Most writers who publish in the science fiction field stay within the usual parameters of the field, continuing their careers writing what no one would doubt as standard science fiction. Isaac Asimov, Theodore Sturgeon, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein to name but four, wrote and published their works as science fiction, with the occasional foray into the fantastic–but not outright fantasy. Heinlein did write Glory Road which was science fiction using fantasy tropes that no one would mistake for aspects of a regular fantasy novel. That is to say, Heinlein’s Glory Road isn’t at all like one of Robert Jordan’s epic fantasies nor does it resemble the Arthurian fantasy of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s classic (and truly excellent novel),  The Mists of Avalon.

That said, some writers who might have started off in science fiction soon reveal their true selves when they start publishing what they really want to write about. The writers mentioned below publish their stories as science fiction (or as in one case, science fantasy), but the novels they write are clearly and unmistakably not science fiction but something else. (And nowhere else does the phrase caveat emptor truly apply!)

The first series that comes to mind is Gene Wolfe’s series The Book of the New Sun, the four novels of which were  originally published from 1980-1983. These were published to great acclaim as “science fantasy”, but having just finished a reread of the entire series, I can tell you that these books–masterpieces as everyone seems to think they are–are actually medieval/Arthurian fantasies. In fact, there is virtually no real “science fiction” in these books other than various tropes (ancient, dying sun, some artifacts found in the ground, an old space ship rusting on the horizon, etc.), especially the kind that gives a real sense that the characters’ actions are based on anything lived in a world of a gone moon, an ageing sun, and no volcanoes or mountain-building–all of which in the real world would have spelled doom for surface life long before the novels take place. Severian’s actions are those of a young man on a rite of passage as an apprentice Torturer. (Let’s set aside the morality of investing our interest in a character who tortures people. Remember, the violence in Wolfe is partially influenced by the overt violence in the early 1980s of Orson Scott Card. Card’s touch is everywhere in these books.) Still, Severian’s travels and adventures and storytelling (Book Two has a long fairy tale inserted in the middle of the novel that goes absolutely nowhere and adds nothing to the novel) are straight out of a YA rite-of-passage fantasy. There are ogres, monsters, ghosts, spells of all kinds–and sorcerers who tap into the “magic” of the past which is supposed to be remnants of ancient technologies. Wolfe, though, never fully uses the ancient past in his novel. We’re supposed to accept tacitly the vast antiquity that precedes this novel, but I really wanted to see it. As such, I was never once convinced that I was reading science fiction in these books. These are fantasies. The earth does not wobble on its axis (as it would if the moon were gone) and without vulcanism and tectonic plate induction in the ocean, carbon dioxide would not be removed from the atmosphere and recycled into the mantle where it can stay out of the atmosphere and not smother life. These things don’t matter to the fantasist. They didn’t matter to Wolfe.

Another writer well-praised (from every corner) is Lois McMaster Bujold. Her great work is the Miles Vorkosigan series. These are supposed to be military science fiction stories, but they are really at their core Romance novels. At first, they were military science fiction novels of a higher order than most. But the romance elements creep in very early on. Bujold tips her hand in the eloquence of her language (normally a good thing) and the attention to detail that only women would find attractive: balls, courts, military dress, palace intrigues, gossiping, and whispering in the corridors. All of this is right out of Alexander Dumas. True, these intrigues and flourishes do happen in the real world (or they used to), but Bujold, over time with novels such as Miles in Love and Cordelia’s Honor, you can see that Bujold is a closet romance writer. Not that this is a bad thing, but some of us aren’t that interested in romance. For me, personally, it takes much of the dramatic urgency out of a story if the hero is already married or if during a skirmish comes back to canoodle or wine or dine with his beloved before rushing back to the fray.

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s novels in their Liaden Universe® (from Baen Books) are also romance writers. Like the Vorkosigan novels, they begin as space adventures in the military science fiction genre, but their latest installments are romances only barely disguised with science fiction tropes and conceits. Lee’s and Miller’s stories in this series are carefully written, but I’d call them science fiction-lite because there really isn’t much tension in these stories. It’s as if, now that they’ve found their niche and their considerable audience, they want to play it safe. True, science fiction as a whole is indeed part of Romance Literature (if we go all the way back to the 18th century when novels were invented in England, with the Gothic novel leading the way), but some writers, by dint of their nature, turn to romance or the western or whatever. I’ve read several of the books in the Liaden Universe® and to me they are romances in disguise–with the couple coming together with a calm sense of inevitability rather than one preceded by blood, sweat, tears and some sort of significant loss. True, no science fiction or fantasy writer has the courage to end a novel the way Hemingway does in A Farewell to Arms, but then ours is an escapist genre. Which is also why we don’t have a Hemingway or Faulkner in our midst–but that’s another story.

