Envisioning unreal utopias

by Henry on June 17, 2010

John Gray on the disappearance of utopian dreams of social reform in science fiction here. His taste in SF is excellent and he has several good lines.

The role of science has been to gauge the limits of the species, with new technologies and extra-planetary environments being used as virtual laboratories for an ongoing thought experiment. If the mainstream novel employs the lens of the commonplace career – birth and education, marriage and divorce, ambition and failure – SF has pursued the inquiry by abducting the human animal and placing it in alien environments.

is particularly nice. It captures real (if not universal) differences without fetishizing the one as better than the other.

However, the main argument seems to me to say more about John Gray than it does about the genre he is writing about.

Even at its most pessimistic, science fiction has always been a humanist genre. The consoling assumption has been that while civilisation may be flawed and fragile, it can always be rebuilt, perhaps on a better model, if only humans have the will to do it. The possibility that it is the species that is flawed has rarely been explored. …Writing in a seemingly different genre, Mervyn Peake imagined a world without meaning and ruled by impenetrable rituals, echoes of which appear in Miéville and the work of Michael Moorcock and M John Harrison. Not influenced by Peake but like him shaped by life as a child in China, J G Ballard used post-apocalyptic science fiction to show that individual personality is a conventional makeshift that breaks down when put to the text of extreme experience.
Ballard is the pivotal figure here, and not only because of the intensity of his vision. … Ballard challenged this orthodoxy, not by shifting towards pessimism as is commonly suggested, but instead by looking for personal liberation in conditions where co-operation has irretrievably broken down. If science fiction is no longer a viable form, it is because the humanist assumptions that underpinned it are no longer credible even as fictions. … what these styles of writing have in common is an absence of politics. No world-changing project features in any of them. Miéville is an active member of the Socialist Workers Party, but his brand of fantastic fiction has as much to do with his political hopes as Wells’s scientific fables did with his utopian schemes.

This is good on Ballard (unsurprisingly so, given Gray’s interest in Ballard’s fiction), but seems to me to be quite wrong on Miéville. As the man himself said on these pages a few years back:

In fact in this era of anti-capitalism’ (or ‘anti-globalisation activism’ or whatever else one wants to call it), the pace of politics is speeding up, the sense of class antagonism, though not marked by the level of industrial militancy of the 70s, is growing sharper. (Elsewhere I’ve even speculated that a good part of the vigour of much fantastic fiction today is in its mediated response to that new politics.)
For a socialist, an irruption of fundamental social change – the revolution – represents a necessary horizon, a defining part of the social imaginary. Many novelists have depicted revolution. The paradox is that for a novelist committed to the potentiality and necessity of revolution, that revolution is both of vastly more importance than to her/his uncommitted colleagues, and yet is concomitantly, unlike for those colleagues, unrepresentable.
Some have read the ending of IC as elegiac, as constructing a kind of memorial to revolution. In fact, the intent was to embed it, render it permanently immanent, with one of the impossibilities, one of the literalised metaphors that do not however subordinate their literalism to their metaphoricism, in which fantasy fiction excels. Primarily an expression of the revolution itself, the ending was also intended to be a vindication of and homage to fantasy. Because, I hope, the genre allows not only the scientifically impossible (monsters and magic), but the politico-aesthetically impossible (writing a revolution without diminishing it).

This seems to me to cut directly against Gray’s interpretation. Miéville’s novels aren’t agit-prop – but they are very definitely humanist in the sense that Gray argues that they are not.1 Iron Council in particular has everything to do with Miéville’s political hopes even if it doesn’t engage them directly. It’s a way of trying to depict a hoped-for revolution that is, in Miéville’s view, impossible to depict directly for aesthetic reasons (not because revolution is impossible, but because it is unthinkable before it happens, being fundamentally transformative). For Miéville, fantasy is powerful because it can do precisely what Gray suggests it cannot. Nor do I think that he’s abandoned this idea in his recent work. While The City and the City doesn’t offer any arguments about fundamental political transformation (I’m writing a longer piece on it for publication elsewhere, which is horribly overdue), his new – and highly entertaining – romp, Kraken, is clearly humanist (without giving away any spoilers, it has a strong subplot about the importance of certain aspects of human progress).

As an aside – I didn’t link to this very good Nation piece by Miéville on J.G. Ballard when it came out. I’m linking to it now.

Update: Laurie Penny has a great piece pointing out something that I didn’t see and should have – why are there no women and no people of colour on this list? See also Farah in comments (and quoted in Penny’s article at greater length), Cheryl and Niall at Torque Control. Also, William Gibson has an interesting comment on dystopia and the world of Neuromancer in this month’s BookForum, which doesn’t seem to be online yet, but is sort of apropos.

When [Neuromancer] was published, I was often cited for the singular darkness of my dystopian vision. I countered, and have continued to, boringly, by expressing my belief that there are many people in our world who would immigrate to the world of my novel eagerly and with a renewed degree of hope. I don’t belief that to be true of Orwell’s 1984, our greatest literary dystopia to date, and I would propose that immigration henceforth be one test for successful dystopian intent. … One person’s dystopia is another’s hot immigration opportunity (as any real estate agent can tell you). The grass is always more withered, more absent, somewhere else. Dystopia, relatively speaking, is seldom more than a drive away.

1I’d also argue with Gray’s suggestion that M. John Harrison isn’t a humanist (short version – he is clearly interested in how personality and biology are biological constructs, but is also interested in individuals in a way that Ballard -as a writer – very clearly was not).

{ 88 comments }

1

Anderson 06.17.10 at 2:32 am

Iain M. Banks, Mr. Gray?

2

Henry 06.17.10 at 2:55 am

Hadn’t thought of the said Mr. Banks, but [joke stolen from David Langford]aren’t you confusing Iain M. Banks, the entirely reputable author of such literary novels as _The Wasp Factory_ (‘it is a sick sick world where the astuteness of a reputable firm of publishers is justified in publishing a work of such unparalleled depravity” etc ) with the far less reputable Iain Banks? [/joke]

Ken MacLeod is another obvious counterexample (although his novels _do_ seem to be becoming increasingly grim over the last couple of years).

3

Irrelephant 06.17.10 at 3:05 am

Banks, Charlie Stross, Vernor Vinge, many others, and the post-human exploration is where it’s at now. Contemporize yourself, Mr. Gray. And Heinlein was right-libertarian on even numbered days only.

