I participated in Eastercon this year as a panelist and a speaker on the Friday. Now, I was fortunate enough to have been invited by a friend and colleague, purplecthulhu, who did a wonderful job making me feel both welcome and comfortable. He helped keep me included in the dialogue during the panel on the space race. I did some of this myself, mind, but I can't deny that it was a boon to have him checking to be sure that each time a topic was introduced, I got to have my say if I wanted, and to prevent me from being put on the spot by the more experienced members of the panel and the audience. This is not an action to be dismissed lightly when there are four people on the panel and you are the only person who is female and not white. purplecthulhu, I salute you.
Despite seeing positive responses to my talk on Twitter under the #eastercon hashtag, I can't ignore that the majority of the audience was male and white. And while I hope that being a "hardcore science bug" who loves her job, as one person labelled me, left the impression that women can indeed be dedicated, enthusiastic engineers and scientists, I have trouble believing that it's an impression that will have a lasting impact.
Why? Because I don't find that most science fiction speaks to me. I received two free books at Eastercon. I got about halfway through both of them, but have little motivation to finish because they didn't engage me. The main characters are male, angst-ridden and on journeys that involve a lot of interaction with other male authority figures. The women, if they are present, are either brawny sidekicks or romantic interests. Even if they're described as clever or technically adept, they never display it through dialogue or the mechanisms of the plot. And did I mention that everybody's white? At the very least, that's what the front covers would have you believe, and when you read the character descriptions - pale skin and white-blonde hair predominating - the image becomes indelible.
So I'm afraid that despite my willing participation in Eastercon and my enthusiasm for the future of space exploration and science, I am not willing to state categorically that science fiction and its fandoms are free of problematic racist and sexist associations that are being propagated by publisher's choices. Attacking people like foxfinial is not going to fix the problem. Pointing out that something is racist is not, in fact, worse than being racist. If you write science fiction, change your choices of main characters, the cultures in which you place them and the journeys you send them on. If you read science fiction, select, review and praise those books. Only then will the perception of science fiction become diverse and inclusive. Because it actually will be.