John C. Wright Explains Science Fiction For You

“Science Fiction is that genre of cognitive estrangement in a post-Gothic mode, utilizing a willing suspension of disbelief, transcending anthropocentricism and temporal provincialism, where spacemen, raygun in fist, soar through outer space with a glamorous brunette Space-Babes in their brawny arms.

Now I know what I’ve been doing wrong all this time. Note to self: More glamorous brunette Space-Babes. And soaring. And rayguns, now that I think about it. Man, I don’t know what the hell I’m writing anymore.

44 Comments on “John C. Wright Explains Science Fiction For You”

  1. Frankly, I’m just impressed as hell that E.R. Burroughs’ had so much influence on the costuming of cover babes. Jewels and weapons, are, I believe the only clothing Dejah Thoris allowed herself. Obviously, some adjustments had to be made so that these could be sold to impressionable young boys and not delivered in brown wrapping paper, but the point remains… And I think there were at least as many red-heads as brunettes in that sample. Heinlein’s influence or muse?

  2. John C. Wright Explains Science Fiction For You

    Cripes, finally someone steps up to the plate. I’ve been trying to piece it together by reading Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, scalzi*, Zelazny, Farmer, Dick, and Lucas [duck].

    Now I know, I guess. I won’t accept anything outside of Wright’s parameters, that’s for sure. Because as soon as we start allowing the unexpected, just about anything could happen in a sciencely fictional story.

    *This would have been a much funnier bit if I’d (been savvy enough/able to) you’d given me the functionality to make the font size smaller. Er. Make the font smaller.

  3. Not to be Capt. Obvious, but John C. Wright is a funny, funny man. Grazie for the link.

  4. You know, after a while, I stopped reading the text and was just checking out those covers. Damn, that was some interesting stuff.
    Ray Bradbury appeared in a not insignificant number of those magazines. Oddly enough, almost all of the “cover stories” (i.e. the stories featuring the buxom babes and the warrior maidens of Saturn) were written by forgotten no names…and the also-featureds were names like Van Vogt, Bradbury, and Poul Anderson.


  5. Aha! Clearly this copy of Babel-17 from a printing that’s nearly as old as I am is true Science Fiction — the cover’s got a Space Babe wearing very little, and that very little includes a shiny head-jewelry thing, and it’s obviously on another planet, and there’s a giant spaceship in the sky! Also, it says “science fiction” in little type next to the spine.

    The entire rest of my bookshelves, however, I’m not so sure about.

  6. Just read the Wright article. I can’t tell if I feel angry, sad, or confused. It is most likely confused. I got the impression that Wright was trying to be funny, but since he didn’t get me to laugh I could be mistaken. It vaguely reminded me of one of those articles written in the 70’s on how heavy metal is the devil’s music. Anyway, he has convinced me to never read his books if his novels read anything like this article. It is possible to lovingly make fun of communities that you belong to (in this case Wright and sci-fi). I thought Heinlein did a nice job of this in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (in this case writers in general). Wright, however, failed utterly at being amusing or making any interesting observations.

  7. I always pictured Jane Sagan as a brunette. And in the first two books, she’s a brunette with green skin, which gets bonus Star Treky points.

    But glamorous she ain’t.

  8. Dan,????
    I’m not sure what you mean; why would you be sad? Or angry? Confused is ok, no worries there, but…
    What does anything Wright have to say have anything to do with you?
    He’s making some jokes, talking about the history of the genre. And, let’s face it, a lot of that history is crap (cf. Sturgeon’s law.) I didn’t sense any animosity, or arrogance. Just a little wry good humor. Are you so personally involved with SF that you can’t distance yourself from it far enough to enjoy a little ribbing?
    Honestly, I’m curious as to why you take it so personally/seriously.

    And come on, that first part was funny.
    Cause, you know, his mom is going to send someone to crush his gonads.

  9. In all fairness to ol’ Burroughs, his male characters wore the same outfits (or lack thereof) that his female characters did–everyone on Mars was pretty much stark naked.

    For some reason, the pulps didn’t generally share this sartorial equality (tho’ there are some exceptions.)

  10. I always liked the pointy toes, like they all know ballet, or something. The spaceman on the cover of your post looks like he’s going burst into song.

  11. Thought occours – romance ain’t gonna blossom if he needs a bubble helmet in her native atmo.

    Poor lad. Nothing cleaves the heart i’twain like incompatable biochemistries. Romeo and Juliet had it easy, really.

  12. John! It’s totally racist to even NOTICE that some space babes have green skin.

  13. Heh, that’s quite funny. And looks similar to a hobby that a friend and I have – combing second hand bookstores for the worst pre-1980 sci fi covers we can find. I don’t think we’ve read a single one, but the covers are worth the (very small) price by themselves!

