SFF/Classics Conference, Liverpool, Part IV of Many

Part I.
Part II.
Part III.


The fourth part of a multi-part conference write-up.


Lunch!

Lunch on Saturday comprised many gourmet sandwiches, a selection of vegetables, fruit plates, stew, and roast potatoes. It was noted that apparently conferencing academics in Liverpool are not to be trusted with knives: cutlery available ran to forks and spoons, nothing sharper. I spent some time in discussion with Shana Worthen about the SF Foundation’s occasional series of books. And then, as far as I recall, I went in Quest of Caffeinated Sugar, finding Pepsi in a greasy spoon just down the road. A weirdly Scouse and very greasy greasy spoon.

(Sad addict was sad.)


After lunch, I was torn for which sessions I should attend. In the end, I settled on the “Britain,” session, chaired by Penelope Goodman (University of Leeds), and featuring papers by Liz Gloyn (billed as University of Birmingham), Sandeep Parmar (University of Liverpool), Cara Sheldrake (University of Exeter), and Stephe Harrop (Rose Burford College of Theatre and Performance/Royal Central School of Speech and Drama).

Penelope Goodman introduced the panelists. The first paper was presented by Liz Gloyn, an engaging speaker with a direct, unpretentious style. “‘By a Wall that faced the South’: Crossing the Border in Classically-influenced Fantasy,” moved through authors as diverse as Charles Kingsley, Hope Mirrlees, Rudyard Kipling, and Neil Gaiman. And once again, I’m not going to be able to do her paper justice. She talked about how space operates in fantastical contexts. How it affects our reaction to monsters. How crossing borders is essential to fantasy, and how, for crossings to be effective, they have to be marked borders. How the moment of transition is critically important to the structure of the novel. Liz had brought copies of the books she was speaking about to pass around – Kingsley’s Greek Fairy Tales, Kipling’s Puck, Mirrlees’ Lud-in-the-Mist and Gaiman’s Stardust, which was, I thought, a nice touch.

With especial reference to Kingsley, she mentioned that the test of border-crossing was a test of trust.

Of Mirlees’ Lud-in-the-Mist, she said that it demonstrated an uneasy relationship with Fairyland, that it reworks the mythological barrier of the cliff present in Kingsley, with whom Mirlees was familiar.

Of Puck, that borders are crossed and recrossed, that the space beyond the border is marked out as a space for “adventure.” “Adventure never happens south of the Wall.”

That the wall in Stardust and the nature of borders there are concerned with identity, and the characters’ places in the universe.

It was a fascinating paper, and I wish I’d had the chance to talk to her more when it was still fresh in my mind.


The next paper was by Sandeep Parmar, of the University of Liverpool, on “Hope Mirlees’ Lud-in-the-Mist and the Ritual World.” Parmar is working on a biography of Mirlees, and I confess I did not follow her paper well at all. Although I did learn more about Mirlees’ relationship with the famous Jane Harrison, one of the first of so-called Cambridge Ritualists in the early 20th century.


The third paper of the Britain session was given by Cara Sheldrake, recently awarded her PhD from the University of Exeter. “Time Travel to Roman Britain” looked at thematic elements common to the use of Roman Britain in time travel stories, with a large focus on New Who’s Rory. As she pointed out, Roman Britain is not necessarily very popular from the point of view of time travel stories. Romans are used as shorthand for military dedication and personal courage. Nesbit’s Story of the Amulet (1906) is a time travel story with Fabian overtones, while Susan Cooper’s Silver on the Tree (1977) shows how social integration might work. But overall one doesn’t get a sense of an overall contrast between the then and the now, but rather an image of soldiers. In the cold.

(No. I’m not doing this paper justice either.)


Stephe Harrop closed the session with “‘To keep out bad things’: Representing ‘The Wall’ in A Song of Ice and Fire.” A professional storyteller, her skill at talking was clear in her delivery.

According to GRRM, regarding the Wall: “fantasy has to be bigger.” The Wall showcases a division between monstrous lad and civilised land: the Wall is a defiantly visible border, taking up traditional readings of Hadrian’s Wall as a defensive barrier as well as a monitor and control of people and movement. But GRRM subverts the idea of the Wall as monumental and impermeable barrier. Jon Snow’s narrative challenges the monumental solidity of the Wall, and demonstrates its increasing permeability.

