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March 21, 2014 2:21 AM   Subscribe

"The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is without a doubt the most boring, soulless, stacked revolution I’ve ever read. The people of the Moon – that is, actually THREE people on the moon (the Prof, Wyoh, and a reluctant Mannie) – decide one day to revolt when supercomputer Mike informs them that cannibalism will ensue in nine years should things progress down the same path. This is especially troubling in the context of modern reading, considering the many revolutions around the world that have and continue to happen today – these are powerful movements with drastic, often violent but always life-changing consequences. In contrast, Heinlein’s contained, sanitized revolution – planned and powered by the smartest AI computer everrrrr! – is so theoretical, so calculated, so utterly artificial that it loses any meaning. Is revolution the simplistic, quick, predictable thing that Heinlein creates in this frankly soulless book?" -- To prove their real fan status, Ana Grilo and Thea James (aka the Booksmugglers) review arguably Heinlein's greatest novel and find it wanting.

As you know Bob, one of the ongoing controversies in science fiction and fantasy fandom has been about who is and isn't a real fan, who can speak for fandom and whether it actually makes sense to talk about "real" and "fake" fans. One of the largely unchallenged assumptions in this conflict is that there is a specific history and accompanying canon of science fiction and that you need to know this history. When this assumption was made explicit in an essay written by Baen Books publisher Toni Weisskopf, it got Ana Grilo musing on whether this supposed canon is still relevant and useful:
It is obvious to me that this idyllic period of Science Fiction “history” is told largely from an American, white, male perspective. It might be an important part of a historical narrative, but it is not the whole narrative. Surely, it can’t be. If we choose to brand only those works “masterful” and “classic” and “essential”, what are we saying?

What about a bit more of personal context: I am Brazilian. MY history is that I’ve had little to no access to those “masterworks” of science fiction. Am I a lesser Science Fiction fan if I have not read Heinlein or many other “classic” authors?
But also whether being ignorant of (large parts of) it means you are in some ways not a part of fandom:
Am I a lesser reviewer because of that? I am filled with angst at the thought that what I write here means nothing at all because I have not been a part of fandom for long and I have not read a lot of “classics”. Does that make my opinions and thoughts on new books or my involvement in fandom any lesser?
Which also leads into the question of how it is that certain writers are not part of this canon, of who chooses SF classics, as S. L. Huang put it:
I don’t understand how we can have a genre where “You haven’t read HEINLEIN (/Asimov/Clarke/Bradbury/Dick/etc.)??” are common and accepted refrains, and “You haven’t read BUTLER??” is almost unheard. Why aren’t we saying it? Why isn’t Octavia Butler considered “required reading” of the classics in order to consider oneself a True SF Fan? Why don’t people feel left out and incomplete if they haven’t read her?
As the Booksmugglers are part of Hodderscape Review Project they would've reviewed The Moon is a Harsh Mistress anyway, but now it also provided a handy litmus test:
In many ways it was impossible for me to approach this book without certain things weighing on me. Two specially: 1) because I am not well-read when it comes to the usually accepted Science Fiction “canon”, I might not be able to actually tell by simply reading this book, what is supposed to be Heinlein’s influence in the field. 2) I will always approach any book from a perspective that attempts to examine topics that are important to me as a reader and as a reviewer but which might be ultimately unrelated to what makes the book “important.”
posted by MartinWisse (287 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh dear. Going beyond surface analysis of anything Heinlein is always a mistake. His stories are often ripping good yarns but they're never particularly grounded in reality.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:37 AM on March 21 [28 favorites]


I read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress when in the 8th grade, assigned by the best English teacher I ever had. It was the right time to read it; I'm not sure I want to spoil that by reading it again and finding out the Suck Fairy has been to visit.
posted by chavenet at 2:40 AM on March 21 [7 favorites]


I have never read Hienlein, my childhood in science fiction was defined by Asimov. Do I think Asimov is essential reading? Not really, because while I find a lot of his books very enjoyable, they aren't exactly brilliantly written. I actually do think, having read Dick in later life, that Dick is actually worth reading, and theres a lot to engage with in a good Phillip K Dick novel, even if they do all invariably fall apart at their conclusion. Asimov is a hell of a lot of fun to read, but more for delicious snack food.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 2:46 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


I wonder if anyone truly becomes a fan of something they first encounter after age 30?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:50 AM on March 21 [8 favorites]


I read it recently, for the first time, and spent most of the time wondering when the AI was going to doublecross the other conspirators.

That said: if you're looking to SciFi books of the 70s for 'progressive points about ethnicity, marriage and gender', maybe you're just setting yourself up for disappointment, just as if you were looking at film (or whatever) of the same era..
posted by pompomtom at 2:51 AM on March 21 [15 favorites]


(BTW: FWIW: I enjoyed the story)
posted by pompomtom at 2:54 AM on March 21


That said: if you're looking to SciFi books of the 70s for 'progressive points about ethnicity, marriage and gender', maybe you're just setting yourself up for disappointment,

There's the faintest touch of irony there.

One would expect SciFi, of all literature, to examine and question traditional ideas and values.
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:57 AM on March 21 [7 favorites]


It inspired another great Jimmy Webb song, though.

NOTE: THE ABOVE SENTENCE(S) MAY CONTAIN FALSEHOODS. NO WARRANTY IS MADE AS TO THE VERACITY, TRUTH OR REASONABLENESS OF THE SENTENCE(S) IN THIS COMMENT OR ANY IMPUTATION, CONCLUSION OR SUGGESTION DRAWN THEREFROM AND THE QUIDNUNC KID SHALL BEAR NO LIABILITY IN RELATION THERETO. BY READING THIS COMMENT, YOU ACKNOWLEDGE THE ABOVE EXCLUSION OF LIABILITY AND YOU AGREE TO INDEMNIFY AND HOLD HARMLESS THE QUIDNUNC KID FROM ANY LOSSES, COSTS OR (WITHOUT LIMITATION) OTHER DAMAGE(S) (WHETHER PECUNICARY OR OTHERWISE) ARISING OUT OF OR IN RELATION TO ANY CLAIMS, ACTIONS OR (WITHOUT LIMITATION) DEMANDS MADE IN RESPECT OF THIS COMMENT. WITHOUT LIMITATION TO THE ABOVE, IF JIMMY WEBB COMES AROUND HERE, TALKING HIS TRASH AND GETTIN' ALL UP IN MY FACE, YOU AGREE TO TAKE ALL REASONABLE STEPS TO RESTRAIN SUCH JIMMY WEBB AND PROVIDE ANY NECESSARY ASSISTANCE TO THE QUIDNUNC KID TO ENGAGE SAID JIMMY WEBB (OR ANY SUBSIDIARIES OR AFFLIATES THEREOF) IN A FREE-STYLE RAP BATTLE IN WHICH "WINNER TAKES ALL" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE INTERNATIONAL CHAMBER OF COMMERCE RULES ON FREE STYLE-RAP BATTLES (ICC PUBLICATION NO. 43775). THIS COMMENT AND ANY NON-COMMENTARY ISSUES ARISING OUT OF OR IN CONNECTION WITH IT IS GOVERNED BY THE LAWS OF THE MOON AND ANY DISPUTES ARISING OUT OF OR IN CONNECTION THEREWITH SHALL BE SUBMITTED EXCLUSIVELY TO THE HARSH MISTRESS THEREOF OR ANY HARSH MISTRESS OF APPEAL.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 3:04 AM on March 21 [11 favorites]


It does. But expecting a man born in 1907 to come up with ideas that seem progressive in 2014 is a bit unfair.
posted by gingerest at 3:04 AM on March 21 [26 favorites]


One would expect SciFi, of all literature, to examine and question traditional ideas and values.

And it does, to an extent. But not in a way that's going to seem 'progressive' in 2014.
posted by pompomtom at 3:09 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


That said: if you're looking to SciFi books of the 70s for 'progressive points about ethnicity, marriage and gender', maybe you're just setting yourself up for disappointment

Chip Delaney, Joanna Russ, James Tiptree... You're just reading the wrong authors.
posted by rdr at 3:09 AM on March 21 [65 favorites]


if you're looking to SciFi books of the 70s for 'progressive points about ethnicity, marriage and gender', maybe you're just setting yourself up for disappointment

I happen to be reading Foundation just now (published 1951). These amazing spacemen of the future sure have a thing for tobacco and nuclear power. Like nuclear-powered kitchen appliances and nuclear-powered wristwatches.

There's an unintentionally funny bit where Asimov makes some point about gender equality by having a woman take a cigar along with the men. But that's overshadowed by the numerous times she's sent to literally make sandwiches in the spaceship kitchen.

Also I'm pretty sure everyone is white.

I just accept that this was written in the 50s and go with it.
posted by ryanrs at 3:09 AM on March 21 [9 favorites]


That said: if you're looking to SciFi books of the 70s for 'progressive points about ethnicity, marriage and gender', maybe you're just setting yourself up for disappointment, just as if you were looking at film (or whatever) of the same era..

Well now there were an awful lot of movies made in the 70's, and more to the point there was a lot of science fiction that didn't have reactionary ideas about gender, race, and society in general.

But looking for progressivism in stuff written by Heinlein would be more specifically analagous to looking for it in John Wayne movies. (I had to look it up, and he was born in 1907 too!)
posted by hap_hazard at 3:10 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


"The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress" is actually from an earlier era: it was published in 1966. 70s SF had some fairly progressive authors & fairr number of female ones (putting to one side the post-modern arguements about whether Tiptree counts!) to boot.

It's the J.W. Campbell inspired stuff from the 50s onwards that's not very far removed from being straight fascist propaganda re-packaged for the post-WWII era.
posted by pharm at 3:23 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


You're just reading the wrong authors

I'm sorry, I was just looking for a yarn, not particularly for a parable. Ta for the suggestions, though.
posted by pompomtom at 3:25 AM on March 21


You're just reading the wrong authors

FWIW, sometimes they're the only authors translated and published in your language.

I did grow up with more of an influence from Jules Verne or HG Wells, though.
posted by sukeban at 3:29 AM on March 21


I know I'm a "real fan" because I have to bite my tongue hard whenever people call it "SciFi".
posted by Justinian at 3:30 AM on March 21 [9 favorites]


My apologies. What should I call the genre to save your precious tongue?
posted by pompomtom at 3:36 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


SyFy
posted by ryanrs at 3:37 AM on March 21 [28 favorites]


Hey, if scifi was good enough for Forry, it should be good enough for you.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:37 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Skiffy.
posted by sukeban at 3:37 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


SyFy

Ghostride the Enterprise.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:50 AM on March 21 [8 favorites]


Scientifiction.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:53 AM on March 21 [16 favorites]


Ok, after looking at the links I'd say that the SF canon is roughly as useful to SF as the traditional literary canon is useful to traditional literature. In both cases you have to grapple with the whole "predominantly white, predominantly male, predominantly Western" thing.

I'm not going to call someone less of a fan because they don't have a historical context for modern science fiction gained by reading the old classics. That's exclusionary. But the depth and breadth of their knowledge will necessarily suffer compared to someone who has read those books. You can't understand Haldeman without having read Heinlein. You can't understand modern milSF without understanding Haldeman. Now, maybe you don't care about milSF. Most people don't. Because it mostly blows. But the same thing holds true for most subgenres; science fiction is, even more than many other literary genres, a conversation between current authors and previous authors.

Incidentally, one of the things that contributed to that conversation so heavily was the absolute lack of distinction between pros and fans in written SF cons. Most pros have historically been fans, and lots of fans have been pros. You don't have the hard and fast line between "talent" and the audience like you do at media cons and written cons are the better for it.

Ok, got a little sidetracked there.

I'd argue the same about any kind of art. You aren't necessarily a "lesser" music fan if you don't listen to stuff from before the year 2004 or whatever but you won't be able to understand and trace the various influences in the music you do listen to. You won't understand how we got from there to here. Same with painting. Same with film, or television.
posted by Justinian at 3:54 AM on March 21 [20 favorites]


I'm sorry, I was just looking for a yarn, not particularly for a parable. Ta for the suggestions, though.

Lensman! Any weird old-timey opinions are quickly overshadowed by the casual deaths of millions.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:54 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


SF, people. SF. Try to keep up.
posted by Justinian at 3:54 AM on March 21 [4 favorites]


At some point I realized that it's obsessives care who calls it SF or SciFi. Fans of the literature are as likely as not to not care what other people think.
posted by ardgedee at 3:56 AM on March 21 [6 favorites]


I mean, jesus, do you think you can understand Metafilter Favorite A Song of Ice and Fire without being familiar with the conventions and roots of Extruded Fantasy Product? Can you understand Extruded Fantasy Product without being familiar with Brooks and Donaldson? Can you understand those guys without knowing Tolkien? No, of course not.

Is a fantasy fan who has never even attempted to read Tolkien a lesser fan? No, but they certainly are going to have a more shallow understanding of the genre.
posted by Justinian at 3:56 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


Haven't read Moon since I was thirteen, loved it then but probably shouldn't go back.
posted by octothorpe at 3:58 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


You don't have to roll in the dirt and manure to enjoy this summer's crop.
posted by pracowity at 4:00 AM on March 21 [5 favorites]


Can you understand Extruded Fantasy Product without being familiar with Brooks and Donaldson?

I think you're forgetting Eddings there, but Robert E. Howard or Clark Ashton-Smith or C.L. Moore were writing fantasy before LOTR was published.
posted by sukeban at 4:00 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


Sure they were. But you're making my point for me. They weren't the genesis of the modern fantasy genre. But someone who hasn't read them all wouldn't know any of that.

Howard is sword and sorcery, for example, and Martin doesn't trace his influences to that much. He's writing epic fantasy which goes through Brooks, Donaldson, and ultimately Tolkien.
posted by Justinian at 4:03 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Do you really have to be familiar with the classics to understand Extruded Fantasy Product? It's kind of everywhere.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:03 AM on March 21 [5 favorites]


Kind of? It's complicated.
posted by Justinian at 4:04 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


> That said: if you're looking to SciFi books of the 70s for 'progressive points about ethnicity, marriage and gender', maybe you're just setting yourself up for disappointment...

I don't think you're wholly wrong, but I'd accuse you of confusing history a little bit. The late 1960s is when feminist authors began writing SF without feeling compelled to resort to pseudonyms (Joanne Russ, Ursula K. LeGuin), and the New Wave of the early 70s (especially the British New Wave) began opening up the field in all kinds of sociological and psychological directions.

As for the FPP, I never read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and in fact I found Heinlein bullet-headed and generally dull, and gave up on him after a couple books. His nearly-biblical (and therefore totally predictable) sense of how how heroes should be stacked against villains seemed at odds with his overtly atheist posturing. Not even ripping good yarns there, or an opportunity (as in Asimov's work) to feel like I was witnessing a puzzle unfolding.

Then again, in high school, while I was omnivorous in my SF reading, I developed a preference for Dick and Lem early on, whose work for unlike reasons were a whole lot more engaging than space opera.
posted by ardgedee at 4:04 AM on March 21 [8 favorites]


SF. Try to keep up.

Sorry, I can't do that because I live in San Francisco. That initialism is already taken.
posted by ryanrs at 4:04 AM on March 21 [8 favorites]


Do you really have to be familiar with the classics to understand Extruded Fantasy Product? It's kind of everywhere.

No, you just read Diana Wynne-Jones' The Tough Guide to Fantasyland and then congratulate yourself with a mental "ping!" sound when you read that the protagonists are having stew for dinner again. It's like TV Tropes for EFPs.
posted by sukeban at 4:06 AM on March 21 [8 favorites]


But you're making my point for me. They weren't the genesis of the modern fantasy genre.

Eh, I think Joe Abercrombie or GRRM or the rest of the grimdark fantasy that's so in vogue now are more in the pulps' vein than the LOTR vein. Scott Lynch in particular reads to me a lot like a modernised Fritz Leiber.
posted by sukeban at 4:11 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Anyone who hasn't read Kemlo and the Purple Dawn can't possible call themselves a trufan. Why should I be the only one who suffered?
posted by Mogur at 4:11 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


Yeah, but I'm getting old, sukeban. The modern fantasy genre is like circa 1994 to me.
posted by Justinian at 4:12 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


I have a litmus test: If you find yourself agreeing with something an editor at Baen says, you should take a hard look at your life. And possibly start drinking.
posted by Justinian at 4:14 AM on March 21 [9 favorites]


Justinian: "SF, people. SF. Try to keep up."

I thought that the rebranding of SciFi died thirty years ago? They tried Speculative Fiction too and that didn't go anywhere. I think that "SciFi" is here to stay since no one outside of that particular literary community will know what you're saying if you say "SF".
posted by octothorpe at 4:15 AM on March 21 [4 favorites]


As a ninth-grade wannabe science fiction writer I remember caring a lot about reading enough, and reading enough of the right things, to be a real fan; which is why I tried so hard with Foundation even though I couldn't find a story in there, and got halfway through Stranger in a Strange Land before I figured out that there was something fundamental to it that I wasn't getting. In a way it was good for me because it stretched my reading habits beyond every Anne McCaffrey and Douglas Adams book on the library shelves, but I have to think that in the end that kind of am-I-a-real-geek-yet anxiety is bad for fans (maybe especially young women, because of 'fake geek girl' silliness) and bad for fandom.

The same people who insist that fandom means you've read the same 50-year-old books as them are also the people who bemoan the aging of fandom. It's difficult to have it both ways, even if you really believe that The Moon is a Harsh Mistress should be a deathless classic of the genre.

There's a lot of value to understanding the history of the genre and the ways that different authors influenced each other, and there are some people who really geek out on that kind of stuff -- and probably those people are the ones who make really thoughtful critics -- Ideally we could talk about that stuff without any "fake fan/real fan" nonsense, and without insisting that we appreciate Heinlein's Strong Female Characters.
posted by Jeanne at 4:15 AM on March 21 [10 favorites]


Sorry, I can't do that because I live in San Francisco. That initialism is already taken.

Well, if you used "Frisco" for the city, "SF" would be available for the genre…
posted by erdferkel at 4:17 AM on March 21 [5 favorites]


His nearly-biblical (and therefore totally predictable) sense of how how heroes should be stacked against villains seemed at odds with his overtly atheist posturing.

