Thursday, August 27, 2015

Atlas Shrugged/THS Pt 1

So my original plan was to double up on AS chapters so that things would come out even. Then I realized that even the chapters are twice the size of THS's. Good fucking god this book is a brick. So instead, we're breaking THS chapters in half.

Atlas starts with what is probably the single most appropriete phrase possible for this book.

“Who is John Galt?”
Gee I hope you like that stupid, stupid sentence.  You know how about three, four years ago, Drake did that song "Motto"? You Only Live Once? YOLO? And how EVERY SINGLE FUCKING PERSON ON PLANET EARTH was doing "YOLO" for the longest time? And how every single rapper in existence tried to cash in on this by coming up with their own YOLO? Only it worked exactly the way bricks fly and most of the rappers just sounded really, really stupid? Yeah. That's what this phrase is. It's Rand's attempt to come up with a meme. And really, it's cool that she put a meme into her novel way back in 57, when memes were not a thing. It is. She was kinda ahead of her time there.

THAT SAID. The thing about memes? Something about them is catchy. Rick-rolling, the V for Vendetta mask, the Badger Song, Troll Face, YOLO--there's something about them that makes it easy for them to catch on. Easy to say, easy to remember. Something in them is either ear-worm material--Badgerbadgerbadgerbadger--OR, more frequently, it's a single, powerful image that sticks in your head so hard even an Exorcist couldn't get it out. The Guy Fawkes mask is Anonymous symbol because it's easy, it's catchy, its' somewhat intimidating, and it's powerful because of what Anon attached to it

Now. Does ANY of that apply to that stupid sentence up there? "Who is John Galt?" sounds more like the speaker is clearing their throat. GALT. Oh, I'm sorry, let me pass you the cough medicine. This would not be a big deal if the ENTIRE FUCKING GODDAMN NOVEL did not hang on this one fucking, stupid sentence.

 Anyway, the speaker is a bum, speaking to Eddie Willers. We know nothing about Eddie, right now, except that he gets accosted by bums and has "causeless uneasiness" within him. Eddie asks the bum what he means. The conversation that follows is kinda precious:

 “Why does it bother you?” he asked. 
“It doesn’t,” snapped Eddie Willers.
It doesn't bother Eddie SO MUCH that Eddie gasp GIVES THE BUM MONEY. Because this is a big, sacrificial gesture, apparently. Then Eddie walks off and starts thinking about how much he...doesn't feel anything about his life and is really apathetic, and how very much this bothers him.

It’s the twilight, he thought; I hate the twilight.
So do I, Eds. So do I.

After Rand slathers on some...rather effective purple prose re: New York at dusk, Eddie walks past the gigantic projector-run calendar that somebody installed in Times Square. This calendar is a really, really big deal, and it's just one factor in ten million that firmly date this novel in the fucking fifties. We've got LED lights running real time stock exchange ticker tape, but apparently we also have a date calendar that works kind of like the hotel clock from Groundhog Day. 

 It was the calendar that the mayor of New York had erected last year on the top of a building, so that citizens might tell the day of the month as they told the hours of the day, by glancing up at a public tower. A white rectangle hung over the city, imparting the date to the men in the streets below. In the rusty light of this evening’s sunset, the rectangle said: September 2.

 Eddie is scared of the calendar. So scared that it makes him think of an oak tree.

No. I don't know either.

Eventually he makes it to Taggart Transcontinental, his place of employment is never exactly clear what Eddie does, and the movies are even less clear. He does something for the President and Vice President of Operations at TT, which appears to be relaying bad news, staring in horror at various things, and blabbing company secrets to a mysterious stranger every three or four chapters. His title might get mentioned eventually, but it's really, REALLY unimportant. Eds here is basically a plot vehicle--he's there to make sure that characters have the information they need when there's no other possible way for them to know shit. He's basically Rand's Deus ex Machina on a stick.

He goes into James Taggart's office. This is Rand's subtle description of Taggart:

He had a small, petulant mouth, and thin hair clinging to a bald forehead. His posture had a limp, decentralized sloppiness, as if in defiance of his tall, slender body, a body with an elegance of line intended for the confident poise of an aristocrat, but transformed into the gawkiness of a lout. The flesh of his face was pale and soft. His eyes were pale and veiled, with a glance that moved slowly, never quite stopping, gliding off and past things in eternal resentment of their existence.

