Delicious Extruded Media Product

Corn field...or content farm? You decide!

Corn field…or content farm? You decide!

Yesterday, Justin Landon posted an excellent article about Suvudu Universe and some of the problems with this particular model of content generation. I’ll wait while you all go read it.

Okay, up to speed?

As I was reading his article, I couldn’t help but think of content aggregators like The Huffington Post as well as other, similar, sites like Buzzfeed (I mean, I adore Dolly Parton but this is kind of ridiculous). And that’s not even going into the inversion of  the definition of content aggregator–eons ago in internet time, an aggregator was something that collected RSS feeds, something you curated for yourself; not something used to generate page views.

The way Suvudu Universe seems to work is extraordinarily similar to HuffPo and its ilk. Similar harvesting of content from elsewhere. Similar lack of compensation. Dubious business models that, as a dear friend says, resemble nothing more than extruded media product created by bots.

HuffPo (theoretically) makes money off all the pageviews that your blog post generated for their advertisers. You aren’t getting a cut of that advertising revenue or being paid directly for your contributions. At best, you’re getting exposure. Which doesn’t pay the bills.

This is bullshit–especially when it comes to original content.

As Landon correctly points out, the reprint market for non-fiction related to the speculative fiction field is vanishingly small–I can only think of two markets off the top of my head: Strange Horizons and the Speculative Fiction: The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary essay collection. Obviously, there are other collections of essays being published as well, but those tend to be centered around specific topics and, if not pop-culture focused, rather academic in nature.

There are some markets for original non-fiction, but even then–they’re limited and very specific in what they want, if it’s even possible to figure out what they do want (I can’t seem to find any guidelines for Tor.com on non-fiction other than an email address, although their fiction guidelines are quite comprehensive). And then there are markets that don’t accept unsolicited non-fiction submissions or queries at all. So the only space most non-fiction writers have is spaces they own.

I am aware that this sounds like so much whining. It’s not. I enjoy writing commentary and reviews and I was well aware that the markets were limited when I got into this–I’ve been blogging in one form or another since 2000 and I know that it’s precious few people who get to make a living at it. I have absolutely no delusions that I am one of those people.

At the same time, though, I do not want my words–my work–to be devalued. And devaluation is precisely what sites like Suvudu Universe promise.

When Random House tried this nonsense with fiction–the terrible contracts for their digital-first imprintswriters’ associations and their members spoke up and were able to use their considerable leverage to convince them to offer (slightly) better terms. As critics and reviewers (and bloggers!), we have no association to join and no leverage and without the voices of other writers, we will not get better terms.

I haven’t really seen anyone other than Justin Landon talking about Suvudu Universe and their exploitative terms in details since they launched this “service” at the beginning of the month and I think it’s important that more people talk about it.

We hear so much about fiction writers being taken advantage of by vanity or scam publishers–where are the people speaking up about the advantage being taken of non-fiction writers by Suvudu Universe?

I’ve struggled long and hard to claim the word writer for myself–and part of that is an acknowledgement that this is work and that work should be fairly compensated. And I am the one who gets to decide what fair is–not content aggregators like Suvudu Universe.

Harassment and the Back Channel

My cat does not respect my personal space. Do not follow her example.

My cat does not respect my personal space. Do not follow her example.

I am so very sorry that Elise Matthesen was harassed at WisCon. I don’t know Elise in person, but I have bought a number of pieces of jewelry from her and I admire her tremendously. I am grateful that she has written such a powerful piece that explains what she did to report her harasser to the appropriate authorities.  I am also grateful for the open and frank discussion that has come from her decision to go public.

However.

I’ve also seen a handful of posts about how, at science fiction conventions, women will work together to let each other know who the serial harassers and creepers are. I find this extremely interesting because I have never been warned about anyone at any of the conventions I’ve attended.

