The town was peopled with sleepwalkers, whose trance was broken only on the rare occasions when at night their wounds, to all appearance closed, suddenly reopened. Then, waking with a start, they would run their fingers over the wounds with a sort of absentminded curiosity, twisting their lips, and in a flash their grief blazed up again, and abruptly there rose before them the mournful visage of their love. In the morning they harked back to normal conditions, in other words, the plague.
What impression, it may be asked, did these exiles of the plague make on the observer? The answer is simple; they made none. Or, to put it differently, they looked like everybody else, nondescript. They shared in the torpor of the town and in its puerile agitations. They lost every trace of a critical spirit, while gaining an air of sang-froid. You could see, for instance, even the most intelligent among them making a show like all the rest of studying the newspapers or listening to the radio, in the hope apparently of finding some reason to believe the plague would shortly end. They seemed to derive fantastic hopes or equally exaggerated fears from reading the linens that some journalist had scribbled at random, yawning with boredom at his desk. Meanwhile they drank their beer, nursed their sick, idled, or doped themselves with work, filed documents in offices, or played the phonograph at home, without betraying any difference from the rest of us. In other words, they had ceased to choose for themselves; plague had leveled out discrimination.
Translated from the French by Stuart Gilbert
Warning: This is an article that will most probably offend absolutely everybody across the political spectrum. Just to let you know in advance.
Readers of this blog can verify for themselves that I have no patience, in fact only utter contempt, for the anti-intellectual, repressive, moral and cultural relativist and notably anti-Semitic Left, their apologetics and worse for reactionary Islam/ism; and the odious Left’s near-universalism within the rotting corpse that is the SF genre community’s publishing and awards industry and its very low level of artistic merit and consequent further artistic stifling of said community and its already woeful lack of heavyweight cultural pretensions.
This liberal rottenness is of course evidenced throughout Western liberal society. Nowhere more so than the out-of-control Obama administration, its amateurish Chicago gangsterism, its ingratiating appeasement and empowerment of far right-wing Islamism, its anti-Semitism, its numerous scandals that are starting to make the Nixon White House look like a bunch of Keystone Cops by comparison. Yet even the US government’s know-nothingness, sleaze, bigotry and bullying is only a symptom of the rot, its depth and pervasiveness in American and indeed Western society. The Obama White House, the State Department, the IRS itself are only the rotten fruits from a very rotten tree. None of this occurs in a vacuum.
As I wrote in the previous article and repeat here – The SF genre community is an interesting case study in the very worst of the Western Left (in terms of its destructive groupthink, not its influence naturally enough) and the kind of zeitgeist that mirrors the arrogance and know-nothingness, the race baiting of the Obama White House (I have no nostalgic fondness for the incompetent Bush Jr and his administration). A zeitgeist, a way of looking at the world, that is replete with self-loathing, condescension to the Third World ‘Other’, anti-Semitism, moral cowardice, reverse racism identity politics, know-nothingness, juvenile emotionalism and just plain Thought Police gangsterism.
Those of us not enamoured of idiot gangster Leftism, its racist identity politics and the support such fashionable and indisputable reverse racism has in the left-wing SF genre community, are very much in the wilderness. When former SFFWA head cheese John Scalzi is so guilty, it sends a message of just where this community is coming from, and where it is headed. Of course that’s not all the sinister Leftism that Scalzi gets caught up in. This reverse racism/PC race baiting identity politics is increasingly integral to the political Left’s make-up, and allied, associated all too often with new anti-Semitism and its twin, odious and sinister pro-Palestinianism that is likewise increasingly integral to the Left’s make-up. That’s why identity politics in whatever form should get our warning radar up. Of course when it comes to liberal American Jews (in and out of the genre community), it’s a case of – warning radar wot? Reverse racism identity politics wot? Liberal anti-Semitism wot? Syria and Iran wot? Muslim Brotherhood wot?
James May’s exposés of the odious far Left identity politics prejudice and over-the-top grievance theater coming from the likes of Scalzi, genre hacks such as Saladin Ahmed (also a Jew-hater btw), Aliette de Bodard, K Tempest Bradford and many many others, has gotten very similar if not identical ‘criticisms’ to his essay/s that I have and from the same genre characters often enough, John Scalzi included. I do not want to repeat that all again here, so to those so interested, check the prior article at this blog for the details. It is however all very pertinent and relevant to what I get at over here… The witch-hunt against Barry Malzberg and Mike Resnick over a fabricated and trumped up charge of sexism is just the latest delusional gangsterism from the mad mad genre Thought Police.
So what are the alternatives to the imbecilic stranglehold that far Leftism has on the genre community?
Well the Gatekeepers no longer work like they used to; there is independent publishing, e-books and other mediums/outlets for those who don’t give a fig for the far Left’s stranglehold on science and imaginative fiction on both sides of the Atlantic. And it’s starting to have an impact even as the twits in the Ivory Towers, from the SFFWA and Tor to many of the Nebula awards voters, don’t pay any attention and just hold up their noses. And the Marxists from the British Isles who run things Science Fictional over there, well if it could be worse than the US of A… These oh so PC know-nothing liberals don’t get how they will be laughed at by future generations for their clownishness, their harebrained stupidity, their easy bigotry, but it’s not funny. Well in a black comedy kind of way.
