The Auditors and Their Measuring

So yesterday there was a mild kerfuffle – Kate wrote about it today over at Mad Genius club – with someone writing an article wanting to kick people off the SF book club.  [Oh, not the real bookclub, on which I gave up about ten years ago after getting a batch of “main selections” which I couldn’t get into at all.  (The one in that batch I got into was Diamond Age.  That’s it.  And I’ll never forgive them for making me skim some of the stuff they sent me.)]

My first thought on reading that article was “oh, good Lord, way to proclaim your ignorance before the world.  And you a Professor, too.”

Because, well, look guys – I know there aren’t many Romance readers in my audience, so you’ll have to take my word for it, okay?

This author was trying to kick people like Bujold off the Sci-fi shelf and into “romance.”

[Sarah takes deep breath, and steeples hands, which she does when she’s about to deliver herself of a sermon.]

Listen, trust me on this one, sci fi has certain genre rules, certain ways of introducing information.  If you don’t believe me, get together some of your friends who don’t read the stuff (what do you mean you don’t have any?  Kidnap some strangers then.  Totally okay.) and get them to read the first ten pages of any science fiction book you consider eminently accessible. They’ll drive you nuts.

I killed one of my first approaches to Darkship Thieves by taking it to a group of non-hardcore-sf writers.  They wanted to know EXACTLY what the ship looked like. And the lifeboats.  And all the history of the Earth since our time to Athena’s.  All this information swelled the first chapter to five, and made it about as interesting as a text book.

This is because one of the techniques of science fiction is “wait and learn the world as the adventure progresses.  This is how it works.  The readers and writers both have internalized the rules of the game.

On the other hand, Romance has its own rules.  I haven’t yet read enough to tell you all, but there’s for instance “the one” and his kiss will do things to you and…  Relationships between men and women (or women and women, or men and men – romance these days is a broad church) will not be in the least realistic.  If two people who just know are right for each other break up, there’ll be this feeling that no one else will do.  This is not real life, this is Romance.

And the hybrid that’s called Futuristic Romance?

It would drive any science fiction fan insane.  No, seriously.  I’ve read three or four of them, by authors I LIKE in Romance, and it makes me want to … kick things.  See, part of it is that they explain ALL THE WRONG THINGS.  It’s like they’re trying to reinvent the wheel.  There are ways to introduce future tech, for instance, but they don’t know it, so they explain everything that doesn’t need it, and gag at everything that does.  They give you more infodumps than Dave Weber, but all this stuff really doesn’t affect the world.  They do the romance beautifully though.

What I mean is that when someone on the Science Fiction side starts ranting and raving about how this stuff is Science Fiction Romance and the stuff is Lois Bujold, your jaw sort of hangs open in awe and you go “Wait, what?”

Because it’s clear that the poor man has never – never, never, never – in his entire life read Romance.  Though he might have sneered at it once or twice.  To him Romance means “people fall in love” which uh… is not what the genre of Romance is as such.

I spent some time trying to picture anyone from the Romance side saying a Futuristic Romance wasn’t Romance because “well, it has all this tech.”

First, I can’t do that.  Romance readers don’t care.  I’ve read some pretty good historical mysteries that also followed romance tropes.  They’re best sellers in Romance.  Second, people on the SF side would laugh so hard at the idea they’d get cramps.

And you know what?  Right now, Romance is THE best selling genre in publishing, bar none.  Not only that, but only in the weird sub branches, it is more likely to sell better than the equivalent in the “real” genre.  I realized this some years ago, which is why I’m studying the Romance touch, (not particularly good at it yet) so I can market SF as Futuristic Romance as well, and hopefully fly under both flags.  Because I want the largest readership possible.

Which brings us to “WHY are you kicking people out of SF?”

I realize this is just a professor’s opinion, but I’ve heard the same around sf cons and from “just fans” – “Oh, that’s not real science fiction, that has romance.”  “Oh, that’s not real science fiction, that has no engineering.”  OR from the publishing establishment “Oh, that’s not real science fiction, that has no major sociological point.”

Look, the reason Darkship Thieves took SO LONG to sell was that the establishment saw “no sociological point” to it.  They kept pointing me at The Sparrow as an example of what I SHOULD do.

The other reason – I’ll leave the connection as an exercise for the audience – is that SF is of all the genres the one that sells WORST.

So, basically what people saying “that’s not SF” particularly to well-selling books are doing is trying to make the ghetto even smaller, so they can…. Be properly marginalized?  I have no idea.

This goes right along with a certain member of SFWA who made a survey in an attempt to prove readership is too middle aged, too white and not “diverse” enough.  (Speaking of which, she flunked diversity.  She has an entire section for Hispanic and it does include Spanish, but not Portuguese.  This is roll on the floor funny, since families spread across both countries and in fact the difference between Lopes and Lopez is a matter of spelling.  Not that I THINK Hispanics or Latin are a different race.  They are a cultural subgroup – and there is no functional difference between Portuguese and Spanish, which even our government notes.  Oh, sure, my mom would kill me if she read this – fortunately she doesn’t read English – but the difference between the North of Portugal and the South is bigger, culturally, than the difference between Portuguese immigrants and certain Cuban Immigrants [I had a crush on one, once, long ago, and his family was just like mine.]  And certainly Portuguese of the North are closer to Spaniards of Galicia than to Portuguese of the South – there’s a reason for this.  The North of Portugal and Galicia were one under the Roman Empire which I think is longer than they’ve been separate.  BUT from over here, certainly the culture I grew up with has more in common with say Mexico than with the culture my husband grew up with in New England.  Heck, I have more in common with Italians and Greeks, too, but that’s something different. If we’re going to give special cultural points to people of tannitude, I tan as much or more than most Spaniards, certainly than those with heavy  Visigoth blood.  And back when I spent more time outdoors, people here regularly thought I was South American. – end of side digression.)

Tell me, have I gone nuts, or have they?

Is it the job of a writer to choose the audience?  More importantly, is it the job of a writer to choose the audience by exclusion?

I’m fairly sure that Heinlein did not like Fascists or Communists, but did you ever hear him ranting that they shouldn’t read his books?

On the contrary, right?  If  people we disagree with read our books, yes, we might persuade them, but more importantly, they’re buying the books and talking about them, and that will increase your reach.  Look, kids…

Like this…  If I heard tomorrow that Little Brown Shirts For Stalin had banned my books and were burning a million in public in front of the party headquarters, I’d throw such a big party…  First, it would put me on the bestseller list.  Second, it would make everyone who is against the Little Brown Shirts For Stalin run out and buy my book.  What part of this is not delicious win covered in chocolate?

So why would you want to tell people they can’t or shouldn’t read or write in your genre?  You know, Romance has some VERY sharp divisions. For instance, I can’t read most contemporary because it starts in bed and ends there, and I find this boring (no, I don’t find sex boring.  I find WRITTEN sex boring.  Deal.)

I read historical and Regency (which isn’t, really) and some mystery romance.  BUT I wouldn’t touch the other stuff.  But you know what, none of the Romance writers has told me that I’m not a real fan and they want me out, right now.  If I go to one of their cons, they don’t say “oh, you’re insufficiently sensitive to the plight of The Cowboy’s Bride’s Baby” and therefore should stop coming.  No, they try to sell me the Cowboy’s Bride’s Baby.  Which is forlorn, but good try.

And for the love of heaven, no Romance con, and no Romance group, and no Romance author has ever said “What we need is a more diverse audience.”

You know what?  If you put out a virus that attacks only the Y chromosome at any Romance con, no one would day (or two or three guys only.)  BUT no one cares.

You know why?  Because they’re there because they like writing and reading romance.  It’s not that they want to change the world or right past injustices, or any insane crap like that.  (Oh, a few of them might flap jaws about that, to sound important, but they don’t ENFORCE it.)

They want to sell books.  And the people who attend, want to read books.

And you know what?  Science Fiction was like that once.  Oh, totally déclassé, with bug eyed monsters and girls in chain mail bikinis.

And it sold.

Now it’s all about social conscience and bringing in people by the numbers, and righting past injustices.

And it doesn’t sell.

What is the lesson?  Yes, yes, I know.  The establishment would say we need more consciousness raising.  Right.

I’ll leave them to it.  I’ll be over here writing things that will sell to the largest number of people possible.

Because writing is first of all my job.  And if I’m not making that much money, I’m not doing my job.  And second, it’s a form of communication.  And if it’s not reaching as many people as possible, I’m not communicating very well.

If I wanted to be a social worker, I’d do that.  I want to be a writer, so I’ll do this.

Science Fiction is what the writer says it is, and what sells to science fiction fans of any skin color, orientation, disability or language group.

I say it’s science fiction, and I say the auditors* trying to discern which atoms are sf and which romance and which picaresque adventure can go hang themselves.


*Pratchett fans know exactly what I mean.

609 responses to “The Auditors and Their Measuring

  1. Harry the Horrible

    That person needs to get a grip. Where would Star Wars be without the Luke, Leia and Han triangle?
    “Boy meets girl” is an archetypal sub-plot that transcends genre.

    • Max and Ellie. Sam and Rose. Carrot and Angua.

    • Therefore, Star Wars is not Real Science Fiction.

      • Q. E. D.

      • Well, duh. Everybody knows that. Same with Star Trek, dontcha know? 😉

      • Star Wars isn’t real science fiction. It’s a swords-and-sorcery fantasy in space. The first half of Episode IV is rescue the Princess, the second half is slay the dragon.

        • Don’t buy it: Star Wars hits all the right beats for space opera, which is scifi. It does have fantastic elements, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t scifi. Early genre-bending, perhaps, but still science fiction.

          • I’ve never bothered to analyze anything by beats, nor am I entirely certain about a definition of space opera, but it seems to me that Star Wars is missing one critical feature that I would consider critical to being called science fiction: Science.

            • Space ships, blasters, light-blades, telepathy and robots.

              It just doesn’t explain it….

              • Depends on the writer. The X-Wing novels had a lot more explanation, and use of sciency stuff: gravitic interdiction, for one. Things that didn’t have Jedi or other Force-users as primary protagonists dealt a lot more with the tech, though about as hand-wavey as Star Trek. It’s like in Thank You For Smoking, when Rob Lowe’s character says something along the lines of, “we’ll just insert a throwaway line, like, ‘thank G-d we invented the whatever device and can smoke in a pure oxygen environment now.'” I mean, it’s generally crap from a science perspective, but it’s entirely possible that somefuture command of science and technology could enable things we think aren’t even close to a thing that can happen. So while there isn’t much science in Star Wars, there’s enough for me to call it space opera.

              • Until Episode I, when the attempt to explain it killed the entire thing as dead as last week’s carp.

                “Willing suspension of disbelief” isn’t just a phrase, it’s KEY….. and when you destroy it by explaining the Force as a bacterial infection you will NEVER get it back.

            • Actual science has never been an essential element in science fiction, and that’s doubly true in visual science fiction.

              There’s an old argument that “X is not science fiction, because I don’t find the scientific explanations sufficiently rigorous; therefore it’s fantasy.” E. E. Smith, for example, said that the Skylark books were fantasy, in contrast to the Lensman books, which were science fiction (!). I’ve never found this satisfying; it’s like saying that if I cut off your arms and legs I can call you a snake. Saying that something is a defective example of X does not make it a successful example of Y.

              In fact it seems kind of like a “no true Scotsman” argument.

              The larger category of fantasy, or fantastic fiction, which includes science fiction, is definable as “fiction that includes elements outside of our usual experience or conception of reality.” The subtypes are distinguished mainly by what method is used to get us to accept those fantastic elements within the secondary world of the story. Science fiction makes use of appeals to science:

              * You can believe in this because it’s explained by this scientific principle
              * You can believe in this because it’s envisioned as an advanced technology of the kind that science makes possible
              * You can believe in this because it’s in the future, when technology will be more advanced
              * You can believe in this because it’s in a remote or inaccessible realm that we might reach by more advanced technology: under the seas, inside the earth, on other planets, in the past, in the future, in a parallel timeline, in cyberspace

              Fantasy, in contrast, appeals to things that we know of from myths, legends, and folklore; to magic, as described in myths, legends, or folklore; or to realm accessible by magic, such as Narnia or the Dreamlands.

              Star Wars isn’t long on explanations. But it’s set “in a galaxy far, far away,” that is, in outer space; it has advanced technological devices, such as starships, energy weapons, and robots; and its alternative set of wonders is explained as “the Force,” which is represented as a kind of energy field and which enables feats that look almost exactly like psi powers as envisioned in older sf—and I’ve heard that in the prequel trilogy, these abilities were further explained as due to cellular organelles called “midichlorians.” Obi-Wan Kenobi is called a “wizard” in Episode 4, but this is by an ignorant man. Other than that, it has emperors and knights and the like—but the same is true of Dune, and no one ever calls Dune “fantasy.”

              • It’s not that Star Wars lacks rigorous scientific explanations, it lacks explanations entirely. The only thing that is explained in any way is the Force, and that’s explained in terms identical to most descriptions of magic in fantasy. It takes more than replacing horses with spaceships to make something science fiction.

                Star Trek is science fiction because there are actual scientific explanations of what’s going on. Those explanations are 95% pure handwavium (if I had a dollar every time a Star Trek character said “tachyons”…), and they make most people with a slightly advanced understanding of physics want to bang their head on the wall, but they are there.

                • I consider Star Wars “Science Fantasy” as it has the “trapping” of Science Fiction with magic (the Force).

                  As for Star Trek, it is Science Fiction but (mostly in Next Gen) with idiot plots.

                  On the other hand, I’ve always used “different standards” for Movie/Television than I use for written fiction.

                  On the Gripping Hand, YMMV. [Smile]

                • Quite the contrary. Replacing horses with starships is precisely what makes something science fiction. It could be argued that there ought to be an explanation for how the starships work, and that if there isn’t, the author/scriptwriter has not done their job; but that doesn’t make something “fantasy”—it makes it “failed science fiction.” If I cut off your arms and legs that doesn’t make you a snake; it makes you a human basket case.

                  • When I was a kid there were those rather objectionable jokes that started off as: what do you call a man with no arms or legs….
                    So, if you take a science fiction story and take out the science explanation and reasons you would call it…..Art!

                    • You can’t call it “Art” unless it’s also unreadable and preferably also PC.

                      Bujold also has Auditors. It’s Miles’ current job. I liked the way Aral died. After a life filled with action, tragedy, horror and a little romance; he got to die peacefully in his sleep.

                  • It also p*sses me off, and I’ll bite you to death. Oh, wait. You were just giving an example of…yeah, I need more caffeine…

                    • Kids tell those jokes because they are puns and really gross and scary. We have to grow up to realize how horrible they are. Sorry. I just wanted to give background to a snarky pun.

                  • It could be argued that there ought to be an explanation for how the starships work

                    Why? Any such explanation is going to necessarily be little more than bafflegab. After all, if I knew how starships worked I wouldn’t be writing SF but rather Nobel acceptance speeches.

                    Also, in contemporary fiction, when people get into a car does the author explain how internal combustion engines work? When they take a flight, is there a discourse on the Bernoulli Principle or Vortex models of fluid dynamics to explain lift? No, the character gets in the frelling car or boards the fracking plane. And next scene they’re at their destination.

