Unable to See the Majority For the Minority

As I keep noting on this blog, publishing is gripped by diversity mania. There is an obsession with inclusion and stories from outside the realm of White Man territory. The Man Booker Prize is not safe from this either, and indeed the world’s biggest literary prize is a locus point of SJW energy. And as usual it is The Guardian that leads the way with its ‘unique’ criticisms of authors, publishers and prizes.

But why is diversity such a big deal? Aside from the obvious acceleration towards ‘equality’ across the entirety of popular culture, the reason is people. The real question should be why it has taken so long for the voices within publishing to get so loud. Publishing is 70% female across the Western world, though men do make up a sizeable chunk of senior management. In the last few years young women with gender studies degrees have probably managed to get a foot in the door, and are starting to shift the focus at a faster pace. They bring with them the usual baggage of intersectionality and the need to have perfectly balanced gender ratios. I have plenty of my own horror stories from listening to these young female ‘professionals’. But despite ‘improvements’ it is, of course, never enough.

Literary prizes are the perfect grounds to attack white privilege. Not enough BAME authors are getting recognition. The situation is so bad that The Guardian recently posted an article titled How Many Man Bookers Must Writers of Colour Win Before They’re Accepted? (which kept in theme with last years article called Man Booker Prize Longlist is a Disappointment for Diversity). But I want to focus on the former piece and why exactly this is all madness.

The author, a creative writing professor, makes a number of spurious claims. The main gist of the piece though is that despite the last two winners of the Man Booker being black, readers still don’t recognise books written by minorities as literature. Of course, the reality is that there are much bigger issues at stake than her hyperbolic theory. She uses this study, a study that states that, ‘90% of people who have read a novel in the last 6 months consider that novel to be literature.’ Let’s keep in mind that about 75% of the general population has read ONE book in the last YEAR, and that men read far less than women. Here are some of the authors these people consider ‘literature’:

  • Jeffrey Archer
  • Danielle Steel
  • Lee Child
  • Thomas Hardy
  • Agatha Christie
  • Catherine Cookson
  • James Patterson
  • Terry Pratchett
  • Dan Brown
  • J R R Tolkien
  • Enid Blyton
  • The Brontë sisters
  • George Orwell
  • Stephen King
  • Jane Austen
  • Roald Dahl
  • J K Rowling
  • Charles Dickens
  • William Shakespeare

I’ve marked in bold those that are actually literature. William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens probably count, but at the time of their writing they were ‘popular’ literature. However, if you are looking at these results and complaining about the lack of brown people, you have an agenda. The true problem is that people read shit books by shit authors. They read the same authors over and over. The real problem is that if we consider J K Rowling, Dan Brown and Lee fucking Child as literature, then we as a civilisation are lost. (Oh yeah, and one twat called Reza Aslan a writer of literature.) If you look at the full list of authors, there are clearly some real writers there, and also some minorities. These names were probably given by REAL readers, ones who appreciate and understand what literature is. So the author of The Guardian piece is cherry picking the data and coming to absurd, and frankly frightening conclusions.

Is it really a surprise though? You are polling the general public, of course the results are going to skew towards popular literature. Look at the stats for the full list of authors:

  • 31% are female
  • 7% are Black, Asian or Mixed Race in ethnicity
  • 44% are non-British (mostly American)
  • 51% are living writers.

The fact is that most people are going to consider old, dead authors (who, shock of shocks, will be mostly white) as literature. Americans feature heavily because American culture is so ingrained across the world. 7% minority is pretty good given the statistics for readers (from the same study):

raceandreading

If you have fewer readers of literature, then you’re going to have fewer writers. The fact of the matter is that the majority of readers in Britain (and indeed in the Western world) are white, female and educated. Shockingly, this is also the largest demographic for social justice warriors, which I’m sure is not a coincidence.

The author of the piece has issues she wants to make relevant, so fuck the actual problem. She makes some infuriating claims, such as:

Without doubt, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Dickens and many more men of letters have done Britain proud. But times have moved on.

Given she is a professor of creative writing, I find her beliefs disturbing. Literature is not a moving object, one that floats with the tide. It is quite fixed, in that what most people consider literature is writing that has stood the test of time (hence Shakespeare, Chaucer and Dickens). That’s what makes it capital L literature. And while the writer can make claims about the stupidity of readers and their inability to consider minorities as writers of literature, she herself is too dumb to read into the numbers, saying:

A misconception prevails that books penned by non-white writers have limited relevance to the population at large.

If the audience is mostly white, female and educated, then unsurprisingly books written by POC authors about POC themes are probably not going to appeal to all of them.

