A Curious Story in Clarkesworld

There is a significant amount of social media positive-buzz, speculation and concern over a story in the January 2020 issue of Clarkesworld. The story by an unknown (and possibly pseudonymous) author Isabel Fall takes as its title and premise a meme that has been used for a few years now to parody/belittle gender concepts among transgender people. Specifically it takes this meme https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/i-sexually-identify-as-an-attack-helicopter and examines it using science fiction.

The story entitled provocatively “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” [http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/issue_160/ ] is a first person narrative set in a near future America that is in the midst of a civil war. The narrator in a previous life was a woman called Seo Ji Hee who joined the army and underwent neurosurgery to change how they perceived their own gender. The ostensible purpose of this was to repurpose those aspect of a persons mind/brain dedicated to the perception and self-perception of gender and use those aspects to create a more dedicated soldier (or in this case, a more dedicated flight warrant officer).

The story mainly interleaves two different styles. Partially alternating paragraphs deal either with a specific mission being flown by Barb (as the narrator is now known) or with the narrator’s thoughts and experiences with gender in their former life as Seo Ji Hee.

For example, here is an extract from one of the two styles in the story:

‘The target bumps up over the horizon. The low mounds of Kelso-Ventura District High burn warm gray through a parfait coating of aerogel insulation and desert soil. We have crossed a third of the continental US to strike a school built by Americans.
Axis cues up a missile: black eyes narrowed, telltales reflected against clear laser-washed cornea. “Call the shot, Barb.”
“Stand by. Maneuvering.” I lift us above the desert floor, buying some room for the missile to run, watching the probability-of-kill calculation change with each motion of the aircraft.’

http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/fall_01_20/

Which contrasts with the more introspective elements:

‘Now I am jointed inside. Now I am geared and shafted, I am a being of opposing torques. The noise I make is cancelled by decibel killers so I am no louder than a woman laughing through two walls.
When I was a woman I wanted to have friends who would gasp at the precision and surprise of my gifts. Now I show friendship by tracking the motions of your head, looking at what you look at, the way one helicopter’s sensors can be slaved to the motions of another.
When I was a woman I wanted my skin to be as smooth and dark as the sintered stone countertop in our kitchen.’

http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/fall_01_20/

Certainly a lot of thought and skill have been but into the story. Combining stylistic conventions of military science fiction with musings about gender roles and the cognitive basis of gender shows some adeptness.

Nonetheless, I found it a very odd story. It didn’t work for me either as story about a military mission, as a story about personal understanding of self or as a synthesis of the two. Even so, science fiction should attempt interesting things and a bold story that doesn’t achieve its objectives are still stories I want to see.

However, that takes us back to the title and the other premise of the story which appears to be to take a hostile meme and examine it seriously through the lens of science fiction tropes. In this case, Isabel Fall’s story takes the meme (that had been common in right wing circles over the past few years, particularly as a means of belittling transgender people) as its title and opening sentence and borrows other aspects as well. For example, the original copypasta meme specified an Apache helicopter and so does the story (although updated to a futuristic AH-70 Apache Mystic).

I know I talk about Ockham’s Razor a lot but it is because I’m interested in what default assumptions we should make in a world of imperfect knowledge and understanding. An extension of parsimony for me is to assume good faith in people as the simplest explanation until evidence shows otherwise. Taking that as a starting point, I assume the story is a genuine attempt to take the hostile meme as a starting point and examine it and possibly invert its intent by taking a joke and treating it seriously. Indeed, we can see that the story does overtly take the meme as its title and then presents a serious story.

Taking the story as a good faith attempt to accomplish something does not settle the question of whether it succeeds in doing what it sets out to accomplish. Having read and re-read the story, I don’t think it manages this at all. The story ends up with a muddled view of both gender and gender roles although it picks up the interesting idea of the cognitive support our minds provide (not always consistently) for “doing” gender.