                    In Beyond this Horizon, Heinlein didn’t explain the mechanics of a dilating door, he just said “the door dilated.”

                    An in-story explanation of how something works (in order, mostly, to set limits on what it can and cannot do) might be necessary in some cases where how it works is important to the plot, but it’s far from a universal requirement and its lack does not necessarily make something “failed science fiction.”

                    • Exactly. (And you forgot to close tags.) You can examine the implication of a future technology (I think the conclusions from Star Wars are drawers, but that doesn’t mean they’re not entitled to their ideas) without having the slightest notion how it works.
                      I can very well see the sociological implications of the pill, and my son might know how it works, but I don’t.
                      I do run things by experts and say “is this likely with stretching?” but after that…
                      I love Weber, but I tend to flip past his descriptions of spaceships. I know some people love them, but I guess I’m too Earth-bound for that. I keep thinking “they don’t exist.”

                    • I do run things by experts

                      So do I. But I do that in fantasy too. (Getting the horses right. Getting swords right. How far can people travel in a day without using magic? All sorts of stuff.) The late Joel Rosenberg was one of my major inspirations for working hard on getting the “mundane” bits in fantasy “right.”

                    • Yes, because that allows people to swallow the big things. I found in the worst way that researching horses on line is a BAD idea. Don’t ask.

                    • No. I just found what sounded like a really well informed site on horse birth. Everything.On.It.Was.Wrong. We’ll just go with that.

                  • Okay– How many of the population know the engineering and mechanical abilities of their cars? computers? Iphones? Software? HTML even? So I wouldn’t call it “failed sci-fi” if it can inspire the dreamers who aren’t technical. I know that I glaze over when reading books that energize my hubby (technical sci-fi). I emphasize the story… he likes the tech. So yea… isn’t failed… it is different unless you are calling the dystopia (recycled plot) as failed… then I fully agree.

                • Actually no– space, space ships, ummm technology is a setting… 😉 and before we had narrowly defined the genre in the last few years, sci-fi was the place to find experimental stories that didn’t fit into normal fiction. Pulp sci-fi was space opera (look at EE Doc Smith)… and others. But think of it as a setting… some sci-fi has harder descriptions than others, but it is now set in space.

                • I don’t really see a need for explanation in Space Opera. The accoutrements to the story, as far as I’m concerned, can be simply introduced, and their actions or side effects noted as you go along. If we were talking about hard SF, sure, then the need for explanation is there, because we’re reading about something where the science part of science fiction really matters, but otherwise? Not so much. For me, anyway.

                  • But hard sf is usually a different type of story, too.
                    Look, if you’re writing how we discovered the hyperdrive — yeah, you need to explain it, because THAT is the story. But if I’m in a future society where the hyperdrive has existed since forever (or a few hundred years) explaining it is at best a bore, unless your character is trying to invent something better OR the solution hinges on the hyperdrive. Like this — when my brother introduced me to SF he said “people write about living in the future.” So, in my mind, both kids of stories are SF. I hate star Wars for other reasons (including “the force” and Luke’s blessed whining) but not because “it’s not sf.”

                    • IMO with things like Hyperspace (when you’re not “discovering” it), you only give info relevant to the story. You, the writer, needs to know the “rules” but much of what you know isn’t necessary to be told to the reader.

                      Of course, if you’re going to “break” the implied rules, you better tell the reader that it’s possible but extremely dangerous/unlikely.

                      Now, somebody sent me a story to check out so I better get busy on it. [Wink]

                    • Wayne Blackburn

                      Ok, I have to ask – did you still need caffeine when you wrote that comment, or was I unclear? Because I thought that’s what I said.

                    • I was agreeing. vocally.

                    • Wayne Blackburn

                      Ah, so it was MY caffeine level that was questionable. I have since corrected that with another 24 oz coffee. 🙂

              • Science fiction is that branch of fiction that attempts to suspend disbelief by appeal to the authority of science.

            • Aw, c’mon now — it is very science-y, even a bit science-ish. It has puppets robots, and swords light sabers and horses spaceships and everything. Lots of people wearing armor space-suity things, too.

            • Nah, it has Rivets. Everyone knows that SF is rivets.

              • Not if it has gears, too. Then it’s steampunk. 😉

                • If there’s a zeppelin, it’s alternate history. If there’s a rocketship, it’s science fiction. If there are swords and/or horses, it’s fantasy. A book with swords and horses in it can be turned into science fiction by adding a rocketship to the mix. If a book has a rocketship in it, the only thing that can turn it back into fantasy is the Holy Grail.
                  — Debra Doyle

                  • That is awesome, ma’am! Thank you for finding that quote!

                  • Vampire / werewolf sex. If it has a rocketship and vampire / werewolf sex, it zings right over to fantasy. The book even self-levitates to the right shelf.

                    • Nope– rocketship is stronger than fantasy sex… it just gives the reader a jolt every now and again. 😉

                    • I can do an SF version of vampires. Werewolves… that’s a specific kind of shapeshifting, and we’ve had shapeshifters in SF for decades. Addition of adult relations just makes it something written in the Fifty Shades of Ick era.

                    • Oh yea– I like your name of Fifty Shades lol

                    • I want to write about that. The explicit sex, not as allowed, but as “needed” for a book to sell. I think I understand how we got there. Me, I’m not a sissy. I prefer the pleasures of iconoclastic thought.

                    • I seem to recall a few books by Larry Niven that includes vampire sex, and a lot of other fantasy-type things, yet it’s still science fiction. I think it’s not so much what it includes, but how it’s written. You can still have horses, swords, knights/kings/emperors, and still not break the “science fiction” mold, if it’s written (and reads) as science fiction.

                    • I thought that werewolf/vampire sex with spaceships is futuristic romance?

                    • … werewolf/vampire sex with spaceships …

                      Thanks. I doubt I will ever again read a sentence like “he came into the spaceship’s portal” without sniggering.

                    • I prefer the pleasures of iconoclastic thought.

                      Damn, yet another euphemism for sex that I never learned ….

                      ** ducking low **

                    • SPQR, it gives a whole new aspect to the Byzantine civil war between the iconoclasts and iconodules, doesn’t it?

                    • And the true meaning behind the monophysite heresy.

                    • I submit The Madness Season by C.S. Friedman.

                    • Good one.

                      I’ve read the book and enjoyed it but won’t re-read it (it’s a read once book IMO) *but* it does involve spaceships and a being who’s one of the beings behind the vampire legends.

                      He’s not written as a “super-natural” being.

          • Star Wars hits all the right beats for space opera, which is scifi.

            25-30 years ago, I was reading opinions saying that Space Opera wasn’t SciFi.

            • I’m somewhat heterodox that way, I suppose. I’d even lump weird west into scifi. But I like a bigger tent, me.

              • When I think space opera I think of something on the outer marches of science fiction, a buffer between intelligent fiction and those untrustworthy High Fantasy scoundrels or those legendary epic barbarians. 😉

              • My definitions are easy: where would a 12 year old kid go in the bookstore to find this story / novelization of the movie?

                While authors and critics, collectors and super-fans squabble and split hairs, if an uninformed but potentially enthusiastic customer wants to call it science fiction, it’s science fiction. And if someone want to expound to a 12 year old that Star Wars isn’t science fiction, the response they get will be the eye roll of “adults are so stupid, sometimes.”

                You can call it big tent. I call it going for every heart, mind, and wallet we can reach with entertaining, informative, and thought-provoking stories.

                • Yeah. I like that better. I’m afraid spending the week at WorldCon leaves some industry nonsense rubbing off. Seriously, I greatly enjoyed the gig, we sold a bunch of merch and some potentially amazing things happened *hordes the secrets* but the sense of apartness from boots-on-the-ground fans (generally distinct from fen, though there’s overlap) is offputting.

        • You’ve never seen The Hidden Fortress if you think it’s swords and sorcery in space.

          Katanas and kimonos in space, more like.

  2. Pratchett fans know exactly what I mean.

    We knew what you meant when we saw the word in the headline, let alone the body text.

    • I’m guessing that the number of people on this site who aren’t Pratchett fans is only slightly larger than the number of people who are fans of both Obama and math.

      • I’m not much of a fan of Terry Pratchett.

        • One is slightly larger than zero, right?

        • Well, haven’t had a chance to read any, yet, so don’t know if I will be a fan or not.

        • Never touched him, by the explanations of everybody who reads him I don’t think I could stand him, so I haven’t tried him.

          • Like Joss Whedon — but not as outrageously. Pratchett isn’t explicitly left. He’s just European — he is touched with insight and genius DESPITE himself. His creations reach the heart of things DESPITE his “conscious” thoughts about it. His early books are open satire and almost throw aways, but the middle period, though sometimes having a bit of the European come through (Making Money!) is still eminently readable. Even Monstrous Regiment has more than a core of truth, even if it’s not the one he wanted to put there (His ineptitude with guns doesn’t bother me, because it’s not what the book is ABOUT.) If it helps, both Dave Drake and I think he’s the best writer — not just the best humor writer or the best satirist but the best writer — working today.

      • I prefer Pratchett when he’s paired with another author. Same as I like Gaiman better when he’s working with someone else. It’s not like I don’t find them excellent writers, it’s just when they’re tempered by someone else, their strengths are multiplied. So I’m always confused as to whether or not I can call myself a fan of either since I don’t enjoy their solo stuff as much (at least, what I’ve read).

        • Well, I like Pratchett solo, but only his later works (and not so much the last four or five — the illness shows. Sigh.)

        • Gaiman is — unreliable. Some good stuff, some bad.

          • Yes… same problem I have with Gaiman. His best work was in collaboration (graphic novels were collaborated… running from the rotten vegetables) *sigh

            • I agree, though. So at least with two targets, hopefully we’ll avoid the brunt of any thrown veggies.

              I love “Stardust” the movie, for example. LOVE it. Scared to read the novel. Might try the graphic novel first because (again), it’s a collaborative work.

      • I’m fond of Pratchett, not quite sure if I’d call myself a fan. Borderline case, maybe.

      • I’m not much of a Pratchett fan. I’ve tried reading two of his books, only to quit before I’ve reached the second or third chapter. Maybe that’s not a good evaluation, but it works for me. I much prefer Sarah’s writing.

  3. “no Romance author has ever said “What we need is a more diverse audience.””

    Because the audience for Romance is primarily women. What “more diverse” means is “fewer men”.

  4. Wait, people read Amazing Stories? I thought they went toes up for the 4th or 5th time decades ago.

    • I was published by them 10 years ago…

    • They pop in and out – I think it’s an intermittent dimensional rift, myself.

      Every so often one opens at a distributor, and when the wreckage clears there’s a few unaccounted-for bundles of magazines. Instead of consigning them to the Dumpster – “Really, ‘Medusian Hairstyles’ AGAIN and what’s this… ‘Bodybuilding Quarterly’? Oh, no… (shudder) not even the morticians or necrophiliacs will go for that.” they’ll get something remotely salable.

      “Hey, five bundles of ‘Amazing Stories’ – that’ll sell. Stack it over to the side, Harry…”

      Frankly, I’m starting to think Analog and Asimov’s are Rift Productions myself, judging by how often I (don’t) see them at Bones and Narbles…

      If it wasn’t for the Kindle subs I’ve got, I’d never see ’em.

      • Maybe the SF magazine industry is being bought out by the Weapon Shops?

        • I decided to let my Asimov’s subscription lapse after the “World where beneficial aliens eliminated all men and made women Parthenogenic” and the “Alien Space Chickens that can open a wormhole by running in circles and are used to eliminate the alien owl who wants to eat the San Francisco slacker’s neo-hippie girlfriend’s yappy-dog. With a guest appearance by an old Vietnamese man as the magical Negro.” I’m about a year behind in reading what I’ve got now.

          Man I miss Silverberg as editor.

          • They do vary sharply in quality – I used to get a few print issues that were decent, resubscribe, then it would turn to drivel… but hope springs eternal in the reader’s heart… or maybe kidneys, and that’s not really hope that’s dribbling out…

    • Amazing Stories at this point in time is not actually publishing fiction – I asked earlier this week, and they are only putting out excerpts – but what they are trying to do is remake themselves as a fan-magazine. So, there are oodles of blog posts by, er, fans on topics of all kinds, not just SF, but anything tied to fandom. I am one of those bloggers, not sure why or how, I kinda got sucked into it! This essay notwithstanding, there’s some interesting discussions at times. Unfortunately, there is also a HUGE bias, and one that the current management is aware of, and I have had a conversation with him about it, he will only do something about if he gets enough complaints. Which is unlikely.

  5. Oh, damn, I closed my tags wrong.

  6. I think that sf, unlike romance, perhaps, *did* originate out of a desire to change the world. Remember Hugo Gernsback’s ties to technocracy. Charles Stross blogged a couple of years ago that the continued existence of science fiction was rather as if Communism had fallen in Russia around 1930, and left behind only an artistic movement for heroic paintings of muscular men driving tractors. And even before Gernsback there was Wells in the Fabian Society.

    But you’re right about the sfnal method of portraying a future world—at least, the post-Campbellian method of doing so, though in fact the technique was used before World War I by Rudyard Kipling in “With the Night Mail” and “As Easy as A.B.C.” (see for more on this). The long explicit descriptions are an older technique, one that was found in a lot of utopian novels (one of the ancestral genres of sf). It is necessary to learn to read that, just as it’s necessary to learn to read mysteries and spot the clues as to who the criminal is—something I’ve never been able to master, though there are mystery writers such as Sayers whom I read for the characterization and the social commentary.

    As to Bujold—a few years ago a friend who is a big Bujold fan read the first book in the Sharing Knife series and told me that she could “feel her IQ dropping” with every page because of the romance content. It didn’t affect me that way, and in fact I’ve reread the whole series a couple of times; I find it interesting both as a fantasy series set on an analog of the American frontier (the riverboat voyage in the third volume is especially striking!) and as a deeper, more anthropologically informed look at the relationship between the Shire and the Rangers, one that asks where the Rangers get their horses and how they have time to train in the arts of war. But then, I’m also willing to read love stories. I suspect that what you’re seeing may be not so much “this isn’t sf because it lacks X” (Bujold’s series, for example, has some really fascinating worldbuilding) as “this isn’t sf because it has this element of love in the foreground that I find alien and intrusive.”

    • *considers* I know that sometimes the way a relationship is done makes me want to throw it across the room.

    • As to Bujold—a few years ago a friend who is a big Bujold fan read the first book in the Sharing Knife series and told me that she could “feel her IQ dropping” with every page because of the romance content

      Bujold deliberately blended genres with the Sharing Knife books. I liked the result but I know it did annoy both SF and Romance purists. I don’t think their opions hurt her overall sales though

      • The first book was sometimes a little too-too, for the sf/f side, when it came to romantic descriptive moments. After that book, she got a better balance going with the descriptive parts.

      • Mind you, I’ve never read a “romance” book, but having talked to several women who do…”feeling your IQ drop” is a requirement for digesting the umpteen thousand Harlequin paperbacks that are out there. I’ve actually had my sister tell me with a straight face “I like reading books where I don’t have to think!”.

        • The dirty little secret? English majors read those little Harlequin romances to rest their brain from twisting it so hard in class. 😉 TRUE

        • Eh. those are actually great, for “popcorn.” See, I have an addiction. i will read while doing anything EVEN CLEANING THE FLOOR. for those I like stuff I don’t have to think about. Mostly cozy mysteries, but I’ve used romances.

