Okay, Sure, It’s My Fault Science Fiction is the Way It Is Right Now

The dimwitted bigot brigade finally came across my piece about the Science Fiction canon from a couple of weeks ago and had a predictable spasm about it, asserting how it was evidence that (I’m paraphrasing from various sources, here) a) science fiction and fantasy was dying, b) traditional publishing (the sf/f parts of it anyway) is dying too, c) I’m responsible in some measure for a) and b), despite d) the fact that apparently I don’t actually sell and/or only sell through byzantine sleight of hand by the publishing industry for reasons and also e) I suck, f) which is why I don’t want people to read older works because then they would realize that, and while we’re at it g) modern sf/f is infested with terrible work from people who aren’t straight white dudes, h) which I, a straight white dude, am also somehow responsible for, and so in short, i) everything is my fault, and j) I am simultaneously a nobody and also history’s worst monster.

It’s a lot! I think it must be tiring to be a dimwitted bigot, thinking about me.

In fact it’s been a pretty solid year so far for traditionally-published science fiction and fantasy. in terms of sales. This is reflected in the New York Times bestseller lists, which so far this year have included SF/F books by Tamsyn Muir, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Lindsay Ellis, Jim Butcher, Hank Green, Kim Harrison, Max Brooks, Martha Wells, NK Jemisin, William Gibson, Rae Carson, Sarah J. Maas and me, among others, with other likely bestsellers from VE Schwab, Christopher Paolini and Ernie Cline (again, among others) still to come. And of course there is lots of other work that has not hit the lists but which is selling juuuust fine, thank you for asking. If you want contemporary traditionally-published science fiction and fantasy to be dead, or at least dying, you need to stab it harder, friends. It keeps living.

(Perhaps all of these authors are getting the same deal I am, where in fact I don’t sell actual books and yet still get on bestseller lists and make money. If so it’s a cool scam, and I applaud them all for swinging it too.)

Even from just the bestseller lists, this is a pretty vibrant and diverse scene, with lots of very excellent writers telling fantastic stories coming from a whole lot of different places and viewpoints. So if someone wants to suggest I am somehow responsible for it in some way, my thought on that is: Hell yeah, sure, I will totally take the credit. I am not in reality in any way responsible for it, to be clear — the scope of my influence on the genre at the moment is limited to my own books, and perhaps in a very tiny way, to the books I’ve blurbed. But otherwise, nope: That’s on the writers, and also the editors and publishers who have acquired their works. But if you are ridiculous enough to say that these awesome writers and books are somehow my fault: Well, okay! It’s absolutely unearned on my part! But if you insist.

I think it belies a certain poverty of intellect, knowledge, and, well, taste, to suggest the current state of science fiction and fantasy is somehow dire, but, you know. Dimwitted bigots gonna dimwit bigot. They have to continue to convince themselves that they are somehow the only true inheritors of the genre, despite all obvious evidence that the genre has well and truly branched, and that a number of people are rather successfully working in it and building it forward without reference to how these dimwit bigots insist the genre should be, and who should be allowed to work in it.

As for the very silly idea that I don’t think people should read older works in the genre: Nah, my dude. Read them if you want! Enjoy them if you can! Learn from them if there’s something there that strikes you as useful. An assertion that the concept of “canon” in the genre is a dead issue in a practical sense is neither a blanket prohibition nor condemnation of work that’s come before. If you want to think that’s what I said, I mean, I’m not gonna stop you from thinking that? But maybe work harder at reading better moving forward. I would not stop anyone from doing something I had so obviously benefitted from myself, which is, reading previous authors in the genre, and learning from them, on my own terms.

(Also, if you think I’m worried about my work being compared to that of earlier writers in the genre, well, how to put this, I’m really not. Compare away.)

To sum up: Dimwitted bigots are ridiculous; I’m not responsible for the current state of SF/F, but inasmuch as the current state of SF/F is awesome, if you’re gonna give me credit, sure, I will take it; and also, read what you want from past writers in the genre, there’s great stuff, just don’t get all fetishy about it, that’s a little much.

That’s it! We’re done! Have a great day, everybody!

— JS

105 Comments on “Okay, Sure, It’s My Fault Science Fiction is the Way It Is Right Now”

  1. But…wait!

    My brain buddy is telling me that you commanded that I should write stuff that way!

    That and Spice should get more catnip each evening. …And Smudge demands a better brand of tuna instead of that grade-D edible cat food you’ve been getting. …And I need to go out and get more cat toys for Zeus.

    More mice? This list keeps growing…

  2. I’ll say what I said on Twitter, that I suspect that piece would have been less likely to generate that amount of ill will if you had only said it was OK to ignore Asimov, Clarke, Piper, and Philip Dick if you want.

    You had to go and suggest that perhaps THAT GUY could also be ignored (or not! Depends on your taste…)

    There are whole sectors of the Internet dedicated to dispatching the Flying Monkey Brigade when THAT GUY is dissed, even tangentially.

  3. The genre branched decades ago, but some people blinked and missed it. I spent the late 70s and 80s reading books by PoC and women that did not have the approved preoccupations. Hell, I even wrote one of them. The evidence back then was that the genre was getting too big for any one person to encompass, and it was all the better for that — and in 2020 that is true to the umpteenth degree.

    If dimwitted bigots can’t find stuff to their taste, then I fear for their intellect — there’s still lot of it out there; it just isn’t ‘core’ any more. It might not please them to be peripheral to the mainstream these days, but many of us thrived in that condition for a long time, so I’m not going to spill any tears for them.

    Re canon, one version of it (canon in the mid-late 60s and 70s) was what I cut my teeth one. Some of it made me think, some of it made me laugh, and some of it made me boggle. All of it taught me something that I’m glad I learned (even if it was: don’t do that!) If asked, I might even recommend some of it, with the appropriate caveats. But others will have different canon, and mine isn’t a holy cow — if somebody born 18 years ago doesn’t want to read stuff written in the 70s, I can’t make them; they’ll be missing early CH Cherryh for example, but there is equally awesome recent stuff.

