A discussion on Facebook gave me this idea, but while I was letting it percolate, Stefanie S. on The Right Geek beat me to it, at least to some of it. Go read it, I’ll wait.
Now the discussion on Facebook was a bit, er, catty. The topic being how a well known and successful writer-of-diversity who had married a much less successful, but much more intensely devoted to social justice, writer-of-diversity, and how many of his recent posts had an undercurrent that in person would be conveyed by silently mouthing the words “Help me!” Having been dragged deeply into diversity politics by his spouse, there was basically no way out for him. One wrong move and the long knives would come out. Not that there was much left for them to destroy in his life. Since the marriage his writing career has pretty much tanked. People who know him have seen him change from a strongly self-actualized person to adopting the whole victim mentality and all the baggage that goes with that. In short, he got woke, and went broke. He left all of his pre-marriage friends behind, and now his entire social circle is hers, and they’re a school of piranha. He is trapped with no place to go, and it’s starting to leak out around the edges.
Another writer spoke up about how her previous publishers also tried to rope her into writing only about her particular diversity category. She refused because she knew it would be niche-enough that it would never succeed, but as a result of sticking to her guns, they sandbagged her career just to assert their power.
In an earlier decade, that might have been the end of it, but now there’s Indy. You can write whatever you want and there’s no-one to stop you.
That’s not to say that there aren’t people who WANT to stop you. There are any number of wannabe gatekeepers who have their own vision of what should be written, and who should be writing it, and for what ends.
Perhaps the most ludicrous example recently was a story that got pulled from Clarke’s World. A bit of background, as if you didn’t know: the whole business of declaring that one identifies as something one is not (Be it various animals, “Otherkin”, the opposite sex, or even more absurd choices that can be found on Tumblr) is frequently mocked with the joke “Oh yeah? Well I sexually identify as an attack helicopter.” (See Know Your Meme for a more complete origin and etymology.)
So one enterprising author turned that joke on its head and wrote a serious story about a woman who ended up identifying as an attack helicopter, by the simple expedient of being mentally linked to one to fight with it. It’s a decent and well-respected SF trope (see The Ship Who Sang series).
Now, this didn’t sit exactly square with one Trans WokeScold. On the surface, it read as a very trans-friendly story. But being a WokeScold, and thus lacking in a sense of humor, the reference to the joke in the title was Very Offensive. Not knowing how to react, if one of the possible reactions is to break out the Torches and Pitchforks, then Torches and Pitchforks it is. So, said WokeScold got a Twitter Mob all lined up, and the threats and harassment went instantly to 11, and they totally outed the author as a Transwoman and got her to ask Clarke’sWorld to take down her story to make the harassment stop.
And then the little detail that slipped out up there dawned on the mob. The author had been a previously closeted Transwoman, and their outrage had been directed at their favored protected class. Oops! The WokeScold behind the whole Fiasco switched her Twitter to Protected mode, where it will remain until enough other shitshows go by that nobody notices any more (But there will always be someone out there waiting with a dagger to twist, because that’s how power works in the SJW world.)
Now Clarke’sWorld didn’t exactly cover themselves with Honor either. Of course, since it was the author who had been harassed into taking down the story (or at least that’s how it’s been told), respecting the Author’s wishes is okay, especially with death threats in the air. But in the story’s place there was this explanation and Apologia. And it starts off well, explaining why the decisions were made, and showing just how rotten the Twitter Mob was. The error though is in giving credence to the Mob’s psychology. Neil Clarke did everything that Trans Activist types have demanded in the past, including multiple revisions and Sensitivity Readers, but apparently this was not enough, and he apologized to the offense mob. Offering that while He would never have forced the author to out herself, if she had, maybe people wouldn’t have freaked over this.
By calling it a “Discussion” He sugarcoats just what went on, and provides cover for the mob. I realize he sees that he needs to make peace with the mob just to stop the assault, but that is still giving them the power and influence that Mobs form to seize. It will just welcome the next mob to come to try to make him dance to their tune. Instead there should have been more emphasis on how unacceptable the mob’s actions were, and to stand even more firmly on his author’s side. By accepting some blame, one does not gain forgiveness from SJW’s – to them it’s an admission of guilt, and a scarlet letter one has to wear from then on. Twitter Mobs never forgive. Forcing you to take the blame for their ginned-up outrage is how they count coup.
Now, was it a good story or not? We’ll never know. We can’t judge for ourselves because the Twitter Mob took that right away from us. To be honest, I saw a few small excerpts in a trans-ish-person’s blog while I was researching this, and what I saw was more of the kind of self-indulgent navel-gazing that passes for modern literary SF these days. Really, it could have earned a Hugo. Maybe if the author had outed herself at first it would have been celebrated instead of burned to the ground.
And that right there is the most telling thing about how out of control the whole Twitter Outrage Mob thing has gotten. We joke about how the Liberals Eat their Own (“It’s not cannibalism, it’s copraphagy.”) but it really is true. The Purity Spiral spins out of control. The merry-go-round is spinning so fast now that the riders are being thrown off at escape velocity. If there’s any salvation to be had it’s that it seems at least some people have wised up a little and refuse to be led by the septum piercing by every little warrior who issues a call to arms, even at the risk of becoming a target themselves. The WokeScold at the heart of this Twitter Tempest being hoist by her own petard is a cautionary tale to every other would-be Twitter Tyrant.
And that’s a good thing, because these mobs really only have the power you let them have over you. If they don’t get that satisfaction, there’s less incentive to mob up.
And the worst power to let them have over you is letting them tell you what you can and can’t read, or write. That a story was nekulturny if it wasn’t written by a Trans author, but suddenly becomes defensible when it turns out it was, even without a word being changed, is exactly backwards. But these Mobs insist that authors “Stay in their lanes.” They want it so that Trans writers have to write Trans stories, and Black authors have to write about their blackness and oppression, and women must write Feminist stories, and white men must not write at all.
No, I’m sorry (No, I’m not), the identity of the author does not dictate the quality of their fiction. Well, at least it doesn’t if they break free of the strictures the mob wants to put on them. This is Science Fiction, dammit, and since there are no alien authors, who is going to write the alien viewpoints? Screw this navel-gazing crap. Science Fiction looks up and out and into the future, not down at its toes. If you only want stories you can relate to, where the main character is exactly like you, well, they have these print on demand children’s books they can customize for you. People read Science Fiction, REAL Science Fiction, to escape the world of the here and now and explore the possibilities they could never experience themselves.
No, Science Fiction does not stay in its lane. Hell it doesn’t even stay on the road. It goes off the beaten path into into places we’ve never imagined before. And we’re never going to get there if we keep listening to the outrage mobs.