Lem is worth more than a summary dismissal of “rational”. His experiences behind the Iron Curtain provided ficitional fooder for books with far more insight into what it means to be human – both philosophically and ironically – than anything Ballard could have hoped to have done. Ballard is important to English Lit professors, as he ultimately wrote nothing more than escapist masturbatory fanstasies for the powerless. Quite simply, Lem kicks Ballard’s ass.

4

Ken Houghton 06.17.10 at 3:19 am

“Gray’s suggestion that M. John Harrison isn’t a humanist (short version – he is clearly interested in how personality and biology are biological constructs, but is also interested in individuals in a way that Ballard -as a writer – very clearly was not).”

The world in which Signs of Life is not a humanist novel while Cocaine Nights and Super-Cannes (or even Millennium People or Running Wild) are is not one in which we live.

5

rm 06.17.10 at 3:34 am

He jumps from the disappearance of utopian/dystopian social-reform narratives to “If science fiction is no longer a viable form . . . .” Those aren’t the same thing.

Science fiction and fantasy seem alive and well to me. It’s mainstream literary fiction that seems iffy — whenever I read some, I see sciencefictional ideas and fantasy tropes everywhere. I’m not sure anyone believes in realism, the novel that represents psychological states or sociological conditions, anymore. But people write and read allegorical, fantastic, and speculative narratives. Whether it’s labeled SF/F or literature is a marketing decision, but it’s all SF/F now.

I think if you’re listing counter-examples to the observation that SF used to have a humanistic faith in social reform, you should mention Alice Sheldon (“James Tiptree, Jr.”). No one was colder in suggesting that “the species . . . was flawed.”

6

David 06.17.10 at 5:06 am

Banks came immediately to mind before I had read a paragraph. He is on record as considering The Culture to be somewhat of a utopia. Henry, I guess I’m not getting the joke, because on my bookshelf all the respectable novels by Iain M. Banks are science fiction and the thoroughly reprehensible ones (thoroughly enjoyable, too) are by this guy with the same name minus the middle initial.

Also, Kim Stanley Robinson comes to mind.

7

Farah 06.17.10 at 5:29 am

How can his taste be excellent when it is so out of date? He cites the “staples”. He also walks right into it when he writes, “Reading this book you realise how much of human life – your own and that of others – passes by unseen.”: the human life of women writers for example? Feminist sf remains a place of hopeful speculation.

8

Zora 06.17.10 at 7:15 am

Disappearance of utopian dreams of social reform? Huh? I don’t think Mr. Gray has been reading his Cory Doctorow. Cory’s latest, _For the Win_, is about unionization in the Third World. Too upbeat to be plausible, I’d say. Or Charlie Stross — Stross’ Merchant Princes series is all about a traveler between worlds who undertakes social reform (though she does run into some problems …). Dystopianism? Jo Walton and her Farthing series.

9

Anarcho 06.17.10 at 7:40 am

What, no mention of Ursula le Guin? Particularly The Dispossessed? That is a pretty good account of a libertarian-communist system, even including the dangers of “tyranny of the majority” and bureaucracy which any free society would need to watch out for. The comparison’s with Capitalist Io are particularly well done. Okay, it’s nearly 40 years old but it is a classic.

10

Nick L 06.17.10 at 7:56 am

Pretty much all of the writers who’ve contributed to the ‘New Space Opera’ could be thought of as humanists. Most are pretty clearly socialists/progressives of one sort or another. I don’t know how anyone can read Stross without coming away excited about the future, mind brimming with possibilities. As people wrote above Banks and MacLeod are also militant humanists: the Execution Channel’s end (no spoilers) is all about how human beings have the power to tranform their circumstances if they allow the best rather than the worst of themselves to triumph; Transition is about how limited and small capitalist civilisation has made our horizons when there is a world, a universe of possibilities waiting for us.

6

Brave New World is incontrovertibly humanist. The savage’s refusal to submit to a society of idiotic hedonism and doomed efforts to stand for a more meaningful and free form of existence is at the core of the narrative.

11

Mrs Tilton 06.17.10 at 8:18 am

science fiction has always been a humanist genre. The consoling assumption has been that while civilisation may be flawed and fragile, it can always be rebuilt, perhaps on a better model, if only humans have the will to do it. The possibility that it is the species that is flawed has rarely been explored

He hasn’t read much Peter Watts, has he.

12

alex 06.17.10 at 9:17 am

Is John Gray ever right about anything?

13

Chris Williams 06.17.10 at 10:07 am

No, but he’s wrong in interesting and unpredictable ways. How unlike the intellectual life of our dear blogger (insert joke figure here).

14

Enzo Rossi 06.17.10 at 10:48 am

What about Houellebecq’s The Possibility of an Island?

15

Maurice Meilleur 06.17.10 at 10:50 am

Add Stanisław Lem to the list of SF authors Gray can’t have been reading. Except for the Ijon Tichy stories, humanism is pretty foreign to his work. Books like His Master’s Voice or The Invincible or Fiasco seem almost to have been written to undermine it.

16

Maurice Meilleur 06.17.10 at 11:02 am

Also, why does Gray equate ‘politics’ with ‘world-changing projects’? That seems odd.

17

Matthew Davis 06.17.10 at 2:19 pm

All on-line articles by John Gray come down to great threads of comments in which posters indicate everything that Gray doesn’t know about political history, economics, the internet, films, literature. Getting huffy because he doesn’t list Ursula Le Guin, and therefore is implicitly masculinist or whatever, is beside the point and credits him with far too much rigour. A man who in the last decade or so has largely adopted the position that science is the religion of a secularised society, and that this is not necessarily a good thing, is not a man who is going to go browsing through the Hugo award’s nomination list.

The only amusement is to read him condemning, without even the slightest hint of self-awareness, some intellectual position as historically irrelevant which only a couple of years previous he himself was insisting was historically necessary. His intellectual career over the last 35 years is more of the equivalent of Mr Toad’s Wild Ride, careening from one side of the road to the other and anyone who gets run over only has themselves to blame.

18

Henry 06.17.10 at 2:42 pm

Farah – I think you’re dead right on the feminism and complete absence of women writers – but by the standards of philosopher/literary types, his taste _is_ good, if conventional – or to put it another way, he is at least writing about a few of the writers that f/sf people think are close to the center of debate, rather than the writers that people who don’t read f/sf think about. I’m tired of reading grand theories of science fiction based on someone’s nodding acquaintance with the work of Philip K. Dick from their undergrad days (not that PKD isn’t great – but he’s far from the only interesting person who has written in the genre).

