk about space opera at all, just having some big logo announcing their initiative. The next post wasn’t about space opera or the joys of its fiction — but presenting a false narrative that women are somehow oppressed and erased in the genre (rebutted by the Hugo-nominated Castalia House who’s been active talking about the great women of space opera for years), a post about ponies in space,a post about the “underrated importance of ordinary, everyday life” in storytelling, and then shilling for a couple of Tor authors. Nothing else. No real space opera discussion at all.

I took matters into my own hands. I started using the hashtag, talking about Space Opera in earnest. I am somewhat of an authority on the genre at this point, having written 3 books in it (one published which you may have heard of, the others I’m revising), and read the genre the entirety of my existence. I’ve spoken on Space Opera on podcasts and at conventions, done interviews on it, written essays on it. If there’s one thing I know what I’m talking about — it’s Space Opera. A lot of cool people from the #PulpRevolution joined in the discussion, as many of those folk write space opera and all of us are heavily read in the genre. If you go look at the hashtag on twitter now — there’s no one who’s reading Tordotcom or any authors from Tordotcom talking about #SpaceOperaWeek, it’s only us. Author Yakov Merkin even released a new Space Opera book in the midst of the event.

Naturally the result was a number of fans and friends commenting to Tor that they’d like to see some essays or an interview with me. I produced one of the most relevant Space Operas of the last year, hailed by authors cross the spectrum from Mary Robinette Kowal to Vox Day, which was a Top-10 Amazon bestseller in the genre, so it would be fun to get some perspective, especially given the Tor writers self-admittedly don’t even like the genre (which is why there’s so little discussion).  I came to find out that after the first five requests — Tor deleted the next 10+ of people requesting I write without so much as reaching out to anyone on the matter.

That’s fine, that’s a lot of comments! I understand that though with the overwhelming readership demanding something you’d think they’d take action. I was so flabbergasted by the article about not liking space opera and about how ordinary, everyday life was what was important to write about — the opposite of everything Space Opera is about — that I took to writing a rebuttal article on the Hugo-nominated Castalia House blog. Not only do we now have a highly relevant space opera writer talking on the subject — but writing an article for a site that has garnered such prestige and honor in the genre that it is a finalist for science fiction’s top award. You’d think that #SpaceOperaWeek would certainly care about that. Nothing more could be on topic.

I posted a link to the article, mentioned it’s a rebuttal and how I’d love to further discuss space opera. Very respectful, as always, and earnestly interested in opening up more dialogue on my favorite genre.

Tordotcom deleted it rather than actually talk about the important literary elements of the genre. They censored the leading Hispanic voice in science fiction. They shun the site, contributors and readership of a Hugo-nominated blog.

So if the point isn’t to talk about Space Opera and celebrate together with leaders in the genre what is #SpaceOperaWeek for? Why do they have people who don’t even like the genre writing about it?

A lot of people reading are rolling their eyes and saying “it’s tordotcom what do you expect?” That’s not acceptable as an answer to me. I’m watching our industry and our form of entertainment that’s been a staple of western culture for the past one hundred years go from millions of readers to thousands of readers. The fun’s been sucked out of Science Fiction, and the whole point of Space Opera is that it brings the fun back to it. The term was originally something derogatory used by “real” science fiction writers and readers to talk about this “fantasy in space” that didn’t push heavy scientific or sociological concepts. The term itself is an attack on people who just like to tell fun stories in space.  Sounds a lot like how Tordotcom treats me and the #PulpRevolution crew, doesn’t it? The irony is thick.

Tordotcom hates Space Opera is the only conclusion. They have no real interest in discussing it, but fortunately there’s some places where they are. Do follow me on Twitter at @jondelarroz and look for articles by me and others for #SpaceOperaWeek that actually address the genre at:

http://www.castaliahouse.com

http://www.superversivesf.com  

We’ll have some real talk, and we won’t delete your contributions to the subject either.

#SpaceOperaWeek: Tor Dot Com Writers vs. #PulpRevolution Writers

Old establishment publishing during Space Opera Week (Tor Dot Com columnist):

Derp derp, trump bad. trump bad. trump bad.

#PulpRevolution new hot writers during Space Opera Week:

We talk about science fiction. Is it any wonder that we’re talking over the genre? That more and more people are turning to us for content and fiction and less to Big Publishing?

 

When It’s #SpaceOperaWeek And Your Contributors Hate Space Opera

It boggles my mind how an innocuous topic can be ruined by critics. It seems like that is a hallmark of our culture these days as well as the “Cult of the New” which I posted about last evening.  All of these problems trickle into everything and make it so people simply can’t have any fun anymore. And in fact, that’s the goal: the critics want us not to have any fun, to be as jaded and devoid of any joy as they are. In their world it’s about dragging everyone and everything down instead of lifting things up.

That’s the danger we face, and honestly, Space Opera is a concept that combats that behavior. The whole concept of space opera is non-realistic fun. Something you can looik up to the stars and have your eyes go wide.  Something so grand and epic and heroic that it could never happen but it hits our collective consciousness all the same. That’s where the science fiction of the 1920s-1960s led to us, and that’s what we’re devoid of in our storytelling now.

Tor dot com declared that it’s Space Opera Week, something that I’ve co-opted, frankly, because I love Space Opera more than them. If you go on twitter, you’ll see that hashtag populated by my friends, not tor fans. You’ll see me tweeting at great Space Opera writers telling people to applaud them, not the writers of their blogs. In fact, this is what you get in celebration of space opera on the Tor site:

The truth is, I’m not really a Space Opera kind of girl. Left to my own devices, I will not-infrequently choose the sort of book that has at least one psychic animal and an ill-advised romantic relationship in it. You don’t see a TON of space in those. Unless you’re reading Anne McCaffrey, and hey, those are some AMAZING cats.

Well, at least Tor doesn’t seem to think Anne McCaffrey is irrelevant. Unfortunately we have a space opera blog that says it isn’t interested in space opera. That’s not the case here.

I wrote Star Realms: Rescue Run because I love space opera more than anything. I love it in my gaming, I love it in my fiction. Space battles between worlds are interesting. The geopolitics of the colonies vs. the extreme corporate Earth of Star Realms is even more interesting… and we haven’t even gotten to the weird alien species in the story outside of small mentions. I like to build up the world from the ground up. From the human outward. But the hallmark of space opera is that it reaches that outward plane to where it bends the mind. And that’s why it’s great in a nutshell.

I’ll be writing more for #SpaceOperaWeek as well several of my friends. You might want to check out castaliahouse.com this morning as Jeffro Johnson is killing it on the topic. Space Opera Week will be written by people who love space opera, even if it’s not on the original site.