  4. Doesn’t today’s dimwitted bigot brigade consist of one human-shaped bag of slime, a handful of failed writers, and a small chorus of incels? I thought the Rabid Puppy fiasco (yawn) effectively put an end to any hopes they might have had of becoming relevant. Also, I thought they now whine mostly about Star Wars.

  5. Seems like you’ve done a terrible job! I read your piece, agree with it, thoroughly enjoy your work and *also* like a lot of the classic SF, at least what I’ve read. There are some holes which I don’t intend to fill anytime soon, because I can barely keep up with what’s being published today. Ironically, this is partly because of you, because I like going through your Big Idea and ARC posts to find new stuff to read. So, seems like you failed at being terrible, at killing the SF/F industry and also at keeping me away from the classics. I really expected better from you, Scalzi!

  6. What irks me most is that these asshats don’t seem to grasp that so much contemporary SF/F isn’t erasing the “canon,” it’s in conversation with it. Case in point: Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff. The first episode of HBO’s adaptation aired this past Sunday, and it is AMAZING. The main character is a young Black man named Atticus, a veteran of the Korean War, living in Jim Crow America in the 50s, who is a massive fan of pulp fiction–Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, and of course, HP Lovecraft, authors who exerted a profound influence over horror and SF/F. And, they were all hella racist. Atticus’ love for their fiction is a pretty profound metaphor for the complex and often contradictory relationship Black people have with America, but it is also a timely example of how, in the present moment, we’re engaged in an often fraught dialogue with the past.

  7. “And I sat at my computer, and saw a beast rise up out Internet, having seven mallets and ten burritos, and upon his horns 3 Hugo awards and 8 nominations, and upon his heads the names of blasphemy (lit. ‘writers who were not white males).”
    – the Apocalypse of VD

  8. “If you want contemporary traditionally-published science fiction and fantasy to be dead, or at least dying, you need to stab it harder, friends. It keeps living.”

    They stab it with their steely knives, but they just can’t kill the beast.

  9. I started reading science fiction in my early teens in the 1960s. I read a lot of so-called canon authors and whatever else was out there. I had no idea there was a canon. Those authors were simply the people who wrote the books I could find on the science fiction shelves at the library and bookstore. What was great about them was that they opened my mind to new ways of seeing things, to broadening my imagination, to futures that regular fiction wasn’t looking at because that wasn’t what it did. Some of those books, I find quite unreadable now, including some of the so-called canon books. Some of them are dated but are still enjoyable and make me think. All were of their time in certain ways, and some have held up better than others for me.

    But the most important thing about reading those canon books back in the day was having my mind blown. As far as I’m concerned, that’s what they were for. And that’s still what they’re for to the extent that they’re still being read. If one author’s style or subjects don’t blow your mind, they don’t and there’s no reason to force yourself to read them. I’ve had my mind blown over the years by many other science fiction writers, and some of them too hold up over time better than others. But that’s how things go. I don’t see any important value in designating some books and authors as canon and if you don’t read them, you’re somehow not a True Fan and that kind of nonsense. If a book blows your mind, it has succeeded. If a canon book does that for you, great. If it doesn’t, no big deal. There’s plenty else out there.

  10. 12tone’s latest video (over on the tube of you) is about similar questions regarding musical canon. Their approach is very similar, and it’s a great video.

  11. Wow, you’re a thoroughly powerful and influential dude, John.

    I mean, being responsible for sweeping cultural changes over generations despite being a mere infant yourself…

    I believe I have spoken before how you should stay off my lawn, but I digress.

    It never fails to amaze me how people are utterly unaware that cultural mores change. I cut my SF teeth on Heinlein and Clark (but not Asimov. I know he’s the third leg of the “Giants of Sci Fi” but I was never really able to get into his work.)

    Being a fan of H&C didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the works that came before them, be it Verne, Hawthorn or even Poe, despite being ‘different’ from the stuff H&C were putting out.

    And the authors who got their start post WWII held my interest, and they were, again different than H&C. (Hell, H&C were different post war all unto themselves) Every decade seemed to produce new writers some of whom took what H&C had done (or what any of their predecessors had done) and offered a new twist to the established story.

    Here I thought it was all due to the natural growth and maturation of the fandom… Now I find out it’s all Skalzi, all the time.

    I have to ask, what is your cut from the new writers?

  12. Gosh, john, you really need a better quality of hater; these are all worn and rancid like.

    The only thing more odious than trolls and bigots are obsessed trolls and bigots with sour grapes on their breath.

    This is just more “Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Teh Womanz, teh gays and teh brown people are in the clubhouse!!!” issuing forth from the bloody rectum of humanity; it’s as amusing as it is pathetic.

  13. I suspect to much of that thinking comes from believing that the plural of anecdote is data.

    If *I* don’t buy/read/enjoy , and none of the people I socialize with in my echo chamber buy/read/enjoy , then how could be a bestseller? There must be something more here, an agenda, a conspiracy, otherwise my plural of anecdote will be disproven as data!

    I’ve seen a lot of that kind of thinking, especially in regards to polling data, over the last several years. When people spend their time in echo chambers, it becomes more difficult to see that there are people outside that echo chamber that are real, people that count, people who should be treated as… people.

    I recently received a political emailing from a politician that I, let’s say, _disagree_ with, who explicitly stated that people who aren’t like who they suppose me to be (based on the fact that I am signed up on the mailing list) aren’t “really” real people.

    When you discount everything not in your personal sphere of experience, and them limit that sphere of experience, spinning crazy theories becomes a matter of emotional survival, lest their conception of the world collapse.