Got your hopes up? Well not me. Not At All.
And here’s why…
You cannot revive a corpse.
The problem with conservative voices in science fiction, and I mean contemporary conservative voices in science fiction, is that they are … conservative. That is political conservatism tends toward reactionary thinking, wishful thinking about the Golden Age Past that never was, prudishness, embarrassing shilling for Big Corporate Dreams, apologetics for organized religion, knee-jerk, shallow and cheap patriotism.
It is the other end of the swing of the pendulum to which the know-nothing Left respond/ed with PC über–idiocy. Like Young Earth Creationists and ultra-Darwinian fundamentalists reacting to one another. What do you think gave birth to all the Dawkinsbots in the first place? No not science as Dawkins and his ilk like to pretend to themselves, but literal Biblical Creationism. They continue their kindergarten spats to this day, in the same old rut. The real science surely lies elsewhere, although I guarantee you that most SF writers and fans don’t know. Since most all of them don’t know any real science. However each side will paint you by the opposite number if you don’t go along with their equally narrow and wrong-headed warped perceptions of Nature and her evolution.
Same in politics.
If I am not a Jew sympathetic to or keen to ingratiate and appease a (Muslim) society that is overwhelmingly anti-Semitic, religious extremist, homophobic, misogynistic, anti-science, superstitious, then I must be a right-wing redneckhillbilly neo-ConCheneylovin’ gunfreakwingnut. If I don’t care for the reactionary tendencies of the Right and their equally vapid superficiality, then I’m a liberal pinkocommunist Obamlovin’ fruticakemoonbat. Unfortunately I do not exaggerate. Things have gotten this obtusely polarized in a Western society where a willful dumbed down zombification is the order of the day, and increasingly so. Whether such a society/so-called civilization can survive and should is a whole other issue, but not unrelated. If there are any responses to this article, it will almost certainly be (depending on who it’s coming from) of the ‘Red Wolf is a pinkocommunistfemministmoonbat’ or ‘Red Wolf is farrightwingnut’ variety. And preempting that here makes no difference. Where ideology rules, whether liberal or conservative, nuance and reason go out the window. As does reading comprehension.
The thing is I don’t see any fresh second wind blowing from conservatives, that can set things aright, that can negate the effects of horrible Leftism on a genre that I would arguably rank on its literary merits a teeeny weeny bit higher than cornball romance shlock but lower than say the Western or crime novel. And if it sounds like I am channeling Stanislaw Lem, well I admit as much. That’s because he knew what he was talking about. And for that he earned the ire of the SFWA. They never rebutted him. They only proved his point by receiving with open arms, the churned out shlock (after shlock after shlock), rewarding it with praise and in-house mutual backscratching. Yet things have gotten so so much worse since Lem berated American science fiction for its lack of literariness, its cornball pseudo-drama, its lack of science, real plotting, subtext, subversiveness, pacing, character development, its lack of real ideas. And the near blanket blindness of fandom to real literary merit, their utter lack of discernment. The all-round shittiness of it all in other words. Yet despite Lem’s dismissal of American and English language SF, there were good writers back then, and a fandom that did appreciate their output. Even if it was all on the margins. Now there’s pretty much nothing.
It’s so bad that artistically I would rank the SF genre at least as low as the offal produced by Hollywood. And there is a parallel there, since Hollywood did on occasion produce some gems, masterpieces even, amidst all the turkeys. Now there are only bloated turkeys really, sequels to sequels to movies based on video games or some-such, all with the budgets of the annual GNP of small Latin American countries. In other words, it is increasingly dumbed down all over. Our culture is dead. It is an anti-culture.
Can anybody imagine the kind of dreck that got nominated for Nebulas this last year even being nominated in say 1980? Me neither. Most likely a new nadir that speaks volumes, but it’s been very bad for a long long while. It’s an open secret, even among the liberals that run the show. If you don’t get what chilling message is being sent by the nominations of the derivative palubum that is N K Jemisin’s and S Ahmed’s books for the Nebula Award, then stop reading right here. That tells you just how bad it is. The Nebulas are now officially an unfunny joke if they weren’t before. The period say 1960-1990 is a relative Golden Age compared to where Science Fiction is now. It’s so bad I don’t go near it. This whole blog is motivated I suppose by some kind of weird attachment to the interests of my youth. I know it’s absurd. I never said it wasn’t.
I will give a concrete real world example of a recent ‘political event’ in science fiction politics to elucidate just why conservatism and a conservative audience cannot save science fiction. Firstly I generalize and oversimplify when I talk about Conservatism. There are PaleoCons of the Ron Paul variety, conservative libertarians, religious conservatives (which itself consists of YECers, Intelligent Design supporters, theistic evolutionists), atheist conservatives, Objectivists. And so many more divisions, sub-types, overlaps. Conservatives disagree heatedly among themselves on pretty much everything under the sun – economics, social issues and political/international affairs, immigration controversies etc. And I haven’t even gotten into the Republican-lite/RINOS/Tories thing and whether they can be said to be conservatives at all, except in name. In fact you cannot pigeonhole conservatives and if you do you are misrepresenting them. So when I speak of conservatives and conservative SF, it is necessarily overly simplistic. To be fair it is an oversimplification to group liberals as all alike, although in the genre community they do appear more prone not only to groupthink, but the identical types of groupthink and increasingly so. That’s just my take of course.
