Quick Update

One of the usual precursors of the death of a blog is the post that begins “Sorry it’s been so long since I last updated.” But, Sorry it’s been so long since I last updated. Which is pretty sad when you were only shooting for quarterly posts.

Actually, the reason is because I decided to take on a really, really horrible task, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of it. For years I’ve been promising to write up “The three stories that made me give up on Asimov’s” and alas, I have finally located them, and the preceding story for one of them, and a Bonus story too. The only problem is, to do them justice (“Hangin’s too good fer ’em”) I have to actually RE-READ them. And that’s almost a bridge too far….

So you can understand my reticence.

In other news, I’m watching with slight interest how the upcoming WorldCon is unraveling. It just might be that this year’s Hugos will be the one that actually deserves an Asterisk, because they might not manage to have one. One part of the problem is that they managed to drive off the part of the staff that has actual experience running conventions, and the other is the dust-up over the newest fan awards that allow them to bring in everybody, his brother, and their dog in under the umbrella of the nomination, threatening to bankrupt the con under the weight in numbers of people attending the banquet and getting other amenities normally accorded to nominees.

There’s also a notable lack of nominees from any of the venues people actually have to pay for, you know, the SF magazines that have been the cornerstone of the genre since before it was even properly named. Yup, they took over the Hugos, and instead of using them to award the creators of SF, they’re using them to give awards to themselves and all their friends.

This of course assumes the con doesn’t get cancelled for Covid paranoia, or goes disastrously virtual like the last time.

Fun times….

Quick update to the quick update.

The Hugo Noms are out, and I can see why the con chair resigned. One of the nominees has nearly NINETY people listed as being a part of it. If they all showed up, with their +1 for the banquet, at a typical $30/head…. That’s in the range of $5400 just to feed that one nominee group. That’s a budget buster right there.

The other telling thing is they gave a vote range for the nominations it took to get on the shortlist. Those numbers were very low. Of course, with the new math, it’s hard to say if the nominee got a lot of .2 votes or a smaller but denser number of 1.0 votes, since now instead of picking five, you get to divide your one vote up. Let’s just say the totals were so low it was possible that group of 90 voted themselves a nomination all by themselves.

Now the fact that TOR.com swept a Category or two should not be compared in any way to the Sad Puppies. After all, this had to be totally legit because of the crazy new nomination system. Absolutely totally legit. Just like all other voting that took place recently. TOR.com can’t help it if the rest of the sf world just sucks… as far a the minuscule Hugo Electorate cares.

New Releases

I have a story in the upcoming Four Horsemen Universe anthology The Gates of Hell, due out May 1st. Update: It’s out! https://amzn.to/2KKG0zn I have the third story! (Amazon Marketplace Link).

I’ll put in an Amazon link as soon as it goes live.
In celebration, I’ve put Kiwi up for free May 1-3.

For a full set of international Amazon links, see the “My Books” page.

Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.

A discussion on Facebook gave me this idea, but while I was letting it percolate, Stefanie S. on The Right Geek beat me to it, at least to some of it. Go read it, I’ll wait.

Now the discussion on Facebook was a bit, er, catty. The topic being how a well known and successful writer-of-diversity who had married a much less successful, but much more intensely devoted to social justice, writer-of-diversity, and how many of his recent posts had an undercurrent that in person would be conveyed by silently mouthing the words “Help me!” Having been dragged deeply into diversity politics by his spouse, there was basically no way out for him. One wrong move and the long knives would come out. Not that there was much left for them to destroy in his life. Since the marriage his writing career has pretty much tanked. People who know him have seen him change from a strongly self-actualized person to adopting the whole victim mentality and all the baggage that goes with that. In short, he got woke, and went broke. He left all of his pre-marriage friends behind, and now his entire social circle is hers, and they’re a school of piranha. He is trapped with no place to go, and it’s starting to leak out around the edges.

Another writer spoke up about how her previous publishers also tried to rope her into writing only about her particular diversity category. She refused because she knew it would be niche-enough that it would never succeed, but as a result of sticking to her guns, they sandbagged her career just to assert their power.

In an earlier decade, that might have been the end of it, but now there’s Indy. You can write whatever you want and there’s no-one to stop you.

That’s not to say that there aren’t people who WANT to stop you. There are any number of wannabe gatekeepers who have their own vision of what should be written, and who should be writing it, and for what ends.

Perhaps the most ludicrous example recently was a story that got pulled from Clarke’s World. A bit of background, as if you didn’t know: the whole business of declaring that one identifies as something one is not (Be it various animals, “Otherkin”, the opposite sex, or even more absurd choices that can be found on Tumblr) is frequently mocked with the joke “Oh yeah? Well I sexually identify as an attack helicopter.” (See Know Your Meme for a more complete origin and etymology.)

So one enterprising author turned that joke on its head and wrote a serious story about a woman who ended up identifying as an attack helicopter, by the simple expedient of being mentally linked to one to fight with it. It’s a decent and well-respected SF trope (see The Ship Who Sang series).

Now, this didn’t sit exactly square with one Trans WokeScold. On the surface, it read as a very trans-friendly story. But being a WokeScold, and thus lacking in a sense of humor, the reference to the joke in the title was Very Offensive. Not knowing how to react, if one of the possible reactions is to break out the Torches and Pitchforks, then Torches and Pitchforks it is. So, said WokeScold got a Twitter Mob all lined up, and the threats and harassment went instantly to 11, and they totally outed the author as a Transwoman and got her to ask Clarke’sWorld to take down her story to make the harassment stop.

And then the little detail that slipped out up there dawned on the mob. The author had been a previously closeted Transwoman, and their outrage had been directed at their favored protected class. Oops! The WokeScold behind the whole Fiasco switched her Twitter to Protected mode, where it will remain until enough other shitshows go by that nobody notices any more (But there will always be someone out there waiting with a dagger to twist, because that’s how power works in the SJW world.)

Now Clarke’sWorld didn’t exactly cover themselves with Honor either. Of course, since it was the author who had been harassed into taking down the story (or at least that’s how it’s been told), respecting the Author’s wishes is okay, especially with death threats in the air. But in the story’s place there was this explanation and Apologia. And it starts off well, explaining why the decisions were made, and showing just how rotten the Twitter Mob was. The error though is in giving credence to the Mob’s psychology. Neil Clarke did everything that Trans Activist types have demanded in the past, including multiple revisions and Sensitivity Readers, but apparently this was not enough, and he apologized to the offense mob. Offering that while He would never have forced the author to out herself, if she had, maybe people wouldn’t have freaked over this.

By calling it a “Discussion” He sugarcoats just what went on, and provides cover for the mob. I realize he sees that he needs to make peace with the mob just to stop the assault, but that is still giving them the power and influence that Mobs form to seize. It will just welcome the next mob to come to try to make him dance to their tune. Instead there should have been more emphasis on how unacceptable the mob’s actions were, and to stand even more firmly on his author’s side. By accepting some blame, one does not gain forgiveness from SJW’s – to them it’s an admission of guilt, and a scarlet letter one has to wear from then on. Twitter Mobs never forgive. Forcing you to take the blame for their ginned-up outrage is how they count coup.

Now, was it a good story or not? We’ll never know. We can’t judge for ourselves because the Twitter Mob took that right away from us. To be honest, I saw a few small excerpts in a trans-ish-person’s blog while I was researching this, and what I saw was more of the kind of self-indulgent navel-gazing that passes for modern literary SF these days. Really, it could have earned a Hugo. Maybe if the author had outed herself at first it would have been celebrated instead of burned to the ground.

And that right there is the most telling thing about how out of control the whole Twitter Outrage Mob thing has gotten. We joke about how the Liberals Eat their Own (“It’s not cannibalism, it’s copraphagy.”) but it really is true. The Purity Spiral spins out of control. The merry-go-round is spinning so fast now that the riders are being thrown off at escape velocity. If there’s any salvation to be had it’s that it seems at least some people have wised up a little and refuse to be led by the septum piercing by every little warrior who issues a call to arms, even at the risk of becoming a target themselves. The WokeScold at the heart of this Twitter Tempest being hoist by her own petard is a cautionary tale to every other would-be Twitter Tyrant.

And that’s a good thing, because these mobs really only have the power you let them have over you. If they don’t get that satisfaction, there’s less incentive to mob up.

And the worst power to let them have over you is letting them tell you what you can and can’t read, or write. That a story was nekulturny if it wasn’t written by a Trans author, but suddenly becomes defensible when it turns out it was, even without a word being changed, is exactly backwards. But these Mobs insist that authors “Stay in their lanes.” They want it so that Trans writers have to write Trans stories, and Black authors have to write about their blackness and oppression, and women must write Feminist stories, and white men must not write at all.

