It’s official. Literary awards mean nothing and are little more than political plays. The actual content of a book and whether it meets the criteria of the award is irrelevant. Let’s review the evidence.
Last years Man Booker Prize went to The Sellout, a book about prejudice against blacks in America, in the year that Black Lives Matter dominated the headlines.
Underground Railroad, another racial fantasy tale, won the Pulitzer and, more worryingly, the Arthur C. Clarke Award.
This years Women’s Prize for Fiction went to The Power, which dares ask the question, ‘What if the power were in women’s hands?’
Now, hold that thought.
It was just announced that the 2017 Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize was won by Cordelia Fine’s Testosterone Rex, and this is the point where I have decided that something is fishy in the publishing waters. Not only did Testosterone Rex, which has a rating of 3.73 on Goodreads, win against such books as In Pursuit of Memory (4.17 from 18 ratings) and I Contain Multitudes (4.21 from 3,730), but one of the judges on the panel was Naomi Alderman, the author of The Power. What a coincidence.
There have already been a number of writers pointing out the flaws with Cordelia’s work, but this goes a step further. When it is so clear that a book was chosen for its political point-scoring alone, how can you ever take this award seriously? And you can’t use the popularity line. People are fascinated by the microbes inside us (and they should be educated about this topic) and are obsessed by the brains of the octopus, as written about in the shortlisted book, Other Minds. It clearly isn’t a particularly good book. The only reason it won is because of the explicitly political line it is trying to push.
If you look at the reasons the judges give for these awards it speaks plainly to their intention. Underground Railroad was chosen for the Arthur C. Clarke Award for a number of reasons, but without a doubt the main one was to give the award itself some literary prestige. It is somehow vitally important that science fiction be taken seriously by mainstream writers. And what did the judges have to say about the book?
And finally, Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, which takes literally Samuel Delany’s notion about sf literalising the metaphors. If you look at the Wikipedia entry on the system that helped slaves, you’ll find the statement that “The escape network was not literally underground nor a railroad.” Here it resolutely is, and we follow one slave’s attempt to get to safety, as well as some of those on her trail. It is, the judges say, “a deeply subversive alternate history” and personally I was left wondering if this novel is set just before the civil war or closer to our present time. One judge noted how the novel argues “even before oppression exists, resistance exists.”
The first novel to win the Clarke Award, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, was also about an individual in an oppressive society asserting their humanity and agency. It has spoken to us and haunted us for over three decades now. It became a film and now a television series, and protestors have been dressing up as handmaids in America.
Of course, speaking of The Handmaid’s Tale, the judges had this to say about Testosterone Rex:
Every man and woman should read this book on gender bias. Testosterone Rex is an important, yet wickedly witty, book about the 21st century which touches on the current debates around identity and turns everything on its head. Pressingly contemporary, it’s the ideal companion read to sit alongside The Handmaid’s Tale and The Power.
All these books are connected by a thread. Can you pull at it?
The theme with all of them is political correctness. And is it any wonder when politics has infested every corner of publishing? Just look at the blogroll on the front of The Bookseller’s homepage:
And for a more personal example, the other day a colleague told me that she was turned off a book because she looked up the author, and he looked too ‘Right’. What does this even mean? This is where we are at.
There is without a doubt a bigger issue at work here. With the Man Booker Prize coming up, it will pay to take heed of what ideology is in the air. I don’t necessarily agree with everything in this article, but the main point it tries to make is that publishing is increasingly at the behest of corporations. As we see every day, companies fall over themselves trying to prove their diversity/equality credentials. Awards are actually a few steps ahead of the publishing companies. This is not a conspiracy nor a concerted effort. It is the natural flow as everybody tries to follow each other. There is money to be made, after all.
When it comes to pop culture fame, the fans are fickle. Especially in the modern age where SJW-ism can lead to turns of fate that would be unrealistic in any novel. Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham and more have all been thrown under the bus the moment they speak out of turn. The revolution eats its children, because if it didn’t how would it progress?
Let’s take a recent example: Veronica Roth. This young author shot to fame with her Divergent series and the accompanying movies. This is the type of meteoric rise we saw for other series like Twilight and The Hunger Games. And who is the main audience of YA? Young females, 15-30, and therefore almost definitely woke as fuck.
