Ineluctably Masculine
May 14, 2016 8:22 PM   Subscribe

The winners of the 2016 Nebula awards, given by the Science Fiction Writers of America, are all women. Among them: Naomi Novik, for the novel Uprooted, and Nnedi Okorafor, for the novella Bindi. And Mad Max: Fury Road won Outstanding Dramatic Presentation.
posted by suelac (101 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sarcastic sad trombone sound for the sad puppies. Waaaa wunnnn.
posted by humanfont at 8:27 PM on May 14, 2016 [41 favorites]


The link title is a bit misleading, unless all three of the Fury Road winners are pseudonyms. Still, Fury Road at least felt like someone read Butler, Atwood, and possibly Tepper.

The Nebulas are not heavily tainted by puppy action, yet.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:33 PM on May 14, 2016


Hosted by Mefi's own John Hodgman!
posted by wintersweet at 8:37 PM on May 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


Also, I read on the Twitters that Alyssa Wong's win for "Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers" makes the first Nebula for a Filipina writer.
posted by wintersweet at 8:40 PM on May 14, 2016 [13 favorites]


The link title is a bit misleading

To be fair, I was thinking of Furiosa as the winner. Also the editor, Margaret Sixel.
posted by suelac at 8:40 PM on May 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


Hosted by Mefi's own John Hodgman

I like him. We both think the 3rd Stage Guild Navigator is the best character in Dune.
posted by Artw at 8:43 PM on May 14, 2016 [25 favorites]


I like that the first comment is a man complaining about "reverse discrimination." Wait, no, I actually don't like that.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:00 PM on May 14, 2016 [8 favorites]


Also, while I am in general a fan of Novik, and enjoyed Uprooted, I didn't think that it was her best work. It was a good story, but not particularly thought-provoking, and in general it's the thought-provoking stories that make me go, "wow, this should get an award."

The Temeraire series is much more thought-provoking, in the sense that it confronts very directly the social issues of its time, and puts you, the reader, in the position of thinking about what you think is the best course of action. Novik's style in those novels is similarly simple (in a good way), and they're also quite easy and fun to read, but they affected me more.

I'm going to read the runners-up that I haven't yet read already. Particularly the Jemisin book.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:06 PM on May 14, 2016 [5 favorites]


Your move, Hugo.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:13 PM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


In fairness, I'd expect the Hugo nominations minus the slates to look a lot like the Nebula ones.
posted by Artw at 9:31 PM on May 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


w00t!!
posted by stoneweaver at 9:34 PM on May 14, 2016


It would be seriously amazing if we could keep the focus on the wonderful and deserving women who won these awards instead of letting sad puppies or the hugos take focus away from them. Let's not frame their success around men. Let's center women!
posted by stoneweaver at 9:36 PM on May 14, 2016 [40 favorites]


I liked Binti. It didn't stun me at first read, but it's worth picking up. I don't know how it compares to the rest of the field.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:37 PM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Well, it's nice to know one set of awards went well.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:33 PM on May 14, 2016


C.J. Cherryh was named a Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master.

Awwwwwwww, yissssss. That, as they say, is my jam.
posted by Sebmojo at 10:47 PM on May 14, 2016 [14 favorites]


Nice choice of post title, suelac.
posted by EvaDestruction at 10:51 PM on May 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


CBrachyrhynchos: “The link title is a bit misleading, unless all three of the Fury Road winners are pseudonyms.”

For those who might not know, "ineluctably masculine" is a reference to actual woman "James Tiptree Jr," a pseudonym of Alice Sheldon; before she finally came forward as the author behind "Tiptree's" work, Robert Silverberg responded to the rumors that "James" might be a woman by saying: "It has been suggested that Tiptree is female, a theory that I find absurd, for there is to me something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree’s writing. I don’t think the novels of Jane Austen could have been written by a man nor the stories of Ernest Hemingway by a woman, and in the same way I believe the author of the James Tiptree stories is male."
posted by koeselitz at 10:58 PM on May 14, 2016 [75 favorites]


(And it's fitting, as "James Tiptree Jr" / Alice B Sheldon won three Nebula awards herself, which were all very deserving, as her writing is astoundingly good. Congratulations to all the women who join her this year – it's been a really amazing year for science fiction, and this Nebula slate shows it.)
posted by koeselitz at 11:01 PM on May 14, 2016 [7 favorites]


