Jim Hines on Correia and MacFarlane

So, there’s this.

As I said in the comments on Jim’s LJ, it took me a while to read the post, not because it’s long (though it is) but because my AAAAAAAAAAAAUGH meter kept maxing out and I would have to go away and breathe for a while before I could read any more.

I just . . . ye gods and little fishies. If you’re trying to respond to a piece on gender, and right up front you tell everybody that you’re assuming the person you’re responding to is a man and you can’t be bothered to check and see whether you’re right — even though the bio is right there at the bottom of the page, waiting to answer your question — then that’s pretty much a red flag of “Nobody should bother to listen to me on this topic.”

Because you just reinforced MacFarlane’s point. Yes, sure, she’s talking about the default of non-binary gender — but sweet baby Jesus, if we can’t even get past the default of male gender, then the problem you’re trying to dismiss is even bigger than she’s saying. Correia makes it clear, over and over again, that he is uninterested in putting anything other than the straight white male default into his stories unless there’s a “reason” for it. And apparently, “people like that exist and would like to read stories in which they exist” is not a reason. Their identities have to be plot-relevant, yo, or it’s back to the straight white men (because that isn’t a political act at all, natch). Doing anything else will make science fiction BORING and then people will STOP READING IT and that’s why the genre is DYING. Because the way to make it thrive is to cater to the comfort zone of straight white male gun-loving conservatives: only non-binary people want to read about non-binary people, and presumably only black people want to read about black people, etc, so let’s stick with what’s safe, shall we?

I mean, sure, there’s money to be had in catering to that demographic. Correia is probably not wrong that he makes more money from his writing than MacFarlane does (though I don’t agree with the follow-on implication that this makes him right and him her wrong). But the notion that the future of the genre depends on not rocking the boat? That including the full range of human diversity is automatically a MESSAGE — but restricting that diversity is neutral and value-free?

Bull. Shit.

Take care in reading the comments on Hines’ site. He says they’ve been “civil,” but there are a lot of Correia’s fanboys in there, waving the flag of their ignorance on matters of sex and gender and so forth, and straying very close to the border of getting banned.

16 Responses to “Jim Hines on Correia and MacFarlane”

  1. Jim C. Hines

    Did I say they were civil? I may have, I don’t know. It’s been a long day. I’d probably characterize it as “relatively civil,” compared to some of the blatant toxic that gets tossed around the internet. I haven’t banned or deleted anyone yet, but it’s definitely not the most pleasant conversation, and I wouldn’t recommend wading into the comments unless you’ve got some extra spoons and sporks sitting around.

  2. swantower

    “I appreciate that the comments have been relatively civil so far”

    I guess that in the grand scheme of things, it is relatively civil, in that nobody has made any death threats or sufficiently ad hominem attacks to warrant being banned or deleted. But no, not a fresh mountain stream in which to go swimming.

    • Alex Dally MacFarlane

      I would say they’re not civil, but I’m going to write a longer post about this soon (not in criticism of Jim’s use of the word, but of the wider idea that as long as slurs/etc aren’t used it’s “civil” to be incredibly, harmfully ignorant and bigoted). But that’s for another day.

      Thank you for this post.

      • swantower

        Yeah — that’s a concept I think Fred Clark has dissected multiple times at Slacktivist. The notion that you can be “nice” while expressing bigoted views, and what that means for how we’re defining “niceness,” etc.

  3. Rick (aka Cranky McBasstard)

    Actually, Larry does the smart thing. In the mix of all his different characters of race, religion, whathaveyou (and yes, there’s a pretty good mix), he allows the reader to FILL IN THE BLANK when it comes to characters. Like most good authors, he doesn’t try to nail down each and every aspect of a character, unless it’s relevant to the story he is telling. Many authors will use fill material by describing down to a “t” something, whether it be the room decorations, the exact match of paint codes for a car, etc. HE LETS THE READER do the work, because he knows they will do a much better job of imagining the story from their own perspective.