Here is the thing re conservatives and liberals dueling for the heart and soul of Science Fiction, yeah it’s a rigged game I know, and why I see no hope at all across the political spectrum.
Recently Steven Gould succeeded John Scalzi as president of the SFFWA. He easily won the contested election against conservative writer Theodore Beale aka Vox Day. Rachel Swirsky is the VP at SFFWA. In case anybody out there wonders what I have to say about the fact that there are two uh Jews as president and VP of the SFWA respectively, and the fact that there is a lot of horrible albeit de rigueur anti-Semitism among the genre pro field on both sides of the Atlantic (what this blog is all about of course)… Well this is what I have to say: anybody who knows where Gould and Swirsky’s politics lie, knows that it’s business as usual, on all fronts. How do you think Gould and Swirsky got their jobs in the first place? Gould and Swirsky have gone along with Scalzi’s capitulation – the absurd investigative Task Force – to the witch-hunters re the Thought Crime of Resnick’s and Malzberg’s. So one would have to be the most naive rube to expect anything other than Deafening Silence on Jew-hatred (both the old-fashioned kind and especially the new more ‘sophisticated’ kind) among the pro genre community, from the likes of Gould and Swirsky. So if you are expecting some kind of courageous speaking out against the oldest, albeit still very fashionable hatred, that pervades the liberal SF genre community (as it does the Left as a whole) from these two characters; all I can say is, do you want to make me laugh? I mean not that anybody excepts that of course!
In fact Gould is on the record with defending the disgusting racist identity politics from Scalzi, Jemisin and Ahmed, the only way he can, via a pathetic shoot the messenger (James May that is) personal attack of the Scalzi variety. Given that, what do you think the Jew-haters (who pretend they are not) in the genre community have to fear from somebody like Steve Gould and his deputy? Yeah exactly. Less than nothing. The triumph of Court Jewdom in (and out of) the US pro genre community only encourages that festering and even in-your-face Jew-hatred by pretending that such bigotry is either not there at all or perversely is anti-racism (‘peace and justice for the Palestinians’/anti-Zionism). All this neo-Orwellian insanity follows the same perverse motifs as the new racist identity politics of course. They are all rotten fruit from the identical rotten roots. Yet as I have written elsewhere, the flood is coming and where do these Court Jews in and out of the genre community think they are going to find shelter? When do you think any of them will find their conscience? Their consciousness for that matter? When it’s too late to matter? Cowardice is habit forming. And even then – when it’s too late – I wouldn’t bet on anything other than the persistence of their meek cowering silence and ingratiation to the Jew-haters in their midst. Just as the Soviet Party faithful sentenced to death in Stalin’s show trials, loudly declared their loyalty to the Party and Stalin even as they were lined up to be shot. When the Jew-haters are liberals, they can count on a free ride and even active support from Court Jewdom (and if you doubt me in this respect, just check this blog’s archives). No matter how bad it gets with the Jew-hating Left, liberal Jews (in and out of the genre community) largely continue to ignore the problem and focus on other things (like the evil Republicans, the Tea Party, the NRA etc). Yet the Jew-hatred is getting worse with every passing month. It really is.
All this brings me to Theodore Beale aka Vox Day, the voice for ‘conservative sanity’ in the Science Fiction genre community. So he thinks. Yes Beale does have on occasion some sensible things to say, about the moral relativist and cultural relativist far Left insanity that pervades the SF genre community, and the odious liberal gate-keeping of the commercial and ‘artistic’ award circus. However Beale is – to put it as politely and diplomatically as possible – not the most reasonable alternative to the status quo. It’s not that he’s a little cranky, or odd, who isn’t in the genre community? Who isn’t period? It’s that his um opinions on women and homosexuality are simply eyebrow raising. There is no other way to put it.
Now I don’t care for RationalWiki any more than I care for Wiki on controversial issues. RationalWiki’s bias to so-called enlightenment values that are not always such is apparent and in-your-face. It appears to have a clear anti-religious and scientific materialist agenda, an agenda that hews to the liberal status quo across the board, and RationalWiki may well suffer from moral and cultural relativist delusions that Western liberalism suffers from as a whole. I mention this because this is Beale’s page at RationalWiki. However there are some quotes there attributed to Beale – I am talking about what he has to say about women and homosexuality – that make one wonder if they are for real or at least intended to be tongue-in-cheek. Well they are for real and no they are not intended to be sarcastic.
Here are some of his choice remarks on gays for example:
I am not entirely convinced that all orientational challenges are birth defects; like most things homosexuality is likely a combination of nature and nurture. But even if we set all moral and religious tradition aside, (the wisdom of which is of course debatable), there can still be no question that to the extent nature is responsible, homosexuality is a birth defect from every relevant secular, material, and sociological perspective. Defective is not synonymous with bad. Blind people aren’t bad and yet scientists seek to give them sight. Deaf people aren’t bad and yet scientists seek to help them hear. So, there is no need to condemn gays in any way in order for scientists to help them achieve sexual normality.
