Traditional SF Has Become The SF For People Who Hate SF

I wasn’t going to write about SF this week, but this showed up. Vox posted some commentary about the recent BookExpo in NYC,   Apparently the convention is shrinking.

It’s not really that surprising.  That picture of Mr. Scalzi and rest of the Tor authors sort of points at the problem.  They are not the kind of people who truly love SF.  In many ways SF has been taken over, at least in the mainstream, by people who write SF for people who hate SF, or at least the SF that was. The following from a blogger explaining why he’s dropping his Asimov’s subscription makes the point.

Sadly, Sheila Williams and Asimov’s do not align with my tastes at all. Actually I would like to know who her tastes align with because based on the stories in the last few issues I’m beginning to think she doesn’t actually like Science Fiction or Fantasy.

I have a digital subscription. Correction, had because I’m way over waiting for an actual SFF story from this magazine. The latest issue was the last I will ever read. Not one of the stories was an actual SFF piece. The only SF was background window dressing or downright stupid. The crowning achievement of the magazine was an idiotic novella about a gay waiter who traveled to Colonial times pretending to be an angel and getting the locals addicted to meth so he can take back Paul Reveres silver spoons. A premise so stupid and insulting I wanted to toss my Kindle.

A douchey love story about an artist that name drops Art History 101 names and pines about the tough girl that left his ass is still a love story. Just because the setting is the near future doesn’t make it SF. If you take the Great Gatsby and change the setting to the year 2099 and make the cars hover , it’s still the same book and not Sci Fi.

As a bunch of people have pointed out, traditional SF has committed the cardinal sin on it’s readers, it’s boring.

reread my post  on Asimov’s and realized that in my guns blazing critique I left out my main problem with the magazine. The stories, for the most part, are well written, and beyond my amateur writing to technically critique. But, and this is a massive bconanut. They are boring. The worst thing a story can do is bore me and I had to force myself to finish most of them.

I became a fan of Science Fiction and Fantasy a bit different than a lot of people. Narnia and Lord of the Rings were not my opening introduction. For me, the gatekeeper of strange new worlds was Conan the Barbarian and Dungeons & Dragons. I devoured SFF in the form of 90s pulp television like Hercules, Xena, and the animated Conan show. I loved going back to the gritty SFF of the 80s; Conan, Heavy Metal, Robocop, Total Recall, Alien, Predator, and other great pieces of fiction.

Some of the fondest memories of my childhood are reminiscent of the opening to Stranger Things. My brother and our friends spending countless hours lost exploring damp dungeons and putting vile creatures to the sword. Fantasy was dark, mysterious, yet romantic and heroic. Worlds filled with dark dungeons, treacherous mountains, exotic jungles, and grotesque alien beasts.

The Fantasy and Science Fiction we loved was far from the boring slice of life tripe I come across nowadays. None of our favorite tales involved some boring putz pining about the woman that left him before coming to a forgettable unresolved end. It was fun, action-packed, and filled with adventure.

The type of stuff I enjoy is still easily found everywhere. From recent movies, tv, videogames, and anime. People love it, evidenced by the millions who attend Comic Cons and the huge fandom for 80s style action adventure. Where it’s conspicuously missing is where it should be found front and center. Mainstream SFF magazines.

If you are looking for adventure, heroism, mystery, and wonder, the last place you will find it is between the pages of today’s major SFF magazines. Instead, you will find dull, depressing, pointless character pieces that lack agency, action, and plot. It would be fitting if Asimov’s changed its name to Ambien’s because from cover to credit the whole thing is soporific.

If you’ve heard me talk before, you know that I have a point I occasionally rail on.  And it’s this:  SciFi is a weak medium that’s been high jacked by radical leftist thinkers recently, to advance cultural change through imaginative storytelling both visual and written in order to download their weird thinking into the collective hardrive.

Yes.  There were always leftists in SciFi.  It was one of the few places where they could dream up their nightmares of a better world.  They often did it brilliantly much to our entertainment.

But I’m not talking about those fine old grandmasters who wrote frighteningly beautiful stories that had us all turning pages beneath the covers with a flashlight in hand because we were willing to be entertained and listen to contrary points of view back when that was tolerated.

