The patriarchy has deep roots, it’s going to hurt to dig them out


Jeanette Ng won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and this is how her speech began:

John W. Campbell, for whom this award was named, was a fascist. Through his editorial control of Astounding Science Fiction, he is responsible for setting a tone of science fiction that still haunts the genre to this day. Sterile. Male. White. Exalting in the ambitions of imperialists and colonisers, settlers and industrialists. Yes, I am aware there are exceptions.

Welp, that set a few people’s hair on fire, but she’s right. Corey Doctorow agrees.

I think she was right — and seemly — to make her remarks. There’s plenty of evidence that Campbell’s views were odious and deplorable. For example, Heinlein apologists like to claim (probably correctly) that his terrible, racist, authoritarian, eugenics-inflected yellow peril novel Sixth Column was effectively a commission from Campbell (Heinlein based the novel on one of Campbell’s stories). This seems to have been par for the course for JWC, who liked to micro-manage his writers: Campbell also leaned hard on Tom Godwin to kill the girl in “Cold Equations” in order to turn his story into a parable about the foolishness of women and the role of men in guiding them to accept the cold, hard facts of life.

So when Ng held Campbell “responsible for setting a tone of science fiction that still haunts the genre to this day. Sterile. Male. White. Exalting in the ambitions of imperialists and colonisers, settlers and industrialists,” she was factually correct.

It reflects my experience as a reader of science fiction, too. I got hooked on this stuff as a boy in the 1960s, and initially read all the old classic authors — Asimov, Clarke, etc. — and was fascinated with all the robots and spaceships and hyper-advanced gadgetry that they wrote about, but failed to notice that they weren’t very good at writing about people. Then I stumbled onto New Wave writers, and Ursula Le Guin, and Joanna Russ, and all these other amazing writers who had escaped the orbit of the John W. Campbell school, and discovered that the JWC stable tended to be not-very-good writers, period, because that wasn’t what he cared about, which is a strange characteristic for an editor.

Also, when I finally discovered Heinlein in my mid-teens, I freakin’ hated his books. They were long-winded exercises in self-indulgent misogyny. I don’t think he needed JWC’s coaching to be an asshole, he was one naturally.

Here’s another take on Campbell.

Ng’s assessment of Campbell is undoubtedly informed by Campbell’s personal politics and beliefs and those who have written about him. Campbell argued that African-Americans were “barbarians” deserving of police brutality during the 1965 Watts Riots, as “the “brutal” actions of police consist of punishing criminal behavior.” His unpublished story All featured such racist elements that author Robert Heinlein, who built upon Campbell’s original story for his own work titled Sixth Column, had to “reslant” the story before publishing it. In the aftermath of the Kent State massacre, when speaking of the demonstrators murdered by the Ohio National Guard, Campbell stated that “I’m not interested in victims. I’m interested in heroes.” While difficult to presume where Campbell’s beliefs would place him in modern politics, it is apparent that Campbell would disagree with many of the beliefs held by modern America.

I’ve read enough Campbell to guess he’d be cheering for Trump — the pseudoscientific racist genetics, the anti-immigration stuff, the contempt for anyone who rocks the boat, he’d definitely be a Trumpkin.

Doctorow continues.

Not just factually correct: also correct to be saying this now. Science fiction (like many other institutions) is having a reckoning with its past and its present. We’re trying to figure out what to do about the long reach that the terrible ideas of flawed people (mostly men) had on our fields. We’re trying to reconcile the legacies of flawed people [Harlan Ellison, fantastic writer, not such a nice person] whose good deeds and good art live alongside their cruel, damaging treatment of women. These men were not aberrations: they were following an example set from the very top and running through fandom, to the great detriment of many of the people who came to fandom for safety and sanctuary and community.

It’s not a coincidence that one of the first organized manifestation of white nationalism as a cultural phenomenon was within fandom, and while fandom came together to firmly repudiate its white nationalist wing, these assholes weren’t (all) entryists who showed up to stir trouble in someone else’s community. The call (to hijack the Hugo award) was coming from inside the house: these guys had been around forever, and we’d let them get away with it, in the name of “tolerance” even as these guys were chasing women, queer people, and racialized people out of the field.