  7. I can’t get past that that PROFESSOR thinks Bujold is Romance. If it wasn’t so stupid, it would have gotten a big belly laugh. She and other writers like her are the only reason I kept a toe in sci-fi after it made a sharp turn away from good stories.

    Keep writing the good stories and I will keep reading them. Plus dangit I have a space pirate/smuggler rattling around in my brain lately. *sigh


    It’s a floor wax and a dessert topping.

    The definitions aren’t exclusionary, but inclusive and it’s entirely possible for something to be both Romance and Science Fiction (Catharine Asaro and Lois McMaster Bujold have both made careers out of that) or Mystery and SF, or Coming of Age Story and SF (Heinlein is the archetype here) or….

  9. “If I heard tomorrow that Little Brown Shirts For Stalin had banned my books and were burning a million in public in front of the party headquarters, I’d throw such a big party”
    Also because–someone bought a million copies of your books! Yeah, too bad those copies aren’t getting read, but the income’s still got to be a plus.

    • A million print copies, at that – who would burn kindles or nooks or cell phones to prove their point? Wouldn’t make the same photo op. Man, if the LBSFS announced that, Baen would be on the phone to the printers for an emergency print run so fast they might not even wait for the end of the press release. And probably have a booth set up near the demonstration. “Want to burn a commemorative copy? Buy one here! Also available from the same publisher: Drake, Ringo, Correia, Weber, Freer, Spoor, and more! For an extra price, get a signed copy of That Book by Sarah Hoyt with Anti-Communist phrase in the front!”

      Your publisher would be crying tears of joy, and plying you with porto, saying “Whatever you did to piss them off, do it again! Again! Who else can I get to piss them off?”

      • William O. B'Livion

        A million print copies, at that – who would burn kindles or nooks or cell phones to prove their point?

        I now have this picture in my head of people showing up to a bonfire with printouts.

  10. I’m not a big fan of “Romance Fiction” but a good writer can and has make me enjoy a romantic sub-plot in his/her non-romance story.

    Oh, if you read an Eric Flint story and a character is envious of the strong relationship between two of his friends, you know that character will find a potential love-interest. [Very Big Grin]

  11. I’m afraid the only romance author I read regularly is John Ringo.
    Hey, he won an award, fair and square.
    As for SF in general, the term is so broad it’s got coverage equal to a fire hose set on mist. Consider that the genre encompasses everything from Heinlein, who painted with quite a broad brush himself, to stuff like Turtledove’s alternate histories, and even pseudo historical romance like that Earth’s Children series by Auel. How that last got categorized as SF I never was able to comprehend.
    Back in my day the gist of the argument was between “hard” SF about tech and hardware and that “soft” stuff about people and feelings. Proponents of the two sub genres would regularly come to written and verbal blows over what was “real SF.” And Lord save the newbie who slipped up and called it Sci Fi.
    The more you write about what’s going on in the industry’s inner circles the more I bless Jim’s memory, Toni’s current efforts, and the simple fact that Baen exists at all.

    • Bujold also wrote A Civil Campaign and the Captain Vorpatril book, that might have set it off. Bujold claims one is a Regency, and the other one is…well pretty good, but really an adventure story like Tom Sawyer, right down to Indian Joe and the cave. My take on the “specs for SF” is it is a literature of doing and adventuring, where science or technology is essential to the world building. All of the Vorkosigan universe books fill those requirements IMHO. Actually the Sharing Knife series does too.

      • In a sense so does Lord of the Rings. The science is historical linguistics.

        • I admit that I am irony impaired, but I have an ADA exception.
          There is high fantasy/fiction where the MCs take their lives and the mystic football and save the universe/species/lives of everyone. Then there is smaller where the MCs take their lives and maybe an espresso in hand to save their own necks/their business, etc by overcoming contratemps of various levels, but the world goes on. LOTR is one of the first, Tom Sawyer is the other – in that if Tom and Becky died the world would go on in spite of the tragedy, but if Frodo and Sam failed the world would become the tragedy. There is some overlap, but High Fantasy tends to be like LOTR and High Science Fiction tends to be like Tom Sawer.
          How is that for unfounded preconception blown into a definitive statement based solely on my impression?

    • I’m afraid the only romance author I read regularly is John Ringo.
      Hey, he won an award, fair and square.

      I’m sooooooo glad I wasn’t sipping my iced coffee when I read that. And yes, I’m a huge Ringo fan.

  12. From Sarah: If I heard tomorrow that Little Brown Shirts For Stalin had banned my books and were burning a million in public in front of the party headquarters, I’d throw such a big party… First, it would put me on the bestseller list. Second, it would make everyone who is against the Little Brown Shirts For Stalin run out and buy my book. What part of this is not delicious win covered in chocolate?

    Alfred Hitchcock put Robert Bloch on the best seller list twice: he had bought the rights to “Psycho” secretly for about 600 dollars, then when the movie was ready to release, he sent people to all the major US cities to buy up all the hardback copies of “Psycho” so no one would spoil the ending. Then he burned them. Best seller list, “Psycho” had sold nearly every copy! After the movie had been in theaters for a while, and anyone who could get spoilered had already been spoilered, he allowed a mass market paperback movie edition with Leigh and Perkins on the cover. Best seller list again!

  13. “The Sparrow?” Yuck, read that one and “Children of God.”

    • I’ll confess it’s not my cup of tea, either. SF? Probably but… not for me.

      • SF? Probably. Yeah, I just processed two copies of “Riddley Walker” by Russell Hoban for the store.

      • When you said “The Sparrow”, my first thought was “Sparrow? In Bone Dance, by Emma Bull? But Sparrow rocks, and it’s a really fun story! Okay, it’s a little dated now, but hey….”

        The I Search-Engined the other book, and went “Oh, ewwww. No, please don’t write like that; i want you to be able to look at yourself in the mirror.”

      • It’s more fun when it’s given to you with the giver saying “Jesuits in Space” in the same tone of voice as the Muppets’ “Pigs! In! SPAAAAAAAACE!” It also helps when you’re attending a Jesuit college at the time.

    • I could appreciate the artistry of it, but The Sparrow wasn’t my cuppa.

      • The Sparrow is pretty much the definition of an outlier book. The only thing it’s anything like is Ursula K. LeGuin, and not much like her. (And maybe James Blish, but only because there’s a Jesuit in.)

        • I’ve tried reading LeGuin .. I was, at the time, imprisoned on a train for several hours a day, and one of her titles popped up on the “free books” rack some of the other inmates at the office and I used to share survival tools (books) ..

          If it hadn’t been free and I’d had any other realistic options (this was before kindles and smarphones, children.. it was LeGuin or pick a newspaper out of the trash .. something some of my fellow prisoners routinely did… yes, I also people-watched) I wouldn’t have finished the thing. It was brutal going.

          I understand she has her fans, and I’m very glad she achieved some success, but she is not for me. All that to say I will not be picking up this Sparrow thing.


  14. I read Jim Baen before he founded Baen Books. Anyone remember New Destinies the paperback magazine?

    Love, love, love this post Sarah!

    Do you think that Roiz is similar to Ruiz?

    • That I have no idea of Roiz/Ruiz, but Marques and Marquez are probably different branches of the family. It can also be found in France and Scotland, which gives people to think about “race.” Culture, sure. And as for Martin, it’s EVERYWHERE in Europe, though in Portuguese it’s Martins. (Oh, and I think she purposely excluded Portuguese from the test, because otherwise Larry and I would have WAY too much fun. :-p)

      • There is the Finnish surname Marttiini, too. No idea how that is connected, or not connected. Most likely it was born from the first name Martti, although there have been men moving here from other parts of Europe throughout history (presumably a lot of criminals and adventurers in that bunch, not that many business opportunities here back in the day unless you dealt in furs, fish or, a bit later, in pine tar. :)).

        Marttiini is also a trade mark since one of them started one of the better known puukko making companies (I don’t like those ones all that much, both of the blades in the couple I have bought have ended with a broken tip, the steel used, at least in those two I have, stays sharp long but seems to be somewhat brittle).

        • And Martti is a man’s name, by the way. A lot of male first names here end with -i. The cousin I have mentioned here a couple of times who managed to kill himself young by diving head first into an empty swimming pool (who’s first to the pool race with a couple of other young men) was named Kari.

        • I once read that Martin is the oldest surname in Europe, but since I don’t remember where or how reputable, I’m mentioning it, not pushing it.

          • Well, if enough soldiers gave “Martius” as their name to their local lady-loves, yeah. How many legions and armies over how many years? Kinda like all the Italians named Esposito/Exposito or the guy I saw yesterday, Della Femina.

    • I might have a copy of New Destinies around.

  15. There must be something in the water this year. There’s a major history group that may come apart at the seams because some people can’t live with a big tent approach to the field. No, I’m not attending the meeting. It hurts too much and the cost (monetary, temporal, and emotional) is too great.

    • On a side note – inclusive vs exclusive is like filing vs. tagging.

      Filing – whether actual file drawers, or “folders” (directories) in email or on a computer file system, are naturally exclusive. A document, physical or otherwise, is either in one, or the other. (I’ll avoid aliases/shortcuts/symlinks).

      Tagging, as in gmail, and upcoming file system features, is the concept that something can belong to several categories that may not gracefully group together. So you tag it with both (or more) and can find it under either.

      The “big tent” approach mentioned above – a story can be romance AND sf – is the tagging approach. It is perfectly acceptable to mention as something belonging to a category that it meets sufficient criteria, even if it meets criteria for another category. Sure, you run into the “how many grains of sand is a pile” paradox, but that doesn’t change that at some point, a story may have sufficient SF tropes, and other tropes, to qualify in multiple categories.

      Jim Butcher’s Dresden books are a perfect example (detective noir, fantasy). Larry’s Grimnoir books. Bluntly – so are many of Pratchett’s books.

  16. I read the article last night, and it sparked a momentary irritation. That’s it. An “oh, this again?” moment of grump. Perhaps (a likelihood of nearly one) it’s that I’m coming down off of WorldCon, and a WorldCon where a lot of things went really well (still writing up the AAR, actually) for several of my friends. The boss-man won a Hugo, a friend-unto-brother got a couple of significant job opportunities (which I helped facilitate) and I have face/name recognition with the people in scifi who really matter. Most importantly, I got to further some significant relationships. And I made people laugh, which is always fun. Beyond that, WorldCon itself was a bit meh. That said, this is one of those conversations that always.comes.up. about this time of year. Which is to say, “how do we make WorldCon more relevant? And the answer always seems to be diversity, inclusion, social impact, rather than “how about we write some ripping stories.” Heckfire, John Ringo’s been tearing on Scalzi’s Hugo win for Redshirts, and getting a lot of smug responses from the posterkind in return. I long ago came to the conclusion that I’ll never win a Hugo, and I don’t especially care. I want to win the George, Andrew, Ulysses and Benjamin awards, and to that end, I write the best stories I can. In my own work and those I read, I’m far more interested in how well the characters are written, than whether those characters are melanin-blessed, gender-confused or neuro-atypical. Keep the story interesting, and you’ll keep me as a reader.

    • I like stories where the protagonist is of some less used type, so I’m also quite fond of the very tanned variety. But I don’t want those stories to be about how he looks and what it means (or she, I suppose, if you want to go full PC). Well, no gripes if that type of questions get some significance to the story, but I much prefer something like ‘a black guy needs to infiltrate a fortress very everybody is melanin challenged, how does he do that without getting caught’ kind of more practical problems rather than ‘black woman slave suffers a lot but proves to be a much better person than any of the whites who suppress her’ kinds.

      And I’m afraid my fondness for the less used types of protagonists has more to do with having a visual type of imagination rather than from something like any kind of social consciousness or lack of. I just like to ‘see’ more variety.

      • I also really like authors that can pull off an old, or crippled, or ill protagonist and have it just be part of the everyday challenges they face, not a “sainted victim” status thing.

        From the old lady left behind when the colony pulled out, and thus was the first contact with the native sentient species, to a militarily mad dwarf who accidentally acquires a mercenary company, I have a deep weakness for the truly unconventional heroes. I *heart* Cohen the Barbarian and the Silver Horde.

        • In movies, ‘UP’ and that slow motion fight between Carl and Muntz? 😀

          I’d love to see something like an alien invasion – or maybe a bunch of scouts for one, easier to make that believable – repelled by a group of grandmothers – and not by having them spout some granny wisdom which changes the minds of the aliens, but rather by having the ladies end up shooting big guns. Gun nut and retired military grannies? If it was a movie you could always throw in a couple of attractive young adult grandchildren for eye candy purposes.

          There seems to be a version of ‘Expendables’ with a female cast in the works. I hope they will dare to use obviously older actresses in that if it actually gets made. And not make the women go and defeat men half their age and twice their size in unarmed one on one combat, but let them rather use guns and good tactics (well, I guess I’m bound to be disappointed with that, there is inevitably going to be at least one or two one on one unarmed combat scenes, at least the one where the leader beats the main villain who is probably both male and twice her size…).

          • “There seems to be a version of ‘Expendables’ with a female cast in the works.”

            And that right there demonstrates the idiocy of all of this “Diversity” thinking. The entire POINT of “Expendables” was to get all of the action stars from the ’80s together in one movie sending up ’80s action movies. You can’t have a female version of that because there aren’t that many female action stars from the ’80s. Maybe a bunch of stars from ’70s sexploitation films, or ’90s RomComs, but not action flicks.


            • Peers into pants. Yes! Vive la difference!

            • You might get something of a crew together if you start from the 70’s blaxbloitation films, and go from there towards today. There may not have been big name action stars, but there have been some small names whose biggest hits were in action roles in cheap b – and later, straight to video movies, best known being Pam Grier (I remember seeing some in the cheaper video rentals back in the early 80’s, and occasionally watched them too, not after that though – Finland did have a period of video censorship during the 80’s and early 90’s, and those movies usually had both a lot of sex and a lot of violence).

              But if it was done like that about half of the women would be granny aged. And no, it would not be that big a group, and most of them would also be unknowns to everybody but some geek bad movie lovers. So not necessarily that good an idea.

              By the way, about my wish for a story where grandmothers defeat aliens (or just bad guys, which might be even more fun, since then you could play with the idea of ladies who play with expectations and manage to convince the enemy of their total helplessness before outsmarting them :)) – no, I would not want women who perform as men (or outperform men) physically (also known as men with tits). What I would want would be women who manage to win because they are smart and can work around their weaknesses. Much more satisfactory. (And why grandmothers – pretty much everybody else has gotten the chance to defeat aliens already, so why not old women?)

              • I’m thinking of Helen Mirren in _Reds_ saying, “…and if you break his heart I will kill you and bury you in the woods.”

                • I don’t have a problem with her character because women have been part of intelligence agencies since Biblical times, and it’s obvious that out at the extreme end of the bell curve there can be women who can take on most men. So having one bad-ass female spy, or retired spy, doesn’t sprain credulity. But most of the appeal of Expendables was seeing Stallone, Statham, Van Damme, et al. together in one movie. You can’t do a female version of that because there aren’t female versions of Stallone, Statham, Van Damme, et al.

