Business Musings: Generations

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

The sf field is getting hit hard right now with a clash between generations. The clash isn’t a minor one: it’s over the future of sf. It’s about bringing in diverse voices, which sf failed to do (mostly through the gatekeepers who were [and some still are] bigoted against anyone who is not a white male). Some of the voices that are coming in are strident. Many are accusatory. A few are judgmental.

All have legitimate grievances. When you’ve been pounding on a door for years, and the door finally cracks open, you don’t say thank you. You say, What the hell? I’ve been trying to get in here for a long time. Didn’t you hear me?

Some of that generational conflict broke out on social media the morning that I’m writing this. A tone-deaf member of the older generation tried to defend himself, and failed miserably. Another member (in a different genre) has attracted national news because she was so overzealous in her real world job that she literally cost young black men decades of their lives. Her behavior back then (and now) is news to some of her younger fans. It had been so long ago that I never put the writer with the prosecutor. (I don’t think she’d been writing back then.) That terrible thing she had done is back in the news—and it should be.

That’s what some of her defenders miss. We should be discussing misuse of power and the harm we do, even as we think we’re doing good.

. . . .

I went into my office and grabbed . . .  Creative Quest by Questlove (with Ben Greenman)

. . . .

[Questlove] deals with generational change. He expresses it in metaphor.  (which is probably why I like the book: I think in metaphor.)

Once, as a young man, he walked along a train track after a train had left and wondered how long he had before another train would mow him down. He moved that physical thought into the creative realm.

How long does an artist have alone on a track, heading to the future, before another artist comes up behind him, and takes his place?

Questlove knows that art isn’t a zero-sum game. He doesn’t mean that only one artist can be on that track at one time. He really is discussing being the cool, the new. The person creating the wave, or riding the crest of the wave. Being the cutting edge.

That’s the focus here.

Because being the cutting edge is addictive. And it makes an impression on our brains as artists. Some artists continue to chase being cutting edge (which puts them behind the cutting edge train, to use Questlove’s metaphor). Others loudly defend that they once were cutting edge. And some move quietly forward, learning and growing, and accepting that they can only be cutting edge once in their careers.

Judging from this book, Questlove and the Roots belong to the latter group. Yes, they’re still learning and growing, but they’re never going to be the hot thing again. They might become more popular than they were in the beginning, but they will never be that new, surprising voice again.

We only get one chance at that.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

51 thoughts on “Business Musings: Generations”

  1. “Some of the voices that are coming in are strident. Many are accusatory. A few are judgmental.”

    They are all judgmental in their own way – that’s why they voice …

    “All have legitimate grievances.”

    Not really, and not any more as they no longer have to go through any gatekeeper to reach their readers. Discoverability can still be hard – no matter the path.

    On the internet no one knows you’re a dog, or your age/sex/race unless you tell them. So by simply using a pen name that admits to nothing you can be anything for anyone. So much for that set of barriers …

    As always the rules are changing and one must adapt or be run over by the ‘cutting edge’. One thing of humor is that those chasing the cutting edge sometimes get too close to it – and get cut themselves.

    I used to stay on the cutting edge of computers – and spent way too much time and money trying to stay there. Now a days I let others discover which ways that edge will bleed them dry before getting my ‘needs’ rather than my ‘wants’. In writing that means not chasing all the latest ‘must do’ fads, but instead simply writing a story I hope others will enjoy (if I make a buck or two and/or get better known – well that’s nice too! 😉 )

    MYMV and the scams misdial your number.

  2. The clash isn’t a minor one: it’s over the future of sf. It’s about bringing in diverse voices, which sf failed to do

    I’ll have to check this column at KKR’s blog, but my first thought is “are they any good?” Publishing “diverse voices” means precious little when their books don’t sell (either physically or as ebooks).

    Have a lot of talented authors been lost in the slush piles? Sure, and the really talented ones find a way to get published anyway.

    • The problem is the fight for SF is over, trad-pub gave up and the writers went indie. Now the ones that never got out of the slush pile bemoan that their wonderful works are lost in the millions of other SF writers also putting their works out for readers to pick through.

