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March 04, 2005


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I am truly sorry to have offended you. I enjoyed your Poul Anderson post. My grasp of the english language seems not be firm enough to catch all subtexts.

Should I have called it a "friendly skewering"?

Again, I did not mean to offend, but to praise.

A New York City Math Teacher


What fannish antigen was speckled on my skin that the Columbia U. labtech homebrewer came to talk to me?

Surface fannishness - enabling the kind of challenge-response self-identification that Elisabeth Weil describes - manifests in speech-personality markers and body-aesthetic flags.

[snarky comment about obesity deleted]

I was wearing ripped jeans, an untucked henley shirt, my somewhat broken-down weekend puttering oxfords, and a voluminous parka (anorak, for the Britishers). Oh, the glasses. My Maoish moon face. Self-picturing - somewhat fat young *white* man in brew store wearing somewhat untidy clothing at two in the PM on a Saturday.

Where else would I have been? The SF-Fantasy section of the Barnes-and-Noble on Rte 17 in Paramus? Maybe hanging out at Cap's Comic Cavalcade reading new release X-men for free? Maybe I was heading off down the Meadowlands to plasma-ballet in the Star Fleet Battles rated-ace tournament? Clearly, I may have been looking at the little bags of overpriced grains of paradise so I could brew up a self-assertedly genuine 13me methegline Provenale to take to Pennsic. For my great feast on my knighting as the Ducal Clerk of Nob.

My physiognomy clearly indicated that great crates, *reams* of penny-dreadful inhabit my parents' basement.

I was the SF-geek because Carlos looks like a Chinese Green Bay Packer (entirely too self-possessed and physically imposing to conceive of as a stroke-needy pathetic slouch.) I, on the other hand as Caucasian white Jew slob, met the classic phenotype.

I sound resentful?

Science fiction male fandom is typologically similar to antediluvian young Pan-German League nationalism. Kvetcherei. Okay, maybe I'll be a little more harsh: young man, non-upwardly mobile, and cognitively dissonant from the interference with delusional self-mythology, seeks relief from the pain in an all encompassing ersatz weltanschauung. Comforted by the false images, he is elevated further and joins a phantom elite.

The distressing part of it is that instead of Deidrich Hesseling their way to an imaginary Kaiser's Throne in the mind, today's deracinated and thwarted young men imagine serving Irish Coffee and ruling over roosts of nubile? fannish women? at palatial cons at the Motel Six off the Turnpike exit 8.


TH, I guess I disliked the implication that since I expressed criticism of Anderson's writing, that I bore him ill-will personally: malevolence instead of benevolence. I've sometimes come across that attitude when discussing science fiction on the Internet.

On the other hand, it's a little bit more serious than a skewering.

I suppose it's because I want more from the SF genre, and instead it gives me less and less. Is there no balm in the Flatiron Building?

NYCMT, ow. Ow ow ow. You know, I cut out the Weil line about the "marginally employed ex-computer game programmer with thick, knotted sideburns, a 130-pound Akita named Rufo, and a habit of spending weekends in handmade suits of medieval armor" as being too over the top.

(And on the Akita's collar is inscribed "Dum vivimus, vivamus!" I know this, at a gut, bedrock level, even though I have never seen nor heard of this person or his dog.)

Bernard Guerrero

"Where else would I have been? The SF-Fantasy section of the Barnes-and-Noble on Rte 17 in Paramus?"

There are two, actually. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

A New York City Math Teacher

"Where else would I have been? The SF-Fantasy section of the Barnes-and-Noble on Rte 17 in Paramus?"
There are two, actually. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Yeah, but the southbound one near the Gott und Schneider is much bigger and better than the one on the northbound side closer to the Fortunoff's.


Two further points:

1) the books Gary Hudson favored -- The Mote in God's Eye, a 'first contact' (with aliens) novel with heavy sociobiological and Cold War symbolism, and The Earth Book of Stormgate, an anthology of Poul Anderson's stories set with the same background as the aforementioned Falkayn and Flandry novels, but with a different emphasis -- tell me much less about Hudson's inner life than Weil's choices of Light Years and Slouching Towards Bethlehem do hers.

On the other hand, I am pretty sure that Hudson identifies much more closely with the engineer-heroes-who-face-hard-choices of his favorite books than Weil does with the characters profiled or described in her favorite books.

2) Maybe I should be more worried about the person in Canada who found this blog searching for "the arm of the Devil" than a misunderstood commenter on Making Light.


OK. I basically thought it a very good analysis of the quirks of PA's writing, without any "fannish" excuses for it.

Which I liked very much.

PA interestingly is one of the few SF authors I have read mainly in translation than in the original, so I can't really comment on the accuracy. I think Uncleftish Beholding and maybe a few short stories are the only things I have by PA in english.

Personally I make a distinction between literary Popcorn, which is fun to read and not memorable at all (David Weber comes to mind, for example) and books.

And to make restitution for my misstep, I herewith recommend the best book I've come across in a long time which belongs somewhere in the "fantastic corner" is Matt Ruff's Set this House in Order.

P.S.: What's wrong about handmade armor?


TH, there's nothing wrong with handmade armor in and of itself.

A correspondent pointed out to me that there was a lot of interfemale hostility in the Weil excerpt, which I hadn't noticed before (and now it seems obvious).

James Nicoll

Funny, I was just thinking about Mote, in the context of _Cycle of Fire_ by Hal Clement. There are more similarities between the two books than one might expect, actually, except that Clement is asking "how do we solve this problem?" where N&P are more "How does the glorious Imperial Navy solve this problem?" For some reason, a small difference in the process yields different solutions.