              • The Grannies invite them in (after all, who would be wary of little old ladies, feed them sweet tea, apple pie and elderberry wine with a few extra … seasonings included.

                Anyone think a granny couldn’t hold a garrote against a seated victim? (Envisioning Helen Hayes smiling sweetly while holding the noose snug.)

                • Reminds me of Arsenic and Old Lace–

                  • Precisely my first thought. I’m rather found of the Frank Capra version with Cary Grant.

                  • I didn’t expect anybody would recognize the ladies in the Capra movie (a Halloween favourite in the RES household — BTW, watch the sequence in the basement in which Jonathan Brewster explains his intentions re: brother Mortimer to Dr. Einstein … now reread or watch the film of the portion of Rowling’s Goblet of Fire when Lord Whassname reveals his scheme to rat-boy) so I picked Hayes, who starred in the Hallmark Hall of Fame production:

                    Lillian Gish, Helen Hayes in Arsenic & Old Lace (1969)

                    Originally aired as a Movie of the Week in 1969. Co-starring Bob Crane, Fred Gwynne, Sue Lyon, David Wayne, Billy De Wolfe..

                • Arsenic and Old Lace.

                • Arsenic And Old Lace… 😀 Well, they didn’t garrote anybody, but close enough otherwise. Love that movie.

                  • And then there is The Ladykillers (original, of course, not the remake). Which I do not have on DVD so I remember much less well, but while I remember it being very enjoyable I think the old lady hindered, at least most of the film, the bankrobbers more by being a stereotypical old lady, always bringing them tea or coming to ask if everything was all right while they were in the middle of doing something. And I do prefer the cunning variety who knows exactly what is going on, just play innocent.

              • …or just bad guys, which might be even more fun, since then you could play with the idea of ladies who play with expectations and manage to convince the enemy of their total helplessness before outsmarting them

                Gordon R. Dickson did pretty much that with (IIRC), The Spirit of Dorsai

            • Funny synchronicity:

              … is best remembered as one of the femme fatales in Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, which is widely considered the Citizen Kane of crap.
              “You just didn’t see women taking over and beating up men in those days. Russ did something no one else had the imagination to do. And he was smart to use three bodied-up women, so whether the picture’s good or not, you still sort of stare at it.”

          • Also would love to see Ripley and Sarah Connor team up against … something …

    • “George, Andrew, Ulysses and Benjamin awards”

      I love that phrase. Mind if I steal with attribution? Oh, and your Baptism by Fire was fun. Will get a review in when my brain has a chance to decompress from work.

      • Oh. Good. Glad you enjoyed it. Sure, steal away. Attribution unimportant, really. I was really mostly expanding on a thing I saw in Toni’s FB feed, so – as is pretty standard – my best lines are somebody else’s.

  17. I have been haunting book stores in search of SF for almost fifty years. Back when I started you had to really be lucky to find more than a few dozen SF titles in any given store (this was back when places like Walden Books were large.) A few decades on and I noticed a kind of swell of pride on realizing that SF sections had become quite sizable — and then dismayed when I realized that two thirds of them consisted of Fantasy (hey, I like Fantasy but …) I shrugged, I got over it, I focused on the never ending task of hunting down those books which were tasty and filling … for me.

    Sounds as if Professor Prissypants had a similar experience, except took it the wrong way. He wants his SF pure and doesn’t want to have to put up with the messy effort at searching out the stuff he likes from among all that icky other stuff. There is always the risk that SF (“real” SF, you know — with the world ending under a sludge of grey goo) will get cooties.

    After all, Bujold is shelved right alongside Burroughs, beside Butcher’s Dresden which would be next to Butler except Sam’l got moved into the “classics” section so that nobody would read Erewhon, merely read about it.

    I say give him what he wants. Create a separate niche for “real” SF and let the Bujold and Liaden and Dresden and all the rest get stocked in the “fantastic books people will read” section (you’ve seen it — it’s right between the “mystery books people will read” and “romantic books people will read” sections. Prof. Prissypants can go back to having his few dozen SF books in an alcove nobody else visits (for one thing, the smell is … offputting.) That way none of the rest of us — those who’s first question about a book is not “Is it SF or Fantasy or Romance or Mystery or some weird genre-meld?” but rather “Is this a good story that will be worth my time and money?”

    Because I don’t know about you, but I figure I’m good for another forty years of reading, at best, which at my current rate of consumption of a book a week (used to be faster; used to be a book in a day; used to not spend time on the internet or having a life) I can expect to read another 2K books and I already have more than that in my “to be read” pile, so anything that helps eliminate tedious tendentious twaddle so pretentious you could spread it on bread and make sandwiches and which takes twice as long to read as a good book is thumbs up in my book.

    I bet Professor Prissypants throws a snit whenever the food on his plate touches.

    • Only if the author’s presence in Real SF is voluntary. It may cut into the sales.

      • Perhaps WorldCon could establish a committee to carefully delineate the standards required for all “Officially Registered” SF so that authors can be sure to avoid meet them in order to be included in that ghetto select community. Call it the Commisariat of Pure Balanced Science Fiction (Pure BS Fiction for short) or some such.

        I am confident that within a very few years they would reach a standard of purity so intense no more than one book a year would meet it.

        • Remember that all authors officially registered would need to wear some kind of identifying marker…


          (if you’re gonna do the classics, *DO THE CLASSICS*)

          • What would that be? Yellow stars and pink triangles are taken.

            • A millstone, to be worn as a necklace?

            • In honor of Jerry Pournelle, we shall steal his terminology. IIRC, he would say, Gray goo.

            • Silver spaceships are also taken…..

              Perhaps red moons?


              • Green clovers? Blue diamonds?

                On Fri, Sep 6, 2013 at 7:32 AM, According To Hoyt wrote:

                > ** > mijacat commented: “Silver spaceships are also taken….. Perhaps red > moons? Mew” >

                • Nope, breakfast cereal.

                • Somebody’s eaten, or served, too much Lucky Stars. By the way how is the baby?

                  • Hmm . . . my youngest “baby” will be 14 in a couple of weeks. Maybe you’re thinking of Foxfier?

                    (Both kids are fine, btw.)

                    On Fri, Sep 6, 2013 at 12:20 PM, According To Hoyt wrote:

                    > ** > emily61 commented: “Somebody’s eaten, or served, too much Lucky Stars. > By the way how is the baby?” >

                    • My eating solids type kids demand oatmeal for a “treat” breakfast. (it’s the sweet stuff from the instant packs– yes, they are spoiled)

                      The baby just managed to roll himself from his back to his side for the first verified time about half an hour ago. 🙂

                    • My baby is 18 — mingle your tears with me.

                    • “My baby is 18 — mingle your tears with me.”

                      My youngest is 33 and I have teenaged grandchildren. Grandchildren are the best. You can enjoy them and then turn them back over to the parents to deal with :>)

                    • I’ll never have grandchildren. The boys are aliens 😉

                    • I’m sure that they’ll find someone eventually. Just hope that they find her(their own individual her) while she’s still fertile, or you’ll only have grandpuppies or grandkitties.

                    • My own himself was very earnestly defined– by his mother– as “not the marrying kind”… the day before he proposed to me.

                      Urge the boys to firendship. It’s more powerful than popculture versions of love.

                    • Yes I was thinking of Foxfier. Oops.

                    • You may yet be surprised! There are geek girls who like boys like them. I hold out hope, as G-d found fit to find a match for me, for TJIC, and for other geeky friends of mine… it may take a while, and they may be accessing the internet from a few thousand miles away, but life will find a way.

                    • Definitely! Mine was living in AL when I was in NY. We introduced by a mutual friend at a con.

  18. Why do I get the feeling that if a Tom Clancy type wrote a Romance it would avoid emotions all together and still have 30-60 pages of equipment specs?

    • Do. not. go. there.

    • LOL…

      “The bed was specifically constructed out of high-tensile strength graphene-based composites, while the sheets were a lightweight woven aramid fabric, designed to be compatible both with the ballistic-cloth blankets and likely biological lubricant spills – as well as contain any possible mattress failures.

      “As in the usual way of things – the mattress was made by the lowest bidder to save money, and was considered to have the highest chance of failure under load.”

  19. I’m enough of a sadist that I’m kind of tempted to write a story with a slave owning, polygamist, industrialist as the hero … just to see how many heads I can make explode. Maybe I can really bake their noodle by making him a gender confused Samoan.

    Nah. That would make it all ok with the PC crowd.

    • Doubt it. A Few Good Men is, I hear, “too American” and “Too Extreme” — 😛

      • Isn’t that a *good* thing?

        On Thu, Sep 5, 2013 at 1:00 PM, According To Hoyt wrote:

        > ** > accordingtohoyt commented: “Doubt it. A Few Good Men is, I hear, “too > American” and “Too Extreme” — :-P” >

    • Make one of his slaves his best friend. Or perhaps better, his true love is one of his slaves, and she/he reciprocates his feelings, but that does not make him denounce slavery, or even free his lover, and maybe said lover doesn’t ask him to but seems content staying as his slave… I’ve seen some quite furious rants about stories where it seemed that there might be some sort of even vaguely friendly relationship between a slave and an owner. Like a slave nanny who seems to like, or maybe even love, the adult she has been looking after since he was a newborn baby. Totally unnatural or something. Slaves will always think exactly the same way of their situation we modern people think of slavery, and if you even hint at anything else you are actually endorsing slavery (plus there seems to have been only one type of slavery in history).

      • Call them “thralls” and so seduce the reader into not noticing that they are slaves until you get well into the book. If at all.

        • Or make one of them make the arguments in defense of slavery: it is preferable to losers in war being slain, owners are required to support their slaves all their lives and thus less inclined to burn-them out in hazardous tasks (especially when day laborers are cheap and don’t get medical or pension), it is in the owner’s interest to feed the slave and provide medical care … I daresay this lot heah could provide a good dozen or more arguments.

          Mind, the point is not to make a defense of slavery — let the novel show the flaws while advocating the benefits — but to push people past their “slavery = bad” reflex that substitutes for thought.

          • Poul Anderson did do a SF novel in which the hero, angry, punished a slave woman by emancipating her.

            • Wayne Blackburn

              I could also point out that House-Elves in Harry Potter were normally very upset at being emancipated (Dobby was an aberration), even if they were not as helpless as most humans would be in that situation.

              • Yeah, well, one world-building flaw is that we had an entire book with Dobby setting the standard, and then we learn he’s an aberration. Very hard to switch gears like that.

                I can handle pride in position, but switching gears like that. . . .

              • Given the depicted intellectual capacities of the House Elves, it probably is not a good basis for arguing that slaves can rationally and intelligently prefer slavery to independence.

                IIRC, P.G. Woodhouse had Jeeves express some rather strong opinions on the matter of service, but I have only watched various dramatizations — actual reading of those pleasures is something I’ve not yet gotten to. (Maybe somebody needs to file off the serial numbers and re-purpose* them as SF or Fantasy.)

                *N.B. – acknowledged it is not the plot or even the characters that has made such classics of these works, but the writing.

      • Did that master-slave thing in one of my books- Deep in the Heart – for a couple of secondary characters. Although it wasn’t overtly stated, it should have been pretty clear that the master and slave were half-brothers, and had been quite fond of each other all their lives. The master arranges for his slave-half-brother to work for wages, so that he can buy himself free without opposition from the owner’s family.
        In my next book, I have the character of an 1876 lady who smokes cigarettes, and thinks it quite a relaxing small vice. I’d love to see some gibbering outrage over this, just so that I can look at them with wide, innocent eyes and say how common that kind of thing was, pre-Civil War.

        • I forget what work — it was a graphic novel about a long-hunter’s trek to deliver a letter to Detroit circa 1812, IIRC — that made the point clear to me that smoking cigarettes was a practical means of repelling mosquitoes and other disease carrying bugs. Trading a choice that might, in forty years, kill you against protection from risks on the order of a week or two doesn’t take a whole lot of pondering.

          Cigarettes also provided a range of benefits against the sort of ills typically plaguing participants in subsistence cultures.

      • Ha! You are John Norman and I claim my five pounds.

        • 😀

          Was actually thinking more of the first scenes from Chessmen of Mars, and the sweet friendship princess Tara has with her female slave (who seems to be rather in love with her mistress). I wonder if anybody has written any slash about that… probably not, most slash fanfic writers seem to concentrate on relationships between men.

          No, Gor series is something of which I started to read one book and never managed to finish it, although I have occasionally wondered a bit if you could turn the concept into a modern (lots of SM, but hey, 50 Shades of Grey – which I have after a friend finished it and gave me, but haven’t managed to read yet either) romance novel. It seemed to be close enough as it was, just write it from the point of view of one of the women and file the numbers off…

        • I picked up a Gor novel in used bookstore in my tender years, desperate for some new fantasy to read. Hm. It was only later that I learned they’re considered BDSM classics.

          • Well, and now I think left in the dust by most urban fantasy. But in urban fantasy women are full of grrrrl power, so it’s okay.

            • Yeah. I have an ongoing low intensity conflict with some of the urban fantasy trends. I enjoy the contemporary story juxtaposed with the fantastical, and there are some folks out there with great rip-roaring story ideas. Good quick reads. But I get weary of the pulsing this, and the quivering that and the obsession. And every one in a while…NOW? Really?? Danger all around, imminent threat, ACTUAL PEOPLE WANNA KILL YA NOW impending doom…and you wanna slip off into the shadows and explore those tight jeans??

              *another book shaped dent*

              I get the biological imperative overwhelms rational thought bit, but there’s another imperative that has to do with living until the climax that might override. At least if you’re not a bug.

              Sorry, my canted brain went tripping down the path.

              • My main problem both with a lot of urban fantasy and almost all modern romance. First, I’m not one of those people who can get titillated by a verbal description, especially if the description covers everything (some teasing before the door closes and the rest is left to the reader’s imagination and preferred personal quirks, on the other hand, can often work). And yes, if the couple seems more intent on fornicating than living – or sometimes, when the murdered family member/best friend or whatever other horrible loss or experience first led the protagonist down the path of adventure/moving/whatever the secondary plot is supposed to be seems to get almost completely forgotten the instant a hot member of the preferred sex walks into the picture – no, I’m afraid I will lose all interest in whether the idiots live or die or what they do with each other after that.

                • Yes. Exactly. THIS is my big issue. I can’t GET or enjoy … sigh. My brain must function male that way, because if I want porno, I’d rather WATCH it. (Not that I do, which makes me not-male. I don’t feel any need. I’m very much a one man woman.)

                • Precisely. I don’t need the full mechanical description, I’m familiar with the process and if I wanted to read porn I’d go find some erotica (much better written and internally logical).

                  As to more intent on fornicating than living, I’ve read (started) more than one story wherein the relevant couple decides to step in to the stairwell for a poke while in the midst of active mortal danger, not a lull in the threat but during the immediate threat! In at least one case while their friends and compatriots were putting their lives on the line to ensure the couple’s safety during a risky intelligence gathering mission. Grrr-arrrgh-ack!

                  (That last one made all the worse because the relevant male was supposed to be an SF officer with his men watching his back. I just…can’t.)

                  I’m okay with sex is the spice of life. I’ve got a real problem with sex is life. And I hate sex is more important than life.