Unlike now.  Different points of view are Verboten at the Big Five publishers.  Ask me.  I’ll tell you all about it.  In fact, here’s a blog post I wrote about what happened when I got banned by Harper Collins Click Here

No.  I don’t mean that great thought-provoking science fiction of the past.  I’m talking about the new terrible SciFi.  The Fake SciFi.  The Tor Crowd.  John Scalzi.  These are people that have gone on record as being against that beautiful grandmaster-level Science Fiction of challenging thought and dark imaginations of possible tomorrows in favor of navel-gazing exercises about special snowflake heroines (it’s gotta be heroines) virtue-signaling their way across the realms of cosmos and fantasy.  In these stories it’s far more important to be the right gender or political persuasion (because there’s a lot of Post-Modern Morality sermonizing in their “adventures”), or even, and this is sooooooo antiquated and immature I can hardly believe it’s even relevant in this fantastic future we find ourselves in, race.  Yeah… apparently race, color to be specific, is really important in a universe of bizarre aliens and states of being that should boggle the mind.  Race is, in fact, more important than a grand adventure in strange and fantastic alien settings we as kids once longed to travel through as we thumbed our way through those old grandmasters.

So to put it simply…

It used to be:

Ordinary Hero in Extraordinary Circumstances.  (This would be all your great Science Fiction novels.)

But now it’s:

Extraordinary Hero, Ordinary Circumstances.  (This would be the fake SciFi currently being crammed down everyone’s throat to almost no one’s delight.)

Why?  Why did this happen?  This is a crime!  An outrage, even!  The great stories of Niven, Azimov, and Heinlein have been replaced with, in recent years, Monster Romance Porn and stories that explore the inner life of the “hero” regarding race, gender, and sexuality, as opposed to the great unknowns of the beyond, and the frontiers our fevered imaginations are yearning to explore.

How did this crime happen?  Who, exactly, is responsible?

Well, there are these socialists.  And they don’t like our world or culture.  They think everything is bad and racist and it all needs to go.  And they also have some “ideas” about how it could all be made better.  Regardless of what you prefer or what our entire civilization is built upon.  (Inside baseball tip:  They don’t actually want it to be better, they just want to control everything and sit at the cool kids’ table.  And marginalize those they don’t like.  In the end, it’s not so much grand vision.  It’s actually quite petty.)

So they, these radical socialists, these Jidhadis of Marx, saw a weak medium and a bunch of geeks.  This would be SciFi.  So they high-jacked that weak medium by infiltrating it at almost every level in order to reprogram your thinking.  True story.

So it’s not actually SciFi.

It’s Fake Scifi.  It’s… message fiction.  It’s terrible.

Give us an example, you say, of some beloved icon, one of their leaders as it were, engaging in these sort of shenanigans.  Okay.  Here we go.  Remember that crooked old harridan who recently spent a billion and a half of other people’s money to try and become the Grand Poobah we call the President of the United States?  Right.  Okay.  Well, it just came out that she had some cabinet picks lined up once she became president, as every “smart thinking person” (most of whom are currently losing their minds) knew she would.  No crime there.  She was being prepared.  It’s a very busy job being president.  You’ve got to have all your ducks in a row.  Right?  Yeah… problem is this: on that list, for one of the cabinet positions… she’d simply noted for a particular position, “Black Person (African-American Person) to be named later.”

Black Person To Be Named Later.

Wow.  I mean… wow.  That’s probably one of the most racist things I’ve ever heard.  Just picking someone for a job because of their skin color as opposed to the merit of their performance or the content of their character… that’s just… wow!

The leaders of our new Fake SciFi, people like John Scalzi and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, supported that harridan.  Yeah.  These are the people, who I believe, among many other lefty SciFi luminaries, are currently in charge of the new Fake SciFi that would feed you a diet of lesbian/bisexual half-vampire ninja heroines who are in some kind of… well, environment, story and setting are irrelevant… you got all the important boxes checked.  Just make sure she’s black.  Well, they endorsed and voted for her and the things she stood for.  Like… picking someone for an award, publication, or whatever… simply because they’re black.

Here’s the link to John Scalzi endorsing that racist.  Click here.


That’s the endorsement of a racist.  Which, by today’s logic, makes you a racist.  At least if that’s how you go around picking people for positions, and awards.  By their skin color because you don’t believe anyone with that skin color can actually succeed on merit.

FACT:  Picking someone for publication, award, or any other matter because of their skin color is racist.  Plain and simple.  It demeans the very noble efforts of any writer, including that writer, to entertain.  To work.  To write.

The Marxists infiltrated at almost every level except the one that really mattered.  That was the readers.  The big problem was that, unlike countries where Marxism was the rule, the infiltrators, some of whom didn’t understand that they were supposed to be Marxists in the first place and went right into creating the same old propaganda that the Marxists have replaced what used to be creative writing with and stuff that nobody wanted to read. The stuff might be PC, but it’s also mind blowingly dull, filled with porn in the idea that the sex might replace actual story telling.

I gave this book a fair shake. While I disagree with John Scalzi on sociopolitical issues, that doesn’t mean he can’t be a good, or even great author. After all, I disagree vehemently with Margaret Atwood and Stephen King, but I consider them brilliant scribes whose works I adore. Unfortunately, “The Collapsing Empire” is a mess so wretched that I can’t see how even Scalzi’s biggest fans can defend it.