  14. I actually wondered what happened to the dimwits; after a bit I thought they’d perhaps moved on (probably moved on to something sad, but one could hope for better).

    Guess they are just slow readers with poor comprehension.

  15. “I think it must be tiring to be a dimwitted bigot, thinking about me.”

    I feel like the ‘thinking’ in that sentence is probably giving them too much credit.

  16. Also speaking of canon, it’s incredible that, in a field founded on extrapolation, some people get SO stuck in the past. And I think you have to work to do it. I mean, the main things I got from reading sf – and I’m 60, so I’m talking about “the canon” – were a sense of wonder, and also an optimism about the future, and a willingness to embrace change.

  17. Why does this image always come to mind when the terrified contingent projectile vomits their ignorance all over teh internets?

  18. Great meeting!
    Good content & summary;
    Thanks for the donuts!

    (I think I would have enjoyed working for you 😄)

  19. So what’s it like being the Antichrist, John?

    My impression of the field today is that it’s so huge, so active, and such a part of mainstream entertainment now that it’s too much for any one person to keep up with.

    When I was a kid in the ’60s and ’70s, science fiction was a swimming pool at the Nerds Club; now it’s the ocean. It’s an embarrassment of riches, even though it makes me feel old and out of touch sometimes.

    The best thing about the field’s expansion is that people who were shut out for decades are getting more chances to use their voices. The faces in the Nerds Club are looking more representative of the dominant sapient Terran species.

    I still love a lot of the old stuff, and would still recommend “The Demolished Man” or “The Left Hand of Darkness” to any young fan, but the whole concept of “canon” in science fiction is kind of comical.

  20. If it’s the same dimwit brigade types who, with this year’s Dragon & Hugo nods, insist they are VERY clued into what’s going on in SFF right now but yet have NO IDEA who any of these nominees are, I’m not surprised. There is a certain idea in play that they have shoved their head into a very specific bubble, and everyone in said bubble agrees that Yes, This Bubble Is The Real Scene, and anything that contradicts that opinion is clearly fake news.

  21. Darn it, Scalzi, people keep asking you to stop immanentizing the eschaton and there you go, still at it. (By the way, this week’s bribe for me to read your fiction and tell people I enjoy it is late. Do you need my Paypal info again?)

  22. My aren’t you a pretentious self important god of all that is sf/f? Here’s a thought, how about instead of trying to take OLD things and force the progressive nonsense into it you go and create something NEW? Something all you virtuous, moral, intelligent judges of humanity can enjoy and nod approvingly at. Anyone disagreeing with your opinions is a fascist, bigot, white, hillbilly, whatever the F. You make up a checklist of identities that MUST be included in your stories before even creating anything enjoyable. So, hey lets clobber the F out of anything that’s been popular before with SJW silliness then when people call it stupid pandering garbage we can attack them as bigots or whatever. Win win!
    Eventually all us old bigot racist idiots will die off and you entitled, helpless, INTOLERANT children will be on your own. Alone at the mercy of real tyrants and devils. And no one around to teach you how to tie your own shoes. Enjoy!

  23. Related to dealing with asshats on the internet, I really appreciate seeing the way you deal with them and getting to understand your thought process about how/why you deal with them the way you do. It’s helped in my attempts to provide good information on this pandemic on my facebook feed (I’m a medical librarian, I’m swimming in this stuff anyway and I’m pretty good at making sure a source is authoritative). I’ve finally started blocking the asshats in question from seeing my posts, but until now, I was trying to channel a mix of you and Michelle Obama (light on the snark in deference to my mom).

  24. Dear Kevin,

    I can’t decide if you’re being satirical or not. Which, if you are, then good job!

    If you’re not… a foaming at the mouth, only semi-literate rant doesn’t make your side look better.

    Yeah, I am pretty damned intolerant of intolerance. And proud of it. Suck it up.

    Contrary to the alt-right’s sophomoric wordplay, hating prejudice and bigots as a class is NOT bigotry.

    It’s called progress.

    Best damned argument I’ve seen against immortality.

    pax / Ctein

  25. @Kevin: “You make up a checklist of identities that MUST be included in your stories before even creating anything enjoyable.” That’s news to me. Care to reveal the source of your information?

    I always assumed that if a writer finds all kinds of people interesting, he or she just naturally includes a lot of different kinds of people in his or her writing. Speaking as a writer of non-science fiction, that’s how it works for me.

  26. @ Kevin
    Feel better now? Does this happen to you often? Have you tried sitting in a quiet room and drinking a glass of cold water?
    Please excuse me; I need to read this great new book.

  27. A pretty long post considering that to the dimwits (yeah, they’re all over the place,) the only point that mattered was i)

  28. @ aeddubh

    Thanks for the hint at who might’ve written (some of) the … critique, if I may dignify it with that word … that John is talking about. I’m tempted to try to track some of if down, but I suspect I’d be happier if I didn’t.

    @ Kevin

    “Create something new”? Have you read *anything* from the past 5 years? The past *year*? They are, you know, doing exactly that. In any case, enjoy your malleting. Or possibly kittening. (John, you should do that more often; I laughed just thinking about it.)

    @ John / everyone else …

    I thought the Dragon awards was where all the unhappy young dog-types took their ball and went home to. And yet there’s Scalzi and Muir and others I assume that crowd would object to in the ballot. So am I wrong about those awards, or did it just not work?

    In any case, John, please continue, um, whatever it is you’re doing that is affecting the current state of sf/f/h in, um, whatever way it’s affecting it. We’re all the better for it.

  29. @ Kevin:

    “And no one around to teach you how to tie your own shoes.”

    Your post leads one to believe you’re incapable of tying your own shoes.

    “Eventually all us old bigot racist idiots will die off ”

    Something we can all agree on.

  30. @Kevin:

    Translation: Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Tolerate my intolerance, you big inclusive bullies, you!

    This tantrum would be more impressive if it weren’t garden variety bigot spoor.

