The MacFarlane (Tor), Correia, Hines Cage Match: Put It In The C Story

Posted by John Brown on January 31st, 2014

Larry Correia is a big-booted barbarian who likes to fight in a cage. And a lot of us love to watch big-booted barbarians go at it.

We like demanding matches. We like a little blood and good sportsmanship (of course, sportsmanship in the cage is different than in other venues). And we respect both sides for showing up and giving it their best.

This last week Larry Correia battled with Alex Dally MacFarlane (and Tor, the silent partner, who thought her new column would be a great idea and has given her their big platform to talk) and Jim Hines. If you didn’t watch the match, here are the links.

I’ve enjoyed reading the give and take in this fight. For me, the barbarians seem to have landed more blows (and done so with many more funny and memorable one-liners.) But that doesn’t mean Alex Dally MacFarlane shouldn’t crusade.

And I mean crusade, as in battle.

Underneath it all MacFarlane wants to change something. She wants to change hearts and minds. A lot of us want to change hearts and minds about various things. A lot of us will show up and risk getting bloody for such things in a variety of settings. Heck, Correia the Barbarian was even willing to spend two years of his barbarian life trying to change hearts and minds in a setting where big boots are not allowed (poor Correia, more sad puppies).

But here’s the deal.

If you want to win someone like me, you’re going to do it not by scolding or brow beating me or by mandating something and then trying to back it up with sticks.

You’re going to do it by writing something so delightul that I cannot but help listen to you.

You’re not going to tell me what I can’t write.

You’re not going to tell me what I must write.

You’re going to model writing that makes me want to write that thing.

You’re going to be like Tolkien and spawn five decades of writers who want to do nothing more than imagine worlds filled with strange races and wonderous settings and weird talking tree men who have lost their wives.

You’re going to invite like-minded folks to join you in creating wonders. Or in just having a good old time.  And not worry about other writers inviting folks to their creations, which might be totally different from yours.

And those wonders and good times are the things that will work the magic.

Miguel Sabido is a master of entertainment with message. Here’s a great piece in The New Yorker introducing him, his work, and methods. Notice what made his stuff so effective. The new ways of thinking he wanted to offer were never found in the A story. They were never found in the B story.

Why?

Because the number one thing the story had to do was suck people in (entertain).

And so the new thing to consider was in the C story.

MacFarlane, put it in the C story. And build a Middle-earth. Or a ring world. Or at least some vampires that sparkle.

In the meantime, I’ve got a barbarian book on the shelf that looks like a mighty good time. I think I’m going to give it a read.

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12 Responses to “The MacFarlane (Tor), Correia, Hines Cage Match: Put It In The C Story”

  1. Greg Says:

    John,

    Thank you for posting about this. I’ve written a response that addresses the issue from what I believe is a different angle, responding to some of the problems that you’ve identified in MacFarlane’s post. I’d like to know what you think: http://www.gregoryashe.com/2014/02/post-binary-gender-and-ethics-of-fiction.html

    Best,

    Greg

  2. John Brown Says:

    Greg, that was a great response. And I think these two statements you made capture perfectly what I object to.

    Rather than a desire for what we might term inclusiveness or representation, MacFarlane’s desire seems to be to supplant what she terms a “default narrative” with what, one can only assume, will become the new default narrative.

    Writers battled for centuries for a world in which the dominant ethical systems were not the immediate arbiters of aesthetic production. Their legacy to us is a world in which the aesthetic is not always and perpetually chained to power structures and dominant ideologies.

    One of the fundamental principles I follow in my art is that I must have passion for the thing I’m creating. I must care about the characters and situations. I must follow my interests. I CAN’T create unless I do. Not only is there no motive, but the ideas don’t flow! My assumption is that this is the same for most practicing artists.

    It seems you too read MacFarlane’s words and came away with the idea that she wants to ignore that. She wants to require artists to create art they don’t care about.

    Which means her agenda is actually an attack on the very core of art itself.

    What MacFarlane wants is propaganda.

    Her crusade for what she thinks is right and good would ultimately suck the life blood from artists and their art. Hers is a world of the new wonder drug that will usher in utopia but turns us all into zombies instead.

  3. Greg Says:

    Hi John,

    Yes, absolutely: propaganda is exactly the right word. One of the major concepts I’ve taken from your blog is zing–the things that make me thrill when I’m writing a story. As an aesthetic principle, that’s the only one that rings true to me. Thanks for your good work and for bringing an important issue into a larger discussion.

    On a totally different note, I’m looking forward to reading Curse. I love the cover.

