There’s been mess of foamy-mouthedness around the Science Fiction Writers of America association over the past couple weeks. I won’t link to the petition that jump-started it, but it basically asserts that for the the official bulletin of a professional organization to have editorial standards that avoid hostility to its constituency is an assault on Free Speech. It would be hard to make it through more than a paragraph of the thing without recognizing it for what it really is: another dreary attempt to post a “NO GIRLZ ALOWD” sign on the clubhouse.
So this seems like an opportune time to clarify my position, by way of an apology.
A few years back, I reviewed Ann Aguirre’s Grimspace. I was generally positive, but I was arguably also a bit condescending. I mentioned a “lack of extrapolative rigor” and unscientific “howlers” (I provided one purported example, and, although it’s unspoilery, it’s also not good: there’s no reason space stations shouldn’t adopt a convention that anti-spinward is West).
In the meantime, I’ve since followed @MsAnnAguiree on Twitter, and learned that she (very reasonably) hates it when people say her work isn’t “real” science fiction. And I feel like sniffing about the rigor of the science content is a difference of degree, not of kind. I never wanted to create the impression that the author’s gender influenced the content or tone of the review — but I can see how easy it would be to misconstrue my intent.
For better or worse, I’m a classifier: I can get worked up about the distinctions between tractors and riding mowers. But not all classifications are helpful. When I really thought about it, I realized the line I draw between “science fiction” and “not science fiction” is about the difficulty of maintaining my own personal willing suspension of disbelief. That demarcation is heavily influenced by how much I actually know about the specific discipline of science involved; it’s clearly not actually useful to anyone but me. And the more I’ve thought about it, the worse I’ve felt about that review.
The voice I hear in my head, that sneers “whatever that is, it AIN’T science fiction,” when I think about the importance (or lack thereof) of drawing that line is a real voice. It belongs to someone I worked with years ago. And when I later learned that this coworker had been the kind of a—–e most women wouldn’t voluntarily share an elevator with alone, I was saddened, angered — but I can’t say I was really shocked.
I would rather be on the side of the angels than the a—–es.
So, I apologize, Ann Aguirre, if you happened to see my review and felt patronized or condescended to. I apologize to anyone else who might’ve seen it and thought the author’s gender was in any way relevant to the review.
And here are some of the things I liked about Ann Aguirre’s Wanderlust, the sequel to Grimspace
- In this series, interstellar travel is dependent on individuals with an ability to control faster-than-light travel, an ability which is exercised at great personal cost. It’s not a wholly original trope, but I feel like it has plenty of life left in it, and Aguirre’s version has some intriguing aspects.
- The novel exploits a plot device I’m fond of: a decidedly undiplomatic individual forced into a role requiring diplomacy.
- It also features two gripping sequences that evoke the claustrophobic terror the first Alien movies were so good at.
- As in a great many stories, some of the romantic tension is the sort that could probably be resolved by people talking things through instead of making assumptions in the absence of clear communication — but Aguirre does an unusually good job of establishing why that clear communication would be so difficult for her characters. And Aguirre also explores how previous relationships relate to present ones in an unusually nuanced way.
I was a bit frustrated with the novel’s non-resolution of key plot elements — it’s definitely a middle act sort of book — but that’s really a complaint about the current publishing practice than about the book per se. And if some elements taxed my willing suspension of disbelief — well, that’s really neither here nor there, is it?