Is Science Fiction Too Politically Correct?

Over at Tangent Online SF fan/critic Dave Truesdale jumps the shark as he decrys the evil Liberal conspiracy to force short fiction magazine editors to buy metrosexualized short stories and so forth and so on. Nick Mamatas has his usually sharp retorts on his livejournal.

Anyway, Dave wonders

if SF is going soft these days. One doesn’t often see hard-edged political stories in short SF anymore—at least not many of them in the past twenty, twenty-five years or so.

There must be a certain point where anyone gets old and all they can think about was how great and golden the past was. Like all those people who think the 50s were the shit because thats when they grew up. There are some great stories from the 50s, 60s, and 70s that I’ve read in ‘Best Of’ anthologies, but even in the ‘Best Of The Golden Age’ anthologies and collections I’ve checked out, I’m still wading through white male US-centric only fiction. There’s a lot of stuff that must have seemed absolutely amazing only because the reader was 12 years old and hadn’t thought about something when they encountered it.

And that’s cool. I don’t begrudge that. The Tobias theory of literature is that the more you read the better. I started out reading light adventure novels in great bulk before I attempted a deeply serious lit novel. I still read mostly ‘fun’ stuff, I have to be in the right mood for a tougher book.

Occasionally, we’ll see something by way of satire (humorous, as in Esther Friesner’s “Johnny Beansprout” from the July, 2004 F&SF; or darker, as in some of Terry Bisson’s or James Morrow’s short work), but they are too far and few between, when taken as a percentage of the tonnage of short sf/f foisted on readers today. Most of which deals with character interaction, or the feelings of characters, or how they feel about whatever milquetoast situation lazy authors choose to put them in (yet another essay).

Ooh, today’s SF authors are ‘lazy’ and write ‘milquetoast.’

Who cares if the story itself is a tired one, the theme is trite or lacks true imagination without anything new to say. But boy, how cleverly the author left the resolution to the story so opaque as to render the reader scratching his head in bewilderment. But then the reader, not wanting to feel as if he doesn’t get it, turns to reviews in a few major publications where liberal “critics” spin the story as one of wonderment and progressive story-telling, and how mahvelous and insightful and avant garde the newest little darling (or metrosexual male author) is. And the confused reader buys it, not wanting to feel left out, wanting to be with the “in crowd.” Yup, the age of metrosexual SF is upon us, and reinforced by an elite group of cookie-cutter reviewers and critics who buy into everything they’re led to believe is cool, or progressive.

The overall point of bringing up Silverberg’s column, Ballard’s forgotten story, and my own comments, is perhaps to strike a spark in today’s short sf/f writers. Not just in a political sense of awareness, and what isn’t being written about very much anymore, but more importantly not to forget the story. If you’re not writing about much of anything, it doesn’t matter how well “nothing” is written. SF, Speculative Fiction, or whatever you want to call it, is still a literature of the imagination. So use your imagination to its fullest, work it, and many times the style of the story will take care of itself.

Okay, here’s a spark: I’m insulted by Dave’s arrogance and paternalistic attitude in insinuating that we’re all lazy and write milquetoast. That strikes a nerve. I deal with that smug shit from outside the SF community all the time, nothing new. Unca Dave knows best, we just have to listen to him. Yet he’s hopping up and down about people forcing their opinions on others? So far Dave is the loudest opinion forcer I’ve seen who is unable to conceive of people being able to enjoy a piece of fiction he doesn’t like so therefore it’s obviously the result of a VAST and GIANT LIBERAL CONSPIRACY. Sure. Or maybe, using Occam’s razor, a lot of different people like different things that differ from him. Look up long tail theory or infinite diversity in infinite combination, man.

