The Dream Café

Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

On the SF “Canon” and the Development of Art

| 43 Comments

John Scalzi has, as is his wont, produced a thought-provoking post.  This one is about the SF “Canon” (I’m finding it difficult to type that without quotation marks, which may tell us something).  You can find his remarks here.  He was kind enough to mention me as an influence, for which I am duly flattered.

I’m writing about this for two reasons, neither of which have to do with the question, “Is there actually a science fiction canon, and, if so, should new writers study it?”  The reasons are, first, with all that is going on in the world right now, with all the difficulties and challenges in both understanding it, and in communicating that understanding, it struck me as a relief to pull my brain away from that for a few minutes, and talk about art as if it existed apart from everything else—which, although clearly nonsense, can be treated as true for a short time.  The second reason is that it struck a chord with some things I’ve been thinking about, and I want to see if my thoughts will come together coherently (the answer is either that they will, or you’ll never see this post).

Strictly speaking, I disagree with John to some extent (did I qualify that enough?), but for all practical purposes, my disagreements are trivial.  I’m going to immediately move away from that, and talk about what all of this made me think of, and then pull it back.

Every form of art (art, in this case, being given the broadest possible definition), every sub-form, every genre and sub-genre, develops by contradiction, that is, in dialog with and (to a greater or lesser degree) in opposition to earlier forms.  The breathtaking changes in the world around us (ha.  I should have known I couldn’t stay away from that) strike artists as well as everyone else, because, you know, artists live here too. Our familiarity, whether deep or shallow, intense or casual, with the earlier works that made us want to create this stuff, is a huge part of what drives us, what gives us, consciously or unconsciously, our sense of, “this is good, this is bad, this is what I want to accomplish, this is what I want to stay away from.”

This means that every time something significantly new comes along—in painting, in music, or in science fiction—it involves a rejection of what went before.  One can almost hear the earliest punk artists, or the realist painters, or the “new-wave” science fiction writers, screaming at the past, “How come you didn’t do this?”  The rejection of what went before, of its assumptions, aesthetic, ways of addressing the viewer, are exactly what gives the new form or approach its dynamics, its energy.  I think this is a good thing, but that’s beside the point too, because it is also inevitable.

But here’s where it gets interesting: As we reject the old in order to bring in the new, some will carry it deeper.  The most serious and dedicated will inevitably, at a certain point in their development, find themselves going backward, looking to those who came before, studying them, learning, and sometimes rejecting them at a deeper level, and sometimes finding important elements that they can incorporate in their work.  As before, that I consider this a good thing doesn’t matter, because it will happen in any case.   As for what should and should not be considered “canon” within our sub-field, I think time spent arguing about it is time wasted.  Those writers who, in their drive to create what is new and exciting, will find themselves exploring what is old, will determine that on their own, find what is valuable, reject what is not, and move forward.

skzb

Author: skzb

I play the drum.

43 Comments

  1. Amen. There is the issue of, “how can you create something new if you don’t understand the old.” But, as you say, the new will be created anyway, regardless. Then we will choose what we like or what we don’t.

    Though I would think one would have a greater chance of being successful if one learned something first (monkeys – typewriters) But I dislike the idea of a Canon as required reading. It makes reading a chore, rather than a pleasure.

  2. Speaking as an ex-academic, it sounds to me like “canon” is something for academics to use as a categorization tool, to make their research papers more impressive. If an author is described as rejecting the “canon” then it means more (academically) than if the author is rejecting miscellaneous works that came before … because who cares about miscellaneous works? The hero’s worth is measured by the villains they face and the author’s worth by the literary giants and the canon they dared to defy.

    What’s interesting to me in all of the kerfuffle is that by NAMING those authors who they are opposing, the new breed of authors is, in fact, DEFINING the canon they are rebelling against. That doesn’t mean people should or shouldn’t read those earlier authors, merely that the new generation of academics will have grist for their academic paper mills.

  3. skzb

    James: Oh, interesting observation!

  4. I mean… I don’t care much what people read, but if I heard someone say “I’m a huge lover of English Literature, but I’ve never read any Shakespeare because it’s not relevant to me”, I’d at least scratch my head and say “curious”.

  5. skzb

    No disagreement, hacksoncode. But in this case, I’m speaking very specifically of the “canon” of science-fiction and fantasy. I think the issue with the broader, literary canon, though there are similarities, are different.