      Is there a lot of ‘crap’ out there? Sure there is, just as the slush pile had crap, the only difference is the publisher had only so many slots – once those were filled the slush pile was dumped, where as good/bad/indifferent can all be found on the internet. Sadly for the publishers they didn’t always pick the winners either …

      One nice thing about ‘the internet of junk’ is that niche writers (like me!) can reach small audiences that trad-pub would have considered not worth the effort.


    • The Hugo for best novel has been won by a woman of color for the last three years running. This suggests that the SF community is pretty much over excluding everyone but white men. In fact, roughly half the Hugos for best novel since 1990 or so have been won by women. There is a subset of the SF community that is unhappy about this, but they seem to be a small, if loud, minority.

      Any good? I would be the first to agree that winning a Hugo is no guarantee of quality. But in the case of N. K Jemisin’s wins the last three years, I think her books are superb. These are not awards that will have future generations scratching their heads and wondering what we were thinking.

      • My mileage varied. I read the first two chapters of the first book of Jemisin’s trilogy and could not continue. It was well written, but as I recall it was so depressing I could not bring myself to read any more, and returned it to the library. The curse of the Hugo strikes (me) again.

        • It certainly isn’t of the “suck you in on the first page” school of fiction. Rather, it is of the “worth the effort” school. But if depressing is a deal-killer for you, then I don’t recommend further attempts. You have correctly identified it as not your cup of tea.

  3. Why is there an unspoken assumption in most rants like this that having ‘diverse voices’ require recruiting writers with different skin colors? Isn’t that… well, just a little racist?

  4. The clash isn’t a minor one: it’s over the future of sf.

    It is indeed minor and has no effect on the future of anything.

    Anyone can publish whatever they want, and anyone can read whatever they want.

    Anyone can tell us about the barriers they are toppling, and how meaningful they are.

    Meanwhile, anyone can publish whatever they want, and anyone can read whatever they want.

  5. If she’s going to write a pensive blog post about conflict within the world of SF publishing, can’t she at least name a few names so the rest of us can come up to speed? “A tone-deaf member of the older generation”, “… attracted national news because she was so overzealous in her real world job”

    Pardon? What national news? What social media?

    Or should I just crawl back in my hole and be glad I don’t know.

  6. The “older generation” reference was to Robert Silverberg who did some version of “can’t we all just tell a good SF story rather than make it about identity?” or something like that (I’m paraphrasing my understanding — didn’t see the actual quote).

    No clue about the other reference (“real world job”)…

    • Oh, ok. I’ve heard of Silverberg; I used to see him in the now-defunct Science Fiction Age magazine. Discovered KKR there, too. The quote sounds innocuous. But I don’t do social media, so I’m blissfully unaware of any dust-ups, tiffs, or vendettas. If the fights are interesting than may someone’s knife chip and shatter. If not, a pox on both houses, then.

      • The fact that his comments are not treated as innocuous is the reason so many people have fled the trad SF/F circle. I know it’s why I did. (Am I allowed to say that? I’m a Hispanic woman. Quick, check my credentials.)


        • I don’t have the latest Sliding Scale of Oppression close at hand, so I’m not sure if Hispanic “counts”; I think it depends on who you fight with 😉

          But that Silverberg’s preferences are being villainized just vindicates my preference for avoiding cliques. Too much drama at best, and at worst, some hideous, power-tripping troglodyte will try and destroy your career and good name. My primal impulse is to call for kanly on such people, but I’m not convinced I could wage it to my own satisfaction. So I try to avoid anything that would incite non-actionable rage in my heart.

          • Political infighting and petty bickering are a grand tradition in sff publishing. SFF writers tend to be highly intelligent and often a little on the eccentric and/or socially awkward scale. They are, as a group, the phrase for which “herding cats” was inventing.

            • Oh, I know the SFF industry has had previous petty fights, which I initially assumed this one to be. And perhaps hopefully it still is, unless people are actually trying to wreck careers. Shouting doesn’t count; I ignore shouting unless it’s short and sweet: “Fire!” or “Run for your lives!”