    On another note, though (and semi related to some other posts of Scalzi’s this week), John C Wright is one of the authors (along with Orson Scott Card) whose blogs I wish I hadn’t read. The first entry I saw when I skipped over to Wright’s journal was eye-poppingly and angrily homophobic. That, sadly, is a dealbreaker for me. Normally I don’t give a crap about authors’ politics or personal views, but as a gay boy, knowing that someone thinks I’m not worthy of consideration as an equal human being makes it a little harder to enjoy their books – it becomes personal rather than political. So, yeah, amusing post, but I’m still not going to read any more of his books.

  14. John, I’ve got nothing against green skinned space babes, and that goes all the way back to the original Star Trek pilot.

    Mac, noticing the green skin doesn’t make you racist. Thinking and acting in a “totally eww”, “she must be a sex crazed dancer”, or “she’ll probably kick my arse from here to Tuesday” way would be prejudice. Denying they are there in the cannon, or to deny them a place in my own writing would be racist.

  15. I’m just in awe of anyone who’d dare (or know how to) use anthropocentricism and space-babes in the same sentence.

    I read the original post, and parts of it arte pretty funny. Real long, though.

  16. “Yeah but what does anthropocentricism and temporal provincialism mean?”

    That’s how someone high on his own intellect talks about art that isn’t about people and isn’t set in the here and now.

  17. <nerdgas volume=”11″>
    WTF? E. Hoffman Price … dang, I read a couple of his novels in college, ferchrissake. *googles* Operation Misfit and Operation Longlife, yep. Wonder if I can still find their battered remains in the musty boxes of yore?

    Oooh, Leigh Brackett? Edmond Hamilton? Cleve Cartmill? YEEK! Holy Hannah, there’s even a Raymond F. Jones in there! *embarrassed blush*

    Errm. I’m sorry, could you repeat the question?

    * * *

    Re: MarkHBon @19:
    }Poor lad. Nothing cleaves the heart i’twain like
    }incompatable biochemistries. Romeo and Juliet had it
    }easy, really.

    Depends on whether ones heart is dead set on procreation. “Incompatible biochemistries” can also be translated as “license to boink without paternity suit”, if you look at it in the right sort of light.

    But do make sure that you’re willing to (check one:)
    [ ] marry
    [ ] adopt
    [ ] donate your brain to
    [ ] donate your corpus to
    [ ] sign over all your wealth to

    her / him / them / it / tha, if that’s what h/h/t/i/t’s family expect of a suitor.

  18. Addendum to @26 above:

    Oh, and you may desire to find out how often h/h/t/i/t is gonna want it, and possibly adjust your medical insurance (or your expectations) to promote harmony. And wear sunscreen whenever appropriate.

    IMHO, you would do well stay away from lady mantises (mantisi?), black widows, and the more extreme mink-analogs.

    But trust me on the sunscreen.

  19. Christopher @ 26

    I’d just find it a terrible passion killer to have to:

    1) Pre-breath
    2) Pop one’s helmet off
    3) Snatch a quick snog in the few seconds before anoxia kicks in
    4) Lid up and purge atmo.

    I mean, where’s the fun in that? After the first couple of times, anyway.

  20. Who here recognizes any stories listed on these magazines?

    Admittedly, some are deservedly obscure: I don’t think my life will be dimmer for never having read ZEMMD MUST DIE or THE MAD MONSTER OF MOGO, or even ROCKETEERS HAVE FURRY EARS.

    But I have read the STAR-SAINT by A.E. Van Vogt; and THE HIGHWAYMEN by Lord Dunsany; I have read a healthy amount of Leigh Brackett and unhealthy amount of Ray Bradbury, and just about everything by Poul Andersen; we have all, I hope, read H.G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs; and I proudly admit having read both PLANETS IN PERIL and THE COMET KINGS, which are fun “Doc”-Savage-in-Space-type Captain Future stories.

    I have read “World-Wrecker” Hamilton and Stanley G. Weinbaum and many, many of the other names appearing on these colorful covers. Of course I have read THE MOON POOL by A. Merrit. It is a classic.

    These pulps are the origin, as much as H.G. Wells or Jules Verne, of our beloved genre. At least, beloved of me. Science Fiction is wonderful in both senses of the word.

    What lead-gray and narrow soul does not want, secretly in his heart, to soar?

    (I also admit I am wondering if the “War-Maid of Mars” fought the “Black Amazon of Mars” and they both fought the “Warrior Maiden of Mars”, who would win?)

  21. John (#29), ummmm, I did. And do. And can match you cover for cover, lol.

    Great piece.

    Re prejudice regarding the green-skinned. Prejudices can be justified, especially when the voluptuous, green skinned babe with flaming red hair also has claws, fangs and an uncontrollable desire to eat your brain.

