Radical Fiction or “Are We There Yet?”

From SWFA:

In much the way too many crows is a murder, I have what is effectively an embarrassment of a TBR pile. It sits in various stacks atop my dining room table and beside the box containing the tall bookcase I have yet to put together, brimming with the promise of new, interesting adventures from dozens of unique voices from every continent on the planet. So it’s odd in my everlasting search for more things to add to it—for new covers to stare at lustily before putting them aside in favor of yet another project— that I can find a dearth of anything to complain about.

And yet. 

I am aware that the voices in my stacks are filtered through the English-speaking, pro-colonial lens of the global north. It means the stories responsible for forming the literary canon, and thus the concept of valuable or marketable literature, are reflective of the same lens responsible for a number of societal ills. It means that of the millions of books available to me in the traditionally published market, I will primarily find works that are mild in their radicality, beholden as they are to the ancient, archaic systems only recently put to the test by new and emerging talents, writers, readers, and critics.

The volume of works by and about people from an unprecedented spectrum of perspectives, of cultural backgrounds, and story-telling traditions is broader than it has ever been. We have new writers, more diverse stories, better in-text representation of marginalized groups than the industry has ever seen. But we have not radicalized our decolonization of our stories.

It is a failure of our industry that we have not been more keen to publish or amplify those works which turn the genre on its ear, instead choosing to lean on our tropes, acquiring mainly the stories which compare to other stories for the sake of their promised sales potential as set by a colonialist standard. 

Traditionally published SF/F is still beholden to its archetypes, its oft-tread narratives treated as universal if only because they are familiar: a native population endures some oppressive or genocidal experience with a settler group only to have an “awakened” or progressive protagonist of the settler class emerge as the empathetic rebel, a hero for standing against the status quo. That hero knows through their organic goodness or learns through participation in or observation of the horrors suffered by the marginalized class that they are indeed fruit of the poisonous tree.

By and large, these stories still—to varying degrees—rely on the systems and prejudices inherent in the world we inhabit. But there is no reason secondary worlds—SF/F’s defining element, its raison d’etre in many ways—should adhere to them. 

. . . .

These rote narratives have become difficult to read without seeing centuries of an entire civilization refusing to reconcile or reckon with its history. Instead, it is re-lived, the mistakes and missteps replicated over and over again in re-skinned versions with protagonists who are brown or ethnic or disabled or queer, but only along a single axis at once (we can’t be too different, you see, for the market’s sake), as if we haven’t all gotten the point. As if we don’t know that the idea is to be the compassionate protagonist.

Many haven’t. But we don’t speak to them.

Link to the rest at SWFA

PG is reminded of a quote from Haruki Murakami:

“For a while” is a phrase whose length can’t be measured. At least by the person who’s waiting.

Waiting for a while is the byword of the would-be author of any race, background or gender in the world of traditional publishing.

PG suggests that traditional publishing will always be a lagging indicator of social and cultural change, not only because of its dominant practice of copycatting what’s gone before, but also because of the ponderous process of taking a book from manuscript to public sale (unless it’s a scandalous tell-all about a sitting president facing reelection).

Slow, slower, slowest.

So last-century.

5 thoughts on “Radical Fiction or “Are We There Yet?””

  1. Now, while the Catholic Church (et alia) would probably have an opinion about the sins of vanity and pride, etc., that materialize in just this sort of breast-beating that the people left in the SFWA now specialize in, I doubt that any of the sins she piles up so sanctimoniously in the hope that she (and the rest of us) will address them qualify as actual “sins”, from the perspective of the organizations that define sinning.

    So if she’s looking for absolution, she’s looking in the wrong domain. Try Christianity or some alternative professional group on the subject of sinning instead of “radicalizing the decolonization of our stories” to achieve that sin-free state she seeks.

    • A professional group would be more appropriate.

      The catholic priests I’ve best known would roll their eyes and say “get over yourself and go work a soup kitchen”.
      (When I was growing up, one my uncles’ best friend was a seminarian with a wicked sense of humor and an arsenal of jokes. Taking that life requires a strong sense of perspective to start with. Humor helps.)

  2. I will primarily find works that are mild in their radicality, beholden as they are to the ancient, archaic systems only recently put to the test by new and emerging talents, writers, readers, and critics.

    New and emerging talents, writers, readers, and critics? Really impressive bunch. How about the overwhelming numbers of consumers who don’t buy this stuff and don’t give a hoot about mild radicality?

  3. Shouldn’t the first line of the article “From SWFA” be “From SFWA”? The link provided goes to sfwa.org, which I believe stands for Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

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