Sunday, November 9, 2014

Guardians of the Unused Gate -- the Resentment of the Lit-Critters Against the Great Science-Fiction Writers of the Past

 "Guardians of the Unused Gate --

The Resentment of the Lit-Critters Against the Great Science-Fiction Writers of the Past"

© 2014


Jordan S. Bassior

It is a surprisingly common delusion on the part of the lit-critters that greatness in the field is dependent upon their approval. In fact it is dependent upon having the audience, and trying to be a gate-keeper merely means that the audience will take another path and leave oneself standing there on an empty road, defending one’s gate.

I’ve noticed that the current crop of gate-keepers have decided to hate the great writers of the past. This is a common theme in literary history, and the usual reason is self-doubt and envy. The gate-keepers and their writers doubt that they can write as well as any of the great science fiction writers of the past — they picked John W. Campbell’s stable as writers to hate because virtually any decent sf writer who published in the late 1930’s through late 1950’s had multiple appearances in Astounding — so instead of even trying, to write that well, they try to tear those great writers down through guilt-by-association.

I must pause for a moment for astonishment at the notion of “guilt” by association with John W. Campbell, Jr., or of anyone being ashamed of being in the august company of writers he encouraged, or of liking their work. Seriously, to feel guilt or shame for this, one would have to be completely ignorant of the history of science fiction and never read a story written before the 1980’s or 1990’s. This would be an act of intellectual “purity” equivalent to refusing to ever read Shakespeare or anything inspired by him (a joke with the same punchline, as pretty much all subsequent English literature was inspired at least indirectly by Shakespeare and the same thing is true for the Campbellian science fiction writers).

I think that half the reason why the standard of “excellence” chosen is adherence to political correctness, a system of values distinguished by the most extraordinary transience of its tenets in such a manner that no one of one generation can hope to predict the political correctness of the next (who in the 1990’s could have predicted that feminists would be jumping on board to defend Muslim fundamentalists, for instance?) is in order to disqualify all previous science fiction writers from the competition. If not, why the eagerness to distort the truth in order to hunt down deviances of the writers of the 1940’s and 1950’s from a set of standards which they had no way of knowing would exist in that form?

They are unmoved by the obvious point that, if they tear down the writers of a half-century ago for failing to conform to today’s political masks, they themselves will be torn down a half-century from now for failing to conflrm to that future’s political masks, for several reasons.

(1) They are poor time-binders — they wouldn’t believe nonsense like political correctness if they understood that other times and places were really real,

(2) They assume that they are Special Snowflakes and that the mob they try to raise could never turn on them, and finally

(3) Some, I think, know they are mediocre little clumps of excrement and that they will be entirely unknown a half-century from now, so it matters little to them.

So they stand at the gate on the increasingly-unused road, fiercely defending their path, while the bulk of fandom enters by new gates for new destinations, and sometimes looks curiously at the lunatics guarding the unused passage.


  1. You raise some good points. I read a lot of the newer work (although it's mostly fantasy rather than sf these days) because publishers send me review copies, and hey, it's free books. I don't mind posting a review in exchange for a book. Left to my own devices, I tend to gravitate towards science fiction written during the Campbell era. Maybe that's an artifact of having read these writers in the reprint paperbacks of the 1970s and early 1980s. Still, I get more reading enjoyment from those stories than from much of what is published today.

    1. There are some modern writers who write with the attitude and verve of the Campbell era; most notably (and this is a very hasty and incomplete list) David Weber, Eric Flint, John Ringo, Alistair Reynolds, David Brin, Gregory Benford, and Lois McMaster Bujold. Many of these are published by Baen Books, and the ones who aren't are mostly published by Tor (the publishing company has a rather different philosophy than the website). Science fiction is actually in something of a Second Golden Age; the lit-critters have so far been rather unsuccesful at shutting it down.

    2. There are also a fair number of self-published writers from every demographic who seem to be writing space opera, military sf, steampunk, etc. with a fair amount of verve and sales. (Hugh Howey seems to have joined the greats already, or at least the darned good.)

      Now that there are things like Amazon Unlimited that allow unlimited reading on subscription, I assume that readers will be able to survey the new frontiers of the self-published field, and begin to point out who is great.