Literary Envy and the Last Redoubt
Over at Armed and Dangerous, a topic very near and dear to my heart is being debated. The author, Eric Raymond, begins thus:
I’ve been aware for some time of a culture war simmering in the SF world. And trying to ignore it, as I believed it was largely irrelevant to any of my concerns and I have friends on both sides of the divide. Recently, for a number of reasons I may go into in a later post, I’ve been forced to take a closer look at it. And now I’m going to have to weigh in, because it seems to me that the side I might otherwise be most sympathetic to has made a rather basic error in its analysis. That error bears on something I do very much care about, which is the health of the SF genre as a whole.
Both sides in this war believe they’re fighting about politics. I consider this evaluation a serious mistake by at least one of the sides.
He then identifies the two sides
On the one hand, you have a faction that is broadly left-wing in its politics and believes it has a mission to purge SF of authors who are reactionary, racist, sexist et weary cetera. This faction now includes the editors at every major SF publishing imprint except Baen and all of the magazines except Analog and controls the Science Fiction Writers of America (as demonstrated by their recent political purging of Theodore Beale, aka Vox Day). This group is generally frightened of and hostile to indie publishing. Notable figures include Patrick & Theresa Nielsen Hayden and John Scalzi. I’ll call this faction the Rabbits, after Scalzi’s “Gamma Rabbit” T-shirt and Vox Day’s extended metaphor about rabbits and rabbit warrens.
On the other hand, you have a faction that is broadly conservative or libertarian in its politics. Its members deny, mostly truthfully, being the bad things the Rabbits accuse them of. It counteraccuses the Rabbits of being Gramscian-damaged cod-Marxists who are throwing away SF’s future by churning out politically-correct message fiction that, judging by Amazon rankings and other sales measures, fans don’t actually want to read. This group tends to either fort up around Baen Books or be gung-ho for indie- and self-publishing. Notable figures include Larry Correia, Sarah Hoyt, Tom Kratman, John C. Wright, and Vox Day. I’ll call this group the Evil League of Evil, because Correia suggested it and other leading figures have adopted the label with snarky glee.
I can speak authoritatively for the United Underworld of the Evil League of Evil, since I (with some help from Batman and Dr Horrible) coined the term. We do not believe we are fighting about politics.
Politics is the least part of the struggle. None of my stories mention it, nor do those of our dishonorable and craven opposition.
We are entertainers first and crusaders second.
Our opponents are crusaders first, or, to be precise, anticrusaders, because instead of fighting for the holiness and righteousness as the crusaders did of old, these creatures fight against everything holy and right and instead fight for socialism, totalitarianism, feminism, perversions sexual and otherwise, atheism, nihilism, irrationalism, Ismism, and every other ism one can name.
We say you can put a message in your story if you insist, but story comes first. Space Princesses come second, at least for me. I think way cool guns come second for Larry Correia. Message comes third for both of us.
On a more serious note, the United Underworld represents an artistic vision of science fiction that is in keeping with our roots. We write science fiction after the fashion of Jules Verne, John W Campbell Jr, and the Big Three of the 1950s, Heinlein, Asimov and Van Vogt. We write in the footsteps of C.S. Lewis and Arthur C Clarke. We take our inspiration of Milton, Dante, and Homer and other men of vast imagination and startling vision. In our universe, truth is true, reality is real, logic works, fair is fair and foul and foul. We are the men of the mind.
Our dishonorable opponents follow in the footsteps of Michael Moorcock and his New Wave theory that the Academics will like us if only we write incomprehensible trash like Academics claim to like.
I say ‘claim to like’ because Academics read the first and final chapter of a book and pretend to have read the whole book so they can mention it at cocktail parties and impress the people who are not their friends. In their universe, truth is optional, reality is whatever you say it is, logic is oppression, hysteria is your friend, and ugliness and absurdity are paramount.
The writer, Mr Raymond, goes on to say
Alas, I cannot join the Evil League of Evil, for I believe they have made the same mistake as the Rabbits; they have mistaken accident for essence. The problem with the Rabbits is not that left-wing politics is dessicating and poisoning their fiction. … Nor, I think, is the failure of Rabbit fiction to engage most SF fans and potential fans mainly down to its politics; I think the Evil League is prone to overestimate the popular appeal of their particular positions here.
No, I judge that what is dessicating and poisoning the Rabbit version of SF is something distinct from left-wing political slant but co-morbid with it: colonization by English majors and the rise of literary status envy as a significant shaping force in the field.
All I can say is that this is not the stance of the Evil League of Evil, for which I hereby unilaterally declare myself the official spokesvillain.
Our stance is more universal and obvious. We are not talking about politics. We are talking about the universe. We believe in telling stories about the universe, its wonders and horrors, and the Rabbits believe in talking about nothing at all.
The Rabbits are talking about their universe; it is just that, for the Rabbit, their universe IS politics. It is a universe that has already suffered the Big Crunch.
A note on nomenclature: Theirs is a movement which from time to time calls itself Leftist, Liberal, Socialist, Progressive, or Political Correct.
Theodore Beale (aka Vox Day) calls them Rabbits. I pay them more respect and call them Morlocks. We both agree they dwell in underground warrens, so for the purpose of this column, here following I will split the difference and call them Troglodytes.
(If you like, you can call them Progressive Troglodytes, or Prog-Trogs for short.)
The movement changes its name each decade or so, since it cannot afford to be associated with its own works and results, so it calls itself names that are more or less the opposite of its actions produce. Whether this is a product of deliberate deception, deliberate self-deception, inattention, ignorance, insanity, worship of the Crawling Chaos Nyarlathotep or well intentioned yet misplaced zeal can be debated endlessly.
Technically speaking, this movement is a heresy, that is, something that breaks away from the Church, while adopting her social teachings, and elevating some minor principle to a supreme principle then used to sweep other principles away.
There are thirteen identifiable markers of the membership of the tribe of Troglodytes:
1. Theologically, they are atheist and agnostic, or at least laiacist.
2. In Metaphysics, they are nihilist. They hold the universe to have no innate meaning.
3. In Epistemology, they are subjectivists and (ironically) empiricists.
4. In Ontology, they are materialists. They believe minds are epiphenomena of matter.
5. In Logic, they are polylogists. They believe each race and both genders possesses unique and exclusive rules of logic.
6. In Aesthetics, they glorify the ugly and destroy beauty.
7. In Ethics, they are Gnostics. Whatever we call good, they call evil, and whatever we call evil, they call good.
8. In Politics, they are statists, and tacitly totalitarian. They want arbitrary power rather than law and order.
9. In Economics, they are socialist. They want the law of supply and demand to vanish softly away.
10. In Semantics, they are nominalists. They hold words to have no innate meaning.
11. In they psychological stance, they are sadists.
12. In their psychopathology, they are suicidal. They don’t want to live, they want you to die.
13. Emotionally, they are infantile. The emotion that governs them is envy.
Now, these are rough generalizations only, and no one member of the movement believes all these points, and, being a strongly anti-intellectual and pro-irrational bent, few of them even know what these big words mean. Some of these points contradict each other. That matters nothing to them. Logic is not their strong suit.
Nonetheless, we call a man a biped even if Captain Ahab has only one leg, and we call dogs quadrupeds even if Triskele has only three. The members of the genus who lack some of these defining characteristics lack them by accident, not essentially.
The essential quality is envy. These are losers who want to punish the winners for winning.
They are stupid people who want to be called smart and want the smart people called stupid. These are morally corrupt and morally retarded brats who want the laurels of saints and the palms of martyrs awarded them without the moral growth into that selflessness which is necessary for sainthood, and certainly without the suffering which is necessary for martyrdom. They just want the credit for being wise and good without actually suffering the trouble and effort of being wise and good.
In politics, they want the poor to eat the rich, and they will laugh, laugh, laugh at the bloodshed.
