Tradpub Fantasy's PC Fetish

Today's post finds Media Diversified lamenting that Western authors harm Eastern peoples by writing about Eastern settings.
In 2012 a roundtable at the World SF blog focusing on non-Western cultures in speculative fiction asked the following question: What are the problematics of some Western writers tackling non-Western settings for their novels, and do they result in exoticism?
Irony, definition: people claiming to tell authors how to write who use the BS word "problematics".
One of the panelists, SFF author Joyce Chng (Singapore), spoke on these issues of “othering” and the Western gaze:
Serious question: do these people have a form of Tourette syndrome that makes them confuse adjectives with nouns and verbs?

Answer: yes. And it's called Political Correctness.
“People in the West tend to have fixed ideas of how and what we should look like or behave. The East is exotic. The East is mysterious…. The East is scary, but exhilarating….. These “Western narratives” hurt us at the end and have damaged perspectives regarding non-Western narratives. The dominance of Western narratives has silenced non-Western voices, reducing us to nothing else but something out of a travel guide.”
The patient presents now only unintelligible verbal tics, but exhibits magical thinking. Unless she's just trolling, she truly seems to believe that James Clavell wields the power to "silence" non-Westerners.

You know what did empirically silence tens of millions of people in the East? Eastern governments of the kind the PC police feel wistful nostalgia toward.

They do graciously throw us culture-appropriating oppressors a bone by permitting Westerners to write about the mysterious Orient if we must, BUT ONLY IF WE DO IT EXACTLY AS WE'RE TOLD!
This is about the part where someone asks, “So are you saying that Westerners and whites can’t or shouldn’t write about non-Western/non-white cultures or people in fantasy?” And the answer is one big eye rolling, of course not. Don’t be dense.
If you're often accused of saying that Westerners/whites shouldn't write about non-Westerners/non-whites, the people asking you might not be dense. You might just be a pompous bigot. And also a pedophile.
Writers and creators should explore the full breadth of human diversity in fantasy, if simply to break the Eurocentric norm. Does this come with risks? Yes. You may go out and create more diversity in your fantasy with the best of intentions, and find yourself being criticized for such things as “othering.” Yeah. Thems the breaks.
Why stop at the East/West binary? How about pointing that wagging finger of yours at Chinese authors who write Indian characters or Japanese authors who write Chinese characters?

Oh, right. Because this is about systems of oppression according to Critical Theory. The Critical Theory that sprang from the same ideology whose adherents murdered 45 million Chinese.
About to throw up your hands and declare, “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t?” Don’t give up so easy. If Frodo could get that ring all the way through Mordor, you can survive this.
I take exception to the OP writer's brazen cultural appropriation of Tolkien.
I do not subscribe to the school of thought that it is solely up to PoC to write diverse stories.
How magnanimous.
That argument in my opinion is a cop-out that conveniently leaves PoC holding the responsibility bag. It lets white-dominated speculative fiction in the mainstream continue on doing what they do–while PoC are relegated to smaller enclaves that get little to no popular visibility. We’re all responsible for creating not only more diverse world, but also ones that challenge our past (and modern) stereotypical tropes.
Swing and a miss.

This guy clearly missed the memo that the tradpub gatekeepers' power to hand out success and popularity is gone. Broken. Dead as Castro. No more Manhattan sugar daddy to bestow the gift of mass appeal. You want popular visibility? Go write good stories (never mentioned in the original post), build a platform, and earn it.

