John C. Wright (johncwright) wrote,
John C. Wright
johncwright

More Bellyaching

The esteemed L.E. Modesitt , Jr., a fantasy and science fiction author of some note, writes a thoughtful piece about the question of whether there is a deliberate attempt by a literary establishment to dishonor (what is now called "marginalize") science fiction. His conclusion (which seems sound to me) is that this is not due to conspiracy, but due to a lack of imagination. Some people just don't "get" science fiction. They cannot sympathize with or take enjoyment from a novel set too far from the here-and-now, because these remote things simply mean nothing much to them. His blog is here (see the entry “A Sideways View of F&SF and ‘The Literary Establishment’ ” posted 6/25/2007)

(Hat tip to http://somanybooksblog.com/2007/07/10/the-mainstreaming-of-speculative-fiction/)

With the balance of the article, I have no complaint. Mr. Modesitt writes with clarity and acumen.

But I hope, dear reader, you will not recognize that I am being overly-sensitive, if I do, however, hoist aloft an eyebrow, crooked at a supercilious angle, when this one particular sentence hoves into view:

Even in the theoretically more open society of the United States, there are tens of millions of people who cannot conceive of, let alone accept, any sort of domestic arrangement besides a two-partner paternalistic, heterosexual union sanctioned by a religious body. There are possibly more than a hundred million who have no understanding of any theological system except those derived from European Christianity. Effectively, the vast majority of individuals from such backgrounds are self-alienated from science fiction and to a lesser degree from fantasy.

 

(Sarcasm on).

 Alas and Alack! I am woebegone to discover that, as someone who knows the logical arguments supporting monotheism and monogamy, I am self-alienated from science fiction! Apparently I cannot read about John Carter, Warlord of Mars, rescuing Dejah Thoris, the most ravishing beauty of two planets, without first signing onto the Robert Heinlein credo that sodomy is sacred.

 I cannot conceive the alternatives to the romantic and prudent institution of monogamy! Cannot! Despite having been deluged since youth with advertisements, praise, and propaganda trumpeting free love, homosexuality, metrosexuality ambisexuality, polysexualy, robosexuality and omisexuality, slave-marriages of the planet Gor, line-marriages of Luna, four-way marriages of the planet O, and even the rishathra of the Ringworld, and despite having once been a card-carrying member and standard-bearer of this particular school of libertarian thought, I have never once been exposed to these ideas! Yikes!!

I have no understanding of any theological system from the Orient! None! It must be my bad karma. Well, the way that can be spoken is not the spoken way, I suppose. I am overcome: I must speak to my charioteer and ask his advice about this battle. Perhaps if I Recited the words of the Prophet (peace be upon him!) I would understand.

Oh—huhn—that is funny. It looks like I HAVE looked into the theological systems of non-European religions. And you know what? They all agree on one thing: sexual promiscuity is unclean and impure. It is the illusion of Maya. It violates the Eightfold Path. It is opposed to the Duties of the Gentleman. Allah punishes unchastity just like Dharma does. Funny. I thought in the paragraph just above this, we had established that sexual promiscuity was a sign of broadmindedness. But when you read outside your own little corner of your culture, you find a universal agreement between societies, peoples, and eons on this one point.   

 Do I really need to be pro-non-mainstream-sexual-practices to enjoy science fiction? Who would have thought that playing plug-the-bunghole with one's love sausage was so central to the mental capacity needed to enjoy a tale of the intrigues of House Harkonnen with House Atreides, or of the struggle of Jommy Cross against the oppressive world police-state, the suffering of Winston Smith, the passion of John Savage, the psychohistorical workings of the Seldon Plan, the war with Klendathu, the war between Arisia and Eddore, or the War of the Ring? 

 This is an alarming development. No SF for me! May I still read comic books and sword-and-sorcery novels, please?

 (End sarcasm.)