(This is another fascinating paper, and one which I especially hope makes it in to any Select Proceedings that may be published.)


Coffee break! Much interesting talkings. It was during this break that I met Daniel Franklin and Zoe Johnson in the flesh, and very entertaining people they were to prove to be over the course of the weekend.

The next session up included my scheduled paper, so I had no chance to see the panel on Television SF (BSG!) or Creatures (Galenic centaurs!). Instead, Ancient Civilisations saw me presenting the first of three papers, followed by Jason Lundock, PhD candidate of King’s College London, and Christos Callow, PhD candidate of the University of Lincoln – the session as a whole chaired by Stephen Trzaskoma, of the University of New Hampshire.

For my own paper, I shan’t recap. (If anyone’s interested, I can share the whole thing over email.)


Jason Lundock was the only other person there, as far as I could tell, whose paper took a material culture approach to SFF and the Classics. Unfortunately, “Arcane Treasure and Sacred Relics: The Lost Treasures of Anitquity and their Influence in Folktale and Fantasy,” while not the worst paper I’ve ever seen, was scattered and lacked a good through-line, a unifying thematic argument. Despite having interesting moments on the Holy Grail and Roman deposits in ancient Britain, on the whole it was very unspecific and vague. And Lundock, I fear, came off as something of a sexist prat: on discussing why treasure is a popular quest/McGuffin in gaming, he tossed off an aside about well, you could rescue the damsel, but then the guys’d have to fight over who got to take her home. Way to go with the heterosexism and writing out of the agency of women there, man. It really didn’t show you in a sympathetic light.


Christos Callow’s paper was subsequently much talked about. “Science ‘Fiction’? in Ancient Greece: Advanced Technology and Knowledge in Ancient Greece and Contemporary Hypotheses Regarding their Origins,” is as prime, and entertaining, a piece of academic trolling as I’ve ever been privileged to hear. Christos, a good speaker and very Greek, laid out the thought experiment that perhaps the golden age of human existence is in the ancient past. That people were more intelligent in antiquity. Better at living.

This certainly got an argument started. And then a gentlemen at the back of the room stands up to expostulate. “People today are certainly stupider! You can see this just by looking around! Half the people at this conference are stupid!”

Prime entertainment, but perhaps not exactly the most well-considered opinion to share at that particular point. I did not get the gentleman in question’s name, which is probably just as well.


This series of posts will continue with the conference dinner, and Liverpool’s famous lambananas. But for now, I need to rest my typing hands.

SFF/Classics Conference, Liverpool, Part III of Many

Part I.
Part II.


This is the third part of a multi-part conference write-up.


Sophia McDougall was supposed to give her plenary address at 1030, but there was some confusion owing to the fact that Ms. McDougall had taken a bit ill that morning. So Tony Keen kicked things off by reading the paper of Leon Crickmore, an independent scholar who was unable to be present. This paper detailed the founding of the SF Foundation and its library, but since Tony read a bit on the speedy side and since it was essentially insider SF academia talk, I followed it only very poorly and can now make no sense of my notes.

Sophia McDougall did arrive, and, introduced by Edward James, embarked upon her plenary address, “Dreams of Rome.”

McDougall, for those unaware, is the author of the Romanitas trilogy, which posits a present-day world-spanning Roman empire. As her turning point in Roman history, she takes the death of Pertinax. (Pertinax doesn’t die, and consequently there are no Severans: the empire avoids the tumultous third century and actually finds workarounds for its complicated logistical and co-ordination challenges.) Her plenary address treated in part the use of images of Rome in modernity.

Noteworthy points in the course of the address: she spoke about imperium et libertas in Victorian English politics (c.f. Disraeli’s Guildhall address of 9 November 1879) and the omnipresence of the idea of Rome; the fact that it was impossible to really enter the halls of British power in the 19th and early 20th centuries without at least a passing familiarity with Roman culture. Rome, she said, means many things to many different people. She spoke of the importance of Rome as a mirror to our modern-day concerns with imperialism, power, government, and freedom. The idea that Rome is close enough to us that we can, as it were, travel into it easily.

She mentioned the “danger” of living history, with particular reference to slavery, and the idea that often, in SFF, when writing about the past or future, “we flatten unpleasant things out.”

