politics

The Sheer Brilliance of Anthony Burgess, a Droog

When we discuss the great novels of the 20th Century, we usually look at mainstream or literary fiction. We talk about The Great Gatsby, Heart of Darkness, The Sun Also Rises, To Kill a Mockingbird, Ulysses and anything by Hemingway. To that list, I’d add The Remains of the Day, a near-perfect book if ever there was one.

But science fiction usually doesn’t make it into the conversation. Even the pieces of genre that the literati accept aren’t quite in the select group. 1984 and Brave New World fall just short, and the only other major crossover SF book, The Handmaid’s Tale, is crap (the subject is wonderfully chosen, but I would have liked to see it in the hands of someone who understood the dynamic of SF–Ursula K. Le Guin would have been wonderful).

There is one exception, one book, that, though it’s definitely science fiction, gate-crashes the conversation.

I was afraid A Clockwork Orange would be a difficult, dense read. One of the first things you learn about this book, after all, is that Burgess invented a new slang for a lot of it, and that is never fun.

But there’s something you need to remember about Burgess. He’s a virtuoso, a brilliant writer who isn’t afraid to write brilliantly. So despite the book being in unusual language, it works perfectly well. It’s a quick, almost light read.

Of course, it isn’t quite a light read, because the subject matter is a savage attack against… well, as a reader it wasn’t quite clear to me what Burgess was attacking other than the excesses of government in involving itself in people’s lives. I found it to be more of a commentary about the breakneck pace of modern lives and how it affects the subcultures involved. Answer: they get extremely violent…

Now that answer may not seem particularly groundbreaking, and in the hands of a lesser author, it wouldn’t have been. But Burgess makes it work. This book is a must-read, and I was fortunate to buy the Folio edition pictured before they ran out.

But whichever edition you can get hold of, there’s absolutely no excuse to give this one a pass unless you either hate the best books in the 20th century hate anything that looks speculatively at the future.

As an aside, this is considered Burgess’ greatest book, but it’s not my favorite. The Kingdom Of the Wicked is a romp through the ancient world which is unmatched even by Gore Vidal’s Creation. And that is saying quite a bit.

But returning to Orange, all I can say is that the very few hours you’ll spend on this one will be worth it. Sometimes it’s nice just to let a master lead you by the nose.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer. His own vision about how society will fall apart around us can be found in the novel Outside. You can check it out here.

A Musing on the Democratization of Political Discussion

Back when I reviewed Woolf’s feminist classic, A Room of One’s Own, I was delighted to see how measured, logical and calm her arguments were. She was right, and it would be obvious to anyone who wasn’t emotionally invested in it for some reason that she was right.

When was the last time you saw a political argument online that you could say that about? If you take the recent US election as a benchmark, most of the argumentation on the news and online, which is to say the stuff most people were exposed to, was shrill and alarmist on both sides. You could see the wheels of the propaganda machines turning, demonizing the opponents and trying to limit arguments to what each side wanted their followers to believe about the other. Even supposedly intelligent people bought into the rhetoric of the extremists, a sad situation.

Of course, even back then, it wasn’t a bed of roses, but I argue that it’s gotten worse today, mainly because of something that many people think is good… and I don’t: the democratization of everything.

By this, I don’t mean political democracy. That’s fine and, as they say, it’s the worst system of government ever discovered except for all the others. I’m talking about the democratization of literally everything.

Take taste, for example. It used to be that there was good taste and bad taste, and most people with good taste could tell the difference, and it was fine to laugh. Now, though, social media allows those with awful taste to find their peer group… and they’ve suddenly discovered that people with bad taste outnumber those with good taste. By the laws of democracy, where numbers rule, that means bad taste is better than good taste. And they rest their case.

That’s just one example, but everything works that way. Anything good that few people understand or enjoy is “voted” down by these representatives of the tyranny of the majority. Whether that be art or food or movies or lifestyle choices, the pressure to conform is… just as high as it would have been in a tiny village in Spain in 1850. Which is to say, very high.

Isaac Asimov used to complain about how the ignorant made a cult of treating the intelligent or educated as undesirables, but he never imagined the internet, where the words of a mechanic from Iowa or a hairdresser from Harare (or Seattle) are deemed as important as the informed opinion of an authority figure. Because telling someone that another person is more qualified is elitist.

