The State of Science-Fiction and Fantasy …

It may — or may not — surprise you to learn that when I was younger I was a huge fan of science-fiction and fantasy works, and that I sampled a large number of authors and series. Today, however, while almost all of my fictional reading is science-fiction and fantasy, I don’t, in fact, buy a lot of new science-fiction and fantasy. Instead, right now I re-read the Star Wars EU, the Wing Commander books, the Amber series, and David Eddings’ stuff, among others. If I buy anything, it’s usually a licensed work of some kind. Now, of course, science-fiction and fantasy have, in fact, not stopped publishing things other than licensed works, and have even put out new original series, and so it would probably be in my best interest to pick some up. The problem, for me, is that new books are a little expensive to dabble in, for used books if you find something interesting you can’t always get, say, the first one in the series, and the library nearest me doesn’t have a huge selection. So, given that, what I’d really like is to find some way to read reviews of the various works so that I can find something that I might like and thus be able to reduce the risk that I’ll end up buying something I hate.

Given the current state of Science-Fiction and Fantasy, I’m not sure that that’s possible.

I start from the objectivity myth idea that I’ve talked about previously. While scores aren’t a big deal for me, there’s always the risk that I’ll find a review and have them wax eloquently about their feelings and not tell me anything about the book itself. This trend is not one that appeals to me. That being said, perhaps I’m being overly concerned about this, as this trend is working its way into games as well and yet I still find that I can find reviews that work reasonably well to convince me to buy certain games or not (although at times that’s hard, too). So maybe that’s not a big concern.

The current state of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, however, is. There’s a conflict “raging” there at the moment, one with such broad implications that people as diverse as P.Z. Myers and Vox Day are commenting on it. My general understanding of the clash — putting it in the most neutral terms possible — is that on the one side we have people insisting that science fiction and fantasy ought to be promoting progressive values, while on the other side we have people insisting that science fiction and fantasy ought to be worrying more about good stories and less about progressive values. You get no points for figuring out which of the above mentioned people are on which side [grin]. There’s a lot more to the positions on both sides, but this, I think, is an accurate summary. And this is harkening back to my earlier experiences with science-fiction and fantasy.

When I was younger, for a time when I saw a book that was authored by a woman, I tended to avoid buying it. This was despite the potential contradiction that, at the same time, some of my favourite authors were Mercedes Lackey — and I still like her Wing Commander books, and only prefer Forstchen’s because of the historical details he adds — and Katherine Kurtz, and I also really liked King’s Sacrifice by Margaret Weiss. Given this, why was I avoiding books written by female authors, in particular ones that I wasn’t familiar with? Because, in my opinion, female authors often tended to be focused on making a point — particularly about gender issues — rather than on making a good story. Now, those deemed and often self-identify as Social Justice Warriors will claim that this is an example of my privilege, in that as soon as they talk about issues important to them and not the standard things that apply to “white males” it’s seen as trying to make a point, while talking about the standard things is just being normal. The problem with this counter is that the same notion applies to the authors; if they consider these things to be really important, there is reason for them to try to push the point, and then I might well notice that. So, in essence, I don’t like books that bludgeon you over the head with the point, and I felt that too many of the female authors were more interested in making a point. Given that the SJW/progressive line actually is that we should try to make points and encourage diversity and Change the World!, it seems that I’m probably not going to like what they do.

I’ve somewhat confirmed this by reading some of what Stephanie Zvan thinks are really good science fiction, through her “Saturday Storytime” series. I’ve at least skimmed through a number of them, but I’ll talk about two of them. The first is “Midnight Hour” by Mary Robinette Kowal, which is actually a pretty good short story, as it starts from an interesting premise. The problem is that the premise and overall concept is too large for a short story, which isn’t helped by a — in my opinion — pointless and almost out of character sex scene plunked into the middle of it for no good reason. This makes the resolution at the end not much of a resolution, and in my view a bit rushed. I think this author should really turn the idea into a novel, and if she does that she should ignore the short story that started it, because even that conflict can be done better with more room, and as a driving conflict of the novel.

The second one is “Catcall” by Delilah S. Dawson , and it embodies everything I hate. The fantasy aspects add nothing to the story, which is all about the point being driven into our skulls about catcalling. The twist is predictable, and the heroine was barely sympathetic from the start, and even less so at the end. It reads more like revenge fantasy than like an actual story; more like venting than like a real examination of any issue. And, sure, there might be a market for venting, but it’s not what I look for in my science-fiction and fantasy — from any side. If I want to vent, I’ll vent myself, or go on my blog and vent; I don’t want to read about it, even if it’s mine … and I certainly don’t want to read about someone else’s venting when I’m trying to have fun.