    And there has to be some social/psychological term for the conflation of disagreement with justified responses too objectively repugnant ideas or phenomena.

    , The “just because I/we/they disagree with you” rhetorical maneuver is naive, at best.

    At worst, it’s a ploy perpetrated by disingenuous bigots who, out of logical arguments for their repugnant stances, resort to painting opponents as inflexible, irrational right-fighters who can neither abide nor refute dissent.

    I also love it when terrified social injustice warriors whine and bitch about the widespread rejection of their dangerous attitudes.

    Terrible people prescribing terrible things for the decline of terrible aspects of society are terrible; sucks to be them.

  31. Also, ten bucks says lil Kevie is just a drive by turd chucker too spineless to return and respond to anyone.

  32. @ Sarah Marie

    I mean, it might be better for all of us if he* is. It’s not like he said anything really substantive; your translation was pretty on the nose.

    * I assume.

  33. Also, also, part of one of the sentences should read “the conflation of a disdain for disagreement with justified responses too objectively repugnant ideas or phenomena.”
    It’s wordy but clear, hopefully. 😊

    Me thinks there’ll be a malletin a’comin, so we’ll have that to look forward to, in any event.

  34. Dear Bill,

    Seems to me that if those dimwits really believe (i), they should be a lot more respectful, ’cause they’re talking about someone who wields serious power!

    I know that’s why I continue to curry John’s friendship and favor— because I am frikkin’ terrified of what he’ll do to those who haven’t when he does Take Over The World! No fool, here.

    pax / servile Ctein (who, for one, welcomes his Woke Overlord with much bowing and scraping)


  35. I’ve read extensively in the canon, being an old white dude that grew up reading science fiction and fantasy obsessively. The quality of writing and characterization now is head and shoulders above most of the canon and its writers. A lot of that is because so much of the canon predates the New Wave, when good prose and characterization was essentially eschewed in favor of BIG SCIENCE (which I love, btw).

    I think there’s never been such a healthy, diverse, interesting, talented group of writers in the industry. A bunch of the old guys are still in and doing good work, plus the industry has opened itself to new voices and that has rejuvenated a thing that had become somewhat stale.

    Not all of it is for me. And that’s okay. The market of consumers has ALSO expanded, and some of that work is for them. And some of it I’ll also appreciate, but if I don’t, that’s okay too. My parents taught me the world doesn’t always have to be about me.

  36. I started reading S/F and Fantasy around 1960, and have read as much as I could of the older stuff. Especially thanks to a used book store that would sell me a whole grocery bag of used SF books and magazines for $10.

    Like others have said. some of them are still gems. others have dated badly. Some manage both at once.

    It wasn’exclusively a Boys Club. Zenna Henderson and Andre Norton were the first two SF authors that I found and loved. POC are under represented, but a few are there too.

    I suspect that it was because science and engineering were largely a white boys club. I know that in college even in 1971-1974, I was often the only girl in the class. Few if any black or brown faces.

    Society and our genre are richer for their inclusion.

  37. “there is World War III, and everybody is blaming YOU! ” Lieutenant Rozanov… SSN Sprut.

  38. A few weeks back Dave Freer was BIG MAD in a post on the Sad Puppy blog called Mad Genius Club. He’s not slagging Our Host per se, but definitely has it in for the SJW Cabal that’s been busy destroying science fiction, because after all everyone hates that newfangled stuff which never sells.

    I commented on this in a private post, which concluded with:

    “He ends with a hilarious assertion that because modern SFF is just a vehicle for talentless hacks seeking to push a wrongthink political agenda, it’s doomed to be ‘cancelled’ whereas he will always have an audience that ENJOYS the science fiction that’s crafted for the ages.

    So out of curiosity I had a look at Amazon’s sales rankings for Freer’s books (ones where his is the only name on the cover) and compared them to the most recent Hugo-winning novel, Arkady Martine’s A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE. Now, Amazon sales rankings are not necessarily the best sales statistic but when Martine’s book has a ranking of 697 and Freer’s books manage 548288 (!!!) at best, it’s safe to say it’s the former who’s in sync with the SFF-reading public.”

  39. asfi235: “Now, Amazon sales rankings are not necessarily the best sales statistic but when Martine’s book has a ranking of 697 and Freer’s books manage 548288 (!!!) at best, it’s safe to say it’s the former who’s in sync with the SFF-reading public.”

    Yes, but that’s now. That’s transitory. Freer is crafting his for the ages. Someday, Martine will be forgotten and Freer’s stats will be up to at least 100000. It’s just a matter of time.

  40. I don’t get how something that has grown so big, and continues to grow, represents something that is dying.

    The Canon comes from a time when SF was so small that a reader could plausibly read everything published in a year. Then, it wasn’t hard to agree on what stood out. But that hasn’t been true for a very long time.

    Preserving The Canon amounts to a demand that everyone should write only what has been written before. That, just like dialing the world back to the Jim Crow era, appeals to a certain kind of mind, one that views disagreement as satanic.

    But that would count as a field that has become ossified, shrunken, dry and devoid of ideas, appealing only to people who want to see only what is familiar, and, well, dying. Whereas a big, diverse, growing field offers something for everyone (though it does make one wonder what the point of Hugos is anymore).

    Like what you like, don’t like what you don’t like, and allow other people to do the same. What they like is none of your damn business.

  41. 1. If the detractors feel the way they do, why don’t they write some stuff that meets the criteria they think great SF/F should be and get it published? If they’re right and there’s a market for it they’ll get rich! (Or at least as rich as a genre author can get.)

    2. Over the decades I’ve been reading SF (I’m someone who doesn’t like F) it’s branched out into a number of sub-genres. Great! Some I like and read, some I don’t. That doesn’t throw any shade on the ones I don’t like to read–someone else is eager to read that sub-genre, and good on them. That’s why we have big bookstores these days instead of a few spinners with popular novels somewhere in the back.

