Tag Archives: science fiction

Quick Hit: the July/Aug Issue of F&SF is out!

I have a short story in this month’s issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

The story’s called “Seven Things Cadet Blanchard Learned from the Trade Summit Incident,” and it’s my very first fiction sale.

What’s it about? Fart jokes. Version Control systems. Women being awesome. What’s not to love?

Guest-edited by C.C. Finlay, this was the first issue of F&SF to accept electronic submissions. Seven of its thirteen stories are by women. I’m honored to be in the company of quite a few other wonderful writers, including Andre Norton Award winner Alaya Dawn Johnson and Hugo winner Charlie Jane Anders.

You can snag a digital copy of your very own from Amazon, or pick up the paperback from your local library or bookstore.

Do you have a cool project you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below.

Drupal for Women Who Just Googled It

This is a guest post from Nikki Bailey. Nikki is a queer feminist lady: barista by day, web developer and feminist bookworm by night. She’s just launched a website for crowdsourcing knowledge about science fiction/fantasy books by women, and things she enjoys while that’s not taking up all her free time include gardening, aikido and Minecraft; you can reach her on Twitter at @kwerey.

Update by Mary, May 24: the site Nikki discusses in this post is at kwerey.com: Kwery, genre fiction by women.

About a month into the new year, during the winter lull at the cafe I work for, I decided to make a website.

Well, no, that wasn’t quite how it worked. I decided I wanted to learn about programming, and when CodeAcademy didn’t really hold my attention, I figured I might have more fun making something myself. Something small but practical: I’d make a site to keep track of books I’d read. That sounded like it’d be simple but useful, and I’d probably be done in a week and I’d be able to put “knows HTML” on my CV.

That plan changed pretty quick. I asked some techy friends on Facebook: One of them recommended WordPress, and then a couple of people mentioned that Drupal was cool at the moment. It’s probably a bit more versatile as a CMS overall, someone reckoned, but it’s difficult to get into – you might want to start with something a bit more simple.

I’ve been hacking stuff into working in Linux for more or less a decade now: the words “it’s not user friendly” lost all effect on me a while back. I took a look at Drupal and found a tool someone had written for it that looked up any ISBN in an open database and populated a form with the results automatically. That was me sold then and there: I went straight to the Very Basic Tutorials page on the Drupal site and started putting together some mysterious thing called a LAMP stack…

Three weeks later I’d got pretty carried away. I moved from learning my way around Drupal to learning about CSS and HTML and version control and PHP arrays. I learned to troubleshoot. I fixed problems – I even nervously published a few patches.

I hadn’t worked this hard since final year exams, or been so excited about what I was learning. I cycled to work daydreaming about UX and faceted searches, came home and filled my Firefox bookmarks with tutorials.

Eventually, I got there. My finished project is this: an online catalogue that stores books with all kinds of metadata: reviews users have added, publication date, genre, and the kind of questions things like the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign asks: there’s a field for ‘are there LGBT characters?’ and ‘is there a person of colour as a central character?’. In the end, I made it a catalogue of just books by women, because that’s an axe I’ve got to grind with the science fiction & fantasy community: hardly anyone ever recommends me books by female writers.

The site went live a few weeks ago, and last time I checked in on it, there were all kinds of cool sounding books on it I hadn’t ever heard of: I’ve made a way to find to provide myself with infinite new books to read, and put a resource out there I think could be really useful to people: I was over twenty by the time I read a book about a lesbian character that wasn’t totally depressing, and I’m pretty proud and excited about putting something out there to help marginalised people find themselves in fiction.

I always thought of the phrase ‘web development’ as referring to some kind of very structured skill, with a budget of thousands and probably more than one Gantt chart involved. That changed pretty much as soon as I started googling. Thanks to open source technology and the generosity of geeks with their secrets, it’s taken me under 2 months and £20 to put together a website that’s getting 1000~ unique visitors a day in its first few weeks of life: it’s been an act of creativity and collaboration, and it’s left me really excited about all the cool stuff the internet makes possible.

Thanks for everything, geeks of the internet. I hope this is gonna be the first of many projects you’ll see from me.

