The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley
It’s hard to review Kameron Hurley for a few reasons, not the least of which is that she’s bound to read that review at some point. Criticizing books is easy when you feel like the author won’t ever read what you’re writing, let alone care about some woman shrieking into the abyss of the internet. Hurley, as she points out, has been that shrieking woman, and so the odds of her hearing your wailing are markedly increased.
Pulling punches is not what this blog is about, however. And I genuinely enjoyed The Geek Feminist Revolution, Hurley’s manifesto (or so it’s described) about feminism in fantasy and sci-fi. Hurley is a prolific sci-fi writer with a day job who also happens to be a woman, which means she’s forced to defend herself on a daily basis from the legions of Sad Puppies who think that women shouldn’t write sci-fi. She must be exhausted. Seriously.
Sometimes, I thought she was being a little whiney or self-congratulatory. Why did she have to talk about how hard she works? I wondered. Why go on and on, and then brag about how much she writes and how great her characters are?
Prompted by Hurley’s book itself, I began thinking about how much differently I had just treated On Writing by Stephen King. The books’ goals are disparate: King’s work is half memoir, half instruction manual, while Hurley’s is meant to raise a little hell and push women to action. But both of the authors talk about their personal history of writing and how they came to be where they are. Both worked incredibly hard–both racking up debt, King as he tried to support a family and Hurley as she tried to escape abusive relationships, come to terms with her sexuality, and deal with a chronic illness.
Did I find King’s work a little self-indulgent at times? Sure. Did I ever think of it as whiney or self-congratulatory? No, not even when he’s talking about how he never plots stories out and just “lets the characters take him there.” (God, that’s annoying.)
And that’s where my own flaw in thinking comes in. Because even as I found Hurley’s tone off-putting, I realized that I found it off-putting because 1) I’m not used to hearing a woman express how proud she is of something she created, and 2) I didn’t like hearing that a woman has to work so hard to be successful.
Hurley’s life is something I recognize. I know what it’s like to work a full-time job and come home and try to write a blog post or a chapter while cooking dinner and walking the dog and discussing whatever it is my husband needs to discuss. I know what it’s like to try to write marketing copy when all you want to write is your story (which, incidentally, people dismiss as unimportant because of your gender and the subject matter). I didn’t want to hear, but I knew it was true, that no matter how good you are, someone will always say your characters are too white, that you stumbled into stereotype. That even if you do try to diversify your book’s world, someone will criticize that, too, because how dare you try to write about experiences you can’t possibly understand. And that if you put a picture on your book jacket, someone will declare you ‘unfuckable,’ the ultimate insult of the patriarchy. That’s if you ever manage to sell a damn book.
That’s ultimately what makes Hurley’s book both so important and so uncomfortable. She’s saying things I didn’t want to hear, but she’s doing it so I (and writers like me) don’t feel alone when I hit those roadblocks. It’s not all writing at a beautiful wooden desk in the eaves of your house while your grandchildren play around you. It’s not all having a spouse whose support keeps you going (God bless Tabitha King). It’s not all having a windfall and being able to quit your job and crank out a book draft every three months. Nothing against King at all–but let’s face it, King is one in a million. That’s why I want to read what he has to say on writing, but it’s also why I burst out laughing when he says an ideal writing day should include six hours of just cranking out prose. No woman I know, including Kameron Hurley, has that kind of time.
Anyway, to end on a quote: “For the record: I don’t like that this is the case. But it’s real, and we need to learn how to manage it.” Amen, Kameron Hurley, and thank you.
(Though, honestly, paranormal fiction is not all Stephanie Meyer. Just saying.)