19

chris 06.17.10 at 3:52 pm

The possibility that it is the species that is flawed has rarely been explored

Is this some sort of joke?

I can see why you might say that in SF, the possibility that the species is flawed is tempered by speculation that the flaws of the species might themselves be corrected, and you might attack that as over-optimistic (although even this is too simplistic, because there’s a lot of SF about the pitfalls of that too; one frequent theme is the potential for race wars between humans and posthumans). But to say that SF hasn’t addressed the flaws of our species is just nuts.

20

roac 06.17.10 at 4:04 pm

Heinlein was right-libertarian on even numbered days only.

True. On odd-numbered days, he was a militarist. (And every day, after he reached the statutory age, he was a Dirty Old Man.)

21

Rich Puchalsky 06.17.10 at 5:12 pm

I write a little bit about an Ursula Le Guin short story in this connection here.

22

alex 06.17.10 at 5:48 pm

Wow, Rich, that’s… really churlish.

23

david g 06.17.10 at 7:28 pm

All the writers named in this thread, with the exception of Heinlein, who gets the predictable elitist snark, are the kind of sf writers beloved of academics and who preach predictably elitist ideology — revolution, yet! — socialism!

On Heinlein one should keep silent until one has read leftist Spider Robinson’s brilliant takedown of ignorant anti-Heinleiners at

http://www.heinleinsociety.org/rah/works/articles/rahrahrah.html

Someone did mention Stan Robinson, who until he went super-pc with the flawed Years of Rice and Salt was a really good and varied writer. But, even though the glory days of Heinlein, Larry Niven, A.E. Van Vogt, Alfred Bester, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov et many, many al. may be behind us, the genre isn’t dead. Gene Wolfe hasn’t been called the best living writer in English for nothing. Neither was Jack Vance interviewed in the New York Times, no less, and praised as prose and style master, for nothing.

24

roac 06.17.10 at 8:02 pm

Heinlein, in various of his works, suggested, e.g., that essential industries should be militarized and a new service academy established to staff their executive ranks (“The Roads Must Roll”); that the franchise should be restricted to military veterans (Starship Troopers); and that the long-term interests of humanity would be best served if the most intelligent people turned themselves into a new species of übermenschen by selective breeding (can’t remember the name of that one). And here we have his critics being charged with . . . elitism!

25

Maurice Meilleur 06.17.10 at 8:43 pm

Roac, you’re thinking of Heinlein’s ‘Future History’ series, starting with Methuselah’s Children. I don’t recall that it’s as straightforwardly elitist as you claim–but then, it’s been an awfully long time since I’ve read Heinlein, and the fact that what seems like nonsense to an adult can seem deeply thoughtful and nuanced to a fifteen-year-old can interfere with one’s memory.

26

deacon blues 06.17.10 at 8:48 pm

I know that this thread was not intended as a comment on Heinlein, but I felt the need to pick at two points in roac’s screed. 1: Delaney pointed out that the reason he loved Starship Troopers was that it was about fifty pages into the book that, tangentially, Heinlein establishes that the Troopers’ earth is one in which racism no longer exists. I think it’s quite possible that this is one of the things Heinlein had in mind when he worked out the details of the veterans’ franchise, which is the actualizing principle behind the Troopers’ polity: only in a world founded on the principles of personal involvement and control –all vets, and only vets, are eligible to vote because only they have demonstrated “skin in the game”–that Heinlein posits would it be possible to eliminate racism by fiat. (By the way, the movie version, for all its crassness and vulgarism, tries to make the same point about sexism. Or maybe it was just so Vandehooven could throw in a crass and vulgar mixed shower scene, speaking of “skin in the game”.) 2. I don’t recall Heinlein describing a self-selected cadre breeding for intelligence per ce, but the Lazarus Long novels do feature such a group breeding for longevity; Heinlein’s very optimistic premise seems to have been that by removing, or at least putting off, the threat of death and replacing it with a longer mature and thoughtful adulthood, one might get a more thoughtful, realistic, and decisive individual.. speaking of perfectability of the species.

27

roac 06.17.10 at 9:02 pm

No, I’m not thinking of Methuselah’s Children and its sequels — I must have read at least some of those, but it has been so long that I remember nothing about them. I was referring to a novella which was the lead in a little paperback story collection I found in a thrift shop not too long ago. It starts out as a spy thriller, then the hero winds up in a jail cell with the mastermind of the übermenschen, who recruits him. (In accepting, the hero admits that he feels some loyalty to the lumpen-humans because “I’ve shared their slumgullion,” which I added to my list of the worst phrases that ever made it into print.)

28

roac 06.17.10 at 9:20 pm

The story is called “Gulf.” I worked through a bibliography until I found it.

Apparently Friday is sort of a sequel. I haven’t read that. I refuse to read anything Heinlein wrote after a certain date.

(To be fair, I haven’t disliked all the Heinlein I have reread in the past few years. Double Star holds up well. And it contains a couple of pages that epitomize for me the appeal of pulp. Ichor plays a part. Ursula LeGuin has written about how much she hates ichor, but it provides a visceral thrill.)

29

cate 06.17.10 at 9:22 pm

I definitely read The City and the City as being about the construction of political subjectivities–and the capacity to overcome them. Incidentally, I read the Kindle version, which reproduced Žižek as [I am not even joking] $i$ek. The jokes, they write themselves.

30

Irrelephant 06.17.10 at 10:05 pm

YOu have to admit this, though. Once innoculated with Heinlein, you are competely immune to Ayn Rand.

31

Henry 06.17.10 at 10:19 pm

David G – I’d suggest you consider using the ‘search’ functionality on this blog (conveniently located on the top right) before you start in on the ‘yiz all hate Wolfe and Vance because yiz are all elitist left wing academics’ guff. Otherwise you’ll end up looking silly. And when people are responding to the claim that sf writers can no longer write about radical political transformation, it’s … unsurprising … that the counterexamples they choose are sf writers writing about radical transformation. Sorry to be so sarcastic – I suspect that you’re capable of more interesting argument – but the snark is really badly misplaced.

cate – that is super-duper-awesome

32

Ginger Yellow 06.17.10 at 10:30 pm

“The possibility that it is the species that is flawed has rarely been explored.”

