Identity Fiction, or Navel-Gazing in Lieu of Story

Alright, I’ve got about two regular readers, time to cut that in half by taking a broad, backhanded swipe at the state of science fiction. I won’t call out any specific titles or authors; if you think that I’m writing about you then you’ve helpfully self-identified as the problem.

If you pitch your book by leading with your identity group, go ahead and pitch it directly into my trash can. Don’t tell me about your race/gender/disability, tell me about your STORY. Why should I care? Hell, you’re not even going to sell me a $0.99 quick read with just your protagonist’s identity, you’re certainly not getting one page read with yours.

And yeah, veterans, that includes us. Bring it in real quick, sit kneel, stand, because I’m about to drop some knowledge: if you’re relying on your Budweiser / Tab / EGA to sell your book, I hope you have a second job so that you don’t starve. A few of us may get a few Kindle Unlimited reads, but even free readers are going to need a reason to stick around. Rip-roaring adventure, deep philosophical musing, dark satire, you gotta give me something.

Now, LEAD WITH THAT! Sure, your identity informs your book. That’s why you have a bio page. Your blurb needs to give me a hook that I care about. “Disabled woman IN SPACE!!!” generates about as much interest in me as “dude, have you ever looked at your hand…ON WEED?” But pitch it as “placed in a life support shell at birth, a physically disabled ‘brain’ must choose an able bodied ‘brawn’ partner to share command of a unique class of starship and explore the galaxy” and now you have Anne McCaffrey’s “Ship who Sang,” and my attention.

But McCaffrey then delivers. It’s an adventure starring the brain, not two hundred pages of exposition on the nature of her disability. Somewhere along the way, we lost that. Authors became too focused on the “who,” either their own or the character’s (frequently interchangeable), and neglected what they were doing. “Why” has also often become a trite “because they’re [identity].”

The slightly more advanced form of this particular cancer is “it’s Starship Troopers, but they’re all gay.” Hey, great. I’ll go read Heinlein, instead of your porn parody of him. “What if we changed the identity of a famous protagonist” is, at most, a blog post. But if you’re going to be a shameless hack, at least you told me up front and saved me the read.

Stories, people. We’re here for the stories, not your long winded exploration of your own bio page.

I’m out.

5 thoughts on “Identity Fiction, or Navel-Gazing in Lieu of Story

  1. All very reasonable. Sadly so many people take a lack of interest in a work that focuses on a particular identity as a rejection of persons that have that particular identity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t even blame the authors. Most of these people have deficient editors who should hit them over the head (an editor’s primary function being blunt force trauma to the author).

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      1. It’s frustrating for me because I try to write stories that are first and foremost good stories, but I also tend to write stories in which the characters have some sort of fringe sexuality because those are the characters I can relate to best. I don’t want to be identified as a “queer author”, I want to write compelling stories that happen to (frequently, not always) have queer characters. I like using SF/F to explore that part of human experience.

        A case in point (and one of my favorite novels) is Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand Of Darkness. The Gethenian sexuality is an important part of the flavor of the story, but it is not the story–it’s a tense political thriller about a human envoy on an alien world that is in the midst of a cold war between superpowers.

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      2. Precisely, no one would dare accuse le Guin of not knowing how to write plot (at least, not more than once). But pushing stories due to identity, instead of story quality, leads to other stories containing similar identities being pidgeon holed regardless of their quality.

        I downplay my own bio, because I don’t want to be “that guy” writing mil sci-fi. I want to sell the story and the ideas, not my motivational bumper sticker collection.

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  2. Nothing but agreement from me. Identity fiction is boring and it usually sucks from a story perspective because the energy is about the demographic portrayed. Some people think the identity itself is shorthand for a good story. Wrong.

    But there is an audience for this stuff…

    Liked by 1 person

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