SF and Gaming Blog

Thoughts, reviews and opinion on the overlapping worlds of science fiction and gaming.

So a bunch of gamers are celebrating the release of the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons by burning their 4th Edition books. It seems the D&D Edition Warriors now make Yes lineup purists look like rank amateurs. Accusing me of being the president of their record company for writing a three-star review of their new album just can’t compete.

Posted on by Tim Hall | 3 Comments

Roko’s Basilisk – Lovecraftian Calvinism on Steroids?

Memetic hazard warningSlate Magazine has discovered Roko’s Basilisk: The most terrifying thought experiment of all time, which postulates that an all-powerful Godlike artificial intelligence will punish everyone who didn’t help it come into existence in a computer-generated afterlife.

SF author Charlie Stross blogged about Roko’s Basilisk last year, and correctly identified is an a nasty mashup of the bleakest elements of Calvinist theology with H.P.Lovecraft’s “Things Man Was Not Meant To Know”.

Leaving aside the essentially Calvinist nature of Extropian techno-theology exposed herein (thou canst be punished in the afterlife for not devoting thine every waking moment to fighting for God, thou miserable slacking sinner), it amuses me that these folks actually presume that we’d cop the blame for it—much less that they seem to be in a tizzy over the mere idea that spreading this meme could be tantamount to a crime against humanity (because it DOOMS EVERYONE who is aware of it).

And now I discover I’m followed by Roko’s Basilisk on Twitter. Should I be worried?

Posted in Computing, Religion & Politics, Science Fiction | Tagged , | 2 Comments

D&D5 and Internet Outrage

So the first release of Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition has caused an internet shitstorm. And this time it has absolutely nothing to do with any content of the actual game, but the names of two of the list of people credited as consultants. People are talking of boycotting the game, or making donations to an appropriate charity instead of buying D&D products.

Admittedly those two names have a reputation as rather abrasive characters who do not suffer fools gladly, and referring to opponents as “Psuedoactivist Swine” is not the best way to make friends and influence people. But nothing excuses smears and blatant lies such as wholly false claims of racism and homophobia. The whole thing seems to be driven by long-running personal feuds and opposing cliques, some of which goes back to the elitism coming out of The Forge a decade ago.

I’m reminded of the “Satanic Panic” back in the 1980s, when a bunch of fundamentalists declared than D&D was a gateway to devil worship and a significant cause of teenage suicide. These small-minded and censorious authoritarians managed to do a great deal of harm to the RPG hobby, for example getting the game banned in schools. They succeeded in this because D&D was little known and little understood, and too few people outside the RPG hobby understood how much their claims were paranoid nonsense.

A decade later they tried the same thing against the far more mainstream Harry Potter fandom, and they just got steamrollered. Enough of a critical mass of people had read the actual books, so that nobody outside the fundamentalist bubble could take the devil-worship arguments seriously.

The same has happened with the so-called “Outrage brigade”. When they went after relatively little-known small-press writers people who ought to have known better bought their lies and smears. Once they went after the biggest game in the RPG hobby it was the equivalent of the moral minority versus Harry Potter. They were revealed as a small clique, deserving irrelevance beyond their little echo chambers.

It does need to be said that there has been some thoroughly toxic behaviour on both sides, bad things said in anger that keep on fuelling the fires. School playgound level name-calling and “Die in a fire” ad-hominems are never acceptable behaviour regardless of the provocation. As my mother always said “Two wrongs don’t make a right”. Some people really need to grow up and let go of old grudges.

Posted in Games | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Diversity in SF, a zero-sum game?

Does diversity in Science Fiction and in gaming really need to be a zero-sum game? That’s the impression I get from long-winded rants accusing feminism of ruining SF. James May’s argument seems to me as full of holes as a Swiss cheese; in particular his praising of Iain Banks suggests that he doesn’t do irony, or he hasn’t actually read much Banks. Banks’ genderfluid and decidedly non-imperialist Culture is about as “Politically Correct” as it gets.

Though I am not any kind of conservative, and find many aspects of the conservative world-view troubling, an SF world purged of all conservative voices in the name of social justice would be all the poorer for it. We’d lose the likes of Gene Wolfe or Jack Vance, for starters. But is anyone bar a tiny but loud group of zealots actually arguing for such a thing?

Even if it’s not to my taste, I’m sure niche subgenres of SF that read like engineering textbooks crossed with libertarian tracts will continue to exist for as long as there’s a market for that sort of thing. It’s just that they will no longer be the default.

Posted in Science Fiction | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

So the reactionary philistine Michael Gove is acting like a Soviet minister of culture in banning “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Of Mice And Men” from the school Engish curruculum on the grounds that they’re by non-British authors. If he really wants texts exclusively by dead white British males, may I suggest something by Iain Banks?

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment

Charlie Stross on Superheroes

Interesting blog post by Charlie Stross entitled “The myth of heroism” in which he makes the good point that the superhero genre is essentially classical mythology reminagined in a modern-day setting. He suggests this reason as to why superheroes are more accessible to some audiences than science fiction.

SF—a spiky, chewy, unlovable form that is hard for the humanities to approach. The tools of hard science fiction are much trickier and slipperier to handle than those of the fantastic, because the cultural divide in our educational systems deprive many of the people following the literary and cultural track of the tools they need to engage with science and technology effectively. Whereas myth and legend comes naturally to the hands of people whose education, even if it doesn’t directly engage with the Greek and Latin classics, is pervaded by the writings of the literary elders who did.