But politics is the smallest part of their worldview. Their worldview is a cult. It is religion, or, at least, a pseudo-religion. Like a religion, it has its anathemas and heresies and inquisitions to penalize deviations from dogma. Unlike my religion, the dogma of the Troglodytes are neither written down, nor articulated, nor sensible, nor rational, nor happy, nor righteous, nor good.
Next, the writer at Armed and Dangerous makes this alarming comment:
The Rabbits have the best stylists, while the Evil League has the best storytellers.
Since I only just joined the Evil League of Evil, I am behind in my reading, and so I cannot speak for anyone else. But let us compare, shall we?
This is from one of their award winning efforts:
If all I needed was something blue, I’d run across the church, heels clicking on the marble, until I reached a vase by the front pew. I’d pull out a hydrangea the shade of the sky and press it against my heart and my heart would beat like a flower. I’d bloom. My happiness would become petals. Green chiffon would turn into leaves. My legs would be pale stems, my hair delicate pistils. From my throat, bees would drink exotic nectars. I would astonish everyone assembled, the biologists and the paleontologists and the geneticists, the reporters and the rubberneckers and the music aficionados, all those people who—deceived by the helix-and-fossil trappings of cloned dinosaurs– believed that they lived in a science fictional world when really they lived in a world of magic where anything was possible.
If we lived in a world of magic where anything was possible, then you would be a dinosaur, my love. You’d be a creature of courage and strength but also gentleness. Your claws and fangs would intimidate your foes effortlessly. Whereas you—fragile, lovely, human you—must rely on wits and charm.
A T-Rex, even a small one, would never have to stand against five blustering men soaked in gin and malice. A T-Rex would bare its fangs and they would cower. They’d hide beneath the tables instead of knocking them over. They’d grasp each other for comfort instead of seizing the pool cues with which they beat you, calling you a fag, a towel-head, a shemale, a sissy, a spic, every epithet they could think of, regardless of whether it had anything to do with you or not, shouting and shouting as you slid to the floor in the slick of your own blood.
If you were a dinosaur, my love, I’d teach you the scents of those men. I’d lead you to them quietly, oh so quietly. Still, they would see you. They’d run. Your nostrils would flare as you inhaled the night and then, with the suddenness of a predator, you’d strike. I’d watch as you decanted their lives—the flood of red; the spill of glistening, coiled things—and I’d laugh, laugh, laugh.
I direct your attention to the stylistic (ahem) accomplishment of copying IF YOU GIVE A MOUSE A COOKIE, the deliberately childish tone, the blurred lack of detailed description for anything in the mention of the bar fight. The lack of style shows in the utterly generic insults used by the assailants: fag, towelhead, shemale, sissy, spic. If the nameless narrator’s bridegroom is an effete homosexual Arab transsexual from Spain or Mexico, the word choice here makes sense. Otherwise, they are selected without any ear for rhythm or assonance. They are, in fact, merely a grab-bag of the epithets which Leftists want to put into the mouths of civilized men, so that the Leftists can falsely accuse us of homophobia, Islamophobia, heteronormative sexism and racism.
Here is one of ours. I select a passage of similar tone and theme, that of a woman grieving for a loved one:
The monsters still howl for him, months after he fell. In the gloom, I can sometimes see one or the other, sometimes both together, wolfish beasts with leathery hides and dark bristles, and they raise their grinning, shark-like mouths to the black clouds above and utter their cries.
Impossible that such horrors could love a child of man, and be faithful; impossible. Yet they do not molest the body, nor even approach it.
My brother Polynices lies in plain view on the baked black salt of the Night Land. The hollow where he fell has a smoke-hole in it center, some five yards beyond his motionless, outflung hand, and the smolder from the hole casts a light across his form.
He lies many miles below the armored windows of our redoubt, but even so, the spy-glasses and instruments of the Monstruwacans (those scholars whose business it is to watch the horrors of the Night) leaning from the balconies, can pick out minute details.