I Find Your Lack Of Linkspam Disturbing (9 May 2014)

First up, a number of linkspams about books, comics, and writing:

  • Politics Belong in Science Fiction | Foz Meadows at Huffington Post (May 2): “Science fiction both is, and always has been, a political genre. When we tell stories about a future in outer space populated entirely by white people, who constitute a global minority; when we describe societies set a hundred, three hundred, a thousand years in the future but which still lack gender equality, and whose sexual mores mimic those of the 1950s, that is no less a political decision than choosing to write diversely.”
  • Dear columnists, romance fiction is not your [slur] | Kay Mayo at The Drum (April 17) (update: warning for gendered slur, with violent implications, in the title of this piece): “I’d like to know: why is romance fiction the punching bag of the literary world? Why are romance readers the laughing-stock of feminist commentators? Why can’t people just let women read sexy things without telling us we’re doing something wrong? When writers deride romance readers for their reading choices, their argument becomes meaningless, and here’s why: not all romance books are the same. When someone insists that there is a formula for romance fiction, it’s clear that they haven’t bothered to look at any serious analyses of the genre, nor do they understand what “genre” actually means.”
  • Comics Legend Brian Michael Bendis on Sexism and Making a Nonwhite Spider-Man | Abraham Riesman at Vulture (May 2): “When you become the writer of Spider-Man, all of a sudden, every day, every week, every month, someone of color — all different races — comes up to you and tells you, “Spider-Man was my favorite and this is why,” and then I hear a version of this story: “My friends, when I was a kid, wouldn’t let me be Superman, wouldn’t let me be Batman, because of my skin color. But I could always be Spider-Man, and Spider-Man became my favorite. As a little kid, I didn’t even understand why he was my favorite, but it was because anybody could be Spider-Man under that costume, because it was head-to-toe.” That’s not why we created a Spider-Man who’s a person of color, but afterwards, I was like, “Oh man, this was subconsciously why we did it.””
  • Silence Is Not Synonymous With Uproar: A Response To John C. Wright | foz meadows (May 7): “So, author John C. Wright wrote a thing on the evils of political correctness in SFF [..] Let me show you the problem I’m having. [..] You cannot state, as your opening premise, that SFF fandom is being handicapped by silence and an unwillingness to speak out, and then support that premise by stating the exact polar opposite: that there has, in your own words, been vocal uproar.”
  • Don’t Be a Dick (Or 15 Great Sounding SFF Novels Available in 2014) | Lady Business (April 24): “Dude makes a list of 13 books that demonstrate why 2014 is going to be a banner year for fantasy novels. List contains 12 books by men and a book by a lady which has been pushed back to 2015. Okay then. I decided to fight books with books. Here’s a list of 15 SFF books by women that I’m excited to see published in 2014.”
  • The Trouble With Wonder Woman | Julia Lepetit and Andrew Bridgman at Dorkly (May 6)[Online Comic] “I’m just sick of it! They make a bunch of Batman movies, then a Green Lantern movie, and a Superman movie. Thought I’d be next – but nope – Batman again. [...] I’m one of the three biggest DC heroes in history!”

And now some links from our regular linkspam:

  • Is the Internet Intrinsically Sexist? | Laurie Penny at The Debrief (May 8): “Teenage girls are a perennial target of technological concern-trolling – ‘what will this weirdscape of social sexting, selfies and outraged hashtags mean for their fragile pubescent morality?’ – but, in this instance, the concern is far from baseless.”
  • Approaching Conferences From a Different Angle | satifice (April 28): “If you say you want or encourage diversity in your CFP, but nowhere do you say that diverse applicants will receive support to attend, you don’t want poor people to attend. Now, I’m sure that some people are thinking “well, if it is a professional conference, what poor people?”, which is disingenous particularly for acdemic related conferences [...] Moreover, are we really going to ignore the intersections of poverty with disability, race, gender, and other axes of oppression? If you experience just one type of oppression, your chances of being poor are higher. If you experience multiple axes of oppression, these chances only compound and increase.”
  • If it Doesn’t Exist, Build it: An Interview With Jasper Nance | Alison Dorantes-Garcia at Huffington Post (May 5): “Alison: Something that initially discouraged me from attending hackerspaces was the lack of people who I could relate to and identify with. For a while I didn’t see many women, queer identified people, people of color, or working-class people. Did you ever feel any trepidation coming into hackerspaces, and if so, how did you deal with it? What advice would you give to a new (potentially shy) person going to a hackerspace? JN: Have a project, and ask for help! Don’t go into [a hackerspace] with any expectations of what other people are doing or think of you. If you ask a lot of questions, you would be surprised how nice and helpful some people can be at hackerspaces.”
  • Ally Smells: Fear of Speaking Up | Julie Pagano (May 3): “An analogy might help here. Imagine if someone came upon your open source project, didn’t check your README or contributor guidelines, did no background research, and demanded you add a bunch of features that made no sense or have already been discussed ad nauseam. You’d be annoyed. Some people might be kind and discuss it with them. Some might gently point them at documentation. Others would tell them to RTFM (read the fucking manual). Now imagine this happens on your project every day or even multiple times a day. Over time, the RTFM response becomes more common as people run out of patience and energy.”
  • It’s Different for Girls | Heidi Roizen at Advanetures in Entrepreneurship (May 3): “It pains and somewhat embarrasses me that I am not recommending calling out bad behavior and shaming the individual or individuals responsible.  In a perfect world people would have to account for their behavior.  But as an entrepreneur who spent years in a daily battle for existence, I did not feel like I could afford the hit I’d take in exposing these incidents.”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

