Is there a dominant mode of current science fiction?

Here is an interesting question. If you looked at the range of SF&F that gets critical acclaim, buzz and Hugo/Nebula nominations, what would you call the current dominant style? Take a step back from that question. Is there even a dominant style? I think both are interesting questions and I don’t have an answer but I wanted to look at one particular answer.

Actually, this arose out of a podcast I listened to a few weeks back that was ostensibly about the Sad Puppies. I was going to write about that at the time because it was odd in various ways but the timing was poor because of other factors around the participants. Specifically, this was the Rite Gud podcast https://kittysneezes.com/sad-puppies/ featuring Raquel S. Benedict and Kurt Schiller. By the time I caught up with it, other stuff was going on which I’m going to skip over for the time being, so I can talk about one thing at a time. Suffice to say, I didn’t want to start picking holes in a podcast at a point in time where it might look like I was trying to open up a new front in a wildfire of a toxic argument.

The short summary of the podcast was they’d read El Sandifer’s excellent essay Guided by the Beauty of Their Weapons but otherwise, it wasn’t very insightful – but OK, maybe I need to get my own head out of my own arse at this point on the topic of Sad Puppies. Let’s skip over that bit as well because that’s not what got my attention.

In the podcast, it was argued that there is, in fact, a dominant style of works that get Hugo attention. Not every work but enough for it to be driving out other styles and the name that the presenters preferred for it was “squeecore”. The term was defined as:

“But something I’ve noticed reading a lot of published Sci-Fi fantasy stories is that they follow this particular template, which is a person of ex marginalized identity, is plagued by outsiders and also some kind of supernatural unpleasantness like there’s a monster or some kind of uncontrolled superpowers. It’s usually a metaphor for their marginalization in some way. And then something transformative happens. They gain confidence. They learn to harness this supernatural thing to use to their advantage, and then they defeat the oppressor and become basically a superpowered supernatural crusader for social justice. It really follows the template of a superhero origin story, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. It’s a very cathartic type of story, but the fact that it’s ubiquitous and that it’s very similar and that so many stories follow that particular pattern, it gets kind of same and kind of boring.”

Transcription of https://kittysneezes.com/sad-puppies/ [any transcription errors are mine – apologies if they create any misrepresentations of what was said]

I mean, sure I can think of some stories vaguely like that but outside of YA, I wouldn’t call it dominant in broader science fiction. One example of a book I’d read recently that fitted that template did spring to mind but…I’ll come to that later because there’s an interesting twist there.

A quick mental run-through of recent Hugo finalists didn’t really match that specific description. Lodestar finalists? Yeah…a better fit but “dominant style in SFF” and “dominant style in Young Adult SFF” are two very different propositions.

At that point I could draw a few implications:

  • Squeecore is a thing as defined in the quote above
  • Squeecore (given that definition) is not actually the dominant mode currently of science fiction in the Hugo Awards
  • OR squeecore as defined as the current dominant mode of science fiction does not match the description above

Yeah, but ad-hoc definitions in a podcast might not capture the full understanding of a term. People can intuitively recognise aesthetic similarities in a disparate set of works without necessarily being able to capture the essence of those similarities in words. Further, I think there is a compelling idea that at a given point in time there are going to be aesthetic similarities in high profile works in a genre that we could capture, at least in the form of a family resemblance.

To tie back to the Sad Puppies, we could partially grant them a concession that “works published by Tor or Tor.com” gets us some of the way towards a “dominant form of science fiction” if only because Tor has been a prolific publisher of science fiction for some time. So even if, many (most?) Hugo finalist novels aren’t published by Tor in recent years, they have still been a trendsetter. [eta: see also this 2021 Twitter thread by El Sandifer https://twitter.com/ElSandifer/status/1432417837440716808 ] Tor.com’s influence on novellas and novelettes is more obvious but we can also add in recent years the influence of Uncanny Magazine and to a lesser extent Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons and others. A relatively small set of editors have a significant influence over what gets published — which is nothing new and arguably is a broader group than several previous decades of the Hugo Awards. I’d struggle, though, to say what the aesthetic commonalities are. Vaguely leftish, social-justice concerns, liberalish notions of identity and civil rights are the elements that upset the Puppies but I’d be hard-pressed to say what unites aesthetically Bo Bolander, Ursula Vernon, P. Djèlí Clark, Sarah Gailey or Rebecca Roanhorse for example.

This takes me to a more recent Rite Gud podcast, this time with Raquel S. Benedict again and J.R. Bolt from The Podhand (a podcast about the manga Berzerk). This recent podcast takes as its topic “A Guide to Squeecore” https://kittysneezes.com/a-guide-to-squeecore/ which is great as an idea because the term appears very important not just to Raquel S. Benedict but also to many people in a community of writers and fans surrounding her and this podcast. So I listened hoping for some better answers.

This second podcast restates the thesis:

“If fish were contemporary Sci-Fi fantasy readers, the last thing they would notice is squeecore. What is squeecore? You’re soaking in it. Squeecore is the dominant literary movement in contemporary SFF, a movement so ubiquitous it’s nearly invisible”

Transcript of https://kittysneezes.com/a-guide-to-squeecore/ [any transcription errors are mine – apologies if they create any misrepresentations of what was said]

Again, I think that idea (if not the name) that there are common aesthetic elements in notable science fiction (ie what gets critical attention and award nominations) makes some sense. Historically, in the Hugo Awards, I think what we see is overlapping time periods of the popularity of some authors, publishers and outlets (5 to 10 year periods, with some figures having much longer spans of relevance). Pick any snapshot of time though, you are likely to find works that reflect elements that are going out of fashion, works that are currently most fashionable and works that reflect newer fashions. That is reflected in the kind of names (some coined contemporaneously and some retrospectively) given to works from particular times. The podcast picks up on that element and the need for a name for the current state of affairs.

“And most eras in Sci-Fi fantasy have a name. We have the Golden Age. We have New Wave, Cyberpunk, New Weird, bizarro, so on and so forth. And from what I could tell, most cyberpunks were pretty comfortable saying, yeah, I’m writing Cyberpunk. There was a movement with a certain aesthetic, certain tendencies, and there was often a sort of political ideology that went along with it. Like Cyberpunk tended to be anticapitalist, or at least looking at the decay of late capitalism. New Wave tended to be, I guess, a little left libertarian. Golden Age was very conservative and very like Age of imperialism, pro imperialism, I’d say not globally, but yes, and then New Weird, of course, is broadly leftist, right? So right now I think there is a dominant style and tone in speculative fiction, and I think it deserves a name.”

ibid, and again, any transcription errors are mine

I’m not going to quote too much because firstly, it’s a pain and secondly I don’t want this to read as a fisking. However, I thought this was a key point because I think this is where you can see the central thesis starts falling apart.

Of those names, only one “The Golden Age” really fits with that idea of a kind of dominant style in a given period. The other names (e.g. Cyberpunk) refer to literary movements or subgenres that arose at particular periods but were just one part of a broader range of works. New Wave is perhaps the strongest contender for a distinctive period name but the height of its usage was when it was competing for attention. Using the Hugo Awards as a bellwether (which the podcast hosts in both of the episodes I’m looking at, do to some extent), by 1985 when Neuromancer wins Best Novel it’s competing with Robert A. Heinlein and Larry Niven (post-Golden Age but part of the Campbellian legacy) and in short fiction, we find figures like Octavia Butler or Kim Stanley Robinson. Now, the mid-80s Hugo Awards are arguably disproportionately recognised by the very last works of Golden Age giants but even if we subtract the Heinleins, Asimovs and Clarks from the rosters, you still get overlapping influences of New Age, Cyberpunk etc.

In other words, stepping out of the particular pond I’m in like a mutant mudskipper and peering into the historical murky waters of ponds that I’m not swimming in, I still don’t see a uniformity of water or any kind of neat way of summing up particular periods. That doesn’t disprove a uniformity now but if it is the case NOW then that is actually a claim that there is an exceptional degree of similarity now compared with recent decades. Well, I guess some people have claimed we have a new Golden Age…

Returning to the podcast. Do we get a neat definition of what squeecore is like in terms of its aesthetics? Not really. Many things are mentioned and I think that is fair enough. The hosts are trying to capture a general vibe of things. I am confident that they are overstating the ubiquity for rhetorical reasons but maybe they are still getting at some unrecognised sub-genre that is particularly in mode right now but perhaps less ubiquitous than stated?

The podcast moves on to list some of the elements that the hosts see as elements of what they call squeecore. Rather than another hefty quote I’ll try and sum it up in list form.