SO many excellent books to read this summer. The real winners of the Nebulas this year are we the readers.
posted by happyroach at 12:23 AM on May 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Hooray!
posted by infini at 12:46 AM on May 15, 2016


The Nebulas are not heavily tainted by puppy action, yet

SFWA voting members have to have sold a piece of SF writing at market rates, so that really limits the Puppies' reach.
posted by gingerest at 1:30 AM on May 15, 2016 [19 favorites]


It's interesting to hear that about Binti, cause I bought Who Fears Death based on rave reviews, and I thought it was super, super weak and derivative and quite messy. Have you read Who Fears Death? How does it compare?
posted by smoke at 1:52 AM on May 15, 2016


Of the novel nominees, has anyone read Raising Caine? From the description (and publisher) it sounds like rather a throwback. Is it worth a read for someone who enjoys, say, the early Vorkosigan books?
posted by tavegyl at 1:56 AM on May 15, 2016


For those who might not know, "ineluctably masculine" is a reference to actual woman "James Tiptree Jr," a pseudonym of Alice Sheldon

I was wondering about the reference.

I'm going to side with Silverberg, though. Based on what little I have read, it really was hyper-masculine, although I knew he was a she, and the source was tainted.

(And, curious about the ignoring Sir Terry Patchett getting an award to, him being a man and all, but I figure either Pratchett has been snubbed and is no longer much loved, or ignoring him and the Fury Road Gang makes for a better pull quote.)
posted by Mezentian at 1:56 AM on May 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


(And, curious about the ignoring Sir Terry Patchett getting an award to, him being a man and all, but I figure either Pratchett has been snubbed and is no longer much loved, or ignoring him and the Fury Road Gang makes for a better pull quote.)

Not all the awards give by the SFWA are Nebula awards. Pratchett and the movie didn't get Nebula awards. Their awards are called other things.

Still, I sort of agree, looking at the full list of awards given, that "women swept the awards" feels less emotionally true than true on a technicality. Still! This is a great list. If you count only the awards that are indeed, called Nebula awards, women got 4/4. If you count all the awards and honors given by the SFWA, women got 6/8.

Any way you slice it, this is a cool thing.
posted by not that girl at 2:12 AM on May 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


Agreeing with not that girl. I was just typing this: I think that the SFWA award Nebulas for novel, novella, novelette, and short story and they also have special awards: Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation, Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, Damon Knight Grand Master Award, Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award, Kevin O’Donnell Jr. Service to SFWA Award.

So yeah, the SFWA award winners were not all women (though nearly so), but the SFWA Nebula award winners were all women.
posted by taz at 2:17 AM on May 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


damn mad max you're still winning awards
posted by edeezy at 2:24 AM on May 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


It must be noted that the asshole who uses the initials V.D. began his "Rabid Dog" assault on the Hugos after he was expelled from the SFWA for various acts of malfeasance and was no longer eligible to win, or vote for, a Nebula. He may have almost-singlehandedly killed the Hugos, but Long Live the Nebulas.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:34 AM on May 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


Liked Binti very much. Look forward to checking out some of the rest of these.
posted by Gotanda at 3:11 AM on May 15, 2016


Can someone explain the puppy thing? It's proving hard to google out the reference.
posted by Mitheral at 3:14 AM on May 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Wow, I *loved* Uprooted but definitely saw it as an underdog next to The Fifth Season (which I'm halfway through and it's mindblowingly good). Uprooted was probably my favorite book of last year, though, and the award is well-deserved. Guess I need to finally read the rest of the Temeraire series.
posted by sonmi at 3:47 AM on May 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Sad puppies explained (or not).
posted by Coaticass at 3:49 AM on May 15, 2016


"Of the novel nominees, has anyone read Raising Caine?"

It's the only one of the novel nominees I haven't read, but I did read the first book of the series. I thought it was just mediocre. I started the second book and couldn't get past the first chapter. I've been befuddled at the praise of these books.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:21 AM on May 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


> "The Temeraire series is much more thought-provoking ..."

We had the opposite opinions on that. I thought the Temeraire books were fun trifles and Uprooted was a virtuoso piece that took her writing to the next level.