I’m not completely convinced by that argument myself. But maybe it’s because I followed the science and technology track in education, and fiction needs internal consistency and logical cause-and-effect to work for me. Many of the superhero tropes break that, which is why I’ve never really appreciated the genre.

And no, I don’t buy Charlie Stross’ assertion that the superhero genre is any less trope-ridden than high or urban fantasy.

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Some Robert Heinlein fanboys are complaining on the interwebs that Robert Heinlein would not win a Hugo award today. It doesn’t occur to them that if Heinlein, who died of old age in 1988, was a man in the prime of his career today, he’d have been born two generations later. His world view would most likely be completely different, as would the books he would be writing. Quite possibly those conservatively-minded fanboys would not even like those books. And maybe they would be winning Hugos.

Posted on by Tim Hall | 4 Comments

#BaenAwardsStories

Baen Logo Everyone loves a Twitter hashtag game. But this one does need a little context in order to make sense.

Science Fiction publisher Baen Books, who specialise in military and action-adventure SF with a decidedly conservtive-libertarian bent, have announced a Fantasy Short Story Award. The way it’s come so soon after the highly controversial Hugo Awards right-wing block-voting slate that included a number of Baen authors has raised eyebrows, and there have been suggestions that it’s not entirely a coincidence.

Worse, it’s being judged by none other than Larry Correia, who put together that slate and promoted it along with the virulent racist, homophobe and rape apologist Vox Day, whose work also appeared on that slate. Correia may be a fine writer, but from his blog he comes over as an unpleasant egotistic bellend. And he doesn’t seem the least bit bothered that association with Vox Day might damage his career. It makes you wonder just how radioactive someone needs to be before people refuse to associate with them.

The rules of the contest make it clear what sort of stories they’re looking for.

What We Want To See

Adventure fantasy with heroes you want to root for. Warriors either modern or medieval, who solve problems with their wits or with their sword–and we have nothing against dragons, elves, dwarves, castles under siege, urban fantasy, damsels in distress, or damsels who can’t be bothered to be distressed.

What We Don’t Want To See

Political drama with no action, angst-ridden teens pining over vampire lovers, religious allegory, novel segments, your gaming adventure transcript, anything set in any universe not your own, “it was all a dream” endings, or screenplays.

Yes, it does seem to emphasis a certain somewhat clichéd type of story, with rather a lot of implied sexism.

The satirists of Twitter were very quick off the mark with a hashtag game that mercilessly mocked all of Baen Books’ tropes. Here are a few of the highlights.

Spot the parody of Vox Day.

And while on the subject of Vox Day, Stephanie Zvan has reviewed his Hugo Award nominated Opera Vita Aeterna, and concludes the story is indeed truly, truly awful, Eye of Argon without the unintentional humour. It’s impossible to escape the conclusion that it was nominated for the sole purpose of trolling the awards.

Posted in Science Fiction | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Does “Geek culture” really have a massive sexism problem, or does it, as Gareth M,  Skarka suggested on Twitter, an “unwillingness to ostracise toxic assholes” problem, which is compounded by the internet’s serious troll problem?

Posted on by Tim Hall | 4 Comments

Fred Clark on The Satanic Panic

Great post by Fred Clark on the 1980s fundamentalist moral panic about D&D and Satanism. It all reads like ancient history now, like something out of the Salem witch trials.

Newitz’s account details one tangential battle of the Satanic Panic that arose in the 1980s — a moral panic that resulted in students being expelled from schools, young people being bullied by their peers or institutionalized by their parents, and dozens of innocent people spending years in prison for crimes that never even occurred.

The astonishing thing, as Newitz says, is that today, a few decades later, “D&D-influenced stories” are a noncontroversial part of mainstream American pop culture. That’s not what anyone would have predicted back during the Reagan years, when Satanic baby-killer politics first arose, bringing with it a whole host of demonizing delusions — a diabolical conspiracy of black-robed ritual abusers, fears of backward-masking messages in rock music, the presumption of a suicide epidemic among RPG enthusiasts. If you remember the 1980s, it’s jarring to step back today and realize how much of that has simply faded away and lost its power. The same folks who were able to bully D&D to the sidelines in the 1980s found themselves steamrolled when they later tried the same tactics against Harry Potter and his fans.

But, as Fred Clark explains, Dungeons and Dragons really was a threat to the world-view of a certain kind of authoritarian fundamentalism. It wasn’t the magic, or the monsters, or the made-up pantheons of gods.

It was the alignment system.

As I’ve explained before, D&D’s alignments have two axes forming a three-by-three matrix of ethical stances. One axis is Good vs. Evil, the other is Law vs. Chaos, more or less as defined by Michael Moorcock in his Eternal Champion saga. Law is all about following the rules and obeying authority, and it’s easy to see why some fundamentalists might have a problem with making that independent of Good and Evil. Despite it actually being true, as evidenced by every totalitarian regime in history.

But, as Fred Clark correctly points out, denying the existence of Lawful Evil or Chaotic Good isn’t actually very good theology.

It says something about the sorry state of biblical understanding among biblical “inerrantists” that we were left to learn this from Gary Gygax rather than from Galatians, Isaiah, Amos or the Gospels. But once we learned it — once we came to see the possibility of it — then the whole ideology we’d been taught came into question.

But when the fundamentalist faith is as fragile as a soap-bubble, just about anything can not only be seen as a threat, but can actually be a threat.

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