Yeah. Rand makes the standard ableism of your average romance novel look fucking tame by comparison. The good guys are GORGEOUS, intelligent, physically fit, energetic and otherwise fucking perfect. The bad guys are short, fat, balding, homely, ect. ect. and so forth. Basically, if somebody is pretty, they're gonna be a good guy. If somebody has even one single negative physical quality, they're fucking evil and will burn in Communist Hell.

James greets Eddie with the following:

“Don’t bother me, don’t bother me, don’t bother me,” said James Taggart.


I am not even three pages in. HELP ME.

Eds tells James that they've had a wreck on the Rio Norte Line. James replies that wrecks happen every day, this is nothing new. Points get battered back and forth until we finally understand what's going on. The Rio Norte line needs new track. James ordered the new track from his buddy Orran Boyle, who is about as reliable as a Ford Pinto when it comes to delivering orders on time. Or at all.

Eddie points out that they are losing money. James says "Yeah, but we're not the only ones" because OF COURSE that's how a President would talk. Eddie says they need to fix shit on that line before they lose all their customers and James replies with what is possibly one of the strangest non-sequiters I've read in a while"

“You’re a pessimist, Eddie. You lack faith. That’s what undermines the morale of an organization.”

Uh...that is not how faith works. Or business. Or...anything, really.

 Eddies tells James they need to order from a different supplier. They dance around the issue for a minute before finally revealing that the dreaded other supplier is Rearden Steel, who is...a competitor of Orran Boyle, who is James's good friend, and therefore the order can't be placed and basically all I'm hearing is a couple of puppies whining at each other. Basically, this only exists to make sure we know the following:

1. Taggart Transcontinental is in trouble
2. Rearden Steel is a really cool company
3. Orran Boyle is not a cool company.
4. The Phoenix Durango line is also real cool--cooler than TT anyway.
6. James is frighteningly dependent on his sister.

You know, I get that Rand is trying to make a point that James isn't suitable for leading a company, at all, ever, and that the only reason he's got one is (SPOILERS REDACTED) but for the love of fucking God. I wouldn't trust James with a company. I wouldn't trust this idiot with a potato gun.  Afterwards the dude in the desk outside James's office goes on a long rant ending with "Who is John Galt?"

Damn is that going to get old.

We switch scenes and have an unnamed woman who is so awesome that her leg--not her body, mind, just her leg--gets a whole fucking paragraph.

Her leg, sculptured by the tight sheen of the stocking, its long line running straight, over an arched instep, to the tip of a foot in a high-heeled pump, had a feminine elegance that seemed out of place in the dusty train car and oddly incongruous with the rest of her.

We then get a description that includes her coat collar, her hat brim,  her face and her posture.
This is Dagny, though she isn't named for a couple more pages, and she's listening to gorgeous, spiraling, triumphant music...that is being whistled by a random dude outside her door.

Hey. When was the last time you found random whistling to be inspiring and transcendent?

 She intuits by how AWESOME this whistling is that the song is by a composer named Richard Halley, who wrote a bunch of other things that were cool but really depressing-- and was apparently really obsessed with how nobody REALLY APPRECIATED HIS MUSIC. Note: We still don't have Dagny's name at this point, but we do have the name of some unknown random dude who plays the piano. Also:

She thought dimly that there had been premonitory echoes of this theme in all of Richard Halley’s work, through all the years of his long struggle, to the day, in his middle-age, when fame struck him suddenly and knocked him out.
Fame is a random bus, my lovelies. Be advised.

One thing I noticed is that a running theme for this book is an utter lack of appreciation for shit like musicians and writers who are the Best Things In the Universe. Having spent several years writing books that nobody reads, and having read this book more than once? Yeah, I think Rand had issues

She gives the whistler the ninth degree and is told that it's Halley's Fifth Concerto. Which is weird, 'cause he only wrote four...and the kid bolts as soon and as fast as he can, and we're supposed to just file this away for a later payoff because FREE MARKET CAPITALISM.

The train stops, and she steps off to question the staff as to why, and they just bullshit her until she reveals that she is Dagny Taggart, their boss's boss's boss.

So...these guys didn't know she was on the train? She's riding in her private car, which is noticeably different from the rest of the train, and they didn't notice? Nobody in the office called down and said "UH GUYS WE NEED TO BE CAREFUL BECAUSE MS. TAGGART IS ON BOARD TONIGHT"? NOBODY told the engineer that he had the fucking VICE PRESIDENT OF HIS FUCKING RAILROAD on board tonight? REALLY?