> "I'm going to read the runners-up that I haven't yet read already. Particularly the Jemisin book."

Well, I don't know if you'll have any trust in my judgment after the first bit, but I think you're in for a treat there. The Fifth Season is incredible, the best thing Jemisin has written yet.
posted by kyrademon at 5:50 AM on May 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


Coaticass: "Sad puppies explained (or not)."

So one of the Nebula award winners was a children's book?
posted by Mitheral at 5:54 AM on May 15, 2016


Ineluctably Masculine ought to have have quotation marks around it, or sarcasm tags. It's an insult to the honored writers.
posted by Carol Anne at 6:21 AM on May 15, 2016


Agreed that Uprooted is a much deeper, much more thoughtful book than anything in the Temeraire series. Don't get me wrong -- I love me some Napoleon dragon hijinx across continents, and the first two novels are some of my favorite comfort reading of all time, but Uprooted is Novik really growing as a writer and stretching to touch on deep themes about identity and change and how each of us deals with past injury. Temeraire touches on some big important themes, and the treatment of colonialism is interestingly handled in most of the books, but it's never richly felt the way that Uprooted is.

I really wish, though, that the only person of color in her magical Poland hadn't been a lady whose background specifically mentions slavery. Lots of other reasons for people of color to have been around, NN.

(That and ride or die for Aggie/Kasia.)
posted by joyceanmachine at 7:50 AM on May 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


> Ineluctably Masculine ought to have have quotation marks around it, or sarcasm tags. It's an insult to the honored writers.

Only if you don't know the history. Not everything has to be spelled out in Basic English, for Chrissake.
posted by languagehat at 8:00 AM on May 15, 2016 [19 favorites]


Surprised no one has mentioned Updraft by Fran Wilde. She was nominated for best novel and it's one of the best fantasy novels I've read in the past year. I'm glad Novik won, I'm a fan of her Dragon Temaire series and its nice to see her rewarded for her writings. Such a great year for SFF. Great job everyone.
posted by Fizz at 8:21 AM on May 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers is really good.
posted by Artw at 8:24 AM on May 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I thought that the Temeraire series started off strong and got dramatically weaker as it went along (I remember the Australia novel in particular being a complete slog.) I've read that maybe it gets a bit better in the last one published but I'm a bit short on faith, sadly.
posted by andrewesque at 8:27 AM on May 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I've read them all and the Australia one is a significant outlier - they get way better again.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:30 AM on May 15, 2016


Robert Silverberg responded to the rumors that "James" might be a woman by saying: "It has been suggested that Tiptree is female, a theory that I find absurd, for there is to me something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree’s writing."

Silverberg didn't just say those words; he wrote them as part of a nine-page introduction to the 1975 Tiptree story collection Warm Worlds and Otherwise, in which he explored the question of this mysterious writer no one had ever met in person.

To Silverberg's credit, however, in the 1978 paperback reprint of Warm Worlds and Otherwise he included a fairly gracious postscript, thanking Sheldon for teaching him an important lesson:

"She fooled me beautifully, along with everyone else, and called into question the entire notion of what is 'masculine' or 'feminine' in fiction."

A nice end to the famous story, no?
posted by mediareport at 9:07 AM on May 15, 2016 [43 favorites]


> "Surprised no one has mentioned Updraft by Fran Wilde."

I haven't read it yet, but should be getting it soon. I've heard lots of good things about it.

My general thoughts on the Norton Award were:

It's a MUCH more representative of what's good in the YA SFF field than last year's. Lots of solid choices, and nice to see a graphic novel on there too. The only work that springs to my mind as an omission from the list is Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman. I'm mildly put out that Cuckoo Song didn't win (it was my favorite 2015 book of any kind, YA or SFF or not), but not having read Updraft I can't say yet for sure whether or not I agree with the choice.
posted by kyrademon at 9:24 AM on May 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


To Silverberg's credit, however, in the 1978 paperback reprint of Warm Worlds and Otherwise he included a fairly gracious postscript, thanking Sheldon for teaching him an important lesson:

"She fooled me beautifully, along with everyone else, and called into question the entire notion of what is 'masculine' or 'feminine' in fiction."

