SENSOR SWEEP: Fantasy’s Lifeblood, Alien Bureaucracies, Self-Congratulatory Praise, and Incredibly Racist Novels

Wednesday , 14, September 2016 6 Comments

Appendix N (Every Day Should Be Tuesday) Throwback SF Thursday: Women of Futures Past, edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch — “You wouldn’t think a story about an expedition to the South Pole could be boring, but Le Guin has done it.  This is the sort of nasty, dull story the literati love.  It isn’t science fiction at all.  It’s technically alternative history, albeit not featuring any kind of interesting or thought-provoking alternate history.  At least lady Ghostbusters had ghosts!”

The Big Freeze (Tangent) Why Conservatives are a Necessary Component of a Vital Society — “Now the pendulum has swung way, way the other direction and certain reasonable conservatives amongst science fiction writers and critics are sometimes being over scrutinized, even punished, for outspokenness and some fairly normal speech tropes—most recently, Dave Truesdale was actually ejected from the Worldcon for having declared on a short story panel, in the space of a few minutes, that science fiction was being unfairly truncated by politics, and free speech gagged by political correctness emanating from the left.”

Appendix N (Stuff I Like) Short Stories — “Short stories used to be the lifeblood of fantasy and science fiction. It was on the pages of Weird Tales and Astounding that the genres as we know them were birthed and matured. Swords & sorcery in particular, flourished and, still, works best as short stories. My experience with novel-length S&S is that the slow bits (you know, the stuff that gives novels their weight and depth), detract from what I want. What I want is rousing action, exotic locations, and dark atmosphere and horror. The Hour of the Dragon is alright, but for me, it doesn’t measure up to ‘Red Nails’ or ‘Queen of the Black Coast.’ Same thing with Kane. Bloodstone is not equivalent to ‘Reflections for the Winter of My Soul.’ The stories are tighter and more dynamic, which is what I want from heroic fantasy.”

Appendix N (Vintage Novels) The High Crusade by Poul Anderson — “These days it’s easy to feel that we’re also ruled by all-powerful alien bureaucracies. As I read The High Crusade, however, alien bureaucrats began to look a whole lot less scary. Of course this book is a rather self-indulgent medievalist daydream. But it is also a rare and refreshing book, a book that dares to imagine the alien bureaucracy crumbling in the face of determination, physical courage, and low cunning. As such, it was like a whiff of burnt marsh-wiggle: profoundly encouraging. Go and read it!”

Appendix N (Vintage Novels) A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs — “It is in this vein that I invite you to contemplate the writings of Edgar Rice Burroughs, that prince among hacks. And when I say ‘hack’, I mean it in the most complimentary of terms, as referring to a man who, despite catering to the most unsophisticated desires in humanity to go chopping up enemy hordes into little pieces, does it all while lauding the very basic and very Christian virtues of courage, fidelity, chivalry, and mercy.”

Appendix N (Black Gate) Andre Norton: Are Her Men Really Women? — “Women have long been defined by how they aren’t men, and similarly Norton’s male protagonists are almost always defined by how they’re not the standard socially/politically accepted norm. Even the positive qualities they may have are somehow the very things that set them apart, and define them as ‘other.’ These are invariably qualities that the standard norm don’t wish to have, even though they’re demonstrably useful.”

Appendix N (Rawle Nyanzi) The Planetary Adventures of Eric John Stark — “Brackett’s style is beautifully uncluttered, with just enough description to set the scene. Exposition is kept to a minimum; even the down-time keeps the plot moving forward. The characters are simple but distinct, with their roles plain and clear. Lastly, she always keeps a sense of foreboding and danger hovering over all of the characters.”

Traveller (Tales to Astound!) TRAVELLER: Out of the Box–What We Mean When We Say “Encounter” — “If you look at the early game materials–the random encounter tables, the encounters in the hex crawls, and so on–one sees that the entire flow of these games in the early days was much more improvisational. New elements would occur that might pull the Players and their Player Characters in whole new, unexpected directions. What starts as a simple encounter might be something that turns into a cheery meeting of fellow travellers, a firefight, three sessions worth of play, or the focus of the campaign.”