I am not going to bother going into details on why the above is just misguided, disturbing and contradictory. Either you see it or you don’t. Homosexuality is “a combination of nature…” and yet it is “a birth defect”. And ‘civilized society’ needs to treat it as such. The path down which this kind of thinking leads is not one I care to go down… Beale appears to be sincere in that he intends no personal malice or hatred to homosexuals – he makes it clear he doesn’t see homosexuality as bad per se. And yet Beale does give comfort and justification to those who are hateful to homosexuals. However Beale may vociferously deny it and not intend it at all. This is why Beale’s self-deceptive thinking on this front is so dangerous and beyond the pale. [PS No I am not gay myself, although I know some people think so]
On women in science and well, women, he is arguably misogynistic. And no I don’t take seriously the claims of militant feminists here at all, since the latter have no credibility whatsoever (witness the Malzberg and Resnick witch-hunt after all); but Beale’s more mainstream critics and his own *actual remarks* here speak for themselves (I mean one just needs to quote Beale without comment):
Now if Beale were just reacting and mocking the idiotic extremes of far Left feminism (and militant feminism in the academy for that matter), and its anti-male prejudice and out-and-out imbecility (as exemplified by the Malzberg-Resnick kerfluffle), I would and do concur. The militant feminists are the flip side of the coin to old-fashioned misogyny and excessive patriarchy in our society. However the problem with Beale is that he appears to go further than that, and his remarks on women as a whole appear to be persistently and consistently troubling, a little over-the-top.
The thing is Beale easily alienates or risks alienating (one assumes) half the genre community with his breezy, negative remarks on the female sex. One would think he would want as many readers as possible, as much support as he could get from SFFWA voters, when everything is rigged against you. Does Beale not realize that there are as likely to be as many genre females who are infuriated with moronic Leftism and its hold on the genre, as males? Or does Beale think that women are disproportionately in favor of selling the political status quo? Even if he does believe that, does he really want to alienate the women who don’t care for how feminism has lost its way (when it comes to militant feminism, plenty of women just roll their eyes); and women who don’t care for the Left’s and the genre Left’s love affair/apologetics for reactionary Islam? Well that’s the message Beale could easily be construed as sending out.
More recently Beale has gotten into a spat with N K Jemisin, radical US feminist genre writer over the latter’s controversial speech in Australia (just google it if you can be bothered). One wonders when Jemisin will be visiting Egypt or the Sudan or any nation in the Persian Gulf to let us know about what she thinks of how women and girls are treated there by Sharia law; but as they say when hell freezes over… Yet Beale’s response to Jemisin falls into the same trap, the same mold, they are both reacting off one another with stereotypes, superficial finger-pointing and offensive generalizations that are fallacious. He is reactionary, she is well a far Leftist (enough said).
Another thing that I cannot leave out, is that Beale is in bitter dispute with the SFWA given that he accuses the latter of unfair discrimination and negative attacks against Beale’s person at the latter’s (private) forums, and similar issues. Given the snakes’ nest and vile gossipy nature of the SFWA, and the latter’s odious far Left political bent on top of all that; well I’m not on the side of the SFWA here. However I don’t know what has gone on behind the scenes and thus I cannot comment on this with any real knowledge whatsoever, so will leave off. If anybody is so interested, Beale has quite a lot to say about it at his blog.
The thing is conservatives who cheer him on either haven’t noticed his uh problematic side, or they don’t care to notice, or they simply share his reactionary tendencies. We have common enemies after all, and you know let’s not look to closely at our embarrassing relatives who are effective leaders and sell lots of books… The enemy of my enemy is my friend, goes the thinking on both sides of the Isle. And this is symptomatic of why there is no hope for conservative SF. And conservatism really. The same lack of concern of prejudice, that infects the Left like a cancer. Misogyny? Yawn. Well depends on how you look at it. Gays shmays. Whatever. The far Left are misogynistic too, horribly so. This is especially the case with far Left feminists, but who knows that? Given liberal militant feminists’ running cover for reactionary Islam (as liberals are wont to do as a whole), and the latter’s in-your-face misogyny; well this shows up a core of self-loathing, of masochism, of a strong anti-female streak within the militant feminist Movement. The ironies with the Left are beyond compare. That’s a whole other thing, beyond this article’s general scope. Just read the authentic feminist Phyllis Chesler’s Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman and The Death of Feminism. Not that these feminists ever will. None of the Left’s misogyny and the genre Left’s misogyny (that they don’t begin to recognize at all, along with the anti-Semitism) excuse such misogyny if it comes from conservative circles, in and out of the genre community. And so partisans on both sides of the isle will point fingers at the other and close ranks. We have dragons to fight after all, and you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs. So it goes. Yeah well count me out.
In other words, Gould had no real competition. Although Fordham U prof Paul Levinson has served as president of the SFWA, and Levinson is a political crackpot. I’m sure there are plenty of genre pro writers and wannabe writers who don’t care for the status quo and the business-as-usual approach from Gould, but Beale as the alternative is no viable alternative.
And as I make clear further up, Scalzi is guilty of PC identity politics and its explicit racism, and likewise doesn’t have the tiniest problem whatsoever with extreme Jew-hatred from the genre community. Ditto Scalzi’s successor, Court Jew Steven Gould. So how is Scalzi better than Beale? How is Gould? Other than the fact that Scalzi’s identity politics prejudice and enforcement of deafening silence to Jew-hatred from genre writers is just going along with the zeitgeist of our times; that is the genre Thought Police’s prejudices are respectable prejudices and Beale’s are not. Scalzi (and Gould) aren’t any better than Beale and neither are the formers’ supporters.
