Friday Five: Some Good Diversity, Some Bad Diversity

Most of the book discussions and links I have seen this week have been about diversity. Some of it’s been enlightening. Some of it’s been depressing. Some offers ways forwards. Others maybe don’t. As such, I decided to put it at the heart of everything this week, and keep a link for next.

The ordering of the thoughts here is general waffle-share-promo-promo-most important part. So if you read any one part of this, scroll down to 5; it has been placed there as I think it deserves to be the parting memory. And let me say – and this is true every week, but maybe needs to be said more this week – if you think I’m wrong on something, or are unhappy being linked to/quoted, or have anything to add, please say.

  1. I’ve been having a few discussions with a better informed friend than me on the books that look at topics of diversity, inclusion, different experiences etc.etc. and decide to try and tackle all of all at once regardless of whether the author knows anything about them.
    Or to put it another way, authors who decide not to stay in their lane, but to suddenly swerve all the way across the motorway.
    Sometimes it looks very cynical. There are limited numbers of releases from the big publishers, limited budget for publicity. There is additional artistic praise for those who tackle the difficult and painful. What better way to get in on these than tackling lots and lots of diversity issues?
    Sometimes it looks like a very sincere attempt to make a better world, a missionary spirit of “these people need books, I write books, I will do something”. Sincere doesn’t mean sensible, of course.
    Sometimes there seem to be elements of both, subconsciously stirred together in a way that is hard to unpick. I know this happens, because I’ve got some very firmly trunked ideas that could prove it, and a fairly good idea I’m not that unique.
    Whatever the cause, whatever the tone, it is helping very few people. It must help the authors and publishers sometimes or they probably wouldn’t keep doing it, but there’s plenty of times they are involved in the crashes. But, going from least important to most, it doesn’t help other authors who’d like to display things outside their experience in a more restrained and respectful way. It doesn’t help the authors from marginalised backgrounds, both those who’d like to talk about their own experiences and those who just want to write something escapist and fun. And it doesn’t help their communities.
    As such, can we please stop doing this? If people want to improve the diversity of publishing and stories, there are better ways. And if people simply want their slice of the pie, the crashes are getting worse, and there are other better ways to get it.
  2. On the subject of LGBTQ+ representation, there was a very interesting post on what’s valid and what’s not on Reddit – What is Valid LGBTQ+ Representation in Fantasy? Thoughts from a Gay Man : Fantasy (reddit.com)
    And on a different segment of diversity, I also found the following double book review by Stephen Bush on two books about how Empire affects the world today and the way forwards thoughtful and illuminating.
    And I also just remembered I’d meant to read Jay Rayner’s review of Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food, so I will do so and share so you can too.
  3. Anyway, happy Lunar New Year, or however you celebrate it if you do! This seems as good a reason to celebrate some of the authors and creatives who’ll be celebrating as any. I’ve already touted Aliette de Bodard’s Fireheart Tiger hard, but if I haven’t convinced you, look at Imyril’s review or JonBob’s, or read her interview at The Quiet Pond.
    Zen Cho’s The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water is also deserving of attention, and this review of her update to Spirits Abroad is glowing. I should really revisit the world of Fonda Lee, whose Green Bones trilogy is finally out in hardback. I love L Chan’s short stories (and his dog content on twitter). I’ll absolutely tout Ya Lun’s art again. This is but a short, non-comprehensive shout out; there are so many more than could be named, and please shout out everyone who deserves it who I haven’t mentioned in the comments.
  4. It’s also Black History Month across the pond, which has led to FIYAH doing this promotional tweet – FIYAH Literary Magazine on Twitter: “This is a weird #BlackHistoryMonth so let’s do a thread. Black authors, poets, artists, and illustrators, drop a link to a project of yours that our followers can support. And don’t just make it a link. Nobody’s going to click that. *Tell us something about it* https://t.co/NYKT5UMRLb” / Twitter
    It’d be rude not to look through the replies and find everything interesting to one’s self, right? Very. I am now following Alex Brown’s blog and Basil Wright’s translation of the Odyssey into AAVE, have taken a kindle sample of Ramon Terrell’s Unleashed and Eboni Dunbar’s Stone and Steel, and have opened this webcomic and a few short stories for later checking.
  5. The big issue. I am fairly sure most people have read about the Locus review of K.S. Villoso’s The Ikessar Falcon. There’s a lot to be said about it – a lot more than I realised when I jumped in feet first and made a fool of myself, and I am sorry for any hurt caused by that – but it should start with Villoso herself. She got an unfairly bad review and while the internet seems to be more than compensating for the potential damage to her career where I can see, I don’t know how true that is everywhere, and I don’t think that can erase the “oh god why is this happening again” feelings. So let’s shout for her as loud as possible, starting by posting her own words about why the structure of her trilogy matters so much and why she did it that way (a fascinating read in its own right, and thanks to Conor Caplan for steering me to it).
    What happens now for professional reviewing, for Locus Magazine and for Katharine Coldiron is a field of interest to me. I like reviews in their own right, but have never looked at Locus much simply because nobody’s shoved it under my nose. Well, now they have, and in one of the worse ways.
    I very much liked Charles Payseur’s thoughts on reviewers covering work where they haven’t covered preceding works, on the need to engage with context, and the utility of moving away from authoritative style reviews. Everything I can think of to say on the subject, he has said better (and, mildly ironically, from a position of more authority).
    What do Locus and Coldiron do, particularly given the history of bad and racist reviews given to other BIPOC authors by Coldiron as put together by Foz Meadows here? The last two paragraphs highlight the problem best and better than I could do (although don’t just read them, click and read it all):
    “If Coldiron was posting her reviews on a private blog, or at any venue less esteemed than Locus, it’s doubtful that I’d have bothered to write this piece; or at the very least, to have written this much. The real problem, though, is not Coldiron herself: it’s that Locus has failed to notice the regularity with which her reviews rebuke POC for things she either praises or lets pass when written by white authors; has allowed the inclusion of racism and microaggressions within her work without apparent editorial oversight; and has now seen nothing wrong with publishing a wildly unprofessional review that blames a sequel volume for the reviewer’s failure to have read the first instalment. It’s maddening and upsetting in equal measure, and at a time when both SFF and the wider literary community are ostensibly trying to do better by marginalised writers, it’s a sign of how thoroughly white privilege still blinds so much of the industry to its failings, even among those who consider themselves well-intentioned.
    Because that’s the other thing that stands out in Coldiron’s reviews: how frequently she reviews diverse authors, and how she is, on some level, really, genuinely trying to support them. It’s just that having a rote understanding of diversity isn’t the same thing as actively confronting and working through your own biases, and in the apparent absence of sensible editorial oversight, Coldiron has been left to stagnate – and in that stagnation, it’s authors of colour who’ve suffered.”