  • it tends to be very uplifting and upbeat.
  • It is didactic.
  • It has a young adult fiction tone to it, even when it’s supposed to be for adults.
  • Central characters can feel weirdly young, like they always think and act and feel as though they’re in their late teens or early 20s. They’re kind of inexperienced, naive, still very full of wonder.
  • It has notable influence from films and a lot of influence from mainstream commercial narratives…
  • One such influence being three-act structure screenplays and the ‘save the cat’ style narrative.
  • Central characters can feel like they are intended to be reader-inserts like video-game RPG protagonist.

Some of those are elements you can find in contemporary work. The uplifting/upbeat element has had a degree of popularity, in particular, the work of Becky Chambers comes to mind. Didactic? I’m less sure of. That feels a bit like the Puppies’ “message fiction” complaint and like that complaint, it is hard to pin down. The podcast really suffers here by intentionally avoiding direct examples. Partly this is because they acknowledge that the term “squeecore” is intended to be somewhat disparaging but I think also, as an idea it starts falling apart once we deal with examples. Sure Becky Chambers’s books hit that uplifting aspect to a point that I personally find too much to my taste but while Chambers is popular, her books aren’t typically — if anything they stand out in this regard. Alternatively, I can see several of these elements in Charlie Jane Anders’s 2020 Hugo Finalist novel The City in the Middle of the Night and elements of that if you squint and look sideways even marry up with the original squeecore definition given in the earlier podcast. Except…that book is anything but uplifting.

Other elements there, such as naivety of protagonists is an element that has run through science fiction and fantasy for many decades. Frodo Baggins, Michael Valentine, Ender Wiggins or Genly Ai each have elements of that. Yet, if I look again at the 2020 Hugo Finalists for Best Novel there’s some positive evidence that there’s more than usual and perhaps more YA influence than usual:

  • A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine (Tor; Tor UK) – a young protagonist on her first mission as an ambassador
  • Middlegame, by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing) – two protagonists who are children, teenagers and young adults
  • Gideon the Ninth, by Tamsyn Muir (Tor.com Publishing) – I’m not sure of Gideon’s age but she’s either an older teen or a young adult
  • The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley (Saga; Angry Robot UK) – doesn’t really match at all
  • The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor; Titan) – young protagonists
  • The Ten Thousand Doors of January, by Alix E. Harrow (Redhook; Orbit UK) – main protagonist is a girl

So maybe a point there and I think a point to a general YA influence. The sort of empty RPG protagonist element doesn’t work though and the uplifting/upbeat element is not a consistent feature. Gideon the Ninth…there’s a stronger “squee” element in how the book was marketed and that’s telling because marketing suggests somebody somewhere who is watching trends is picking up on some of these aspects. However, the book itself goes in other directions and the sequel even more so.

I’m also cherry-picking. Extend out from 2020 in either direction and these elements lessen in the Best Novel finalists. Extend out to other Hugo story categories and again these features lessen. 2020 is probably the best example for the “squeecore” claim and even there it looks weak.

The podcast then ventures into stronger territory by considering the social class dynamic to science fiction and the extent to which professional writers workshops like Clarion or Viable Paradise play a networking and gatekeeping role in the genre. There are good points made here but they don’t connect well with the squeecore point. These socio-economic barriers have existed in genre publishing for a long time and can’t explain current aesthetic trends.

The danger of starting with an intentionally pejorative way of classifying a sub-genre is it quickly runs into the opposite problem of the poor fish that can’t perceive the water that it is in. This opposite problem is the reification of all the many things you don’t like about the environment you are in as reflecting a single thing. As the podcast continues it folds in more things of that nature. The podcasters make weaker points about the popularity of deconstructing tropes, there’s also a reference to John Scalzi’s Redshirts which they describe as winning a Hugo “a couple of years ago”, which I highlight not just to be my pedantic self but because it shows how the “squeecore” idea is just pulling in anything that the podcasters just generally didn’t like that much as an idea. In this case, a book that came out nearly a decade ago illustrates what a moving target summing up a genre is. Later in the podcast they pick out Chuck Wendig as an example of a squeecore writer – well I’ve never read any Wendig so maybe he is but then that feels like they are talking about a different generation of writers and writers positioned quite differently in the genre space. Added to that are Joss Whedon imitators, which absolutely fine to dislike that style of quippy, snark stuff. I can see how John Scalzi’s work fit into that but Scalzi famously has older protagonists. In short, lots of legitimate criticisms of specific tropes, aesthetics and elements that you can find in the broader world of SFF and works but many of these are elements that are old and few are present collectively in works in a way that makes it a clear sub-genre or literary movement.

Pulling back, I think some defensible points that we could pull from these claims is that contemporary science fiction arguably has more influences from mainstream popular culture than previously (and hence a degree of Joss Whedonism) because of the increasing role science fiction (often in the form of superhero films) is playing in popular culture. That’s not wholly new obviously, given the role since the early ’60s of Star Trek and Doctor Who and the impact of Star Wars in the 70s/80s but the degree to which big-name movies are predominately genre is exceptional. Likewise, the influence of Young Adult fiction is relevant (a point the podcasters make is the degree to which the financial success of J.K.Rowling has led to many aspiring writers thinking that there is a great fortune to be made in YA). I may have missed it but I don’t think they touch on the influence of fanfiction but I’d see that as another element that is maybe more influential now than previously.

I mentioned that the podcast does not really touch on examples. The 2015 Hugo finalist novel The Goblin Emperor is given as an example of squeecore and OK, yes, I can see how that fits some of the elements they mention but if that’s what squeecore is then I don’t think it’s typical.

More revealing is some of the examples of what the podcasters regard as NOT squeecore. By charting out the negative space, that can help define the territory. Carmen Maria Machado is mentioned, and she’s certainly a credible writer but I’m not sure in what way she is less squeecore than other Nebula-nominated writers (also she’s a Clarion graduate). Ted Chiang is mentioned as not being squeecore and OK, I’m not really seeing a pattern here. Gretchen Felker-Martin is a more obvious not-squeecore as a writer who I’d associate with Raquel S. Benedict’s general circle (although notably Felker-Martin is published by Tor).

Now here is where I have to become utterly puzzled. Another example given is The Poppy War books by R.F.Kuang. I was really puzzled because these were the very books that came to my mind based on that very first definition of squeecore given in the first podcast. See if you can see why:

  • a person of marginalized identity
  • is plagued by outsiders
  • and also some kind of supernatural unpleasantness like there’s a monster
  • or some kind of uncontrolled superpowers.
  • It’s usually a metaphor for their marginalization in some way.
  • And then something transformative happens.
  • They gain confidence.
  • They learn to harness this supernatural thing to use to their advantage,
  • and then they defeat the oppressor
  • and become basically a superpowered supernatural crusader for social justice.

Now, absolutely The Poppy War trilogy overtly SUBVERTS several of those tropes while also reflecting them but trope-subversion is also one of the complaints about squeecore in the second podcast. The books also fit multiple criteria in the list I paraphrased from the second podcast, including a didactic element, an overt YA influence, and a young naive protagonist. Yes, there are lots of ways it doesn’t fit the squeecore description the podcasters give but aside from some of the Lodestar finalists, it really ticks more of the boxes they cite than even The Goblin Emperor.

Yeah but. The Poppy War is very much NOT uplifting or upbeat. It also contains some acts of horrifying violence based on real historical atrocities. Looking out further at both the squeecore complaints and what the podcasters generally like in their own work and social media boosting, there’s a lot of horror and violence. I’ve no problem with that but it gets a lot easier to pick out functionally what Benedict et al are likely to decide is NOT squeecore on the basis of:

  1. downbeat
  2. violent or dark themes
  3. if not actually horror then borderline with horror
  4. maybe more overtly sexual

That’s a perfectly reasonable set of aesthetic criteria to like but at the end of all this functionally the way they are using the term “squeecore” is little more than “things that aren’t that”. It’s the equivalent of the term that used to bug me when I was growing up — “non-Catholic” as a category that encompassed the vast diversity of everybody else who wasn’t Catholics like us.


138 responses to “Is there a dominant mode of current science fiction?”

  1. While I am not disagreeing with the existence of squeecore, I think the current dominant mode of science fiction is science fantasy. We have very little “hard” science fiction–i.e. based on extrapolation of known facts–instead, a lot of today’s genre works rely on SF-as-Magic in various flavors. Another popular theme would be LGBTIQ+ As Hero, given the genre’s general revolt against heteronormativity (not a criticism, just a description).

    Liked by 4 people

      • It’s more about a change in attitude. Right now, we have drifted back to the times chronicled in the Aldiss Space Opera anthologies. The genre used to make a big deal about extrapolation and science, even if it was just lip service, but now it doesn’t place any value on extrapolation right now. For example, Cora said the Expanse had been placed in the “space opera” genre but actually was drawing on “mundane science fiction.” However, the Expanse is probably the most prominent example of hard SF (i.e. extrapolation) in recent years. Our values have changed.

