The Political Writer


I’m tired, or perhaps lazy, and actually have paying work to do (of the fiction kind.)  I promise a post tomorrow, but for today, I will echo my post at Mad Genius Club. Comment here or there, or both, as you please.

There is a trope going around establishment science fiction where they prove again and again that we’re wrong when we say that “science fiction shouldn’t be political.”

They prove it conclusively, to their satisfaction, by demonstrating that science fiction has always been political, and therefore we’re not only wrong, we’re ignorant of the history of the field.  Then they take a victory lap to the acclaim of their sycophants.

There’s only one thing wrong with that: we NEVER said that.

Oh, I’m sure someone said that. There are douche canoes that say just about anything. But no one with any following. And no one who has read a lot of science fiction.

Yes, a lot of science fiction is inherently political. This is so because we build worlds with what we know (or think we know) and who we are. And because humans are political animals, stories are often political.

The second novel I read in science fiction was A Canticle For Leibowitz. (The first might not have been science fiction. (Well, the first I remember reading — Have Space Suit, Will Travel — my brother assures me wasn’t available in Portuguese until three years later. Though why that should matter when I read most SF/F in pirated editions, not knowing they were pirated, I don’t know.) It was Out of Their Minds by Clifford Simak. ) Anyone thinking that Canticle has nothing to do with nuclear politics/disarmament or even with the role of the Catholic church in preserving civilization, let alone with the Catholic church’s ideas on sex (or what the author perceived them as being) is someone who is incapable of reading subtext. And I mean, more incapable of reading subtext than an 11 year old girl.

In the same way, I have read all of Heinlein, going way back, and yeah, I saw the not so subtle shilling for a world government (because that would totes stop wars.) I read Le Guin, the good the bad and the “I’m tearing my hair out because this is so bloody stupid.” We’ll go into that later, but for now, suffice to say that even her most “political screed” like book still had a story, and still kept you reading.  Afterwards you might sit there going “Oh, dear Lord” and you might hesitate to buy the next one, but you still read it.

Yesterday, in fact, in a small facebook group consisting of my online family, we were discussing The Left Hand of Darkness, which I have problems with — biology and behavior in relation to biology and the fact that on re-read a few years ago what I had though was a masterful narration read “too seventies for words” kind of like a macrame plant hanger in written form. (A lot of other authors of the time have this issue, in fact, going back to the sixties, and stretching to the early 80s. Some Heinleins suffer from this too. Well, two of them. But not to that extent. In Heinlein’s case it’s just the …. lingo? but in LHOD it’s also the “folk” narrative construction. I UNDERSTAND this is my own, personal problem, okay? I came of age in the seventies, and have been trying to get away from anything that reminds me of those years since.)

Anyway, in relation to THAT, we were talking about how many books written by women in that time period seem to be about women outsourcing/not doing house-care and child-care in an ideal society (or in the case of TLHOD and others, childcare being communal.)

And we were talking about how we did that, more or less, by outsourcing child care and just not doing housework, but we’ve learned that’s a) less than optimal (particularly for the children) and b) doesn’t work that way.

However none of this detracts in any way from competent stories told that assume these things.  At most I shrug, as I do at Heinlein having space colonies in the seventies, and go “it didn’t turn out that way.”

BUT provided that the characters are people, and the plot works, I still read, re-read and enjoy those novels.

Not because they’re political, but because politics don’t matter to the worth of a book.

If the book is COMPETENTLY written and not a screed with a thin veneer of fiction,  I still read, re-read and enjoy the book. Even if the author writing the book had diametrically opposite views to my own and therefore their projected future is insane, by my views.  I will roll my eyes if they take time away from the story for a mini-rant, or skim over that part and go back to where the story resumes, like a normal human being, instead of getting hung up on it.

In fact, there’s stories — and no, I’m not going to name names, duh — whose politics I completely agree with, but which are so infused with politics that they fall into the realm of “just so stories” and therefore boring. I know who the winners and losers will be from page one, because the author — who is on my side politically — made that ABUNDANTLY clear. I know every turn. I roll my eyes at the rants in the middle of the story, and somewhere along the line I shrug and go watch paint dry or check on the progress of sidewalk cracks. OR SOMETHING.

And that’s what we’ve been saying:

We assume stories will have politics in them. Even utterly non-political stories like my Shifter series reflect my politics in that I think it’s better, say, to work in a diner than to be homeless or on welfare. That’s my politics, or my principles, from which my politics evolved. “Do for yourself and look after those who can’t.”  And they WILL come through.

Of course science fiction and fantasy have more politics in them than the usual genre, because, well, you’re making up entire worlds, which means more scope to get political in.

BUT FICTION ISN’T POLITICS.  Or it shouldn’t be.  As someone said “if you want to send a message use Western Union.”

I’d soften that to be “if you want to send a message and can’t amuse someone who disagrees with you while doing so, use Western Union.”  Because I’ve read message fic I disagreed with but which entertained me VASTLY.  Hell, I disagree with the message in some of my own fiction (no, you don’t get to know which. D*mn it, I need to finish entering edits and re-print those) partly because behind the overt message which I put in to please the publisher there’s a lot of sneaky questions designed to make you THINK about that overt message.

In other words: stop the mentally-challenged victory lap. That straw man is dead. We never said that science fiction (or any other writing) shouldn’t be political.  We said it shouldn’t be judged on the “correctness” of the politics, and that it shouldn’t be considered great simply because it is politically correct or repeats the things the establishment — while cos-playing anti-establishment — wants it to.

NO ONE requires that you hide your politics, or even that the point of your story (particularly short stories, which usually have OBVIOUS points) not be political.  No one even asks that.  You’re human. What you are and what you believe will come through your art, or it’s not worth spit.

What readers require is that you make it entertaining. That your characters come alive, that real things happen to them, that the action and goal make sense at some level. At least enough to keep us immersed while we’re reading. Even if in the end you make all your male magicians magical castrati. It has to pull you along while you’re reading.  Afterwards you can go “Oh, h*ll, that was stupid. I’ll pretend that book never was part of the series. Only the trilogy exists.”  But while you’re reading it, it works.

Make it a good and competent story, and we will read it. We might even love it. (I love at least one novel where I disagree with all of the open message, including “the” and “a”.)

Make it a message that screams through the story and tries to make us love it BECAUSE of the message and if we don’t it’s because we’re “ists” not to mention evil, and we’ll turn away in droves. Your ability to compel sales was always limited and is now over. And you can’t compel fandom.

To appropriate one of my favorite Heinlein quotes, and change it for the purpose: a purported artist who has only explicit political message in his/her work and relies only on explicit and approved politics for his/her academic job, for his/her accolades and for his/her livelihood is a whore. An incompetent one.


227 thoughts on “The Political Writer

  1. Far too many writers think they are next George Orwell when it comes to political screeds in their writing.

    1. If only they understood that his books are warnings rather than “How To” manuals.

      1. Especially China, and sadly some in the US whose Party cannot be named (not the party that begins with R)

        1. Well, you have to expect that a party that prided itself on being unherdable cats would fall to statists. Thus Johnson, the big-government cradle-to-grave welfare pothead in 2016.

          The party of Indian genocide and slavery? Hell, anyone who thinks they weren’t gleefully evil from the beginning hasn’t cracked open an independent history book.


          1. It didn’t help that the party for at least a decade if not longer was pretty much the Legalize Pot party and nothing more. All other principles could be negotiated as long as that plank was honored.

            1. Now it’s the “legalize pot and open borders” party. They’ve diversified.

  2. Yes, a lot of science fiction is inherently political.

    Pohl & Kornbluth’s novels in the Fifties, such as Gladiator-At-Law (1955) and The Space Merchants (1953), come to mind. Jack Williamson’s With Folded Hands (1947) is political if non-partisan. Hell, Asimov’s Foundation is pretty damned political.

    For that matter, there’s Herbert George “Socialist” Wells’s collected works.

    Typical moron argument: put words in your mouth by misunderstanding (yeah, we’ll call it a lack of understanding rather than deliberate lies) and then not only condemn you for things you didn’t say but attack you for attempting to weasel out when you point out you never said that for which they denounce you.

    1. Doesn’t matter what you say, they will make up what ever to show they are right. When you say, “Never said that” and can show proof, they will say no matter what you say, they KNOW wht you meant and they are just showing the errors of your thought.
      arguments are far easier to win when you decide both stances ahead of time, and that is the only way they can win.

        1. When the psychic loop is stuck on the phrase, “He said that because he’s really a racist,” it hinders the ability of those useful six numbers to get through.

          1. Didn’t Rhine discover that his “psychics” got wrong answers more frequently than simple chance would explain?

            Maybe “mind readers” are disproportionately dyslexic?

        2. The only thoughts they can detect are istaphobic ones.

          Reminds you of what they say about people who hear dog whistles.

      1. The ‘ability’ of the True Believer to tell you what you really think or experience has always infuriated me. Back when News Groups were a thing, I spent a fair amount of time on alt.smokers. Now, I smoke cigars. I may well be addicted to nicotine, but I smoke them for the sensual pleasure involved. I don’t insist that everybody else enjoy it, too; I don’t ‘get’ a lot of other peoples’ pleasures. But one of the resident trolls had the bare-faces affrontery to inform me that I didn’t REALLY like the taste of cigar smoke, I just thought I did.