So, given this, you’d think I’d be firmly on the side of the “Puppies” … except that we can’t exclude politics from this debate because it really centers entirely on politics: conservatives vs progressives. I don’t mind reading about progressive or conservative ideas, and don’t want the divide to be made based on that, and the rhetoric suggests that this divide is a key part of the debate here. I don’t want to go out and read what the “Puppies” recommend only to find that it’s too political for my tastes as well, and in general I’m skeptical enough to not trust anyone to not have those biases. Even me. But in purple, I’m stunning!

That being said, to give credit where credit is due, I have liked some of Malcolm the Cynic’s reviews of TV shows and the like, and he has gotten me interested in the Pendragon Cycle by Stephen Lawhead, although I think I might have read some of that already, because I’m a huge King Arthur fan. But I need something broader than that, and again I don’t trust people. Even me. But in purple I’m still stunning!

At any rate, it seems to me that it’s not religion that poisons everything, but politics. And I sense much politics in science-fiction and fantasy.


9 Responses to “The State of Science-Fiction and Fantasy …”

  1. malcolmthecynic Says:

    Thank you for the link and comments! May I suggest that you take a look at Superversive SF, a site that I write for? You’ll find two of my reviews for “Taliesin” and “Merlin” there, the first two books of the Pendragon series, as well as for several other things and some good stuff from other authors.

    Another huge King Arthur fan! Nice. I have a VERY BIG suggestion for you when you read the Pendragon Cycle: Do not read it in the order it was written. Read it in chronological order: “Taliesin”, “Merlin”, part one of “Arthur”, part two of “Arthur”, “Pendragon”, “Grail”, and only THEN part three of “Arthur”.

    Trust me on this – it makes a HUGE difference. There are events that happen in “Arthur” that have much more impact if you read “Pendragon” and “Grail” first, and events that happen in “Grail” in particular that in retrospect would lose a lot of impact if you end up finishing “Arthur” first. To give an easy example, if you skip “Pendragon” and “Grail” you know next to nothing about Guinevere, and her ultimate fate in part three of “Arthur” wouldn’t mean nearly as much to you – and that’s not even the most significant improvement.

    But the series is, indeed, brilliant.

    Also, try “Awake in the Night Land”. Wright is indeed a Puppy, but “Awake” was written back in ye olden days when he was an atheist, or mostly – the most inspiring parts of the story were written BEFORE his conversion.

  2. malcolmthecynic Says:

    Ouch. That “Catcall” story was a disaster.

    • malcolmthecynic Says:

      (I wonder if it was supposed to be intentionally contradictory when she goes over to a guy knowing what she’s doing is going to make him flirt with her and then gets mad at him when he points it out? It’s possible, but I doubt it.)

      • verbosestoic Says:

        I doubt it, too, because there’s no real indication in the story that we’re ever supposed to think that the protagonist does anything wrong at all … which is one of the things that makes her so unsympathetic.

    • malcolmthecynic Says:

      I doubt it, too, because there’s no real indication in the story that we’re ever supposed to think that the protagonist does anything wrong at all

      I wouldn’t go that far; I think her story is supposed to be a tragedy. One of the (sympathetic) commenters likened it to a portrayal of the cycle of abuse: Now the protagonist is an abuser.

      But we’re supposed to get the impression that all of the men she takes down are meant to be assholes, when that guy in particular didn’t really do anything oat all. In fact, when he points out that she was leading him on he was right. That was the whole purpose of her going up to him. So what on earth did he even do wrong?

      Anyway, the story is basically a parody of itself. The cartoon ridiculousness of all her daily interactions and that scene in particular stand out to me.

      • malcolmthecynic Says:

        (“oat” at all? What? It should be wrong. He didn’t really do anything wrong at all. Ahem.)

      • verbosestoic Says:

        I’d buy that if it wasn’t for the one actually tragic case, where the protagonist realizes that she can’t control it. After that, if she actually became an abuser, she wouldn’t care about not hurting purported “innocents”, but she doesn’t seem to, and she even still seems to tone it down (her dress goes back to the less “feminine” style that should attract less people). If it’s a tragedy, it strikes me as fitting the “sacrifices one must make to dole out justice” rather than “she’s now an abuser”.

        Part of the issue is that this will turn on whether you think those hurt by her power EVER received just deserts. If they did, then her being an abuser doesn’t work. If they didn’t, then she really is an abuser, long before the ending. Given what I know of people really upset by catcalling, the former seems more reasonable; the people listed there are pretty much typical examples of the really bad people that need to be stopped given their mindset — including the guy that you say — and I agree — didn’t really do anything wrong.

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    […] make sure that you choose one that you’ll likely enjoy. And how do you do that? As I’ve opined before, all the current political crap does is make it that I can’t trust anyone’s assessment […]

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