The thing is though that Beale’s reactionary slant isn’t the way forward, heck by definition reactionary thinking is going back to the past and past mistakes. It’s answering the horrible prejudices of Scalzi and his ilk with Beale’s own neuroses. And it makes no sense to say that Beale’s prejudices are preferable to Scalzi’s or vice versa. Yet Scalzi’s race-baiting has its seal of approval from liberal America, from the White House itself, from a dumb media, the Ivy League. And it’s all branded as anti-racism, anti-prejudice. That’s what makes Scalzi and the genre Thought Police’s prejudices so very scary.
Here’s another one of my beefs with conservative SF. Does anybody think the books of self-admitted conservative writers today have more real artistic merit than the books of the brain-dead Leftists? On average? Anybody? I mean say by the standards of The Man in the High Castle, Beyond Apollo, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Last Men in London, Fiasco, The Fifth Head of Cerberus, More than Human, Stranger in a Strange Land, Earth Abides? And if you answer with an affirmative, you are either being disingenuous or you are guilty of exactly what Lem was getting at in his criticism of American SF fandom. No critical discernment whatsoever. If you answer: ‘where is the artistic merit in Scalzi’s inane pap, in Gould’s output, and the genre Left’s derivative and mediocre fiction as a whole?’, you are missing the point by a mile. Devouring P K Dick and whatever B grade pulp dreck you can think of at the same level of appreciation and a ‘hey it’s all the same to me, enjoyed both books’ throwaway line is just wincing. It’s as if somebody would rank at the same level, films such as Spiderman 3 or Transformers Dark Side of the Dirge to say Judgement at Nuremberg and Lawrence of Arabia. Now if you say it’s rather odd or even impossible to see Spiderman as the artistic and cultural equivalent of Lawrence of Arabia, I have an answer for you. Well sure it is. But we are talking about SF fandom here. And fandom’s critical appreciation and discernment of the literary merits or otherwise of genre ‘literature’ – and this applies across the political spectrum – is simply lacking. Like the general public when it comes to taste in movies. Yes I really do think that genre fandom is every bit as uh ‘cultured’ as the general public. As in not. And if that strikes the reader as elitist, well then so be it. It’s not just me saying this about fandom, Lem said it. And he’s right. These people, or way too many of them, have no sense of real discernment whatsoever. I am not saying that there is something wrong with enjoying popcorn thrillers at their own level. I’m saying a lot of genre fandom simply can’t tell the difference between popcorn pulp thrillers/tired derivative drama and more ennobling creative endeavors, or if they can they simply don’t care for the very large chasm in quality at all. And that’s kind of worrying. Well it certainly explains a lot.
Getting back to why there is no hope for conservative SF per se as an artistic, genuine LITERATURE; well look at the state of conservative art and culture as a whole… Woeful. I mean what art and culture? The really bad, recent Ayn Rand film adaptation Atlas Shrugged being a case in point. Then again given the source material… Then again many conservatives – and not just those hypnotized by Objectivism – think Atlas Shrugged the book is High Art or at least Big Thinking. How do you argue with people who believe that? It’s like arguing with liberals who believe that Michael Moore is anything other than a know-nothing, dishonest partisan hack. Hey if you want to believe that Ayn Rand or Michael Moore are Truth Tellers to Power, believe it. I’m not going to change your mind.
Where both liberals and conservatives can make good art, music, books is where they drop the ideological axe grinding and focus on real people, real interesting concepts, real drama and dilemmas. I will give a more concrete illustration of what I am getting at. The anti-Americanism of liberal politics and liberal political ‘literature’ and art is as embarrassing, wincing and as stupid as the ‘ra ra America is the greatest country in the world’ empty nationalism of the Right. The former is also just plain bigotry. A middle way, a sensible path devoid of excessive nationalism on the one hand and self-loathing shame on the other hand appears a razor edged narrow balancing wire these days. If a genre or non-genre political novel/fiction is set in an America or UK (or a future America) where the dénouement tends toward either self-flagellating Leftism, ‘we are worse than North Korea and the Taliban’ garbage or empty headed flag waving ‘America and Brittania are all that stands for Civilization as we Know it and the Hordes of Barbarians wanting to tear it all down’ (not that there aren’t barbarians out there) – well either way it ain’t art. It ain’t authentic meaty, nuanced literature. It may be lots of things, but real literature it is not. It’s fluff and nonsense. It’s ideological axe-grinding. It can never be anything more.
Sean Penn is a liberal know-nothing if there was one, his shameful nadir his support for the left-wing fascist Jew-hating Venezuelan dictator, the late Hugo Chavez. And remember Penn is part Jewish. Yet Penn is a great actor and he has directed some masterful films. That’s because he never let or used to let his idiot Leftism get in the way of his considerable talents. Where he does, such as in the dishonest propaganda flick Fair Game, it’s a disaster. Reactionary anti-Semite Fyodor Dostoyevsky is one of the greatest writers who ever lived, since he was a Big Ideas man and a Serious Thinker. British genre writer Ian Watson is a very good science fiction writer, when he isn’t slumming it. His liberalism is neither here nor there. That’s because he is fascinated by real human conundrums, he is truly knowledgeable on the obscurer corners in science, art, literature, religion and he is a Thinker with a capital T. And it all comes through in his science fiction. And it’s why most SF fandom don’t appear to read him, if they have even heard of him.
