Is Science Fiction Offensive?

Yesterday I posted some links to articles that I found interesting to read, or I thought other people would enjoy. This included a link to an article about the 100 must read sci-fi novels, and how the author, Lutgendorff, thought the list was filled with sexist and offensive books. Simon gave an interesting comment and I started to write my thoughts on the matter. After 300 words or so I thought it would be best if I wrote another blog post.

About half way through the article Lutgendorff brings up a version of the Bechdel test and states that almost all of the books failed. Her standard is a little stricter then the original (at least two women, one in a lead roll, with jobs other then traditionally female roles) but I don’t think many of the books listed would have passed the original test either (has at least two women who talk to each other about something other then men.)

I also agree with her that from today’s view point a lot of the books on this list could be shockingly offensive, especially if you are looking for those offensive things. There are books with rape, incest, and mandatory orgies. (Game of thrones is on this list people! It’s incredibly offensive.)

Before we go on lets just remember that this list was nominated by 5,000 fans and voted on by 60,000. The editors did toss out some of the nominations (because they were young adult, horror, didn’t fit criteria, etc) but otherwise it was all fan made. 60,000 people said this was the top 100 books in SF, not a small group of hetero white men.

Most hardcore science fiction fans will talk about the science in a world, world building, government, technology, and maybe at the bottom of the list will be a discussion about gender and gender politics (unless you’re talking to a trekky as that was very visible in Star Trek). And when we (I say we because I am a HUGE! science fiction nerd) tell you which novels are the best in our genre we are going to point to a lot of classics that shaped the world, changed thinking, or shaped the genre as a whole. This will include novels that might be offensive by today’s standards. In fact sometimes a book that is offensive will shape the world MORE than a book that is completely inoffensive.

Also, keep in mind that many of the books on the list were written before 1970, before female liberation and equality movements. And some of the books she described as offensive were MEANT to be offensive. Take Thomas Covenant who rapes a girl in the first book of that series. It is meant to be jarring and offensive because he is an anti-hero. In later books even he hates himself for what he did and he doesn’t get why people don’t just kill him and be done with it.

And as for her issue with “there are no women in some of these stories”… Okay, she’s right. There aren’t. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good books. If the only offense of the book is that there aren’t female characters in the book, or there are very minor female characters that don’t really contribute to plot, then I don’t find that offensive at all. I’ve read a lot of women’s chick lit that doesn’t have any male characters, or uses men as window dressing for a woman’s fantasies.

I love what one person pointed out in a thread on G+… That the romance genre is guilty of most of the offenses she lists in her. Novels written by women, for women, and filled with all the sexist stuff toward women that Lutgendorff is complaining about. I’ve read books where the main female interest was raped then falls in love with her rapist after being forced to marry him. And it was a very popular book in the romance category.

Going down the list of the 100 top Sci-fi I found myself saying “yes, that’s an awesome book,” and “oh, I can see why that one is on the list.” Time and again they were some of my favorite books growing up, and even now into my adulthood. Books about technological advances, alien creatures, censorship, exploration, and discovery. Amazing books that shaped me into a creative, and curious person who still loves finding out about new things.

Could science fiction use new books that are more female friendly, or directly speak to gender issues? Yes, of course it can. But that doesn’t mean the list of books here is offensive, it just means we have an opportunity to do more.

Science fiction is about exploring the world, the universe, and ultimately ourselves. Exploring gender roles is a wonderful way of doing that, both traditional and more unusual roles, expanding out idea of what is and can be as science fiction has always been known to do.

So yes, I disagree with Ms. Lutgendorff. I don’t find them completely offensive, even if there may have been parts of the books that were offensive when seen through the eyes of 2015. I find the books to be a fair, and wonderful interpretation of the best books in the science fiction genre. And I think we have room for even better books as time continues.

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Unintentionally offensive

Yesterday at work a customer made an off hand remark about getting something free. Lots of people do this, nifty percent of the time they are teasing. We laugh, I say sorry can’t do that, and we go on our ways.