        Naturally, I asked if he could explain, in small words, what the difference between enjoying a sensation, and thinking I enjoyed a sensation might be.

        That was the end of THAT sub-thread.


        1. A certain writer who I will not name lost me as a fan when she started sensing that the real reason Republicans were opposed to Health Care Reform (R) was because they wanted to kill poor brown people. When I suggested on her blog that it might instead have something to do with Fiscal Responsibility, she deleted the post. Fine. I won’t pollute her echo chamber. Or buy her books anymore.

        2. Someday . . . Them “I know what you really mean.”
          Irked other [quiet, polite tone]: “No, because if you did, you’d be running away, screaming in terror.”
          Them: What?!?
          Irked Other: What?

          1. Good one.

            My answer is, “No, the party that wants to kill off poor brown people is the party YOU vote for. How else do you explain the lengths they go to to make sure poor brown women can get abortions, and the way they clearly don’t care if those abortions kill the women who get them.”

            And they say “How can you SAY that!”

            And I say, “Kermit Gosnell.”

      2. That is my sister in Seattle.

        Sis: the only reason Republicans dont want to pay more in taxes is that they dont want their money to help poor brown people (said with sneering tone)

        Me: ???!?? A. No, B. That’s one of the most racist things I’ve ever heard. C. I’ve never heard an (R) politician say anything remotely like that.

        Sis: Of course they don’t say it. But they think it.

        Me: If they don’t say it, how do you know?

        Sis: [changes subject after a short rant about “dog whistles”]

        I remembering bringing this exchange up in a discussion at the Rottie Empire, and adding that I had obviously not recieved my decoder ring from the VRWC, and it was probably in the same package as the check I was still waiting for.

        1. Trump is the first President I can think of to actually raise taxes on the rich with the elimination of the local tax deduction. it cost me plenty but It’s worth it to hear all my rich neighbors complain about double taxation. Getting that deduction back is Killer Cuomo and Murderous Murphy’s big demand as part of WuFlu relief. In any case, the US has the most progressive tax regime in the world. The rich pay way more proportionately than the Europeans do since so much of their base is excise rather than income based. they like to tax the poor and make fuel and stuff expensive.

          I think that’s why the left hates facts so much, it spoils their little stories.

          1. That is why 2019 taxes went down. Prior year state refund usually affects current year federal taxes. Usually we get a card from the state telling us how much we got in refund or had to pay extra, and Quicken asks or pulls in that amount from prior tax filing. Since what we paid up front to state doesn’t count, then what we got back from, or paid to, the state doesn’t matter, anymore, so neither the card nor the Quicken questions occurred.

            1. I always figured the state taxes first, and then only deducted the amount actually paid.

              And then the IRS would send me a nasty-gram about not including the state tax refund — which I had already paid taxes on the year before — and I would have to inform them of that fact, AGAIN!

              About 15 years ago I fixed the W-4s so they didn’t over-withhold, and now I get my money when I’m paid, instead of having to apply for a ‘refund’ at the end of the year.

              1. I fixed the W-4s so they didn’t over-withhold, and now I get my money when I’m paid, instead of having to apply for a ‘refund’ at the end of the year.

                When we were working that is what we did. Figured to pay a couple hundred to both Feds & State. Obama years screwed with that model. We didn’t change a dang thing, but had our taxes swing year to year by thousands (would owe almost $2k one year, the next get almost $2k back, a 4k swing). Finally settled down again. Then hubby retired. We started getting enough back from the State to pay the Feds. Now, we get back about 3x’s from the State than what we owe the Feds (this year with state kicker). Hubby looked into lowering what we pay to the state but can’t lower the percentage without going to 0%, which we don’t want to do; we owe something, and don”t want to bother with quarterly filings. Part of the problem is the state doesn’t tax any SS but the feds tax part of it. We don’t withhold anything from SS, only from his pension and anything pulled from taxable (deferred) retirement funds. Withholding from my pension, monthly, is a LOLROFWTH moment … it is $1458 & change per year (did not mistype that). State even had a WTF moment. They questioned the 1099 Form 😉

            2. They went down for everyone outside the high tax jurisdictions. My taxes went up, Fugetabout my property taxes here in the NYC commuter suburbs of NJ. I wish they hadn’t gone up, only an idiot wants them to go up on himself, but if you want to “tax the rich” it helps if you actually tax the rich, which this thing did. it’s delicious.

        2. Are you sure we don’t have the same sister in Seattle? Mine’s the same way. She also posted memes about how the Black Death killed feudalism and they can hope that WuFlu kills capitalism the same way.

          1. Uh, the plague killed feudalism? Then why did it take 300 years? And, guns had nothing to do with it?

            By the 17th century, peasant conscripts with matchlocks could wipe out expensive cavalry. Knights were obsolete, although they hung on for a few more decades. Gunpowder, not swords and lances, ruled the battlefield.

            1. Can’t be arguing guns ended feudalism because that would mean having guns is useful against oppressive systems and the plebs might demand guns.

          2. That is my mother. 😦

            She posted this meme today with a sci-fi city scape behind it:

            “If a medically-informed response to a pandemic creates economic hardship so serious that the economic impacts are more deadly than the virus, you change your fucking economic system not your response to disease.

            “Condemning some to die of a preventable illness so that others don’t die of engineered poverty is disgusting. Seriously, some of y’all dream so small. Our species can do better than this.”

            I’d love to ask her why she hasn’t been screaching from the roof tops about us needing to change our economic system to save all the annual flu deaths, a disease much more preventable than WuFlu currently is. And how the ever living #%&$! does she expect us to have a totally contactless society, which is the only way to come close to making sure no one ever dies of a virus? I’m sure she thinks that all her hobbies and social activities would never be affected….

            1. For what it’s worth… those guys are vicious.

              If you show a sign that you’re not One Of Us, they’ll cast you out with much screeching and howling– and if you aren’t loudly signaling, you’re giving that sign.

              We seriously lost a Navy buddy because we were “far right.”
              You see, he was right-wing, and his friends were all moderates. He believed that Obama was a centrist that leaned to the right, rathe than being right wing.
              Yes, seriously. These adults, theoretically sane, believed Obama was right of center. In American terms.

              It’s a freakin’ insanity spiral.

              1. There is this hard-core atheist in Germany who has found more common ground with religious folk on the US right than with secular leftists because the Left has gone so far around the bend.

                The Western left recognizes one sin, and one sin only: that of being right-wing. You can be a robber, or rapist, or a murderer, or a tyrant, or a slaver, or an architect of genocide, and it’s all good – as long as you are not right wing.

                The Death of Atheism

                1. And if they find left-wingers they absolutely CAN’T make excuses for, why, they’re really right-wingers!

                  I mean, everybody knows the Nazis were right-wingers, eh?

                2. The only thing I’d add to that gentleman’s commentary is more of a complement of his point– a lot of the “new atheists” who were “debating” were doing no such thing; they were doing a much shinier version of that gal who pulled the “so what you’re saying is” on Peterson. (I know one or two impressed me with their intellectual honesty, but names are NOT my thing.)

                  More luck to him.

              2. And that lack of sign can be … interesting … when it’s family doing the screeching.

                It feels like the bloody Salem Witch Trials, and I’m the witch.

                Doesn’t help that my family is on the more dysfunctional side, and definitely emotionally abusive (just to me, neither of my siblings can do wrong), and politically I’m the only family member to the right of Obama. I’m not a scapegoat, but I have always been expected to be a doormat. I suspect they truly wonder where they went wrong.

            2. I’ve seen that meme, too. And it’s utter nonsense. And I do not understand how people continue to blow off influenza, which kills TENS OF THOUSANDS WITH a vaccine and known effective treatment, only to go batshit insane about a single novel strain of a virus, which can be mitigated by the same measures that would mitigate influenza infections.

              Also, they can never seem to understand that economic activity isn’t planned or designed, and that attempting to do so ALWAYS makes it fail.

              1. Funny thing, back in January I was arguing with folks about the flu– short version, they have no idea how ineffective the flu vaccine is, and oh my gosh don’t get me started on handwashing, transmission vectors and basic sanitation. Just…don’t…. *shudder*

                My almost two year old came in covered in mud the other day, with an extra huge swath around her mouth where she’d been sucking her thumb, and I’d lay odds she was at lower risk for Something Horrible.

                Example phrase, I eat my pork rare.

                1. Exactly — anybody who thinks an economy can be planned has just demonstrated too much ignorance of what economies consist of to be allowed anywhere NEAR planning an economy. At least Bloomberg grasped that somebody had to poke seeds into the ground … I hate to speculate where Alexandria Ocasio~Cortes believes seeds must be shoved.

                  1. Putting them directly into fertilizer might be something she might figure would work, no?

                2. Even if you grant the impossibility of people doing exactly what you have planned for them to do – there is still the Murphy factor (no, not the idiot in New Jersey, the other one).

                  My family certainly did not plan to replace three major appliances and a car during the last few weeks. The next couple of years, yes. (The fourth one on the list, if it decides to join its brethren, is going to be “replaced” with natural solar. I won’t be surprised, though, if concrete and/or steel poles suddenly have a supply chain problem. I’ve been bitten on too many other projects.)