    So, unless a character is spelled out inch by exacting inch, there is room for the reader to put their own spin on a character. Maybe you want your character to be a baptist from India, if their religion isn’t spelled out, feel free to insert. If you want your character to be gay, black, female with one leg and smokes a cigar, if the author doesn’t spell it out, go right ahead.

    You take an argument about a rather bogus default reset and turn it into “He doesn’t want anything other than straight white males in his reading”, giving a fallacy there. He mentioned all the different kinds of materials he read. Read his books and you will find all different kinds of characters, races, colors, sexual orientations as well.

    But that isn’t really as important as group think, i suppose. (I’m sure that last line will feed the grist mill.)

    • swantower

      I profoundly disagree with the notion that leaving those things undefined is a good thing for a story. A character who is a Baptist from India will be shaped by that experience: they will not respond the same way to situations as the character who is a Muslim from Indiana, or a neopagan from Russia, or an atheist from Egypt. If I can imagine a given character to be any of those things without it affecting their characterization at all, then it’s a sign that the characterization is paper-thin in the first place.

      As for the comment about group-think, I’m in the process of adding my moderation policy to the site (just put it on my LJ and my DW; will do it here as soon as this is posted), but I will tell you right now that retreating behind a shield of “you’ll only disagree with me because you’re all walking in lockstep and can’t consider different points of view” is not a good route to go here. It pretty much just draws attention to the weakness of your own argument.

      • Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

        The other problem with the “lets the reader fill in the blanks” mentality is that, given that we’re dealing with a societal backdrop of straight-white-male being the default, that’s how most readers will fill in the blanks. Even readers who aren’t straight-white-male.

        As someone on Jim Hines’s website aptly commented, “The status quo isn’t neutral.” If we want to get to a place where people stop assuming that straight, white, and male is the default setting for “person,” we need stories where the characters are explicitly other than that, and explicitly themselves.

        Not that this is something the Larry Correias of the world are worried about, but this is a reason why many of us might not consider Larry Correia’s “smart thing” to be a strategy to aspire to.

  4. Rick (aka Cranky McBasstard)

    Well, I have to admit, I was inspired by Jims intro on his fisking. 🙂

    However, I can tell you that as a reader, I put more into a character that isn’t always rigidly spelled out. It’s why a lot of author’s lose readership after a time. Cent’s per word can add up when padding a book, and excessive character description can easily do that. I once read an entire book by Piers Anthony before realizing that the main character was “black”. And it didn’t change my enjoyment of the book one bit. Perhaps it helps to inform an author as to how their character will react to some things some times, but in situations where race/gender/etc.. is not an issue, who cares.

    As to the “retreating” statement, it’s okay, I don’t retreat. I cut off attacks before the start. I’ve had many a discussion with liberal friends, many of which were fun, engaging, and led to new viewpoints on both sides. But for the most part, not so much. There is a definite lockstep “agree with me or you’ll be threatened with banning” attitude online. I never worry about it, because if I’m being civil, not name calling, not cussing, and I get that threat, it generally is a cover up for THAT persons weak position.

    Not to worry though, I just didn’t want Jim to think we were ignoring his link. Doubt I’ll be back.


    • swantower

      I’m not particularly interesting in discussing what attitudes you may have found in other places online, except when that’s the actual topic at hand. So long as you are in this particular comment thread to talk about gender in fiction, you’re welcome to stay.

      As for reading: yes, we all read into characters. That’s pretty standard. But I think you vastly underestimate the extent to which race/gender/etc is a factor in people’s behavior, on levels ranging from their speech to the food they eat to the assumptions that will shape the they actions they take. And the notion that it doesn’t matter unless it’s an “issue” strikes me as dovetailing naturally with Correia’s assumption that putting non-binary people into a story = beating the reader over the head with a Message. It is possible for an author to be preachy — absolutely. It’s also true, as Jim agreed, that readers frequently dislike being preached at (although as some of his commenters have pointed out, we all tend to be more accepting of preaching when we agree with the point). But inclusion is not always about a Message. It’s about reflecting the broader spectrum of reality. Which sends a message (lower-case m) in its own right, of course; but so, on the other hand, does not reflecting that spectrum.