A nice end to the famous story, no?


Very much so, given that I've always enjoyed his writing (more or less, he had his ups and downs but its been a long career)
posted by infini at 9:26 AM on May 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


So one of the Nebula award winners was a children's book?

The SFWA awards include the Andre Norton Award for YA, although most of Norton's work was published as adult fiction during her life, although it also mostly had young adult protagonists. Fran Wilde's Updraft has a YA protagonist, but it should be noted it was not published as YA. Any way, it ended up as a finalist for both best novel and best YA novel, and won for YA.

It's a good story with some excellent world-building, and I'm happy for Fran, who I know from another community.
posted by suelac at 10:09 AM on May 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Perhaps I'm alone in that my admiration of a writer has almost nothing to do with their chromosomes. When I was growing up, my appreciation of the work of LeGuin, Tiptree, and McCaffrey showed me quite early on that women aren't "other" at all. We all dream and desire the same things.

I find the current howling over inclusiveness and multi-culturalism, and calls for the return to a bogus "golden age" of colonialist space opera, to be utterly baffling. It's as if the Sad Puppies read nothing but Doc Savages and Gor novellas while they were growing up, and imagined that's all there was. "Dangerous Visions" was almost fifty years ago now, as was "The Left Hand of Darkness" and Fred Pohl's short story "Day Million."

Back in the 70's, we sure didn't think we were going to spend the next half-century going backwards.
posted by panglos at 11:14 AM on May 15, 2016 [11 favorites]


Yay for the winners! Yay for the nominees! Yay for whoever got John Hodgman!
posted by RakDaddy at 11:16 AM on May 15, 2016


Well, I don't know if you'll have any trust in my judgment after the first bit, but I think you're in for a treat there.

I wasn't as impressed by Uprooted as I've been told I should be, but still thought it was a good book; it obviously just affected us in different ways. If the worst that happens is that I read a good book, then I'll order the Jemisin novel now.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:30 PM on May 15, 2016


[One comment deleted; we're not going to have a mega-derail about the US election, PC-run-amok-in-America, how statistically women writers don't deserve writing awards, and the use of the word "US-ian." That's too much fire-starting and derailing for one comment.]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 1:17 PM on May 15, 2016 [18 favorites]


I missed a comment by vox day? Geez.
posted by maxwelton at 3:26 PM on May 15, 2016 [16 favorites]


I can only imagine that Vox Merda has spent the entire weekend flitting from site to site, squeaking out his apoplectic rage to all and sundry.

It's far from the main enjoyment of the Nebula Awards, but well, anything that annoys him can't be bad.
posted by happyroach at 3:40 PM on May 15, 2016


Wikipedia has a reasonably objective and brief overview of the Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies saga, if you don't want to watch a video. The Puppies debacle has been very central in mainstream SFF con-fandom life in for the past couple of years, which is why people here are assuming a baseline knowledge - people who care about SFF cons or awards couldn't avoid this, but of course not everyone who might take an interest in women authors dominating a literature award competition is part of that group.
posted by gingerest at 4:20 PM on May 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


The link title is a bit misleading, unless all three of the Fury Road winners are pseudonyms.

The 'named' awards are not Nebulas (you can read section 13, subsection 1 of the rules for "This award is not a Nebula, but shall follow all Nebula rules and procedures, and be administered by the Nebula Awards Commissioner."), but they are administered by the Nebula committee. It is a similar situation to the named 'new authors' award for the Hugos.

So yes, women did sweep the Nebulas; however, 3 of the 4 'related' awards were presented to men or all-male groups (the late Terry Pratchett getting one). Cherryh became a Grand Master and was presented with the lone non-Nebula award/title for a woman.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 5:58 PM on May 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the correction.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:59 PM on May 15, 2016


mediareport: "A nice end to the famous story, no?"

Yeah, I can see why people gleefully reference this, but Silverberg said something stupid in 1975, then apologized and admitted it was stupid. I'm not aware of his having done anything shitty and sexist IRL, so maybe cut him some slack at this point?
posted by Chrysostom at 9:21 PM on May 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Well, Brad Torgersen is still fighting battles from the 70s, so...

