Friday, August 21, 2015

As We Go a Little Something Like This

(Somewhere out there may be someone who gets the reference to a B-side track off of the 1980s DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince album He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper. If so, you rock. If not, well it uhh... sounded good right? Oh, and if any Puppy Kickers come here in anticipation of  awards night feel free to use that as evidence of cultural appropriation.)

Tomorrow is award night! In just a few short hours, hosts David Gerrold and Tananarive Due will hand out awards to all of the most deserving people in the world of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Hopefully. If the CHORFS have their way, Noah Ward may sweep the field and destroy a year's worth of SF/F history just because he can. It's too late now to urge anyone on how to vote, so I'll just make an observation.

This isn't about what the other side says it's about. It's really not.  I'd love to see any writer of any color, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation write a deserving story and win. I really would. I love SF/F as a genre. I have for nearly forty years now. (I'm 38 and legend has it I watched my first Star Trek episode before I placed into my crib for the first time. If you knew my dad, you'd believe it.) Let's face it though: SF/F isn't that popular among minority audiences, at least in written form. Minority participation would be a great way to grow the genre and increase readership moving forward but here is what the other side is missing:

Once upon a time there were three leagues in baseball. There were the American and National Leagues that, at the time, were completely composed of white players. There was also the Negro League that was composed of entirely black players. This was unfair. There was no reason for the segregation other that pure racism. That's historical fact. Then along came the Brooklyn Dodgers and signed Jackie Robinson and that man could play. He is in the Baseball Hall of Fame because he freaking belongs there. In a ten year career, he had a .311 batting average, 1518 hits, 137 home runs (before the Steroid Era. For the reading comprehension impaired that means that Robinson was clean and DID NOT DO STEROIDS) and six straight All Star Game appearances. In plain English: He earned his spot in the majors by playing well. He earned his spot in those All Star Games by playing well. He earned his spot in the Hall of Fame by playing well enough to be considered a legend of the game and he didn't get to start his career in MLB until he was twenty-eight years old. Once again HE FREAKING EARNED IT.

The other side, be they called the CHORFS, the Anti-Puppies, the Puppy Kickers, the SJWs or the Truefen misses this basic fact. They would have you believe that an "award-worthy story" is defined not by the ability of the fans to enjoy the work or the amount of people who appreciate it. It should be defined by it's "social relevance." There is no need to entertain an audience. There is no need to write something that will grow the genre and increase readership. It is all about writing pseudo-intellectual babble of the type most often published by scholarly presses.

Here's the thing about scholarly presses: They serve a limited clientele for the limited purpose of "increasing human understanding." Eight hundred books sold is considered to be respectable. That's fine. It's a different animal. SF is a mass market genre. Think about it. Let's list some of the greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy stories of all time, both in print and on screen:
1.)The Foundation Series - Isaac Asimov - The story of a man (later his Foundation) and his plan to create a socialistic utopia. It's entertaining. The plot moves. There are some twists and some turns. You can drop a reference to "Seldonian calculus" into a story in 2015 and people will get it. The characters in these books are amazing. They're all normal human beings trying to do what's right. They succeed. They fail. It matters to the audience. The first book was originally serialized in 1942. You can still find it on shelves too. It's still selling.

2.) Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury - The story of a future America where dissenting ideas are banned and incorrect books are burned. I would assume the SJWs would enjoy this because it fits with their MO and push for censorship. It is also the story of a man named Montag and his redemption. He transforms from a book burning rube to a man who stands for something. Oddly enough, this also sells and appeals to a mass audience.

3.) Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkein - Tolkein is the master of world building. He's a little on the wordy side but his story is epic in scope and tells the story of a young hobbit who wanders far from home and completes a quest that would have broken most people several times his size. It is also the story of a man named Aragorn and his quest to right past wrongs and accept the responsibility he was born to. Three movies later it is all still selling because it still speaks to people.

4.) The Honor Harrington Series - David Weber - The story of a woman who will not quit. She gets abandoned by her superior and wins a battle anyway. She gets captured and escapes. She becomes a Steadholder on a planet where that is the ultimate honor. She is targeted for assassination. She has the guilt of millions of deaths-in-combat hanging over her. She has a child. She continues moving forward. She is featured in only God knows how many books now. Her series is still unfinished and growing.

5.) Star Wars - George Lucas - Yes, I said screen as well. This is the story of a young man who finds himself in a world much bigger than he ever realized it could be. He learns not about Galactic politics. He learns about The Force. He learns about friendship. He learns about himself.

It is also about a smuggler named Han Solo who realizes that there is more to the world than just himself and his selfish concerns. A man whose very name means alone. By the end of the series he is in love with a woman and has dedicated himself to a cause that is bigger than him.

And, yes, let's talk prequels. They're popular with the younger crowd who didn't have the nostalgia that all of us old fogies did. It's the story of a young boy and his slow corruption into a monster. The kid who starts out sweet and innocent grows into a man who enslaves whole planets sand murders without hesitation or remorse.

There is a lot more to Star Wars, including an entire Expanded Universe of books, a cartoon series and upcoming sequels beyond count. So it's obviously still selling.

6.) Star Trek: The Original Series (I'm going to limit this in size so that I'm not here all day) -Gene Rodenberry - A story about three men really and their interaction. Kirk learns to be more responsible and less brash through a series of adventures. Spock learns to acknowledge his human side and admit that he feels things like friendship. McCoy learns to temper his emotion with logic. The three men form one of the strongest friendships in fiction history and one that lasts beyond death.

And yeah, it's still selling too. There are books, movies, posters toys, a reboot, etc. That doesn't even mention the spinoff series that it produced.  There are very few things, inside of SF/F or out, that have produced a Fandom the size of Star Trek's.

I could go on forever, but I'm not going to. Let's step back and see why all of this works. Hmmm... It's character driven. It's well plotted. (Jar Jar aside) We care about what happens to the people in the story. There is real change in their personalities and their lives. They're worth worrying about.

And that, my friends and enemies, is what makes a good story. It's not about the cause du jour. It's not about whether the proper minority is given enough of the spot light. It's not about including members of the proper gender identity or sexual orientation. I'm not say that a good story cannot include a minority or gay main character - Mercedes Lackey's The Last Herald Mage is an awesome series whose main character is gay - but there has to be a good story to go with it or it's going to suck even if it is socially relevant. The reader needs to care about the characters. They need to be interesting.

I have a degree in history. I've read several scholarly works. The fact of the matter is that scholarly writing and fiction writing are two completely different styles. If you want to change the world get published on Harvard Press or something and leave the people who want to read fun stuff alone. Seriously.

I am willing to put my money where my mouth is. This is a review blog. The submission guidelines are listed above. I don't care if you're white, black or otherwise. I don't care who you sleep with or what genitalia you want/have. If you've written a work of Science Fiction and/or fantasy of at least novella length, send it to me and I'll review it. If you're character is a gay black person who has a penis but identifies as female that's OK. I'll read it and I'll review it. Be prepared though; A good story will get a good review. A bad story will get a bad review. No, the fact that your main character is not a straight white male does not, in and of itself, make your story a good one.

Yes, I am a straight, White, Christian male. No, I'm not ashamed of any of those. I don't hate people who aren't like me. That's not what I'm about and it's not what the Sad Puppies are about. You can put your racist beliefs on us if that's what makes you happy. We're adults and we can take it. Just know that that's not what this is about and when you try to make it that way, you're lying.

Several of the works mentioned above are available for purchase at the links below:

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