Political Correctness

It’s good to see that even The New Yorker can suck

I’m not one for complaining about stuff you should expect. If you watch an old Western, you shouldn’t complain about a the fact that indians are pictured as the bad guys. That’s just how things were, and if you don’t want to see that, then don’t watch old westerns. Likewise, if you watch a Reifenstahl documentary, complaining that it’s full of Nazi imagery is just a bit stupid.

In much the same vein, if you don’t like a highly liberal (and progressive) viewpoint, don’t read The New Yorker.

So now I’m going to contradict myself and complain about The New Yorker from November 4, 2019 for being… you guessed it, excessively progressive.

Now, a bad New Yorker isn’t something I can just shrug off, mainly because I only get the magazine occasionally, as it doesn’t get delivered to Argentina (due to a combination of imbecilic protectionism, dishonest post office employees and mafia-like action by the newsstand owners union, getting foreign magazines here has become impossible). So I need to enjoy each one.

And I don’t mind the US-style progressive lean. I agree with some of it, disagree with other bits and don’t have a position on the rest. It isn’t like the editors are raving extremists with an axe to grind.

At least not normally. The first half of this issue made it seem like a reevaluation of my opinion might be needed. If you let yourself be guided by this issue, there are precisely two critical human questions in the world: gender and race.

While I agree that these are important questions -and they define some people’s lives – they are by no means exclusive, nor are they universally the most important. Other people might find other questions more significant, and that is as it should be. But this issue, explicitly (by speaking about the subjects) or implicitly (by focusing on diversity in the arts to the exclusion of anything non-diverse) ignores all the other important subjects.

This level of tunnel vision might be fine for certain types of publication with a specific political and propaganda focus (I’d never read that, even if the politics were precisely my own), but for The New Yorker, it’s utterly unforgivable. It’s supposed to be a journal catering to intelligent people with wide-ranging cultural interests, which means that this kind of narrow-mindedness is precisely what the readers would hate.

Fortunately, a little neutrality creeps in in the second half of the magazine (one specific article on cyber-security is very professional), and the article about Ukraine’s leader is pretty decent (even though, for marketing reasons, the title is a Trump bashing one).

But that’s not enough to save an issue that, in the future, will likely be pointed to as an example of what The New Yorker shouldn’t represent. We get it, Americans are obsessed about the culture wars. But TNY should be above that adolescent squabble and able to focus on everything truly important, not just what the college professors are getting their panties in a bunch about.

We expect more from them.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose literary fiction is collected in a book of linked short stories entitled Love and Death (now THOSE are important subjects!). It follows the intertwined lives of several individuals across generations in the most important moments of their lives. You can check it out here.

Progressive Fiction? It’s not Quite as Awful as it Sounds… At Least Not in This Issue

If you told me to read progressive science fiction without giving me any context, I’d run, not walk, away from you. You already know that I believe that messages often ruin things, and that including a message in any type of fiction is a fine line to walk. The risk of doing it badly is severe enough that I actually steer clear of most of the modern science fiction published, and I haven’t read a Hugo winner in a decade.

But I made an exception for the Jubilee Issue of The Future Fire. Why? Because it was gifted to me by the editor himself at WorldCon in Dublin, but much more importantly because said editor, Djibril al-Ayad seemed very cool and extremely smart apart from being very pleasant. I suspected that if anyone could navigate the current political quagmire of the genre, it might be him.

And I’m delighted to have read it.

First, let’s get to the obvious stuff. Yes, there are a few things in here that will offend the easily offended–homosexual relationships, zoophilia in the fairy realm, non-traditional gender roles and the like. Since this doesn’t bother me in the least, it made zero difference to my enjoyment. Most of the book is not centered on pushing any particular viewpoint, but in telling stories about people who happen to be gay, or deadly female soldiers, or whatever, without stopping to question or pontificate. Included that way, these characters are not annoyingly didactic but interesting and dynamic… very easy to enjoy.

As for things I did stumble over, the only one present in this one is an invented pronoun. I understand the arguments for this, but it threw me out of the story every single time, which is unfortunate because the story in which it appeared was otherwise excellent. Unless the author is specifically trying to be openly activist here, I’d recommend dumping the inexistent pronoun (but keeping other progressive elements exactly as they are) because the rest of that story was excellent (Names withheld to protect the guilty) and there was no real need to slash the people who’d enjoy the story that way. If a reader like me gets thrown out every time, you’re really limiting your readership to a small, extremely woke crowd by doing this.

Okay, we’ve dealt with the obvious. What about the stories?

For most of the stories in here, I’ll limit myself to the observation these are excellent tales written by supremely talented people, and I’m delighted to have read them. They run a gamut of different styles and voices, so any given reader will enjoy some more than others, but they are uniformly of high quality and, save that pronoun in an otherwise good story, most readers looking for a good story will enjoy them. There is little attempt here to convert the unwashed.