I don't think that by "nearly-biblical" you mean that the supposed heroes are ridiculously flawed, short-sighted and self-defeating, often struggling more against internal dissension than against their external enemies, but that's what actual Bible narratives are usually like.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 4:20 AM on March 21 [12 favorites]


But expecting a man born in 1907 to come up with ideas that seem progressive in 2014 is a bit unfair.

Heinlein certainly thought he was pushing the envelope, and lots of other people did, too. Personally, I thought the parts he was pushing were a waste of time when they weren't actually creepy, but that's probably just me.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:23 AM on March 21 [6 favorites]


Well, if you used "Frisco" for the city

You would upset Emperor Norton, and who would do that?
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:25 AM on March 21 [9 favorites]


I think you're forgetting Eddings there, but Robert E. Howard or Clark Ashton-Smith or C.L. Moore were writing fantasy before LOTR was published.

And Edgar R. Burroughs, and L. Frank Baum, and going back even further Lewis Carrol - but the sheer force of vision Tolkien brought to the party defines the genre to this day. He set the bar for world building, and it is very, very high - inventing languages, plural, literary allusions to medieval folklore, noble lineages going back to the actual dawn of time, utterly alien civilizations with complete histories, cultural conventions and political controversies - and this is just the background, not the focus of the novels! Most of it doesn't even make it into the LOTR or the Hobbit!

A lot of people crib off of his work for their own stuff - "Extruded Fantasy Product" - and G.R.R. Martin is having a hoot taking the low expectations set by EFP, and completely upending the usual conventions surrounding character, plot and theme.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:26 AM on March 21 [5 favorites]


Heinlein really was pushing the envelope, though, if imperfectly. The protagonists of two of his three most famous books were persons of color.
posted by Justinian at 4:27 AM on March 21 [6 favorites]


and G.R.R. Martin is having a hoot taking the low expectations set by EFP, and completely upending the usual conventions surrounding character, plot and theme.

Yes! That's it exactly. But if you haven't read the older stuff you don't know the conventions. If you don't know the conventions you don't see them being turned on their heads and a lot of stuff is just going over your head.

It's like reading A Deepness in the Sky without reading AFutD first. Yeah, it's still wonderful but it's a much lesser work.
posted by Justinian at 4:30 AM on March 21 [4 favorites]


Yeah, it's still wonderful but it's a much lesser work.

I sort of agree and disagree with the point you're making here Justinian. Its certainly true that you will miss some of the cleverness in GRMM if you haven't read some of its fantasy precedents and how it subverts expectations. That said, theres some joy to be had (especially earlier on) in how the war of the roses is an inspiration for the plotting in the book. My point being that we all bring things to media we consume, and that knowledge changes how we experience a text. I think there are absolutely piece of media where its almost required that you have experienced their ancestors beforehand if you want to really enjoy them, but I think approaching media from a completely direction can be rewarding.

My go to example on this is American Gods, which is a book I love. I've read it several times. I remember my first time reading through, as a weird story about gods and stuff and enjoying it, but feeling let down by the ending. Second time, I really dug on how it celebrated America and Americana and lamented the death of some of these traditions. Third time through I experienced it primarily as a book about loss and how much that affects us. The book hadn't changed, but I had.

So yeah, reading previous books is valuable, but so is experiencing culture and life. If a text is rich enough, it will reward us for bringing different ideas and experiences to it. Some books won't do this of course: pulply nonsense will usually remain so no matter how many times you read them, but there's nothing inherently wrong with that: pulply nonsense is super fun!
posted by Cannon Fodder at 4:49 AM on March 21 [13 favorites]


> I don't think that by "nearly-biblical" you mean that the supposed heroes are ridiculously flawed, short-sighted and self-defeating, often struggling more against internal dissension than against their external enemies...

Yeah, sorry... No, I mean it more in the sense that every decision is treated in a historical and epochal way, even if the characters are merely ordering dinner, and that there always seems to be a very clear Good vs Evil / Us vs Them / Right vs Wrong / Up vs Down polarity in the narrative.

And, well, the characters are ridiculously flawed, in the sense that if made real you'd find them insufferably commanding and self-important and loud and occasionally nigh-monomaniacal, but that doesn't come through as well in a constructed world where these traits are treated as virtues. But no, they tend not to be short-sighted and self-defeating, unless they're the antagonists.
posted by ardgedee at 4:52 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


I wonder if anyone truly becomes a fan of something they first encounter after age 30?

I was 30 when I saw Rushmore. I feel like I have just idly been biding my time this past year waiting for Grand Budapest Hotel to open.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:55 AM on March 21 [9 favorites]


Yes! That's it exactly. But if you haven't read the older stuff you don't know the conventions. If you don't know the conventions you don't see them being turned on their heads and a lot of stuff is just going over your head.

Meh.

What Martin did in A Game of Thrones is not that surprising and he does an admirable job setting up the reader's expectations in the first part of the book regardless of their level of familiarity with the fantasy genre.

You don't need to have slogged your way through Jordan and Eddings and co to appreciate what Martin did, not even as a critic. That's what secondary literature is for.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:57 AM on March 21 [4 favorites]


I read a couple of 'Golden Age' things this past year, Heinlein and Asimov for the most part. It was very, very easy to guess what part of the previous century it was written in.
posted by Slackermagee at 4:58 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


but the sheer force of vision Tolkien brought to the party defines the genre to this day.

I'm not saying that Tolkien isn't an important part of the genre, but there are other, important strains that aren't directly derived from LOTR.
posted by sukeban at 4:58 AM on March 21


So yeah, reading previous books is valuable, but so is experiencing culture and life.

One of the modern phenomena I find really interesting is the breakdown of what we can call broadcast media: Where a certain group gets to 'broadcast' work which will be consumed by maybe 90% of the population. Everyone had the same four channels and five radio stations, meaning there was very little subdivision of popular media. That's how it was possible for the Beatles to be as big as they were: today, they would likely be more like the Arcade Fire, popular amongst a (still sizable) subset of people, instead of as generally huge and popular as they were.

Science fiction was for such a long time an ubderground and a sub-culture, but one existing in the context of a 'broadcast' world. To maintain an identity as a subculture, the books were treated as broadcasts, and canonized as bits of essential reading. This creates a strong common set of reading experiences amongst the people in the sub-culture. For a long time, it arguably _made_ the sub-culture.

But it's not a broadcast world anymore. There's more to read than we have time for, even if we wanted to, and people bring in a much broader range of (cultural) experiences than they did during the bad old days of broadcast. And that's the big struggle of modern science fiction fandom: how do you create a sense of shared identity within your sub-culture when the super-culture you're defining yourself against is already so splintered?
posted by kaibutsu at 5:00 AM on March 21 [13 favorites]


Sorry, I'm utterly not down with the "you can't really appreciate X until you've read Y" approach. It smacks of academic supremism. Yes, it does add some depth to ASOIAF if youve read LOTR first, but the former works quite well on its own as a story (and, I'd argue, much better than the latter). Similarly, no one really needs to read Starship Troopers before reading The Forever War, which is good because the latter is a much better book than the former; it utterly makes sense that Haldeman wrote his book in part as a retort to Heinlein, and it does add a certain something to know that Haldeman was a veteran of actual combat and Heinlein wasn't, but had been to a military academy, but Haldeman's book simply works better as a story. (I've tried to read Starship Troopers a number of times, and even having read a number of Heinlein juveniles and Stranger in a Strange Land, I couldn't get through it--it might be the closest that Heinlein has ever come to writing an Ayn Rand book, and although that might be considered a compliment by any number of readers (and even account for its popularity among a certain set of people), it sure isn't for me.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:01 AM on March 21 [8 favorites]


Psi-Fie
posted by facetious at 5:03 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


You can't understand Haldeman without having read Heinlein. You can't understand modern milSF without understanding Haldeman.

Actually, Haldeman has said that The Forever War was not a response to Starship Troopers (though it certainly can be read this way), so you don't need to know about the latter to be able to understand the first; far more important to know it was written in the context of the War on Vietnam, by a veteran of that war. Meanwhile the influence of Haldeman on mil-sf is overrated: Jerry Pournelle and David Drake are much more important, as is the establishment of Baen Books as a publisher for and catalyser of this sort of science fiction.

And again it's possible to see the rise of mil-sf in American science fiction as not so much depending on a few individuals who shaped the field in its early days, but as part of a broader response in fiction to the decline of American military power, imagined or otherwise, during the Carter-Reagan years.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:04 AM on March 21 [8 favorites]


To say "You can't understand X without Y" is to deny the value of ways of understanding X that don't depend on Y. Be careful.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:06 AM on March 21 [8 favorites]


Being an old-time SF fan who loved Heinlein (and Asimov, Sturgeon, Farmer, "Doc" Smith, Burroughs, Dick, Clarke, Simak, and EVERYONE), you really don't have to have read all that stuff to understand current work. That's just bogus. If you go back and read it, you do have an "Oh, THAT's where that came from" moment, but that moment is not essential to understanding and enjoying the genre. It's a scholar's fallacy, and also partly the urge to homestead any territory, call it your own, and tell the new arrivals they don't belong.

Can't read Heinlein now, though. At the time, he was wonderful because I was a girl and he had a "smart girl" in his very small range of characters. In fact, most of the writers I fanatically re-read have suffered terribly in hindsight. I an still read Ursula K. LeGuin, Philip K. Dick, and (some of) Theodore Sturgeon, but most of the others are so badly written it makes your teeth hurt.

And if you can't become a fan of anything after the age of 30 you have ossified. I'm 62, and am regularly adding new fandoms.
posted by Peach at 5:08 AM on March 21 [54 favorites]


Yeah... I have to second this.

It's been a long time since I was last gripped by an all-consuming passion about something and the need to fully affiliate myself with the community that fosters it.

But, if anything, I find myself liking more things now than I ever did. In some ways, the world is more interesting, music is better, and art is more fascinating than it used to be.

I like it more this way, to be honest. When you can appreciate music, literature or art without having to take on their subcultural identities, without having to position oneself against those who can't appreciate the things in the ways your group can... the world just fucking opens up. In this way, middle age is awesome.
posted by ardgedee at 5:24 AM on March 21 [11 favorites]


It was only a matter of time before gentrification caught up with the Golden Ghetto.
posted by localroger at 5:32 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


"SciFi?" "SF?" "Speculative Fiction?" Pshaw.

Scientific Romances.

The debate is now over. You may return to your homes.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 5:34 AM on March 21 [10 favorites]


I wonder if anyone truly becomes a fan of something they first encounter after age 30?

Baroque Cycle*, Chabon's alternate histories and Gordianus the Finder and Sherlock and Venture Brothers and Regular Show, Adventure Time, Grim Adventures really scratch the OMG! SUCH FAN! itch in my post-30 self.

I haven't added any comics to my OMG! list since I hit 30, because I sort of fell away from it for various reasons - I'm sure they're out there in abundance.

Movies are tougher. They're slick and have amazing production values these days, but... SF/F movies aren't very original or fun, or they're deliberately dumb. Hellboy as the only exception, maybe? I love the current crop of marvel Movies, but they're holdovers from my youthful comics obsessions. The last movie who created a world I could daydream about all day was the 5th Element. I think a huge part of the problem is that directors and screenwriters are demanding a self-contained world, where everything is neatly explained, and it feels... small. Comic Book movies, especially the current crop of Marvel films, get around that by using the movies to shine a light onto a vast trove of stories, universes entire to explore. This gives them room to maneuver, so they're not as obsessed with explaining beginning, middle and end as they are with origin, conflict and resolution/evolution, and putting their own interpretations on it.

I'm waiting for a new Ghost Busters or Back to the Future, or, hell, even another Event Horizon. Some movies come close in ambition, like Pacific Rim or Riddick - but they blow it by making a decision to remove the plot to the deliberately juvenile and formulaic, leaning way too heavily on threadbare tropes and humor that tests well with executives who imagine they know what 11 year old boys like.

What I really liked about Star Wars, BTTF and Ghostbusters is that they came up with a sophisticated story and complex characters, and then built a universe around the story and characters that seemed to invite more imagination and wonder than just the plot beats, and when the curtain came down, you were certain there were more adventures going on just after the end of the credits.

Cabin in the Woods comes reeeeeeal close, except they kind of destroyed the world at the end - maybe prequels?

(*I was a fan of Stephenson's science fiction, but it's such a departure from his previous work (and, sadly, the work that came after) where I consider it worthy of standing alone on its merits.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:36 AM on March 21 [5 favorites]


> "That said: if you're looking to SciFi books of the 70s for 'progressive points about ethnicity, marriage and gender', maybe you're just setting yourself up for disappointment ..."

Babel-17 by Samuel Delany and Planet of Exile by Ursula K. LeGuin were published the same year as The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

For that matter, Heinlein actually did make some progressive points about ethnicity, marriage, and gender in his works. It just tends to be overshadowed now by the sexism and racism he was unable to ever really get past.

There are definitely works where you can say, "this was a product of its time and all works of this time shared certain problems." But I'm not sure that applies to a novel written six years after the start of the science fiction New Wave.
posted by kyrademon at 5:40 AM on March 21 [5 favorites]


I'm on board with argedee and Peach here. I didn't read Gene Wolfe until I was in my thirties, and he's become a major point of fandom for me. The old stuff, the stuff I read as a teenager (Asimov, Douglas Adams, LOTR, etc.,) feels lees like fandom and more like nostalgia now. I still feel rewarded when I reread them, but I think it's more of a daydreaming-re-experiencing of my youth than a new emotion or connection with those works. But the stuff I read fresh for the first time in my late thirties, I think those works will have a longer lasting and more profound effect on me than anything I have a nostalgic attachment to.
posted by HumanComplex at 5:40 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


I cheerfully take on the subcultural identities, too. I just don't take them as seriously because I've been through the drama before. Right now, for instance, some of the Sherlock fandom stuff makes me giggle with snarky amusement (I would never tell them that).

Yes, the movies are deliberately dumb, but so was Ghost Busters--but then, I was already a grown up when that came out, so I recognized how deliberately dumb it was.
posted by Peach at 5:43 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Justinian: " You aren't necessarily a "lesser" music fan if you don't listen to stuff from before the year 2004 or whatever but you won't be able to understand and trace the various influences in the music you do listen to."

And very often you'll discover something amazing that you would have discovered yonks ago because someone else has already done it, and your new discovery knows that and is using it and you just don't know. This happens a lot when an older person (ahem) talks to younger people about music -- they're all excited about the latest big sensation and to those old ears it sounds vaguely (or exactly) like something you've already heard. (Like when kids I know were getting all excited about that Pitbull song that extensively sampled "Take On Me" by AHA and thought it was something fresh and new.)
posted by chavenet at 5:44 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


"The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" lost me at the end, when the whole thing seemed to become some kind of extended juvenile joke about taxes, from the point of view of a tea partier (okay, that's an exaggeration, but not much). Guess I'm not a "real" fan. (Phew!)
posted by saulgoodman at 5:44 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


if you're looking to SciFi books of the 70s for 'progressive points about ethnicity, marriage and gender'

Dhalgren is not a book that I particularly enjoy, but: as a sci-fi book from '75, at least half of its project is using a post-apocalyptic setting as the springboard for radically exploring new avenues of human socio-sexual structures.
posted by Greg Nog at 5:46 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


Why isn’t Octavia Butler considered “required reading” of the classics in order to consider oneself a True SF Fan?

I don't know about "true" fans - despite being a voracious reader of SF since my early childhood, I've never had anything to do with organized fandom - but Butler (along with many others, list available by request) is required reading for those who want to be informed or educated readers of the genre.

That doesn't mean there's something wrong with those who haven't read her works, or other important SF works, just that having read some of the great works of the genre might increase one's pleasure in reading current books by giving you a context and background in common genre tropes and plotlines. (The way the more you listen to a certain kind of music enhances your pleasure of listening to that genre of music, etc.)

(The confusion between "I'm a scifi fan" and "I love to read scifi books" reminds me of the confusion I saw in students back when I taught creative writing between kids who "wanted to be a writer" and those who "wanted to write".)
posted by aught at 5:49 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


I wonder if anyone truly becomes a fan of something they first encounter after age 30?
posted by Tell Me No Lies


yes. I read Lois McMaster Bujold after I was 30. She's brilliant. I've now read every published novel, most of them twice and some three times. And for the first time in my life, I got really serious about reading fan fiction because I was craving more stories set in her world (and I was quite impressed at the quality of writing among Bujold fans).

As for understanding G.R.R. Martin: no, you don't have to have read schlock like Terry Brooks to appreciate what he's doing, or even to have read Tolkien. Tolkien is so ubiquitous in our culture that I wrote a story about a hobbit (and a Pegasus!) when I was eight, ten years before I read any of the books. Wizards and knights and kings are also ubiquitous (my story was about an evil wizard who stole the Crown of the Hobbits - yeah, I knew their physiology but not their political system - and later I wrote another story about an evil black knight). Anyone raised in a basically Anglo culture will be familiar with Anglo medieval tropes - which is really what Martin is playing off of. He has noble houses fighting for a crown -- just like I did in my Grade three masterpiece. (Mine was better plotted - wrapped up in about three pages).

And anyone with a deep understanding of 15th century English history will probably have a greater appreciation for what Martin is doing than someone with a deep knowledge of Brooks but no history.
posted by jb at 5:50 AM on March 21 [7 favorites]


I wonder if anyone truly becomes a fan of something they first encounter after age 30?

What? Of course they can.

(Also, one day you young folks will realize how young 30 actually is.)
posted by aught at 5:53 AM on March 21 [21 favorites]


I'm old enough to remember when "Don't trust anyone over 30" was a thing. Oh, god, the shame of it. But then, when I was that age, people over thirty wore hats and narrow ties, and wore their hair real short. And looked bad in miniskirts. So it was justified.
posted by Peach at 5:54 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


when I was that age, people over thirty wore hats and narrow ties, and wore their hair real short. And looked bad in miniskirts.

i'm 34 and you just described me

jk i look sexy as hell in minis
posted by Greg Nog at 5:57 AM on March 21 [21 favorites]


My apologies. What should I call the genre to save your precious tongue?

ΨΦ
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:01 AM on March 21 [26 favorites]


as for SF books which really do push boundaries/ask good questions re gender, marriage/family formation, etc:

find yourself to the mostly female authors of SF New Wave. Some of these were written in the 70s, and even more in the 80s.

Anne McCaffrey's Dragonsong was the first SF I ever read that wasn't from the kid's section -- and I read it because it was about a girl defying gender norms to pursue her chosen career.