The other thing she spoke of was the longevity, size, and endurance of Roman monuments. You “can’t accuse Romans of not thinking big.” And the fact that these achievements outlasted the empire, that the methods of how to build certain of these things were forgotten. People in Anglo-Saxon England, for example, were “living in a landscape marked by lost technologies,” and the possibilities, SFnal and fantastical, inherent in that historical truth.

SFF/Classics Conference, Liverpool, Part II of Many

This is the second installment in a multi-part conference write-up. Part I is here.

But first, a poll!

Saturday morning. I woke up before my morning wake-up call, and made it to breakfast. Feathers Hotel did a pretty good breakfast spread, including pastries and yoghurt, although the fruit was a bit sad. I encountered Otta and Cecilie at breakfast, and together we navigated down past Mordor Cathedral to the central area of the university, and thence to the Foresight Centre (situated in, I believe, the former Liverpool Royal Hospital).

Here, I met the personable Shana Worthen, an enthusiastic and interesting ginger person, Vector magazine’s features editor and involved in both the SF Foundation and the BSFA. From her I learned – to my shock and delight – that the conference would provide lunch daily, in addition to the tea and coffee and biscuits already on tap. Morning registration was full of a wide variety of people, of whom the only other person I recall at this point in time (besides the fact that there was a table selling lots of second-hand books) is Edward James, formerly of medieval history at UCD.

At 1015, we made our way to the Main Hall (on the programme), which on the building plan was actually known as the Gallery. There, Professor Douglas Baird, head of Liverpool’s School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, introduced the conference. A short, balding, broad-shouldered man, he said we were present at a new type of conference, the first of its kind dedicated to Classical receptions in the fantastika. He cracked a few jokes at the expense of university admin, and mentioned “receptions of a slightly more bibulous type,” before handing over to Tony Keen.

SFF/Classics Conference, Liverpool, Part I of Many

Swords, Sorcery, Sandals and Space
A Science Fiction Foundation Conference, Liverpool, 29 June- 1 July 2013

Swords. Sorcery, Sandals and Space: The Fantastika and the Classical World is a conference run by the Science Fiction Foundation and the University of Liverpool School of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, on the links between science fiction and fantasy and Classical Greece and Rome. It will take place Saturday June 29-Monday July 1, at the Foresight Centre, University of Liverpool.

Henceforth to be referred to as “the SFF/Classics conference”, or as “the conference.”


This is the first part of a multi-part conference write-up. I promised I would write the conference up to the best of my ability. I need to preface this endeavour by saying I cannot possibly do it justice. Over the course of three days, more than eighty attendees presented more than sixty papers. For the days of Saturday and Sunday, there were three parallel conference tracks. For Monday, two parallel tracks were in operation. I had a fantastic experience, and my head is still hopping from talking to interesting people and all the interesting things to think about.

The conference programme can be found here. Tony Keen, one of the conference organisers, Storified the conference here.


Let me begin with Friday evening. The preliminary meet-and-greet at the (lovely, late Victorian gentlemen’s club-turned-pub) Philharmonic Dining Rooms was my first introduction to several of the other attendees.

I’d arrived off a Ryanair flight, caught a taxi manned by a very garrulous Scouser gentleman, and checked into the Feathers Hotel on Mount Pleasant. The single rooms are tiny but adequate – the bathrooms are quite capacious, though. It is a Georgian building, and I caught a room overlooking the street, with original sash windows. There was enough time to hang my Real Grown-Up Trousers and Shirt in the wardrobe before heading out in search of the – actually very nearby – Phil.

I got there, and, naturally enough, recognised nobody. So I ordered a half of ale, peered nervously around, and was shortly approached by a lovely person from Denmark, Cecilie Flugt, who had recognised a kindred-nervous-peerer-around. Neither of us knew anyone going to the conference, so we peered nervously around together, while talking on Classical and SFnal topics. Soon, though, Tony Keen recognised the nervous peering around, and delivered us to a growing huddle of fellow delegates. Here we met the interesting Otta Wenskus (who would later dub the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King “Mordor Cathedral” and discover that it once possessed a bishop by the surname of Warlock), Fiona Hobden – with whom I wish I’d had the opportunity to speak more during the course of the conference – Christos Callow, Andy Sawyer, plenary speaker Nick Lowe, Pascal Lemaire from Belgium, and other people, including a large Liverpool SF Studies contingent, whose names I did not write down immediately. Leimar Garcia-Siino, who would give a very interesting paper on Greek mythology in YA on Monday. Charul Patel, of Lancaster. Some other people! Andrew J. Wilson, that was one of them.