    ETA: I think your comment too literally. As an example, yeah, a valid point to consider.

  6. I have some very definite opinions on this subject. I also, to my dismay, have some very serious reservations in voicing them. During the past few months, many things have come to light to blemish the Sci-Fi/Fantasy community. A lot of authors and readers out there have suddenly come to believe that certain works by certain authors that have had an extraordinary influence on what could be considered “canon” are now, or should now, be completely invalidated because the author of said works could now be identified as a bigot, or a misogynist, or a racist, or, in general, a piece of shit.

    I’ve raised a very simple observation and asked two very simple questions, in certain other authors’ twitter threads, or forums, and have been met with near universal condemnation. I’m going to take a chance and raise them here again.

    Observation – There are an awful lot of peoples’ works that we almost universally revere that have been proven to be created by pieces of shit.

    Question 1 – Does a person’s work or their work’s influence, deserve to be buried or canceled or ignored, because the creator of said work was a piece of shit in some way shape or form?

    Question 2 – Am I an asshole because I do not find it difficult to admire the works of Aristotle (a proponent of slavery and opponent of basic human rights and equality), or Lovecraft (an absolute iconic racist), or, more relevant to contemporary times, Rowling, with her recent comments on the trans community, but who has, in my opinion, had more influence on getting kids interested in reading than ANYONE, in anytime, EVER?

    I’ve said, on more than one occasion, that anyone working in the genre fiction fields, owes some debt of gratitude to Rowling, for reasons that should be obvious to anyone with half a brain and half the will to use it. Does that mean I support any of the authors mentioned above in their personal views or opinions? Of fucking course not. But I also very much do not believe that we should suddenly bury our heads in the sand and ignore their talent and/or influence and how it has shaped the field which we all here, I believe, hold dear, and even love.

    There are many, many authors whose works and influence and opinions, I utterly despise. It is easy for me to say to scoff at some of my past girlfriends for enjoying Stephanie Meyer, whom I regard as someone one reads if one wishes to become more stupid. It is easy for me to point out the undeniable faults of Orson Scott Card, in whose works and fan-base, homophobia has found such a welcome home. But what about Heinlein? I revere this mans’ works, even though I wholeheartedly disagree with his militaristic viewpoint and patriotism-by-service mantra. Should I thus ignore him as “canon”?

    And finally, we come to my views on the author we are all here, in one way or another, to support (I hope). I’ve had several disagreements with Steve, some in my head, some vocal and public, over my time as a devoted fan. With so much of the United States thinking that the very word “socialism” is an absolute condemnation of one’s character, and how very partisan we, as a nation, are, on almost every social subject one cares to name, how is it I still respect this mans’ works, his opinions, and his fan-base, enough to share some fairly intimate details of my life with complete strangers?

    Well, I guess it is with the hope that there are other people here who understand that social problems are just that, problems, and thus by nature, not simple. They require discussion, there is no one simple answer, and if we can’t have civil discourse regarding said issues, we are doomed as a society.

    I will end this diatribe/post/rant with one further statement. I truly believe that there is nothing more important to the survival of humankind than the study of morals and ethics. Certain authors’ works do not shy away from those topics. Certain authors forums encourage discussion of those topics. I’d like to think that this forum is such a place.

    I also hope you can forgive me if you think I’ve ranted tangentially to the original point Steve raised, namely, “canon.” I don’t think I have, and I hope some of you have followed, or attempted to follow, some of the tangential points and questions I’ve raised.

    Thanks for listening.

    Derek Smith

  7. The sci fi community is a culture. Its shared meanings are what creates the culture.

    Writers need some sense of what their readers have in background to speak to those readers. If you don’t know the community, then you’ll wind up writing for somebody else.

    So for example Margaret Atwood does not write science fiction because she doesn’t know what science fiction is.

    “Science fiction has monsters and spaceships; speculative fiction could really happen.” She told the Book of the Month Club: “Oryx and Crake is a speculative fiction, not a science fiction proper. It contains no intergalactic space travel, no teleportation, no Martians.” On BBC Breakfast, she explained that science fiction, as opposed to what she herself wrote, was “talking squids in outer space.”

    She writes tired old SF tropes because to her they’re new.

    Is there a minimum set of science fiction stories that someone would need to read to get up to speed on the culture? I don’t know. Consider the short story “The Cold Equations”. I think it used to be necessary, but maybe there’s something newer that gets the same things across while doing something else too. That’s maybe written better, or written worse but with other virtues that help new readers pick up the culture.