Those same Nazis went on to join Gamergate, then take up on /r/The_Donald, and they were part of the vanguard of the movement that put a boorish, white supremacist grifter into the White House.

He’s talking about the Rabid Puppies, but I don’t think SF fandom was specifically responsible. We saw exactly the same phenomenon in skepticism/atheism with Elevatorgate and the slymepit. It’s everywhere. It’s like we entered the 21st century and scumbaggery blossomed everywhere. Arthur Clarke could predict geosynchronous satellites, sure, but he completely failed to anticipate the effect of selectively amplifying the voices of arrogant white male dudes, as SF, and science, and atheism, and everything had been doing for decades. What we’re seeing now is the effect of a patriarchal culture being shaken up, and the reactionaries fighting back.

This stuff matters. It’s deeper than any fandom, and it reflects a world-wide pattern of necessary change as the old order resists its slow, painful demise. Ng brings it right back to reality.

So I need say, I was born in Hong Kong. Right now, in the most cyberpunk in the city in the world, protesters struggle with the masked, anonymous stormtroopers of an autocratic Empire. They have literally just held her largest illegal gathering in their history. As we speak they are calling for a horological revolution in our time. They have held laser pointers to the skies and tried to to impossibly set alight the stars. I cannot help be proud of them, to cry for them, and to lament their pain.

Yes. The fascists and capitalists and corporate goons and colonizers have been running the world for a few centuries now, and it’s time to overthrow the old order. There will be great pain in the churn.

Comments

  1. DLC says

    Change it from the Campbell award to the Andre Norton award. Or the Le Guin award. No really. Why continue to honor such a complete jackass. Incidentally, I never read Heinlein’s Sixth Column. Not that it matters. People will think what they will of his works, and are welcome to do so. There are other writers now, and different. Move on. move forward. Encourage writers who can write a good story that isn’t full of bad qualities. White supremacy and misogyny didn’t get their start in SF fandom. Fandom was infiltrated by Nazis and other hate groups.

  2. methuseus says

    When I discovered Heinlein, I was mainly reading lots of Star Wars Expanded Universe books, which were good in themselves. I do believe he was a better writer overall, which is why I liked his writing so much. I did find his story, Friday, off-putting, but chalked it up to him being older and trying to identify the problematic parts of his books. I also found and loved Anne McCaffrey. I never found LeGuin or other better writers until well into my twenties.
    My most recent favorite book had been Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear. Even though McCaffrey wrote good female (is that the right term?) characters, Bear’s seem even more equal to me.
    I started reading The Book of the New Sun, and even made it almost to the end of the second book, but it was to plodding for me, and Severian’s actions don’t seem to fit his character up to that point. But I know that many love the books, so maybe I’m seeing something different.
    As for renaming the award, there really are many more deserving authors and editors, I’m sure, who it would be better to remember for fostering new authors.
    I honestly have never followed the Hugo awards until the Pups came into it. Before that, I read anthologies of the award winners or those nominated, but didn’t really pay much attention otherwise.

  3. Rob Grigjanis says

    Campbell also leaned hard on Tom Godwin to kill the girl in “[The] Cold Equations” in order to turn his story into a parable about the foolishness of women and the role of men in guiding them to accept the cold, hard facts of life.

    Perhaps that was Campbell’s intent, but for me the power of the story had nothing to do with gender, everything to do with humanity, and I’m glad it turned out as it did. “saving the girl” would have turned it into another boring “ingenious engineering solution” story, like The Martian.

    For a second, I thought he was referring to “Think Like a Dinosaur”, which also has a woman ejected from an airlock. Maybe because of the chilling use of the phrase “balance the equation”.

  4. Akira MacKenzie says

    There will be great pain in the churn.

    By any chance have you been reading The Expanse series, PZ?

    “Thing is, we’re humans. We’re tribal. More settled things are, the bigger your tribe is. All the people in your gang, or all the people in your country. All the ones on your planet. Then the churn comes, and the tribe gets small again.”