  22. You know… Looking at that picture, the relative postures, etc… When did K.D. Lang get herself a spacesuit with a jetpack? And why is her passenger asleep?

  23. This gets to the heart of my main problem with Old Man’s War, John, Sure you transcended anthropocentricism, that’s a given, but it was like you intentionally decided not to address temporal provincialism.

  24. Hawley, one should also do an allergen test with those different-biochemistry ladies. Relationships with the Poison Ivy Women of Heironymous IV rarely work out.


  25. steve davidson, red hair you say. I can deal with that, claws or no claws. Now the disposition to go all praying mantis, one just needs to bob and sway.

  26. Bruce @34 writes: [O]ne should also do an allergen test with those different-biochemistry ladies.
    Allergen testing of such different-biochemistry ladies is indeed desirable, especially such tests which favor exposing an expendable intermediary substance to the DBL(s) in question rather than ones own integument.

    On the other digit-cluster, the effects of personal exposure to “different biochemistry” are frequently (not always!) comparatively benign. Different biochemistries based upon similar organic elements (CHON) are largely limited in malignant potential by their mutual dissimilarity;
    the ability of one organism to affect, infect or infiltrate [beyond passive co-occupation] another tends to corelate with congruency between the two organisms. In short, native flora and fauna are more likely to give you that whole-body rash or the Malady That Never Goes Away than are the more exotic contenders.


    Relationships with the Poison Ivy Women of Heironymous IV rarely work out.

    True enough — but dammit, are the excessive tendencies to cling and to espouse batshit political views nothing more than biology in action?

    (Could be. Of course, xenospecies hawtness might just be more biology in action. Frumious action, at that. ;^)

  27. Bruce @34 | /me @35:

    Please forgive the selfish moment there. The vision of all those DBLs had me so lathered that I forgot to address the equally serious issue of what my biochemistry [1] might do to them.

    [1] Or just those damn clove cigarettes of which I am overly fond.

  28. MarkHBon @28 writes:

    >I’d just find it a terrible passion killer to have to: […]

    If true love should admit no impediments, then ditching the suit, breathing apparatus and other encumbrances sounds like an option worth exploring [0]. Heck, most Angelenos in the smoggy sixties adapted fairly well to the near-absence of oxygen in their home turf, as did I in my formative years. [1][2]

    I hear that there are wonderful advances in lightweight breathing gear…

    >I mean, where’s the fun in that? After the first couple of times, anyway.
    You’d have to ask Bob Oliver Francis Howard.

    [And I will ignore your choice of the phrase “pop one’s helmet off” in this context with as much dignity as I can. Please don’t do that again. Ever.]

    [0] In a gradual manner, of course. Gotta work up to it.

    [1] Alas, I should have held out for a snog with my smog.

    [2] Being well-adapted to one niche can make it difficult to adjust to another: For the first few months after relocating to San Jose, I suffered from lack of pollution. Friends worried about my probable health (or lack thereof) when they would catch me smoking multiple cigarettes in parallel, a la Louise Baltimore.
    Eventually I adapted to a more-restricted intake of carcinogens. Happiness is relative.

  29. I mean, where’s the fun in that? After the first couple of times, anyway.

    You’re doing it wrong.

    And ya know, lurid covers would have gone a looong way toward spicing up Apollo Shrugged and The Particle Fountainhead, or whatever the follow-ups to The Golden Age were called. Sure, burly men with babes and blasters wouldn’t have fit the plot, but what’s new?

  30. “Sure, burly men with babes and blasters wouldn’t have fit the [Golden Age] plot, but what’s new?”

    Actually, I seem to recall the in the book THE GOLDEN AGE that there was a space-marine named Atkins, who shoots a hand weapon through the core of the planet to kill a spy for the aliens from Cygnus X-1, who can count as our space-aliens. There was a girl named Daphne who was described as being a brunette space-dame. So that counts. It is science fiction.

    Except I think there was a scene where Daphne rides a horse. Horse = Western. THE GOLDEN AGE was therefore a Western. QED.

  31. I seem to recall the in the book THE GOLDEN AGE that there was a space-marine named Atkins

    The internal picture I have of Atkins is more wiry than burly; I don’t recall if this was based on an explicit description or not. Hmm: wiry, taciturn, a crack shot with a pistol… My God! It was a Western!

  32. personally, the highpoint of that piece was the genre description of “Scientifiction” on one of the Captain Future covers.

  33. @ 40,

    Speaking of the SFnal Old Ones, I think there’s a bit of Stapeldon in the Golden Age trilogy. I liked it a lot and would recommend it. What’s with the Ayn Rand comparisons anyways? If it was a joke, I don’t get it .

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