You can read a sample from the work here.
You can read a sample from the work here.
Literary status envy is the condition of people who think that all genre fiction would be improved by adopting the devices and priorities of late 19th- and then 20th-century literary fiction. Such people prize the “novel of character” and stylistic sophistication above all else. They have almost no interest in ideas outside of esthetic theory and a very narrow range of socio-political criticism. They think competent characters and happy endings are jejune, unsophisticated, artistically uninteresting. They love them some angst.
People like this are toxic to SF, because the lit-fic agenda clashes badly with the deep norms of SF. Many honestly think they can fix science fiction by raising its standards of characterization and prose quality, but wind up doing tremendous iatrogenic damage because they don’t realize that fixating on those things (rather than the goals of affirming rational knowability and inducing a sense of conceptual breakthrough) produces not better SF but a bad imitation of literary fiction that is much worse SF.
Almost the worst possible situation is the one we are in now, in which over the last couple of decades the editorial and critical establishment of SF has been (through a largely accidental process) infiltrated by people whose judgment has been partly or wholly rotted out by literary status envy. The field’s writers, too, are often diminished and distorted by literary status envy. Meanwhile, the revealed preferences of SF fans have barely changed. This is why a competent hack like David Weber can outsell every Nebula winner combined by huge margins year after year after year.
Eric S. Raymond, “SF and the damaging effects of literary status envy”, Armed and Dangerous, 2014-07-30.
My friend Cedar, today, posted about one of those lies that “everybody knows” and that are absolutely not true. Not only not true, but risible on their face. The lie is that Heinlein was a misogynist, which is not only a lie but a whole construct, an artifact of lies. And one that humans, nonetheless seem to buy wholesale.
I’m not going to repeat the argument. Cedar made it. But I’m going to quote what she said:
When the woman who had first made the titular accusation was questioned by multiple voices in startlement, she finally admitted that she knew it to be so, because she had read it in Asimov’s biography. Wait a minute, was my reply, you mean that man that Eric Leif Davin in his recent book Partners in Wonder wrote this about?” Isaac Asimov is on record for stating that male fans didn’t want females invading their space. According to the letter columns of the time, it seems that the only fan who held that opinion was… Isaac Asimov. A number of males fans welcomed their female counterparts. As did the editors, something Davin goes to great lengths to document.” (You can read more on the women that other women ignore here at Keith West’s blog) So this woman has taken a known misogynist’s claim that another man is a misogynist without questioning and swallowed it whole.
I run into this again and again. In a panel, once, questioning accusations of misogyny directed at Heinlein I got back “Well, obviously he was. His women wear aprons.” I then got really cold and explained that in Portugal, growing up, when clothes were expensive (how expensive. People stole the wash from the line. Imagine that happening here. People stealing clothes. Just clothes. Not designers, not leather, just clothes, including much-washed-and-mended pajamas.) we always wore aprons in the kitchen. And Heinlein was writing when clothes were way more expensive, relatively. (I buy my clothes at thrift stores. So unless it’s a favorite pair of jeans or something, I don’t wear aprons.) The difference is not “putting women in their place.” The difference is the cost of clothes.
And this is why I don’t get put on the “Heinlein, threat or menace” panels any more.
But 90% of the women who make the accusation that Heinlein hated women or couldn’t write women have never read him. They’ve just heard it repeated by people with “authority.” The cool kids. And so they can’t be reasoned out of this assumption, because it’s not an assumption. It’s glamor. (The other ten percent, usually, were primed to think he was a misogynist and read the beginning of a book and didn’t “get” some inside joke. Like, you know, the getting married after a tango. Which was pure fan fodder. They wouldn’t have thought anything of it if they hadn’t been primed. But they’d been primed. They were under a glamor to see what wasn’t there.)
Sarah Hoyt, “Glamor and Fairy Gold”, According to Hoyt, 2015-06-02.