    ― James S.A. Corey, Nemesis Games

  5. chrislawson says

    If they wanted to rename the Campbell Award, I’d suggest not naming it after a person. It works for the Nebula Award.

    Not that I think the WSFS wants to rename the award, but maybe Ng’s speech will start a change.

  6. blf says

    chrislawson@5 beat me to it — a (renamed) award doesn’t have to be named after a human.

    (The mildly deranged penguin says that if the obvious name — something involving cheese — is not selected, then as an alternative and reminder, she isn’t human…)

  7. chrislawson says

    Despite its eponym, the Campbell has been a pretty inclusive award since it was launched in 1973. But it didn’t start auspiciously. Its first award was to Jerry Pournelle. Besides having abhorrent political views that were central to his books, he just wasn’t a good writer. I’ve read Footfall and Janissaries, and apart from some interesting sci-tech ideas that he could have written about in 3000-word articles, they’re boring. And he won ahead of GRRM, George Alec Effinger, and Lisa Tuttle.

  8. PaulBC says

    Two admissions: First, I still have trouble keeping John W. Campbell distinct from mythologist Joseph Campbell (I know they are completely different people, but it often takes 30 seconds into reading before I remember). Second, I’ll always have a soft spot for Arthur C. Clarke, though I realize now he’s a pretty bad writer and was particularly bad with female characters. I like not only his technical care but the occasional hint of Eastern mysticism. Asimov was a powerhouse in his own way, but never did it for me in terms of “sense of wonder” (the Foundation series had its moments).

    That said, Ursula K. Le Guin was indeed a huge advance over what passed for SF in the years before she started writing. Anyone who wants science fiction to consist of white guys with pipes over sherry discussing the latest theory, or white guys with fedoras exploring the mysterious meteor impact, or white guys in spaces helmets can find plenty of “classic” stories to suit their taste. There’s no reason to write any new ones.

    On Heinlein, specifically, I first associated him with Stranger in a Strange Land, which influenced a lot of hippies (10 years or more older than me) who presumably didn’t see eye to eye with Heinlein on much else. I’d have to reread it to decide if I like it now (I didn’t think it was all that special the first time, and cringe at the use of “grok”). I did recently read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress for the first time, and what drivel that was. Basically, sock-puppet libertarianism. I thought a story about throwing rocks from the moon could have some kind of appeal to it, but (a) Heinlein’s awful attempt at pidgin dialect made it barely readable and (b) it took hundreds of pages of half-baked political theory to get to the moon rocks. Seriously, this is held up by some as “brilliant”? (I did just read Artemis by Andy Weir, and I wouldn’t call it brilliant either, but it’s a better moon story).

  9. Pierce R. Butler says

    I’ve read enough Campbell to guess he’d be cheering for Trump …

    Maybe, maybe not. Campbell would hate the anti-science thrust of Trumpismo, and the rejection of all expertise – because that would include his own favorite elite experts, not just the “soft science” liberals he disliked.

    Also, assuming he’d stayed put where he had lived, Campbell would’ve experienced Superstorm Sandy, and very possibly have grasped that a save-the-world scenario of hard-minded number-crunching fact-facing, in opposition to scientifically-illiterate greedheads, had literally arrived at his doorstep. I could see him hating the likes of Bill McKibben and Al Gore, and trying to supplant them with a right-wing global environmentalism significantly more rational than the present wave of ecofascism.

  10. George says

    Campbell wrote a few classic stories like “Who Goes There?” and “Twilight” but it was as Editor of Astounding that he mattered most. And, even then, he waw really only important to the field for about 10-15 years, from 1939 till the early 50’s. After that, he was quickly surpassed by H. L. Gold over at Galaxy, and Anthony Boucher at F&SF. He’s kind of over-rated. I think the award should be renamed for Gardner Dozois, much better editor, much better finder of talent, much better person.

