A conspiracist’s perspective on science fiction


Gary Farber listened to a very odd podcast — it’s all about how the atheists and Marxists conspired to take over science fiction. It’s hosted by a guy named Max Kolbe, who runs a blog titled Escaping Atheism: Because atheism is bullshit” (I guess his biases are obvious, at least), and he’s interviewing an author named Brian Niemeier, who is pleased to have been one of the Sad Puppies, so you know where he is coming from, too. Niemeier’s introduction to the interview is weirdly self-congratulatory and back-patting.

YouTuber Max Kolbe recently had me on his show to explain how the SJW convergence of tradpub science fiction happened. Max is particularly interested in the sudden shift from stories that took the Christian worldview for granted to overtly atheistic, anti-religious works. We discussed how John W. Campbell ended the reign of the pulps and how the Futurians fomented a Marxist revolution in SF publishing.

The episode garnered a lot of praise. Listen in and learn how sinister forces relegated the once-dominant SFF genre to a cultural ghetto.

Max himself is an unabashed sci-fi fan from way back, and I couldn’t help nodding along as he related how he drifted away from the genre about twenty years ago. He’d also been led to think of the post-1937 Campbell era as the “golden age” of SF and to regard everything that came before as trash.

The interview itself is a ghastly mangling of history with a great deal of lumping together of everything they dislike: notice how atheist, Marxist, and SJW are all used pretty much interchangeably?

Here’s the nonsensical premise of their discussion. There was a time in the past when science fiction was much more Christian, and readily embraced Christian themes. Then John Campbell abruptly forced all of science fiction to become atheist in 1937, and he was aided and abetted by a coalition of 50 godless liberal New York editors. The evidence for all of this is in an appendix in the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide.

I don’t know what to say in the face of such an onslaught of bullshit.

There has always been a strain of irreverence in science fiction, and there have always been authors who explore novel ideas both in and out of the context of religion. Start with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; very irreligious, but exploring the roles of the creator and created. Is it an atheist book? Atheist-influenced, certainly, and written by a freethinker, but its relationship to religion is complicated. CS Lewis wrote science fiction. Tolkien was religious. Mary Doria Russell is an acclaimed, even by this atheist, author of books that have a strongly Catholic perspective. On the other hand, Isaac Asimov was an atheist…but religion is orthogonal to most of the stories he told (I must be a traitor to atheism to say that Russell is a far, far better writer than Asimov ever was). I’m sure a lot of contemporary SF authors are godless, but it would be tough to tell from reading their work. I simply do not see a pattern in the history of SF that would support a transition from religious to non-religious, or even that religious ideas are suppressed in contemporary work.

Ah, but you must look at their evidence. Here it is: Appendix N from the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide, published in 1979. It’s Gary Gygax’s personal reading list of science fiction and fantasy books that influenced him. According to Kolbe and Niemeier, this is a very spiritual list that if not openly Christian, takes Christianity for granted. WTF? These books?

Anderson, Poul: THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS; THE HIGH CRUSADE; THE BROKEN SWORD
Bellairs, John: THE FACE IN THE FROST
Brackett, Leigh
Brown, Frederic
Burroughs, Edgar Rice: “Pellucidar” series; Mars series; Venus series
Carter, Lin: “World’s End” series
de Camp, L. Sprague: LEST DARKNESS FALL; THE FALLIBLE FIEND; et al
de Camp & Pratt: “Harold Shea” series; THE CARNELIAN CUBE
Derleth, August
Dunsany, Lord
Farmer, P. J.: “The World of the Tiers” series; et al
Fox, Gardner: “Kothar” series; “Kyrik” series; et al
Howard, R. E.: “Conan” series
Lanier, Sterling: HIERO’S JOURNEY
Leiber, Fritz: “Fafhrd & Gray Mouser” series; et al
Lovecraft, H. P.
Merritt, A.: CREEP, SHADOW, CREEP; MOON POOL; DWELLERS IN THE MIRAGE; et al
Moorcock, Michael: STORMBRINGER; STEALER OF SOULS; “Hawkmoon” series (esp. the first three books)
Norton, Andre
Offutt, Andrew J.: editor of SWORDS AGAINST DARKNESS III
Pratt, Fletcher: BLUE STAR; et al
Saberhagen, Fred: CHANGELING EARTH; et al
St. Clair, Margaret: THE SHADOW PEOPLE; SIGN OF THE LABRYS
Tolkien, J. R. R.: THE HOBBIT; “Ring trilogy”
Vance, Jack: THE EYES OF THE OVERWORLD; THE DYING EARTH; et al
Weinbaum, Stanley
Wellman, Manley Wade
Williamson, Jack
Zelazny, Roger: JACK OF SHADOWS; “Amber” series; et al

