The next four weeks were spent in the same apartment [Noble’s], following orders.
Write more articles on a lack of diversity in creative industries.
Scan for straight white man quotes.
Attack found quotes.
Escalate if impact is negligible.
Hassle targets on Twitter/Tumblr/IG.
Isolate + smear defenders of target.
Complain about Hollywood casting.
According to the Philosophy Student, this was the fastest way to revolution, but the key was to stay loyal cos final victory might not come within their lifetime.
Noble shifted her screen and pointed it towards Detroit, who read the first few lines, tutted and called over the Philosophy Student.
‘Is it bad?’ asked Noble.
The Philosophy Student came over and read the introduction then the first paragraph. She skimmed through the rest before highlighting the entire text and asking Noble, ‘shall I delete it or do you wanna do the honours?’
‘It’s not what I told you to write.’
‘Do you remember what I said?’
‘Write a piece on Samuel Delany and his effect on American Science Fiction.’
‘That’s not what you’ve written.’
‘I thought it was.’
‘I don’t understand.’
Detroit butted in and jabbed the computer screen. ‘This shit…is an analytical piece on Babel-17, not him.’
‘Is that not good?’
‘The nature of language, words shaping thought, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Jesus…’
The Philosophy Student patted Detroit on the shoulder and moved him out of focus. ‘It’s not a bad thing, Noble, of course his work is important, but it’s not definitive. It doesn’t correlate to the struggle at this time.’
‘It does correlate…’
‘…it shows he could write his own way and still-…’
Detroit butted in again, moving the Cuban out of the way with a forceful arm. ‘No mention of the race of the characters or the struggle he had as a gay African American writer of science fiction in an unforgiving straight, white hegemony. Nothing. It’s pointless. You don’t even say he’s black.’
‘There’ll be a picture of him at the top of the article. Or I assume there will be.’
‘Not good enough.’
‘And I refer to him as African-American a few times.’
‘Nowhere near good enough.’
Noble looked at the Philosophy Student. ‘I thought you wanted people to become interested in his work.’
‘Si, through him as a person.’
‘But…isn’t his work a reflection of that?’
‘I mean, him as a gay black man. His struggle to get published. The condescension from his white peers like that fascist Heinlein.’
‘Okay, but…he was published…’
‘Si, and it was a struggle. Probably. Look, Noble, what we’re trying to say is focus on the man first, show how he blazed a trail. Inspired other queer black people to pick up a pen and follow him.’
‘Like a biography?’
‘About his life?’
‘But don’t write about his actual work?’
‘Sure, representational stuff, his diverse characters, touch on that, maybe sprinkle in some of the analysis bits, but don’t centre it.’
‘Touch on it with a paragraph or…?’
‘A few lines, here and there.’
‘And the language aspect? I should just-…’
‘Fuuuuuck,’ said Detroit, seizing the reins again. ‘There’s fields of academic shit on that stuff, plot, themes, whatever. Nature of language? Who gives a shit? Could’ve been written by anyone, Asimov, Pohl, it doesn’t do anything. Only white readers lap up that shit and that’s cos it’s safe, it bypasses race, eliminates their guilt, but PoC readers, no way. We wanna know about all the real shit, the race stuff. We wanna know about Delany the gay black man, find out how he overcame his situation, his struggle. Yeah, he was published, kinda, but only cos he got lucky. Thousands of others didn’t. Thousands still don’t.’
‘Okay. Understood. But…what about his work? Do I just-…’
‘In this case, it’s irrelevant,’ added the Cuban quickly.
‘Unless, as I said, you’re talking about the diversity of the characters.’
‘No, their fucking race identity. Their gender. Jesus, fiction doesn’t take place in a straight, pale-white bubble. Wake the fuck up already, will ya?’
Noble couldn’t help but look confused. She’d only read half the book but from what she could recall the race and gender were just presented, not drawn out thematically. And why was Detroit suddenly saying ‘ya’?
‘No other books had these types of minority characters,’ said the Philosophy Student, patting Detroit on the shoulder. ‘That’s the writing point.’
‘I’m still confused.’
‘Jesus fucking-…’ muttered Detroit.
‘The main character is defined by her ability with languages.’
‘The plot is about an indecipherable alien language.’