              But trying to take away people’s livelihoods because those people prefer to “story” rather than wage war over being More X Than Thou? I don’t want to be in trad SF/F because of the latter preference amongst their loudest talkers. It’s even worse when those people are editors; as a reader it means good writers might decide to stay away, which allows more tedious slogs to clog up the pipeline. Tsunami of crap indeed.

                • That’s because readers know what they want, while suppliers are trying to guess what will be wanted – and they keep backing the wrong horse!


    • “… complaining that she’s not being treated fairly …”

      Or just not being paid the attention she thinks she’s due.

    • The problem isn’t that Meadows is an “angry black woman.”
      The problem is that she’s built her career on grievancemongering more than writing capability, and she knows it.

    • Ahh, the dramas one misses by ignoring the Clique Wars and focusing on the stories. Does anybody outside the tradpub cliques actually care these days?

      Sounds like Old White Male Mr Silverberg expressed a preference for the civility and collegiality of the twentieth century, when the focus was the stories and the ideas instead of the authors.
      Bad Silverberg, bad, bad…

  7. Ah, the old ‘If you don’t act sensitive to our (supposed) plight you must be the enemy’ line.

    He’s got a point you know. The only ones that can’t quit talking about it are those thinking they can make something off all the noise.

    I don’t judge a book by its writer – I judge it on how well it was written and if it drew me into its world. It’s only if the writer has decided to make a lot of noise or a scene that I do start judging books by their writer (normally to avoid them at all cost.)

    MYMV and you not get roped into the wars …

  8. Oh my gosh, I LOVE Robert Silverberg! Without knowing anything about what went on (will go read now) I find it hard to imagine him being stupid or insensitive. And he’s written such fabulous stuff that he has a lot of credit in my book.

    And it’s true, there’s indie now so there shouldn’t be any fights over who gets to be published. I’ve read some fabulous indie SF (mostly apocalypse stuff but still).

  9. Personally, I’m tired of everything being politicized and can fully understand Robert Silverberg’s POV.

    I’m not saying there hasn’t been–and perhaps continues to be–discrimination in the traditional publishing and awards world. Still, authors like Octavia Butler, Samuel R. Delaney, and Walter Mosley managed to not only get published but make an impression on the SF world.

    In contrast to the brouhaha over diverse voices (or, as the agents like to say, “own voices,” as if no one but a person of color has their own voice), I’m reminded of a successful indie science fiction author. I started reading some of her posts on Facebook because of her success. I was interested in the methods she’d used to build it. She is pretty much always an interesting read. It was only after several weeks that I noticed her profile photo and discovered she was African-America. “Huh,” I said, and that’s about the last time I even thought about that. I respect her for who she is as an author and a person, not because she fits some politically correct category.

  10. If Kris is referring to Fairstein, I’m unimpressed.

    I’m also unimpressed with the linked case against Fairstein.

    I’m not sure what the argument against Mass Incarceration is, but if the motivation is the comparison between US rates, and the averaged rates of every other country, apples and oranges. PRC apparently has quite a bit of a higher capital punishment rate than we do, the world is not uniform, and valid comparisons would need to be corrected for a variety of factors.

    Fairstein is accused of being unrepentant despite having been shown to have done wrong. a) DNA evidence is not unimpeachable. Perhaps a higher court has found it credible enough to vacate the convictions, I didn’t see that mentioned. Higher courts can also be wrong. DNA evidence alone is not enough to show that the prosecutor must have a guilty mind. b) Suppose the confessions were obtained inappropriately, and Fairstein does have a guilty mind. That goes beyond mere over-zealousness. Is this the appropriate venue to litigate the matter? One, what punishment can be dispensed that is comparable to the harm that can be done by a prosecutor willing to commit fraud? Two, is this a body fit to judge whether said fraud has occurred? There’s room to disagree about the practice of law enforcement in this country. There’s room to disagree about the needs for reform of sex abuse prosecution in this country. If any body is a fit place to litigate professional misconduct, we undermine the basis for domestic peace in this country. Yes, her work is close enough to her art that a sincere belief that the first is fraudulently could legitimate impact one’s opinion of the second. Has she been disciplined by the Bar? If not, this can as justly be done to anyone. c) I’d apparently misread Kris’s article. I had the impression that she was conflating the convictions with preventing diverse voices from entering the field. Rereading the text shows that I was wrong.