Marion Zimmer Bradley's Free Amazon books explore: feminism, lesbianism, chosen communities of women, and what makes for an equal or unequal marriage between a man and a woman.

Sherri S. Tepper - looks at the relationship between gender and violence, and again what kind of relationships men and women can have. Gate to Women's Country should probably be read every ten years -- and maybe you won't agree with her ideas as you get older.

Octavia Butler - yeah, she should be on everyone's reading list, especially Kindred (I'm surprised it's not already standard high school fare). Her alien series is still kicking my butt with its complexity (read the middle book as a teen, was fascinated but so confused, keep meaning to go back but it's a challenging read).
posted by jb at 6:02 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


I wonder if anyone truly becomes a fan of something they first encounter after age 30?

Wonder no more, people over 30 do truly become "fans" or interested in things they first encounter. You're still growing up and developing and if you're fortunate, you have access and time to take on new interests with a mind no longer consumed with being defined as a fan of something against others, though getting out of juvenile identity paradigms is largely dependent on your personality.
posted by juiceCake at 6:02 AM on March 21 [4 favorites]


and back to the Martin/need to know Brooks, Eddings, et al issue:

I read Tamora Pierce instead, and her books are all about fighting over crowns and (possible) civil war - she's just way more subtle and less bloody.
posted by jb at 6:04 AM on March 21


Pehaps what the original "over 30" poster was thinking is that children and teens react differently to books than adults. I have an adoration all out of proportion for the Alanna books versus later Tamora Pierce, because I read them when I was nine, and the other ones when I was twenty-nine. Similarly, my reading of Gate to Women's Country as a fourteen-year-old was much less thoughtful and critical than my mom's reading as a thirty-four-year old. (I was an uncritical fan, she wanted to argue with Tepper as to the rightness of what was happening in the book).

And yeah, I read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress at age sixteen and loved it - not for its bits on gender and marriage which were enh, but for the wonderful character of Mike, and the questions of self-determination.
posted by jb at 6:09 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


I've always been very conflicted about Heinlein. I think he tells beautiful stories but always manages to work in a political angle or a little bit of unnecessary sexism that really ticks me off. He is a lot like Ayn Rand, really, except for being about twelve million times better as a writer. It is definitely worth reading Stranger in a Strange Land if you haven't already.
posted by miyabo at 6:10 AM on March 21


ΨΦ

SeeFee?
posted by Elementary Penguin at 6:12 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


I have a litmus test: If you find yourself agreeing with something an editor at Baen says, you should take a hard look at your life. And possibly start drinking.
posted by Justinian


Baen published Bujold's first novel. The editors would have to start sacrificing small children to make me dislike them.

Also, they are pioneers in well-priced, DRM-free ebooks. I wish I were a bigger fan of military SF because I love buying from them.

Their art department on the other hand... wait, do they have an art department?
posted by jb at 6:20 AM on March 21 [6 favorites]


I just accept that this was written in the 50s and go with it.

Not for nothing, but Heinlein wrote a book with a black main character in 1954 and Starship Troopers had a Filipino main character and had women serving in combat military roles - and that was written in 1955.

Frankly, I think trying it pigeonhole an author whose works span 4-5 decades is a fools errand - his later stuff was far more conservative and reactionary than his earlier stuff. I don't think it holds up as well for it, either.

But that's not a surprise, as I have watched friends and relatives age their views have tended to sour and ossify as well.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:22 AM on March 21 [8 favorites]


I wonder why I didn't read any Heinlein books when I was at the age when I was reading anything I could find in the Sci Fi section? Maybe I didn't like the covers or something.

Anyway, I am glad now.
posted by asok at 6:24 AM on March 21


The first half of Stranger in a Strange Land is so good that I keep wanting to recommend it to people - but the second half is so homophobic it turns my stomach. Heinlein keeps dismissing his own character's lack of gender identity - which is part of what I loved and related to in the first half of the book.
posted by jb at 6:24 AM on March 21 [5 favorites]


No, they're not real fans, but it's not because they haven't read Heinlein, but rather, because their first response to the piece is not "Oh, interesting, let's look at this book in terms of science fiction" but rather "Let's look at this in terms of how a book written in the 70s, a time when marital rape was not even against the law, was sexist, and dismiss it on those grounds."

Yes, of course it was sexist. Heinlein tried very very hard - he had polygamy and diversity and trans individuals, but he was writing from what he knew in the 70s, so of course he was going to get some stuff wrong. If you're writing to talk about how sexist Heinlein is, you are running a strawman up a pole to see if we'll salute it, and that's pure BS.
posted by corb at 6:25 AM on March 21 [11 favorites]


Not a "fan", but I expect I've read more SF (and considered the acronym controversy) as most of the readers and posters here. I'm actually slightly disturbed by the very concept of fandom. There is just way to much soso space opera to bother reading a tepid rework of minor trekie characters.

Lensman! Any weird old-timey opinions are quickly overshadowed by the casual deaths of millions.

Millions? Smashing a planet (of the ultimate baddies) between two suns is way past some trivial millions. The Grey Lensmen were multicultural; think tentacles, methane breathers and redheads! (oh this quip does need a smilie).
posted by sammyo at 6:29 AM on March 21


Not for nothing, but Heinlein wrote a book with a black main character in 1954 and Starship Troopers had a Filipino main character and had women serving in combat military roles - and that was written in 1955.

Yeah, but in Tunnel in the Sky you only know Rod was black because Heinlein said so in a lettre, not so much from the story itself, while in Starship Trooper's it's only at the end that it's revealed the protagonist is Filipino. And neither differ one jot in outlook or character from any of his other protagonists, with their ethnic background making no difference whatsoever.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:30 AM on March 21 [5 favorites]


find yourself to the mostly female authors of SF New Wave.

In addition to the ones you list -- though I have a hard time recommending Zimmer Bradley after the unpleasantness with her husband -- don't forget Ursula LeGuin, Joanna Russ, James Tiptree Jr, and C. J. Cherryh, all as important as any male writer in the 70s.
posted by aught at 6:32 AM on March 21 [4 favorites]


Justinian spake: But if you haven't read the older stuff you don't know the conventions. If you don't know the conventions you don't see them being turned on their heads and a lot of stuff is just going over your head.

IMO - this is why younger fans and more casual fans get so angry at older fans using the term 'true fan' and why people got so annoyed by the Baen post.

You're not better or smarter or have a better foundation or less ignorant or any of the verbal baggage that your statement adds to the conversation; you're just approaching a house from the other end of the street than the casual or younger fan is.

Get over yourselves already.
posted by Fuka at 6:32 AM on March 21 [4 favorites]


Stuff goes over my head ALLATIME and I try not to duck too much. Seriously, "true fan" is one of those debates like the one that pops up in my sport from time to time about "real champions." It's an excuse to argue, show off your superior knowledge, and gerrymander territory.

Also, just because Heinlein was a product of his times doesn't mean he wasn't sexist, and it sure doesn't mean I can't judge him in retrospect.
posted by Peach at 6:38 AM on March 21 [7 favorites]


Speaking of Super Fans and 70s Sci Fi (I so want to give my kids Harrison but they don't have the context yet for WTF is with all the sexism bullshit handling), anyone know what book this is? I'm starting to thing I read it, too, but can't find it. Especially since the one I dug up was apparently wrong.

I'm reading some old Asimov and other early Sci Fi'ers to get more of a feel for the point of the storylines (Legal Rites was hilarious), trying to figure out both how to provide some cultural context for my kids to pick up sci fi and to learn how to make my own someday. We are living in the future in some ways and not in others.

They currently read stuff I didn't have as a kid and I don't know if they'd care to read the 'giants' whose shoulders they are written from other than to maybe pick up the call backs/aha-that-s-where-it-came-from moments. But I just ordered used copies of Make Room Make Room and The Technicolor Time Machine just in case.

I'm finding this whole ... maturation of literature in the broadcast world through to the internet world similar in mystery/comedic crime. Just finished reading the last Westlake I hadn't read (Castle in the Air) after one of his forays out of comic crime (The Hook) ... sociological and genre/writer maturation is just .... fascinating.

Thanks for the links to other authors, folks, by the way. I keep meaning to pick up Guin but have just been not remembering.
posted by tilde at 6:40 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Oh, and WRT the "I wonder if anyone truly becomes a fan of something they first encounter after age 30?" question: Iain M. Banks (RIP), Charles Stross, John Scalzi (the latter two MeFi's Own, of course), Terry Pratchett. (Cue the "You didn't read Pratchett until you were middle aged? Dude" howls.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:43 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


just because Heinlein was a product of his times doesn't mean he wasn't sexist, and it sure doesn't mean I can't judge him in retrospect.

Variable Star could have missed some of that and it didn't. I know Spider Robinson was trying to emulate the classic Heinlein juvenile, but it honestly makes me gun shy on picking up any of his other 32 books. I will, sometime, after consulting some of his fans among my cohort, but I'm not in that much of a hurry. I like his reading voice, though. I wish more authors would read their own works (or in Westlake's and Silverstien's case, had).
posted by tilde at 6:44 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


gingerest: "It does. But expecting a man born in 1907 to come up with ideas that seem progressive in 2014 is a bit unfair."

I know! Really you'd have to go back a bit further than 1907... back to 1855.
posted by symbioid at 6:46 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


And judging by the way my roomie/ex reacted to the news and ensuing Veronica Mars movie, the answer to "can anyone be a fan for something discovered after the age of 30" is most assuredly "yes".
posted by symbioid at 6:47 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but in Tunnel in the Sky you only know Rod was black because Heinlein said so in a lettre, not so much from the story itself, while in Starship Trooper's it's only at the end that it's revealed the protagonist is Filipino. And neither differ one jot in outlook or character from any of his other protagonists, with their ethnic background making no difference whatsoever.

Yes. I also seem to recall a Delany essay from back in the day discussing the way Heinlein reveals (or not) these characters' non-white ethnicities.

Which is also interesting when thinking about the race of arguably Delany's own most famous character, Kidd, in Dhalgren: in my experience, even though it's mentioned in the text that Kidd is Native American, readers - especially white male readers - tend to gloss over that and see him as white like themselves.
posted by aught at 6:51 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


I really pity readers of any type of fiction who cannot put their politics aside and simply enjoy a ripping yarn.

Younger fans, whose minds have not yet been prejudiced by too much higher education, have a much greater ability to recognise a good story and for me their opinions are much more relevant as to what might interest a middle-aged codger like me.

Having passed 30 long ago, the 60's throwaway line "I don't trust anyone over 30" becomes more and more accurate all the time.
posted by three blind mice at 6:52 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


I'm not going to call someone less of a fan because they don't have a historical context for modern science fiction gained by reading the old classics. That's exclusionary.

I don't buy this because, I think as a white guy I've been asked once about Heinlein. But apparently asking Karen Lord or Nalo Hopkinson if they read Heinlein is a thing, and a similar accusation was coupled with racism last year to say that Jemisin both didn't, and couldn't understand the science fiction/fantasy novel form.

Sure they were. But you're making my point for me. They weren't the genesis of the modern fantasy genre. But someone who hasn't read them all wouldn't know any of that.

Modern fantasy is pretty darn diverse. You have Moorcock who explicitly and categorically rejected many of Tolkien's ideas about the hero (following Leiber and Howard instead). Lovecraft is a big influence as well, along with the post-WWII developments in cultural anthropology, ethnography, and history. If anything, Tolkien's primary influence is to be namedropped onto works that pretend to be historical rather than mythopoetic, and therefore misunderstand Tolkien.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:55 AM on March 21 [4 favorites]


I really pity readers of any type of fiction who cannot put their politics aside and simply enjoy a ripping yarn.

(eye roll) I've got a thrilling epic about a medieval grinder of axes you might well enjoy!
posted by aught at 7:04 AM on March 21 [8 favorites]


Oh, & I think aside from the general genre maturity of Sci Fi, Mystery, etc -- part of the shift from "broadcast" to the more accessible now is the destruction / rebirth of the publishing industry.

Actually, I'd nearly compare the old way of doing things to "cargo cult" publishing. Not sure what to compare the new way to since there is still a lot of "real publisher" entrenchment in the distribution channels.
posted by tilde at 7:04 AM on March 21


Justinian:

"You can't understand modern milSF without understanding Haldeman."

If modern milSF includes Old Man's War, you can, since I didn't read Haldeman until well after I wrote that novel. I was aware of it; I hadn't read it.

Which brings up a point I think is not often brought up in these discussions, which is that the people who write in genre don't always follow the presumed path through the genre library before they themselves start writing. My own path through science fiction had Heinlein in it, yes. But I didn't make a checklist of all the Golden Age authors and stomp grimly through the list; prior to me entering the field, you might be amazed at the list of classic SF authors I hadn't read.

My own SF pantheon as a reader prior to writing would have been Heinlein, Bradbury, L'Engle, Adams, Foster, Tepper, Stephenson and Simmons. What I read outside of the genre was as important if not more so than what I read inside of the genre. And film, television and video games were as influential as books, says the author of Redshirts.

I'll be 45 in a couple of months. I strongly suspect many if not most SF writers my age or younger could tell you the same thing -- that our reading of the "classics" was spotty and that influences outside the genre literature were as important (or more so) than the literature itself. If indeed that is true, then trying to make a direct line connection between what's in the SF lit field now and what came before will more than likely give you false results.

Which makes any adamant thumping about how "true fans" must read [classic genre author] even more pointless. I mean, dudes: I have a fucking Best Novel Hugo. If I can't be required or relied upon to have read [classic genre author], why should someone who just wants to a read a book on the goddamned train?
posted by jscalzi at 7:05 AM on March 21 [95 favorites]


I read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress for the first time around the age of 8/9. Because I enjoy it and because I've got it mostly memorized, it's my go to book when I'm stressed to the point of distraction and need something to read before bed so I must have read it 100+ times in the last 36 yeats. Despite all it's flaws re women and marrying 12 year olds (keeping in mind that even today 13 year olds can get married in some states if the female is pregnant) it remains one of my favourite books.

IMO the reviewers missed the big science hook of the book. The setting on the moon and stuff like laser drills, hydroponic growing, ballistic subway, and catapults is just fluff with Mike being the big "What If?" of the book. So when the review's author says:
In contrast, Heinlein’s contained, sanitized revolution – planned and powered by the smartest AI computer everrrrr! – is so theoretical, so calculated, so utterly artificial that it loses any meaning. Is revolution the simplistic, quick, predictable thing that Heinlein creates in this frankly soulless book?

No. It’s not.
I think they miss the premise of the book that a sufficiently smart computer could enable a relatively "easy" (tens of thousands of people die, untold billions of capital damages are incurred and nuclear missiles are used) revolution.

I mostly agree with them on Stranger in a Strange Land; I really wish it wasn't his most well known book because it is a real departure from his hard science fiction.

Pogo_Fuzzybutt: "But that's not a surprise, as I have watched friends and relatives age their views have tended to sour and ossify as well."

You can see a really obvious change in his writing after his illness.
posted by Mitheral at 7:09 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: "I have a fucking Best Novel Hugo"
posted by Mitheral at 7:10 AM on March 21 [10 favorites]


As Scalzi touches on in both his gatekeepers piece from the OP and his recent piece on Weisskopf, Baen, and Heinlein, this is less about authors and more about those living largely in the "default settings" (as Scalzi would put it) spheres of both life and fandom. Weisskopf's piece seems out of context unless you know that it's the war cry for really awful, nasty stuff being thrown around by the "true fandom" types exemplified by her company, a good number of the authors in their stable, and their fans. These are the people (several of the loudest include Baen authors) who still think Vox Day was persecuted by the ravening feminist armies. They have made a simple article about gender identity into a "OMG the filthy LGBT hordes are storming our walls to take our freedoms!" nonsense. They like categorizing people based on what they are, which in turn becomes a railroading of what to read and how to read it and what they want the author to stand for. That's their problem, not the people who want to approach works in other contexts.

The wannabe gatekeepers of SFF fandom have serious problems with accepting people not living on the "default settings," and their constant attempts to make it paint those people not being serious fans, or as aggressors in a fandom war, are petty and brutish.
posted by zombieflanders at 7:10 AM on March 21 [12 favorites]


I mean, dudes: I have a fucking Best Novel Hugo. If I can't be required or relied upon to have read [classic genre author], why should someone who just wants to a read a book on the goddamned train?

Um, "dude," successful as your own works are, I think it's a little unseemly to be self-servingly thumping about how dispensable great works of your genre are in a public forum.
posted by aught at 7:12 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: "I have a fucking Best Novel Hugo"

Even in space, you can hear the mic drop.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:13 AM on March 21 [31 favorites]


The first Heinlein novel I picked up was The Number of the Beast.

This was a Poor Decision.
posted by delfin at 7:15 AM on March 21 [12 favorites]


Aught:

"I think it's a little unseemly to be self-servingly thumping about how dispensable great works of your genre are in a public forum."

Just because I (or anyone else) doesn't read them doesn't mean they aren't good, Aught (although they might not be, depending on one's tastes) or that they shouldn't be acknowledged as classics in the genre. It does mean that they are not required either to write or read in the genre.

And to be clear: I suspect a great deal of science fiction in the future will be written without the authors having read my work, either. And some of it (hopefully!) will even be worth the reading. So if you're grousing about me noting work being "dispensable" in this way, feel free to include my own.
posted by jscalzi at 7:19 AM on March 21 [18 favorites]


I have read two books by Heinlein (at least that I can recall). Tunnel in the Sky, which I read in my teens and which I still think of fondly, and The Door into Summer, which I read as an adult and only sort of liked even though on a lot of levels, it's exactly the kind of book that should appeal to me. Fine, let's pretend we absolutely could not imagine that someone Heinlein's age could have been anything but horrifically sexist. He had no choice, and his imagination could not have been able to actually stretch so far as to consider women equal. But why should I have to read his books? I am a fan of science fiction. I am a fan of fantasy. But there are already more books in these genres (which are not the only genres I read) than I could read in a lifetime. I am not researching the history of these genres. It makes me no less of a fan to read books I also find non-annoying. We can give me the same benefit of the doubt, that it is impossible for someone my age to stretch their imagination so far as to find that much sexism enjoyable.

But I do agree that books I read as an adult (movies, tv shows, whatever) I am a fan of in a very different way than I am for books I read as a kid.
posted by jeather at 7:20 AM on March 21 [4 favorites]


I really pity readers of any type of fiction who cannot put their politics aside and simply enjoy a ripping yarn.