Let me just say finally, that the most disappointing development in recent science fiction is the way in which many steampunk writers are now shifting over to writing about zombies. Because I am as interested in zombies as much as I’m interested in eating beets, I really avoid those steampunk novels with zombies in them. True, steampunk is considered a fantasy genre, but the best of what I’ve read in steampunk oscillates between good, extrapolative science fiction (drawn from what the Victorian age might have had to offer by way of science and invention) phrased in a fantasy story-telling mode. I have no interest in reading about zombies, fancy dress balls, smooching warriors, or star-lit dinners on the terrace overlooking a waiting army about to go to war.

Of course, I’ve offended everyone who’s read this far–simply by having an opinion. But this essay has been about truth-in-advertising. I’m too old to put up with indulgences by books claiming to be one thing, but are really something else. I like my science fiction advertised as such, nothing more.

–Paul Cook

 


No Banner to display

Related Posts

The Grand Masters’ Reading List

The Grand Masters’ Reading List

A propósito de la novela: “La sociedad de los improductivos”

A propósito de la novela: “La sociedad de los improductivos”

Sapper: A New Literary Movement & Manifesto

Sapper: A New Literary Movement & Manifesto

50 Comments

  1. March 25, 2014, 12:46 pm   / 

    […] I know that some guys likes their SF hard and manly. No fantasy elements, no romantic elements, and Asimov forbid you include anything which might appeal to women. One gentleman in particular, Paul Cook, seems particularly annoyed with Lois McMaster Bujold, who dares to write military SF in which she depicts functioning marriages between adult characters. […]

  2. January 15, 2014, 11:32 am   / 

    […] this stuff nicely). Then the relaunched Amazing Stories published a personal essay called “When is Science Fiction Not Science Fiction“–where the author, Paul Cook, complained that Lois McMaster Bujold’s work (which […]

  3. November 30, 2013, 8:01 am   / 

    […]  By “again,” I’m referring to Paul Cook’s little gem.  Although this one takes the […]

  4. November 17, 2013, 11:02 am   / 

    […] de ensámblese usted mismo Anime roundup 10/11/2013: Boob Tube Review: The Fox by Conrad Williams When Science Fiction is Not Science Fiction Springer’s “Science and Fiction” Series Launched! Dear Self-published authors, it’s your […]

  5. October 20, 2013, 4:36 pm   / 

    […] Peter F. Hamilton, author of Great North Road Abraham Valdelomar, ¿se anticipó a Stephen King? When Science Fiction is Not Science Fiction Sequential Wednesdays #23.2 – NYCC ’13 Interview With Lucy Knisley There’s Something About […]

  6. October 12, 2013, 4:07 pm   / 

    […] been a lot of discussion this week about Paul Cook’s post at Amazing Stories, in which he pontificates on why a lot of science fiction actually isn’t science fiction.  I […]

  7. October 12, 2013, 6:58 am   / 

    […] dos artículos controversiales. El primero, When Science Fiction is Not Science Fiction de Paul Cook, cuyas respuestas se volvieron casi ataques personales al autor de la nota. Yo […]

  8. September 29, 2013, 10:04 am   / 

    […] World Why I’m Not A Fan Of Tip Jars Why Science Fiction Has a Troubled Relationship With Utopias When Science Fiction is Not Science Fiction Ethical Considerations While Time Travelling Through Fiction WHY FREDERIK POHL THOUGHT I WAS A […]

  9. September 15, 2013, 11:06 pm   / 

    […] of weeks ago, over at Amazing Stories (TM), Paul Cook stirred up a great deal of controversy when he took some well known authors to task for writing what he viewed as something other than science fiction.  The well-known included Gene […]

  10. September 8, 2013, 10:59 am   / 

    […] to Nicky Magas’ blog, and found her comments on Paul Cook’s article over at Amazing Stories, “When Science Fiction is not Science Fiction.”  Which led me down the rabbit hole into internet […]

