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May 04, 2014


I tried, I really did, but after six volumes I gave up on The Wheel of Time, because I could no longer pretend that I gave one damn about any of the characters.

As for Corriea's weak bleating: noted libertarian R.A. Heinlein, holds the record for Hugo-winning novels (five), and that O.S. Card (not a liberal) found it possible to win in more recent years, despite widespread revulsion at his politics.

No, the problem with "conservative" SF is that most of it is very poorly written, so it only appeals to those whose rubric strongly weights political slant over value as literature.

I wish Gary Farber would come back for this thread.

Me too, joel, me too.

I tried, I really did, but after six volumes I gave up on The Wheel of Time, because I could no longer pretend that I gave one damn about any of the characters.

I made it through book seven before I cracked. Looking back, I'm surprised by how thoroughly I was put off by the series; there was never any conscious consideration about why I stopped reading a series I'd once loved to death, but I stopped cold, and had not even a trace of desire to pick it back up, ever.

I've read my modest share of "conservative SF", to include a smattering of milSF, and I agree entirely with you on why it so rarely wins. Most of it really is bad - bad in ways that are hard to ignore. There are a few conSF authors I'll slog through even when their politics are infusing themselves deep into the work, but most of that sort are Big Idea people first and foremost, and authors a distant second. Alas.

Speaking as someone who loves, LOVES Wheel of Time-- there is no way it deserves any award above Ancillary Justice. It's an enjoyable series but it is not in any way groundbreaking or thought-provoking. It's there to entertain and it does its job well, but that's it.

Hmmm... the world won't end if WHEEL OF TIME fails to win the Hugo award, but there are a few arguments in favor of it. First, there's precedent for giving the award to a series -- Isaac Asimov's FOUNDATION series won a special award for Best SF Series back in 1966. Secondly, the series is a major accomplishment -- a life's work in the strictest sense -- and it's worthy of attention, even of honor, for that alone. Third, quite a lot of people read and reread those books and enjoyed them considerably -- which is what we ask of Hugo winners.

Doesn't that thing look very much like a -
oh you know what I mean ...

Doesn't that thing look very much like a -

V2 rocket ?

All rockets looked kinda like that back in the mid fifties.
I refer you to Tintin, Destination Moon:

...and this rather suggestive picture of Werner von Braun and Walt Disney:

I'm actually astounded that some of you actually read several volumes of The Wheel of Time. Because if Robert Jordan has ever written anything that was really worth reading, it has escaped my notice. And your negative descriptions sound very much like my recollections of the couple of times I tried reading his stuff.

In WoT, it never put me off how long it was, but I couldn't get over the idea that NO ONE EVER learned anything about the significant others they campaigned with. There was never the benefit of the doubt, never a request for explanation, just the despairing idea that men and women were different and would never understand each other. How depressing.

I've made a hobby of reading the Hugo winners (I'm about 1/2 way through) and I've always been struck by those novels that clearly win for reasons that have absolutely zero to do with literary merit. Which, you know, I don't think anyone declared "literary merit" as the one-and-true criterion so I guess that's fine.

But it's still awfully damn frustrating.

When (not if) Ancillary Justice wins, it's going to go down with books like Ringworld and The Snow Queen that only serve to embarrass sci-fi fans everywhere.

OK, so a ringworld is a very cool concept. If we had an award for "nifty premise" it would win, hand's down. But the story is dreadful. OK, Snow Queen has a neat setting. Again: a premise/setting award would be great for that book, too. But both of them are abysmal stories. Same goes for Ancillary Justice. There's only one thing you need to know to understand how terrible of a book that is, and it's the fact that everyone praises the political statement the book makes. No on says it actually is a good read. Because, unless you're just really invested in this most recent incarnation of "whiz-bang premise > story", there isn't anything there for you.

Le sigh.


The base makes it look more like an upright* V1.

*avoiding the e-word here ;-)

Jado, very well put. On reflection, that's almost exactly the reason I couldn't articulate for having stopped reading it myself. I might go further and say that beyond the profound navel-gazing tunnel vision, the books - despite their many, many points of view - tended to feel like the assorted perspectives were that of one to one and a half seperate characters, albeit with access to different information for each PoV.

Nathaniel, I just finished Ancillary Justice. I thought it was a *great* read.

I couldn't put it down, and eagerly await the promised sequels. I actually like to read about different political and economic systems; they are often not as well done as Ann Leckie's, which makes the book even more fun.

I caught on to the working of the effect of the language (there are languages here on Earth which don't distinguish gender by pronouns, but I don't speak or read any of them), and did not find it distracting. Maybe that's because I don't think the abilities and interests of a person are dictated by her gender.

I'm afraid I am a narrative junkie, unable to put down a novel solely on the grounds of its being badly written.
I made the mistake of picking up the Wheel of Time last month, and was compelled to finish the whole 14 books...