Again, I get that we're actually trying to have incompetent characters, but you could at least make them halfway decent ass kissers. Seriously, putting in a good job because the boss is present is kind of a no brainer. Having your strawshirts do a shit job in front of the boss is not telling me they suck at their job. It's telling me that you really do not get how slackers work. Literally.

She orders them to move on through a red light. Which is supposed to be cool and decisive and show how awesome Dagny is... except that red lights are, you know, the universal signal for bad. Her order to creep along the line until they get to the next signal is...kind of reckless and stupid, you know? For all they know, half the track could have fallen into a sink-hole, a train could have derailed and spilled clorine gas all over the place, shit could be on fire--literally anything could happen and the only thing keeping them from being right up against a potential disaster is a fucking red light.

But Dagny is the COOLEST WOMAN THAT EVER COOLED so of course its just a short and the train continues on.

This is an example of one of the many, many fatal flaws in this book. See, that light? Was there for a REASON. That reason is to let you know that continuing down this track is a MASSIVELY FUCKING STUPID IDEA. ESPECIALLY when you're riding on a track notorious for split rails, mangled curbs and chewed up engines. The "good guys" ignore warning signs, scientific studies, legal rulings and basic good sense because they want to, and the power of their wanting--literally, it's the fact that these people actually want things that makes them good guys. Not the fact that they do things. The fact that they want things--makes everything work out. Meanwhile the bad guys do LITERALLY THE EXACT SAME FUCKING THINGS and are demonized because...FREE MARKET CAPITALISM, I guess.

Anyhoo, the train makes it back to the station without crashing, and Dagny lays out her plan to salvage the Rio Norte line. She lays out a plan that is way too aggressive for James' buddy to meet, and then casually drops that she's ordered the rail from Hank Rearden, who is good because he ignores politics and never went to college, as opposed to Orren Boyle who loves both politics and college.

Note: The college comparison is one the book actually makes. Repeatedly.

James flips his shit.

Dagny tells him to call Rearden and cancel.

James continues to flip his shit while refusing to cancel because "I didn't say that."

So now it is time for OUR FIRST POLITICAL STATEMENT which...dear fucking God makes no sense at all.

“That we always give all our business to Rearden. It seems to me we should give somebody else a chance, too. Rearden doesn’t need us; he’s plenty big enough. We ought to help the smaller fellows to develop. Otherwise, we’re just encouraging a monopoly.”
And they put this guy in charge of an entire company. Somebody who has all the brains and charisma of a sack of oatmeal.

You guys remember my Gor review, right? This is a book with a cast of Elinors. ALL OF THEM ARE STRAWCHICK.

Meanwhile, brave and beautiful Dagny just keeps on trucking and talking about STEEL. Specifically the new kind of steel called Rearden Metal, which is based on a brand new formula that is completely untested.

She wants to build an entire railroad out of something that hasn't even been used in a toaster yet.

What follows is one of the strangest conversations, given the purpose of this book. Let's see if you can spot the exact moment when the book shoots itself in the foot:

“Well, whose opinion did you take?”
 “I don’t ask for opinions.” 
“What do you go by?”
“Well, whose judgment did you take?”
“But whom did you consult about it?”
“Then what on earth do you know about Rearden Metal?”
 “That it’s the greatest thing ever put on the market.”
 ” “But who says so?”
 “Jim, I studied engineering in college. When I see things, I see them.”
 “What did you see?" 
“Rearden’s formula and the tests he showed me.”
Okay. There is a lot to be said for basing decisions on your own judgement. But unless Dagny has a Ph.D. in metallurgy and did the tests herself, this is not one of them. Also, sometimes you see things wrong. Sometimes you get bad information. Sometimes your attempts at P-then-Q logic breaks down. Sometimes people lie. That's why basing your judgement on the facts, tests, and opinions of an uninterested third party is important.

The creator and sole manufacturer of a new substance is not the person you depend on as a source. If anybody has a reason to lie about the magical metal, it's Hank.

Also: for a philosophy based on the stupidity of going by how you feel, that "See things" line REALLY looks like you're going by a feeling there, Dag.

They argue about Ellis Wyatt for a little while, and then Dagny drops that she's reduced their Mexican traffic as far down as she can, and James proceeds to flip his shit because apparently there's going to be a big bonanza in copper and he'll make a mint. Dagny, however, figures that the Mexicans are going to nationalize the railroad any minute and she doesn't want to leave anything valuable behind when that happens. 