    While writing this I heard my daughter giving herself a pep talk. “I can do anything! I’m a brave little toaster!”

  8. As to “canonical” works in Sci-Fi/Fantasy, well, I guess I would have to list the following:

    Alexander and Asimov, Butler and Clarke, Cherryh and Cook, Dunsany and Eddison, Haldeman and Heinlein, LeGuin and Lovecraft, McCaffrey and Moon, Moorcock and Norton, Tolkien and Vance, Wolfe and Zelazny.

    I’m 42. The above are the authors that I read in my pre-teens and teens. Those are the authors that have most shaped the authors and works I enjoy reading now. They are, by no means, an exhaustive list. I’ve left out Sam Delaney and Umberto Eco, John Milton and A.E. Van Vogt. I’ve left out Gordie Dickson’s “Childe Cycle.” I’ve left out Steven Erikson’s “Malazan Book of the Fallen,” Dan Simmon’s “Hyperion Cantos,” and Janny Wurt’s’ “Wars of Light and Shadow,” all of which I have grown up reading, and consider to be absolutely crucial to, my education in Sci-Fi/Fantasy, but did not discover until after I’d read the authors listed in my initial list. I didn’t discover Brust until the publication of “Phoenix,” in 1990, when I was 12, after which I read everything else he’s ever, or had ever, written. I haven’t even mentioned Burroughs…shit man, I loved John Carter and Tarzan.

    How can we possibly define “canon?”

    Derek

  9. skzb

    “Question 1 – Does a person’s work or their work’s influence, deserve to be buried or canceled or ignored, because the creator of said work was a piece of shit in some way shape or form?”

    No.

    “Question 2 – Am I an asshole because I do not find it difficult to admire the works of Aristotle (a proponent of slavery and opponent of basic human rights and equality), or Lovecraft (an absolute iconic racist), or, more relevant to contemporary times, Rowling, with her recent comments on the trans community, but who has, in my opinion, had more influence on getting kids interested in reading than ANYONE, in anytime, EVER?”

    No.

    I think it is a condemnation, not of you, but of the influence of certain upper middle class elements, that you are evidently worried about even raising these issues. That there have been efforts made to use fear to control discourse is utterly appalling, and that some of those doing it dare to call themselves leftists is simply vile.

  10. Steve; quite simply, Thank You.

  11. skzb

    My comrade Alex Galton made the following post on Facebook a few years ago:

    “Ezra Pound was a fascist. He made antisemitic radio broadcasts to American troops in Italy during the war. But he was also a great poet. If you cannot reconcile yourself to that contradiction, hate the man or pity him and yet enrich your own life and the lives of your friends through his poetry — then I in turn must feel sorry for a limping, mechanistic, and, frankly, weak-spirited view of life.”

  12. Steve – What a wonderful quote. That is, without question, one of the most profound things I’ve ever seen come from Facebook, a company I despise deeply. I have no idea who Alex Galton is, nor do I share his idolization of Ezra Pound, however, I feel such a quote is applicable to so very many artists whose work I admire, and whose opinions I despise.

    Again, Thank You.

    As an aside, I have purchased a milder version of Hungarian Paprika with which to make my pepper essence in lieu of the smokey, sweet, Spanish paprika I was intending to use, to go along with my Basque-inspired tapa of Brandy (Cardinal Mendoza) sauteed mushrooms w/garlic, finished with an egg yolk. Since I don’t have access to Duck Fat, and since I have resigned myself to accepting your argument against bacon-fat, I will use a very high quality olive oil (Tuscan-Herb infused) as the medium for the pepper essence.

    I will post the result tomorrow morning after I’ve procured a selection of acceptable, fresh mushrooms from the local farmer’s market, who are, thankfully, still in business, masked, and following social distancing guidelines here in Austin.

    Derek

  13. skzb

    I’ll be curious to hear how it comes out. Also, this might be useful:

    https://www.schiltzfoods.com/Rendered_Goose_Fat_p/erf.htm

    It’s what I use, and I quite like it.

  14. I have never used Goose Fat. I think I’ve mentioned that I found Duck Fat to be too overwhelming on the cheek, and too mild to mitigate the ratio of 3 Tbsp Paprika to 1 Tbsp Duck fat, that you’ve previously described. However, I also made the assumption you were using HOT Hungarian Paprika, which you averred was erroneous.

    Thanks for the link and I look forward to experimentation!

  15. … I almost think we have to consider three things separately:

    1. The quality and nature of the author
    2. The quality and nature of the work.
    3. The quality, nature and scope of the author’s influence.

    Lovecraft was a hideous racist and many many of his stories were *blatant* racist commentary.

    His writing was mediocre, at best.

    He created what someone could argue (who had a sounder basis in history then I) the very first ‘shared world’, and created ideas in horror that have influenced a huge number of authors and fans.

    I allow myself to consider the last as his most important work, and the reason why he should be read – perhaps with a primer that discusses the difficulties of accepting the other two aspects.

    I hold the same set of evaluations of these three points about Rowling: not a great and possibly a terrible person, mediocre writing, huge influence. One aspect that is more troubling, to me, is that Rowling’s influence is much greater on children who may incorporate her personal failings into their worldview, based on the attachment they have to her books.

    Of course, I give Steve straight A’s in #1 and #2. I can’t do that with #3, because I don’t have a good measure of the scope of Steve’s influence. John’s post may up that, but I feel it will remain more or less below the radar – as it were.

    None of this says anything about what is or is not “canon”, nor in support or denial of SFF having a “canon”. It’s just about whether some things should be read or not.

  16. Just a few personal observations, as I have used the term “canon” merely suggests a body of work. Thus a Sci-Fi “Canon” is simply a collection of Sci-Fi works written or otherwise. If that is the case how could there not be a “canon” of Sci-Fi? If we look at a book as the base medium of this discussion, how would a Sci-Fi book be EXCLUDED from the canon? Just because the person who is making the argument doesn’t hold that particular book in high regard (maybe never even heard of it) doesn’t exclude that book from the canon for ANYONE but that particular speaker. I hold that the canon cannot help but exist.
    The point is the “the” canon exists for everyone but is unique to almost anyone who mentions it. The works I consider canon will no doubt be different than the works someone else holds dear.
    I believe the problem comes out of our desire to see things from only our point of view. If I say “this is canon” to some degree I mean to suggest if you disagree you are wrong or at least not as informed as me as to how great this particular work is and why it MUST be considered canon.
    Why not simply accept that disagreement is part of the experience of literature, on many levels. Is this a part of the canon? Is this character a “good guy”? Did this idea have merit? Is it more sci-fi than fantasy? My opinion once expressed does NOT have any more merit than anyone else’s just because I wrote it down or shared it. More to the point, once I have shared it, agreement is not the equivalent of validation. Validation is the process of discussion of an idea. I think of this as canon because …discuss.

    If there is no discussion there is nothing to be validated.

    @Jonah Earl Thomas. That was a beautiful sentiment and the idea that your daughter was using The brave little toaster for encouragement is both cute and relevant. Many “adults” might dismiss that work as not being “worthy” of being part of the canon. For your daughter it would seem to be a very important part that had real impact.

    I am going to stop myself here.

    I just want to add I have been able to find rendered goose fat at several Asian markets in my area. Maybe look to see if there is one close to you.

  17. Question 3–

    Is it still okay for me to despise both Ayn Rand and her damned “Atlas Shrugged?”

    As for the sci-fi canon, less Asimov and way mohr Gene Wolfe please!

  18. skzb

    Kragar: Yes, and yes.

  19. In my experience, Canon is a country club and anyone who doesn’t know the secret handshake is met with condescension and escorted off the hallowed grounds.

  20. @Kragar

    You can despise any author and any book you want.

    But if you try to deny that Ayn Rand and her book have had an influence on other things (if not necessarily literature), you’re intentionally tying one hand behind your back when dealing with this world.

    And maybe that’s what “canon” is: the books we CAN’T ignore, because to do so blinds us to the world as it exists. There are movies I refuse to watch, but because they are so influential in our culture, I at least went and read a summary of the movie online so I could understand what the heck other people were talking about.

  21. And here I go, in defiance and hypocrisy; Kragar, YES, and YES…

    The world would be better without her name…

    D

  22. James Mendur – exactly. Thus my acknowledgment of my own hypocrisy.

  23. James Mendur–

    I despise Ayn Rand BECAUSE she has had such great, and malignant, influence on the world.

  24. skzb

    On reflection, Kragar, I’ve changed my mind. You can despise Ayn Rand, but you cannot despise Atlas Shrugged, because in order to despise it, you must read it, and no one who cares about you would permit that.

