Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Major Reading Comprehension Fail

Straw Brad is on the loose once again!

Yesterday, in an article attacking a (yes, cringe-worthy and inaccurate) Amazon review of a space opera anthology featuring several female science fiction authors, a writer at the Mary Sue mendaciously deployed a quote from Brad Torgersen to support her argument that sexism is rife in fandom.

Writes Carolyn Cox:
If you kept up at all with the recent Hugo Awards scandal, this likely won’t be the first time in recent months that you’ve seen a man bemoan the inherent ability of female genre writers. 
For example, “prominent” Sad Puppy Brad R. Torgersen is similarly dubious about women’s ability to, in the reviewer’s words, write “fast paced action”  and capture “the shoot-em-up mentality”: 
“A few decades ago, if you saw a lovely spaceship on a book cover, with a gorgeous planet in the background, you could be pretty sure you were going to get a rousing space adventure featuring starships and distant, amazing worlds. If you saw a barbarian swinging an axe? You were going to get a rousing fantasy epic with broad-chested heroes who slay monsters, and run off with beautiful women
[…] Finally, a book with a painting of a person wearing a mechanized suit of armor! Holding a rifle! War story ahoy! Nope, wait. It’s actually about gay and transgender issues."
Here's the problem: The blog post from which this excerpt was pulled says absolutely nothing about female writers. It is, in reality, a general complaint about deceptive marketing. Go and read the commentary in full:

Brad opens:
One thing that’s become apparent during this third go-around of SAD PUPPIES, are the many and divided opinions on why the Hugo awards are broken. Much of this conversation is simply a continuation of the debate held during (and in the wake of) Loncon 3. Depending on who you ask, the Hugos are broken because they are either too insular (this is part of the SAD PUPPIES theory) or too easily manipulated by outside voting blocs (the “fandom purist” theory) or because “fandom” itself is still too white, too straight, and too cisnormative (Call this the “Grievance Studies theory”) or even that the Hugos spend too much time dwelling on popular works, at the expense of real literature (the “pinky-in-the-air snob theory”) or that “fandom” simply falls into predictable ruts, and is easily swayed by sparkly bellwethers, such as the Nebulas. 
I want to introduce another theory. One that others have spoken of before. I call it the “Unreliable packaging” theory.
After this, Brad launches into an analogy involving cereal brand loyalty to explain the following point: Readers of space opera, epic fantasy, military science fiction, etc. have certain genre expectations. If the cover of a book promises a fulfillment of those expectations, but the book itself fails to deliver, readers will feel betrayed. Now, you may disagree with Brad's view of what the audience wants. You may find his emphasis on action and swashbuckling overly "masculine" and narrow. You may even take issue with his characterization of political science fiction. But what you cannot do - if you are intellectually honest and capable of understanding what you read, that is - is conclude that Brad hates women authors. Again, go read the post. Where in heaven's name does he say that women are incapable of writing rousing space adventure or ax-wielding knights -- or good SFF in general?

Actually, as a member in good standing of the Sad Puppies movement, I can assure you that Brad has always been excited to boost female SFF writers. Kate Paulk, Sarah Hoyt, Amanda Green, and others would not have rallied behind the Puppies' banner if that were not the case. And by the way, that anthology the Mary Sue is so eager to defend? Take a look at the authors it features:

Dark Beyond the Stars

Annie Bellet is on that list! Just in case you've been living under a rock the past year, that's the same Annie Bellet whose short story "Goodnight Stars" was on Brad's recommendation list for Sad Puppies 3. That's the same Annie Bellet who, thanks to the Puppies, would've made the Hugo's short list in 2015 if she hadn't declined her nomination (which was her right).

No -- Brad is not opposed to women writing SFF. He is opposed to a certain recent style of SFF that, by the way, has been written by both women and men. Indeed, what Cox and the Mary Sue have done here in conflating Brad's dislike for "socially conscious" fiction with a supposed dislike for women writers in general is thoughtlessly back the gender stereotypes they claim to decry. Gee -- I wonder why some people might entertain the notion that women can't write action. Could it be the raft of articles like this one?    


  1. I've been routinely amazed at how poorly some people seem to comprehend what they're reading. Everyone makes mistakes, mind you, but stuff like this? It's like they are going out of their way to find things to be offended by...including just making them up.

    Brad's not the only one who experienced this, he just got more of it than most of us because he was higher profile.

  2. Unfortunately, that's not the accepted narrative. You can't have an open and accepting Puppy. They have to be a misogynistic, white mormon male who hates anything different.
    StrawBrad, indeed! Since he only exists in their fevered and corrupted imaginings.

  3. The reading comprehension failure is almost certainly deliberate. As it so happens, I agree with Brad on this... deceptive covers and marketing fluff irritate the hell out of me. But this is partly because SJW types realize that they can't sell as many books if they admit that it's all about a political agenda. So they'll hide the gay purple dinosaur romance by putting a cover of space cruisers blasting away at dino tanks, or something.

    I mean, space cruisers versus dinosaurs might actually be interesting. Barney's gay sex life isn't. THAT was Brad's point. But it doesn't fit the agenda so it must be altered and taken out of context to support this notion of misogyny in fiction, or some such.

    I enjoy Sarah Hoyt's books. I'm probably not even her target demographic, for I am a curmudgeonly, pessimistic, world-weary, cynical guy with a terrible temper. Yet she still delivers. And when I see a picture of a half-nude woman floating in fronting of a darkship, surrounded by energy-generating plants in space...

    Well, let's just say that she DELIVERED exactly what was on the cover, and it was good.