James says a few cutting remarks that I'll get into later, then Dagny attempts to promote one of her few remaining good employees, only for the guy to quit on the spot while replying "Who is John Galt."

So that's the first chapter of Atlas Shrugged. 

Let's compare it to That Hideous Strength, shall we? (Or at least to half of the first chapter)

We start off extremely interesting note:
“Matrimony was ordained, thirdly,” said Jane Studdock to herself, “for the mutual society, help, and comfort that the one ought to have of the other.” She had not been to church since her schooldays until she went there six months ago to be married, and the words of the service had stuck in her mind.
Okay. This is going to be a train wreck. It's a 1940s bachelor Oxford Don starting his novel about Spiritual Science Nazis with a commentary on marriage. Congratulations, we've set up one of our major themes in the first handful of seconds, and it's gonna stick to Jane's character like glue.

On the plus side, at least she gets a name within the first damn sentence.

Jane has only just recently married Mark. They met in college, where she had (gasp!) actual aspirations for a career, married instead, and somehow this put her plans on hold while Mark went and got himself a job.

But really, this is a Christian novel by a very conservative man.Alright, hit me with how heavy-handed this is gonna get.

“Mutual society, help, and comfort,” said Jane bitterly. In reality marriage had proved to be the door out of a world of work and comradeship and laughter and innumerable things to do, into something like solitary confinement.

Damn.DAMN.  Well, it explains why Lewis was a confirmed and proud bachelor for most of his life.

Jane attempts to get back to work on her doctoral thesis on John Donne. Apparently, she's been having a lot of trouble with it--stress in your homelife tends to do that--and Today she absolutely has to get work done. Only while she's laying everything out she comes across the newspaper, at which point she has a flashback to her dream last night.

Apparently, Jane has been having bad dreams with increasing frequency, and has been hiding them from Mark by sitting in her living room while it's still dark and shivering until he wakes which point she says absolutely nothing because it's the 1940s and we've only just gotten over clitoradectomies. Seriously, this is probably the best move she could have made, given the circumstances. This dream was of a meeting between two men--one of whom was french and in jail, the other of whom spoke french and had a pointed beard. They discuss something for a while, at which point the man with the pointed beard screws off the frenchman's head and tucks it under his arm. Jane then dreams about another man, asleep, in a fine robe on a medieval bier, but after watching somebody treat another man's head like a lightbulb, it's basically a non issue.

The reason this comes up is because the french man is in the paper. His name is Alcasan. He's a good scientist and has also killed several women, so he went to the Guillotine the day before.

Jane decides that she had to have seen this paper yesterday before she dreamed. Even though it's today's paper.

She blows it off and tries to focus on Donne, and comes to the conclusion that he's pretty sexist. She also comes to the slow, but pretty awful conclusion that she had no way of seeing Alcasan's picture before the French offed him, and rather than dealing with this she throws all of her books into a pile and decides to go for a walk. And that's the end of...our half of a chapter.

So how do the two compare?

At the moment, there really isn't much to compare, given that I'm working with half a chapter from Lewis and a MASSIVE chapter from Rand, but there's a couple things here worth looking at. Probably the first thing worth pointing out is the difference between Rand's characters and Lewis's. Technically, both of these stories are religious--or at least philosophical--narratives.

I find Lewis's start-point to be very, very interesting, and particularly atypical for the genre. Lewis's goal with his stories is usually transformative. He takes characters who are one type and, by the end of the novel, are another type entirely. It'd be easy to write this off as the standard redemption narrative--COME TO JESUS--and most of his characters do fit this perfectly. But usually stories in this genre don't start with characters this far in the emotional red. There's a mundane kind of misery both Jane and Mark have that is really atypical to most Christian narratives, and unlike most Christian stories the Come to Jesus moment doesn't really solve the problem. It's even unusual for Lewis--most of his characters are either idealized good, like Ransom and the Pevensie children, or overly negative, like Eustace or Orawel from Till we Have Faces, who become idealized good by the end of the book. Instead, you have Jane, who is in a miserable marriage and possibly suffering from some form of mental illness, and Mark, who we will meet next post. They're realistically negative people whose baseline problems (SPOILER ALERT) will not be solved during the primary narrative, and it's not something you see in this type of work often.