The provocative title necessarily presents as hostile given the recent history of the phrase “identify as an attack helicopter”. That hostility exists independently of authorial intent or the eventual direction of the story. No, I’m not saying “nobody can ever use that phrase as a story title” but rather like telling an edgy joke or playing devil’s advocate on a controversial or emotional topic, there is a cost to both the author and the reader by jumping feet first into controversy. Succeeding at being provocative is not guaranteed and ‘provocative’ is not a virtue in itself. Put another way, a better story with the same title could work. In this case, I didn’t find the story strong enough to carry the weight of the provocative title. Indeed, I think the title very much gets in the way of the story as it positions the concept of gender in the story into the current dialogue on the human rights of transgender people, whereas the story itself really only looks at gender in any depth as science-fiction ‘what-if’ and adds nothing positive to that discussion. No, not every story about gender has to be positive contribution to a current social issue but the story jumps into that discussion with its title and hence gains some new obligations.


The story received a lot of praise in the comments at the web-version of Clarkesworld [archive version as of the time of this post] as well as on social media. I don’t find that odd in itself (some people really love stories I find a bit so-so and vice-versa, that’s just stories) but some of the effusive praise did strike me as a bit odd and struck others as odd as well.

An obvious effect of picking a provocative title and premise is that it will provoke. A benefit of provocation is that it generates discussion — indeed here I am writing a review of the story primarily because its title was provocative! The flip-side of that is suspicion. Like I said above, I’m assuming good-faith in the writing and publishing of the story until I have other reasons not to. However, along with the praise on social media has come people looking at the story’s title and content and wondering if it is essentially hostile.

That suspicion has led to further speculation as to whether the story is some sort of prank or hoax. Well, anything is possible. If it a prank there is a simple method of finding out, which is to simply wait. If it is a prank then there is a prankster and at some point they will say so because that’s the nature of pranks. I’m not convinced that the story is some sort of attempt to hoax awards (aside from anything else, a January publication date presumably pushes the eligibility to nominations in 2021) but who knows? If it is, the writing doesn’t suggest any of the more prank-orientated authors that I’m aware of but then again that is exactly how a good prank would appear.

Put another way, the text of a story alone is not enough to identify that a story is not what it appears to be. The author’s broader identity (i.e. what else they have written, their views on other topics etc) aren’t known and the name may (or may not) be inspired by a story by Ian R MacLeod (http://bestsf.net/ian-r-macleod-isabel-of-the-fall/ ).

My conclusion of sorts is this: I was unimpressed by the story on its merits to the extent that I could ignore the title. Your experience may vary. The provocative title I believe hurts the story and I can understand why people will react negatively to the story as a consequence. Picking a provocative title is just like making an edgy joke: the author takes a substantial risk and nobody is obliged to congratulate them for that if the risk doesn’t pay off.


85 thoughts on “A Curious Story in Clarkesworld

  1. Honestly, I didn’t bat an eyelid at the title… but then, I called my own blog “attack of the six-foot tranny” so that shouldn’t be surprising. I have to wonder if the author is a trans person who spent some formative time in edge, irony-swathed social media subcultures, and wasn’t fussed about being potentially provocative.

    Incidentally, the writing style and subject matter reminded me of Benjanun Sriduangkaew — who was likewise informed by on-the-nose online culture. Wonder if we’ve got a subgenre on our hands.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. //I have to wonder if the author is a trans person who spent some formative time in edge, irony-swathed social media subcultures, and wasn’t fussed about being potentially provocative.//

      Possibly. There’s lots of reasons for being edgy – so much so that edginess itself tells us very little without context. I guess that’s the key issue of the title, it sort of demands more context.

      //Incidentally, the writing style and subject matter reminded me of Benjanun Sriduangkaew//

      Well that would be a twist!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. To clarify, I didn’t mean to suggest that she wrote it — there are a few distinct differences to her typical approach, and I’m not sure why she’d be using a pseudonym (since Clarkesworld has published her after her fall from grace). But Isabel Fall does seem to have a substantually similar set of influences and interests to her.

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  2. I don’t see how it can be a hoax. The story exists. The writer, I gather, isn’t claiming to be trans. If it were written as some kind of elaborate anti-trans game — or for that matter, pro-trans — it still wouldn’t be a hoax

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    1. Good point. “Hoax” is almost a speech act – it requires the author to declare what they did to be ungenuine in some way – but its hard for fiction to be anymore ungenuine than fiction ever is. As you say, the story exists in its own right and has its own qualities. The author is making no claims about themselves, so it is what it is.

