Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

“I want something that’ll knock my jaded little socks off.”

Twila Price writes in:

I suppose I’m proof of your generation gap…. I have been reading sf since 1958. I expect people to have read Heinlein, Andre Norton, Asimov, Clarke, etc. Even though some of the older books can read oddly to the readers of today, it is still useful to know what has come before. And heck, some of it can stand head and shoulders above the “extruded fantasy product” you see too much of in the bookstore. But…. She says, thoughtfully, what you and the other puppies seem to see as a weakening of the sf/fantasy field, I tend to view as new and exciting things to read. I have read every Heinlein book, multiple times. I reread Merritt and Norton on a regular basis. I don’t need a retread of what I can get from the pure source. And I don’t want urban fantasy of the Buffy/romance novel to take over my shelves, although the original urban fantasies of Charles DeLint, Emma Bull, Tanya Huff and others made the early 80s sing. I have read Tolkien. I don’t need knock-offs like Sword of Shannara cluttering up my shelves. Or G. R. R. Martin’s Wars of the Roses in fantasy land, either. He wrote some awesome sf and fantasy standalone novels that I adore, but I want something that’ll knock my jaded little socks off. Something that has great world building, interesting characters (preferably traditionally heroic and upstanding human beings or elves or aliens), and can evoke that old sensawunder.

The thing that knocks my socks off is just how good stuff from the pulp era really is. Maybe you’ve read it all. If so, more power to you.

The culture is pretty clearly clearly on the decline, though. As much as I love seventies music, I have to admit that Duke Ellington and Count Basie hailed from a better generation. In science fiction and fantasy, the move away from romance was positively disastrous as I think Ray Bradbury pointed out. (By that I mean scientific romance or planetary romance.) The field was not built up by the communists, free love people, and atheists that eventually came to own it. But it was clearly being subverted by them in the fifties and sixties. The final kick in the teeth in my mind was the seventies fad of godawful de rigueur sex scenes– compounded by the burgeoning diktat that women could no longer be portrayed as needing men. Not much of a fantasy world in that if you ask me. Certainly not anything I’d want to escape to.

Thank you, but there are still a great many books by Lord Dunsany, A. Merritt, and C. L. Moore that I haven’t gotten to, yet. All very different writers to be sure– but each able to invoke the transcendent in their own way. Most people writing today don’t even know what we’ve lost. Like I’ve said elsewhere, the general view of science fiction history is that it just somehow jumps from Jules Verne and H. G. Wells straight on to Clarke, Asimov, and Heinlein.

But in my opinion, anyone laboring under that misconception is ill-equipped to compete with anyone that wrote in the pulp era. (I wonder sometimes if that is the reason why so many medicocre writers spend so much effort denouncing authors from back then….)

But hey, listen:

Fredric Brown couldn’t imagine popular music declining through the eighties– just like C. L. Moore couldn’t imagine a movie star without a surprising combination of grit, charm, and class.

But most of us can’t imagine what these authors could take for granted.

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12 responses to ““I want something that’ll knock my jaded little socks off.”

  1. Rayndrops (@Azu_Rayn) May 17, 2016 at 11:26 pm

    Maybe this is why so many are flocking to anime, where they still often portray women as needing men.

    • jeffro May 17, 2016 at 11:29 pm

      Yeah. It’s clear that the cultural revolution that happened here didn’t penetrate in quite the same depth on that point over there.

  2. Robert Eaglestone May 18, 2016 at 11:50 am

    “As much as I love seventies music, I have to admit that Duke Ellington and Count Basie hailed from a better generation.”

    You’re going to have to back that up, sir, and compare apples to apples while you’re at it.

    • jeffro May 18, 2016 at 4:53 pm

      I think it is self-evident that a culture that transitions to an incidence of divorce, illegitimacy, and abortion at the scale that we have seen will necessarily have a concurrent impact in its aesthetics.

      • twilaprice May 18, 2016 at 5:10 pm

        Can you unpack that comment a bit, Jeffro?