Rand...did not choose to do that. Rather than creating characters who are all baseline and developing them as the story goes, she created clear battlelines from the get-go. You've got Eddie Willers and Dagny, cast against a bum and her brother. Which is a really effective image, and is mostly what is being set up here. Rand is heavy-handed in her characterizations. Dagny and James Taggart may grow as characters, but they don't change. This is actually far more standard in your religious narratives, which is why I feel comfortable lumping a primarily atheistic story in with This Present Darkness and the Left Behind series. It's working off the same playbook. But when it comes to her symbolism and choice of imagery, it's effective. I might rag on the Times Square clock, but it's mostly because of how badly it dates the storyline. There are several images--some I could get to, some I couldn't--that are repeated in the book over and over and over again, as kind of touch stones to show you how far the story has progressed. The thing being developed isn't so much the characters involved as it is the world they're in, and their only role is to either prevent or advance the world's progression down whatever path Rand has for it.

In short, my lovelies:

The Studdocks are intended to be reader vehicles, and instead of shiny-eyed Skywalker enthusiasm, we're starting from a baseline of disillusioned depression, which I find completely fascinating.

Dagny and James are not intended as reader vehicles. Rather, they're a pair of symbols that we get to track through the course of the story. And...yeah, Dagny is a flaming Mary Sue of the first water.

Next time: We meet Mark Studdock; Dagny takes her toys and goes to Colorado.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

My Next Project: Atlas Shrugged. The Books. The Movies. All of it.

So one thing I've become absolutely facinated by is Atlas Shrugged.

For those of you who don't know, Atlas Shrugged is the foundational tome for Objectivism, a philosophy best summed up by the phrase "Fuck you, Got Mine." Essentially in Objectivism, altruism is bad, religion is bad, emotions are bad, faith is bad, general friendship is bad, taking care of the poor is bad, attempting to keep capatalistic markets from eating themselves is bad, basically everything is bad!

...except for free markets, ice cold realism and being an utter dick.

Now, there are a lot of arguements to be said in favor of altruism. Long before I read AS, I understood (mostly) what it was and considered it to be the ideological synthesis of garden-variety capitalism and communism--Namely, Rand's attempt to smother the latter with what she felt was the best of the former. Which is completely understandable. Rand grew up in communism and hated every single thing about it, so much so that when she was exposed to alternatives she went in the absolute fucking opposite direction. A-MURICA became her ideal, and she latched on to...archetecture and railroads as the absolute symbols of both.

It's an emotional reaction. It doesn't have to make sense.

But remember how I said that Objectivism holds that feelings are bad? Yeah. The greatest thing about Objectivism, as laid out in Atlas Shrugged AND as followed by most of its adherants is at a certain point it swivels around and shoots itself in the face. Everything about it, from its foundational ideas to its every day functionality, eventually collapses under its own weight. Basically, it's an idea that was created in opposition to another set of ideas, and thus once the opposing ideology is removed it turns on itself like a fox chewing off its own limb. I'm not sure that communism is a functioning ideology either, but Objectivism's sole purpose in life is to defeat both communism and altruism as concepts. Which means that it does not exist as a concept in and of itself. In essence, its entire function is to reject the qualities the founder (Rand) feels threatened by. However, it replaces these items with...nothing whatsoever. Really. All it has to offer is the free market which...cannot replace anything. Seriously, it's the "Let them Eat Cake" of ideologies, and not even Marie Antwonette ever said that.

Which doesn't mean that Atlas is not entertaining. It's a facinating mixture of bad and good writing, something that manages to be exciting and interesting even though your brain is screaming "THINGS DO NOT WORK LIKE THAT". And while her characters are about as deep as a water drop on a windsheild, Rand is extremely consistent in her characterizations. Now, when she fails it's on really fucking big points, and I'm not going to lie, there are segments where the plot pancakes down on itself and traps the characters inside...but these are usually the points where Rand lets her ideology overcome her writing skill. If anything, it's far superior to its derivative works, as anyone who has ever sat through the Sword of Truth series can testify (And oh, you know I'm getting to that someday) where the ideology rules the characters from the beginning. 