The fingers of his gauntlet are stretched out, as if he were reaching for the little warmth of the smoke hole as he perished. He lays on a slight incline, for a circle of salty mineral surrounds the smoke hole and slopes toward it. His boots are toward us. The smoke hole is to his left. His helmet fell from his head, and rolled a yard down the salty slope. The little trail the helmet made as it fell is still visible. There has been no wind, no earth tremors, to disturb the salt crystals and erode the trail. The haft and great wheel of his disk-ax weapon lay to his right, and the shadow of his body falls across it, making details difficult to make out, even under the immense magnifications of the Great Spy Glass. The hair I used to tousle has continued to grow as the months have passed, and now falls across the shoulder-plates of his armor and spills onto the salt. I cannot see those wild locks without wishing for my comb of nacre to put the tangles right. He was always careless of his appearance.
Because of the angle of his fall, I cannot make out his face. Did he die calmly? Or is a rictus of hollow terror and despair frozen forever on his features?
His right forearm is hidden under his body, as if his teeth were seeking the lethal capsule buried under the flesh of his forearm when he fell. Did he fall too swiftly to bite the capsule, and slay himself wholesomely, before his soul and spirit were Destroyed?
There is no blood visible. There is no sign of wounds.
Yes, dear reader, I select one of my own works because, frankly, writers suffer from inflated egos. My style is ornate yet clear, and the language is elevated.
As said above, the leitmotif of the Morlocks is envy. It informs their every effort. Naturally, in the arts what the Morlocks do is take something ugly, and claim it is beautiful with a beauty invisible to the uncouth and unwashed masses, and they call the ugliness insight, or daring or stylistic. Usually what they call style is a lack of craftsmanship.
The article goes on to say:
Literary status envy is the condition of people who think that all genre fiction would be improved by adopting the devices and priorities of late 19th- and then 20th-century literary fiction. Such people prize the “novel of character” and stylistic sophistication above all else. They have almost no interest in ideas outside of esthetic theory and a very narrow range of socio-political criticism. They think competent characters and happy endings are jejune, unsophisticated, artistically uninteresting. They love them some angst.
People like this are toxic to SF, because the lit-fic agenda clashes badly with the deep norms of SF.
Amen and Hear, Hear. This is exactly right. If the author at Armed and Dangerous will not join us, let me just say that I would be happy to join him, if he wants to start a literary movement of his own.
The Evil League of Evil is fighting the wrong war in the wrong way. To truly crush the Rabbits, they should be talking less about politics and more about what has been best and most noble in the traditions of the SF genre itself.
Again, I mean no disrespect, but you should read our manifesto before you say what we are saying. We are not talking about politics, we are talking about science fiction stories and how to tell good stories of lasting value (for myself, my ambition is to tell great stories of immortal value) rather than the fashionable feculence of the Morlocks, which are concerned only with quotidian things and antique anxieties that beset the writers of the Victorian Era, like Marx.
The right (counter)revolutionary slogan is therefore not “Drive out the social-justice warriors!”, it’s “Peddle your angsty crap elsewhere, lit-fic wannabes! Let’s put SF back in the gutter where it belongs!”
We are the Last Redoubt of Humanity carrying the light of civilization against a besieging host of benighted barbarians who bow and serve the horrid and abhorrent idols of Political Correctness, vast, dark, unliving, inhuman, creatures of unreason. Despite whatever Mr Raymond says, if he is not against us, he is one of us.
Allow me to end with a quote from one Glen Filthie.
Look guys – I don’t give a chit about your politics. I just want something to read … that will entertain me. I don’t want to be lectured, preached at, scolded, emasculated, or otherwise orated, pontificated and bloviated at. I just want a good story.
I want you to imagine this read aloud by Patrick McGoohan, the actor who played Number Six on the television show THE PRISONER, in the same driving tone and cadence as his famous defiance:
I will not make any deals with you. I’ve resigned. I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered! My life is my own!