Friday, December 14, 2007

The genre ghetto

I just finished my preliminary look through the Lambda Award SF/F/H nominees*. Lots of vampire stuff, unsurprisingly. Less kink than I remember from last year. Very heavy on the fantasy. Very, very heavy.

* See nomination guidelines here.

Total books received: 22.

Books from imprints that I recognize as being primarily F&SF-oriented: three (two from Haworth Positronic, one from Tor).

My reaction to this is complex. There's the good old-fashioned kick in the gut that comes from remembering that despite all the personal acceptance I get from others in the F&SF field, when it comes to the actual text of genre books, I'm a member of a thoroughly marginalized minority. There's the irritation over the award being basically ignored in genre circles, which means we get hardly any books from genre publishers, which means the award usually goes to queer books with genre content instead of genre books with queer content, which means it's basically ignored in genre circles. (I was looking up editions of China Mountain Zhang today and was startled to see its Lambda win mentioned in the same sentence as its Hugo and Nebula nods.) There's the frustrated certainty that several really good books that should have been in the box were not, including another title from Tor that arguably has more queer content than the one we got.

I really don't get the sense that authors of queer fiction need to be encouraged to write more spec fic. Authors of queer fiction seem very happy to include speculative elements, as evinced by this Lambda category even existing. I do get the sense that many authors of genre fiction could use some encouragement in the direction of including queer characters and queer themes. In my ideal world, the Lambda SF/F/H award would serve this purpose. To do that, it would need to go to books that are both excellent examples of queer fiction and excellent examples of speculative fiction, and that means getting nominees from the spec fic side of the fence as well as the queer side. According to the judging guidelines, queer themes and skillful handling of genre elements are of equal importance. I want to see that reflected in the books we get.

I note that this is my ideal world; my fellow judges and the folks at Lambda Literary may disagree. I will also note that the folks at Lambda Literary know I feel this way--I laid it out for them in no uncertain terms--and they know I come much more from a genre background than from a queer lit background and they still made me a judge for a second year running, so presumably they at least don't disagree too violently. Honestly, I don't think anyone benefits from the perception that the Lammies are just a bunch of queers congratulating each other on our queerness, nor do I think we need some sort of queer awards ghetto. I say, bring on the books from the big mainstream presses by the big mainstream authors! Send us more Spin Controls and Privilege of the Swords! This is not about drowning out queer authors. This is about recognizing people whose work excels in two genres simultaneously, no matter which one is their "native language", and about encouraging more people in both those worlds to aim as high as the best of either.

The deadline for this year is past, of course, but authors and publishers, if you think any of your 2008 titles might qualify, send 'em in during next year's nomination phase, which I believe is September 1 through December 1. It costs you four copies and twenty bucks; that's not a lot. (Readers, if you see something you like, encourage the author and publisher to nominate it, as they're the only ones who can.) At this point, I figure anyone who writes good queer genre fiction wants to see more of it, and wants to see what's already out there get some recognition. We can't recognize it if you don't send it to us! So please, send it in, and encourage others to do the same.

Maybe it's folly to think that broader recognition of the SF/F/H Lambda Award will encourage even one non-queer genre author to include queer characters and themes in their next book, but stranger things have happened. I think it's more realistic to hope that it will encourage queer authors to let their writing reflect that part of their lives. Either would be a really wonderful thing, a step away from the marginalization of this particular minority, and--I think--well worth rewarding.