blind men’s bluff

For those of you who have not heard, anthology editor Jonathan Strahan recently announced his final TOC for the upcoming Eclipse Two anthology, published by Night Shade Books. Now, you might have thought that given the brou-ha-ha surrounding the cover of Eclipse One, those associated with the project would now be very sensitive to gender issues and disinclined to repeat the spectacle. Well, apparently not.

The TOC is (as far as I can tell) entirely made up of white men, with one white woman. I’m with ktempest: I find this sort of thing wholly unacceptable. And no, I refuse to look at some sort of long-term trend to confirm bias when it comes to an anthology. Anthologies are books, meant to be consumed as single projects. It’s not like a magazine, with subscribers, a regular production schedule and an expectation of future issues.

I’m re-posting here what I just wrote in the comments section of the original SF Signal announcement:

Jonathan,

So, you have created an anthology of white men and one white woman. The publisher’s copy for Eclipse One reads:

“Set to become a major event on the science fiction and fantasy calendar,Eclipse: New Science Fiction and Fantasy gathers together new science fiction and fantasy stories by the best writers working today.”

This is a general interest anthology. It’s being promoted as some sort of compilation of exciting new talent. And yet, that talent is as race and gender limited as anything that would have been published 30 or 40 years ago. I bet those editors thought they were gender/color blind, too. 13 white men and 1 white woman represent the best writers working today?

Honestly, when the women dropped out, did it occur to you to cast a wider net and ask more women for stories? To open a few more slots from the open call or extend it? To recruit a few of the dramatically underrepresented pool of writers of color (especially female writers of color), very few of whom ever seem to break through to the relative mainstream of our genre?

No one is saying you should accept a story by a woman or a writer of color just because you need to fill a quota. But a solicited anthology is only as good as the writers whose stories you solicit, and judging by this TOC (no matter what unfortunate first-round dropouts you had), you need to broaden your list. Any editor of a magazine or anthology not only considers the internal quality of each story but ALSO their relationship with each other. I hear all the time that a story might get rejected not because it was bad, but because, say, Peter S. Beagle beat you to the unicorn story slot. If you have a preponderance of AI stories, you might reject one you would otherwise have accepted. This type of “not just the quality of the story, but the quality of the market” balancing is an accepted and, indeed, *expected* part of the job of the editor. When Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling put out their fairy tale anthologies, no one wanted to read six sleeping beauty re-tellings, no matter how good they might individually be.

So HOW is it any different to consider another “not just the story quality” valence when weighing the effect of the balance of an anthology? How is it “affirmative action” or “quotas” or any of those other bogeymen to look at your TOC and think, “gee, I seem to have stuffed this with a lot of white guys. My readership might not like that anymore than an anthology with 7 romantic zombie stories, so let me try to balance things a little.”

There are so many excellent women and writers of color working in the field today that I find it astonishing that (when the first round of women dropped out) you could not have solicited several other excellent stories from them to help round out your anthology in all the ways people clearly care about.

Because I’m with Stephanie: I’ve seen enough of these all-male anthologies to last my lifetime.

I’d really appreciate thoughts/comments about this. This sort of thing frustrates me so much I never quite know what to do, but interaction is always good.

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One thought on “blind men’s bluff

  1. Jace says:

    “And yet, that talent is as race and gender limited as anything that would have been published 30 or 40 years ago.”

    It’s not limited unless he specifically declined good-enough stories on the basis of race or gender. There’s no evidence of that.

    “13 white men and 1 white woman represent the best writers working today?”

    But he did say that more of the women than the men failed to hand in stories. The final composition of the anthology doesn’t represent the editor’s view of the field alone, but is rather based on the initial call for submissions – which, as I understand, was evenly split between male and female writers – modified by who responded, whose stories were chosen, etc.

    “Honestly, when the women dropped out, did it occur to you to cast a wider net and ask more women for stories?”

