Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Sturgeon’s Law, Battlestar Galactica, and Feet of Clay

Over at The Practical Conservative’s site, Jane Sand feverishly scrambles to prop up the embarrassingly stupid claim that is today known as Sturgeon’s Law:

As for your opinion regarding the stories of the 10’s through the 40’s being superior to those of the 70’s – well, that could be for an abundance of reasons. One might be that comparing the best of the harvest of 4 decades to the best of the harvest of ONE decade gives a slightly unfair advantage to the longer time period, with its benefit of longer evaluation and discussion in hindsight. Or, as you say, you might find the cultural difference of the Good Old Days to be more appealing to you than the latter ones.

According to Jeffro’s recent column, it’s because the writers of the later decades had the bad taste to DARE give the heros feet of clay. Apparently he prefers his heros to be flawless Marty Stus. He forgets what Oscar Wilde (a Dead White European Male writer par excellence, and a great fantasy writer to boot) said: “It is the feet of clay that make the gold of the image precious.”

First off, the quality of the average pulp story is quite surprising to most of us that end up going back to see for ourselves what things were actually like. I know people that only ever read, say, Robert Jordan’s Conan stories. When they go back and read Robert E. Howard they are astonished. I know people that are already hip to Lovecraft and Howard, but have never heard of Merritt. If you take Sturgeon’s Law for granted, there shouldn’t be too many more giants operating in the pulps this period… but Merritt is arguably superior to both. When you get done being blown away by C. L. Moore and Many Wade Wellman, it’s suddenly an open question as to how many superlative authors were actually frequenting the pages of the pulp magazines of the twenties and thirties..

And about this feet of clay thing…. I just watched a few episodes of the third season of the Battlestar Galactica reboot:

  • Admiral Adama is about to get an award from the president for saving humanity. But… it turns out that before the war… he violated the neutral zone treaty they had with the Cylons. The genocide of his people is actually his fault!
  • Cat is in the process of committing suicide by subjecting herself to too much radiation. There are plenty of pilots that could do the job and the fleet desperately needs pilots like her… but she is despairing because she lied about her identity to become a pilot. Worse… she was a criminal in the bad old days and she actually helped smuggle Cylons into key cities. The genocide of her people is actually her fault!
  • Helo is head over heels in love with a Cylon. When Adama concocts a means to put an end to this mortal threat to humanity, he sabotages it. The then puts the fate of humanity at stake in an insane plan to get his half-human half daughter back from the Cylons.
  • Apollo and Starbuck have the hots for each other. They are also married and cheating on their respective spouses. The writers then have Apollo’s wife rescue Starbuck from the Cylons.

This is not a matter of the writers giving each and every character feet of clay. These characters are head-to-toe iron mixed with miry clay. And there’s nothing DARING about any of it.

Where do you look if you’d like to have more of the gold, silver, and brass…? The answer right now is… in the crumbling pages of a battered old pulp magazine! (I recommend A. Merritt’s The Ship of Ishtar as a prime example of everything contemporary authors are incapable of doing.)


10 responses to “Sturgeon’s Law, Battlestar Galactica, and Feet of Clay

  1. BAR-1 studios March 27, 2018 at 11:47 pm

    Talk about an inability to *get the point* of Oscar Wilde. The point is that they weren’t cowards. They were heros despite their fears or flaws. That’s /PulpAF/!
    As for the description of BattleStar Galactica – yeah, everything I hear about that show is the “heros” fail at everything they try right until the very end when they end on the most cliche sci-fi ending possible.

    • jaynsand March 28, 2018 at 11:35 am

      Oooh, another Oscar Wilde fan! I totally agree that Oscar Wilde’s “It’s the feet of clay that makes the gold of the image precious’, he meant to say that when a character has some faults, it can make the strengths s/he displays in spite of those faults all the more endearing and admirable. If you think it’s okay for heros to have such feet of clay, you should probably take it up with Jeffro, who apparently disdains the concept:

      “In a word, modernism. A tepid materialist outlook that decreed that the transcendent was out of bounds. An unctuous, slinking cowardice that insinuated that all heroes have feet of clay.”