A major problem is the lack of logical sense to the proceedings. This goes beyond mere plot holes, although there are no lack of those. For instance, the Prologue features a ship mutiny. One in which the ship’s chief engineer is murdered and there are plans to do the same with the captain and her supporters. Risky business, no? Not only do the mutineers face the prospect of armed resistance, putting their lives on the line, but they have committed a serious criminal act. Who is to say they won’t be found out by an investigator? Or one of the many fellow mutineers won’t blackmail them or squeal later on the others?

In other words, they need a damn compelling reason to mutiny. The one provided by Scalzi is that the executive officer leading the mutiny will receive a 30% premium on their weapons cargo by selling to the rebels of the planet instead of the government. Yes, you read that correctly. 30 percent, not 30 times.

This is absurdly stupid, the equivalent of burning down one’s house because one spotted a spider in the bathroom…

With the mutiny proceeding poorly, Scalzi interjects with some long exposition. In the middle of the tense life-and-death stand-off, we suddenly get multiple paragraphs explaining the pseudo-science behind “The Flow”. This completely shatters a reader’s immersion into the story, and is done so poorly a fan fiction writer would wince. Scalzi even breaks the fourth wall, explaining to us about how things function in “this universe”.

Moreover, this exposition exposes Scalzi as being as clueless about science as he is on military matters. Now, “The Flow” itself seems to be a rip-off of similar teleportation concepts from older, classic science fiction works like “The Forever War” by Joe Haldeman. But whereas Haldeman has a degree in physics and astronomy and writes credibly on the topic, Scalzi, a philosophy major, is hopelessly lost….

With the mutiny proceeding poorly, Scalzi interjects with some long exposition. In the middle of the tense life-and-death stand-off, we suddenly get multiple paragraphs explaining the pseudo-science behind “The Flow”. This completely shatters a reader’s immersion into the story, and is done so poorly a fan fiction writer would wince. Scalzi even breaks the fourth wall, explaining to us about how things function in “this universe”.

Moreover, this exposition exposes Scalzi as being as clueless about science as he is on military matters. Now, “The Flow” itself seems to be a rip-off of similar teleportation concepts from older, classic science fiction works like “The Forever War” by Joe Haldeman. But whereas Haldeman has a degree in physics and astronomy and writes credibly on the topic, Scalzi, a philosophy major, is hopelessly lost.

There was a time not so long ago that science fiction was important and relevant.  The stories from the pulps and what little was published by the big publishers were written and read by technically literate people for other technically literate people.  The idea was to create mind blowing ideas and push the boundaries of the imagination. The stories that the golden age produced actually made a difference.

I used to read 150 odd new books a year, mostly SF.  At least three books a week more or less like clockwork.  These were not library books, but books I purchased.  In the last decade that number dropped like stone.  Some of it was financial, but a greater part was the absence of books that were worth my money.  When I do buy books now, for the most part it’s nonfiction or manga.  With some exceptions their just isn’t the quality of reading that I had grown to expect.

Now it may be that the pseudo porn that the mainstream publishers seem to be determined to produce will find a larger audience.  The evidence seems to be though that the audience has left the building for print SF.

Which is sad, because without the new books to inspire, where will the next generation find the new challenges and courage to challenge the status quo.  Will they be left with shadows of what was, constantly repopped by the likes of Scalzi dripping with graphic and gratuitous sex to try to plaster over the fact that there are no ideas left?   where will the next generation of innovators scientists and builders find inspiration if all that is left in SF is drek?




  1. penneyvanderbilt · June 8, 2017

    Reblogged this on KCJones.


  2. MadRocketSci · June 8, 2017

    Less ranting, more writing. Where can I find this 80’s style action-adventure sci-fi? I’m in the market for it.

    (I have found some – not much, mind, but some good stuff this year.)

    While some ranting about the SJW crowd is appropriate, the only way to beat the SJWs (from a writer’s standpoint) is to actually be creative and fill the market with good sci-fi. (It is a market – the publishers-as-gatekeepers are dead and gone. Long live the internet, huzzah.) If you’re going to make a reference to good sci-fi, complete the reference and point to a few examples! (This is mostly directed at authors.)

    Following my own advice:
    The superhero genre books by Marion Harmon (Wearing the Cape) are pretty good. Not my favorite genre, but it was well written, and the protagonists are actually very likeable.


    • jccarlton · June 9, 2017

      Just because I’m commenting doesn’t mean I’m not doing other things. Unfortunately for SF, looking for work and writing about that has to come first. Along with distractions, damnit. That’s what happens when you library is in bins and you need something for a post. I had forgotten that I had a massive three volume set of “Practical Tool Work” from 1906 filled with gorgeous tool pics.


    • Brian · June 21, 2017

      Did you read everything that was written in the ’80s? That might be a good place to start. The used book stores in Texas are full of Elizabeth Moon, Alan Dean Foster, Anne McCaffrey, Katherine Kurtz, Robert Silverberg, Joel Rosenberg, Christopher Stasheff, and Keith Laumer. They usually have a few of the older good stuff, like Heinlein and, if you’re very luck, Piper. And if you don’t have access to a good used bookstore, there’s always Amazon.

      Yeah, I know, I want new stuff, too. But until it starts popping up reliably, there’s a lot of old stuff to catch up on.


      • jccarlton · July 15, 2017

        Brian, I probably own most of what was written back in the 1980’s. I don’t need to go to a used bookstore, just out to the garage.


    • JonM · June 21, 2017

      What you’re looking for is called the Pulp Revolution, Pulp Revival, or just PulpRev (for the agnostics). Inspired by Jeffro Johnson’s “Appendix N” survey, a couple of dozen independent authors have started looking back through the old pulp sci-fi magazines to see what they did right, and emulate writers like Howard, Burroughs, E. E. Doc Smith, C. L. Moore, and Leigh Brackett. The focus of the PulpRev is on the fun and entertainment.


      • John Van Stry · June 30, 2017

        I started doing that over 2 years ago. Sales have been good.


  3. MadRocketSci · June 9, 2017

    Sorry about that: My comment would probably have more appropriately been directed at the original sci-fi authors’ webpages. I’ve noticed a few of the sci-fi authors on the sad-puppy anti-SJW end of things appear to have gotten stuck in a rut complaining about their social nemeses, rather than writing the sort of science fiction they claim to admire. I agree with many of their aesthetic points, now where’s the books?! (/where’s the beef voice) 😛

    Good luck in your job hunt. Also, didn’t mean to imply *you* needed to be writing anything differently. I enjoy your blog and the things you blog about.


    • jccarlton · June 10, 2017

      Actually I agree about the less ranting, more writing part. As for the job hunt, it’s become book fodder if nothing else. The whole system is just wrong.


    • John Van Stry · June 22, 2017

      I’m writing, constantly, and publishing on Amazon. While I agreed with what the sad puppies were doing, I was way too busy trying to earn a living to really get involved. But the point was proven and now with the dragon awards I think everyone has moved on.
      Most of my current stuff has been urban fantasy, but I am finishing up a post apocalyptic scifi story and planning a new scifi series that will be different then my first one, which was written years ago. And yes, I believe in action, and do lean a bit towards the pulp side of things. However I also have a BSEE and a lot of experience in things engineering and aerospace, so I do try to get the science and the facts correct.


    • Nathan · June 22, 2017

      Pulp Rev and Superversives are writing right now. If you are interested, check out Cirsova, Storyhack, Superversive Press, Silver Empire, and a whole slew of indies.


  4. Dr. Mauser · June 21, 2017

    Damn, so Vox is cutting me off at the knees on my planned “Three Stories that made me quit reading Asimov’s” blog post. But on the other hand, clearly I was smarter than he, because I stopped reading them in 2012.

    (You also double-quoted that last paragraph from the Scalzi review.)


    • Dr. Mauser · June 21, 2017

      (Argh, no edit button) I mean Alexandru Constantin, not Vox.


  5. Robert Perrotto · June 22, 2017

    I too, have noticed and felt betrayed by what passes for the majority of SFF today – My first fantasy book was “The White Dragon” by Anne McCaffery, followed by the Morgaine novels by CJ Cherryh, I immediately devoured the Pern series, and absolutely fell in love with Landover afterwards – My brother introduced me to Thomas Covenant, and my Sister to Melanie Rawn and her sunrunner series – not to mention the classics of Herbert, Burroughs, Moorcock, Howard – there were tons of quality books and authors in the late 70’s to the early 90’s when this change began shift to soft porn supernatural love stories and romance novels disguised as SFF – there are few true SFF books out there, the Malazan series by Erickson, the Radiant series by Sanderson (mistborn as well), Rhapsody series by Haden, and I dare say the sword of truth novels by Goodkind minus the last three (seemed he was writing them in order to meet a commitment, but you can tell from the writing that he had finished that story a while back) – when I browse barnes and noble or b. daltons SFF section, I see way too many scantily clad men or women in modern clothes having the earth shattering conundrum of being a witch in love with a normal person, or some kind of half blood demon girl that has anger issues and self doubt because she is half black, half demon and has a love triangle between her white lesbian lover, and her latino hunk of a boyfriend – the social brow beating of these authors go beyond preaching from a pulpit. it is so bad that I no longer purchase books, I borrow from the libraries.


  6. Pingback: So… why do we write, and who is our audience? | madgeniusclub

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