    Why would he ask more women specifically? If you figure that the writers he contacted to make up the gaps had similar demographics to the initial call, then it’s only natural that the final composition would be predominantly male, seeing as more women dropped out.

    “To open a few more slots from the open call or extend it?”

    First, if the anthology depends on having a certain number of ‘big-name’ authors, then accepting more submissions from the open call may be counterproductive to the overall work – and besides, the odds are strong that slush submissions won’t be of the same quality as, say, Ted Chiang. And second, extending the open call would wreak havoc with the timetable for the anthology – note previous mentions of deadlines.

    “To recruit a few of the dramatically underrepresented pool of writers of color (especially female writers of color), very few of whom ever seem to break through to the relative mainstream of our genre?”

    When you say ‘underrepresented’, do you mean that they simply aren’t showing up in the same proportions as in the general population? Because that isn’t a meaningful comparison. If you mean they aren’t showing up in this anthology in the proportions they appear in the ranks of serious authors, see the earlier mention of how many declined to hand in stories when solicited.

    “No one is saying you should accept a story by a woman or a writer of color just because you need to fill a quota.”

    Okay – so what’s the problem with the anthology then? The previous anthology was about half women, and this one was solicited in equal proportions. Suggesting that the stories accepted be re-jiggered to match the TOC to that initial solicitation composition seems tantamount to a quota.

    “But a solicited anthology is only as good as the writers whose stories you solicit, and judging by this TOC (no matter what unfortunate first-round dropouts you had), you need to broaden your list.”

    The first-round dropouts matter very much. If a publisher puts out an anthology and seventy percent of the solicitations go out to some subset of writers, and only ten percent of them respond, what do you want them to do? If the authors in question had responded and then been edited out, then – and assuming also that the deletions were based on the author’s identity rather than story characteristics – there would be possible impropriety.

    “So HOW is it any different to consider another “not just the story quality” valence when weighing the effect of the balance of an anthology?”

    Because in this case, the valence has nothing to do with the story itself. If a black author, or a female author, writes a different type of story than a white male author, then there you have it – the difference ^is^ a “not just a story quality” factor. But, if the story is equal in terms of quality and other considerations – subject, themes, length, etc. – then there’s no reason it should read any differently under the byline of, say, “Kurt Smith” than “Marilynn Honsou.”

    “How is it “affirmative action” or “quotas” or any of those other bogeymen to look at your TOC and think, “gee, I seem to have stuffed this with a lot of white guys. My readership might not like that anymore than an anthology with 7 romantic zombie stories, so let me try to balance things a little.””

    Because you’re choosing stories based simply on whose byline appears above them, and not on their intrinsic merits. An anthology with 7 romantic zombie stories would likely be at least a bit boring and repetitive, maybe even a ripoff. (Unless of course it was a Valentine’s Day Zombie Collection, like “Ardor Mortis”.) But if all the stories are good, and work well together, why – from the point of view of someone looking for good stories to read – would you care who wrote them? Would there be any literary merit gained by having a different set of bylines?

    Look, saying that some proportion of the stories in an anthology should be written by women or people of color is like saying that a certain anthology will only be composed of people from, say, Brooklyn. In literary terms, it’s just as arbitrary. An anthology of stories about Brooklyn would be fine, and the editor could certainly choose people based on how well they portray Brooklyn – whether or not they live there – just as an editor could put together an anthology of stories about – not by – women and people of color. Would women and people of color be more likely to produce higher quality stories on such a theme than, again say, white males? Probably. Would their stories then make up the bulk of the collection? Again, probably.

    Would there be a valid literary reason for this makeup rather than crude byline-balancing? Yes. The bottom line is, it looks like the editor made the attempt to get an equal balance of women and men for this anthology, and more of the women declined to participate. He gave them the opportunity, they said ‘no.’ What, he should delay publication – impacting all of the contributors and the company – to go out of his way to track down (presumably) second choice authors?

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