Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Random Thoughts: The Apotheosis of SFF History, Grandmaster Idolatry, and Unworthy of Consideration

The entire sweep of science fiction and fantasy history really does seem to culminate into the phenomenon of role-playing games. And as present as those decades upon decades of stories are in those first generation games… the older works practically vanish with the explosive popularity of things like Star Wars and Shanarra. As much as anything, the first rpgs are a time capsule, preserving a formerly ubiquitous view of science fiction and fantasy in a time when many people are so doctrinaire they unable to read anything from before 1980.

Based on everything they’ve said about her peers, there is simply no way any of these people can be fans of C. L. Moore. Oh, they might have read her decades ago. They may still have a nostalgia for the feelings she evoked in their younger, less worldly-wise selves. But times have changed and at this point she is revered as an icon primarily for her sex and not her work. Were she somehow alive, she couldn’t be published today– just as with Tanith Lee they’d find some excuse to let her manuscripts stack up on her desk. Even when she’s reprinted, she has to be wrapped in a lie. Her work is that problematic. But they’ve turned her into an idol that people genuflect to. They’ll praise her in the abstract, sure. But they won’t read or discuss anyone that writes like her today.

I guess there’s two types of people, really: the type that will roll their eyes at the above remarks because it’s so painfully, tediously obvious. The other type will turn will adjust their monocles, scoff, and then work up their best insults, barbs, condescending remarks.

Why would people get so worked up about stuff like this that they’d get positively nasty about it? Hey, I don’t know. My theory is that the only thing they’ve got going for them, really, is the fact that they won’t let people like me sit at the same lunch table as them. Because of tolerance, exclusivity, and making people feel “welcome” or some such. (No, I don’t get it.)

Anyway, here’s Misha Burnett’s take on this from a while back:

There is a continual rewriting of history to make what is currently popular with the in-crowd to be The Best Thing Ever (for whatever values of “Best” are currently popular with the in-crowd.)

The pronoun usage in the Ancillary books is praised as being new and groundbreaking, which requires people to ignore that Samuel Delany did it in “Stars In My Pocket Like Grains Of Sand” which was published in 1984.

All fantasy before the current crop has to be dismissed out of hand as being derivative of Tolkien (and Tolkien dismissed as irredeemably racist, sexist, cis-normative, and so on), which means ignoring Jo Clayton, Ursula K Leguin, Kate Wilheilm, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Andre Norton, and so on, all of whom were writing and publishing in the days when the SF/F market was supposed to be impossible for women to break into.

To go back to Chesterton, in Orthodoxy he talks about the fear of the past, that the insistence on the primacy of modernity is based on an unwillingness to be judged against the greats who have gone before. In SF/F circles I think that’s very literally true–it’s easier to simply dismiss everything than came before than to try to live up to it. (Can you imagine “Redshirts” winning a Hugo if it had been up against “Dune” or “The Left Hand Of Darkness”?)

Your Appendix N series exposed the myth that everything before now is unworthy of consideration. Naturally you’re going to get people who want to shout you down.

And yeah, “exposed the myth that everything before now is unworthy of consideration” is going to be on the dust jacket somewhere. That’s almost as good as a “cyclopean monument to retrofiction.”

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13 responses to “Random Thoughts: The Apotheosis of SFF History, Grandmaster Idolatry, and Unworthy of Consideration

  1. Twila Price May 8, 2016 at 2:22 pm

    Yeah, well, I still don’t understand the fixation on Leckie’s pronouns. That’s not what drew me to her books. It was the story, particularly the way that she conveyed Breq/Justice of Toren’s thought process while being a multi-bodied yet singular intelligence compared to the current solo body available. I was quite impressed by that. The pronouns became pretty much invisible/irrelevant after a couple of chapters. So … I don’t actually care if someone else has done it.

