Science Fiction Blog

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

The Outing of Requires Hate

Although I have been a reader of science fiction for many, many years, my fandom is music. And I’m glad it is.

Until very recently there was a book review blog called “Requires Only The You Hate”. It’s stock-in-trade was vitriolic reviews of science fiction novels, typically denouncing everything as racist and attacking the author rather than the work. The same blogger was also a notorious troll, posting under a number of identities over a period of a decade, and behaving as a serial harasser to a significant number of people, the majority of them women. Had she been operating in Britain she would very likely have been jailed. Her behaviour really was that bad.

Now her identity has been outed as a new writer under the name of Benjanun Sridankaew, whose new persona as a writer is all sweetness and light.

The whole thing is detailed here, if you have the stomach to read it. It’s nasty stuff.

She has now posted a public apology, but in a situation like this an apology can only be the first step on a long road to redemption. You can’t just wash away a past that bad overnight.

Whether or not we will see similar apologies from any of those who have enabled and encouraged her reign of terror over the past decade remains to be seen, and it has to be said that the list of people listed as supporting her over her victims contains one or two of the usual suspects. These are some of the same names that showed up in the Jonathan Ross debacle, including the one responsible for driving Ross’ wife off Twitter.

But the biggest problem is the subculture she operated within. What sort of subculture considers what can only be described as dehumanising hate-speech to be acceptable provided the target group is more “privileged”? Yet this is precisely the set of values that have taken over a significant part of the SFF world in recent years. It’s stated goals are to promote inclusivity and social justice, but without a commitment to human empathy it’s devolved into a frighteningly authoritarian form of identity politics. It’s created a perfect environment in which an abuser can hide; all they have to do cite the correct buzzwords and they’re given a free pass. There are parallels both with the collapse of the Socialist Workers Party in Britain, and the abuse scandals that have seriously diminished the standing of the Roman Catholic Church.

When the whole Vox Day/SFWA and Hugo nominations things blew up, I was shocked that even a tiny minority would support someone who’s a known homophobic white supremacist rape apologist. But seeing later dramas unfold I’m beginning to understand why a long-term online friend who I’ve always considered a liberal would claim in the comments on this blog to be rooting for Larry Correia and Vox Day for the Hugo awards.

What happens next will be interesting. When SF’s default ideology was a militaristic frontier libertarianism and most books were written by white men with engineering degrees, too many voices got marginalised, and that was not a good thing. But now you’re left with a feeling it’s gone too far the other way, and the scene has adopted a set of values that meant it was only a matter of time before it all imploded. It’s had its revolution, now it’s reached the stage of the revolution eating its children.

SF would be a lot healthier if authors could put whatever politics they liked into the actual books, but SF as a whole didn’t favour one ideology over another. There will always be cliques and partisan sub-fandoms, that’s just human nature. And sometimes they’ll fight and there will be drama. But the bigger cultural war needs to end in a truce with both sides acknowledging the other’s right to exist.

I am still glad my chosen fandom is music. Music doesn’t have this nonsense nowadays.

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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?

Posted on by Tim Hall | Comments Off

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