        Like

        • I would put Andy Weir’s books and some of Charles Stross’ works into the bucket of contemporary hard science fiction as well. Neal Stephenson and Kim Stanley Robinson would also go there, but they’re 1990s holdovers. You could maybe even make a case for the Lady Astronaut books, even though they’re alternate history rather than SF. The various climate change disaster novels, which largely come from outside the genre, would go here as well. And mundane science fiction was always a manifesto rather than a genuine trend.

          But yes, the current genre is less concerned with extrapolation and predicting future developments than it used to be. Partly this is something of a “fuck you” attitude towards the folks who keep pointing out that FTL travel is not possible and that we probably shouldn’t write about space travel altogether and partly it’s just a case of SFF writers realising that for all its grandiose claims, our genre is remarkably hit and miss at making accurate predictions of the future, so writers focus more on characters and story than on the tech.

          When I read more than 30 SFF stories from 1944 for the Retro Hugo project the only remotely accurate prediction was a throwaway line in Clifford D. Simak’s City about a robotic lawnmower.

          Liked by 3 people

          • I’m thinking of Heinlein’s characters navigating spaceships with slide rules and printed books of tables. And the many, many computers the size of a city block. Whereas we can do much more than that on our wristwatches nowadays.

            Plus, the stories that go all in on the techy tech astronomy SCIENCE! tend to be kind of boring, full of infodumps and 2D characters that exist to deliver infodumps. Most people like stories about actual people.

            Liked by 2 people

            • Part of the reason why hard SF is always a minority of the genre output is that it tends to age badly – see Heinlein protagonists using slide rules and logarithmic tables to navigate and someone stealing the book of logarithmic tables is a disaster.

              Of course, the adventure SF of the 1940s has aged just as badly – the Mars of John Carter and Eric John Stark doesn’t exist. But the stories are still enjoyable as fantasy adventures with an SF veneer, whereas bad hard SF (not Heinlein but the really bad stuff like Cleve Cartmill’s Deadline) is just dull, because the focus in on the ideas and infodumps (“Have a handy primer on how to build an atom bomb”) is less interesting, once the ideas are no longer relevant, than character focussed stories.

              Liked by 1 person

    • I think we are seeing more LGBTQ+ protagonists now, because it is easier to write about such characters and get your story past the gatekeepers. Not to mention that you find LGBTQ+ characters in SFF going back decades, only less open to avoid running into censorship standards and editorial prejudice.

      And true hard SF has always been a minority trend. Meanwhile, a lot of things get called hard SF more because of who wrote them and where they were published than because they genuinely are hard SF.

      Liked by 7 people

      • The Lady Astronaut books are pretty damn hard SF, with all the climate modeling and orbital calculations, and the multitude of actual astronaut techniques and gadgets. There’s not even FTL!

        But MRK is an attractive woman who sometimes likes to wear Regency clothes, so it’s just Guuuurrrlz in Space.

        Whereas, as James pointed out, lousy mathematics and widespread psychic powers doesn’t keep manly bearded man Niven from being worshiped as hard SF.

        “Because patriarchy” really does turn out to be the reason for too many bad things, I notice as I get older.

        Liked by 3 people

  2. I will probably write a longer response to this (and the original podcast) on my own blog, but there is never any single dominant mode in SFF (or any other genre) at any given time. You always have several trends, styles and movements going on at the same time as well as older styles still hanging on and newer styles coming up. There usually is a cluster of certain themes that are popular at a given time, but even those themes tend to come in cycles (robots and AIs are having a moment now, but they also had a moment in the 1940s, space opera always exists to a certain degree, etc…).

    The Golden Age was not nearly as uniform as people remember it and what is considered typical golden age science fiction these days is actually Campbellian science fiction. And even Campbell published a lot of works that don’t fit the stereotype of Golden Age science fiction. And if you include magazines like Planet Stories (which has a remarkable number of stories critical of capitlalism and colonialism), Amazing Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Startling Stories, Weird Tales,etc… let alone works published outside the US pulp magazine eco-system you get a much wider range of styles. Yes, Campbellian science fiction was a thing in the 1940s, but it coexisted with “Social justice warriors of the solar system”, occult detectives, hidden non-human communities living among us, industrial horror (i.e. machines run amok), humorous mythologically based fantasy, gothci horror, Lovecraftian horror and lots of other styles. Never mind authors of the so-called radium age that were still hanging on. You also had mainstream influences such as King Kong (who begat a score of giant apes rampaging through 1930s and 1940s SFF) or historical adventure writers Harold Lamb and Talbot Mundy, who influenced writers like Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber and whose influence echoes down the ages, even though they themselves are very obscure today.

    In the 1960s, you have the New Wave, but you have the sword and sorcery revival going on at the same time and often written by the same people, you have plenty of golden age holdovers, you have the nascent fantasy boom, you have the gothic romance boom (lots of them supernatural and yet completely ignored by the SFF community), you have a sword and planet revival, only that the term sword and planet didn’t exist then, you have the Edgar Rice Burroughs revival, you have SFF erotica and you have mainstream influences such as the huge impact of the James Bond movies and novels on the SFF genre.

    Today, you have a similar situation. You have a number of themes and trends coexisting. Also, what Benedict calls squeecore already has a much less controversial name, namely hopepunk. Which is a trend, but by far the only one.

    Also, quite often works are shoehorned into a trend, because they vaguely match some characteristics thereof, even though they don’t really fit. The Expanse novels by James S.A. Corey are a good example. They are often shoehorned into the 2010s space opera revival, even though The Expanse has nothing in common with the Imperial Radch trilogy, the Hexarchate series or A Memory Called Empire beyond being set in space. Meanwhile, The Expanse draws strongly on mundane science fiction, Cyberpunk, golden age science fiction and the 1990s cast of thousands/everybody and the dog gets a POV epic SFF trend that never got a name, even though it’s very much a thing.

    Liked by 9 people

      • Horror is always either collapsing horribly or expanding wildly into the niches vacated by the previous collapse.

        Liked by 3 people

        • It’s true that horror goes through expansions and non-expansions, just like all the other genres. But horror didn’t “collapse” in the 1990’s from overproduction or derivativeness. It stopped expanding because of the collapse and shrinkage of the wholesale distribution market in the U.S. and globally, where the number of wholesale distributors collapsed from hundreds of companies to a few big ones serving fewer customers with fewer amounts. Magazines, newspapers, comics, mass market paperback — everything that did bulk sales in newsstand racks and non-bookstore vendors — took a massive hit. And that especially included all “genre” fiction, the category markets that relied on mass market paperback sales, including horror. Romance shut down whole imprints and a lot of the bigger authors moved temporarily into general suspense. Mystery cut acquiring new titles down to the bone. Westerns died off as a separate category market altogether. Science fiction took almost a decade to get back to having an expansion. Only fantasy did okay, because it was in the middle of an expansion during the collapse, with a lot of its major titles moving first to hardcover publications, but it was mainly epic fantasy.

          Then in the late 1990’s, the mass market paperback market began to recover a little as they moved more of them into bookstores and there were new wholesalers like Amazon. More SFF titles were done first as hardcover and trade paperback and attempted to get more book reviews. Hollywood started up doing more horror movies again, while they also did hit adaptations of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. And contemporary fantasy with plenty of vampires, epic fantasy, horror, YA and paranormal romance all had expansions around the same time with various hit titles fueling the surge. Science fiction caught up a few years later. And then came the e-book retail market expansion, which made up some of the lost mass market sales. So it wasn’t just horror; it was an industry wide distribution problem.

          Like

  3. The dominant mode of science fiction? The answer is obvious: WOKECORE!

    OK, jokes aside, the SFF genre is more diverse than ever in terms of types of stories, and the storytellers themselves are more diverse than ever, so I don’t think any single mode can claim dominance.

    With Squeecore, there might be a bit of confirmation bias going on there too. If I look at the Seven Basic Plots, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Seven_Basic_Plots I can see that they still form the basis of stories, and what a writer does is to overlay their own take on them, generally drawing on their own experiences.

    So if I am a POC, I might have a POC protagonist, and that will influence how the story plays out. There is an interplay of variables that feed into the creation of stories, the more diverse the writers, the more different variables that can feed into the writing process, resulting in more diverse stories.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. In the metal scene, as long as I’ve been into it (circa 1985), it is always an established fact that the new set of upcoming bands have corrupted pure metallic ideology and aesthetics and are ruining everything. In ’85 it was those ridiculously fast and aggressive thrash bands who shouted instead of singing; in the late 80s/early 90s it was those atonal and unmusical death metal bands with cookie monster vocals; in the mid-90s it was makeup-wearing black metal bands with shrill, screeching vocals; etc., etc., ad nauseum (since the 2000s, recording and releasing music has become so cheap that the diversity in sound and sheer number of bands ruining the genre at any moment is too vast for me to even start on here). At any given moment in metal history from at least the mid-80s, you could find a cornucopia of amazing bands from 10 years ago. Unfortunately, at any given moment in metal history since then, everything current is terrible.