    • If any body is a fit place to litigate professional misconduct, we undermine the basis for domestic peace in this country.

      Very few bodies litigate anything. But, any body is indeed an appropriate forum to discuss public policy and the actions of officials in a free society. The basis for domestic peace is an informed and involved population.

      • I think my sentence may have conveyed my intent badly.

        Consider the following hypothetical: I come here and assert to Passive Guy that he should ban you for whatever reason. Since I don’t know you from Adam, the only argument I could construct seems to be a Bizzaro world interpretation of RICO. The correct venue for such an accusation would probably be Federal court, which would probably want to punish me for wasting their time and possibly for attempting to cause you injury. But instead of that, I bring it here. Passive Guy strikes me as a reasonable sort, so I imagine his response to me doing such an odious thing would range from telling me to pound sand, or banning me.

        Another hypothetical: I could give you my real name, contact information for a body I have a certificate from, and a list of statements I have made, or am willing to make. What do you do with it? I’m not aware of any really major differences with you, so my expectation is that you would do nothing, unless something on the list really freaked you out. Now, this body is absolutely one you should report me to if I engage in certain sorts of misconduct. (And things on the list might appear to you to be such misconduct.) I do assume you do not consider yourself in a no holds barred war with me.

        Domestic peace is essentially a set of interlocking personal peaces. Where most of the populations has no strong grudge against most of the population. Part of maintaining low levels of grudge is bringing disputes to the appropriate body, and leaving them to that body to resolve. Kinda the opposite of ‘If I live, I will kill you, if I die, I forgive you.’

        The public is an appropriate body when a prosecutor is in office, or is running for office. Civil or criminal court can be appropriate venues for a former prosecutor. The Bar is appropriate when someone’s use of a license to practice law is harmful. The Mystery Writers of America? What will the award do, convince people to vote for her again? If the Bar hasn’t yanked her license for what she has done, I don’t see that it is anyone’s business taking it to her local library or her home owner’s association. None of us is so innocent that something we have done can’t be taken to a body we are involved with, that isn’t really set up to judge that act. None of us is so unimpeachable that nothing we have done could offend or upset anyone around us. None of us has infinite patience with people doing that stuff.

        People need space. The basis for domestic peace is the values that let people give each other that space. Which isn’t necessarily incompatible with ignorance, and does require the ability to be stick to one’s own business and not be involved in that of everyone else.

        • The actions of past and present public officials are appropriate for discussion by any two or more citizens in any setting they choose.

          Some of those settings and groups may have the power to take various official actions. Others do not. It doesn’t matter.

          No citizen needs license, credentials, or official sanction to discuss anything. Domestic peace is not fostered by stifling any discussion of current or past public officials.

          • I once heard a lawyer lecturing on three ways of resolving disputes, litigation, arbitration, and mediation. He missed the critical fourth, the knife.

            All disputes can be resolved with sufficient killing. The dispute is resolved when the living only support one side or the other.

            The legal system is an alternate means of dispute resolution, and prospers only so long as people prefer it. People show preference for it by accepting that it has decided a matter. Force cannot coerce this acceptance from everyone in every dispute. This acceptance is not inherent in being human, it is not a law of physics.

            It would be wrong for a private entity to decide for itself that the five were wrongly exonerated, and must be privately punished for it. Private punishment, and shopping around for venues that will carry out that private punishment, have a terrible risk of escalation that would be difficult to keep under control

            In this case also, discuss it all you want, it is still wrong. Unless you have evidence that more public venues have decided wrongly, in which case, present it to the public and reform those venues.