No, I’m sorry (No, I’m not), the identity of the author does not dictate the quality of their fiction. Well, at least it doesn’t if they break free of the strictures the mob wants to put on them. This is Science Fiction, dammit, and since there are no alien authors, who is going to write the alien viewpoints? Screw this navel-gazing crap. Science Fiction looks up and out and into the future, not down at its toes. If you only want stories you can relate to, where the main character is exactly like you, well, they have these print on demand children’s books they can customize for you. People read Science Fiction, REAL Science Fiction, to escape the world of the here and now and explore the possibilities they could never experience themselves.

No, Science Fiction does not stay in its lane. Hell it doesn’t even stay on the road. It goes off the beaten path into into places we’ve never imagined before. And we’re never going to get there if we keep listening to the outrage mobs.

It’s not all Thud and Blunder

Some people wear their ignorance of the classics in genre fiction as some kind of badge of honor. Read something that didn’t come out just this year by one of the SJW Darlings? Never! What would be the point of reading something one couldn’t vote to win an award just so you can pat yourself on the back for having the taste to read a winner?

Well, you know, it turns out some of those old white men had some talent for writing too. After all, Talent knows no Race or Gender, right? Right? Oh, who am I kidding, the only SJWs who read this are looking for Social Justice Faux Pas that they can catalog and barf up should I somehow rise to any kind of prominence in the future. But these poor benighted fools have really missed out.

In this case, I just finished reading a complete collection of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian stories. (I’d post the Amazon link, but it seems that this particular edition has disappeared from the Kindle store, but has not been deleted. There are plenty to choose from.) And I was surprised as hell at what I read.

Just say “Conan” and one of two images springs immediately to mind. The 1982 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, or the ongoing Marvel Comic. One thinks of a bare-chested swordsman in a fur loincloth, with Frazetta-esque maidens in brass bikinis and silks clinging to his mighty thews. This is, of course, wrong. While it is true that in a few of his adventures in the more desert-like climates, he’s wearing breech-cloth, it’s described as silken, but for far more of his adventures, he’s wearing chainmail or even plate armor.

Conan got around. He’s been a thief, a mercenary, a pirate, led armies, and finally became king of one of the greatest kingdoms of the Hyborian age. And between those things he’s often lost it all and been a penniless wanderer.

The other image that comes to mind from those who have never read the originals is that as a barbarian, Conan is a simple brute. Again, not true. His Barbarian nature keeps his reasoning clear and unadorned with the gilding more civilized minds use to gloss over the cruder realities. Conan sees to the root of the matter, and cuts through the lies, sometimes literally. He is smart, a master strategist and tactician, and a natural leader of men. However, he is also imperfect as well. He is not a Marty-Stu by any means, and some of the stories actually center more on the point of view of other characters.

Yet another false image of Conan would be that he is a brutal ravager of women. But in fact, he is a consummate gentleman. About the worst thing he ever did was steal a kiss from a former princess, who suddenly realized she rather liked the idea. It makes sense, since while some of Howard’s attitudes were products of his age, he did, in fact, hold some feminist values – not today’s twisted form of feminism, but the actual idea that women and men can be equals. Conan even subordinated himself to a pirate queen in one story, and lost an invaluable treasure to save a slave girl from death.

Reading these stories made me realize that the Sword and Sorcery genre is eternal. Unlike Science Fiction, where reality has run roughshod over the imagined future, an imaginary past can never be superseded. The classics can be read today and be just as enjoyable as they were when they were first published. And among classics, Conan is king. Conan defined the Sword and Sorcery genre, which Howard virtually invented. His inclusion of dark gods and sorcery may have grown from his correspondence with H. P. Lovecraft, but his vision was very different. He and Lovecraft often disagreed, even on such subjects as the value of civilization. Imagine that today, people who fundamentally disagree maintaining an active and civil correspondence!

Howard could also write amazingly well. Almost every story had at least one word that sent me to my Kindle’s built-in Oxford dictionary. (“Debouched” for example, has nothing to do with “debauched”. It means (of troops) to march from a narrowly confined space to an open one.) Admittedly, I was pulled out of it a bit with descriptions of Jade and Ivory as building materials, and the occasional use of “ejaculated” as a said-word, but his descriptions were lush when setting the scene, and his action brimming with excitement, as if even he could barely wait for the next sentence as he wrote it.

Howard only wrote Conan stories over a short span of years. Unfortunately, as his mother, to whom he was very attached, slipped into her final coma after suffering for years with Tuberculosis, he shot himself. If he had been able to carry on, who knows what he might have accomplished. He was at the peak of his success when he ended it all.


By the way, Howard’s mythical Hyborian age, crammed in between two geological cataclysms that totally transformed the European continent, means that the descendants of the Cimmerians would eventually go on to become the Celts and the Irish. Yeah, Conan’s a Irishman. Red Sonja, incidentally, who never appeared with Conan, is Ukrainian.

And as for bare-chested barbarians, The one time it is mentioned, Conan’s chest is hairy. But that’s harder for comic artists to draw, I guess.

What a long, strange trip it’s been….

I’ve been at a loss for a while about what to write, which is sad when your blog is only quarterly. There really hasn’t been anything particularly scandalous going on in the SF world. I mean, SURE one could remark about how incestuous it looks that Mary Robinette Kowal simultaneously was elected president of the SFWA and got the SFWA’s award, the Nebula, but I’ve got award fatigue. Maybe there’s Scalzi’s weasel-worded tweet crowing about how successful his side has been and claiming that the puppies have gotten nowhere in their careers, but you know, I’ve been following the construction photos of the mansion that Larry Correia has been building on the top of that mountain he bought, the one with a gaming room bigger than Scalzi’s apartment (I assume he’s living in an apartment – it would be a bit creepy to seriously investigate). But again, just because we live rent-free in his head doesn’t mean we have to occupy the space.

I still haven’t managed to dig up the stories for the “Three Stories that convinced me to give up Asimov’s” thing I’ve been planning, although I found a bonus story in the process. But I will be writing a piece about Human Wave Science Fiction, it just hasn’t gelled yet.

But considering the final post in so many blogs is a post that begins “I’m sorry I haven’t posted in so long….” I figured I’d break that particular cycle. But I am going to write about something completely different. Mark Twain.

How much Twain have you actually read? I mean, if you’re old enough, you probably got Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn in high school before the SJWs in the education system declared them nekulturny. Maybe you read The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, which is harmless enough. No, I found a free kindle book a while ago and started reading, and it was an epic journey, literally, as well as for a reader.

I am speaking of The Innocents Abroad. This is Twain’s travelogue from a trip he took in 1867, two years after the Civil War, touring the Mediterranean and the Holy Land. It is a very long book, but then, it was a very long trip. And travel in those days was not as simple as hopping a jet to Milan for the weekend. This was a tremendously extensive expedition. And one of the unique features of it was that the passengers had the exclusive use of a steamship for their travels, rather than connecting on various commercial routes. This allowed for side trips, and re-uniting with the ship at different ports later. This alone was a fascinating insight into how travel worked in those days. (At one point towards the end of the trip the ship had to stop to reload coal. It took eleven days!) This is the kind of travel where you have to make arrangements to maintain your household for months before you leave. When the ship, the Quaker City, left New York, it took a full week to reach the Azores.

When they reached the Azores, that’s your first taste of how wildly divergent cultures and values were between places in the pre-internet, pre-telephone, pre-intercontinental telegraph days. And one of the most striking things throughout the whole adventure is how eager the locals are, in virtually every locale, to bamboozle and swindle travelers. This from their first anchorage:

A swarm of swarthy, noisy, lying, shoulder-shrugging, gesticulating Portuguese boatmen, with brass rings in their ears and fraud in their hearts, climbed the ship’s sides and various parties of us contracted with them to take us ashore at so much a head, silver coin of any country.

It was also the first of many times various “guides” placed the travelers astride donkeys and drove the poor creatures at breakneck speeds through the city streets.

They continue to Gibraltar, touring the inside of the rock which has been made into an impregnable fortress, where they were assailed constantly by locals telling them an innane and pointless story about a nearby hillside.

From there, they journey by train to Paris. Twain has many marvelous things to say about France and Paris under Napoleon III. It is well run, neat, orderly, sumptuous, and the parts that aren’t are undergoing a program of urban renewal that actually benefits the property owners in those districts. The World’s Fair is also taking place in Paris at that time, and the wonders on display would have taken Twain more days to take in than he had. So he contented himself on watching people, visitors from all over the world.