    I never had more than the most fleeting experience with SFF fandom until some time after 2000, when online forums about any subject (especially nerdy ones) were easy to find, but it seems to me that SFF has the same problem, but maybe, given its longer life than metal, you have to go back 20-30 years to find the pure, unadulterated aesthetic.

    Which is just a very roundabout way of saying the claims in that podcast sound overwrought and melodramatic.

    Liked by 6 people

    • I was just thinking the same thing while reading C’s post! One of the things I love about the metal ‘scene’ is that there are just so many different and creative things going on and I’d say the same about SF/F.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Oh yes, of course! Pretty much any metalhead will tell you that, upon release of the single “Headbanger (or, Headobangya!!), Baby Metal had finished the job that Black Sabbath embarked upon back in 1970 and there was no need for any further metal bands or releases. Much to the relief of my cats.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Even the mid-late 80s was regarded at the time as a terrible decline from the Perfect Metal of earlier days.

      Young whippersnappers like Kathodus coming in and not respecting the classics, it’s all noise, they don’t know music, these kids today.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve got to say that Heinlein’s *Glory Road* (much less all or most of his juvies) seems to meet a fair number of their qualifications. I at least see nearly all of his characters as being outsiders of some sort, even if they’re outsiders because they’re so fucking competent. And with only a little twisting you could make Rand’s The Fountainhead into squeecore. This seems a pointlessly broad and useless categorization.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Not only overly broad, but a strand that has existed in SF since nearly the beginning. Zenna Henderson’s People stories fit, and so do Anne McCaffery’s Pern books. In fantasy you have all those stories about being the Chosen One — the Pevensies who become kings and queens of Narnia, or Harry Potter. This trend seems so obvious to me that it’s either not worth doing a podcast about or something a podcast could spend years on. Unless I have the whole thesis wrong, which is certainly possible.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I very much recognise what they seem to be reacting to, but it isn’t really found in prose SFFH so much as animation, comics and webcomics, a lot of which is aimed at children or teens, but a lot of which is also explicitly aimed at adults, or designed for an all-ages audience with enough philosophical depth and/or subtler forms of humour to reward adult fans to the point that they don’t just watch/read it to keep their kids company. “Steven Universe”, 21st-century “She-Ra”, the majority of the comics Ryan North has written for larger publishers. And a seriously huge number of small-press comics, webcomics and webtunes, either in urban fantasy or secondary world fantasy settings, where the distinction between “kids”, “teen” and “adult” work is pretty much exclusively the level of romance/sex content, from “romance is icky” to “chaste yearning” to “fades-to-black and suggestive humour” to “extended graphic sex scenes”.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Having listened to the entire episode now, I feel like their reverse analysis would have been much more successful (or at least somewhat credible) if their thesis had been something along the lines of “here is a trend I do not enjoy in current SFF” rather than “privileged WASPs have diluted the SFF field with their message fiction to the point where there is nothing left but white feminist message fiction.” That, and actually analyzing some of this supposed squeecore. The deepest analysis they came up with is that Scalzi’s 2019 work Redshirts was a story about how red shirts die in ST:TOS, an analysis I have some strong objections to, regardless of that story’s Hugo worthiness. I can see how maybe The Goblin Emperor and The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet could fit into their description, and if stories like those (neither of which is particularly alike, BTW) then I’d be bummed, but TGE was an excellent novel and TLWtaSAP was a lot of fun, IMO. From the last 5-10 minutes of that episode I suspect this is more sour grapes and possibly Twitter beef than any kind of serious analysis (which it absolutely isn’t, regardless).

      I also found it a cute coincidence that one of the works they praise, John Langan’s The Fisherman, is my favorite thing I’ve read so far this year.

      Liked by 3 people

        • Yeah, that is one of my objections to their analysis, along with their belief that the story is simply a reiteration of the “red shirts always die” joke. I agree with Marshall Ryan Maresca further down in the comments – I don’t think these squeecore critics read the story at all. That, plus the vagueness of most of their accusations and the feeling they were projecting all their biggest peeves onto these ephemeral squeecore writers who are apparently the only people being published now, had me thinking they were reactionary RWers like the Pups until they started using terms like “mutual aid.”

          Liked by 1 person

    • Same thing in romance and paranormal-with-romance, between “teen” to “new adult and college” and “adult”. Basically the only difference between “teen” and “new adult/college” is that there’s sex.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi! Thank you for listening to the podcast! One quick correction: I’m not the guest on the “A Guide to Squeecore” episode — the guest is J.R. Bolt from The Podhand, a podcast about the manga Berzerk.

    Like

  8. […] Camestros Felapton has an interesting post on his blog asking if there is a currently dominant mode …. Camestros’ post is a response to two episodes of the Rite Gud podcast, namely this one where host Raquel S. Benedict and guest Kurt Schiller discuss the Sad and Rabid Puppies drama and detect a dominant mode of award-nominated science fiction that they dub “squeecore” and this episode where Benedict and guest J.R. from The Podhand attempt to define “squeecore”. […]

    Like

  9. I was going to write an extensive comment, but it’s dinnertime so I’m just going to say:

    Yeah, no.

    Their premise is so flawed that I don’t care at what length and how they explain it.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Their proposition is pretty much nonsense. Also, I strongly disagree with the idea that there is ANYTHING YA about A Memory Called Empire.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. There was a movement with a certain aesthetic, certain tendencies, and there was often a sort of political ideology that went along with it. …New Wave tended to be, I guess, a little left libertarian.
    This seems like a good place to point out that the brilliant “The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories” by the conservative Catholic writer Gene Wolfe was no-awarded by the SFWA’s old guard (along with the rest of the 1970 Nebula short story nominees) for having New Wave cooties all over it. Yep, that was one cohesive era in SF.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Count me in the group whose immediate answer is ‘science fantasy’ to the question ‘what is a popular mode of SF right now.’ I’d say that’s on a bit of an upswing. But based on Camestros’ bullet points, I wonder how their definition of squeecore is different from superhero tropes. I’d say the superhero theme is pretty dominant right now, but more so in YA and non-YA fantasy than in science fiction. And visual media (films, TV, gaming) has influenced that to a large extent. Although I’d argue that it’s been dominant for some time and may even be on the way out. But it seems to me that the difference really boils down to squeecore is superhero stuff they don’t like.

    Personally, I’ve gotten quite tired of dark and grim stories so I’ve been enjoying having more neutral and upbeat stories. The pandemic has made me less tolerant of dark, hopeless stories but I’d already started getting tired of them prior to the pandemic. Which again is merely a matter of taste rather than a new (or new again) mode in what qualifies as upbeat or for that matter dark.

    Liked by 4 people

  13. One thing that has really exploded is the progression fantasy genre. Typically starting in school (ninja, magic, martial arts, military…), the main character is someone poor and disadvantaged who struggles to keep up with others in learning, but by pure will and stubbornness wins in constantly arranged competitions, grows in power to be a threat against truly world threatening enemies.

    Be it LitRPG, Xianxia, Harry Potter, Naruto, Starship Troopers or whatever, it’s clearly a template that is used everywhere nowadays.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes, progression fantasy is a definite trend and one I don’t care for, because I’m at an age where I prefer characters to already be competent than to watch them learning how to do things. But that’s not really what they’re talking about.

      Also, it’s not new. Starship Troopers is more than 60 years old.

      Like

      • No, SST can’t be that old. It came out a couple of years before I was born and I am only (screams in existential).

        Liked by 3 people

  14. This looks to me like lumping a lot of things they don’t like together and trying to say it’s one thing.

    I mean, I can see that the Murderbot stories are about an outsider, and they tend to be uplifting (although much less than Becky Chambers’ works). But I can’t see Murderbot becoming any sort of crusader.

    Among my recent reading of recent books:

    Iron Widow is a fairly good fit, though I think that is pretty much YA. It’s not especially uplifting or upbeat, though. Maybe the sequels will craft a happy ending, but it’s very much in the line of dystopian YA (I’d call it a mecha vs kaiju Handmaid’s Tale based on Chinese history)

    She Who Became the Sun has some similarities, and is less YA. But it is also even less uplifting or upbeat. The protagonist is consumed with the idea of Destiny and is disturbingly ruthless in trying to attain it.

    (The use of Chinese history seems to be a trend in itself, since we have the Poppy War books, too.)

