Homme, es-tu capable d'être juste? C'est une femme qui t'en fait la question; tu ne lui ôteras pas du moins ce droit. Dis-moi? Qui t'a donné le souverain empire d'opprimer mon sexe? Ta force? Tes talents? [...] L'homme seul... veut commander en despote sur un sexe qui a reçu toutes les facultés intellectuelles; il prétend jouir de la Révolution, et réclamer ses droits à l'égalité, pour ne rien dire de plus.

—Olympe de Gouges, Déclaration des droits de la femme (1791) 1

 [ Issue 2009.17; Cover art © 2009 Robin Kaplan ]

Issue 2009.17

Short stories

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Call for Feminist Science Fiction themed issue

Great art does not exist independently of important ideas, of a life's pupose or of social and political context. A piece of literature is not only to be judged on purely technical ability and the pleasure it brings to the reader. When we at TFF talk about stories needing to be both "beautiful and useful", we are really making a false distinction. The aesthetic enjoyment and appreciation of a piece of art depends in large part upon the meanings behind the artistry. The medium and message are intrinsically entwined, not only because you cannot tell a good story badly (just as you cannot kill for pacifism or fuck for virginity), but because the message is the medium. The story is the art, as much as the use of language is.

The greatest storyteller, therefore, is not just a person who has the linguistic skills to write good description, natural dialogue, pacy action and credible characters. She or he must also care about the world, know what is wrong with it, and have a burning need to do something about it. Every action, whether committed willfully or in ignorance, either improves something in the world, or reinforces the status quo. So does every work of art.

What then, when you learn that somebody whose writing you have admired, someone whose work you think of as improving the world, turns out to be someone who deliberately worsens the world daily? What do you do when you learn that the author of one of the cleverest scifi novels you've read, such as Ender's Game, is a religious bigot and an active homophobe? What do you do when a seminal writer like Harlan Ellison repeatedly, publicly commits acts that are verbally aggressive, racist, sexist and physically abusive? When your favourite author, musician or artist comes out in support of a political position you find abhorrent?

What do you do when you discover that you yourself, who are surely better than these people, implicitly go along with the Western literary tradition's neglect of and discrimination against women, people of non-European descent and the disabled? You don't make excuses and say you didn't mean it, or it was an accident; you learn that even accidents that reinforce the status quo are part of the problem.

How are you going to make the world better today?

Djibril al-Ayad, August 2009

1 Olympe de Gouges was a playwright and political writer during the French Revolution; she argued for democracy, including women's suffrage and the abolition of slavery, and was executed during La Terreur in 1793. The preface to her book the Declaration of the Rights of Women begins with the words, "Man, are you capable of being just? A woman asks you this; you will at least not deny her this right. Tell me who gave you the sovereign right to oppress my sex? Your strength? Your talent? [...] Only man claims tyranny over a sex that has received all the intellectual faculties; he rejoices at the Revolution, and claims his right to equality without saying any more on the subject..." [rough translation mine]

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