Saturday, September 13, 2008


From: Janet

I found a copy of Slow River at the Glad Day Bookshop in Toronto, an independent gay bookstore

Actually Evecho recommended your books to me

Reading Slow River was like digesting with my mind the most delectable and filling meal possible.

I work as a professional environmentalist and Sci Fi is my first love. So bringing the prospect of environmental disaster together with Sci Fi was just my cup of tea. And even weirder, I'm one of the few people I know who have actually worked on sewer use and sewer treatment regulations. So while others may find the sludge and grime descriptions you so artfully articulated gruesome I was revelling in them. I read Slow River several months ago and the images often come back to me.

Janet, I'm going to use your Q as a launchpad for a little rant. Please be assured I do not (not not not) think you're cheesy or undiscriminating or condescending. Read on to find out what I mean.

When I first found the SF community (after publication of my first story), I discovered that the community used the term 'scifi' derisively to refer to really cheesy low-budget visual SF produced for the indiscriminate unwashed. For several years, therefore, I bridled, bristled, got belligerent when anyone called my books scifi. Now I wonder what the hell my problem was.

Except, of course, I know what my problem was: respect. My assumption was that those who knew SF well enough to really appreciate it also knew what the in-crowd called it. Those who didn't, didn't. Sort of like judging a white person on whether they're using the term 'black' 'African American' (in the UK 'Afro-Caribbean') or 'person of colour', or a straight person saying 'gay lady' 'homosexual' or lesbian'. If they use the wrong (take that word with a pinch of salt) term you just know they haven't spent much time thinking about the issue--certainly not the politics behind the issue.

So when a reviewer says she doesn't 'read that scifi stuff' I assume she thinks it's all bug-eyed monsters and rockets. She thinks it's crap. She's prejudiced.

And she is. She's a book professional, a reviewer, and there's no excuse for her ignorance. But for those who are consumers (not producers or students or critics) of a genre, the case is different. Why should you inform yourself of specialised genre terminology? SF is something you love, a recreational activity, not something on which your livelihood or reputation or core identity depends.

So I try very hard not to make those assumptions anymore. Plus, the situation is changing--the way situations do.

I was horror stricken in the '90s when the Sci-Fi Channel was named. Ohmigod, my Assinine Assumptive Self thought, they're aligning themselves with the unwashed cheesy people! And then, huh, they bought Kelley's story, "Alien Jane," to turn into an ep of Welcome to Paradox (sucky title, but not a bad show). So then I had to reevaluate.

Nowadays lots o' people who love SF call it sci-fi. The cognoscenti even have an affectionate term for the cheesy stuff: skiffy. It's all good. The reason it's all good is that now us skiffy producers have more respect. We no longer feel like the 90-lb weaking getting sand kicked in our faces (not that I ever did because, y'know, I tend to kick back, and I left 90 lbs behind when I was twelve--I was a jock: tennis, gymnastics, netball, track and field, martial arts, the whole thing--but lots o' skiffy people were not). Now we laugh at ignorance and say, have you seen the box office figures? Life is good.

So, it's easy to hurtle up the ladder of assumption based on word-choice. (I still firmly believe that people who use the word 'bitch' to describe women haven't devoted nearly enough time to thinking about the basic issues of feminism.) But the assumptions that lie behind the assumptions... Ooof. They're endless, and sometimes foolish.

Where am I going with this? Uh, not sure. Just wanted to share. (Been drinking lots o' nice wine--Italian, several varieties--with the neighbours tonight. Don't feel inclined, or even capable, of focusing...) Thanks for giving me the opportunity.

BTW, I'm really glad you like Slow River. Thank you. I had a great phone conversation last week with an Oregon book group--most of whom 'didn't like that scifi stuff' until they read it--who loved it. So I just reread it myself. I thought it was pretty nifty.

Walks off (totters off to bed) with a smug glow...

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