But there’s one story that stood out not just in this book but as one of the best stories I’ve read in a really, really long time. It’s called “Goodbye Snow Child” and the author is Jo Thomas. Wow. Just wow. The plot is very simple–a woman wakes, wearing a hood that keeps her from seeing anything, and knows nothing about what’s happening to her except what she hears from certain voices–but the execution is nothing short of genius. The last time I had this feeling of genius in a short tale was “Zima Blue” by Alastair Reynolds, which I read back in 2008 or so. Yes, it was THAT good. I won’t spoil it for you by telling you what Thomas did, but it’s wonderful. Track this one down and read it.

So I’d give this issue of The Future Fire high marks. Does the excellence extend to the others? I don’t know, but judging from this small sample size and what I saw of the editor, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least.

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer. His most recent full-length collection of short fiction is entitled Off the Beaten Path. As the title implies, this one stays away from traditional genre settings in North America and Europe to focus on other interesting places while reminding readers that humans, at their core are more alike than different. You can have a look 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.

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.

A Lesson in Why the Greats Are Great

Over the past few years, I’ve been complaining about Gardner Dozois’ Years’ Best Science Fiction anthos.  They were still, I argued, the best source for the reality of the genre in the modern era, and his summation was a priceless essay, but the stories were getting weaker year by year.

Why?  Well, the message was drowning the storytelling.

For those living under a rock, the science fiction world’s current tempest in a teacup is that half the genre believes that the most important thing that SF has to do is to advance a progressive political agenda and that everything else is secondary while the other half feels that the job of science fiction is to tell a good story, politics be damned.  There have been some well-publicized arguments about this which I won’t go into here.  Google is your friend.

Though my reading preferences fall squarely into the second camp, I don’t mind reading a good message story with my action.  My problem was that the message stories were no longer good, and the genre was becoming more about diversity than about actual interesting tales.  Which explains why so much respected genre fiction isn’t selling while every Hollywood film seems to be an SF title.  Dozois, I felt, was echoing this trend instead of fighting it, and I wasn’t impressed.

But I now realize I owe the man an apology.  I wish he were still alive so I could give it to him in person.

The Year's Best Science Fiction- Thirty-Second Annual Collection - Gardner Dozois

This year I became a Hugo voter for the first time, mainly because Guardbridge books launched my collection Off the Beaten Path at WorldCon in Dublin.

So, full of enthusiasm, I started reading the nominees.  The first book was terrible, so I went on to the next.  Ugh.  The third… well, you see where this is going.  It was, to put it gently, a weak field.  The reason: preachy, political stuff and not much that I didn’t find boring.  I was gutted.

In fact, my conclusion was that it had been a bad year for the genre in general.  Until I saw the Dragon Award nominees and realized that it hadn’t been a bad year… just a bad selection.

That forced me to reappraise Dozois’ last few books.  He hadn’t selected too many bad, preachy stories… he had, in fact, had to cull the best ones from an ocean of utter tripe to give us the ones fit for human consumption.  He was doing his job, holding his nose and giving us the Best of the Year… no matter how bad some of that year might have been.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Second Annual Collection, pictured above, is a good collection.  Not as good as some of the older ones, definitely not Golden-Era-worthy, but good, especially when compared to what’s been happening to the Hugos.  He will be missed – his death is a huge blow to the SFF genre.

As for the story selection in this one, I was disappointed that the Alastair Reynolds tale wasn’t quite as good as some others of his I’ve seen over the years, but that disappointment was made up for by excellent stories by Cory Doctorow (“The Man Who Sold the Moon”) and Ken Liu (“The Regular”).  Those were my favorites.

Bad ones?  Yes, there were a few (albeit every one of them well-written).  Nevertheless, considering what’s happening in the rest of the genre, this is a solid collection.  Better than most of the more recent ones.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine writer whose collection Off the Beaten Path, mentioned above can be seen 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.

Friends… a Couple of Decades Later

Friends Cast

A BBC skit making the rounds has brought the 1990s TV staple Friends back into the spotlight.  It depicts a help group for people who are “so woke they can’t have any fun at all.”

Now, while I’ve always had a huge issue with people trying to show how virtuous they are*, it’s interesting to see that they chose Friends to attack.  I remembered the show as being modern and pretty much unproblematic–except when they looked at the issues head-on.

So now it’s on Netflix, and we’ve been watching it.  And…

Yeah, there’s a lot to like and not a lot to hate.  The most difficult thing to watch is usually how Ross’ goofiness is so overblown as to be painful.

Other than that, the show still works extremely well unless you’re actively looking for reasons to dislike it.  Most of the conversations that take place, despite the show’s age, could still take place today without raising eyebrows.  Sure, some of them would raise eyebrows on a particularly activist campus… but only if the people speaking were other activists.  Normal people–Democrats, Republicans and probably even Communist–still talk the same way.

The only things that have really aged are the relationship to technology and a few of Chandler’s clothing choices.