        In my experience (which, admittedly, is in the small-town midwest), the scale of all that is not much advanced beyond what it was 40 years ago. (Well, most kids I know are born to married parents and most women I know are not in favor of abortion for themselves, absent one or two who had legitimate health reasons such as having one or dying. and most folks I know who are married have been married for twenty plus years….) I do know one person who has two illegitimate children and is not planning on marrying her current boyfriend (who is not their father) and who says she’s pagan, but she is also going to school and working and doing the best job she can of raising said children in a normal home. They also do spend time with their father and his parents and other family, so these kids are loved by a large group of people who want them to succeed.

        And while I personally do not appreciate a LOT of things that are considered funny/enjoyable on the tv (why, oh why, did they have to have nude scenes in Torchwood, for example? Ew.), it’s still true that at least in the families I know, we work to keep our children Christian and healthy and respectable. Which means that, at least in my house, a parent or grandparent will review all media the kids are consuming and will talk to them about it if there are problematical aspects. Ditto my other parental friends. It’s not that hard.

      • Robert Eaglestone May 23, 2016 at 11:15 am

        That is not a supporting argument, unless you can supply data where this proves the case. Surely the problems of an earlier generation were just as pressing, but different. Might not Eugenics be the evil emperor of abortion’s Darth Vader today? And so on…

  3. twilaprice May 18, 2016 at 11:53 am

    Hmmm. I don’t think anime is about women needing men so much as it’s about fan service. (Note: While I love my Miyazaki films and have watched a few anime series, it’s my husband and daughter who watch anime devotedly. My daughter also collects figures from said anime, and I can’t tell you how many of them are women with big bosoms and very few clothes. Panty shots are almost commonplace. Yes, I know NOT all anime is like that (I have watched Area 88 and Akira and some Tenchi Muyo, etc.) but I certainly don’t think of it as a rock of pulp or any other purity. Though I do enjoy the bishi boys.*grin* Too bad my daughter doesn’t collect *those* figures.)

    And, she says, I think maybe you’ve misread my point in my comment you posted above, Jeffro. I enjoy old school pulp/literary sf a lot. But it’s still there to be discovered and read and savored. It’s all still out there in reprints and used book stores. Just as the old school mysteries and pulp noir stories are available in used bookstores for those who want to seek them out (me! me! me!). They are just as awesome and fun as they were when they were published. And just as sexist, imperialist, whatever-ist, too. So be it. I can love them with all their warts and blemishes. I do love them. I also see that they aren’t perfect.

    So. I don’t disagree that the pulps had a lot of good in them. At all.

    However.

    What I want to read when I pick up a newly published book is something that gives me a sensawunda that emulates the best sensawunda I had way back when I first read Merritt’s “Dwellers in the Mirage”. Or “Tarzan of the Apes”. Or “Foundation”. I don’t want to read retreads that copy those tropes in such a pale way. I mean, to take a very contentious example, when Star Wars (the original one) came out, I was in my twenties. I’d read all the pulps and seen many of the movies that Lucas was drawing from and I knew the tropes well. So it was not a big wonderful movie for me. It was okay, and I enjoyed it, but it was a retread of things I had already enjoyed and I have never quite been a big fan. I have watched all the movies as they came out, and they’re okay, but I’d rather have “Forbidden Planet” and the original “Day the Earth Stood Still”, you know? Hell, even “Them!” or “Hell Comes to Frogtown” (and that’s a bad movie!) are more interesting.

    So, for me, there are comfort authors and comfort series coming out that I will read because I love them — Bujold’s Vorkosigan books (Bujold’s anything books, really); Pratchett’s Discworld; Cherryh’s Foreigner series; Stross’s Laundry books… and I know that they will be a solid read and satisfying to me.

    But if you want me to take a chance on you, if you’re not Bujold, or Pratchett, or Cherryh, then I have to see something more there than tropes I’ve read a zillion times. I have to see solid imaginative world-building and characters who are interesting and appealing and not faux grim&gritty. I need people who I can spend the time of the book with and empathize with. And I’ll take some romance, if it’s done well. Not sex scenes, but two people liking each other and being there for each other? Heck, yes.

    • Civilis May 18, 2016 at 1:47 pm

      I don’t think anime is about women needing men so much as it’s about fan service.