‘Side point. Doesn’t matter.’
‘But…wouldn’t people also want to know why Delany knows so much about language? I read that he speaks French, so maybe that would be a good thing to-…’
The Philosophy Student held out her hand like a stop sign. ‘We don’t have time to debate this, Noble. We’ve already spent too long trying to explain things.’ She pointed at the screen, accidentally scraped a nail against it. ‘This is not what we want, write it again, please.’
‘Okay. I’ll try. But…what do I write?’
‘Anything you want.’
‘About his personal life?’
‘Sure. Just make sure people know he’s black. And gay. And stop saying but all the time, it makes you look weak.’
Forty-five minutes later, Noble finished her research and started re-writing the piece.
It was tough.
There was no real struggle to speak of. Delany was firmly middle class, seemed to have at least one connection to the NYC lit world and the only blowback he really got was from critics struggling through Dahlgren.
The black gay thing probably attracted hate from white supremacists, white liberals, white farmers, white mechanics, white dentists, white bystanders, devout Christians [all colours] and a teenage Larry Elder, but whatever form that had taken, it was pre-internet and therefore hadn’t been extensively recorded.
At least not that Noble could find.
So, she did the best she could, focused on his views on race and sexuality and, after two hours of one finger typing, handed in the new result.
‘Noble…’ said the Philosophy Student, pausing after the third paragraph.
‘What is it?’
‘You say he was middle class.’
‘That can’t be right.’
‘It says it on Wikipedia. His family had some money. His parents both had good jobs. Not rich or anything, but comfortable.’ Noble paused, checking her writing on the screen. ‘I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, to be comfortable. He’s still a great writer.’
‘I thought he was from Harlem. Have you checked sources?’
‘About the middle-class part? No, just Wikipedia. But it had a reference link that was valid.’
The Philosophy Student re-read the paragraph, typed something on her phone then frowned.
‘Should I delete it?’ asked Noble.
‘No, no. We don’t want to change the facts. That’s what they do.’ She highlighted some of the paragraph. ‘Though class status is not really relevant to his writing life, so maybe chop a little.’ She deleted three sentences. ‘Just say, born and raised in Harlem.’
‘And his publishing history?’
‘First published at 20, helped by his wife working at Ace Books.’ She re-read the line then deleted the age reference. ‘First book published, helped in part by his ex-wife working at a low rank in Ace Books.’
‘Was she at a low rank?’
‘It was the 60’s, must’ve been.’
Noble didn’t have her tongue attached at that moment, so she bit the side of her metal gum instead.
The Philosophy Student kept on going, adding bits here and there, explaining that Delany could only travel around Europe because of scholarships and donations, and enhancing the parts about his sexuality.
Noble didn’t respond to any of it. There was no point. She hadn’t been programmed to be a real writer, she didn’t know what made a good article, so best to leave it to someone who did.
Noble looked over her shoulder and read the part of the screen the arrow was hovering next to.
‘Noble, what is this?’
‘It’s from an interview he did. I tried to be respectful, but it’s his own views so I didn’t want to-…’
‘This is libel.’
Intrigued, Detroit walked to the table and poked his head over the Philosophy Student’s shoulder, hyper-scanning the text. ‘What the holistic fuck?’
‘I found it online. It’s fully referenced.’
‘Many, many children – and I was one of them – are desperate to establish some sort of sexual relation with an older and even adult figure,’ said Detroit, reading out the text. ‘Man, this is right wing libel bullshit. Where you get this from?’
‘An interview with Delany.’
Noble pulled over a computer and typed in the website she’d got it from. All three of them read it again.
‘It’s his own words,’ added Noble.
The Philosophy Student continued staring at the screen, silent. Detroit said fuck a few times then rolled up his sleeves [badly – they rolled slowly back down again].
‘Nah, it’s not that bad. On the surface, maybe, but…nah, it’s not that bad. Not that bad.’ Detroit looked at the screen again, scrolling up and down. ‘Yeah. That’s it. It’s an intellectual thing. What he’s saying is, what he’s getting at…children are not stupid. They know what’s what. And we shouldn’t discriminate against them cos…they know things, they know more than we think they do. Like, they can learn a language faster than an adult can, so maybe we should give them more autonomy instead of…’
‘Six year olds?’
