Science Fiction Blog

Thoughts on the science-fiction and fantasy genres, which emphasis more on books than on films or TV.

Critical Schools and Gatekeepers

Some thoughts triggered by a Google+ thread comparing some gamers’ narrow definitions of what counts as a “proper game” with the state of literary criticism in academia.

A healthy artistic scene, whether the medium is music, film, visual arts, literature or games needs many competing schools of criticism, all championing different aesthetics. If any one school gets so dominant that they can make their aesthetic the default and set themselves up as gatekeepers, it’s bad for the health of the medium as a whole. It gets worse if that dominance becomes entrenched.

This has happened in the world of literature, where the “serious novel” needs to conform to such a narrow palette of tropes that it’s become a thing of parody. Rock and pop criticism has run into the same problems many times in the past.

What can or should be done about it is another question.

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Dalek Relaxation Tape

What it says….

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If a Dalek’s immune system is lots of tiny Beholders, are there little Gelatinous Cubes inside every Cyberman?

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment

Vox Day: Hugo Denied

So, racist idiot Vox Day did not do very well in the Hugo Awards ballot with his terribly-written novella “Opera Vita Aeterna”. The combination of the author’s reputation and the poor quality of the work itself meant it was placed below “No Award” in the ballot, the only nominated work in any category to suffer that ignominious fate.

It was put foward as part of the so-called “Sad Puppies” slate of works by right-wing authors promoted by Larry Corriea, who’s own novel “Warbound” also did very poorly in the vote.

It leaves you wondering whether association with Vox Day in the minds of the Worldcon members who voted in the awards fatally damaged the chances of any other books in that slate.

As John Scalzi put it:.

The folks pushing the slate played within the rules, so game on, and the game is to convince people that the work deserves the Hugo. It does not appear the voters were convinced. As a multiple Hugo loser myself, I can say: That’s the breaks, and better luck another year.

With that said, Correia was foolish to put his own personal capital as a successful and best selling novelist into championing Vox Day and his novelette, because Vox Day is a real bigoted shithole of a human being, and his novelette was, to put it charitably, not good (less charitably: It was like Gene Wolfe strained through a thick and rancid cheesecloth of stupid). Doing that changed the argument from something perfectly legitimate, if debatable — that conservative writers are often ignored for or discounted on award ballots because their personal politics generally conflict with those of the award voters — into a different argument entirely, i.e., fuck you, we got an undeserving bigoted shithole on the Hugo ballot, how you like them apples.

Which is a shame. It’s fine for Correia to beclown himself with Day, if such is his joy, and he deserves to reap the fruits of such an association. I suspect, however, there are others whom he championed for his “sad puppy” slate who were less thrilled to find themselves looped in with Day by involuntary association.

That all depends on Larry Correia’s actual goals were. I see no evidence that Correia is particularly racist, misogynistic or homophobic. But from reading a handful of entries on his blog he does come over as a weapons-grade asshole (Comparisons with The RPGPundit may be appropriate here). That plus his assiciation with a known racist is enough of a red flag for a lot of people.

Did he want to challenge the perceived left-wing monopoly of the awards?  Or was the whole exercise designed to discredit The Hugos and Worldcon in the eyes of his readership?

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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