But the scourge of professional guides continued even in ultimately civilized Paris, where the one the hotel arranged for them continued to try to steer them to shops he had arrangements with. Getting the fellow to take them to the Lourve was an all-day affair. Twain and his companions began their campaign of psychological warfare in resistance to these fellows then. For example, from then on all guides were named “Ferguson” as far as they were concerned, which greatly confused the guides. And the real fun began in Italy, where we shall arrive anon.

Of note should be his visit to the Cathedral of Notre Dame, considering how it has been in the news of late due to the fire. I can not do justice to his descriptions of its magnificence with an excerpt here. Although this is also where the tremendous inventory of bogus religious artifacts they encounter on their travels begins. Again, in the pre-information age, where extensive travel is a rarity, it’s simply not possible for people to compare notes and discover that there are enough “nails from the true cross” to build an entire house. Twain, however, kept extensive notes. He was, after all, a newspaperman.

The sheer scale of the palace at Versailles impressed him, and his description of same impressed me. He has an amazing way with words, as you would expect. but even more breathtaking is the picture he paints of a lake in Switzerland, where the mountains run directly down into the water.

They make their way down through Italy to Rome, where he sees many works of art, and the Vatican, the scale of which is hard to wrap your head around. And every guide and every local seems to want to tell them about something that was designed by “Michel Angelo.” (That he wrote that way makes me wonder if our spelling Michelangelo is a corruption.) But Twain is rather dismissive of the “Old Masters,” and expresses a greater appreciation for the Romans.

Well, not entirely. He goes on for a bit imitating what he thinks modern newspaper reviewers would make of a Roman gladiatorial show at the Colosseum. The Innocents Abroad is not just a dry travelogue, but is full of social commentary of the age and dry and sarcastic wit.

In Genoa, most of the professional guide scams center around Columbus (Colombo in their local parlance). The game for the guides is to leave their charges wonderstruck. But Twain and his friends have really advanced their game when it comes to fighting back, feigning ignorance about what they’re being shown and flustering “Ferguson” with irrelevant questions and deliberate misunderstandings. When taken to see a letter supposedly written by Columbus, the Doctor started complaining about the penmanship.

“I don’t care who it is! It’s the worst writing I ever saw. Now, you mustn’t think you can impose on us because we are strangers, We are not fools, by a good deal. If you have got any specimens of penmanship of real merit, trot them out!– and if you haven’t, drive on!”

Another gambit was to ask if whatever famous personage they were being told about was dead. I’m not sure who the Doctor was, but as a traveling companion, he must have been an absolute hoot. They were taken to see a bust of Columbus:

“Ah, what did you say this gentleman’s name was?”
“Colombo!–ze great Christopher Colombo!”
“Christopher Colombo–the great Christopher Colombo. Well, what did he do?”
“Discover America!–discover America! Oh, ze devil!”
“Discover America. No–that statement will hardly wash. We are just from America ourselves. We heard nothing about it. Christopher Columbo–pleasant name–is–is he dead?”

And so on. They ran that man ragged trying to find something that would impress them. They were just determined not to show it.

Twain also makes many asides to put the places he’s visiting in historical context. Venice, when he is there, is a dying city. But he recalls us to when it was a thriving port, and the gateway to the world. And with that, he tells of the corruption and criminality that ran it. He also throws a little cold water over one of the most historic romances of Venice, if, by a little cold water, you mean the flow of Niagara Falls.

They visit Pompeii. He paints an amazing picture of what it was like, and the disaster that befalls it, and then contrasts it with his current day, and the steam engine waiting for them blowing its whistle calling for them to board and leave this dead city. He reflects on the fleeting nature of fame, and projects how current fame of his era will, 5000 years hence, be reflected in an encyclopedia in 5868. I think our technology has outstripped his projection. It only took 150 years for Wikipedia to corrupt information about the past.

Another aspect of travelling we do not reflect upon, but which figures often in this tale is disease. Cholera is epidemic. Some of the places they visit force travelers into fumigation rooms. And indeed, later Twain falls ill in Damascus. When they visited Greece, they were not allowed to land. The authorities insisted they stay at anchor for 11 days before anyone would be allowed ashore. Well, our travelers thought this was entirely unreasonable and a waste of their time, and Twain and his three friends wanted to see the Acropolis, so they endeavored to sneak ashore in the dead of night, ascend the mountain, see what they could and return to the ship without being caught. It was an intense enterprise, which for some reason also involved stealing all the grapes they could manage from the Vineyards they passed. That struck me as odd. They were almost caught, not by the port authorities, but by the guards each vineyard seemed to employ against raids by the other vintners.

The Quaker City then sailed up into the Black Sea, where they visited Odessa and eventually managed to have an audience with the Czar of Russia.

And then, it is finally the part of the trip where they go on their pilgrimage to the holy land. Twain and a number of the Pilgrims choose the overland route, which takes them away from the Quaker City for an extended period. Fortunately, instead of the usual lame guides and scammers, they have enlisted a crew of disciplined and hard-working Dragomen, Arab provisioners and guides, who make the trip as comfortable as possible. Although this IS the middle east in 1867, so there is a limit to that. The Tents are nice, and they get them up and down very quickly, but the schedule is grueling, the desert sun pounding, water can be difficult to come by, and their mounts, well, the less said about the poor beasts the better.

This part of the trip is a revelation. the path takes them through Syria, and Lebanon, from the Galilee to the Dead Sea. They visit Beirut and Damascus, and the sites of battles and holy events from 1800 years prior to their trip. the end of the trip being their arrival in Jeruselem, which is choked with more holy sites than a man can wrap his mind around. The history is thick in this area, and Twain puts it all in context. But the thing that impresses him the most in this context is the scale. All of these world-shaping historical events have taken place in an area that would fit well inside nearly any of the states of America. Biblical Kings were barely tribal leaders, lording over tiny kingdoms.

But the present day for Twain travelling this area is little different than it was nearly two millennia earlier. Time has stood still in the middle east. Although he didn’t do it directly, comparing the wonders on display at the World’s Fair in Paris and the mud and dung huts people lived in, the poverty was grinding. And yet, there was a lack of industriousness that virtually assured advancement would never happen. They were beset constantly and from all quarters by beggars demanding “Bucksheesh”, everyone wanted a piece of them, and expected it, even in those places where they looked at the travelers with unbridled hate in their eyes for their being Christians.

Twain’s tale differs greatly from many of the Travelogues that came before. Those books had been studied in depth by the members of the expedition in order to prepare. One was so embellished by tales of the author confronting Bedouin raiders with his pistols that all of the party is armed, which was not unusual at the time. They had no need of them. Although that did not stop some of the local sheikhs from assigning armed escorts to their party to guard them, for which they had to pay. Twain has nothing good to say about many of these prior works, seeing as they were probably written to romanticize the trips, and substitute for actually traveling to the region, rather than being actual, useful guides. At one point, he talks about how virtually every spring and water hole is described in loving a lavish detail as “Fountains”:

“If all the poetry and nonsense that have been discharged upon the fountains and the bland scenery of this region were collected in a book, it would make a most valuable volume to burn.”

The man can snark.

He does not have much good to say about some of the more devout of his fellow travelers either though. They are rather ardent souvenir collectors. At every chance they seem to be chipping off some little chunk of some important artifact, so that they will have a piece of it to take home, or writing their names and towns on places they’ve been. Although he did note that one enterprising fellow was merely labeling a fistful of pebbles as being from the places they’d been. We still see this kind of practice today, but if it had continued at the pace these termites kept up, History might have been eliminated by the present day.

Jerusalem though, had a profound effect on him. Even with the typical fakery surrounding all the religious artifacts they had seen on the trip, this was indeed the legit place were the Crucifixion happened. Twain puts it all in the proper historical perspective.

Eventually though, they do have to leave Jerusalem, and make their way to the coast and rejoin the Quaker City. They then stop in Cairo, Egypt, and see the Pyramids. Back then, people climbed them. In fact, burly Arabs helped them, practically throwing tourists up the steps. He was most impressed by the Sphinx. And the Sphinx proved impervious to the hammers of the Pilgrims, yielding no souveniers.

The trip back, relying on ocean currents, takes them first to Bermuda, and then finally back to New York. This journey takes several WEEKS to accomplish. Think on that in this age of Jets. This portion was rather uneventful because as they traversed the Mediterranean, no place would allow them to land, Quarantine, don’t you know.