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  3. Well, I haven’t read this yet. I just finished Oct Clarkesworld and I’m busy reading other 2019 stuff. But I’ll get to it eventually. Maybe by then the mystery will have been revealed.

    Just reading the samples here, I can see what Doris is saying about the writing style, but who knows?

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  4. The “Isabel of the Fall” reference seems like a popular clue on Twitter but I’m really not seeing it – there’s not any link between the stories that’s obvious to me – unless it’s just that MacLeod is the author, and the style doesn’t seem to fit for that.

    I don’t think the January pub date says anything – the hypothetical hoaxer wouldn’t choose the pub date, the magazine would. Our hypothetical hoaxer could have submitted in hope of getting in 2019.

    That said, I don’t think there’s much evidence to suggest a full-blown hoax rather than (say) an experienced author using a pseudonym. Something that points towards the latter for me is that Clarkesworld doesn’t publish *that* many novelettes and a debut author seems less likely to produce and sell one.

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    1. Searching for “Isabel Fall” turns up so little that finding anything suggests greater significance to people. I doubt there are any clues there and there’s not much point looking. Likewise, I see people trying to discover meaning in the borth date given in the Clarkesworld bio (1988). The ’88’ being a bit of neo-nazi semiotics, but it’s also a perfectly reasonable year for an author to be born in. I’m suspicious of the idea of somebody hiding their identity by leaving secret clues to their identity — they probably didn’t and if they did then they’d be a bit more obvious [it’s also a fun puzzle, if the author intended a fun puzzle but not a fun puzzle if they didn’t 🙂 ]

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      1. 88 seems like a stretch. It’s just consistent with a young author, or an attempt to give the appearance of that.
        Maybe we should check what the first letter of each paragraph spells or something like that!

        Liked by 2 people

  5. “… whether the story is some sort of prank or hoax. ”

    I doubt the story is written by someone who considers the original meme a clever argument against trans acceptance. I lack the knowledge to judge the specifics of the narrator’s view on gender theory, but the impression I get is that the author is reasonably well versed in it.

    I think it could have been a better story without the explicit link to the meme. The title narrows the scope too much, but there’s also a “Forever war”-theme there, of engineered super-soldiers and of why we fight wars.

    How well known is the original meme? I haven’t heard about it myself before this – so I wonder if the story will give an otherwise obscure meme more attention than it deserves. (And is it possible that the editor of Clarkesworld have made the decision to publish without knowing the meme? I assume they’d do some basic searching to verify that the story haven’t been published before, so probably not likely.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d certainly heard the meme before. Also, if you search twitter for “attack helicopter” because you want to see what’s being said about the story, you get about 40% the story, 40% someone referencing the meme, and 20% actual helicopter fans 🙂

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    2. The thing is, gender and sex are different things. The offensive meme fails to recognize this, which is why it’s “I Sexually Identify as Attack Helicopter” rather than “My gender is Attack Helicopter”. I find it hard to believe that a trans or NB person wrote this story, because they would understand the difference, and I would have expected the title to be offensive to them — such that they wouldn’t have chosen to use it. But if Doris doesn’t find it suspicious, then I’m not in a position to gainsay that.

      I’m not trans or nonbinary, but I would really like to hear more perspectives on the story from people who are.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. Yeah, I’d personally argue the meme title indicates it’s *less* likely to have been written by an alt-righter. You don’t generally state your own slogans/jargon when making fun of the concept. There’s probably a better way to phrase that, but there’s a reason, say, Wilfred Owen’s famous anti-war poem is called “Dulce et Decorum Est” and not ‘Make Love not War’ (or the WWI equivalent). Or for a closer example, alt-right dipshit VD made fun of the term ‘safe space’ in the title of one of his short stories.

      Though, I would say the author would have had to reference the ‘attack helicopter’ meme in some way, as having a character identify as an attack helicopter is enough to trip my dogwhistle alarms (and even if the gender stuff hadn’t been explicit).