                  • “My sister was just murdered in the most horrible way, and it seems the murderer is after me now, oh I will never recover from her loss, and I will never rest until that beast has been… that detective has a really nice butt. And good biceps. And… is he flirting with me? Who cares, I have to get him. Now. I had a sister? There is a murderer on the loose? Okay, maybe I’ll take a look after I have gotten to know that guy better, can’t concentrate right now.”

                    Then the ghost of the dead sister uses the couple as bait to get the murderer, goes full poltergeist and after the demise of all three she finally can move on. The End. I might read that version. 🙂

                    • Yep. I like the avenging poltergeist version. Could be a short…

                      (Surrounded on all sides by undead horror…and the MC is staring at some dude’s butt. It’s a meme.)

                    • Just trade ‘Squirrel!’ for ‘Sex!’.

                    • Just trade ‘Squirrel!’ for ‘Sex!’.

                      Dude! Be careful! You put those words too close together and somebody’ll write the book!

                      RLF: If we can’t get them out, we’ll breed them out!

                    • Hey, it might actually work pretty well as a comedy – or farce – so please, somebody write it already (provided it goes lightly on the descriptions of the act, for the sake of those of us who can’t get that easily distracted. Or if it’s an ebook – any chance of leaving the descriptions of the act as an alternative choice for those who are interested – you need to highlight or expand or something in order to see them?). 😀

                • So, when Terminator I‘s Kyle Reese travels back through time to rescue Sarah Connor and oh, by the way, knocks her up, that makes the movie Urban Fantasy/Romance??? Cool.

                  “Come with me if you want to live.”

                  • As far as I am concerned that movie is just great as Urban Fantasy/Romance. But if it was written as a novel which was offered for publication now it would get a lot more sex scenes, in addition to scenes like Sarah checking out Kyle’s butt as the terminator is running after them. Plus the two of them jumping each other at least once while it was looking for them right on the other side of the wall or while they hide in a dumpster and it’s just entering the alley or something else along those lines. And their first meeting would end with a sex scene, no way would we need to wait as long as we do in the movie. 😉

              • Wayne Blackburn

                Well, better your brain be canted than de-canted, because then it would fall out. (runs)

    • Well, for slave owners, try C. S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces.

  20. “My first thought on reading that article was ‘oh, good Lord, way to proclaim your ignorance before the world. And you a Professor, too’.”

    Sarah, that should have been “…and you a professor, of course.”

  21. “Tell me, have I gone nuts, or have they?”

    You mean you weren’t nuts all along?

  22. In another column, titled “Our Ansible is Missing – Intellectual Property Theft in Science Fiction”, Paul Cook actually accuses Orson Scott Card of intellectual property theft for calling his faster-than-light communications device an “ansible”. Ursula LeGuin used the term first, you see. Never mind that nobody before him (aside from Foul Ole Ron) was upset by this. Never mind that every useful term that any sf writer invented has been reused by many others. So what explains this asshattery? Is there something in the water?

    • I’ve seen it bandied about that he’s simply trolling for attention. /shrug
      As I said above, I find the whole thing rather underwhelming.

    • BoxOysterBlack

      Er, didn’t OSC actually acknowledge in-text that the term “ansible” was a shout-out?

    • I remember one of the DeCamp forwards for The Compleat Enchanter mentioned that at one point while he and Pratt were still writing the stories and publishing them, L. Ron Hubbard had taken the main character, Harold Shea, and had him meet and be eaten by a giant snake. DeCamp’s comment was that they were a bit hurt by the mistreatment of their MC, but they just blew it off, with the only mention of it being that Shea had had a nightmare.
      To build upon what David Drake said: you know you are the best when people steal from you.

    • Heck, I called this combination thingy a vibro, just like Heinlein did. And the bathroom a fresher. Bah. (It’s an HOMAGE. Actually I didn’t realize I had stolen the terms, it just comes from having read WAY too much Heinlein.)

      Ansible – Definition
      The term ansible is used in science fiction literature to describe a hypothetical faster-than-light (in fact instantaneous) communication device. The term was coined by Ursula K. Le Guin in her 1966 novel, Roccannon’s World. Her award-winning 1974 novel The Dispossessed tells of the invention of the ansible within her Ekumen milieu.
      Some have claimed that the word was an intentional anagram of “lesbian”. Le Guin herself states that she derived it from “answerable”, as the device would allow its users to receive answers to their messages in a reasonable amount of time, even over interstellar distances.
      The name and basic function of the device have since been borrowed by authors such as Orson Scott Card, Elizabeth Moon and Vernor Vinge.

      Faster-than-light communication is problematic because the theory of special relativity implies that such a device may allow communication from the future to the past, and would thus for instance allow the user to learn about tomorrow’s lottery numbers today. See time travel for a discussion of the physics involved in building such systems. It is not clear that this is possible, or that the problems of causality could be resolved, but these questions are undergoing serious review by many reputable physicists. (The character in Le Guin’s novel who invents the ansible is a theoretical physicist, working in a framework very different from ours.)
      Ansible is a science fiction fanzine published by Dave Langford, named after the faster-than-light communicator.

      (sorry for huge chunk, baby on arm)

    • The SO, who also writes for _ASB_, confirms: No, it’s not the water — this guy is just a Loudmouthed Twatwaffle.

  23. One of my favorite examples of academic imbecility was a French professor who wrote, several decades ago, that he highly approved of this newfangled science fiction thing, but that the writers were making a serious mistake by creating their own imaginary worlds/futures in which to set those stories. If they were as wise and intelligent and esthetically refined as as he was, they would set all their stories in a single, mutually-agreed alternate world.
    Words fail.

    • sigh

      I can’t even set my own stories in a common world, usually. They’re like oysters, they need their own shell.

      • I have this image of a writer fighting to force a horde of tiny tentacled creatures into a cage. ‘Back, back I say!’

        Did you ever see the Marty Feldman sketch in which he drags a large wicker hamper into a veterinarian’s office and every now and then has to fight desperately to keep whatever is inside to stay there? (He says he doesn’t know its Latin name, but it’s mentioned in the Book of Revelations.) Hilarious.

        • No. Now I want to see it. And it’s EXACTLY like that. In my case complicated by characters who take up residence in the backbrain. True confession over breakfast:
          Me: I’m going to have to write a novella with Nat and Lucius. they won’t leave or let me write anything else.
          Husband: You are aware they’re imaginary, right?
          Me — crossly: Like they care.
          Husband: Um… it means you’re in control. you can forget them and write other characters.
          Me — even more crossly: Don’t say stuff like that. They just get upset and push harder.
          Husband: I don’t know whether to drag you to the psychiatrist.
          Me: I get paid for this.
          Husband: Well, all right. As long as you do.
          (So you guys have to buy my books and save me from psychiatrist.)

        • This is what makes literary critics who don’t write themselves so bone-headed when they opine — as they often do — on the writing of stories. As if familiarity with the product gave you any knowledge of the process. Do dog judges know Mendelian genetics just because they judge at Westminster?

          (I must note that Wayne C. Booth doesn’t do it, and I have never seen anything that showed he wrote fiction. Otherwise. . . .)

          • As if familiarity with the product gave you any knowledge of the process. Do dog judges know Mendelian genetics just because they judge at Westminster?

            That reminds me, one day I must write that piece about the difference between synthesis and analysis. Key analogy: A literary critic is someone who looks at the nutritional information on the label of a cake, and thinks that’s the recipe. ‘Now if I mix 32% sugar, 14% starch, 21% fat, 6% protein, and a bit of FD&C Red 40 in the frosting. . . .’

            • how true, how true.

              Most literary critics comments on the writing process reveal that they never wrote a word of fiction in their lives.

  24. “Like this… If I heard tomorrow that Little Brown Shirts For Stalin had banned my books…”

    That reminds me, since we’re on the subject of obnoxiously clueless professors: Have you noticed that academics have a history of falling in love with totalitarian monsters? Holocaust survivor ViKtor Klemperer had something to say about that, which I’ll post if I can dig up the quote.

    • Perhaps you’ve got it backwards. Perhaps academia has a natural attractiveness to those who don’t want to face what the Real World would do to their theory, but prefer to have absolute authority to pass or flunk people based on their arbitrary criteria — a totalitarian temperment.

      • I think you are absolutely correct that academia tends to attract such people. (And that could be the opener for a long series of uncomfortable questions about why this is so.)

        I think it is also true that academia twists and molds personalities in this direction.

        • Anyone who has played D&D know intelligence and wisdom are two very different thing. Most of these nimrods have never played. Because they have some extra letters tacked on at the end of their name – certified intelligent by the current culture – they then assume that they must also be wise.

          As Dennis Prager is fond of saying, wisdom is no longer taught in our schools, if it ever was. God knows i have met any number of highly educated fools, even among the ‘hard’ science types.

          • Our schools no longer teach. They indoctrinate and credential. There’s a vast gulf between credentials and knowledge.

          • And intelligence and education, while not mutually exclusive, are not quite cause and effect. If you have the one, you don’t necessarily have the other…

            As for wisdom (yes I still play D&D), an old friend explained it thus: “Wisdom is the result of good decisions. Good decisions are usually the result of experience. Experience is the result of bad decisions- if we’re lucky. If we are very, very unlucky the experience doesn’t matter but the pain is rather brief…”

          • Unfortunately, anybody who has played 3rd Edition or later D&D ‘knows’ that wisdom is just another word for acuity of the senses. The nimrods couldn’t think of any useful way (or reason) to quantify wisdom, so they used it as the basis for skills like Spot and Survival. Of course, before that ‘wisdom’ was that stupid stat that nobody actually needed to have unless they were stuck playing the cleric. Another one of Gygax’s numerous half-baked ideas, I’m afraid.

            • Playing cleric was fun. You had neat spells and powerful weapons, and because no one else was willing to play the cleric, you could often get the DM to approve things that no one else would have gotten away with.

              • I’m the cleric for our D&D group, which is running 2nd ed. AD&D. The world is LOTR Middle Earth, brought forward a few millennia. And placed in the Warhammer 40k universe. We’ve fought Dark Eldar, helped Space Marines, been gene-seeded. It’s been a lot of fun.

                This last week, we were tasked with eliminating the Tyranid infestation in Lorien. Which involved me convincing the orbiting cruisers (Middle Earth is under Quarantine) where to place an orbital strike (it’s the only way to be sure). In this world, the Tyranid infestation has been held back by a centuries-long watch by the Space Marines who patrol a hundred-foot high wall completely around Lorien.

                The task was made easier when we found a contingent of Imperial Guard who had some air transport and a beacon. We flew the transport over Lorien and dropped the beacon. With me riding it down, Slim Pickens style. “YEEE-HAAW!!!”

                Flame Strike was called on the Tyranid trying to pile up to grab the beacon. And just before we hit, I activated the beacon, called down the strike, and teleported back to the air transport.

                Which forced the local Space Marines chaplain to accept the fact that I was wearing Librarian armor.

                Clerics can get away with lots of stuff.

              • My favorite was the half-angel* gnome cleric that was basically a backwards-designed Paladin, because the game rules didn’t let me do a “real” paladin.

                *it was that kind of game; powergamer GMs tend to cause them, especially when they piss off the resident rules lawyer by breaking the rules to steal folks’ items.

                • I’m currently outlining a fantasy novel about a paladin. Belonging to an Order that had never faced the peril they had come into being to face for scores of years. They sneer at legends.

                  Turns out he’s the only one who still has the magical powers (that I am giving him).

                  The others, naturally, accuse him of being an evil warlock.

            • A good DM in 3.5 was able to explain it’s use in Spot and Survival because it doesn’t do any good to say “oh, that area has XYZ level of leaves,” you have to have the wisdom to know what to do with it, IE “and it’s supposed to have ABC level, so someone screwed around with this, and if you’re putting a trap in you want it to not be obvious, so the trap is….”

              Computers have a zero wisdom score– the don’t know what to do with anything, they just follow the instructions.

              Wisdom is a nicer way to say “common sense.” (Or possibly uncommon.)

              We all know very intelligent folks with no sense!

          • Carl Henderson

            I’d be amazed if any school could teach Wisdom. Maybe they could manage Critical Thinking, but even that’s a stretch. There are some things you have to learn for yourself, either via experience or observation.

        • Should also have noted that academia tends to drive away sensible people. Incorrect thoughts are punished. Group-think is demanded under the banner of “collegiality”. Snobbish contempt for non-credentialed outsiders alienates mature adults. And so on.

      • (muttering to herself) … the clueless husbands so much loved by comedy writers nowadays… maybe one of the grannies who go against the aliens could be married to a lit prof… could be fun…

    • Yes. It is part testosterone envy, part Hamlet syndrome and being jealous of REALLY decisive people, part… I don’t know what. But oh yes.

  25. I’ll read anything. Anything at all, unless the grammar’s truly incomprehensible. I read too fast to be too picky.
    So I’ve read Romance. There’s tons of it free on Amazon for Kindle. (The old saying about how you get what you pay for tends to hold true.) Beats reading cereal boxes.
    SF is not the same as Romance. Romance generally works a certain way–I hesitate to say it’s a plot formula, but it’s certainly an overall arch to the story. (Ringo may have won a Romance award, but Ghost doesn’t follow the arch, and I wouldn’t class it as Romance–I’d put it closer to Ian Flemming and Tom Clancy.)
    Chad, judging from what I’ve found on Amazon, Romance readers would not particularly have a problem with that. In fact, they’d probably eat it right up. You might have your next bestseller started there.

  26. It took A Civil Campaign for me to realize the Vorkosigan Saga was heavily romantic. It only took a couple of Patricia Briggs’ Mercy books to realize I was reading romance heavily flavored with urban fantasy.
    Thing is, I’m perfectly fine with this, and am quite happy to realize my tastes have expanded thereby. There’s more to pleasant reading than political utopian polemics, ray guns, improbable (and epic!) space structures, or artificially thought-provoking moral quandaries. Now that I work full time with a long commute, I don’t have time for crap, literally. I only want to read good books and good stories for relaxation because, brain tired from work.

    On the other hand, I don’t insult someone for reading something I don’t like, even if the writing in question brings forth an eloquently vicious screed on my part. Thank goodness we all don’t like the same material, it gives people room to explore new ideas, grow them up a bit, and cross-fertilize the next generation.

    Specialization is for insects.

  27. In the 70’s Harlan Ellison made a huge stink about Science Fiction actually should be really literature like real literature is real literature, and suggested that readers should re-shelve his books in the literature section in bookstores as an act of defiance. I wonder if this made certain classes of readers and writers decide that the only way forward would be to purge the less progressive lest they dilute the field with their action-adventures and stories, and compete with more literary output.
    So, speaking of original thought, how was Cook’s treatment of Halo? Readable?

    • this was in response to PST314’s comment about ansibles and Paul Cook. drat

    • Fortress on the Sun was pretty good.

    • It has been many a year since I read anything by Ellison, but I recall romantic elements in some of his work — significantly in The City on the Edge of Forever and A Boy and His Dog — so he isn’t a “real” SF author and his opinions on the matter don’t matter. Cast him out and his litewawy pretensions with him.

  28. The periodic calls for a definition of what is and isn’t sci-fi, speculative fiction, whatever, have never impressed me. I personally go by the pornography definition. I know it when I see it.

    Which brings us to “WHY are you kicking people out of SF?”

