Sawdust, chocolate cake, and New Coke

Regarding this item which crossed my desk over drill weekend, it’s typical of the attitude one finds among deck chair rearrangers — the men and women who think the answer to flagging trad pub sales, is to scold the genre for poor marketing while simultaneously scolding the audience for bad taste.

Because the field has evolved, yo. We’ve moved on from Star Trek. Nevermind that Star Trek spawned half a dozen television shows, as well as over a dozen big screen films, hundreds of tie-in novels, numerous kinds of video and paper-and-dice games, merchandising for light-years, and so forth. Star Trek is done, okay? Time for you to update your settings. We, the rearrangers, are here to notify you that the stuff you loved from the old days, is over.

A sales pitch which works wonders — on people who read things out of a sense of political duty.

The rest of us? We’re just looking for a good time. Not a mindless time. A good time. The sort of read which leaves us with a feeling of satisfaction. Because our hours were well spent. The author has properly rewarded our investment.

What constitutes a “good time” is definitely one of those de gustibus questions. Populists and taste-makers have both existed, since the first campfire storytellers regaled us over the flames — dating back to prehistory. Which stories are “worthy” and which stories are not? Can such a judgment be imposed, from the top down? Or will it invariably manifest itself organically, from the bottom up?

My personal belief is that it’s purely organic. Even when there are strong forces working to make this decision for us.

Taste-makers may secure for themselves the levers of academic or institutional power — pressing a kind or style of fiction on largely captive crowds. But nobody likes to be force-fed a handful of sawdust, while being told that the sawdust is in fact a rich, delicious piece of chocolate cake. A few people, wishing to join the taste-making set, may embrace the sawdust. Swearing up and down that the sawdust is, quite simply, the greatest treat (s)he has ever had. (S)he will gobble further handfuls of sawdust, to prove that (s)he has adopted the acceptable and correct values.

But in the end, it’s still sawdust.

Which is why a Hugo or a Nebula short list — in 2017 — isn’t indicative of organic enjoyment. The Hugo and Nebula short lists are created by, and for, the sawdust set.

If I am talking to a prospective audience member who skips over SF/F as a general rule, I know precisely why (s)he feels this way. She’s had too many bites of the sawdust, which masquerades as chocolate cake. It’s the Nutty Nuggets rule. You can’t keep altering the contents, while leaving the packaging more or less unchanged, without running the risk of alienating your readers. It doesn’t matter whether or not you think the old contents are wrong, or bad, or outdated, or silly, or need to be revised simply to suit an arbitrary and purely internal sentiment. Remember how New Coke went over? Most of the people who want SF/F to “evolve” and “move on” probably aren’t old enough to remember New Coke — and how it brought a soda manufacturing giant to its knees.

The lesson of New Coke is, nobody asked for New Coke. The Coca-Cola folks were trying to figure out why their sales were slipping against Pepsi, so they cooked up this idea to reformulate Coca-Cola, and it bombed badly with consumers. Only the rapid and dramatic reintroduction of Coca-Cola classic restored consumer confidence. New Coke went down as one of the all-time great marketing and business blunders.

Now, speaking from memory, I didn’t think New Coke was fantastically different from Coke Classic. At that particular time, I was actually more of a Royal Crown consumer, with occasional Coke or Pepsi dalliances on the side. Especially Cherry Coke, which I still like very much.

But the point is: rattle your audience’s faith in your product, at your peril.

For the better part of two decades, SF/F’s rearrangers have been embarked upon their own version of New Coke. The sawdust-gobblers decided that we’d had just about enough of the blockbuster “old way” of doing things, even though the 1970s and 1980s invented the SF/F bestseller. It was time to move on.

And yet, the audience has not followed. In dribs and drabs, the audience has gone elsewhere. Trad pub numbers for SF/F continue to struggle, in comparison to a quarter of a century ago.

Some of this can be blamed on a media-diverse digital entertainment spectrum. Now that people can literally carry movies and television series and video games in their pockets, to watch or play at any time, the era of the paperback — as the single most convenient form of sit-down pass time — is over. Electronic books have also revolutionized the buying landscape, allowing consumers to get their books directly from the author, or from a clearinghouse seller.

But a lot of it — I believe very much — comes down to fans of SF/F Classic feeling burned, by New SF/F.

It’s not that New SF/F is measurably inferior — though some would argue it is. It’s just that the crowds from the high years of the genre’s print popularity, aren’t satisfied with what they’re getting anymore. New SF/F is “off” from SF/F Classic. Could you metric this on a chart? Not really, to the same degree that taste tests with Classic and New Coke yielded uncertain metrics. More, it’s the fact that print SF/F’s manufacturers have — since at least the year 2000 — decided they’re going to mix things up, even though there weren’t a lot of people from the old audience who had demanded such a mix-up.