The attitude spills over into politics. If a lot of poeple think something (maybe that democrats are socialist or republicans are racist, to take a recent example of intentionally incorrect statements that seem to have become bywords among certain groups), then, by the rules of democracy, that’s a valid opinion.

Except it isn’t. It’s just a silly popularization. There’s a saying in Spanish that essentially translates as: “Eat poop. Millions of flies can’t be wrong.”

That is what I think every time someone tells me that I’m wrong because everyone else thinks I’m wrong.

I may be wrong… but that’s not the reason.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer who has just released a book where dinosaurs and genetically created monsters attack journalists, scientists and Russian special-forces troops in the Ural mountains. (So if you were thinking he’s elitist for writing the above, you need to consider that). You can check out Test Site Horror here.

Why Space Opera is so Much Better than Dystopian SF

We live in a world that seems to love its dystopias. From television shows about zombies to near-future resource-constrained novels to the sudden rediscovery of The Handmaid’s Tale, which is a crappy book that resonates with certain forms of gloom-and-doomism, it’s in vogue to consume media that tells us how awful everything will be.

The world, critically acclaimed media tells us, will be awful, and humanity will be trapped on Earth, never to leave again.

Of course, it isn’t actually obligatory to consume dystopian SF. While it’s difficult to escape it, there are good things on the shelves at your local bookstore and even, if you make the effort to look for it, on TV.

And while I can’t explain the popularity of depressing SF that takes place on Earth, I can tell you the name of its fun, inspiring antidote: Space Opera.

Now space opera doesn’t have to be Stars Wars cheesy. It can be technologically awesome, like Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space cycle, political, like Iain M. Banks Culture novels, or idea-driven in the tradition of Asimov or Heinlein. Hell, there’s even Eco-space-opera in the form of Dune.

It’s superior to the dystopian stuff for several reasons. The first, of course, is that it’s much more fun to read. Not only is the imagination liberated, but these tend to show humanity at its best, encountering and overcoming challenges on a galactic scale, as opposed to small-mindedly obsessing over the problems of one planet. It takes a very small mind indeed to feel threatened by the possibility of humanity spreading its wings; most people will be uplifted by this subgenre in ways that seldom happens in pessimistic portrayals of an earth-only future.

If you want proof of this concept, just walk down to your local bookstore. You’ll find Asimov, Heinlein, Clark, Herbert, Niven, etc. well represented despite the fact that they created their best work forty years ago in the best of cases, seventy in the case of Foundation… The problem is that those books still attract the kind of reader that was attracted to science fiction in the first place, while the recent crop of dull, politicized dystopia is only good for as a sleeping aid for insomniacs. (recent space opera is much more likely to be on shelves in 50 years than the tripe winning most awards…).

The second reason Space Opera is better is that it is actually more likely to come to pass. While no one should be a climate Pollyanna, the truth is that humanity, through thick and thin, has always advanced technologically. Some of the forthcoming challenges will be tough, but they will be overcome. Moreover, humanity is finally pushing towards colonization of space and that is the kind of barrier that, once broken, crumbles like a piece of stale bread. We will be out there in numbers, very likely within our own lifetimes. So any climate apocalypse tale that doesn’t have a significant human space presence is just silly. I’d shelve it under fantasy and not SF.

Finally, the attitude of the writers is a turn-off in many dystopian books. These volumes are often a reflection of the fears that capitalism and individualism are destroying the planet. While one may agree or disagree with that sentiment, the kind of obsession with it that drives someone to actually pen a novel to show how badly it will end don’t necessarily make for someone in whose head you want to spend a few hundred pages.

They are, in fact, obsessed enough to ignore the fact that living standards have been steadily rising worldwide for the longest time. I recommend The Better Angels of Our Nature for the science and numbers that pretty much conclusively prove it. But not for our poor, angry content creators – they need the world to be going down the tubes, because if not, they’re wrong about everything.

But the technical considerations and political annoyances are secondary. The bottom line is that Space Opera is just more fun, and we read and watch science fiction to be entertained, not to be preached at.

So go forth and buy something fun for a change. It probably won’t have won a Hugo but if you’ve been following the Hugos lately, you know that that no longer matters (caveat, if I ever win a Hugo, you can take it as a given that I was drunk while writing this and that the Hugo represents the very pinnacle of literature of any kind. But until that enormously unlikely event happens, I stand by the above).