Here’s the deal: if your story is a medieval European fantasy, like Anderson’s or Bellairs’, then yes, Christianity is taken for granted, usually. It’s part of the environment, like castles and swords and dragons. But the others…have they even read Burroughs or Howard? There ain’t no Christianity in them, but there is a lot of disrespect for priests and gods. Fritz Leiber’s books had magic and pagan deities and demigods that could be poked with a sword. Moorcock’s Elric stories are about a battle between the gods of chaos and law; he’s also the guy who wrote the obscenely blasphemous book, Behold the Man (which I recommend!). Manley Wade Wellman…sure, he was religious. He wrote stories built around Appalachian folk Christianity, also good stuff. I really don’t see a consistent religious or non-religious theme in this list.

Oh, and H.P. Lovecraft? This is your representative of spiritual Christianity in old SF? The interview waffles around the criteria, but eventually reveals that if a story features clear-cut good and evil, that’s enough to define it as spiritual and Christian-based. Apparently moral ambiguity and complexity are the vices the SJWs and Marxists have inflicted on genre fiction. Which sounds like praise, to me.

As for the “50 SJW editors” who control the SF publishing world from their citadel in New York, I don’t know. I can’t say that I have much familiarity with big name SF editors. What little I do know suggests that there’s more diversity than this conspiracy theory can tolerate. Jim Baen published a lot of stolid old school and military SF, stuff that the Sad and Rabid Puppies probably consider just fine, and the one true acceptable kind of science fiction. I’ve met Teresa and Patrick Nielsen-Hayden — they’re not atheists, but definitely on the progressive/liberal side of social issues. Maybe it’s just my lack of knowledge, but I’m just not seeing an atheist/Marxist/SJW cabal out there.

Maybe the real world is more ambiguous and complex than the crystal-clear distinction of good and evil that these Catholic fanatics imagine it to be.

Comments

  1. johnwoodford says

    It’s way, way too easy to shoot down this clown’s half-assed assumptions. Let’s look at the very first entry on the Appendix N list: Poul Anderson. If John W. Campbell, noted reactionary racist, took down the religious elements of F/SF’s roots in 1937, how did Anderson manage to publish two of those novels *in 1953 and 1954*? How did it happen that “The High Crusade” was published by none other than John W. Campbell, noted reactionary racist?

    I also have to give a special acknowledgment to Kolbe and Niemeier for letting Andrew J. Offutt’s presence on the Appendix N list pass without notice. That’s Andrew J. Offutt a/k/a John Cleve, John Denis, Jeff Morehead, and Turk Winter, the pseudonyms under which he wrote porn. I don’t know–maybe it was Christian porn?

  2. Becca Stareyes says

    So, basically, the fact Lovecraft wrote about an indifferent universe that was all going to end in entropy is perfectly Christian as long as he throws in some monsters?

    Actually, that fits my image of fundamentalist Christianity pretty well as caring more about fighting some massive battle against perceived monsters than about the whole Loving God thing. (What Fred Clark calls the ‘Anti-Kitten-Burning Coalition’: it’s far easier to be good when you point to some (often imaginary, straw-man, or grossly exaggerated*) villain and say ‘we are against that’.)

    * The example Clark used was from when he wrote for a local paper. After a particularly heinous case of animal cruelty (by a single individual), a number of people wrote Letters to the Editor decrying how horrible that was. Clark was interested in the psychology that made people go out of their way to comment on something so uncontroversial, and noted there was a bit of a cheap moral high to pretending that this was, in fact, a controversial stance (without any of the blowback actual controversy causes).

  3. says

    Just FYI, although C.S. Lewis was obviously Christian to the point of heavy-handed allegory, his fellow Cambridge don Tolkien was certainly not, and much of his writing was a reaction against Lewis and his ilk. “God” is not once mentioned in Lord Of The Rings, nor is prayer, nor any divine or religious concept. Most of the mythology that informed Tolkien was pre-Christian Norse, stripped of the Norse pantheon.

  4. says

    keithpickering:

    “God” is not once mentioned in Lord Of The Rings, nor is prayer, nor any divine or religious concept.

    That doesn’t matter. I first read the trilogy when I was 10. I was raised catholic. Those books read intensely catholic to me, and upon re-reading them as an adult, even more religious. The books are infused with religiosity.