And I wonder why this is. Does one have to achieve a certain level of importance in the community in order to be told who the creepers and serial harassers are? Does one have to be conventionally attractive?  Is there a code phrase I need to learn?

Because harassment can happen to anyone. It’s happened to me. The incident I am about to describe is the most notable, but it’s certainly not the only one.

When I was 18 years old, I went to a small film screening with a friend. It was a showing of Tetsuo, the Iron Man and a film by Joe Christ (I think it was this one–it was terrible, whatever it was). Joe Christ was there. He was sitting right next to me on the floor, in fact. And was paying a lot of attention to me and to my friend. I remember, so clearly, the way he kept getting closer and closer. By the end of the evening, he had touched me several times–my foot, my arm. It has been 20 years and I can still remember how it felt when he touched me.

And then he offered us a ride back to our dorm and, since it was past midnight and since it was a bit of a long walk and it was cold outside, we accepted. We got about halfway and he started to tell us how lonely it was being on the road. And then mentioned that he and his wife had an open marriage (he’d previously used his wife’s writing career as a way to ingratiate himself) and invited us to go back to his hotel with us. When we demurred, he then claimed he didn’t know how to get back to his hotel from campus. At this point I remember thinking, “I don’t care if you drive around Kalamazoo all night, asshole.” I did not go back to his hotel. My friend did. The next day, she checked in with me and told me that he tried to get to smoke some weed to “loosen up”. She told me that nothing happened, that she’d spent the night on the floor but I don’t know if she was telling me the truth or telling me what she thought I wanted to hear.

To this day, I feel guilty for not going with my friend back to Joe Christ’s hotel room. My friendship with this woman did not survive. Ten years after it happened, I wrote about it on my now-defunct website.  Joe Christ found the post and took the time to comment. He told me that I was lying and that I was also fat and ugly. Ten years later, it was so important for him to make sure that the 20 people who read my website knew that I was a fat and ugly liar. Put me in my place. Shut me up.

Now Joe Christ is dead. And yet: I wonder if anyone is going to come here and tell me, again, that I am a liar and that I am fat and ugly.

Because this is how it works. Harassment, much like other kinds of sexual abuse, is not about sex or whether or not someone is attractive. It is about power. It’s been 20 years and the man who harassed me is dead and I am still worried about using his name.

And as I think about the back channel and the people who are talking about how they let people know who the creeps and harassers are, the more I think that access to the back channel is a kind of privilege. It’s a privilege of knowing the right people. Which is something that comes with time, effort, and actually being successful with networking.

Not everyone is going to be able to invest that kind of time and effort–or even if they do, they may not ever become part of the group of people who knows who the harassers and creeps are.  And those people are often the most vulnerable to the creeps and harassers. They are the ones who aren’t going to be believed and who are going to be dismissed as attention seekers. Which then makes them even more vulnerable. This absolutely is not a situation where everyone truly does know who the harassers and creeps are.

I am so very tired of hearing stories about how things were back in the good old days. When convention organizers were procuring asses for Isaac Asimov to pinch and women were leaving conventions because their shapely bottoms were patted while out in public. When Randall Garrett felt that it was appropriate to greet women with “I’m Randall Garrett. Let’s fuck.” Hell, as recently as 2006, Harlan Ellison felt that grabbing Connie Willis’s breast onstage at the Hugo Awards was an okay thing to do (this goes to the video, may be upsetting to watch if you haven’t seen it before, edited to fix date per comment). But hey, why can’t we all just get along? (screencap of Google cache, comments missing) Why so negative?

I don’t care how things were in the good old days–it seems pretty clear from where I’m sitting that they were only good for a certain subset of the group. And it also seems that convention culture has been, in many ways, designed to enable this kind of bad behavior. Attempts to challenge the culture and to make it more accessible for different groups of people are almost always met with howls of outrage–be it gender neutral bathrooms, access for persons with disabilities, or the right to be present without being grabbed, groped, or creeped at.

