The Geek Feminist Revolution: Just didn’t do it for me

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The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron HurleyThe Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley

The Geek Feminist Revolution is a collection of writing by Kameron Hurley, much of which was originally published online. And at the risk of sounding curmudgeonly and persnickety, from my viewpoint the problem was they read that way. Some of that I think is in the nature of the writing, and some of that probably is my own issue in the expectations I come with when a book is subtitled “Essays” (and there’s that “persnickety” part).

The collection is made up of nearly 40 essays divided into four sections, though as one would expect, there’s a fair amount of overlap in their subject matter. The sections are: Level Up (dealing with the craft and business of writing), Geek (media criticism), Let’s Get Personal (these are, well, more personal), and Revolution (a call for changing the system).

I noted above that I come to a piece described as “essays” with a certain expectation, and while I get that this is a bit problematic (the author writes the book she writes, not the one I want her to write), it’s best to be honest about that. So what are those expectations? A certain level of depth, a rich vocabulary, ideas that are either original in themselves or in the manner of presentation/linkages, a sense of startlement — perhaps from language, from metaphor, from structure or odd connections — and an end result that will have me lingering over the essay or calling it back days, weeks, or even years later. Conversely, I don’t expect much of that from online writing (though it’s nice to get any of it), assuming that the author is working on deadline or is more having a conversation than carefully crafting a literary creation (feel free to get upset at my assumptions here).

So my major issue with The Geek Feminist Revolution is that I didn’t get any of that from any of these. The pieces certainly aren’t badly written, but there just wasn’t enough there for me, whether in terms of style or content. Often, the thrust of the piece wasn’t all that fresh. What does it take to succeed in writing? Persistence. How does one succeed? One has to be willing to fail. Women are horribly trolled on the net. Writers have a responsibility to consider the impact of how they present their worlds and the people who inhabit them, etc.

Now, I don’t have an issue with covering territory that has been covered extensively for a long time or, in the case of more contemporaneous issues, has been covered extensively elsewhere (well, maybe I have a little issue). But if you’re going to present me content I’ve seen lots of other places or have been reading for some time, then you need to do something else for me. When I talk to my students in creative writing I call this the “so what” issue with non-fiction. You have to give the reader a reason to keep reading something they’ve seen before. Maybe it’s the beauty of the language, maybe it’s the stimulating structure. But something.

With regard to structure, the essays in The Geek Feminist Revolution are almost strictly linear and mostly singularly focused. As for language, it’s adequate for communicating the ideas, but rarely rises above that. It’s conversational, passionate, but nothing will have you linger over the phrasing or is particularly dense with meaning. And at times it’s simply repetitive. In the sub-300 pages for instance Hurley uses “shit” or “bullshit” roughly 80 times and “fuck” nearly a hundred (i.e. every three pages). It isn’t the language I object to, but the repetition, and the easy choice of how to show passion or anger. In other words, it doesn’t feel that Hurley stretched herself in these pieces and therefore the reader isn’t stretched either, which makes for a less than stimulating read. And looking at the whole rather than the parts, despite the rough categorization and ordering, there wasn’t much of a sense of direction or unity to the pieces, beyond the base of looking at things through a feminist prism.

I suppose if one hasn’t read much on these topics — Gamergate, internet trolling, the portrayal or non-portrayal — these pieces may seem more fresh. And if one isn’t looking for a more challenging read than the typical blog post, issues of style or structure won’t be much of a problem. Plus, there’s no doubt that Hurley has a distinctive voice, that she’s passionate in her views, and that much of what she says is important and valuable. But for me, The Geek Feminist Revolution just didn’t offer much to recommend it.

Publication date: May 31, 2016. A powerful collection of essays on feminism, geek culture, and a writer’s journey, from one of the most important new voices in genre. The Geek Feminist Revolution is a collection of essays by double Hugo Award-winning essayist and science fiction and fantasy novelist Kameron Hurley. The book collects dozens of Hurley’s essays on feminism, geek culture, and her experiences and insights as a genre writer, including “We Have Always Fought,” which won the 2014 Hugo for Best Related Work. The Geek Feminist Revolution will also feature several entirely new essays written specifically for this volume. Unapologetically outspoken, Hurley has contributed essays to The Atlantic, Locus Magazine, Tor.com,and elsewhere on the rise of women in genre, her passion for SF/F, and the diversification of publishing.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is lately spending much of his time trying to finish a book-length collection of essays and a full-length play. His prior work has appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other journals and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of several Best American Essay anthologies. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, co-writing the Malazan Empire re-read at Tor.com, or working as an English adjunct, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course, the ultimate frisbee field, or trying to keep up with his wife's flute and his son's trumpet on the clarinet he just picked up this month.