It is a linkspam universally acknowledged (25 February 2014)

  • 7 Disney Princesses My Daughter Wishes Existed | cecilyk on babble (Feb 21, 2014): “Like so many 7-year-old girls, my daughter is utterly obsessed with Disney Princesses. [...] But because I’m a feminist, I annoy my daughter by having long discussions with her about the way Disney portrays women and how she feels about it. [...] she also longs for a princess that is more, well, like her. So we sat down together, and she gave me a list of what she would love to see in a Disney Princess. Take note, Disney!”
  • What I learned while editing Wikipedia | Noopur Raval on opensource.com (Jan 27, 2014): “My work with the Wikimedia Foundation and editing Wikipedia has helped me take a hard look at myself as a woman of colour from India in technology. [...] The question I ask myself now everyday is whether merely enabling access through infrastructure and providing free platforms like Wikipedia can help us resolve uneven digital geographies created in the process.”
  • Software Engineering Made a Woman Outta Me | Jennifer Gilbert on Medium (Feb 18, 2014): “When I decided to learn to code, I knew I was entering a male-dominated field. But I considered that challenge far less worrisome than, say, taming the black magic of recursion. [...] And yet, the day I became a software engineer, I became a woman. It was a lonely moment. My dad wasn’t even there to awkwardly hug me before yelling for my mother and excusing himself to Any Room But This One. [...] The biggest tomboy alive can suddenly feel like Programmer Barbie if her surrounding context is male enough.”
  • debian women – MiniDebConf Barcelona 2014 | DebConf (2014): “On the 15th and 16th of March, Barcelona will host a Mini DebConf with both talks and social events, to which everyone in Debian is invited but the speakers in the talks are all people who identify themselves as female. We consider this important to: Encourage women who haven’t yet given their first DebConf talk; Provide role models for women who are interested in contributing; Debunk the myth that there are not enough women who can give talks in DebConf. The idea behind the conference is not to talk about women in free software, or women in debian, but rather to make discussion about Debian subjects more inclusive for women. [...] We are still raising funds to cover the costs of running the conference and to offer travel sponsorship to people who cannot pay for it. Please, consider donating any amount you can, everything helps!”
  • Rubrics Like the Bechdel Test are a Start, Not an End | s.e. smith (Feb 14, 2014):
    “The obvious question you have to ask after applying it is ‘why did it pass (or fail)’? You can point to specific scenes, or lack thereof, that helped a film or other piece of media meet the standard, and you can note shortcomings of the Bechdel test; for example, if a piece of media is a solo performance by a woman, it’s going to fail, but does that mean it’s necessarily sexist? If a movie passed, does that mean it’s not sexist? Two women talking to each other about something other than a man in a piece of media don’t necessarily mean that it doesn’t contain sexist stereotypes or other problems.”
  • Apparently, these guys don’t want women to write science fiction | Aja Romano on The Daily Dot (Feb 15, 2014): “A conversation on a science-fiction forum this week revealed a section of the community that’s teeming with indignation about recent attempts to make the genre more progressive. [...] But these days, the sci-fi community is an increasingly large, public place. And with the advent of instant communication across the Internet, more voices are coming to the table and speaking out”

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

The Curious Incident of the Novelette and the Hugo Ballot

Mary Robinette Kowal’s “The Lady Astronaut of Mars.”