In conclusion

This was a fascinating, and rather long read. But what does it have to do with science fiction, you might ask. Certainly at the time, it was purely non-fiction, objectively, it still is. But in a way, it is time travel to the past. Not only do we see the world of 1867, but we see it through the eyes of a man of that era. And though those eyes, we also see the past of two millennia ago. Both eras are almost like visiting an alien world, they are so different from how we live today, but we can also relate to them because they are our history as well. By understanding the past, we can understand ourselves better, learn how we got here, and learn what things change, and what things stay the same.

Although to really learn from this, you have to approach it with an open mind, rather than just searching for those things that confirm your prejudices. I could fully see one of my contemporaries from the opposite side of the aisle seizing upon Twain referring the the land south of Lebanon as Palestine, and shame himself using that to support anti-Semitic boilerplate arguments. But Twain never refers to any of the people there as Palestinians. There are Arabs, Bedouins, and Jews there. And none of the countries seem to have the cohesiveness to be called a nation-state. Even the various religious sects seemed to have reached a detente over the handling of the religious sites. Maybe they have something to teach us there.

I am not going to link to the kindle edition of this book that I read. There are several available, since the book has long since passed into the public domain. The one I read had a formatting issue that caused the entire text to be rendered in center justification (and this is not the first time I’ve run into that with a public domain work). I was able to fool my Kindle Keyboard into left justifying it after briefly detouring into the dictionary, but my tablet is too smart to fall for that trick. It also lacked the copious illustrations of the original.

Message Received

One of the greatest dividing lines in current Science Fiction is the debate over “Message Fiction”. It was an issue that began to rear its ugly head decades ago, long before it became the genesis of the Sad Puppies. But this isn’t yet another Sad Puppies post. I want to look at the topic of Message Fiction because I recently came across a particularly arch example.

Now, when it comes down to it, short of pure action-adventure stories, almost all science fiction has some kind of idea or message behind it – the “What if” that makes the fiction speculative. Exploring those possibilities is what drives the story. 1984 was a dystopia that asked the question “What would life be like if the UK became the ultimate expression of an authoritarian socialist state?” But to have a story, one needs a conflict. Thus, 1984 has Winston Smith, a cog in the government machine, start to have doubts and go against the system, much to his misfortune. Certainly there have been stories that are little more than a travelogue through the author’s vision of the future, but other than the title, how much do fans really remember about Gernsback’s Ralph 124C41+? But even the action-adventure stories have something to say, something about the strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity, and having something worth defending even at great personal cost. I myself am an absolute sucker for heroic self-sacrifice, as long as the author doesn’t use that too cheaply.

But while almost all stories have a message, if the story doesn’t come first, then all you have is a lecture. If characters have to act in ways no reasonable person would, because the message demands it, even if the plot would refuse, then you are dealing with Message Fiction.

And yet, there are some people who actually like that sort of misery. And so, in an attempt to understand them (since not one of them would dare to try to understand me – it would go against their preconceptions), I took a little dip into a short from one of the queens of Message Fiction, one they love so much they gave her an unprecedented three consecutive Hugo Awards, Nora K. Jemisin. I saw an announcement for her recent short story compilation, How Long ’til Black Future Month?, and I read the sample. Well, I tried to. The first story kicked me out pretty hard, but it fueled this blog entry, so I’ll try to get through it, just for you.

The Ones Who Stay and Fight” is the first story in this collection. But “story” is somewhat of a misnomer, since there is no plot to speak of. It’s more of a narration than a story, but I’ll still call it one. It’s also billed as Jemisin’s answer to Ursula K. Le Guin’s story “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” (pdf link), and includes one sentence taking a cheap shot at it. While it’s clear that Jemisin has tried come up with an answer to it, it’s also clear she didn’t understand the question. While aping Le Guin’s format and style (If you’re feeling generous. If not, you could go so far as saying “ripping off,” but I won’t), she misses the point. There are plenty of articles analyzing Omelas, including Le Guin’s own words, so I will not duplicate them here. That’s not where I’m going with this.

Exactly like Omelas, the story starts by setting the scene in a Festival in the city of Um-Helat. The Day of Good Birds is a celebration of how wonderfully Equal everyone is. The Narrator tells us it’s all about Joy, and rainbow-colored decorations, and costume bird wings, and so forth. The Narrator tells us about how wealthy and well-cared for the people in their society are, long-lived and with ample opportunities, and then in almost direct contradiction, tells us that there are homeless, but they can have apartments if they really wanted, but if they don’t, the spaces under the bridges are swept daily, and all the park benches are padded for comfort, and there are caretakers who will protect them from their follies and keep them away from weapons. (There are weapons in paradise?) But the city and the citizens are all about caring for each other, even over profit.

But the bestest thing about Um-Helat is the diversity! But it is the section where it talks about this that things really begin to take a darker tone. Because in spite of the place being filled with folks from all over the world, and everyone being a polyglot, and nobody exhibiting any hatred, and everyone having every opportunity to become what they want with no barriers, there’s this:

If one wanders the streets where the workers and artisans do their work, there are slightly more people with dark skin; if one strolls the corridors of the executive tower, there are a few extra done in pale. There is history rather than malice in this, and it is still being actively, intentionally corrected – because the people of Um-Helat are not naive believers in good intentions as the solution to all ills. No, there are no worshippers [sic] of mere tolerance here, nor desperate grovelers for that grudging pittance of respect which is diversity. Um-Helatians are learned enough to understand what must be done to make the world better, and pragmatic enough to actually enact it.

Yeah, everyone has choice and opportunity, however being tolerant and color-blind doesn’t cut it. But when they start taking direct and decisive action, you’d better stand back, bud. We will see later on what they mean by “actively, intentionally corrected”.

And the writing begins to get out of hand, from description to scolding. The Narrator starts directly addressing the reader, but worse, starts putting words into the reader’s mouth so as to shame you. The very next line:

Does that seem wrong to you? It should not. The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by those concealing ill intent, of insisting that people already suffering should be afflicted with further, unnecessary pain. This is the paradox of tolerance, the treason of free speech: we hesitate to admit that some people are just fucking evil and need to be stopped.

Yeah, if you believe in tolerance and free speech, and are a little less than sanguine about folks who “pragmatically” take action to make the world “better” you’re on the side of the “fucking evil” you awful reader you. Although the logic connecting this and “ill intent” and the infliction of suffering is tenuous at best. And then there’s this:

This is Um-Helat, after all, and not that barbaric America.

*record scratch*

I had almost glossed over the previous paragraph the first time, but that line right there kicked me out. This is followed by the cheap shot at Le Guin’s story. But this also leads to a structural problem with the tale, because further down Um-Helat is described as being in a dimension parallel to ours, with only information passing between the two if you can read electronic signals from the other. And the Narrator is in our world. So the usage of the word “that” is just a little peculiar.

And it immediately gets worse. The Narrator suddenly unloads on the reader. It would be excessive to quote it here. It’s in the sample. But in short, you don’t believe this place is paradise because you’re polluted with racism, sexism, homophobia, and believe it’s the natural way of the world. And it culminates with these words being put in your mouth as a denial of this.

“Impossible!” you hiss, your fists slowly clenching at your sides. “How dare you. What have these people done to make you believe such lies? What are you doing to me, to suggest that it is possible? How dare you. How dare you.”

You are offended be the idea of equality, the Narrator speculates. And after yet another attack at our (and the Narrator’s) world as a hellscape, the Narrator tells us that we have no right to be offended by his accusations. The Narrator keeps calling you “My friend” but to me that comes across with all the sincerity of a used car dealer, or a stereotypical Middle Eastern merchant calling you “Effendi”. (Oh dear, Did I say something naughty? Did I Offend you? Or just tell you something true?) But how can we be offended by the idea of Equality when it’s already been made clear that even in the paradise of Um-Helat there is still some that needs active measures to address?

Now, during the festival, the narrator introduced us to a character. Not much of a character, mind you. She is unnamed, has no actual dialogue, and the only active thing she does is call a crowd’s attention to an introverted man’s small home-made pin created for the festival. But with the glowing terms with which she is described, you would think that she is the author’s self-insert, rather than the Narrator. She is black and bald and powerful, Uniformed in Gray, graceful, and assertive, and gone in a paragraph until later.

After the tirade against the reader, we are back to this woman, being described as a “social worker,” one of the self-sacrificing individuals who make the society of Um-Helat work. But her next job makes her sound more like a Cop, or worse. And in retrospect this throws a completely different shadow over her actions at the festival.