                  1. the Murphy factor (no, not the idiot in New Jersey, the other one).

                    Maybe they’re related?

                  2. My family certainly did not plan to replace three major appliances and a car during the last few weeks.

                    As it happens, that kind of thing is actually easier to plan for in large numbers than at the individual level. If you have a large population you can generally expect that most of the time some number will need new washers, refrigerators, furnaces, whatever. You can’t predict which individuals will be the ones needing it any more than the individuals will be able to predict whether they’ll need those appliances this time or not. This is why insurance is a thing. The insurance company doesn’t know any more than you do whether you’ll have an accident this year or not. But they do know that out of a million people they can expect X number accidents that will cost Y dollars. And so they charge a premium on that million people that between revenue from premiums and revenue from investing those premiums, to get what they have to charge to stay afloat. And even then, occasionally the truly exceptional happens and they get hammered.

                    1. But insuring your APPLIANCES is stupid. All of them will have to be replaced eventually, so the insurance company has to charge enough to replace them, PLUS make a profit. If you just put the money in the bank, instead of paying it to the insurance company, you will come out ahead.

                      Insurance works for huge but uncertain expenses. Like getting run over by a bus. Out of ten million people, a few will get run over by a bus, but the chance that YOU will ever get run over by a bus is very low. It makes sense to spread out that type of risk. If most of the risk group is going to incur the covered expenses, insurance just adds overhead without providing much benefit.

                      That’s the problem with what I call ‘every-scratch-and-sniffle’ health insurance. It just makes health care cost more.

                    2. All of them will have to be replaced eventually

                      Just like everyone will die eventually, but life insurance is still a thing. The uncertainty is in when. Now, it may not be that appliance insurance would not be a profitable venture. The life span (and thus th expectation value on this year’s losses) may be too short so that the premiums that would have to be charged too great for people to be willing to pay. However, there are similar things that do exist. For instance, one of our HVAC companies here offers a kind of service contract/insurance package. You pay a monthly fee and that covers the annual maintenance/checkup and gives a significant discount on repairs or outright replacement. (So, insurance with a large “co-insurance” payment). Failures that are hard to predict individually are much more manageable in batches.

                    3. You pay a monthly fee and that covers the annual maintenance/checkup and gives a significant discount on repairs or outright replacement.

                      Our furnace supplier does the same. Monthly cost X 12 < paid annual maintenance cost. At least the first 10 years during warranty period the annual maintenance is required to keep the warranty. Huge discount on labor after labor warranty goes away. Discount on material and units after warranty disappears.

                    4. That furnace supplier is also planning on being Johnny-on-the-Spot when it comes time to replace that furnace. Which works in your favor, as supplier knows you will remember service provided (or not provided.)

                    5. TERM life insurance makes sense. Only a few of the insured will die in the next 5 or 10 years. Permanent life insurance makes much less sense.

                    6. There are the global factors – that you cannot predict in the short term, but over a long period (decades), can be predicted. Weather is one – a “hundred year” flood, or blizzard, or tornado season is going to happen some time and one can figure a certain probability that THIS is the year for it.

                      “Local” (in space and/or time) factors are not subject to that kind of analysis. Especially if the outcome is dependent on a relatively small group of human beings. Katrina – a very small group of incompetent and corrupt officials did not maintain the infrastructure. CoViD – an extremely small group of politicians ordered the housing of the contagious in facilities jam packed with the most vulnerable. Minneapolis – between one and four cops (depending on the story) made a bad mistake in restraining a criminal – and hundreds of businesses burned.

                      (On the last – I hate to say it, but this summer is looking like it will rhyme with the summer of 1968.)

                  3. If you’re going to start in on all the stuff people do that makes no sense, we’re gonna need a bigger blog.

                    1. the stuff people do that makes no sense

                      That it doesn’t make sense to you doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make sense to them. Whole life is one example. Yes, someone is eventually going to die and, in theory, the insurance company is eventually going to have to pay (not always. A lot of people end up letting the policy lapse–and, yes, that’s a factor that companies include when setting rates) however the “present value” of that eventual payment vs. the present value of the premiums can be higher for an individual who is worried about providing for his family should he die young and yet lower for a company able to combine it with many others and thus smooth out the risk, making it a perfectly valid transaction. Sowell covers this in the section on risk in Basic Economics.

                      It’s easy to say that something “makes no sense” when the truth is frequently that one doesn’t understand the sense that it makes to the people doing it. And, conversely it’s entirely possible for people to be behaving entirely rationally under the incentives and constraints they face but yet is actively harmful in the “bigger picture”. Politics is full of this.

            3. She might have a point if there had BEEN a medically-informed response to this virus. All we’ve seen is a lot of political posturing and power-grabbing. The deaths have been caused by left-wing politics, not free market economics.

              They appointed the Gretazoid to an ‘expert panel’ on corona virus. I thought she was a ‘climate expert’ not a ‘virus expert’?

              Can nobody see how deranged and incompetent our ‘leaders’ are?

              1. Properly speaking, I do not think “prosperity” can be engineered — it is more a matter of engineering out inefficiencies, blockages and “friction” which tend to preclude prosperity.

                The history of America can be framed as an argument that prosperity is indeed the natural state, but because prosperity tends to endanger vested interests it is rarely permitted to occur.

                Full development of that thesis could probably produce a guest post but I do not think I’ve the energy to crank that out.

                1. Hrmm… an interesting theory.. that Mankind is Naturally Ascendant.. but Tyrants of one sort or another are dreadful efficient at knocking out critical foundations.

                2. I do not think “prosperity” can be engineered

                  I wasn’t talking about in some grand “planned economy” sense but in all the little ways that people figure out how to make more with less, or to take this worthless crap and turn it into something people want (and are willing to pay for). When Rockefeller had his people figure out how to use gasoline to power his refineries (rather than simply dumping that “worthless waste” of kerosene production) making lighting oil cheaper–like orders of magnitude cheaper–he was engineering prosperity. When Henry Ford applied mass production to auto manufacturing making a plaything of the rich into practical transportation for the masses he was engineering prosperity. And so on and so on.

          3. Point out that serfdom continued in Eastern Europe into the 1700s, and actually got stronger after the Black Death, and again after the Thirty Years War. [I admit, I was surprised when I discovered that, because so much English-language history focuses on Western Europe, where the Black Death really did cause social change in some regions.]

            1. English-language history, and the teaching of history in American schools, is basically England and France, with a little bit about Spain during the Age of Discovery, and that’s about it. Rome fell, and then there were the Dark Ages during which nothing much happened, maybe some Viking raids and settlement in Britain, and then the Norman Invasion. King Richard, King John, the Magna Carta, some fighting back and forth between England and France, King Henry V I(what happened to all the previous Henrys?), then Henry VIII (what about the Henrys in between?). Bloody Mary and Queen Elizabeth, then the Scottish King became King of England somehow (didn’t the English rule Scotland? Students are confused!) George III. Then English and European history sort of stops. Might get some Napoleon, and the War of 1812. Nothing happens in Europe until WWI, though. Nothing at all.

              Maybe that was just my high school. In a gifted class.

              1. Bloody Mary and Good Queen Bess is amusing to me in retrospect, me being papish and all and going to a papish school. I didn’t know the empire existed until I was well along. Made up for it since.

        3. You know what they say about “If you can hear the dog whistle …”

          OTOH, I never did care for the amount of my taxes going to fund the enslavement of “brown people” on the Democrats’ plantation.

    2. Pohl and Kornbluth having the stock market as a parimutuel window is spot on, up to a point. I never forgot it anyway.

    3. The thing is, that’s what many of them actually hear. You say, “tell me a damned story to go with your Message.”, and since they (mostly) can’t, they HEAR “leave out the message.”. No, I don’t know why. If one could get them to see the problem (doubtful) I don’t think they could tell me.

      1. Having had ample time today for musing it occurred to me that part of the problem arises from a fundamental distinction between Left & Right personality types. As Professor Haidt noted, Liberals are primarily concerned with results, conservatives with process. Thus Leftish readers/writers/editors want stories that make their ideological points, that reach the correct conclusion.

        Right-wing zealots, OTOH, want to be taken for a scenic ride, bought a nice dinner and treated respectfully if they’re going to have to put up with your insane political ideas. We will forgive a good deal if we are entertained well but you’ve got to give our process, not just pound a “moral” point.

  3. Not because they’re political, but because politics don’t matter to the worth of a book.

    Yeah – there’s reasons nobody is attempting modern stagings of Piers Plowman or Pilgrim’s Progress and they don’t include the religious content … except in the sense that once you strike the religion there’s nothing left.

    Willy Shakes, OTOH, was very effing political in his plays but they still get staged and re-staged in spite of most people being incapable of distinguishing Henry the Fifth from Richard the Third.

    1. It is pretty easy to tell the guy who won the most famous English victory from the one who suffered the worse defeat to a Welshman.

  4. I will roll my eyes if they take time away from the story for a mini-rant, or skim over that part and go back to where the story resumes,

    Ah – there’s the rub! It’s when they’re writing the genre which must not be named but with politics instead of sex. Because politics is sooooooo much more entertaining than sex.