I think Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is a good novel, even if I cannot stand Gaiman’s paint-by-the-numbers Lefty politics. Get A Clue Neil. Your fellow liberals tend to hate you. You’re a Yid after all. As I have written here, your “good man and a friend for almost 30 years”, the late Iain Banks technically speaking, actually hated you. Never mind Neil. Go back to sleep. Yet American Gods is good because Gaiman writes about real people, with real flaws, not caricatures and he is deeply knowledgeable about mythology and it informs his stories in ways that impress. He writes about the Things that Matter. His politics don’t come through too much. Terry Bisson can also write some great stuff, it’s because he is a talented quality writer. His Leftism doesn’t interfere too much in his better work. The late non-genre Portuguese writer José Saramago was a very good writer, his far Leftism and for that matter his Jew-hatred, doesn’t get in the way of that. That’s because he concentrated on real human drama and serious, meaty issues and with a discerning eye and pen.
The late genre writer John Brunner’s The Sheep Look Up is deservedly considered a classic. That’s because it is predicated on the real societal tragedy that is environmental destruction and ecological despoliation and its horrific consequences. Nowadays hysterical groupthink liberal political activism masquerades as ‘environmental science concerns’; the consequence is genre pap written by know-nothing scientific illiterate airhead genre liberals beholden to an incredibly destructive pseudo-scientific cult that is ironically and irrationally religious i.e. ‘the climate change/global warming genre’ or whatever they want to call it. Yeah I know it has a proper name, I don’t care to remember it. Perhaps a new nadir, if that’s possible, in liberal genre palubum. When are we going to have the ‘Palestinian chic’ sub-genre? Oh wait it’s already around, I’ve missed it right? Thank God. Maybe it’s the next big novel coming from China Mieville, with a foreword by his fawning Court Jew Lavie “the Palestinians have become the true Jews” Tidhar. I know don’t tell me, the Palestinian chic narrative is already there in Mieville. It’s in the subtext. Yawn. Well I don’t read Mieville. Oh My God What Am I Missing? I don’t want to know. Really.
There aren’t many real thinkers in the genre community, I’ll tell you that much. They are almost as rare as synagogues in Afghanistan. Maybe rarer.
Even modern political SF can be good (at least a large chunk of the political science fiction from the last century, where it was not hampered so much by the current moral relativist garbage), as long as it is not over-the-top or expresses a saner liberal sensibility circa 1950s-1970. Lucius Shepard’s Life During Wartime from the mid-eighties is a good novel (perhaps his best) because its politics are not odious twenty-first century Left. Michelangelo Antonioni‘s only American film Zabriskie Point (1970) is a (non-genre) film that heavily polarized its audience. For all its flaws, I think it a minor gem. Its flaws are artistic, not political. And where it is political, and it is very liberal politically, it’s from a time when liberals for all their excesses did not march arm in arm with jihadists to uh protest against Jews defending their right to life.
Famous and masterful science fiction films such as 2001, the Russian Solaris, The Man who fell to Earth, Planet of the Apes (1968), Blade Runner will be watched please God by future generations; because their themes and concerns are universal, dare I say it religious, getting to grips with real human conflicts and difficulties concerning Good and Evil, conflicts that transcend petty and dated political pap. It’s not a coincidence that such films are adaptations or drawn from the ideas of truly masterful genre writers – Clarke, Lem, Tevis, Boulle (not technically a genre writer of course), and P K Dick respectively. The far Left garbage film V for Vendetta (2005) is the definitive cinematic guide to the sinister moral and cultural relativist, self-loathing psychoses of our times, filtered through a genre lens. A woefully dishonest updated adaptation of a very good left-wing political 1980s British comic by Alan Moore, a comic/graphic novel that I liked. Although – scarily enough – I doubt most all liberal genre folk on both sides of the Atlantic would get what is so wrong with that film, or would criticize it for all the wrong reasons (such as poor acting).
And if we look at the other side… It may be unfair to say that conservative ‘art’ is at the level of the Hallmark channel, safe, insipid, prudish, superficial, but on the other hand just how unfair is that really? I mean sure it’s a generalization.
And getting back to conservative SF, what is it about conservative SF that stands out? Yes military SF. I have nothing against the likes of David Drake and John Ringo. I’m sure I would enjoy a beer with these guys, probably even like them at a personal level, but I would never read their books. Not ever. Their output is not literature, it’s not even an approximation of it, as can almost be the case with a good Western or a crime novel. And if this is the kind of stuff you like to read, not merely as popcorn escapism, but you think it is telling you Something Valuable About Our World and Humanity; well then … don’t tell me what good literature is, across the board. Because I ain’t listening. You have nothing to say. You can’t have it both ways. If you read conservative or just plain military SF as escapism, fine. But then don’t complain about the really awful state of science fiction and how it is drowning in PC stale Leftism. Who are you to complain? Since you clearly don’t read SF for its ‘literary quality’ to begin with. If you read military SF because well you think it’s quality science fiction, then how would you know the state of science fiction is so dreckful to begin with? You wouldn’t. Your problem is just that the genre is not rewarding with awards and book contracts the ideological dreck you like, it’s replete with ideological dreck you don’t like. Pot to kettle.