Fiction often is implicitly or explicitly political, especially in SF&F where having characters and settings serve as mouthpieces for politics is something of a thing in the genre, the old white guys are just as guilty of it as the "insect army" of feminist and multicultural writers. Deja Thoris delivers a speech about the evils of communism to the Tharks, Chalker has a character complain about both divorce and tax law (possibly more because I found the character-as-mouthpiece annoying enough to pick up another book), De Camp had an entire novel of characters discussing gender equality and monogamy.

Never mind that this is a false dichotomy since most readers (and authors) can walk and chew gum.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:22 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


I'll also add that SF&F has diversified to such an extent that even professional reviewers are forced to specialize, much less a working stiff like me who keeps a kindle by the bed and a book on the desk for a few dozen pages during lunch hour. But as a white guy, I think I've been asked on my reading of Heinlein once in 30-odd years of being a genre fan. (It turns out that my Heinlein novels didn't overlap with her Heinlein novels.)
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:32 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


(I so want to give my kids Harrison but they don't have the context yet for WTF is with all the sexism bullshit handling)

Don't give them Harry; give them M. John and skip the sexism, racist and anti-Catholic bigotry for somebody who can actually write.
posted by MartinWisse at 7:33 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Kim Stanley Robinson's "Mars" trilogy is in many ways a retelling of The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, but with more Gary Snyder and less 1950s male crazy. Also, much much more science.
posted by freebird at 7:45 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


I mean, dudes: I have a fucking Best Novel Hugo. If I can't be required or relied upon to have read [classic genre author], why should someone who just wants to a read a book on the goddamned train?

We're not talking about enjoying a well told space-story to pass the time on the train (and lord knows I've done that with yours) - we're talking about understanding milSF as a literary entity. It doesn't matter you didn't read Haldeman until after you wrote your entry in the genre - you were influenced and inspired by things he inspired and influenced, and by things that inspired and influenced him.

You don't need to read the Forever War to write or enjoy milSF. You do if you want to understand it.

I mean, I guess you can examine Elizabethan literature without reading anything by Shakespeare, but it's a pretty hard row to hoe - milestone works are a thing.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:45 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


Let's not make people choose between supporting the white establishment and disliking classics in a genre. I don't see any evidence that regular readers want that separation.
posted by michaelh at 7:46 AM on March 21


ok yeah i can't not comment on this. I grew up with TMIAHM in my house and I thought it was the best philosophy I ever read.

then in college i began to think that maybe it made assumptions about people that were untrue, and that the libertarian philosophy it presented was nice in theory but would only work in frontier environments, not in a bureaucratic government.

Then i thought, this book is trash and it promotes letting people die.

And now I think, man i really used to enjoy that book, didn't I?

Anyway, the idea of "canon" or essential books is, imo, incorrect. People should read what they like to read! Reading is about pleasure after all, and there's no recipe for that!

On the other hand, I think that it's important to understand what the books being written were written in response to. GRRM's ASOIAF is an awful, bleak, terrible book to a fresh-faced liberal tumblr naive innocent. But that's not who it's written for, and I'm sick of hearing people who judge the book on its moral merits alone, without considering the literary society it was created to speak to. You listen to only one side of a phone call and you can't truly understand what's being said.

something something authorial intent something something hugo
posted by rebent at 8:01 AM on March 21 [4 favorites]


Can I dispute their fan status based on the fact that they read the book and somehow totally missed the part where it wasn't about "the Prof, Wyoh, and a reluctant Mannie" conducting the revolution, but about Mike? Like, the main protagonist and chief actor in the plot? The most human character of them all? This review is as insightful as one complaining the story is terrible because the pidgin language is grammatically improper would be. Seriously, if you missed that Mike's arc was actually the big philosophical story, and the revolution was just the framework, that's just kind of being a bad book reader in general. (Or possibly cherry-picking based on being primed about Heinlein's freaky-deaky sexism or comical Ayn Rand idealism.) As the reviewers might have said, (hum...WHAT?).
posted by sldownard at 8:08 AM on March 21 [6 favorites]


I regards to Heinlein's racism and sexism:

In 1966, when The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress was written, 1970's-style "women's lib" wasn't even a thing yet, much less, 21st-century-style feminism. Martin Luther King was still alive and making speeches. The society Heinlein tries to get across in the book was, in terms of its treatment of women and non-whites, almost radically progressive. As bad as it sounds to modern ears, it had a bit of a different tone when the "mainstream" voice was that a woman's place was in the home, and that blacks should strive to be a credit to their race.

And Heinlein, even then, was a militaristic guy, with the same implications of being on the right wing that it has today. So, this was all the more remarkable coming from him.

He fails in a lot of ways. He doesn't go far enough, because he really can't imagine what truly independent women might be like in a society that supports that independence. And he doesn't get how a non-white man's voice might be as strong as his own, yet still have differences. He has a failure of imagination there and, I think, a failure of ideology as well in his naive trust that a meritocracy will prevail.

But he's engaging the issues of race and gender, acknowledging their importance, and trying to imagine something better than the time he lived in. I don't know what more you can expect of the guy.
posted by tyllwin at 8:10 AM on March 21 [11 favorites]


Arthur C Clarke and Isaac Asimov seem much less offensive to me, though. In some ways just not having major female characters is better than having terribly written sexist stereotypes.
posted by miyabo at 8:13 AM on March 21 [5 favorites]


What better way to illustrate this phenomenon then with a once-hip Simpsons reference:
Prof. Frink, substitute teacher for the preschoolers, demonstrates a popcorn lawnmower toy.

Frink: So the compression and expansion of the longitudinal waves cause the erratic oscillation – you can see it there – of the neighboring particles.

[child raises hand]

Frink: Yes? What is it. What. What is it?

Child: Can I play with it?

Frink: No, you can’t play with it. You won’t enjoy it on as many levels as I do. [Happy noises] The colors, children! [More noises]
posted by cardboard at 8:15 AM on March 21 [10 favorites]


What can I expect of him? I can expect him to be a good enough writer that his work endures in spite of that? He's just not good enough. And I say that as someone who modeled on his pacing and style in my own writing, to begin with.
posted by Peach at 8:17 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


MartinWisse - I think it's more the Stainless Steel Rat concept that I was enamoured of and wanted to share with them; the combo of mystery and crime but his damn wife - gah. Tech Time Machine and / Make Room Make Room can stand as summaries for now and they can get into it later.

I'm just surprised on reread to see how much of the traditional roles and sexist assumptions I managed to soak up despite my upbringing to the contrary.
posted by tilde at 8:18 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Jscalzi (yaaaay) writed: I have a fucking Best Novel Hugo.

Oh, look who Mr. All High And Mighty is, coming here and flashing around his writer credentials, making his points have more weight than others. ooooOOOOoooooh, so butch! I bet you go to MMO forums and talk about having played online games since 1965 or whatever, too.

Apples and Oranges you say? Logic is for whiners.

Slap*Happy chirped: You don't need to read the Forever War to write or enjoy milSF. You do if you want to understand it.

What? Seriously? You seriously believe this? I will go ahead and just point out that the reason that Haldeman's book resonates with people and why all good science fiction that succeeds resonates with people is because there are so many directions to approach it from. You are standing on one of dozens of bridges that lead across a river saying 'this is the only way.' Not only will people think you're ridiculous, most of them will probably form a low opinion of you based on that behavior.

Myself included.

Aught saided: I think it's a little unseemly to be self-servingly thumping about how dispensable great works of your genre are in a public forum.

All culture is dispensable. The need is universal, but every element of it is, individually, expendable. If this wasn't true, we would probably all be going to the Church Of The Sacred Mouse.
posted by Fuka at 8:18 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


It's not as if I'm going to go back in a time machine and scold Heinlein on being insufficiently progressive. It's not as though I'm holding up some yardstick for Heinlein that, being a person of his time and his background, would be impossible to live up to. But when I'm reading a book, I'm really hoping for some meeting of the minds, some basic I-get-this moment, and... when I don't have that, I can have a certain cold admiration of the book, but that's all.

It's impossible for me to read with different eyes than the ones I've got. You can count that as a flaw on my part, but there's a limit to what I'm going to slog through reading when I know that me and a book are just incompatible on a basic level.

Grilo and James aren't doing an in-depth critical review. They're doing reader response, and that's a legitimate approach to a book. I don't think it's meant to say "TMIAHM is a terrible book (in some objective sense)" or "Heinlein is a terrible person," but rather: what does this looks like when you read it with modern eyes?

There are a lot of old books that I love either because they're so beautiful that they're worth making the effort to try to cross the cultural and historical barriers(The Tale of Genji) or because the people in them act so much like real people that the cultural and historical barriers seem insignificant (Middlemarch). A lot of old science fiction classics just aren't going to pass that test, in the long term, and that's okay.
posted by Jeanne at 8:28 AM on March 21 [12 favorites]


"I have a fucking Best Novel Hugo."

I have Cher's autograph.

(mic drop).
posted by Chitownfats at 8:31 AM on March 21


Slap*Happy:

"You don't need to read the Forever War to write or enjoy milSF. You do if you want to understand it."

But again, not necessarily, if the modern milSF has no real point of contact with the Haldeman -- and trying to infer a contact there when it doesn't exist won't lead to understanding, merely to assertions about the field that have no basis in fact.

"you were influenced and inspired by things he inspired and influenced, and by things that inspired and influenced him."

Well, the latter part of that construction is neither here nor there in terms of my work. That he and I were both influenced by Heinlein, for example, does not mean that he then shares some responsibility for shaping my work. If you're going to go that route than I suppose John Ringo would be equally influential for my work; it's clearly influenced by Heinlein (and I had not read him prior to publication of OMW myself).

The former, on the other hand, is an assertion which may not be true. If you were to ask me the specific and direct historical antecedents for OMW, I would tell you Starship Troopers (both the book and the film), the video game Half-Life, and William Goldman (for the hopefully snappy dialogue). Not a whole lot of Haldeman there.

Don't get me wrong: having now read Forever War, I think it's very good, and I am very fond of Joe as a writer and a person. And if you are constructing a history of milSF and did not include him and his work in it, there would be a huge and inexplicable gap. But it's entirely possible to that large swathes of the milSF field have not been influenced by Joe because the writers did not come to publish on a path that included his work. Is Joe and his work influential? Absolutely -- on some writers in milSF. Not all.

But, you know, look: I've had conversations with people where they have flat out called me a liar when I mentioned I had not read Forever War before writing Old Man's War. They simply can't conceive that this would be a thing that could happen. After a certain point it's not worth having the argument with someone whose view of the field is that canalized. I'm not suggesting it in your case S*H, to be very clear. But you might see why I am skeptical regarding blanket statements in this particular arena.
posted by jscalzi at 8:32 AM on March 21 [12 favorites]


The first Heinlein novel I picked up was The Number of the Beast.

It was far from his first book that I'd read, probably the thirtieth or so but it was his first book in a decade and it was a big event in my life. I had read as many of his old books as I could find in book stores and libraries but finally he was coming out with a NEW BOOK! I got it the week it game out and was that a fucking let-down.

It was like Heinlein's version of Breakfast of Champions which I love but some writers should just not do meta-fiction.
posted by octothorpe at 8:33 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


this thread is becoming a harsh mistress.
posted by HumanComplex at 8:33 AM on March 21 [7 favorites]


It's not as if I'm going to go back in a time machine and scold Heinlein on being insufficiently progressive.

Oh man, I sure willan on-do it, if only for The Puppet Masters, which was the book that put me off him. See, about two-thirds of the way through, things look pretty bleak, with the world close to being entirely taken over by the titular body-controlling parasites. The female lead, who is exhausted and stressed out by this point, breaks down and cries. It's a perfectly natural reaction...but Heinlein has her apologize for being "weak and womanish". I nearly threw the book across the room.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 8:43 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


Related, there has been another ongoing SFWA blowup. http://amazingstoriesmag.com/2014/02/19th-nervous-breakdown-34th-kerfuffle-sfwa-petition/

Lot of Names protesting SFWA: Brin, Cherryh, Kress, Niven and Pournelle, Vinge...

Apparently the first draft of the petition had throwaway sexism and shit but Silverberg and Kress and a few others were in substantial agreement about the problems and worked on an acceptable current version.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 8:46 AM on March 21


I read and enjoyed Heinlein as a 13 year old, and I've avoided rereading his books as an adult precisely because the flaws would become the main event. Asimov was unreadable to me then and was even worse when I idly picked up one of his books a while back.

That doesn't mean there's something wrong with those who haven't read her works, or other important SF works, just that having read some of the great works of the genre might increase one's pleasure in reading current books by giving you a context and background in common genre tropes and plotlines. (The way the more you listen to a certain kind of music enhances your pleasure of listening to that genre of music, etc.)

I couldn't agree more. You can read and enjoy and appreciate a book without reading or even knowing anything about its antecedents. But if you want to talk about it in terms of the literary paths and the context, you need to read those earlier works. Like Scalzi describes above, a genre contains numerous paths and a particular author does not draw on that entire history -- but it is still a key part of how that author is contextualized and understood.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:46 AM on March 21


The Number of the Beast . . .

. . . was the late-career RAH distilled: a loose coalition of narcissistic type-A septuagenarian blow-hards, run around in the nude calling each other 'dear', while engaging in a six-hundred-page long argument about who's in command (and somehow have time to save the world while the combined governments, militaries, and academes of the world are unable to do so -- or are even unaware of the threat).

Kim Stanley Robinson's "Mars" trilogy is in many ways a retelling of The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, but with more Gary Snyder and less 1950s male crazy. Also, much much more science.

And hundreds of pages more tedium. Also: Trilogy!

think tentacles, methane breathers and redheads!

Oh I do, I do . . .
 
posted by Herodios at 8:54 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


while in Starship Trooper's it's only at the end that it's revealed the protagonist is Filipino. And neither differ one jot in outlook or character from any of his other protagonists, with their ethnic background making no difference whatsoever.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:30 AM on March 21


His ethnicity is completely irrelevant to his character, yes, but it's not revealed at the end. The only reason the main character is in the military to begin with is that when he is about to quit, Buenos Aires is bombed and that's his character's motivation for staying in the military (I think it's why his Dad joins too, although it's been awhile since I've read it).
posted by joannemerriam at 8:55 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Apparently the first draft of the petition had throwaway sexism and shit but Silverberg and Kress and a few others were in substantial agreement about the problems and worked on an acceptable current version.

SL Huang:

The Tiresome Fringe of SFWA: the Gift That Keeps On Giving
Can We Please Not Rewrite History, Folks? (More on the SFWA Petition, and Links.)
A Timeline of the 2013 SFWA Controversies
posted by zombieflanders at 8:58 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


Congrats to the OP, I was trying to figure out some way to put this or without being inflammatory to the point where the post would get canned.

Anyway, my perspective of the context involved here. This isn't really a debate about literary qualifications, but over the overall culture of F&SF fandom. It's not what people should read, but what they should believe in order to be fans.

This was triggered by a controversy regarding the Science Fiction Writers of America. The SFWA is the professional organization for F&SF writers, and it's magazine is supposed to be a professional trade journal, giving useful information on things like dealing with agents. The controversy erupted over things such as a picture of a woman in a chainmail bikini on the cover of an issue, and an editorial by a writer who advocated that women should act like Barbie.in the ending fracas, the editor resigned, and an editorial guidance board was set up. This led to a large backlash by a contingent of older fans who feared censorship and political correctness, and petition sponsored by a non-SFWA member signed by a number of luminaries such as Larry Niven and Robert Silverberg.Most recently the SFWA had announced it's separating from SFFnet, which has been a bulwark of the reactionary crowd.

So what does this mean? Basically, there's been for a long time in the F&SF community a developing schism, between the old school "Golden Age" writers and fans with a highly militaristic, patriarchal and engineering outlook, and the "younger" (in a relative sense) multicultural, multiracial, feminist "soft sciences" crowd. Up until fairly recently the "Golden Age" writers have dominated the face of the hobby, and have been reacting fiercely to pressure to make the hobby more inclusive.

So bottom line, the TMiaHM reviews should be put in the context of a culture war in the Hobby; it's a reaction to the idea that game should idolize and emulate Golden Age writers and attitudes.

So when someone says one shouldn't judge Heinlein by the standards today, bear in mind that the review is in response to people who say that his politics and attitudes should form the basis of the modern day F&SF community. When someone says of the reviewers that "They aren't fans" the response is "Well yeah", but not because of a failure to put Heinlein in historical context, but because they believe the wrong things to the old school crowd.

TL;DR: Heinlein and the others of the "Golden Four"aren't important in terms of their literary importance, but rather to a subset of F&SF writers and fans they are gatekeepers to the subculture. One can't be a member of the F&SF community unless one acknowledges that they, and their related attitudes and politics are the basis for the fandom. The review is from a community of fans who are saying "No that isn't true".
posted by happyroach at 9:02 AM on March 21 [24 favorites]


I'm shocked, shocked, that a novel written almost 50 years ago by a person born over 100 years ago, does not met today's lofty standards for science fiction writing.
posted by Argyle at 9:08 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Let's not make people choose between supporting the white establishment and disliking classics in a genre. I don't see any evidence that regular readers want that separation.

I don't see the argument as about that at all. The argument is about whether "Heinlein" should be the shibboleth for defining science fiction as a community. Such credential-checking is usually asked of people like my niece, who may or may not have read Heinlein but does wear her Tardis socks to Christmas dinner with her red hair from cosplaying Amy Pond. It's apparently being asked of writers who have published and won awards.

It's rarely leveled at me, a dumpy middle-aged white guy who found Asimov, Clarke, Herbert, MacCaffery, Niven, and Norton more interesting than the singular Heinlein I read as a teen. It's roughly the SF&F equivalent of the "fake geek girl" over in comics land.

On preview: what happyroach said.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:08 AM on March 21 [4 favorites]


I have the utmost respect for my mother, a life-long science fiction and fantasy fan now in her 70s. Her enthusiasm has never wavered, despite being a reader during the time period where, as she once put it, "the protagonist could be a miner on the Moon, but he still went to the payroll office once a week to pick up his wages and chase the secretary around the desk a little." When the best venues for new fiction were men's magazines like Playboy. She unabashedly loves Clarke, and Asimov, and Bradbury, and most of the old white man pantheon, though she's a Puerto Rican woman from the projects. (Anecdote: She was a scholarship student at a prestigious high school; at one point she was in danger of flunking Latin, and her father's punishment was to make her tear up her Fantastic Four comic books.)