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer who writes a certain amount of Space Opera both in short and long form. His well-received novel Siege is a far-future space opera in a very dark galaxy. You can check it out here.

Even in 2020, it’s Hard to Look Beyond Good and Evil

Here’s a fun experiment to try: corner someone politically active on social media and ask them what they think about Friedrich Nietzsche.

Most, of course, will never have actually read the man. Of those who have, I’ll predict that the ones who were not philosophy majors will be divided as follows: the ones on the left will despise him and say that he’s a nazi jackass, while the ones on the right will likely find him an inspiration and proof positive that the left has its head up its ass.

The truth, as usual, is much more interesting than the silly little internet squabbles that define our age, and the armchair warriors whose sense of self-worth is tied up in them.

The title of Nietzsche’s book, Beyond Good and Evil, will serve anyone intelligent as a warning. It explicitly sets expectations and tells the reader that the moral judgements he held before starting the book will not only be ignored, but they will be subject of ridicule. In entering the world of Nietzsche’s mind, popularly held opinions (whether they are held by philosophers or by the unwashed) are considered anathema the the exercise of thought.

Once that is established, Nietzsche attempts, with varying degrees of success, to break away from his hated middle-class morality and establish some truths. Like all philosophers, he succeeds only to a degree, but what is valuable here is his tearing down of all the comfortable conclusions that we (still) use as starting points.

That’s where he goes beyond good and evil. Does your philosophy begin with the conviction that all humans are equal? Cool, then it’s not a philosophy, because you’re closing off a perfectly valid avenue of thought and analysis. Think that treating others well is positive? Again, that’s not philosophy, it’s starting from an unproven conclusion. To truly move beyond good and evil, you need to leave those concepts aside as unproductive and think things through from the base concepts. Most people are violently against this (just look at the two examples above… would you be willing to concede that they are just your own bias and start from scratch?).

Of course, leaving popular and religious conclusions aside leads Nietzsche down paths that are interesting, to say the least. Interesting enough that he unintentionally inspired two ridiculous antagonistic groups that he would have had the utmost contempt for: the Nazi party and the modern deconstructivist left. Silly extremists seem to find something in the man that justifies their own ideas… but they misread him as they do most true philosphers.

Of course, Nietzsche was no angel. Where he does speak clearly, he is delightfully controversial, and takes aim at everything he sees around him. A close reading will show you exactly where the extremists take their inspiration. Particularly interesting is his division of the moralities of his day into two types (which I think can still be applied today) – the master morality and the slave morality.

What makes that interesting is that, if you can look beyond the word “slave” and leave aside the moral positions of democracy, this division is exactly right… and the slave morality is how most people would expect you to act in the modern world. It’s the morality “for the common good over the good of the individual” which is considered “right” today.

In order to think about it dispassionately, however, and to measure whether that is positive or negative, one needs to leave aside the recent democratization of philosophy and go beyond good and evil.

Nietzsche is a good place to start on that journey.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose most philosophical book is entitled Outside. In this novel, he extrapolates current trends to their logical end state… and beyond. It’s also a rousing adventure and a posthuman love story. If you think that’s for you, you can check it out here.

Traveling During a Pandemic – One Writer’s Thoughts

I traveled internationally during the pandemic.

Leaving aside the inevitable argument about whether that was right or wrong, moral or immoral, shocking or perfectly normal (you can argue about that endlessly online, but I’m not really into that particular discussion), the truth was that it was interesting. And I’m always into interesting.

I went to Buenos Aires airport without any real expectations except that this one was going to be different from my other trips. It was October, and the first time I’d left the city proper in a motorized vehicle since March (Argentina did the world a huge favor by proving that long lockdowns and strict quarantine are completely useless in dealing with this disease unless you force the public to stay inside by putting armed troops on the streets with orders and authority to shoot to kill).

The airport doors were closed and people for the two flights that were leaving the country that day (think about that for a second… two flights) were all packed around the door.

Eventually, we got onto the airplane, which was fully booked. Every single seat was occupied, including the middles. Social distancing, apparently, is not necessary on airplanes according to international regulations.

Another interesting thing was contrasting Miami airport with JFK in New York. Miami was open to business, and the airport was crowded, happy and alive, even though everyone was wearing a mask. JFK was surreal. I had entire waiting rooms and long, empty corridors to myself at two o’clock on a Saturday.