In Kirkus, Andrew Liptak talks about the early publishing experiences of Lois McMaster Bujold:
In the 1970s, science fiction began to fragment into smaller subsets: the New Wave fizzled out, leaving its own imprint on the genre, while new subgenres grew in the aftermath. One author of the time looked back to her roots for inspiration for her stories, developing her own brand of science fiction that at once revered the classics of the genre while using the same building blocks to subvert them.
Lois McMaster Bujold was born in Columbus, Ohio, on November 2, 1949. Her father, Robert Charles McMaster, an engineering professor, was an avid reader of science-fiction magazines and stories and passed them along to his daughter. Throughout Bujold’s youth, she devoured every science-fiction novel she could get her hands on. In high school, she began writing along with a friend of hers, Lillian Stewart, and when she entered college in 1968, she began studying English. Her passion for the academic subject waned, but her “heart was in the creative, not the critical end of things.” According to Bujold’s official website, she noted that the New Wave “left me cold; I found it, much like the ‘alternative comics’ I encountered in my college years, to seem dreary, ugly, and angry.” From college, she went on to work as a pharmacy technician at the Ohio State University Hospital. She left to get married and had two children: good for reading, not for writing. Throughout this time, she read voraciously.
When her friend Lillian Stewart Carl published her first short story in 1982, Bujold found a renewed commitment to writing. In 1983, she completed her first novel, Shards of Honor, and an additional two in as many years: Warrior’s Apprentice and Ethan of Athos. Initially, major publishers rejected her unagented manuscripts. In an interview for the Baen Books website, Bujold said that “[Warrior’s Apprentice] had been rejected by Tor and Ace; on the advice of the Ace editor, who said it was a YA (Young Adult, what used to be called “Juvenile Fiction” back in my day — think early Heinlein), probably because the protagonist was 17, I sent it to YA publisher Atheneum, who plainly disagreed; the manuscript came back in about eight weeks.” Dejected, she spoke with friends about what her next step should be. Carl recommended that she send it to a recently founded publisher, Baen Books. Bujold followed her advice, and shortly thereafter, “in late October of 1985, was Jim Baen calling me on the phone, there in my kitchen in Marion, Ohio, and offering to buy all three volumes. I was completely flummoxed by the acceptance being a phone call; I would at the time have assumed any word would travel by mail.”
At Real Clear Science, Ross Pomeroy sings the praises of an early publication by the pre-Nobel academic Paul Krugman:
Paul Krugman is a Nobel Prize-winning economist, a respected professor at Princeton University, and an outspoken liberal columnist for the New York Times. But first and foremost, he is a huge nerd, and proud of it.
Back in the sweltering summer of 1978, Krugman’s geekiness prompted him to tackle a matter of galactic importance: the economics of interstellar trade. Then a 25-year-old “oppressed” assistant professor at Yale “caught up in the academic rat race,” Krugman crafted his “Theory of Interstellar Trade” to cheer himself up. Krugman’s jocularity is evident throughout the paper, which was published online in 2010, thirty-two years after he stamped it out on a typewriter. Early on in the article, he even pokes fun at his chosen profession:
“While the subject of this paper is silly, the analysis actually does make sense. This paper, then, is a serious analysis of a ridiculous subject, which is of course the opposite of what is usual in economics”
The key problem with interstellar trade, Krugman writes, is time dilation. When objects travel at velocities approaching the speed of light — roughly 300,000 kilometers per second — time moves more slowly for them compared to objects at rest. (For a great explainer of this effect, which is tied to Einstein’s theory of special relativity, check out this video.) So the crew of a space-faring cargo ship might experience only ten years while thirty years or more might pass for the denizens of the planets they’re traveling between. How then, does one calculate interest rates on the cost of goods sold? Trading partners will undoubtedly be many light-years apart and trips will last decades, so this is a vital issue to resolve.
Since the speeds of vessels will undoubtedly vary, but both planets should be moving through space at close enough velocities where time dilation wouldn’t be a factor, Krugman contends that the interest costs should be tabulated based on the time shared by the two planets. But what about those interest rates? Won’t they differ? Not necessarily, Krugman argues. Competition should lead them to equalize amongst interplanetary trading partners.