    The fact Locus recently took on three reviewers of colour (including the aforementioned Alex Brown) seems a sign that they’ve understood they needed to be better before this point, but they probably need to accelerate that process in terms of editorial oversight and making sure reviewers get the proper support and authors get fair treatment. They’re going to lose a lot of audience trust and gain a lot of prominent and loud critics if they don’t.
    I think Coldiron would be well advised to stop engaging on Twitter for a moment; say she’s been given a lot to think about and will come back once she has thought. Her follow up tweets have very much been digging a hole. I hope her thoughts are about moving past a rote understanding and actively working through their biases, as Meadows says. To use one small example – the now infamous comparison to Anglo-Saxon England’s political structures (not culture mind, just politics) – do we really need a comparison to understand how a landscape of warring clans and families looks? It’s not unfamiliar territory for anyone, and that comparison won’t even work for all of the review’s audience, and it makes her look bad when she doesn’t have to, and it’s not even that accurate anyway. Better understanding of what actually makes the book different would have probably avoided that comparison.
    Finally, if this should start with Villoso, it should end with her too. This is about her and her books more than anything. I started The Wolf of Oren-Yaro a couple of months ago and was enjoying it before I got distracted by the latest shiny, so I will let my other bloggers speak for me. Here’s a review for The Wolf of Oren-Yaro from Travis from the Fantasy Inn and a very thoughtful and thorough one from James Latimer at The Fantasy Hive. Womble says The Ikessar Falcon is even better and Rowena Andrews think it’s fantastic. I will be returning to The Wolf of Oren-Yaro at some point, but there’s no reason not to beat me there if those reviews sell it.

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