(TBH at this poin I'm mainly just impressed that he's able to identify Mad Max as having New Wave characteristics)
posted by Artw at 9:50 PM on May 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Torgersen is still fighting battles from the 70s AD.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:50 PM on May 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


Quoth Torgy:
Did I mention that The Martian had a world-wide take of $630 million dollars, while Mad Max took in just $378 million by comparison?

Clearly, audiences across the globe had a much greater preference for the science fiction movie that focused on actual science being employed in a setting where science — and mankind — are making miracles happen.
This completely overlooks the part where R-rated movies make about half what PG/PG-13-rated films do, presumably because the potential audience is smaller. (I know that's, by definition, domestic receipts, but since the first R-rated movie on the all-time worldwide lifetime grosses list comes in at #109, I assume the MPAA ratings are similarly associated with global box office receipts. (I am not assuming the relationship is causative.))
posted by gingerest at 11:13 PM on May 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


I happened to click through to just glance at "Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers" and ended up riveted reading the whole thing through.

This is good.
posted by infini at 3:04 AM on May 16, 2016


Yeah, I can see why people gleefully reference this, but Silverberg said something stupid in 1975, then apologized and admitted it was stupid.

It's not so much Silverberg himself, as it is a reminder of the massive sexism in the the SF field back then. When it was held that men and women had inherent differences in writing styles, and women couldn't write "proper" science fiction. A time when women regularly had to conceal their gender in order to be published.

It's very important to remember this, as sexism is still present in the field. There are people who are weaponizing nostalgia, in an attempt to turn the clock back to a time where women had no place as writers.

If you wonder why the quote survives, bear in mind it's not really about Silverberg at all. It's about why people such as James Tiptree and Andre Norton had to conceal their identities.
posted by happyroach at 3:09 AM on May 16, 2016 [15 favorites]


Yeah, quoting the comment, to my mind, isn't intended to be "Look at how dumb Silverberg was!" but a pithy way to distill a prevailing attitude of the time -- and one that unfortunately isn't altogether gone, so the reminder is useful.

People were also making the argument that the rumors that Tiptree was a woman couldn't possibly be true because her writings clearly showed insider knowledge of the operations of the CIA. Which they did, incidentally -- she worked for the CIA after serving as a Major in the Air Force photo-intelligence unit during World War II.

I will say that my favorite mistake on the subject has always been Harlan Ellison's: "Tiptree is the man to beat this year. Wilhelm is the woman, but Tiptree is the man."
posted by kyrademon at 3:59 AM on May 16, 2016 [7 favorites]


The Women that Men don't See
posted by infini at 4:24 AM on May 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


Sure, and I don't mean to imply that 1975 SF wasn't excruciatingly sexist or that it doesn't still have serious issues today.
posted by Chrysostom at 5:37 AM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


And The Force Awakens is at $935 million proving that audiences around the globe had a much greater preference for the science fiction movie with the derivative plot, handwavium, and spiritualism. (I loved The Force Awakens, but I wouldn't call it SFF award worthy.)

"Hard" Science Fiction wonks tend to forget that Science Fiction is fiction, and not Discovery Channel edutainment. I liked The Martian as well but chunks of it felt like watching a episodic made-for-tv disaster movie with a new natural phenomenon and plucky solution every plot beat.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:49 AM on May 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


TBH thw notion that these guys are pushing Hard SF is easily dispelled by reading any of their work.
posted by Artw at 7:50 AM on May 16, 2016 [8 favorites]


Very little "hard SF" really is. Hal Clement. Maybe Bob Forward?
posted by Chrysostom at 8:06 AM on May 16, 2016


Greg Egan.
posted by Etrigan at 8:17 AM on May 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


John Updike.


......what?
posted by happyroach at 11:40 AM on May 16, 2016


"Hard SF" as a label is and has always been more of a question of tone and lack of girl cooties than any sort of rigorously applied content. But I don't expect puppies to be able to admit that.
posted by Justinian at 2:46 PM on May 16, 2016 [12 favorites]


I always interpreted the "hard SF" label as referring to work that (mostly) respected the laws of physics, rather than containing FTL drives or ansibles or The Force.
posted by axiom at 10:29 PM on May 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


Well, that's what it is supposed to mean. But as Justinian points out, it is often used mostly to mean "we are manly men, who care not for your realistic culture and sociology!" rather than rigorous adherence to real world physics.

