If They Actually Understood Science Fiction …

So, there was much crowing over the fact that the Nebula awards were dominated by women. The Huffington Post’s crowing includes interviewing two of the winners, who immediately proceed to demonstrate that they, in fact, know astonishingly little about the field while purporting to write and comment on it. The first big gaffe is this, as they try to demonstrate that there is a prejudice against female authors:

Both women agree that prejudiced lines of thinking have been historically damaging to women and writers of color working in the genre, who have both been recognized in their time, but largely forgotten by history. Kate Wilhelm’s suspenseful speculative fiction has won multiple Nebulas and a Hugo; Vonda N. McIntyre, whose longstanding attachment to the “Star Trek” franchise rocketed her to acclaim, won both awards as well. Yet neither is discussed alongside Orson Scott Card or William Gibson.

So, for the first one, my response was “Who?!?”, which I suppose they’d say would prove their case. Well, it would except that I am aware of McIntyre, as well as Mercedes Lackey, Katherine Kurtz, Christie Golden, and a number of other female authors, who may never have won an award … as well as D.C. Fontana and Diane Duane, whom I like much better than McIntyre when it comes to Star Trek works. So it’s certainly not the case that I just ignore female authors, and I still haven’t heard of her. I have of course, heard of Card and Gibson despite maybe having read one of Gibson’s works at some point. This .. kinda gives the reason for them not being mentioned alongside Card and Gibson.

But you know who else isn’t mentioned alongside Card and Gibson? Roger Zelazny. David Eddings. George R.R. Martin. S.M. Stirling. Aaron Alston. Michael Stackpole. Timothy Zahn. Some of these have won awards and some haven’t, but these are people who have written some of the most acclaimed works in science fiction and fantasy. And if we’re talking about acclaim from tie-in works, the last four have done that, too … and potentially much better. The Star Trek EU was always noted for how uneven it was, even compared to the Star Wars EU that was poked fun at but was, at least in the says when McIntyre was starting out, as being far superior. Zahn is noted as being the definitive writer of the Star Wars EU, which McIntyre obviously cannot claim for the Star Trek EU. Alston is very well-regarded, while Stackpole is noted as well, although more unevenly in the fan base. We ought to be able to compare McIntyre to at best Alston and at worst Stackpole in terms of writing quality and popular appeal … and neither of them will be talked about alongside Card or Gibson any time soon. So whence comes the idea that they are being ignored only because they are female authors? There might be others that ought to be mentioned alongside them — Le Guin might be a candidate, although I’d see her as being more comparable to Zelazny than them — but these … are not it. And if whoever thinks they ought to be thinks that, then they know less about science fiction than I do.

But now we move on to what can be directly linked to one of the authors — and not the author of the article — themselves (Novik):

Novik saw Uprooted as an opportunity to offer an alternate narrative, one that was less involved with violent, vengeful heroism. In her book, protagonist Agnieszka prides herself in her heritage, and in belonging to a quiet, idyllic village that she finds worth preserving. Unlike Luke Skywalker, Batman, or, more recently, “Star Wars” star Rey, she’s not fighting to avenge a lost family or hometown; instead, her journey is fueled by broader ideals.

“I feel like Batman has become the only story that’s getting told, in a way. Everybody’s got to lose somebody they love to be motivated and to fight and risk himself or herself. That’s clearly not true,” Novik said. “I wanted a heroine who was willing to risk her life, not for revenge, not to gain power or even necessarily to tear someone down, but in order to protect her community. Revenge is a very cold, sad motive.”

What … but … I don’t even … WHAT?!?

Novik couldn’t, in fact, be more wrong about the motivations of those characters. Luke Skywalker is not, in fact, motivated by revenge for his family or the loss of his farm. He doesn’t hunt down Vader, at least mostly, just to take revenge for killing his father. The revenge aspect is secondary and a source of weakness for him, one that gets blunted in “The Empire Strikes Back” when Vader points out that he is, in fact, really Luke’s father. In “Star Wars”, Luke is motivated to leave Tatooine to seek adventure and to become a hero, but when offered the chance to oppose the Empire he suddenly seems himself as small, and unable to be a real hero. When his uncle and aunt are killed, Luke essentially decides to leave because his safe and happy small world is gone, and he has no reason to stay anymore. On the Death Star, he doesn’t go off and get involved because he sees that Vader is there and wants to kill him, but instead because he finds out that Leia is there and wants to pull off the great, heroic rescue. He has a moment of blind rage after Vader kill Obi-wan, but then returns and joins the Rebellion, and chides Han for abandoning the group that is, in fact, working for broader ideals, as if that is a motivation to side with them. In “The Empire Strikes Back”, Luke’s reason for leaving his training early is not to go out and get revenge, but to save his friends, who are suffering, and arguably all of the torture is done so that Luke will feel it and be drawn to help his friends. In “Return of the Jedi”, Luke only wins because he lets go of his anger and redeems Vader, through an appeal to, essentially, the power of love. Where is the revenge fantasy here? Any thoughts of revenge always lead to bad results for all involved.

As for Rey … seriously?!? Did you watch the movie? Her family is the biggest stumbling block to her accepting the call. Given the nature of the Force, it is unlikely that Rey was using Han’s death as a motivation when she kicked Ren’s butt, because that is of the Dark Side. There’s no revenge motive here at all for Rey.

But the worst is Batman. Batman did not become Batman, and does not continue his work, because he wants revenge for the death of his parents. No matter the version, Batman has either already settled that or had the opportunity to settle it and passed on it repeatedly. No, he does it because he wants to make a better world, a world where people don’t have to go through what he went through, and if the authorities can’t do it — and, in Gotham, they can’t — someone has to. This was expressed best in the Justice League cartoon in the episode “A Better World”, where the alternate universe Batman convinces his counterpart to abandon the fight and accept his side by pointing out that he’s made a world where no child has to lose their parents because of some punk with a gun. Despite disapproving of their methods, Batman is convinced that they really have achieved the “better world” that he has been striving for for so long, and so accepts the argument. And how does he turn this on the alternate universe Batman? By looking at how oppressive the system is and pointing out that it wouldn’t be the world his parents would have wanted to live in, even if it was safe and even if they wouldn’t have died in it. So Batman is not about revenge. He doesn’t go after criminals to pay them back for killing his parents. Instead, he goes after them to prevent others from suffering as he had. That’s why Dick Grayson resonates with him, and why in general he himself sees that the revenge fantasies of the Robins are, generally, really bad ideas.

So, even her own examples don’t work. And if she’s look for stories that aren’t merely revenge fantasies, there are lots to choose from, especially if we include — as I think we must — ones that start with a revenge motive and portray that as being an inferior motive to deeper and broader ideals, like, say the first Amber series (the second one really is just about someone who wants his corner of the universe and himself to be happy). The only example I can think of of “revenge motive played straight” is the “The Punisher”, and he’s portrayed as being absolutely insane. There are probably others, but she talks as if this is the majority, and that she’s doing something different. It ain’t and she ain’t.

So I’m having the same problem here that I have with a lot of the Feminist Frequency analysis of video games: comments that they want to do things differently than is being done and ending up doing exactly what is being done because they have no idea what’s being done in the field that they are criticizing. This would be charming in a puppyoid, but ill befits those who claim to be quality writers in and critics of that field. When they’re so very, very wrong about the field, I just can’t take them or their criticisms seriously.

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One Response to “If They Actually Understood Science Fiction …”

  1. Hugo Award Assessment: Uprooted | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] while ago, I wrote a post about the female author sweep of the Nebulas, and explicitly called out one of those interviewed for not understanding science fiction and […]

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