‘…always trying to-…six year olds? Where’d you get that from?’
‘The interview. He said he had a sexual experience with an adult male when he was six, and no one was damaged by it.’
‘Nah, he says thirteen…look, this bit.’
Noble followed Detroit’s finger. ‘Nine, ten, eleven, thirteen…’
‘And he’s just saying it’s okay to talk about sex, not do it.’
‘You think a nine or thirteen-year old can do that?’
‘If they’re smart, yeah. It’s like sex-ed at school. See, what you’re doing is you’re discriminating, and that’s what he’s saying. Not that we should let kids fuck adults or be fucked by whoever, course not, but he’s saying…he’s trying to say, hey, children are smart…children who are smart, give them a bit of respect.’
Noble looked at the Philosophy Student. ‘Do you agree with this?’
She didn’t answer.
‘It’s not about agreeing or disagreeing, brother,’ continued Detroit, trying again to roll up his sleeves, ‘it’s about freedom of ideas. Delany’s an ideas man, he’s just putting it out there. He’s not advocating for it, just presenting it. Hypothetical.’
‘It’s a pretty dangerous hypothetical.’
‘What? Dangerous how?’
‘A teacher at my learning centre once told a six-year old that fire got colder the closer you got to the middle.’
‘That six-year old went home and tested it. He was in hospital for 2 weeks. Children can believe anything.’ Noble stared straight, unblinking. ‘I believed anything.’
‘What’s that got to do with it?’
‘You can’t treat children as adults. They respond to authority, they trust it, it’s their nature.’
Detroit almost ripped his sleeve clean off. ‘Fuck nature, kids are indoctrinated from birth, and your one was a six-year old. A dumb six-year old. Delany’s talking about older…’
‘Nine year olds?’
‘…kids who are smart. Nah, not nine-year olds, you’re twisting it. He’s talking about teenagers. The sex part anyway. And that’s not news to anyone. Teenagers fuck. Teenagers fuck a lot. And I said already, he’s not advocating it, he’s presenting it. He doesn’t say all teenagers should fuck adults or anything, he’s just saying, maybe talk about it. Discuss it. No action, just discuss.’ Detroit checked his wrist, which had no watch. ‘Fuck, I gotta get back on the forums. But listen, don’t run that shit, Noble. Don’t shill for right wingers, especially when they’re fucking blatantly decontextualizing him.’
‘It seems to be a left-wing site.’
‘Seems, seems. Don’t fall back on seems, brother. They’ve hijacked him cos he’s black and clever. You think there’s a white writer out there who hasn’t said something suspect? All of them have, they’re sick, they try to finger women at cons, in the fucking anterooms, and you’re jumping on the black gay man. Fuck that treachery. Write the truth, nothing but.’
‘I didn’t add any side comments. Just Delany’s words.’
‘Don’t take him out of context either. That’s what they do. Don’t do their work for them. Remember: we’re family, brother.’
‘Sister,’ corrected Noble.
‘Nah, not this time, I’m speaking my speak, everyone’s a brother. Don’t smear our guy, brother. Write loyal.’
Noble’s circuits sent the command hit back, defend your work but it was overruled at the second junction. Instead, she looked at the page on screen, pretended to scrutinise it, then said, ‘understood,’ in the tone of an accountant.
‘Team Delany, motherfucker.’
After Detroit had retreated to the other side of the room, the Philosophy Student came back to life, telling Noble to edit the new stuff out.
‘All of it?’
‘Focus on the 60’s, his early life.’
‘The early work?’
‘Si. I don’t know. Whatever fits best.’
The Philosophy Student looked at the screen again, scrolling down and sighing. ‘Or maybe we should just switch to Octavia Butler. Her life and-…actually, I don’t know much about her, what she said. Let me background check a little first, see if she’s suitable.’
‘So…I should scrap Delany?’
‘You’ll let me know in five minutes?’
‘Are you okay?’
‘You seem distracted.’
‘Migraine.’ The Philosophy Student rubbed her head, a bit too dramatically. ‘Didn’t sleep much last night.’
‘Not Delany-related, I swear.’
 Not making this shit up. He was talking about NAMBLA.