    I think this goes back to my offhand comment in a previous post about ideological purity. Basically he and the members of the glittery ho0-haas brigades are saying is “I’m more righteous then thou. My chosen milieu is far more divine then thou.”

    I killed one of my first approaches to Darkship Thieves by taking it to a group of non-hardcore-sf writers. They wanted to know EXACTLY what the ship looked like. And the lifeboats. And all the history of the Earth since our time to Athena’s.

    I grew up reading old Verne, Well and others. I liked the detailed description because I like to know how things work and what they look like. But you don’t see much of that now. Leaving some things to the imagination is fine, but I do want a general idea of what something is like or how it works. I wonder if some of the decline of sci-fi readership, especially among men, is a result of the move away from detailed description. (It’s a stereotype that men are more visually inclined.)

    And you know what? Science Fiction was like that once. Oh, totally déclassé, with bug eyed monsters and girls in chain mail bikinis.

    You know, I wish I could do an experiment and get something published with two different covers. One in the abstract scifi style from the 60’s and 70’s where you can’t tell what the story is about and the other with a girl in a skin tight semi-transparent spacesuit floating next to a rocket and see how well each sells.
    (BTW – There are actually practical reason why a skin tight spacesuit will eventually be developed.)

  29. College professors can afford to alienate almost everyone. They don’t need readers. Being ‘published’ in their world doesn’t mean somebody looked at the book and decided to spend an hour or two hours of their labor to get it. Some force sales of their work as text books or required reading for a couple hundred bucks a copy. In normal society this is call extortion. They are even pretty safe from being fired once they get tenure, so there is no real downside to talking out your ass and insulting people.
    Is it any surprise those isolated from reality reject it? The world in their head, that revolves around them is so much more pleasant.

    • I spent two hours yesterday battering at something to return to an academic press for further consideration and review. Do not get me started about academic publishing and publish-or-perish. Among other things, right now, the job market makes it publish-and-perish unless you already have tenure.

  30. For the logic of it, I thought of all the counter-examples that disproved the professor, including Heinlein, Bujold, etc. (Did this fellow read the first 18 (or whatever) Vorkosigan books? You put some romance at the end of a series about a fellow so he can live happily ever after, and suddenly you’re not writing science fiction? Really?) Then I realized counter-examples would not persuade him. He would just say they weren’t science fiction.

    When I was 13 I thought “Let there be Light” was very romantic. Loved it. That was still science fiction.

  31. Yeah, this reminds me of the “Fantasy can’t be literature because fairies and magic” arguments I had with people in college. I started beating them with the Collected Works of Shakespeare and, after the concussions healed, several of them conceded I had a point.

    I used to devour Science Fiction and Romance. The Futuristic Romance books I picked up made me roll my eyes but I did enjoy some of them. I still can’t get over the dinosaur shape-shifters romances. The stories were fun and my inner 12 year old was fist pumping and shouting “awesome”!

    I write fantasy and romance… kinda. Ok, I have problems with the HEA. Seriously. Some of the couple I write are doomed to failure. Like the shifter romance I wrote on a dare. (I was dared to write about a fish shifter, I made him fall in love with a bear shifter, things got… weird). The thing is, there is room in the Romance for this. Part of the reason I’m wary of doing much with the sci-fi ideas I have is that the whole thing seems so… limiting. If I have a multi-generational saga about people crossing the galaxy to colonize a new planet, there’s going to be romances, there has to be or it couldn’t possibly be multi-generational. I guess I could write about robots but, oh, wait, my story with the robots in it is developing a romantic sub-plot.

    *sigh* The “oh, girl-cooties” reaction from the “professor” is kinda funny when it’s a 12-year-old boy who doesn’t know any better. From an adult, it’s just sad.

    • GIGGLE on dinosaur shifters. Never came across that. But I’m currently plagued by dragon shifters who INSIST they’re romance not fantasy. Not the shifters I’m writing. AND NO, you don’t want to know.

      • I picked it up on a whim at a Borders for 70% off because hey, a book I haven’t read by a favorite author! I got around to reading it and all the men in it shifted into dinosaurs. My first thought was to squee because dinosaurs and then to wonder what she was self-publishing because there was no way her publisher was pushing that series. I was shocked it got published in the first place. I went looking and found 3 more series she’d self-published, several of them weirder than the dinosaurs, all of which I promptly bought.

    • I also get the feeling that the people having the “ew, girl-cooties” reaction aren’t getting laid.

      • You are a bad person. Think shame on yourself.
        We totally need to get the huns together at Pete’s for dinner one of these nights…

      • Might just be the Professor is gay, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It would explain many things about that hissy fit.

      • So? I’m not having that reaction, and I’m not getting laid either.

        Might be more helpful to tar people with a narrower brush.

        • I don’t see any of her tar on you, since you’re not having that reaction.

          Saying that men who have an “ewww, girl-cooties” reaction aren’t getting laid is not the same as saying that men who aren’t getting laid have the “ewww, girl-cooties” reaction.

          • No, but it’s using ‘not getting laid’ as an insult. It seems to be the new ‘your mama dresses you funny’.

            • Iirc Instapundit (or maybe his spouse) has noted that some “feminists” respond to male complaints about unfair treatment with personal derision, sometimes outright sexual, directed against the complainers’ masculinity.

              Occasionally the feeling crosses my mind that some woman is a frigid scheming bitch, or a floozy who slept her way into promotions, but afaik I’ve rarely if ever said so.

        • I postulate that he is either not getting laid because of his attitude about women in sci fi as hinted in the essay discussed or his attitude about women in sci fi is preventing him getting laid because it correlates with a wider hatred and disrespect of the female of the species in general. I’m willing to concede a self-perpetuating cycle where the one feeds into the other so which creates the question of which started it.

          None of this is really all that terribly important, however, as my comment was a toss off and a tongue in cheek reference to the usual comments made by men with a similar attitude to the one in evidence in the original article that a woman engaged in obvious misandry just needs to get laid.

          But, hey, what do I know? Does my clarification soothe your ruffled feathers?

          • Neither of your postulates holds much water. From what I’ve seen, men who have that kind of attitude don’t normally have unusual trouble finding sexual partners: there are always some women who are sufficiently desperate, damaged, or oblivious to put up with it. Besides, the beautiful thing about arrant sexism, from the sexist’s point of view, is that he never has to take rejection from a woman personally. He just chalks it up to his preconceived notion of female incapacity and moves on to the next target.

            In consequence, you miss your target. If you tried to insult the kind of man you are talking about by saying he isn’t getting laid, he would laugh it off, because he knows the insult does not apply to him. But the fact that you intend ‘He isn’t getting laid’ as an insult is itself insulting to rather a lot of people who haven’t earned your guff.

            Your comment was indeed a toss-off. That doesn’t constitute an excuse; it just changes the charge from malice to thoughtlessness. What it amounts to is that you yourself don’t think what you said is a big deal, and you regard that as sufficient proof that nobody else should think any more of it. You might find it interesting to entertain the idea that other people are not obligated to calibrate their reactions by your standards of what is important.

            As for ‘the usual comments made by men with a similar attitude’: You obviously disapprove of both the comments and the attitude — with every good reason. All the more reason for you not to commit the same offences yourself.

            Finally, about my feathers: you needn’t concern yourself, even as a rhetorical device. They were all plucked a long time ago.

            • It’s dead, Tom. No need to flog it so tediously. Going off like that on what was an obviously casual attempt at a minor jest (possibly not even reflecting the jester’s actual opinion,but merely a re-purposing of a standard trope in a suitable circumstance, as ironic commentary on the attitudes underlying that trope) and belaboring it so egregiously, extensively and humourlessly just might be a factor in your not getting laid.

              • Please, sir, allow me to tip my fedora.

              • “The horse is pate.”

              • Who appointed you to make that call?

                The casual contempt with which such complaints are treated invites such belaboring.

                • I might as well ask who appointed you to check credentials.

                  Tom’s point had been made. However invited the belaboring, some invitations ought be declined, lest they counteract the the good will accorded the original point made.

                • The casual contempt with which such complaints are treated invites such belaboring.

                  Such attitudes are becoming common, even “normal”.

                  Nowadays I don’t pursue an online disagreement with someone unless I already have acquired respect for the individual.

                  Interesting related post by, yes, Paul Cook.

  32. The funny thing is, Bujold writes the hardest of hard science fiction… from the biological perspective. Seriously, while you see plenty of handwavium about “clone technology” and “genetic engineering to create human-other hybrids” in Sci Fi while they go on and on about the engines, she’s one of the few writers I’ve ever seen take a very long, hard look at how access to biotechnology would affect and change societies. What is her series if not a multi-decade look at the effects of introducing genetic alteration and the artificial womb to a society, complete with alternating viewpoints of other societies in the “if this goes on” contrast? Alright, it’s also an interleaved study of the effect of cryo-preservation on society, and our perception of life.

    (But it has, to quote Princess Bride, kissing stuff. So, the prof reveals himself to be a small boy going “Eeeeeeew!”)

    • Hey! I do my biological research too! In my case it’s a bias because of living with a biological expert and being close friends with another.

      • I know, and I like your writing too. If the idiot who though that PhD sounds like FUD, so he should be spreading Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt had picked on you, the argument wouldn’t be much different!.

    • Oh, and DO NOT ask Dan about mathematical models for anything. Last time I did that, we ended up with this huge construction of toothpicks and modeling clay on the table, and I have NO clue what it was all about. BUT he drew the Cathouse and other ships for me. So, yay.

    • “…kissing stuff…eeewww!”

      It’s genre miscegenation!

    • Eh, Beta Colony would have vanished in a generation or two. It’s modern industrialized society — facing demographic collapse. Except that first she pares off the groups most likely to reproduce, and then she puts obstacles to reproduction in front of those that remain.

      • I don’t understand. I see what you are concluding, but I don’t see how you got there.

      • I thought at first that you misspelled “pairs off”, then read the rest of your comment and realized that you really did mean “pares off”.

        I’d never thought about the future of Beta Colony, but you’re absolutely right. Come 50-100 years, Beta Colony will no longer be around in its current* form.

        * “Current” means “contemporaneous to the series”, of course.

      • Here’s an article from 2007 describing how prosperous couples, confident about their future, chose to have lots of children.

        Beta Colony had uterine replicators.

        Iirc Cordelia and Aral chose to limit their children to one so as not to face pressure to replace Miles as heir to the title.

        • That’s ILLEGAL in the Beta Colony. You can have one once you jump through hoops. You have to pay to have two. Still more to have three. Four? Forget it. No one gets to have four children.

          • Point taken.

            However, a society that regulates its population can put a floor under it as well as a ceiling above. The very fact that Miles-era BC limits the number of children suggests that people want to have them.

            Moreover, if Wikipedia is correct, Miles-era BC is already centuries old. They already have not died out within a generation or two.

            • It’s fictional. Islands floating in mid air are feasible. So is demographic collapse not occurring where it ought to. Arguing for an interpretation not borne out by the rest of the society is insufficient to prevent its being implausible. Nothing about Beta Colony suggests the consuming desire to reproduce that would be necessary to ensure replacement in that structure; Cordelia’s not branded as an absolute freak for not having at least one at her age. (No, their technology will not replace just because everyone can have kids when 101. You have to factor in accidents. You must have children before you die. They have no social structure to ensure that those who die childless have posthumous children.)

              It is far from the only world where the author did not bother to think about where babies come from. Melissa Scott’s Shadowman allegedly takes place in a far future where certain side effects of FTL have lead to a massive increase in the number of intersexuals born, and in sterility. Yet nothing in either of the two societies depicted is oriented toward maximizing fertility. It doesn’t even touch on whether intersexuals are fertile, let alone do the obvious if they are not: slot them into all the dangerous or birth-defect-causing occupations because they are evolutionary dead ends.

              • I don’t know why, but a lot of folks kinda dead-end on the “where do people come from?” thing.

                There are babies often enough that they clearly understand how they’re made, but… it’s like the “meat comes from stores” thing. There’s a gap in the “you need at least as many babies as there will be people in a generation’s end.”

                • They consider it part of the boring part of world-building?

                  They consider their own childlessness to be morally superior and therefore can’t realize that it’s parasitic or suicidal?

                • In support of the second possibility: remember how rife Massive Overpopulation stories were in SF. Indeed, I have seen people writing stories with immortality in the last decade in order to enable them to include Massive Overpopulation as a problem.

                  Easier to praise no children than to maintain any balance.

              • Let’s agree to disagree.

                I admit the question arises of how BC keeps its numbers up despite the limits on reproduction.

                Immigration, is my guess. BC sounds like a highly desirable place to live if you’re up to snuff, so they could be very selective about granting residency. Lifespans are long enough to allow plenty of time to determine how well potential citizens acculturate.

                Afaik Bujold has not addressed the matter.

            • Although we didn’t touch on it in the Vorkosigan books, I wonder how much of their population stability is achieved through immigration? Silicon Valley isn’t a self-sustaining place, either, but it has plenty of people drawn to the allure, the high-paying jobs, the “freedom” to work on really interesting research, and the “cool” factor. We already know they have a fairly heavy tourist presence there, despite being a small colony; if they’re drawing the best and the brightest from Escobar, Marilac, Jackson’s Whole, Komarr, and so on (perhaps even Cetagandan servitors who have no opportunity for advancement into the ghem?), then it stands to reason that they, like the US, could keep a fairly stable population despite being below replacement levels.

              • The question should then arise: How do they maintain their notably peculiar cultural shibboleths in a society largely and increasingly made up of immigrants and their descendants? Massachusetts may have been founded by Puritans, but it certainly isn’t Puritan now. Even Sparta reached a point where the Spartiates became so few, and the Helots so numerous, that the dominant culture could no longer maintain itself even by the unlimited use of force.

        • They did – on Barrayar, which still has a culture of lots of children to overcome childhood mortality. (Not unlike the big families immediately post-WWII, when the introduction of penecillin was still wondrous and new.)

          But Beta Colony is much like Japan – high quality of life, but low on immigration. And with children not only officially discouraged (child permits required), but also unofficially by the sheer means of being a burden and an expense instead of an insurance for retirement… and you’re looking at demographic collapse, like an industrialized nation that hasn’t offset its numbers with immigration.

          Although, it may survive as the San Francisco of the settled galaxy… while unable to keep up its own numbers, if it’s sufficiently screwball to keep attracting the oddballs of the rest of the galaxy, then they may become more and mmore of an abstract parody of themselves.

          • Beta colony is on a regimen of artificial restrictions to improve per personal wealth with minimal re-investment, by restricting participation by restricting births – kind of like a closed union shop or a union controlling entry into a professional field to support higher wages through artificial scarcity of workers. It is an interesting rejection of the idea of industrialism where investment in development creates surpluses, which reduces costs, and in turn drives greater demand to create wealth for all participants through further investment; Beta avoids being forced to develop by restricting growth. Where this might be a good idea in a low-tech/limited resource milieu like Easter Island, in a high tech/high resource culture like Beta, it only acts as a greater type of social control and real restrictions on liberty. Beta struck me as very un-free for all its claims to the opposite.
            It is an interesting counter to Athos where large families are sought and development is earnestly pursued, but births are also bottlenecked by access to uterine replicators which is granted by social benefit credits earned. There there is overt social control, but more self directed and so more free in spite of it all, since ultimately you can opt out.