However, she falls victim to, interestingly enough, the pitfalls more common to religious fiction. There is a reason, my lovelies, why I usually hate Christian fiction, and it' ain't cause I don't identify with the religion. While this is best demonstrated by authors like Frank Peretti and Jerry B. Jenkins, probably the best book to compare Atlas Shrugged to is That Hideous Streingth, the final and most hated of C.S. Lewis's Perelandra books and a novel that I absolutely adore. The books are...similar. So much so that I just looked up the publication dates, absolutely sure that THS was published after AS as a reaction to AS's shitty quasi-religious politics (Because C.S. Lewis did that. A lot.) In fact, the exact opposite is true. That Hideous Strength is a 1945 book--hence the Satanist Science Nazis--while Atlas Shrugged is from 1957. Which means if anybody cribbed from anybody it was Rand, and not the other way around.

Seriously, the simularities between these books are amazing. They both feature hapless, gifted (and somewhat dense) female protagonists, a nebulous evil force that is slowly and progressively (no pun intended) taking over all of the world, and a cluster of Ultimate Goodness centered around ONE MAN WHO CAN SAVE US ALL. And while the Messianic undertones are kinda par for the course with That Hideous Strength--it being kind of Lewis' magnum opus--they are utterly damning in Atlas Shrugged, to the point that they completely destroy every single thing Rand is trying to build.

The books are also very unique in how poorly they translate into modern cultural views. Atlas Shrugged is very much a product of the Cold War, and as the horrible trilogy of movies shows (Which I will eventually cover) trying to bring its plot into modern day without updating its characters, technology or events one iota fails catastrophically. That Hideous Strength fails more on a cultural front, with dated sexual dynamics, poor focus on woman's issues--beyond a half-hearted effort in the early chapters to address Jane's shitty marrige, she's just kind of there--and what is quite possibly the most diabolical lesbian character I have ever read in my life. Probably the ONLY major difference is that while THS is a svelte seventeen chapters, Atlas clocks in at exactly THIRTY. These books are so strikingly similar, in fact, that personally I think a comparison between the two will display exactly what kind of issues the book has, and why writing a homage to your personal ideology is a bad, bad, bad idea.

It will also make me hammer one of my favorite novels, which is going to really hurt.

 Strap in, my lovelies. It's gonna be one hell of a train wreck.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

In which terrible people do not win the Hugos

So I have not been mantaining le blog because Real Life came along and I started a new (awesome) job. Basically I get to make cookies all day, feed people and then clean up after myself. It's fantastic.

Anyhoo, I did not intend to ever comment on the fucking Sad Puppies fiasco with the Hugo Awards. This was a thing I cared about, but in the way that you care about, IDK, contracting flesh eating disease.

If you do not know what the Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies are, these were a group of people--by their own admission, mostly white and male, and by my personal judgement call, universally terrible--who decided to hijack the extremely byzantine Hugo nomination process and vote for all their friends, fellow ideologues and a couple of folk who got mixed in by mistake (these people promptly ID'd themselves by declining the nom). Their issue was that the books, stories and things getting Hugos were too socially consious and they wanted to go back to spaceships and an absense of politics. You know, like Star Trek!

Because that show totally supported the dominant paradigm in every possible way, right?
What's sad is that it worked. The Puppies ballot, with few exceptions, made it into every category, demonstrating both the apathy of most voters (Frankly I'm amazed a fan-driven award system even HAS an editor category) and the Puppies total misunderstanding of what science fiction is. And a lot of the nominees, and I mean a LOT of them, were connected to a truely awful human with the internet handle Vox Day.

I do not like Vox Day. I do not like his politics, which I would call neanderthal-ish if that weren't an insult to hunter-gatherer cultures everywhere. I do not like his books, which is a dislike wholly separate from his politics (Dude. You are not GRR Martin.). He identifies as a Christian with all the accuracy of an actor in blackface, and his nom-de-plume literally translates to "God Speaks", which I think says everything we need to know about the person. There are few human beings who can make me go from zero to "Nuke it" as quickly as Vox Day. Being nommed for a Hugo by Vox Day is somewhat akin to contracting syphilis. It means you need to re-evaluate your life choices.

However, there was good news: No Puppies nom won. This meant that several of the more esoteric awards (IE that editor award) went to No Award rather than a Puppy, but sci-fi fans in general made it clear that we might squabble over particulars, but we don't do bullshit.

Pictured: Unicorn rainbows for all. Not pictured: Bullshit.

What motivated me to write this, however, was an article obviously written by a Puppy supporter (I'm not linking, but the website starts with a B and rhymes with "Wal-Mart") in which the author proclaimed that by refusing to allow a Puppy to win a Hugo, Social Justice Warriors were "burning down the house".