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      1. if this story was written by a transphobe then the goal would be to get the meme out there, and they would use that phrase prominently.

        Or, perhaps the editor made that the title.

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      2. Adding a bit more now that I’ve ruminated (I’m not trans or nb, so grain of salt here):
        -I liked the piece the first time I read it. The parts that were uncomfortable I assumed were deliberately uncomfortable. overglow’s comments on the metafilter thread really gel with what I thought
        -I maintain my doubt that an alt-righter wrote it, but I can definitely see a terfy author. It really depends on how much we’re supposed to take the narrator’s statements as factual vs self-justifications
        -Making our narrator a Korean-American seemed a misstep
        -I’m pretty sure Axis is explicitly mentioned to be AFAB? I want to say the narrator said something about both of them being AFAB (but not in those words)

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  6. I read this story because of the comments about it on Twitter, and I’m puzzled too. It’s not very good — a B- story at best — but then at the end we get all these comments about how it’s the best story in the history of the magazine, how it’s “absolutely unique” (it’s not even a little unique), how amazing it is.

    Something seems really off here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The comment section struck me as oddly stuffed as well, but in fairness, the story seems to have been getting quite a bit of buzz on social media even before the more sceptical reactions started rolling in. Look at this Metafilter thread, for example:

      https://www.metafilter.com/185060/Attack-helicopter-is-a-gender-identity-not-a-biological-sex

      Is it possible that the story simply grabbed the attention of a demographic that doesn’t typically keep up with Clarkesworld? It’s obviously a niche story — but some niches can be very vocal…

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I agree — the praise for it is substantial. There is some strong writing there and use of detail but soldier-bonded with machine goes on mission? It’s been done and re-done. The gender part is a new spin on it but the actual connection between gender and integrating with the machine is not convincing.

      Liked by 2 people

    3. I’ve noticed in the venues where they allow comments on the stories themselves, they tend to be few and gushy. At least at Clarkesworld and the other online magazines I read.

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    1. They used to in the pulp days. One writer (I forget which) said he got so fed up he started sending in stories titled “The Mill and the Floss” or “Great Expectations” and the editors never blinked, just changed them as usual.
      Personally I’ve never had any editor change my titles.

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  7. So the question here is whether this was written by a trans person or a transphobe.

    I think it’s the latter.

    The thing is, this person is a very good writer. Whether this piece is intended as trolling or as a honest play on that meme, the writing is so good we can’t tell which it is. That tells me that the writer is skilled.

    A very good writer who is also trans would understand that phrase and its origin, and would not want to popularize it. They would edit it out of the story, while a transphobe would not.

    I think a transphoe wrote it.

    P.S. Have you seen the comments?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. That’s not really how gender works. Everything about it in the story makes gender shaped by external factors — cultural myths and scientists’ neurological surgery. That being a gender is about clothes and behavioral traits assigned to genders by cultural pressures and laws that are not plastic and changeable, plus biological, neurological aspects that are apparently plastic — can be changed by doctors doing reprogramming.

    But that’s partly because the story is shaped around the main character’s perceptions. And the only really interesting thing I find in the story is that you have a woman who bought into gender myths about being a classic 1950’s-ish woman, then was somehow surgically rewired to hate women as a limited identity (because the culture limits it,) and put on the clothes of an attack helicopter (be a cyborg,) and regard that as a gender identity. In that sense, the story is a reflection of how cultures try to attack and control/define women as a gender, in the literal form of an attack helicopter.

    Even as a dehumanized attack helicopter, Barb isn’t allowed to fly alone or be an individual as a cyborg. Its identity must be integrated into another person/half. When that other half wants to break the bonds of externally created gender, Barb is ready to abandon the new gender identity too and form its own. So even under biological compulsion, the former woman isn’t controllable by the culture and law (military force,) of the time.

    Which isn’t really much about being trans or even non-binary. And it’s kind of a dated feel, like something that might have been written in the late 1970’s, early 1980’s, playing with issues of women being culturally limited. The view of women as a gender culturally in the story is very out of touch, old school, and not one that I think would resonate with a lot of younger women today, though obviously it still resonates for a lot of our right wing politicians and “pundits.”

