SENSOR SWEEP: True Science Fiction, Hooligan Ways, Systematic Destruction, and Loser’s Transcendence

Monday , 6, March 2017 37 Comments

Meanwhile… (Nerdette) The Past, Present And Future Of Sci Fi With N.K. Jemisin — “Science fiction has, for years, allowed a fairly vocal subset of its readership to declare that the only true science fiction is stuff that was written 50 or 60 years ago, that the pulps of the ’40s is what the genre is all about. The plain fact of the matter is that it’s an art form like any other. It has evolved. It has grown. It has expanded in ways that I think it hasn’t done the best job of revealing to the mainstream.”

Appendix N (Alex Stoutwood’s Blog) Book Review: The Land That Time Forgot Trilogy by Edgar Rice Burroughs — “The story offers lots of different things: Action, adventure, daring heroes, beautiful damsels in distress, monstrous prehistoric creatures in need of slaying, and strange lost cultures. The stories even manage low-key meditations on Darwinism, the Hobbesian war of all against all in a state of nature, the contrast between barbarism and civilization, and the ways that supposedly ‘high’ civilizations can go sour and crooked. None of this impedes the main story. It’s there if you want to consider it, but if not, you can just continue enjoying the adventure. Each short novel focuses on a different visitor to Caspak, the forgotten brutal island of lost wonders and terrors.”

Hard SF Doesn’t Exist! (Mad Genius Club) Writing What You Know, What You Don’t Know, and What You Know That Just Ain’t So — “Honestly, I think of SF as a subset of fantasy anyway. It’s a subset that focuses on possible futures and (sometimes) scientific accuracy rather than on past or present and magical events, but it’s still fantasizing about things that don’t currently exist.”

The Abolition of Man (SuperversiveSF) Throwback Thursday: Redeeming Villains: How Not To Do It — “If A Christmas Carol had been written by the modern film writers, it would have gone something like this: an innocent man, who was dreadfully in love, was on his way to his wedding, where he planned to marry his true love, Belle. On the way, a little rapscallion named Bobby C. ran up and kicked him in the family jewels. Scrooge was so embarrassed by this injury, which he feared would impede his wedding night, that he fled, jilting his bride. This shame and sorrow led him to become the horrible man that he is today…the cruel boss of—oh ironies of ironies—the very same Bobby C, now Bob Cratchit, who brought him to this sad state of affairs in the first place. And, by the end of the story, little Bobby Cratchit would have learned the error of his hooligan ways.”

Pulp Revolution (StoryHack) StoryHack Action & Adventure, Issue 0 Call for Submissions — “I’m open to any genre, as long as there’s at least one good meaty action scene in there. Bonus points for extra adventure. And I’m serious when I say any genre. Sword & sorcery, lost world, occult detective, alien fighter pilot, western horror, you’re limited only by your imagination. Think Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Dashiell Hammett, Doc E. E. Smith. Think fun and energetic. You should know, however, that I’m not going to select erotica or extreme gore.”

Pulp Revolution (The Writings of Jon Del Arroz) Why A Revolution In Sci-Fi Is Necessary — “The sad part is that these readers and viewers are still out there, but they aren’t even looking for content anymore because they’ve been let down time and time again. They’ve been told, through the stories that are produced, that they’re basically not wanted and should buzz off. It’s been a systematic destruction of a customer base by big publishing, the comic book industry and Hollywood. Since the 90s, those groups have lived off of trying to create a shock value that is more horrific, more morally degrading and with bigger explosions than the last one in order to compensate for this. People do turn their head to watch a train wreck every time, we know that much to be true. The problem is, they won’t come back and watch that train wreck over and over because they feel disgusting if they do, and rightfully so. It’s short-sighted and lazy, and that’s what’s caused this downward spiral.”

Literature (Vintage Novels) The Song of the Cid, trans. Burton Raffel — “As Maria Rosa Menacal points out in her introduction to the text, you might expect that the substance of this poem would be the clash between Christian and Moor (as it was in The Song of Roland). To be sure, the Reconquista forms the historical backdrop, but it forms very little of the story and the conflict at the poem’s heart. The Cid’s most significant enemies are his Christian rivals at the court of Alfonso and the arrogant Carrion heirs who seek his daughters’ hands in marriage. In the first Moorish town he captures, the Cid leaves only after enriching the Moorish citizens there with some of the plunder he gains raiding neighbouring towns; understandably they bid him farewell with reluctance. The Christian count of Barcelona attacks the Cid at the head of a combined Moorish and Christian army in Canto 1, and in Cantos 2 and 3, the Cid’s most trusted ally is the Moorish ruler Albenalgon. The unknown poet takes some time impressing us with Albenalgon’s courtesy and nobility, and it’s hard not to conclude that we’re meant to compare this behaviour with the savage and arrogant conduct of the Cid’s enemies.”

From the Comments (Cirsova) Some Good News — “I haven’t felt so provoked into writing since I was a young Carl Jung reading, hard drinking misanthrope. My blog is purely a reflection of the overwhelming sense of community that seems to be occurring around Cirsova and Castalia…. For that alone you’ve made a fan out of me, but more importantly you’ve made me believe there is still weird places we can dwell on, without the ever present threat of the internet hate machine stream rolling you.”