I can’t remember what we talked about over dinner. I should have made notes. I remember that Nick Lowe, Royal Holloway, a skinny vibrant long-haired rake of a professor with a grin like a demented elf – and I mean that in the best possible sense – introduced himself as from the “University of Neptune.” I remember I ate venison sausages and mashed potato, and Tony made a passing sausage reference that could have gone very (if hilarious) inappropriate places, but didn’t. Of the people who went to dinner: Andrew J. Wilson. Andy Sawyer. Pascal Lemaire. Tony Keen. Me. Otta Wenskus. Fiona Hobden. Nick Lowe. Fiona Hobden. Cecilie Flugt. Perhaps they remember the topics of conversation better than I do. All I remember is that they were immensely invigorating. I think recent films featured. Cloud Atlas. World War Z. Man of Steel. Iron Man and sequels. I retain an overwhelming impression of Nick Lowe’s energy and enthusiasm, and Andrew Wilson’s large engaged good humour, a certain quick wit on the part of Andy Sawyer and a distracted intelligence about Tony Keen – but the rest escapes me.

I marched hotel-wards in company around perhaps 1000 or 1030, guided by the round crown of Mordor Cathedral. The rest of the story will have to wait…

Jo Fletcher Books, Rod Rees, Sexism and Systemic Failure. Part IV.

Part I.
Part II.
Part III.


I want to reiterate that while I find the actions of Jo Fletcher Books in this matter ill-advised, I in no way believe they were ill-intentioned. Any organisation can be blindsided by an associate whose opinions don’t represent said organisation. And naturally a publisher with a writer under contract needs to consider their working relationship to said writer in their responses to criticism.

That said, swinging the hammer of “On the right to freedom of speech” towards critics of Rees’ article and JFB’s decision to run it is far, far less than ideal a response.

In the last month, “freedom of speech” has been seized upon as a cri de coeur in the face of criticism in the SFF genre community. The response of Resnick and Malzburg to legitimate criticism was not to say, “Hey, you might have a point, we’ll think about it,” or even, “I think you’re wrong, but we’ll have to agree to disagree,” but to talk about “censorship” and “liberal fascism.” Likewise, calls to expel Theodore Beale from SFWA for, essentially, bringing the organisation into disrepute, were met with but you can’t punish him for exercising his freedom of speech!

(The right to freedom of speech is not the right to a platform, or to a megaphone. Nor is it freedom from the consequence of speech – which can be criticism, in the form of more speech.)

The SFF community and associated conversations are very familiar with the idea of freedom of speech. At the moment, they’re also very familiar with its use as a complaint in the face of criticism: But he has the right to say such things!

No one is saying otherwise. What people are saying is that some opinions are inappropriate for sharing in professional fora, and that it is inappropriate for professional organisations to give them platforms. Racist and sexist opinions are among those inappropriate opinions.

That “freedom of speech” is seen both as a defence against critical speech and as an unmitigated good thing is a systemic failure in our community to which, however unwittingly, JFB’s public response to criticism of Rod Rees’ post in part contributes.

Jo Fletcher is a busy person. She makes sure we’re aware of this in “On the right to freedom of speech“:

Today I should be editing the last 35 pages of David Hair’s magnificent epic Scarlet Tides, so it can make its Autumn publication date . . . but instead, I’m taking that valuable time to discuss something that’s even more important

and:

I expect some of you are wondering why I am breaking into valuable editing time to discuss freedom of speech – and on a Saturday morning at that!

This is a somewhat inflammatory way to begin a post responding to critical comment. Many of the people who responded to Rod Rees’ opinions as expressed are busy individuals themselves, who spent some of their own valuable time and energy in answering the problematic elements of his assertions.*

Jo Fletcher distances herself from Rod Rees’ opinions as expressed:

When I offer the blog to our wonderful writers, I don’t tell them what they can – or can’t – write about. They’re grown-ups, after all, and I must depend upon them to use good judgement.

