There’s an interesting article that just ran in the latest issue of Uncanny:
The Call of the Sad Whelkfins: The Continued Relevance of How To Suppress Women’s Writing
Here is the section that caught my attention:
The sad whelkfins seek to return to a non–existent past, when science fiction was a walled garden of boys’ adventure stories. They see the growing presence and prominence of women in genre fiction as a failure to properly keep the gates; refusing to acknowledge that their narrow perspective has never captured the entire picture.
While the whelkfins have a long tradition of gatekeeping and excluding people from the science fiction community, their walls have never been an inherent part of the community. Women of all races and people of color of all genders have been writing genre fiction since its earliest days. Women of color invented genre fiction, and a white woman wrote the first science fiction novel. The walls didn’t start going up until men began to codify science fiction—long after women established the genre.
Those walls don’t belong in the community. The whelkfins have to constantly maintain and rebuild them as they perpetually crumble into the cesspits upon which they’re built.
The current patchwork of walls is built out of double–standards and false categorizations that allow the whelkfins to draw their arbitrary aesthetic lines: in here are the “good stories” that center them and their perspectives and conform closely enough to their politics to not be categorized out as “message fiction.” Out there is everything else, beating tirelessly against the walls; trying to “take over”—simply by existing. By unapologetically taking up space, and by gleefully accepting well–earned awards and recognition for artistic merit.
The sad whelkfins seek to return to a non–existent past, when science fiction was a walled garden of boys’ adventure stories.
Let’s examine just this one sentence. If you say “boy’s adventure stories”, then I can only assume you’re talking about the strain of science fiction and fantasy literature that was made famous by Edgar Rice Burroughs, A. Merritt, Leigh Brackett, and Andre Norton. It’s some seriously great stuff, well worth reading today.
The authors of this essay refer to this period of sff history as “a non–existent past”. They also call it “a walled garden”. I’m not sure what they’re getting at exactly, but in any case, this period of sff history really did happen and it was considered a first class element of the genre at least through the seventies. Was it a “walled garden”? I don’t think so. When you read about Robert E. Howard desperately seeking some means of making a sale, trying almost every permutation of theme and character and tone to find something that editors would be willing to pay for… it simply sounds like a terribly tough time. But that cutthroat market was the same one that C. L. Moore could succeed in, to the point of getting cover stories with top billing.
So what, then, are these essayists talking about…? Well I have no idea, really. I mean they wrote it, but it doesn’t make any sense. Sift out the nonsense and the projection and there’s just not a whole lot there. They object to people differentiating between good stories and bad stories even as they labor to demarcate the line between good fans and bad fans.