  11. PaulBC says

    The Pournelle/Niven collaboration had its moments, such as The Mote in God’s Eye. I don’t endorse the worldview, but it’s an intriguing extraterrestrial concept executed skillfully. Niven by himself can be good (Ringworld). Pournelle by himself… yeah, I agree that the Chaos Manor Byte articles were probably about as good as it got. I did see him up close and in person when our college SF club invited him to talk in the mid-80s.

  12. chrislawson says

    Pierce@10–

    You give Campbell’s scientific boosterism too much credit.

    Remember that he believed Dianetics was so important it would win L. Ron Hubbard the Nobel Peace Prize, that Joseph Rhine had proved the existence of psi powers and these could be amplified with a machine so powerful that even a schematic of it would work as well as the actual machine, that the Norman Dean had invented a drive could exert a force in space without a reaction mass, that smoking did not cause lung cancer, that it didn’t matter anyway because krebiozen could cure cancer if you got it, and that Frances Kelsey, the FDA researcher who refused to license thalidomide over safety concerns, was a fool using “women’s intuition” to get the right answer even though she was wrong to think so! (Seriously…check out his Analog editorial about it, complete with a nonce-headed error about the chemical structure of DNA that was known to be wrong since 1880.)

    Campbell was “pro-science” the same way the Republicans claim to be pro-science.

  13. PaulBC says

    Campbell

    Unfortunately, I have not seen the proper lesson of the thalidomide results published anywhere; what I have seen published has, in every case, been exactly the wrong lesson.

    Yikes. “I alone have this one right.” is one of the most reliable crackpot red flags, but I didn’t know this as a kid. Campbell’s whole schtick was dangerous.

  14. Akira MacKenzie says

    Science fiction (like many other institutions) is having a reckoning with its past and its present. We’re trying to figure out what to do about the long reach that the terrible ideas of flawed people (mostly men) had on our fields.

    That’s more or less how I feel about Lovecraft. On one hand I wince as I read his work when I come across some of this casual racism, and there are just some stories I can’t bring myself to read again (e.g. The Horror At Red Hook, Herbert West: Reanimator, The Mound, etc.), but DAMN IT, I love the Cthulhu Mythos in all it’s nihilistic cosmic glory!

  15. PaulBC says

    Akira MacKenzie@17

    A friend of mine recommended The Shadow Over Innsmouth because of how perfectly it reveals Lovecraft’s fear of miscegenation. I think it should be required reading for anyone trying to understand the mindset of today’s American xenophobes. Like Lovecraft, they view immigration as a racial takeover, and share the fear that “white” genes are especially delicate and will always lose out in such a battle.

    I interpret the conclusion as a happy ending.

    Stupendous and unheard-of splendours await me below, and I shall seek them soon. Iä-R’lyeh! Cthulhu fhtagn! Iä! Iä! No, I shall not shoot myself—I cannot be made to shoot myself!

    Good for him. It sounds a lot more interesting than his previous gig.

  16. sheikh mahandi says

    I can only recall reading only one of Heinlein’s works – The Doorway into Summer, which was OK, nothing special. Arthur C Clarke’s Childhoods End was pretty good, I believe it is a TV mini-series. Currently my “favourites” are Erik Flint and company, the ring of fire series, the female characters in those seem to get a pretty fair shake. For turgid prose however look no further than Dune, no wonder they can’t make a decent movie out of it.

  17. PaulBC says

    sheikh mahandi@19

    Childhood’s End was good. The one I really liked when I was into Clarke was The City and the Stars (1956). I am not really sure I would recommend it to anyone today, nor do I see it as a plausible far-future scenario (utopia in a small, controlled environment). I would recommend Greg Egan’s Diaspora for capturing the kind of far far future in a much more intriguing way. I am also a big fan of Iain M. Banks. It’s sad to lose him. I am sure he had a lot more to say.

  18. PaulBC says

    Oh, and speaking of The City and the Stars”:

    This novel is a complete rewrite of his earlier Against the Fall of Night, Clarke’s first novel, which had been published in Startling Stories magazine in 1948 after John W. Campbell, Jr., editor of Astounding Science-Fiction, had rejected it, according to Clarke.

