So there’s a … kerfuffle? going on in the universe of writing, reviewing, and publishing. Has to do with details of who an author is.
Now, I will grant this: the publishing world has an issue with diversity, or more to the point a lack thereof. This comes from things like gay writers being told their characters are too gay or not gay enough and thus not getting published. Same goes for races. Let’s not even get started on the sexist nonsense, that gets really stupid in a fucktarded hurry. But that’s on the side of the people who contract the authors.
Thing is there’s this idea that you need to make a point of reading diverse authors.
I find that really weird.
I mean, does the author matter all that much?
I’ll grant you shouldn’t read only one thing. You know that new breed of shit military “scifi” Baen’s been putting out by people like Michael Z Williamson? Well, I know a guy who went from reading a mix of Terry Pratchett, Spider Robinson, some Heinlein, various fantasy, etc. to reading nothing but a steady stream of that guy and others like him. He’s gone way beyond cracked and two of his wives left him. Coincidence? Normally I’d think so but his personality and attitude shifted radically the higher the percentage of his reading got to be those and his attitudes began to mirror those authors and their work. So … valid correlation.
This is a mark in favour of being careful of the authors, yes?
Nah. It’s a mark in favour of just not reading all one thing. He was, admittedly, an extremist case since he’s not the most mentally stable human being in the world in the first place, but I’m in no mood to mince things by using subtlety and that dude is nothing like subtle. For subtlety we might look at people who start to take on a weird sort of timidity after reading nothing whatsoever but Regency Romances.
The point is there’s this big to-do over challenging yourself to read nothing by cis-straight-white-dudes. Thing is … how do you know all of those? Was Sir Terry straight or bi? Closet gay? Okay, yeah he seems to be male and white, and one assumes Rhianna is his biological daughter, so he’s probably safe to assume cis-Caucassian. Beyond that? So what? I know a guy gayer than a tree full of monkeys on nitrous oxide, he’s got an adorable daughter and used to be married to a woman.
If I don’t tell people, and if they didn’t know me before I quit pretending to be male, no one would take me for trans, I’m a woman with no more question or doubt than anyone else in the godsforsaken American south who is female without big tits or a tiny button nose. Southerners, every now and then, are far weirder than people give them credit for.
I think it’s less important who you read than it is what you read. Pratchett, Spider Robinson, Ed Greenwood, and Elaine Cunningham give a fairly diverse cast. Strong females: Granny & Nanny or Susan Sto Helit, Maureen, Storm and most of the Seven, Arylin. Races? Okay that’s more Pratchett’s forte, the others … honestly, three of those are fantasy authors, and the conceit of the worlds they write in is actually that human skin colour diversity is a given even if some people who do artwork or (in the case of Forgotten Realms) some of the editors and other authors forget this. Sexuality? Ed creeps homosexuality and bisexuality in every chance he gets, this goes back to the publishers have a problem. Spider is good on sexuality too. Cunningham? Not so much, but she doesn’t have as many characters to her name, so it could be simple statistics. Pratchett? I feel like a lot of his characters’ sexualities are left nebulous … few if any of his stories make it relevant, therefore they can be any sexuality you care to imagine. Same goes for trans or not.
Now, to counter my own argument slightly I will mention one thing that people can do. Rather than vowing to not read a demographic or to only read this that or another one; keep your eyes out for people who are being shoved under the bus. Dance With Dragons, Name of the Wind, and one of Saladin Ahmed‘s books (sorry, at a loss for which title and not sure how to find out without a tedious bibliographical comparison) were all big and out at the same time … GRRM and Rothfuss got promoted way more than that thar bloody Ay-rab boy did. I somehow doubt this was a simple oversight on the part of his publisher, really.
So from one point of view I’m opposed to things like Queers Destory _____ or Women Destroy _____ in the principle of, you don’t need to read any kind of author. if they’re male, female, other, human, walrus, Terran, Jovian, gay, straight, it’s irrelevant. Read because it’s a good story with good characters. You want to worry about feeding misguided notions into your head read a diversity of stuff, mixes of genres, mixes of subgenres, watch for diversity of characters.
On the other hand I do think that there comes one bit of reality to the universe where things like this list here are important: Ahmed was, by all appearances a powerhouse peer of Marin and Rothfuss but while it was hard not to see that their novels were out, Ahmed’s name tended to be nowhere to be found. Not, by any means, the faults of any of the authors. Rothfuss, for example, is a super sweet nice guy, and Martin seems to be a pretty cool dude too. Lists like that 15 books by trans … blah blah blah. Don’t read them because the authors are trans, but watch out for those lists to see what’s out there the publishers aren’t telling you about. Buy the books and read them because you like them. In short, I don’t mind demographic recognition … when the jolly white dudes are who’re being given the attention then you have to go to specialty lists to see what else even bloody exists.
A grey area might be that some of the impetus for this “scandal” of the week has to do with a couple of reviewers who looked back and were like “damn, I haven’t reviewed a damned thing by someone who wasn’t cis-white-straight”. Now, admittedly, it seems a little odd how they reacted to the suggestion of taking an equal span of time to dedicated to reviewing NOT that, but whatever. Then again there was an amusing bit of backlash from a reviewer who decided to do exactly that! This, by the way, is why I don’t bother to not say whatever I bloody well feel like, I can’t win no matter what I do or say – no one can, I’m pretty sure the internet would argue with The Creators about how the universe works and what its purpose is, ‘death of the author’ has got way beyond out of hand 🙂
So, go ye forth and read diversity. Be blind to the author bios and author pictures and pretend you can’t see the author’s name (hard to do, I’ll admit. I’ve seen books recently I never figured out the title because it was in smaller print than even the publisher’s name and the author’s name was in letter’s 65m high, an amazing feat on a pocket paperback); instead look to the insides. No harm in reading Williamson’s stuff; it sucks, but there’s no harm in reading things that suck. The harm is in reading only that. There’s no harm in reading Robinon’s Callahan series; it’s pretty good, but it’s probably not healthy to read only that. Discworld could, arguably, be an exception, but that comes from the fact that all they have in common is some of the cast and the setting, the discworld is lots of different things.
Now that’s not to say you can’t only like Fantasy, Mystery, Romance, SciFi, or whatever. Just don’t get too stuck reading only one sort. LGBT romance is probably safe because under that you can get into the usual mix of historical, contemporary, scifi, fantasy, etc. Romances – you just prefer to read about f/f or m/m or whatever, I can dig that. You really prefer your mysteries to be detective? Okay, that’s cool, but maybe you should look around and make sure your detectives aren’t every single one of them Sam Spade or his clone.
Also, don’t let the publishers get away with it. If you look around and see there are no police procedural mysteries with female main characters, or a black dude, or whatever; don’t blame the writers. Bitch at the publisher. I’ll lay you 2000:1 odds that they were sent a story about a gay Asian trans-man police detective and they rejected it. If you see they only take agented submissions, then the publisher might be off the hook (mention it to them anyway, just in case) and start looking into the agents – some do specify no LGBT stories.
The discrimination isn’t yours, as the reader, if you aren’t actively seeking out or avoiding anything in particular. It’s in the people who decide what gets put on the shelves, and in what they decide to spend huge gobs of cash to publicise.