I hate conscription. I regard it as human slavery of the vilest sort and do not think it can be justified under any circumstances whatever. To those who say “Yes, but without the draft we could not defend the United States” I answer violently, “Then let the bloody United States go down the drain! Any nation whose citizens will not voluntarily fight and die for her does not deserve to live.”
I despise jails and prisons almost as much, and for the same reasons, and I am contemptuous of punishment by fining because it is basically unjust, being necessarily uneven and discriminatory in application — e.g., there is a reckless driver in this neighbourhood who is quite wealthy. A $500 fine to him is nothing at all, less than nothing. To me it is an annoyance and one which might well cut into my luxuries and spoil my plans. But to my neighbour across the street, a cook with two children, a $500 fine would be a major disaster.
Yet $500 is what our local courts would charge any of the three of us for drunken driving.
I suggest that ten lashes would be equally rough on each of us — and would do far more to deter homicide-by-automobile.
Both of these ideas, opposition on moral grounds to conscription and to imprisonment, are essential parts of Starship Troopers. So far as I know, no reviewer noticed either idea.
Robert A. Heinlein, letter to Theodore Sturgeon 1962-03-05, quoted in William H. Patterson Jr., Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014).
Published on 1 Apr 2015
In this Trekspertise special, David Brin lays out the qualities that help science fiction stand out from other genres. This is a re-edit of David Brin’s original video, “Science Fiction: The Literature Of Change”. Be sure to check out Mr. Brin’s excellent books, as well =)
Frank J. Fleming thinks he’s found the magic formula for writing science fiction books that will appeal to today’s more sensitive, enlightened readers:
What makes good science fiction? Is it a fast-paced story? Interesting characters? Unpredictable twists and turns?
Unfortunately, I had those outdated ideas in mind when I wrote my first novel, Superego. But as we all know, the true purpose of science fiction now is inclusiveness. Entertainment is okay, I guess, but what we really need to focus on is making sure everyone feels cared for and included and that no one feels weird, no matter how weird they are.
This is difficult for me as a white, heterosexual, cisgender male. I’m basically committing a hate crime just by existing. I’m not even sure that in this day and age I should be allowed to write science fiction. Still, I decided to examine my novel to determine how inclusive it is.
I first used the Bechdel Test, as that’s a nice objective measure. I ran into a problem right away, though, because Superego is written in the first-person perspective of a male character. It’s like I didn’t even try. Still, there are a number of named female characters in the story, and a few times they do speak to each other. Most of the time, they’re talking about the main (male) character, but I did locate a short conversation between two women about one getting the other a chair.
Boom! Passed the Bechdel Test. It’s a very feminist novel.
… I am still bugged by the quality of reviewing generally accorded science fiction. Or let’s call it “speculative fiction” for a moment because one of the things that bugs me the most is that some critics seem strongly indisposed to permit a writer to speculate.
It seems to me that the only excuse for the sort of fiction we write (whatever it is called) is speculation, as far-ranging and imaginative as the author can manage.
But is this permitted? Don’t make me laugh, it hurts. The usual critic drags in his Procrustean bed at the first hint of free-swinging speculation. There has grown up an extremely conservative orthodoxy in science fiction, spineless, boneless, suffocating. It is almost amorphous but I can sketch the vague outlines. It is do-goodish and quasi-socialist — but not Communist; this critic wouldn’t recognize dialectical materialism if it bit him in the face. It is both “democratic” and “civil libertarian” without the slightest understanding that these two powerful and explosive concepts can frequently be in direct conflict, each with the other. It is egalitarian, pacifist, and anti-racist — with no notion that these concepts might ever clash. It believes heartily in “freedom” and “equality” — yet somehow thinks that “older & wiser heads” are fully justified in manipulating the human psyche to achieve these ends — after all, it’s for their own good … [sic] and these new orthodoctrinaires are always quite certain that they know what is good for the human race.
Robert A. Heinlein, letter to Theodore Sturgeon 1962-03-05, quoted in William H. Patterson Jr., Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014).
