Venn and Now

Today’s storm in a teacup in fantasyland was the brief and unlooked-for revival of a Venn diagram, on Twitter. Take a look, and see if you can spot what’s wrong with it.

Now for context, let’s point out that the diagram was originally posted in a blog in August 2015, and the author specifically asked, in the post, for more women authors to be suggested in the comments. Which means that he knew the diagram was badly flawed. But not so flawed that he couldn’t resist resurrecting it now without any corrections, tweeting it without that context. Unsurprisingly, with that context not in view, folks started to get upset, and the author removed the tweet in a huff (well, in a huff with me, at least…).

Now, let’s finish sighing and shaking our heads, and agree that this is a bad diagram. It was bad in 2015, when the author didn’t add the suggested women to it, and it’s still bad now. Pratchett and Erikson are hardly alike, and nor are Bakker and Hobb. And while you could still perhaps argue that GRRM was a central pivot of the fantasy genre in 2015, I think the genre has changed massively since then.

In fact, this is a highly exclusionary diagram. These 25 are on the inside; everybody else is outside. Don’t bother reading outside this diagram, there’s nothing out there. Everything else is irrelevant. Well, that’s pretty bullshit. I like these authors but as Jake said at the end of the Gunslinger, There are other worlds than this.

Here’s the important bit:

Fantasy isn’t a Venn diagram. It’s a landscape. It’s a map. There are hidden treasures. Close your eyes, take a stab, that’s your starting point. Pick a direction, any direction. Go. Stay on the road, go off-road, up into the mountains, down into the grimdark swamps, have a good old ramble. See what’s around the next corner, and the corner after that. Make your own map. By all means ask for advice along the way, ask for directions, but don’t force yourself to travel only in one direction. Don’t go walling yourself in. Don’t get caught in dead ends. Tear down the borders. See that empty space beyond the Venn diagram? It’s all yours.

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Every Forum Ever

Hi all, I just finished my latest read, and I wonder if you could recommend¹ –

MARK LAWRENCE

– a book –

BRANDON SANDERSON

– to move onto –

MALAZAN MALAZAN MALAZAN

– with some humour –

R SCOTT BAKKER

– and well written characters –

BRENT WEEKS

ROTHFUSS

GWYNNE

– standalones welcome –

WHEEL OF TIME

MALAZAN MALAZAN MALAZAN

– doesn’t have to be grimdark –

LORD GRIMDARK

BUY MY BOOK³

– and I’m looking to read more female authors.

HAVE YOU TRIED READING MARK LAWRENCE?²

giphy

¹This post is in no way made to insult or otherwise disparage the authors listed. I own and enjoy books by many of them. I’m merely using their names to illustrate a point.

²And there’s the point. Seriously. That conversation really happened.

³Guilty.

Meanwhile, over on another book blog, someone has listed the ten fantasy books they’re hotly anticipating next year. No VE Schwab, no Jen Williams, no Robin Hobb, no Anna Smith Spark, no women at all. Guys, it’s not difficult. You’re not invalidating the existence of us male authors by reading a little more widely.

GTFO

Okay, here it is. This is my genre, the genre I work in, the genre I read in. It’s open-minded. It’s imaginative. It’s speculative. It flies on great, draconic wings over mountains and plains, it slides between worlds with engines made from captive wormholes. It holds the line against vast legions of orcs, it bespeaks artificial intelligences that sit at the heart of Dyson spheres. Timelords, Eternal Champions, unicorns, Frankenstein’s Monster, Laputa, the Grey Mouser, Lyra, the fellowship, White Walkers, the Ringworld…

We can imagine all of that, and more. More than you can possibly ever list. We deconstruct the past, we create the futures. The possibilities are endless.

Unless.

Unless you want to include women, gay characters, trans characters, disabled characters, characters with mental health issues who aren’t automatically serial killers, real social issues, characters from other races than the generically white/Western automatic character creation mould – and do so well and positively

Because fuck, no, we don’t want real life infecting our genre. Shit, that would ruin everything, wouldn’t it? What if, as well as imagining dragons and aliens and starships and robots and orcs and castles and all that, and crafting them to within an inch of perfection, you had to do women, and non-white people too? And you had to give them rounded personalities and motivations, and had to treat them as… human? My god, that would be far too much like real life, wouldn’t it? And don’t we work in this genre precisely so that we can do unto imagined others what we cannot do in real life?