Niven, for example, was considered part of the hard SF grouping, which is ridiculous. Even if you give him the customary mulligan for FTL travel, he's got a bunch of other impossible stuff - transfer booths, General Product hulls. The Teela Brown gene, FFS. He was no more "hard SF" than Ursula LeGuin.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:31 AM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Well, there's also Campbell being a huge ESP nut.
posted by Artw at 6:32 AM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Not to mention JWC's falling for the Dean Drive.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:46 AM on May 17, 2016


I generally assume that, for Correia/Torgersen/etc, "hard SF" is increasingly science that doesn't exist at the expense of people that do. For instance, from their repeated use of the word "transsexual" as a pejorative (both in describing "message" SF and in general) and spreading of transphobic propaganda, it's clear they're not entirely on board with the 21st century, let alone the future.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:53 AM on May 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


And to bring things back around again to the actual subject, here's Nebula winner Altssa Wong on being a John W. Campbell award finalist this year - fingers crossed for her.
posted by Artw at 6:54 AM on May 17, 2016


He was no more "hard SF" than Ursula LeGuin.

I beg to differ. While the ansible used by the Hainish might not meet the laws of physics, how much of the discipline of anthropology has informed her work and its foundations?

is "hard" only from the perspective of physics? or, can it be said to be those speculations emerging from a discipline from academia and their own internal science & method?

I'm probably not articulating this well right now but just saying its the rigour that should be considered "hard" than the actual specific discipline.

Handwaving logic shows up everywhere.
posted by infini at 7:00 AM on May 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


I do enjoy a bit of Mythbusters style sciency puzzle solving in my SF now and then, but insisting it's the only valid kind of SF is like insisting whodunnits are the only valid kind of crime drama. And after a while you suspect it's setting everything in a country house full of middle class white people they're after, not the tasty murder puzzle bits.
posted by Artw at 7:14 AM on May 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


Well, of course, that's why I put "hard" in quotes. But there's another irritation in Torgy's post which is that science fiction is aspirational and Nebula voters prefer a Mad Max future over a Martian future. And well, that's a bit like saying that readers of Frankenstein prefer a world with emotionally neglectful parents or that readers of Fahrenheit 451 prefer a world with ironic anti-intellectuals like Captain Beatty.

Personally, I found The Martian (at least the film version) to be fun but barely speculative. The ability of space agencies to save missions through creative repurposing of existing hardware is already science fact.

Post-apocalyptic fiction, including Mad Max, Leibowitz, Parable of the Sower, the Emberverse, and Postman provides thought experiments on the relationships among community, conflict, scarcity, and religion (broadly defined). Doubtless if Miller had recycled the cooperation vs. exploitation conflict of The Road Warrior, Fury Road would have been relatively uncontroversial in the Puppyverse. It's interesting that Fury Road positions anarcho-feminism as less effective as a long-term strategy than authoritarianism, but few pay attention to that little bit.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:24 AM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Campbell's best story is The Thing*, a story of paranoia and shape changing aliens. It's damn good, but absolutely not in the aspirations-and-sliderules mold he's associated with.

* Okay, technically Who Goes There, and the ending is mildly less gloomy, whatevs.
posted by Artw at 7:42 AM on May 17, 2016


Post-apocalyptic fiction is hardly something new, either. H.G. Wells's The Star is from 1897, for example. Or Forster's The Machine Stops from 1909.

SF has always contemplated shiny futures and bleak futures.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:52 AM on May 17, 2016


It's interesting that Fury Road positions anarcho-feminism as less effective as a long-term strategy than authoritarianism, but few pay attention to that little bit.

I get the impression that Miller sees his powerful characters less in terms of good and bad than constructive and ossified. Immortan Joe had achieved a great deal - the aquifer, the cultivation, the fact that he had a functioning city - but his rule and that of his fellow patriarchs had become stultified. The Vuvalini were, let's be frank, dying. I think Miller's point is that the synthesis of the two point to possibilities that are not available should they remain separate. The key here is Furiosa, who is of both groups, and has equal status in both groups. And one day, Miller would say, she will be corrupt too and she will need to be replaced, and that's just the way of things.