            We have a broader problem now of a new religion that does not recognize the legitimacy of peace with those in opposition to its dogma. It may be that we will not have peace. It is certainly difficult to see how it could be managed with acceptable permutations of current public institutions. We are perhaps in a crisis this new religion claiming that those considered at war with it are completely evil, and must be punished by this or that entity. It is wrong for entities of whatever sort to punish specially for offenses they do not punish for regularly and with fair warning in advance. Lynch mobs and ex post facto rules of punishment need not be tolerated, even if we are entirely free to discuss whether we should escalate to severe punishment for trivial offenses. (I really do enjoy making the case for severe punishments for certain offenses that others consider trivial.)

            I think the MWA thing is bullshit, unless the MWA can show prior enforcement of a morals clause or something of the like.

  11. In this case also, discuss it all you want, it is still wrong. Unless you have evidence that more public venues have decided wrongly, in which case, present it to the public and reform those venues.

    Its appropriate for any one who chooses to undertake that discussion in any venue they choose. There is no requirement for evidence to discuss past and present public officials in a free society. Nor is there any requirement to refer the discussion to some official body.

    Some may not like the free exchange of ideas. So what?

    • They just don’t like it if it doesn’t agree with their ideas …

      And they get even more upset when we see them coming and turn away in the hopes of not having to put up with them pushing ‘their’ ideas yet again …

  12. The conclusion that a civil discussion, of the sort we are holding here on this blog, is not worth murdering over is a cultural preference, not an inherent quality of humanity. Such cultural preferences are maintained by cultural behavior of other kinds in other circumstances. One of those is the matter of punishment.

    Discussions and punishments are not coupled.

    Rule of law and civic peace do not have as an essential feature an “informed and involved population”. There have been governments with rule of law and civic peace that were not republics or democracies. What they had was certain sorts of monopolies over certain sorts of punishment. These monopolies pushed out settling disputes by revenge. This isn’t obvious to the sort of modern that thinks that ‘eye for an eye’ was license, instead of a limitation enforced on revenge.

    You can discuss anything you want.

    As an example, something you might not want to hear. Mass release is not the only alternative to Mass Incarceration. That scale of execution might be prohibitively difficult, but prior art shows that mass murder on that scale is quite physically possible.

    Every organization can be a venue for discussion.

    Every organization can punish. Not every organization can inflict every sort of penalty. Not every organization should punish every sort of wrong doing. Most organizations are only competent to judge and punish a narrow range of wrong doing.

    A society free and trusting enough to tolerate any discussion of any sort in any place is built on top of a society able to suppress the sort of behaviors that result in incessant bloody feuds. Ruin the behavioral suppression, and you will eventually ruin all the venues for discussion.

    Say that Fairstein was wrong all you want, anywhere you want.

    It is okay for you to ask the state bar association if her law license should be suspended or taken away. It is wrong for you to ask some pissant organization to inflict some pissant punishment on her if she is guilty of a specific serious offense. Partly the same issue with using University rape Star Chambers instead of referring the matter to the police and the criminal justice system. It is wrong for a pissant organization to hand out a pissant punishment that they do not inflict on others who have done similar wrong things. I believe there is an author who was convicted as a young girl of involvement in a murder conspiracy. That might even be a mystery writer, I’m not sure. If a mystery writer, did the MWA make a choice on that matter?

    • The thing is that Mwa is a feepaying organisation.
      I don’t know how many people objected to Fairsteins election, but I can see how, if it was a significant number, the organisation decided that it would be in their best interest to elect someone less controversial, although I personally dislike it.
      They are, after all a private organisation and can do what they like just as tumblr can decide that they no longer want to allow explicit content on their platform.

    • The conclusion that a civil discussion, of the sort we are holding here on this blog, is not worth murdering over is a cultural preference, not an inherent quality of humanity.

      OK. In a free society, any venue is appropriate for discussion of past and present public officials, their actions, and any actual or proposed punishment related to their actions.

  13. Agreed, but they also have to be careful not to give in to a small vocal group if it causes too many others to then turn their backs on the organization. (Not that they have to worry about ‘me’ as I gave up on them several ‘battles’ ago for being too easy to sway each time the wind shifted. 😉 )

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