Links and Comments: Dated and Offensive SF; Puppygate summaries

Will get back to posting about rereading Isaac Asimov shortly, but an initial comment I have is how embarrassing Asimov’s prose of the early 1940s was. I suppose it was the style of the era, and Asimov did grow out of it. Examples in my Asimov post. But it resonates with this:

Barnes & Noble: Jeff Somers on 8 Dated Science Fiction Novels That Are Still Essential Reading

Re: Asimov, Somers notes:

Although the scale of information dealt with is immense (the plot concerns the preservation of the sum total of human knowledge through a technological Dark Age), it’s somehow all stored on microfilm, and computers are basically depicted as larger versions of the 1950s-era machines Asimov was familiar with.

This entire piece suggests an intriguing paradox: the history of science fiction, being a history of often overtaken visions of the future, is as much a history of the past as it is a history of increasingly progressive visions of the future.


Also relevant is this New Statesman piece by Liz Lutgendorff, I read the 100 “best” fantasy and sci-fi novels – and they were shockingly offensive. The list she read was compiled by NPR in 2011 by popular vote, which especially reveals nostalgia for older “classics”.

Nostalgia permeates the list. Of the books I read, there were more books published before 1960 than after 2000. The vast majority were published in the 1970s and 1980s. There were also many sci-fi masterworks or what were groundbreaking novels. However, groundbreaking 30, 40, 50 or 100 years ago can now seem horribly out of date and shockingly offensive.

Of course, the very fact that a modern reader has such reactions is evidence of the arc of moral progress —the greater inclusion of classes that were ignored or take for granted a century ago — in society in general, and of course in science fiction, which can’t help but reflect the social standards of the time when it was written.


Several good summaries of the Hugo Awards results and the Puppygate kerfuffle at Wired, Boing Boing, Wall Street Journal, and Slate. The last item, by Jacob Brogan, is “What Ray Bradbury’s FBI File Teaches Us About Science Fiction’s Latest Controversies”.

Though Bradbury’s files speak to his commercial success, they offer no suggestion that it was driven by the introduction of any ideology, a communist one least of all. Instead, they show that his work was capable of upsetting established dogmas of many kinds. His Martian Chronicles, for example, feature the “repeated theme that earthmen are despoilers and not developers.” Elsewhere, the documents note—“without irony,” as MuckRock’s JPat Brown puts it—that Russian authorities had banned “The Fireman,” an early version of Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.


As Amy Wallace explains in her thorough account of the saga in Wired, the Puppies’ leaders claim they’re trying to bring SF back to simpler times. Pushing back against what they perceive as an elitist wave of liberal propaganda, they claim they “want sci-fi to be less preachy and more fun.” The Puppies’ brand of “less preachy and more fun” conservatism includes reactionary misogyny, homophobia, and racism, as Wallace and others have documented. At core, however, the Puppy movement was a call for a return to an imagined childhood—perhaps that of the genre, perhaps that of its readers. … Much as they might whine to the contrary, the Puppies aren’t angry about what science fiction has become—they’re uncomfortable with what it has always been. Science fiction has always made us imagine the world differently.

An earlier piece at Yes! Magazine, Sad Puppies, Rabid Chauvinists: Will Raging White Guys Succeed in Hijacking Sci-Fi’s Biggest Awards?, includes links to and excerpts from the writings of the ringleaders, including John C. Wright on proper gender roles and Theodore Beale on Blue SF vs Pink SF.


Ironically, a significant early Asimov story that betrays those pulpish prose patterns alluded to above, “Reason”, is included in the relatively modern The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction, published in 2010. Useful link: Teacher’s Guide for The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction, a 66-page PDF guide including, beginning page 33, “Discussion Questions” for each story in the book, e.g. for Asimov,

1. Is QT’s logic reasonable? Why or why not?
2. Robots are not supposed to experience emotions, yet QT often seems to do so. Also, the three laws of robotics mandate obedience to human beings, yet QT seems to flout these laws. How do you account for this apparent contradiction?

Also lots of Resource links….


One more item about China and SF:

Vox: Ezra Klein, How Google convinced China’s Communist Party to love science fiction. He recounts a story from Neil Gaiman’s conversation with Kazuo Ishiguro about genre fiction. The Chinese realized that

They were making things incredibly well but they weren’t inventing. And they’d gone to America and interviewed the people at Google and Apple and Microsoft, and talked to the inventors, and discovered that in each case, when young, they’d read science fiction. That was why the Chinese had decided that they were going to officially now approve of science fiction and fantasy.

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