    In fact, given my fifty-plus years of reading science fiction and forty-plus years of playing rpgs, I suspect I know what’s been done and what’s not quite well. I re-read my C. L. Moore and my Tanith Lee books quite happily. I pick up anthologies of various pulp stories and seek out books published in the years before I was born. It’s not an either-or situation here. One can certainly feel that women have not been represented as well as they could or should have been as both creators and consumers of sf without denigrating or ignoring those who were there. Yes, there have always been women writing sf. But even the greatest and most beloved of them wrote few female protagonists who could carry the action and still be recognizably feminine. E.g., Jirel of Joiry, who is awesome and who made me happy to read about, but who would never make it as a wish-fulfillment of any girlish dreams I had. Men there were aplenty who could be whatever kind of hero you could want– bookish, mighty-thewed, scientists, men who shot first and thought later…. But women heroes were far less common and far less varied. It is a fact. And acknowledging that and being enthusiastic about the current availability of all sorts of female protagonists like Ista of Chalion, grandmother, demon slayer, and much rounder than most does not mean that I want Solomon Kane or Kull of Atlantis or any of the other cool heroes to go away. I just want the option to pick what hero I’m spending time with today…. Northwest Smith or Breq? And from most of the folks I read, that’s really what most of the so-called puppy-kickers or sjws want—- the choice to pick what to read from a wider constellation of perspectives than the same old same old, but not to throw away what’s come before… And the chance to geek out about the coolest stuff with others who can then geek out about what THEIR coolest stuff is.

    • jeffro May 8, 2016 at 2:30 pm

      Nobody reads Northwest Smith for Northwest Smith. They read it for the overpoweringly feminine foils that dominate every single plot point. He’s basically Ginger Rogers to their Fred Astair– completely swept up by their verve with no recourse but to follow their lead.

      • twilaprice May 8, 2016 at 10:12 pm

        I read the tales of Northwest Smith for Yarol. Unscrupulous Venusians with faces like innocent choir boys are a big draw for the ladies, dontcha know?

        But NW himself is mighty potent stuff on the heroic front. You will no doubt have noticed that while he may be catnip on the hoof for mysterious alien dames, he is always the one left breathing at the end of the tale. And I count a good third of his adventures to be totally woman-free and undertaken for the utterly important reason of being out of hooch.

    • Cirsova May 8, 2016 at 11:32 pm

      How about women writers who wrote about the kind of men they were attracted to and are these days dumped on for how regressive they are? It’s almost impossible to read anything today about Leigh Brackett that isn’t either downplaying her contributions to sci-fi or chastizing her for her female characters. (cuz warrior princesses, billionaire fleet owners, and resistance fighters aren’t feminist enough or something).

      • jeffro May 8, 2016 at 11:50 pm

        Well it’s worse for A. Merritt. He is routinely dismissed for falling prey to the Madonna/Whore complex… but I *don’t* see people dropping that “criticism” on Moore and Brackett. What’s up with that?

      • twilaprice May 9, 2016 at 7:20 am

        Hmm. I don’t think I have read anything about Leigh Brackett being regressive. While I’m not a fan of her Stark novels, I would put her short stories up there among the shining stars of fantasy. Her mysteries are really good, too, if you haven’t read them — as hard-boiled as Chandler. They should be better known. And of course, there are her movies. I admit that while several others were more well-known or influential, my favorite is Rio Lobo. John Wayne is so cute as a grouchy older man who doesn’t like it when a woman calls him comfortable….but still brings the badass.

      • Cirsova May 9, 2016 at 8:18 am

        Well, just one example is wikipedia’s (unsourced) description of the teenage girl who stands up to her abusive father and helps Stark organize a slave rebellion: “Zareth the young girl who is seen as a “stupid” and weak feminine character who confronts Stark looking for him to help her escape from her father Malthor. Her role is very much like most other females during this time that of a repressed figure and lack of “Feminist literary criticism”.

        That’s pretty par for the course when it comes to commentary I’ve seen on Brackett. Haven’t read any of her mysteries yet, as I haven’t come across any, but I’m making my way through a stack of Planet Stories from the 40s in 50s with several of her stories interspersed throughout.