Several years ago I was staying with Mom during her cancer treatment, and we were enjoying a LOTR marathon (huge Tolkien fan, too; for years my bedtime story was the first chapter of The Hobbit). We took a break to make piña coladas in the kitchen, and I tried to talk to her about representation and feminism and whatnot. "Doesn't it ever bother you, that you love this stuff so much, and made certain I would, too," because, I mean, the woman gave me a subscription to Omni when I was in grammar school, "and the heroes never look like you?" I fumbled around for the words. "Do you ever consider that you're not the intended audience?"

She laughed out loud. "Baby, very little in this world is meant for me." She winked over her glass. "I'm taking it, anyway."

That's a real fan.
posted by Iris Gambol at 9:17 AM on March 21 [124 favorites]


joannemerriam: "His ethnicity is completely irrelevant to his character, yes, but it's not revealed at the end. "

The guy's name is Rico FFS.
posted by Mitheral at 9:20 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


You can't really understand The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress without having read Gramsci's The Prison Notebooks, Genet's Journal du voleur, Belbenoit's Dry Guillotine or Pepys' Diary!



More seriously, though, I agree with some of the criticisms- it is a utopian libertarian fantasy of the sort Heinlein was especially known for, one that handwaves the question of mass consensus on a scale beyond that of small communities with the literal deus ex machina of a giant supercomputer. It is also particularly of a time with its gender roles (although not nearly as much when it comes to race and ethnicity).

At the same time, it does (even if unintentionally) introduce the problem of consent in libertarian societies within the context of omniscient artificial intelligence, something that Robinson hints at in 2312, and Banks would explore in much greater detail in the Culture novels. I think it is also quite good at exploring what a society organized around prison rules might look like (the role of reputation, the overt and ever-present and potential for violence), particularly as an illustration of Heinlein's own anarcho-capitalist ideas.

I think, ultimately, it is best read as an artifact of a particular period in SF, and as a document of Heinlein's own philosophies.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:23 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


There are references throughout ST to Johnnie speaking tagalog at home and to Ramon Magsaysay somewhere in the middle (when he starts officer's school?). To 13-yr old me, that was weird enough to mean a special trip to the library reference section to find out that Rico wasn't (as I had assumed) from southern Texas or something.
posted by bonehead at 9:32 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


The first Heinlein novel I picked up was The Number of the Beast.

Me too. I could never get into him after that, even though I read him at the Golden Age of junior high. I kept trying because I got told he was the Gold Standard for SFF fandom, and a lot of people, most importantly my ex-husband, kept telling me there was some book, if I would just try one more book, it would be the one that didn't skeeve me when I stopped and thought about it for two minutes. They never did. Eventually I stopped trying and that was a point of contention, too.

I think I did internalize the idea that you can't be a SF fan without reading Heinlein, though, because the net result is that other than near-future SF, and a retro fondness for Philip K Dick, I don't read much SF any more, and certainly not the hard stuff. (I keep thinking I ought to give jscalzi a try because I enjoy his blog/nonfiction, but the comparisons to Heinlein, meant to be so complimentary, are offputting. Sorry.) But give me some fantasy set outside generic faux-medieval Euro-whatever, and I'll be all over that.

(And yeah, I'm glad they're fighting to make SFF/fandom a more welcoming broadly welcoming place. I wish it had been for me instead of the dudes around me trying to cram more of an author I didn't like down my throat.)
posted by immlass at 9:35 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


But again, not necessarily, if the modern milSF has no real point of contact with the Haldeman -- and trying to infer a contact there when it doesn't exist won't lead to understanding, merely to assertions about the field that have no basis in fact.

I don't think that's a reasonable assumption. I doubt R.A. Salvatore has read any of the Icelandic Eddas, but they take an enormous hand in shaping the Drrzt Du'Orden novels, even through echoes of echoes.

Even so, if we give you the benefit of the doubt that John Ringo is working in a bell jar and there's no direct or indirect contact, using the Forever War to contrast some of the more reactionary, hawkish milSF that's been written, or to compare against more reasoned voices like your own, is extremely useful in understanding the motivations and assumptions of the works under consideration.

Since there are no absolutes, no, you don't need to read milestone works to grok the field - but it sure as shit helps.

Also, they're usually good books that are fun to read.

Usually.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:44 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


I would try Scalzi. He's nothing like Heinlein politically (or socially). People make the comparison because he has the ability to write fast-moving stories, as Heinlein did---or H. Beam Piper, whom I think is a more apt comparison. His Old Man's War and sequels do get a lot of attention, but it is MilSF, which may not be to your taste. I would instead recommend Redshirts, the novel which won him his professional Hugo.
posted by bonehead at 9:46 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Iris Gambol: "She laughed out loud. "Baby, very little in this world is meant for me." She winked over her glass. "I'm taking it, anyway.""

Your mom is my hero! She sounds like an amazing lady. Love this.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 9:46 AM on March 21 [6 favorites]



I have to bite my tongue hard whenever people call it "SciFi".

What should I call the genre to save your precious tongue?

The solution is right under your noses: Fiction of Science.

You're soaking in it™ . . .
 
posted by Herodios at 9:50 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Fictions Touching Upon Matters Scientific, Speculative, and Allegorical
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:00 AM on March 21 [6 favorites]



I really pity readers of any type of fiction who cannot put their politics aside and simply enjoy a ripping yarn.

> Fiction often is implicitly or explicitly political, especially in SF&F where having characters and settings serve as mouthpieces for politics is something of a thing in the genre, the old white guys are just as guilty of it as the "insect army" of feminist and multicultural writers.


Exactly. If you think that these WHITE MALE HERO stories aren't just as political as stories the interrogate our assumptions about gender or race or sexuality, it's because they're telling a political story that aligns with your worldview.

Further, while objections to pervasive sexism or racism or other exclusion and marginalization of not-white not-men might strike some readers as abstractions about "their politics," for me and for other not-white not-men, it's not only about politics but about my actual life, every damned day.

For a lot of my youth, reading science fiction meant reading stories that reinforce, sometimes subtly and sometimes not, the tacit belief that I am not entirely human, that I don't fall into the narrow category defined as the drivers and heroes and protagonists of these stories.

After a lifetime being told stories through that narrow perspective, I decided fuck it, there are too many excellent tales in the world for me to read books that so egregiously and insistently deny the importance or even existence of people who look and talk and live like I do.
posted by Elsa at 10:03 AM on March 21 [19 favorites]


But I didn't make a checklist of all the Golden Age authors and stomp grimly through the list; prior to me entering the field, you might be amazed at the list of classic SF authors I hadn't read.

I totally did that as a teen. I had a list of Nebula and Hugo winners and determinedly trudged through as many as I could find. Not sure that I could remember 3/4s of them by now.
posted by octothorpe at 10:07 AM on March 21


But I didn't make a checklist of all the Golden Age authors and stomp grimly through the list; prior to me entering the field, you might be amazed at the list of classic SF authors I hadn't read.

I think this is part of why Among Others didn't work for me; it wasn't just about growing up with books, it was about growing up with these particular books in a particular way that didn't speak to me.
posted by jeather at 10:09 AM on March 21


She laughed out loud. "Baby, very little in this world is meant for me." She winked over her glass. "I'm taking it, anyway."

This is the best distillation I've ever seen of how to successfully approach the problem.
posted by PMdixon at 10:30 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


PMdixon: "She laughed out loud. "Baby, very little in this world is meant for me." She winked over her glass. "I'm taking it, anyway.""

Yep, this is full of win. Sorry about those Fantastic Four comics though; Your Mom Had a Harsh Master.
posted by chavenet at 10:34 AM on March 21


You can't possibly understand Tolkien without having read the Prose Edda and the Nibelungenlied in the original Klingon.
posted by uosuaq at 10:37 AM on March 21 [12 favorites]


The first Heinlein novel I picked up was The Number of the Beast.
This was a Poor Decision.


I LOLed because of my experience reading it with only Starship Troopers and Stranger in a Strange Land to 'prepare' me... it was like the Spanish Inquisition, no one expects it. Then, I lent it to a co-worker, the most Intellectual shipping clerk I've ever known (and one of the proudest underachievers), with appropriate warning, and after the weekend he returned the paperback, wrapped and sealed in 14 layers of shrinkwrap and covered with warning labels from the shipping department... it was the most concise and definitive book review I'd ever seen.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:48 AM on March 21 [14 favorites]


I think there's an awful lot of "you have to be completely in one camp or the other" going on which is a result of the Science Fiction Culture War which happyroach mentions. But you don't have to be in one camp or the other. One can completely reject the position of folks like Weisskopf (as I clearly do) while still maintaining like Slap*Happy does that being familiar with the history of the genre leads to a richer understanding of it.

That's not a requirement and I don't know how many times I have to say that it doesn't make you a lesser fan but I do not think we'd even be getting disagreement if we were having the same discussion about a different art form or medium. How many people would object to the idea that knowing more about older Westerns shines a new light on Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven? Not many, I think. Or various bands and their influences. And so on.

I don't know what it is about SF that means people feel like you have to see each work as an isolated object taken in and of itself when we wouldn't say the same about other art. It must be part of the culture war, but screw that. The crazy old reactionaries can be rejected without tossing out the historical context of the modern genre.
posted by Justinian at 10:54 AM on March 21 [4 favorites]


> "I'm shocked, shocked, that a novel written almost 50 years ago by a person born over 100 years ago, does not met today's lofty standards ..."

You know, this argument is being made a lot here, and I don't buy it. Yes, there was plenty of sexism etc. in both the culture of literature of 1966. But I could probably name 30 books in five minutes, written in 1966 and earlier, that DO NOT suffer from Heinlein's fetishism for barely pubescent girls and inability to imagine women who sound like they might be able to exist independently of men.

Judging Heinlein by the standards of his time, he still sometimes seems pretty gross. I am not someone who thinks Heinlein should be thrown away, and respect (some of) what he was trying to do and achieved, but can we please not pretend that the idea that women have personalities was invented out of whole cloth by Russ, Le Guin, and Tiptree in 1975?
posted by kyrademon at 10:58 AM on March 21 [12 favorites]


jscalzi: You hadn't read Haldeman, but had you read Starship Troopers?

Martin: Actually, Haldeman has said that The Forever War was not a response to Starship Troopers

Wow, deja vu. We've had this conversation before on rasfw. Well, maybe not you and I specifically but it was certainly part of the gestalt. I'm fully aware of Haldeman's comments but it doesn't change the fact that TFW functions as a response to ST whether or not he wrote it intending it to do so.
posted by Justinian at 10:59 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


> "I think this is part of why Among Others didn't work for me; it wasn't just about growing up with books, it was about growing up with these particular books in a particular way that didn't speak to me."

Interesting point ... I wonder if that's why I liked it more than my SO did; I'd read a lot more of those books as a child. And in fact, I remember there being one particular book mentioned in Among Others that I hadn't read, and sort of dropping out of the story for a while at that point.
posted by kyrademon at 10:59 AM on March 21


The old usenet archives on Google seem offline again, goddammit.
posted by Justinian at 11:10 AM on March 21


I think a lot of it was that I wasn't isolated in any way near the same way -- I had friends and I had books, but I didn't feel the need to have friends who read the same books, or even who read books as avidly. Partially it was that I didn't read a lot of those books as a child, but partially it was that I never felt reading the same books was the only way I could share a world with someone else.

And I don't know why that doesn't work for me but books about superheroes or magic or whatever do, because I don't have superpowers or magic either. Maybe it seemed to universalize an experience of growing up that wasn't universal and had a weird True Child Fan sense (that might have been more from the discussion surrounding the book than in the book itself) about it.
posted by jeather at 11:12 AM on March 21


Among Others does show why this discussion is so important to a lot of people, though. Because it is central to their identity and journey into adulthood.
posted by Justinian at 11:26 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


> I would try Scalzi. He's nothing like Heinlein politically (or socially).

Do you think bonehead tl;dr'ed this thread? You can't understand comment #5472128 if you never read comment #5471843!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:27 AM on March 21


The thing is, I feel books are central to my identity and journey into adulthood. Different books, and in a very different way, but that doesn't make them less important to me.
posted by jeather at 11:31 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


I totally did that as a teen. I had a list of Nebula and Hugo winners and determinedly trudged through as many as I could find. Not sure that I could remember 3/4s of them by now.

I also started out by dredging though many old paperback bricks with titles like "50 Randomly Chosen Old Science Fiction Short Stories". I have forgotten most of what I read back then, but I do remember having a lot of fun. Then it was just a little skip onto 'Alpha', 'Orbit' & 'Dangerous Visions'.

"I'm shocked, shocked, that a novel written almost 50 years ago by a person born over 100 years ago, does not met today's lofty standards ..."

I'm always willing to give old school writers the benefit of my doubts considering the cultural context that they lived in. I'll even concede respect for the technical skills of some artists with awful political views (I'm thinking of a couple of talented fascist poets).

But with Heinlein, it just smells funny. I had thought this decades ago when I was rather young and first started reading him. It's like he's just interesting enough to not be forgotten by today, but he's just not quite clever enough to make up for his annoying tone-deaf phases.
posted by ovvl at 11:33 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Periodized attempts at social progressivism and conceptual deconstruction are the genre convention that ATTRACTS me to SF. Hard SF doesn't appeal to me particularly, lacking this. Give me Butler AND Heinlein and, by all means, Zardoz.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:33 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


jscalzi: "people who write in genre don't always follow the presumed path through the genre library before they themselves start writing. My own path through science fiction had Heinlein in it, yes. But I didn't make a checklist of all the Golden Age authors and stomp grimly through the list; prior to me entering the field, you might be amazed at the list of classic SF authors I hadn't read. "

And yet. Old Man's War is clearly a product of that tradition. You've obviously either read Asimov and Heinlein, or you've read books by authors who have.
posted by straight at 11:47 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


I really pity readers of any type of fiction who cannot put their politics aside and simply enjoy a ripping yarn.

I pity readers of any type of fiction who cannot enjoy a ripping yarn without turning off their critical faculties.

It's not either/or. And just because I want to talk about my political criticisms of a book doesn't mean I can't/didn't enjoy the story. You can enjoy something and be critical of it at the same time.
posted by straight at 11:48 AM on March 21 [8 favorites]


The crazy old reactionaries can be rejected without tossing out the historical context of the modern genre.

There's a lot of difference between reading a book for its historical context and reading it for a ripping yarn. Not that there's a wrong way to read any of these books, but I'm not saying people who enjoy Heinlein shouldn't. More power to y'all! But his books skeeve me and if it's required for me to read and enjoy him to be in fandom, that branch of fandom can kiss my reading-loving ass.
posted by immlass at 11:58 AM on March 21 [5 favorites]


You don't need to read Starship Troopers to read Old Man's War, but in a generation, no one will read Starship Troopers who hasn't read Old Man's War or something more contemporary. Those who read Starship Troopers when it was new and exciting will be long gone, and almost everyone starts reading a genre with contemporary stuff. At that point, some who try it will finish it, and many others will throw it down when it goes into its reactionary mode. Why bother when there's so much stuff that doesn't do that? The same goes with the old books filled with sexism. Why bother?

I don't mean this normatively, but descriptively. There are huge swathes of American 19th and early 20th century novels that no one reads anymore, not because they are badly written, but because every few pages you get a swift punch of racism or sexism. Why bother? In a couple generations, the bulk of people who read these hundred-year-old SF books will be college students reading them on syllabi. There are only 14 weeks in a semester; why read Heinlein when you can read LeGuin, or even Bradbury or Dick if you must have something from the 50s? That is the future of SF. In the end it won't matter whether Heinlein is to blame for his sexism (he is); people will just skip it, and the adventurous who read it on their own won't bother to recommend it to their friends. Historical relativism ("he couldn't have known otherwise") is a rearguard action, and that's for the better.

That said, it's an interesting question where the canon will be in a couple decades, when the old guard has passed away. Those who grew up with the new wave as their foundational SF don't even believe in canons the way the old white 50s folks do. Presumably the whole thing will devolve the way all literary studies have (to the dismay of the right) into an archipelago of interests, and the "canon" will go the same way that all the other archaic meanings of that word have.
posted by chortly at 12:01 PM on March 21 [8 favorites]


And yet. Old Man's War is clearly a product of that tradition. You've obviously either read Asimov and Heinlein, or you've read books by authors who have.

Ok - at the risk of sounding like a huge downer.

Your idea that he could only have gotten these ideas from those sources or those chains of sources is crazy. It makes it seem like those authors were the only people who had those ideas ever and it flies in the face of reality.

These men were successfull and being successful made them special. Their ideas were not unique, only their success selling them was unique. Or not so unique.

Please, stop trying to ram the ideas around 'specialness' down everyone's throats. Not everyone is fixated on statistical outliers and we did not all get our ideas and our successes from other, better people. Some ideas are ubiquitous.
posted by Fuka at 12:09 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


I don't know what it is about SF that means people feel like you have to see each work as an isolated object taken in and of itself when we wouldn't say the same about other art.

I don't see anyone actually advocating that. What is happening is that some people (not on metafilter) are putting a lot of work into denying how this decade's emerging feminist and multicultural (although I'm not certain that's the best term for it) authors and fans are expanding on and extending the traditions of science fiction since the golden age. For example, you have Karen Lord's explicitly feminist and afro-futurist Best of All Possible Worlds that quotes Bradbury and uses ideas previously explored by Clarke and Farmer to create a curated diaspora.

That the traditionalists have pushed Heinlein forward as the figurehead for science fiction literacy strikes me as a bit of trolling since he does present a number of critical paradoxes.

He's also not the only author of importance in SF history. I've been reading SF&F in some form or another since I was old enough to pick out books with spaceships at the library. That's just shy of four decades, and never in all that time, have I been quizzed on my understanding of Heinlein. Probably because as a pasty white guy with glasses, I fit the stereotype.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:17 PM on March 21 [4 favorites]


Traditions are post-hoc phenomena. You can participate in a tradition before it exists, so long as the stewards of that tradition (probably self-appointed) regard you as a part of it. Like how the scholars of the Italian Renaissance probably didn't know quite what moment of history they were in.