Them's the breaks, snowflake.
For what it’s worth, some pointers:
I'm sure they'll be good for a laugh.
(1) Read the greats like Tolkien, Miller, GRRM and other traditional Eurocentric writers. Watch Game of Thrones. Count the stereotypes, “othering” and moments of wince-worthy racialization. Catalog and study them. When you see your writing drifting in that direction, change course.
I'll leave it to my Pulp Revolution friends to point out the glaring omissions in the OP's index of problematic books. For now, what's truly wince-worthy, besides the mangling of the English language (cultural appropriation: second offense!), is the thought of anyone taking these pointers seriously.
(2) Read the guys who seem to get it right. Read fantasy works by PoC and non-Westerners, set in non-Western cultures. Notice the distinction between depicting varied cultures and people as different versus exotic. It’s tricky, takes some serious research, but eventually you begin to see it.
I urge all aspiring SJW authors to take this sterling advice. While you're running in mental circles in a vain effort to conform to ever-changing PC dogma, I'll be honing my ability to write stories that entertain people.
(3) Can you stand by your creation? No one here is about censorship. If you feel you really need to make one of your characters in the mold of the noble savage, go right ahead. But ask yourself if your reasons are really valid for your storyline, or if you’re just falling back on an easy stereotype. And when the criticism comes down, don’t act all brand new. You knew what you were doing. Own up to it and deal. If you can handle that without filling up my white tears mug, go ahead. If you can’t though, then do better.
The OP wants you to know that he's not about censorship--but if a hate mob lands on your head, it's your fault for ignoring his arbitrary diktats.

Actually, it'll be your fault for taking advice on race relations from a guy with a white tears mug.
(4) Spend a brief bit of time brushing up on some postcolonial theory, or at least a bit of critical race theory. Sometimes simply “not knowing” is a big reason for some well-meaning blunders. But in this information age, ignorance makes for a poor excuse. SFF author and scholar Jaymee Goh’s Rules Before Engaging is a great start.
Again, critical theory = Communism = murdered millions of Asians = the OP has zero moral authority.
(5) Being a PoC doesn’t grant an automatic pass. Because this isn’t about “good or bad people,” it’s about a structural system that affects all of us. Many of these “othering” notions are transnational and no respecters of borders or backgrounds. I’ve read fantasy by PoC that skirts the line, or goes trudging headlong into exoticism, “othering” and other disturbing tropes—because it’s what was learned. Be self-aware.
Wrong. It's about good or bad writing. (Hint: buying into this PC bullshit will make your writing bad.)
(6) Beyond issues of race and ethnicity, there are ways of mishandling or stereotyping numerous types of differences, not limited to gender, sexuality, religion, disabilities, etc. It wouldn’t hurt to examine when and where you’re going down the stereotype hole in addressing any of these. A great primer is Nisi Shawl’s and Cynthia Ward’s, Writing the Other: A Practical Approach.
Translation: "Character, conflict, and pacing are of distant secondary importance compared to this ever-growing list of boxes that your work must check, or else the PC literati will line you up against the wall."

They wonder why traditionally published SFF is dying?
(7) Even if you try your best, you might still “Do It Wrong.” Sorry. Life ain’t fair.
You're about to learn just how unfair life is. Just wait till B&N goes bust.
You can minimize your risk of doing it wrong by thinking about what you’re doing–or as a friend of mine likes to say, just deciding to give a f–. This might mean you look for friends, beta readers and writer’s groups with some diversity. Others might pick up on troubling things you may have missed.
 As it happens, I give zero fucks. Thank you very much.
But criticism may still fly your way, warranted or not. Don’t get defensive. Remember, people are placing whatever you wrote into a much larger historical context. It’s bigger than you. See it as a teaching moment, and next time just strive to do better. The decent act of actually “giving a f– ” will inevitably earn you some praise.
Here, at last, we reach the heart of the matter.

SJWs write to earn praise from the PC cult.

Real authors write to please readers and GET PAID!

The dear little lambs truly have no idea what's coming. The whole system that rewarded them for having the currently fashionable skin color, sexuality, and sociology degrees is crashing down around their ears.

Sometimes I almost pity them. Then I read authoritarian, smug schoolmarmish dreck like this.

The PC cult don't fail because they're systemically oppressed. They fail because, as their own words show, they hold their readers--and themselves--in contempt.

I, on the other hand, love the readers who are my patrons and lords. My work reflects that love.

Brian Niemeier - The Soul Cycle



  1. "If you feel you really need to make one of your characters in the mold of the noble savage, go right ahead. But ask yourself if your reasons are really valid for your storyline, or if you’re just falling back on an easy stereotype."

    Guess we need more ignoble savages.

  2. "What are the problematics..."

    I'm totally going to call a band in one of my stories that. The Problematics.

    They sound perfectly obnoxious to my ears!

    "Read the greats like Tolkien, Miller, GRRM"

    *snore* Oh, sorry, I'm awake. I went to a bookstore (which is dying) today after seeing John Wick 2 and browsed what they had. If you take out obvious authors like Tolkien, Asimov, and Heinlein (not even the good Heinlein!) there was almost nothing written before 2000 and absolutely nothing written before 1950. All the anthologies were also only the best of "current" science fiction.

    Needless to say, this quote is woefully out of touch. The genre was not invented with Foundation and The Hobbit.

    "No one here is about censorship."


    But at this point I'm sure all these articles are written by the same person. They use the same made up words and terms, the same arrogant tone, and come to the same fallacious conclusions.

    How one writer's mere existence prevents another from taking up the pen is a view I cannot understand. Without gatekeepers, anybody can do whatever they want whenever they want to.

    So what's the problem?

    1. Preach it from the rooftops, bro...

      Hang on.

      Did you say John Wick 2 is out?

    2. Sure is!


  3. I doubt anyone would disagree that using racial or cultural stereotypes is a lazy and stupid way to write. I have a feeling though, that isn't their real point. They don't seem to mind stereotypes per say, just ones that don't fit their narrative.

    Of course the whole idea stereotype doesn't really work in the SF/F world. The races and cultures involved are made up to begin with, so they can be whatever the author wants them to be. No one can seriously argue (though some have tried) for example that Tolkien got it wrong on Orc culture.

    I'm also not sure I understand this other culture as exotic thing. Sure the characters in the story shouldn't see the culture they have been dealing with since before the story began as exotic, but the audience certainly should. The whole idea is for the writer to bring the reader to interesting places and show them interesting things. Anything else is grey goo.

    1. "The races and cultures involved are made up to begin with, so they can be whatever the author wants them to be. No one can seriously argue (though some have tried) for example that Tolkien got it wrong on Orc culture."

      That's a really good point. Tolkien orcs are better described as tropes.

      "Of course the whole idea stereotype doesn't really work in the SF/F world."

      I hear what you're saying, but for some of the folks at home who've had the "all stereotypes are bad" narrative beaten into them, allow me to present this defense of stereotypes as a whole:

      There's nothing wrong with stereotypes per se. For example, if a black and white car with flashing lights and a siren pulls up behind you, and there's a dude in a blue uniform with a badge at the wheel, you know that the proper thing to do is pull over.

      Even though you don't know the other driver from Adam. You assume, based on superficial cues alone, that he's a cop with the authority to pull you over. That's a stereotype. It and countless others are necessary for civilized men to conduct their affairs.

      There are, of course, bad stereotypes, e.g.: Christian characters portrayed as backward hicks, old white businessmen are always villains, husbands are incorrigible overgrown children, etc.

  4. I just finished a book called "The Girl with Ghost Eyes". The characters are almost all Chinese, but the setting is late-19th-century San Francisco. I wonder what kind of circles they'd have to talk in to define that as Eastern or Western?

    This book touches on all kinds of hot-button political topics, like immigration and women's treatment by men. I I don't know why this isn't the most talked-about book of the year. Maybe because the author never complains, he just treats those things as a natural part of the setting and moves on.

    Maybe mentioning the Chinese Exclusion Act makes the situation of today's immigrants seem easy by comparison. Or maybe Asians just don't cut it as "real" minorities.

    Maybe the way the female characters in the book are treated by male Chinese demonstrates that American/Western culture is the most gender-equal in history, and that doesn't fit with today's talking points either.

    Maybe people just don't like a white guy writing a book with so much authentic Chinese culture.

    Dang, I'm going to have to write a blog post about this one now.

  5. You cannot--CANNOT--hamper story creation by subjecting it to a tick-box list of social compliance. If it doesn't further the story it doesn't matter.

  6. Thanks for bringing us another example of the 19th Century Marxist thinking of the PC Illiterati, who are so well indoctrinated, they can't begin deprogram themselves.

    Entertainment Value: 9000