  11. September 8, 2013, 10:23 am   / 

    […] When Science Fiction is Not Science Fiction Apology & Circumstance The Language of Scandal: Why Do Speculative Fiction Writers Love Disgusting Scatological Insults? Interview with Chad Connell from The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones Sexual Harassment at Science Conventions: Who Let the Dogs Out? 2013 HUGO AWARDS (Winners and Nominees) De lo virtual a lo presencial: las tertulias en Hispanoamérica Deconstructing Horror: Haunted Houses There’s Something About Night Vale IAAA Gallery: Michael C. Turner – Galactic Visionary A Farewell To My Caped Crusader: An Ode to Batwoman Frederik Pohl 1919-2013 Saving Doctor Who – Episode 1: The Cliffhanger Rumour-tastic Noticias Literatura Ten Questions You Need to Ask Your Characters Before They Can Stay In Your Story The Copernicus Legacy: An Interview with Award-Winning Author Tony Abbott In Memory: An Interview with SFWA Grand Master Frederik Pohl Shameless Self Promotion: “Metropolis” exhibition in Wellington Our Ansible is Missing – Intellectual Property Theft in Science Fiction The Dangers of Crosstime Travel The Outsider: A New Science Fiction Award An Introduction to the Empire’s Corps Characters: Clare of Claymore The Man in the Torn Shirt Why Science Fiction Poetry is Embarrassingly Bad Women in Armour vs. Chicks in Chain-mail On Writing Science Fiction Theatre – part one Marketing 101: Strategies for Growing your Email List Frederik Pohl The Conjuring (2013) Playing the Short Game: How to Sell Your Short Fiction (Part 30) Anthropomorphism Marketing 101: Authors and Reading Communities Awards! Awards! Science Fiction Poetry Awards! […]

  12. September 8, 2013, 4:46 am   / 

    […] else happened this week? There was the “not in my science fiction” article by Paul Cook that stirred up the community a bit. In the past I’ve been guilty of tossing out […]

  13. September 7, 2013, 9:41 pm   / 

    […] science fiction/fantasy/speculative fiction community, there seems to be a bit of a kerfuffle over this article by Paul Cook which appeared in Amazing Stories.  I must confess I was under the impression that it […]

  14. September 7, 2013, 9:39 pm   / 

    […] science fiction/fantasy/speculative fiction community, there seems to be a bit of a kerfuffle over this article by Paul Cook which appeared in Amazing Stories.  I must confess I was under the impression that it […]

  15. September 6, 2013, 8:31 am   / 

    […] then leads us to this lovely little gem of an essay: When Science Fiction is Not Science Fiction My favorite part? When it becomes clear in the comments that Paul Cook probably hasn’t […]

  16. September 6, 2013, 2:35 am   / 

    […] Amazing Stories, Paul Cook rants about SF which is – at least in Paul Cook’s opinion – not SF. This includes such luminaries of the genre as Gene Wolfe (just Arthurian fantasy), Lois McMaster […]

  17. September 5, 2013, 8:30 pm   / 

    […] favourite – an astonishingly incoherent post by one Paul Cook over at Amazing Stories on When Science Fiction Isn’t Science Fiction (which, surprise! turns out to be if it contains romance elements and is therefore written for […]

  18. Profile photo of Steve Davidson
    September 5, 2013, 12:11 pm   / 

    I have allowed all but one of the comments from yesterday to post to this article. Comments are still off.

  19. Profile photo of Steve Davidson
    September 5, 2013, 12:10 pm   / 

    “The problem here is that “science fiction” has both general and narrow definitions, and readers’ tastes frequently favor a particular subset of the narrow. The general, popular meaning of science fiction is best demonstrated by the regular occurrence, when I worked in a bookstore, of customers asking for the science-fiction section, and then adding, “You know … like Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones.” The narrow definition would be works whose events turn on the presence of non-existent technology–with or without personal relationships. The subset of “the kind of science fiction I like and approve of” is whatever the reader wants to make it; in this case, that appears to be predominately what is referred to as “men’s action,” a subgenre that tends to focus on the militaristic. Close to it is the kind of “hard” SF that is often not much more than a laundry list of gadgetry and pseudophysics. Don’t make the mistake of allowing your own tastes to define a genre, as above; this is an exercise in futility. Not liking books with personal relationships (I gather that you have a distaste for any ties closer than “Brothers in Arms” [ironically, a Bujold Vorkosigan title]) or romantic aspects is your prerogative, but to insist that these be excluded from any field of literature is … strange … and certainly not supported by most contemporary readers or writers (who feel that they, too have valid definitions of SF)–and is perhaps more self-revealing than in any way a useful or rigorous evaluation of what constitutes the genre. Most readers are involved in or have had romantic relationships and families; a book that ignores these aspects of personhood always seems strangely flat and disappointing. It interests me as a writer to hear a reader explain their personal tastes, but it is an exercise in futility when they attempt to use those tastes to set limits for others.”

