The original article can be found at Fireside Fiction Company.
I do wonder if this has less to do with systemic racism and more to do with money and the generalized fear of change people experience.
Editors of short story magazines are human, presumably, and as such these editors (in general) have an ingrained sense of right and wrong in regards to the stories that should appear in their magazines. It is this very ethos, that governs story choices, that editors are chosen and employed; for the pieces they pick, presumably, keep the eyeballs coming back to their magazine.
Now, while this may appear to be a culturing of anti-POC dispositions amongst the SFF editors of the world; in reality the likely driver behind this maintaining of the status quo is…money.
Every company in the world has a desire to make money, if for different reasons. For-profits companies, your Apples and Walmarts, want to make money simply so they can make more money. Non-profit organizations (legitimate ones) want to make money as well, if only so they can continue offering the services they provide; for if they made no money they couldn’t operate. SFF magazines are no different; they have to make money. At the very least, so they can keep their website running; and in a better world so they can pay authors and a full-time staff of employees.
So as money the ultimate guiding hand, coupled with peoples fear of change, choosing the same type of story, month after month, for publication becomes the norm. Yes, many magazines will publish stories that are radically different from what they normally publish, but that is done only once or twice a year, normally in a planned featurette. And those magazines are not in the majority, making once or twice a year to read a change in storytelling (from a minority of publications) woefully inadequate. So, it is wonderful, studies like these get done. They put the onus on the editors to go outside their comfort zone of stories and not just for a planned featurette, removing the argument that readers just don’t to read something different.
And why should the task of giving readers a wide variety in stories not fall onto the shoulders of editors? Why should these short story publishers not hire a group of editors with wildly different views on what makes a great story?
Truth be told every SFF magazine should have their editors make a quarter of published stories be from writers with strong technical writing in a style of prose that doesn’t mesh finely with every other story picked. Now this is not an affirmative action type call to SFF publishing; rather it would present to readers a highly varying degree of writing styles that, while the editor may not like the style of, the audience will (at least with some of the stories). Then since the editor stuck to only strong writing, it’s a win-win; high standards are upheld, stories available to read begin to spread away from a nexus of indistinguishability, the possibility of more incoming money presents itself, and changing to new styles of prose feels less daunting.
Back in high school I knew of a kid in the graduating class ahead of me who would get to school early so he could be seen standing in front of his Mazda RX-7. A car his parents very obviously bought for him. Come time to go home, he would stand next to his car and…regale kids with stories of his parent’s wealth? I’m not entirely sure what he talked about. In my graduating class there was a kid who went a different route. A lull in a conversation? Good time for him to bring up the latest gadget he supposedly got to play with. He’d quote the price, rattle off the name of some wealthy person no one else knew who had that gadget, then tell how amazing it was. While both acted in different ways, each yearned for the same end result: to be viewed as “cool”.
A recent book I read reminds me of those two kids.
Now, I understand the urge to make a story as cool as can be. People like cool stuff. Fonzi is still brought up in conversation. People buy posters of James Dean to this day. Buddy Holly has a song named after him. Each would have ended up as obscure pop culture references if people didn’t like “cool”.
So yes, adding a little “coolness” to a story is just fine, however there is a point when that “coolness” takes on a life of its own; eclipsing the story it is part of.
This recent story, in the effort to make a totally cool, bad ass story, forgot three key elements which allowed the desired end-point to eclipse the actual story.
- Characters that have some sort of growth. ANY GROWTH.
- A plot that actually does something.
- Suspension of disbelief.
I probably shouldn’t have to explain this, but readers expect characters to not be static. Now, the word “static” is tricky; for how can a character that does stuff be static? When we say something is static, we generally mean it’s the same, has not changed, or has done anything. A character who is talking and running around is doing something, so they can’t be that word.
If characters simply do stuff and go places, doing the same stuff in these new places as they did in the old places, they are static characters in a static plot. Nothing more. But wait, you say, action isn’t the only part of a book! There’s those middle squishy areas in between the doing of stuff. True, there are those areas, but if the characters only talk/have internal monologue about the previous and future doings of stuff, then they go do more stuff; they are static/cardboard/not fleshed out.