And speaking of lazy and milquetoast, this is one of the more badly written pieces of criticism I’ve seen. It hardly addresses what makes the Ballard story better than stories published today (which would be interesting, and I’m sure you could make a good argument for the Ballard story), it doesn’t single out what stories and themes in magazines today are specifically milquetoast or who is lazy, or what editors are perpetrating the vast liberal conspiracy. This is a blog entry, but not an editorial, or a review of the Ballard story. And repetitive, I have yet to see a David Truesdale opinion piece that doesn’t repeat the same old, tired arguments like a broken record. All over the net right now SF authors are debating some fascinating things like on David Moles’ weblog (check out this amazing comment threat here) and Matt Cheney’s weblog (even his well written provocativeSH ‘SF is dead’ article is a great start. I disagree with it, but it’s thought-provoking and well written) giving us some fascinating new insights into what new SF writers are thinking about, worrying about, and criticizing. That’s some critical conversation, not a generic ‘I don’t like X/it isn’t like the stuff from the old days/people today aren’t writing write’ screed.

Go into the comments of the Tangent article, and you suddenly find out what Dave’s beef still is:

The most recent example, David, is the Karen Joy Fowler short story that won the Nebula last year. I believe it was titled, “What I Didn’t See.” We had a long (many months) discussion of it back then, and absolutely no one–with any certainty–could say, because of the opaque, open-ended ending, what the story was about.

Dave’s beating a several year old dead horse that he’s mentally incapable of getting over. A story he didn’t like by Karen Joy Fowler won a major award.

He’s still sore about it.

I wonder why its so freaking hard for some people to allow other people to be different than them.

What’s ironic is not Dave’s proposition that the field is too PC, but Dave’s insistence that everyone agree with Dave, and he won’t stop arguing until it happens.

Don’t hold your breath.

15 thoughts on “Is Science Fiction Too Politically Correct?”

  1. The reason Fowler won was because he brought it so much attention. It’s a good story, but I doubt anyone would have paid it attention if it weren’t Truesdale.

  2. “The Golden Age of Science Fiction is twelve.” That’s been around for several decades, and is still usually true. If a Locus interview includes the interviewee’s opinion of when sf was at its best, I check the birthdate — and so far, it’s always been when that writer was a teenager.

  3. So, the secret for winning the Nebula is revealed.
    1) get a story published in a major market, then
    2) get Dave to rant and rave about how it’s not really SF, or otherwise promotes liberal/PC attitudes.
    Maybe we could hire him to do that.

  4. Well I’m certainly the first thing that pops into your mind when you think metrosexual, don’t you know it 🙂

  5. I need a new name, I think. Just the first one, that is. For the briefest of seconds I thought you were pissed at me.
    I like “Reynaldo” … What do you think?

  6. Since he wasn’t specific about which liberal-leaning stories he was reviewing, I think the whole piece is fair game for pulling Tangent blurbs. I’m going with “unnerving and spine-chilling” on my next cover letter to Asimov’s myself…

  7. The weird thing is, I can agree with a lot of Dave’s opinions. I do think there’s a lot of “emperor’s new clothes” going on with some of the stories everyone thinks are so wonderful, but don’t really make a lot of sense. The difference with me is, I don’t really care. Everyone doesn’t have to like what I like. A lot of stories I love don’t get noticed. A lot of stories I think are garbage win awards. So what? (I’m currently boggling over the Tiptree winner. Anyone read that novel, serialized in Analog? Tiptree? WTF?) But who cares? Life is too short to care about stuff like this, and the stakes are too low to waste any time arguing about it. Does a Nebula come with a $1 million dollar prize? No. It comes with a shiny statue. No biggie.
    Ironically, I actually liked the Fowler story.
    I wonder if Dave is upset about the story this year I think he is. Anyone else know what I’m talking about?

  8. The weird thing is, I can agree with a lot of Dave’s opinions.
    Hmm. The thought police missed one. Get her, boys!
    A lot of stories I love don’t get noticed.
    You and me both. I think the Nebulas and Hugos balance each other out pretty well, though. If a super-esoteric piece, which I often prefer, gets the nod in one of them, the other one might shoot for accessibility. Neither’s a bad thing, but it is rare that I get excited about both winners even if I can see virtue in both.
    Then I look at the themed anthologies as almost mini-award categories, highlighting the stuff that might not have a lot of traction across all of SF, but are extremely well received among those who love a genre of story that might be too narrow a pleasure for the rest of the fanbase or writerbase.

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