If anyone wants to know what the “old guard” in our community thinks about making the community safe for everyone, you only need to look at the screencaps/transcriptions from the private SFWA forum at SFF.net. Warning: there’s a lot of disgusting rot in there.  And this is what we’re fighting against.

It is because that the back channel is a privilege that I believe that each and every convention (science fiction or otherwise) needs to have a clear code of conduct and a procedure to deal with harassment. And that procedure must be followed, without exception. The back channel can be useful but it is too prone to failure and the gaps are too large for it to be reliable. Cliff Pervocracy touches a bit on this in their post from last year about the missing stair, although they don’t go so far as to call it a privilege.

The other thing about using the back channel to deal with the missing stair is this: there are no consequences for serial harassers or creepers. They can keep on harassing and creeping on people not in the know, while those in the know can avoid them. So in some ways, the back channel actually enables creepers and harassers by allowing those in the know to become complacent. I’m seeing  a lot of complacency in the posts about the back channel and how it works.

We talk a lot about safety and complacency at my day job–I work in a very dangerous industry  (two chemicals we have on site: phosgene and HF) and complacency can lead to serious harm to both ourselves and our community. Not all of the safety rules I am subject to at my day job necessarily carry over into the rest of my life but one that does is the idea of watching out for other people. Which is one reason I love the Backup Ribbon Project so much: it is a visible reminder to everyone that there are people on their side, who are willing and able to assist in any way they can.

People should not be compelled to report; there are times when not-reporting is the safest thing to do and the only person who gets to make that decision is the person who has been harassed or assaulted. But for people who do report, there must be safety for them as well. The time for complacency and reliance on the back channel is past. It is time to openly commit to making our community a safe place for everyone.

Safety should not be a privilege.  It is a right.

A by-no-means-complete list of people talking about this, in no particular order except I’ve tried to put women’s voices (or voices that appear to be from women) at the top of the list:

How Not to Have a Conversation: A Case Study

Rabid Jungle Cat Just Wants Scritches

Rabid Jungle Cat Just Wants Scritches

Here’s a pro tip: if you’re going to call for “civility” (PDF of post at 10:42 PM last nightscreenshot of post at 8:00 AM this morning), don’t call those you feel are being uncivil “rabid jungle cats”–that’s a heck of a lot of racism and sexism to pack into three words. It would be impressive if it weren’t so nasty and the exact opposite of the stated goal.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt doesn’t understand why women and POC are so angry about the sexist opinion pieces in the SFWA Bulletin and the deliberate use of @SFWAauthors to disseminate a racist attack on one member by another.

In my experience, when someone is calling for “civility” they are doing so because they’re more interested in upholding the status quo than they are about actually listening to why people are angry or upset.

Schmidt’s post is a classic example of the tone argument. From his post:

If you can’t listen to someone else and respond without anger, you probably shouldn’t be having the dialogue. Everyone believes their worldview is right for a reason. Most have put a lot of thought into it and developed it over a long time through lots of experiences. To automatically assume that anyone who doesn’t share your views is both wrong and evil is the height of arrogance and assumptive stupidity.

I’m cutting the rest of the paragraph out because it’s derailing–it’s shifting the focus from one issue to another. In this case, discussion of the angry responses to sexism and racism to ageism, which is one that personally affects him. And I’m not saying it isn’t an issue (because intersectionality) but–it’s not what he lead with.  If Schmidt wants to start a conversation about ageism in SFF, I would be happy to talk about it with him.  But not in the context of the racism and sexism emanating from SFWA.

Back on track: telling people who are angry that they shouldn’t be talking about their anger is a  silencing tactic. It is simply not possible for anyone to ever be as calm and as civil as Schmidt would like them to be–when the tone argument and silencing are deployed together, there is no winning.  Schmidt is simply not willing to have the conversation and he’s  attempting to shut it down. Because it doesn’t meet his standards.

