Why Diversity Matters

I’d like you to imagine for a moment that you could go through your local bookstore and get rid of any book you don’t like. And then imagine you could go through and get rid of any customer you don’t like. You’d be left with your perfect, little bookstore, where every book is wonderful and everyone who shops there is your friend, right? Now, ask yourself honestly, how long would that bookstore stay in business? Do you and your buddies really spend enough on books to keep the lights on, the shelves stocked, and the staff paid?

If you answered “yes,” I have a couple of e-books I’d like to introduce you and your friends to. Wealthy patrons like you are hard to come by, and I’d love to have you snapping up copies of my work at that rate. For the rest of us, we need to accept that those romance-novel shoppers are helping subsidize our science fiction habit. Even in a specialty bookstore that only carries one genre, there’s still going to be more books that aren’t your cup of tea than are. And that’s where diversity comes in.

Historically, science fiction (and historically fantasy was considered part of the science fiction genre) appealed to heterosexual, white males. These straight, white males were generally better educated than average, and have often been stereotyped as being outside the social mainstream. (That’s a polite way of calling them “nerds.”) Books written for this audience tended to have straight, white males as protagonists, and tended to have female characters who existed mainly to serve as busty trophies for said protagonists to win in the final chapter. I’ve seen a lot of criticism leveled at science fiction for this trope.

I’ve also seen a lot of backlash criticism aimed at that the second wave of science fiction writers who insist on fully developed female characters, protagonists who are not straight, white males, and an exploration of themes that don’t appeal to the “core” SF demographic. They’re “ruining” the genre. Feminist lesbians have taken over the short fiction markets. You can’t read a good space opera any more without all that PC crap coming into it.

Well, guess what, folks. The genre needs both.

Whatever your specific cup of tea in the genre is, the people who want that other stuff are essential to the health and welfare of our medium. Yes, that means that you won’t like a lot of what’s nominated for the Nebula or the Hugo. But that’s good. That means that lots of different sorts of readers are liking lots of different sorts of things. That encourages lots of different publishers to put up the money to publish lots of different sorts of things, including the stuff you like. If we chase out the people who read the stuff we don’t care for, visibility of the genre on the whole diminishes, people don’t buy as much stuff, and publishers start looking around for other, more lucrative genres.

So back off the Twilight freaks. Or the Tributes (Hunger Games fans). And the furries. And anyone else you think is too weird or too annoying to be part of “your” genre. We need them. Desperately. I’m not saying you need to go out and fall in love with whatever it is they’re reading, but respect their choices, welcome them in the genre, and make sure they know where they can get more of whatever they like.

If you really want to go for the advanced stuff, start asking them what it is they love about these books you can’t stand. For example, do the Tributes go on and on about how they love the dystopian future? That’s a great opportunity to suggest some of your favorite post-apocalyptic pieces to them. Do they love the strong, female character? Who’s your favorite kick-ass sci-fi woman? By treating these books you think are beneath you (and them) as a gateway drug, you may find you have more in common with them than you think.

As the fandom community laments our diminishing numbers and the greying of the genre, we can’t afford to be shutting out the young blood. And as we strive to build a genre where people all over the world can find a voice, we can’t afford to shut out the traditional fans. To quote the cliche, a rising tide lifts all boats. So let’s stop trying to drain the harbor, and instead make sure everyone has a spot on the pier where their ship will come in.

(Have I ever mentioned that one thing I love about being a writer is being allowed to abuse metaphors like that?)

Make room in your bookstore for everyone.


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