      1. Couldn’t they be doing BOTH wrong?
        Thor: “Merriment can sometimes be as great a burden as battle.”
        Heimdall: “Then you are doing one of them incorrectly.”

        1. We’ve read their blogs and met their poor spouses and partners. So I would say that’s highly probable.

          (Although the do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do crowd often have very conservative marriages, careers, and childraising practices. It’s the rest of us who are supposed to starve and suffer dramatically.)

          1. Well, of course. If everyone could do as they do, it would imply there is nothing special or virtuous about them. They would just simply be ordinary.

  5. Fiction can express the same philosophy that forms politics, and even if the philosophy is trash, still be enjoyable.

    Being “informed” of politics– that is, scolded in a manner a fishwife would blush at– is not likely to do that.

    Sadly, that’s what a lot of the Political these days do.

    Oooh, just had a thought– an lot of the issue with the Progressives is that they can’t seem to recognize cause and effect. People who work hard and save to buy a house are usually successful, so they promote things to help people buy houses, at which point the idea is THEY will be successful…but it doesn’t work.
    Folks who are good at reading don’t sound out every word, so they try to teach kids “whole word” reading, and it doesn’t work.
    Folks who have strong political views and are persuasive have usually studied it a lot, adn have a good understanding of what they believe, and thus get passionate and run right over the top of others– so they scream and shout and silence others and believe they’ve won an argument when all they did was make folks believe they’re not worth the time.

    1. I see that all the time:

      Argumentum ad nauseum — to keep repeating the same bullshit until everybody is so sick of it they stop listening, then claim victory.

      1. *chuckles* I’ve been accused of that, usually when I don’t accept an inaccurate correction, or a rebut a rebuttal.

        As we also see all the time: they’re usually accusing us of what they actually do.

    2. Don’t forget the postmodern idea that emotion>other stuff, so the more passionate you are (or seem to be), the more right your cause. Rather like certain non-Northern European cultures, who don’t grok the concept that when a Yankee or Limey gets really quiet in the face of bluster and apparent fury, it does not mean that he’s showing submission and that you’ve just won the fight.

        1. Or has entered the self argument along the lines of “If I kill this idiot I’ll have to get rid of the body. Who can I call that will help…”

      1. I think it’s more, “Feelings are always right!”

        ‘Feelings’ can’t be disproven by facts, after all. If somebody says they ‘feel’ something, you can’t prove that they don’t. Therefore, ‘feelings’ must be MORE real than any fact, any logic, any argument based on evidence and reason. They get to always win.
        I used to live on a farm. I know what bullshit smells like.

        1. I’d gloss that to “My feelings are always right! (Because I’m a Good person!)” Otherwise they’d have to grant the legitimacy of the BadWrong person’s feelings and then we’re back to the classic De gustibus.

        2. ‘Feelings are always right’ (like a lot of Progressive Left drivel) is an oversimplified misunderstanding of something that is rightly held to be true in somewhat narrower circumstances.

          It is an important cornerstone of successful therapy that feelings are REAL. That is to say; they exist, and must be dealt with. They may have no basis in external fact, and a sensible person will often need to make objective decisions that run counter to them, but they must be accounted for or they will bite you in the butt.

      2. when a Yankee or Limey gets really quiet in the face of bluster and apparent fury” he’s probably just remembered the first rule of pig wrestling.

        1. Or he’s thinking REALLY HARD about how much fuss and bother there would be over killing the asshole.

          1. OT and on the good side: put book up. It’s Jane Austen fanfic, and written years ago, but it’s criminal to let it sit not making money….
            This one is deranged. Under Alyx Silver.

      3. …when a Yankee or Limey gets really quiet in the face of bluster and apparent fury, it does not mean that he’s showing submission and that you’ve just won the fight.

        “Cock the gun that is not loaded, cook the frozen dynamite —
        But oh, beware my Country, when my Country grows polite!”

        (Kipling, of course)

        1. “When the heir of all the ages “has the honour to remain,”
          When he will not hear an insult, though men make it ne’er so plain,
          When his lips are schooled to meekness, when his back is bowed to blows –
          Well the keen aas-vogels know it-well the waiting jackal knows. ”

          aas-vogels= Afrikaans for vultures.

    3. Well, they can certainly misapply cause and effect. “Billions are going to die because Orange Man Bad!” has cause and effect… that both have next to nothing to do with each other, and are also wrong. Like primitive tribes that apply cause (sacrifices) to effect (didn’t flood this season), they see things much as you stated, like believing we can make drug use safe by supplying free clean needles. Or spending our way out of debt. Or destroying our military to make us safe at home. Or cozying up to terrorists so they’ll stop suicide bomibing us. Or… well, you get the idea.

    4. This is most of what’s wrong with Common Core math, I’ve heard. “Smart people use all these mental shortcuts in math! Teach people the shortcuts and ignore all the haaaaaard work of memorizing tables!”

      Ignoring the fact that the only reason the shortcuts work is they already memorized the tables….

      1. Way I was taught back in the dark ages was that learning is like a house. You have to have a solid foundation first. Memorization is the foundation of all learning. With memorization, you have the facts, the basics, the building blocks that everything else stands on.

        After comes understanding. You can memorize things, but you need to start to understand them (complete understanding takes time) before you can *use* them. That’s the third piece that forms something recognizable as knowledge. Utilization. Have facts, begin to understand them, use them in a practical setting.

        Stage four is syncretization. Or synthesis. Can’t remember, it’s been around four decades. Anyway, this is where the parts you used get put together as a grander whole. If we’re talking translation, you memorize the vocabulary words, then you begin to understand them, then you use them in simple phrases, then you make whole sentences and complete thoughts in-language.

        Math is *very* literal, so using the above method *works.* If you skip memorization, understanding tends to fail. Bluntly, if you can’t remember what you’re taught, there’s little hope of you using those things you don’t know to solve problems in any practical, repeatable form.

        1. I tell my lower level students, “We are constructing a building. Before we can decide what color to paint the kitchen and what pattern of fabric will go on the sofa, we need a foundation and walls. Those are the facts and chronology. Once you have that, we can start adding the ‘oh that is so cool!’ parts.” Although in truth, I don’t make them wait that long for the cool/icky/seriously weird bits.

          1. I’m kinda sad that nobody told me about the Art of Memory stuff when I was a kid. I’m not very spatial, but I have good location memory, and I had no idea it was based on just walking around in your head and attaching stuff to what is there, in a well-known place in the real world. And I’m still not real clear on how to do the advanced stuff, but it would have been nice to know the capability was there, when I was young and bored.

      2. +1 Sometimes when having to work a quick real world math problem I visualize the Times tables I used to have to copy incessantly in grade school.

        (I consider myself a mathematical illiterate: I do fine with arithmetic and algebra, start bogging down on Trig, and hit a brick wall at Calc. I did fine with calculating and applying ballistic tables, just don’t ask me to derive them from scratch, as one of my classmates did for fun once)

        1. 1++ 🙂

          Give me the formula. Give me the definitions. I can follow it. But … I. Can. Not. Come. Up. With. It. One of the reasons I drove a couple of math savant programmers nuts. I’d probably drive Mr. Dan Hoyt nuts too. I could “see” how programs had to go together. I could “see” how to improve them to improve through inheritance, and all the object oriented type programming buzz words (that I can never ever remember). Partly, by the time I was interacting with either of the savants, I had enough experience behind me it was second nature, even when working with tools that were brand new to me. But ask me to mathematically “prove” any program … deer in headlights.

          My husband, who was a math major until he switched to Forestry, always shakes his head. He has no idea how I can program or design software. (He didn’t move out of math because he didn’t understand math, he didn’t want to teach, program, or build …)

      3. Its like the objection to phonics since most good readers don’t use phonics, they just read ignoring the question around how they learned to read in the first place. The answer was to teach English like it was Chinese.

        Common core math is like the new math but you tell how you feel. We pulled our youngest out of school when they started that nonsense.

        That said, why do they teach a lag dozen shortcuts to solving quadratic equations when there a way that works every damn time that they teach as an afterthought? Drives me batty that does.

        1. *raises paw* Victim of phonics here. I’d be a lot better off if I’d had to memorize how to spell, rather than writing out sound codes. Because I spell phonetically now, which is great for almost any language on G-d’s green earth . . . except English. I’ve been informed that without SpillChuck, my writing is Elizabethan as far as spelling goes.

            1. Pun-ish lessons? I didn’t get to puns until AFTER I learned how to spell. 😀

              [Raise anti-Carp shields now!]

          1. *raises paw* Victim of phonics here. I’d be a lot better off if I’d had to memorize how to spell, rather than writing out sound codes. Because I spell phonetically now, which is great for almost any language on G-d’s green earth . . . except English. I’ve been informed that without SpillChuck, my writing is Elizabethan as far as spelling goes.

            Victim of phonics and learned some rules. My problem is I can’t pronounce words correctly … I mean when I spell them phonically based on how I think they’re pronounced, the spell check suggestions are “What the heck? That ain’t right!” Other than self notes, there is noway in heck that I’d not type something up then handwrite it, if handwritten is required. It’d take an expert in me in translating it. Between my spelling and backtracking, I’d drive officials crazy.