  5. Rick (aka Cranky McBasstard)

    And that is pretty much what he was saying. Story over preaching message. Story over an idealog. Story over everything, everything in service to the story. And the only time I’ve ever seen that violated was by Peter David in some of his excellent comics writing. And then it was acknowledged in such a way as to make the story better upon reading the explanation.

    Most of the objection to what Larry said was the style; confrontational with snarky humor in place. And good for him. With most of the pap and pablum pushed, a good bullshit-o-meter is needed. Intelligent work need not be pretentious bs. And fun material, designed for a day at the beach or sittin on the porch with a glass of iced tea need not be so preachy as to turn off readers. New authors have a tough enough time catching on and becoming successful without trying to follow political agendas that don’t match their work because they are trying to conform to the establishment.

    and frankly, if it isn’t something near and dear to the author’s heart, needed for the story to work, it’s sellout crap guaranteed to tank a career. And that, when you boil down all the bs, is what he was saying.

    • swantower

      The notion that MacFarlane was advocating for preachiness in place of good story is a pretty obvious straw man — unless your underlying assumption is that addressing these matters automatically equates to preaching, and cannot be good storytelling except in very rare instances. So either it’s a bad argument, or the underlying assumption is toxic.

      Furthermore, are we only talking about fun beach reading? Such work unquestionably has its place, but I’d prefer to see SF aspire to have thought-provoking works as well as light, fluffy ones. Heck, we could even have light, fluffy reads that provoke thought while they’re at it!

      As for the notion that we’re making life harder for new writers by advocating for these things . . . sorry, I pretty much have to laugh at that one. When less than 1% of the YA published in the U.S. even contains LGBT characters — not “less than 1% of the characters are LGBT,” or “less than 1% have them as protagonists;” that few have LGBT characters present at all — and there are documented instances of covers being whitewashed, authors being pressured to make gay characters straight, etc . . .

      New authors have a tough enough time catching on and becoming successful without trying to follow political agendas that don’t match their work because they are trying to conform to the establishment.

      Yep. But the political agenda these new writers are supposed to conform to is documentably not one that pushes diversity. Quite the opposite.

      and frankly, if it isn’t something near and dear to the author’s heart, needed for the story to work, it’s sellout crap guaranteed to tank a career

      The implication of your words here is that diversity is not “near and dear” to the heart of the authors you’re concerned with, and that diversity is not needed to make their stories work.

      This is probably true. But it is not a thing to applaud.

  6. Ken

    Thank you for posting on this. One thing that has happened with this is that I have found several more interesting blogs to follow. Yours, and Alex’s, and Ria so far at least. Thanks for speaking out!

    And, also reading the various posts commenting on this issue, it’s really starting to look like there are only 2 or 3 comment-monsters making sure to have their say on any related post with open comments.

    I especially like the not at all condescending add-ons like “Doubt I’ll be back.” and many other similar comments on Jim’s post like all of the “I will never buy your books!”. There’s a certain type of person who feels the need to announce when they are leaving so that everyone knows. However, I don’t know about you, but it’s also perfectly normal for me to walk into stores and shout out “I’m not buying anything here!” and then walk out. That’s not at all ridiculous. 🙂

    But all snarkiness aside, I am glad that I found some interesting new blogs to start reading. Thanks!!

    • swantower

      It’s called a “flounce,” when someone loudly declares they aren’t coming back to a particular discussion. It generally leads to them coming back. 🙂

      (I say this in the full awareness that I, too, have done the flounce-and-return dance. Probably 90% of us who have ever gotten into a debate on the internet have done it.)

      Anyway, I’m glad you’ve found some new sites to read as a result of all this.

  7. quilly_mammoth

    So this Neanderthal mis-identified the author as a male instead of a female….a post about the changing nature of how we identify gender, and how that should be portrayed… and the thing which most informs your opinion is gender identification? Really???

    And “flounce” was coined by the operator of Little Green Footballs

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