Something hinky happened with the Hugo Awards Best Novelette category this year.

The committee responsible for one of Science Fiction literature’s top awards decided to contravene both the award’s rules and its precedent to disqualify Mary Robinette Kowal’s “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” from consideration, without even telling her.

The Hugo Awards are basically the Oscars of Science Fiction literature. They’re awarded every year at WorldCon, and administered under the rules of the World Science Fiction Society’s Constitution. WorldCon members are eligible to nominate Science Fiction or Fantasy stories that appeared for the first time during the previous year, and the five stories in each category to receive the most nominations appear on the Hugo ballot. (More on the voting process here).

Last year, Kowal’s “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” appeared in Audible.com’s RIP-OFF! Anthology, which was an audiobook. In February 2013, she posted the text of the story, exactly as it was turned in to Audible, on her website (incidentally, if you haven’t read The Lady Astronaut of Mars yet, it is freaking awesome and you should probably have it in your life. Go ahead and read it. The rest of this post will still be here when you get back).

When all of the Hugo nominations for the novelette category were tallied up, “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” came in third (see the vote breakdown on page 20 of the 2013 Hugo Awards Statistics Report).

And here’s where things get weird. The story clearly had enough nominations to make the ballot. But the award committee decided to declare the story “Ineligible as the 2012 work was an audiobook.”

Well, let’s have a look at what the World Science Fiction Society’s constitution has to say about eligibility:

Section 3.2.1: Unless otherwise specified, Hugo Awards are given for work in the field of science fiction or fantasy appearing for the first time during the previous calendar year.

So far, so good–The Lady Astronaut of Mars appeared for the first time in an anthology in 2012. Let’s look at the Novelette category:

3.3.3: Best Novelette. A science fiction or fantasy story of between seven thousand five hundred (7,500) and seventeen thousand five hundred (1 7,500) words.

My word processor clocks The Lady Astronaut of Mars in at 8,035 words. Definitely a novelette.

The category rules don’t say the words must be published in print format, and nether do the general rules. They say the work must ‘appear for the first time’ in the year prior to the year in which it is nominated. Going by that, it’s pretty clear that audiobooks are eligible to be nominated in the story categories. In fact, the Hugo Awards website clearly says, in reference to e-book eligibility: “There is no requirement that a work be published on paper.”

There are these two sections of the general rules concerned with moving works from one eligible category to another:

3.2.9: The Worldcon Committee may relocate a story into a more appropriate category if it feels that it is necessary, provided that the length of the story is within the lesser of five thousand (5,000) words or twenty percent (20%) of the new category limits.

3.2.10: The Worldcon Committee may relocate a dramatic pre sentation work into a more appropriate category if it feels that it is ne cessary, provided that the length of the work is within twenty percent (20%) of the new category boundary.

But:

(1) The fact that they wrote one rule for moving stories and a separate rule for moving dramatic presentations rather suggests that they didn’t mean for stories to be moved into Dramatic Presentation, or vice versa; and more importantly:

(2) Audiobooks have previously been declared eligible in the story categories. When the Audible anthology METAtropolis came out in 2008, John Scalzi (who edited the anthology and had a story in it) was told that while the entire anthology was eligible in the Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form category, the individual stories within it were eligible in the Novella category. Including his novella, “Utere Nihil Non Extra Quiritationem Suis.”

If disqualifying her pretty-obviously-eligible work wasn’t bad enough, they decided not to give her a chance to make a case for its eligibility–or even tell her at all.

Instead, they left her to find out at a party after the awards.

That’s right: they disqualified her story from consideration for one of the genre’s most prestigious awards, and left her to find out about this on awards night, in front of a room full of people.

What, were they afraid she’d make a scene?

Even if they had done the right thing and talked to her privately, that would still leave the question: what makes Kowal’s “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” different from John Scalzi’s “Utere Nihil Non Extra Quiritationem Suis?”

Gee.

I wonder.

I’m not saying they consciously decided to disqualify Kowal’s story just because she’s a woman. I am saying that I don’t believe for one second they would have treated John Scalzi, Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, or any of the genre’s other well-known white men this way.

EDIT TO ADD:

Kowal has her own writeup of the incident here, including the emails she exchanged with the committee about this.

Also, based on the comments sitting in moderation, it’s time to remind folks that we have a comment policy. I specifically want to draw attention to our policy on comments that add nothing to the conversation.