And therein probably lies the secret (in the tech, not Chandler’s clothes).  By removing the internet as a real thing except as something going on in the peripheries, the first few seasons of Friends show humans talking to their friends.  Since there is no such thing as Facebook, politics is essentially something that is ignored–the way it mostly is in offline conversations.  Think about it: what percentage of your interactions with flesh and blood people is political.  If it’s 5%, that’s probably because you’re an activist of some kind.  I know if you were my friend and you spoke to me about politics too often, I’d good-naturedly remind you that normal people don’t act that way in the real world.  That’s what Twitter is for.

It’s so refreshing that I have to recommend this one to everyone who wants a sitcom the way they used to be.  Ten minutes in, you’ll remember why thie was THE show in the nineties.  The writing is good, the acting is good and the situations are often genuinely funny (some do fall flat, but that is a rare occurrence).  And if you’ve never seen it before, you’re in for a treat… either that or you’re going to need the support group for people who are too woke to have any fun at all!

 

*I’ve found that the really virtuous ones are usually awful human beings, whether their virtue is based on puritanism, prohibitionism or political correctness – essentially anyone who actively acts to force others to adopt their extreme beliefs is a twat.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer whose latest book, Timeless, is now available for all the major ebook platforms. You can check it out here.

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.

Away from a theory of a village so insignificant it isn’t even there creating a roadblock

There’s a major controversy currently underway in academic circles.  A study that attempts to expose non-scientific practices among major academic journals, where buzzwords and politics allegedly outweigh solid research, has the social sciences world abuzz.  Our contributor Stacy Danielle Stephens gives her reflection on the ultimate importance and consequences of the study.

 

Scene from Catch 22

-That sounds like a lot of crap.
-It is a lot of crap, Sir.

In Catch-22, Yossarian receives a medal for releasing his bomb load over the ocean. Realizing that both the target and the mission have no military value, whether considered strategically, tactically, or psychologically, he toggles his bombs three minutes before reaching the target, determined to avoid unnecessary civilian deaths. Because his plane is leading the formation, every bombardier in the group toggles their bombs on his cue. Yossarian’s insubordination is now mutiny, for which the commanding general wishes to bring Yossarian before a court martial. However, he immediately recognizes that a court martial will precipitate no small amount of negative publicity, much of which will reflect badly on Yossarian’s commander; that is, on the general himself. Luckily for both the general and Yossarian, there were no German fighters protecting the sea, and no flak defending it. Consequently, the group was undisturbed and in perfect formation, meaning their bombs fell in a perfect pattern. For achieving this perfect bomb pattern, Yossarian and several other officers of the group receive medals, and the general’s public image is enhanced commensurately.

Yossarian’s refusal to strike the intended target wasn’t cowardice or treason, but an awareness not only that the mission was pointless, but that his commanders were as aware of this fact as he was.

After the war, Joseph Heller, the author of Catch-22, attended both USC and NYU, and received a Masters in English from Columbia. He was also a Fulbright Scholar who taught at Penn State and later wrote ad copy full time for a small but successful agency. He spent more time in academia than in uniform, and didn’t just know bullshit inside and out, but was sufficiently proficient in flinging it to make a living, although selling the movie rights to an internationally successful novel is what made him a millionaire.

The day before Catch-22 premiered in theaters, Canadian-American psychiatrist Eric Berne was delivering the keynote address at the annual conference of the Golden Gate Group Psychotherapy Society. He had titled his address “Away from a Theory of the Impact of Interpersonal Interaction on Non-Verbal Participation,” and admitted midway through that the title was a sham. In that speech, he speculated that the reason people went into psychiatry was “that they’re not required to do very much except to have staff conferences to explain why they can’t do very much.” Anyone who has read or seen Catch-22 recognizes instantly what Eric Berne meant: You can only see the Major when the Major isn’t in.

After admitting to the sham title, he explained that he’d decided upon that title because psychiatrists were always presenting papers titled “Toward a theory of…” one thing or another, but actually several things conflated for importance; not an importance of content but of context and resonance. It had to sound like something it wasn’t, really, without being too clear about what that was. He also explained that he decided on “Away from a theory” because he felt that it was only when you stepped back from any theory, and got a good look at it from a clear vantage point, that you could make any sense of it. He also noted that in the real world, no one goes “toward” something. When you get on an airliner, for instance, the pilot never says, “We’re going toward Chicago.”

Obviously, the hypothetical supposition that nonsense which sounds good and flatters someone in authority can be accepted and even applauded had been tested and proven even before Sokal successfully rose to the challenge in the late twentieth century. That three academics could give new life to a classic Calvin and Hobbes strip by cobbling together some trendy buzzwords isn’t exactly the stuff of firestorms.

Calvin and Hobbs Academia

It’s actually more of a tempest in the tea party. Yes, four facetious papers were actually published. Out of twenty. And three more had been accepted. But the four published papers were not acclaimed as brilliant by readers; rather, they were spotted as nonsense, even if there was no initial presumption of disingenuous intent or bad faith. And the brilliant scheme to expose something ended by exposing only the schemers, who prudently chose to confess to their duplicity somewhat ahead of schedule.