Gatekeeping in Fandom: Young People Read Old SFF


When I was invited to participate in the Young People Read Old SFF project, I jumped at the chance. The premise of the project is to test if old science fiction stories could be a good introduction for young people (in this case 20-somethings) to get into reading speculative fiction.

For me, I’ve been reading science fiction and fantasy for as long as I can remember, and I was already participating (although mostly lurking) in SFF fandom. Despite this, I haven’t read much of the so-called classics, and was willing to give them a try. I’ve also been reviewing old Doctor Who episodes on The Web of Queer for a couple years now, so I thought it would be interesting to do a similar project in a different format.

I’ve approached the reviews the same way I do Classic Doctor Who. I hold them to the same standards that I do modern stories. Especially because of the point of YPROSFF, I feel that I should be responding them to them as a modern reader. Unfortunately, the reaction I have received from SFF fandom has been drastically different from Doctor Who fandom.

I have been reading the comments (I know, I know) on James’s LiveJournal and on Facebook and I have found them extremely frustrating. The overwhelming response has been that I am a grouch and hate everything, and that I’m reacting to the stories “wrong.”

I’m starting to get the message. SFF fandom, or at least the part of it that’s reading and commenting on these reviews, doesn’t want my voice. They say they want to see how younger readers react to these reviews, but in reality they want to be able to tell me that I’m just wrong and irrationally hate things because I expect these stories to be better than they are. I get it, I’m a spoiled millennial who expects female characters to actually be people, and perhaps for the occasional queer character to appear on the page.

I entered SF fandom with Wheel of Time being nominated for a Hugo, and read through thinkpieces about how the Wheel of Time was bad and wrong and so were all the people who were voting for it. My experience with SF fandom has been the people who are supposedly the progressives telling me to shut up and go away.

I wonder why I bother trying to stay. At least Doctor Who fandom likes me.



20 thoughts on “Gatekeeping in Fandom: Young People Read Old SFF

  1. I’ve been following both the Web of Queer and YPROSFF with interest. As an older reader myself (but not a grognard yet) I really appreciate your unsullied views of these old classics, and it has inspired me to be a little more critical of some things I remembered fondly.
    Some things just don’t hold up. Some people just can’t see past the nostalgia. Don’t let it get you down.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Good to hear!

        I think you’re going to have to get used to telling people your choice of rude epithet, though.

        Looking at it from the sidelines (I don’t go to cons…) I am not convinced that SFF fandom is all that progressive.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Come sit with me at the next Worldcon. If people start bringing that crap, we can tell them we love them and their diverse opinions and their passion, but they can bite us if they try to tell us our opinions aren’t just as valid as theirs.

    Or, we can jump straight to “bite me,” as required.

    I want you here.

    (Honestly, though, I know there is some incivility in person but it seems to be waaaaayyy less than you see online.)

    I’m glad you’re here. Thanks for sharing this. Please don’t stop.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I may be one of those who groused, but I for one think you’re comments and criticism is dead on for the most part. Keep on reading this stuff that I grew up on, mainly because if I was reading this stuff now, I’d probably react the same way you are.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Hello–I especially like your comments in the project, and have also been sad at the “Why don’t you like stuff just because we liked it back in the day?” reactions. I’m sorry the experience has been so discouraging. I read and enjoyed a lot of terrible stuff back when I was first getting into sf/f, and I don’t regret it, but there isn’t any reason now not to, as you say, hold old works to modern standards. I hope you find more welcoming experiences in other places.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. As an older fan who fondly remembers reading vast quantities of old SF, a lot of it does not hold up that well when I reread it. Which makes me sad. But not grouchy. Modern reading protocols are better. Literary standards are higher. Ethical standards are higher. I love our literary heritage but it really is okay if we look at it critically and figure out which works really stand the test of time.

    YPROSF is one of the most interesting and valuable projects in fandom in recent years. I appreciate everyone who is working on it. I hope that you will make it to a Worldcon some day, or to another literary convention such as WisCon or Readercon. The YRPOSF reviews would translate very well to a panel discussion format.


  6. I’m really glad that you’ve made the effort to read and comment on older SFF as well as the newer. I think a lot of older fans still see the shine on the old stuff that got them into the genre, and can’t understand why that shine isn’t visible to younger people — and they feel threatened, because they perceive that as an attack on what they love.

    I’ve personally found that the Suck Fairy has visited a great deal of what I loved when I was much younger — some to just a little extent which can be overlooked, and some has been completely suckituded to where it’s no longer readable and enjoyable.

    I’m thrilled about all the SFF that’s been published in the last 30, 20, 10 years, and about what’s being published now. There’s so much that’s good, and so much variety these days, that I think an older fan would have to be seriously closed to new fiction to not be able to enjoy some of it.

    You are a real SFF Fan. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. I hope that you’ll stick around in fandom, and keep blogging, and that I’ll have the good fortune to meet you at Worldcon someday. 🙂


    1. There’s stuff I read 5 years ago that the Suck Fairy has since visited. I’m a very different person and I engage with what I read a lot differently than I did when I was in undergrad. I’m not looking for everyone to agree with me, I’m just frustrated that I put a lot of effort into those reviews and see them dismissed with “she hates everything and doesn’t understand.”


  7. For the record, I have no intention of quitting. But I’m starting to look at engaging with SFF fandom the way I look at being a woman in engineering. I have no intention of being forced out, but I don’t think I could recommend it to someone else.

    This isn’t a good thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. A link to this is the first I’ve heard of the YPROSF thing, which I’m now about to go investigate. Before I do though I just wanted to say, as a very not-young person who read a lot of OSF when it was new or at least newer: fuckem. There was always a lot of stuff i had to hold my nose to ignore even as a clueless straight white chick, and be buggered if youngsters should be told to STFU for daring to point out the jarring ick that even the best lit of its time possesses, especially if (as I suspect) the people doing the telling are the same arseholes who tried to exclude girls from SF fandom decades ago.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I’m sorry you’re feeling so demoralised. I’ve appreciated the effort you and the other Young People have put into the project; it’s been fascinating to see how and why responses to the material have changed with the passage of time.

    I think some of the Old Farts have forgotten that context does change things. I mentioned in one of the comment threads that I and other women I know found Heinlein’s depiction of confident female engineers and engineers supportive and empowering, because there was so little sf that said women could be these things; and yet I would not recommend them to young women today without giving some background, because the good things in his writing are much more commonplace, and the problematic things are accordingly much more obvious.

    Also, Suck Fairy…


    1. I grew up watching Voyager, where women were scientists and engineers and captains, and nobody questioned them on it because they were women. I grew up watching Stargate, and watching Sam Carter prove that she was smart and capable, no matter what the men around her thought.

      I grew up reading Tamora Pierce, where girls got to be knights and mages and spies and heroes.

      This is the bare minimum I learned to accept. They weren’t perfect by any means, but I refuse to accept less.


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