            1. Phonics is the way. But with English, you gotta learn all the exceptions afterward.

              So you were supposed to have Phonics, and then Whole Word for the Dolsch words. Now it’s just Whole Word, which is ridiculous.

      4. It can work, if taught by someone who really understands what they’re teaching and is a good or at least passionate teacher. (They did some test runs.)

        Problem being, most teachers aren’t both, and many are neither.
        Even the math teacher we had who majored in math just directly copied the teacher’s edition, and at least once there was a MAJOR howler where he didn’t figure out that there was an error until the entire hour and a half was over.

        (Block schedule, three classes a day– two blocks in the morning and one in the afternoon, alternating days, and Fridays alternated, IIRC)

        At one point I dug through the Common Core website so I could figure out some of the kids’ books, and there was some good stuff to harvest.
        It just…yeah no.

        (I didn’t get times tables; tried verbally drilling the kids, no luck, but writing it in a block seems to work well.)

        1. I think math needs to be tutored not taught in a classroom because it’s cumulative. You shouldn’t move on until the kid masters the topic. Can’t do that in a class.

          FWIW I have an advanced degree in math and still struggle with my times tables. memorization is not my thing.

          1. Being Tutored and having to tutor others. The BSA approach. Learn it, use it, teach it. Not to that extent, but college math, required to take Calculus, Discrete, plus choice of two graduate level. There was a group of us who’d leave math class and immediately go for coffee to work on the assigned homework. Usually quietly until one of us figured it out. I wasn’t (usually) the first one but was never the last one, which enabled me to help (tutor) at least one or more of the others through the problems so they understood it. Other part of the learning process was I was better than most at tutoring someone else through it once I figured out what I’d been “missing” out of the class and book; more like it was there but not visible until you “got it” (if that makes sense). Wish I’d have done that my first degree. I know why not. Have to “do this on my own”. Difference between being 17 and 30 …

          2. Memorization of times tables is like doing push-ups. You are unlikely to ever actually need to do a push-up, but there will probably be many situations in which the upper body strength thus developed will prove useful. The development of one’s memory through rote learning of times tables will similarly be applicable in many another circumstance.

            I could post a clip here of Mr. Miyagi demanding Daniel “sand the floor” but I expect everybody is well familiar with that principle.

          3. Splitting kids into multiple classes by ability and achievement helps a lot here. So does homework, which should be done after dinner but a couple of hours before bed.

            1. That’s abusive!!! All the best pedagogical science says that children ought be grouped by age cohort! Separating them by ability and achievement promotes discrimination and risks harm to their self-esteem.

              It ought be apparent that all kids grow at the same pace intellectually, just as they do physically.

          4. There have been times I figured the best way to compile a mathematic textbook would be to instead start with whatever text was used in a class, and audit that class, then make the Companion that had the little asides and HOW-TOs that the textbook did not have, but rendered it more easily comprehensible.

                1. Cliff Notes, I didn’t use either. Probably could have in some cases. Informal Study Groups, made a big difference. As in lets “go get coffee and pound out the homework”. Was always someone in the group who needed more explanation & coaching, and someone who could offer it. Worked because the two positions changed day to day. Some times you were the coach, sometimes you were the one being coached. Rarely was it a case of “oh CR$$, we need more help …”; group might flail for half and hour or so, but eventually discussing it triggered someones understanding.

            1. The Half-Blood Prince endorse this suggestion.

              BTW – that was the definitive example of why Snape was a lousy teacher in spite of having absolute intellectual command of his subject matter.

        2. We had timed tests through 9’s. I think 100 per page that had to be completed in 10 minutes or less, 100% accurate, to move to the next level. I actually had to stay in school in 4th grad to finish last 3 (back when being held back was a real threat). Don’t remember why the struggle, time I think, not that I didn’t know my times tables. I didn’t struggle with math again until college, that was not-understandable English professors, When I got instructors who I could understand I did fine. It is definitely a topic that “Don’t use. Lose.” beyond basics (through algebra & basic geometry) is true.

  6. What the “SF has always been political” folk forget, what the folk writing that “political SF” in the past understood (intuitively at least, often explicitly), is that if you don’t wrap your “message” in a story that’s compelling to people who don’t already agree with your message, then you don’t get the message out to anyone who isn’t already a believer.

    The message cannot be the major, or even the sole, attraction for readers/viewers to the story, not if you want to spread the message and influence folk toward “your side.”

    In short, story must come first. Indeed, first, second, third. Any message needs to be no higher than sixth or seventh or the folk who would most benefit by receiving your message will toss the “story” before they get to that.

    Tell a compelling, gripping story that gets people turning pages. If you do that, you can slip in a little message which will go in like a stiletto between the ribs before the reader even realizes it.

    1. Honestly, I think the ones crying most for “representation” do understand that. They are explicitly writing for a specific (to them, underrepresented) audience, rather than broadly. They just want the broader world to accept the audience and those writing to them, and think they can force that acceptance. It doesn’t work that way.

  7. I found a funny thing when re-reading old books I’d liked and hadn’t seen since they were in the library system in the 90’s. A lot that I remembered as awesome were, uh, pretty cliche. And therein lies my first discovery: it’s not cliche if it’s the first time the reader has seen it – and it’s utterly trite if it’s the 10,000th time the reader has seen it.

    Thus, why literary science fiction thinks its tropes are mindblowing, and “fresh new diverse voices” think they are the first to push back against the stereotype in their head (that directly contradicts the actual history of the field – neither the authors nor the readers read widely in the field. In fact, I suspect their editors don’t, either.

    But… this is also why, after reading Jack Vance and going “Ooh, I want to use that” to a few ideas he tossed out as scenery, I had people who thought I had created a cool new idea… they just haven’t read some of the scifi from the 50’s and 60’s, or they’d forgotten that detail. And who knows? It may be that Vance didn’t come up with that, he was riffing on something from the 40’s I haven’t read…

    …anyway, less on organic buildings and more on politics, I’ve been reading “pushing back against the patriarchy” and “socialism is t3h footure!” since… since I snuck over to the adult side of the library because the kid’s section bored me. And a lot of it flew past me when I was young, and was completely “roll eyes and ignore, then forget.”

    Add, um, a few decades, though, and I’ve had my nose rubbed in it so often that when I go to pick up something I vaguely remember as being cool and fun and good, the Message Fiction part ruins it as utterly as… as rewatching kids cartoons as an adult.

    1. There’s a reason that I consider it quite valuable to go back and read older stuff. I’ve read the original Zorro novel, as well as The Scarlet Pimpernel, Armageddon 2419 and The Airlords of Han. Lord Dunsany’s fantasy and even suffered through Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. And Folklore, myth and religion, and even history. I’m currently on a Burroughs kick (Edgar Rice, not William). I’m debating going for Howard next, sampling more of his work than just the Conan stuff I read when I was younger.

      A little bit here, a little bit there, and one can create the illusion of something new and innovative.

      As the old saw goes: stealing from one is plagiarism; stealing from two is literary discernment; stealing from many is masterful research.

      1. I’ve seen it claimed, here and recently. that Tolkein stole from everyone…the more he stole, the more original he was.

        1. Yup! And if people here haven’t read A. Merritt, you really really really should. He’s the true father of most of our genres and subgenres, not to mention half our favorite D&D spells, Lovecraftian menace, and Stargate seasons.

          The tricky bit is that he starts slow, so you think you’re just reading a copy of a Victorian lost world or time travel or dream story. And then, all of a sudden…. BOOM! And then, all of a sudden, the story is a different genre. And then another one. And then another one.

          The man was disgustingly talented, and I wish I’d read him a lot sooner than I did.

          The problem was that he didn’t survive WWII times, so a lot of people forgot about him. Tons of recommendations _by_ the great science fiction writers, tons of reprints, but still… he kinda suffered eclipse. And the movie Burn Witch Burn is not a fair representation of the book it adapted, and none of his other books could have been adapted without today’s special effects.

          1. I inherited a Merritt paperback from my father when I was about 14. I just went down to the paperback cabinet and, yup, still there. Loved it but never read any more of his.

        2. Tolkein didn’t steal — he was just recycling. He was a pioneering advocate of Sustainable Storytelling.

            1. *waves hand around as if trying to gesture at something invisible. Or maybe driving off a very slow fly*

              It’s like…. bad stealing, you take the whole skin, raw, and slap that down as the finished product. You get something, sure, but it’s not even as good as what you stole from.

              While Tolkien and Shakespeare harvested stuff from here, there, and there, and some of that, and spin it up like this, and oh that’s just the warp, the stuff you weave through it is going to be even MORE stuff that’s sometimes from the same places, but now of course they’re at right angles to each other.

        3. Welcome to history…..

          “When ‘Omer Smote ‘Is Bloomin’ Lyre”


          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!

      2. Howard wrote a *ton* of stuff, much of which has never been reprinted, and most of the rest throughly mucked-about-in by others who “managed” his estate. For better or worse, I don’t know…

        You can find a lot of Howard’s stuff in the magazine scans at, as originally published. And John C. Wright has a series of blog posts about the Conan stories that are worth reading.