Well, no, we don’t. Not unless we’re total fucking tools. (John C Wright, I’m looking at you here. Do unto yourself what you willed upon the creators of Korra, please.)²

But apparently we can’t talk about diversity in fantasy and science fiction without bringing the genre into disrepute, without tarnishing it and ruining it for the “genuine” fans who don’t want politics in their fiction. Diversity should be invisible, ignored, unspoken. There are far more important issues to address in fantasy and science fiction – like orcs, elves, sweaty grunting males swinging axes at each other, deep and meaningful Christian allegories, the inevitable defeat of evil social justice at the hands of valiant capitalist starship captains³. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t try to be represented. Don’t take valuable air from those it rightfully belongs to.

And now, with America Tango’d by a squinty-faced peanut and a VP who wants to “re-educate” gay children in “camps” (presumably guarded, and walled with barbed wire), with intolerance and violence rife on both sides of the pond, fiction is only one of the frontlines for visibility and oxygen in the face of celebrity fascists and anti-intellectuals.

What can we do? Simple: Keep those voices alive. Keep those books in the public eye. Make diversity count. Make people uncomfortable in their privilege.

Who am I to say this? A white, middle-aged, bearded bloke with a mortgage and a cat? Yeah. And I’m not the most diverse writer in the world. But doesn’t that mean that I’m one of the people who really ought to be saying this?

I’ll go further. If you think politics and social issues should be kept out of fantasy and science fiction, and that by extension they should be made invisible in real life too, it’s you who is living in fantasyland. If you voted Trump, or for the appalling cackwitted shift to the far right over here in Britain, then you’re legitimising hatred and fear and encouraging the silencing of diverse voices. If you feel threatened by the presence in this genre of people who are not like you, then you don’t belong.

Get the fuck out of my genre.

 

¹I’m very aware of the irony here, by the way. Scroll back through the last few posts to see criticism of Heir to the North for its lack of female characters aside from Cassia. The TL;DR is that I’m aware of my own shortcomings and working to overcome them.

²He’s not the only one, obviously. But I’d rather write a good book than list a whole bunch of fucksticks who don’t deserve any more publicity than they already have.

³Yes, sarcasm.

July Update 2: High Points

I like using the two-act structure. There’s either a peak or a trough at the end of the first act, depending on how you want it to work. I’ve used this structure for Malessar’s Curse – the plot rises to a crisis point – not a cliffhanger as such, but a definite break.

I’m trying to view 2016 in the same way. The first half has been a definite downward curve, sinking to a nadir over the second half of June. Not unexpected, but unwanted nonetheless. I write about gods, but I don’t believe in them, so I’m not going to blame some mystical non-existent deity for the non-stop cull of celebrities and cultural role models. No, you can blame cancer for that. And that means that the Brexit vote is even more stupid than you previously thought, given the potential and probable effects on pan-European cancer research.

But enough of the negative vibes for now – after all, I’m supposed to be looking forward, as the Brexiters have desperately requested, rather than back. So let’s ignore the impending economic and socio-political apocalypse and think about the good shit.

Because believe it or not there is still good shit to celebrate. Some of that good shit even turned up in the first six months of the year, diluting the effects of the downcurve so that it was more or less tolerable (rather than downright intolerable). And because it’s me, most of this good shit has to do with writing. (You see, this is what I was missing through the interminable years with the dog’n’dansette – something to balance out the grind & cliquey bullying.)

So let’s go RAH! for the high points:

Nominated onto the longlist for the main Legend Award at the David Gemmell Awards. (Didn’t get onto the shortlist, but I wasn’t expecting to)
Nominated onto the shortlist for Best Newcomer at the British Fantasy Awards. Now that caused dancing in the streets round our way, I tell thee.
Four (four!) short stories published in the excellent Fox Pockets series. And I’m inordinately proud of all four of them.
Audiobook version of Heir to the North recorded and almost ready to go! (In fact, as I type this it has just been signed off and authorised for sale on Audible. Get ready…!)
Hardback editions in the works!
High King’s Vengeance all set for launch!
And of course July marks the start of my personal convention season – EdgeLit, SledgeLit, Fantasycon and Bristolcon (and this year, Derby Writers’ Day too). Days spent talking SFF with great people and fantastic friends.

This is the list I go to when my brain tries to tell me I’m not good enough (shades of the mother-in-law Jan’s backstabbing imprecation that I’m “not much of a go-getter”). Brain is right, but only in that so much of the above I would never have been able to achieve on my own. The list reminds me that I’m part of a team, and that they’ve got my back. And that increasingly, I’ve got theirs. That’s a damned good place to be in.