  33. 1. A month ago I commented this:

    There’s also genre blending. Some publishers and some [authors] seem to knowingly alienate some of their readers from genre A in order to acquire a bigger number from genre B.

    It’s their prerogative of course and it works sometimes. However, there’s a copybook heading that if you try to please too many people, you’ll end up pleasing nobody.

    Afterthought: genre blending is risky enough, but throw some political tropes du jour into the mix and it’s not surprising that an unreadable hodgepodge, aka a “critical success”, ensues.

    2. Bujold’s work reminds me of what used to be said about Chinese food: a great meal, but an hour later you’re hungry again. My suspicion is that she stopped thinking her worlds through. Injecting the romance served, among other things, to cover up that deficiency.

    (3. I saw Dorothy Grant’s comment just before submitting mine, and agree. Afaic Bujold was on the arduous path to the heights, but chose to get off. )

    • In hindsight, I should have made #2 and #3 a comment on Dorothy’s post, and #1 a standalone remark.

    • That said, some writers who might have started off in science fiction soon reveal their true selves when they start publishing what they really want to write about.

      This, IMHO, is the key sentence in Paul Cook’s piece although “reveal their true selves etc” is unnecessarily inflammatory.

      When a successful franchise changes its flagship product, it might produce the equivalent of Starship Troopers or Stranger in a Strange Land…or of New Coke.

    • 2. Bujold’s work reminds me of what used to be said about Chinese food: a great meal, but an hour later you’re hungry again. My suspicion is that she stopped thinking her worlds through. Injecting the romance served, among other things, to cover up that deficiency.

      Really? I’m sorry to say that I pretty much totally disagree with that. The Nexus, Chalion and the Sharing Knife books all have incredible amounts of background that is thought through and developed. I don’t say that I always agree with what she has in her world building but I do think that she puts a lot of thought into it and that, as well as her word choices, are why she is such a good writer.

      • The thing with Bujold is that she’ll do an experiment book, and a Big Important Book, and a restful fun book, and a Big Important Book, and….
        She alternates a lot. It’s not how she plans it, but apparently it’s how her writing brain plans it for her. The other thing is that even her fun fluffy comedy books tend to be excursions into figuring out how to do technically difficult pieces of writing without the seams showing.

        I don’t think Bujold would have as much criticism for “fluffiness” as she does, if there were more writers out there actually putting out Ripping Good SF with Important Themes. (As opposed to self-important twits who write, of which there are many.)

        If you take a look at Serious Hardcore Ripping SF Writers of the past, you’ll see the Heinleins and Dicksons and Asimovs and Clarkes also alternating important stuff and funny stuff and stuff that’s interesting but doesn’t quite work. But since there were other folks also doing the same thing, sf fans had a little more reading material of note and hence maybe had a little more patience.

        • Yay! Someone else who has read and enjoyed Dickson!

          • My only regret is that I didn’t realize early enough that, if you corresponded with Dickson, he might call you long distance in the middle of the night to ask for research help. Granted, the chances are low that he’d have asked a little kid for research help…..

            If you like Dickson, be sure to get in touch with members of the Dorsai Irregulars. They are good company, and they’ve read all or most of his stuff. (Heck, some of them are _in_ his stuff.)

      • A matter of taste…

        The Curse of Chalion is superb and I reread it at least once. Then I gave up halfway through the sequel and no longer remember its name.

        The way she killed Aral off is unforgivable (unless it’s a Sherlock Holmes kind of thing). I never got to see Sergyar, unless it’s in the last book or two of the series that I skipped. I’m wondering if ultimately the Cordelia/Aral books will be judged better than the Miles books.

        My impression is that she decided to retire with the Vorkosigan and Chalion story lines left incomplete. The blurbs for The Sharing Knife didn’t interest me enough to buy the book.


        YMMV, of course.

        • NB: I’m not saying Bujold is a bad writer, not at all. I’m saying she did not live up to her potential, in contrast to writers like Heinlein & Poul Anderson who pushed past their limits throughout their lifetimes.

        • Oh GEEZ the Chalion series were great imho. I have re-read them several times and thank you– after reading her Vorkosigan novels, I will re-read them again. I wasn’t too enamored of the Sharing Knife series though… even though the writing was pretty good.

          • Bujold seems to take a concept or question, and bases a book around it. Often it is a question of what is value or honor, or what does it require, Sometimes it is a question how do you go on from here. There is something very deep in most of her work, deep with strong currents, so it doesn’t froth or spit.
            I wish I understood her answers to the questions better.

            • What I feel too… and since my illness I find her work even deeper.

              • Then again, the Sharing Knife series got me to read both Davy Crockett and Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, and Bellini’s autobiography, so she surely is adding to the reading of good books beyond her excellent prose.

            • Bujold seems to take a concept or question, and bases a book around it.

              That’s how a lot of Science Fiction is written. Take an idea and try to extrapolate how it will affect both people and society.

              • Yep. Cloning and the outlawing thereof and the fact people thought outlawing it meant that it wouldn’t happen were the proximal irritation to the writing of DST.

                • I’m trying to get to another thing beyond that though, Uterine replacements and ansibles and 3D printing are the crunchy bits that are fun to chew as you work out how they change the world. The deeper questions that are slipped in on the sly is are deeper thoughts about what is liberty, what is bravery, how do you go on and what does that mean and what does it require?

        • I thought that “The Curse of Chalion” was so good it made my head explode. (A good thing, in this context.)

          I was horribly disappointed in the next book, “Paladin of Souls”, IIRC. But it seemed to be the general consensus that it was better than the first book.

          I found the third book in the series, “The Hallowed Hunt” to be quite satisfying. Not quite as good as the first book, but much more satisfying than the second. And once again, it seems to be the general consensus that that book isn’t nearly as good as the second one. Oh, well.

          On Thu, Sep 5, 2013 at 6:11 PM, According To Hoyt wrote:

          > ** > gs commented: “A matter of taste… The Curse of Chalion is superb and > I reread it at least once. Then I gave up halfway through the sequel and no > longer remember its name. The way she killed Aral off is unforgivable > (unless it’s a Sherlock Holmes kind of thing). ” >

          • Since we reacted similarly to the first two books and you endorse the third, probably I should check it out, thx.;

            • Thanks! Of course, now I’ll feel guilty if you don’t like it. LOL

              On Thu, Sep 5, 2013 at 6:55 PM, According To Hoyt wrote:

              > ** > gs commented: “Since we reacted similarly to the first two books and > you endorse the third, probably I should check it out, thx.;” >

              • No worries, my eyes are open:

                Amazon customers give Chalion 4.6 stars, Paladin 4.5, and Hunt 4.0.

                I ordered a used copy of Hunt with free shipping. I’m neither risking nor expecting much. Here’s hoping for a pleasant surprise.

                • The first time I read Hallowed Hunt, I sprinted through it and missed a lot. I also had certain expectations that turned out to be wrong, and I failed to refocus them.

                  The second time I read it more slowly and paid attention to Bujold, and not my own sequel desires. It made a ton more sense that way.

        • The Paladin of Souls did not impress me much, when I was younger. Then I re-read it, after a summer wherein I called my (then-)fiance, and cried to him, “I’m sick of people I know dying.” I lost three good friends, two working acquaintances, and another five people I knew on friendly social acquaintance within a few months, all to plane crashes.

          After that summer, after suffering shock after shock, the empty endless horror of the search where hope turns to ashes and dread grows to certainty, the sight of that black smoke rising above the rooftops from burning avgas, and afterimage in your eyeballs and smell in your clothes from the fire creeping up the mountain an arrow-head pointing to the sky with the base of the long black shaft the wreckage you were searching for… after wake and memorial service and ashes scattering and missing-man flights, I had to go on, because that’s what the living do. And when I re-read Paladin of Souls, I found that the theme, of going on, of learning to grow after everything and everyone around you has fallen, was deeper and richer for me than CoC.

          As for Vorkosigan – I personally find that the last two books are a satisfactory end and a grace note, in that order. On Chalion, Lois has stated that she’s had thoughts of doing more, but no inspiration, yet.

          • YES… my life went out of control in 2003 and I am still in a sinking ship. But that is the theme that has helped me to continue– to go on. I considered the Paladin of Souls one of her best work. imho

          • I wouldn’t give up on the Vorkosigan saga just yet. Gregor is just coming into his power and authority, backed by two of the slipperiest “brothers” imaginable…all three of them raised by the toughest mother. Some damn fool is going to try it on with Barrayar because of the cultures reputation for being ‘backward’ and will get the surprise of his (now very brief) life. It won’t be Centaganda; they aren’t that stupid and they know Miles. The more I think about it, the more I suspect that the most recent book was about putting certain characters in place on the game map. Ivan in one spot and By in another……

        • She’s been warning people for years that Aral Must Die. She dropped a lot of warnings in books too. And the way she killed him off was very true to life, as well as mirroring the “Aftermaths” coda to Shards of Honor, her first Cordelia and Aral book.

          I didn’t enjoy it, but I didn’t enjoy my grandfather dying like that, either.

          • My only real problem was that it change the tonality of the book for its epilogue.

            • So did “Aftermaths.” And yeah, I think maybe if they’d made her separate that as a short story extra and not as an epilogue, it would have gone better too. Nobody was threatening to shoot the author after finishing Shards of Honor, even though “Aftermaths” was so darned grim and dark and sad. (And originally supposed to be _inside_ Shards of Honor.)

              But really, seriously planning committing suicide is pretty grim. Heck, having an overwhelming family of criminals, or being trapped in your worse nightmare, is pretty grim. For a funny fluffy book, Vorpatril was pretty freaking dark.

  34. Yee Gads! Can someone really be that imbecilic? Sometimes, a long detailed description works, at other times it just interferes with the story. I don’t think I’ve written a story yet that didn’t have a romantic element to it. A couple also have a strong mystery element. One that I’m currently working on includes slavery, debauchery, and cross-species romances. Human beings are going to be interested in the opposite sex. If they’re not, they’re no longer human.

    RE Cedar’s comment above: I wonder how well a blog would do where all of us Hoyt’s Huns gathered and discussed our own works, what we read, things we’ve found that entertain us, maybe some software stuff, and so forth. I wouldn’t want to do that here, since this is Sarah’s blog, and she should be in control of its content. Besides, I enjoy it too much to want to tinker with it!

  35. Several years ago I stopped looking at SF as a genre and started to see it as a header. After all I can read Heinlein or Modesitt or Drake as well as McDevitt. Their stories don’t have much in common except the label SF. I tell the kids that SF includes every genre of writing that exists. From western shoot’em ups to High tech to romance to mystery. My .02

  36. Has this guy read Anne McCaffery? Did he not notice that they have romance in them, too? How about “Restoree”? (love that book)

    It’s possible to have scifi with a romance subplot.

    • I was just thinking that it is a good thing Doc Smith didn’t put no romance into his Lensmen books, and that Heinlein excised all such content from all of his books. Puppet Masters was squicky enough without (ewwww) roooo-mance. And Moon would have been completely ruined, ruined I say, by any romantic subplot.

      A glance at the listing of Hugo-nominated novels (surely the genre defining standard, at least until they started letting girls vote) reveals a distinct dearth of novels with any romantic elements in such books as The Demolished Man, Double Star, Glory Road or Dune.

      I note that Little Fuzzy garnered a 1963 nomination — one can but wonder if it had won. Didn’t Scalzi the Sainted add a romantic subplot to his desecration re-imagining of that book? Does that mean we can cast him down as tainted?

      • Actually, there’s romance in almost all of Heinlein’s books, you just have to be open to it. I could add book titles, names and places, but it would clog up Sarah’s blog even more than I usually do.

        Look, people are NOT going to change so much that boy doesn’t pursue girl (or vice-versa). If that happened, our species would die. “Romance” — mating instinct — is built-in, a part of what we are. Ignoring it is like ignoring an 800-pound gorilla in your living room — ain’t gonna happen. One excellent plot-piece that several writers have used is the tension between attractions that are difficult: boss/employee, teacher/pupil, etc. It works BECAUSE ‘romance’ is a basic component of our very being. It makes characters more human, and their interaction more believable. I would caution any writer to ignore romance at your own risk.

    • Nice to see another Restoree fan. 😀

  37. “[Sarah takes deep breath, and steeples hands, which she does when she’s about to deliver herself of a sermon.]”

    But do you rest your upper lip on the point of your steepled fingers, bowing your head slightly, while you pause and draw breath? 🙂

  38. Re cross-genre-ing … I’m reading Rusch’s Retrieval Artist series and loving the heck out of it … mystery and sci fi together, what’s not to love? I’m already sad that i only have 2 more books to go in that. So I say … cross away! 🙂

  39. Who do I have to pay off so my wife does not find out that Liaden Universe is Romance?

  40. Christopher M. Chupik

    “The establishment saw “no sociological point” to it. They kept pointing me at The Sparrow as an example of what I SHOULD do.” Ah, yes. Sounds like they were looking for the next Margaret Atwood, instead of someone people might actually want to read. Which explains Canadian SF publishing, actually.

    • a sociological point should never be a part of a story. As someone once said: “If you want to send a message use Western Union don’t write it into your story.”

      SF shouldn’t be literary or for sending a message, it should be for interesting stories.

  41. I just read the original piece that started this. Yea gods is the author clueless. Take this excerpt:

    “These were published to great acclaim as “science fantasy”, but having just finished a reread of the entire series, I can tell you that these books–masterpieces as everyone seems to think they are–are actually medieval/Arthurian fantasies. In fact, there is virtually no real “science fiction” in these books other than various tropes”

    That’s right. The author stumbles upon the revelation that The Book of the New Sun is actually a science fantasy series, just like everyone else said it was! (Note: haven’t read it, just going by Paul Cook’s own description).

    Must to be tough writing about a subject when you have no clue or desire to learn what the terminology means. Or maybe Cook is confused as to the implications of the word “but.”

  42. Look, the reason Darkship Thieves took SO LONG to sell was that the establishment saw “no sociological point” to it. They kept pointing me at The Sparrow as an example of what I SHOULD do.

    No sociological point? Um. What about the “point” that won it a Prometheus Award? Or perhaps they must meant “we disagree with the sociological point you are making”?

  43. Yup. Auditors. Humorless fellows with no sense of myth or joy.

    Loved the aside about the Diamond Age – love that book, and almost anything by Stephenson. For something that – at face value – seemed to be about girl power, it had a lot of subversively anti-PC stuff in it. One such was the “culture matters and some are better than others” near the beginning. Another was the very real differences between men and women that informed how the characters behaved. And the sneaky chapter that (while setting up her path into the Victorian phyle) made it crystal clear that the lack of a decent “dad” in Nell’s life isn’t due to a lack of decent men – but almost entirely based on her mom being a selfish, immature, negligent – heck, evil – woman. Even though, that story for example, was about a girl, there was not a lot of girl power, guys suck nonsense.

    In other books, he also does things that are utterly not PC. In REAMDE, Muslims are the bad guys. When it comes to stories about guys doing stuff – or people doing stuff – he’s really good about showing the good and bad. And from various pubic statements, he’s a natural fit for “human wave.”

    Almost forgot – Anathem. Not only a unique take on parallel universes, but it is anchored in the search for universal and absolute ideal, whether that is religion, a higher God, or natural law.