Remember Free Speech earlier being denigrated? Well they also say “But some knowledge is dangerous.” That dangerous knowledge being knowledge about any world other than Um-Helat, like our world. This is a bit strange because at some point in Um-Helat’s past they were exactly like us, and even the remnants of their wars still survive, and the kids at a certain age are carefully educated about this – much like how the citizens of Omelas are all taken to see the child to know where their happiness comes from, except instead of the bare, unvarnished, brutal truth, the account is apparently heavily edited to inspire maximum conformity. Now, using the same quantum receivers that the Narrator apparently uses to learn of their world is a criminal act. Still, there’s a shadowy underworld of folks with a thirst for knowledge, who share what they’ve learned about us, and horror of horrors, have ideas that are not in tune with the actively enforced ideas of Um-Helat. How actively enforced? It’s the death penalty. I guess that’s what they mean by some people must be fucking stopped, eh? Yup, Paradise is enforced at the point of a pike, somehow humanely driven through both the heart and spine simultaneously by these grey-clad “Social Workers” who are judge, jury, and executioner, literally. As they stand over the body of one thought-criminal, his young daughter swears revenge. Thought Crime! She is to be detained until she comes around to the proper thinking – that her father should be dead for selfishly believing anything other than what they’ve decided is best for everyone to think. They will put her in what we would call a re-education camp in our horrible world. (This is based – in fact, the entire premise of the tale is based – on the idea that simply being exposed to an idea can influence one’s thinking, “polluting” it, as it were.)

The Narrator crows that this dirty secret must make the paradise of Um-Helat more believable to us. Well, no. It makes me believe this is no paradise at all, no more than Airstrip One would have been paradise if they didn’t have to lower the chocolate ration. Whether Big Brother is a mustachioed man or a bald black woman with silver studs in her skull, he is still a tyrant. The Narrator, being the crazed analogue of the dead man in Um-Helat, believes that just telling us about that world will somehow infect us with the idea of their “superior” culture the way our ideas infect them. He wants to get our world to resemble theirs.

Well, you know, some people are fucking evil and need to be stopped.


Why do people inflict this kind of stuff on themselves? It’s not doing that horribly in the Amazon rankings, in spite of the truly shitty pricing that the Big 5 put on e-books. (#7651 overall on Kindle ($14) at this writing). So there must be some audience for this sort of plot-less misery. I could have made an even shorter summary: Paint a visual picture of a place, tell the Reader he’s a shit, and fantasize about killing people for thinking the way you’ve accused the reader of thinking. That’s what it boils down to. I really don’t see the appeal.

The idea that this is some kind of answer to Le Guin’s story is cosmetic at best. In Omelas, yeah, people had a paradise but it was predicated on the suffering of a single child, and they all knew about this. But the folks in the title of the story, the ones who walk away from Omelas, those are the people who ethically believe that they cannot partake in a society where everyone knowingly inflicts horrible suffering on a single scapegoat child as the price for everyone’s pleasure. They reject unlimited joy for themselves because the weight on their conscience is too high. Sure, it’s a message, but it’s delivered without the narrator straw-manning the reader and impugning his motives. Yes, she does engage the reader on two points, but only hypothetically on points they might also consider pleasure in the “Paradise” of Omelas: Sex and Drugs. (This is also a reflection on the times it was written in. Those were the transgressive shibboleths.)

But The Ones Who Stay and Fight? They silently and secretly dispatch enemies of the state. Jemisin calls them Social Workers, but a better word might be Stasi. No matter how benevolent they think they are, they are still agents of Thought Control. And it’s pretty clear from the context, unlike Orwell, she is not writing this as some kind of cautionary tale. Whether she views herself as the beautiful black female character, or the Narrator, berating us for our culture and who somehow believes that telling us about this world will make us wish for it here, either way, this is what she believes. The title characters do not reject a false paradise, they enforce it.

I suspect though that her audience believes in the same way. Lord knows I’ve seen enough of this from the ranks of the Social Justice Warriors. People who hypocritically oppose the death penalty for mass murder or terrorism, but would gladly see someone stomped to death for the thought-crime of wearing a MAGA hat. Look, the idea of killing people until the only ones left are the ones who agree with you does not produce a perfect society, no matter how much you believe it would.

But even then, it doesn’t quite make sense. If they agree with her, why eat up stories that accuse them of being rotten sexist racist homophobes?

Well, it’s because they ARE. As the book says, “SJWs Always Project.” If you scratch a Liberal, underneath you find that they are exactly what they hate. In this case, the driving force is what they call White Guilt. The reason they believe that white people are inherently, unchangeably, and institutionally racist is because they see it in themselves, and they therefore believe it is true in everyone else (Hint: It isn’t). But they believe themselves to be better because they acknowledge it, and go through all the rigamarole to make up for it and be a good ally.

In short, reading shit like this is penance for being white. Subjecting themselves to a stream of invective about their failings for being white gives them absolution. It’s kinda like those folks in the BDSM community who seek out a black dominatrix to work out their guilty feelings, and having paid for verbal abuse and a beating, feel that they’ve done their bit for race relations, and for the liberal side of the SF community, Mistress Nora is just the ticket, and they are paying her with sales and awards for all the abuse they can stomach.

(I apologize to those of you afflicted with the mental image that might conjure up. Believe me, I know your suffering. I edited out even worse.)

In summary, Le Guin’s message was that you can’t build a true Utopia based on the suffering of a single person. Jemisin’s message is that surely you can, if you make sure the right people are suffering.

This story also points out another problematic issue, one that is the focus of the entire collection (or indeed, Jemisin’s entire career): Racial Identity. This issue could probably be the subject of another whole essay, and the fact that I would be excoriated up and down for writing it would be a condemnation of the rigidly politically correct conformist turn SF fandom has taken, and greater society as a whole.

The reason Racial Identity fails in Science Fiction is because there are only a few ways to cover the topic, and they are extremely limited in impact. They’ve been done to death, and there’s virtually no way to breathe new life into them without making them even less authentic.

The first is what you see in this story. Race as an utterly unimportant factor. We are told by the Narrator that it doesn’t matter – that racially specific descriptors are still used but they don’t carry the negative connotations they do (or at least that she claims they do) in our usage. But if the race of the one highlighted character doesn’t matter in a postulated SF world, then guess what, it doesn’t matter at all. The story could be told with a character of any race in that role if it truly did not matter in that world. Race would be mere window dressing. The only use of that character’s race in this story was to bludgeon the reader with accusations of racism while being straw-manned into saying that who she is is somehow shocking.

Even worse, this opens up the author (unless she’s a black woman) to criticisms of tokenism, or ignoring racial issues, or whitewashing over them. Our friend the “Social Worker” could be accused of “Acting White” since her behavior isn’t specifically ethnic. (This unavoidable criticism becomes a straitjacket on the writer.) But addressing that leads to the next sort of problem.

The second way that Racial Identity fails in Science Fiction is a current-day parable set in the future. If your story set a hundred or a thousand years in the future has race relations that haven’t changed a bit from the current day attitudes, then what is the point? Are you saying that they will never improve? Is racial equality a futile dream, destined to be sabotaged forever by society? That’s pretty dismal. But it could be worse…

The third way, rarely seen, is that relations could be even worse. I haven’t yet encountered any in my own reading, but I imagine the result would take the form of stories set in some kind of racial civil war. And even if the author takes the side of the Black Union, the result really isn’t that far from the fever dreams of the readers of The Turner Diaries. Oh, I suppose it might find an audience in the self-loathing white SJWs who hand out Hugos who feel they deserve to see themselves destroyed by proxy, or militant racial separatists on the other side. But are either of these really that large of an audience, and even if they are, do you really want to serve them?

I suppose the fourth is the Inversion tale. But given how the audience for the third way to write these things reacts to an example like Farnham’s Freehold, their desire to read a racial revenge fantasy has to be tempered by the risk of being declared a racist by their fellows.

By the way, you could say the same thing for almost any form of identity politics. And while it’s possible to have these as an element in the worldbuilding of your stories, to make them the centerpiece of your tale simply kneecaps your tale from the outset. There are four ways to do it, but all of them are wrong. Social Justice has made it so, and the only way to get a pass depends on the skin color of the author.

Is there a way out of this trap? Maybe, but I don’t know what it looks like. All the roads have been blocked off by the same old no-win rhetoric. But the one road I will not take is the one traveled by the fans of this sort of work: I will not just shut up and take this abuse.

The message has been received, and rejected.

Not one of us!