A Linkspamination unto Nuggan (9 Aug 2013)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Linkspam now, ask me how (31 May 2013)

  • 6 Women Scientists Who Were Snubbed Due to Sexism: “Here are six female researchers who did groundbreaking work—and whose names are likely unfamiliar for one reason: because they are women.”
  • Star Trek Musings: “Where are the women? The strong women? The women we’d like to see in 200 years? “
  • Star Trek Into Darkness: Where Did All The Strong Starfleet Women Go?: “Star Trek has always been about achieving your fullest potential no matter your race, gender, creed, or pointiness of ears. Which is why the utter lack of strong women in Star Trek Into Darkness is a slap in the face to all the outstanding female Star Trek characters we’ve met over the years.”
  • How to Be a ‘Woman Programmer’: “But the prejudice will follow you. What will save you is tacking into the love of the work, into the desire that brought you there in the first place. This creates a suspension of time, opens a spacious room of your own in which you can walk around and consider your response. Staring prejudice in the face imposes a cruel discipline: to structure your anger, to achieve a certain dignity, an angry dignity.”
  • The Truth Of Wolves, Or: The Alpha Problem: Contemporary urban fantasies would be more interesting if they based werewolf etc. fantasies on actual diverse animal social structures rather than old myth about alpha wolves.
  • Lost to History No More: “It is now clear that without Dr. Kober’s work, Mr. Ventris could never have deciphered Linear B when he did, if ever. Yet because history is always written by the victors — and the story of Linear B has long been a British masculine triumphal narrative — the contributions of this brilliant American woman have been all but lost to time.”
  • So This Is How It Begins: Guy Refuses to Stop Drone-Spying on Seattle Woman: “New technologies may present new ways of violating people’s privacy, but that doesn’t mean they’re legal.”
  • Code of conduct not enforced at the North American edition of Yet Another Perl Conference.
  • Why isn’t it hate speech if it’s about women? “We don’t often call open misogyny hate speech, but that’s what it is.”
  • California teen invents device that could charge a cell phone in 20 seconds: “Khare showed off her so-called super-capacitor last week at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Phoenix, Ariz.”
  • Words Matter: “No one’s being hurt, it’s their fault if someone is offended – after all, it’s just words, right? Sadly, that’s grossly underestimating the power of language and interaction.”
  • We Can Do Better: “I want to be apologetic and say “I don’t think most people were being consciously sexist by treating these women as less than equals” but really, I’m growing tired of “I’m sure they didn’t mean to” as an excuse. Many of us have an internalized sexism.”
  • Are you ready for Ada Lovelace Day 2013? “If you belong to a STEM-related group, why not ask the organisers to devote one meeting during the autumn to editing Wikipedia? Or offer to help put on a special Ada Lovelace Day meet-up for your edit-a-thon? If you don’t belong to any official groups, why not gather your friends together at a pub with wifi and help each other research and create new entries, or expand existing stub articles on notable women?”

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

A fisherman of the inland linkspam (14 May 2013)

  • Sometimes I Feel Like I am a Fake Geek Girl: “I know that I’m not really faking anything as I’m pretty up front with the holes in my experience, but sometimes I feel that I shouldn’t even call myself a geek because I’m missing so much ‘critical geekdom’. It feels like geek culture is a competitive and not-inclusive space with invisible hierarchies.”
  • How to draw sexy without being sexist: “‘Sex appeal ONLY comes into play when the characters PERSONALITY dictates that as a factor,’ says Anka. ‘The CHARACTER must be first and foremost the inspiration and guideline for all the decisions made when trying to design the clothing.'”
  • The Great Debate: Comic about the misguided idea that disabling youtube comments to forestall harassment is censorship.
  • ‘Brave’ creator blasts Disney for ‘blatant sexism’ in princess makeover – Marin Independent Journal: “Disney crowned Merida its 11th princess on Saturday, but ignited a firestorm of protest with a corporate makeover of Chapman’s original rendering of the character, giving her a Barbie doll waist, sultry eyes and transforming her wild red locks into glamorous flowing tresses. The new image takes away Merida’s trusty bow and arrow, a symbol of her strength and independence, and turns her from a girl to a young woman dressed in an off-the-shoulder version of the provocative, glitzy gown she hated in the movie.”
  • The Latest on the Women in SFF Debate: Roundup of links about the recent debate on recognition for female authors of sci-fi/fantasy.
  • Using Python to see how the NY Times writes about men and women: “If your knowledge of men’s and women’s roles in society came just from reading last week’s New York Times, you would think that men play sports and run the government. Women do feminine and domestic things. To be honest, I was a little shocked at how stereotypical the words used in the women subject sentences were.”
  • Queer in STEM: “A national survey of sexual diversity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”
  • This 17-Year-Old Coder Is Saving Twitter From TV Spoilers: “Jennie Lamere, a 17-year-old girl, invented the software last month—and won the grand prize at a national coding competition where Lamere was the only female who presented a project, and the only developer to work alone.”
  • A Woman’s Place: “Now, almost 50 years after the birth of an all-female technology company with radically modern working practices, it seems remarkable that the same industry is still fumbling with the issue of gender equality.”