Then there’s this amazing section (and by amazing I mean “left me completely gobsmacked”):

Do young writers not realize the people they have attacked have many friends and admirers and are often hiring writers themselves? Are these young writers so sure they’re reputations and writing are solid enough to weather the possible repercussions for being asshats? If not, making their point with valid criticisms that don’t assume, mischaracterize or personally attack might be worth considering.

I noted the pros were far more measured and many, many of them stayed completely out of it. Why? Because they know that people say things without thinking them through and get slammed all the time. They also know the value of professionalism, reasoned response, and respect to success in this community. Those who don’t learn this will surely pay a price for it down the line. Sadly, most who read this will ignore that advice at their peril.

That sure sounds like a threat to me: “If you don’t play nice, girls and boys, you’ll never work in this town again.” There’s also an implication that the people complaining were not professional. Except a significant number of those angry women and POC actually are professional writers and editors and critics. And to assume that they–we–did not consider the potential to injure their–our–careers by speaking out is deliberately disingenuous: women and POC (and people who belong to other marginalized groups) nearly always consider the consequences of their speech. Because there are always consequences. Always.

You say you build community, Byron Thomas Schmidt. I call bullshit on that claim. Your refusal to link to N.K. Jemisin’s Continuum GOH speech (screenshot because it disappeared) proves that you have no interest in entering into community with people who say things which make you uncomfortable or with which you disagree. You’re blocking people who disagree with you–both from your website and on Facebook. And accusing people of throwing temper tantrums (screenshot in case it disappears) on Twitter is, well, not exactly the sort of thing one says when a conversation is desired.

The thing is this: your post is mostly about you and your discomfort. There are precious few suggestions around how you believe this conversation can be improved. You are holding yourself up as an example of someone who believes in positive and constructive dialogue and yet: you’re not allowing dissent in your comment–as is your right in spaces you control. I will admit that I’m a bit confused, though–how productive can this dialogue be if you are not willing to listen? If you believe that you are in a position to set the terms of engagement for this conversation which desperately needs to happen?

Byron Thomas Schmidt, let me tell you something: you don’t get to set the terms of engagement. You don’t get to tell POC and women that they shouldn’t be so angry and that they need to calm down.  You have, more than likely, gone through life with the implicit understanding that people will at least pretend to listen to you and you have also, more than likely, gone through life assuming that you are the intended audience.  You probably haven’t been told, over and over again, to sit down and shut up and wait your turn–except your turn never comes.

You know what? We are taking our turn.

As Australia’s Lieutenant-General David Morrison said just last week: “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”

Edited to add: As of right now (11:50 AM on June 19) Bryan Thomas Schmidt has removed his post and put up this one instead (screencap).  Got that? We just weren’t ready to hear his message and we are so, so broken.  And he’s above all that. Because he’s such a nice guy.  You go right on believing that, Bryan Thomas Schmidt. Your words say otherwise.

Second edit (6/20/13, 3:45 pm): Bryan Thomas Schmidt has put the original post back up but he’s changed the URL (screenshot) and added a  comment at the beginning that echoes his post from yesterday.  I am not sure why he thinks he gets to decide how people talk about sexism and racism in the SFF community. In fact, I would argue that it’s people like him–who are advocates for calm and reasoned debate and who perceive themselves as moderates–are more damaging to the long-term health of the community than someone like Theodore Beale: at least Beale is obviously a racist and sexist. I’m not sure what Bryan Thomas Schmidt’s deal is.

This Week in Racist Bullshit

So. This happened (note: not enough trigger warnings in the world for that link: racism and sexism and for the love of all you hold dear, don’t go into the comments). In response to N.K. Jemisin’s amazing GOH speech at Continuum where she alluded to Theodore Beale’s failed candidacy for president of SFWA.