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18 comments

  1. I’m finding more printed works that read like blog postings or website columns. It is a different, more conversational style definitely. Your description here reminds me of her columns in Locus, which carry that same tone.

    I think maybe we’re not the audience for these. You pointed out that we are conversant in many of the issues Hurley addresses. I do think there are many younger people, new graduates, beginning writers, new professionals, who aren’t steeped in the reality of sexism, or who don’t realize the seriousness of internet trolling, and have only vaguely heard of Gamergate. For them, this level of immediacy is probably good.

    • Paul Connelly /

      The blog style essay isn’t aimed at our generation, but then we’re not exactly a growth market,
      Hurley is plainly very intelligent and writes intelligently about her subjects, but the choice of subjects sometimes gives the impression of a narrow field of interest. If you want to know about being a writer as a paid profession in the current Internet and social media matrix, and you are concerned by the bad hangovers of racism and sexism that perpetuate the old guard and their old guard views about science fiction and who should be allowed into the club, then this hits the target.
      There are bigger questions about art as a career/profession in the grand scheme of history and whether the moment is passing to think about them and “intellectual property” or “creative content” the way we do. About whether the blogosphere can talk identity politics and infrequently mention class (as an aside) without revealing its already considerable level of privilege–a sort of rhetorical rearrangement of deck chairs on the planet Titanic as it barrels toward irreversible climate change, peak oil, nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists (the “major power” variety as well as the scruffy kind), and a parasitic debt-based economy that is certain to eat its host. About whether science fiction has enough relation to science at this point to even merit that appellation, and, if not, if we can call something fantasy that has so little imagination to it.
      So…writing for and in the style of the blogosphere is a first step, but there’s a bigger world to explore beyond that.

      • And *do* you think the blogosphere can support that level of conversation? Are you finding those columns? I usually don’t, but then I usually *am* looking for “The 8 greatest TV SF Sidekicks” or something.

        • Paul Connelly /

          The Internet geeks started doing the first newsgroups and BBs and then websites as sort of a “shifgrethor” thing, to use Ursula le Guin’s term. When the web got big people started thinking they could make money off it (this included some of the people who originally did it for vanity/prestige/kudos). Then we had the dotcom crash as a corrective to that way of thinking. Now the blogs are going through the same process, from shifgrethor to monetary reward to maybe even *enough money to live on* or more! And they’re starting to fall by the wayside as people have to face reality. So I think the blog moment will pass, but the more intelligent and aware bloggers have it within them to evolve and expand their horizons, like latter day versions of Stewart Brand or John Perry Barlow. The lure of money does tend to lead people up blind alleys though, especially with the micromarketing focus so in vogue now.

          • It will be interesting to see what’s around in three-five years and what it looks like/sounds like, etc.

          • Paul, I’ve been watching the rise of Patreon with some interest, especially with several well-known writers basically offering a subscription service to themselves. Do you think that’s where blog and blog-writing is headed? With all the attempts to “monetize” blogs, are they going to cease to be individual journals, or clearing-houses/gathering places, and become, well, magazines?

  2. I think you’re right about that and can see that sort of audience in terms of content, I just wish published written pieces felt more, well, “written.” Plus, kids and their music nowadays. And that hair!

    • I know! Remember when we didn’t have designer water and we had to fill our glasses at the tap or from those things called drinking fountains? Kids these days.

  3. I completely agree with you, Bill; you’re dead-on in terms of Hurley’s “internet-essay” style and its drawbacks. Not that an informally-written piece can’t also be insightful, of course, but I don’t often get the sense that Hurley is bringing any new insight along with her passionate views.