A few observations:
Jado's point is pretty sound, though I would say the learning is glacial rather than non existent.
I haven't skip-read quite so many pages, without losing any narrative sense, since I made the mistake of reading the first (and my last) Dan Brown.
Sanderson is a slightly better writer than Jordan.
With a better writer to adapt, it would make great TV.
I won't be re-reading it.

I agree with Older, I thought _Ancillary Justice_ was terrific, both for the story itself and for some of the genre nods Dr. Science mentions.

As for WOT, like many others, I gave up at the seventh book. I loved the first three, began to get worried in the fourth, and then began to despair when the bad guys started coming back in book 5. If only Jordan had kept himself to 5 or 6 books, it could have been truly great. Also, connecting military sci-fi and WOT, there's what David Drake said at

https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/rec.arts.sf.written/Mz6HWTXlODw (head of strand):

"What I said was that when Jim Rigney's work became a significant part of
not only the Tor but the Von Holzbrink bottom line, the plots for
individual volumes were decided by very highly placed people in council
with the author.

Business was expanded to a complete volume where it might originally
have been one of several strands in a volume, and the action in minor
theaters (so to speak) was followed when the author might have been
willing to elide it."


You're kind of making my point for me, here. >>Maybe that's because I don't think the abilities and interests of a person are dictated by her gender.<< I've yet to see a single person express a favorable view of the book without referrencing the fact that they agree with the politics.

That's frustrating.

The politics, for me, are not the problem. I love reading about differing political views, too. But only if the writing supports them. Try "The Left Hand of Darkness" or "The Dispossessed" (both by Ursula K. Leguin). It's not like I'm allergic to left-wing political views or even gender-critique. (While we're at it, I loved "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood.) The thing is: Atwood and Le Guin not only have thoughtful things to say about gender and politics, they can write!

But, with Ancillary Justice, it's just "I like the book 'cause it rejects gender essentialism." OK... But is the *story* any good? In fairness... the last 1/3rd is really quite interesting. But the first 2/3rds makes absolutely no sense from a plot or characterization standpoint. None whatsoever. It's like a bizarre fetish to pointless MacGuffins.

FTR, I *do* read and speak a language without gendered pronouns (Hungarian) so I guess that might explain why I found the approach (1) so easy to read and (2) so uninteresting. Millions of people speak languages without gendered pro-nouns every day. It's just not that mind-bending.

Nicola Griffith's Slow River simply ignores gender essentialism, and is well-written. (It's also pretty hot lesbian porn in places). It took the Nebula.

Joanna Russ's seminal short story "When It Changed" absolutely spits on gender essentialism, is beautifully written, and won the Nebula in 1972 and and was nominated for the Hugo in 1973.

don't think anyone declared "literary merit" as the one-and-true criterion so I guess that's fine.

I'm not an SF fan in the sense of attending cons or conducting any other fanac, so I may have this wrong, but it's my impression that Hugo Gernsback loved him some 2-D-character wooden-prose space opera, and that's what he tended to publish -- and so the Hugo Award is intended to go to the kind of SF beloved by genre fans even in the absence of literary merit, where the Nebula Award has a more explicitly literary rubric.

So I suspect that Ringworld is exactly the kind of thing Gernsback would have loved. I agree about the story, and I couldn't understand why anyone thought there would be any mystery at all about what they'd find in the crater of Fist-Of-God -- but FSM help me, I _love_ Niven's alien races: Pierson's puppeteers and The Outsiders especially, but also Bandersnatchi and Kzinti. I think Known Space was the first place I saw consideration of how different the culture of a sentient predator race might be (Niven's Kzinti), a thread that prepared me a little for Russell's The Sparrow.

And I spent an hour, maybe, trying to teach myself to pronounce Halrloprillalar.

Nathaniel, I think a lot of people who speak languages with some -- let's call it a "utility" -- like gendered pronouns, or articles, can scarcely believe that other languages get along without them. You may find this provincial of them, but the existence of millions of people getting along just fine without gendered pronouns just does not compute to these folks. And they probably enjoyed (or maybe failed to enjoy) the effort they had to put into understanding the action without having gender to pin it down. Thus it *was* an important part of the story to many of us, and because of your personal background, this is a feature you are ill-equipped to understand. Just sayin.

And no, I did not "agree with the politics", which to be fair, was not just one system, but several, reveled slowly through the interactions of the central character with others of varied origins. I took "the politics" to be elements of the story, not propositions to agree or disagree with.

I think the story is an excellent story, and I like the way the mcguffin is revealed very verrry slowly, and I like all the places we went on the way to discovering it. If I had to describe it (and I did have occasion to do so), I would most likely not even mention the peculiarity of the language.

FWIW, Tagalog does not use gendered pronouns, and the most commonly used pronoun for a person of either sex is "siya," which can sound pretty close to the monosyllablic "shya."

As a result it is not surprising when Filipinos whose English is not great (most of them speak some, but only the better educated speak it well - although they ALL speak it better than I speak Tagalog) are reaching for an English pronoun, they tend to come up with "she" rather than "he" as the default. Which to a native English speaker sounds odd at first, reinforcing the OP.