    Chaos Vector (sequel to Velocity Weapon) has young characters, although most aren’t outsiders. But the main plot point is that humanity has made a (really) horrible mess of things – and the antagonist is not entirely unjustified in their actions. Again, that doesn’t seem very upbeat or uplifting to me. The next book – Catalyst Gate – may herald a better future but the past can’t be fixed.

    T Kingfisher’s Saint of Steel series is straight up romance. It does fit quite well in some respects, but other parts are missing (the characters aren’t young to name an obvious one).

    Of all these, the only one with a clearly identifiable oppressor is Iron Widow. Maybe there’s a case for Chaos Vector, but the main antagonist is not it. And I think it will turn out to be less simple than that.

    So I don’t think the lumping is useful. The more so since the “uplifting or upbeat” aspect really doesn’t seem to be that dominant at all.

    Liked by 7 people

    • One more thought on my recent reading. In every case I list above the protagonists are either guilty of or to some extent complicit in atrocity. Sometimes unknowingly, sometimes unwillingly, but it’s there. And it’s not hard to think of other books where that is true. That is certainly not a new thing, but I think it is more prevalent now. Maybe even “dominant”.

      Like

    • There is a strong Asian (not just Chinese, but also Japanese, Korean, South East Asian) influence on SFF at the moment, which is a genuine trend (but not squeecore). Partly, this is because SFF is more open to diverse perspectives and also writers and stories from non-western backgrounds than it used to be. The popularity of manga, anime, K-drama, etc… as well as translations of Chinese as well as Japanese SFF being more available also plays a big role.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I would find R.S. Benedict’s thoughts far more engaging if they weren’t constantly predicated on some kind of manic hatred expressed towards people for not fitting her standards of ideological purity. She doesn’t seem to be able to formulate an argument on twitter which doesn’t get stamped with some variation of ‘You horrible people did loathesome thing so I am justified in screaming about you’.

    Liked by 3 people

    • As someone who has very much admired Benedict’s short fiction that I’ve read (while occasionally having issues with it), I find this description depressingly accurate. And this same characteristic shows up in some of her fiction, which is why it sometimes give me pause.

      Like

  16. Based on Rite Gud’s argument as related here, I couldn’t agree with the claim that this is the dominant mode of current SFF. However, top marks to Rite Gud for the name squeecore, which I could instantly tell was a term of derision.

    For a discussion of something which is a stronger candidate for “dominant mode”, seek out El Sandifer’s Twitter thread from last year about the Tor Wave.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jonathan Strahan on the Coode St. Podcast described what Sandifer is talking about as “a revolution in perspectives” which I think is a more useful way to look at what is currently going on than trying to shoehorn style or story elements into it the way Rite Gud is trying to do. It’s more about who is writing than what is being written.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Agreed. We’re seeing more work from LGBT, Asian, and African/diaspora people now, and I think it’s awesome. The latest F&SF has some good African work in it.

        Particularly in fantasy. We all love Tolkien, but enough with the knights and elves and medieval shit already. If I’m going to read a mythic quest, at least make it not bog-standard European mythology so I can’t figure out everything without even thinking about it.

        Liked by 2 people

  17. As far as the LGBT angle goes, I think you’ll find that nearly all of it is a) lesbians b) trans men who have no ability or intention of transitioning c) non-binary people who are given zero physical description and identified only by their pronouns.

    As far as the lesbians go, I think they do get decent representation–many of these stories are written by lesbians. But I think the reason so many of them get published is that editors believe straight guys are turned on by lesbians.

    The trans men are also, I think, chosen because they appeal to straight guys. These are physically women (no facial hair, and they still have their breasts) but they’re dressing and acting like men. This is not decent representation for trans people at all.

    The non-binary people are always pure tokens. Stories never explore what being non-binary actually means.

    Stories about gay men are very rare–and the ones written by women are cute (they’re not offensive), but they’re not very realistic. Stories that give decent representation to gay men do exist, but they’re hard to find. I suspect this is because editors think gay men make straight men uncomfortable. Anyway, as a gay man, I found nearly all such stories disappointing.

    Stories about trans women almost don’t exist. The few I’ve seen avoid the issue of transition entirely. Where trans women essentially get no representation at all. And I think this is because trans women make straight men extremely uncomfortable.

    One limitation of basing my opinion on short fiction is that I can’t really speak to bisexual representation, in that a short story doesn’t usually give enough space to represent a bi character. Bi women are more common than bi men, but both are rare. However, this can be at least partly excused by the limitation of the medium.

    Now I’m just speaking from the short fiction I read over a five year period, ending last year, but that’s a pretty big sample. I’m quite sure LGBT representation–at least in short fiction–is heavily biased by what straight men like and dislike (or what editors imagine they do). I should add that I discussed this with a few editors, and, of course, they vehemently deny doing this, but I think that just means they do it unconsciously.

    Like

    • The non-binary people are always pure tokens. Stories never explore what being non-binary actually means.

      You sound like a puppy except they would say the same of any diversity at all. I would call including non-binary characters without it necessarily being about that and especially in a future setting “realistic”.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Fwiw, my dear friend Maya Deane has a queer retelling of the Iliad coming out next year, Wrath Goddess Sing, where Achilles is a trans woman (inspired by the legends of Achilles living as a woman on the island of Skyros before the war). Thankfully, the early reviews have been quite good, and we’re hoping it’ll make it easier for trans women (and the other neglected categories you mention) get published in the future.

      Liked by 4 people

    • That’s a decent self-summary from JS

      The podcast didn’t really focus on Scalzi, aside from the stuff up about the date of Redshirts [and I don’t think they’d read it as their take on it was mainly about the topic]. It’s interesting that they picked on Chuck Wendig instead. Wendig is something of a hate figure in that troll nexus of 4chan/KiwiFarms etc.

      Like

    • I don’t know his work all that well, beyond Redshirts and short fiction (and blog posts), but that seems like a thoughtful and very self-aware response, and maybe genuinely a bit humble, as opposed to humblebraggy!

      The “not didactic” point is maybe something that the podcast picks up on: everything has some ideology or other, so you can’t help but be at least a LITTLE didactic. And therefore it’s always worth asking, “What kind of a-little-bit-didactic am I being?”

      The part in the podcast about Redshirts felt slightly unfair because the book definitely presents itself as starting from a hoary old notion, and taking it somewhere weird and fun. It *knows* it’s standing on the shoulders of Izzards etc.!

      But I think perhaps J.R. and Raquel were getting at the book’s reception, right? — and what it means for the most prestigious award in SFF to go to a book like Redshirts, which the author might describe as at least a bit familiar, nostalgic, middlebrow, and commercial, and perhaps misses opportunities to be more innovative, influential, and (to use a different word than “didactic”) instructive. Does anyone else hear it more like that?

      Like

  18. […] genre fiction I found the podcast to be very interesting. It certainly was not perfect and I think Camestros Felapton’s rebuttal is on the money on many points. With that being said, a podcast is most certainly not an essay and […]

    Like

  19. If squeecore added sales and recognition we’d immediately see many of the same groups attempting to exploit it for sales.

    Like

  20. There was a lot in that episode! Agree that the points about professionalisation and social class were strong. Whether or not they connect well with the squeecore analysis, shouldn’t we be talking about those aspects?

    Like, are there practical short term things that could be done? Should more publications anonymise the submissions process (while collecting some demographic data about the author)? Should cons and other groupings of fan do more to engage with the wider world through mutual aid, activism and organising, to create spaces where progressive values can have agency beyond the page? What practical things is SFF currently doing to mitigate the way that wealth amplifies certain voices? What more could be done?

    I listened while I tidied (my mansion) and before I realised the episode was blowing up. But it felt like the core of the squeecore analysis wasn’t REALLY “here’s exactly the set of stylistic / aesthetic / narrative features which constitute squeecore.”

    Really, it felt like the core was diversitywashing. It was “here are people making stuff that claims to be hopeful, and it’s the exact opposite of hopeful, because its politics are essentially neoliberal. This kind of writing does tend to have certain stylistic and narrative features, which we’ll do our best to describe. But the problem isn’t really those features. The problem is the politics.”

    Conversations about neoliberalism can get complicated fast. For the podcast’s purposes, the important point was its relationship with diversity.

    Writing that celebrates diversity but that is not anti-capitalist (or at least anti-neoliberal) is a kind of fake diversity. Misogynist, while appearing to be feminist. Classist, while appearing to be egalitarian. Racist, while appearing to be anti-racist. Ableist, queerphobic, neocolonial, etc.

    There are debates to be had about what writing that is anti-capitalist (or at least anti-neoliberal) actually looks like. Anti-capitalismwashing is definitely a Thing as well.