…Would I have written Rod’s blog? Frankly, I don’t think I would have.

She defends – although as far as I can tell, no one is actually attacking – his right to offer such opinions:

Do I defend Rod’s right to his own opinion?

Damn straight I do.

Missing from the post is the thing I hoped for most: an acknowledgement that Rees’ opinions as expressed may not have been professionally appropriate, and whether humorously or provocatively meant or otherwise, how he phrased them insulted his writer colleagues who are women.**

Ultimately, Jo Fletcher Books is responsible for all the content posted to their blog. A statement of regret for the insult given to colleagues would not have been inappropriate. It would’ve gone a long way towards reducing the sense of affront.


If you don’t agree with Rod, I absolutely defend your right to disagree!

Of course, I expect it to be well-reasoned, well-written, with good grammar, spell-checked and properly punctuated . . .

I’m not the only person who finds a statement like that, in the face of criticism, to imply that disagreements to date have not been, “well-reasoned, well-written, with good grammar, spell-checked and properly punctuated.”***

It’s not a good point to close on, I guess is what I’m saying. It doesn’t demonstrate real engagement with the criticisms which have been made. It’s not the response of someone used to engaging with direct criticism on the internet. A good faith effort requires some acknowledgement of one’s critics’ points, even to say, “We can’t agree, and further conversation won’t prove fruitful,” or, “Company policy is such, although we may revisit it in future.” (“This was infelicitous or erroneous, but we will strive to do better,” is a good sentiment to have in the good faith toolbox, too.)

The internet means communication happens faster and reaches more people than ever before. Problematic shit receives more attention, and more critical attention, than ever.

And “free speech,” when that speech has offensive implications, and when deployed by the privileged against the less privileged – as it was in Rod Rees’ case – can contribute to a hostile or offensive environment.

Me, I’m invested in having a genre community, and a genre conversation, that welcomes a diverse range of voices, and a diverse range of good books. That doesn’t alienate women needlessly – or people of different colours or creeds, sizes or shapes, genders or abilities.

I expect more. I expect better.


All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho

We all try, and try again. We can all fail better. Going by increments towards a less hostile world, a more welcoming community.

To Jo Fletcher Books, I say:

Next time, I beseech you. Fail better.


*As for me, I’ve spent at least six hours on this that could’ve been thesis time, or reviewing time, or actual eating/sleeping/exercise time, but since I receive less than eighteen grand a year this year, most of it from the government, I’m not sure anyone but me considers my time valuable.

**As a reader, I felt insulted also – but the direct insult was given to female writers, with the challenge to the viscerality of their work.

***Here, the cranky person may point out that apart from the punctuation, Rees’ article meets few of those criteria. Reduction ad adsurdum, anyone? The reductio, or argumentum, ad absurdum could hardly be more absurd…

Jo Fletcher Books, Rod Rees, Sexism and Systemic Failure. Part III.

Part I. Part II.


We broke off yesterday with the conclusion that Rod Rees was either clueless or deliberately trolling. But what about his publisher, Jo Fletcher Books?


It is important, I think, that we absolve JFB of malice. When a publisher gives a writer access to a platform to promote said writer’s newest novel, whether or not that publisher agrees with their writer’s opinions, I believe the general assumption is that the writer will do their best avoid doing something that will bring the publisher’s platform into disrepute. Busy editors and PR persons should be forgiven for cursorily glancing at the first paragraph or not even reading it at all before cuing it up.

(I’m not saying this is best practice. But it’s an imperfect world, and I sincerely doubt any publishing imprint is over-provided with available staff-hours.)

In fact, Jo Fletcher Books is an imprint I’ve been watching with interest. They’ve published two debut SF novels by women just this year – Stephanie Saulter’s Gemsigns and Naomi Foyle’s Seoul Survivors – along with Karen Lord’s second novel, The Best of All Possible Worlds. Looking into Waterstones in Liverpool yesterday brought home to me just how much UK shelfspace in SFF – particularly in SF and in epic fantasy – is dominated by male names, and I confess to nursing a small, quiet hope that JFB’s decision to bring SF debuts by women on board this year might help to start evening things out.

That’s partly why I’m so disappointed by their response to criticism of the Rod Rees article, and their choice to run said article on their imprint’s official blog.