  42. FL: According to them, they do write that stuff, but the evialll SoJusWar Cabal (Scalzi, Tor, Nicoll, SFWA, WisCon: y’know, the Usual Suspects) prevents them from getting published anywhere but (sometimes) Baen, and then conspires to suppress the word of their excellence so it never gets to the silent hordes yearning to read recycled Eando Binder and Ralph Milne Farley.

  43. orangemike:

    Honestly, it takes so much of the day to suppress their stuff, I hardly have time left over to whip my minions into producing another ten pages of sub-par prose in my name! It’s exhausting, frankly.

  44. I gotta admit this is one of John’s funnier pieces lately and the commentariat doesn’t disappoint.

    Well, except for Kevin.

  45. If Kevin is here, can a Karen be far behind?
    *Apologies to all normal human beings who just happen to have been named “Karen” (or belong to the Southeast Asian ethnic group called the Karen), and have had their name turned into a curse.
    **Imagine how I feel? I’m the Real Orange Man, and now BadOrangeMan has turned my color into a curse!

  46. [Deleted because “I’m going to ignore what you’re talking about to talk about what I want to talk about, which is not the subject under discussion” is not how we do things here — JS]

  47. Oops, sorry, was posting while you were deleting, John. You can delete my reply to Bluecheck.

  48. It was established in the Rutland Weekend Television sketch ‘Being Normal’ that everything is the fault of “the little man from the off-license”, so sorry Scalzi, but you’re off the hook.

  49. I read all this stuff about cannons and I ask “How would Randal Munroe draw this?”

    (And yeah, ‘cannon’ was intentional.)

  50. I suppose a dimwit could still control her imagination. Who’s gonna know if you imagine a crowd scene as being all (insert race here) males with the spaceship in the background—on a scorched concrete tarmac—having a hull that is grey and riveted?

    I mean, everybody knows reading is a co-creation, reader and writer.

    In scene three, as my hero is hiking, his space backpack includes computer punchcards, to use for kindling.

  51. I can’t decide if I’m happy or sad that I’m such a hermit who, after a bout with cancer, has decided to ignore most of the time wasters. Too many things I don’t have enough time for. With that I’m headed back out to the shop to make chips. May I suggest spending time on reading something you enjoy? Not having looked at the Canon, maybe I’ll pull out some E.E. “Doc” Smith just for brain candy on my way to sleep . . .

  52. Reading this reminds me of various instances in recent years when persons in that brigade aired assumptions about my late father and about my relationship with him. On a number of occasions, I thought, “Wow, when pop comes over for dinner tonight, consuming the groceries I buy ONLY because he likes them (orange pop, Sweet & Low, ketchup) and eating the food I cook ONLY because he likes it (meat loaf, carrots)…. I must remember to inform him what a bad daughter I am and how tense and awkward our relationship is.”

  53. Bigots of all types seems to want cultural control they can’t earn – if their culture was good enough to deserve the calumnies they perform in its name, it wouldn’t need them (or “the advocates of [X} superiority are the best arguments against [X} superiority.”) If there were only a honeypot somewhere for them in real life.

  54. “That’s on the writers, and also the editors and publishers who have acquired their works.”

    Yes – and ALSO the readers, who are enthusiastically buying books by all the writers you mentioned, and recommending them to their friends. If the readers preferred canon over the new stuff, that’s what they’d be buying.

    It’s a grand thing, when there are writers willing and able to create the stories we readers thirst for.

  55. @Gwangung: I enjoyed that term “cultural embalmers” a lot. Thanks for that. I’m going to use it in a paper at some point.

    I cannot speak on the economics of the publishing industry, which I feel does have plenty of financial problems, especially the pay of authors, but the artistry continues to improve every year, at least judging from the Hugo nominated works. Ever since 2011, I have been reading them all. I never had such a hard time voting for the three best as in 2020, because they were all so good. If we lived in golden times before, these are the adamantite times.

    Honestly, I just feel sorry for the people missing out, but what can you do? People get into a rut I suppose and cannot see above the rim.

    On the other hand, last year our science fiction prof assigned Silvia Moreno Garcia’s short story “Prime Meridian” after we studied Heinlein, Asimov, Delany, Butler, Gibson, Atwood, etc. Also, this year among the writers in our Women of Color Writers class is NK Jemisin. I’m so happy! :-)

  56. I know I liked the remark Arkady Martine made in her acceptance speech for the “Best Novel” Hugo about “toxic nostalgia.” Still, some of this stuff we’ve always had with us; I’m old enough to remember the fight over the “New Wave” of 1965-1975. What’s different now is that the moaners are really forced to deal with the reality of a wave of writers who are women, people of color, and non-straight folks that won’t be shushed.

  57. It seems that each member of the dimwitted bigot brigade has a high, unassailable regard for his/her own opinion. That makes one.

  58. There are certain writers that I keep trying to enjoy, but they just don’t really do it for me. I can tell they’re very good at it, and I can often appreciate their prose, their skill at plotting and characterization, etc., but I just find it hard to enjoy their work overall. (For me, this doesn’t apply to just “modern” or just “canonical/historical” SF, but I can see how it might for others.)

    I think no story is going to appeal to every single reader, and I wonder if part of the problem is that some people can’t evaluate the quality of a work independent of their own personal enjoyment of it, or lack thereof.

  59. It blows my mind that so many hidebound naysayers (doubling up on the cliches, sorry) can’t seem to understand that SFF has BECOME THE MAINSTREAM.

    We are not some underappreciated backwater any more!

    That hasn’t been true since Star Wars and it increased a hundred fold with Harry Potter!

    The MCU movies were the ultimate hurricane of SFF geekiness becoming totally ordinary and mainstream!