She then cites a 2013 study about literature and empathy, which of course is a line that geeky SJWs love to throw out at every opportunity. ‘Reading makes you a better person!’ the headlines scream whenever a new study linking literature to altruism/empathy/long life/better memory/clear skin comes out. Not only are the studies dubious (like most studies you find written about in the MSM) but the notion that you can magically read a book and become a Good Person is absurd, and is not a line that should be pushed by anyone, least of all a creative writing lecturer. That said, I’ve never met a group more self-righteous and sure of themselves than those undertaking or teaching a creative writing degree. Books do not make you more humble, it seems.

Then she tries to link this idea with real life events. Mentioning both hate crimes and Brexit, she actually has the audacity to pose the question that perhaps if more people had read literature by minorities the Grenfell Tower tragedy would never have happened. Fake news gets a mention, saying:

But judging from the lack of nuanced real-life stories in circulation about marginalised groups, cultural deprivation is a pretty apt description for the condition members of mainstream society find themselves in. Consider, for instance the report of the Christian girl fostered by a Muslim family spun into a far-right fantasy; a story fuelled by paranoia and an evident lack of awareness about the lives of others.

Correct me if I am wrong, but that is a true story that actually happened? Or is she referring only to the dumb Photoshop job by the paper that originally reported on it? Whatever. She decries race elitism while displaying her own elitism and disdain. The only conclusion I can draw is that the writer wants to eliminate white written culture and force minority writing on the majority. Perhaps she’s just mad she can’t get her novel published.

 

Tracking the Decline #2: Diversity in Literature

The previous Current Year wasn’t a great one for literature. First of all, let’s take stock that America publishes basically one new book per person. That’s one totally new book for every living person in the U.S. of A. That doesn’t include books published elsewhere (though of course issues of translation come in). That definitely does not include the endless dirge of self published titles that continue to be churned out. So, all in all, there are more books than ever and of course that means it’s harder to make it than ever. Average Is Over.

But what’s going on in publishing? First, the goldmine that was self-pubbing seems to be in decline, for a variety of reasons with the quantity being a main one, and Amazon being dodgy buggers being another. If you look at that report indie authors are actually suffering, and Amazon seems to be making the most gains. The glut is over, as was inevitable.

So we have a huge diversity of books, right? Well, no we don’t, apparently. The problem is that there are just too many books by White Males. UK publishers are getting ‘slammed‘ for a lack of diversity. Publishing risks becoming irrelevant if they don’t start publishing more books by and for POC and LGBTQWIFX. One publisher (Kamila Shamssie I believe) suggested having a whole year where not a single white male was published. It’s all too much. Of course, the only reason the English language market would become irrelevant in this sense is because of the Western immigration plan. Quelle surprise. Pandering to minorities is an absurd idea in this industry. Take Australia. Still a largely white population, POC books just don’t sell in great quantities. Shit stories don’t sell, and people don’t care about your identity politics. If you’re in business you want to sell to the largest demographic. Publishing profit margins are already pretty shithouse, and trust me, publishers take bigger risks than they should. I guess in the UK that the market is increasingly not white English speakers, but that’s a whole something else that plenty of others have talked about.

We don’t even want a diversity of books, especially when it comes to raw numbers. For one, you tend to get self-published authors pumping out generic stories and becoming marketing whores. There’s no diversity there except for the amount, because formulas work. This is not an environment that is conducive for literature or original thought. Sure, those types of books still get made, but they do tend to get drowned out. Very few of the best are both lucrative and thought-provoking. This is a worldwide problem where literature is largely ignored. People don’t read. They are on their phones, they are watching Netflix or they are getting hideously drunk.

It seems to me that publishing thinks that diversifying will somehow be a magic bullet. That if they publish and promote books by POCs and cover topics that are bound up in social justice and identity politics they will finally make great sales. The entire industry is complicit.

Kirkus Prize 2016: the book that won the fiction category is a bloated postmodern mess that links horse racing with race (genetics and class). The non-fiction winner deals with trans issues. Need I say more?

Man Booker Prize 2016: The Sellout definitely did not deserve to win, and indeed the only reason I can think that it did win is that a) it’s humorous and satirical, so ‘something different’, b) it’s postmodern, the aesthetic of decline and c) it’s about racial inequality in America. It is not a book for the ages, nor even a particularly pertinent one for the moment. The shortlist as a whole wasn’t outstanding, but for The Sellout to win shows that the judges do not care a white for quality.

National Book Awards 2016: Again, plenty of good books to choose from, but of course the book that deals with an alternative history of slavery in America won.