As Anarcho suggests, only someone who has never read LeGuin could say this. Pretty much her entire sci-fi oeuvre explores this possibility in detail, most particularly The Dispossessed and The Lathe Of Heaven. And, making it absolutely explicit, The Left Hand Of Darkness features a human slowly coming to understand the flaws of the species by living among another.

33

David 06.18.10 at 12:15 am

My God, David G’s comments are as ignorant as Mr. Gray’s. He can’t possibly have actually read The Years of Rice and Salt , or if he did he failed to comprehend it at all.

As for Heinlein, I was a big fan in my teens many years ago. But one can’t fail to realize just how anti-humanist he was, especially as time went on. And repulsively sentimental. By and large, his juveniles hold up best. Friday was indeed a rather contrived sequel of sorts to Gulf and probably his last readable book. It does have a nice Richard Powers cover, which is why t remains on my shelf. John Scalzi is an interesting and more nuanced updating of Heinlein’s glorification of all things military.

34

Hob 06.18.10 at 12:21 am

david g @23: If you’re going to claim that Kim Stanley Robinson “went super-pc” by writing The Years of Rice and Salt, you might want to elaborate a little on what the hell you’re talking about. Or maybe not, because the only possible interpretations I can think of are rather unpleasant.

For those who haven’t read it: The book is an alternate history in which the Black Death completely wiped out Europe, so Asian and Middle Eastern civilizations develop along different lines. It’s not an unambiguously better or worse outcome in the book; similar things are invented, similar wars are fought, people do some fairly terrible things. The novel’s cosmology is roughly Buddhist, which fits with Robinson’s own well-known interests, and reincarnation is used as a narrative device. I’m at a loss to imagine what Robinson could’ve done differently to avoid David’s accusation of being a big PC poseur, except possibly showing non-Europeans as being incapable of developing civilizations on their own, or adding a contrarian diatribe about how recycling will destroy the world(*).

(* one of Larry Niven’s goofier asides in The Ringworld Engineers, I think.)

35

Shatterface 06.18.10 at 1:05 am

I’d happily live in many of Greg Egan’s futures or on Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars. And what about Sam Delaney’s ‘ambiguous heterotopia’, Triton?

Gray’s omission of women writers is unforgivable. Le Guinn’s The Dispossessed in particular is the most fully realised account of a functioning anarchy I’ve seen.

In fact it is referenced extensively in Michael Albert’s Parecon, practically a bible for 21st Century anarchists like myself.

36

Shatterface 06.18.10 at 2:15 am

37

Josh 06.18.10 at 5:31 am

Before Patrick Nielsen Hayden steps in: who is this “Sam Delaney” being discussed here and in Laurie Penny’s comments, and why are his books’ titles so similar to Samuel Delany’s?

38

Anarcho 06.18.10 at 7:59 am

“Getting huffy because he doesn’t list Ursula Le Guin, and therefore is implicitly masculinist or whatever, is beside the point and credits him with far too much rigour.”

Wow, you read all that from my comment? I made no mention of “masculinist” (implicit or not). If you have issues with le Guin, don’t inflict them onto me. My comment was driven by the fact I was just surprised that anyone could talk about left-wing utopian SF and NOT mention Ursula le Guin. It is like discussing anarchism in the past 50 years and not mention Noam Chomsky or Colin Ward.

Someone else writes that “In fact it is referenced extensively in Michael Albert’s Parecon, practically a bible for 21st Century anarchists like myself.”

Speak for yourself (although I guess you were!). Personally, I think Parecon would never work. That so many anarchists sign up to it is something that needs to be discussed. Yes, it has many good elements in it and, yes, it draws on previous libertarian thought but the overall scheme just assumes and abstracts too much.

39

Shatterface 06.18.10 at 8:07 am

Sorry, posted @ 2am my time so not really up for spellchecking, besides which have a friend called Delaney so that spelling came automatically to mind.

In the interest of pedantry, I’m referring to Samuel Ray Delany Jr (‘Chip’ to his friends) the black, gay one who was already acclaimed for his ambitious subject matter and pyrotechnic writing style by the age of 17, and not the nerdy white guy who appears on all those annoying programmes about 80’s TV.

The last book I read by him was about coprophilia and, to be honest, isn’t as much fun as ‘Nova’.

40

Shatterface 06.18.10 at 8:24 am

Okay, ‘bible’ may be a bit strong but it is undoubtedly influenced by Kropotkin channeled through Le Guinn.

Like many anarchists of my generation I discovered anarchism through punk – but that anarchism was defined ‘negatively’ by what it was against: an overbearing state as much as capitalism, property and religion – and it didn’t offer anything to take it’s place. ‘The Dispossessed’ introduced me to a genuine alternative, a ‘positive’ form of anarchism, and – more impressively – did not present it as a flawless utopia. Someone once described socialism as ‘great idea, wrong species’ but Le Guinn’s book is about human beings and was brave enough to represent anarchism as a mixed blessing, an ‘ambiguous utopia’. And Delany’s ‘Triton’ riffs on that by calling itself ‘an ambiguous heterotopia’.

It’s a long time since I read Damien Broderick’s ‘Starlight’ but I recall him discussing Le Guinn and Delany in some depth.

41

Martin Wisse 06.18.10 at 9:06 am

John Gray isn’t really that interested in science fiction and the writers he namechecks are largely those long since deemed respectable by the literary mainstream. As others have said here and elsewhere, he’s just flogging his own pet theories. It is therefore no wonder he gets everything important wrong about science fiction and fantasy. To engage with him is pointless, but to hijack his screed like Laurie Penny has done to highlight the lack of women and writers of colour on his list was brilliant. If only because it provides a chance to once again bring out some lesser known sf/f writers to mainstream attention.

42

Anarcho 06.18.10 at 9:16 am

About Heinlein, Spider Robinson states ” I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve heard “libertarian” used as a pejorative a few times lately.” Well, yes, if by “libertarian” it is meant a right-wing free-market capitalist (aka, a propertarian) then it is a pejorative term. What is worse, the right appropriated it from the left — for 100 years before the 1950s, “libertarian” was used exclusively by the left, by anti-state socialists in the tradition of Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin.

I’ve tried to read Heinlein. Starship Troopers was terrible, fascistic in tone with a shocking ignorance of Marxist economics. I tried The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and gave up. It was not very appealing.

Have people read Micheal Moorcock’s “Starship Stormtroopers”? An anarchist SF/Fantasy writer, Moorcock discusses what he considers the authoritarianism at the heart of much SF writing. His Oswald Bastable trilogy has anarchists in it (particularly the first, Warlord of the Air, and third, The Steel Tzar, in which Nestor Makhno fights Stalin in an alternative 1940s).