Oddly enough, I’d just exchanged emails with Lois about an unrelated topic, and I closed with the hope that her muse would inspire her very soon, as any LMB book is to be eagerly anticipated. And just a few days later, here she is posting to the LMB mailing list (http://lists.herald.co.uk/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/lois-bujold):
I am pleased to report that a new Cordelia Vorkosigan novel has been sold to Baen Books for publication, tentatively, in February of 2016.
The title is Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen.
It is not a war story. It is about grownups.
And that is probably all I ought to say right now in a venue read by the spoiler-sensitive. It is, after all, a long haul till next February.
2016 will also mark the 30th anniversary of my first publication by Baen, which ought to be good for a little PR fun.
Charlie doesn’t describe himself as a close friend of Terry’s, but they knew one another in the British SF community:
Friendship is context-sensitive.
I wouldn’t describe Terry as a friend, but as someone I’d been on a first-name acquaintanceship with since the mid-1980s. If you go to SF conventions (or partake of any subculture which has regular gatherings) you’ll know the way it works: there are these people who don’t really see outside of this particular social context, but you’re never surprised to see them in it, and you know each other’s names, and when you meet you chat about stuff and maybe sink a pint together.
I haven’t seen Terry since the Glasgow worldcon in 2005. The diagnosis of his illness came in 2007; I’d been spending a chunk of 05-07 out of the country, and after the bad news hit I didn’t feel like being part of the throng pestering him (for reasons I’ll get to later on in this piece.)
And on how Terry’s fame grew exponentially not long after they’d first met … and how it changed the public Terry (it perhaps didn’t do much to change the real Terry):
Some time between about 1989 and 1992, something strange began to happen. I started seeing his name feature more prominently in bookshops, displays of his books planted face-out. He started turning up as guest of honour at more and more SF conventions. When a convention did a signing with Terry, suddenly there was a long queue. And when he walked into a room, heads turned and people began to close in on him. There’s a curious phenomenon that goes with being famous in a particular subculture: if everybody knows you, you become a target for their projected fantasy of meeting their star. And they all want to shake your hand and say something, anything, that connects with what your work means to them in their own head. (If you want to see this at work today, just go to any function he’s appearing at — other than the Oscars — and watch what happens when Neil Gaiman walks into the room. He is, I swear, the human Katamari.)
Being on the receiving end of this phenomenon is profoundly isolating, especially if you’re one of those introverted author types who can emulate an extrovert for a few days at a time before you have to hide under the bed and gibber for a while: you’re surrounded by strangers who desperately want to connect with you and after a time it becomes really hard to tell them apart, to remember that they’re individuals with their own lives and stories and not just different faces emerging from the surface of a weird shape-shifting fame-tropic amoeboid alien. It’s not just authors who get this: if anything we get off very lightly compared to actors, politicians, or rock stars. (For some insight into it, go listen to the lyrics of Pink Floyd’s The Wall.) I should add, this sort of introversion is really common among writers. It’s an occupation that demands a certain degree of introspective self-absorption, alongside a constant distance from the people you’re observing, who — they mostly don’t know this, of course — may provide the raw fuel for your work. So, if you want to hang on to your sanity, eventually you either go and hide for a bit, or you surround yourself with people who aren’t faintly threatening strangers who want a piece of your soul. Which is to say, you selectively hang out with your peers, or folks you met before you caught the fame virus.
Terry was not only a very funny man; he was an irrascible (and occasionally bad-tempered) guy who did not suffer fools gladly. However, he was also big-hearted enough to forgive the fools around him if they were willing to go halfway to meeting him by ceasing to be foolish at him. He practiced a gracious professionalism in his handling of the general public that spared them the harsh side of his tongue, and he was, above all, humane. As the fame snowballed, he withdrew a bit: appreciating that there was a difference between a sharp retort from your mate Terry at the bar and a put-down from Terry Pratchett, superstar, he stepped lightly and took pains to avoid anything that might cause distress.