I still think that Fury Road is one movie from the last decade that people will still be talking about in fifty years time. It's about all sorts of things, and I don't think critics have even begun to scratch the surface. For example, while you can certainly see it as gender politics, it's also possible to analyse the film purely in terms of alchemical symbolism. Not so much true of Age of Ultron
posted by Grangousier at 8:22 AM on May 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


Niven, for example, was considered part of the hard SF grouping, which is ridiculous

Based on what I've read of him, Larry Niven's understanding of how and why evolution works is 100% fantasy, anyway
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:35 AM on May 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


Also I think a lot of "hard SF is the only SF" fans overlap significantly with "biological determinism" guys, for whom the question of how humans and human culture would change and develop in the future is irrelevant because they don't accept the premise in the first place.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:39 AM on May 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


I had always thought that the "hard" in hard SF meant the hard sciences (physics, chemistry, biology) and not the soft sciences (economics, sociology, anthropology). What people actually list as hard sf has always seemed kind of erratic and weird, and as a practical matter I haven't found the distinction to be useful.
posted by joannemerriam at 11:16 AM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Based on what I've read of him, Larry Niven's understanding of how and why evolution works is 100% fantasy, anyway

Yes, but that's biology- SF tends to have a mechanical engineer's view of the complexities of biology and evolution. As James Nicoll says:
In science fiction. biology is the redheaded stepchild that comes to school covered in bruises, a dismissal that is endemic to the genre.
And of course biology is treated better then any of the social sciences. I mean seriously? Psychohistory? What level of deliberate ignorance of multiple disciplines was needed to come up with that?
posted by happyroach at 2:27 PM on May 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


showbiz_liz: "Larry Niven's understanding of how and why evolution works is 100% fantasy, "

I don't know if it's retro-conned this way but anything involving humans and related side branches in Known Space isn't evolution anymore than the Jersey Cow, Roundup Ready Canola, or Modern Apples.
posted by Mitheral at 3:21 PM on May 17, 2016


Well, it's true that there was a lot of Puppeteer string-pulling (ha!) behind the scenes in human and Kzinti breeding, not to mention the protector stuff before that. But the very idea that one *could* breed for luck is specious.
posted by Chrysostom at 3:56 PM on May 17, 2016


I haven't read a super ton of his work, but I'm mostly thinking of The Mote in God's Eye and a short story called The Locusts, which are both explicitly about evolutionary processes and both make basically no sense whatsoever, but are written to sound as if they do. (In The Locusts, humans colonize new planets for the first time and then, suddenly, as if a switch had been flipped, every human everywhere, including on Earth, begins only bearing chimpanzee-esque babies. Because people are like locusts and so we only developed intelligence just long enough to populate new planets and will now revert to a subhuman state. What is the mechanism for this meant to be, Niven?)
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:00 PM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Like joannemerriam I've always interpreted "hard" as referring not to intellectual rigor but to the hard/soft sciences distinction. (Wikipedia rattles off some nonsense about how that distinction is based on "perceived methodological rigor, exactitude, and objectivity" and cites three sources that say nothing of the sort - the distinction, to me, relies mainly on the degree of face validity in quantative measurement, and on the extent to which the systems under study can be experimentally manipulated under well-controlled conditions. All scientists of all sorts strive for methodological rigour, exactitude, and objectivity. But I am sure this has the potential to turn into a world-class derail so never mind.)
posted by gingerest at 6:52 PM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Arguments about the definition of SF are never a derail! This is a 25 year tradition on the internet.
posted by Justinian at 3:10 AM on May 18, 2016 [5 favorites]


As a biologist, I will note that modernly there are many who assert that physics and chemistry are the "hard" sciences, and biology is a "soft" science. That this change in perception happened right around the time that women began to achieve parity in numbers in the field is of course a wild coincidence.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:21 AM on May 18, 2016 [12 favorites]


It's "hard" SF when Dirk Steelrod, having spied a pair of massive globular clusters from the bow of his gleaming rocket, applies maximum thrust and hurtles towards the naked singularity he knows awaits beneath them.