43

soru 06.18.10 at 9:24 am

“The possibility that it is the species that is flawed has rarely been explored.”

Gray really needs to read Watt’s _Blindsight_.

It would be really amusing to see subsequent articles get a bit more bleak and pessimistic about the human condition…

44

Shatterface 06.18.10 at 9:56 am

‘An anarchist SF/Fantasy writer, Moorcock discusses what he considers the authoritarianism at the heart of much SF writing’

There’s Norman Spinrad’s ‘The Iron Dream’ as well, a fantasy novel ostensibly written by Adolph Hitler.

45

Shatterface 06.18.10 at 10:06 am

I’ve never quite worked out what Gray is doing at the NS. Most left-leaning people would regard the Enlightenment as incomplete but Gray seems to see it as entirely futile. If you can’t have a perfect world he’s not willing to settle for something at least better than we have now. He’s like a child throwing out his Christmas presents because he didn’t get the mountain bike he wanted. He’s antithetical to incremental progress on principle.

And while Ballard’s work is often very bleak he’s also an ironist on par with Vonnegut. Gray seems to see him as some kind of prophet.

46

chris 06.18.10 at 1:46 pm

That Moorcock essay is a real mindbender. Asimov as a crypto-Stalinist?

Heroes betray us. By having them, in real life, we betray ourselves.

Strange words from the creator of the Eternal Champion.

On the other hand he’s dead right about Lovecraft. But I don’t think reading his fiction is an embrace of his politics, an argument already well-worn by analogous disputes over Wagner. (Really, this undermines the whole essay: enjoying a story in which the characters behave in ways uncharacteristic of real people needn’t translate to a profound misunderstanding of human nature as it exists in the real world, still less the political leanings that come from believing that spotless heroes do exist if you can only find one and put them in charge of everything.)

His criticism of Star Wars seems very similar to Brin’s, although I don’t know which came first.

47

Theophylact 06.18.10 at 2:31 pm

Odd that Moorcock puts Asimov in with Lewis, Tolkein and Herbert as a “bourgeois reactionary”. I’ve read all of Asimov’s adult novels, plus his four voumes of autobiography, and I think it would be more reasonable to call him a “bourgeois liberal”.

48

etbnc 06.18.10 at 3:54 pm

Thanks for the link to the Moorcock piece. Sounds interesting.

I like John Kessel’s take on Heinlein’s career: Heinlein: One Sane Man
(The title is a reference to yet another essay, not necessarily Kessel’s theme.)

Cheers

49

roac 06.18.10 at 4:09 pm

In my role as reflexive-responder-to-every-post-mentioning-Tolkien: I find Marxist classifications like “bourgeois” so imprecise as to be useless. Tolkien was reactionary and then some, but he was a Catholic reactionary first and foremost. In fact a monarchist, and also an anarchist; I can’t explain how he pulled that off, but he did.

He was also intensely kindhearted and humane, in theory and practice, which counts heavily with me.

50

roac 06.18.10 at 4:13 pm

Speaking of reactionary Catholics, I wish to put forward the proposition that the greatest of all science fiction writers — defined as “writers whose work was published as science fiction” — was R. A. Lafferty. (Not his novels, or not the ones I have read. The short stories.)

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ScentOfViolets 06.18.10 at 4:30 pm

The possibility that it is the species that is flawed has rarely been explored.

God, the man is ignorant! You can find stuff like this all the way back to the 30’s, at least. Anyone remember Edmond Hamilton and his many times reprinted “Devolution”? Or that very obscure series of stories by Simak collected into the little-known fixup “City”?

I suspect that Gray’s problem is that he doesn’t realize just how market-bound sf is. Silverberg tells the anecdote about Judy Del Rey telling him to stop with the New Wave stuff (there’s another author who explored the bleak side). When he protested that she had told him he was getting better and better all the time and that he was one of her favorite writers, she gently reminded him “Bob, you aren’t writing for me. You’re writing for our readers.” And this is true even today[1]; if you peruse the old usenet groups rec.arts.sf.* or the discussions on various blogs, you’ll find a lot of people vehement in their belief that there is way too much depressing, “literary” sf being written. They want bug-eyed monsters menacing a bodacious woman (wearing a bathing suit and a fishbowl helmet for protection against the vacuum) on the covers of their stuff, or exploding spaceships, that sort of thing. ( Uh, actually, so do I at least sometimes. Reading greasy paperbacks in bed while tossing the occasional cheetoh to my hopeful mutts as I steadily munch through a bag is one of the last of the old-time vices I enjoy – truth be told, probably one of the greatest.) Gray could just as well have bemoaned the lack of utopian themes in the Hard Boiled Dick genre, or the lack of utopian themes in a Regency romance.

[1]One of the nice things about the sf genre is that it is so recent and it’s history and development is so accessible ( Kind of like Rock n’ Roll that way, actually).

52

Keith 06.18.10 at 5:49 pm

Tolkien was reactionary and then some, but he was a Catholic reactionary first and foremost. In fact a monarchist, and also an anarchist; I can’t explain how he pulled that off, but he did.

Back when the LotR movies come out, Solon had an essay on Tolkien, addressing this conundrum. What I got out of it was that Tolkien had a rather nebulous and contradictory political philosophy. Basically he was in favor of a week monarchy, a sort of cultural figurehead who represents aspirational ideals but lets his empire run itself as a loose association of anarcho-syndacalist villages. It was all very romantic and 19th century pastoral idyllic of him.

53

Henry 06.18.10 at 5:53 pm

And for more reactionary Catholicism, “Gene Wolfe on the politics of Tolkien”:http://home.clara.net/andywrobertson/wolfemountains.html. Highly unattractive to me (but doesn’t change the fact that many of Wolfe’s novels are wonderful). His politics are similarly odd – very far to the right on most stuff, but with flashes of populism (and one novel with an epigraph from FDR).

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ScentOfViolets 06.18.10 at 6:08 pm

Heh. You can’t get much more Catholic than Wolfe. His “Book of the New Sun” cycle is all about Catholicism and it’s emblems, for example. And very, very good reading too, I might add.

55

david g 06.18.10 at 7:40 pm

Stan Robinson will do fine, whether I seem to be snarking him or not. What I meant in extreme shorthand about Years of Rice and Salt is that — apart from being a good alternate-history tale — it has, to me, an undertone of preachiness. I do think it was no accident that democracy, science, and capitalism arose in the Christian West.

