I was surprised when my tongue-in-cheek Facebook post concerning my “retirement” from science fiction prompted a response. I received several messages from fellow writers and one editor asking what gives. That’s when I realized I haven’t done a very good job explaining my decision. So here goes.
Why I Write. Money. I write to supplement my income (which ain’t great). The few extra hundred dollars here and there since my first pro sale in 2009 have really made a difference. If Churchill boasted he bought Chartwell “with his pen” then I can make a similar claim regarding the warmth and dryness inside this 1970s-era mobile home I own, which leaked like a sieve until last autumn, when proceeds from my Kindleworlds novella Gavin’s War paid for my pal Roger’s game-changing roof repairs. It’s been raining non-stop since yesterday afternoon. I haven’t awakened to a stream of rain-water on my pillow in over a year. Money well spent.
There’s No Money in Sci-fi. Oh, I’m sure there’s some there. I just hardly ever get to see it. Second-tier markets pay a pittance and, with few exceptions, the pro markets have perfected the art of stretching out payments to writers such that I’m convinced hieroglyphs of our vanished culture will show a legion of the starving would-be Asimovs on their knees with laptops in hand, pleading with an Ibex-headed Editor God-thing. (Part of why they can get away with this is because most sci-fi writers don’t have to write for money – more on this “pride culture” later.) I have worked with some awesome sci-fi editors and publishers. But I have worked with many more that drove me absolutely bug-fuck then didn’t pay me. I have had to resort to using a bill collector on occasion. Nothing personal, folks. Just business.
The Culture is Poisonous. It’s a small little pond the English-speaking sci-fi world paddles in. Girdled by instantaneous global communication via Facebook, these geeks have carved out a vibrant and busy little sector of the digisphere for themselves. Unfortunately, it’s one riven by politics, prejudice, bullying and sanctimony. I really began to realize how poisonous the scene was when I began branching out into horror and mystery. Interactions with editors and fellow authors there were of an entirely different complexion. Where in the sci-fi field I encountered ad hominem attacks centering around identity politics and plenty of thrown shade, mystery and horror writers were comparatively welcoming. We learned from each other. We support each other. It’s nicer here.
Diversity? Please! I hate to say it, but the diversity wars in sci-fi, and those who stoke them, strike me as “methinks they doth protest too much”. Sci-fi is white-boy culture writ large, and efforts to prove otherwise have been about as convincing as a country-club full of drunk Caucasian aunts and uncles forming a conga line to show how hip they can be. The most strident debates for inclusion and diversity occur in a white liberal echo chamber from which diverse voices are conspicuously absent. Flame wars, Amazon sabotage campaigns, angry blog posts, podcasts – has any of it led to more money in the pockets of more diverse writers of sci-fi? No. (See, “There’s No Money in Sci-fi”, above.) Which leads me to the crown jewel, the golden goose of sci-fi’s embarrassment …
The Fucking Hugo Awards. Spare me. Of all the literary cultures of which I have been a part since stumbling, wide-eyed, into my first American Publishing Association convention in 1982, sci-fi is the most fixated on literary prizes. Sci-fi is a “pride of place” culture, with prestige counting as currency. (Unfortunately, this acts to disqualify people who are too poor to jump on a plane to go hob-nob. Pride cultures tend to favor those with means.) “Hugo nominee” on a cover moves books, sho nuff, but the concentration of accolades within the prize communities has enabled the rise of reactionary forces gaming the system. Pity those who must wear their coveted rocket like an albatross this year. The genre is an embarrassment. “Hugo nominee” don’t have the cachet it once did.
In 2004, when Bush was re-“elected”, I came home. “You’re lucky to have Canada,” literary critic Roger Bowen e-mailed me.
I’m lucky to have mystery and horror. And I have gone home.