It's "soft" SF when he is then immediately engulfed by a squishy amorphous alien, its folds glistening wetly as it absorbs him entirely into its mysterious cavity. Probably also there are teeth.
posted by kyrademon at 6:21 AM on May 18, 2016 [8 favorites]


Justinian: "Arguments about the definition of SF are never a derail! This is a 25 year tradition on the internet."

I'm pretty sure Damon Knight had it figured out.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:43 AM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


FWIW, the distinction I heard was that in hard (or "proper") SF, the scenario is extrapolated from a single (if possible) diversion from now (FTL drives, humanoid androids, whatever), while in Soft SF (or SciFi. Or in Fantasy, when they magnanimously accepted that Fantasy existed) you could stick in whatever you liked as long as it was fun or it made plotting easier. So the distinction was one of discipline (much as with the stricter realms of detective fiction) rather than attitude.

I can't say whether I think it's a true distinction as I didn't read those kinds of books much, outside of Asimov (whose most compelling characters are technically inanimate objects). But in the short stories of Bradbury or Clarke, you can see that there's the single conceit that's written around, which doesn't necessarily have to be dry as dust (the example that pops into my head is the Bradbury story about the boy walking home from school rather than using the teleporter - Bradbury extrapololates a whole world from that one thing, and I don't think there's any other divergence from "our" world in the story).

I must admit that I've always thought of Hard as discursive and intellectual rather than entertaining, a literature of ideas rather than fun, but then I'd file Ballard and Lem in there as well, and I don't know whether that works. Also, I generally prefer fun.
posted by Grangousier at 6:53 AM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


As a biologist, I will note that modernly there are many who assert that physics and chemistry are the "hard" sciences, and biology is a "soft" science.

Relevant XKCD

Classic SF often tends to have a case of Engineers Disease. If it can easily be expressed in terms of maths, it must be superior, and simple, all-encompassing principals surely can be applied to something as simple as biology and the social sciences, right? (similar surprised can now be seen in the transhumanist communities)

And yes, I think gender, especially when dealing with the highly masculine hard sciences has something to do with it as well.

I myself kind of gave up on hard science in my writing, when I looked at my solar-system based story and realized there was no real way I could justify interplanetary colonization.
posted by happyroach at 8:29 AM on May 18, 2016


Arguments about the definition of SF are never a derail! This is a 25 year tradition on the internet.

I beg to disagree...
posted by infini at 8:39 AM on May 18, 2016


Grangousier: "I can't say whether I think it's a true distinction as I didn't read those kinds of books much, outside of Asimov (whose most compelling characters are technically inanimate objects). But in the short stories of Bradbury or Clarke, you can see that there's the single conceit that's written around, which doesn't necessarily have to be dry as dust (the example that pops into my head is the Bradbury story about the boy walking home from school rather than using the teleporter - Bradbury extrapololates a whole world from that one thing, and I don't think there's any other divergence from "our" world in the story). "

Not that it contradicts your larger point, but IRONY ALERT - the teleporter story is actually an Asimov, "It's Such A Beautiful Day."
posted by Chrysostom at 9:01 AM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oh, well, there we go. I read those stories a long time ago - probably forty years. I was sure it was a Bradbury, because it was so small-towny, and because my mind is pushing the cover of the edition of Golden Apples of the Sun we had into my head. I suppose I also sorted it into the Bradbury camp because I'd built up that prejudice, and like all prejudice it's almost certainly wrong. I did enjoy Asimov (even the ones I correctly remembered to be Asimov) but I remember them to be narrative mechanisms: the Robot stories, for example, are problem-solving stories, and the Elijah Bailey novels (my favourites, whether or not I remembered how to spell his name correctly) are double robot-problem and detective story problem stories.
posted by Grangousier at 9:29 AM on May 18, 2016


showbiz_liz, I used to have this *rant* about The Mote in God's Eye, triggered whenever someone tried to call it hard SF. I don't remember enough of the book details to really reproduce it, but it basically came down to EVOLUTION DOESN'T WORK THAT WAY.
posted by tavella at 11:52 AM on May 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


Grangousier, it's also possible your brain reached for the Asimov and picked up Bradbury's The Pedestrian (PDF), which is also a whole (dystopic) world extrapolated from the fact of unexpected walking.
posted by gingerest at 12:37 AM on May 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


« Older Drums! There has to be drums!   |   Mega-City One or bust Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments