I never thought I would find myself on the cusp of entering the science fiction and fantasy literature world as a professional, yet here I am. I’m starting to get integrated into circles of other writers, publishers, editors, businessmen and entrepreneurs in the writing art form. It’s not a place I’m familiar with at all, and the few cons I’ve gone to have put me in some new, interesting, and sometimes awkward social situations that have taken a lot of social ninja-ing to get through without stepping on anyone’s toes or creating enemies.
So it came as a bit of a shock to me that, when I started reading professional blogs and reading Facebook posts from other authors, I found so much vitriol, conflict, and otherwise highly volatile arguments going on. Gun control. Women’s rights. Racism. Politics. Politics. Also, politics. It seemed the more I dug into the writing world, the less it became about writing. Some people hardly post about storytelling at all, instead lending their blogs to topics that inevitably stir controversy.
I generally avoid them like the plague for a number of reasons that are tangential to my point here, but I’ll mention them quickly: first, I am anti-absolutist. If you think the world is black and white and you have no open mind to other opinions or thoughts, I don’t want to talk to you. In any argument worth having, BOTH parties must be willing to change their opinion and accept information. If not, it’s not an argument; it’s two people just saying things, and it’s one of the reasons why American politics is broken.
The second is it’s f@#ing scary. People are exceptionally rude and disrespectful, sarcastic, and downright mean. That’s no way to carry on a conversation about highly charged topics that are actually important. Worse, it’s not the way most people would carry on a conversation in person. The shelter of the internet has done bad things for mutual respect. If you would really lurk in a room and say something that has no other purpose but to attempt to embarrass someone, that’s not cool, dude. That’s not cool.
Yet, when I think about it now, it should have come as no surprise at all. Artists in general have been some of the most socially and politically aggressive people in the history of mankind. After all, it’s all about communicating, right? Those who can communicate are those that rule (except in monarchies, then it’s just about making babies), in one way or another. And artists are on the forefront of social change. Even if it’s just through the stories they tell or the pictures they paint, artists always have something to say.
But – is this new form the same, and do I really have to do that? Do I really need to participate in this in order to be a well-known author in these circles? Or will I relegate myself to obscurity by simply wanting to tell stories? I don’t know. But right now, with SFWA doing tumbles over issues about sexism, and so many posts on my Facebook wall that feel like they’re baiting me, it feels like there’s a subculture inside SF/F (and I only say this because I’m not that familiar with other genre’s circles) that I don’t want to join. At least not yet. I’m not ready to make enemies in a world in which I have few enough friends already, and it seems that people are much more ready to become enemies than friends.
Do I think these issues are important? Yes. Do I think we need to talk about them? Yes. Do I think that spending hours a day on Facebook troll-slaying is going to do anything except raise my blood pressure and create the potential for me to make enemies in a world where I have few enough friends? No, I really don’t. I think it takes away from valuable writing time, of which I don’t have enough to begin with, and puts me in a state of mind that is not conducive to storytelling. Facebook absolutely can spur social change – Hello, Arab Spring, how are you? – but there’s a part of me that just doesn’t feel comfortable jumping into the rampant sexism/racism/political snake pit. Maybe I’ll come to terms with it someday, but right now it feels a bit like a barrier.
What are your thoughts? Is the SF/F genre a good forum for social change and those topics? How do YOU deal with building a career and trying to keep your nose clean at the same time? Or do you think it’s selfish to think only of your career, and spurring social change is much more important for you?
*** If I’ve had an argument with you on Facebook recently, don’t think too much about this post. The kinds of arguments I’m talking about here are the ones I haven’t entered because they are too volatile to be worth anything.