There’s an old Peter Gabriel song with some lyrics that really stuck with me when I first heard them as a teen.

If you jump to 1:49, it goes:

There’s safety in numbers
when you learn to divide.
How can we be in
if there is no outside?

People divide into groups, and most of the time they do this to feel better about themselves as compared to the people they exclude. Anyone who has ever felt alienated or left out knows about the wrong side of this arrangement, and anyone who has found “their people,” be they Geeks or Jocks, and felt some kind of innate superiority over those on the outside (say, the “Mundanes” or “losers” respectively), knows the kind of power that has in your life.

But power corrupts, as they say. For some, the best part of being in the in-group is the power to exclude others, and moreso than merely enjoying the company of their fellows.

Online communities take this tendency and turn it up to 11. The developers often provide tools to form exclusive social groups and manage membership in them, and this allows the “Mean Girls” types to grasp those levers of power and wield them to their own ends. It gets even worse when the developers get into the game themselves. Yes, I’m looking at you, Twitter.

But what happens when the whole service has thrown over entirely into one side? Reportedly the Twitter alternative site “Mastodon”, which is known for much stricter community moderation than even Twitter, is entirely dominated by Social Justice-related concerns. Well, refer to the lyrics above.

Wil Wheaton migrated from Twitter to Mastodon a week or two ago, claiming that Twitter’s sub rosa censorship of voices he didn’t like wasn’t strong enough for him because it hadn’t completely banned someone he didn’t like. (For the record, I’m no fan of Alex Jones either, but I don’t need Twitter to keep him out of my life, I just don’t follow him. I take responsibility for what I see on my own.) Apparently Mr. Wheaton is, in fact, a huge fan of letting other people make and enforce his voice-blocking preferences, because he outsourced his enormous Twitter blocklist to others. That seems to be a trait among the left, adding to and circulating blocklists numbering in the hundreds of thousands, built by blocking not only some hated person, but anyone replying to or subscribing to them. Personally, I have about 100 blocked accounts, mostly Junk advertisers and fake pornbot accounts, but every single one of them I added myself (and frankly, I haven’t added to that list in years – I should prune the dead accounts from it). These huge blocklists lead to the situation where people are blocked by folks they have never interacted with, and indeed, a lot of false-positives. This doesn’t matter, because for the blocklist purveyors, the important factor is quantity, not quality. They brag about how huge their lists are in order to get other people to use them, gaining status that way.

So Wil imported a blocklist created by a Feminist, because that seems like a good thing if you’re committed to Feminism, right? But he made a mistake because this particular Feminist was one of the dreaded “TERF” kind (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist IIRC). So littered among the quite possibly innocent people in his blocklist were various Transsexual/Transgendered/Transvestite activists. There’s no way he could know, because when you’re blocking half a million Twitter accounts at once, there’s no time to review every single one of them when you’re counting on a list being full of people you’re supposed to hate anyway.

But this huge blocklist wasn’t enough exclusion of voices he didn’t want to hear for Wil, so he moved to Mastodon, where everyone was like him. Which is to say, really hot on the idea of using the social network’s tools to exclude anybody not ideologically pure enough. The problem is, with virtually no ideological diversity, the SJWs turned on themselves, dividing up and finding excuses to find other members “Nekulturny” and attack them in mobs (while praying that nobody else finds fault with them next, for example, for not being mobby enough). The fact that Wil had blocked any Trans activist in the blocklist on another service that he hadn’t reviewed personally was just such a Social Network Death Sentence. He was chased off the service within days by people supposedly of his same will.

The Irony is overpowering, and totally lost on Wil. But the lesson is more interesting. As much as people claim they want a community of like-minded people, people also love conflict. Intellectual diversity is necessary because it allows for that conflict. Without it, with enough identical rats crammed into a small enough cage, they turn on each other for the most trivial of reasons. With a huge and diverse population, no one group of mean girls can dominate. That is, until the referees put their thumb on the scale, as Twitter has, and then the whole thing starts sliding downhill. (Mastodon uses a lot more than a thumb, puts more administrative power in the hands of the users, and is smaller as well, so the slide is far more accelerated).

It is funny how those who make the most noise about diversity are often the most exclusionary, and their communities of like-minded people are the most vicious viper’s dens. True diversity, where there is such a wide variety of opinions that no one faction can form a powerful majority, and thus all sides must learn to get along, is a much more peaceful and tolerant place. This however is not very likely to be found online, because people do seek their own before seeking power over the group. In the end, the ability to form online communities of like-minded people could spell the end not only of diversity, but of community itself.



For a long time I’ve been promising to write a piece on the three stories that made me stop reading Asimov’s. I will, once I dig them out of the box they’re in. But along the way there had been a growing dissatisfaction with the magazine that unconsciously led to my “to read” stack of them exceeding eighteen issues. After a while I began to put my finger on why. The stories were all about setting the situation up, and then instead of having an ending, they just… ended. I called this “All count-down, no blast off.”

I recently ran across a story that exemplified this quite well, this whole business of trying to set up a good, meaty Science Fictional idea, then mincing around it without actually taking it on. This was Cat Rambo’s Clarkesworld story “Tortoiseshell Cats Are Not Refundable” (archive link here) the story itself isn’t that recent, about four years old, but it really typifies the problem I’m getting at. Let’s do a read-along:

Okay, our protagonist Antony is depressed. Really really fucking depressed. We can see how depressed he is in exquisite detail. It goes on and on about how meaningless his life is since Mindy died, whoever she is (His wife. It takes quite a while to get to that detail). We do find out he lives in Seattle (over 90% of Science Fiction stories seem to take place in Seattle these days. Don’t ask me why). He deals with the pain by aimlessly wandering around Fry’s (A west coast electronics chain), getting stoned (because Yay Recreational Pot in Washington, instead of drinking because Boo Alcohol). He’s SO depressed he can’t even talk to his Mom, who calls him every day. And he feels guilty about this because he moved her across the country to be near him and away from his horrible sisters.

I am not loving this story at this point.

But he’s a good boy, and loves his mother, and apparently his mother had a cat he’d gotten her that she really loved which had died a year earlier. (I ended up doing a little math. Mom is Elderly, Cats average lifespan 8-15 years. He’s got to be in his late middle age.) So, since mom might be as depressed as he is, and old folks are better off with something to care for (since, well, her SON isn’t that available with his three months of moping) he decides to get her another cat. Oh, and not just another shelter kitty (PSA: Please adopt shelter kitties. -M), but ripped from the headlines two decades ago, a clone of her last cat, because you can get them by mail order now. And finally we start hitting some SFnal tropes — he apparently has some kind of cash account/brain computer implant called, get this, a “Shunt”, and Drones take deliveries.

I’ve gotten a bit more sensitive over the years about picking up on the unsubtle digs stuck in stories. When he mentions getting his shunt when he’s in college, he pays for it with his aunt’s old gold coins, and mentions that a) she’d died in the SEVENTH Gulf War, and b) that he never regretted it. Let’s take a moment to unpack the SJW Reusable Cloth Grocery Bag in this short paragraph. Who invests in gold? Conservatives. So Aunt Mick (“Mick”??) was a Conservative. Now libs like to imagine Ironic Deaths for Conservatives, so Gulf War 7. Because they believe Conservatives love war, and war never solves anything, so there have been 7 of them. Now the lack of regret appears to be about selling the coins, but it’s hard to tell because the sentence is one comma-spliced mess. That could be saying that Aunt Mick was dumb about investing in Gold because spending them decades ago in college was no loss. Or it means he had no attachment to Aunt Mick anyway, thus no sentimentality about his inheritance.

Anyway, back to the story, such as it is so far. Actually, I’ll jump ahead about, since the story is chopped up into non-linearly arranged segments. He gets the cat, but it doesn’t look like the original, because tortoiseshell fur patterns are a random expression of the genes, and they have a list of critters that this might be a problem with, and therefore Tortoiseshell Cats are Not Refundable. Boom, Title. Mom is lukewarm about the cat, but eventually warms up to it in spite of the differences.

As an idea, it’s a great one. Everyone assumes DNA is like destiny, that you grow a clone and you will get exact copies. Inverting that trope could lead to a brilliant story. Let’s see what she does with it….

Well, apparently because Antony is such a good customer, buying one Cat and getting marginal results, they send him an offer. “Hey, got any loved ones you might want us to make a clone of?” I guess they knew he was really depressed, because he goes on about it for a while after he gets the info packet and decides to blow his retirement money on doing it, and then some, even though they got the cat wrong.

Okay, this is where the story really gets fucked up.

