Author: Craig DeLancey

Science Fiction Purges its Problematic Past

Since 1991, the James Tiptree Junior Award has been given annually to a work of “science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender.” The award was founded by two women science fiction writers, Pat Murphy and Karen Jay Fowler. From next year, it will be called the Otherwise Award. James Tiptree, Jr. was the pseudonym of Alice Sheldon. Born Alice Bradley in 1915, she travelled the world with her parents as a young child. In 1940, after a brief unhappy marriage, she joined the women’s Army Auxiliary Corps and worked in intelligence. She married Huntington “Ting” Sheldon in 1945, and in 1952 they both joined the CIA. She later earned her doctorate and took up writing. She wrote short stories and novels, but it is the former that stand out as truly remarkable. With prose as subtle and precise as the most refined literary fiction, she penned imaginative tales like “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” and “The Girl Who was Plugged In,” which became classics of science fiction and also important …

Policing the Creative Imagination

At a time when activist displeasure can sweep through social media and destabilize reputations and nascent careers overnight, publishers are taking unprecedented steps in an effort to mitigate the risks. Among these is the use of sensitivity readers—individuals tasked with reading a work of fiction prior to publication in an effort to determine whether or not offense is likely to be caused by an author’s portrayal of characters from demographics considered marginalised or historically oppressed. Many readers, I suspect, will have become aware of this emerging trend following a series of nasty controversies in the world of Young Adult publishing. In 2017, a fantasy novel by Kiera Drake entitled The Continent was attacked for its allegedly racist portrayal of Native Americans. The novel was hastily rewritten following guidance from sensitivity readers. In January of this year, Amelie Zhao’s debut novel Blood Heir, set in a fantastical version of medieval Russia, was denounced online because its portrayal of chattel slavery was deemed insufficiently sensitive to America’s own racist history. In response, Zhao thanked her persecutors profusely …

Albert Camus: Unfashionable Anti-Totalitarian

Today, it is not unusual to see Albert Camus celebrated as the debonair existentialist—the handsome hero of the French Resistance, a great novelist, and a fine philosopher. But this reputation was only recently acquired. For much of his life, and in the years since his untimely death in 1960 aged just 46, Camus was deeply unfashionable among France’s leading intellectuals. In many quarters, he remains so. Camus came to widespread attention in 1942 with his publication of his novella The Stranger and a philosophical essay entitled “The Myth of Sisyphus.” The Stranger portrays a solitary passionless man wandering through a world without pattern or purpose. “The Myth of Sisyphus” grapples with the question, “Why not commit suicide?” Camus argued that we should not, but he finds little evidence of a justified purpose for human beings. If we cannot prove that some choices are better than others, he concludes, we can at least dedicate ourselves to the pursuit of experience. The austerity and boldness of these two works struck Camus’s contemporaries as remarkable and, within a …