Friday, 18 September 2015

Female of the Species

“Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.” Talbot, The Maid of Orleans. A play by Friedrich Schiller. A line used to great effect in Isaac Asimov’s superb work of science-fiction, The Gods Themselves. All too often a quotation I find unimpeachably accurate about the nature of the Internet troll condition. I almost typed human condition, but I barely rate these morons as human. Even those that attempt to cleverly disguise themselves as such.

I recently read this article on The Mary Sue. It made my blood boil. It touched a nerve about a systemic problem I faced at university, epitomised by a recent article in the fabled British bastion of liberal journalism, The Guardian. A paper I now regard with an edge of scorn because they allowed that particular troll to write such vile click-bait.

The article on The Mary Sue deals with a review on Amazon for a recent sci-fi anthology called Dark Beyond the Stars. The article on The Guardian showed an ignorant outsider labelling Sir Terry Pratchett’s brilliant works of fantasy fiction as “ordinary potboilers”. Arguing that he wasn’t a literary genius at all and people should stop regarding him as such. This kind of thinking is the systemic problem I faced at university – the brazen arrogance of those who sneer at genre fiction because they think it’s too formulaic and because of all its rules, nobody can write anything original. The review at the centre of The Mary Sue’s article went one step further. Instead of the genre being attacked by an outside force that had already made its mind up without any due consideration of the genre’s offerings, a male author has decreed that the females of the species lacks the adequate talent to write skilfully in his chosen genre.


I must beg the readers’ forgiveness now, because I am likely to devolve from civilised discourse into childish demonising and name calling. I’ve learned to develop a thick skin over the literary snob’s disdain for science-fiction, fuelled by one simple truth – I’m good at writing it, so they can suck it. But when those within start attacking each other? That’s when it all becomes a bit ludicrous. When it’s a guy telling women to get back in the kitchen because they can’t write science-fiction? I fetch my shovel and shotgun.

I’m a firm believer that humans can do absolutely anything they put their minds to. Often that sentiment is specifically applied to women, often subjected to archaic, patriarchal limitations, epitomised in the idea that there are things, or jobs, that are “just for men”. That’s frakkin’ bull-shtak. As a result of erroneous statements such as that, I determined very early on that I wanted to write about women doing things most people might think are jobs for men. Starting in 2005, when I wrote a story about a female assassin called Angel, set in 2207 on the red planet known as Mars, not being an object of sexual desire, not a helpless damsel in need of a strong man to rescue her, but a fearsome and formidable killer.

Of course, the offending male author (who I am disgusted to learn is British, he brings shame not only to his genre but my country as well) in The Mary Sue article isn’t purporting that female characters are the problem. No, he is telling us that women can’t write decent sci-fi. To this man, I have this simple message.

Go frak yourself.

Some of the most fearsomely talented writers I know are women and a lot of them I have the privilege to call my friends. One, whom I don’t have that privilege with, but had the incredible fortune to know even for five minutes (yes, I am referring to the mysterious woman discussed in The Garden of Forking Paths and Destiny is not what it seems) wrote a science-fiction novel in her final year of university that overwhelmingly impressed her tutor, a man who doesn’t feel that much of an affinity for science-fiction. She told me that despite his general aversion to sci-fi, the excerpts of her novel she submitted really made him want to read the whole thing.

Women have incredibly important, incredibly beautiful and incredibly insightful voices. These voices should be heard, singing to the rafters, singing to our bones. That a man dares to silence them in such a blatant and condescending manner boils my blood beyond the limits of that which even a Targaryen can endure.

What’s may seem like an extremely petty thing to pick on this guy for, but those who were at university with me know this was my thing. I am a stickler for the rules of punctuation. So when I saw this absolute gem...well, my already non-existent respect for this frakwit took an even deeper nosedive – “Leave the genre to those of us who know how to write scifi, being well versed in it’s many nuances...”

I tell you what, frakwit. Leave the writing to those of us who know how to use punctuation, being well versed in its many nuances.

Looking at the comments attached the review, I am elated to see that the first one picks him up on the very point I’ve just made about his punctuation. The rest proceed in similar veins of highlighting his misogyny, his complete misrepresentation of a genre that was pioneered by women (thank you, Margaret Cavendish and Mary Shelley) and his other grievous error, calling it “Star Gate” as opposed to Stargate, as it should properly be rendered. Ironically, dig into the man’s review history, he reviews the original Stargate movie. I believe, in the common vernacular, he could be called “a poser”. I still prefer to call him a frakwit. Many thanks to Chief Galen Tyrol, deck chief of Battlestar Galactica (BSG-75) for that beauitful word.

To anyone who doesn’t think women can write science-fiction, to anyone who has problems with science-fiction being used a prism through which to examine the social and psychology issues affecting society – including those of sexual identity and gender identity (mentioned in The Mary Sue article, being lamented by a different frakwit) – I say this. Please feel free to vacate this planet at your earliest convenience. You want mindless violence and spaceships? Build some spaceships, fly them to the opposite end of the galaxy and keep out of the frakkin’ way. Ideally, destroy yourselves through mindless violence. Science-fiction is for everyone. To read and to write.

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