      Oscar Wilde was a great fantasy writer. My favorite of his is The Canterville Ghost. In fact I recommend it to everyone here. A fantasy-comedy haunting! And No Homo!

  2. Constantin March 28, 2018 at 4:00 am

    I keep seeing mentions of this A. Merrit on this website. Can anyone recommend a good starting point with him? Thanks.

    • jeffro March 28, 2018 at 6:54 am

      For a short story… “Through the Dragon Glass.”
      For Mythos action/adventure… Dwellers in the Mirage.
      For horror…. Burn Witch Burn.
      For fantasy… Ship of Ishtar.

      If you are constitutionally incapable of handling pre-Hemingway prose… go with Burn Witch Burn instead of Ship of Ishtar.

  3. jaynsand March 28, 2018 at 11:10 am

    I’m honored, I guess. Though if you call my remark ‘feverish’, you probably should use a thermometer on your kids instead of the hand-on-forehead method to determine if they are a little warm or not.

    Re: Battlestar Galactica: hate to disappoint you, but I only ever watched a few episodes of the original Battlestar Galactica back when my age was in single digits and felt it was okay but didn’t hold a candle to Star Trek or Wars. As for the reboot, the very first episode put me off so much that I never watched the rest. So if you expect me to FIGHT YOU on this one, sorry.

    I mainly wanted to correct you about Sturgeon’s Law being “embarrassingly stupid.” Sturgeon’s Law, first postulated in the 1950’s, has absolutely nothing to do with pulp fiction. Wording varies, but it goes like this:

    “Sure, ninety percent of science fiction is crud. That’s because ninety percent of EVERYTHING is crud.”

    Remember, in the 1950’s science fiction was considered a disreputable genre, and SF and fantasy in general was considered suspicious, if not positively dangerous, because ‘escapism’ was reviled by the psychologists of the time as leaving a child unprepared for distinguishing fantasy from reality. This attitude led to the actual BURNING of comic books in that era, and it hung on through the 60’s and even to some degree the 70’s….Le Guin has a fine essay condemning the attitude, which link I will include because I know you love her so.…/02/Why-are-Americans-Afraid-of-Dragons.docx

    So Sturgeon is DEFENDING SFF from the snobbish fans of mainstream literature, who condemn ALL SFF as trash, by acknowledging that while 90% of SFF IS trash, this is ALSO true of mainstream literature, which only attains excellence in 10% of works, while 90% of the mainstream lit they consider superior is just as crappy. He’s defending SFF by saying that it is as capable of attaining excellence as mainstream literature is.

    Wikipedia points out that Kipling (a writer you approve of, surely?) made a similar point. “Four-fifths of everybody’s work must be bad. But the remnant is worth the trouble for its own sake.”

    What’s SO embarrassingly stupid about saying that science fiction is as capable of excellence as any other branch of literature? If after taking all this into consideration, you still find embarrassing stupidity when reading Sturgeon’s Law, I suggest that the embarrassing stupidity MAY not be in the law.

    So why don’t you take my previous advice and stop writing about a nonentity like me, which must be dull for your readers? Read some SF and write about that instead. Sturgeon wrote some fine pulp SF you can review. I think you’ll like “Killdozer” – it’s very Manly.

  4. Cane Caldo March 29, 2018 at 1:21 am

    I have found the exclusion of women from my blog to be nothing but beneficial.

    • jaynsand March 30, 2018 at 10:31 am

      Aww, that’s great, Cane. I’m sure throngs of women are beating down your door, but hold fast to the creed of the He-Man Woman-Haters Club. Spanky would be so proud of you. *pinches your adorable cheeks*

  5. Cane Caldo March 30, 2018 at 11:27 am


    I couldn’t have asked for better support!

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