So three major prizes where the books won because of politics. You can’t say that there isn’t an agenda. Even in science fiction the politics is real. The Hugo winner is by a black woman, and by all accounts it’s a good book, but science fiction has clearly been appropriated by SJWs and liberals, something the stalwarts tried and failed to fight. The Arthur C Clarke award was also political. Children of Time is a good book, but didn’t deserve to win (Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson wasn’t even nominated for the shortlist, which kind of says it all) and indeed it probably won because of the political ‘niceness’ of the ending.

This doesn’t feel like diversity to me; this feels like collusion.

So writers, publishers and almost everyone in the industry are entirely for diversity of numbers when we really don’t need more books, and diversity of race/gender/*insert minority here* so long as it pushes the liberal agenda. But when it comes to publishing a book by Milo Yiannopoulos something that is merely a different opinion, it must be shut down. Authors don’t want to be published by a company that supports freedom of speech. Personally I think that is a helluva brave publishing decision given the political climate. It’s a bit of a gamble, and I don’t think it will pay off immensely, but I also don’t think it will bomb. This is another example of the group think in the mainly liberal industry (and at the same time 1984 is again a bestseller).

The awards, the discussions of diversity, the outrage over Milo: these are all examples of the industry floating ever Leftward. Education is where minds are won, and books are part of that.

 

Every Planet We Reach is Dead #3

‘So let’s be clear: you have no memory of what happened?’

Rigel stands across from the rescued man – now known as Walcot thanks to the onboard data files – who sits on a stripped down bed. The medbay glows with cleanliness. Walcot’s eyes focus on the floor, his hands mashing together. He doesn’t answer. Rigel’s teeth grind.

It’s been hours since they rescued this extra body from the hulk, which is still attached precariously. The engineers are going back and forth, checking the systems and data. It’s all proceeding as it should.

‘Let me explain this to you, again. We – and I mean humanity – lost contact with you, the Indomitable, not long after your first arrival in the system. It’s been… a long time. This is meant to be a one way trip, though…’ He stops himself, his mouth still moving but the words cut off. Realigning, he continues, ‘I would appreciate if you told me what you can remember.’

Walcot looks up, straight into Rigel’s eyes.

‘Nothing. Absolutely nothing, except who I am, and even that’s vague… barest memories of before I even signed up. I…’ He chokes. Emotions or getting used to speaking again, one or the other.

Rigel grunts. He was a kid when this corpse went quiet. The last outpost. Snuffed out after such a long wait, literally centuries and generations went by waiting for them to reach the Vega system. Joan’s in the Bulb getting all data on every other rescue mission, which all should, theoretically, be arriving in their designated systems about the same time.

The door slides open with a hiss. Lin walks in, her eyes tracing charts as the patient’s results roll past her retinas.

‘He appears healthy, though over-exposed to the cryosleep, obviously. No long term effects. But the memory loss… It can happen, quite often. Especially in the case of trauma.’

Rigel nods, fingers squeezing his lips.

‘Trauma… Bring up his ship records.’

Lin’s eyes twitch.

‘Ari Walcot. Brought along to… document the settlement of the Vega system. You’re a journalist?’

Walcot smiles. ‘If you say so.’

‘Great, so now not only do I have an extra corpse on my hands, but he’s useless too.’ Rigel throws his hands up in the air, kicks a bed.

A voice in his ear.

Captain. You’re needed in the Bulb. Now.

What is it Joan?’ Lin snaps a look at Rigel. Joan’s talking directly to him.

I think I know what happened here.

***

Vega, the star, bulges at its equator. Parallel to the equator the light is a duller blue-white than at the poles. Junko’s ‘eyes’ are all focused on this point. An object has appeared in Vega’s orbit.

Joan stares down the barrel of an optic station. She flips between spectra, observing the object in each. It appears to her as a small black smudge. A freckle against the mighty sun.

‘It’s a ship?’

‘It’s something technological. It’s far too small for a planet, and the orbit is wrong anyway.’ Joan pulls away from the optics and looks straight at Rigel.

‘So you’re saying, potentially, that the Indomitable ran into… aliens, maybe, and we’ve come 25 light years to meet the same fate?’

‘Maybe. Maybe not. I can’t get any energy readings from it. It appears dormant.’

‘Probes, now. Keep quiet, no radio, reduce our radiation, and don’t tell any -’

Captain. I assume you’ve spotted the anomaly.

The Major. Her voice crackles through the all-purpose frequency, the robotic shifts of her mechanised voice box magnified through the vox.

‘Major. Indeed we have. We’re coming up with a plan of action now. It appears quiet for now.’