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Star-Trek-Logo-Jesperhansen1972-cc-by-sa

Whitewashing? KHAAAAN!

JJ Abrams, the director of Star Trek (2009) and the upcoming Star Trek Into Darkness is known for being secretive about his upcoming projects. He’s taken it to an extreme with Into Darkness, however: he won’t even confirm the identity of the villain.

Rumors have been flying all over the place for months, of course. The most common is that Benedict Cumberbatch is playing the iconic Original Trek character Khan.

Ricardo Montalban in Fiesta trailer

Ricardo Montalbán as Mario Morales in Fiesta (1947).

I really, really hope it’s not true.

Khan, full name Khan Noonien Singh, was originally played by Ricardo Montalbán. He first appeared in the Original Trek episode Space Seed; in which he’s identified as being “[f]rom the northern India area…. Probably a Sikh.” (Here’s the clip; skip to 9:10 for the line).

Benedict Cumberbatch 2011 (jpg)

Benedict Cumberbatch. By Sam Hughes from UK derivative work: RanZag [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Benedict Cumberbatch is a very talented actor. He is also a very white actor.

Normally, pointing this out invites comments like “Ricardo Montalbán wasn’t Indian either!” That’s true. Hollywood has a long and ugly history of using raceface to portray characters of color. It also has an ugly history of whitewashing characters of color–casting white actors to portray the characters as white.

Which is exactly what they’ve done, yet again, if Benedict Cumberbatch is playing Khan.

The Stop Whitewashing Tumblr has a great primer on why that’s problematic. Here’s another excellent introduction.

Racebending.com also has many smart things to say about whitewashing, including an extensive history of Hollywood’s use of raceface and whitewashing of Asian characters.

The short of it is that there are disproportionately few roles for actors of color as it stands, and those roles that do exist often take a back seat to the many roles already available to white men (especially talented, famous white men like Cumberbatch). Whitewashing characters of color is a form of systematic racism.

Khan is an interesting, complex, and iconic villain, and it’s not 1967 anymore. If the film features a character of Indian descent, there is absolutely no excuse for not hiring an actor of Indian descent to play the part.

Edit to Add–a few links, courtesy Racebending’s fantastically awesome tumblr:

The Whitewashing Khan tumblr. “It’s wrong and you know it.” That about sums it up, yeah.

Racebending breaks down why “it’s just an action movie” and “but Cumberbatch is awesome!” do not excuse whitewashing.

Charlie Jane Anders tackled this on io9 almost a year ago, with insightful commentary on what a white Khan means in terms of Khan’s background with eugenics.

[This post's featured image is from wikimedia commons, cc-by-sa wikipedian Jesperhansen1972]

Changelog–this post has been updated (see comments for details):
–“That’s true. He was Hispanic. Wikipedia pegs him as the son of Castillian Spaniards. I don’t know whether he self-identified as a person of color. If he did, But while there is certainly plenty to say about Hollywood’s habit of casting people of color to play characters from completely different backgrounds as if all brown people look the same (Montalbán played more than one Asian character during his career),. But that is a separate issue entirely from Hollywood’s ugly history of casting white people to play characters of color.”
++”That’s true. Hollywood has a long and ugly history of using raceface to portray characters of color. It also has an ugly history of whitewashing characters of color–casting white actors to portray the characters as white.”