    Overall, it’s kind of a clunky story. The use of the meme will get it attention, but it’s not specifically transphobic or trans exploratory either. It’s more that it’s just borrowing trans issues and some gender theory concepts to make some sort of oblique comment on women.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s the thing — as a story, when compared to similar examples such as David D. Levine’s “Damage“, it’s clunky and not terribly effective. If it was written by a trans person to “take back” the offensive meme, it doesn’t really succeed, and if it was written by a transphobe as a “we fooled you SJWs into thinking that this mocking story was really great”, it doesn’t really succeed, either.

      I get the impression that the writer has not read a lot of SF, especially of the transhuman sort.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks for reminding me about ‘Damage’ – I was trying to remember that particular story but it was just on the edge of my memory which kept dredging up that dreadful puppy story about the ai spaceship instead.

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      2. Also…this is another thing I just didn’t get with the chorus of praise for the story. Within the narrow genre it wasn’t that amazing. I’m not saying that it is impossible to like but I’m puzzled by the big enthusiasm for it.

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      3. camestrosfelapton: I just didn’t get with the chorus of praise for the story… I’m puzzled by the big enthusiasm for it.

        Oh, it was immediately, blatantly obvious to me that that most of the commenters are the author’s friends and family, in the same way it was obvious when a bunch of cringeworthy comments, raving about that 20BooksTo50K author’s crap non-YA book that got gamed onto the Nebula Andre Norton ballot, showed up on the SFWA post announcing the Nebula finalists.

        Of the 15 effusive comments, only 2 of the commenters have ever commented on a Clarkesworld story in the past. That just screams a campaign of “everybody go over here and post praise for my story” to me.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. //That just screams a campaign of “everybody go over here and post praise for my story” to me.//

        I suspect you are right and/or a particular community. However, looking at a similar buzz on Twitter I didn’t see any obvious commonalities (lots of guys and guys working vaguely in IT or data…but that describes a lot of SF discourse and it wasn’t exclusively such people).

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      5. I don’t think the person who wrote the story is terribly interested in the whole transhuman cyborg attack helicopter thing — it’s just a symbolic structural device, unlike in “Damages.” And it doesn’t seem to be interested in multiple consciousness, something not done really well or in much detail in the story. I don’t think the story is super interested in trans issues or in mocking trans issues. It’s just borrowing the concept of transition.

        The focus of the story is more on freedom from predictable, structured, controlled identity. The story makes all about identity external and at the end the main character internally breaks free from that. What seems like freedom from the external gender definition to be a woman (which is a very 1950-ish, American definition of women with slight cultural updates,) into being an attack helicopter with part of that identity a gunner, then becomes freedom from that external identity grafted onto the main character by the military. Related is the theme of power — reclaiming it, first reclaiming power by becoming a powerful being that can destroy, with the idea that women can’t as a puny human gender easily do that, and then reclaiming power again by going against what the military wants the helicopter to be.

        So the author might be trans and looking at reclaiming power to define one’s own identity against external forces. At the same time, it wouldn’t surprise me if the author is a cis man, given some of the choices in the story — the clitoral bulge of the cockpit description, the idea that women as a gender are inhibited from killing rather than simply often forbidden from killing as a cultural control device, etc. I would be highly, highly surprised if the author of the story actually turned out to be Asian or Asian American; that just seems thrown in.

        So it’s not a story without anything to chew on in it and it’s focused, but it seems to me to be a story playing with symbols rather than real characters. (Which is fine, but can reduce connection for some readers.) I don’t recognize myself as a woman within that story’s context and I again don’t think younger women much would. But the battle to free oneself from the external controls trying to define being a woman is certainly a part of women’s experience, of trans women’s experience, etc., and it’s definitely a main aspect of the story.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. //And it’s kind of a dated feel, like something that might have been written in the late 1970’s, early 1980’s, playing with issues of women being culturally limited//

      Oh that’s an astute observation! Yes, that’s what I’ve been trying to put my finger on!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yeah, it’s more of a story of self-hatred a woman has from cultural oppression, and transformation that leads to less and less self-hatred and less limits. The story spends most of its time on the idea that women are vulnerable and trapped by social controls into a rigid identity. In this future, society has swapped out gender as a changing, sociological and cultural construct to biologically engineered rigid identities out of control of the individual. So it’s sort of late Second Wave feminism territory. And as it’s a short story, it doesn’t have a lot of space to get into nuance, going for very broad symbols which end up having a dated feel.