  25. Jane – I love you; everything about that statement is, disgustingly, true.

    Steve re: Kragar – Fuck yeah…Friends don’t let friends read pure shit; there are other, lessor, versions of shit, of varying purity, that your friends could ease you in to first…

  26. Of relevance to this discussion was a significant classical music milestone in July 2001.

    Daniel Barenboim was conducting the Berlin Staatskapelle orchestra at the Israel Festival in Jerusalem. He had originally programmed a concert staging of the first act of Wagner’s Die Walküre. Pushback from the festival caused him to grudgingly reschedule works by Schumann and Stravinsky because of the informal taboo against the performance of Wagner in Israel. (While Wagner left much to be desired as a person, that he was Hitler’s favorite composer could certainly not direct reflect on Wagner, who died six years before Hitler was even born.)

    Barenboim had noted a few days before that concert that one of his press conferences in Israel was interrupted by an Israeli’s mobile phone, ringing to Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries. It made Barenboim think, “if it can be heard on the ring of a telephone, why can’t it be played in a concert hall?”

    At the conclusion of the formal program and its applause, Barenboim addressed the audience. He asked whether it wanted to hear a piece by Wagner as an encore, noting that it was his own request, “something very personal, between me and you.” He then invited open discussion, telling the audience, “It will be democratic to play a Wagner encore for those who wish to hear it. I am turning to you now and asking whether I can play Wagner … The decision is yours.”

    Most immediately offered loud applause.

    But several in the audience tried to throw tantrums, some called Barenboim a “fascist.” One shouted, “This is a disgrace and a deception!” Barenboim kept his poise, insisting that the audience had a right to make a decision, and that, “You can be angry with me, but please don’t be angry with the orchestra or the festival management.”

    The debate continued for thirty minutes, when it became clear the overwhelming consensus remained to hear the music. The audience itself demanded the remaining protesters leave the hall. Some deliberately stayed to make a noisy exit and slam doors when Barenboim turned to begin the orchestra in the overture to Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.

    At the end, Barenboim and the orchestra received a standing ovation, and Barenboim was moved to tears.

    And the political establishment, all the way up to the right-wing then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, went on the warpath, but there was no reversing the clear revelation that the taboo was a product of forces other than the mass audience for art.

    Barenboim said in a radio interview afterwards, “Not playing him [Wagner] in Israel is like giving the Nazis one last victory.”

  27. skzb

    Wow. That is one HELL of a story, Don. I wish it had gotten more coverage.

    But, of course, if we lived in a world where it would have gotten more coverage, it wouldn’t have happened.

    (Although I cannot help but recall Twain’s quip that, “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.”)

  28. Twain also said it had “great moments but bad quarters of an hour.”

    But then he also described one of Joseph Mallord William Turner’s very greatest paintings, “The Slave Ship” of 1840, as looking like “a tortoiseshell cat having a fit on a platter of tomatoes,” so Twain’s assessments, so sovereign in literature, don’t necessarily carry over to other artistic forms.

  29. One person’s canon is another person’s noise. When something in me resonates to what I read, I have found my canon. When I was teaching an SF Lit class, the balancing act was to listen to my students enough to get a sense of what they would resonate with, not just share my personal favorites or established classics. Happily, I have so many favorites I can usually find material that we all enjoy thoroughly, like LeGuin’s “The Rule of Names” and “Intracom”, and Haldeman’s “None So Blind”, and dozens of others. Trying to set up an official canon is like paving a road where some of us prefer a bit of wilderness. Part of discovery is being aware enough of one’s intuition to find something that isn’t presented on a platter.

  30. I think Twain was being charitable about that painting. ;>) As I told my concerned 7 year old daughter when we saw the Picasso exhibit, “they can’t all be winners.” Which brought a laugh from the people behind us. I also explained how he developed an idea from the initial stinkers.

  31. Concert halls full of spectators; art galleries full of patrons; even country clubs with persons being escorted off.

    This thread is teaching me many things, but it is also really starting to make me miss The Beforetimes.

  32. Can I just say I despise Ayn Rand, because she was a terrible writer (mind you I could only stand about 2/3 of The Fountainhead before throwing it away in disgust).

    Generally I try and keep artists and their works separate, unless their philosophy/prejudices feature in their work.

  33. JK Rowling has been mentioned. I am trying to create a coherent point of view about all that, and I want to describe it here. I hope it isn’t off-topic.

    Background:

    The USA used to have a concept of “the melting-pot”. Immigrants were supposed to give up their own cultures and take up The American Culture. To some extent that succeeded. The USA now has a mass culture informed by TV and Hollywood. Almost all Americans know how to navigate that culture.

    Many people found the mass culture was inadequate to their needs, so we developed the concept of the multicultural society. People could have their own cultures that would get along, and the laws would not restrict their cultural practices any more than necessary. To some extent that succeeded.

    Many people found that they wanted their own single cultures, each of which they thought were the traditional American culture, should be the only one. They want to erase all the others and live here only with their own kind. They are not at all succeeding at that yet, and they are upset about it.

    The USA has defined a collection of disadvantaged cultures which deserve not to be erased. Feminists created a separate women’s culture. Black culture. Male gay culture. Lesbians. Trans women. Etc. It is illegal to discriminate against these, and that has resulted in big side effects. Every big corporations has an expensive HR department with the duty to protect the corporation against lawsuits for discrimination. Lots of jobs for lawyers prosecuting and defending discrimination lawsuits. Etc.

    Meanwhile SJWs donate their time to persecute people they think are misogynists, racists, homophobes, transphobes, etc. They work hard to keep anyone from publicly disagreeing with them. Only one culture can be allowed in public — theirs.

    A slight digression: Some people argue that it isn’t really cultural. Blacks are born black. Women are born women. Gays are born gay. Trans women are born women in men’s bodies. However, they have not proven that racists are not born racist, chauvinists are not born chauvinists, homophobes are not born homophobes, and transphobes are not born transphobes. It seems to me just as plausible that someone could be born with an aversion to men as someone born with an attraction to men.

    Meanwhile, oreos have a much easier time navigating white culture and their racial problems come only when someone mistakes them for black. It’s cultural, man.

    The conflict:

    Inevitably, SJWs ran into a contradiction. Two disadvantaged groups are in conflict. A fraction of women don’t want to give trans women everything that trans activists demand. The SJWs chose to back the trans women, and voted the other women off the island.

    They treat these other women that they call TERFs (some of whom call themselves GCRFs) the same way they treat racists and capitalists. People who should be entirely denied a platform. Who should never be allowed to spread their vile propaganda. Who should not be allowed to hold responsible jobs.

    And then JK Rowling saw some friends get treated that way, and she took their side. A capitalist who probably owns more resources than all the SJWs put together. And they’re trying to figure out what to do about it.

    My stand on it:

    First more background. We don’t know how to erase cultures without genociding the people who practice them. The English tried to erase the Irish for 400 years and partly failed. The USA tried to erase native american cultures for 200 years and largely succeeded, but it isn’t certain what worked. We also don’t know how to protect endangered cultures.

    So we don’t really have a choice about that. We are GOING to be a multi-cultural society, and each culture will last as long as it’s going to. It’s a reality for us to live with.

    My own culture and the US government both have limited power. To the extent we can, we should encourage the different cultures to get along. Practically that means give them chances to separate some. What they do in private is mostly their business. But anyone who wants to leave their community and look for another that will accept them, should have that right and should get assistance finding their place.

    The economy should largely be run by mass-culture rules. No shoes, no shirt, no service. Shoes, shirt, money, service. At least for mass services.

    Maybe allow cultural practices to interfere for more personal services. The general rule is, you don’t have to do the job for somebody you don’t want to, provided they can easily get someone else to do it. Nobody gets deprived. Nobody gets oppressed, to the extent we can prevent it.

    So for example, blacks and racist whites. Allow them each to have a fraction of segregated neighborhoods if they want to, because why not? We’re all better off if people who don’t want to interact get to interact less, provided they don’t get to oppress each other. They may have to work together. Management has an incentive to arrange that the ones who don’t work well together mostly work separately.

    In the extreme case, we should help people leave the area. If they just won’t play nice then give them a time-out. Move them to new areas where they might fit in easier. If blacks and whites just can’t get along in west Tennessee, maybe move in a lot of climate change refugees who have no stake in either side, and move a lot of the combatants to separate places.

    Of course in reality nobody has all that much power, and important problems will not be solved. But I’m convinced the general idea is sound. Don’t try to make different cultures get along more than they’re willing to. Try to keep them from oppressing each other. More separation is better than more forced contact.

    So — Some women want some separation from trans women who can’t pass. Let them have that, to the extent it’s practical. Some women don’t care. Those don’t need separation.

    Some lesbians want to have meetings without men. Don’t require them to allow people with penises into those meetings. Women are allowed to have some meetings that keep out various groups of other women. Mormon women don’t have to let heathen women in on all their secrets. Similarly Eastern Star. DAR. Etc. Let them do what they want.

    Similarly with everything else. Let people think what they want. Let them do what they want up to the point sombody gets oppressed.

  34. i thought Ayn Rand did one thing very well.

    I read Atlas Shrugged in 9th grade, the same summer I read Lord of the Rings.

    It was a struggle to get through the journey through Mordor. Tolkien did a good job of presenting existential despair. A horrible experience with bad food and not enough of it, bad climate, miserable orcs with enough pathos to feel sorry for and yet they must still be killed, etc etc etc. It felt like an endless disgusting bad experience getting through it.

    Getting through Atlas Shrugged was like that but more. The beautiful Dagny gets abandoned in the USA wasteland, and she tries to adapt. At one point she laboriously, lovingly builds her own road from her house to the highway. Hand labor and lots of it, calluses, sunburn, etc, and when she reaches the public road she sees it has fallen into ruin and her work was for nothing. Desolation, anomie, waste, uselessness. Like Tolkien but more, and longer.

    She did a good job of that.

    I read the whole thing, and also all of Lord of the Rings. It was my worst summer until my wife left me and I was thrown out of grad school.

  35. I also read about 2/3 of The Fountainhead before hurling it away in disgust. I wouldn’t have gone that far, but I was meant to read it for work…

  36. I didn’t read Asimov’s Foundation series until I was well into adulthood, but I read the whole thing. There was a point where I wanted to throw it across the room, because women weren’t even mentioned in much of the first few books. There were fathers and sons, uncles and nephews, but no mothers or sisters. It was a truly bizarre world view, but it does explain his influence on the misogynistic aspects of SF fandom. Because it is there, in the work itself. Chris Wozney mentioned the “established classics” and I think that’s a better way of looking at the body of work that was written before, let’s say, 1970.

    In my humble opinion as a reader and consumer of SF&F Media, Canon only matters within a shared world environment or fictional world such as Middle Earth or Star Trek. New writers doing there own thing do not have to reference, respond to, or otherwise be influenced by the established classics if they chose not to. Of course, there are those who may opt to challenge the classics, and in their work tear down the Gatekeepers and the gates themselves. If done right this can be extremely entertaining.

    Fans take their fiction very seriously, and a good debate is a great way to encourage growth in the genre. The most boring and forgettable panels at conventions have always been the ones where everyone agrees.

  37. RonJB: “Generally I try and keep artists and their works separate, unless their philosophy/prejudices feature in their work.”

    This is something I’ve really struggled with. For written works, I think this guideline works reasonably well, but I’ll admit that there are any numbers of instances where it can become hard to parse.

    As an example, one of my favorite books as a child was The Rainbow Goblins, by Ul de Rico.

    From wikipedia: “The Rainbow Goblins was published in 1978 in Germany, and was translated into English in the same year by Stanley Baron. It is a story of 7 evil goblins, each a different color of the rainbow, who travel through the land catching rainbows and stealing their color. The work was praised for its enchanting oil-on-oak illustrations, which vividly draw the reader into the world of the goblins; and its simple story, which teaches children about color as well as reverence for natural beauty.”

    It’s a gorgeous book. The original copy in my parents attic is tattered and torn from use. When I had my daughter, it was one of the first books I picked up for her. As I flipped through the pages as an adult, however, I noticed that in every illustration, the Red and Orange goblins were paired off from the others–always touching, holding hands, and snuggling while they slept. In one scene, as all the goblins are ensnared in their own ropes, they’re positioned in a pretty suggestive, one-bent-over-the-other pose. And then they all drown in the colors they were trying to steal.

    “…and no one in the valley wept for them.”

    I still don’t know what to make of it. One one hand, they characters are clearly meant to be in a loving relationship. It’s pretty great to see a positive portrayal of an LGBT relationship in a kid’s book, even if only in a semi-covert way.

    On the other hand, they are also the villains of the story. Is the reader meant to feel sympathy for their demise, or is their sexuality meant to be taken as further evidence of their villainy? Is their drowning meant to stand in for being stoned to death, OT style? Am I overthinking it?