Let me take a minute here to articulate my own feelings about that article. Foz Meadows, I think, put it best: “my entire brain explode[d] in a symphony of What The Actual Fuck in D Minor.” It is remarkably – remarkably! – alienating and off-putting to read that how to write successful female characters is, instead, how to write a caricature of a male-gaze-constructed, gender-essentialist, Mirror Universe image of a woman. My anger was vast. My disgust was vaster. My weariness at Not More Of This Bullshit Haven’t We Had Enough? reached gargantuan proportions and turned after contemplation to even more rage.

What is published on an organisation’s website is assumed, rightly or wrongly, to have the imprimatur of that organisation. Someone approved this as appropriate, or failed to disapprove of it enough to discourage its publication there. I thought to myself that if Jo Fletcher Books was willing to accept this on their public face, they mustn’t want my money.

They must want me to go away weary and disgusted, to patronise publishers whose blogs show forth less extreme alienating gender-essentialist male-gaze nonsense.

Despite my warm fuzzy feelings towards them for debuting Saulter and Foyle. Despite my warm fuzzy feelings about Karen Lord’s work. Despite my hopes that maybe they’d bring Tricia Sullivan’s next SF book out, or the next brilliant debut SFF novel by a woman I’d never heard of.

So I reached out to the publisher to ask if they had any comment on the matter, because it would be unfair to not ask.

In email, Jo Fletcher disclaimed any right to censor her authors. She went on to say that she fully believed that women were just as suited writing fiction for adults as anyone else. “[A]ctually, I don’t for a moment think Rod Rees believes this either; as I said, he’s putting forward a theory for discussion.

“It’s also very true that in the UK at least there has been a lot of criticism of the lack of female SF writers – SF as opposed to fantasy – and obviously, I’m doing my own bit to help fill that void, with three new female SF writers already on the list: Stephanie Saulter, Naomi Foyle and Karen Lord. Personally, I’ve never let the sex of an author influence my publishing decisions – a good book is a good book – but it does depress me to see so few female writers of SF in my submission pile. I could suggest some reasons fewer are drawn to SF than to fantasy, but that would be purely my own opinion, not actual fact.”

The article, she reaffirms, is purely Rod Rees’ own opinion. But she does see one upside: “[A]t least it’s got people talking.”*


That was Jo Fletcher Books’ response to me by email. It was a much better response than I’d hoped to receive.

But “On the right to freedom of speech,” JFB’s response to the public, posted on their blog, is much worse. A bizarre tactical error in the ongoing conversation, it appears to try to make the issue into one of freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech is not freedom from criticism, and this is the “systemic failure” I’ve had in the title from the start. That’s what I’ll be talking about in the next post.


*I uphold Jo Fletcher’s right to view this as an upside. Me, I’m a little tired of needing to push back against opinions such as Rees’.

Jo Fletcher Books, Rod Rees, Sexism, and Systemic Failure. Part II.

Part I.


I thought I was pretty clued up on feminism.

…I belong to a writers’ group which recently perused the opening 10,000 words of a novella I’ve written called ‘Invent-10n’. It’s a near-future story that features a rather feisty twenty-year-old singer with a penchant for jive talk called Jenni-Fur. I thought I’d rendered her as a tough, take-no-prisoners sort of rebel but it seemed that some of her dialogue offended the two female members of the group.

Using the argot of 2030s Britain, Jenni-Fur described herself as ‘a lush thrush with a tight tush’, which was thought to be both unrealistic and borderline ‘pornographic’.

Rod Rees, June 25, 2013.


[H]ere we are again: sexual harassment, SFWA, marginalizing of women writers, the VIDA count…women in genre is the issue of the day. And what is happening at Jo Fletcher Books and with Rod Rees is, in my opinion, nothing more than an attempt to cash in on the outrage and frustration that so many women in this field are feeling.

Tricia Sullivan, June 28, 2013.


The month of June 2013 saw sexism (and bigotry in several forms) bubble to the surface of the SFF genre conversation. Not fictional sexism, but the real-life kind: the Resnick/Malzburg dialogues (liberal fascism! censorship!) were followed by repugnant white supremacist and ex-SFWA presidential candidate Vox Day’s vile rhetorical attack on award-winning author N.K. Jemisin. And then we were faced with the news that Elise Matthesen had made the first formal report against Tor editor James Frenkel, long rumoured to be a man with whom one should avoid getting into an elevator.