Apparently the process will produce an adult clone. How they get there isn’t touched on at all, but kind of a good thing, since he probably doesn’t even have 20 years left to wait for his girlfriend to grow up before he kills himself over his depression.  (If someone doesn’t kill him first getting sick of his moping.) So, how do you make an adult clone with an adult mind. Well, apparently, secretly, those shunt thingies have enough memory capacity to download your entire brain.

Holy shit! Talk about “We have altered the terms of our privacy policy”! Not only is the shunt company secretly invading the privacy of their customers in the most intimate way possible (Shunts are also mentioned as enhancing sex), but they are providing that information to a third party without a release. I guess there’s a posthumous lack of rights. That’s a huge damned story in itself. I mean, imagine a story where that kind of data is subpoenaed in court, but that is dodged by saying it’s not admissible.

But here, that huge idea is merely used as a shortcut to get to the goal of a perfect replacement clone. And our Hero’s reaction to this news? Go for it.

And even though this procedure is an experiment, only in its third iteration, he has to pay for it. Good lord that looks like scamming the bereaved. But none of that is reflected upon.

Now apparently they don’t think the Shunt is enough, and they mention pulling in social media and such, and they send someone to research her shopping habits and interview him about details of their life together. So apparently there is active editing of the memories to be implanted, but this is totally glossed over. Really, it doesn’t occur to him to “Improve” her? I mean, that’s a huge story idea right there. Nothing is done with that.

Finally, we get to see her clone, sort of. Her appearance is kept very brief, and spoken of indirectly. She is subtly different, but that isn’t really explored too much, maybe a paragraph, a very indistinct one.

Antony decided that against the doctors orders, he’s going to tell her the truth. Because, you know, she’s not an EXACT copy, but now he can finally mourn his old Mindy (What the hell has he been doing for the last three months?) and start over with the new one if she wants to. And Wow! That right there is a Big story, telling a person they are actually the reconstructed clone of your dead wife. That would be one hell of a tale to tell. It would be worth putting up with all this dithering about and moaning to see how that turns out. And what does Cat Rambo do with this story next?

The End.

Yeah, that’s it, that’s where it stops. The whole angle with the cats being different is to make a point about a human clone being different, only those differences are not explored at all. The existential questions that Science Fiction alone is equipped to explore, glossed over for expediency, and then finally ignored just when they should come to a head. All of this story, 3500 words of it, leading up to what happens if you tell a clone she’s a clone, and it stops right before you tell her. It stops without telling you what happens with the story it’s actually leading up to.

All count down, no blast off.


And that is typical of what passes for short SF these days.

When Snowflakes Attack!

In my last post, I mentioned how important it is for those playing the SJW game to make sure their every utterance is in line with whatever the intellectual flavor of the month is, because power and position seems to be gained by being the first to point an accusing finger at any deviation. I suggested that this was why Gerrold wrote his “You’re either for us or you’re agin’ us! And Silence = agin’ us!” screed. It doesn’t matter how much support you’ve given the cause in the past, or how many intersectionality checkboxes you can mark off, you have to maintain appearances because one slip and the pack turns on you.

Everybody knows this, although some like to pretend it isn’t true, but one need only look at the recent Unpersoning of Greg Hullender to see the proof. Greg is well known for his book reviews and especially for the mountains of irreproducable statistics he gleaned from his exclusive access to “impossible to anonymize” Hugo nomination ballots that proved both that the Puppies were an insignificant number, and how essential it was to change the voting system to get rid of them. (Something like Climate Science there — you have to take it on faith because you’re not allowed to check the data). Reading some of the referrers linking back here, I also learned he is gay and had a long history in LGBT activism.

You would think with credentials like that, and all the water he carried for the cause, he would be safe, a scion of the Left, but no, he made the mistake of not conforming to the whims of the Pronoun Police, and in one sentence, an offhand reference to how misused pronouns pulled him out of the story, he was doomed. Apologies were demanded, reviews were edited or deleted, and he was retconned out of existence on that site.

Who knows? Maybe he can redeem himself in the eyes of the SJWs by coming back and swearing on a stack of Ancillary Nouns that he was wrong and now believes utterly in the transient nature of Gender being immutable, and that pronouns can be whatever we want them to be. But he will always be damaged goods to the movement.

So let this be a lesson to all you aspiring Social Justice Warriors out there. It is not your place to lead. Throw away any illusions that your opinions will influence the future of the movement. Those opinions are a threat. You will be drummed out for having them. Just follow the opinions the thought-leaders set out for you, absolutely, in lock step, every single one of them, even if they make no sense to you (You’re not allowed to think that! Stop analyzing these things for yourself!). Never miss a chance to add your voice to the latest Two Minute Hate, because missing it is a sin. And know that even if you’re perfect, someone can and will use the contradictions to rat you out. So have fun playing that game.

As for Greg. I feel that in his heart he approached his positions with thought and rationality. I disagree with them, but I can at least respect that. And alas, that is what doomed him. But who knows, maybe he’s gained some freedom as a result. I hope he grabs it and comes back stronger, and independent.

The Science Fiction is Settled

Science Fiction is the fiction of Ideas. It’s the testing ground for the possible and the impossible. It asks questions. The most important being “What if?” And then it tries out the answers, trying to find the moral or scientific answers to questions Humanity hasn’t faced for real yet. And often these extrapolations come up with some very uncomfortable answers.

For instance, What if we could clone people? Are they the same person or not? Are they people at all? If they are not, can we harvest their organs to save the life of the original person? Pretty much all of the answers can be pretty horrifying, as are the solutions to the issues they raise as well.

Not every science fiction story is going to be all skittles and cream. A story can be great and make us think and still be horrible to contemplate. Nobody reads 1984 and thinks the world it portrays is something wonderful they’d like to be a part of. Well, nobody SANE, but there are plenty of people who have no problem with Winston Smith’s image of the future, as long as it’s their boot and someone else’s face being smashed forever.

But some out there do not like hearing contrary voices. They don’t like anything that disagrees with the conclusions they’ve already arrived at (or had spoon-fed to them). The uncomfortable questions and disturbing answers are not for them. They want affirmation. Science Fiction that does not support their dogma is an offense to them. It’s not enough that they don’t have to read it, they don’t want anyone else to read it either. They don’t want it to exist. And they will use social pressure, blackballing and worse to make this so.

So I was recently shown a link to an essay on the website of Amazing Stories (a Canonical example of the fourth step of Burge’s Law of Institutional Liberalization) written by David Gerrold, and in the beginning, he gets it. He states the purpose of Science Fiction reasonably well:

This is the primary function of science fiction — to be the Research and Development Division of the Human Species. This literature is the laboratory in which we consider the universe and our place in it. It is the place where we ask, “Who are we and what is our purpose here? What does it mean to be a human being?”

Well, his basic questions are a bit more narcissistic, a bit more reflective of the turn in SF from Hard Science to Soft Science. My example of cloning above certainly fits that, but the Universe is bigger than just us Human Beings. Narrowing down the question so far can focus on the inconsequential parts of a much bigger idea, like a Golgafrenchim Marketing Consultant holding up the development of the wheel because they’re not sure what color to make it.

Now, Gerrold’s theme at the start of his editorial is Change, and in that context, I can fully endorse this passage:

No other genre is as ambitious, no other genre considers as many powerful and disturbing questions. All the other branches of literature are about the past, they’re about how we got here, as if here is a static place. Only science fiction is about the future. Only science fiction is about change.

And then, tragedy strikes. Because to Gerrold, Change has an Arrow on it, with a single destination, and it’s pointing to the left. He launches into a paean about Immigrants and diversity and the global village because Diversity is Strength! And then:

So, yes, it is inevitable that science fiction authors will explore that diversity — expanded roles for women, new definitions of gender and sexuality, the contributions of People of Color and other non-white ethnicities. We’ve discovered the overlooked skills of the aged and the disabled, the unusual and extraordinary ratiocinations of people who are neuro-atypical. The next generation of authors are exploriong [sic -M.] vast new landscapes of possibility — places to explore and discover ways of being human previously unconsidered.

It’s not that SF CAN explore those things, but that SF SHOULD explore those things he seems to think. Forget exploring the stars or asking “What if we’re not alone in the universe?” Nah, we’re alone, so let’s spend all our speculative energies on exploring our own bad selves. He grudgingly admits that while we have probes going past Pluto, “some of our most ambitious authors are turning their attention to a different frontier —exploring the workings of the human soul.” I suppose our navels give us much more instantaneous gratification than the stars. But really, that kind of narcissism is only interesting to the narcissist.

