We DO need diverse books.

Watching the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag scrolling up the screen on Twitter. Hundreds and thousands of people a minute adding their voice to the conversation on diversity in writing. We need diverse books, writers, characters and more.

I needed to see this today. The genres of Science Fiction and Fantasy that I enjoy reading and write in have taken a step backwards on diversity in recent weeks. There’s been a lot of progress in these genres, where women and writers of colour have often been excluded. The representation of people who are not straight white males has been improving in awards, and to some extent, on the bookshelves. But there’s a lot more to do.

But SF’s award season has brought a saddening kickback from some SWM authors. In the Hugo awards a clique of writers including Larry Correia, Theodore Beale and Brad Torgerson block voted themselves on to the award shortlists. They’ve pretty much destroyed any credibility they had in the process, but it’s still an annoyance. SF novelist John C Wright has flounced out of the Science Fiction Writers of America in an open letter that claimed the organisation no longer represented his “interests”. Wright, Beale and Correia weave a lot of cant around their agenda. But the truth is, they’re lashing out out against an SF community that is becoming much more diverse, and which they feel deeply threatened by.

Perhaps more toxic is yet another all male shortlist at the Gemmell awards. The awards achieve this dismally skewed list of writers by drawing the most absurdly narrow definition of fantasy writing they possibly can. They are in effect creating a ghetto for white male fantasy writers that does everything it possibly can to exclude any other perspective. This is often defended by the argument that the Gemmell’s are a popular award voted by 70,000 fans. But that’s not a justification for a total lack of diversity, it’s just evidence of the long term commercial shaping by publishers that have turned fantasy writing in to a play-pit for adolescent white male power fantasies.

So to see such an outpouring of support for #WeNeedDiverseBooks is wonderful, and very timely proof that in fact the diverse audience is far more abundant – and vastly less served – than the Straight White Male audience. There are great publishers like Angry Robot Books, who never make any noise about the fact they have  one of the most diverse lists in SF publishing. They just do it because its the right thing to do both ethically AND commercially. To publishers,  retailers and award giving bodies who aren’t quite so enlightened I say – your loss.

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The future is queer

I spent most of my youth being told to get a haircut. As a boy of slight build who usually had hair down around my shoulders, I looked a bit too much like a girl for the comfort of the home counties. Society gets angry when gender roles are blurred, precisely because those roles are a fragile act put on with clothes, hairstyles and makeup. If they weren’t enforced, clearly defined gender roles would not exist.

I take comfort in the idea that most of the young men telling others to get a haircut today are rushing home to play at being buxom dark elf warrior maidens in World of Warcraft. Gamer culture has gained a bad reputation for misogyny, but it seems male gamers are more than a little curious about playing out female gender roles. It makes perfect sense. The real world enforces gender roles, but virtual worlds let gamers express the feminine parts of themselves that don’t fit in with their masculine identity.

Read more @ Guardian books.