        1. The Del Rey trade paperback REH compilations they started putting out in 2007 did a good job of reprinting the originals without the layers of alleged improvements.

          The downside is that a lot of the poems and fragments weren’t published at all until the ’70s, and won’t be public domain for a long, long time.

      3. I believe you can still get omnibus editions of Robert E. Howard’s stuff. I read a bunch of them on kindle when I ran out of new stuff to read. They’re still worth reading, despite knowing everybody and their kid brother has swiped his style, settings, and such and mostly done a poor job of it. Heck, I’ve even done it before. There aren’t many like him, but lots who tried. Every good story has something you can use as a tool in your own writing.

        And, being a guy, I believe you can never have enough tools. Never.

    2. > It may be that Vance didn’t come up with that,

      Vance said almost every bizarre society or custom he put in his stories was either something hw saw personally in his world travels or something he got from anthropology books.

      I think he was trying to make the point that there were places right here on Earth that were stranger than most SF writers were coming up with.

      Vance also used a fairly small motivational palette for his stories – greed, hubris, or revenge, sometimes all at once. (“Cholwell’s Chickens” would be a good example) Some of his stories moved from “elaborate” to “baroque”, but you always knew WHY someone was doing what he was doing…

  8. I’ve see it said that SF is all about politics (and always has been). Which is something of an oversimplification, but even some of the best SF writers have observed that that it’s enormously difficult to write SF entirely without it. The problem comes in when the author’s political POV is so nakedly one sided that it makes Snidely Whiplash look three dimensional.

    1. When you’re writing speculative fiction, you’re creating a world, and inherently you’re going to include in that how you think the world works; if you don’t believe it’s possible, it won’t be there. Example: I’ve considered the idea of an authoritarian dystopia where life is, on a material level, pretty good even for the lowest class of subjects; say that the oppressed typically live like lower-middle class Americans. However, whenever I try to write it, I keep running into the problem that I don’t actually believe that such a society can exist, and that to have that level of wealth, there needs to be the freedom to try, experiment, and fail.

      However, if you’re being at all honest, not everything is going to fit neatly into your political boxes. I might create a world with a wealthy libertarian society and a poor collectivist one, but if I tried to claim that everyone was happy and it was all sunshine and roses in WL while everyone in PC wished they could move there, I would be lying, and the audience would know it.

      1. Nope. Some people in PC actually prefer it what way and are content to be ruled. Some are ambitious to work within the system and join the rulers. Some in PC think they can change the system, some of those peaceably, some of those by revolution. Some in PC have calculated the cost of rebellion, aren’t willing to pay the price and would rather grimly endure. Some hold two or more of these opinions simultaneously….

      2. And then there are the ones in WL who want it to be more like PC, with a similar variety of motivations.

        1. If you had a wealthy totalitarian society (say the wealth was given by aliens, whatever), they would want to make sure that the oppressed people were really, really oppressed. I mean, look what happened to the Jews. It wasn’t enough that they lose their jobs; they had to lose their houses, synagogues, stuff, dignity, and lives.

    2. OR when they lecture on present day politics. Note even with DST which is “near future” I did not cover how we GOT THERE. Those years are elided for a reason.

      1. That’s the logical, inclusive OR. When SF presents a thinly disguised take on present day politics that resembles the animated parts of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, I’ll show myself out thank you.

  9. The flip side is when people sneer at older writers like E.E. Smith, not realizing that when he did space opera, he was the first on a fair number of themes. And his books are still fun.

    A variation on the “literary,” SF writer is the mainstream author who writes something labelled “SF,” to great fanfare. It’s often awful. I will give Doris Lessing a partial pass on one of her efforts because it was clearly allegory and meant to be.

      1. Yup. *grin* Field’s ripe for the plucking these days. And I’d bet you good pulp will *sell, sell, sell* for other reasons. Folks want good, cheap escapism- with lockdown theater, now more than ever.

        1. Even with lockdown easing, honestly. This shook people. It shook me. That the government COULD take that step based on some old science fair project, and that PEOPLE WOULD GO ALONG WITH IT.

          1. Lockdown easing just means there are fewer AYFKM?! moments every day. For a while there I thought they were trying to literally drive me insane.

            I mean, not just me. But still. They had to know. Somebody must have told them, right? That we fought bloody wars to eradicate this sh*t they expected us to eat right up?

    1. I enjoyed most of his stuff as a teenager and young man. The problem that I have with him currently is that all of his stuff that I can recall pushes the idea of a “free man” whether a Gray Lensman, or a Richard Seaton or whatever and I mean that in the Fuhrer sense of the word.

      1. I think Smith meant, in his head, to imply that all good people like to work together in a libertarian way, and will willingly pitch in; but sometimes it isn’t clear that doesn’t mean the Gray Lensman can run over other people’s rights.

        I mean, if you read it, there’s all this stuff about how Lensmen commandeer stuff but they always get the people compensated, blah blah blah, but of course in any world where people aren’t scientifically proven to be morally awesome and also wonderfully wise and smart and careful not to hurt people by accident, as well as telepathic and able to help, this wouldn’t work.

        OTOH, there’s a lot of stuff about how corrupt governments and corporations work and don’t work, so it’s not totally naive.

        1. He also has Kinnison actually fret about spending money early in his career. He’s told that the society is so wealthy and so big that even with minimal taxes there is all the money a government could need available.

          And Smith was pretty good at serving up strong female characters,too.

          Where he did have philosophical problems was his casual acceptance of what you could call a technocratic government, where the best men are self-evident to a society and are naturally put in charge, where they always make the best possible decisions for the public good.

          1. That’s what always bothered me about the Lensmen. Scientism is scientism whether it’s left flavor or right flavor. What the founding fathers got right was that no one could be trusted so limit and split it.

            1. Yup, and then the Nazis and the Sixties came along to disprove it.

              I mean, think what would have happened if they’d put Boss Kett or someone like that in charge. It would have worked for a while, because of the character of the leadership, and a lot of stuff would have been misleadingly good.

              1. I’ve long felt Smith was a bit too much of an apologist for genocide. Sure, the Fenachrone, the Chlorans, the Delgonian Overlords, and the Eddorians were abstractions and irredeemably evil, but …

          2. “in any world where people aren’t scientifically proven to be morally awesome and also wonderfully wise and smart and careful not to hurt people by accident, as well as telepathic and able to help, this wouldn’t work. ”

            Not to mention a deus ex machina making sure that they stayed that way. In Gray Lensman(?), Kinnison and Haynes are discussing how the Lenses are sufficient to guard them from infiltrators, and Kinnison realizes that even fake candidates the Eddorians have shielded from ordinary probing are simply disappearing when they go to Arisia to be fitted for Lenses, but the Arisians are otherwise letting them make their own mistakes.

            That was why I never took Green Lantern, which was obviously based on the Lensman series, seriously: they would have never had a Sinestro if the Guardians were doing their jobs.

            1. That was why I never took Green Lantern, which was obviously based on the Lensman series, seriously: they would have never had a Sinestro if the Guardians were doing their jobs.

              Gee, I took Green Lantern as exploration of the failure inherent in that system, as it demonstrated that the Guardians (who had a tremendous history of divisiveness and general fucking up on large scale – Manhunters, anybody>) could not be relied upon.

          3. See my comment below. They weren’t self evident; they were selected and groomed by the Arisians for exactly those qualities. Having your government made up of those directly called by God or the angels might eventually work; the Book of Acts suggests otherwise.

          4. I hate WordPress. This is a reply to Dorothy and I hope it puts it there this time.

            They weren’t self evident; they were selected and groomed by the Arisians for exactly those qualities. Having your government made up of those directly called by God or the angels might eventually work; the Book of Acts suggests otherwise.

  10. On the positive note, who’s watching the SpaceX launch? I am sincerely excited, because of how folks are talking about the scientific and medical potentials of being able to expand access to space. The HFY energy has me smiling.

    Let the fearful stay in their bunkers forever if they wish. Let us dream for a positive future.

          1. The NASA coverage accidentally dropped into the WX loop instead of just staying on countdown-1 loop and picked up a conversation between the weather fellow and the LD, and they were along the lines of “If you could only give me ten more minutes (we’d be GO for weather)” but it was an instantaneous launch window so they scrubbed. It was reported later they were in violation of three different weather constraints when they called the scrub.

            My only complaint on eth NASA Public stream is that NASA Public Affairs clearly wants to be the Olympics coverage, so they’ve put together a huge pile of human interest stories when all I want is minimal technical commentary that shuts up for controller or vehicle audio. I tried the NASA Media stream but they never switched to the inside-capsule cameras – I think I saw Doug Hurley fulfilling a proud astronaut office tradition by taking a nap during the early part of the countdown.

  11. My understanding is that people were saying “Science Fiction shouldn’t be monopolitical.” It shouldn’t be treated as inherently libertarian, or inherently socialist, or inherently monarchical, or inherently supportive of any other single political point of view. Now any one work may choose to champion some political viewpoint – from a to z, and then starting in on the Greek, Cyrillic, Devanagari, and other scripts. But that’s a different matter from “all of science fiction” picking a single political letter.