        Again it is not an uninteresting approach. It’s just one that has to sort of reject what’s going on now to make it work and backtrack symbolically. It has only a passing intersection with trans issues.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. From the comment section:

    “The author is a trans woman. She has requested that the story be withdrawn and the payment donated to a charity, but Neil’s recovery from heart surgery needs to come first.”

    “More from her: There was no plot to astroturf the comments and no intention of secret Nazi imagery. Isabel was born in 1988. Her name is not based on anyone else’s work. She is not familiar with TERF talking points and tries to avoid them out of personal distaste. The intent of the title was to steal the top spot on search engines from the meme and replace it with trans writing, but it was clearly ill considered. She wants to convey her deep sorrow that her writing has for so many readers failed so badly to do what she hoped. She has withdrawn her future submissions and would appreciate privacy.”

    http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/fall_01_20/

    Man I got that one wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Who is “pip” speaking for the author? I hope it isn’t true. I still haven’t read the story, and so I have no opinion one way or the other on the story itself. I just think it would be sad if she feels compelled to withdraw it. First publication in a venue like Clarkesworld is an accomplishment. And that she’s pulling all further submissions? Very sad if true.

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      1. Also, I haven’t seen anybody calling for the story to be withdrawn (it may have been said somewhere but it’s not a predominant reaction). Withdrawing it will also enable right wing co-option if the story which was one of the worries about it.

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      2. Plus Clarkesworld isn’t just online. There are print and ebook editions which people would have even before it went online. And wouldn’t she already have been paid? I don’t know how that works. But I’m skeptical about whether pip knows the real situation.

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    2. I don’t think we can necessarily take the word of an anonymous account posting on that thread claiming to know the author, and even if those statements are from the author there is no way to verify if they are honest or just part of the troll. None of it really changes how the story or the comments read, or negates the criticism of it, and nothing is going to happen unless Clarkesworld makes a statement or takes some kind of action.

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    3. There are quite a few things in the comments from “Pip” that are right out of the 4chan handbook. The fact that his came from an anonymous account making unverifiable (but seemingly earnest) claims. The guilting and shaming of detractors intended to shut down further debate. And the kicker “She has withdrawn her future submissions and would appreciate privacy”, fits just as comfortably into a “See you liberals are the real bigots and now you’ve chase a vulnerable trans author away” narrative that the far-right loves to peddle. I know I’m being cynical, and god knows I’m not going to pretend I think I’m right about everything, but there’s no way to verify any of this and there probably never will be, which is how trolls like to operate.

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      1. I was thinking pretty much the same thing. I’m convinced that this comment, at the very least, is a troll, and if it’s coming from the author or someone connected to them, then the story is a troll, too.

        A genuine, sincere author wouldn’t say “There was no plot to astroturf the comments.” — but a troll would. A genuine, sincere author would say, “I apologize that some of my friends were so excited and enthusiastic that they didn’t realize that spamming the comments in this way is poor form.”

        And I can’t get past the fact that for a story written by a trans person, as pointed out in Kat’s astute analysis, it actually engages very little with transhumanism, and I would have certainly expected it to do so. But I can see where a transphobe might write it and mistakenly believe that they were engaging with transhumanism.

        And even if everything said in the comment is true, it doesn’t change the fact that the story is not really successful, especially not at subverting the title meme as it is theoretically supposed to be doing.

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    4. As per others, I think I’d want to see that confirmed by Clarke as a true comment first. Clarkesworld has not posted on social media for a few days, presumably due to a very sensible break to recover from heart surgery, so if he’s also not checking his comments then it could be from anyone.