I don't think Americans are writing SF much anymore. Certainly if you chuck the MilSF stuff and look for "what an interesting universe we are in" material, it's thin on the ground. Someone should write some.


I agree, and I'm not sure why. Certainly the appetite for non-realist fiction hasn't ebbed. I look at the (insanely rapid) rise of manga in the bookstores and the domestication of magic realism on the bookshelves.

Have you read Greg Costikyan's analysis?

James Nicoll

Manga sales benefit from the curious Japanese habit of creating comics aimed at women, who are the important part of the book market.

James Nicoll

Well, _now_ I've read it. It looks like the sort of superficial and trite analysis one might get from a jaded, middle-aged SF reader. We're certainly not in a golden age for American SF but we don't like in SF friendly times and the genre is just finding its natural level, one or two percent of annual sales, after a fewe decades of unnaturally high sales.

Despite various culls, my collection still gives an overview of SF back into the 1960s and while my tastes are and have always been impecable, I can see there's always been a large fraction of SF that was not only crap but which was constrained by its basic assumptions to be crap. It's just which particular craptastic subgenre dominates changes from decade to decade. 30 years ago we had less elfy welfy stuff and more Kraft Konan Book Product and where we now have That Thar Spaceship Blowed Up Real Good, we used to have Awesome Mind Powers -- better than hygiene! The good stuff was always a small fraction of the total.


We're certainly not in a golden age for American SF but we don't like in SF friendly times and the genre is just finding its natural level, one or two percent of annual sales, after a fewe decades of unnaturally high sales.

I hope this is correct. Perhaps SF and its classic writers stood in loco parentis for many Baby Boomers, temporarily expanding its demographics. Which would explain the popularity of the didactic strain as well.

(The timing of the pre-cable burst of sci-fi TV in the late sixties -- not to be repeated, even after Star Wars -- possibly corroborates this.)

On the optimistic side, there's the phenomenon of the Long Tail. On the pessimistic side, there's the collapse of the Western genre.

Science fiction as a generational marker? Like being named Heather. Hmm.

James Nicoll

As I recall, the meteoric rise of F&SF sales came in the 1970s, in part because Judy and Lester del Rey figured out how to commodify the genres effectively. Star Wars probably helped.

Hrm. Your basic Mark I Boomer would have been in their 30s in the 1970s, out of uni and with cash to spend, perhaps even pre-child. Now they are a dying breed and I can't imagine retirement increases the amount of money they have to spend...

My take on this is that what US kids get fed about the present is that it's worse than the past and what they get fed about the future is that we're all doomed to waist-deep in melt-water just as the oil runs out, that they will all be working for Wal-Mart and that any attempt to shape the future in a direction they might like to live in is futile. Why would they want to read about that future? It's bad enough they will have to briefly live through it.

I'd look at countries where things are improving (or where people think they are) for decent new SF. Americans under, oh, 30 are very unlikely to be able to write SF (outside carnography, whihc htye can learn from video gmes). It's simply not possible for them to overcome their cultural limitations.

The current market set up probably doesn't help. With about 2% of shelf space for SF, there's not a lot of room for any SF authors and old authors are always safer bets, because they have track records.

Note for the kids: the counter-proof isn't arguing with me, it's writing SF and then getting it published.


I'd think that the 1970s, with Ehrlich, the Club of Rome, stagflation, post-Vietnam malaise, Mutually Assured Destruction, and the collapse of 1960s idealism was a much more negative environment for contemplating the future than the past fifteen years.

Perhaps it's because so many of the tropes of classic SF -- robotics, interplanetary exploration, commodification -- are actual careers now? My sister, who is well under that 30-year-old threshold, wrote an undergraduate thesis on a hypothetical next generation of moon missions (and incidentally, she thinks I'm kind of a geek for liking science fiction so much). Has "rocket boosters" in her Friendster profile.

As for Greg Costikyan, I figure that since he's friends with various SF editors, and is a market analyst for the somewhat related field of electronic game publishing, that his rant was a little more than just another jaded middle-aged SF reader's plaint. But maybe he was hoping First Contract would become a best-seller.

James Nicoll

The thing that people my age had in the 1970s is the knowledge that people much like us had looked around, seen stuff they didn't like, then successfully changed them for the better (Obviously, this assumes one sees non-whites and women as people). Even if various elements of life were not as one would like, we knew the potential for positive change existed.

Francis Burdett

Really all you needed to say on subcultures was

>Oddly enough, the New York City Math Teacher and I recently had a similar experience getting home brewing supplies.

Frankie "Subcultures? I got your subcultures right here pal" Burdett


Gosh, I'm late to this thread. Apologies. I hope someone's still reading.

Anyhoo. James, I'm not sure where you get that "US kids get fed [that] the present is worse than the past and ... the future is that we're all doomed to waist-deep in melt-water just as the oil runs out."

Uh ... I ... um.

I suppose as much as anyone (save possibly the NYCMT), I'm in contact with plenty of American kids. I'm certainly in plenty of contact with American kids in the 18-22 age groups, both of the elite university type and the heading to Wal-Mart type. (I don't think we can count the one and two year olds my friends have begun spawning.) So I have to ask where you get the following three impressions:

(1) American culture idealizes the past over the present;

(2) American kids think the world is doomed to environmental catastrophe;

(3) Americans kids think that there is no room for positive change anymore.

What am I missing?

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