What else I’ve been watching

I started this post when I was talking about The Wire, I figured I’d put out a list of what else has been keeping my attention TV wise these days. Its late, but I already wrote most of it so I figured why not. I’m not really a huge TV person, never have been. I tend to time-shift my shows and then watch them when I’m not doing anything else, which usually ends up being late at night.

  • Battlestar Galactica: This has been one of my favourite television shows of the last few years and is now heading towards an ending. If you haven’t seen any of it, you should have. Its really, really good. Basically its a rimagining of on old science fiction show in which the human race is wiped out my a race of machines we’ve created and the survivors are forced to run for their lives while being hunted by the same machines. Along the way thugh it becomes a great meditation on the nature of humanity, morality, religion etc. Its science fiction at its upper end. I recommend highly.
  • Big Bang Theory: This I was determined not to like. Its a sitcom about a pair of socially awkward physicists and their friends. I pretty much expected that the writers would settle for the dumbest possible nerd stereotypes, add no real depth and screw the story up. Instead, they kept the stereotypes but managed to add enough depth and authenticity to make them real people. Interestingly enough, there are quire a few scientists I know who are followers of the show because of how well its written and the inside jokes it throws our way. Also recommended
  • The Unit: Dennis Haysbert shooting people and looking cool in the process. Need I say more? Its a bit on heavy handed in its stance at times,but its great pulp action and good acting. All things I’m partial to.

Other stuff I’m watching but not so keen on writing a short paragraph about, Mobile Suit Gundam 00 and  the new season of Hajime No Ippo (yes, I like anime. It doesn’t say geek up there because I couldn’t come up with another name)

I was also watching Dr. Who and Torchwood until both seasons ended. I’m really, really waiting for them to start back up again, even though they shall no longer be servicing my Freema Agyeman crush. Again, if you are a science fiction fan and not watching these, your loss. Majorly.

I imagine the world 50 years later

If you remember, I talked about the writing site that a friend of mine has set up. Well, I finally got off my ass, wrote a story, edited it about ten thousand times, then reluctantly emailed it to him. Luckily he seemed to like it and it is now up on the site.

So, this is one of my visions of what part of Africa could look at in about 50 years. Enjoy.

50 years from now……

This is an experiment by a hugely talented writer I know. A blog full of short stories about the earth in 50 years time. What makes it interesting is that all of these stories must share the same world. If someone defines a part of the world in a particular way, the rest of the stories that follow can’t contradict the original story. So far the stories up there are of remarkably good quality (In My Humble Opinion)

I’m supposed to add a piece of my own soon and I’m really hoping I don’t become the low point. (Yes, I’m writing seriously again. I’m not sure what to expect from myself, But I’d rather  keep trying than not do anything because I’m scared to fail)

Either way, read it people. It has my seal of approval.

Sidenote: Another story by the blog’s creator, this time for the 365tomorrows site. Take a look

Race and Science Fiction continues: the standard FAQ

Now, I’ve noticed a trend when this topic come s up of a set of basic excuses/rationalizations that always get rolled out when this topic comes up. Just to save time here’s a quick FAQ naming them and explaining why they don’t work.
*note: if I missed any of the standard excuses, let me know and I’ll put them up*

(a) Why do you even see race in this? whats wrong with you?

This I already covered here. I doubt if there is a need to update it yet

(b) This isn’t about race, its about the quality of writing

I immediately assume that means the person speaking has read little if any of the material whose quality they are commenting on. Either that or they really should not be ever put in the position to judge writing quality. That aside I tend to read this as meaning

The real problem is that only straight white males have what it takes to write intelligently in this genre

In which case please don’t bother to try and couch this idea in pseudo-reasonable terms. I can read. And I take as much offense at the idea that I’m too dumb to notice the subtext of the statement than I do at the statement itself.

Again, the quality of the work out there my minority voices in the genre speaks for itself in my opinion. I’m not saying all of it is good, but in terms of average quality they come out well above regular science fiction writing. Granted, this is an opinion and it could be wrong, but it is my experience that most of the bashing of these works tends to be done by people who have never looked beyond their covers. And maybe page 1.

(c) The publishers have books to sell and a predominantly white audience can only relate to white people

i.e. “Our audience happen to be the ones with the problem not us. We just appear to be as unenlightened as them because we must pander to their prejudices and we care more about money than we do about principles

You know, I wouldn’t really have a problem with this if they would come out and say it directly. I wouldn’t necessarily like the person saying it, but I could at least respect an attempt at honesty.

Its still an indictment of the general science fiction reading public and the open mindedness they claim to have inherited from/brought to the genre though. If they are as free of prejudice as they claim and this is really me being too sensitive then where could publishers have possibly gotten this idea from?

(d) Its hard for us to write about people who don’t look like us

So….. You are a science fiction writer who expects me to believe that you are capable of building entirely new universes with new alien cultures or maybe projecting into the future or past of humanity etc..
And at the same time you expect me to believe that you are incapable of writing with any kind of empathy or sensitivity about the people in the world around you based on differences in skin colour/gender/sexual orientation?

Either that’s a cop out or you aren’t a good enough writer for me to be paying attention to anyway. It isn’t as though there aren’t writers who are capable of pulling it off either(Neil Gaiman and Warren Ellis spring immediately to mind but there are others). Hence I have a very hard time believing that this isn’t more about you than it is about some intrinsic inability of any writer to do this sensibly.

(e) That’s not true. The genre is VERY diverse in terms of writers. Look at ……….

Tobias Bucknell beat me to this one. In summary, its a silly statement. Stop making it and actually address the issue.

(f) What are you talking about? The genre does include lots of diversity. Just in the form of robots/little green men/elves etc.