Anarcho says:

“for 100 years before the 1950s, “libertarian” was used exclusively by the left, by anti-state socialists in the tradition of Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin.”

True. If you read Spanish historians, they consistently refer to anarchists as “ácratas”, or precisely, “libertarios.”

And:

“I’ve tried to read Heinlein. Starship Troopers was terrible, fascistic in tone with a shocking ignorance of Marxist economics. I tried The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and gave up. It was not very appealing.”

Starship Troopers posits an idea, which is what good sf should do. In this case, the idea that suffrage should be reserved for those who have actually put their lives on the line in defending their society.

Henry seems to think that “reactionary Catholicism” is some kind of put-down. Call it snark? I find Wolfe’s essay on JRRT moving and profound. But that’s probably just because I’m also a reactionary Catholic.

Tolkien was indeed a sort of anarchist as well as a monarchist. He refused to use the word “government” in any sense other than of people, i.e. the rulers, never of an institution. In a letter, he half-jokingly proposed to call the British government “King George’s council — Sir Winston and his gang.” He hated the label “British” and always referred to himself as an Englishman who had fought in the English (not British) army for the King of England. Similarly, he had little time for the British Empire.

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Henry 06.18.10 at 7:58 pm

bq. Henry seems to think that “reactionary Catholicism” is some kind of put-down. Call it snark? I find Wolfe’s essay on JRRT moving and profound. But that’s probably just because I’m also a reactionary Catholic.

Unfortunately, your reading skills don’t seem to be improving as we go along. How you read this as being snarky, I am not quite sure. “Reactionary Catholicism” makes a set of political claims I find profoundly unattractive. But to say that you find a political ideology unattractive is not to be snarky, under most common or garden definitions of snark.

I suppose this is all of a piece with your initial ‘you lefty elitists don’t want to talk about Wolfe and Vance because they’re not politically correct’ guff. Except we do want to talk about them, some of us, because we “like”:http://crookedtimber.org/2004/06/15/gene-wolfe-steals-my-fudgsicle/#more-1730 “them”:http://crookedtimber.org/2009/07/17/vance-in-the-nyt/. Some of us actually “like Heinlein too”:http://crookedtimber.org/2009/10/23/atlas-sucked/. In fact, some of us “are occasionally moved to declare our love for Heinlein in public”:http://nielsenhayden.com/electrolite/archives/002198.html. And if that makes your brains all asploded, well … tough luck for your brains.

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ScentOfViolets 06.18.10 at 8:25 pm

Starship Troopers posits an idea, which is what good sf should do. In this case, the idea that suffrage should be reserved for those who have actually put their lives on the line in defending their society.

To the contrary, Starship Troopers is terrible bit of drek in part because it does not explore any ideas. What we get instead are didacticism, heavy-handed polemics, and frozen solid deck of cards by sheer authorial fiat. That’s what makes Verhoeven’s “Starship Troopers – on Ice!” an excellent send-up. Yeah, there’s “thoughtful explorations of political ideas” out there in sf; but Heinlein isn’t one of the guys who did that schtick. Pamphleteer with an axe to grind was more his style.

58

chris 06.18.10 at 9:25 pm

In this case, the idea that suffrage should be reserved for those who have actually put their lives on the line in defending their society.

Hasn’t that been tried before, under the name “warrior aristocracy”? Obviously the helots are going to resent the arrangement (especially if you’re getting there from a starting point of universal suffrage!), which compels you to suppress them by force, and the usual ugliness results.

I’d love to see what history Heinlein thought could produce an immaculate conception of rule by the military. Except, as SoV points out, he doesn’t really go into that.

59

Shatterface 06.18.10 at 9:36 pm

A bit hypocritical of a Tarzan fan like Moorcock to get politically self-riteous about other people’s reading habits.

Starship Troopers probably seemed a lot less loopy in the 60s when a generation who had fought a just war couldn’t indrestand why a younger generation weren’t quite as willing to fight an entirely unjust one.

IIRC, Amazing Stories ran a feature on sf writers for and against the Vietnam War. Not surprisingly most of the old timers were pro-war and the New Wave were anti. Asimov was on the anti side though.

60

Mrs Tilton 06.18.10 at 9:37 pm

Reactionary catholic David G @55 “think[s] it was no accident that democracy, science, and capitalism arose in the Christian West”.

Normal people, by contrast, after pausing to note that any definition of “Christian West” that includes ancient Athenian democracy is a most generously broad one, will think that reactionary catholics’ attempts to deny that democracy, science and capitalism arose otherwise than against the furious resistance of reactionary catholicism — a resistance that, until free people destroyed or at least greatly reduced reactionary catholicism’s political power, was routinely violent and frequently deadly — either ignorant or dishonest, but in any case no accident.

61

etbnc 06.18.10 at 9:46 pm

An aside that may be of interest or value to some: I see that Jose Saramago has died.

I really enjoyed Saramago’s The Cave, and Blindness impressed me also.

I suppose I could have omitted punctuation and capitals from this comment in his honor, but I don’t think I could pull that off the way he did.

Right, then. Carry on

62

david g 06.19.10 at 3:01 am

I thought this thread was about science fiction.

We’re speaking about literature here. I am no accredited scholar of literature, which of course means nothing, since most of those who are accredited are slavish followers of the ruling ideologies.

I ask a simple question: How many of you commentators have ever read or pondered the great plays of Shakespeare? Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, Richard II?

Just asking.

The great sf writers knew these plays and the issues enacted in them.

No one should comment on sf who is not familiar with the cultural background of its authors.

If you ladies and gentlemen want a name of a current author, English even, who delivers sf in the grand tradition, I give you Peter F. Hamilton.

63

Yarrow 06.19.10 at 3:40 am

I ask a simple question: How many of you commentators have ever read or pondered the great plays of Shakespeare? Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, Richard II?

O.K. folks, we’re busted. Not one of us has read or pondered anything but the sonnets, Henry IV part 2, and Much Ado About Nothing. (Astonishing feat of investigation there, david g. Bravo!)

No one should comment on sf who is not familiar with the cultural background of its authors.

As you are, david g! And aware of all internet traditions and also of literary conventions, I have no doubt.

64

David 06.19.10 at 4:37 am

I’ve never even heard of this Shakespeare guy, much less contemplated him. Of course, I’ve never heard of david g, either.