  19. Akira MacKenzie says

    PaulBC:

    Living forever as a gill-man certainly beats the life of a boring insurance clerk. Robert’s ancestry was a blessing.

    If you’ve never heard of them, I highly recommend Dark Adventure Radio Theater from the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society. They’re audio adaptations of HPL stories (as well as a few original Mythos tales) done as 1930s-radio-plays complete with music, sound effects, and disturbingly ironic commercials. Innsmouth is one of their better ones.

  20. Rob Grigjanis says

    sheikh mahandi @19: Well, à chacun son goût, but I found Clarke’s prose more clunky, and his characterizations far more inept, than Herbert’s. Some good yarns though; I thought Childhood’s End was adapted nicely for TV. Lynch’s 1984 Dune was a disaster with some good bits (and great actors), but I thought the TV mini-series Frank Herbert’s Dune was quite good.

  21. PaulBC says

    Rob Grigjanis@23 “à chacun son goût”

    Indeed. I hated the worldview of Dune, probably for the same reason Herbert fans really love the novels. In terms of pure writing ability, sure, but Clarke is not tough to beat. I would take Philip K. Dick over either in terms of (roughly) contemporaries. (And I am still hopping mad that Locus hastily slapped on cover for Robert Heinlein after printing an issue noting the death of Clifford D. Simak http://www.isfdb.org/wiki/images/2/27/LOCUSJUN1988.jpg?fbclid=IwAR1cGPkTPVFMK4b0Nf-Ix8Olw1TtsRB55wF4sxwr_VCc0wLy8JtgnHLpBac ) Simak is hit or miss and some may say too religious, but Way Station is one of my all time favorites. (And I can hold a looooong grudge.)

  22. Rob Grigjanis says

    PaulBC @24:

    I hated the worldview of Dune, probably for the same reason Herbert fans really love the novels.

    I’m not sure what you mean. Do you think Herbert saw the way his universe was run as something to aspire to? I never got that impression. He was telling a story set in a possible future. If I love the book, does that mean I’m an imperialist?

  23. PaulBC says

    If I love the book, does that mean I’m an imperialist?

    No, it just means you enjoy reading about that more than I do. Am I allowed to have preferences?

  24. PaulBC says

    Rob Grigjanis@27

    Absolutely. Frank Herbert was a good writer, just not my thing. That was my main point. I even read The Green Brain, which seemed to be in oversupply at used bookstores back when I frequented them. (I don’t remember enough about it to recommend or not, something about a collective insect mind).

    On a more judgmental level, my reaction to the Dune series is sort of “If that’s the future, then let’s just end it all now.” I do prefer science fiction with a vision of progress (Iain M. Banks, for instance). A well-executed dystopia is great too, but as a cautionary tale. Herbert is more like, let’s take all the medieval shit, but on steroids. I read the first Amber book (Zelazny) surprisingly recently and had a similar reaction. And I don’t judge anyone for liking either of them (cause my friends in college all seemed to). But it is not my thing.

    Hope this clears it up.

  25. PaulBC says

    Rob Grigjanis@27

    To elaborate a little, I do understand the concept of fiction and that it is rarely an expression of how the author believes things should be (and if it is, like Bellamy’s Looking Backward it is usually less successful as art). I am not denying Frank Herbert’s world-building ability, his writing, his strong characters, or his imagery. I read everything up to God Emperor, though it was at a time when I pushed myself harder on books I didn’t like than I usually do now. (I am now in the process of pushing myself through a reread of Peake’s Gormenghast, and that is a slog, but also not something I usually do in middle age.)

    Clearly, Herbert is not presenting a utopia. It would be hard to persuade me that he is presenting a cautionary dystopia either. If he has a goal other than to flesh out his ideas for entertainment (and I think he does) it’s to present human virtue in adversity. I believe that I am supposed to think that all the heroic shit is a vital part of being a fully realized person, that the Bene Gesserit Gom Jabbar, while harsh, is an effective test of “humanity”, that I’m supposed to get a thrill out of Paul Atreides’s hero arc, and not just as a disinterested spectator but because I see him as an especially worthy human being.