    From F.J. Bergmann

  20. September 5, 2013, 9:34 am   / 

    […] yesterday, I happened across this little nugget of hotly contested opinion. I’m not going to argue Mr. Cook’s points because, (a) it’s an opinion piece and […]

  21. September 5, 2013, 7:00 am   / 

    […] over at Amazing Stories, there’s a piece titled When Science Fiction is not Science Fiction. It’s a personal view of some examples of books and series generally viewed as science […]

  22. September 4, 2013, 9:27 pm   / 

    […] all in reference to this bit of idiocy, but that’s […]

  23. Profile photo of Luna
    September 4, 2013, 6:57 pm   / 

    I actually think I get what Paul is trying to convey, however inelegantly. The problem lies in the fact that, in order to shelve books, the publisher has to give it a genre classification. And now more than ever, it seems that writers are leaving genre parameters in the dust and doing whatever they want, which is a beautiful thing. And people who like “hard SF” are getting confused or something, by this crossover sort of writing. And I guess they get snookered into reading something they didn’t mean to read? Because ew, romance!

    I’m not sure of any of this, of course, but this is how I read the essay. Because the mention of how something should actually be considered a romance seems to come up often.

    Paul, I don’t know if you’ve actually read modern romances, but someone like my grandma (rest her soul) who was a Romance Reader didn’t have the slightest interest in sci-fi-ified stories. Shelving those books in the Romance section would have confused her, because ew, sci-fi!

    Maybe you could start a petition for bookstores to start a whole new section any time stories cross genres. It’ll be ultra confusing to everyone else, but it’ll solve the problem of “romance disguised as science fiction”.

    • Profile photo of Luna
      September 4, 2013, 7:09 pm   / 

      Forgot to add (sorry, mods, for the extra posting), that my comments are made with absolute sincerity with a touch of waggishness. No other emotions whatsoever.

  24. Profile photo of Steve Fahnestalk
    September 4, 2013, 6:41 pm   / 

    While I disagree with some of what Paul Cook has to say, I support his right to his opinion–and his right to EXPRESS his opinion. All of us who blog for Amazing Stories are expressing our singular opinions, not those of Amazing Stories or of any other blogger.

    What some of you fail to realize is that his opinion is as valid *for him* as yours is *for you*! I see some of this “controversy” as being part of the modern “sense of entitlement.” Where I live (Vancouver, BC, Canada) many of the drivers feel entitled to do whatever they please–and I see a lot of that on the internet as well.

    You are entitled to have a differing opinion from mine, from Paul Cook’s, from anyone else’s–and to express that opinion. But please, don’t think you are entitled to attack someone’s opinion, especially as noted, in ad hominem attacks, because you disagree. Just say you think he’s wrong, and why you think he’s wrong and let it go at that.

    As the President (Jack Nicholson) said, in “Mars Attacks”–“Why can’t we all just get along?”
    :)

  25. Profile photo of Flewellyn
    September 4, 2013, 6:26 pm   / 

    Might it be, possibly, that rather than these works being “not science-fiction”, they are simply a different form? That the genre has changed since the days of Azimov, Heinlein, and Clarke, and that indeed, this genre is more than capable of supporting a variety of stories and perspectives?

    Might it not also be the case that writers whose work you dislike for whatever reason, nonetheless are entitled to call their work science-fiction, and need not seek your permission to do so?

    Certainly, you are entitled to think of the works of Priest and Bujold as “not proper sci-fi” if you wish, but I confess to some curiosity why you expect the rest of the reading public to follow suit. I daresay the backlash you have experienced here is not due to you “simply having an opinion”, as you so disingenuously claim, but that you have conveyed in this essay a desire to have that opinion regarded as canonical truth, as the standard by which all science-fiction fans should judge the genre.

    Again, you are welcome to judge and read science-fiction however you wish, but when your published opinion on the matter is the literary critical equivalent of “Damn you kids, get off my lawn!”, it should come as little surprise if you experience some backlash.

  26. Profile photo of William Shunn
    September 4, 2013, 5:20 pm   / 

    Mr. Cook, you tip your hand early on, with your risibly shallow reading of Wolfe, that the insights to follow will be, at best, ill-informed. Romance and intrigue have no place in science fiction? I suppose Heinlein never included a bit of romance or military dress in his work, nor Asimov any palace intrigue.

    Science fiction as you paint it, its precious bodily fluids uncontaminated by any less virile genre, would be a dreary, boring place indeed. To truly be a literature of humanity and human potential, SF must address human concerns, and the human experience encompasses far more than just racing through space and blasting BEMs. Tor editor Moshe Feder once passed a useful analogy along to me, that of science fiction as the “universal recipient” of literature, able to take in and incorporate elements from any other genre of fiction. If science fiction is to represent more than one tiny, narrow slice of human experience, it must be able to represent any aspect of the human experience. It must, at the highest level, be able to do anything that can be done in any other genre, whether romance, mystery, or mainstream literary.

    But that’s all pretty much beside the point. You try to cloak your opinion in fancy justifications, but your argument basically boils down to this: “I don’t like girly stuff in my science fiction.” That’s fine, if close-minded, as far as personal preferences go, but when you attempt to justify closing science fiction off (incorrectly) to elements that “only women would find attractive,” you expose yourself as a sexist of the rankest stripe. Science fiction is infinitely bigger and more inclusive that you would allow it to be, and that’s a damn good thing.

    • Profile photo of Paul Cook
      September 4, 2013, 5:33 pm   / 

      Where in my article did I say that I did not like relationships in sf? Where in my article did I say that “I don’t like girly stuff in my science fiction.”? You misconstrued my entire article. It was about how some writers (named specifically) were writing other kinds of stories, other than science fiction. It was about how some writers let their true predilections come out eventually. Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, competent as they are, are writing disguised romances. Your conclusion that I don’t like girly stuff in my science fiction is a conclusion you made. I did not make it. (In fact, one of my very favorite sf novels is Pamela Sergeant’s The Shore of Women.) I am very precise in my wording, or I try to be. All the authors you mention are my favorites. Heinlein, Asimov, Sturgeon, Kornbluth, Pohl, Dick–all of them have women in their stories, but they remain science fiction stories. That’s my point, which you missed. Stick to the argument and leave your ad hominem attacks out.

      • Profile photo of HCR
        HCR
        September 4, 2013, 6:38 pm   / 

        Lee & Miller, “competent as they are, are writing disguised romances”?

        What? Disguised? How? Where?

        You seem to think something can only be one thing or another, but if there is anything SF is (& has been for most of it’s history AFAICT), it is *Inclusive*.

        Have you ever read any of the “in Death” by Nora Roberts (writing as “J. D. Robb”)? Those are unabashedly “Romance” (though I understand that, for books identifying that as their primary genre, they may be little light on the explicit sex), but however “soft” & “rubbery” the science, they are also, by most any reasonable definition (IOW, not yours) _also_ “Science Fiction”.

      • Profile photo of HCR
        HCR
        September 4, 2013, 6:46 pm   / 
  27. Profile photo of Steve Davidson
    September 4, 2013, 5:10 pm   / 

    The thread of commentary here is in danger of being shut down. Our rule here at Amazing Stories is – address the subject of the post, NOT the author of the post.

    NOT. THE. AUTHOR.

    I certainly understand that some (perhaps most) readers will have a response to Paul’s assertions that are diametrically opposed to his contentions. If so, there are three proper ways to respond:

    1. write your own post refuting his arguments. Publish it on your site or send it along to Amazing as a guest post.
    2. ignore it except for discussion within your personal in-group which will serve to reinforce your own viewpoint without challenging it in any way
    3. address the points in a logical, adult fashion in the comments.

    I won’t begrudge Paul the right to respond in kind when he is attacked personally.

    If, instead of discussing Mr. Cook’s clothing, his knowledge of the field, his likely personal motivations of anything other than the subject of the post, YOU are responsible for dragging the discussion down into meaningless, pointless, emotional twaddle, not Paul.

    • Profile photo of Zeroth
      September 4, 2013, 5:16 pm   / 

      The author of this piece has not read the novels he is criticizing. This reflects poorly on your organization and website. I have offered several points showing this, and have found contradictions in what he is saying.

      He is required at this point to either concede he has not read the novels, thus making his criticisms shallow and uninformed, or prove he has read them by providing substantive detail from across the series.

      • Profile photo of HCR
        HCR
        September 4, 2013, 6:33 pm   / 

        I’m with Zeroth, Mr Cook has panned Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga, but didn’t even bother to do such basic fact checking as popping onto wikipedia or the ISFDB to ascertain which books were “novels” & which were collections thereof.

        As for attacking Mr Cook, well I tried to attack his argument (at least initially), but since the validity of his article rests upon the validity of his presentation as an “expert” or “authority”, & I find it difficult to separate them, especially since he proceeded to throw himself in front of all the attacks on his “work”.

  28. Profile photo of HCR
    HCR
    September 4, 2013, 4:59 pm   / 

    Sorry, only thought of this after hitting “Post” on my last reply.

    Are you (Paul) really ascribing the fact that we don’t agree with you, or hold your views to bear any relationship to reality, to “The Greater Internet F*ckwad Theory” (ok, you didn’t say that, but it is a useful shorthand for what appears to be your basis for dismissing our criticisms).

