OK, a controversial one today. I’m going to talk about Mad Americans.
Sorry my American friends but when your compatriots turn barking they really go for it, you guys do mad better than any nation on earth. Not even we British can touch you. And that’s saying something.
Have you heard the latest? Science Fiction Writers of America, an organisation which, by all accounts, makes… well… even Republicans look open-minded has been in the news this week. Some of its members have expressed a view that women shouldn’t write sci-fi. This is, apparently, because they think that too many of the Sci-fi novels written by women have – gasp – romance in them! Mwah ha hahargh. I do ‘get’ that, I loathe and detest sparkly vampires but they’re just a trend, a fad and they’ll go away. They’re not caused by women! However, members of the SFWA are putting forward women sce-fi writers as the reason for this. Are you hearing a teeny bit of Sheldon Cooper on this one? Are you?
So, that’s the basic gist. Because of a passing trend for intergalactic bonk busters and the odd instance of characters falling in love in recent sci-fi, the SFWA has decided this:
Women authors = too much coitus. Phnark.
Well, they didn’t decide the ‘phnark’ bit I said that.
Well of course! That’s it, it’s our fault because we all know that Sci-fi, like D.I.Y. is serious hard-core man work that should not be attempted by women. Snortle!
Well, I got most of my info from Cora Buhlert’s excellent blog here. One of the articles she links to is a cracker here. I can recommend checking this site, it features sci-fi stories from around the world, properly around the world. It’s interesting, definitely worth a look.
To be honest, would anyone outside the United States see SFWA as the flagship organisation of the sci-fi genre? In Britain, perhaps, although I wouldn’t but then, I think that the ‘special relationship’ was made up by Winston Churchill to salvage some semblance of dignity after Yalta. History is always skewed by the perspective of those who write it; he wrote it, after everyone else was dead. But other English speakers/readers? I don’t know. The SFWA speaks for Americans, which is great but that’s not the English-speaking planet. From outside the US we foreigners can get the impression that, to an awful lot of Americans, their country IS the world which is fine so long as they don’t treat us as if, by being beyond their receptive parameters, we have no right to exist.
However, the thing that strikes me most forcefully about all of this is that if the SFWA wasn’t an American organisation, there probably wouldn’t even be a debate raging at all. How can a country be so forward and yet so backward at the same time? How do the nutter Americans get so het up and more to the point make so much noise? Zero tolerance or what? Some parts of the States must be stifling to live in. Check this! Mwah ha ha hargh, it’s absolutely hilarious but the sad thing is, it’s real. Do they not see the comedy in what they’re saying? Who stole their sense of humour, their sense of fair play? Then again, I’m British when we go to ‘protest’ on racial or religious grounds this happens http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/may/27/york-mosque-protest-tea-biscuits
See? Muslims aren’t bad people even if some bad people happen to be Musilms.
Sorry, tangent there. What I’m saying is that more and more people are learning to speak English every day. Right now the US represents just under half the English speakers on this planet – but that’s in countries where English is the national language, totted up by me looking at the population figures. It doesn’t count the people in other nations, where English is not the national language, but lots of people speak and read it. So the US is the noisiest market and it’s the biggest single market but it probably represents a lot less than half the population reading in English.
This also raises a broader question: What choice for a non American sci-fi author? You can address the US market, but it’s pretty conservative so you need to tailor your books specifically and then they may not fit so well elsewhere. You may well need to spell your book in American, write about American people and use American settings. If you’re writing sci-fi your protagonists, if they originate from Earth, will have to be very American in their outlook and culture, no-one will ever be allowed to wear a jumper or a jersey, the word will always have to be ‘sweater’. No-one will be allowed to use the interesting swear words because the Americans only know two; all in all, a bit dull.
Alternatively, you can write in your own voice, accept that the scary Americans won’t listen – but do you want them to anyway – welcome those who do, and speak to the other English-speakers of the world; Africa, Australasia and Eurasia. Places where there are millions of people who are willing and far more readily able to enjoy a story written from a differing cultural viewpoint. People who see English as a global language so understand that a faucet and a tap are the same thing. Also, BONUS, these are emerging economies where people have money to spend on books, unlike the US whose economy looks, from the outside, as if it’s almost as far down the lavatory (or the John) as ours.
I loved the quote from the South African writer along the lines of why would I join the Science Fiction Writers of America, it has nothing to do with me? Do you think the worm might finally be turning? It really is time organisations like the SFWA and more broadly, certain sectors of the US began to try and understand other cultures – and more importantly were educated to do so – the way we understand theirs.
Could it be that, if the SFWA becomes more of an anachronism, and remains US-centric, it will come to realise that it is only the representative organisation of bigoted, male American sci-fi writers? It could be a world player but not without a change of attitude. Otherwise, it will be marginalised as the rest of us get bored of doing everything a certain way ‘so the Americans can understand it’ and another more outward-looking, inclusive organisation will step up and become the world ‘voice’ of the genre.
Homework: Read that ‘vox popoli’ post again and try and list the differences in attitude between that and the comedy skit shown below.
Answer: There are no differences.