    It’s like they are picking lint from under the seats in one of the cars of the massive speeding train that is mainstream SFF and complaining about it. Just incredible. It’s like people trying to complain that the Rolling Stones are under appreciated. Dude.

    SFF has a history. It has a present. It has so many genres and subgenres and media. It has games and novels and movies and TV shows. It IS pop culture. It has become the defining thing about pop culture in the US today. Whew. It has so many authors and creators and actors and writers and gamers and programmers and etc….. it can’t be defined or controlled by any faction any more. It’s huge. It’s everywhere.

    Unbelievable that people are still clinging to this querulous nit picky idea that there could be a canon and that someone could define it. History? Yes. Canon? Don’t make me laugh.

  60. Dear Thomas,

    I think you are, in good part, correct. One sees the same thing in conversations about cameras or cars. A new model will come out and a certain number of otherwise intelligent readers will firmly opine that it’s bound to be a failure for no better reason than that it doesn’t appeal to them. There is a lot of “I am at the center of the universe” thinking going on.

    I suspect what really ticks off a lot of the d.b.b.’s is that for a considerable time they WERE at the center of the universe. That started changing over half a century ago with the appearance of Star Trek, the rise of New Wave, and the influx of Those Evil Feminists into the hallowed halls of fandom. The older deebs yearn for the “good old days,” the younger ones hate that they missed them.

    What I haven’t figured out is the hate-on towards Worldcon. It can’t be about success — when it comes down to it, having “New York Times best-selling author” on the top of your cover is likely to sell a lot more books for you than “Hugo-winning author.” ‘Sides, there’s only one Hugo-winning novel slot each year, but there are 750 New York Times bestseller slots. If I were trying to build a career, I know what I’d be aiming for. Indeed, more than one author beloved of the deebs has made that list; the F&SF market is bigly huuuuuge and there’s room for every subgenre.

    It doesn’t seem to be about artistic recognition, either. The deebs point out — correctly — that the Hugo’s are basically a popularity contest and the Hugo voters are a small subset of fandom and an even smaller subset of the market. This has always been true. Tell me something new.

    So, yeah, maybe it is just butt-hurt over not being awarded their due. Namely a throne at the center of the universe.

    Well, from those of us who have never sat on that throne to the deebs out there:

    Don’t worry. You’ll live.

    – pax \ Ctein
    [ Please excuse any word-salad. Dragon Dictate in training! ]
    — Ctein’s Online Gallery. http://ctein.com 
    — Digital Restorations. http://photo-repair.com 

  61. ctein:

    That makes sense to me. They probably feel some kind of exclusive ownership of Worldcon or the Hugos, such that the only works that are “deserving” of an award are those that they personally like. But today there are more SF fans than ever, and consequently more diversity of viewpoints. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, personally, but some people seem to…

  62. My inchoate theory is that they’re shaking in their hoods and Cheeto stained Ayn Rand pajamas.

    They hate, but I also think they’re driven by abject terror, terror at the loss of privilege, terror at the emergence of “lesser” beings as movers and shakers in the genre and terror at their perceived obsolescence.

    Their problem is that almost no one needs them to make, let alone tie their shoes.
    According to them, SWMs are figures emblematic of western civilization. They are the be all’s and end all’s who built and continue to maintain it.

    They raise and slaughter the pigs, slice and cure the bacon, all so that others like them can bring it home to their dutiful, submissive helpmates and offspring.

    Those willing to admit to maintaining their lofty perches through discrimination, disenfranchisement and other forms of cheating cite social dominance and Darwinism (see any pseudo-scientific, biologically essentialist alpha male bullshit they spew) as justifications /explanations for what they do and who they screw in order to get where they are.

    The privilege (unearned or otherwise) of being put forth as the face and driving force of everything under the Western sky is all bound up with that bullshit.

    According to them, it follows that the voices, tastes and preferences of said cut-throat, apex predators and bacon makers/bringer homers should always and forever occupy the forefront of everything at all times, right down to the kinds of literature that get published, promoted, consumed and canonized.

    That whole thing has and continues to crumble, hence the ranting and gnashing of wooden teeth.

    I also think they’re insanely envious of and butthurt over the disdain for their precepts and the ever-widening acceptance of attitudes and practices that run contrary to theirs.

    Most of their complaints boil down to some version of “no faaaaaaaaaaaaaaair! SJWs and groups we hate are visible and accepted in ways that destabilize our unearned place atop…well…everything! Waaaaaa!”
    Maybe that’s why their ignorant, phone-flecked squeals are more amusing than offensive.

    It’s like Super Nanny: The Flailing SIW Edition.

  63. @Ctein, how many years does it take to train Dragon Dictate? I’ve been seeing that sig of yours for over a decade now. ;-)

    One of the things I’ve observed over the years about dimwitted bigots who happen to be writers: they’re lousy writers who can’t write realistic characters worth a damn. When a person sees actual other people as nothing but 2D stereotypes, they write them that way, too. So any Sad Puppies out there still blaming the evil SJWs for their lack of Hugos or whatever–trying cleaning the old prejudices and assumptions and childhood programming out of your brainspace and instead learning something about people not like you. Your writing will greatly improve if you write about real people instead of strawmen.

  64. Back in the day I subscribed to Strategy and Tactics magazine. Each issue included a wargame (Oh, I am sorry, AN HISTORICAL SIMULATION) and the back of each issue had a bunch of suggestions for new games for readers to rate. The guys who actually designed these games occasionally complained that a huge chunk of the respondents wanted one thing – Nazis.
    A simulation of China’s Warring States period? No, we want More Nazis. Preferably Nazis killing Commies (i.e., five hundred games on WWII’s Eastern Front (or, as the invadees called it, The Great Patriotic War.) The highest rated suggestion one year was an Alternate History Nazi invasion of the USA. If there wasn’t a panzer in it, they weren’t interested.
    There’s a lot of crossover between gaming and Military SF, and I wonder if the same guys or their spiritual descendants are the ones shouting at Scalzi.

