Dialogue and Life #SFRQ
In my last Editorial, I pointed out that I felt that our genre was “slipping”. That, even though the number of authors writing SFR has exploded, the amount of dialogue taking place around SFR itself has actually decreased. I wrote about “drive-by postings” and took a provocative stance because I was expecting someone to comment. Whether positive or negative, it didn’t matter to me; all I was after was…dialogue.
It saddens me that none of this happened. I had thought that poking my fellow authors might elicit some kind of response, but I was wrong. It seemed that the issue of engaging—between authors, between readers, between authors and readers—isn’t of enough importance to expend neural cycles on. And so here we are. If someone were to ask me right now what I think of SFR, I’d say that I was full of hope three to four years ago, but I find myself currently disappointed, and my disappointment can be traced to several things.
The first is the Andy Weir Attitude. Yes, I’m referring to the author of The Martian. When asked for his favourite authors, Weir came out with the same cadre of dead white men…Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein et al. Honestly, if I hadn’t seen his name on the cover of The Martian, I would have thought he didn’t know the slightest thing about SF! Isaac Asimov?! In all the decades since Asimov (or Heinlein) was writing, there hasn’t been a single other SF author he’s read or liked? What about John Scalzi, if he likes Heinlein so much? If he’s a geek, how about Alastair Reynolds? Or Peter F Hamilton? Richard Morgan? Charles Stross? Kevin J Anderson? Katherine Kerr? Joe Haldeman? KW Jeter? M John Harrison? The Strugatsky brothers? (I’m just reading out random, near-Earth/hardish sf names from my own bookshelf, btw.) But all he can come up with is Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke? Seriously? I hope you can see how ludicrous a stance this is from someone who purports to be an SF writer.
I’m sorry to say that female SF/SFR writers behave the same way. Ask them for any female authors they like/have read, and most (with the delightful exception of Susan Grant, which you’ll read) can’t name one. Oh, if they’re pushed, in much the same way as Weir is, they can get arm-wrestled into “Lois McMaster Bujold” or “Linnea Sinclair”, but there’s nothing beyond that. Really? No female authors writing anything approaching SF/R since Sinclair’s last novel a decade ago? No other woman writing space opera since Bujold’s first story back in 1989? With “friends” like these, who needs enemies?
My second point has to do with scope. Back in the first issues of this magazine, I was buoyant about the genre. There were stories I hadn’t thought of before that I thought were fantastic. We had the start of fairytale retellings with Jael Wye, Renae Jones’ empath courtesan, the sweeping space operas of Nina Croft and Christie Meierz, time travel with PK Hrezo, to name a few. When I look at what’s come after, however, I’m less sanguine. Military stories dominate. Did I say dominate? Military, convict and military-connected stories pound all the others into the ground. And, with some rare exceptions, we’re not talking about a nuanced view either, but the kind of “Might makes right! Fight, fight, fight!” rhetoric that you find satirised in Dave Sim’s Cerebus graphic novels.
As someone outside the United States looking in, the attitude is both—if you’ve kept up with various atrocities perpetrated (and being perpetrated) by Western armed forces—perplexing as well as disturbing. Add lack of engagement (aka passivity) from both authors and readers, and the picture gets downright bizarre, a strange mix of violence and apathy. SFR seems to have fallen into a default prison/military glorification rut and I’m not sure how long it’s going to take before it gets itself out. I can only hope that happens sooner rather than later.
My third point has to do with work. Science-fiction isn’t the easiest genre to read. It takes work for an author to set up a universe, but it also takes work for a reader to place herself there. The same goes for diversity. It takes work for an author to create a relatable character who is “Other”, and it takes work for the reader to consent to this and put her own beliefs and prejudices on hold for eighty thousand words. So imagine my dismay when I hear that readers don’t like reading about “Other” (be it SF/character diversity/something else) because it’s too much work. Is that why I’m seeing so many Naval-Ninjas-In-Spaaaaaccceee! stories? Because it’s comfortable? Comfortable for North American writers to write and comfortable for predominantly North American readers to read? If that’s so, if the current crop of books don’t aspire to anything more than Any-City-USA transplanted to the greater galaxy, then I think I need to pull the cable and ask to be let off at the next stop.
Which brings me to the second part of this editorial. As some of you know, I’ve been homeschooling my two children. The first result is in, Son passed with Distinctions and got accepted into a UK university. Now it’s Daughter’s turn and she’s going to be a little tougher. My writing took a fatal hit over the past year with the first offspring and, with a heavier subject load on the horizon, it’s only going to get worse. This means that what little time I had to devote to the magazine will disappear completely. Upon contacting others, whose vital contributions make each issue sing, I find the same kind of situation. For some reason, the Editorial Team and several of the reviewers are in the same boat: a plague of Life. I can’t see a clear schedule for the next fifteen months and the others could use a rest as well.
So this is the final issue of SFRQ for the time being. The editors have agreed to get together next year to see how each is tracking. We may tweak the magazine a little. We may introduce new sections, eliminate others, expand or contract as need be, but one thing that’s constant is the fact that we all agree that (a) we like working with each other, (b) finding people you like that you can work with is extremely rare, and (c) we want to work together again. So this isn’t “good-bye” as much as “be back soon”. In the interim, the SFRQ blog—Galaxy Express 2.0—will still be running, so be sure to bookmark our blog site and keep checking back. Whatever we decide to do will be announced there first. I’d like to thank each and every one of our past, and current, contributors, our wonderful sponsors and you, our readers, for your time and thoughts. You’ve helped make SFRQ a wonderful magazine and I hope I can count on your support when we kickstart SFRQ 2.0.
Now that I’ve offended everyone, I’ll leave you with Issue 12. Go read!