I’ve been off Twitter a lot lately, but I did pop in a few days ago, and one of the first things I caught was a post from SciFiNow for an author I don’t know, but it was an “influences”-type recommendation list so I decided to check it out. To my somewhat unsurprised dismay, the list created by a guy had only guys on it. Which many in the SFF sphere may recognize as a pattern with male authors of any renown. Even a guy I like, Alastair Reynolds, lists only males in his influences list at the end of his newest novella Slow Bullets. And having read a fair few of his earlier novels, it’s pretty apparent to me that he has been influenced by someone who identifies as a woman because the way he writes women and about women is significantly different than your run-of-the-mill SFF dude.
But on to the point of this post.
As I said, it’s been a trend lately that we’re noticing a lot more of these all-male recommendation lists. Whether their appearance is the trend or our ability to notice is—as blogger/book/media critic extraordinaire @Renay noted in her retweet of my original tweet about that SciFiNow post
—males who point out only other males is a problem in a lot of ways, including what it says about the values and world-views of those particular authors. Of course #notallmen are misogynists or sexists or idiots, and we’re not out to ruin their day just because they came across as a bit ignorant on their list but it does point to a lot of larger problems within the SFF world, and indeed the larger publishing world.
1. By only giving credit to male authors for influencing your work, or for participating in your genre, you’re marginalizing the great work that non-male, non-white authors are doing. You could just as easily give the spotlight to someone who, due to systemic racism or sexism, has had a much harder time getting published or getting publicity for their work after being published. More on this at Natalie Luhrs’ post “Examine Your Priorities,” after the whole Ernest Cline debacle. As a successful author, you have a chance to give a massive signal boost to someone who really needs it, rather than boosting the same dead guys who have been recommended forever, in a genre that’s all about change and progress.
2. You’re short-changing your readers. While it’s certainly true that some readers are only interested in a very narrow slice of whatever genre they read, many are looking for new and different and mind-bending and interesting. While I see where Beaulieu might imagine a whole wagonload of diversity in his list because of the ways in which the novels on his list tangentially touch on the topic of metropolis, if your recommendation list contains a total of ten books and two are by the same author and all the authors are male, your idea of diversity might need a bit of an adjustment. Think about what you’re really saying about the genre with an all-male recommendation list: Essentially, you’re telling your readers that this is what SFF is, so anyone not already up to their ears in SFF or not already actively looking for diversity, is going to take you at your word and keep on reading only white males.
Which leads us to perhaps the biggest reason to diversify your recommendation lists, especially if you’re a white male author:
3. As Renay stated in her follow-up tweet, it makes one question what that author really values, in terms of perspectives not only within fiction but without. One might get the impression, from a list like that, that you the creator of the list view SFF as a boys’ club where the only people who have anything interesting to say about culture, the world, the future, are white males. Or at the very least that the only ones deserving of credit for SFF, its future, and the ideas that come out of it, are white males. Is that the kind of impression you want to give? But then again maybe you just don’t care.
Because anyone who is actually looking, who actually cares, couldn’t help but at least notice N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and its companion novels in the series, when they came out, and the way that the capital city figures as not only a setting but a character in those novels. Or Ursula K. Le Guin’s imaginings of an alien city on a frozen world and the ways that geography creates necessity in The Left Hand of Darkness. Or how Elizabeth Bear built a steampunk city out of memories of memories of wild west frontier towns in Karen Memory, or Margaret Atwood’s dystopian metro sprawl in the MaddAddam series or David Anthony Durham’s re-centering of civilization in his Acacia series, or the way that Detroit plays such a crucial role as setting in Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks, if you feel the need to go back a bit further to Pratchett and Asprin. And that’s just for novels that deal with the concept of metropolis.
I don’t know who Bradley Beaulieu is, so I’m not trying to call him out or bring a mob down on him. The point is, I don’t know who he is, but based on this list he’s created, I don’t plan to, either.