Back to Roth. Her latest book, Carve the Mark, recently came out, and sales are definitely not on the level of Divergent. Compare to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (a goddamn theatre script) which brought fans back in droves to make it one of the bestsellers, worldwide, of the year. Now as to why Carve the Mark has certainly performed below expectations (Divergent was one of those phenomena books, selling hundreds of thousands across the globe) is difficult to pinpoint: previous sales were based on the movie, not releasing the book for Christmas, any number of seasonal reasons. But if you look through the Goodreads page, we discover another narrative.
The fans are not impressed with Ms Roth. Here is a smattering of comments.
But now instead of telling you why this book is racist, as there are better voices, I will direct you to Justina Ireland who has spoken out about this book – http://justinaireland.com/dammit-this…
What I want to address is the ableism. Recently Veronica Roth did an interview with NPR where they discussed how the current gifts in CtM were inspired by chronic pain. The interviewer says that chronic pain can be a gift, to which Roth agrees and goes on to say that part of the book is Cyra figuring out why her and others are worthy of pain.
This to me was so upsetting. I have lived with chronic pain now for 7 years. It is something that has taken over my life and caused a lot of harm. Some days it is so bad I can barely sit up, let alone get out of bed. And to see someone equate it with a gift or say people are worthy of it makes me feel sick. Whether or not Roth has chronic pain herself, I am not one to say she is lying, that does not take away the harm. It is not a magical shield to be pulled out when you’ve hurt people.
I’m sorry that I didn’t recognize these issues. I’m listening and learning and will strive to do better in the future.
I don’t feel comfortable supporting this book anymore despite initially enjoying the story. I’m leaving my rating blank & adding this disclaimer after all of the controversy so people can be informed to make their own decision:
My original understanding was that both cultures viewed each other as “savages” and that the Shotet were far more powerful and advanced, but it’s extremely possible that I misunderstood the worldbuilding — you can see in my original review that I was suuuuuper confused. (The worldbuilding was unclear to begin with and then the ARCs had a giant “uncorrected proof” printed diagonally across each page that made it very challenging for me to read/focus on). So I won’t be going back to read this and think it’s sufficient to throw the warning out there that the way race and chronic pain are handled here have upset a lot of people. And I do apologize if my support of this book made you feel disregarded in any way.
Personally, this was the first word of harmful representation of POC that I had heard & as it was brought to light after I had posted my reviews, I was not aware of these issues when I originally read the book. If you would like to read my apology on not recognizing/addressing these issues in my own reviews, you can find that here: https://twitter.com/emmmabooks/status…
There are SO MANY MORE sources on information regarding the problematic content of Carve The Mark that are so easy to find, but I wanted to provide you with a few that helped spark this important discussion. Do with this information what you will, but I am just asking that you take the voices of those who may have been harmed by the racism & ableism expressed in this novel into consideration before making you decisions about reading/purchasing this book. It’s crucial that we listen to the marginalized voices in our community if we hope to make a change, and I hope that you all take the time to educate yourselves on an issue that has massive effects on the publishing world and our beloved book community.
I am removing my rating from this book because of the harmful nature of the book. At first I felt compelled to keep it intact because I was paid to review it, but at this time, I don’t feel comfortable rating the book highly when it has hurt and offended so many of my followers and readers in general. I’m sorry to anyone who saw my previous rating and was shocked or disappointed in me for giving it support.
It was brought to my attention that this previous update may have been construed that I was paid to rate the book highly. This is untrue. The way that I rated the book originally (4 stars) was not because I was paid. I would have rated the book 1 star even if I was being paid (or, ideally, I would have canceled or backed out of the sponsorship completely), but at the time that I was reading it, I didn’t recognize any of the problematic aspects and therefore somewhat enjoyed it enough to give it a 3.5-4 star rating. I debated removing my rating after all of the criticisms of CtM broke out, but I was paid to post a review, not necessarily a positive one, and I had thought that removing my rating would be discontinuous with the video I had made for CtM, which was also paid. Long story short, if I were to delete any of the reviews or posts about CtM that I made, I would be breaking a contract, and I had lumped the rating I gave the book into that group of un-deleteable content, lest there be consequences. Now, however, I feel it’s best to remove the rating because my original review is still available for reading and viewing and I don’t want to give false promotion to a book that makes me uncomfortable and that has hurt so many people.