It may be very useful to group books into genres in some particular way. In itself it isn't very enlightening about anything--well, perhaps it does say something about the nature of your interest in those books.
posted by LogicalDash at 12:17 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


> "I'm shocked, shocked, that a novel written almost 50 years ago by a person born over 100 years ago, does not met today's lofty standards ..."

I read most of Heinlein's novels in the mid-seventies and even as a teenage boy, I thought that his stuff was pretty embarrassingly sexist and dated.
posted by octothorpe at 12:36 PM on March 21 [6 favorites]


Justinian:

"jscalzi: You hadn't read Haldeman, but had you read Starship Troopers?"

As noted in the thread, yes. Nor was this is a stealth influence, as I took pains to thank Heinlein in the OMW acknowledgements.

Straight:

"And yet. Old Man's War is clearly a product of that tradition. You've obviously either read Asimov and Heinlein, or you've read books by authors who have."

Yes, and I don't deny a strong line from my work to Heinlein (Asimov, not so much; I liked his nonfiction writing better than his fiction). However, where I entered the conversation was on a statement relating to Haldeman, who I had not read until well after I became a published SF novelist.

Which is rather to my point, however -- the path every writer takes through the genre is likely to be unique to them, and may or may not include a survey of acknowledged masters of the field. And as time goes by, this is ever more likely to be the case. My daughter, who writes very well (he said, bragging), has no interest in Heinlein; I tried to give her some and she bounced off it. Her influences, should she become a professional writer, are likely to be significantly different from mine.
posted by jscalzi at 12:44 PM on March 21 [4 favorites]


...arguably Heinlein's greatest novel ?

No, that would be Beyond this Horizon, and inarguably at that.

Babel-17 by Samuel Delany and Planet of Exile by Ursula K. LeGuin were published the same year as The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

As was Jack Vance's The Blue World, The Last Castle, Eyes of the Overworld and the short story The Moon Moth.

He is a lot like Ayn Rand, really, except for being about twelve million times better as a writer.

More like maybe thrice.

I read Heinlein from grade school on, starting with the juveniles The Rolling Stones, Farmer in the Sky, Between Planets, Tunnel in the Sky, Citizen of the Galaxy and so forth, and I thought Heinlein was the greatest science fiction writer evar.

Stranger in a Strange Land, however was when he lost me. God, that book was awful. As was everything he wrote thereafter.

And then, in the same time as that thereafter, I read the Moon Moth and Green Magic by Vance and The Man in the High Castle, Martian Time Slip and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, all of them when they came out, and I was gone. Two different writers, 180 degrees apart, and yet so head, shoulders, waist, knees and feet above Heinlein for me then and now.
posted by y2karl at 12:52 PM on March 21 [10 favorites]


As noted in the thread, yes. Nor was this is a stealth influence, as I took pains to thank Heinlein in the OMW acknowledgements.

Yeah, it was a rhetorical question. OMW just took its influence directly from the source rather than second-hand through Haldeman. That doesn't really change my point, though, which is that if you want a full understanding of the genre you really do need to read the early stuff that influences the later stuff.

But you're no more or less of a real fan either way.
posted by Justinian at 12:53 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


John, considering the kerfuffle generated by your daughter's first exposure to a vinyl LP, I can't imagine the meltdown that will take place if and when she gets published and then says, "no I never did read any Charlie Stross".
posted by Ber at 12:54 PM on March 21


Jesus, now that I think about it, I started out with Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. My first science fiction novel. *shudders*
posted by y2karl at 12:58 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


I read Moon is a Harsh Mistress when I was probably twelve, which would have been 'round 1969. It bugged me for YEARS about Mike losing self-awareness. Yeah, Heinlein had his faults and we're all aware of them. But there was a time when he made an impact on a lot of young genre readers. A friend of mine, who came out of the closet in his 20s, found something in Stranger in a Strange Land that kept him going through his hellish teens.

I don't read any of the old masters anymore. I expect most artists in any medium are not familiar with ALL of their predecessors. I did have fun at my old office with dropping the Kinks Kronikles anthology on the desks of twenty-somethings with their own bands. They ALWAYS returned it in a few days, quivering and saying, "I had no idea that this music existed." It was beautiful.
posted by Ber at 1:03 PM on March 21 [3 favorites]


I used to belong to the science fiction book club, which advertised in the back of magazines and seemed primarily designed to put 10-year-olds into a sort of debt now only experienced by graduate students. Not only did I read a lot of Heinlein, but I suspect I may have wound up paying $40 for each of his books.

I reckon it was worth it for The Green Hills of Earth.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:04 PM on March 21 [4 favorites]


I read most of Heinlein's novels in the mid-seventies and even as a teenage boy, I thought that his stuff was pretty embarrassingly sexist and dated.

I could say the same thing. The odd part is that Heinlein is also making weird stabs at being progressive and provocative at the same time. So the overall effect comes across as kinda creepy and really uneven. If he was just merely old-fashioned-style sexist and dated, nobody would really care about this too much anymore.
posted by ovvl at 1:05 PM on March 21 [3 favorites]


Tom Corbett, Space Cadet.

Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet.
 
posted by Herodios at 1:05 PM on March 21 [2 favorites]


I'm going to finally jump in here after reading all of the comments (I love long threads).

I think the biggest mistake that anyone is making is letting anyone who believes that just because you haven't read every single thing in the exact same order that they did, that you are somehow lacking. This argument has one very simple answer. Obligatory XKCD "Ten Thousand".

That right there is the problem. The mistake is in believing that the particular way in which you experienced something is the only way in which something should/ought/can be experienced. That is fundamentally wrong, and I think it shows a particular inability for most people to recognize their own past self in the experiences of others (which is so funny, given American/Western cultures obsession with youth and innocence, but that a whole different topic).

Next comment in the works, mostly because I'm going to go somewhere completely different.
posted by daq at 1:08 PM on March 21 [2 favorites]


> "I used to belong to the science fiction book club ..."

Oh, man, memories. My whole family would pass around the little catalog flyer they sent out and we'd all circle which books we wanted ...
posted by kyrademon at 1:09 PM on March 21 [3 favorites]


I started out with Tom Corbett, Space Cadet.

Ha, me too, or at least that's one of the earliest.

I really strongly suspect that one's been visited by the Suck Fairy in the years since, so probably best if it stays in the realm of dim but pleasant memories.
posted by soundguy99 at 1:11 PM on March 21


As may be obvious, I don't believe in a F&SF canon, but sometimes some context is useful or entertaining. For instance, knowing some MilSF helps in realizing that part of "Singularity Sky" was a big middle finger to that subgenre.

But the thing is, while that context was fun, it wasn't necessary. It gave me an amusing moment of "I see what you did there", but ultimately it had little to do with the major strengths and weaknesses of the novel. I think that the case with most well-written F&SF is that knowledge of the past is most useful in avoiding repetition or reinventing the wheel.

Even then, I think one can take the idea of being conversant too far; would a modern story about a colony on Ganymede reslly need the writer to have read "Farmer in the Sky"? , Or would it actually be a hindrance, since science and culture is completely different?
posted by happyroach at 1:24 PM on March 21


"Extruded Fantasy Product"

Fox News?
posted by [@I][:+:][@I] at 1:27 PM on March 21 [4 favorites]


I was thinking about The Moon is a Harsh Mistress recently, after having read Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed for the first time. Both try to picture a functioning anarchy, and while they're very different books despite having that in common, holy shit does Le Guin ever bury Heinlein as a writer. Even a superficial comparison makes Heinlein look very bad indeed. Le Guin had the big ideas that the 'old masters' of sci-fi did, but she also loaded her stories with a humanity and maturity of thought that most of her better-known peers were incapable of even approaching.
posted by picea at 1:34 PM on March 21 [12 favorites]


I grew up in a house that was very well-stocked with classic SF, mostly from the 40s through the 60s, Heinlein, (as well as Asimov, et al). I read MIAHM during the golden age (I was about 11) and loved it; the story was exciting, the characters were all sorts of folks I'd not encountered much in SF (they were almost always white male engineers).
Later I re-read it and saw the flaws; still later, a real disappointment. I can still remember fondly the first readings, though.
I think it might have been progressive (or an attempt to be) when first written, but it was of its time just as its author, and that is all too apparent now.

As for the "you must read X before Y"--no, I don't think so, though it might provide insight.
What really annoys me is the phenomenon of authors who have read nothing in the field writing a SF novel, and then, when it is badly recieved as re-hashing old ground, or making rookie mistakes, or just being dull and pretentious, saying "I guess the SF fans just don't like real literature".
And yes, I'm talking about Theroux, DeLillo, Atwood, Lessing, etc., with a special dislike of Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow. Some of these I like quite a bit, but not their SF...

And my favorite Heinlein is Double Star.
posted by librosegretti at 1:35 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


THis is just weird to me because I thought this had all been settled in the fucking 70's at the latest. It's like the New Wave never happened. I started out reading Heinlein juveniles, and Asimov and Bradbury and probably Clarke because that was what they had in the school library when I was in 3rd grade, and I liked 'em all, because I was 9, and there were all kindsa rocket ships!

But really only the B out of the ABC's there could really write worth a damn, and after I discovered Dick and Delany and LeGuin and Leiber and Sturgeon and Zelazny and Effinger- basically, the next couple of generations of writers - I never looked back. Well, OK, I did read Number of the Beast because for some reason that was a big deal... and probably the less said about that the better... but certainly by the time I was anywhere near a grownup, and had read Lem and Brunner and Gibson (when the stories started coming out in the magazines) and so many others it seemed obvious to me that the genre had matured along the way, in the last decade or so, i.e. the 60's and 70's.

The idea that Manly Self-Reliant Men, in SPAAACE, doing Manly Self-Reliant Things to Each Other was the only proper subject of SF seemed self-evidently ridiculous to me 30 fucking years ago.

To me, saying that Heinlein is not only necessary but practically sufficient as canon/model/whatever is something like saying that not only must you have watched The Birth of a Nation (a silent film made by a man born in 1875) in order to make or understand movies, but that it continues to be the model for what movies can and should be.

I'm not accusing Heinlein of being a huge fan of the KKK, just saying that there's so much ideological and sociological cruft there, that newer readers are probably way better off skipping him, because whatever was good there was imitated, more skillfully, by his successors, and the rest can safely be left on the shelf.
posted by hap_hazard at 1:39 PM on March 21 [5 favorites]


But really only the B out of the ABC's there could really write worth a damn

Al Bester was indeed a good author.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:43 PM on March 21 [3 favorites]


You're damn skippy he was and I remembered I forgot to mention him right as the edit window closed. If there was canon built around that guy... and I don't know why there's not... we'd be having a whole different conversation here.
posted by hap_hazard at 1:52 PM on March 21 [3 favorites]


His ethnicity is completely irrelevant to his character
Assuming for the sake of argument that this is true, am I the only one who doesn't see this as a necessarily bad thing? In any other context, if I saw Person X complaining that "Person Y just assumes that non-white people think the same way white people do!", I wouldn't be taking this as evidence that Person Y was racist...
posted by roystgnr at 1:56 PM on March 21


Pehaps what the original "over 30" poster was thinking is that children and teens react differently to books than adults.

Indeed, and not just books. I chose 30 so there was some buffer room, but children and adolescents are far more likely to wallpaper their bedrooms with posters of their favorite bands, or obsessively learn the detailed history of Studio Ghibli and their idol Miyazaki, or know exactly where Benedict Cumberbatch is at this moment.

Of course those are pretty extreme forms of fandom, but that was what I had in the back of my mind when I wrote my original comment. People who are looking for an identity and finding it by becoming immersed in a life or world that provides them a comfortable one.

They also accept those worlds uncritically. Justin Bieber can do no wrong. Ayn Rand suffers at the hands of the jealous. People who pontificate endlessly are wise and fun to be around.

I suppose the definition of "real fan" I was using was one who considers the work perfect and will defend it against all comers. A little narrow now that I think of it.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:00 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Bester is absolutely part of the SF canon. The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination are acknowledged classics.
posted by Justinian at 2:02 PM on March 21 [4 favorites]


The Stars My Destination made it into the Library of America Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s. PK Dick has 2 entire volumes.
posted by librosegretti at 2:14 PM on March 21


Bester is absolutely part of the SF canon.

Awesome! I guess part of my point was that I don't even know anymore. But is there a publishing imprint (like Baen Books apparently is for SPACE MARINES) dedicated to futuristic Joycean wordplay and Mad-Ave-hepcat mindfuckery? Because that would be cool.
posted by hap_hazard at 2:20 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


I read MIAHM during the golden age (I was about 11) and loved it; the story was exciting, the characters were all sorts of folks I'd not encountered much in SF (they were almost always white male engineers).
posted by librosegretti at 3:35 PM on March 21


Well, for MIAHM specifically, not all of them - significant numbers of his characters in that book were black or Chinese or multi-racial in some way, it's just really easy to miss since practically the only time he acknowledges it is when there's that throwaway sentence about the racist Kentucky judge who throws Manny into jail for bigamy because the photo of his family is of people of lots of different colors.

It's like Heinlein thought you could have a post-racial future where race is as invisible as, say, hair color, but where judges in the USA are simultaneously shocked, shocked I say, to find out that black and white people are marrying each other. It's a weird failure of world-building that arises from his good intentions (I think) of trying to be forward-thinking, but not really being able to get out of his own way.
posted by joannemerriam at 2:50 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Tell Me No Lies: "I wonder if anyone truly becomes a fan of something they first encounter after age 30?"

I discovered hip hop 8 years ago when I was 32 and can't imagine life without it now. And 3 or 4 years ago I discovered photography and am working hard to change my career path from IT drone to photographer. I'll make it one day :)
posted by starscream at 2:53 PM on March 21


And I just realized I had a total reading comprehension fail there. Sorry, librosegretti.
posted by joannemerriam at 3:03 PM on March 21


I wonder if anyone truly becomes a fan of something they first encounter after age 30?

I think I was close to 30 when I discovered Aimee Mann, and became a total fangirl. I have to stop myself from telling people "OMG you have to listen to her she is SO FUCKING GOOD."

It happens less when you're older, because your standards are so much higher. "Oh, this again," you say when you see yet another thing that's just a redo of a thing you've seen before.

But now and again, something really good and original comes along, and you enjoy it that much more.

I tried to get through Stranger in a Strange Land in high school, and came away baffled and bored. I haven't intentionally tried any Heinlein since (I think I've run across a few of his short stories) because none of the plots, as described, interest me. Life is so short, and I just don't feel motivated to force myself through a book that doesn't appeal to me so I can call myself a "real" fan of a genre.

And also:

There are huge swathes of American 19th and early 20th century novels that no one reads anymore, not because they are badly written, but because every few pages you get a swift punch of racism or sexism.

So much this. I don't hate on anyone who loves problematic authors; I have loved many of them myself. But if someone doesn't share my love of Jane Eyre because they can't get over the idea of a hero who locks up his insane wife and tries to commit bigamy with an innocent governess, well, I can't argue with them on that one.
posted by emjaybee at 3:13 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


tilde: if you enjoyed the energy and intelligence of the Stainless Steel Rat as much as the criminality, you should check out the Vorkosigan series. Miles Vorkosigan is brilliant like the Rat, and while more honourable & law-abiding, pretty happy to be rule-bending.
posted by jb at 3:19 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


She laughed out loud. "Baby, very little in this world is meant for me." She winked over her glass. "I'm taking it, anyway."

That's a real fan.
posted by Iris Gambol


Your story gave me goosebumps of wonder and delight.
posted by jb at 3:32 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


I chose 30 so there was some buffer room, but children and adolescents are far more likely to wallpaper their bedrooms with posters of their favorite bands, or obsessively learn the detailed history of Studio Ghibli and their idol Miyazaki,

Well, I suppose I was 23 when I first discovered Miyasaki, but I didn't become OBSESSIVE about Studio Ghibli until I was 25-26. No posters, just the Totoro doll and every DVD I can get. Started watching Doctor Who at age 28, and now have Tardis Socks, a Tardis piggy-bank, toy daleks, a Tardis blanket...

and, like I said, I started reading Bujold when I was 30-something, and read everything she published and then what others wrote too -- and if there were posters of Miles as he looks in my mind, I probably would put it on my wall.

maybe I'm just really immature.

Hey - did anyone see the recent Doctor Who episode with Warwick Davis in it? He may be too old to play 17-year-old Miles, but he'd be perfect as 30-something Miles. Just the right balance of being noble and down-to-earth.
posted by jb at 3:43 PM on March 21


I mean, dudes: I have a fucking Best Novel Hugo

You see this Best Novel Hugo? You see this Best Novel Hugo?
This Best Novel Hugo cost more than your car.
posted by Ratio at 3:53 PM on March 21 [2 favorites]


To be honest, crossing over age 30 often implies somewhat less attention paid to latest new developments in genre music or genre literature than in the youthful years when we had more free time. But there are exceptions which test the rule. As mentioned above, I was over 30 when Iain M. Banks started rejigging Space Opera, and that was a big deal to me.
posted by ovvl at 3:56 PM on March 21


I really pity readers of any type of fiction who cannot put their politics aside and simply enjoy a ripping yarn.

You're assuming that there's a universal definition of ripping yarn.

Few things rip me out of a story like a badly thought out character. Which means that yeah, Heinlein's set of rotating set of woman shaped cardboard cut outs is distracting enough that whatever other redeeming qualities his writing may have are lost on me. I don't really view having the same standard for male and female characters as political.
posted by Gygesringtone at 3:56 PM on March 21 [5 favorites]


His ethnicity is completely irrelevant to his character

I have known several Filipino-Americans pretty well - if a boring book was written of things we did together like "sit at the high school lunch table" "go to college" or "go out to a bar" it would include roughly as little THIS IS A FILIPINO PERSON LOOK AT THEM BEING VERY EXPLICITLY FILIPINO AND TALKING ABOUT BEING FILIPINO ALL THE TIME as the novel.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 4:19 PM on March 21 [4 favorites]


And my favorite Heinlein is Double Star.

Beyond This Horizon aside, By His Bootstraps is mine. The young Heinlein was a far more interesting writer than the Get Off My Lawnlein.
posted by y2karl at 4:23 PM on March 21 [2 favorites]


maybe I'm just really immature.