WIN_20160412_18_39_28_ProIt’s not all writing-shaped either. Some of it is cat-shaped. Far from being the corner-hugging scaredy-cat that ran for the attic on arrival, Mycroft has become very attached to us both. He’s a source of giggles and fun every day.

And while I still don’t have a writer’s vinyl!“office space”, we have at last managed to drag the vinyl (and some of the DVDs) out of the attic for proper display and use. I haven’t played some of these since the late 90s. Even better, the Dreamcast still works too! Shenmue! Shenmue II! Jet Set Radio! Who needs Next-Gen consoles, eh?

2016 may be one of the shittier years, but there’s enough going on – if you look at the basics – to cushion the worst of the blows. Some days it’s easier to get out of bed than others. And some days, if that’s the best you can do, if that’s all you can do, you look at how far you’ve come and you say: you know what? I’ve already won. The rest is a bonus.

July Update 1: Low Points

It’s been quiet on here. I say that a lot these days. Sometimes I don’t really have much to say; sometimes it’s better not to say anything at all. And sometimes I just want to pull the covers over my head and disappear for a few weeks. You know the feeling.

So while my country is torn apart by self-serving, mendacious public-school leeches who pretend to have some sort of mandate (they don’t, not from me), and some bastard gurning toad raises pint after pint of tepid lager to his yellowed teeth and claims to have “won a war without firing a shot” after stirring up enough hate to cause the murder of a serving MP, and money is carved in thick slices from the education and health services, and from arts and police budgets, in the sainted name of austerity, and the Daily Mail and the Sun blame it all on immigrants, it’s hard not to feel angry, powerless, disappointed and scared all at the same time. And that’s just this small, pointless, grey island. Let’s not talk about ‘Murica, about the ingrained stupidity and self-inflicted terrorism of the GOP and the appalling bigotry on that side of the pond, or the self-righteous, anti-cultural destruction in the name of “god” done by twats who have completely misunderstood the meaning of Islam. When the real world is this shitty, you wonder why I’d rather read and write about other worlds?

It was already difficult to stay positive in the first half of this year, and that was without the discovery, late last year, that my father had an incurable brain tumour. If you saw me at the last SFSF Social in February, you may have noticed that I was quite manic. I wasn’t enjoying myself; I needed anti-depressants. I still do. The entire family has struggled through 2016 to this point, hanging on in quiet desperation as the song goes. It’s been impossible to plan, to commit, to do anything much other than wait. It’s not easy to deal with this level of emotional intensity, to find a safe outlet for it all.

Fuck cancer.
Fuck cancer.

It won’t be easy going forward either. Not personally, nor on the wider front. One thing’s for certain: I have no patience with anybody who believes that the NHS, the education system, our libraries, our futures are safe in the hands of the Conservative Party. The Nasty Party. Nor with the voices that tell us to stop complaining, stop wasting our time, put up with things, celebrate our xenophobia and shortsightedness, blame all the problems on that nebulous “other”. I’m glad that the NHS was there, that it allowed us as much time with Dad as we did have. I saw the cracks, the strains, the pressure on the system – you can’t tell me that five years down the line, the Tories will have put more money into the NHS. They’ll have dismantled it, closed buildings and wards, given more money to private business, priced patients out of their beds.

What can I do? No idea, not yet. But I won’t be shutting up and putting up with things. Fuck that for a game of darts.

Why so serious?

I suppose I should stand up and officially scotch the (self-started) rumour that I’m going to be writing in the Star Wars universe. That was my April Fool, obviously, and probably not a good one either (Mary Robinette Kowal pretty much owned April Fool’s Day for pranking purposes; mine was a 4.30am first-coffee-of-the-day effort). Needless to say, Disney wouldn’t come to me first for a new entry to the canon, and certainly not for a continuation of the Jar Jar Binks story. Anyway, they’ve already got Chuck Wendig, and that’s enough beard for anybody.

It’s interesting to note that there seemed to be a lot less pranking than usual this time around. Paul Cornell posted on Twitter that there was more anger than anything else, though personally I didn’t see any of that through the morning. He wondered if we had been battered too much by the “absurdity” of everyday life.

It’s possible – there hasn’t been much good news this year, both in general and in personal terms. Looking ahead – US elections, idiot fundamentalists, idiot Conservatives, the demolition of the NHS and the return to Victorian-style poverty – there’s not much good on the horizon either. There aren’t too many reasons to laugh out loud. And that’s just the general stuff.