Oh, yes, the old ‘the other as the alien’ bit. Now this has been used brilliantly in the past(Isaac Asimov and Octavia Butler come to mind) it also tends to be used as one hell of a cop out by some writers.

For the record. Telling me that you view me as so alien that the only way you could address me was to make me something totally not human(and usually still a caricature, just with different biology) is really not something you should be trumpeting from the trees as some sign of how open minded you are.

If I were to write a story where I represented race relations by creating an all black universe and had white people represented as an evil rapacious alien species that smell bad and are totally devoid of rhythm I expect you might not necessarily see that as a sign of the diversity of my thinking process.

Well, that is the FAQ for now. Please feel free to remind me of any common arguments I forgot and they will probably be added to the list in time.

In which I return to talking about Race and Science fiction

Apparently one of my major peeves, Race and Science Fiction (which actually has its own category in this blog that you can look at to get an idea of where I stand on the issue) has surfaced again online in dramatic form. Thanks to Pam for pointing me in the direction of some of the relevant posts (and reminding me that Tobias Bucknell and ABM should have been on my blogroll a long time ago)

So, since this is an area I have some (read: a lot) of interest in and also one I haven’t really talked about for quite a while now, I feel some posts coming on especially now that I have so much reference material to work with.

Before I start though let us establish a few basics.

I am a Black African male with a physics degree who works with computers for a living and grew up spending a decent amount of reading time buried in science fiction and fantasy books as well as comics.

I continue to be a fan to this day

I am a therefore fan of genres which barely have room for people who look like me. Or are anything other than straight, white and male as a matter of fact.

To the extent that they do have room for us, we are frequently caricatures of human beings and not afforded any real depth of character.

It does not matter how much science fiction fans like to pretend like the genre is more liberal than others because of its scope, it isn’t. It definitely has the potential to be however at this point it time it is not there yet by a long shot. Its chances of getting there will also not be helped by wilfully delusional (predominantly white)fans and creators pretending that there is nothing wrong with the genre while an increasing number of fans and creators of colour repeatedly tell them there is. If we’re all saying it then its probably not because we met up in a back room somewhere to synchronize our stories. You might just try applying Occam’s razor and assuming we all say the same things because they are common to our experiences as people who love the genre but feel snubbed by it.

More on this later

Lets talk about books again

One of the most annoying things about being home remains how hard it is to get your hands on quality reading material. For several reasons the local publishing industry has been all but dead for a while, local bookstores have become basically stationary stores except for a small collection of religious books and textbooks and the library system is no better than it was in my childhood. To give you an idea of how bad the system was then, I had read my way through the Tema Public library before I was 10 years old.

That said, I managed to get my hands on a couple of books through a (woefully underattended) book fair and a used bookstore I found, Thus, sanity managed to prevail.

As to what I’ve been reading:

I’ll definitely do comprehensive reviews on a bunch of books from that list because they will allow me to talk about other stuff that has been on my mind. You can vote on what order you want reviews up if you want though.

Here we go again (race and scifi part ???)

Thanks to this post from Nalo I just found a comment on my Octavia Butler obituary that I must have missed the first time. I guess that’s what happens when I get lazy and start occasionally skipping my daily blog reading.

Since that quote was attributed to Nalo, she went ahead and answered it here and covered the topic pretty well. I still felt the need to address it though. I guess something in my ego just keeps me from just letting this slide.

Of course, the really amusing thing about that blog entry is how generic it was. Generally speaking, as Pam noted, there seems to be a generic white response to these kinds of complaints about genre writing. Namely, the assumption that any mention of the whitewashed nature of the genre most imply some sort of automatic dislike of white people. Usually this is just followed by some kind of MLK-lite suggestion that we judge the writers by the content of their works instead of the color of their skin. I have seen it over and over again in discussions of race and science fiction and comics. At this point I can pretty much see them coming.

What is really amusing about these statements is that they tend to reveal how little critical thought the person making them has really put into the issue.

Why do I say this? Simple. How exactly would a black person who hated white people get into a whitewashed genre to begin with? Who would they be reading?

Personally, I’ve been a science fiction fan for the better part of two decades. I already made a post about the books that most influenced me as a child. Long before I’d ever heard of Octavia Butler, Samuel Delany, Steven Barnes, Nalo Hopkinson etc. I was reading Asimov, Heinlen, Ben Bova, Andre Norton, John Brunner…. Obviously I have absolutely no idea what it means to relate to someone who does not look like me. Ok, bad sarcasm aside, the truth is that every genre fan of color must by definition be able to relate to people who are different from them. There is no other way to get into the genre. There just aren’t that many non-white people in it. The chances of there existing a black science fiction fan who has only read black authors and/or characters is so small I’d rather lay odds on that snowball in hell first. On the other hand, it would be remarkably easy to find white fans who have almost never read a science fiction book which didn’t have a white writer and/or character.

Hell, as far as I know there isn’t a stigma against putting white faces on a book because they might not sell as well. Which makes it remarkably interesting that the question being asked is why people who have to make a special effort to *not* read a genre story which requires them to identify with someone who doesn’t look like them are prejudiced. If anything, the question should be reversed.

Why is it that putting a black face on the cover of a book is automatically a bad thing?

Why are non-white authors such a rare thing?

Where are the non-white fans?

What keeps them out of a supposedly universal genre?

And why is it that those who do exist tend to cluster into their own communities?

What is the cause of this defensiveness that shows up chiefly among white fans whenever the racial makeup of the genre is discussed?

Like I said, that piece displayed an all too common lack of critical thinking about the issue. I understand its probably due to long standing unquestioned assumptions that people are not even aware they hold. Still, since cornute was kind enough to ask…..