But the truly interesting thing was being in another country (the US in this case) and listening to cab drivers, hotel employees and other people I could chat with essentially say the same thing: “Now that we understand the pandemic better than we did, it’s time to open things back up.”

I found that educational. In Argentina, people saw that the government had no clue what to do about the pandemic except to take away our normal lives, and most people began ignoring the lockdown about a month into it. Even the people who were saying “you need to stay inside to take care of your neighbors” were outside.

But that’s Argentina. We’re used to the government taking measures that no one will ever comply with… we’ve learned that ignoring such undemocratic noise is pretty much necessary. So, just like when the government says “you can’t have savings in dollars” and everyone saves in dollars, when the government says “you have to stay inside”, we gave them a chance to show us they knew what they were doing… and when it became obvious they didn’t, the population moved onto the next step: ignoring the decree completely.

I thought the US would be different, though. US democracy is much stronger than that of other countries (and yes, I know that the US is in the middle of a very difficult election cycle right now, but in general, this above is true). One thing the US is famed for worldwide is that it defends the rights of people to do what they want.

So to hear every single person spoke to say that the restrictions should be dropped was a shock, mainly because the restrictions haven’t been.

Now I’m sure that there are many people who prefer to leave the restrictions in place, but in light of my very informal polling, it would be truly hard to convince me that they are a majority. It really looks like the population at large is against them.

So another interesting thing I’ve found is that the world’s leading democracy is criminalizing behavior things that a majority is in favor of. Like the 55 Mph speed limit, it’s an antidemocratic law; you can’t be a democracy and be against the public at the same time: you have to choose one. So it will be interesting to see how this evolves as politicians remove heads from asses and see that everyone hates the restrictions and will immediately go back to normal if permitted. I predict another round of fun fights online.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the trip was that everyone is sure that the next flu season will be interesting. Not because of covid itself, but because of the flu. People seem to believe that no one will have an immune system left at the end of this.

I have no clue if the science backs that up, but it does mesh with the sense that I’ve had of the helicopter-parent society being crappy for the long-term development of children. All this antibacterial soap probably won’t lead to robust, healthy adults with well-developed immune systems. Luckily, I’m not a doctor, so I won’t be advising anyone else on this topic.

It was an interesting trip… and my conclusion is that the world will be fine. Covid won’t destroy our lives. Hell, it won’t even change them that much because, like me, most people are willing to risk it for themselves but also respect other peoples’ requests to take care of themselves. That means that those who want to go back to normal (knowing there’s a risk) will likely be able to do so… and those who want to take extra care will be respected.

That’s the way it should be, and I think humans are, as a species, much better than the twitterverse makes them out to be.

Gustavo Bondoni loves to see places. New or well-known, there is always something to discover. That passion is expressed in its full dimension in his collection Off the Beaten Path. These are fantasy and science fiction stories for readers who want to be transported to places you don’t always read about, outside the usual European or North American settings. You can check it out here.

Minority? Not Anymore.

I love watching US politics from a distance. The proliferation of social media, in giving formerly unheard voices a platform has allowed everyone with a grievance to come to the fore. This is a mixed blessing, of course, and I see the current mix as one part people with genuine points to make to 10 parts nutjobs who simply want to complain because they have no discernible talent or desire to work to get ahead.

One of the things that amuses me most is how concerned activists try to convince people from groups that are just trying to live their lives that they are, in fact, victim of a society conspiring against them, and that they should organize and protest the unfairness inherent in being in the US.

Yawn.

From my point of view, the strangest is trying to drag Hispanics into the fight. This is particularly ridiculous when you remember that most Hispanics in the US are there because they left somewhere that was much, much worse, and have found a place where their families can grow and prosper. They remember what populist and socialist countries look like–it’s what the RAN from.

Which is why only the truly misguided allow themselves to be referred to as Latinx. You won’t find much of that in their own communities. Most Hispanics I’ve ever spoken to think it’s imbecilic and do not want to know.

Funnier still, treating Hispanics as a minority in the US is anachronistic. I still remember when New Mexico became the first state in which Hispanics were the largest ethnic or racial group–which makes them a majority, not a minority.

More importantly, perhaps, the same milestone was passed by California in 2014. And Hispanics are the fastest-growing group in the US.

