Tag Archives: subgenre

WorldCon Controversy 2015 – Historical Perspective

The current Worldcon kerfuffle may seem to some like a recent phenomenon based on the flaming currents of social media. However, such controversy has existed throughout the history of fandom. In fact, going back to the the very first Worldcon convention, prevalent members of science fiction were excluded based on their political beliefs. Sound familiar?

So with a desire to gain a better historical perspective, I called David Bischoff. I write science fiction with Dave, and he’s really the man to speak with regarding the history of SF&F fandom. Not only does Dave have a 40 year (and counting) history writing genre fiction, but he has extensive experience going to SF cons long past and getting into a heated debate or two…er, hundred.

The following is a transcript of our discussion: Enjoy!

Saul – What’s your thoughts on the Worldcon controversy involving Vox Day and the Sad Puppies?

David Bischoff – Well I just heard about all this hullabaloo when my esteemed colleague Jerry Oltion started posting notices on our local writer’s group page. I’m still puzzled about this whole thing about Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies, I didn’t know it was about Libertarianism. I just thought it was about people looking to push their own sad self published books. I don’t really know how a political philosophy pertains. Frankly as far as that goes, this seems to more the kind of thing that L. Ron Hubbard’s creeps do. But then Ron was an SF fan and writer who lived in a slan shack in the early 40s, so the tradition goes way back.

Saul – Is this really on par with Hubbard?

David – What I know is this. Why are people taking this so seriously? I think it’s a hoot and great publicity for SF and Worldcon. — Vox Day is a genius!

Saul – (Laughter)

David – He’s done what John W. Campbell used to do which is have fun being a Devil’s Advocate and poking sharp sticks of pseudo-reason at the dopey heart bleeding liberals.

Saul – I don’t know, it seems to be more than just having fun. Anyway, where do you place yourself on the scales of reason?

David – Me? I’m a rational and perfect Super-Liberal who has voted Democrat all his life, but actually would prefer to hang with conservatives who are lots more fun. Did you hear about the gorgeous Wonder Twins and their books? Now I’d collaborate with them in a heartbeat. Oops! Maybe I better read one of these gems first.

Saul – Do you think Libertarian SF is making a strong comeback?

David – How the hell am I supposed to know? I don’t see sales figures. I do know that some of the looniest people I ever met were Libertarians. I went to the 1981 Denver Worldcon which was just winding down a Libertarian Conference and lots of the nutters were staying on to the Worldcon. I remember all these weird people talking intensely to each other about their various personal theories. The talk of the early Worldcon was how one Libertarian had gotten so overexcited in a discussion or argument that he’d keeled over with a heart attack and died on the spot.

Saul – Sheesh, that’s horrible.

David – Frankly, I think that science fiction people INVENTED Libertarianism. Prominent amongst these was Robert A. Heinlein, who actually had a strong medical excuse.

Saul – Now that’s interesting. Did you know Heinlein? What was your impression of him?

Well I met him all the time in SF. Personally I was lucky enough to not only meet him in personally not long before he died, but to witness him in remarkable action at an SF con in the mid 70s when he was guest of honor.

Saul – How did that go?

David – His stint at the Worldcon was wild. First, he had this blood drive. Awesome. On the other hand, did the blood bankers really want blood so filled with booze and drugs? Then he demanded that if you wanted a book signed by him, you needed to show proof you’d given at least a pint of blood that weekend.

Saul – Sounds pretty driven for a good cause.

David – And that was just the beginning. His Guest of Honor speech was in a special auditorium to accomadate the masses who wanted to hear him. He walked on stage to a standing ovation. He set an alarm clock and put it on the podium. “I have a half hour to talk, and that’s all I’ll take. When the alarm rings, the talk is over.”

He proceeded to ramble on about wonky political stuff, often incoherently, for the full 39 minutes.

Saul – Then what happened?

David – People started booing.

Saul – Really?