This indicates that not only do the Puppies (or at least, this particular Pup) not understand science fiction, they also don't understand people.

First off, they make the mistake of assuming the backlash against them is Social Justice Warriors not wanting Good Books with Bad Politics to win things, and that by refusing to let GBwBP win things, we are somehow destroying society. That is not what this is. What this is are a bunch of literate nerds going "You want to manipulate us? Seriously? Oh fuck you." It's backfired like Uncle Buck's car, is what I'm saying here. It's not the politics that killed their ballot, my darlings. It's the dick move of making that ballot in the first place. People are celebrating that the Puppies screwed the pooch, so to speak, but it's a sick kind of celebration, relief instead of joy. You can't celebrate victory over something that should never have happened in the first place. This is the kind of celebration you have when your stalker ex finally violates the restraining order enough to go to jail. It'll be gone a while, but you know it'll be back. Nobody is happy about this. And the only person who set fire to something was the Puppies. 

But that's not the biggest error the Puppies made. No, that big error was to choose science-fiction as their last stand and final defense. It might look good on paper, but from an ideological standpoint, that's kind of Custer's Last Stand, if Little Bighorn had happened to have an unguarded storm drain running right up the middle of the 7th Cavalry, packed full of defensive Lakota.

See, science fiction is, has been, and always will be, a forward-thinking medium. Its nature demands a certain amount of agnosticism if you want it to be an observation and not a manifesto, but that's the science part talking. Science Fiction at its foundation is just as questioning as, well, science itself. In its earliest forms, everything was a what if. What if we had space ships? What if we made it to the moon? What if we were invaded by things from another planet? You can even see the development of the term Science-fiction by the early authors who knew they were doing SOMETHING, but had no idea what--in explaining his vision of Heaven as being initially painful for souls, C.S. Lewis uses the word scientifiction in an attempt to describe the body of literature he was drawing on as a source. These were questions that the then-modern science and culture couldn't answer, so the authors tried to. Here's what time travel would be like. Here's how thoroughly fucked we'd be if space invaders happened.

But the thing about asking what ifs is that eventually we start questioning assumptions that scare people. Like what if there was a society entirely without women? (Ethan of Athos, Lois McMaster Bujold, go read it it is awesome). Or what if the dominant paradigm stops being white men? And that's where science-ficiton goes from being a day-dreamy genre to being something possibly dangerous--which it is, and has been, from day one. The heavy-handed colonialism of early sci-fi is the result of white men just starting to dip their toes into the great, untested sea that is Equality and going, "gee that water's really fucking cold." What made that dangerous was the fact that their what if admitted, for some micro-fraction of a second, that maybe, just maybe, the universe wouldn't always belong to them. The argument can be made that every Alien Invasion narrative is just white culture's dormant fear of immigration finding a safe, subconscious expression--combined with the fact that hey, we did this to every other culture on the planet so why should we get off easy?

I think it says something that Alien Invasion stories were never really that popular. It's a tiny part of the genre, not the genre itself. And that kind of tells you that science-fiction is not, and never was, a friend of dominant paradigms. Any dominant paradigm.

See, I picked that picture of Kirk kissing Uhura for a reason. Gene Roddenberry could have just said "What if people got spaceships?" and left it at that. He did not. Having a 1960s culture in a far-future spaceship makes about as much sense as imagining Victorian England maintaining its inhibitions re: sex in the presence of a fully functioning internet and he kinda got that. Instead, he applied the same what if that gave us the Enterprise to people. What if we make it to the stars. What will that do to us? And then instead of rehashing all of human history, he decided to break fucking everything. Sticking a black woman on the bridge of the Enterprise in a starfleet officer's uniform meant a whole lot more back then, when women weren't officers and black women weren't there at all, and most people were actively working to keep things that way. (There's a story about Woopi Goldberg watching Star Trek as a child and running in to her parents yelling "Mamma, mamma, there's a black lady on TV and she ain't no maid!" and whenever I start evaluating my cast's racial balance, I remember that story and break out all the other flesh colored crayons. Because we need about six billion more of those moments)

Gene Roddenbury asked "What if we worked through our sexism, racism and other assorted -isms?" and put Uhura on the bridge. And it scared people. Maybe not as vocally as we'd like, but it says a lot that when that kiss was scripted, everybody who didn't work directly on Star Trek told Roddenbury to turn it into a hug (and William Shatner basically made his O face for every take other than the one with the actual kiss, which is why that still shot exists) so that an interracial relationship could not be acknowledged or even implied. And it says a lot about Roddenbury and his cast that they actively sabotaged their own show to get that kiss on air. It says that they knew how important it was going to be, and they knew it needed to happen. Objectively, a kiss isn't a big deal. But neither is a bus seat, or a water fountain. Sometimes the only way we can say I matter is by taking a stand on the little things; it gives us footholds to step up to the big ones.