Appendix N (Semper Initiativus Unam) Appendix N Madness Begins! — “Margaret St. Clair is best known for The Sign of the Labrys, an occult-inflected science fiction novel. Dealing with a world ravaged by a deadly disease, Labrys introduced the concept of a truly massive, multi-level underground complex and has been credited with the idea of the dungeon ‘level.’ The novel goes off into some occult elements and is strident in places. The Shadow People is about hidden elves beneath the 1960s Earth. These both have a fairly obvious connection to the underworld campaign idea, although neither is very strong on D&D’s medieval elements. St. Clair is most noteworthy otherwise for bringing paganism and ’60s psychedelia into science fiction.”

Top Book Bloggers (Black Gate) In the Hot Seat: The Reviewer Gets Grilled: An Interview with Fletcher Vredenburgh — “Since I see my role at Black Gate as a promoter of the best in heroic fantasy (AND historic adventure, and whimsical fantasy — see my reviews of James Blaylock and Jeffrey E. Barlough for that last one) more than a critic, I avoid writing about books I dislike. I don’t want to write mean things about writers. I appreciate the effort that goes into writing even a bad book. I don’t need to denigrate their work. The only writers I’ve been mean to are dead: Lin Carter and Sprague de Camp — and neither one’s reputation is going to be effected by me.”

Pulp Revolution (Not Pulp Covers) What would you consider to be the easiest way to get into vintage pulp stories? — “Because publishing for e-readers is a gold rush now and it has very little overhead and zero per-unit cost, publishers are, for the first time, dipping into their back catalogs and even going into public domain materials. Seriously, the past few years are the best time in history to ever be a fan of old pulp fiction. It’s easier to get more old pulp stuff now than even in the 1920s-1950s.”

Hero Stuff (steemit) Tired Tropes: The Superpowered Loser — “To make a story about a superpowered loser work, the writer has to do two things: the loser must choose to use the superpower for a greater good, and the superpower cannot be a crutch. By pursuing a higher purpose, the protagonist has the motivation to become stronger, and will encounter supervillains that force him to keep honing his skills. The combination of internal and external desires combine to catalyse the loser’s transcendence.”

D&D (The Mixed GM) Breaking the “My Character Can’t Die Mindset” in 5E — “There was an expectation that they could simply walk into this place and kill everything room by room. That is an expectation I am trying to break, but I am trying to be fair about it. If the party does something stupid…it is going to hurt. If they do something smart, they will be rewarded. The fight did not go too well for the party. The rogue nearly died after trying to stab a bandit in the back, away from the rest of the party. As I was adding up the damage that knocked her unconscious, the player looked at the group and said, ‘I liked this character!'” (via PC Bushi)

Pulp Revolution (The Jesse Lucas Saga) Punching Vs Not Punching — “What we hope to develop with Pulp Rev[olution][ival][erence][eille] is fiction that builds tension with action in which there’s punching or something so tense it might as well be punching, offers a short break to invite the reader to take a breath, and then builds tension with action in which there’s kissing or something so tense it might as well be.”

  • Jon Mollison says:

    Oh, Jemisin, never change.

    That’s not even the stupidest quote in that interview.

  • Jon Mollison says:

    Oh, Jemisin, never change.

    That’s not even the stupidest quote in that interview. That bit with the sticks is weapons-grade Retardium.

  • keith says:

    “Johnsen: I love that that in and of itself is subversive.

    Jemisin: It shouldn’t be. And should our society ever become a place where everybody gets to poke a stick at stuff, then it’ll stop being so subversive.”

    How are they even able to spew crap like this… No, you aren’t “subversive”, because there is nothing left for you to subvert. There is nothing brave or subversive about your fiction. And dogmas that are now established and enforced, liberal ones, you wouldn’t even dare try to challenge in any way in your fiction.

    Bloody hell, but I hate their use of that word so much.

  • icewater says:

    Speaking of weapons-grade Retardium, some of you will no doubt appreciate this:

    I tend to visit that forum every now and then for small press horror-related news, but now I am debating registering there just so i can answer that guy’s post about John C. Wright. People there appear to be ignorant of these issues and that guy is obviously intent on maliciously misrepresenting them.

    • caleb says:

      And you would be wasting your time, for that is a very left-leaning community. Which is unsurprising, given that Ligotti’s ultra-nihilist “philosophy” attracts people more than his fiction does.

  • caleb says:

    Jesmin really lives in a different universe, doesn’t she…

  • H.P. says:

    The idea that the reason people who don’t read SF don’t read it because all they’ve been exposed to is 1940s SF is more than a little crazy. This idea keeps being pushed that “everyone” has read the old stuff. Most people, even people well read in the genre, if young, have barely even heard of it.

    But you’re going to hand them a bunch of Nebula finalists! Although I suppose a certain subset of readers will react by saying “Thank God, this is just as pretentious and stuffy as what I normally pretend to read!”