I definitely didn’t rate it highly because I was being paid, and I didn’t remove the rating sooner because I was weary that I would be breaking a contract. Now, however, being transparent with my audience takes more of a priority and I will keep the book unrated unless the publisher raises concerns about it.
I could go on. But these people really do labour whatever point they are trying to make. Honestly, the amount of times these reviews say something like, ‘I didn’t notice it at first, but then I totally saw it when some Marginalised Sufferer pointed it out, so I am so like sorry,’ makes me sick. Maybe if you didn’t see it, it a) wasn’t there, or b) doesn’t matter. The hand wringing that goes into appeasing uppity minorities really is overdone.
The bottom line is that books like Carve the Mark and TheContinent both utilize AND reinforce cultural white supremacy. It’s only because of cultural white supremacy that readers are able to code these cultures as evil. And because readers code brown-skinned people as evil in a literary context the cognitive paths for them to code brown-skinned people as evil in a real are reinforced.
There’s more to be said about the way the plot elements reinforce the initial worldbuilding truths in both books (Cyra of Carve the Mark is the perfect example of a talented tenth Negro or an educated savage, the person who manages to rise above their genetics and culture) but I think there’s already enough here for readers and writers to chew on. We should all be critical readers and writers who consider the implications of our worldbuilding more fully, by reading more broadly and understanding the impact of the story frames we use.
Key here is the inability to face up to reality. I could perhaps criticise the writers for being lazy in transposing real world facts to a fantasy world (but then, why couldn’t it be the case) but this clawing for facts about White Supremacy are unjustified. White Supremacy does not code anything. If an author lazily uses facts to build their world, so be it, but to read racism into it denies reality. People and groups of people are seen in relation to others. Stereotypes exist for a reason. Getting on your high horse won’t change a thing.
“Sensitivity reader” is a person who, for a small fee, will provide feedback about the book based on self-ascribed areas of expertise like “dealing with terminal illness,” “racial dynamics in Muslim communities” or “transgender issues”, according to The Chicago Tribune.
That Chicago Tribune article sums it up:
Sensitivity readers have emerged in a climate – fueled in part by social media – in which writers are under increased scrutiny for their portrayals of people from marginalized groups, especially when the author is not a part of that group.
This potential for offense has some writers scared. Young-adult author Susan Dennard recently hired a fan to review her portrayal of a transgender character in her “Truthwitch” series.
More great quotes:
“Books for me are supposed to be vehicles for pleasure, they’re supposed to be escapist and fun,” she says. They’re not supposed to be a place where readers “encounter harmful versions” and stereotypes of people like them.
Still, some sensitivity readers feel they are in part contributing to the problem. Clayton said she’s unsettled by the idea that she’s being paid for her expertise, but also is helping white authors write black characters for books from which they reap profit and praise.
Cue the ‘rehhhhhhing’.
As we’ve seen though, diversity and equality is getting its mendacious claws into everything. Just the other day I was told of a UK publisher who had to undergo diversity training, and were told not to use ‘African covers’ for their books written by African authors. Referring to one particular example, the book did not sell well without the African cover. Those bloody racist consumers!
Entertainment, specifically the book industry, is besieged on all sides by the forces of diversity, equality and Otherness. As the English speaking world becomes increasingly less white (and the biggest book market in the world is the English language market) we will see greater and more powerful forces arrayed against literature. Do not publish White Men. Do not even think of reading White Men, you heathen. Only publish books with minorities that are written by minorities. Only publish books about white culture written by POCs! Publishers, a tiny industry as it is, is having to hire more than just White Women. This is spreading out the power. Just when Amazon is atomising the industry, Others want to atomise it further. Publishing is dead, cannibalised by Amazon with the remains picked at by opportunistic and selfish SJWs. It may not be visible, but just give it a few years.