    • jeffro May 8, 2016 at 11:46 pm

      Fair enough.

      I just read “The Tree of Life” on Gutenberg. I thought with that one it could be easily passed off as a lost A. Merritt story. You hear a lot about how Moore changed everything with regard to female protagonists. To me the striking thing is just how much overlap there was between her and the other big name “weird” authors.

      It’s part and parcel to the loss of “map” that occurs when people imply that sf history sort of jumped from Wells and Verne straight on to Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein.

      • Chris May 9, 2016 at 3:52 pm

        “It’s part and parcel to the loss of “map” that occurs when people imply that sf history sort of jumped from Wells and Verne straight on to Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein.”

        Or for that matter, jump from Wells and Verne to the New Wave with nothing in between acknowledged.

      • twilaprice May 9, 2016 at 5:20 pm

        Meh. The “map” business is all of a piece of all you young whippersnappers crowding in on my lawn — none of you have read all the stuff. It’s impossible. And it’s impossible to get a really good overview of the field anymore, just because of the explosion of material. When I started out reading sf, back in 1958, it was easy to keep up. Well, easy if you had money to buy books. I didn’t, being a little kid, but I did buy what I could and I read everything the library had available. Heck, the school book fair had Bradbury and Le Mort d’Arthur (1485 Sir Thomas Mallory, baby!) and Silverberg when I was in 4th grade — because that was how the educational system rolled back in those dim distant days.

        Now, my grandkids are spoiled for choice, but there’s no system to it, and no guidance from the school or anyone to say “hey, these are great foundational books in the sf world — they are AWESOME!”… and to be honest, some of the foundational works don’t translate well to the modern world. Because they rely on exploded theories or outmoded science or even *shudder* really weird social projections. Now, I myself love that about the early works, because it’s neat to see what folks my parents’ ages thought the future would be like, and what the social attitudes were. It’s why I love pulp and mysteries written in the 1930s and 1940s.

        And, of course, every generation ever born thinks that the old folks aren’t all that and that they never, could never, have been as cool as the current hip young things. It’s just human nature. It’s really funny when I start arguing Marvel or DC comics with my 14 year old grandson, because he doesn’t know the history. He knows what’s current now, yes, but I’m old school. And my characters aren’t his characters. My Batman isn’t his Batman. My Captain America is MCU, I admit, because I never read much Marvel.

  2. twilaprice May 9, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    Cirsova,

    Well…. I take Wikipedia with a huge grain of salt when it comes to analysis. I don’t know the character referred to, as I haven’t read all of the Stark books, only the first one afaik, but Brackett’s female characters are always reasonably rounded and at least give as good as they get in any of the stories I *do* recall well. I love Mouse in “The Jewel of Bas”, for example. And while Ciaran manhandles her from time to time, she isn’t intimidated by that.

    I’m jealous of you having the stack of Planet Stories. I have my paperbacks from the 1960s and 1970s and onward, and I buy new anthologies as they are published of various pulp things, but I’d love to have my own stack of original sources. Ads! Stories! Original art!

    • Cirsova May 10, 2016 at 11:01 am

      You should check ebay; while some of them go for upwards of $1000, there are plenty of issues out there that you can find in decent shape for $20 or less. They are absolutely worth every penny, as many of these stories have never seen collection.

      And, aww, man… comic canon. Now THERE is a mess. If you really want to screw with his head, you should talk about the Pre-Crisis Harlem Globe Trotters.

      I grew up with DCAU, so, for me (with the exception of Superman, who will always be Dean Cain) those are the most concrete concepts of those characters. I barely recognize grimdark Batman or hipster blogger Superman.

  3. BobtheCertifiedIdiot May 11, 2016 at 2:01 am

    I like to complain that Captain America and Batman were ruined by now integral decisions made back in the, I guess, forties and sixties. I guess because before my time, and I’m extremely poorly read in comics. Really, me bitching that the superhero genre was ruined when it stopped being pulp vigilante crime fiction is either me being an argumentative jerk, or pushing a political agenda.

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