    Part of the problem is that everyone sees their own political positions as being less politically charged than they actually are, with the modern Left having an extreme version of this. They don’t see how their positions are ‘political’ at all – to them it’s just plain ordinary good common sense.

    The various conservative and libertarian strands on the Right don’t have this luxury. Due to the sheer volume of the Left, we’re forced to acknowledge the political nature of our views. But we’re still not immune; we still frequently underestimate just how strongly political some of our views are.

    1. Yes. That is pat of it. And when you make it impossible to break the publishing mono-culture, you’re even less aware that sentient beings can disagree. BUT
      Part of what we were saying, which is why if you search my blog for Piers Plowman you find a reference to a John Wright post about it, is that if you’re just preaching, it’s not worthy of awards. In fact, it’s not very good at all.

    1. Sometimes, anvilicious is good.
      (See also, Ayn Rand, Anthem, or Phineas and Ferb Get Busted.)
      It’s pretty rare, but it does happen. (Especially when denigrating soccer.)

  12. If I may be so bold as to paraphrase the immortal Razorfist in his Daredevil Season 3 review (where he references a communist propagandist): character consistency is the first casualty of propaganda.

    When your characters begin acting OUT OF CHARACTER so you can make the appropriate point, you know you’ve crossed the line and are just writing hackneyed propaganda now.

    (I’m just happy that show ended at season three, before the writers could really go whole-hog into the propaganda territory)

    1. I still facepalm over the story where this writer had a bunch of geniuses with superpowers and superweapons, who were also musicians, and had a perfectly harmonious gig-playing band, and also were married in a perfectly harmonious poly relationship. And they spent a lot of time visiting each others’ families, and there were only a couple of tiffs.

      I mean, I had trouble believing in the perfectly harmonious gig-playing band. Everything else just jumped on my disbelief glands.

      Mind you, the characters were nice and interesting, and so was the worldbuilding. But they kept failing to disagree about anything, even though they came from all different cultures and were different kinds of geniuses! Seriously!

      Mind you, as long as he kept them running around doing action-adventure with superpowers, you could suspend disbelief pretty well. It was everything else that was the problem.

        1. The late Jonathan Waite’s “Loose Threads” and “Return to Argenthome.”

          I didn’t realize he had passed away, and was apparently known as Zanda Myrande from 2016-2019, although also keeping up his legal name and his old Zander Nyrond moniker as a filker. (Well, that explains some of the oddities of the storyline.)

          How the heck are all these fans dying, when they’re not even deep into middle age? I mean, I can understand the car crashes, and the odd fire or two. I’d even understand heart attacks or aneurysms.

          But just suddenly having a stroke or something, and winding up being found hours and hours later with bleeding on the brain? I don’t think it’s a fannish generation that’s big on drugs, so what the heck?

          1. Actually, it turns out that his last couple of filk albums were written as by the band from his novel, so there’s that. I certainly couldn’t turn into a whole band’s worth of production and song choices.

            A gifted and ambitious songwriter until the end.

            I am really, really not loving the last few years. I just want people to be able to live and be happy and do cool things, not die off for no good reason.

      1. I still recall a series I still like, where smack in the middle of the action (in nigh *every* book) there’s a *completely* out of character preaching session that throws you out of the story temporarily. Always political. Do you even need to ask which politics? No, no you don’t.

        This was many years ago, long before I discovered Baen’s Bar, this blog, and was very much deep cover in the political closet. Good stories, solid action. But just about every one had that flaw.

        I think that’s where I started to see the editorial thumb in SF. It didn’t fit the story at all, and looked blatantly obvious it was added after the fact.

        I still read them, and still bought the books, sometimes used because broke, but new when I could. You can forgive a lot for a good story. But there are exceptions that just go too far over the line and get set aside.

        Life’s too short to read bad books.

  13. Yeah. The thing I’m trying to plot? Sure, the Americans could be divided into Democrats bad, Republicans good. And the People’s Republic of China is up to no good.

    The Americans are not the core of the plot, and a bunch of them have politics that I don’t know about.

    The moment I figure out that I can treat the story as a simple political hit piece is probably the moment that I drop the thing. I can write political hit pieces without resorting to deliberate fiction. And I can write them shorter, with greater impact on the reader.

    This mess is something that I have yet to convince myself to do the basic simplification it may well need to be possible to write at all. I’m not trying to write it for 2020, and couldn’t do it if I was. The hope of having it done before 2024 is not politics; it is having spent a year and a half without having even written the effin outline. If I’m never going to finish, I might as well quit. So, I want to do it in a reasonable period of time.

    Suppose I do it get done in time for the 2024 election; if I think about success or failure in terms of changing votes, choosing to do so is itself a profound failure. It would be a ridiculously inefficient way to change votes, presuming that I could change votes. There may be stupider forms of political activism, but I couldn’t give you a list off the top of my head. Being that stupid would discredit my political positions, if I was making the decisions on a political basis.

    Sure, the story I want to tell has resulted in a lot of thinking and feeling about subsidiarity of peace. Sure, that may be a political thing that I would like to think about, and talk about. Sure, my interest in politics is a major part of why I want to write it the way I do. This project is only worth pursuing if it satisfies some mad internal sense of craft or art. Because whatever is in the driving seat is not sane or rational. If that crazed inner drive could be satisfied by something that meets simple political metrics, why should I be worrying about things like who the patron Saint of Time Travelers is?

    The research and analysis I’ve been struggling with would be completely wasted if I can boil it down to ‘vote for Trump in 2020, and vote against the Democrat in 2024’. No, regardless of what happens politically, there are ways that we can understand success and failure that do not 100% correlate with partisan politics. And the relationship between those and personal values and with those and culture can not 100% be described with fixed formula.

    1. St. Joshua the patriarch, because he got God to make the sun stand still? St. Methusaleh, because he’s a mysterious guy?

      There’s any number of visionaries who had visions of Calvary et al.

      Or the historian saints, who are “chronographers”. Or any of the guys who wrote about the reckoning of time. (My dude St. Bede has his day today, and he’s a historian and wrote about reckoning time!)

      1. But of course, saints like St. Raphael, St. Tobias (and his dog!), St. Christopher, and St. Julian the hospitaller are general saints of travelers, so they’ll always be okay.

      2. I’d guessed that you would have some good suggestions.

        There’s an anime/property known as Hagenai, which looks like it might be fairly bizarre. My bunnies tell me that one of the characters is the sister of Lux from SAO Girls Ops.

        Hagenai has a religious school called Saint Chronistica’s, or something like that. I could simply ignore Hagenai. I’m not even sure I want Lux in my plot. Option two is assuming that the school is backed by a sect that is not entirely of sound theology, or renaming the place. Option three is deciding that the mess of a setting is weird enough for an officially recognized Saint of Time Travelers.

  14. Wow! Bravo! Well said. You even used, as reference, LHOD, which was the first novel which I (almost) thoroughly enjoyed, but, as soon as I read the last sentence and closed the cover, fell apart like a house of cards in my mind. I mean, I could almost literally hear the cascade and the settling and the elegant structure she held together with her narrative skill and magic tape weaved and buckled and toppled in the light of day.

    Those two artificially created polar opposite societies, the psychology behind them, the arbitrary hand of the author’s selection and masking of normal human (or pick your alien) motivation and cognition were so beautifully handled that I could easily keep going and devouring the cool story. But the inherent silliness and unbelievability bubbled up to the surface like swamp gas once she was out of the picture and I was just trying to bring to mind aspects of that world to mull them over and map them against reality. Couldn’t happen.

    But, yeah, it was a fun ride. 🙂

    1. Left Hand of Darkness would have worked better if all of the characters had been straight-out aliens, instead of humanoid. But of course that wasn’t going to happen, both for the publisher’s reasons and for the author’s.

  15. Nobody but a masochist (or a True Believer, but I repeat myself) likes being beaten over the head. OTOH, give me some aspect of your work that is esthetically glorious, and I will tolerate a message I consider wrongheaded To the point of imbecility. One of Tolkien’s ‘messages’ was that Industrialization was evil, and that the ‘simple common folk’ were much better off living lives of pastoral squalor. Now, I happen to know that, before industrialization, the ‘simple common folk, were MUCH worse off than their factory-exploited descendants. Historical studies have been done that show that even the first generation of industrial workers were better educated and ate as much as a thousand calories more a day. We’re they, by modern standards, malnourished and ignorant? Yes. However, peasant ancestors were STARVING, and pig-ignorant.

    Tolkien had bought into the common idea that the Industrial Revolution was A Bad Thing. This in no way detracts more than a very little from the glorious-ness of LOTR.

    1. I once went through all the steps, figuring out how much labor it would take to make a simple denim work shirt using a spinning wheel, hand loom, needle and thread. I included:

      De-seeding, sorting, and carding the cotton
      Spinning the 8,000 to 10,000 yards of thread
      Weaving the 1 1/2 square yards of fabric
      Cutting, fitting and sewing

      It came out to more than 40 hours of at least semi-skilled labor, $600.00 to $700.00 at today’s wages. FOR ONE SHIRT!

      That old saying, ‘Clothes make the man’? It came from that preindustrial time, when only the rich could afford to have clothes made.