  4. James May Says:

    I think that is well put. If you pie-chart and checkmark art according to race and sex you will kill it. Literal pie-charts, percentages and graphs have appeared on SFF blogs and webzines. A constant stream of recommending SFF novels according to the race and gender of the author is constant in MacFarlane’s culture. There are no SFF personages recommending SFF because a white or a man did it. This is a massive straw man reacting against nothing.

    John Varley was doing what MacFarlane suggests almost 40 years ago. Why is it anyone’s problem if MacFarlane hasn’t read those or thinks the idea is still cutting edge when it’s been done to the point few even notice it anymore. It’s a question of scholarship, not whether such stories exist. They plainly do and have for a half-century.

    The other problem is promoting naked identity advocacy in the same breath one forbids others to do it as a form of exclusion if not bigotry. The idea is that the straight white male is awash in wanting to see himself in media precisely because they are straight, white, and male. The problem there is that there is no sign this is actually true. As one example, the 2/3 black NFL is the No.1 sport in America, not hockey or NASCAR. There is no example of that within MacFarlane’s world, which is not diverse even while it cries for diversity. A natural demographic majority is being confused with identity supremacy, as if the reason Chinese films are Chinese or Arab films Arab is because they constitute some informal analogue to the KKK rather than an accidental and natural cultural expression. In other words MacFarlane has no Mammoth Books of White Men anthologies to push back against. An accidental demo of such an anthology is not the same as purposefully making one. A demo is not identity supremacy.

    SFF is white and straight for the same reasons the NBA is 80% black and straight. There is no conspiracy. People like Jim Hines cannot accept the fact that SFF is simply an accidental cultural expression in terms of its demo that may or may not change over time. Looking at too white group photos of SFF convention chairs and hinting “racism” is as dumb as looking at too black group photos in a boxing gym and doing the same.

    If you want diversity in novels, write it, but don’t accuse me of bigotry or mandate change, because there will be push back.

  5. John Brown Says:

    James,

    I think you raise an interesting point. Is the SFF reading community mostly white and straight? Is the SFF author community mostly white and straight? And what are the interests of those majorities?

    I ask the last question because white and straight authors might be interested in writing about folks outside the groups they identify with. They might not. They might be more interested in artificial intelligence. Who knows?

    Do we have any actual data that isn’t anecdotal?

    I know what I see at the conventions I go to, but I’m going to conventions in Utah. Not a statistically valid sample of total readership across the US (grin). And it would be interesting to see how all the major interests (plots, character types, settings, etc.) compare against each other, not just those focused on sexuality or ethnicity. It might be that SFF writers just don’t care about that topic. It might be that many do, but readers don’t.

    Ultimately, if there’s a huge number of authors that are interested in certain types of characters and the dynamics they bring to a cast, then I don’t think anyone is holding them back from writing about those folks. Nor should anyone. Same with readership: if there are readers out there who find those dynamics interesting, then those stories will have demand and find success in the marketplace.

    But as you point out, just because an author or reader finds other stuff more interesting that doesn’t mean those folks are by default bad actors. Or unwittingly holding others down.

    If you write a great story, and the public loves it, nobody is going to hold you down. Not in today’s world.

    I would assume that just as the NFL players have a different demographic from its viewers, so too the SFF authors have a demographic different from that of SFF readers. Wouldn’t it be a great study to see this kind of information?

    BTW, the Writing Excuses folks recently announced that they felt their class wasn’t welcoming enough to folks of color.

    http://www.writingexcuses.com/2014/01/17/annoucing-the-writing-excusescarl-brandon-scholarship/

    Here was the issue they saw and their diagnosis.

    Out of last year’s thirty attendees, we had only one writer of color, which is not even close to a realistic representation of the speculative fiction market. This was a sign to us that something was wrong. Our ratio of men and women was about half and half, which was great; that meant that both men and women deemed our retreat a safe and welcoming environment. Our ratio of white writers to writers of color was a clear sign that some writers did not necessarily feel the same welcome, and we want to change that.

    I love all of the Writing Excuses folks. I think they’re great. But I wonder about their diagnosis. Who has data on the demographics of the current pool of new USA speculative fiction authors? Are they sure it’s not accurate? And what’s the demographics on the Writing Excuses podcast? This diagnosis seemed odd to me.

    I do think it’s great that they want to reach out and attract authors who represent demographics that are different from the SFF majority. We’re always looking for the same but different. And folks with different backgrounds are going to bring new twists on the stories in the genres we love.