  5. tulse says

    sinister forces relegated the once-dominant SFF genre to a cultural ghetto.

    He writes this when a new Star Trek series has premiered, when other SF are prominent on TV, when most box-office comes from SF and fantasy films (including superheroes), and where the dominant film series have all been SF/fantasy.

  6. cartomancer says

    Even if there is a lot of straightforward, black-and-white, good-versus-evil stuff in fantasy and science fiction, that doesn’t mean the people who write it or the people who read it believe it is an accurate reflection of real-world morality (much less real-world metaphysics).

    I suspect a significant number of devotees like that kind of stuff as an escape from the moral complexities of the real world, rather than to teach them lessons about real world situations.

  7. cartomancer says

    keithpickering, #6

    CAMBRIDGE?!!! CAAAAAMBRIDGE?!!!! There is no curse, in Elvish, Entish or the tongues of men, for this treachery!

  8. says

    I read 2.5 of CS Lewis science fiction. That is to say, I never made it through the last of the trilogy.
    It was religious science fiction from the start (all three of them).

    I don’t care whether the author is religious. Just leave the religion out of the SciFi. It doesn’t fit.

  9. says

    “I must be a traitor to atheism to say that Russell is a far, far better writer than Asimov ever was.” Not at all, Asimov was a great IDEA man and could spin a good yarn, but he was no stylist. (And FYI: I know you’re not being serious, too.)

  10. Richard Smith says

    I bought a Christian “science-fiction” book once, unaware of its “light” secret until about a third of the way through – “Being”, by Michael Redfinn. Turned out to be almost Dick-and-Jane level writing, about increasing UFO sightings, and alien encounters, and True Believers discovering that the so-called extra-terrestrials were all demons. Of course, everyone who still thought they were aliens didn’t get raptured at the end. Apologies for the spoilers. Awful drek, but I still keep it on the shelf because a) it’s a book, and b) it has a very slight “Plan 9″/”Eye of Argon” appeal, in very small doses, and at very long intervals.

    Done right, Christianity can definitely be part of a science-fiction or fantasy story. On more than just that front, “Being” was done wrong.

  11. says

    Neil Rickert:

    Just leave the religion out of the SciFi. It doesn’t fit.

    Of course it fits. We’re in a high science/tech age, have gods gone away? Has religion disappeared? No. When humans eschew all the gods littered about, and try for something else, they come up with something silly like transhumanism, believed with the same fervency of a religion. *shrug* It’s all fiction, and playing about with gods can be fun, and quite entertaining in SciFi.

  12. cartomancer says

    I am also trying to envision what legitimately Marxist fantasy fiction would look like. Saruman’s uruk-hai seizing the means of production and turning Isengard into a workers’ collective? Gandalf petitioning Denethor to introduce universal Athelas availability on the Gondorian NHS? Thorin Oakenshield seeking to redistribute the wealth of Smaug with progressive Hoard tax policies on the Draconic 1%?

  13. cartomancer says

    Richardelguru, #16

    So those johnny-come-lately 13th Century parvenus in the fens could pretend to the status of a proper university, that’s why!

  14. tulse says

    I am also trying to envision what legitimately Marxist fantasy fiction would look like.

    Le Guin’s The Dispossessed posits an anarcho-syndicalist society on a planet. Mielville’s Iron Council involves railroad workers creating their own collectivist society on a stolen train. And plenty of other works in SF and fantasy have invoked socialist/collectivist, if not outright Marxist, concepts for the societies they posit.

  15. jrkrideau says

    # 11 cartomancer
    CAAAAAMBRIDGE?!!!!

    Perfectly natural error. One does think of Tolkien as a distinguished scholar and author.

  16. screechymonkey says

    Becca Stareyes @4:

    * The example Clark used was from when he wrote for a local paper. After a particularly heinous case of animal cruelty (by a single individual), a number of people wrote Letters to the Editor decrying how horrible that was. Clark was interested in the psychology that made people go out of their way to comment on something so uncontroversial, and noted there was a bit of a cheap moral high to pretending that this was, in fact, a controversial stance (without any of the blowback actual controversy causes).

    Sounds suspiciously like… virtue-signalling!

    In terms of older (but post the alleged 1937 “purge”) sci-fi, A Canticle for Liebowitz is explicitly Catholic.

    PZ:

    The interview waffles around the criteria, but eventually reveals that if a story features clear-cut good and evil, that’s enough to define it as spiritual and Christian-based.

    In which case, one of the best-selling fantasy series ever, Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, would qualify. The good guys fight against a Big Bad who is basically Satan with the serial numbers filed off, who is the evil force opposing the benevolent (but works-in-mysterious-ways) Creator.