Or perhaps my thesis is really off in the weeds. From the responses to my original question I'm going with that one.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:24 PM on March 21


The revolution is the friggin' back-drop. It's a buddy film starring Mike and Manny.
posted by Zed at 4:39 PM on March 21 [2 favorites]


Goddamn Suck Fairy.
posted by homunculus at 4:49 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Well, just spent did a rush scan of the review, enough to conclude it seems like a politically correct hatchet job analysis full of pretentious-speak about a science fiction story that is aimed at the 13-year-old techno-geek of the mid-60's. For that time period, Heinlein's descriptions of life on the moon were compelling, from the descriptions of day to day life to the politics and sexual configurations of that society. I don't mean to say they were in any way accurate or real, just that they formed a powerful backdrop to his story line. He wasn't writing for literary review critics, he aimed at a mass market of wanna-be space nuts, kids and adults who wanted an escapist yarn mixed with heroism and a science fiction theme. His story's particular charm lay in the quirks and interactions of his characters. If the story line was a little thin on probability, still he made up for it with world building that drew you in. His Mannie was seen again in Willam Gibson's short stories, I'm thinking of the short that Neuromancer was based on with a character who had an artificial arm. It's a great gimmick, seen in Larry Niven's shorts as well.
I must have read MIAHM a dozen times at least along with other stalwarts.
Once I went back and read a Murray Leinster book (The Wailing Asteroid) that I remember as being amazing. Ouch! Likewise Crown of Infinity by John Faucette. The Suck Fairy took its toll. Won't be reading MIAHM again...or will I?
posted by diode at 4:59 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


My very mixed feelings on Heinlein run, as they say, the gamut. Stranger in a Strange Land was one of about only three books I've ever read that vexed me so much I put it aside feeling both confused and disgusted (this was when its reputation was at its height for its "vision of a better world", or something on those lines). I read and enjoyed Moon is a Harsh Mistress because when Heinlein is good he can just romp along telling the story, and I really liked the jarringness of the voice, with the articles dropped and that kind of telegraphing style.

But there is one book I loved by Heinlein, and it's a minor one, one of the juveniles: The Rolling Stones. I probably have chunks of it memorized to this day. It is sharp, and funny, and more importantly has Hazel Stone, who is a grandmother and who is brilliant. At one point Hazel and her grandson, riding a kind of space moped, get lost in the Asteroid Belt. Hazel sets the call beacon for help and with a shrug, because she's lived a good long life, hooks up her oxygen tank to the boy's. Meanwhile there's a frantic search going on; the twins, Castor and Pollux, realize in the nick of time that the search parties are looking in the wrong area. How? They put themselves in Hazel's position. And then came the line of dialogue which made me, a ten year old girl, thrill beyond measure: "Think about it. Hazel is a pilot. She'd fly that thing like a broomstick." I can't tell you what it meant to me to read that, in an age when the only female scientist I'd ever seen on TV was in Time Tunnel (and she got about one line per episode) or Emma Peel who was so great but there was something going on with how men talked about her that made me uneasy. So yeah, Heinlein was awful in many ways, and I have no wish to read any of his novels today, and I actually kind of have an allergic reaction to the word "grok", but Hazel Stone, the pilot, flying her craft like a broomstick out in the field of stars-- that image fed my imagination for a long, long time and I'm grateful.
posted by jokeefe at 5:03 PM on March 21 [7 favorites]


> "... a science fiction story that is aimed at the 13-year-old techno-geek of the mid-60's ... He wasn't writing for literary review critics, he aimed at a mass market of wanna-be space nuts ..."

But this is a post about a couple of reviewers who are *not* 13-year-old techno-geeks of the mid-60's, who were told they could not be "true" science fiction fans unless they enjoyed a work meant to appeal to 13-year-old techno-geek of the mid-60's.

They read the work and, unsurprisingly, found it did not speak to them. The whole point is that this is not a particularly shocking result, nor should they have really been expected to react with the worshipful enthusiasm of a 13-year-old techno-geek of the mid-60's discovering some of the concepts for the first time.

I will admit that this is exacerbated by the fact that, as prominent Golden Age science fiction authors go, Heinlein in particular often does not hold up that well in retrospect. And one reason for that is that he embedded his political, social, and sexual views very deeply into his work, both intentionally and unconsciously, and some of those views were extremely problematic. However, that makes the notion that Heinlein's sexual politics should be off-limits for criticism because he was writing escapist fantasy particularly bizarre; he was writing escapist fantasy about, among other things, sexual politics. How does it make sense to forbid commentary on the exact thing he was writing about?

But ultimately, saying that these reviewers wrote a bad review because they did not acknowledge who it was intended for misses the point. They were aware who it was intended for. And that turns out to be, not them - so why is it being demanded that they must read it?
posted by kyrademon at 5:43 PM on March 21 [11 favorites]


But there is one book I loved by Heinlein, and it's a minor one, one of the juveniles: The Rolling Stones. I probably have chunks of it memorized to this day. It is sharp, and funny, and more importantly has Hazel Stone

We're all aware that a child-aged Hazel Stone is one of the charcters in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, right? (She's also in The Number of The Beast & The Cat Who Walks Through Walls but those --especially TNOTB-- are, um, you know . . . sorta . . . yeaaahhhhh . . . .)
posted by KingEdRa at 5:44 PM on March 21


You see this Best Novel Hugo? You see this Best Novel Hugo?
This Best Novel Hugo cost more than your car.


Well, it's better than a set of steak knives. You don't even want to know what the person who came in third in the Hugo voting got...
posted by MikeMc at 5:50 PM on March 21


Third prize is you're fired. Out of an electromagnetic catapult formerly used to export wheat from the Moon to the Earth.
posted by kyrademon at 5:58 PM on March 21 [4 favorites]


Third prize is you're fired. Out of an electromagnetic catapult

Isn't that scene actually from Iain M. Banks' The Algebraist?
posted by localroger at 6:02 PM on March 21


His ethnicity is completely irrelevant to his character

I have known several Filipino-Americans pretty well - if a boring book was written of things we did together like "sit at the high school lunch table" "go to college" or "go out to a bar" it would include roughly as little THIS IS A FILIPINO PERSON LOOK AT THEM BEING VERY EXPLICITLY FILIPINO AND TALKING ABOUT BEING FILIPINO ALL THE TIME as the novel.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 6:19 PM on March 21


I was responding to somebody who said you didn't even know Rico was Filipino til the end of the book, and I was pointing out that actually you do - just because of plot rather than characterization as the person I was responding to had expected (I'm on my phone so I can't go back and find their username, sorry to be vague). I think you're arguing with something I didn't say, though I apologize if my meaning was unclear.
posted by joannemerriam at 6:02 PM on March 21


I think all of Heinlein's pros and cons have been covered at this point - can we get a derail about hatin' on Atwood? Perhaps she'd like to write an anthology of twelve essays commenting on this essay.
posted by GuyZero at 7:00 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


You can't possibly understand Tolkien without having read the Prose Edda and the Nibelungenlied in the original Klingon.

Ha. I first read Tolkien when I was as big as a hobbit and I loved it. When I decided to read all the epics later on, it gave me a better understanding of where Tolkien was coming from. Not necessary but nice - yet again a lot of these epics handled by a good translator are fantastic.
posted by ersatz at 7:02 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Yeah, there is an awful lot of conflation of "deeper understanding" with "understand". I absolutely think you gain a deeper understanding of Tolkien if you've read the stuff by which he was so influenced. So I think the sarcasm is unwarranted there.
posted by Justinian at 7:22 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


I read Lovecraft, Howard, and Clark Aston Smith unironically and I enjoy it. I don't question why I enjoy it or what they were trying to say or how horrible they thought about things held dear to people who have NPR totebags.

I'm so much happier than all of you.
posted by codswallop at 7:32 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


My enjoyment of Lovecraft's work is actually enhanced by knowing how broken he was as a human being, and how he knew, he just knew, that being a WASP entitled him to the horrors of earlier ages being visited upon him. No matter how superior or ennobled he may have considered himself in correspondence, in his stories, man, he was lower than dogshit.

As horrible and abhorrent as he described any and all foreigners and immigrants - white men of good stock were the scariest, most degraded and obscene motherfuckers of the bunch.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:56 PM on March 21 [4 favorites]


"Third prize is you're fired. Out of an electromagnetic catapult formerly used to export wheat from the Moon to the Earth."

I love you. That is all.
posted by jscalzi at 7:58 PM on March 21 [2 favorites]


Can we at least agree that Asimov's Chronology of the World is the most interesting history book written by an author known for writing science fiction?

Because if we disagree, I'm putting that book on my "must read now" list.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:03 PM on March 21


We're all aware that a child-aged Hazel Stone is one of the charcters in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, right?

LALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU LALALAAAA!
posted by happyroach at 9:17 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


My favourite Asimov book has always been his non-fiction analysis of the biblical book of Ruth. My second favourite is the alien sex & physics romp The Gods Themselves.

Asimov actually wrote a fair number of female characters, including the main character in the first Mule story, Arkady(?) in Second Foundation, and his famous robot psychologist (Susan ... damn, I'm bad with names). But characters and drama never were his strongest suit, male or female.
posted by jb at 9:31 PM on March 21


(Peach) What can I expect of him? I can expect him to be a good enough writer that his work endures in spite of that?

Fair enough. I'll defend him against being held to today's standards but if you're calling him out as a writer, it isn't unjustified. Personally, I think far too many of Heinlein's characters are cardboard cut-outs designed to argue for a particular point. And that he always stacks the deck so that the characters he agrees with are rewarded for it. He reminds me of Ayn Rand, and he occupies a similar place in my mind -- a writer who engaged a much younger version of me in thinking about some ideas (and I'm grateful for that) but with whom I ended up disagreeing.

And if he's a bad moral philosopher, he is, again like Rand, a worse writer. I think ardgedee is dead on in saying that "every decision is treated in a historical and epochal way, even if the characters are merely ordering dinner, and that there always seems to be a very clear Good vs Evil / Us vs Them / Right vs Wrong / Up vs Down polarity in the narrative."

But the guy didn't bore me.


(kyrademon) But this is a post about a couple of reviewers who are *not* 13-year-old techno-geeks of the mid-60's, who were told they could not be "true" science fiction fans unless they enjoyed a work meant to appeal to 13-year-old techno-geek of the mid-60's....


In my earlier comments, I wasn't really aware of the backstory, that the reviewers were being told they weren't real fans because they hadn't read it. I don't think a statement like that is remotely warranted. It makes them, umm, well, the sort of fan who doesn't enjoy delving back into literary history to trace the influences leading to modern works. Which is fine. Lots of fans don't. Lots of Heinlein fans never went back to Wells and Jules Verne, or Doc Smith, either. That's not at all, in any way, a requirement for being a "real" fan. And that's from someone who believes that there is a such a thing as a "real" fan, which is, itself debatable. But even as a believer in "real" fans, I think that anyone who goes beyond just "consuming some of a couple of the most popular current works" is fan enough to be "real." So anyone who cosplays, or draws, or writes an F/SF blog, or writes fanfic, or collects anything, or goes to cons, or whatever, is automatically "real." I agree that the notion that you must go back and read a specific canon is nonsense, and just a way for some people to exclude others they don't care for.

But ultimately, saying that these reviewers wrote a bad review because they did not acknowledge who it was intended for misses the point. They were aware who it was intended for. And that turns out to be, not them - so why is it being demanded that they must read it?

But I still think it's a bad review. There's a difference in a review that just says something sucks vs. a review which says -- as you do -- that it's an artifact of a different time and culture that doesn't speak to modern readers.
posted by tyllwin at 9:56 PM on March 21


Would it have been a good review if it said it was good?
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:53 PM on March 21


Arrived too late to say anything that hasn't already been said, but that was great. I can't believe I read the whole thread.
One question, though - codswallop wrote "I read Lovecraft, Howard, and Clark Aston Smith unironically and I enjoy it. I don't question why I enjoy it or what they were trying to say or how horrible they thought about things held dear to people who have NPR totebags." I wasn't aware that Smith was in any way controversial. What horrible thoughts was guilty of? Mind you, I grew up in the Sierra foothills fairly near his stomping grounds, and open, unapologetic racism was pretty common up there well into the 1990's, so I wouldn't be too surprised if he held some unsavory views.
posted by Trinity-Gehenna at 11:08 PM on March 21


can we get a derail about hatin' on Atwood? Perhaps she'd like to write an anthology of twelve essays commenting on this essay.

Atwood doesn't write essays. She writes short nonfiction that people who don't know better might mistake for essays, but they're not essays, mercy me no.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:17 PM on March 21 [6 favorites]


"Deeper" understanding is whatever you have more of when you read a thing more and interpret it more. Whether the author was influenced (or believes they were influenced, or whatevs) by the things you're reading them with is irrelevant.
posted by LogicalDash at 12:13 AM on March 22


...can we get a derail about hatin' on Atwood?

The setting and much of the plot of Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is obviously lifted from Heinlein's "If This Goes On—".
posted by The Tensor at 12:24 AM on March 22 [1 favorite]


can we get a derail about hatin' on Atwood?

There's not nearly enough female characters and Teodor is a dork.

...oh, Atwood.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:51 AM on March 22 [4 favorites]


"Deeper" understanding is whatever you have more of when you read a thing more and interpret it more. Whether the author was influenced (or believes they were influenced, or whatevs) by the things you're reading them with is irrelevant.

Your position, then, is that someone who is familiar with Hamlet gets nothing additional from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead when compared to someone who is not familiar with Hamlet? Again I think your standard is not one we would apply to any other art form. It's like claiming that there is nothing to be gained in any way from knowing about, say, Rock and Roll's roots in older musical traditions (many of them African or African-American).
posted by Justinian at 12:51 AM on March 22 [1 favorite]


There seems to be a lot of defensiveness around the idea that additional knowledge about a topic or field can add additional layers of enjoyment or understanding. As though the very idea negates the enjoyment or understanding you get without that additional knowledge. It doesn't. It's additional.
posted by Justinian at 12:53 AM on March 22 [3 favorites]


Your position, then, is that someone who is familiar with Hamlet gets nothing additional from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead when compared to someone who is not familiar with Hamlet?

They get something, but it's no "deeper". Depth is the amount of meaning you get, but you are actually talking about the kind.
posted by LogicalDash at 1:12 AM on March 22


I came to Heinlein fairly late in life. Most of my early science fiction reading was whatever the local library happened to have (a lot of Asimov, supplemented by the Asimov books my dad had) and a bunch of other random things (mostly random books in the middle of trilogies). I wouldn't think that my devouring of everything Iain (M) Banks wrote, for example, was seriously affected by my lack of familiarity with Heinlein.

Interestingly when I read Old Man's War For the first time it immediately reminded me of Heinlein. Not Starship Troopers, specifically (which I actually read some time after OMW), but the heavy reliance on exposition through dialogue, which felt distinctly Heinleinian to me (as much as I enjoyed the story of OMW and its sequels it's not a writing style I like). I don't know if the mirroring of style was deliberate for a story which wears its influences on its sleeves, but the the fact that Redshirts adopted pretty much the same style suggests that's just how Scalzi writes.

I suspect for the generation of science fiction and fantasy authors who are in primary school today, the canon will be whatever it easily and cheaply accessible on Amazon (or The Pirate Bay) and the Heinlein's will only be of historical interest ("Dad, was Heinlein obsessed with sex because they didn't have Internet porn back in the 20th century?").

I'd be amazed if the likes of Banks and Stross and Scalzi (and I'm not purely cheering for the home team here) are the canon of tomorrow. And my generation's classics will be viewed a lot like The Goodies is today, with equal parts embarrassment and nostalgia.
posted by damonism at 4:07 AM on March 22


Somehow I only came to Heinlein in my mid-30s, with "Moon". I devoured it in a day or two. I loved the stuff about living on the Moon, but the politics and everything never else sat right.
But, like the "savage Red Indian" stuff in the opening of A Princess of Mars or the almost hilariously tone-deaf rape scene in Lensman (I forget which book, possibly the one after Triplanetary) I just shrugged a little, looked at the dates they were written and moved on.

But with Heinlein I didn't have any particular desire to read more. Except I already owned "Stranger" and "I Will Fear No Evil".

My friends suggested I try the juveniles, but since I didn't have any handy I decided to try "Stranger".
It was the least worst option, and it has pretty much stopped me in my tracks with Heinlein. There's definitely something in the DNA of his writing that just doesn't sit well with me, but which I can ignore with ERB or Doc Smith.

[I tried reading Van Vogt's "Weapon Shop" book over the summer, and I stopped about 20 pages in because it all seemed a bit pro-gun ownership, and strident, preachy pro-gun at that.]
posted by Mezentian at 4:31 AM on March 22


There seems to be a lot of defensiveness around the idea that additional knowledge about a topic or field can add additional layers of enjoyment or understanding.

The key point of contention is what, exactly, constitutes "additional knowledge" in the fandom. I take it for granted that people who call themselves "fans" in the genre and/or writers in the genre are likely prolific readers and viewers as well. The degree to which our Library Thing or Goodreads profiles overlap is largely irrelevant. And the idea that I'm a better expert on a subgenre like supernatural mystery than someone who reads dozens of those works a year because I have Lovecraft and Alan Moore in my profile strikes me as ridiculous.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:59 AM on March 22


[I tried reading Van Vogt's "Weapon Shop" book over the summer, and I stopped about 20 pages in because it all seemed a bit pro-gun ownership, and strident, preachy pro-gun at that.]

Van Vogt was one Golden Age writer that I could never get into at all. Not so much his politics as his clunky prose.
posted by octothorpe at 7:58 AM on March 22


Hazel is still the strong character TMIAHM that she is in The Rolling Stones and there isn't much in the way of creepiness directed her way.

There is probably an entire novel in telling Hazel's story of the revolution.
posted by Mitheral at 8:40 AM on March 22 [2 favorites]


Hazel is still the strong character TMIAHM that she is in The Rolling Stones

Yeah.
Times have changed.
The issues around the modern age are not as simple as they used to be.
posted by Mezentian at 8:48 AM on March 22


The setting and much of the plot of Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is obviously lifted from Heinlein's "If This Goes On—".

Ha-ha. Also, true.
posted by ovvl at 9:41 AM on March 22


Would it have been a good review if it said it was good?

Without qualifications? A review that just said it was good, and didn't include some discussion of some of the areas that seem problematic to us in 2014? No, that would be a bad review, too. At least to me.