    Or should it just be lumped in with the subliminal pranks that animators slip into Disney films?

    Doing some research, I found that other than a handful of pearl-clutching responses in some Amazon reviews, it is generally seen in an LGBT-positive light. Hell, Primus came out with a concept album based on the story in 2017, called the Desaturated Seven. If the artist has addressed it in a statement or interview, I haven’t found it.

    The whole thing hinges on, “…and no one in the valley wept for them.” You could take it as a either as a condemnation of the abuses endured by the LGBT community, or as a they-had-it-comin’ statement.

    So to get back to the original point, I really don’t know where to draw the line.

  38. Okay I may have to get myself a copy of the Rainbow Goblins now.

    And actually I believe it is possible to appropriately hate a book that one has not read. Mein Kampf, for example. Also some books, you can read the first few pages, get a real sense of the thing, then make the call to move on to something else.

  39. I read a lot of Heinlein mostly because I thought I “should”, that it was “canon”.
    I can’t recall a single one of his books that I really actually liked. I know for a fact that I still don’t like Stranger in a Strange Land.

    I read Moorcock for the same reason, but also because I thought that Elric would be actually cool and etc. etc. and all that hoopla. I read him when I was a disaffected teen, so I was probably the ideal audience.

    I didn’t like his books, and Elric ended up being pretty uninteresting.

    I also really don’t like Dune.

    I read Brust because I was wandering around a bookstore, looking for something to read. There was a book that caught my eye because it had a dragony thing on the cover. It looked like it was part of a series (I’m pretty sure it was Yendi) which put me off. I only ended up buying it because I could actually buy the the first part of the series – aka Jhereg. I don’t remember the timing whether many others were available to purchase at the time…. given the first-run publication dates, and when I was very likely to have been buying these, I don’t think Phoenix was available yet, and I’m not sure Taltos was either. I’m >=95% sure I read Yendi first.

    Yendi was, and is, fun.

    I think, in general, that is a good match for how my experiences have gone. Every time I have read something “because I should”, I end up being at least a little bit disappointed. When I read something that other people have said are good, I do better (I’d never have read any Scalzi otherwise).

    Much later, I saw a book called “A Madness of Angels” with a guy on the cover who had blue-electricalish angel wings on the cover. This really put me off, I wasn’t gonna read something that was going to turn into some kind of religious parable or someshit.

    I ended up buying it because it kept catching my eye, the jacket blurbs somewhat eased my worries about it being a religious parable…. …. …. And also because I’d kind of run out of things to read.

    And boy oh boy is this a *fun* book. Kate Griffith aka Claire North aka Catherine Webb is now one of my favorite authors. She did a bunch of really interesting things with Matthew Smith – the main character in Madness of Angels – and then followed up with a couple of books in the same reality that are really different from a *lot* of other stuff, and very interesting.
    And her stuff as Claire North is, at least to me, super super interesting. There’s a couple I don’t exactly like, but there’s some interesting stuff in those anyway.

    To veer this back to Steven’s original thoughts. I think both Steve and Kate/Claire/Catherine have taken stuff that is old – at least “props” – and used those to build really fun stuff that couldn’t have come from anyone else. At a very high level, I’d say the “conversation” they are both having with older stuff is something like “Well, there are some nice shoes in this closet, and that belt goes pretty well with that purse, and I like the color of that shirt, so let’s start from there and do something really cool”. (I’m not sure Kate/Claire/Catherine strictly subscribes to the Cool theory of literature, but her work seems to)

  40. OK I don’t feel bad about my long post anymore…

  41. Oh, sure. Just go ahead and post-length shame me.

  42. I think one important caveat about the issue of despising a person but not their work arises when they *continue* to be a piece of shit, and use the influence and money they are gaining from their work to *continue* to harm others and influence their supporters to do the same.

    At that point, I do think it is morally responsible to cease financially and culturally supporting that person, at least until such a time as your support stops contributing to the harm they are doing.

    But, of course, that says nothing about whether you can “like” their work… which I’m not sure people actually have control over anyway.

  43. hacksoncode–

    I think that is a pretty good point. Even though Ayn Rand’s last few years living home alone and receiving welfare payments have run out, however, her influence remains. Especially to hear a certain media-darling capitalist politician, who received federal student aid to attend university, explain how Rand’s books helped shape his life philosophy.

Leave a Reply