Let’s put it another way.
If a reader can read 5 pages, skip a good 30 pages, read a few more pages and not miss anything (no matter how many times a reader does that), you have a plot and characters more static and cardboard than cardboard sent through the dryer without a dyer sheet.
Which brings us to the point about the plot actually doing something. A story that is just a bunch of psychopaths running around murdering people and bitching about the other psychopaths, is not a plot. It’s just a long action scene. And yes, if a character runs around killing people because they get in their way, that person is a psychopath.
Murdering—okay, fine, killing people to achieve a story goal is shoddy writing. It shows lack of imagination or lack of skill or both. Sure, just about every book has violence and killing in it. However, most books (at least the ones that are well written) use the trope only in action sequences to ramp up the tension, not to resolve issues/achieve goals.
Violence that solves issues and progresses the plot works in videogames. Those things can get away with plots and characters that are weak and a gratuitous amount of violence if the gameplay is super fun, because in the end that is why people play videogames, TO PLAY. Books are different. It’s the same reason why movies and TV shows don’t follow books exactly. What works in one medium rarely translates well to a different medium. What is “cool” in videogames is not the same type of “cool” in books.
Books are literary in nature. They should be written to engage the mind and imagination, not pretend to be videogames, eschewing the mind engagement in favor of balls-to-the-wall action. Read the Paradox Trilogy by Rachel Bach if you think books can’t engage the mind and imagination and be as frantic as a Call of Duty session on speed.
Stories shouldn’t be able to be read and forgotten as easily as the names of the “cool” kids we all knew back in our teenage years.
I might be in the minority here (am I?), but I’ve been looking for articles on military sci-fi for years. Thomas Evans presents one of the better articles I’ve found on the sub-genre. Very interesting and true.
The points that Thomas hits on, are the exact reasons why I rarely finish a military sci-fi book, yet the ones I do finish are the books I love the best.
I wish there were more books that didn’t have good guys be a lawful good Paladin and bad guys be chaotic-evil barbarians. Through them both in the gray zone, that makes for fun reading.
This week, I am starting an open ended series of blogs is intended to consider why Military Science Fiction has such a bad reputation, and what (if anything) can be done about it.
Now, I should start by saying that I like MilFic. I read MilFic, I write MilFic. Some MilFic is truly tremendous stuff. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers(1959) Haldeman’s The Forever War(1974) create bookends for some of the best MilFic out there: one gung-ho, the other anti-war. Orson Scott Card‘s Ender’s Game (1977) is one of my favorite books regardless of genre (or subgenre). Yet, Military Science Fiction is really considered a literary ghetto by many people, even many Science Fiction fans. Considering that Sci-Fi in general is often considered a literary ghetto, that puts MilFic Smack-Dab in the middle of one of Literature’s worst neighborhoods. This is unfortunate for many reasons, not least of which is that many of…
View original post 2,191 more words
All public libraries are created equal. No matter the size of the collection, the rarity of the books, or the location; public libraries are a place of knowledge and learning any can go to and utilize.
Public libraries are genuinely helpful places. With paperback books averaging $8 a pop, reading different books is expensive if you were to buy each one. That’s where public libraries come in. Not only are you able to check-out just about any book you can think of (inter-library loans allow that access), you also get access to the benefits of reading for FREE!
Although, all public libraries being equal, some are a lot prettier than others.
An avian shaped starship, a body resembling that of an albatross with the head of a dodo, dominated the satellite and debris heavy space between Earth and the Moon with a presence like that of a second moon. The appearance, so sudden only an unmanned telescope on a back porch in upstate New York witnessed the flash of arrival, was followed by destruction. Blue light spit from the beak of the spaceship, each one hitting a different satellite orbiting Earth. Alien ordnance curved round the earth, seeking out satellites not in the direct line of sight, the blobs weaving through debris, bypassing communication satellites. As the blue of the last weapon winked from existence, taking a British MI6 owned gigajoule laser satellite with it, amateur and professional astronomers around the globe witnessed the most monumental event in human history: the arrival of a fleet of alien spaceships.
Read the rest at 7 DAYS