      Industrialization allows us to crank out thousands of shirts for $6.00 apiece. Everybody can afford them. Nearly everything we take for granted today is made possible because industrialization has reduced costs from unbearable to trivial.

      Food production used to consume over 80% of the available labor. Transportation was restricted to small loads pulled slowly over dirt roads. Most people could not afford SHOES.

      And yet, some idiots want to go back. Back to a life our ancestors were DESPERATE to escape from, because they do not appreciate what those folks would consider paradise. They should be forced to live in ACTUAL primitive conditions for a year, in the hope that they might become less stupid. IF they survived.
      I used to live on a farm. I know what bullshit smells like.

      1. When my late Father went to England in the 1950’s (historical research), he found that there was a major gap between working men’s shirts and bespoke tailoring. InAmerica, we had had decent mass produced men’s’ shirts since the 1920’s at the latest. In England, there were rough shirts with extra long shirt-tails that joined below the belt line, or you got shirts made up by a tailor. The difference between cultures was that big…although the difference in market size doubtless plaid a part.

        1. I used to demo spinning at various events. This resulted in my, “God Bless the Indistrial Revolution,” demo speech explaining how great it is that people li,e me could spin/weave/knit for FUN, not because we had to.

          1. How fast does a spinning wheel work? My best guess was about 2 yards a minute, 120 yards an hour, maybe 800 yards in a day.

        2. The difference is still huge. Brits are not Americans, and regardless what the Marxists here want, we are not Brits. Mom and I argue all the time about the degree of cultural nuances that escape notice when we watch UK productions. Mom actually believes she misses nothing. She doesn’t miss what she knows, it’s everything else that’s worrisome.
          Just thinking while composing this, actually Brits are no longer Brits either. Americans may be on the downhill slide as well.
          At the end of the day, they drive on the wrong side of the road for God’s sake.

    2. Tolkien was born into the Industrial age. For him, Pastoral Squalor (I like that term, can i steal it?) was an evocation of the “Good Old Days” Facts be damned. Considering that his generation was ground to burger in what I believe will become known as “The Wars of Industry” at some point in the future, It should not be surprising. Any of you sometimes feel that the world of your childhood or maybe the time just before holds some magic? That giants walked the earth but just turned ’round the corner when you tried to look? I raise my glass to the times before.

      1. ‘Pastoral squalor’ is something I stole from BORED OF THE RINGS. The book is hysterical in spots, weak in others, but the parody of ‘Concerning Hobbits’ (Concerning Boggies) is spot-on perfect, right down to the footnote.

        I don’t think the Harvard Lampoon would mind you using it. I certainly don’t.

        But the ‘the Industrial Revolution was Eeeeevil’ narrative predates the Great War. The Landed Class deeply resented the Industrialist Rich, and resented their loss of primacy. They encouraged the Intellectuals to see the new Urban Poor as the result of Industry, not the concentration of an existing population of poor where they could be seen. And many influential people fell for it like a ton of rectangular building materials. Dickens certainly did, for if A CHRISTMAS CAROL is anything to go by he could not imagine anything Scrooge could do with his money more effective than giving it away. This is why, of all the film versions, I prefer the one with George C. Scott; Whether intended or not, his Scrooge gives me the impression that after a week or so of giddiness, Scrooge will come in to the counting house and say to Bob, “Well, Cratchit, time to get some real work done! What business can we start in London that will employ a lot of the poor, give them good wages, andstill be around when I’m gone?”

        1. Definitely, that.

          If I give my money to The Poor, they will spend it, and tomorrow they will be poor again, and I will have no money. If, instead, I invest that money in a business that creates productive jobs, the workers I hire will be making money for years. Why, providing charity to The Poor would be downright irresponsible!

          1. Peeve– “charity” gets used to mean “give them stuff.”

            It’s supposed to mean expressing Christ-like love for them.

            That distinction is a pretty good thumbnail of why systems for “charity” don’t work.

        2. Tolkien disliked loud and dirty industrialization. It’s pretty clear that he liked dwarven and elven industrialization, and he got a bit coy about it in Sirion and so forth.

          That walking show episode where they walked through Derbyshire’s beginning of English factories? All the first cloth mills were water-driven, and the machinery was relatively quiet, and the buildings were well-lit with lots of glass, and well-aired so you didn’t breathe too much lint. They took pride in keeping the place clean.

          Tolkien also mixed goblin stuff with his childhood dislike of the village mill, because it was run by a guy who was scary to kids. He was probably scary to kids because kids tended to get themselves drowned in millponds by getting hooked under the wheels. Tolkien then spent his adolescence in a big dirty industrial city, Birmingham, knowing that he had to do well enough in school to support himself as an adult.

          But just because he liked to write about some things and not about other things doesn’t mean he thought the other things were evil. Goblins are goblins, not humans. And I sympathize with him, because Dayton was full of factory owners who wanted to have factories that were bright, clean, not too smelly, and generally nice to work in. (Noise they couldn’t do much about.)

      2. Yeah. I’m going to be 60 in a few days, and the world of my childhood was The Time When Men Walked On The Moon. The time memorialized by Hope Eyrie.

  16. Being on the jury that picks finalists for the Libertarian Futurist Society’s Best Novel award, every year I read some ideologically libertarian novels that are just badly written and a chore to get through. And in contrast, I disagree with a good deal of Eric Flint’s politics, but I have read 1632 and 1633 several times each (and a number of the later ones at least once), because I enjoy his plotting and characterization.

  17. “I saw the not so subtle shilling for a world government (because that would totes stop wars.)”

    To be fair, there was a time when this seemed reasonable. But that was back when they assumed said government would be more the United States of Earth, as opposed to the People’s Democratic Republic of Terra.

    1. OK, part of that is playing to the guy who signs the checks, but yeah, I doubt 1950s RAH would have expected the US to set up the UN and then turn it over to the inmates to run.

          1. He’d seen the Soviet Union by then and, unlike Bernie, he understood what he saw.

          2. By Have Space Suit Will Travel Heinlein seemed at least part way along the path away from the UN as a world government. They had the Federated Free Nations which had replaced the UN with, IIRC (it’s been a while and this wasn’t one of the parts that stuck with me so much) replaced the UN because it had failed with a comparison to the League of Nations failure before it.

            1. For all you young whippersnappers who won’t stay off my lawn: Recall that American troops were serving and dying under the UN flag in the Korea “Police Action” through the early 1950s, and Vietnam, during which the Soviets orchestrated the inmates into anti-US stuff that the US had to continuously veto in the UN Security Council, didn’t really wind up until the mid-1960s. Mostly RAH was selling juveniles to Scribners until they declined to buy Starship Troopers, which was bought, revised a bit, and published as his first non-youth-target novel by Putnam in 1960.

              So during the time up to Have Spacesuit, Will Travel the target was kids, and there were a lot of new dads that had at least a neutral opinion of the UN.

              The next one he wrote after Troopers was Stranger in a Strange Land, which is about as anti-honor-establishment as you can get, so there’s that. And Glory Road in 1963, featuring a Vietnam combat vet MC, is well past the one world government thingee.

              1. And I have no idea what resulted in autocorrupt inserting the word “honor” in the middle of “anti-establishment”.

                What is SkyNet trying to tell me?

            2. Any discussion of Have Spacesuit … in this context ought include its depiction of the Tri-Galaxies Cluster-F Council — hardly an endorsement of a system which demonstrates multiple inefficiencies and casualness of process. I might argue it represents Heinlein’s view of the UN except such an argument is far too simplistic an interpretation of writerly process.

              From its depiction of public schools to inter-galactic governance this is not a book which endorses trust in bureaucracies. It would be easy enough to argue that the presentation of the strong-arming of Kip’s admission into college is another means of demonstrating the inherent flaws in reliance upo systems managed by people.

      1. A friend of the Red family was able to pull his kids from school for a year and take them on an around the world business trip (friend is a gemnologist/raw stone dealer). They went to places like the Killing Fields, as well as places like the Taj Mahal. That cured the kids of any love of totalitarianism and Communism [but I repeat myself].

  18. You’re a saint, Sarah, I am not. I read all the 1 and 2 star reviews on Amazon to get to the gist of Marxist attacks on conservatives. If there’s more than one mention, the book is not purchased, and I move on. There are plenty more books where those came from, and I’ve been around far too long to put up with slings and arrows from the mindless left.

  19. Sarah, I liked it when you admitted that you disagree with the messages in some of your stories. I never plan on a message in my own fiction, and often, what comes out (including the characters) share only the space in my head – we have little else in common. The story is all that should matter…

  20. Sheri Tepper’s Gate to Women’s Country. That book is bigoted, and resolves the plot with Underpants Gnomes. But… Such a swell bit of storytelling-!

    Here’s the thing to think about though. I stopped re-reading it after I got married, because it would make me not want to boink my husband for a day or two after. Even knowing what a bloody lot of misandrist rot (among other issues) it was, it would have that effect. Really good craftsmanship, you know?

    Maybe the lefty publishing implosion is a blessing in disguise.

    By the way, I just finished a major art project. If any of you are Potterheads, and promise not to mention I made them, tell me your favorite part of the books, and I’ll e-mail you one of the pix.

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