    But why not just do that? Why not reach out and invite without any mention of quotas? And do these folks really need a scholarship? Or would it be more effective to use the money to broaden the podcast audience to communities they are interested in and let the interest flow naturally?

    Their diagnosis doesn’t seem to be backed up by any real data. Then you have Asian folks in the comments wondering why they aren’t included. Folks from Eastern Block countries wondering the same. How inviting is that?

    I think their introspection and desires are laudable. I just think that inviting broadly, working to build a broad customer base, and then judging all on their merits is a better way to go.

  6. James May Says:

    To me that Writing Excuses program is depraved. As for the SF community, I can vouch for the fact they are human – tell me a good story and I don’t care who’s in it. Larry Niven and John Varley commonly went outside the norm decades ago now. I accepted and even expected it because it was part and parcel of what SF does. As in music, there is no added attraction knowing the artist is gay, black or female. The attraction is artistry. Start pie-charting that and you may as well stick a fork in it. I am completely unaware of the gender and race breakdown of the 1500 song on my iPod. I know it is varied, but that was accidental. I go for the songs. In literature I go where the writing is. People like Jim Hines and Mary Robinette Kowal aren’t doing the SFF community any favors – far from it.

    That community jokes about women destroying SF. Women can’t do that, and they can write SF as good as men. To me it’s not even an issue. But in the current climate, when they sarcastically use the world “destroy” on their all-female kickstarters, they’re not thinking where this all leads, so “destroy” is actually a perfect word. I’ve seen enough recommendations by race and gender to know they’ll do the same thing with awards, and if they become editors and publishers, there too. That is “destroy.”

    This whole identity fracas needs to be booted out of SF and the ring leaders too. By “booted” I mean ignored, as in their fiction. I don’t care about a person’s politics but this is all just hate speech in the end and I won’t support it. When you think Harry, Bella and Katniss have taken millions of readers from core SFF, you’d think that core would get the message that readers don’t like to called racist, privileged, homophobes. By Hines’ and Kowal’s reckoning, the NHL must be KKK. So what’s the NBA: a black KKK? This is all so terribly stupid. So SFF’s white – so what? Samba is black, shadow puppetry Malay and Arab music is shockingly Arab. So what? Send Hines to the NBA to check it out. Something must be wrong.

  7. John Brown Says:

    I never knew that John Barnes was black. I didn’t care. I didn’t care that Octavia Butler was black. I don’t know what sexual orientation Jim Butcher is and don’t care.

    At the same time, when you say, “there is no added attraction knowing the artist is gay, black or female,” I wonder if that’s the case for gays, blacks, or females. I don’t know if you belong to any of those groups. But I wonder.

    I wonder because I know that I sometimes am more interested when someone is part of a group I strongly identify with. I think this is just normal. Not something to try to change. I don’t think you can change it. We’re built to be group’ish. So when Mitt Romney ran for president, I think my interest was piqued a bit more because he was a Mormon. I didn’t want to vote for him because of that–I’m opposed to Harry Reid and didn’t like John Huntsman or Orrin Hatch as candidates. But there was extra interest. He was skilled and one of “my people.” I don’t know if I’m explaining it clearly. And his group affiliation certainly didn’t override everything else. But it did add something.

    I’m thinking about genres. I think there are some connotations, resonances, or expectations in a name. And some fit with a genre and some are a bit off. If “Veronica Michaels” or “Jenny Flowers” is writing military thrillers for men, it might “sound” wrong. If she’s awesome, it becomes an asset. But I think an initial reaction might be “too girlie.” If you have “Brad Thor” writing sweet romances, I think the resonance of that masculine name might jar with the expectations of that genre.

    So I agree with what you have to say about this “pie chart” stuff. I think the NFL example is a good one.

    At the same time, I do see these group effects and name expectations/connotations working on me.

  8. James May Says:

    I think there’s a big difference between “H.P. Lovebunny” and Con-Or-Bust, The Carl Brandon Society and Writing Excuses rewarding people because they’re not white. What I mostly resent is the idea this must be done because it is a shared racial failure on the part of whites, as if too many whites is always suspect but too many gay, Latino or black groups never is. That’s just a weird attitude to me, and a double standard even a child should see.

    Just because some people want to see themselves reflected in media doesn’t mean it is a universal experience. Just because a group is 57.587% this or that doesn’t lessen its authenticity nor does it need to have a quota. Like MacFarlane, if someone wants to see themselves, write it. Why the calls for diversity? Make a movie and populate it with whomever you choose. No one is stopping you.