    These aren’t new or unusual ideas AT ALL. So if it really is the first that many in fandom are hearing of them, that in itself speaks volumes … !

    Like I say, there was a lot more in the podcast than that. But I think that was the core of it for me.

    Like

    • If only there was an easily findable example of, say, a Black woman who won three Hugos in a row for a trilogy that very much rails against the status quo and systems of oppression. Ideally within the last, say, 5 or 6 years, that would place it right in the middle of the rise of so-called squeecore.

      Liked by 5 people

        • It should also have been up against books written by a Korean-American transman that were also very much about bringing down the status quo, thus underlining a key point that these books were not, in any way, exceptions at the time.

          It’d also be a real kick in the teeth for that argument if someone from a Communist country, thus not working within a typical Capitalistic/Western framework, won a Hugo for a novel translated from Chinese (for example) in around about the same kind of timeframe. It’d be especially galling if it won despite initially being kept off the ballot by a bunch of utter fuckwits determined to regress back to a fictional time and maintain a status quo that never existed in the first place.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Well, this was exactly my question. Jemisin and Lee are surely part of the mainstream being described. To what extent does their work embody neoliberal and/or anti-neoliberal values?

          Like

          • Indeed. There’s a sense obviously, that any work that is published & promoted within an economic/cultural framework reflect neo-liberal values but that tells us nothing. Unless we are trying to contrast it with work produced by some sort of anti-publishing samizdat process.

            Like

          • You never asked a question. You made a bunch of sweeping statements that on their face are false if you look back within the last decade at what SFF actually looks like.

            Liked by 1 person

          • To what extent does their work embody neoliberal and/or anti-neoliberal values?
            I yield to no one in my hatred of neoliberalism, but I don’t think demanding a Speculative Socialist Realism is going to be productive of anything except a lot of unreadable fiction.

            Liked by 3 people

    • //Agree that the points about professionalisation and social class were strong. Whether or not they connect well with the squeecore analysis, shouldn’t we be talking about those aspects?//

      Yes we should and looking at financial barriers to accessing fandom & publishing is a good thing.

      Liked by 1 person

    • //Writing that celebrates diversity but that is not anti-capitalist (or at least anti-neoliberal) is a kind of fake diversity. Misogynist, while appearing to be feminist. Classist, while appearing to be egalitarian. Racist, while appearing to be anti-racist. Ableist, queerphobic, neocolonial, etc. //

      Yes and a qualificatiom. Not every text can do everything for a start, so it is more that across a range of texts ideas get challenged. That’s something sci-fi can be adept at – including alternative social organisations (eg in Malka Older’s Informocracy or in Ada Palmer’s Terra Ignota). I’m less interested in works like that being “right” and more in how they demonstrate that things do not need to be the way they are. That’s also why we need both utopian and dystopian fiction, works that exemplify structural evils and works that exemplify alternatives, even flawed ones. The ‘squeecore’ analysis ostensibly looks dismissive of utopian fiction but it clearly has a place.

      A different part of the qualification to that yes, is that given the existence (in large numbers) of people who are of the centre and accept to varying degrees the idea that American-style capitalist just needs a few reforms around individual rights, is what am I expecting of them? If they include better representation of people on multiple axes, I’m not going to say to authors that they are insincere or fake. It is a better world where they do in fact accept and acknowledge the rights of other humans!

      Liked by 5 people

    • I have a general problem with the idea that minority authors writing minority characters should have to deal with an extra fun layer of criticism that others aren’t subjected to – that failing to tear the whole system down in every story makes them complicit, and the diversity merely a veneer. There is value and importance in minorities seeing themselves in the same sorts of stories as everyone else. They don’t *also* need to be anything else just because they’re diverse. They should not be held to different and stricter standards.

      Liked by 7 people

      • Sure, although I don’t think anyone on the episode implied that there wasn’t value in minorities seeing themselves in the same sorts of stories as everyone else, or that minority authors writing minority characters should have to deal with an extra layer of criticism.

        If someone is interested in how a book (any book) might be racist and/or anti-racist, ideally that person is interested in what it has to say (or not say) about neoliberal values. It feels odd to declare in advance that questions about diversity and neoliberalism are always or predominantly bad faith concern trolling — as though such questions were not posed by minorities, or were not the sorts of questions that authors might ask themselves about their work?

        But hard agree that the work of minority authors is often subjected to inconsistent and often unrealistic expectations, ofc. I also hard agree with the podcast folks, and hopefully folks here too, that stories about fighting oppression in fictional worlds ask to be read in the context of fighting oppression in the real world (bringing in everything we know about how that oppression perpetuates itself!).

        Like

        • I was replying to your comment, not commenting on the podcast itself. Minority authors writing minority characters are not obligated to somehow turn their lighthearted fun queer hippo-cowboy romp into a comprehensive takedown of neoliberalism for their works to be “real” diverse. Minorities need fun entertainment that isn’t always trying to change the entire damn world too. Diverse works should not be held to some bullshit higher standard to be “real”.

          It’s perfectly fine to want or write diverse works which do try and do the thing. It is not perfectly fine to expect all diverse works to do the thing or they’re somehow failing at being themselves. It is not perfectly fine to expect diverse characters to be a walking very special episode to justify their presence. Sometimes a romcom is just a romcom. Sometimes a wheelchair user is just a wheelchair user. We need those stories, too, because we deserve to be real and present and visible and loud in the worlds and tropes we’ve got right now, not just in the ones of the future.

          Liked by 3 people

        • “ It feels odd to declare in advance that questions about diversity and neoliberalism are always or predominantly bad faith concern trolling — as though such questions were not posed by minorities, or were not the sorts of questions that authors might ask themselves about their work?”

          Who did that? Meredith didn’t, but pointed out the unfairness of requiring minority authors to jump an extra hurdle.

          Liked by 4 people

        • I’m not engaging in mind-reading. I’m pointing out that the consistent damning of minority works with an additional level of criticism that other works are not burdened with is disparate impact in action.

          Like

    • I reject the idea of “fake diversity”. Including diverse characters doesn’t need some other justification besides the fact that diverse people exist, have existed, and will continue to exist.

      Liked by 5 people

      • Maybe it was a bad choice of words, sorry. I mean that, where the podcast is coming from, diverse representation is a bare minimum, but by itself it’s not enough. E.g. Angela Davis: “We always seem primed to celebrate individual advancements of Black people, people of color, women, without taking into consideration that diversity by itself may simply mean that previously marginalized individuals have been recruited to guarantee a more efficient operation of oppressive systems.” I think there are several bits of the squeecore characterisation I disagree with, but that is the point that wins me: dismantling white supremacy means dismantling white supremacist economic structures, and any story that tells us otherwise should be rejected.

        Like

        • I’d reject or criticise an account of society that said dismantling white supremacy can be done without dismantling white supremacist economic structures. Reading fiction as well thought out analysis of society as a whole has an issues though. Fiction is fiction and I’m going to tolerate to a degree poor economic or political analysis in fiction in the same way I’d tolerate poor maths or physics (i.e. up to a point). It’s OK for the heroes to defeat the big bad at the end but not defeat the underlying material conditions that give rise to the big bad in the first place – and a caveat to that is I’ve zero issues with reviews that point out how given stories skip or avoid deeper issues with their settings. i.e. its fine to like stuff and it is fine to pull apart stuff as well.

          Liked by 5 people

        • Admittedly I haven’t listened to the podcast, I’m just following the discussion here. So I’m reading your response somewhat out of context. But I see value in stories which simply normalize diversity in addition to those stories which are using sff to dig deeper into issues.

          Liked by 6 people

        • I think there are several bits of the squeecore characterisation I disagree with, but that is the point that wins me: dismantling white supremacy means dismantling white supremacist economic structures, and any story that tells us otherwise should be rejected.

          Imposing ideological requirements on fiction destroys the reason why fiction exists. It would force everybody’s stories to become parodies of themselves as all authors would have to at least pay lip service to your aesthetic instead of just writing a story. You are creating a recipe for Orwell’s 1984. Remember Soviet realism?

          I am not saying that I favor white supremacy. I would support anti-white supremacy authors snd I would never publish or buy the Turner Diaries. But I wonder if Spinrad’s The Iron Dream would pass your stringent censorship.

          Liked by 4 people

    • I do think the fact that there is a financial and geographic barrier to attending Worldcon and other big cons as well as workshops like Clarion or Viable Paradise is an important observation. And no, you don’t need to attend those workshops to have success (and quite a few who attend Clarion or Viable Paradise are never heard from again), but it does help to get past the first round of slush readers. Ditto for having been on a panel or shared a drink with an editor at Worldcon. It’s not a guarantee for success and you still have to write a good story/novel that fits what the editor is looking for, but it does help and I think we should acknowledge this.