  17. says

    I’ve never found anyone who thinks “SJW” is an insult, who has anything useful or remotely insightful to add to a conversation.
    Reactionaries contribute nothing but whining.

  18. williamhyde says

    In the depths of the depression, Fritz Leiber was for a time the Episcopalian minister of two parishes. There was just one problem – he was an atheist. He soon decamped to California for a writing career.

    In Jack Vance’s work, religions are always scams. I can’t at the moment recall any religious figure who was favorably portrayed. In real life he was quite conservative (1980s conservative, not 2017 conservative) and for all I know was devout, but it doesn’t at all show in his work.

    William Hyde

  19. Rob Grigjanis says

    keithpickering @6:

    “God” is not once mentioned in Lord Of The Rings, nor is prayer, nor any divine or religious concept.

    Appendix A:

    But when Ar_Pharazon set foot upon the shores of Aman the Blessed, the Valar laid down their Guardianship and called upon the One, and the world was changed.

    And Gandalf’s “sending back” as Gandalf the White struck me as profoundly religious.

  20. Vivec says

    @25
    If we’re talking about the broader mythos and not just the specific LOTR books, Middle-Earth absolutely has gods that exist and do things. The Silmarillion is more or less “The Elf Bible” crossed with “The Elf Prose Edda”

  21. Vivec says

    @27
    Gandalf’s a Maiar, which is more akin to an angel or a lesser-deity than the “Is the Son of god and is also God at the same time” Jesus situation.

    Also, Gandalf is totally a hippy. See: Pipeweed.

  22. Rob Grigjanis says

    Colin J @27: Gandalf was totally a hippy. You didn’t think Longbottom Leaf was tobacco*, did you? That’s why the old bastard kept coming back to The Shire.

    *Is “tobacco” once mentioned in LotR? I honestly don’t remember.

    I just refreshed, and saw Vivec’s #28. Love it.

  23. Colin J says

    Fair enough. And they did drop him off at Tom Bombadil’s place on their way home, if I recall correctly.

  24. fusilier says

    ???ALICE MARY NORTON???

    Exactly where, in the Witch World, or with the Time Traders, or the Solar Queen, or on Janus, or with the Wyverns on Warlock, or… is there a single mention of Christianity.

    By Klono’s Gadolinium Guts this is stupid.

    fusilier, SMOF, jg. (ret.)

    James 2:24

  25. Holms says

    #6
    In addition to Rob’s #25, the Silmarils are repeatedly described as holy, places such as Meneltarma are described as hallowed, offerings were made to Eru and his name was invoked for things such as oaths… Tolkien avoided all mention of christianity, but not of religion.

    #28, #29
    Regarding pipeweed, the word of god disagrees. Part 2 of the prologue of LOTR, Concerning Pipe-weed:
    “There is another thing about the Hobbits of old that must be mentioned, an astonishing habit: they imbibed or inhaled, through pipes of clay or wood, the smoke of the burning leaves of a herb, which they called pipe-weed or leaf, a variety probably of Nicotiana.
    Plus, Tolkien himself was a pipe smoker.

  26. croquembouche says

    HG Wells, notable SJW, “neither atheist nor Buddhist nor Mohammedan nor Christian” was also writing SF long before the genre was hijacked by conservative Christian boys in search of battle scene wank fodder.
    If those fappers don’t like the genre that Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley created, they should just get out of it and make their own.

  27. says

    There’s no *revealed* religion in Lord of the Rings: no priests, no churches. There are a few hallowed places – I can only think of three, one in Valinor, one in Numenor, and one in Gondor.

  28. call me mark says

    @#16 richardelguru

    Why else was ‘Oxbridge’ coined.

    According to Frankie Boyle it’s a portmanteau word from “obnoxious” and “privilege”.

  29. Snoof says

    Regarding Tolkien’s use of religion:

    I’ve encountered pagans who complain that while Tolkien’s writing draws upon Old Norse and Briton pagan concepts, ultimately it’s a thin veneer over the same old Christian philosophy.

    Tolkien wasn’t a modern US charismatic/evangelical/fundamentalist/whatever-they’re-called-nowadays Christian and he had a stated dislike of allegory (which was a point of contention between him and Lewis, who was all about the blatant Christian allegory) but his flavour of Christianity definitely informed his work.

  30. bigwhale says

    A Marxist cabal of editors? They are talking about the Jews , people. Whether they realize or not, they are parroting antisemitism.

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