So it’s entertaining to watch the “white vs. brown” argument in the US, which in a few years will be completely irrelevant. Hispanics have their own way of viewing the world, their own type of collectivism (and they love American values, much to the future annoyance of the hand-winging and guilt crowd). Most importantly, however, they will soon be the majority.

But no one really knows that they thing. They don’t care about white guilt or a past of slavery. They are following the American dream… and in a few years, they’re going to remind everyone of it by force of numbers.

Maybe it’s time you stopped calling them Latinx (which they hate) and started listening to them.

But even if you don’t… you will, soon.

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer who enjoys observing the world, from Switzerland to Swaziland. Then he writes about it, celebrating the wonders of different people and our common humanity. His collection Off the Beaten Path is the most concrete example of this passion. You can check it out here.

Anger and Everyone

On my facebook page, I watch people being angry all the time. Mostly, they are angry about politics or social questions. Often, they blame people with more money for the world’s problems.

I tend to scroll through and only argue selected points with people that I know are psychologically strong enough to understand that disagreeing with a point does not automatically make the other person a monster.

But though I try to ignore the negativity, I often think about it… and I’ve come to a few conclusions which apply to almost everyone who posts about politics on social media, regardless of whether they lean left, right, up or down (or whatever).

The first is that the meme above is utterly correct. Everyone with a grievance turns it into a moral issue which is therefore not possible to argue with. Like Puritans and prohibitionists, there are greater things at stake to them than mere logic dictates.

So you can’t go argue a point or present alternative evidence, because once you deviate from the party line, you enter the “immoral zone” where you are a bad person and therefore not worth arguing with. A corollary of this is that terms like “Racist”, “Communist”, “Fascist” and “Nazi” have come to mean “a perfectly reasonable and unobjectionable human being who happens to disagree with my fanatical and radicalized view of the world”.

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but if you’ve ever thought that someone you were arguing with is really one of the above (unless they are card-carrying members of either the Nazi or Communist party), you are a bit of an idiot and probably shouldn’t be exposing that reality to everyone on the internet that way.

Maybe you can come back online once you learn to see shades of grey and other points of view as something other than an attack on your moral high ground (which, BTW, exists only in your mind).

The other thing everyone has in common is that the grievances are always someone else’s fault.

Now, this isn’t something new, of course. People who are unable to thrive in any environment have always had to face a difficult choice: accept themselves as losers in the game of life through no fault but their own or look for scapegoats.

I’m not a psychologist, but I’m pretty sure any member of that learned profession will tell you that one path is easier to travel than the other.

So people have always looked for scapegoats. Traditionally, these were the immigrants, or the people who profess a minority religion, or the people who look different. Racism–real racism, at least–has its roots in precisely that sort of thinking.

It still exists, of course. People still frame some immigrant groups as inherently criminal or morally inferior and act accordingly, but to this the Angry Internet People (TM) have added a bunch of other groups. In fact, there appear to be so many groups wittingly or unwittingly conspiring against peace on the planet that the “aliens among us” and Priory of Zion folks are beginning to look sane. Let’s do a recap… White people. Men. The police. The academic left. The fascist right. Billionaires (they are, apparently, all James Bond villains. Who knew?).

We could go on all day, but the point is that it’s never the individual who is responsible for having a crappy life. It’s always the powerful forces arrayed against him.

The problem with this is the person who was born exactly like the whiner, but who made different choices (or had more talent or worked harder) and who has carved out a good life.

Solution? That person is a traitor to the (insert whatever you like here: movement, race, gender, party, neighborhood, religion).

To me, those people aren’t traitors. They just spent their time working towards their dreams instead of whining online. They accepted that the world is a tough place to get ahead in and moved forward. Very few people of any subsegment of the population succeed… and that is the simple truth. And the answer to why YOU didn’t lies inside. I can guarantee that the Priory of Zion had nothing to do with it, no matter what the voices in your head might think.

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer who writes books in which his politics are completely absent, but where his characters are sometimes opinionated. The ones that are too opinionated get eaten by monsters. If you don’t believe it, check out Ice Station Death and see for yourself.

Apparently, Aristocracy is Inevitable

Time for a digression, not something even remotely academic, but something I have often thought about, and something I’m pretty certain is true: aristocracy is inevitable.

So, yeah, in 1917 and the years immediately after, the Russian people rose against their rulers, killed the Czars, inspired the Anastasia conspiracy theories and installed a communist government.

