Attempts to purify science-fiction fandom, how they sadden me

Toni Weisskopf, publisher of Baen Books, has written a blog post about what she sees as a rift in fandom. If you would like to read a full critique of her post, I give you John Scalzi. But I have a few critiques to add of my own, mostly of her fuzzy and shifting definitions.

Her post begins:

The latest fooforaws in the science fiction world have served to highlight the vast cultural divide we are seeing in the greater American culture. SF, as always, very much reflects that greater culture.

If in “latest fooferaws” she includes (as her commenters seem to assume she does) the controversy over the announcement of Jonathan Ross, a Brit, as Hugos host at WORLDCon in LONDON, it seems she is not defining “science fiction world” as “American science fiction community.” Fine. Why, then, does she go on to discuss the “science fiction world” as a subset of a “greater American culture”? If Americans are engaged in a culture war it is no business of mine; yet I am very much a citizen of the “science fiction world.”

She goes on to decry what she sees as the atomization of this science fiction world/America:

For instance, a slur that has been cast at people who dare criticize the politically correct, self-appointed guardians of … everything, apparently, is that they read Heinlein.

I have never heard the slur “Heinlein-reader!” cast at anyone, but whatever. OK. Next sentences:

Well, Heinlein is one of the few points of reference those fans who read have. Of course we all read Heinlein and have an opinion about his work. How can you be a fan and not? The answer, of course, these days is that you can watch Game of Thrones and Star Wars and anime and never pick up a book.

So, in this bit, she clearly defines two sets: People Who Read Heinlein and People Who Don’t Read Books At All. She then seems to realize her categories are not exhaustive, because she adds:

And there’s enough published material out there that it is entirely possible to have zero points of contact between members of that smaller subset of SF readers.

I don’t quite understand this sentence; what is the “that smaller subset”? I think she means that one can be a fan of, say, China Mieville but not John Scalzi, or Lois McMaster Bujold but not Kim Stanley Robinson. I don’t know; I’m pulling names at random here. OK, fair enough. This is the “Everybody used to listen to the Beatles but what ties us together now as a civilization and anyway that’s just noise” argument. Too many channels on TV, etc. Fine.

But then she writes:

So the question arises—why bother to engage these people at all? They are not of us. They do not share our values, they do not share our culture.

Wait, what? These people? At this point, her categories are so ill-defined, I have no idea whom she means by “these people” who don’t share the values and culture of science fiction fandom. If she means everyone who falls into her categories after “The answer, these days…”, then “these people” = “People Who Read SF but Not Heinlein” which is just…. Wait, what?

This has got to be one of the strangest arguments I’ve ever read. My gateways to SF were Frank Herbert and Madeleine L’Engle, because I read whatever I happened to find on the library shelves, or what my big sister’s boyfriend let me borrow. I never encountered Heinlein. As an adult writer of SF, I’ve read a little Heinlein just to familiarize myself, enough to suspect it’s not my thing, and I have so much else to read. I read part of a biography of him, too, out of interest. I think, as someone who does not much care for Heinlein and is not terribly familiar with his work, and as someone who would probably qualify for her definition of “politically correct”, I am nonetheless one of “these people” and what she calls “new fans” and “fuggheads”:

We have not been able to transmit this central precept [that SF should concentrate on “the thing we all loved, being science fiction”] to new fans. Geeks are chic, but somehow we’ve let the fuggheads win.

A new fan, am I? Someone who has been reading SF for 30 years, who began with some of the classic work of the 1960s?

This is weird and disturbing. It reminds me a great deal of the recent characterization of a “new generation of writers” as an “insect” army.

Honestly, how could anyone have so much anger to spare that they decide just for kicks to be angry at people who haven’t read Starship Troopers? How is asking how to “engage” with “these people” who “do not share our values” because they read Stuff Other Than Heinlein supposed to be a way of honouring the idea that the thing that unites us all is a love of science fiction? It’s ridiculous and strange, all of this.

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