  29. Profile photo of Zeroth
    September 4, 2013, 3:27 pm   / 

    Clearly, you haven’t actually read the books in question. Having read all of Bujold’s books, multiple times, you’re being very mistaken.

    First of all, you’re getting basic details wrong: “True, these intrigues and flourishes do happen in the real world (or they used to), but Bujold, over time with novels such as Miles in Love and Cordelia’s Honor, you can see that Bujold is a closet romance writer” Cordelia’s Honor is the first novel of the Vorkosigan Saga. So how is it “over time”?

    “Bujold tips her hand in the eloquence of her language (normally a good thing) and the attention to detail that only women would find attractive: balls, courts, military dress, palace intrigues, gossiping, and whispering in the corridors. All of this is right out of Alexander Dumas.” Wait. How is it details only women could like, when ALEXANDER DUMAS did it? A lot? And well? How is it that an author with multiple books on Classical Must-Read lists is somehow… I don’t even know. You’re so self-contradictory, its ridiculous.

    Was Dumas a woman or something? I don’t get this.

    But what am I to expect when someone approaches this topic from the standpoint of bigotry and misogyny you seem to be evincing here. It always results in contradictory and nonsensical statements.

    Go read the books. Read them a second time. Then come back and prove you read them by offering an essay on how Miles Vorkosigan’s disability intersects with his class privilege, and how it affects his outlook, how people respond to him, and his motivations. Discuss how his interpersonal growth affects his perception of his disability, and how he relates to others for bonus points.

    But you couldn’t, could you. That would require you to actually read a woman’s work. *sneer*

    • Profile photo of Paul Cook
      September 4, 2013, 4:46 pm   / 

      So, just because I criticize a woman’s writing I’m a misogynist?

      Explain to me how I’ve insulted the personhood of Lois McMaster Bujold? Unless, of course, you think Ms. Bujold _is_ her novels, which I find a fascinating science fiction conceit of her own. Also, what you perceive as an insult, was a merely an informed comment based on a critical assessment of the works of hers that I’ve read. (The same for Orson Scott Card, Gene Wolfe, and any other writers with whom I have quibbles regarding their fiction. I would never, ever insult their selves, their families, their religions, or their gender.)

      I do understand the strategy, though. By accusing me of being a misogynist, you shut down all possibility of an informed analysis of any woman’s work. That’s a refuge I’ve seen critics in literature take for over 30 years, at least since the mid-1980s. It doesn’t work that way. Any work of art can be criticized, regardless of the gender of who wrote them, painted them, composed them, etc.

      Unless you can make a case otherwise.

  30. Profile photo of HCR
    HCR
    September 4, 2013, 3:22 pm   / 

    Unlike “Debra NM” I have not bothered to read any of your other columns, nor will I ever again willingly & knowingly read anything penned by you.

    The reason for this is because your entire article is hooey, not only does it display an overweening arrogance, but severe intellectual dishonesty.

    You have the gall to attack these works & their authors for not being (or writing) “Science Fiction”, & then attempt to show they aren’t SF by identifying their faults as things which *have no bearing* on their status as “Science Fiction”, “Science”, or even “Fiction” (except for a couple of throwaways regarding Wolfe & Heinlein).

    You choose to claim these stories & series aren’t SF because they have plots & themes that, apparently, don’t appeal _to YOUR tastes_.

    You don’t address their merits as SF, or even (really) as stories, you even ignore Clarke’s Law when you claim that fantastical elements (where those are present) disqualify a work from the genre.

    Then, on top of that, you actually have the gall to present “but I’d call them science fiction-lite because there really isn’t much tension in these stories” in your description of the Liaden Universe works by Lee & Miller, which is very strange, because “Tension” isn’t an element that qualifies or disqualifies a story from the SF genre (or any other that I am aware of).

    As for your repeated, unsubtle digs at “Romance”, umm… Actually, yeah, you lost me there, where, if I may ask, did you learn a definition of “Science Fiction” that stated, or even implied, that allowing a story to have influences from other genres precluded it being identified as “Science Fiction”? & while I’m asking, maybe you could point me at commercially published work of SF (even if it’s by you) that doesn’t have any elements but those of “Science Fiction” in it?

    And before you respond “But I didn’t say that”, no, not in so many words, but you implied it sufficiently strongly & unsubtly that I think an attempt to disown it would be disingenious.

    • Profile photo of Paul Cook
      September 4, 2013, 4:26 pm   / 

      I understand where you’re coming from. Anyone who posts any opinion on the internet is blatantly and flagrantly wrong. But I’m correct here. The books I mention as romances are romances. They are also very “light” in gravitas and absolutely devoid of metaphor. The Wolfe especially is pure fantasy. (And that it’s a classic baffles me, but what do I know. I only have a Ph.D. and have been teaching literature for over 35 years.) And of course you hate my guts. I expressed an opinion. That’s a capital crime, isn’t it. We mustn’t offend anyone these days. Remember the Japanese aphorism: The nail that sticks up gets pounded down. Thanks for the pounding.

      • Profile photo of Zeroth
        September 4, 2013, 4:35 pm   / 

        “light in gravitas”… Really? Barrayar is “light in gravitas”?

        Please, prove you read the books. Give us a basic timeline, and explain why certain events near the end are “light in gravitas”. I sincerely look forward to your explanation.

        • Profile photo of Paul Cook
          September 4, 2013, 4:50 pm   / 

          No, you don’t “sincerely” look forward to my explanation. And, no, I don’t have to give you a timeline of the Barrayar books, or when I read them and how they operate critically. They’re light science fiction entertainment. Bujold is very good at what she does, but she’s operating well within a military sf tradition where nothing is lost in the end (except minor throwaway characters) and all is well. This is why we have no Hemingways or a William Faulkner or even a war novel such as All Is Quiet on the Western Front. I think The Forever War put an end to the military sf novel. The rest are just vicarious thrills. But, hey, you’re the expert.

          But, no. I do not have to explain myself to you or anyone.

          • Profile photo of Zeroth
            September 4, 2013, 4:56 pm   / 

            “Barrayar” is the name of one of the novels, either the second or third depending on how you count things. Typically, its just part 3 of the “Shards of Honor” Omnibus novel.

            You have not read the novels you are criticizing. This is the point. Your every sentence reveals your lack of knowledge about them.

            You have not read the novels. Its pretty damn clear, so why the hell are you criticizing them as if you had *had*?

      • Profile photo of HCR
        HCR
        September 4, 2013, 4:55 pm   / 

        Wait, you’re claiming that the fact you Piled it Higher and Deeper (presumably in the “Literature” you purport to teach) *enhances* the validity of your opinions???

        Let me guess, you also believe SF peaked with the “New Wave”?

        • Profile photo of Paul Cook
          September 4, 2013, 5:08 pm   / 

          HCR,
          Actually, I’m going to treat your question seriously. Forgive me. I’m not too sure when SF peaked. Seriously. I began reading sf deeply and seriously in the late 1960s and noticed then how many of the stories were filled with metaphor and could be taken both realistically and metaphorically. Philip K. Dick’s Clans of the Alphane Moons works great as sf but it’s also about Modern Man’s vast alienation in the modern world. Even stories from the Martian Chronicles reflect Cold War angst even though they take place on Mars. The last great sf story that, to me, resonated with metaphor was Terry Bisson’s “macs” which was about American’s natural desire to kill someone who’s harmed us. My blog entry that’s upset you and everyone else is about this shift that I see in science fiction. But the New Wave had its pluses and minuses as well. It’s good to stretch one’s wings–when publishers allow. This happened between 1903 and about 1930 when Arnold Schoenberg created the Second Viennese School of 12 tone composing or Serialism. He wanted to remove from music the standard expectations of theme, counter-theme, and resolution centered around C major compositions. It was a style that every fiddled with but really didn’t catch on. What did catch on was a sparkling use of atonality that can be found in all the great composers of the 20th and 21st century (including Prokofieff and Shostakovich, my two favorites). Right now, all science fiction is rather dull to me. No one is stretching their wings. I do think our best writing is coming from Kij Johnson, Mercurio D. Rivera, and one or two others. But as you can see, these are just opinions. And for voicing them, I’m to be condemned.

          • Profile photo of Zeroth
            September 4, 2013, 5:10 pm   / 

            And how does this actually answer HCR’s question?

            In terms of being on-topic, I give this a 1 out of 5. In terms of content, a 2 out of 5, for failing to make a coherent and tied together point.

  31. Profile photo of Debra NM
    September 4, 2013, 2:23 pm   / 

    To be fair, I made myself read about 5 of your articles. I then took an antacid, went outside to clear the stench and then returned. You write like some old man running around with his fly down to get attention because nothing else you go will get any. It is sad, and yet I felt the need to give you at least a head’s up. Look up misogyny. Instead of writing to define science fiction for others and declaring things with relationships of the romantic kind as NOT science fiction, spend time defining both your need to narrow the field into what you think you can write, and how much misogyny impacts said ability.
    With that.. as long as you are prominent on this site, I not only won’t be, but will twitter, facebook (yeah I read your nonsensical drivel blaming lack of manners on Facebook– reality check, talk to professors from 40 yrs ago, the experiences were the same) and I am even going to PIN you in your own special “Not worth reading” folder on Pinterest. Get over yourself.

    • Profile photo of Paul Cook
      September 4, 2013, 4:28 pm   / 

      See my comment above. I know I’ve offended you, only because I have had an opinion. Of course I don’t read the same way you do and I believe everything I’ve written and have made a case for everything I’ve written. And, I’m really scared of what you can do to me on the internet. Go for it.

  32. Profile photo of DeAnn Rossetti
    September 4, 2013, 2:13 pm   / 

    I disagree, Mr Cook, with your entire assessment. I’ve been reading science fiction and fantasy since 1967 (and reading fantasy 3 years before that) when I was a child. I grew up reading Heinlein (whose work became nauseatingly sexist and misogynistic by my teen years) Arthur C Clark, Azimov, Zelazny, McCaffrey, Sturgeon, Cherryh, Herbert and many others. I was then, and have remained, a voracious reader who took science fiction classes in both high school and college. I have an MA in Writing and 27 years of experience as a journalist, (and I’ve written professional book reviews for 10 years) so I am not unfamiliar with reviewing books and placing them in a specific genre. Sharon Lee and Steve Miller and Lois McMaster Bujold do write science fiction, but the fact that they have secondary storylines with human relations interwoven between the speculative science does NOT disqualify them from the ranks of science fiction authors. Where there are humans, or even aliens like Liadens, there is bound to be some sort of relationships going on, because that is what most species do–they intermingle, they discuss, they learn about one another, and they become involved in the lives of others. That’s inevitable. It’s also in nearly every single science fiction book I’ve ever read, and I’ve read hundreds of them. Heinlein had many relationships in his books, in fact, in some of his books there was more ‘relating’ than there was science (“Friday” for example, or even “Stranger in a Strange Land”). Theodore Sturgeon had serious romance in To Marry Medusa and Venus Plus X and Godbody. If you want to talk “new” science fiction writers, John Scalzi, whom I’ve interviewed and reviewed his works professionally, has romance aplenty in his “Old Man’s War” series, which is about as science fiction as you can get, complete with strange, new worlds, rockets, people’s conscience put into bodies that use photosynthesis to live and have computers implanted in their brains, etc. One of humanities basic drives is to procreate, to make a new generation to populate the planet. That’s the same on pretty much every planet and with every species I’ve encountered in science fiction. Alien races may go about it differently, but they still interact with one another and still do make more of themselves somehow. Sharon Lee and Steve Millers Liadens are certainly science fiction characters, as they fly spaceships, they encounter aliens, they have a tree with unique psychic abilities and they do battle with various bad aliens throughout their series. PLUS, they discuss the intricacies of the mathematics that are required for pilots and they have an origin story with nearly omnipotent alien beings who bring the universe into being. That’s right out of Heinlein’s playbook, if not Clark and Azimov. There are also robots, psychic animals called Norbears and a host of other science fiction creations in their work, including a ship with artificial intelligence. I’ve read ALL of Lee and Millers works, and I can state without hesitation that they are science fiction, as are Lois McMaster Bujold’s ground-breaking works.

    • Profile photo of Paul Cook
      September 4, 2013, 4:33 pm   / 

      DeAnn, please, please explain to me what “ground” Lois Bujold has broken with her writing. She’s writing in the 1940s Astounding tradition of space adventures tinted with romance. That’s it. If you want ground breaking, read John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar or his The Long Result or his Shockwave Rider. Don’t bore me with telling me these mediocre writers are ground-breaking. They’re just writing pulp fiction–pure entertainment. Lift away all the standard tropes and conceits from Bujold’s writing and you have stories where we know the hero gets his heroine and all will be well. Our writers have lost the courage to tell a story such as Thomas Disch’s Genocides or any one of Philip K. Dick’s novels. But, then, publishers publish what they think sells. Thus, romance, thus zombies. But that’s my opinion. And the fact that I have a divergent opinion makes me the most hated person on the internet.

  33. Profile photo of Otto66
    September 4, 2013, 11:44 am   / 

    Thank you, Mr. Cook, for calling ‘em as ya see ‘em. As far as any offended parties, I hope some will post. Be interesting to see who disagrees with what you’ve written and how they defend the any of the series you’ve mentioned.
    Looking forward to another go round of this sort.

Comments are now closed on this post.