Star Trek had a lot of goofy moments, oddball plots and terrible, terrible special effects. But it held on in a way that Battlestar Galactica and other space-ship 70s shows didn't, and that was, IMHO, because it wasn't just applying the what ifs to tech, but also to people. It began to demand that science-fiction take a hollistic approach to storytelling--that it is not enough to tell your story, to ask your what ifs, from a single perspective, especially if that perspective belongs to the dominant paradigm. If you want your what ifs to be accurate, or at least realistic, you have to include everybody. Every gender, every race, every religion. Everything. If you don't, you might as well just pull a Plan 9 From Outer Space and dangle a hubcap in front of the camera. It's gonna be about that realistic.

Science-fiction challenges us to look forward and project the universe we want to see in terms of nature, technology and culture--a task that also challenges us to question our current reality. If this is what we want, and we don't have it now...why? Why don't we have spaceships? Why don't we have hoverboards? Why don't we have equality? Why do we believe that it takes a couple centuries to get a black woman in an officer's uniform onto the Enterprise? Why is true equality still considered science-fiction? And then it brings us to the ultimate what if, the point of the whole thing...what if we tried to change that right now? We want this future...what if we tried, as Captain Picard would say, to make it so?

And the thing is? These stories with non-binary genders, multicultural casts, full-spectrum relationships and inclusive narratives? Are. fucking. fun. It is as enthralling to play with the idea of a starship captain in a hijab as it is to toy with various ideas for the drives--possibly more, if you realize that a female Muslim captain will matter a whole lot more than your variation on Roddenbury's hyperdrive. Science-fiction is a game where nobody loses as long as everyone gets to play. Limiting yourself to a straight white might as well just stay on Earth for the duration.

The pathetic fact about sci-fi is that the perspective is still not complete. We have Uhura and Mako Mori, but not much more than that. When we manage to include non-binary genders, we mainly use them as a joke, something for the hero to play off of, and usually the focus of that humor is one of disgust, as if a trans individual is something similar to a fart in an elevator. Homosexual relationships still haven't made it out of the support cast. In short: Science-fiction still treats a large percentage of humanity as non-existant and unimportant, as something unnecessary for the narrative. Like the rest of our culture, sci-fi is still telling people that they don't count.

But a lot of people--an awful, awful lot of people--are asking the question what if we did? What if we did matter, and our voice did get heard? What kind of stories would we get then? And, because they've imagined the stories, well, you might as well tell them. Progressive science-fiction is an oxymoron that shouldn't have to exist. There is no functional difference between imagining a space ship and imagining a progressive culture where everybody counts. Both are images that someone wants to see in the near future--and both are going to require a violent event--rocket launches for one, cultural change for the other--in order to exist.

The Sad Puppies, and their rabid cousins, fail to see this fundamental aspect because it scares them. They exist in a world where value is a zero-sum game--based, in part, on their own assumption that they are value-less. A coping skill for a poor self image is to go "I am garbage, but this person is less than garbage" and then hang the designation of "less than garbage" on an identifiable characteristic. Race. Gender. Preferences. Education. They build a ladder to stand on by knocking out everybody else and stacking the bodies. Equalizing the playing field isn't a chance to help others to them. It's a challenge to their sense of identity, to their own self-worth. And when that image is challenged as profoundly as it is today, they react defensively. Their image of the future is, unfortunately, static and unchanging, because its the only future in which their sense of value remains unchallenged. They want spaceships, but not the changes those spaceships will cause. They want the Enterprise, but they don't want Uhura on the bridge. They want to play in the sandbox, but only as long as nobody else gets admitted. In effect, they don't want the future. They want Christopher Columbus--the watered down Texas Textbook version, not the real deal--to discover the New World all over again. They just want him to do it in a spaceship this time. They want to erase the potential for any future but their own.

And because that isn't a future anybody else would want, let's hope the Sad Puppies are always going to lose.