Books (Seagull Rising) Modern Sci-Fi, Why Do I Even Bother? — “The book opens with an introduction by the editor, Gardner Dozois, which discusses the origins and evolution of ‘space opera’. It starts out great, name checking some undeservedly obscure authors like A.E. Van Vogt, E. E. Doc Smith, and Jack Vance, and even admits that science fiction as a whole abandoned its rollicking good fun and aspirational value in the 1960s in favor of chasing the approval of social engineers and ivory tower literary critics. Unfortunately, he presents this change as a good thing, and barrels straight on into the standard self-congratulatory praise of modern sci-fi as a clear cut improvement over its predecessors.”

From the Comments (File 770) First Dragon Awards Presented — “Call of Cthulu winning ‘Best RPG’ is like giving a 1975 Ford Galaxy ‘Best Car’ at the Detroit Auto Show. The game is badly dated and it’s not just a failure to innovate – the game is straight-up a piece of the past.”

The Big Freeze (Jeff Duntemann’s Contrapositive Diary) Rant: The Dragon Awards and the Convergence of Exiles — “We used to have lively discussions of various political issues at cons, and nobody went home mad. But that was the 70s. I had hair, and fandom was young, tolerant and diverse. It was a short time comin’, and it’s been a long time gone.”

Short Stories (Rod Walker) the economic impracticality of short fiction — “Some of the best works in the English language are in short form. The Adventure Of The Speckled Band and The Adventure of the Six Napoleons by Arthur Conan Doyle, The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe, the original Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, The Scarlet Citadel and Red Nails and Worms of the Earth by Robert E. Howard, The Call of Cthulhu by HP Lovecraft, and numerous others are all short fiction, and all had an outsized impact on popular culture.”

Books (Seagull Rising) Grown Up Book Report: Killer’s Payoff, by Ed McBain — “Before cracking the cover, let’s recall that today’s view of yesterday’s work is one of the victors looking down upon the vanquished with scorn. Is this a well-earned reputation, or have we been listening to the same sorts of fools who think modern art is an improvement upon the Realist movement? This book might not answer the question by itself, but it might just add to my growing collection of data that modern writing has degenerated from, rather than improved upon, the writing of my forefathers.”

The Big Freeze (Marina’s Musings) Dragon Awards: A Personal View — “John C. Wright some years ago joined a small but select group of authors (Andrew Klavan, Dean Koontz and David Mamet come to mind off the top of my head) who, after a period of critical acclaim, miraculously ‘lost their talent’ after becoming vocal about their unapproved political views and/or religion. Or so all the ‘important’ people would have you believe. Fans think otherwise, and fortunately it’s the fans and not the now mostly ineffectual gatekeepers will always have the last word.”

Television (Barbarian Book Club) Stranger Things — “Every father figure character in the show was a failure. From the creepy Dr. Breener the evil scientist abuser to Will Byers self serving waste of a father. Even Sheriff Hooper failed as a father in his own eyes and attempts to redeem himself. This theme coupled with El being a somewhat angelic figure(The gold wig, levitating above water) that is sacrificed alludes to a few occult/biblical themes. Contrasted with the portrayal of mothers it gives you plenty to think about.”

Appendix N (Every Day Should Be Tuesday) Throwback SF Thursday: Hiero’s Journey by Sterling Lanier — “Don’t believe it’s bizarre? It’s about a man with psychic powers living in a post-apocalyptic Canada who rides a psychic moose and has a psychic bear companion and fights man-rights and mutants called Hairy Howlers while traveling through deserts of atomic blight and flooded cities. Don’t believe it’s traditional? Well, the subtext of the title ‘Hiero’s Journey’ (Hiero is our hero’s name, full name and title Per Hiero Desteen, Secondary Priest-Exorcist, Primary Rover, and Senior Killman) is pretty thinly veiled.”