      There are scholarships for the workshops and various initiatives to make cons more accessible to people from various marginalised backgrounds, which is a big step forward. And cons going hybrid or fully virtual because of the pandemic also helps people to attend and participate who otherwise couldn’t have gone. We could still do more to remove barriers to access to the genre and this is an important conversation to have. But unfortunately, it got tangled up with “We don’t like those books/stories and here’s why.”

      Liked by 4 people

    • “Writing that celebrates diversity but that is not anti-capitalist (or at least anti-neoliberal) is a kind of fake diversity.”

      I’m afraid that this is an argument that white people and some others on the left make all the time about the duty of BIPOC to fix everything for them, as if they were their servants, and prioritize the needs and goals of white leftists, i.e. to tackle neoliberalism, white worker rights and class structure (without looking at systemic racism,) rather than say what BIPOC want to concentrate on or write about. White liberals and leftists still commandeer and dominate leftist spaces and institutions, from the Democratic Party, the environmental movement, to the anarchists, etc., and they are often not real eager to share that power. They tend to either order BIPOC about on how to speak or tell them that their civil rights issues need to go on the back burner in favor of anti-capitalism and workers’ rights activism, by which they mean white workers with a vague hand-wave at the supposed given that a rising tide for white workers will also lift the BIPOC boats. (As we know, it will not.)

      It’s also more than a little confused and hypocritical to demand that BIPOC authors be anti-capitalistic (by arbitrary definition) to participate in a capitalistic industry of selling books whereas white authors still dominate fiction to the tune of nearly 90% and have never had that requirement, as others have noted. Prove you’re really diverse by adhering to my political views is not something that anyone should be saying to BIPOC authors when they have nowhere near equity in the field. Nor does it make a lot of sense to say it to queer authors when they are currently on the chopping block for losing their rights all over the globe and getting beaten up while cishets live in comfort. In short, marginalized authors don’t have to prove crap, and certainly not in SFF, which has always claimed to be more open than other areas of fiction but has been widely discriminatory and still is. Even cishet white women don’t really have to prove crap on the anti-capitalism front, as they’ve been fighting for opportunity in the field for a hundred years. And that the demand is coming from a podcast, part of a lucrative capitalistic industry that is again dominated by white cishet people cashing in on their advantages — you see the continued problem here, right? That’s not leftism; it’s dominance claiming marginalized creatives aren’t legitimate.

      The big problem we have with these particular podcasters is not their political views but instead 1) their claims that marginalized authors aren’t doing marginalization right and conflating it with YA stories for teens; 2) their lumping in white cishet men authors with the marginalized authors and calling it one pot; and 3) most importantly, the fact that they are trashing a bunch of books as being inferior, shallow and fakely diverse in statements that clearly show they’ve read none of them. It’s very easy to condemn a story you’ve made up in your head, but it’s hardly insightful as a real commentary on the SFF field, now is it? Which is why they tried to name very few of them and kept it as vague and broad as possible, even though they’re claiming it’s the dominant mode of the field and the Hugos.

      Scalzi is not a leftist but Redshirts is actually anti-capitalism and anti-neoliberalism. Wendig’s Zer0es is anti-capitalistic, his main works fit none of what they’ve talked about and he earned the enmity of toxic fanboys for having a gay main character in his Star Wars tie-in trilogy and having those be bestsellers. Jemisin’s Broken Earth, one of the most important series and the triple-winner of the Hugos, written by a black woman, is exactly what they say they want, but they don’t appear to have read it. The Goblin Emperor they clearly have never read and so on and so forth. As for whether a protagonist is teen-like and naive, that’s a subjective assessment, and again, they clearly showed they hadn’t read some of the books they were citing.

      I’d probably agree with the podcasters if the argument is that we need a lot more Latino authors in SFF than we have. But what those authors chose to write would be what they chose to write and that makes it legitimately theirs. I want to be clear I’m not trying to dump on you here; but the arguments they’re making so far have no clear core that holds water.

      Liked by 5 people

  21. Flicked through the twitters a little and there’s an odd thread of “soft fiction reduces resilience while dark fiction increases resilience, which is why people like us who like dark fiction are so much nicer, more wholesome, and welcoming, and why those people over there are awful, cruel and reactionary.”

    Which. Um.

    Liked by 7 people

    • This very same argument came up during the various debates about grimdark fiction around 2010/12 and it was nonsense then as now.

      This really seems like a throwback to the last group of revolutionaries getting ready to storm the gates of the genre approx. 10 years ago. Does this mean that we’ll be getting Sad Puppies Mark II in two or three years?

      Liked by 3 people

      • I thought it was nonsense when the antis from transformative works fandom (sadly now spilled out elsewhere) decided that reading about anything remotely dark meant you approved of it IRL, and I’m equally unenthused to see it flipped on its head, however understandable as a reaction to being brow-beaten by the former. I just do not agree that perfectly normal and common tastes in fiction dictate internal morality and character.

        (That and, well, they’re not exactly demonstrating the truth of their claim, which adds an extra fun layer of “are you listening to yourselves?”)

        Liked by 6 people

        • I’m not in transformative works fandom, so I only saw that debate form the outskirts, but it seems to be more of the same.

          What would help is to accept that some people prefer uplifting, positive and cozy fiction, others prefer dark, violent and depressing fiction, some people like both, often at different times of their life, and that’s perfectly okay.

          I’m not going to tell someone who’s reading fluffy romances or cozy mysteries while sitting at the bed of their dying partner that they should read something gritty and dark and not escape from reality. Nor am I going to tell someone who enjoys reading and writing the grimmest of grimdark that they are a horrible person who obviously wants to murder everybody around them in real life.

          Liked by 6 people

          • Unfortunately identical, just with a different colourway, and the rhetoric has not improved with age.

            Yes, exactly – everyone is, I hope, reading what they enjoy/like/appreciate/get something from, not swallowing it down like bitter medicine for the improvement of the mind and moral character. Coming up with justifications for why reading thing-you-like makes you a better person than the people over there reading thing-they-like is just preening, whether anti or something else entirely. It’s art, but it’s also entertainment, and what taste you have is not a matter of ethical superiority. It’s terribly frustrating.

            Liked by 4 people

          • What would help is to accept that some people prefer uplifting, positive and cozy fiction, others prefer dark, violent and depressing fiction, some people like both, often at different times of their life, and that’s perfectly okay.

            I totally agree. Which means that despite my political bent, I don’t think that a story has to pass any particular approved ideological filter to be acceptable for publishing. For example, someone basically said that stories have to be anti-capitalist and I totally disagree. Writing can explore all sorts of gray areas and imposing Soviet-style requirements on a tale is absolutely going to kill it. Remember, The Disposssessed was an”ambiguous utopia.”

            (P.S. Sorry if I missed something but I swear that this went way longer than I ever expected!)

            Liked by 2 people

            • @rlewiston777 said “For example, someone basically said that stories have to be anti-capitalist and I totally disagree. Writing can explore all sorts of gray areas…”

              Absolutely. Part of the reason I read SFF is for the wold building and fantastical ideas. I enjoy draons, FTL travel, sorcery, and, if an author has the world building skills and imagination to pull it off, even a working capitalist society.

              I recently had a week plus bout of vertigo. First time I’ve ever experienced anything like it, and it was frightening. I couldn’t ride a bicycle or drive my car. I could barely turn my head while walking without falling over. I was about 1/3 of the way through Langan’s “The Fisherman” when the vertigo hit. I loved that book, but was relieved when I finished it and could read something less dark. It’s hard for me to read dark or grim fiction when I’m having health issues. During the worst of the past decade of spiraling political darkness, I started reading more uplifting stories than the grim/dark material I often love. Different times call for different stories.

              That said, Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Dispossessed” was an inspiring story for dark times, despite not being particularly cheery or optimistic.

              Liked by 4 people

            • The whole “All fiction must be anti-capitalist and uplift the consciousness of the working class” made me think of similar statements in bad 1970s pop culture criticism, so can we maybe come up with some new arguments once in a while, cause those are old enough to be eligible for pensions soon.

              Also, fiction doesn’t have to do anything except entertain its target audience. A lot of fiction does more than that, but it’s also perfectly fine if a book does nothing more than entertain the sort of person it was written for (and that person is very different, whether you’re reading a romance or a horror novel).

              Liked by 4 people

  22. Central characters can feel like they are intended to be reader-inserts like video-game RPG protagonist.

    This point is similar to something I’ve noticed myself, that there’s a bit of a “revenge of the nerds and outcast”-theme to many recent books I’ve read. That is, the protagonist is a math prodigy, an outcast at school, or deeply into role playing games or fandom.

