I want to talk about Lightspeed’s Women Destroy Science Fiction! and Tangent Online’s review yesterday–in particular, Dave Truesdale’s “Closing Thoughts” and why it bothered me. But first, let’s talk about the issue itself.
In short: it’s amazing. I got to read it cover-to-cover ahead of time as part of the proofreading team (which I affectionately refer to as “Women Destroy Typos!”), and I think it’s one of the most outstanding anthologies I’ve read in years. It’s an important work made up of important works, a monumental achievement–not the least because Lightspeed went the extra mile and turned the whole project over to 109 very capable women. Women wrote, edited, illustrated, and created the issue at every level.
My personal favorite original story from WDSF is Amal El-Mohtar’s “The Lonely Sea in the Sky,” the tale of the discovery of an ocean of liquid diamonds on Neptune and how scientists harness its unique properties to create a teleportation device. The story traces what follows when people discover the sea is sentient and that the invention causes it to suffer. The story is exquisite in construction and execution, and thematically it sums up what’s at stake for women who write science fiction and some of the historical problems in the genre.
Take, for example, the words of the man who first demonstrates the teleportation device:
“One small step for man,” said Moor, and the crowd erupted in cheers.
Obviously it’s a reference to the moon landing, but in the story, El-Mohtar develops the earth as a symbol of the female body, alive and screaming as it is trod upon:
Hala, imagine if when we were children, we had seen a girl splayed out on the floor, spread-eagled, her every bone broken beneath the feet of boys jumping up and down on her as if she were solid ground. Imagine we could hear her screaming, begging them to stop, to let her go, but the boys could not, because she was nothing, she was the earth, she could not feel. But we could see her. We could hear her.
Taken together, these two quotes evoke images of fiction written during the Golden Age of SF, where men traipsed about accomplishing Big Things in a universe depopulated of women, making one giant leap for man upon the face of a sentient moon and ignoring her screams as something that could not possibly exist. The problem of these authors writing women out of stories reflects to some degree how female authors and readers have also been marginalized, treated as if they are part of the landscape and can be safely ignored underfoot as the men go on with their Important Work.
WDSF, as a project, aims to reverse that. Not only are women important, but they are vital. They are necessary as authors, editors, illustrators, and more. Look at what we are capable of, if given the chance!, we say on every page. The quality speaks for itself. SF as a genre is poorer when we are underrepresented or excluded.
Which brings me around to Dave Truesdale’s editorial “Closing Thoughts”. Instead of reviewing the actual WDSF issue as a whole and discussing the merits of how its constituent pieces come together, he spends several thousand words explaining why its very existence was unnecessary and wrong-headed to begin with. Says Truesdale:
Not once have I personally seen a smidgeon of racism or sexism at a convention, whether it be a local or regional con, a worldcon, a World Fantasy convention, a Campbell/Sturgeon awards banquet, or a Nebula Awards weekend. Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but one might think that if racism or sexism is as deeply rooted in SF as some would like you to think, that after 40 years I would have seen or heard something personally.
Wiser minds than mine have done a great job taking apart why Truesdale’s comments are factually wrong and problematic, so I won’t get into the unfortunately abundant evidence contradicting his statements. I recommend you read what Natalie Luhrs, Amal El-Mohtar, Rachael Acks, and E. Catherine Tobler have to say in this area.
But I do want to point out what’s at stake here, and how Truesdale misses the point of the whole WDSF conversation. Instead of engaging with the work presented, he gaslights. He claims to understand our experiences better than we do. “There is no woman beneath my feet,” says Truesdale as he jumps and jumps on her broken body. She screams from the pages of WDSF, and he calls it “shrill,” and claims she’s exaggerating, and besides anything that happened to her was probably an accident or just the result of a random individual. He has not seen it, and therefore it doesn’t exist.
Does he really, genuinely not see her there, despite all 109 of us pointing our fingers and telling him so? Or does he hear her, and choose to ignore her anyway?
Amal El-Mohtar’s story deserves the last word on the subject of Truesdale:
“Imagine, Hala , that in the eye of one of these boys you see satisfaction. You see knowledge. You see that he knows he is making someone scream but it doesn’t bother him, it doesn’t matter, because he can get away with it. What would you do?”
What should we do?
I was quite upset after reading the review last night. I don’t think it’s right that this editor’s comments should steal the show and dominate this conversation, and just as we’re all celebrating its release. So I say let’s not let him do it. Read WDSF. Read it cover to cover. Talk about it. Read and engage in the conversation about Tangent, too, but don’t miss out on the really good stuff in the doing. No review is as important as the stories and essays in WDSF itself.
Don’t tread on us.