    It’s entirely possible that the above is my hangup and not Herbert’s point at all. And none of it argues against anyone reading and enjoying it. I will say that I personally far prefer stories about humble and even flawed characters making mistakes, paying for them, but not always severely. I also like it better when the violence is turned down a notch (I’m pretty sure Game of Thrones wouldn’t resonate with me).

    I can picture somebody reading Simak’s Way Station and declaring it a total snoozefest, but it is closer to what works for me. Another novel I like a great deal is Ursula K Le Guin’s Lathe of Heaven, though it is certainly dystopian. Or the first thing i read by Philip K. Dick, the lesser known Galatic Pot Healer. Again, the theme of fallible human beings adrift in unusual circumstances is something I just enjoy more than heroism.

  26. Rob Grigjanis says

    PaulBC @28: Thanks. Yeah, that clears it up.

    We see Dune quite differently, but that’s cool.

    FWIW, I’m much more of a Le Guin fan than a Herbert one. The Left Hand of Darkness is among my favourite books of any genre.

  27. PaulBC says

    Rob Grigjanis@30

    I just read over part of Herbert’s wikipedia page and I feel I may be way off base in terms of authorial intent. Suffice it to say, I just don’t love Dune, and there are SF works that I do.

  28. chrislawson says

    Frank Herbert at his best could write intelligent, subtle, disturbing books about human sociality (The Santaroga Barrier) and at his worst could be insultingly oblivious (Dragon in the Sea, a book that starts brilliantly but ends so badly I could never read Herbert again).

  29. raven says

    I am also a big fan of Iain M. Banks. It’s sad to lose him. I am sure he had a lot more to say.

    QFT!!!! YES!!!!

    I’ve been reading SF/Fantasy since kindergarten in the 1950’s.
    It’s changed a lot over the years.

    As many have noted, modern SF is usually highly dystopian.
    No secret why, SF reflects the Zeitgeist of our era and our era is bleak and dystopian.
    Quite often the societies described are dystopias and the earth is either dead or dying.

    And then I recently discovered Iain M. Banks and the Culture novels.
    He’s one of the few who actually envisions a future Utopia, the Culture, and a good writer besides.
    A lot of the main characters in his novels are AI’s, the Ship Minds. His novels actually end with something like a happy ending.

    In a few weeks I located all I could of his Culture novels and, as it turned out, read them all.
    Then he got sick and shortly afterwards died.
    A huge loss.

    Picking just one favorite writer isn’t possible but any list of mine would start with Iain M. Banks.

  30. Ryan says

    Zelazny or Ursula Le Guin for the win. Both staggeringly beautiful writers. Zelazny was a bit inconsistent though, but when he was good I can’t think of anyone who could touch him. Frank Herbert is probably the most over rated – Dune I found was a mess, convoluted, simplistic, pacing problems… And the sequels are really bad.

  31. brain says

    I got hooked on this stuff as a boy in the 1960s, and initially read all the old classic authors — Asimov, Clarke, etc. — and was fascinated with all the robots and spaceships and hyper-advanced gadgetry that they wrote about, but failed to notice that they weren’t very good at writing about people.

    PZ, if you really think that Asimov was not good at writing about people you probably didn’t read enough of its work, or you didn’t understand it.

    And, again, you seem to believe that we should stop appreciating great authors just because their work does not adhere to modern views in term of sexism, racism etc (and we’re talking about fiction, here). This makes no sense at all.

  32. DLC says

    Huh. I guess I shouldn’t mention Discworld.
    Not really SF, but good stuff, if you ask me. (which you didn’t.)
    Personally, I liked Asimov’s writing. He had a gift for words. Asimov’s stories are well-crafted and flow smoothly. Disagree with his ideas if you like, but his stories are like fine custom-crafted automobiles. I feel the same way about Frank Herbert, but in opposite phase. His words string together nicely, but his ideas leave me wanting.

  33. nastes says

    @#2 methuseus

    I started reading The Book of the New Sun, and even made it almost to the end of the second book, but it was to plodding for me, and Severian’s actions don’t seem to fit his character up to that point. But I know that many love the books, so maybe I’m seeing something different.