65

David 06.19.10 at 4:47 am

@ Shatterface, #59. This has come up before. It was The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction that addressed the Viet Nam war and SF writers, in the form of an advert signed by a large number of writers opposed to the war. It was countered an issue or two later by another ad supporting the war. In my opinion, the only first rate writers in the pro ad were Jack Vance and R. A. Lafferty. 1968, if memory serves me, although it might have been 1967. Heinlein never served in any war. Washed out of the Naval Academy for medical reasons. Also, he was a very early member of the John Birch Society. It has been suggested that he left because they weren’t conservative enough for him.

66

David 06.19.10 at 4:57 am

@ Mrs. Tilton, #60. Indeed, re reactionary Catholicism. Read Kim Stanley Robinson’s Galileo’s Dream for both a Utopian (qualified, nuanced) perspective and an examination of reactionary Catholicism. David G is stunningly ignorant.

67

ejh 06.19.10 at 9:23 am

I find Wolfe’s essay on JRRT moving and profound

You’re welcome to do so, but the history which supports it is absolute nonsense.

68

roac 06.19.10 at 11:45 am

Heinlein . . . washed out of the Naval Academy for medical reasons.

This is not correct. Heinlein graduated from Annapolis and served for several years before being discharged because he got TB. (Verifying this on Wikipedia, I learned that he was on Lexington when Ernest King, who ran the Navy in WWII, as its captain.)

69

ScentOfViolets 06.19.10 at 3:54 pm

I’ve never even heard of this Shakespeare guy, much less contemplated him. Of course, I’ve never heard of david g, either.

Shakespeare’s a guy? I thought that was just the name of the band.

70

alex 06.19.10 at 5:38 pm

Time for the obligatory “The other, of course, involves orcs” mention?

71

Henry 06.19.10 at 8:26 pm

bq. I ask a simple question: How many of you commentators have ever read or pondered the great plays of Shakespeare? Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, Richard II? Just asking. The great sf writers knew these plays and the issues enacted in them. No one should comment on sf who is not familiar with the cultural background of its authors.

This is very beautiful. It reminds me a little (and this dates me) of the dialogue options you are given in the insult duel in _The Secret of Monkey Island,_ before Threepwood gets his shit together.

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David 06.19.10 at 9:50 pm

@Roac. I stand corrected. Memory over a 50 year period failed me. Nevertheless, Heinlein served in no wars. Neither did many or most of the reactionaries who signed the pro-war advert. The One Hundred and First Keyboarders has a distinguished lineage.

73

praisegod barebones 06.20.10 at 2:38 pm

69: Um, we’re talking about the guy who wrote Francis Bacon’s Essays, right?

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praisegod barebones 06.20.10 at 2:54 pm

OK, something more serious now. I think China Mieville is great; but Gray’s piece seems premised on the idea that The City and the City is somehow representative of contemporary science fiction.

That seems nuts to me: one of the things I like about Mieville is the extent to which he’s unlike so much else in the genre. Why take him to be any more representative than, say, Neal Stephenson? From whom one would draw rather different conclusions, I think.

Notice: I don’t think Stephenson really is more representative. It’s just that I don’t see any evidence in Gray’s piece that he’s familiar with enough contemporary sf to make any plausible judgment on that. And I suspect that anyone who was would be considerably more circumspect in their judgments.

75

Chris 06.20.10 at 4:49 pm

I don’t think the genre is cohesive enough for any small number of writers to be “representative”. Which just makes sweeping statements like Gray’s not even wrong. It’s like saying “My, the weather on Earth is hot today” – the phenomenon you’re trying to talk about doesn’t meaningfully exist at that scale. (Indeed, not only “weather” but even “today” breaks down when you try to discuss a whole planet.)

76

praisegod barebones 06.20.10 at 6:15 pm

Chris – thanks, that’s an illuminating analogy.

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ScentOfViolets 06.20.10 at 9:42 pm

I don’t think the genre is cohesive enough for any small number of writers to be “representative”. Which just makes sweeping statements like Gray’s not even wrong. It’s like saying “My, the weather on Earth is hot today” – the phenomenon you’re trying to talk about doesn’t meaningfully exist at that scale. (Indeed, not only “weather” but even “today” breaks down when you try to discuss a whole planet.)

Part of the charm of the genre is that at one point a dedicated reader could keep up with the collective written output – and that there are people who are not all that old today (I’m flattering myself) who were part of that time. Gray seems to be writing about that era which ended, oh, sometime in the 70’s would be my guesstimate. Nowadays so many tens of thousands of words are published every 24 hours that the fragmentation is now obvious and imposes hard choices on what to read; I don’t even know who half the new writers are, let alone have the time to peruse so much as a paragraph of their work.

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david g 06.21.10 at 12:29 am

@ 59 chris
Relax! It’s an idea! No one has to buy it. Myself, I never was a hunk or a warrior, but Heinlein made me think, and that’s what good sf should do. Anyway, Starship Troopers never was among my favorite Heinlein stories. I couldn’t get through Stranger in a Strange Land 45 years ago; perhaps I should try again. And as for the Lazarus Long novel — Time Enough for Love or, as one of my fan friends once called it, Time for Enough Love — it seemed like a mixture of bits of humor, tedious dialogue, and sex stuff enough to drive a 25-year old pimply nerd like me out of his britches. I mean, where were all these brassy women RAH wrote about? I haven’t read old RAH in decades, but I’ll never forget the chills of joy some of his stories such as “The Green Hills of Earth” gave me all those years ago. And, let’s face it, there simply aren’t any better time paradox stories in the literature than “All You Zombies” and “By His Bootstraps.”

@60 Mrs. Tilton
I don’t respond to diatribes. Mrs. Tilton is ignorant and prejudiced.
Mrs. Tilton, David, and others might benefit by reading, for starters,
Toby Huff, The Rise of Early Modern Science, CUP 2003
Harold Berman, Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition, HUP 1982
Joel Mokyr, The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy, Princeton UP 2002.
Those will get you started. Then I can adduce a variety of other works, including a number in Spanish that explode various canards and black legends about Catholic obscurancy and other nonsense.

@65 David
Why is it that leftists can’t refrain from ad hominem arguments? We aren’t talking about RAH’s politics but about his stories. Then again, it may be that on crookedtimber.org, patriot is a dirty word. RAH was one. I never met him, although I was his “blood brother,” because he inspired me to become a regular donor of my semi-rare blood type. Got a nice note from him about that.

