Ashok Banker wants to disassemble science fiction publishing

Paul Raven @ 20-10-2009

The last year or so has been punctuated by debates on the inherent racism and sexism of genre fiction publishing, but if you thought there had been some strong opinions stated boldly before now, you should really go check out the exclusive interview with Ashok Banker at the World SF News blog.

Banker is a hugely popular and prolific writer in his home country of India, but is virtually unheard of in the West… and he doesn’t pull any punches in his assessment of the Stateside publishing industry:

I won’t mince words here: SFF publishing in the US today is the Klu Klux Klan of the publishing world. It’s anachronistically misrepresentational in its racial mix, religious mix, cultural mix. The few exceptions to the rule only prove the endemic, systemic and deeply bred bias in the field. There are even editors who claim to champion ‘coloured’ writing, by publishing anthologies that segregate non-white non-Judeo/Christian non-American authors of speculative fiction from their ‘mainstream’ genre counterparts.

[…]

For decades SFF has been accusing mainstream literary critics, readers and authors of being snobbish and denying them their due. In fact, it’s the other way around: SFF’s pathetic cries of outrage and refusal to change with the times are proof of SFF’s own snobbishness and bias. SFF is dead and rotting. Long may it stay dead! We who love the elements that make great SFF don’t need the label so Klansmen can recognize work by other Klansmen. We don’t care if our milk was drawn by brown hands, black, or white. We just want our milk!

I think the Klan metaphor is perhaps a little strong (not to mention calculated to offend), but the man has a very valid point. The easy (and lazy) response would be to call him out for jealousy, but given that Banker points out that his earnings are far higher than most US or UK writers of genre fiction, that doesn’t really hold a lot of water. Banker doesn’t need the SFF industry; the question is, does it need him?

The wider business of publishing in general doesn’t escape Banker’s ire, either:

In four words: Publish less, publish better. If publishers and editors are so obsessed with commercial viability, then why are they so out of touch with what readers are looking for? Why are publishers so surprised when the next it new sensation comes along and upsets their apple cart? Why can’t they accept and understand that readers and authors decide what sells, not editors and publishers. Why are racial, cultural, religious backgrounds relevant when signing an author? Why not just good books, period? Why not just good books that readers respond well to and want to read? Get the fuck out of your offices and get down to the streets and live. Fire your marketing departments. Hire bloggers on per-hit pay-basis. Look at frontrunners like Cory Doctorow. Think about the Long Tail. Explore free publishing as a marketing model. Get bullish on ebooks, drop the prices and tighten your belts. Reduce print runs on the big sellers, reduce your risk and stop flooding the stores with ‘product’. Tell Dan Brown to go get a life. Stop letting James Patterson use the Warner jet and chopper. Spend money on authors, not on the business of publishing and the fairyland of PR. Let readers decide what should be published and what shouldn’t – put work for free out there online and let them vote. Then, once you know what they’ve picked, go in and edit it well, package it well, do your stuff. But remember that you’re a meat-packer, you don’t build the cow, you don’t eat it. You just pack it. So pack it well, or get packing.

There’s quite a few chewy home truths in that little screed… I get the feeling this particular interview will be a hot topic for a little while.

What do you think about Banker’s assertions of endemic racism in SFF publishing, or about the state of publishing in general? Drop in a comment below – but keep it polite, OK? In line with the Futurismic comments policy, any racist or ad hominem rants will be removed, so play nice.