Aristocracy, they told us, was dead.

Russsian Revolution

A handful of years later, the party elite had their Black Sea dachas and were driven around in chauffeured cars while everyone else watched the carriages with undisguised resentment.

Exactly the same as in the pre-1917 era.  The only thing the communist revolution managed was to industrialize the country and create a new royal family.  (in their defense, they also defeated Hitler, but I’m not trying to make a different point here, not criticize communism per se).

China, another communist country, currently has 373 billionaires while a good billion people live the agrarian life of a Russian serf.

Another notable revolution that was supposed to get rid of the aristocracy was the French.  France currently has 40 billionaires…

So, whether capitalist, socialist or communist, society naturally seems to stratify into classes.  An upper class defined by either wealth (or in the case of communist Russia, by access), education or refinement springs up in every system.

Even the failed nations, the African warlord republics or Venezuela have a clear definition of haves and have-nots.  In Venezuela, the dictator’s corrupt cronies live like kings, for example.

Why?

I think I know: people with talent and drive don’t want to be counted among the masses. They work hard to achieve status so that either they or–failing that, their descendants–can have an easy life and enjoy themselves.  After all, enjoying yourself is much better than any of the alternatives.

Elon Musk worked to make his billions and now works just as hard at doing stuff he loves.  His definition of enjoying himself might put mankind on Mars.  Which means that, annoying as his electric cars might be, we’re all rooting for him.

And that’s the wonder of the modern world. You don’t need to be born a von-Anything to gain access to the world of the aristos.  All you need to have is drive, brains and a modicum of luck and you will get there, eventually.   Or be a really good soccer player.  Or a brilliant neurosurgeon.  Or guitar virtuoso.  There are infinite roads, but all require talent and hard work.

Unless you live in a communist country.  In that case, you will need political ability to enjoy the spoils.  But the same principle applies: if you’re GOOD at it, you’ll make it.

So I generally oppose systems which pretend to make the world an equitable place.  Evidence shows that the only way to enforce this is to give more and more power to the government, which just means a different subset of people fill the role of the aristocracy.

Since I generally respect talent and hard work more than I do political ability, I’ll probably always want the free-market people to win.

But whoever ends up in the drivers seat, know this: a talented group willing to put in the hours are going to have stuff the rest of the people don’t.  All the current political divide is doing is trying to define which group that will be.

Me?  I will stay on the sidelines wondering why it’s important for some politician on the left to have everything versus some dude who started a company.  I don’t actually care who it is, but you’ll generally find me in free-market countries because my talent does NOT lie in political acumen.

Anyway, just some random thoughts to break up the reviews for once.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer whose published work spans every genre from literary fiction to comic fantasy.  His dark fantasy is collected in Pale Reflection.  You can have a look here.

The Era of the Echo Chamber

Democrats and Republicans

As an Argentine with a lot of American friends on social media, I find myself in the unusual position of being something of a neutral when it comes to the political discussion.  This is mainly because the strict “left” and “right” categories that everyone uses in the US don’t apply directly when transposed to South America.

So I have friends on both sides of the divide, and if I had to make a quick assessment, I’d say that they are all reasonable, intelligent human beings.  I can say nice things about people on both sides, and can state that, in 99% of cases, all the rhetoric about how the other side eats babies is just that: rhetoric.  No matter which side of the divide you’re on, the opposition, except for small groups of extremists on both sides (easily identifiable by the sloping forehead and small cranial capacity) really decent people.

And yet, each group is mistakenly convinced that everyone on the other side of the political spectrum is some kind of ogre… and I blame the “block” option on social media.

Lately, a lot of people have been posting political stuff on their feeds, with the result that, immediately half their friends blocked them.  After that happens a few billion times, people end up seeing posts only from people they agree with.

That’s fine, I guess.  It reaffirms that other people think the same way you do, gives you a sense of community and a feeling that you aren’t completely nuts.

Unfortunately, it also keeps you from reading any reasoned arguments that the opposition may be making.  Following the crowd–even if its your crowd–is not the right way to develop critical thinking skills.

And the critical thinking skills are declining at an impressive rate.  People on the both sides have decided to outsource their thinking to a few partisan–and highly irresponsible–media outlets and therefore feel free from having to actually confront an opposing argument.  After all, if the other side is saying it, it is the position of either a Libtard or a Fascist… and nothing a Libtard or Fascist says can possibly be worth listening to, can it?

Unfortunately, it can.  With such a close split in the political makeup of the country, the arguments on both sides are equally balanced in a way that hasn’t happened before.  The arrogant assumption that the other side is somehow worse is not only wrong… it’s dangerous.

So get out of your echo chamber.  Discuss points with the opposing side without losing your temper.  If anyone says “we have to be intolerant, it’s the only way to deal with these people”, that is the person you need to block.  Those people are the extremists whose obsession leads to things like Prohibition, Gulags and Kristallnacht.  Get them out of your life.

In short, your echo chamber is turning you into an imbecile.  You need to get out.

Waving to the New-New Wave

science-fiction-bookshelf

As a kid, I loved going to the bookstore.  We had a Walden Books in the open mall where my mom would go to Kroger, so that is the one I would frequent.  When we first arrived in the US, my interest was in Hardy Boys, but I soon graduated to the science fiction section.

This part of the bookstore was dominated by names such as Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke,  even Silverberg… the gilded voices of the Golden Age.  These were the giants of the time when science fiction was finding its feet, establishing the things that would define it.  They were the men who ruled, uncontested, until the New Wave toppled them from their throne in the 1960s.

That is the narrative, of course.  The reality is that I was a kid in the 1980s, and none of these guys had been toppled.  They still ruled the roost as if the New Wave never happened.

Yes, I’ve discussed the New Wave here before, but never in the context of it’s effect on the genre of the 1980s and 1990s.

First, some context.  If you ask someone about the New Wave today, they will likely say that it marked the end of Campbell’s influence on the genre, and paved the way for today’s more character-driven and literary work.

There may be some truth in this… but it certainly isn’t 100% correct.  The reality on the ground in the 1980s was that the New Wave had pretty much been beaten back by the old guard by the time I started paying attention to science fiction.  Yes, some of the names from the sixties consolidated their places (notably Frank Herbert and Ursula K. LeGuin, with Philip José Farmer a lesser name), but for the most part, the blip had been neutralized, and the rest of the best-sellers were newer names such as Orson Scott Card and Larry Niven.

Girl Looking at stars

Even the writing style had gone back from the convoluted literary muddiness of Judith Merril’s anthologies to a more direct type of narrative with a  focus on story.  Had some of the character-driven sensibilities remained?  Yes, those had survived, everyone appeared to agree that they were a good idea… but the other stuff was discarded as soon as editors realized that readers hated it.

The eighties and the nineties, therefore, were good epochs for SF literature.  The genre sold well, and new readers arrived.

With the turn of the century, however, another shift occurred, a new New Wave, if you like.  SF became more politicized (it was always political, of course) and the sensibilities looked to the literary and experimental once more.  Slipstream flourished, straight idea-driven stories became anathema.  Some misguided souls began using the term “Golden Age” as a kind of benevolent insult.

The main result of this trend was actually a rise in fantasy sales.  People such as Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind and even George R.R. Martin benefitted.  They were telling straightforward stories of action and adventure in the traditional mold without looking to challenge or subvert anything… and readers flocked to them in droves.  They still do, in fact.  Harry Potter was also a product of this time.  No one will call Hogwarts progressive, but it certainly did become the darling of supposedly super-progressive Millennials…

Meanwhile, Science Fiction asphyxiated under the heavy yoke of literary writing, and split into factions (the Sad Puppies appeared to try to bring it back, but that effort was, at best, misguided), each of which defends their turf with rabid aggression.

Will any of today’s “superstars” be remembered in the 2030s or will they fall by the wayside the way the writers from the sixties did?  I think most of what is happening today will be forgotten as soon as Elon Musk establishes his Mars colony and people become fascinated with progress and ideas again (as opposed to the current preoccupation with politicizing even the tiniest of human interactions and navel-gazing).  When humans remember why we admire individuals with drive and initiative who push the species forward, SF literature will reverse its current trend towards utter boredom and resurge like the phoenix.

But even twenty years from now, the stuff written today will still be around so that future readers can look at it and scratch their heads much like I do when I read a lot of what came out of the sixties.  At the very least, today’s trends will serve as a reminder of how interesting dead ends can be.

 

Gustavo Bondoni has never been accused of being overly literary.  His latest novel, Timeless, is a romantic thriller in the mold of Sidney Sheldon.  You can check it out here.