So what to do? Nothing is gonna change. It’s all bad to the bone. It cannot be reformed. It’s like Congress. Reform? You’re kidding right? Like the Democrats and Republicans, who you gonna pick? The whole system is busted, it’s rotten to the core. Its systemic corruption, greed and deep-seated know-nothingness across the political system. And in multiple ways. There can be no reform, no real change. Yet people are going to go on believing, their party can be reformed, we just need to get rid of the RINOs or the sleaze and corruption from the Democratic side blah blah. You know what it is to give CPR to a corpse that’s been rotting for weeks, the maggots having eaten right through to the bone, and not letting that bother you? Yes a sickening madness. You think the American and Western political circuses can be redeemed, whatever your personal politics? People are so naive. Worse. True Believers across the political divides.
Getting back to the science fiction circus…
This is what to do, my advice at any rate. Take it or ignore it.
Look at science fiction the way an outsider to the whole genre would. Somebody who actually has some discernment, open-mindedness, sensitivity, somebody who has read and appreciated a wide literature; from Dickens to Tolstoy, from Hemingway to Hermann Hesse. Somebody not enamoured of any kind of ideological axe-grinding. Somebody with an interest in history, science, anthropology, psychology, religion and mythology. Somebody who doesn’t take The NY Times as gospel, and not Atlas Shrugged and Fox News neither. In other words, somebody who wouldn’t fit in the asylum for the juvenile insane that is the SF genre community. Now this somebody who does not go to the library or bookstores to pick up the latest Robert Jordan or Turtledove, somebody who wouldn’t necessarily know Heinlein from Frank Herbert, then out of curiosity investigates science fiction. And not just a cursory or superficial look-in, but a serious look-in, its history and its current status. What would he discover? What do you think?
He would discover that it is a field that is potentially subversive, actually subversive on very very rare occasions, offers in principle great possibilities that no other genre can offer, and that in its past has given us some good, even masterful creative novels, novellas and short stories. However its artistic status today is well – to repeat myself- so woeful that it is past embarrassing. In fact our prospective somebody would sooner be caught with a brown paper bag carrying a book on the Roswell aliens and a Left Behind tract, a ‘porn for truckers’ rag than the average SF novel we see out there on the book racks today. Heck I know I would. I remember Harlan Ellison (some decades ago now) with the typical protest-too-much-inferiority-complex of so many genre writers, going on about how SF has arrived and it no longer has to prove itself. It’s out of the ghetto. Well you know considering how SF if anything is deteriorating – and who would have thought that even possible say three decades back? – Ellison is so very wrong. SF is still in the ghetto. Actually it’s not even good enough for the ghetto where the Western and crime novel are. It’s in the grave. Yup it’s been demoted from the ghetto. It’s no longer even good enough for the ghetto. Now if science fiction can only raise itself to the level of say the crime novel, if it could only get back to the ghetto! That would be a step up.
I have a nine year old nephew who reads a lot, who is clearly talented in maths and science, quiet, shy, sensitive, a bookish tendency, not good at sports. I am afraid that in his adolescence he may discover science fiction. He is the type who probably will. I need to warn him off. I will tell him this: ‘kid, there is good SF and there is bad SF. Signal to noise is very low. Most of it is just horrible and can even cause brain damage. Most all of the good stuff was published before I was born or when I was your age and a little older maybe. Here is what is worthwhile reading (give him my personal list), yes I’m sure I will miss out quite a few good novels, even lots of good novels. I hardly know or care to know about all the writers out there, past and present. The point is I don’t want you reading too much SF kid. If you read a few dozen SF novels in your whole adolescence and young adulthood, in your whole life, it is more than enough. A few dozen novels at the most is just fine (from my personal favourite list of course and I mean here SF in the narrow and ‘pure’ sense. I don’t include broader magical realism, William Burroughs, Calvino, Borges, 1984 – that kind of thing). Oh yeah there are lots of good short stories that have been published, worth reading a fair number of short stories, published in the main a long time ago now.’
The real meat in books lies elsewhere. The time it takes to read several big bloated door-stopper SF books of uneven quality can be better used to read everything from Plato to Philip Roth, Euripides to Lawrence Durrell, Gogol to Twain. And what of non-fiction? Any person curious about the world and humanity has a natural interest in history, psychology, biography, religion (having nothing to do with being religious) and even if not inclined to science, at least something on its history and controversies. Life is short and in between working, getting laid (hopefully), cooking, doing the laundry, listening to music, hanging out with friends, there ain’t all the time in the world for reading. And there is too much to know, about everything that is interesting and worth knowing at least a little about. If you could live for five hundred years, have a couple of hours every day for reading, day in and day out; you would not come close to reading all the worth-while books out there, fiction and non-fiction, all the books that are worth delving into. Just on biography, history, mythology, anthropology alone, one would need the lifetime of a Methuselah. Never mind more esoteric subjects, never mind serious literature (I’m not talking genre literature).