And then Beale then deliberately used @SFWAauthors to disseminate it (there’s a process by which members of SFWA can use this Twitter account for their blog posts)–presumably to further damage the organization’s reputation:

Theodore Beale's Abuse of the SFWA Twitter Account

Theodore Beale’s Abuse of the @SFWAauthors
screenshot from my phone

This is in direct violation of SFWA policy:

Not every blog post is appropriate for @sfwaauthors. If a post is not about writing, or about fiction or publishing, do not mark it for inclusion in the @sfwaauthors twitter feed. Repeated violations of this policy will be grounds for removal from the feed. SFWA reserves the right to determine what posts are appropriate.

Marking blog posts for inclusion that include threats or personal attacks or obvious trolling will also be grounds for removal.

(via)

Amal El-Mohtar goes on to call for Theodore Beale (aka Vox Day) to be expelled from SFWA based on the organization’s current set of by-laws.

I can’t say I disagree at all: he has shown repeatedly that he is not a good faith member of the organization and with this violation of policy I do not believe SFWA has any obligation to continue to allow him to be a member.

I do wish more people had felt inclined to speak up when he attacked E. Catherine Tobler a couple of weeks ago instead of collectively deciding to ignore him in the hopes that he’d go away (with a few exceptions). I do understand that at that point he hadn’t done anything to warrant expulsion from SFWA–and as I was one of those keeping silent, I’m upset with myself here as well. Private support is one thing, speaking up publicly is another.

This doesn’t work with schoolyard bullies and it doesn’t work with racist misogynist fuckmuppets like Theodore Beale.

Here’s some other people’s thoughts on the matter:

Tangental, but still important: We Have Always Been Fighting this Fight (related). In other words: this kind of shit is endemic SFF fandom and that leads directly to Foz Meadows weighing in with Reconciliation: A Response To Theodore Beale:

As members of the SFF community, there is only one acceptable response to Beale, and that is to shun him utterly; to excise him from our genre like the cancer that he is, from convention to blog to column, and to enforce that ban as thoroughly and determinedly as we are able.

Because if we don’t, our Reconciliation will mean nothing.

We will mean nothing.

If you want to take a stand against Beale’s racism, I can think of nothing better than to make a donation to either the Carl Brandon Society or Con-Or-Bust–or both. Or by buying books by writers of color, by women writers, by writers with disabilities, by QUILTBAG writers. Do your best to be an ally. Educate yourself. Apologize when you fuck up. Do what you can to make this genre–no, this community a welcoming and more diverse place. It–and you–will be better for it. I guarantee it.

And if you are a SFWA member and if you haven’t done so already, I urge you to write to the SFWA Board and to your Regional Director about this issue.

(And fans of weekly linkspam, never fear: it’ll be going up later this afternoon!)

Clean Rooms, Messy Bodies: The Intersection of SF and Romance

space

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
“Sailing to Byzantium”, William Butler Yeats

There’s been a lot of discussion about the tension between science fiction and science fiction romance lately–which has been interesting for me because I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about this issue from a slightly different perspective.

So much of science fiction is about transcending or defeating one’s body–from the singularity to technology-based solutions to enhance baseline functionality. I am mostly excluding assistive devices from this discussion because that’s generally not the point of these solutions in science fiction–except, of course, when it is.

I would actually argue that many of the assistive devices in SF are used in an able-ist way to erase disability–look at McCaffrey’s Ship Who Sang series: we’re never told specifics about the disabilities of the shell-people, just that their disabilities were so horrifying to the non-disabled that their parents were given a choice: euthanasia or eternal confinement in a titanium shell and enslaved but only if they were smart enough.

The series is obviously more complicated than that–Helva is a fantastic character and one who is ultimately able to decide her own fate and choose her own partners–but the basic premise is something I find extremely troubling. It can be argued that McCaffrey was subverting the idea at the time that the severely disabled were incapable of making decisions about their own lives, I’m not convinced she was fully successful.