I read the first one of Correia's Monster Hunters books. He put a lot of his politics into them: the government guys were bad, except the military, which was good. Private contractors were good, even when the government is their only customer and their function, public protection, is inherently governmental. The details of various guns and gun-handling techniques were, judging from the amount of text spent on them, more important than explaining how the world works and why nobody seems to believe in monsters except, evidently, the congressional budget committees. I found it an offputting combination of unexamined dogmatic politics and poorly realized horror cliches.

I hadn't really any plans to read John Ringo before now, but the potential for literary horrorshow has me intrigued.

Only to a minor extent. There's a good used bookstore where I am moving, so I may pick up a book or two of his when I am done splitting a winter's worth of firewood and ancillary other chores. But I already have a lot in my to-read pile. Plus am just over halfway into The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which is very slow going indeed.

Poland has been invaded and conquered in slow-mo, whilst England and France did approximately nada, and now Poles and Jews are about to be slaughtered in staggering volume. There's lots in here that I had not been previously aware of (no history beyond what I have managed to stuff into my head after high school). My favorite part so far is what Churchill said about Chamerberlain after he died:

It fell to Neville Chamberlain in one of the supreme crises of the world to be contradicted by events, to be disappointed in his hopes, and to be deceived and cheated by a wicked man. But what were these hopes in which he was disappointed? What were these wishes in which he was frustrated? What was that faith that was abused? They were surely among the most noble and benevolent instincts of the human heart-the love of peace, the toil for peace, the strife for peace, the pursuit of peace, even at great peril, and certainly to the utter disdain of popularity or clamour. Whatever else history may or may not say about these terrible, tremendous years, we can be sure that Neville Chamberlain acted with perfect sincerity according to his lights and strove to the utmost of his capacity and authority, which were powerful, to save the world from the awful, devastating struggle in which we are now engaged. This alone will stand him in good stead as far as what is called the verdict of history is concerned.

Far above and beyond the minimum required by "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all".

A conservative sci-fi author I found very frustrating was Jerry Pournelle. He had some good ideas, but seemed incapable of presenting them except through a very narrow conservative lens.

Oh, and he was a Hugo finalist four times (perhaps not coincidentally, for four books co-written with Larry Niven).

In some sense, Pournelle might be considered among the very first bloggers. Although, his "blog" was in the form of a magazine column.

is there any science fiction that is actually weirder than real life?

i ask because i was just reading about slime molds.

Scott, if you had known Pournelle personally, you wouldn't surprised by his presentation. Frustrated perhaps, but not surprised.
Actually, the real surprise was Randall Garrett. Randall, too, was a miserable excuse for a human being in real life. But wow, could that man write! Great stuff, and lots of it (under an amazing collection of nom de plumes).

Thomas Disch discusses Pournelle and his relationship to Newt Gingrich in his book On SF (google books link, so it skips pages, but will probably give you a general idea) The whole book is worth a read if you come across it

"But wow, could that man write!"

Heck, he could write other people's works better than they could. Wrote some fabulous pastiches.

My favorite is the Lord Darcy story where he merely literally translates 'Est-ce que c'est' and a few other phrases into English in order to make Cougair Chasseur look preposterously foolish and pompous.

"And while WoT has indeed built up lots of fans over the past 24 years, there are a lot of us who just don't think it's very good"

I made it to book 6 or so when I realized the story wasn't going anywhere. I had been keeping up as they came out. But I threw down book 6 and never thought about it again. I was surprised to see them still going.

But it shouldn't win when there so much more sophictated work coming out. And I doubt it will.

Well, I've not read Ancillary Justice but now I'm intrigued.

I'm currently in the middle of Neptune's Brood, coincidentally. It's good - I think Stross is generally good - but (so far) perhaps not his strongest or my favorite. (I may, however, simply may not have come to the best bits yet.)

I came to Stross through a coworker who was dumbfounded I'd never heard of the Laundry series. It's pretty fantastic, fun, smart. But he really got me with Accelerando, which is brilliant.

I love sci-fi but do a lot of other reading as well, so I'm not always up on the latest.

Nicola Griffith's Slow River

Thanks for recommending that.

I'm reading her recent 'Hild', which is excellent (though not SF).

'Hild', which is excellent

Thanks for letting me know;
I had it on my wish-list,
but now I'll buy it immediately rather than waiting.

So I just finished up the Laundry Files. I must say it was very Stross: well-written, breezy, and smart... yet at the same time, excessively self-satisfied, generally waffling between being clever and lazy, irritatingly full of author insertion, incapable of portraying a female character who's not either an action girl or a conniving, narrow-minded, evil bureaucratic monster (seriously, he has some issues with female managers; out of the 9 works to date in the Laundry series, this sort of character has shown up, what, 4 times (yet at the same time, male management characters are portrayed sympathetically) - and this on top of his exceedingly painful invocation of the archetype in Iron Sunrise)... mmmph. Very mixed feelings here. Which I suppose is typical of me for Stross.

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