David – I for one was happy the speech was only a half hour. Now mind you, I’m a big fan of everything the man wrote before TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE. I once had an argument about this with Charles N. Brown, the remarkable founder of LOCUS, but I know people who agree with me. Nonetheless, I still read and reread his earlier stuff and it was and still is great. The man was not only a modern visionary, he wrote like a dream and really could draw a reader into a book. Just recently I reread THE DOOR INTO SUMMER . Hey. Any books up for the Hugo this year as good as DOOR INTO SUMMER. Rabid Poopies? Sad Poopies? Hey that’s the title of your next book Vox Day.

THE DOOR INTO DUMBER

Saul – (Laughter.)

David – Anyway, I got to meet him another time because a woman I was dating once and a while at the time knew him and his wife Virginia. I lived in Maryland at the time. Heinlein was a graduate of the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland and was attending a reunion there. Heinlein invited my friend to a party and she took me along as a date. My friend and collaborator Charles Sheffield was also there, so I was relieved about that.

Saul – So what happened at the party?

David – It was a wonderful party. Heinlein was so gracious. I think I heard later that he’d had some kind of operation that improved his mental facilities. You know, when you look back you can see there are plenty of SF fans and authors who were low grade autistic. Not Robert Anton Heinlein.

When he came over to chat with my friend and I shook his hand, and I asked him how his reunion was. He said it was wonderful. We talked a little more and he called Charles over and also a Japanese rocket scientist from NASA who both Charles and I knew and who was one of the biggest Heinlein fans in the world. We talked a bit more and then Heinlein excused himself.

“Pardon me, I really should go and talk the the Admiral over there now. But before I go, in case I get too tired and have to go to bed — Dave. Could you do me a favor.”

“Sure!” I said.

I was ready to give blood.

Saul – Ha!

David – He winked at me. “Just a minute.” He went off into the bedroom of the suite. When he returned he had a copy of one of my books.

“Could you honor me by autographing this for me?”

And he even had a pen. I find tears in my eyes now even as I think about that. You know what? Robert A. Heinlein won some Hugos and he cherished them. I don’t think he needed any help in getting on the Hugo ballot, ever.

—- To be continued in my next post. Stay tuned. —-

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Show, don’t tell? Proof that you can break the rules!

When learning to write fiction, a dilemma soon encountered is: the rules. As in, one must follow them. What are they you ask? They’re more like guidelines, but everyone seems to espouse their importance, often with a bit of finger wagging for added effect. Don’t overuse adverbs, avoid sayisms, don’t change the point of view within scenes, and so on and so forth.

As much as I believe such guidelines are beneficial, I think it’s also very important to highlight the fact that one can break the rules at times. In fact, I believe one takes the craft to a higher level when one can: a) understand when doing so is in good taste. And b) one is familiar with examples of similar transgressions by other authors.

Given the above, I would like to mention the dreaded, “show, don’t tell”, rule. At its core, this rule emphasizes the practice of avoiding narrative exposition.  The idea being that a writer is well served to tell his story via action and or rich dramatic dialog. True, this technique is a good rule of thumb. However, one should not feel this is always the case. A very credible writer who emphatically proves this point is China Mieville.

The fantastic thing about China is his incredible power of poetic exposition, which not only breaks the “show, don’t tell” rule, but utterly obliterates it out of existence. If you don’t believe me, then pick up any of his books. I’m currently reading THE SCAR, which is full of good examples.

But please, read carefully. I suggest getting up on a chair and reading his prose out loud to an imaginary audience. His expositions, you see, are truly works of art, and deserve to be heard in the proper accents, rhythms, and registers.

Of course China breaks more than just one rule, but for the purpose of this blog post, “show, don’t tell” will do nicely.

Fractured Sub-Genres: Good or Bad?

There are many debates raging about the number of sub-genres within Science Fiction. Decades ago we had simply hard and soft. Now? There are more than you can shake a stick at, and new ones being coined every day.