Book Club: Three times a Geek Feminist walked away from Omelas (and two times she didn’t)

1. The most straightforward case

I tried out for a teaching gig at a riding school near where I grew up. The place was rundown and their safety standards were not up to mine: I had to insist on the students wearing helmets, and I had to double-check that everyones’ girths were correctly buckled, and there were complaints when I didn’t let the rank beginners gallop their horses around. Despite my best efforts, the horses flared their nostrils and pranced and boasted to one another. It’s what horses do.

All through our lesson, helicopters hovered over the bush nearby; and the trail ride that had gone out failed and failed and failed to come back.

It transpired that they had taken out a woman who had no English and no helmet, and her horse had bolted with her and she had fallen on her head, and the helicopter was her airlift out.

I thanked them and told them that I was no longer interested in the job. I heard, later, that she had lived, albeit with traumatic brain injury.

2. Ambiguity

Straightforward cases are rhinoceroses. They’re not quite unicorns, in that they do exist. They are just very rare.

The Sydney Anglican Church has a generous helping of Omelas. At its summer camps, bright-towered by the sea, the sunlight sparkles in the rigging of boats. Sandstone churches nestle in moss-grown gardens. At least when I was growing up, there was altogether too much shimmering tambourine. Glebe – an inner-city suburb that belongs to the church, an old word meaning the clergyman’s benefice and income – is nothing if not great parks and houses with red roofs and painted walls.

The parish to which I belonged had more Omelas in it than most. There was a room with a locked door, and in that room was a child. It was not defective and it was not dirty, but it was abused.

It would be satisfying to say that I walked away from the church because of the child. Satisfying, but untrue. I walked away – stumbled away, rather – because I was lied to, and it broke me. It wasn’t until a few years later that I found out about the child, and understood what had happened to it as of a piece with the rest of the lies.

What is true is that I can no longer remember my childhood’s sparkling boats or the old people in their robes or the music without thinking, with fury and anguish, of that child in the locked room.

Intermission: A song for Le Guin

You were the tattered paperback on my sister’s bookshelf; you were my endlessly overdue library books; you did a reading at a bookstore in the Haight the week of the September 11 attacks. Do you remember? I was the young woman in the back quietly weeping. Well, I was one of them. You taught me the true name of the shadow, and what dragons are. You taught me how to revisit my old stories and rewrite them. You showed me what I wanted to be: a mind always reaching out, reaching out to be whole. You are my Great Bear and my Master Doorkeeper. I love you.

3. A disorderly retreat

Not surprisingly, then, one of my abortive PhD proposals was on feminist scifi, and perhaps in one of my alternate-universe lives I hold the Ursula K. Le Guin Chair in Postcolonialist Speculative Fiction (is this a real thing? Because it bloody well ought to be.) In this life I have a master’s degree and am a professor of nothing, because even in 1994 when I graduated, no matter how many times I ran the numbers, I could not find a way to stay in the academy and indulge an expensive passion for equestrian sport.

More frighteningly, very few of the scenarios I ran included the ability to keep much of a roof over my own head. When I looked around at my peers and the cohort ahead of me in graduate school, their lives and prospects could best be described with words like “monastic” and “austere.” Twenty years later, when I look at the academic careers of young people with qualifications like mine, I come up with words like “predicament,” “soul-destroying” and “ongoing scandal.”

Once again, I wish I had left the academy because I was taking a principled stand against the exploitation of grad student labour. In fact, I grabbed whatever I could carry and fled.

Epilogue: Living and working in Omelas

Whether you walk, stumble or flee from Omelas, it turns out the worlds beyond the city have something in common: locked rooms in which children are being held prisoner. I live in San Francisco now, and on our good days my friends and I might qualify as mature, intelligent, passionate adults whose lives are not wretched. (On our bad days all bets are off.) With one voice, the authorities in our lives insist that the price of our happiness includes torture, drones, and the highest documented incarceration rate in the world. I don’t know whether this is true, but I know that I am complicit in these atrocities.

And then there’s White feminism and its history of racism (and its histories of ableism and classism and transphobia and and and.) I’m a feminist to my bone marrow, but I’ll be damned if I’ll obtain my own liberation at the expense of anyone else.

I used to think the answer to the challenge of “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” would be for the walkers to join forces, fly back to the city with helicopter gunships and free the child by any means necessary. Now I think the best we can do is practise vigilance. To watch out for people who might be locking children in rooms. And to refrain from locking children in rooms ourselves.

Have you walked away? What’s it like where you are?