      While as a male consumer of anime I must admit that fan service is sometimes part of the attraction, there’s something to the original post. I’d say that in anime as far as the relationship between the sexes goes, women need men and men need women (yuri and yaoi aside). There’s something sanitized and sterile about the relationship between the sexes in a lot of western media. It’s like the checklist-based consent procedure for college romance: the real world does not work that way. Making the male heroes all sensitive modern men when surrounded by attractive female heroes takes out a whole dynamic from the character interaction. With the exception of the obvious story-required wholesome relationship dynamics, the good guys may as well be asexual.

      In anime, the male heroes can also be somewhat realistic mentally when it comes to the opposite sex. Good and nice men do occasionally have lewd thoughts and sometimes even stupidly say or do something harmless to act on those. And making the guys realistically attentive to the female form also gives power to the female characters. The fact that they can lead men around by appealing to their baser instincts doesn’t make women any weaker, on the contrary it’s a weakness in men.

      But if you want me to take a chance on you, if you’re not Bujold, or Pratchett, or Cherryh, then I have to see something more there than tropes I’ve read a zillion times. I have to see solid imaginative world-building and characters who are interesting and appealing and not faux grim&gritty.

      One of the things I think anime gets right is that the preset story length gives creators more leeway to do unusual things and tell different stories, because at most the network is out is one 12 or so episode season of half-hour long episodes. No long commitment from the voice actors, either.

      • twilaprice May 18, 2016 at 5:22 pm

        Civilis,

        Well, while I am not a big fan of sex on screen, I can see that there is an attraction there for some people. I prefer my protagonists asexual rather than lusting after people willynilly, however. For example, I read a book a few years back that had a fascinating premise — the female protagonist was a deep-cover Interpol agent trying to infiltrate the Russian mafia and to trace their human trafficking supply chain. In the first chapter, she lured another woman into the clutches of that supply chain so she would be trusted by her “marks”. Now, the book’s blurb said that this made the protagonist question whether or not the ends justified the means, that she’d betrayed this one woman to save hundreds of others, and what did that make her? Ok, that’s an important question. So the male protagonist is a FBI agent, working on a serial killer case, who is heading a small undercover team in a series of strip clubs. One of his agents, a woman, has just disappeared. He’s pretty sure she’s fallen victim to the serial killer. Again, a fascinating dilemma for the character, as he’s supposed to be a hard as nails strip club manager who wouldn’t care if one of his dancers disappeared… That’s the first two chapters. I had high hopes for the rest of the book.

        Then. The female protag shows up as a possible new dancer which the male protag has t o interview (the Russian mafia wants to horn in on the American clubs as possible sources of new supply). Ok. He sees her. She sees him. Instalust. I mean, the two of them are thinking about having sex on the desk in graphic terms. And wham… out goes any of the moral questions or ambiguity of the story — neither one of them thinks about their jobs, or about what they’d done or about the missing agent (well, our female protagonist wouldn’t because she doesn’t know, but….). I tried skimming past that, and it was about five sex scenes to every actual action scene for the rest of the book.

        Now THAT is what I call a wrong turn. And I see that a lot in some anime, too. YMMV.

      • Civilis May 19, 2016 at 8:00 am

        Twila,

        I agree. I tend to stay away from anything with actual sex or done entirely for sexual fanservice. Something like the book you described, where the characters go directly from meet directly to mutual instalust, is just as offputting as a situation where the characters don’t seem to recognize that the people in front of them are attractive. The realistic point is somewhere in the middle: at the end of the movie Sneakers, the team of protagonist hackers is confronted by the NSA and they make a deal to hand over the Macguffin for a favor each, and the teenage hacker played by River Phoenix asks for the phone number of the young female NSA agent, and it’s one of the funniest moments in the movie. It’s clumsy and bumbling and irrelevant to the plot and it might not even go anywhere, and that makes it realistic. Real people have and show emotions at times other than when the plot requires them to emote, and ‘interacts with an attractive member of the preferred gender’ is a very common (and therefore realistic) place for a conflicting, clumsy range of emotions.

  4. twilaprice May 18, 2016 at 11:56 am

    Seventies music? Bleah.

    I hate disco. And most everything that was released in the 1970s, unless you are talking British folk rock. Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Horslips (though they are Irish)… The Eighties, now there was a decade for good music. Grins. I am a big fan of vocal music, so jazz leaves me cold. But the vocal groups of the forties? Sign me up and let me float away on those lovely voices….

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