    But I’m hesitant to classify this as a “big trend” or a subgenre at a similar level to “cyberpunk”. For one thing, it’s usually a minor trait and not a main plot point. Second, it takes so many different forms, and appears in books that are otherwise completely different.

    Liked by 3 people

  23. […] Camestros Felapton has an interesting post on his blog asking if there is a currently dominant mode …. Camestros’ post is a response to two episodes of the Rite Gud podcast, namely this one where host Raquel S. Benedict and guest Kurt Schiller discuss the Sad and Rabid Puppies drama and detect a dominant mode of award-nominated science fiction that they dub “squeecore” and this episode where Benedict and guest J.R. Bolt from The Podhand attempt to define “squeecore”. […]

    Like

  24. […] and the Fantastic: Neurodiversity and Disability. CFP: Push: Childbirth in Global Screen Culture.* Is there a dominant mode of current science fiction? Notes on Squeecore. Portrait of the Author As a Component of a “Punk-Or-Core” Formulation. […]

    Like

  25. 1) I don’t know why it is, but humans always like to put things in terms of a sports competition, with a winner and losers. I guess we’re taught it as children. So if there are some titles that are popular and get attention, the automatic assumption is that those will kill everything else in the market. (Which is why science fiction or hard SF is always said to be dying.) Even though the market is broad and has lots of different sub-types of stories, in SFF or any other area, people are absolutely convinced that there will be one king taking over all at any given time period, which is why they brand past time periods as all being one thing as well. Tie-in SFF that grew in popularity in the 1990’s was going to destroy all original fiction. When contemporary fantasy with vampires and related creatures had some hit series in the early oughts and were popular, those books were not only going to tank all other fantasy, but science fiction as well. And so on and so forth.

    2) YA fiction are stories with teen protagonists put out by children’s publishers. So those teen protagonists have a story centered around themselves usually. This is a feature of YA from the beginning, for the sixty years the sub-category has officially been in operation, not a sudden development.

    3) This notion of “squeecore” is the usual BIPOC will replace us white folk bigot fears. Take their def and just put in white people:

    a white man
    is plagued by outsiders
    and also some kind of supernatural (or science fictional) unpleasantness like there’s a monster
    or some kind of uncontrolled superpowers
    It’s usually a metaphor for injustice, oppression and discrimination
    And then something transformative happens.
    The white man gains confidence.
    The white man learns to harness this supernatural thing to use to his advantage,
    and then the white man defeats the oppressor
    and become basically a superpowered supernatural crusader for justice

    That’s Spider-Man. That’s also like the plot of millions of science fiction and fantasy stories from the late 1880’s to current day. So what’s the difference? A protagonist who isn’t a white cishet man. That seems weird to them. That seems different, threatening, repetitive, too extra, juvenile and other negative designations, such as “squee.” That seems like an alien culture (the marginalized identity) invading their space. It was fine when it was a white man or a white boy doing it. They’d even accept a white woman past a certain time period. That’s not boring, repetitive, or a matter of squee. But change the identity of the protagonist and it’s a movement, a sub-category — and most importantly, a problem.

    In the 1990’s, a number of BIPOC authors had big hits in fiction writing about BIPOC characters — Amy Tan, Terry McMillan, Laura Esquivel, etc. All of these books were different from each other — contemporary dramas, magic realism, satiric comedies, thrillers, and so on, not to mention different race/ethnic cultures. But they were all BIPOC authors with BIPOC main characters and so publishers felt compelled to group them together in pitching them to booksellers as some sort of odd, niche duckling among all the lily white authors writing similar books about white main characters. So they called it the ethnic fiction genre. You can imagine how all the many different BIPOC authors enjoyed such a label being applied to them — and getting interviewed about it as well.

    And when they had that label stuck to them, they were then the subject of numerous bigoted magazine and newspaper articles about how ethnic fiction was popular and was that bad, was it taking over, was it overrated and maybe not that interesting, how maybe ethnic fiction was too obsessed with ethnicity and struggles over discrimination, how presumably white authors would have less opportunity to get published because of all this dang ethnic fiction that was so popular. And on and on, reams of white panic that a near white monopoly in English language publishing might get eroded. Of course it didn’t get eroded that much, given that book publishing was then and still is now 90% white. And cishet. And men readers and men authors are still favored as more important, despite women making up the majority of the fiction readers and black women in particular being major book buyers.

    But at the time, it was a crisis, something that a lot of white authors, journalists, critics and various professionals were very concerned about while still wrapping all the BIPOC authors up in that ethnic fiction label to try to keep them in one ghettoized sector, away from the “regular” white fiction. And that’s what is going on now in SFF. BIPOC authors have made (very) slight inroads in SFF over decades, a handful of BIPOC authors currently have visibility, sales, praise in fandom at the moment and publishers have made noises about having more of them just as they did about having more ethnic fiction. And so a lot of white people are super concerned about all this and group all those disparate BIPOC authors together as a “movement” and denigrate what they are doing as perfectly fine but maybe not so good.

    And to top it off, they will come up with examples of BIPOC authors who they claim transcend such labels and follies and are doing something that is somehow less threatening, more interesting to white people, less concerned with say marginalization. The “good ones.” Just to show that it has nothing to do with race or other marginalizations per se, but just that group of marginalized authors they’ve thrown together supposedly being weird and threatening and over-hyped. They did the same thing with ethnic fiction decades ago, enough that the label was eventually dropped from use for the most part.

    So I’ll go read Luhrs’ piece, as she is always very sharp. But this whole thing is just a sad re-run for me and it’s even more depressing, though not surprising, that this is going on in SFF. It’s a continuation of the Sad Puppies, obviously. But it’s a much wider issue among a wider set of people who are in dominant groups that they are scared will lose that rigged dominance they are used to. And with all the other social civil rights battles going on, it’s just depressing.

    Liked by 4 people

      • Unfortunately, being among a marginalized group doesn’t mean you don’t see many marginalized authors exploring things with marginalized characters as a threat. There is, as the political scientists say, ethnic outbidding and sadly also queer outbidding (see anti-trans lesbians.) A lot of “No True Scotsman” stuff, with the particular emphasis on declared acceptable marginalized authors and non-acceptable ones.

        However, the later entry of Camestros on the Reddit discussion of this new fetch term they’re trying to make happen seems like it may be building another layer than just annoyance at marginalization stories, but instead a stylistic preference leaning towards liking what is perceived as grim, gritty, and therefore realistic, meatier stories, and seeing them as better, less repetitive ones than ones they personally perceive as too cute, cuddly, romantic, optimistic, classically heroic, etc. — unrealistic and lazy. Stories with themes they find too cloying are downgraded, particularly YA which are seen as mainly being saccharine. And doing so allows them to go after Hugo writers who are marginalized, particularly racially/ethnically, while again denying it has anything to do with that.

        So again, it’s a very repetitive argument about supposed problematic repetition or superficiality, etc. It’s a way to tell marginalized authors they don’t like and other authors (usually seen as liberal sympathetic) they don’t like that they are doing it wrong. And to have the same sort of cabal movement idea that the Puppies tried to float in various forms without calling it an actual cabal.

        Liked by 2 people

        • The problem with their argument is that their attempting to force it onto things that don’t remotely fit their description of the issue. Would anyone in their right mind describe The Broken Earth trilogy as ‘too cute, cuddly, romantic, optimistic, classically heroic, etc unrealistic and lazy.’ And then they attempt to fit Arkady Martine into the YA camp???

          Liked by 3 people

          • Yep, the Broken Earth is sitting right there, as the biggest thing in the last decade and the fact that Benedict and Bolt seem to know nothing about it except that maybe the main characters have some superpowers indicates that they are not particularly insightful commentators. But you can’t go wrong complaining that popular works are too sweet, fun, simplistic and/or shallow, so another round we go.

            Liked by 1 person

  26. Suppose you believes there were dominant modes in SF novels published last year. For that matter, suppose you simply believed that there were modes. How would you establish this?

    What you would need to do is read all the published novels — a team approach might help — identify their modes, and then set up the taxonomy.

    Readers should consider that in a given year, in English there are 1000 or 2000, give or take, SF novels published, so the reading effort would be a significant project.

    Liked by 4 people

  27. So I finally have a better understanding of what this is all about, but I’ll admit that my main takeaway is that these people must be an absolute fucking joy at parties.

    Liked by 7 people

    • Schnookums, let’s make a pact that if we’re ever trapped at a party with these people, we’ll have some signal to get both of us out of there. Or get them out of there. Something.

      Liked by 1 person

      • This is where psychic powers would come in handy.

        Beam an ESP message “Help. I am stuck in room 205 with Puppies/people who hate squeecore but can’t define it/MLM sellers/etc. Get me out!”

        Like

%d bloggers like this: