I thought that the Sad Puppies were dead and that I would never have to do another post. But like Don Corleone, the puppy kickers keep dragging the Puppies back in. This blathering by noted puppy kicker Cory Doctorow is a case in point.
The piece which is supposed to be celebrating Jeanete Ng’s winning of the John W. Campbell award, instead kicks the puppies one more time and then slanders one of the giants of Science fiction, John W. Campbell by calling him a fascist.
Admittedly, it is Ng calling Campbell a fascist, but Doctorow obviously supports that. He does that by pointing out Robert Heinlein’s novel Sixth Column as an example of their racism because they have Asians as the bad guys.
The Asians in sixth Column were probably based on the Japanese and their actions in China but the Chicoms make good Pan Asians too. It is important to note, that in 1941, the Japanese did see themselves as conquering all of eastern Asia. Co East Asian Prosperity sphere anyone and Campbell’s and Hienlein’s representations of the behavior of the Pan Asians may have been the result of Hienlein spend time in Japan with the navy.
It is important to note that what looks like racism now, might look entirely different in the late 1930’s when the “yellow peril” was marching and killing it’s way through China.
Is it racism or prescience to see things as they may be? Sixth Column is hardly the best science fiction, but the actions of the Chicoms might give one the idea that there was a certain degree of prescience in the story. That is if you bother to read it before slamming it. For why it was prescient one only look at Hong Kong:
In Hong Kong, the stormtroopers are real. For China, the island and neighboring city are the treasures and foundation of China’s prosperity, yet as China stands ready with soldiers to kill the goose that lays golden eggs, Doctorow and Ng libel a dead man. Fortunately we don’t have to take their words for what Campbell said and what he may have been. As far as I can tell, Campbell never participated in the fascist organizations of the 1930’s. He was an ex MIT student with a father who worked at Bell Lbas who wrote science fiction and made a living at it during the depression when I suspect that engineering jobs were short on the ground.
It is unlikely that he was a Fascist. Ok, was he a racist? That is a bit harder to tell. He did write some editorials about urban barbarians during the late 1960’s. On the other hand he took shots at evangelicals and the KKK. People are hard to place in boxes, especially people who have a diverse and wide world view. One thing I do know is that the one thing that Campbell wanted was stories that sold magazines and kept his magazine in business.
The article and Ng’s speech said that he mostly published white men. They seem to have ignored two rather important details. First, the people writing the material were white men. Also, Campbell wanted writers that were technically literate and in the period that he was editor of Astounding-Analog that was the white men in white shirt crowd. Look at any pictures of engineers from that time. There were some notable exceptions, the ladies in early computing for instance, but that was the talent pool that Campbell had.
The good thing is that I don’t have to just ask you to take my words for what John W. Campbell was like. I can just point to his editorials, available for free, online. Yes he rubs you raw and no matter what your political persuasion, you want scream at the book. Harry Harrison says it right there in the introduction:
“These are idiosyncratic, personal, prejudiced, far-reaching, annoying, and sabotaging.” One thing that you find in his editorials is that he did not step away from controversy. Here is the book:
I would encourage everybody to read the book. You don’t have to agree with it, but you should do something that Campbell wanted. he wanted his readers, and his writers to think. Not to dodge controversial issues, kick puppies and slap labels on things. I’m sure that calling a man long dead a fascist felt good. After all he can’t kick back. In a way what Ms. Ng did was a perfect example of why Larry made the points he did and started the puppy row in the first place. We have gone from being the genre that asked us to think for ourselves to a place where we put labels on things and blurt out crazy nonsense about nonexistent thoughtcrimes.