Listening, Being Heard

I’ve thought about this post all week — did I want to write about it, did I not — and as I open this box to write, I am still unsure where it will go. I’ll tag it “womenSFF,” so I have some idea of my direction. (Natalie Luhrs wrote a great and thoughtful piece, too.)

Earlier this week, author Andy Weir held a Q&A on Twitter with @XploreDeepSpace, and they asked him if he would recommend contemporary SF authors to high school readers.

Three white men who’re dead, and three white men who are presently writing. So I asked,

Weir didn’t reply. I wasn’t surprised, so when he posted an email address where he always responds to “fan mail,” I dropped him a note.

I talked about my friend who went two years without realizing he hadn’t read a woman, (ETA: amusingly, that piece links a book list from Weir that is all male authors) and about how men who submit stories to Shimmer largely include other male writers in their cover letters when they list influences. I asked Weir why he thought this was, and if he had read any women or writers of color.

I thought I would get an answer.

Weir didn’t answer my question — there was no yes or no, no list of who he thought was great when it came to women or authors of color. Weir told me that he didn’t see gender or race that if I did, and it had a bearing on whether I liked the work or not, I needed to re-examine my priorities.

It must be amazing, not having to see those things. To be a white man who sees no need to acknowledge that people other than his own kind exist. Weir probably doesn’t believe that — I don’t know — but it’s what his attitude implies to me.

Writers like Weir — male, white, on top of the NYT Bestseller lists, movie deals, a break out book — are in an amazing position to boost voices that are not like their own. They have the ability to lift others up. And time after time, they mention work that is exactly like their own. Authors who mirror their own selves.

If Weir heard my question, he made the choice not to listen. Instead, he told me why my question was awful and how misguided I was — he accused me of seeing things I should not see or acknowledge. Things we should apparently be beyond.

Instead of saying “hey, I also dig these authors, and didn’t have Twitter space to mention them,” he said no, I don’t see those things and neither should you.

Race and gender have no bearing on what I love to read, but do I intentionally seek out voices and writers who are different than me? Yes. Men and women who’ve had experiences I can not fathom, experiences I might come to understand through their words. My life would be far less rich without those voices.

And if I never sought them out? It might rather be like being stuck on Mars for eternity, alone in the dust, my vision forever obscured.

9 thoughts on “Listening, Being Heard

  1. Pingback: Write What You (don’t) Know | deanfortythree

  2. Louise Marley

    I knew there was trouble when I read the first three names he recommended. I don’t know Mr. Weir, but he’s clearly out of date on any number of levels. I’m glad you decided to write about this, because if we don’t make at least a little bit of noise, nothing will change.

  3. Anna Bowling

    Excellent post. As someone outside the genre, I’ve always thought that one of the points of speculative fiction was to explore places and people and voices not like oneself, so this sort of thing always surprises me somewhat.

    There is hope. In the library, today, a patron asked a librarian for SF/F recommendations. Both were male. The librarian recommended Robert Heinlein first, then Lois McMaster Bujold. I didn’t hear the rest of his recommendations, but really nice to hear Bujold right up front.

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  5. ERose

    Responses like that always – always – surprise me.

    Some of the best and most innovative voices in Weir’s own genre are women and authors of color. Even without going super-contemporary or casting a very wide net, you can’t possibly be ignorant of the work and impact of Ursula LeGuin, Octavia Butler and James Tiptree, Jr. I would even argue you can’t claim to have a comprehensive grounding in the genre without reading their work.
    Full stop – if you aren’t reading women and authors of color, you are missing some of the best and most unique work in the SF/F genre and so you are rightly criticized for failing to deserve a voice as an authority on the genre.

  6. Erica S

    I just finished reading “The Martian” – not my usual cup of tea but it was in the free book exchange at the youth hostel and an engaging enough page-turner. It was very clear the author had a sort of 1980s approach to diversity, with various strong token (secondary) female characters and a hot shot pilot named Martinez. OTOH I can’t really blame the author for not developing these characters further since there is no character development of anyone: the book is 97% action-hero engineering problems and 3% everything else.

    Still somehow in that 3% Weir managed to fit in some charming examples of casual sexism. The first is when the hero is pissed off at NASA and writes, “Tell them every one of their mothers is a prostitute, their sisters too.” This is intended to establish what a great, folksy, funny guy he is. Then there’s his email exchange with another astronaut where he waxes rhapsodic about how she’s a “hot chick” so “how are you such a nerd?” plus the occasional casual offhand gay jokes.

    None of it is *malicious*, you know? Just the random detritus of a sexist culture that’s picked up and shat out by someone utterly uninterested in examining social roles. So it doesn’t surprise me a bit that the author is one of those cheerfully oblivious “I don’t see gender or race” fools.

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