    I finished the books a few weeks ago, but yeah while I find the overall story arch and world interesting, I also found it to drag quite a bit and I’m wondering why some people seem to love it quite a bit. Well, each to their own :)

    On the side of, imho, really good SF, I highly recommend Ann Leckie’s “Auxillary” series (I’m sure she got mentioned here before…)

    Have fun,
    nastes

  34. PaulBC says

    Interesting to see defenses of Asimov’s writing. I haven’t read anything by him in a long time, but my first thought is that he was a perfectly serviceable writer who was usually weak on characterization, and not strong on imagery or much else that would evoke an emotional response with the possible exception of Sense of wonder if that counts as one.

    I think Asimov simply wrote too much for it to all be good, but he was a powerhouse of science fiction, science exposition, and other non-fiction.

    He had some intriguing ideas. Foundation with its (implausible) psychohistory influenced Paul Krugman, and he even says it inspired him to go into economics. Two other novels where I remember thinking “Whoa, cool idea” are The Gods Themselves and The End of Eternity. So my view: strong with ideas, able to express them well in writing, not big on the human side of writing (as one would find in Philip K Dick, for instance, whose flawed, searching characters remind me a lot more of people I actually care about).

    (I always thought Asimov’s Laws of Robotics were kind of silly, but that’s for another day.)

    One novel in which it struck me that Asimov focused on one character with something resembling affection was Pebble in the Sky. At least that was my impression when I read it a long time ago. I am spotting a trend though (wikipedia):

    It was rejected by Startling Stories on the basis that the magazine’s emphasis was more on adventure than science-heavy fiction (despite the editor inviting Asimov to write the latter as an experiment for the magazine), and again by John W. Campbell, Asimov’s usual editor.

    I wonder if “rejected by Campbell” is a good indicator that I am likely to find a work of Golden Age SF a little unusual and interesting.

  35. PaulBC says

    nastes@39 I admire Gene Wolfe’s writing, but I only read Shadow of the Torturer in Book of the New Sun. Getting through the whole series would have required more commitment than I had at the time, and I honestly found some of it (the whole torture concept) hard to take.

    Some of my favorites of Wolfe’s are Free Live Free and There Are Doors. As a friend of mine put it, they read as if he wrote them for himself. I agree with that, but it’s what makes them more interesting to me. I get a sense of what was going on in his mind when he wasn’t thinking in terms of target audience.

    I am not sure how much else I read by him. I read Soldier of the Mist, which I think had a sequel that I read. There may be others.

  36. PaulBC says

    Stanislaw Lem was certainly as “bad” a writer as any Golden Age American science fiction author in terms of characterization. I would say the same of Jorge Luis Borges, though he is not usually considered a science fiction author at all (but isn’t Library of Babel is information-theoretic science fiction?).

    Both wrote primarily to explore ideas, and many people find those ideas intriguing and influential. It’s unclear that you really need to add believable characters and situations just to turn it into “real” fiction. Asimov struck a balance, generally, fleshing out a character just enough to make it into a story and not a philosophical fable. But it’s incorrect to assume that the reader wants better characterization. A lot of readers consider this to be unnecessary verbiage.

  37. Jazzlet says

    With all of the classic age science fiction it was just tough luck if you happened to be a girl looking for a character to identify with, Dune at least had powerful women.

  38. Rob Grigjanis says

    Just learned there’s a film version of Dune coming out next year, directed by Denis Villeneuve! Javier Bardem as Stilgar, Charlotte Rampling as Gaius Helen Mohiam, and some other interesting casting. That will be one of my very rare visits to the cinema.

  39. PaulBC says

    Jazzlet@43 That’s a good point. The women I knew in college who were science fiction fans sometimes liked Herbert but rarely had much impression of Clarke one way or the other (except maybe 2001 and 2010).

    Herbert was born in 1920 making him a contemporary in age of Clarke and Asimov but Dune is post-golden-age. (I was going to say Herbert started writing later, but it looks like he was writing in the 50s; Dune was just his big break-out hit.)

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