  65. Man it must be exhausting to be you. The cognitive dissonance in your skull from all that stuff you’re responsible for must be worse than tinnitus.

    Can you email me the Great Sekrit of Not Writing Books and Getting On the Bestseller List Anyway? I’m 70 and this business of putting out 3-5 a year is getting awfully tiring. I’d really rather kick back and play some videogames instead of working.

    To paraphrase one of my mentors in re the DWBB, “If you listen to nothing but puppies yapping, you’ll just go deaf without ever learning anything.”

  66. One comment here. I worked as a librarian in the business so to say and also served on a rather progressive state level awards committee just a couple of years ago.

    As far as the publishing industry goes, there never was a canon, just authors who sell books and make publishers money. In the (distant) past, this was almost invariably men, and a few woman of generally European heritage. However getting through that door simply because one is in that demographic hasn’t been the reality of things for decades now. Publishers are rather notorious about avoiding taking risks with unknown authors, but quality eventually finds its way to the marketplace. Over time we’ve seen more and more people whose names and backgrounds reflect a wider world. It is happening and will continue to do so.

    Let the folks lamenting that works by the various science fiction greats are in the past. Re-read them if they like, but listening to them complain about the modern writing world and your contributions to it are a waste of bandwidth if you ask me.

  67. This type of exclusionary worldview has never made sense to me. I grew up in a small southern town and, as a small nerdy person, spent a lot of time in libraries with librarians who put all sorts of books in my hands – history, science, political commentary, bestsellers, mysteries, spy novels, SF/F, comedy. I found more on my own, just haunting the stacks – I stumbled upon many classics (in and out of genre) not knowing that they were classics, or read and loved classics in the making before they were made, or read things that would become classics as they were released. Some stuff resonated and I looked for more, and some didn’t so I said “meh,” and kept moving.

    Books for me weren’t about community in the way we now think of it – the SF/F community, complete with cons and social media. They were my door to the world outside my little circumscribed patch, my constant companions when the humans around me weren’t quite as constant. They were freedom for my mind, if not for my body. They taught me how to dream.

    It’s sad to me that there are those who would try to take that freedom from others for the sake of the one small slice of almost infinite possibilities that spoke to them personally. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seen to be limited to discussions of SF/F – there seem to be more and more people who regard life in general as a zero sum game.

  68. Quote that I just read that seemed relevant. It’s from an interview with Scott Wampler from “The Kingcast” published in a Cemetery Dance column, and Wampler is discussing how he’s reacted differently now to some of King’s work than he did in the past: “I know for certain I’m not the same person now that I was five years ago, or five years before that, and so on. Tastes change, attitudes change. Our barometer for quality changes (and mine certainly has, just in the course of writing about movies for a living).”

  69. “. . . and so in short, i) everything is my fault, and j) I am simultaneously a nobody and also history’s worst monster.

    Huh, imagine that. The same pattern of fallacies exhibited by many RP supporters regarding the DP.

  70. Appreciating the new does not preclude appreciating the old (or ‘classic’.) Why do people assume their own minds are so limited? Or have they so canalized themselves?

    Taste is not limited to either/or choices.

  71. Can you actually buy Ayn Rand pajamas? I wonder if that’s a part of personal service…contracts for GOP people (‘must wear Ayn Rand pajamas during the encounter”) – that sounds like a WaPo article waiting to happen.

  72. Since Mr. Scalzi has rightfully and manfully stepped up and accepted the blame for his wholesale destruction of the genre of SF, uprooting of canon, and the unethical practice of being a bestselling writer without actually writing any books, or perhaps writing bestselling books without being an author, or … something, then we should accept his confession at face value.

    Mr. Stalzi has gracefully admitted and acknowledged his crimes, and cleansed his soul. We are therefore obligated to forgive him, and send him on his way. Hopefully, he will have learned his lesson and will not continue to destroy civilisation as we know it, and eradicate life on earth. Also, if he’s going to have best-selling books, he should make sure he has written them first. While I admire his ingenuity, he’ll be much happier writing.

    Also, this whole ‘nobody’ and ‘history’s worst monster’ thing is clearly inconsistent. He needs to choose one or the other. Otherwise, he’s just going to annoy the Librarians.

  73. I’ve never understood why people who don’t want change, don’t want to read about new worlds and new civilizations, who don’t want to be surprised by new ideas and new ways at looking at the universe are reading science fiction at all. There are many genres that lend themselves to formula a lot more than does good science fiction. (Bad SF, along with bad everything else, is different.)

  74. @ Sarah Marie:

    “They hate, but I also think they’re driven by abject terror, terror at the loss of privilege, terror at the emergence of “lesser” beings as movers and shakers in the genre and terror at their perceived obsolescence.”

    @ Dana:

    “Or have they so canalized themselves?”

    It could also be that we’re collectively guilty of over-analyzing bigots.

    That’s normal, because reasonable people seek to understand the cause and effect behind social phenomena. We are intrigued by noxious effluvia from the darkest cloaca of society, such as Gamegaters or Puppies. These creatures inhabit a world very different from ours, so it’s normal that they inspire in us a sort of sickened fascination.

    But it’s better to stay away from this particular rabbit hole.

    The dimwitted bigots OGH writes about are a small but loud group of angry and possibly mentally disturbed losers. They have failed personally, professionally, and as artists. Being acknowledged on the blog of a prominent author, even if only to be owned and ridiculed, is the greatest achievement most of them will attain in their entire miserable existence.

    The future has arrived. The bigots are not part of it. Let’s act accordingly. Either ignore them, or insult them whenever an opportunity presents itself. But don’t waste time trying to figure them out.