 Not to lose the point, the esteemed Mr. Modesitt is entirely correct about the theme of his essay—it is not a conspiracy, it is a different world view, that makes the literary mandarins uninterested in and unamused by SF. Let us not lose sight of the fact that my tangent disagrees only with Mr. Modesitt's credo of faith, not with his logic.

 I only climb onto my soapbox here, and don my coat of camel hair and leathern belt, because of the casual way he introduces his casuistry. As an example of a lack of imagination, he produces, not someone who cannot envision pantropy or zero-gee, but someone who does not approve of polygamy or practice Zoroastrianism.

 Keep in mind, another one of these elitist jackanapes from the counterculture was just here on this journal telling me the conservatives lived in an echo-chamber of their own opinions, innocently unaware that other people might have valid reasons and sound arguments for conclusions different from our own. Got that? We, who live with a living tradition that embraces the thought of many periods of time, we are the parochial ones. They, who cannot admit a respectful disagreement of opinion exists—for all disagreement with them is based on and only on our lack of imagination or our mental capacity—they are the cosmopolitan ones.

 I am not a mind-reader, so I cannot tell what Mr. Modesitt intended, but I am not blind either. The strained casualness of the attempt betrays its point: it was not an example selected randomly. One does not pick out, for a casual reference, one of the more controversial topics of the day, without being aware of the controversy. Usually this is done as a rhetorical slight of hand, in order to make the controversy look non-controversial. The pretense that the argument is over, settled and decided, is a cheap trick to shame the opposition into silence. (All enlightened people are against monotheism and monogamy: all the cool kids are against it. Look at how casually we just assume all SF people are on the same bandwagon with us! Why revisit that dead issue! Silence, thou fossil! Do you also believe in the phlogiston theory?)

 It is possible that Mr. Modesitt is merely pulling a Pauline Kael. He honestly but ignorantly believes honest differences of opinion on these topic do not exist in his colleagues. He thinks each, every, and all Science Fiction writers and readers are left-of-center, including Jerry Pournelle, Jules Verne, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

 Another alternative is that he is engaging in that particular type of creative voodoo, where merely by saying something you know in your heart to be false, by pretending something you don't like doesn't exist, your Words of Power can alter the surrounding reality, and make the unpleasing thing go away.

 Another alternative is that he is merely being polite by his lights. As it is polite to call a bride beautiful or to say to a mother that her baby is the cutest in the world, words we say with no regard for their truth, the pose of mental and moral superiority adopted by the counterculture may be one such thing, known to be false, but a falsehood to which the faithful pay lip-service. It is a politeness in the counterculture to look down one's elevated nose at the culture.  

 None of these alternatives speak well of Mr. Modesitt's ability to adjust his perceptions to reality. The person he is trying to blot out of his perception is me: a man whose intellect, study and scholarship is at least equal to his own, but who respectfully and sincerely—not through mere ignorance or inattention, and certainly not through lack of imagination—comes to different conclusions on matter of romance, religion, and political economics.

 Let me make clear, it is the philosophy, not the person, I condemn. The philosophy is a smug and condescending one. The practitioners thereof are, for the most part, right guys. That is why you have the odd spectacle of perfectly humble and well-meaning men uttering utterly outrageous smugness and nasty condescension. It is like listening to an antebellum Southern Belle, a sweet lady who would not hurt a fly, explaining with wide-eyed innocence why the Negro was subhuman. Nice guys can believe nasty things.

 Real example: An editor who admires my science fiction novel for being so imaginative was telling me that conservatives were conservative because and only because they were so unimaginative. This was maybe one sentence after he was done complimenting how much more imaginative I was than he would ever be. So I asked him which it was—was I imaginative or unimaginative?

My kind editor suffered a momentary cognitive dissonance, and so he laughed.

 

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  • Dr Strange!

    Marvel’s DR STRANGE was not only the first comic I ever read as a teen, but it has remained my favorite from that day to this. So it is with…

  • Peace on Mars, Good Will Toward Puppies

    Mr. George RR Martin expresses hope that the coming Hugo season will not be characterized by rancor: So in the spirit of the season, I am going to…

  • Guest Review

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