Update: Bonus fun! “Womanspace” author Ed Rybicki has appeared in the comments, trying to sockpuppet himself some support under the handle “Disappointed.” Be sure to take this opportunity to speak your mind directly to the responsible party. Enjoy, everyone!
You may wonder what I’m doing here with a can of kerosene in one hand and a match in the other. Why, I’m about to burn a bridge.
Writers are typically advised against doing so, as the person you’re pissed at today may have been the person who’d publish you tomorrow. And yes, it would have been nice to be published alongside our own Stephanie Zvan someday, as I’d figured any publication wise enough to choose one of her stories might prove an attractive market for my own fiction, should I be fortunate enough to make the cut. However, there’s the matter of the other company I’d be keeping. I refer, of course, to the wretchedly sexist story “Womanspace” that appeared in your formerly-august pages in September. No, I won’t link to it. Interested readers will have no trouble finding it, by way of Dr. Anne Jefferson’s masterful takedown of it.
I gave the story a glance. It’s one of those stories in which a writer masturbates to the tune of exhausted stereotypes, and believes the resulting mass is original simply because it emerged from them, and they haven’t got out much. It contains the kind of overdone sexist humor that tickles the underdeveloped funnybones of men who are too inept to figure out teh wimminz. I understand the author’s wife giggled. I’m certain she did. If she hadn’t learned to laugh at her husband by now, she’d be a divorcee. A laughing spouse, however, is no guarantee of quality, a fact which writers who attempt to publish in professional fiction magazines soon learn to their sorrow.
Nature, of course, is not a professional fiction magazine, but only does a bit of fiction on the side, and so it is, perhaps, understandable that selling points such as, “My wife laughed, so it must be funny and not sexist!” could sway the minds of the editorial staff. Fiction is not your specialty, and I’m certain this explains why you ended up publishing a story based on ideas that weren’t even original in the 1950s and which an editor at a top fiction magazine would have considered worthy of pissing on only if the paper was absorbent, the restrooms out of order, and the only plant in the room a cactus. Usually, such stories earn a rapid rejection slip of the mass-produced variety. The editor (or, more likely, the editor’s slush pile reader, who exists to ensure such D-grade doggerel never sullies the editor’s eyes) would not even have bothered with a personal note scribbled on said rejection slip advising the writer to try harder in the future. They’d much prefer the writer never try again.
You may not have a slush pile reader, or pre-printed rejection slips with little checkboxes that include such categories as “Not original,” “Not science fiction,” “Not funny,” and “If you ever send anything to us ever again, we will send staff to egg your house and steal your dog.” I suggest you acquire both if you plan to stay in the fiction business.
Now, you may have heard Neil Gaiman say, “Being contentious is what you should be doing. You should be shaking people up” when he was speaking at the Chicago Humanities Festival in 2001. These wise words may have stayed with you, leading to this unfortunate incident in which you read a story, found it contentious, discovered yourself shaken, and mistakenly believed this meant it was Art. I know you were aware you were igniting a shitstorm, because one of your editors, Henry Gee, commented on the lack thereof. (Note to Henry: shitstorms take time to build when no one reads the fiction section you edit. Sorry.) So perhaps you all thought this was very clever and necessary, because this is what Art is all about: shaking people up.
You have overlooked the fact that there is a major difference between igniting a necessary shitstorm and an unnecessary one. There is a difference between being contentious for good reason and being contentious because you want attention, any attention, even negative attention, like a spoiled child feeling ignored by Mummy.
Allow me to lead by example: there are some posts I write which I know will rile people. I post them because I believe that calling out religion or other silly beliefs is the right and necessary thing to do. You will not, anywhere in these pages, find me posting something noxious for the sake of driving traffic. I could, for instance, post a bit of misogynist doggerel while calling it humorous, and I’m certain that the resultant outrage would enhance my page views considerably. In the short run, that is.
If you did, in fact, know that you were posting a bit of sexist idiocy and did it merely because you wanted to drive some traffic, congratulations. It has worked – in the short run. In the long run, you risk people believing that this one piece reflects your true views on women. I would like to believe that’s not the case, but considering Henry Gee’s history in this regard, I think it’s safe to say at least one editor among you is likely harboring some seriously pathological thoughts toward women. It is time for you to reconsider this editor’s relationship with your company. I’m afraid if you don’t, well over 50% of your readers shall be reconsidering their relationship with you.
Additionally, it behooves you to find someone less inept at handling public relations fiascoes. I refer, of course, to the fact that some buffoon(s) shut down comments on the piece of D-list doggerel in question, and managed to delete the Facebook posts criticizing it. I’m sure both actions were accidental. Just as I am sure you will be thrilled to purchase my oceanfront condo in Yuma, Arizona. (Perhaps you would also be interested in a bridge to replace the one I’ve just burnt. If so, I have a true Brooklyn original at a screaming-hot price.)
I hope this discussion has proved helpful to you in your future endeavors with Futures. I myself shall not be reading it again until Henry Gee’s departure at the earliest, but perhaps one or two other readers remain who enjoy fiction with that retro 1950s-sexism feel. If you have no intention of removing “Womanspace” from your list of publications, plan to retain Henry Gee, and wish to ignite further shitstorms with added misogyny, I’d suggest you advertise on ERV. That seems to be where all the kool he-man woman haters hang out these days. You’ll find plenty of women there who, for reasons mystifying to the well-adjusted, love to hate teh wimminz too. Deplorable company all round; I’m sure you’ll fit right in. That is certainly one possible future for Futures.
If, however, you wish to remove this blot on Nature’s good name, then this is my advice: get rid of that shit-stain of a story, boot Henry Gee out, and apologize immediately. Then learn more about the art of discerning between fiction and items that should be instantly binned. I am certain you will find the links curated by The Contemplative Mammoth and Science Sushi, along with the #womanspace hashtag on Twitter, helpful in this regard. Additionally, Strange Horizons maintains a list of stories too often seen to usually be worthy of consideration. As you found “Womanspace” to be new and interesting, I suspect you should refer to the above resources in order to avoid publishing pieces in the future that lack originality or, indeed, any artistic merit whatsoever.