  75. John, I just want to thank you for what you do. Every one of your posts make me smile and brings me a little bit of joy in my day. I alway eagerly look forward to your posts (I especially enjoy the political ones). Keep up the fight against the emotional and intellectual imbeciles

  76. Another vote for “if the present is too future-y for you, why are you reading science fiction?”
    Also for the reminder that fandom is a small section of SF readership. Have a look at the Goodreads Best Books awards for SF and fantasy going back a few years. Especially the number of voters, which is in the hundreds of thousands.

  77. @Louann Miller: “if the present is too future-y for you, why are you reading science fiction?”

    Beautifully put!

  78. One day I hope to be half as eloquent as you when verbally accosted by those suffering a poverty of intellect. Also, I’m stealing the phrase “poverty of intellect.”

  79. Someone mentioned EE “Doc” Smith above, and… The other day a friend pointed me at “Spacehounds of IPC”, available free on Project Gutenberg. I remember sorta enjoying the Lensmen series, so I took a look.


    Writers nowadays are just BETTER at their craft. Re-read “Foundation” not long ago: awful. Great scenario, but the writing itself? Sub-mundane.

    The canon folk should really STFU, or >>deliver<< great olde school SF/F, which btw is in no danger, cite "The Expanse".

  80. @gwangung – cultural embalmers – good one. And it’s not just in SF either.

    @Louann Miller – “if the present is too future-y for you, why are you reading science fiction?” HA!

    But I’ve noticed something relevant to this. In a couple of FB groups I’m a member of, a lot of the active posters act like there hasn’t been new SF in decades. It’s re-reading the good old stuff.And it’s all they seem to recognize.

    I get liking stuff from a certain time period – I’m guilty of it for the 90’s, noughties and teens (but I hope I’m aware of it and poke around newer stuff to see what’s out there) – but for so many people, it seems like they want only certain things, or books that only echo that previous way.

    I think it’s larger than fandom though. And I wish I could articulate it better.

  81. @Hap:

    Much to my surprise and amusement, Café Press has them for women and men. They’ve also got an Atlas Shrugged line!


    You and I agree on almost everything here, most recently on your point about the often-futile pursuit of logic where bigotry is concerned.

    I can appreciate and understand your sentiment, but tossing around theories of how and why bigots are is critical, particularly for someone not in the position of leaving unexamined the gears and wires that make bigots go.

    They’re in my neighborhood; I have to share space with and interact with them every day.

    Discussing and trying to understand their rationales is one of those “essential to *my/our* survival” things I and others do.

    I’m not going to accuse you of chastising or mansplaining (two of the most important reasons for this are the possibility of misreading and the fact that handles don’t always indicate the gender of the poster) but, I will caution you that, to me at least, your post definitely reads that way.

    I don’t think that’s what you intended.

  82. @Pappenheimer- the constant demand for Nazis could be due to the fact that slaughtering (paper) Nazis is just good, clean, fun. Ask Captain America! Also; wargaming by pushing unreadable paper tokens about! The olden times.

  83. This post does upset me. For one, I don’t see why you need to diss on the great work by the founding fathers. There work is great and sets the bar for the genre. You’d think it’s OK to continue building something while giving the credit where it’s due rather than dismissing it all like you did (“enjoy these books if you can” is surely a diss). I think that it is important for the younger readers to familiarize themselves with these foundational works.

    For another, I am mortified to see that you are summarily branding those who disagreed with you as dimwitted bigots. So, it’s your way or the highway, then? I mean, it is your blog and all, but eeek

  84. Cultural embalmers is a term I came up with in theatre circles. One glaring instance was when a friend of mine (a note Asian American playwright) was revising a classic Broadway musical with an all Asian American cast, with permission of the original author. The whining of the (almost all white) embalmers pretty much said, “He should leave it alone—he should find his own to revise”…..pretty much implying the complainers thought this property was theirs and theirs alone, and he had no right to change it.


  85. @Ole Lukoje: Not the “just because we disagree with you” rhetorical trick, not again.

    It rings especially ridiculous in this context, when proof of said dim witted bigotry is in abundance right on this very sight.

    And again, conflating criticism of objectively terrible attitudes and behaviors with an inability to abide simple disagreement is for amateurs, and that’s if we want to be charitable.

    If we don’t, we expose the trick-pullers as disingenuous bigots who know damn well that simple disagreement isn’t the issue.

    We call them out for trying to obfuscate or obscure their bullshit by painting opponents as rigid right-fighters whose biggest problem is either folksholding different views or not conceding the point in a debate.

    I get it; decrying “false” accusations of bigotry takes much less effort than investigating the validity of the charges (the archives are a fount of information) but, themz the breaks.

    To get started, I’d recommend the following post, wherein John mounts a rather vigorous defense of Robert A. Heinlein, a man whose detractors charge him with sexism, racism and fascism.


    Admittedly, this post is ancient, so here’s one of John’s more recent remarks on RAH:


    Note that he neither explicitly states nor tacitly suggests that RAH does not deserve his place in the “pantheon.”

    Rather, he makes and supports a rather astute observation about how and why emergent generations of readers may not read or revere him as previous ones did.

    To be clear, I’m not a Scalzi super fan. More importantly, John is a grown ass man whose had more experience than I in flinging off trolls, haters and, yes, dimwitted bigots in the past twenty plus years of this blog’s existence.

    I’m just sick to death of SIWs and their appendages playing fast and loose with facts they find inconvenient.

  86. Dear John;

    Thank you so much for fixing Science Fiction. We all know it’s been terribly broken.

    Seriously, I’m never going to stop loving most of those old white cis male writers (up to a point: I love old Heinlein, he lost me in the 70s), but “canon”? I think not.

    And Ole: you’re getting it backwards. Everybody knows you can’t get kids to read by telling them it’s “important for the younger readers to familiarize themselves with these foundational works”. If you really think Scalzi is telling them NOT to read your “canon”, you should be applauding him. That’s the only way to ensure they get read!

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