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.