Anyway, this isn’t a biography, it’s just the convoluted lead-in to an anecdote about the last time I saw him (which was a decade ago, so you’d better believe me when I say our relationship was “situational friend” rather than “personal friend”).
It’s the day we bid farewell to Terry Pratchett. While we knew the end was nigh, many of us had hoped it would be postponed for many a year. In the Guardian, Christopher Priest says farewell:
BEING DEAD IS NOT COMPULSORY. NOT IF YOU DON’T WANT TO. These are the words of Death, one of Terry Pratchett’s ingenious comic creations in his Discworld novels. Death has a booming, unamused voice (always in capitals, never in quotation marks), and is the permanent straight man in the comic chaos around him. He goes about his morbid business on a horse called Binky, whose hooves throw up sparks on every street cobble. Death is a skeleton, with eyes like two tiny blue stars set deep within the sockets. He wears a black cloak, carries a scythe and, at the end of a day’s work, loves to murder a curry. At the point of contact with his latest client, he usually spends a few moments having a courteous word or two with the recently deceased, until they fade away.
Now Death has gained a most illustrious client, for Pratchett himself has died, aged 66, after suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The exchange is no doubt unamused but courteous on one side, amusing but rueful on the other, but of fervent interest to both parties. It’s a conversation that millions of Pratchett fans would ache to overhear. Would Death dare to speak in capitals to Sir Terry Pratchett?
Pratchett was, and will remain, one of the most popular British authors of all time. In the modern age, only the career of JK Rowling, creator of Harry Potter, is comparable. The facts of Pratchett’s success are impressive: the sheer number of books he has sold (some 80m copies worldwide), and the number of reprints, translations, dramatisations on television and stage, audio versions and spin-offs, plus awards and honorary doctorates galore. Then there’s an inestimable amount of Discworld spinoffery: chess pieces, wizardly hats, cloaks and T-shirts, leathern bags, pottery figurines, fantastic artwork, magic clobber of every kind including dribbly candles – all made by and sold to fans. His signings at bookshops were legendary: a queue stretching down the street was de rigueur, and although Pratchett worked quickly at the signatures, he was unfailingly friendly to everyone who turned up. He was open to readers: he answered emails (or some of them, because the volume of incoming messages was spectacular) and he went to Discworld conventions (almost all of them). He was a nice man, unpretentious and with a wry manner.
Pratchett was born in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, son of David and Eileen. He described himself as an omnivorous reader of books from the local library, making up for his lacklustre years at High Wycombe technical high school. He wrote his first story while still at school: The Hades Business, originally published in the school magazine. It became his first professional sale when it was picked up later by the magazine Science Fantasy. He went into local journalism, working on the Bucks Free Press, and later on the Western Daily Press and Bath Chronicle. While working as a journalist, he wrote innumerable short stories for the newspapers under pen names.
ESR talks about the late Leonard Nimoy:
There have been some surprisingly sensitive eulogies for him in the mainstream press, but they all merely skirted the edges of what may have been his most important contribution to popular culture: he made braininess sexy.
Journalists looking back at his life correctly note that despite James T. Kirk’s alpha-male swagger, Spock was the character that made women sigh. But they miss the full significance of this, a significance not easy to see because we live within the consequences of Nimoy’s achievement. He was the first star geek, a role model not just for Trek fans but for generations of bright kids after him.
If you are, like many of my readers, a fan of classic SF, ask yourself this: you had brainy heroes aplenty in your books (and rare that was outside of SF in those days) but who was the first one to be a live presence in media SF where he could influence the mundanes in a way print SF could not? That’s right; Spock. Leonard Nimoy’s methodical self-projection.
Nimoy made space in popular culture for intelligence as a positive quality in a way not seen so charismatically since perhaps as far back as Sherlock Holmes. By doing so, he paved the way for the post-Star-Wars boom in science fiction — and with it the gradual the emergence of a relatively self-confident subculture of bright, imaginative people who in the 1990s would begin to label themselves ‘geeks’. And who, whether Trek fans or not, would half-consciously see him as a role model and universally mourn his passing.
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