    • I consider myself both a “geek” and a “feminist.” I don’t know whether internet rants by people who style themselves as an “Intellectual Badass” are going to help or hurt. I think a certain minority on both sides thrives on this kind of bluster, contributing to more strife and polarization. That’s what we’ve seen with the rabid puppies. I’m weary of it. I just want to read good SFF.

      • Speaking of good SFF, Kat, have you read SEVENEVES yet? It’s in the Hugo packet. I haven’t started it yet, and I wondered if you had, and what you thought.

        • My son took my hardback copy to college and didn’t return it. He liked it.

          So I got an audio copy and started it a few months ago on a family trip in the car (audio) but it was so long, of course, that we didn’t get very far into it and nobody else wanted to go on with it on the way back home because it was so long, so we put it aside for something shorter and I never got back to it. Need to.

  4. James May /

    There are no essential truths in Hurley’s essays, unless you believe all men are essentially depraved compared to women. What she means by “trolling” is mere disagreement. Hurley has no interest in debate, only lecturing, and despises comments sections. People with ideas to share are eager to engage, but when you write something as ahistorical and false as “We Have Always Fought,” it’s far better to throw and run, because that essay is indefensible. Even now Hurley is battening down the hatches on Twitter, determined to not engage the “trolls.” Forget about legitimate disagreement; what is that?

    Her idea it is men who are the majority harassers on the internet is a pipe dream. In fact when it comes to the SFF community, it’s not even a close call: Hurley and her feminists have not only been relentlessly trolling and harassing men for several years now but practicing active segregation and discrimination. Their Twitter feeds are monuments of public collusion to do so in endless daily round-robins. There is no opposite number there, other than the phantoms of male bias they have made up out of their heads.

    Top of that list is the equally relentless lie women have ever been excluded or erased from SFF. It’s an analogy to “We Have Always Fought.” Well, you haven’t. You have always preferred Ladies’ Home Journal until the ’60 or thereabouts and then started entering the field in increasing numbers and with no one trying to stop you. If James Tiptree, Jr. could hide her identity well into the ’70s (in what was little more than an odd prank) then so could any women in the previous 60 years. “Not there” is not a synonym for “always” except at the Ministry of Memory Holes.

    Hurley’s piece in The Atlantic was yet more falsehoods in air quotes about the Sad Puppies and she couldn’t utter a truth about Gamergate if she tried. Prejudice doesn’t make for engaging essays. It yields only propaganda which feeds into the worst paranoia of its intended audience about sexism, misogyny and the Patriarchy, and that is her intention. Hurley has admitted her hand grenades have raised her profile more than her work and that is no coincidence. It is a by now familiar pattern which has uplifted routinely terrible writers into awards status. The fact Hurley and her colleagues are so confident her book will make people angry is not a testament to the ignorance and privilege of men but the incitement which accompanies any act of group defamation.

  5. Bonnie McDaniel /

    …Aaaand James May shows up with his usual nonsense.

    Who’da thunk it.

  6. Reading this review, I was reminded of my reactions to Hurley’s fiction. God’s War and The Mirror Empire are both very angry novels. ‘Women bathing the world in blood’ I’ve dubbed them. But there seems little substance beneath the anger. It’s one thing to reverse roles and portray women, instead of men, as the all-conquering, ultra-violent superheroes of a fantastical setting. But it’s an entirely other thing, a more ambitious, humanistic thing, to take the next step and portray men and women dealing with gender issues in some rational, applicable sense. Lashing out is just reactionary, not progressive or constructive.

    I get the impression that the Geek Feminist Revolution was a book pulled together specifically for the group of people who follow Hurley’s blog, i.e. already concur with her viewpoint, rather than as a political statement capable of being marketed to the wider literary and critical market with potential for real impact or meaningful discussion. But probably I should read for myself before judging.

  7. James May /

    “It is important not to have debates.” – Professor Laury Oaks, Chair of the Feminist Studies Department, U of Calif. at Santa Barbara, 2016

    • Bonnie McDaniel /

      Debates about what? Whether or not climate change is occurring?

      If that’s what she means, then I agree with her.

      Otherwise, please supply the full context to her remarks, including a link to the relevant article, instead of tossing out one sentence as some sort of stupid, pointless “gotcha.”

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