Sometimes It's Hard to be a Fan of Romance AND Sci-Fi

A_wanderer_dancing_the_dance_of_stars_and_space The romance community certainly has its kerfuffles, and some of it – such as the pointing of fingers at reviewers and calling them bullies – can get frustrating. Yet in the past few weeks, I’ve been grateful for romance. That’s because the science fiction and fantasy field has started to look really screwed up recently.

It all started when the SFWA Bulletin, the official publication of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), came out with a Red Sonja cover — complete with warrior woman in illogical armor and, of all things, high heels. (You can see it in this post. Who in their right mind would wear that armor in a snowy environment?) There were other problems as well, and when writers complained, they were shot down, accused of being fascists, “anonymous” complainers, and so forth. All this resulted in a rebuttal column that created huge firestorm resulting in the president of SFWA posting an apology and too much backlash to go over in a paragraph. The whole picture is complicated, and you can read more here. The long and short of it is that some SF/fantasy writers revealed themselves to be jerks (not really a shock in some cases). The only thing that kept it from being a complete cesspool was that so many writers fought against the misogyny and racists. Yet the jerks still left a smudge all over SF and fantasy.

In the midst of this, N. K. Jemisin made a Guest of Honor speech at Continuum where she brought up the recent controversy, and mentioned a former candidate for the SFWA presidency who is openly misogynist, racist, etc. Although she didn’t mention him by name, he responded with a racist attack in a … let’s call it extremely controversial… post of his own and then arranged to have it appear on one of SFWA’s official Twitter streams. Some people think this former candidate could be kicked out for this (as it misused the Twitter feed). I was … let’s call it astounded… when I read a post on a message board that said both Jemisin and the former candidate should be kicked out of SFWA, Jemisin for her speech and the former candidate for his post. Oh, really?!…

On top of that, hoary old arguments which should be dead by now have came out again — male writers smugly claiming that women can’t write “real” science fiction, and what when they do write SF, it doesn’t count because it’s really just romance with spaceships. What is this, 1929? There have even been complaints that women writers will “pollute” the genre because they aren’t widely read in “real” SF/ My response? “Really?! Get a grip. I’ve been reading ‘real’ SF since junior high.” People talk about the “old boy” network, but this was more like the “little boy” network. As if some men thought they could take their spaceships away from my sandbox and tell me I couldn’t play with them.

Cross-genre books such as SF romance and urban fantasy are popular now, but women who write them often get treated rudely at SF conventions. Ugh. Come on, guys! Didn’t your parents teach you better? Sorry, but you don’t sneer at an SF romance writer, say something obnoxious, and then walk off. That’s being a jerk, and it reflects badly on SF and fantasy. Besides the bad taste left in my mouth, I was left wondering if the whole attitude wasn’t fueled by fear. Fear that women writing SF romance would get better sales than that so-called “real” SF. If so, maybe the naysayers should, you know, write better books that more people want to read.

Compare that to my experiences at an RWA convention in 2006, which I reported about for AAR here. I got nothing but support and friendship from romance authors, including Cathy Clamp and Linnea Sinclair (both published by SF houses by the way), Suzanne Brockmann, Elizabeth Hoyt, and yes, Nora Roberts. I attended workshops (open to both published and unpublished authors), learned a lot, and got to ask questions. I talked about my stories, and nobody told me my books didn’t “qualify” as romance. Nobody felt threatened by me or the many other aspiring authors there. And the keynote speech by Lisa Kleypas was so good I didn’t finish my cheesecake because I was too enthralled.

Through it all, some posters have missed the point entirely, concentrating only on the Red Sonja cover. They’ve said what amounts to “What’s the big deal? That cover didn’t look any worse than romance novels that objectify men.” They also went from there to the “romance novels objectify men by making them sex objects.” Right. I’m sure that’s the real issue. It doesn’t have anything to do with sexism and racism within the SF/fantasy field. Just men scared by bare male chests on book covers. I guess I missed the part where well known romance novelists were calling each other racist and sexist names in tweets and blogs. Sure, RWA has its controversies and struggles, and next week, I might be upset at them. But for the past few weeks, the romance field has looked more like a shining beacon to me.

Just when I was beginning to look at my SFF shelves and wonder if it was safe to get back into those waters, along came another revelation. A writer attending a recent convention reported being harassed by an editor and described the process of filing a claim against him. When the name was revealed, I recognized it right away. It made my eyes go wide. This was one of the first SF editors whose names I had learned. I still own books put out by his early imprint, and I own lots of books by the publisher he now works for. As it turns out, he (allegedly) has been doing this for years. Yet the writer who filled out the report was told this was the first “formal report” ever filed against him, even though complaints had been filed. There is a long history of harassment at SF conventions — groping by famous writers, that sort of thing. But surely things are different now. Well… They’re a lot better, but not for everyone. Even now, many women have kept quiet about harassment because they were afraid reporting it might hurt their careers.

Romance conventions aren’t free of harassment. There have been reports of women by groping male cover models, as well as harassing other men at conventions. That’s wrong, and it sucks and it should stop. Let’s hope it does. But that’s nothing compared to the stories I’ve heard lately about SF conventions.

All the latest discussions make me want to go in several directions at once. First, I want to write an SF novel with a romance subplot and publish it to wide acclaim, and yes, maybe even to better sales than those of the naysayers. At the same time, I want to go my romance shelves and hug the books.

– Anne Marble

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