    Of course Jemisin’s use of the Nebula is entirely related to quality and has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that she has been a finalist 5 out of the last 7 years.

    • john silence says:

      Not only that, but it is also useful for completely scaring people from even thinking about reading anything older than that. Helps that most people tend to view the history of SFF as a straight line, as a linear improvement over what came before… Just like she does.
      So, if someone reads Asimov and thinks poorly of him, he or she will assume that what came before is more of the same, only worse.

      • Jeffro says:

        She’s peddling a fake Golden Age narrative in her fake rebellion narrative. Very sneaky! Everybody knows that the really good stuff was done in the twenties and thirties. The forties? Bah!

      • deuce says:

        “This idea keeps being pushed that “everyone” has read the old stuff. Most people, even people well read in the genre, if young, have barely even heard of it.”

        Just for instance, you have hardly any younger fans of weird/Mythos horror lit who know who Clark Ashton Smith is, let alone have read him. The memory-holing has been effective.

        • icewater says:

          They are also doing their best to present authors from that era who ARE well known in such an uniformly negative light that I can imagine some people being near embarrassed to admit that they like them. Basically, pretty much anything Lovecraft-related that came from that side during the last decade.

    • Alex says:

      That’s like saying ‘I don’t read science fiction because the only science fiction I’m familiar with was awesome.’

  • NARoberts says:

    How many of these new SF authors actually believe their narrative?

    • NARoberts says:

      …or, I should say, their own narrative–how much of it is actually hating the old stuff, and how much is just them having been told to hate the old stuff?

      Is the memory-holing still happening, or has it already happened, and provided these current writers a complete and innocent blindness to what came before?

      • Cambias says:

        The sad truth seems to be that Ms. Jemisin actually has a better understanding of the genre’s history than a lot of other contemporary writers and critics. At least she’s rebelling against stuff written before the Twilight novels.

        I do find it kind of puzzling that both the academic, “literary” branch of SF (represented by Ms. Jemisin) and the burgeoning Pulp Revolution championed by Mr. Johnson seem to spend all their energies bashing the SF of the 1950s-1970s era. It’s puzzling because SF of that era is what defined the genre for so long — I find myself wondering how anyone who doesn’t like classic Campbell-era SF even wants to write science fiction at all. It’s like trying to write comic books without pictures.

        • Chris L says:

          I think what you are missing is that the criticism of blue sf (full disclosure, I’m a big Heinlein fan) is of a different kind when it comes from the pink sf world. They see it as just another form of white cis male oppression that has to be overcome to free us all and allow hack writers to win awards.

          If I understand the pulp sf folks correctly, they are saying that the whole “men with screwdrivers” idea severely limited the audience of SF. As a blue sf fan, I find myself having to agree with that notion. While I (and people who think like me) might find it fun that Heinlein worked out the orbit in one of his juveniles, most folks would find it tedious. For a modern day comparison, remember the Star Wars franchise (a pulp product to be sure) is much more popular than the Star Trek (a more Campbellian type of SF) one.

        • Alex says:

          Eh… to me it’s akin to how I can hate the Rolling Stones while acknowledging that they do have some good songs and not hate Rock & Roll.

          • Alex says:

            (I heard Angie & Beast of Burden on the radio too many times as a kid to not hate the Rolling Stones, sorrynotsorry.)

        • NARoberts says:

          “It’s puzzling because SF of that era is what defined the genre for so long”

          Some of us think it shouldn’t have, is all. Nothing against it in of itself. I’m a big Asimov fan, but I’m big Howard and Burroughs fan as well, and they have been unfairly treated by the SF tradition, whereas all the blues have been overpraised.

        • Nathan says:

          “It’s puzzling because SF of that era is what defined the genre for so long — I find myself wondering how anyone who doesn’t like classic Campbell-era SF even wants to write science fiction at all.”

          Actually, it didn’t. Part of the reason I’m doing my translated SF series is because the rest of the world went their own way from Campbelline SF (an era which ended in 1950s). British SF preferred either to follow in the footsteps of Wells or the California greats of Bradbury and Burroughs. German SF traditionally hung that label on anything that looked like planetary romance. French SF started from Campbelline assumptions but rapidly abandoned them for German and Japanese ideas of SF. Even California and the midwest of America had their own styles of science fiction, neither of which followed Campbell’s lead.

        • Jeffro says:

          SF of the 1950s-1970s defined the genre for so long because of a protracted campaign against the legacy and reputations of a superior class of writer.

          The narrative that was established in this period weakened the field to the point where it could easily be taken over by enemies of both Blue (aka Campbellian) and Red (aka pulp) sf.

  • Chris L says:

    Anyone know what Jeminsin’s sales are like? That to me is a test of where SF is at. If people who read SF aren’t buying your books, maybe, just maybe, you don’t have as much of a finger on the pulse of the genre as you think.

  • The Mixed GM says:

    Thank you for the mention!

  • Alex Stoutwood says:

    Thanks for the link. I’m surprised and grateful.

  • Thanks for the shoutout!

  • Holy crap, how did I miss that you mentioned me?


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