I am fed up by the level of sexism and racism in our community and am increasingly of the opinion that remaining silent on the matter provides aid and comfort to those who don’t deserve it.

Hugo-Award-winning author Charles Stross

Though the column argues that Rees is a good writer of female characters, nothing in it bolsters that claim.

– Sherwood Smith (Inda, Coronets and Steel) and writing partner Rachel Manija Brown (All the Fishes Come Home to Roost).


Rees’ article comes at a time when the attitudes of men (and of women) in the SFF community towards women, and particularly the attitudes of male writers and editors, have been highlighted, and not to their advantage.

Nor to ours. Regressive attitudes and willful ignorance make communities unwelcoming and unsafe. And it is not to anyone’s advantage to let harassment, belittlement, and lack of empathy proliferate unchallenged.

And Rees is one of the willfully ignorant, unable or unwilling to make the leap of empathy to seeing women as whole human beings, courageous and persevering in all kinds of adversity, capable of life and hope and change in even the most restricted of circumstances. Rees, you see, sees certain periods of history and certain places as antithetical to women: by which I can only conclude he means in direct and unequivocal opposition to the existence of female-bodied persons.

For example when you put female characters in settings (especially historical ones) which are antithetical to women it becomes difficult to shape a character which is sympathetic to that setting without violating… feminist norms.
Rod Rees, June 25, 2013.

Rees goes on to imply that women are unsuited to writing “visceral” fiction for adults.

It seems to be a fixture at the SF conventions I’ve attended to have a panel discussion debating why there are so few women writing in the adult SF and fantasy genres. Could it be that the success of female writers in YA fantasy fiction is in part attributable to their young female characters being better able to adhere to this [the “feminist”] template of the ideal female? Once female writers venture into the more visceral world of adult fiction they find this stereotype [of an active woman with agency] doesn’t work and hence struggle.


So. Women should stick to writing for children, because it’s less challenging, is that the implication? Less visceral? Rees has obviously never read Elizabeth Wein or Scott Westerfeld.

Karen Healey (The Shattering, When We Wake) finds YA fiction, “as visceral as it gets – racism, suicide, sexuality, love, death, grief and joy are not topics marked ADULTS ONLY,” and pointed out the works of Alaya Dawn Johnson and Sheri L. Smith as treating with particularly visceral events and themes.

According to Sarah Rees Brennan (The Demon’s Lexicon, Unspoken), people are far more likely to hold female characters to impossible standards – “and that’s a product of sexism. Generalising or denigrating YA, a genre which has a lot of female writers and a lot of female protagonists, tends to be a product of sexism as well.”

Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown say they find so many things wrong with Rees’ piece that they don’t have time to call out every single one – but the thing that leaps out at them most, they say, is his claim that women are too smart to be “foolishly” brave. “The actual implication is that an entire segment of human experience and motivation is solely male. In short, he is saying that only men are heroic.”

Charles Stross disagrees with everything Rod Rees says about writing across gender. “Rod Rees’ world view, as he expresses it, appears to be so heavily informed by black and white stereotypes that there is no room in it for shades of grey. All men are ‘this’, all women are ‘that’. All behavior is dictated by assigned gender roles, and gender roles are deterministically nailed to the physical sex of the protagonist. (He also seems unable to distinguish between biological sex and performative gender.)” He adds, “For a lot of men the social conditioning to treat women as different is so strong that they can’t recognize the essential points of similarity that exist: they’re effectively unable to look beyond the gender gap.”

Men with this problem, Stross says, don’t relate to women as people, but rather as either aliens or objects. “Theory of mind, the ability to project consciousness and intentionality on them and model them as ordinary people doesn’t seem to pertain… [and] men who don’t see women as people feel free to chastise women who behave in a manner incompatible with their preconceptions.”


The takeaway from all this is that Rees is, at best, clueless; at worst, deliberately trolling.

But what about Jo Fletcher Books?

Jo Fletcher Books, Rod Rees, SFF, Sexism, and Systemic Failure. Part I.