But is this good or bad for the market? It seems the fracture taking place was actually started decades ago by marketers in the publishing industry, in  an attempt to differentiate new books. Fans have picked up on this and extended the concept way beyond its original intent. I suppose one could say they’re simply handles, from which we can describe and categorize a story.

However, I don’t see any problem here. An author might like being just a plain old Science Fiction writer, assuming this description covers a broader market. But this I feel is superficial and not the smart move. That’s because readers don’t read “any old” science fiction. Making niches seems the best solution for both sides, and simplifies the overall search process.

And if you haven’t noticed, simplifying the search process is becoming more important as we head into the new world of self publishing. We not only will have traditional publishers, but established authors throwing up their entire backlog. Toss in hordes of new writers and the number of books to select from will be more than anyone can imagine.

In the new world of publishing, sub-genre niches could very well be the only way to make sense of things.

Deathworld – by Harry Harrison

 Beyond all the: shooting, car chases, rocket escapes, and vicious alien creature attacks; this book offered more than just a thrill ride. It’s a story about the environment, and reminds the reader that making mistakes with mother nature can have negative repercussions. Namely, she’ll eat you alive.

Now in addition to its philosophical points, this book will be a great learning tool for budding writers because it employs an interesting narrative technique. The entire book starting from page one is written from only the protagonist’s (Jason dinAlt ) point of view. It never changes, and is so skillfully done I actually thought it was first person at times. But Harrison keeps the narration in Limited 3rd, and seamlessly keeps the reader absorbed the whole time without effort. I think few books pull this off better.

The plot also maintains high level drama and mystery the whole way through. So much so, it’s a wonder this book (and its two sequels) were never made into movies: it’s a CGI guy’s fantasy come true. So for now, you’re going to have to just read it and use your imagination.

Don’t worry though. Even without CGI, it’s worth it.

Eco Science Fiction – The Trendy Sub-Genre

Even though Wikipedia has pages outlining many of Science Fiction’s sub-genres, it seems that Eco Science Fiction (Eco SF) is missing. It’s no crime, but Eco SF  is in my mind legitimate, though not always in the public eye.

Perhaps this is speculation on my part, but I believe the main reason Eco SF lacks transparency is because it falls into a pattern of social trends. Sometimes being popular, other times not. There seems to be a few others listed in Wiki: Christian; Feminist; Gay/Lesbian; Libertarian. So why not Eco SF? Its existence is noted in Eco-Fiction (Stadler 1971) and Science Fiction and Organization (Higgens, 2001).

Convinced? Okay, no one wants to read lengthy non-fictions about SF these days. I would then simply point out some the great Eco SF classics that come to mind. How about Pohl and Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants (1953)? Or J.G. Ballard: The Drowned World (1962) ;The Burning World (1964). And let’s not forget Dune by Herbert (see my previous blog).

In conclusion, I would like to mention that with the advent of global warming and attention to carbon footprints, it seems we’re seeing a resurgence of this trendy sub-genre. I think it’s a sign of a healthy readership, and I welcome its coming.

Let’s just hope the trend doesn’t run out of fuel, so to speak.

The Libertarian SF Subgenre?

Is this a hot topic or what? I came across this topic recently. After which, I searched on Wikipedia and found a page that claims that Libertarian Science Fiction is a legitimate subgenre of Science Fiction.

How interesting.

I recall starting discussion on LinkedIn sometime back asking how many sub-genres exist in SF. A small war broke out with lots of opinions in every direction. Of course there is no official gatekeeper, but throughout the discussion I never saw any mention of Libertarian Science Fiction.

The Wiki article mentioned  Robert A. Heinlein‘s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress  as a good example in support. Clearly, there are elements of truth to this assessment. However, I would want to see a very long list of books  (with their author’s approval ) that demonstrate this sub-genre is really out there. Otherwise, I would just chalk up SF as a genre that leans towards this philosophy because… well, it’s interesting.

Comments are welcome. But please! Let’s not have any war over this, it’s not worth it.