New… and True… and Trite

I happened to come across a reader’s comments about the Spellsong Cycle, most of which boiled down to the fact that he liked all my books — except those, because they were “trite.” I mean, after all, writing about sexism and stereotypes is just so old and trite, and the idea of magic being wielded through song in a logical and technical basis is almost as trite, as well. Except… outside of Alan Dean Foster and Louise Marley, I haven’t seen any other decent, in depth, and logical treatments of vocal music as the basis of magic. It’s very rare, as Louise Marley herself has said upon occasion, and as both a noted novelist and a professional opera singer, she does have a bit of expertise in those fields.

That leaves the issue of novels dealing with sexism as perpetuating “trite” stereotypes and something that is so old and last-century, or even so nineteenth century. If anyone thinks that sexism is that out-of-date, then you’re living in a greater fantasy than anything I’ve ever written. A few examples follow. A highly-qualified gynecological oncologist [female] who runs the a division at a top medical school is paid less than a younger colleague [male] with far less academic and occupational qualifications, publications, or surgical expertise. Female full professors at any number of colleges and universities — with equivalent or greater time in rank and professional qualifications — are on average paid more on the level of male associate professors in the same disciplines. A similar discrepancy occurs in the ranks of business executives [when one can even find senior female executives who have managed to break through the glass ceiling]. What is interesting about all this is that these days, if you look at university graduates and post-graduates, women are winning a wide majority of the academic honors, with the exception of a few areas of science.

I’d also note the large number of political pundits who are calling for Senator Clinton to drop out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. As a long-time Republican, if of the Teddy Roosevelt stripe, I can claim a certain distance… but I would note that in my own twenty-odd years of political involvement I never saw anyone even broach that sort of suggestion to a male candidate. After all, it’s only right that a real man fights it out to the last, isn’t it?

Obviously, with six daughters and a wife all in professional fields, I have a wealth of insights and information from which I can draw, in addition to the statistics that are available to all — and which are largely ignored and minimized.

Now… one of the roles that F&SF fills in our society is to explore ideas and issues and problems, and it’s one of the few writing fields that does so consistently. I’d be the first to agree that readers certainly don’t have to read what they don’t like… and they don’t. Some readers have indicated that they stay away from my work that deals too directly with real-world issues. I can understand that. There are times when I certainly don’t want to deal with them. But issues tend to keep coming up until they are addressed.

After all, some of the Founding Fathers, among them John Adams, suggested that the slavery issue wasn’t going away — and it didn’t. Nor did the civil rights issues that followed. Nor will the issues raised by the current Administration in instigating a war and in suppressing civil liberties in the name of “security.” Nor will the problems raised in a society where almost any working woman has to do more and do it better than her male peers in order to even come close to them in terms of compensation.

Is sexism a long and enduring problem? Absolutely. Does that make it “trite?” Not in the slightest.

A reader can certainly complain about anything, and an author has to take complaints with enough grains of salt to fill all the shakers in my house. But… don’t tell me or anyone else that a real social problem is “trite.” You can tell me that the plot’s lousy, that you don’t want to read about women and their problems, or that the kind of fantasy you really want to read has to have more testosterone in it. You can claim my style’s weak, that the book’s too long or too short, or that the song lyrics should have been better. But when a reader claims that a real and unsolved social issue is trite… that’s a pretty good explanation in itself why that issue hasn’t been resolved… and why I’ll continue to raise the issue at least periodically.