‘I’m already putting together a drone team for reconnaissance. I suggest you work through the data banks of the Indomitable more efficiently.’

With a click the Major was gone. Rigel’s jaw clenched.

‘At least we’ve got a clue as to why she’s here. Pilot, I want you to keep working on data from the Indomitable and to keep scanning the system for clues. Get those probes out quickly. I’m going back to talk to our guest.’

***

One, two, three. Probes shoot from Junko, pacifist torpedoes hunting for knowledge. They cross the gap between sentient ship and anomaly quickly, dodging debris yet keeping formation. They begin to relay imagery back to Junko, who feeds it on to the crew.

As they already know, it is massive. A large sphere, a small moon even. Its skin is layered with crevices and mountains. Spires shoot up, ugly spikes into space. Valleys and bunkers. The drones split up.

They shoot across the horizons, scanners slowly bringing the anomaly into a 3D rendition in Junko’s database. In the background Vega burns, flames lapping at edges of the system, the haziness of which diffuses the light to a romantic glow. But there is no light from the anomaly. It orbits in silence.

***

Rigel stares at the stump where Walcot’s left leg should be.

‘Your injury. No recollection of what happened?’

‘No, sir.’

‘Did your team board the anomaly?’

‘I don’t know, sir.’

‘Right. What I think we are going to have to do is jolt your memory. Lin, you can hook him up to memory retrieval right?’

Lin nods, eyes averted.

‘It induces a dream state, and then we look for memories,’ Lin says to Walcot. ‘We can read the feedback your brain provides. In the lucid state we can sort out dreams from reality.’

‘I… I don’t think I particularly want to dream.’

‘You don’t really have a choice, I’m afraid.’ Rigel stares down the man with that comment, daring him to challenge. Walcot just looks at his leg.

His mouth moves, barely a whisper.

‘What did you say?’ says Rigel.

‘I said, “What happened to the rest of them?”’

A pause.

‘All of them.’

‘We’re getting feedback from the other missions. It appears there are no survivors, and so the secondary teams are all in the process of picking up where the first teams left off. As for your team specifically, we have no idea. From what we are gathering in each of the other systems, the bodies are mostly accounted for, suicides in the majority. The only exception is Vega. No bodies. One soul back from the dead. And one alien structure. We’ve already relayed this back to Earth. Can you imagine, this is the first sign of alien intelligence we’ve yet to discover? You’ve slept for centuries and managed to keep it quiet.’

Walcot twitches, a full-body jerk. Rigel takes a step back, Lin goes to help the man. He manages to right himself, hands gripping the bed hard. Visible sweat rivulets sweep across his skin.

‘It can’t be good if we never told you about it.’

‘That’s what I’m afraid of.’

Every Planet We Reach is Dead #1

Somewhere, distant. Two specks close-in like mating bugs, one a luminescent dominatrix, the other a silent receiver. Their rings are immobile, frozen before the life-giving connection. The receiver is clearly older, its batteries long dormant. A single ring surrounds the engine, a giant, bulbous antiquity. The incoming arrival is long and slender, two rings at either end, one contracted and waiting. New and old will unite.

In the distance spins Vega, sputtering and spurting its gases, waves of radiation washing the vicinity in random bursts. So it has been for millennia. It has not seen life for a long time, but then, what does it care? There is no old or new, just forever and perhaps an end. At its core it rumbles.

***

Suspended in the Bulb, Joan Lewis sweats despite the cold. She doesn’t notice. A dozen displays surround her, move into her vision when needed. A stream of information bounces within her retina, half visual and half fed into her mind. The ship’s computer, Junko, works diligently to keep her completely up-to-date. Drugs surge through Joan’s veins, heightening her reaction times and thought processes, overclocking her body. Her hands rush around like erratic moons, and her facial expressions do the rest. Her feet are locked in on the pilot’s platform as the embodiment of Junko rotates and twists to suit her needs. Joan is suspended in symbiosis with the ship.

Behind her is the captain, observing, but also stepping in to bring up information when needed. His eyes dart back to Joan and a smirk breaks out as he watches her, watches her dance. Her work is better than his ever was. His body suit is warm, but he has his face free to feel the cold of the Bulb. Past the screens and the frenetic Joan is space. Endless space. Just creeping into the peripheral is Vega burning its blue-white brightness. The eagle has landed, Rigel thinks.

Rigel notices Joan focus, stiffen up, and her movements become longer and attuned. The time has come. He’s watched her do this a hundred times in the sims, but it’s always impressive, more so now that it’s for real. He can make out the other ship now, the Indomitable, as they come perpendicular to it. Slotting it between the two rings of Junko. Junko has come knocking to discover what conquered the unconquerable.

‘How does the airlock look?’ Rigel says to Joan. She doesn’t look up, instead shooting off a data byte in his direction. He brings up the info.

The Indomitable is intact, no holes or damage. Except for the airlock. Signs of expulsion are evident, pipes drifting lazily out of the opening like an anemone. There are scars where heavy objects would have struck as they were jettisoned. An error or on purpose? Rigel can’t see anything that tells him one way or the other. If the hulk had been ripped open it’s going to make boarding difficult.

‘I can still make it, the lock gates aren’t incompatible with ours. I’m going in.’

Rigel throws down the scans.

Joan’s movements speed up, red lights flashing as she goes too far one way, then the other. On the hull spurts of gas pop at random, guiding them invisibly. Then a moment of silence, the warning lights cease.

‘Could be a bump,’ says Joan right before she makes contact.

In the gravity-less Bulb it isn’t an issue as the ship shudders around them. In another instant the ship is rigid again, with an additional appendage. In an instant they are one vessel, the Indomitable now a cancerous growth to be healed.

‘Easy,’ says Joan, ‘now comes the really fun part.’

She disengages from the various wires and inputs, pushes off towards Rigel. She glides towards him, her eyes locked on his and intent on only one thing. Rigel catches her as she comes close, and she latches on to him.

‘We’ve got an hour before the rest of the crew wake up,’ Joan says, a mischievous smile springing to her face. ‘And I’m all worked up.’

Rigel grins. She grabs his hand and pushes off back down towards the tunnel and the bunks. He loves it when she takes control.

***

Slowly but surely the crew awakens. Joan watches them in the corner of her eye, a distraction while she comes down off the cocktail of amphetamines and sex. Their bodies shake as they are reanimated, blood pumping back through empty veins and stirring organs. The worst part is the full-body pins-and-needles sensation, thinks Joan. Thankfully it only takes a few hours before the body is back to full capacity.

She stretches up, bones cracking for the first time in decades. Rigel lies in bed, his eyes glazed over as he flicks through pre-boarding checks.

‘Come, play a game with me,’ she says. He comes back to reality. ‘We’ve got a little time.’

She sits down at the table, bringing a game of chess up. The pieces materialise and she chooses white. Rigel saunters over, his skin suit crawling over him. The ship is still cold from the aeons.

‘I’ll probably be rusty, even if you give my AI a handicap,’ he says, coughing and easing himself into the seat.

‘It’s not about winning, dear,’ Joan says, even though a competitive glint is etched into her eyes. They begin, rapidly at first before slowing into a rhythm.

‘Ah, you’ve got a response to everything I throw out, says Rigel. ‘Never mind being two steps ahead, you’re at least five. For such a mirrored game it becomes asymmetrical so quickly.’

‘No different to anything else in nature or humanity. There’s an equal and opposite reaction for everything, you only have to be ready for it.’

Rigel grunts in amusement.

‘I just need to think outside the box then, beat you back with randomness.’

‘I’m plenty used to randomness, too.’

The AIs they were using would throw out multiple moves per turn, a thousand calculations a second. Junko watches from a distance, mostly disapproving of all moves chosen by both parties.

‘Have you ever played vanilla chess?’

Joan looks up. ‘No, I haven’t actually. No point.’

‘I have. It’s remarkable the patterns a computer chooses over a human. For one thing, humans like repetition, familiarity. But it’s all a simulation, no? It’s the same principle as docking this ship, just a tad more complicated in the types of calculations that Junko has to come up with. That right Junk?’

The lights dim in response.

‘Such a quiet thing. Sometimes I wonder what Junk thinks about in the downtime.’

‘What downtime? Me, I wonder if the AI can distinguish between a game and real life, or if both have equal weighting.’

‘Either way, they offer us the best possible result. We just have the courage to take it. Check.’

‘Such the inspiration, Rigel. But we’re all pieces in the larger game. Us in particular. Moved to the farthest reaches of known space on the back of some vague hope.’

‘Sometimes I don’t mind being manipulated. We’ve got the chance to change the future of humanity after all.’ He gives out a grim chuckle.

‘You know as well as I know the only reason we’re here is that it’s better than home. And that it gives the only people worth a shit a slight chance of a good time.’

‘Hey, I think you’re worth a shit. That’s why I brought you with me.’

‘Don’t kid yourself, I came because you’re useless without me.’

He laughs at that.

‘By the way, checkmate.’ Joan leans back, satisfied.

‘Well fuck me, that came from nowhere.’

‘Don’t mind if I do.’

‘Do what?’

‘Fuck you.’

Part Two