Should I feel bad over posting what was basically just an “unfunny lie”? Has April Fool’s Day become the Heath Ledger of jokes, uncomfortable, unwanted, polarising and vicious (reminds me of the troll-in-law, but less sociopathic)?

As with most things, it depends on what you’re doing and why. For example my own pranking is pointed at myself as much as anything else: I don’t take myself seriously, and I rarely expect anybody else to. I’m happy to set myself up as the butt of a joke (even a bad one) because I’ll most likely be the first one (sometimes the only one) to laugh. The world’s going to hell, led by the Pied Piper of Fart, so rather than drive myself mad worrying about it I’ll turn away for a moment and have a giggle. At myself, not at anyone else. It’s not big, it’s not clever, but it’s not directed at anybody else and it’s not hurtful either, unlike some of the other jokes.

We’re frustrated, we’re angry, we lash out – and the “jokes” hurt people.

Perhaps the world gets the jokes it deserves. If that’s the case, then if we want better jokes, then we really ought to do something about the world.

/rant.

Trolls Love Company

I haven’t mentioned The Write Agenda in a while. Mostly because “don’t feed the trolls,” though also partly because when somebody ineffably stupid sticks their head down a toilet and flushes, it’s quite satisfying just to watch.

But the smurfs are still intent on digging their way to the very bottom – and now they have help. I say “help,” I mean Tom Dark, a vile, loathsome and very troubled man who seems to think he’s actually a “secret” literary agent.

Uh, whut? A secret literary agent? Well, apparently Tom Dark (resident at Heacock Hill Literary Agency, though not a member of AAR) has clients, but nobody’s allowed to know who they are or what deals he’s managed to strike. Hmm. Sounds dodgy, don’t you think? Surely any decent literary agent worth their salt would be shouting their successes from the rooftops – after all, doesn’t success breed success? Look at Juliet Mushens, John Jarrold, Zeno, Conville & Walsh, Donald Maass – and now look at Tom Dark again. No named clients. No signings. No deals. Looks like the last successful negotiation he did was for the home delivery of his groceries.

Oh, look. Smurfs.

I should pity him for the fact that he has fallen for The Write Agenda’s slimy lies hook line & sinker, but the stupid bastard has gone beyond redemption by his part in the indefensible “celebrations” of the sad & untimely death of respected author & stalwart defender of authors’ rights Ann Crispin (see pic to right). No surprise that The Wrong Agenda is shucking off its lightly-held “Christian” morality to caper like a grotesque loon, since Ann was a leading light of Writer Beware, but Tom Dark has somehow conflated WB and AbsoluteWrite’s equally excellent Bewares subforum (not difficult if you’re a man of his below-par intellect) – AW has a decent thread on there about how Tom’s “agency” is not the best place to submit manuscripts if you expect a professional literary agent to actually sell your work in the marketplace.

So what Tom does these days, apart from make up client lists, spout tripe, and do unspeakable things to horses, is vent about how Ann, Victoria Strauss, and AbsoluteWrite & Writer Beware, are all slandering & libelling and tellin’ lyin’ lies like lyin’ liars about him.

Diddums. Y’see Tom, there’s no proof of that. But there is plenty of proof that you are a foul-mouthed, completely unprofessional fake. I don’t have the patience to list that proof here, but interested readers can follow the links to Jim Worrad’s equally erudite site. Just don’t visit Tom’s own blog – he admits that he measures his success through blog hits (which is weird – surely a professional literary agent would measure his own success through selling projects to publishers, eh?). Instead, view the Google cache of the two-year-old blog post he keeps spamming people with. It’s rather telling: a bilious pile-up of paranoid hatred and undirected, inaccurate lies. It makes Fear & Loathing look like a strait-laced Victorian patriarch by comparison. If this is the sort of person you think you’d want to have representing your work as a writer, go ahead – just make sure you’ve had your full frontal lobotomy first. Nothing like fresh evidence, eh? I suppose when you haven’t actually got any evidence of wrongdoing, it’s always best to make it up….

Just as worrying as Tom’s own behaviour is the fact that his co-agent, Catt LeBaigue, who unlike Tom is listed as a member of the AAR, has been silent through all of this. Given Tom’s abusive nature, that might be a problem. It is possible that Ms LeBaigue is merely being effortlessly professional in her silence – however, in my opinion it would be far more professional for her to take a mallet to Tom’s computer and kick the useless cock out on his ear before he ruins her reputation completely.

So: how to summarise? If you are ever approached by Tom Dark online, point and laugh loudly.

Ann “A.C.” Crispin: with thanks.