Bodies are complicated. They’re messy and unruly and rarely conform to standards (assuming there are standards–which I don’t).  They are destructible and often weak. There is a certain appeal to not having to deal with  bodies and their complications. I can definitely see why the idea of a “rapture of the nerds” is so popular. Instead of slipping the surly bonds of earth and touching the face of God, through the singularity we will become gods.  It’s a great science fictional conceit and one that pops up repeatedly–from Herbert’s thinking machines to Baker’s cyborgs. Sometimes it’s a positive development and many other times it isn’t.  There aren’t many artificial intelligences that choose to travel in the other direction–I know there’s Minerva in Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love but I’m pretty sure she decided to get a body mainly so she could get boinked by Lazarus Long (it’s been 15 years since I’ve read the book and there isn’t enough money in the world to make me read Heinlein ever again).

Romance, on the other hand, is very much about bodies. It’s about the emotional connections that we create not only with our minds but with our bodies. Romance embraces the body–unfortunately, the bodies it embraces are usually idealized ones (which is interesting when thought about in context of the “placeholder” heroine and the wide range of people who read romance)–but still, the body is embraced. There is a physicality and a realness to even the most cardboard characters in romance that is often missing from many science fiction novels that address “big ideas”. The physical and emotional connection is an integral part of romance–you cannot have a romance without either of these (even in romances without explicit sex scenes, physical desire is present).

And I think this is why the prospect of SF romance is often so divisive. I think some people see SF as a purely cerebral literature–liberated minds, free of that pesky physicality–being invaded by bodies and feelings. And instead of investigating their discomfort they choose to take the easy (and often misogynistic) way out: calling writers of SF romance fake geeks who don’t know how to write SF correctly and who are unaware of decades-long arguments within SF fandom. Which, naturally delegitimizes their place in the genre.

And while I have listened to writers of SFR openly dismiss the need for any knowledge of science because they believe that their readers find that sort of thing unnecessary or intimidating–I do not think the claims that they’re fake geeks or that their lack of knowledge of decades of fanwank are particularly valid.  To be completely honest, I’m not even sure that detailed knowledge of science is a requirement–since when is being a scientist a pre-requisite for science fiction? As long as there’s internal consistency, who the hell cares? Consistent worldbuilding is integral to a book, but to me the characters and story are so much more important–unless there are egregious errors, I can often overlook scientific improbabilities. And I’m pretty sure that most people can–insisting that SF be scientifically accurate is a way of putting up boundaries and gates in order to keep some people out. And that’s not okay.

I keep thinking about N.K. Jemisin’s absolutely amazing Continuum GOH speech about Reconciliation. She makes a lot of important points, but especially this:

It is time that we all recognized the real history of this genre, and acknowledged the breadth and diversity of its contributors. It’s time we acknowledged the debt we owe to those who got us here — all of them. It’s time we made note of what ground we’ve trodden upon, and the wrongs we’ve done to those who trod it first. And it’s time we took steps — some symbolic, some substantive — to try and correct those errors. I do not mean a simple removal of the barriers that currently exist within the genre and its fandom, though doing that’s certainly the first step. I mean we must now make an active, conscious effort to establish a literature of the imagination which truly belongs to everyone.

And then I read Mary Ann Rivers’s post about access, Glass Keys:

Can you appreciate how access is so much a kind of glass key, invisible to everyone but who is holding it? Even when doors are left open, they may not be actually unlocked, and if they are unlocked, you may have been told to knock, even while you watch others walk through, their transparent keys palmed.

These seem connected. Science fiction is, as Jemisin quite rightly points out, a literature of the imagination and, as such, should be open to everyone–and we need to recognize all those who came before, not just those with the loudest voices or biggest presences. What is so frightening about the prospect of an imaginative literature that fully embraces all of human experience?

And part of the human experience is the emotional and physical connections we have with others–by fully accepting SF romance as part of the SF community not only do we remove barriers new readers and writers, we actively invite them in. To use Rivers’s analogy–how many people already have keys but can’t use them? How can we be explicitly and openly welcoming to their voices and experiences?