  44. I commented on this over at MGC (currently caught in moderation limbo), so here’s a reprint of part:

    More significant to his core critique regarding valid science fiction, the choices he lists in the comments, and even his reference to Faulkner’s “A Farewell To Arms,” are fairly bleak, dystopian visions of life. I’ve had times in my life where I read this type of fiction, so I’m not panning it as bad. But if that was the only acceptable ‘great lit’ in SF? That’d put me off my breakfast.

    Oh, and…if we need a Faulkner in modern SF to grant us literary validity? Count me in for the pulp.

    Reading over here, I’ve continued thinking about it. I think much of this comes from a certain type of intellectual’s need to validate their intelligence with demonstrable hallmarks. They have participated in the right things and have the refined tastes to show for it. It becomes harder to play this game if the milestones become muddled with heterogeneous thought.

    I suspect the reason you see this less in Romance as a genre is because they’ve been dismissed as unserious reading for so long they no longer care. And the readers and the writers trot along looking for those things that meet their expectations of good story and don’t worry overmuch about genre-bending.

    In SF/F there has long been a battle for purity, and it frequently devolves into a literary value discussion. And, for whatever reasons, so much of the American literary tradition seems to celebrate the naked, bleak and hopeless. His talk of metaphor and his list of novels appears to appeal to this same metric.

    • naked, bleak and hopeless — at a guess first WWI then Marxism.
      And you’re in good company here — I think Romance escaped EXACTLY for the reasons you give and that’s why it sells better than all other genres.

      • Maybe indie will break SF/F free to pursue the same path? I have hopes…

      • Why is naked, bleak and hopeless so appealing to some people? I don’t mean those who are psychologically hopeless, but the rest.

        • I think our host mentioned it somewhere… it confirms the value of their worldview and philosophies, such having failed to produce anything but human misery time and again. Their ideas are the best things going, surely, and the real-world failure has more to do with the pointlessness of humanity than any miscalculation on their part.

          Or believing the human experiment is doomed allows them to ignore their own failures and shortcomings. If nothing matters, then this doesn’t matter.

        • because they think that means “serious”

          • So suicidally depressed or nihilism is more grown-up(serious)?
            I’m glad I don’t live in their world.

            • That’s odd. My only nihilistic period was as a teenager, before my brain finished getting finished. Depressed? Well, that happens on a fairly regular basis, but is almost certainly rooted in physiological issues.

              • Yes – it takes maturity to recognize the humour inherent in the human tragedy (for ex: that efforts to “help” mostly just make problems worse.)

                I gather there was a line in a recent Dr. Who about his incarnation’s apparent youth (especially in contrast to the original incarnations) to the effect that “when I was young I thought it very important to appear more mature.”

                Some people just get older instead of more mature. This is especially the case for those who achieve early success (tenure) which insulates them from life.

                • I saw a middle aged man with purple hair today. I thought that was a adolescent thing.

                  • unfortunately a lot of teens are aging before growing up.

                    • I’ve seen that a fair bit. My theory is that kids WANT to grow up – fantasy play in the young is assuming the roles of adults. What little boy doesn’t play at being a firefighter, a soldier, a mechanic, a chef, a doctor (heheh)?

                      My suspicion (based on a sample of one, and the Smart&Crunchy Son is likely atypical) is that if you feed into those fantasies of adulthood – and give them opportunities and encouragement to see how they could fit into the adult world – then they’ll WANT to grow up. (Which was why he got some flying lessons at age 10, but that’s for another time.)

                      Kids are much more capable than our current culture allows them to be – and I think that’s having a real negative impact.

                    • Jerry Lawson: Kids are much more capable than our current culture allows them to be – and I think that’s having a real negative impact.

                      This sums up a favored rant of mine. When adulthood is deferred until college graduation, the results cannot be good.

                    • Which is why, when our’n reach a point of sufficient maturity, Mrs. Dave and I plan to put them through a rite of passage. Probably with entrusting of weapons and suchlike. Recognition of adulthood by recognized adults. Welcome to the company of the adults in your life, kind of thing. It should be much more significant than simply sitting at the adult table during holiday meals.

                    • I think for our kids it was being trusted to be home alone when mom and dad leave for a weekend. (Usually a con.)

              • Remember Order of the Phoenix? My mother can’t stand it. It’s exactly the age of her students, and she got the attitude exactly right, and my mother, having had to endure it so much in real life, can’t stand reading about it too.

          • This. I won’t comment it since you already said it. Oh, wait …

        • That mindset seems, in some ways, very teen. I went through a period of something like that. First you are a child taken care of and everything seems rather secure, but as you grow you find out that that security is not a matter of course, which can be a bit upsetting. Which leads to the feeling that the realization itself makes one more mature – you now know fairy tales aren’t true, no prince will come to rescue you if you get into trouble, there won’t necessarily be a happy ending, and while that scares you it also makes you feel very adult.

          Then some people get stuck in that phase.

          So perhaps those people are the ones who most yearn for the security of their childhoods, while at the same time being desperate to prove that they are, truly, adults. Could perhaps explain why those are also usually the people who most eagerly support the efforts to child proof the whole world, and give as much as possible of the responsibility for everything to mommy and daddy, aka government. They never really grew up.

          • Think of it like this: teens, especially younger teens, are the ones who most likely will throw away what can be seen as childish, be they books or toys, when taunted about having them, adults are the ones who will read and play with whatever they damn well please. 🙂

            And adults are the ones who are more likely to see the the fact that keeping up hope by whatever means necessary, even when done by pretending, has high value because without hope you stop trying, and that is the sure way to defeat. It’s better to go down fighting than to curl up in a corner passively because as long as you fight you might still win. And pretending in order to have hope does not mean you are unable to see the reality, it is just one of the tools you can use.

        • It shows that they are Real and Mature unlike those souls who still like Love, Honor, and Happy Endings.

          Also, you have to factor in Aristotle’s observation that people like characters that are as good as they are, or a bit better. Now, by good he encompassed more than the moral (“The word ‘good’ has many meanings. For example, if a man were to shoot his grandmother at a range of five hundred yards, I should call him a good shot, but not necessarily a good man.” — G.K. Chesterton), it did include that.

          Long version? Here:

          The Three-Decker

          “The three-volume novel is extinct.”

          Full thirty foot she towered from waterline to rail.
          It took a watch to steer her, and a week to shorten sail;
          But, spite all modern notions, I’ve found her first and best –
          The only certain packet for the Islands of the Blest.

          Fair held the breeze behind us – ‘twas warm with lover’s prayers,
          We’d stolen wills for ballast and a crew of missing heirs.
          They shipped as Able Bastards till the Wicked Nurse confessed,
          And they worked the old three-decker to the Islands of the Blest.

          By ways no gaze could follow, a course unspoiled of Cook,
          Per Fancy, fleetest in man, our titled berths we took
          With maids of matchless beauty and parentage unguessed,
          And a Church of England parson for the Islands of the Blest.

          We asked no social questions – we pumped no hidden shame –
          We never talked obstetrics when the Little Stranger came:
          We left the Lord in Heaven, we left the fiends in Hell.
          We weren’t exactly Yussufs, but – Zuleika didn’t tell.

          No moral doubts assailed us, so when the port we neared,
          The villain had his flogging at the gangway, and we cheered.
          ‘Twas fiddle in the foc’s’le – ‘twas garlands on the mast,
          For every one was married, and I went at shore at last.

          I left ‘em all in couples a-kissing on the decks.
          I left the lovers loving and parents signing cheques.
          In endless English comfort, by county-folk caressed,
          I left the old three-decker at the Islands of the Blest! . . .

          That route is barred to steamers: you’ll never lift again
          Our purple-painted headlands or the lordly keeps of Spain.
          They’re just beyond your skyline, howe’er so far you cruise,
          In a ram-you-damn-you liner with a brace of bucking screws.

          Swing round your aching searchlight – ‘twill show no haven’s peace.
          Ay, blow your shrieking sirens at the deaf, grey-bearded seas!
          Boom our the dripping oil-bags to skin the deep’s unrest –
          And you aren’t one knot the nearer to the Islands of the Blest.

          But when you’re threshing, crippled, with broken bridge and rail,
          At a drogue of dead convictions to hold you head to gale,
          Calm as the Flying Dutchman, from truck to taffrail dressed,
          You’ll see the old three-decker for the Islands of the Blest.

          You’ll see her tiering canvas in sheeted silver spread;
          You’ll hear the long-drawn thunder ‘neath her leaping figure-head;
          While far, so far above you, her tall poop-lanterns shine
          Unvexed by wind or weather like the candles round a shrine!

          Hull down – hull down and under – she dwindles to a speck,
          With noise of pleasant music and dancing on her deck.
          All’s well – all’s well aboard her – she’s left you far behind,
          With a scent of old-world roses through the fog that ties you blind.

          Her crews are babes or madmen? Her port is all to make?
          You’re manned by Truth and Science, and you steam for steaming’s sake?
          Well, tinker up your engines – you know your business best –
          She’s taking tired people to the Islands of the Blest!

          Rudyard Kipling

      • Referencing the naked, bleak and hopeless: I just finished RAH’s The Year of the Jackpot (picked up on Kindle as part of The Galaxy Project. Also, C.M. Kornbluth, The Marching Morons.)

        Pretty bleak. But still managed to find the hope and joy of being human with a wild optimism quietly flowing under. Misplaced optimism within the context of the story, but a great ‘energy’ for the reader.

        Random thoughts.

        • Between that story and “Goldfish Bowl” (I think that’s what it’s called), it’s a wonder that the compilation The Menace From Earth ever got off the ground. I mean, those are the first two stories, so you get smacked over the head with Bleak and Bleaker.

    • A Farewell to Arms is by Hemingway not Faulkner.

  45. Two sayings:

    a. Art conceals art.

    b. Willing suspension of disbelief.

    The chronicles of Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan were absorbing on first reading, though I was unconsciously aware of an element of novelty. However, the moment I do a double take and think What is this, a love story?, the author has probably lost me for that book and possibly for others.

    When I open a book, I’ve already decided to give the author a measure of my time and money, like a venture capitalist who invests in a start-up. It’s up to the author to make my investment self-sustaining. Instead, apparently many authors, publishers, and organizations view me as a captive customer of a monopoly. Good luck with that.

    • No, GS. It’s just that no one has exactly your tastes. You’re viewing as a personal offense what the writer can’t help doing. For instance, I LOVE Pratchett, but I hate the Rincewind books and find the Death ones meh. Most of his readers love these. So, did he abandon me for the other readers? No, he just failed at BEING Sarah or so completely in tune with Sarah-the-reader as to be a mental twin. A failing, I grant you, but widespread, as only I am me.

      • As long as minimal standards of craftsmanship are met, I don’t view a book I stop reading as a personal offense any more or less than I’d view an unsuccessful investment as a personal offense. I don’t understand how I conveyed the opposite impression.

  46. Shorter version of Paul Cook’s article:

    Credit to Dorothy Grant for giving me this idea with her 2:17 PM comment.

  47. I consider Lois McMaster Bujold to be one of the best fiction writers of any genre. It is absurd to claim that her Miles Vorkosigan books are not science fiction.

    I dwelt in a dark cave and didn’t discover her novels until a few years ago. I’ve now read all her novels (and most of her essays and speeches). I like her characters and plots, but most of all I like her writing style with it’s excellent sentence structure and mostly perfect grammar. I would use her books to teach graduate school writing courses.

    • There are a number of really good stylists. Besides Lois M. Bujold, the ones that come to mind are H. Beam Piper, Bill Adams and Cecil Brooks (and they should put out another book even if it doesn’t have Evan Larkspur), David Drake, and John Lambshead.

  48. I don’t know where to start… perhaps I should try the beginning. I attended my first con at 11 — a worldcon in Phoenix. There I met Phoenix fen. No one, not then, not later ever “creeped” and none hit on me. I was a mascot and while I couldn’t win a Diplomacy game to save my life, I grew to love the Phoenix variant of D & D, That I did well in. My mother was Mexican, a Texican from San Antonio. AFAIK I was never discriminated for or against.

    It would be nice to think all those stories I submitted to Analog failed because of my politics; I think it had more to do with grammar and punctuation.

    Like you, Sarah, I was an odd. Still am… not that I understood that. I have a — unique — approach to story telling. I have a novel about the woman who organized the first interstellar expedition. The “expedition” is one chapter; I was far more interested in the problems she had to solve to get there and what she did when she got back.

    I’m posting a story on my website about a fellow who hijacks a space probe to, among other places. some of the gas giants. There’s 30k words before he gets into space — the journey. There are 2000 words about the start of the journey and 3000 about when he gets back, thirty years later. The part in the middle? Engineering details that I assume readers would skip.

    All of this is a prelude to a comment about the nutty professor. *Any* interesting novel or story borrows tropes from others. I just got done reading “Under a Graveyard Sky” and several times I thought I was reading my own work — but I’m aware that I’m an aficionado of “When you steal, steal from the very best!” Why shouldn’t a s-f story have romance? What, are all the characters supposed to be eunuchs? A kerfluffle brought about by someone more interested in “great literature” than a cracking good story enjoyed by literally, millions.

    • The stories you sent to Analog might have failed because of grammar and punctuation but TRUST me on this, politics would have limited your career particularly in the oughts. HOWEVER now we have an indie for that.
      Young lady, get cracking on writing!

    • I know I’ve quoted him before, but:

      When ‘Omer smote ‘is bloomin’ lyre,
      He’d ‘eard men sing by land an’ sea;
      An’ what he thought ‘e might require,
      ‘E went an’ took — the same as me!

      The market-girls an’ fishermen,
      The shepherds an’ the sailors, too,
      They ‘eard old songs turn up again,
      But kep’ it quiet — same as you!

      They knew ‘e stole; ‘e knew they knowed.
      They didn’t tell, nor make a fuss,
      But winked at ‘Omer down the road,
      An’ ‘e winked back — the same as us!

      Would that the Legion of the Offended were as wise.

  49. And apropos of nothing else, I must admit, I have gotten no exercise done at all today. I am, however, recovering well enough from a hard week at work that the muscles have finally stopped aching – now if the tendons would stop aching, I’d be dandy.

    As for words, I’m trying to write the back cover / ad copy / blurb / whatever you call it for the next release, and it’s infinitely more fascinating to make pithy comments here instead. Or get some ice cream. Or go rotate the cat.

    • I got 45 minutes of cardio and weights done this AM (I loathe squats), and a thousand words on an essay, and am doing second-run revisions to the first Colplatshki novel. I approved the edits to Chapter 8 of the next book last night, and am bracing for the next batch (25k word novella). And I need to rewrite blurbs, and decide on cover art for a short-story.

    • I had car trouble this week. Running around that way does decrease the distance. . . did get four miles total in.

    • Most of the day was devoted to car trouble, and I got in the forest near sunset. Thought about stretching the mile but decided not to. Just as well because post-walk errands took three hours. Used the walk to start reciting my business presentation, which I should memorize till it’s second nature.

      Caught a serious error caused by a flawed attempt to simplify my calculation. When talents and Muses were being assigned in the pre-life, there was a serious mismatch in my case. My Muse isn’t happy about it and neither am I.

  50. For those who might not have heard, A.C. Crispin succumbed to complications of cancer this AM (September 6). She was 63. D-mn, but this has been a rough year already.