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    5. Verification aside, just thinking about the plausibility of the statement: it’s certainly quite possible, a young (born 1988) writer who may not have weighed the likely effect of that phrase on at least some people. Her age would fit with meme savviness and a plan to play SEO games.
      Against: a new author planning a career giving incredibly scanty bio details seems less likely (but on the third hand, perhaps a genuine desire to avoid alt-right style backlash). Also, the astroturfing nature of the early comments still raises my eyebrows.
      My only conclusion is still a shrug, more data needed.

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  10. Well I did say that the author could be trans and looking at reclaiming power to define one’s own identity against external forces in the story. I don’t think it’s impossible that the author is trans. I would assume that Clarkesworld didn’t simply buy the story and slap it up there — I’m sure they talked to the author about the story, the author’s goals for it and how it would fit in with Clarkesworld. I don’t think it’s that easy for a transphobe to sneak something into the magazine. It’s not exactly a trans positive story either, though. Its ambiguity is what is fueling a lot of the discussion. For me, it seemed very much centered on how women are controlled as a gender, rather than directly trans issues, but as I’m not trans, I may be missing layers.

    But all that doesn’t mean that comments from somebody named Pip have anything to do with reality. With a story like this which was bound to attract attention (and if Pip is actually real, was deliberately designed to snag search engine attention, which is kind of an interesting angle on modern times if true,) Clarkesworld should have been prepared with someone who could make official statements on the story for the magazine. If Clarke is dealing with heart surgery (horrible news and hopefully his recovery goes well,) then somebody else is obviously subbing for him and that person should be making a statement about why Clarkesworld published the story and a bit about author intent. And maybe they are planning to do so. But they are really the only ones who can.

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    1. The info about Neil Clarke having heart surgery is true, but public knowledge. He’s mentioned it coming up in his editorials and given more detail on his blog. It sounds like it went well.

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  11. Like

      1. They needed a plan prepared before the story came out in the magazine. They didn’t have one because Clarke was ill. This is often a problem with SFF magazines with limited staff and too much centralization of tasks. But society is too unequal, especially towards trans people, to just throw stuff like this out there and not expect trolling and concerns, without the publication giving any support. Inclusivity isn’t just about including material from marginalized voices; it’s about preparing to back them up when you do it.

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      1. “Because of those failures, our knowledge gap contributed to the problem.”

        Ya think? Isabel wasn’t even out yet as trans, was taking on one of the most virulent attack memes against trans people in one of the most prominent magazines in science fiction, a conservative leaning genre in which marginalized people are still struggling for a place and are hounded online and at conventions by trolls and bots. They should have waited until Clarke could handle the fallout and/or again had a prepared statement that they’d worked out with Fall.

        This idea that sensitivity readers are a magic bullet shield for stories that deal with deeply serious civil rights issues is again a lack of understanding by those in dominant groups about how marginalization works. Stories like these will be discussed, criticized and intensely scrutinized because these civil rights issues are life and death. And magazines that publish stories in that territory are making a statement by their choice, whether they want to do so or not, so they better have their statement ready. You can’t just throw them out there; you have to have a launch plan.

        So that’s a disappointment but it’s an all too common one. Hopefully this author can still move forward, even if it has to be under another name.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. I indicted this on Twitter as well, but since I jumped into this discussion as well I thought I should reiterate that in the last couple of days I realized that speculating about the author’s identity was not a constructive direction to take the conversation and I should have known better and not been involved in that.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I don’t think it was unreasonable to question whether the story was a hoax or prank etc – which inevitably leads to questions of author identity. Taking that too far would be an issue but I don’t think that you did.

      Like

      1. I appreciate that. Hindsight being 20/20, though, I think it might have been more tactful to keep the focus on a discussion of the text itself, as you did. You kept a level head throughout the situation and I appreciate it.

        Like

      2. I seriously had to consider whether this was a huge prank or troll and I certainly looked for evidence for whether it was. Sadly, that’s the environment we are in.
        I’m glad it wasn’t but I still think the whole thing looks really odd – it’s just that sometimes odd things happen for other reasons.

        Liked by 1 person

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