Politics

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.

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.

A Reasonable Voice from the Past

As someone who already has way too many hobbies, I avoid politics like the plague.  My main exposure to politics in those times when Argentina is not close to a national election (one month every couple of years where you can’t listen to the radio in the car without being bombarded) is on social media.

I watch in amusement and horror as lunatics on the left and right register their unworkable, extremist views for all to see.  The arguments between left and right are always fun, but those between left and left are usually the best of all.  Since history tends to argue hard against the more extreme forms of socialism, these tend togo down some spectacular theoretic rabbit holes.  Anyone caught arguing for common sense, moderation or even a slightly less fantastic dogma is vilified and is subjected to one of those famous internet pile-ons.

All of this has led me to believe one of the old jokes from the right, the one that states that the preferred battle formation of the far left is the circular firing squad.

And it’s always been that way.  It’s popular among the ignorant (or the unscrupulous with a political axe to grind) to speak of George Orwell‘s Animal Farm or 1984 as allegories against capitalism, but the truth is they are both direct strikes at the heart of the Soviet Communism in the 1940s written by the most famous overtly socialist writer of the 20th century.

No one would say these were measured strikes.  But Orwell was capable of subtlety, too.

Down and Out in Paris And London - George Orwell

Which neatly brings us to this.  Down and Out in Paris and London is also by George Orwell, and it is also a book which looks to further his socialist agenda.  But instead of attacking his enemies within the party using bitter satire, he uses the one tool that is always effective, even with people who don’t share his views: promoting understanding.

He, the gentleman writer of impeccable breeding, credentials and education, takes us on a guided, first-person tour of life in the lowest slums of Paris, displays how to get work as a kitchen helper and then joins the tramps of the London environs.  The difficult nature of these lives is brought to life in his words–it’s not a coincidence that Orwell is a celebrated novelist; regardless of subject matter, his writing brings the action to life.

There isn’t much plot to speak of, of course, as this is mainly a descriptive exercise, but it is still packed with incident.  Even better, it is a mix of nostalgia in the vein of In Search of England with a reveal of a social class the book’s readers will be unfamiliar with (as will all modern readers, since the life depicted therein no longer exists).

In a world where it seems that the accepted way for politics or activism to be discussed is with anger and the utter denial that an opponent might have any good qualities, books like these (see also  remind us that public discourse was once the province of people with intelligent arguments.  Remember those days?  Now it seems to be the place for people who only read things that agree with their point of view and let their little, inconsequential echo chambers and their confirmation bias do the rest. (and end up with conclusions like Trump wants to be dictator for life and Bernie is a communist who wants to put everyone on collective farms).

Social conditions have changed for the much better since this book was released.  There is no post-war scarcity, and the world is mostly democratic today, but the book still resonates.  Apparently, unlike social media controversies, good writing and clear thinking are timeless.

The edition I read was–ironically–a Folio Society book (ironically because reading socialist books in luxury editions seems somehow wrong).  I can’t post a link here because it’s no longer available from Folio, but I do recommend tracking down a copy as the reading experience is certainly better than what you’d get from cramped text and yellowed paper.  Besides, buying this one second hand seems perfect, considering the subject matter.

Highly recommended, even–perhaps especially–if the online screaming has turned you off politics forever.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose book Love and Death intertwines stories to form a novel spanning generations and crossing social barriers.  You can buy it 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.