Saturday, October 1, 2016

Quick Thoughts - Some Opinions on the State of Short Fiction

First, some happy news. This month marks the second anniversary of my monthly short fiction recommendation series, The Monthly Round: A Taster's Guide to Speculative Short Fiction. Woo! I did not know starting The Monthly Round that it would pull me into SO MUCH reviewing, as it's a large reason that I decided to start Quick Sip Reviews, but here I am. After the official anniversary post a little later this month, I will have featured 216 of my favorite reads paired with thematically appropriate drinkables. Mostly short fiction and flash, but with a few poems for good measure (and some not-so-short-but-still-considered-short short fiction). So yeah, two years after I started doing the Monthly Round I feel like it's a good time to check in and have some thoughts.

To be honest, I was waiting for Truesdale over at Tangent to release his full rant from the State of Short Fiction panel before really looking at this issue, but seeing as how each week seems to bring some other flavor of…response to the state of short fiction, I didn't feel like waiting any longer. I am not an editor of short SFF. I am not involved with any publication or magazine or site that's really in a position to talk about the business of short SFF. I understand that financial concerns are large and that the pressure to always succeed is great and that sometimes to make money people aim for what might be easiest. For what they expect to make the most money. I don't want to speak to that, really. Again, I am a (mostly) unpaid reviewer and blogger and a (sometimes) paid writer of short SFF. I am, however, first and foremost, a reader and a fan of short SFF. So…

There are a great many different conversations going on in short SFF at the moment. And most of them absolutely need to happen. It's not the overwhelming response that one might have hoped for, but Fireside's report about black writers of short SFF has already seen large impact. Strange Horizons and The Dark have been vocal about adding new editors in hopes of working to fix the issue. Apex has announced guest editorships along the same lines. Fireside had eluded to changing the way that submissions are received (and Strange Horizons also announced that they might be changing some of their methods, as well). Clarkesworld has hinted that something might be happening there, though no details on that yet. Meanwhile Fiyah has opened to submissions and Mithila Review has recommitted to reaching out to more marginalized voices. And there is more that I'm sure I've missed in my haze of trying to keep up with reading and reviewing.

This conversation seems to me linked but also distinct from the one that centers around awards and the more nebulous idea of "diversity." In some ways, the conversation surrounding awards, which the Puppies and the like have been and still are engaged in, is so far removed from the one surrounding how to better solicit to marginalized and non-dominant writers as to be laughable. Forget trying to do better, the Puppies have essentially declared—we're already too special snowflake and entitled and blah blah blah. Kids these days, amirite? This framing of the conversation seems consciously and deliberately constructed to try and stall the conversation. To try and Trump up the idea that it's those damned SJWs who are too easily offended. PC politics run amok! When really, really, it's not that racism and homophobia and ableism are offensive so much as…harmful.

To be fair…is a terrible thing to say in an argument. So is "life's not fair." Pretty much anything about fairness. Trust me, the people for whom life is less than fair already know that, and the people for whom life is more than fair don't know what fair is. Using that as a tool against those who are already oppressed takes a certain amount of assholery and I fear is the reason why certain fucking horrible politicians have gained in power and popularity. By ignoring the facts and speaking to what "feels" true. Ignore the fact that statistically short SFF still has HUGE problems and instead speak on how you "feel" that it's gone too far toward the "PC" and how the proof is how there's not a violent mob running non-dominant writers and fans out of the genre. All this while sharpening pitchforks and testing torches. This is not to say that short SFF doesn't also have it's share of people who see that, see that the genre is taking some steps in the right direction, and declare mission accomplished. Who think "I'm on the good side of this debate because I don't support X [Trump, the Puppies, what have you]." When…boiling the conversation down to an argument between two sides is erasing so much of what is being said.

There is a sense of clueless white guy "Yeah, but what am I supposed to do?" about this entire thing. An urge from certain parties to want to demand some magic way of doing things that will result in no risk, in no possibility of being called racist or homophobic or…"bad." You have people upset with "call out culture" because it doesn't allow dominant people a clear path to never being harmful. When…I don't really care what your history is or how much "good will" you think you're due, when you cause harm you should fucking own that, try to make amends, and then improve your actions. And even then, no one owes you understanding. No one owes you forgiveness. Do the work because it's important, because it's necessary, because it's right. Don't do it for cookies and certainly don't do it to profit off of the harm done to others.

It's been two years since I started The Monthly Round. And in that time I've read thousands of works of SFF. As a reader, I am excited about the stories coming out. I think the quality and the complexity rivals or surpasses anything written previously. But I know that there are even better stories out there that aren't being published. That are being rejected out of hand or that never get submitted because the field is such a fucking minefield of shit. I want those stories. And many need those stories. So what's the state of short SFF? It's a beautiful mess. It's among the best pockets for amazing, affirming, and inspiring stories being published today. But it needs improving, because it could and should be so much better. Thanks for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

No comments:

Post a Comment