Imagine a man. A man who thinks he loves Science Fiction. He also thinks he’s a writer of same. He fancies himself being one of the Smart People in the field. He talks what he believes to be Smart People talk. He reads the Smart People blogs. He name-drops the Smart People names. He even has a home with one of the Smart People media outlets — no guessing as to how much (if anything) The Guardian pays him. He’s tremendously concerned with making sure that the Smart People see him being Smart. Because that’s the key to being an Important Guy.
And yet, when Damien G. Walter goes “Derp!” in a forest, and nobody is around to hear him . . . does he make a sound?
Let’s face it, Science Fiction and Fantasy has a surfeit of commentary. Everyone who ever dreamed of writing spec fic lit — or writing lit about spec fic lit — has established a digital outpost for himself. Could be a blog. Could be a collective “genre news” outlet. Maybe it’s simply a Twitter or Instagram account? Thus you will never, ever lack for jabbering about SF/F books, movies, and television.
Especially jabber from people suffering a paucity of actual reading depth. They don’t know speculative literature, as much as they know the conversations and Names that get circulated by the Smart People. Which lends itself perfectly to performing as a gadfly. But does not, I am afraid, gift said gadfly with the ability to make observations which make sense.
Consider Damien G. Walter’s assertion:
If you want to make the world a better place, you need a space to imagine what that place might look like. From George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984, way back to Thomas More’s Utopia and even further,
It’s been said before, by better men than me. But somebody really needs to remind 21st century Western progressives that Orwell was writing cautionary tales, not instruction manuals. 1984 remains a chillingly current examination of the power of the tyrannical mindset. Reading 1984, one is reminded of this observation, by C.S. Lewis, “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
Nobody — and I mean absolutely nobody — should want to live in the world of 1984.
Just as nobody should want to endure a society akin to the allegory of Animal Farm — which is, in fact, a dire criticism of the collectivist state, and the eventual degeneracy of both leadership and conditions, in any environment that goes down the Marxist path.
Now, being very much a moral busybody, and a Socialist, Damien G. Walter might like the fact that his iteration of busybodiness is in vogue. Our entertainment spaces presently endure a locust-like plague of activists and haranguers, all eager to wag their fingers and scold us for being Wrongfans of Wrongfun. Maybe Damien sees himself among the Great Minds who will remain safely on the other side of the glass — from us common proles? Damien, the Outer Party man who is desperately playing at being Inner Party.
Or maybe Damien hasn’t read any Orwell at all? He just knows the name, and he knows two of Orwell’s enduring titles, and he drops them into his article — hoping that if he salts his bland mashed-potato progressive lit observations with enough Smart People sign posts, he will himself be magically transformed into the picture of a Smart Person.
Consider the fact that Damien G. Walter praises Samuel Delaney — infamous author of Hogg — while condemning John Norman’s Gor novels as being, “little more than misogynistic S&M fantasies.”
Better check yourself, Damien. Apparently some misogynistic S&M fantasies are more hip than others. Or must we simply assume that depraved sadism and sexual perversion (in literature) is cool when the Smart People do it?
Probably the latter. Natch. Got it.
Moving on, we’re treated to explosive diarrhetic diatribes against Military Science Fiction et al:
During it’s Golden Age sci-fi became deeply associated with the values of the American dream. As those values have unwound America’s conservatives have retreated to sci-fi as a safe space to indulge their nationalist military fantasies. Amazon’s Author Rank for science fiction is packed with military SF novels, most of them repeating the same themes of Earth under attack by aliens, through to full fledged survivalist “prepper” fantasies, most self published and appealing to a small but committed audience of Donald Trump supporting SF readers. Given their aggressive, paranoid tendencies it’s hardly surprising these fans are fighting an imaginary war against the other tribes of sci-fi by protesting the Hugo awards.
Setting aside the fact that values cannot “unwind” in the manner described — situations can unwind, without question, but this is why it’s a good idea to have and know your values; so that they carry you through those times when all others about you lose their minds — Damien seems to be claiming that he can read both hearts and minds. Everyone who reads Mil-SF is a Donald Trump supporter? Is that why Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson’s prospects got a colossal shot in the arm, the moment the Republican Party blundered into ensuring Hillary Clinton’s election, by putting ultimate-RINO Donald Trump at the top of their platform? Those “Donald Trump fans”?
Methinks Damien not only doesn’t know any Donald Trump voters, he doesn’t really know many Mil-SF readers (or authors) either.
Now, he’s close about one thing. There is a rhetorical war going on in SF/F right now. Mostly it’s about fans and authors and publishers who like to have fun, fending off the busybodies talked about earlier in this article: the moral and intellectual scolds who come to tell us all we’re Wrongfans having Wrongfun. Of which Damien G. Walter is a tedious, but perfect, example. But this rhetorical war stretches across the entirety of the field, and is not limited to Mil-SF. Much as World War Two was not limited to North Africa, or the Pacific. This rhetorical war is about style, and taste, and belonging, and recognition, and whether or not SF/F as a coherent form of literature is even going to survive the next twenty years — when there is no “center” to hold it all together.
The rest is merely Damien G. Walter performing a chicken-cluck dance, wherein he demonstrates (again, for the sake of trying to appear like one of the Smart People) his distaste for the un-progressive purveyors of “nationalist military fantasies.”
Does Star Trek fall into this category? For Damien? It’s hard to determine. After all, if 1984 is a progressive fantasy that somehow shines a light on the desirable future of mankind, surely Star Trek — with its regimented space navy, forever defending the Federation (and especially Earth) against alien invaders of all varieties — qualifies, under Damien’s “nationalist military fantasy” criteria.
I mean, my God, Gene Roddenberry flew bomber missions in World War Two! It doesn’t get more nationalist or military than that.
And here we all thought Star Trek was trying to portray a positive future. P’shaw!
But wait, isn’t Grandpa Heinlein also a purveyor of nationalism and military fantasies? Damien praised Grandpa Heinlein, earlier in the article. Probably because progressives love to draft dead conservatives, much as Teresa Nielsen-Hayden used Jim Baen’s corpse as her socket puppet — when it suited her.
But wait, Damien not only reads minds, he can tell the future too:
With Charlie Jane Anders All The Birds In The Sky and Daniel Jose Older’s Shadowshaper among a wave of recent titles presenting challenging visions and re-imaginings of our reality, progressive fantasy seems more and more like the future of sci-fi.
This is a common conceit of all Leftist rhetoric — that history is a more or less straight line trending forever in whatever direction Leftists are infatuated with this decade. Considering that Damien put 1984 among these supposed positive re-imaginings of reality, it’s a bit tough to discern the “win” Damien is prognosticating for the field. Again, 1984 is a cautionary tale. And Animal Farm even moreso. If the progressives are re-imagining our reality in positive ways, the citation of Orwell seems oxymoronic at best. Or maybe totalitarian hell-holes are a desirable end state? Certainly Venezuela qualifies, as a perfect example of the inevitable outcome — when men of Damien’s flavor are given access to the levers of power.
Is Venezuela the kind of “positive re-imagining” the Smart People (to whose ranks Damien aspires) have in mind?
We don’t really know. Damien spends so much time salting his bland mashed-potato article — namesy nameses, droppsy woo! — it’s tough to grasp what his actual opinion of the cited contents may be. Again, one senses that Damien has not read any of it. He’s merely scanned the Smart People conversations, and believes that recursively regurgitating other peoples’ shit, itself substitutes for cogent commentary.
And if he thinks YA “adventurous coming of age tales” can’t hold the attention of older readers, there’s this little series called Harry Potter that’s worth noting. Damien might want to jump on that one. He even talked up J.K. Rowling, among the commercial fictioneers. Harry Potter has only blazed an eight-lane interstate through the heart of the Science Fiction ghetto, demonstrating conclusively that not only will adults flock to a solidly imaginative and evocative YA universe, they will drive that universe to the top of the charts.
Of course, every stopped clock is right twice a day. Damien got this one on the nose: Lit Fic dilettantism does breed some dull books. Mostly because Lit Fic dilettantes don’t actually read much SF/F, and mistakenly believe that it’s “easy” to write and come up with original, or at least interesting, SF/F-ish works — while still thudding us in the face with the usual Lit-sy navel-gazing, angst, ennui, and nihilism. Putting my finger to the wind, I get the sense that many SF/F readers love SF/F precisely because it’s not pretentiously MFA’d to the nth degree.
And lots of SF/F authors want the approval of the “proper” Lit Fic scene?
I’d rather have a root canal, sans anesthetic.
Again, it’s tough to tease out actual analysis, when the bulk of Damien’s doggerel seems to involve mistaking bling-wordsieness, for substance. A common enough malady among those with nothing interesting to say, but for whom the pretense of meaning is paramount. Are there tribes in SF/F? Without question. Do they look anything like the fat-crayon scribble pictures Damien has gifted us with?
I was talking about this over two years ago.
Draw your own conclusions. You will undoubtedly do better than Damien.