@67 ejh
Why is the history adduced by Gene Wolfe in his essay on Tolkien “absolute nonsense”?

@75 Chris
A breath of fresh air. How true. And it was always true. Way back when, in my systematizing era, I tried to categorize sf into utopian, dystopian, psycho-sf, space opera, political sf (anyone remember Mack Reynolds?), but it was hopeless beyond a certain point, because these writers just wouldn’t stay within category. And that’s what’s so wonderful about the genre. I mentioned Peter Hamilton, who for my money is really, really good, but if you want Brits, we also have Alastair Reynolds and Stephen Baxter. And, from among the old guys, apart from Arthur C. Clarke, we have such as Keith Roberts, a particular favorite.

Asked what is the single best story I ever read, I of course must answer “depends on what kind of story.” But one I read some 45 years ago that has never left my mind is David Masson’s “Traveller’s Rest” from about 1964. Go, read, find. It is indescribable.

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david g 06.21.10 at 12:51 am

@77 Scent of Violets
The volume of sf published today is much smaller than 30 years ago, or so it seems. In any mainstream bookstore, the fantasy guff takes up at least as much shelf space than honest sf. The opposite was true in the 70’s, when we had dedicated sf bookstores in most major cities. Yet even then, the main sf bookstore in London called itself “Dark They Were and Golden-Eyed” (ring a bell, anyone?), and one in the US, I think in LA, called itself “A Change of Hobbit.” Eeeuw, creeping fantasization! No one yields to me in love of JRRT, but let’s keep our genres straight. Old Tolkien himself was a mass consumer of sf and never let it influence his writing.

So, Scent of Violet, go by what lasts. I refer you to the authors named in my last post.

I could also mention John Crowley, but that might mess up the genre thing a bit. Still, he’s an ingenious writer.

80

ejh 06.21.10 at 9:58 am

If Gray is really unaware of The Dispossessed, that’s got to get him a very high score in an SF version of David Lodge’s Humiliation.

Why is the history adduced by Gene Wolfe in his essay on Tolkien “absolute nonsense”?

Because the claims he makes about the societies to which he refers are fantasies.

81

Mrs Tilton 06.21.10 at 1:22 pm

The comedy never stops. David G @78:

Then I can adduce a variety of other works, including a number in Spanish that explode various canards and black legends about Catholic obscurancy and other nonsense

Who is this really? Roy Edroso? The Editors? The Medium Lobster?

82

ScentOfViolets 06.21.10 at 6:00 pm

But one I read some 45 years ago that has never left my mind is David Masson’s “Traveller’s Rest” from about 1964. Go, read, find. It is indescribable.

Sigh. Enough already. You mean the story about a planet where time passes at different rates according to latitude? The one collected in Silverberg’s “Voyagers in Time” and subsequently appearing on the shelves of just about every public library, so that almost everyone here has read it? Please. If you think you’re showing impressive erudition on this thread, I’d advise you to try harder. Lots harder.

Impressive erudition would be something like reading every single Dumarest of Terra installment and knowing all the characters and plotlines from each one[1] ;-)

[1]Of course, to be really impressive, you’ve have to have read every single Perry Rhodan volume; myself, I’ve read less than fifty.

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david g 06.21.10 at 11:36 pm

@80 ejh
Because the claims he makes about the societies to which he refers are fantasies.

What claims?

@81 Mrs. Tilton
Roy Edroso? The Editors? The Medium Lobster?
What in the world are you talking about? Who the hell is “Roy Edroso”? I was thinking about historians such as Ramón Menéndez Pidal, José Manuel Cuenca Toribio or Luis Pío Moa Rodríguez or, for that matter, the American Stanley Payne. Read them and come back.

@82 Scent of Violets
Dumarest of Terra, whoever he may be, has not crossed my horizon. I mentioned “Traveller’s Rest” not to be erudite, who cares about that, but to name a story that meant much to me. Are sentiments outlawed here?

Getting back to beginnings, I assume the John Gray we are commenting on is the same John Gray who 25 years ago was a warm Thatcherite and who wrote a rather fair book about Friedrich Hayek. Then, for reasons I still do not understand, he became, over a few years, a radical opponent of market liberalism. What he stands for today I do not claim to understand. Whatever, he’s converted his new beliefs into lucrative fellowships here and there. Although he doesn’t quite match Niall Ferguson in that department.

I cannot respond to people who won’t respond to me. I’ll just say that I entered this thread because I love sf and have since my childhood. And if my experience, now long since, of the fan life is any guide, is worth anything, it is this, that in love of this often bizarre, but also often inspiring and surprising literature, people of the most opposed earthly views can find common ground. What the best sf teaches us is that earthly controversies really are pretty petty, and that there’s a big universe out there. Go and find it!

There are so many magnificent writers no one has even mentioned yet: Frank Herbert, Poul Anderson, André Norton, Keith Laumer, Fred Pohl, Cyril Kornbluth …

Walter M. Miller!

Gentlemen, ladies, signing off for now.

84

Mrs Tilton 06.22.10 at 5:41 am

David G @83,

Who the hell is “Roy Edroso”?

Read him. Don’t feel obligated to come back.

85

Eleanor 07.02.10 at 12:42 am

Interesting discussion. Still not enough women or people of color.

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Eleanor 07.02.10 at 1:29 am

Thanks for the links to Kessel and Moorcock. I enjoyed the Moorcock essay a lot. It reminded me why I liked New Worlds so much. I think Kessel is wrong. I can still remember the night — rereading The Green Hills of Earth at the house of a friend of a friend in Altoona, PA circa 1970 — when I realized what an awful writer Heinlein was.

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etbnc 07.02.10 at 4:09 pm

Isn’t there a writers’ workshop at Altoona?

You’re welcome for the Kessel link. If offering something to disagree with is a valuable service, I guess I’m pleased to provide it. :)

Prof. Kessel’s essay seems to resonate with readers who became fans of SF because of Heinlein’s youth-oriented fiction but then felt let down by his later work. I’m in that category, myself. Also, at some venues I notice conversations about Heinlein tend to become polarized quickly. In those cases Kessel’s essay sometimes creates a way for participants to discover new perspectives and different ways to talk about Heinlein. So I find it a useful tool to have on hand.

Thanks for reading. Cheers

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Henry 07.09.10 at 4:59 pm

Eleanor – only just realized that you are Eleanor Arneson, when I saw the relevant post on your blog. Nice to have you.

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