But yesterday was a bit different. We laughed, then he said “I’m just kidding. I work for what I have. I’m a conservitive, not a liberal. I don’t expect anyone to just give me anything.”

I was a little offended. First time in a really long time that I’ve ever been offended. I don’t necessarily consider myself a liberal, but I have been on public assistance before. Even now I have free medical from the state because I can’t afford health care. And this is what this person thinks of me? That I just want free hand outs instead of working for myself?

I laughed it off and let him go his way without saying anything. He was a grumpy old man, and a customer. Picking a fight would never change anything. What’s worse, even when confronted with their ignorance they won’t change their mind.

I hated being on public assistance. Every time I had to pull out that damn food stamp card I felt like I was a failure. It made me question my value to my children. My value as an individual.

I am so grateful I live in a country that gives food to the hungry, even if it is done so begrudgingly, and at the same time they give it to you they are making you feel guilty for using it. Without those food stamps there where months when my children and I would have gone hungry. Because of food stamps my children ate, and I only went hungry a few times. (They really dont give you much.)

The guilt is awful. I once put an energy drink on a counter along with some food because I was really tired from working and going to school, and wanted a little pick me up. “Food stamps don’t cover that,” the cashier said.

Ya. I know. That’s why I have a job, and I also get money from student grants that pays for this. Just ring it up, will ya?

Then there are the people who say “well you shouldn’t have had kids if you couldn’t afford them.” To everyone who says this FUCK YOU! I could afford them when I had them. I wasn’t on state assistance from the moment I had them.

Shit happens, things fall apart and you thank god, or the little fairies, or the flying spaghetti monster that there is state assistance because your friends and family will not be feeding your children when the shit hits the fan.

Having been poor I envy people in countries like Sweden and Norway that have good schools, and health care for everyone. Right now I have to deal with lots of little cavities and two more root canals because I couldn’t go to the dentist for more than fifteen years. I almost died once because my job wouldn’t let me take time off work when I was sick and I ended up with pneumonia for a month. I was too afraid to go to a doctor because I didn’t have insurance and we already went bankrupt once because of medical bills. But we didn’t go bankrupt fast enough. We were evicted, and lost our car because of garnishments when we couldn’t afford to pay for the life saving surgeries my husband and my son had.

“Then why did you get a divorce? Two paychecks are better than one.” You would rather people stay miserable and unhappy, or in abusive relationships because you don’t want to pay an extra one percent in taxes to help the poor?

“But there are soup kitchens, churches, shelters for the homeless etc. Etc.” do you want to stay in a dorm room with hundreds of people you don’t know with your children? There are people that get raped, stabbed, robbed  and worse in those places. Does it feel good to go to a soup kitchen every day to eat with your children? Or is it easier to get a little food stamp card so that I can go to the grocery store like normal people? Besides if every hungry person in the area went to these places they would run out of money and food a lot faster.

The attitude of many people in this country is “it’s your fault you are poor and you have to get yourself out of it.” They don’t consider accidents, job layoffs, medical conditions, or just bad luck. They can’t see that helping a person is far better for everyone than keeping them down.

“It’s my taxes!” And you’re right. It was my taxes too. I worked, I paid, and then when things went bad I used them. Even if I hadn’t what is better, paying one percent of your income to help the poor and sick, or paying 30% of all taxes for military, NSA, an unending war on terror, spying on everyone, passing million dollar pensions, and a lot of other things that probably could be cut or shrunk. But you’d rather cut services to the poor which consists of about 22% including health benefits for anyone who needs them.

It’s really frustrating that the same people who make you feel guilty for not making enough to live are the same people that say “we can’t raise minimum wage! That would hurt everyone.”

Do you really hate the poor so much that you want them to stay poor? Do you really care so little for others that you’d rather send drones to shoot up wedding parties and arrest people for feeding the homeless?

I haven’t been “proud to be an American” in years. And attitudes like this man’s are why. Like our government forcing drug testing for being on state assistance, or locking away people who told the truth.

This country is 14th in education and 37th in health care. The only thing we rank number one in is imprisoning our own people!

When will we learn that helping people is better for everyone then keeping them down?