Today’s eye-rolling dispatch from the trenches of the ongoing SF culture wars comes from an opinion piece by someone called Paul Cook writing for Amazing Stories entitled When Science Fiction is Not Science Fiction.
With his ridiculously narrow definition of what is and isn’t science fiction he reminds me a lot of the self-appointed “Prog Police” who troll progressive rock forums declaring that everything that doesn’t sound exactly like Emerson Lake and Palmer did in 1973 is not “proper prog”.
It doesn’t help that he starts out by dissing one of my all time favourite SF novels, Gene Wolfe’s complex many-layered “Book of the New Sun”.
Severian’s travels and adventures and storytelling (Book Two has a long fairy tale inserted in the middle of the novel that goes absolutely nowhere and adds nothing to the novel) are straight out of a YA rite-of-passage fantasy.
Gene Wolfe’s erudite style can be quite hard work sometimes, and SF critic Dave Langford once said that Wolfe excelled at “making him feel thick”. In which case Cook has a bad case of Dunning-Krugers here. Not only has he failed to understand anything of the book’s depths, but he doesn’t even realise the fact.
Once he gets to Lois McMaster Bujold, we get a side-order of added misogyny.
… the attention to detail that only women would find attractive: balls, courts, military dress, palace intrigues, gossiping, and whispering in the corridors. All of this is right out of Alexander Dumas.
With all this ridiculously passive-aggressive whining about SF novels being thinly-disguised romances, he manages to ignore the fact that much of his beloved “Military SF” is essentially Commando Comics in Spaaaaace, generic action-adventure stories that happen to set somewhere in the future.
He signs off with the usual disclaimer beloved of all trolls.
Of course, I’ve offended everyone who’s read this far–simply by having an opinion. But this essay has been about truth-in-advertising. I’m too old to put up with indulgences by books claiming to be one thing, but are really something else. I like my science fiction advertised as such, nothing more.
And then the comments section became a rotten tomato gallery, as often tends to happen when someone posts something egregiously stupid on the internet. Amazing Stories’ mods didn’t really cover themselves in glory when they shut down comments within 24 hours due to the number of negative comments. If you can’t handle the comments (which were not YouTube-style personal abuse, but mostly well-reasoned rebuttals to the article), then don’t write nonsense on the internet.