Clearly the obvious reason why so many of these science fiction and imaginative fiction writers are so embarrassingly free of even basic knowledge of the sciences (and why their cluelessness impacts so negatively on their fiction) is that they simply don’t read any science, nothing weighty by any means; they are too busy reading science fiction and fantasy to the exclusion of science. Clearly one of the reasons why the liberal SF community is so clueless as to the reality of the world today, evinced by the formers’ cultural relativism, is that they don’t read any authentic or wide history. They are reading too much genre pap instead. Of course the Western Left who don’t know Le Guin from Lester Del Rey, Aldiss from Zelazny (i.e. probably most liberals), are likewise for the most part ignorant of science and history. Hence the tragic triumph of modern-day know-nothing liberalism and to a lesser degree reactionary conservatism everywhere. Other people not sucked into SF just have their own escapes is all. Reality TV, shallow political activism, heroin addiction, facebook, booze, football, Sudoku, whatever else.
What am I getting at? The short of it is this: Leave science fiction behind.
Don’t even pay attention to the SFFWA, to the Nebulas, don’t subscribe to any of the mags, read non-genre literature, even crime novels. Read history, science, biographies, anthropology. Read real literature. Anything but science fiction and fantasy and whatever else in between. I except the very very small number of genre fiction output that is worth reading, largely part of the past. And if your response is: so why are you bothering to tell SF fans this, on a SF-centric blog after all? Well why preach to the converted? Those outsiders who rightly hold up their noses to SF, because they sense rightly that it’s junk. I preach to those who are still not converted, who still care about science fiction. Even if all I’m really doing is just letting off some steam.
Leave science fiction behind. With Notable Exceptions. Past and Present. You’ll be so glad you did.
I wouldn’t quite say, we have to destroy science fiction in order to save it, well… But at the least we have to leave it behind in order to save it. In order that something new can rise from the ashes. Of course that’s not going to happen. You can’t change the SF genre community, even if you agree with everything or pretty much everything I say here. And how many people would? Way too few. That’s the thing. There is just too much inertial stupidity, too many ideological axe-grinders, too little concern for real quality writing (and the Writers’ Workshops don’t appear to have improved things at all. For all I know they may be part of the problem), and these twits call the shots. It would be easier to reform Congress. So leave SF to itself, let it twist in the wind and become increasingly irrelevant, as with the mainstream media.
In closing here is an admittedly cruel analogy: Science Fiction needs to be viewed in the same way, from the lens that a middle-aged man remembers an infatuation with a pretty girl in his school class from back when he was 15. She had a little puppy fat, but man she was cute and got your heart racing, and the smile she had, it finished you, turned you to jelly. You haven’t seen her in thirty years. You wonder about her sometimes, thinking about what could have been. And then by some chance, you see her for the first time in thirty years. Well, she’s got three kids now, she’s put on a lot of weight, her hair is stringy, her eyes have lost that spark, she’s tired and her skin is pallid. She doesn’t exactly set your heart racing, in fact just the opposite. Of course you ain’t so hot yourself any more, beer-bellied, slack muscles, receding hairline, same tired eyes. She’s thinking of you what you are thinking of her. You are polite to one another – how’s it been, good to see you. But really after saying goodbye, you both wish you hadn’t set eyes on each other, taints the memories, taints what was; for all the fumbling and awkwardness of those teen years, there was promise and real beauty back then. And now it’s gone, broken and lost.
Like Science Fiction.
Actually the analogy to middle-age is not fair on tired middle-aged folk past their prime. Science Fiction is more accurately a very old crone, on life support, oxygen mask, and suffering from Alzheimer’s, not even remembering her name or the names of her children, can’t feed herself and needs help going to the bathroom. You just want to see her out of her misery.
It was fun while it lasted. Well maybe. It was nice knowing you even if I never introduced you to my relatives. Can you blame me? Now drift off slowly from dementia into oblivion. I mean I don’t wish it on you. Yet clearly that’s where you are going and there is nothing I can do about it. Got bigger fish to fry.
Old M. Michel’s temperature had gone down to 99 and, though he still looked very weak, he was smiling.
“He’s better, doctor, isn’t he?” his wife inquired.
“Well, it’s a bit too early to say.”
At noon the sick man’s temperature shot up abruptly to 104, he was in constant delirium and had started vomiting again. The ganglia in the neck were painful to the touch, and the old man seemed to be straining to hold his head as far as possible from his body. His wife sat at the foot of the bed, her hands on the counterpane, gently clasping his feet. She gazed at Rieux imploringly.
“Listen,” he said, “we’ll have to move him to a hospital and try a special treatment. I’ll ring up for the ambulance.”
Two hours later the doctor and Mme Michel were in the ambulance bending over the sick man. Rambling words were issuing from the gaping mouth, thickly coated now with sores. He kept on repeating: “Them rats! Them damned rats!” His face had gone livid, a grayish green, his lips were bloodless, his breath came in sudden gasps. His limbs spread out by the ganglia, embedded in the berth as if he were trying to bury himself in it or a voice from the depths of the earth were summoning him below, the unhappy man seemed to be stifling under some unseen pressure. His wife was sobbing…
“Isn’t there any hope left, doctor?”
Translated from the French by Stuart Gilbert