Books (Stuff I Like) Sci-fi Covers From My Youth — “With barely a hint of what’s inside other than something weird and mysterious, these three covers by Don Punchatz for the original Foundation trilogy were more than enough to entice me to pick them up. More than now, as a kid I picked up books based on cover art. The stark two-color schemes and cartoonish characters made these books look strange and alien – exactly what 12-year old me wanted in science fiction. I haven’t read these in nearly twenty years, but I remember, the clunky dialogue and outdated science did nothing to detract from their appeal. Asimov’s idea – history as manipulatable math problems – is still big and just ridiculous enough to be cool. One reason I read so little modern sci-fi is that it just seems small.”

Books (The Atlantic) A Reader’s Manifesto — “The ‘literary’ writer need not be an intellectual one. Jeering at status-conscious consumers, bandying about words like ‘ontological’ and ‘nominalism,’ chanting Red River hokum as if it were from a lost book of the Old Testament: this is what passes for profundity in novels these days. Even the most obvious triteness is acceptable, provided it comes with a postmodern wink. What is not tolerated is a strong element of action—unless, of course, the idiom is obtrusive enough to keep suspense to a minimum.”

Movies (The New Statesman) I hate Strong Female Characters — “You can make a case for the punch, I guess – it’s wartime, she hasn’t got time to pussyfoot around with sexist idiots, she needs to establish her authority hard and fast – but it’s still escalating a verbal conflict to fairly serious physical violence within seconds, and it’s hard to imagine a male character we’re supposed to like being introduced in the same way. The second scene, though, when considered without the haha-what-a-little-spitfire framing of the film, becomes outrageous. Shooting a gun, without warning, at your love interest who has a shield you do not yet know can stop bullets (and what about ricochets?!), because you’re jealous? Or for any reason at all? What the hell, Peggy?”

Don’t Read Anything Before 1980 (Women in Science Fiction) Reclaiming Her Story — “I cannot recommend Yerby because I have not reread his books since I was twelve—that Olympics summer, when I also read those incredibly racist novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs about Tarzan. I did try to reread the Burroughs books because I wrote a Tarzan story for an anthology a few years ago, and I had to confront the racism inherent in the stories that I loved. Ouch.”

D&D (Black Gate) Why I Went Old School — or Swords & Wizardry vs. Pathfinder — I initially considered Pathfinder. I have a lot of resources available, and I definitely know the system well enough to teach it to them. I even have a Beginner’s Box, still in the plastic (how about that, John O’Neill!). But I quickly discarded that system. Pathfinder is extremely rules heavy. I’ve seen it grow over the years and, as seems inevitable for any ongoing, lively edition, suffer from rules bloat and options bloat. The last game I ran, I limited players to the core rulebook just because I didn’t want to deal with so much “stuff.” Also, I’m not particularly interested in half-angel, half-goblin mammoth-riding gunslingers.”

GURPS (Ravens N’ Pennies) Gamemaster’s Guidepost: What Makes Dungeon Fantasy Special, Part I  — “While some will say that this is statistically equivalent to the attacker rolling against a higher difficulty, that includes the defensive capabilities of the defender, and they would not be wrong, this gives the game a much different feeling. If your character is hit, it’s not just because your foe rolled well, but also because he outmaneuvered you to overcome your defenses, or maybe you just rolled badly. D&D and similar games, by putting everything into the attacker’s capability to overcome a defensive value, result in the players feeling hopeless outside of their turns.”

6 Comments
  • 2 links, cool! Thanks. Nice to see a mention of The Reader’s Manifesto

    • Jeffro says:

      Sky Hernstrom pointed me to The Reader’s Manifesto. Great read! Hard to believe I never stumbled across it even after years of Hugo discussions….

      • Sky says:

        I think I found it with some obnoxious google search, something like “why does new literary fiction suck so hard?” or “why is literary fiction so boring”!

        That B R Myers probably can’t even set foot in NYC. They would put a clown head on him, set him on a mule and send him into New Jersey.

  • Alex says:

    Hey, I have that issue of Thrilling!
    I’ll probably get to that after the ’51 issue of PS with Black Amazon.

  • Rod Walker says:

    Thanks for the link!

    Rod Walker really enjoys short stories and has written many of them. Nevertheless, he does think novels are generally more economically viable for writers. That said, he would like to see the short story make a comeback, though he is not sure how that would come about.

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