And at this point, we can see where the train leaves the tracks, because he switches from talking about science fiction, to the science fiction community, while trying to carry the same points. He talks about the changes in the SF Community from all these new folks of diverse backgrounds showing up. The only problem with this theory is that they have always been here. There’s a case of DoubleThink going on here when the same folks who like to claim Mary Shelley as one of the first female authors of Science Fiction then set it out there as if women are something new, and it’s even more patronizing when they act as if their side’s genuflecting to Feminism is somehow responsible for their appearance. No, this is not a change. Try reading some C.L. Moore and realize that not only have women been in SF all along, they have been awesome.

Likewise with minority writers. The publishing world is, or at least was, the ultimate meritocracy. Since most of the business was conducted by mail, a publisher had no clue about the racial background of an author. Bias was eliminated through the medium of the Manila envelope. It takes very little research to find out that Black authors have been writing science fiction since the turn of the century. No, not this century, the previous one. Likewise for Gay authors, an obvious example being from the previous list, Samuel R. Delany. He was first published in 1962. That’s FIFTY FIVE years ago. This “change” Gerrold is touting really is nothing new.

If there is a change, it is that today we are seeing a push to elevate these diverse backgrounds above the quality of the work. Bloggers are pledging to read only female authors for a year, magazines are organized around the author’s sexuality. And that is a change that can only work to the detriment of the genre. But this gets worse.

Gerrold says that these writers are writing for themselves, the stories they want to read, and writing their own experiences into them. This is also nothing new in Science Fiction. Fandom even has a word for these kinds of stories: Mary Sue. Yes, most writers write for themselves, this is why there are slushpiles and fanfiction websites (And some might say Indy). SUCCESSFUL writers write for everyone. They write for an audience, and reach across self-imposed barriers that pigeonhole humanity into narrow little categories.

Pigeonholes are small, maybe they’re comfortable, but they are narrow. And if you’re writing for a narrow audience, that’s going to be a small and unremarkable work. And with a genre being aimed at small sub-groups of the fandom, rather than at those ideas that are common across all of fandom, the fiction shrinks. And that can be proven simply by looking at the sales figures for science fiction even compared to the shrinking book market, and declining SF magazine sales, and the shift from literary to media fandom. Literary SF, pursuing the change Gerrold is lauding, has ill-served the audience, and they’re turning away from it. I guess fans don’t like being pigeonholed.

And this is where he starts throwing shit at people. Or rather, straw men. You see, packed into this essay, which by the halfway point has devolved into a thinly disguised attack on anyone who didn’t take his side in the Hugo Wars, he dismisses anyone who objects to this change which is strangling SF as having trivial reasons, e.g. “This isn’t what I expected,” and “This isn’t the way things are supposed to be,” and “I don’t like broccoli.” Seriously, he runs with that last one. Apparently wanting science fiction to explore big ideas as it always has, instead of reveling in an author’s reflections on what it means to be a member of the intersection of fifteen different minority statuses, with a smidge of SF-nal window dressing, is clinging to outmoded tradition and akin to disliking vegetables as a child might. (Or perhaps he has never forgiven President George H.W. Bush for famously refusing to eat broccoli on Air Force One once. Folks of his stripe have knitted LONG enemies lists.)

You see, all this introduction about SF being about Change, and defining that change as the emergence of narcissistic navel-gazing natterings is just so that he can call out anyone who doesn’t embrace that as neanderthalic bigoted throwbacks.

Instead of discussing the content and the quality of the stories, some people made derogatory comments [about] the race, gender, sexual orientation, and behaviors of other authors. These were comments that were rooted in bigotry. I should point out here that bigotry is not an expression of hatred as much as it is a demonstration of fear, insecurity, and cowardice. It’s natural to fear the unknown — real courage is embracing it.

God help me, but I’m gonna invoke Vox Day. “SJW’s Always Project.” And here’s the perfect illustration of DARVO and Gaslighting. Since the Puppies were always about the quality of the stories, and Gerrold’s side has always been about denigrating writers on the basis of their race (if white), Gender (if male), sexual orientation (if straight), etc. He’s managed to swap the sides in this statement, trying to claim the moral high ground, and in the process ceding that the other side had it. As an old white male himself, Gerrold had best tread carefully among his fellows, since he’s terribly short on intersectionality points.

And that, perhaps is the real point of this essay. One which he inadvertently makes himself, if you’re not viewing it through SJW lenses. He must maintain his cred that he’s one of them.

There’s an old Russian story about a Communist party meeting, and when the party chairman’s name is mentioned, it is required to stand and applaud his name. The clapping continues and continues, loudly and uproariously because nobody wants to be the first one to stop clapping. After ten or fifteen minutes, the audience is in agony, but nobody dares to stop out of fear. Simply put, because even though it gives everyone else the excuse to finally stop, the first to stop is never seen or heard from again.

This is the danger of playing the Virtue Signaling game. And he goes right out and illustrates this as if it were proper thinking.

Larry Niven has wisely said: Never throw shit at an armed man. Never stand next to someone who is throwing shit at an armed man.[Italics added -M.] In fact, one could distill this into a much more general rule. Never throw shit. Never stand next to anyone throwing shit.
This is profoundly good advice.
There has been too much shit-flinging. Monkeys are good at it, but human beings have made it an art form. Some of us enjoy shit-flinging so much that we forget we’re human beings, we become fecal trebuchets.

Now this is extraordinary advice, considering the speaker was the Master of Ceremonies at the single greatest celebration of shit flinging in the entire history of SF Fandom (One of his claims to fame in his bio at the end of the piece). This is a classic example of “Let’s stop after I get my last shot in.” Of course, on the internet, nobody gets the last word, not even me.

So again, he’s projecting his sins upon others. (Also, he missed the point of the Niven quote.)

And why? Because for the next few screens worth, he goes on and on about one single idea. “So let’s have this conversation be about remembering our essential humanity — and what we must do to preserve it. It’s this simple. If someone is throwing shit, verbal or otherwise, silence is interpreted as agreement.” [Bold mine. -M]

Fine, this is why I am not being silent, because he has been at the forefront of the gang denying people’s essential humanity. And this goes back to well before the Hugo Wars. He blocked me on Facebook ages ago when I took offense to one of his many (since purged) screeds about how Republicans should be put to death that came up on a liberal friend’s feed. The list of shit he’s thrown, and shit he’s been silent and complicit about is long and horrid, and I’m sure he feels smugly satisfied about every single turd.

But there’s the root of it. This is why he has to make this point calling everyone who disagrees with him in the slightest misogynist, racist, and homophobic. Because in SJW-land, you HAVE to. If you miss one Two Minutes Hate, then your silence is interpreted as agreement, and they will attack you twice as bad for being a traitor to the cause.

And we have seen this a lot lately. Black Feminists calling out White Feminists for trying to be allies, but not getting it the right way. The Liberal coprophagic cannibalism has been amusing to those of us who don’t play that game, and must be absolutely terrifying to those who do. They are required to speak up, because remember, silence = consent (Except during sex, then it’s all “Mother may I?” every ten minutes, minimum), but get it wrong — and there is no right answer for an angry enough questioner — and it’s the Gulag for you!

Everyone’s pretending to be a piranha as hard as they can, because they’re afraid of being found out as a fake and eaten first. So that is why Gerrold wrote this screed, to prove that he’s still one of them. He wrote it to try to enforce uniformity in the Fandom mind by insisting that anyone who objects to the state of things in the genre is only a racist, sexist, homophobe, and should a) shut up, b) join him in condemning anyone else who disagrees (because silence is just as bad). And he wrote it to trivialize any disagreement. He invokes the war of the Lilliputians over which end of a soft-boiled egg to break as an example of how unimportant Fanish infighting is (unless it’s about a plastic rocket award). We should all just be of one mind and side with him and everything will be fine, as long as we keep virtue-signaling every time we open our mouths and condemning the unbelievers.

And of course, this constant stream of virtue signaling must be reflected in all of SF’s writing too, even if it doesn’t sell or entertain, because nobody wants to be the first Communist to stop clapping. But if we are all in harmony and agreement, where do the new ideas come from? Where do the debates and intellectual discussions come from? Where is the future in looking at ourselves in the now? If everything is static and centered about narcissistic navel gazing, then where does the change come from? You know, I think I’ve read a few SF stories about how dystopic societies where uniformity of thought was enforced are. We could learn from that.

As for Gerrold, the man can fold himself until he’s all sharp corners and stick it up his asterisk.