On June 25, 2013, Jo Fletcher Books (the SFF/H imprint of Quercus Books) published an article by Rod Rees on their blog, “Can Male Authors Successfully Write Female Characters.” The article struck me as egregiously offensive, and I contacted the publisher for comment for an article on it soon after it had been brought to my attention. (By Niall Harrison, who said – and I quote – “I feel kind of mean doing this.”)

On June 29, 2013, Jo Fletcher Books published a response by the imprint’s managing editor, Jo Fletcher, to criticism and conversation arising from the Rod Rees article, “On the Right To Freedom of Speech.”

At some point before late on June 30, 2013, both of these articles disappeared from the website, as reported by Natalie of Radish Reviews and reacted to by Foz Meadows. (“A Note on Post Deletions.”)

At this point in time (July 02, 2013) it seems both posts are again available to the wider web, as I’m able to click through to them from the JFB blog. (Rod Rees’ article now comes complete with a disclaimer that opinions aren’t those of the publishing house, which was originally lacking.) But if they should happen to disappear once more, Radish Reviews has been kind enough to host the screenshots in the linked post.

That’s the basic timeline of events. You may be asking yourself why they’re important.

I’m writing a piece on the subject of how well (or badly) male writers create/describe/cope with/handle female characters
Rod Rees, June 25, 2013.

…[M]y entire brain explode[d] in a symphony of What The Actual Fuck in D Minor.
Foz Meadows, June 26, 2013

Since I’m traveling about today, I’m writing this in bite-sized pieces. Now that I’ve outlined the events as they took place, let’s dig a little bit into why they’re worth talking about.

In Part II.

The morning after, Mr Earbrass was conscious but very little more.

The conference is over. This conference, that is, and a very interesting conference it was, indeed.

I will blog about it, as promised. But for today, while my brains are in the process of growing back from the onslaught of shiny interesting new people and thoughts, I think I’ll just round up the links my tabs have accumulated from a weekend with very little chance to participate in the internet.

Via Jim C. Hines, Elise Matthesen gives the low-down on how to report sexual harassment.

STAY SAFE: You get to choose what to do, because you’re the only one who knows your situation and what risks you will and won’t take. If not reporting is what you need to do, that’s what you get to do, and if anybody gives you trouble about making that choice to stay safe, you can sic me on them.

Leah Bobet on Science Fiction. Sexual Harassment. Missing Stairs.

I tire of our collective cowardice. A community that does not have your back is no damn community at all.

Maria Dahvana Headley with But He Didn’t Know He Was Hijacking Your Ship:

And if you question how bad it would have to be to make me feel upset? Know that I used to be a pirate negotiator in the maritime industry.

The pirates in the maritime industry were generally a great deal more polite than the creeps in the SFF world. They stuck to terms.

In the SFF world, the nasty that happens is as follows: ‘He was confused,’ rather than “HE JUST TRIED TO HIJACK YOUR SHIP.’

But I’m here to tell you, people have regularly tried to hijack my ship, and then protested that my real problem was a bad ship and bad weather, rather than dudes trying to board me.

Tansy Rayner Roberts on Sexual Harassment at SF Conventions:

Are we actually making progress here? Or have I just filtered my internet too completely?

…I also think that Amal El-Mohtar (@tithenai) tweeted a very important message in relationship to the subject:

“If this summer seems relentless where talk of harrassment in SF is concerned? Recognize that’s because it IS relentless.”

Natalie at Radish Reviews with Harassment and the Back Channel:

I am so very tired of hearing stories about how things were back in the good old days. When convention organizers were procuring asses for Isaac Asimov to pinch and women were leaving conventions because their shapely bottoms were patted while out in public. When Randall Garrett felt that it was appropriate to greet women with “I’m Randall Garrett. Let’s fuck.” Hell, as recently as 2006, Harlan Ellison felt that grabbing Connie Willis’s breast onstage at the Hugo Awards was an okay thing to do (this goes to the video, may be upsetting to watch if you haven’t seen it before, edited to fix date per comment). But hey, why can’t we all just get along? (screencap of Google cache, comments missing) Why so negative?

Reports are shining a light on the inner workings of some of SFWA’s older racists, with Speculative Friction publishing screencaps.

“Black ghetto characters” are appropriate for Steven Barnes, says Jerry Pournelle.