    Diversity is one thing, using the topic as an attack platform is another. When the SFF authors most talking about diversity are saying things on Twitter like “CAN SOMEONE THINK ABOUT THE WHITE PEOPLE?!!” and “Cis peeeoooople,” those are defamatory slurs, and they are coming from the heart of the SFF community, and their colleagues are not calling them out.

    I think the new politically correct SFF community has this one exactly backwards. They are basically accusing a decades old community that embraces the weird and eccentric as having an aversion to the weird and eccentric. If I wanted to see people like myself I sure as heck wouldn’t like Niven’s Beowulf Schaeffer, Poul Anderson’s Nicholas Van Rijn, Bradbury’s Uncle Einar, Spielberg’s E.T, or in other words, a pantheon of weird cultures, eccentrics and iconoclasts.

    To me it’s just laughably stupid to suggest such people are startled by something as prosaic as a black or gay person. SFF fans are the last people on Earth to be xenophobes. In fact SFF almost by definition embraces diversity if not outright strangeness. The fact that whole hard genre was started in male-oriented adventure stories a hundred years ago in a country 90% white has no more meaning to me than Bollywood being majority Hindu. No one did it on purpose and neither needs to be un-did on purpose. No cultural hobby in the world does. Either call to diversify Samba, the NBA, Bollywood, hip-hop, Arab literature, middle-weight boxing, the entire thing world-wide or shut up about it.

  9. John Brown Says:

    A lot of good points.

    I’m seeing it this way. It’s like food. You have a town, and all they have are hamburger joints. They like hamburgers. They’re happy with hamburgers. They eat a lot of different types of hamburgers. They’ve been eating hamburgers for decades. One day someone says, you know what, I love Thai food. I want more Thai food. I’m not so interested in hamburgers all the time anymore.

    Okay, so what’s the next step?

    The pie chart approach says that someone needs to regulate all the burger joints and mandate they need to start offering Thai items.

    What? Why? They’re in the business of burgers.

    The pie chart approach also leads some to say that if the burger people don’t include Thai items, they must be bad in some way.

    What? They’re selling burgers to people who like burgers. So what? If the burger joints want to add different items to their menus, okay. But mandating they cook food they aren’t interested in cooking?

    The other approach is to win customers.

    Open your Thai restaurant (or invite someone in to open one), and get people to try it. If they like it, they’ll buy it. The town may go crazy for it, and a majority of people start eating Thai. Or maybe the majority continues to eat burgers, but some love some Thai now and then.

    This second approach is focused on building a customer base, on try it, you’ll like it. On winning customers.

    If you want, you invest in inviting great Thai restaurateurs to open shop. You invest in helping people discover them. Or you invest in training folks to become great Thai restaurateurs.

    This is all independent of the burger joints.

    I suspect some folks would say, yeah, well, what if there’s a planning & zoning committee in the town, and they are forever putting the kibosh on non-burger restaurants? Or telling them they can sell their stuff, but only in the warehouse out by the dump?

    That’s a problem. And that’s happened in the past.

    But I can’t see that happening now. I don’t see it at the major publishing houses. It’s certainly not happening in the indie world. Amazon doesn’t care about anything except that your book is formatted correctly. Wait, correction. It does filter some content. But that doesn’t prevent you from going out into cyberspace and putting up your own store to sell those types of stories.

    So write something awesome. Get people to try it. Build a customer base. That’s it. There’s nobody who is stopping anyone from doing that. You might find a lot of people like your stuff; you might find only a few do. But you can’t mandate that people like your stuff.

    If your goal is to get hard-core burger people to like Thai, then you might not start with a Thai restaurant. You might start, a la Sabido, with burgers, with a bit of something Thai on the side (the C story). Satay maybe.

    Am I missing something?

    BTW, what the heck is “H.P. Lovebunny”?

  10. James May Says:

    I was joking about a kind of a bait and switch you brought up with Jenny Flowers. Who knows what H.P. Lovebunny would get ya. Maybe The Spa of Ulthar.

  11. John Brown Says:

    H.P. Lovebunny. I could see that actually being a great name for a military thriller writer. It’s so against type.

    “What are you reading?”

    “The latest Lovebunny.”

    lol

    They would eat it up. I know they would.

  12. James May Says:

    We could make up a new sub-genre called “Special Thrill Fiction.” Let author H.P. Lovebunny be your guide to a new world of SF with military hijinx, spies, naked assassin cults and banging planets into one another by fitting them with equatorial engines. Our hero is from a civilization which is nothing more than one giant military bordello for colonizing Aardvark people from the Crab Nebula.