I don't think the quality of the review depends on whether the review is positive or negative. I just think that when the work is not contemporary, some discussion of the intended audience and norms of the time are warranted. I'd be fine with a critique that concluded that either the book failed even by the standards of its own time. I think he has things that fail in 1966 terms. Or, you can say that it succeeded in those terms but dated very badly. I just think they review it too much like it came out last week.
posted by tyllwin at 9:56 AM on March 22 [1 favorite]


For me, it's important to differentiate between being a fan and being in a fandom. I am a fan of many things where I don't want to have anything to do with the organized fan groups or their activities. ...not completely true. Send more filksongs.... That's just me.

I've enjoyed SF since I was 10, and I did go to a few conventions one I could drive. I didn't get much out of them, so I didn't go back. I'm pretty tangential to the entire phenomenon. I'll never be a SMOF.

As a 46 year old, Scalzi's "people my age have spotty backgrounds in the classics" is true for me, but mostly because there's so much to read from the canon that I can't get to it all.

When I got to college and (eventually) decided to major in English, I wanted to know more about my favorite genre, so I sought out and read some of the academic and popular histories of the genre. I hoped that reading that might introduce me to new stuff that I would also love. Books like Brian Aldiss' Trillion Year Spree did exactly that: it (for example) turned me on to the New Wave and Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions. That was fun.

I tried lots of new stuff. Some I liked, some I hated, some I threw against the wall. So it goes. It was true that I liked, hated, and was baffled by what was and wasn't "SF" before I got interested in the literary histories.

So, what I really hope that being a reader informed of the history of the genre enables me to say "Oh, you liked X? You might also like Y!" and have it be based on something other than my preferece for Y.

tl;dr: An SF canon of literary works should be a list of opportunities to share what we love, not a tool for exclusionary subculture gatekeeping. I am for the former and against the latter.
posted by Mad_Carew at 11:50 AM on March 22 [3 favorites]


An SF canon of literary works should be a list of opportunities to share what we love, not a tool for exclusionary subculture gatekeeping.

QFT.

Mezentian: I see van Vogt's "Weapon Shop" as an implicit critique of gun rights advocates, since the weapons in question can only be used in self defense and even shield you from other gun owners, although that hasn't stopped some GRAs from quoting the story's motto--"The right to buy weapons is the right to be free"--out of context.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:04 PM on March 22 [3 favorites]


I just think they review it too much like it came out last week.

No, they review it like they were just exposed to it last week. Which is the truth. They can't possibly know if their 1966 analogues would have liked it, they can only know that their 2014 year old selves found it badly written. I don't see why "this is a _____ book for when it was written" is a better review than "this is a _____ book for when I read it."

I mean, the review is just two people's reaction to a book. The whole point of the exercise is that it's o.k. to both enjoy science fiction and to read Heinlein as someone living now. You're (as a fan of science fiction) not forced set aside your reactions because they're not how a fan of science fiction living in 1966 would react.
posted by Gygesringtone at 3:01 PM on March 22 [1 favorite]


...as prominent Golden Age science fiction authors go, Heinlein in particular often does not hold up that well in retrospect.

What he wrote during the so-called Golden Age holds up a lot better than what he wrote thereafter. Consider the Lazarus Long of Methuselah's Children as compared with the Lazarus Long of Time Enough for Love. He was hell on wheels when he was ahead of his time, a pontificating windbag when he was behind.

On a sidenote, speaking of the Suck Fairy, who has reread The Door into Summer ? Now therein is a transgenerational love story that will touch one in the swimsuit area.
posted by y2karl at 3:30 PM on March 22 [1 favorite]


Ah, yes -Time Enough for Love. I was working in the book factory that produced it when it came out, so I got a hard-cover copy. Now, I had read everything he'd written when I was in Middle and High School, up through at least Stranger in a Strange Land, so I was used to him, I thought. Reading TEfL was such an unpleasant experience, I lost all desire to read anything of his ever again.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:17 PM on March 22 [2 favorites]


David Forbes' new long form article about the far right in science fiction.
posted by newdaddy at 6:21 PM on March 22 [1 favorite]


Sounds like an interesting potential article. He's wrong, though, that the history of science fiction ignores the stuff he is talking about. It's well known and commented upon.
posted by Justinian at 8:20 PM on March 22 [1 favorite]


(As an aside, while I love the Forever War, Haldeman really only had one book in him. I kinda don't love Heinlein. Never have. Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clark and Isaac Asimov when I was a kid, and Gibson and Stephenson and RS&RAW as a newly fledged adult flunking out of art school.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:40 PM on March 22


I've read all of Heinlein except For Us, The Living, which was unbearable. His juveniles were probably my favorite SF when I was young; I still remember them fondly. Some of Heinlein's stories would probably have a place in any hypothetical canon of SF: All You Zombies, perhaps - I find it more poignant than By His Bootstraps; a representative from among his juveniles (Citizen of the Galaxy?); and certainly Starship Troopers. That last isn't because it's such a great book, but because of its appeal to a certain segment of the SF-reading world. But TMIAHM? No, it's neither a great story, typical of a period, nor highly influential. Most of the criticisms in the first article are valid, but they're shooting fish in a barrel.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:28 PM on March 22


Haldeman really only had one book in him.

*gasp*
His Star Trek book was, if nothing else, readable.
(Was it memorable? No. Did it involve Harry Mudd?)

I have Forever Peace on my shelf but I am afraid to crack it.
I might follow Halloween Jack's advice and crack Weapons Shop and then that.
posted by Mezentian at 4:56 AM on March 23


Haldeman really only had one book in him.

No. Not so. Mezentian, you can safely crack Forever Peace, it's not bad. It won the Hugo, Campbell and Nebula awards, FWIW. I read one of his Mars series, but it was a later one, and I suffered from that party-crasher feeling, meeting all those previously-established characters, so I didn't like it much. I did like 1968, but that may be because I'm a fan of Dos Passos, and because '68 was the year I was in Vietnam.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:31 AM on March 23 [2 favorites]


He's wrong, though, that the history of science fiction ignores the stuff he is talking about.

Given his title, I believe he's aware of that. I don't think he is saying that SF completely ignores the dinosaur attitudes of some authors, but that they aren't as well-known as he'd like.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:36 AM on March 23


"Rather than harmless eccentrics, the doyennes of the sci-fi far right advise the federal government, occupy important posts, head think-tanks and shape policy to this day." This itself is worth investing in this article, if it's true and can be documented.

And I want to apologize if this Foster thing is somewhat of a derail. I just thought it was so synchronistic that it popped up at just this moment.

I think, personally, that there's something inherent structurally in science fiction that makes it an attractive nesting place for some right-wing thinkers. Part of science fiction's project can be perceived (or misperceived) as How Technology And It's Attendant Abundance Will Fix Things. I say this as someone (kidding myself that I'm) halfway through writing my first draft of a first SF novel. It's not essential to the genre but as a writer it's something that's always there, offering you an easy solution (easy because you don't have to do it, just imagine it).
posted by newdaddy at 6:03 AM on March 23 [1 favorite]


It won the Hugo, Campbell and Nebula awards, FWIW.

This is.... an issue. Almost every Hugo winning novel I have read (having known or not) I have not enjoyed.
posted by Mezentian at 7:16 AM on March 23


I think, personally, that there's something inherent structurally in science fiction that makes it an attractive nesting place for some right-wing thinkers.

But the connection between the hard right and SF only seems to exist in the US (though having said that I'm sure someone can find at least one non-US SF author who's as far to the right as, at least, Pournelle if not John Ringo or Tom Kratman).

I'd put more weight on career links (informally, hard-right SF authors seem to have connections to the military and engineering) and network effects from Jim Baen.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:26 AM on March 23


It boggles the mind that the same guy who championed Lois McMaster Bujold is also the guy behind Kratman. I still can barely bring myself to believe that Wacht am Rhein is not some sort of twisted Iron Dream type deconstruction.
posted by Justinian at 10:49 AM on March 23 [1 favorite]


But the connection between the hard right and SF only seems to exist in the US

I don't know why that is. From my biased US perspective, I'd be in the worst position to try to advance a theory.

I'd surely pay money to help write the converse longform article - how crunchy left-wing SF authors positively influenced the larger culture and gave inspiration and hope to individual readers.
posted by newdaddy at 12:20 PM on March 23


My theory consists of two parts:

1) John Campbell.
2) The hard right wing in most other nations with a significant SF tradition has been discredited and marginalized to a much greater extent than in the USA. Small and looney-toons groups aren't likely to produce as many authors.
posted by Justinian at 1:40 PM on March 23 [2 favorites]


I find myself in a weird space about Heinlein. I've read an extraordinary amount of "golden age" scifi thanks to my grandfather's trunks of old Amazing Stories going back to the 20s or 30s. I loved, loved, loved Heinlein growing up. For a young female reader, who read a ton of stories that either didn't have women, or had weak scenery women, Heinlein was the first writer I read that had females with autonomy. I think reading him is one of the reasons I ended up a writer. My first published poem was when I was 9, and it was based entirely about what it would be like to live in space, because I'd just read Podkayne of Mars.

Sure, later I discovered Tiptree, and Le Guin, and Atwood, and I discovered first hand what it was like to be marginalized and harassed just because I had breasts, but in the late 1970s, Heinlein seemed pretty progressive to a preteen me. And I have long defended Heinlein both as a writer and as a protofeminist. But I did so based on the memories of reading it as a child. I recently returned to the massive shelf of dusty paperbacks and started working my way through the collection, chronologically. And his kids books, and his early stories, oh my gosh, you guys, they're still just so much fun to romp through.

But the later I get in the chronology, the harder it has gotten to read. I find myself skimming, or skipping huge sections to get to a bit I remember...only to find that the way I remembered it was not at all how I was reading it now.

I find myself unaccountably sad by how insidious the messaging is that strong, capable women also must be desirable and available for sex all the time, for them to have value, is in these later books, and I wonder how much of it I internalized ... how much all of us who loved Heinlein have internalized.

It's like finding out your favorite uncle was a flasher. I mean, not the worst thing in the world, but certainly uncomfortable.
posted by dejah420 at 1:51 PM on March 23 [4 favorites]


Haldeman really only had one book in him.

I really liked his Worlds series, although the beginning was stronger than the end.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:40 PM on March 23


Hard-right Science Fiction:

Chatting with a philosopher friend the other night it was pointed out that the futurist movement, which was an Italian art movement, was pretty openly fascist. Pull-quote from the Futurist Manifesto:

"We will glorify war — the world's only hygiene — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for woman."

Ouch.

It's probably also worth taking a look at Alphaville, which had a pretty fascistic computer-controlled government.

It's probably worth arguing that the European rejection of fascism goes hand in hand with the removal of hard-right wet dreams from popular fiction. The US never had to face fascism on the home court, and certainly has more tolerance for fascist ideologies.
posted by kaibutsu at 6:16 PM on March 23 [2 favorites]


Heinlein's stuff just aged really, really quickly. Like ovvl and octothorpe, I read his stuff in the seventies, and even the barely more than a decade old _The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress_ felt old-fashioned and filled with flat characters. I still enjoyed it well enough for reasonably propulsive plotting, but compared even to other 1960s stuff, clunky. And it aged really unattractively -- Andre Norton's similarly aged stuff didn't exactly feel contemporary, but it didn't feel like the 1950s in SPAAAAACE!
posted by tavella at 1:10 PM on March 24


> The hard right wing in most other nations with a significant SF tradition has been discredited and marginalized to a much greater extent than in the USA. Small and looney-toons groups aren't likely to produce as many authors.

I'm not sure it's that as much as it's because science fiction evolved at a moment unique to the United States' history.

The early 20th century was the waning era of a few mad centuries of non stop Manifest Destiny, manifested. The narrative of expansion and development -- and a kind of cultural imperative to keep it moving -- has been ingrained for generations, and has been part and parcel with the parallel notions of scientific, technical and industrial progress. Future-set stories of exploring the stars is a natural progression from contemporary stories about exploring new lands. With a continent settled, we can at least go up. But it's still all about finding and claiming, and inventing things that make life better and help with the finding and the claiming.

It's also worth the regular reminder that America's right wing of the first half of the 20th century does not necessarily harbor the same ideological doctrines it does today. There was a (brief) time in American history when right-wing industrialists were agitating for public schooling and living wages, for example (sounds damned enlightened by today's standards, although their goals were purely for their own ends). The technocratic idealism of the years after WW II had a lot to do with building wealthy, strong industries and wealthy, strong governments -- as long as those governments only did the right things, including having a robust military and were not regulating the industries -- as a secure foundation for the continuous blue-sky scientific discovery and technical innovation needed to explore space.

Our contemporary right wing seems to only perceive the government and people around them as natural resources to strip for personal gain. It is more about security in isolation than about power through growth. It bears a lot more resemblance to banana republic fascism where resources are too constrained because those in power are more interested in controlling them all for their own self-aggrandizement than for expansion and progress. These days, where infrastructure is too scant to maintain, never mind improve, space opera seems conceptually quaint and kind of dissociated from any timeline of our possible future. Except for military SF, coincidentally during decades when the U.S. military has setting up bases in new lands and the U.S. military's own funding is the only government spending remaining unchallenged.

So, um... yeah. tl;dr: American Exceptionalism. But I think there's a grain of justification to it this time. We were just coming off a long period of growth underpinned by a mostly-unchallenged strong industry and mostly-unchallenged strong military, and so any American writing a spacefaring narrative was going to take those for granted. People in other countries had different contexts to work from.
posted by ardgedee at 4:45 AM on March 25 [3 favorites]


Some very good points here. My take on some of the comments are that the reviewers are taking a contemporary look at this novel because of its rep as a classic and finding it lacking on a lot of different levels. Maybe it can only seem like a classic if your synapses are still plastic enough for the verbiage to burn into your membranes and bypass a lot of the filtering that gets put into place later on. I still see scenes in my memory of that book that were vivid and compelling to me when I first read the novel. The ice miners shooting down warships with their ice cutting lasers. The invading troops fighting their way down the lunar levels and tripping due to their unfamiliarity with the lunar gravity. Perhaps a lot of the classic works just had great visuals for a young reader.
posted by diode at 11:11 AM on March 25


Almost every Hugo winning novel I have read (having known or not) I have not enjoyed.

Like The Left Hand of Darkness ? The Man in the High Castle ? The Demolished Man ? The Dispossessed ?

Man, if so, talk about a tough crowd.

And, upon re-reading By His Bootstraps a day or two ago, I would amend to

Beyond This Horizon aside, Have Space Suit, Will Travel is mine.
posted by y2karl at 12:34 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]


Like The Left Hand of Darkness ? The Man in the High Castle ? The Demolished Man ? The Dispossessed ?

Not to mention The Yiddish Policeman's Union, Spin, A Fire Upon the Deep, Hyperion, Cyteen, Ender's Game, Neuromancer, and on and on.
Seems like there is something for everybody even if I have disagreed with many of the winners in the past decade.
posted by Justinian at 6:50 PM on March 25 [2 favorites]


Bujold's Paladin of Souls (2004) won a Hugo and a Nebula. On re-read (rather third read), I realised that I enjoyed it even more than her excellent Curse of Chalion.

But if anyone objects to fantasy in their SF&F, she also won Hugos for a couple of her Vorkosigan books, and was nominated for others.
posted by jb at 9:45 AM on March 26 [3 favorites]


Hell, her A Civil Campaign is a Heyeresque comedy of manners.
posted by Justinian at 9:49 AM on March 26 [3 favorites]


Not to mention The Yiddish Policeman's Union, Spin, A Fire Upon the Deep, Hyperion, Cyteen, Ender's Game, Neuromancer, and on and on.

The Yiddish Policeman's Union aside, don't mention it.
posted by y2karl at 4:26 PM on March 26


Really, not even a kind word for Spin? Have you read it?
posted by Justinian at 5:29 PM on March 26


Like The Left Hand of Darkness ? The Man in the High Castle ? The Demolished Man ? The Dispossessed ?
Man, if so, talk about a tough crowd.


I haven't read the two Le Guins, but the other two I have. The praise for High Castle just baffled me (Dick generally does that, but I did like Lies, Inc), and I expected more from The Demolished Man, although I did enjoy it.

Neuromancer and Ender's Game are the only two I have read on y2karl's list. I find Gibson over-rated, but I enjoyed Ender when I read it 20 years ago.

I suspect it might be a case of overly high expectations, so I try not to think too much about awards.

Damned curious about Yiddish, but I want to read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay first.
posted by Mezentian at 10:55 PM on March 29


Really, not even a kind word for Spin? Have you read it?

Quiet understated quality often goes unnoticed among the flash and bang of shallower stuff. (One of the reasons it took Wilson so very long to win a Hugo.)

and I expected more from The Demolished Man,

A classic of the genre, but terminally over-hyped as the best book ever. (That, and books from before 1970 really suffer badly from tonal problems to current readers' ears, I think.)

Man, if so, talk about a tough crowd.

This is Metafilter, after all.

It's funny; I can look at Locus New Releases lists and Amazon recommends pages and stroll through my local bookstores' sf sections all day long and not find anything that jumps out at me, yet I still seem to have more sf books on my shelves than I can get to. Not quite sure how that happens. (Actually I do know - one of our local bookstores now makes an effort to get UK editions of books that haven't been released in the US yet, so I was able to buy a couple Adam Roberts and a couple Neal Asher books recently. Also, getting old so I don't read as fast as I used to.)
posted by aught at 6:30 AM on April 1 [1 favorite]


Really, not even a kind word for Spin? Have you read it?

Oh, man, no: guilty as charged. And cranky, too. I should have omitted it and inserted an ellipsis.

...(That, and books from before 1970 really suffer badly from tonal problems to current readers' ears, I think.)

Too true in most cases. But then The Dying Earth and much of Cordwainer Smith comes to mind.
posted by y2karl at 12:47 PM on April 3


As it happens, I'm re-reading Smith's Space Lords now, and am not really taken with his narrative schtick. He wants me to know that this really important thing happened, and changed everything, and he's going to tell me about some of it any time now, but not all of it, because, well, everybody knows all about it because of its history-making import. When he's done with the story, it feels like an anticlimax. He did that in the first two stories in the book, and he's doing it again in the third, which is a sequel to the first.

The Dying Earth, now - that's something else entirely.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:34 PM on April 3


then The Dying Earth and much of Cordwainer Smith comes to mind.

... as some of my favourite books ever.
posted by Mezentian at 3:00 AM on April 4 [1 favorite]


Alpha Ralpha Boulevard came to mind.

And let Avram Davidson's name be added to my very short list.
posted by y2karl at 4:30 PM on April 4


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