SF/F Classic was deemed not good enough. So then came New SF/F.

And the trad pub numbers began their familiar decline.

Some of the 21st century’s strident SF/F activist-authors like to misstate the problem — accusing SF/F Classic fans of wanting to dial the genre all the way back to when actual coca leaf extract was in the formula, and it was administered as a pharmacological tonic.

I’m not sure what ground is gained via this line of reasoning, other than to further push SF/F Classic fans away from the very manufacturers who claim to want those fans’ business.

My own fear is that the zealots of New SF/F will so successfully alienate the audience, that SF/F et al will become an academic interest only. Ergo, the major trad publishers will jettison the brand, leaving it for the small presses and for a tiny reader base which is interested in SF/F purely as a political and sociological plaything.

We’re halfway there already.

Though, it must be noted, plenty of indie authors are trying desperately to ensure that SF/F Classic does not depart the digital publishing shelves. And there is also Baen, perhaps the lone holdout among all trad publishers, keeping SF/F Classic alive — with the flag proudly flown high. For these Classic SF/F parties, the taste of the original high-period audience (of print SF/F) is not in need of revision. Rather, it’s that very high-period taste which provides a solid market base.

Sawdust-gobbling be damned.

Which will not, of course, prevent the sawdust set from pushing New SF/F into ever more esoteric and obscure territory. Believing (vainly) that making New SF/F into a political cause, substitutes for returning SF/F to its natural state, as a popular cause.

In fact, there’s every indication that the zealots of New SF/F believe the political is popular, and vice versa.

But then, this is how zealots throughout history have always thought — theirs being the straight-line ramp of destiny.

I’m fairly certain the market disagrees. And it’s the market which always wins, too. It was the market which made SF/F Classic into a money-rich hit in the first place.

171 thoughts on “Sawdust, chocolate cake, and New Coke

  1. Royal Crown, eh? That reminds me of the commercial where Coke and Pepsi was officially sanctioned by the Soviets, and dissidents were having a grand old time drinking RC until the KGB arrived.

    Actually, the brains behind New Coke had one up on publishers and movie studios in that they had reasons of thinking their product would succeeded. It wasn’t just that sales were slipping; people really were preferring Pepsi in taste tests. So they came up with a new formula that beat Pepsi in taste tests and did a test market, and it looked good and then introduced it. They also pulled old Coke from the market, and that was the disaster. There are emotional attachments to food brand, and the bite of old Coke does better in heat that the sweetness of Pepsi, so while a Coke drinker might like Pepsi in a taste test, he wouldn’t necessarily want to drink it on a scorching hot day in the South. So Coca-Cola did what they should have done at the start: marketed old Coke alongside new Coke. By then the damage was done, and New Coke faded away.

    It’s not gone, though, I’m drinking a version of it right now. It’s a Caffeine Free Diet Coke. Diet Coke is the New Coke taste, too. I prefer Coke Zero when I can get it, that being a sugar free version of old Coke. I prefer to mix them up sometimes, buying a Diet Coke every now and then. The New Coke taste works because the suits in Atlanta did find out what customers wanted first, just they blundered with marketing.

    Compare this to publishing and movies. Movies at do – or did – have test audiences for people to evaluate films before they hit the market. I’ve heard of it for Country Music, though have no idea if that’s still the case. To the best of my knowledge there isn’t one for books. Publishers went from guessing public likes to “We’ll print it and you’ll like it, and if you don’t, we don’t care for your business, anyway.”

    Even movies are admitting to this disconnect. The buzz this year before the Oscars was that the awards doesn’t mean what it once did. One article pointed out that while the Oscars do generate some sales, people are not likely to watch the best picture winner again. At least, not anymore. Compare that to The Wizard of Oz, which people not only watch over and over again, but introduce their children and grandchildren to as well. The industry reaction? Why, the Oscar winners are good films. People don’t know what’s good anymore.

    No, the people that make these films that nobody wants to watch anymore don’t know what’s good. Just like the bulk of publishing, which is why Indie is eating their lunch while they tout their plastic rockets as evidence that they know what’s good.

    I really don’t care. If they figure it out and stay in business, good. If not, so sorry, too bad. Science Fiction will still be with us even if it’s not under that label. It will be military fiction with science fiction, or romance with science fiction, or westerns with science fiction, or what have you. But it’s still science fiction.

    So it goes. I strongly suspect all entertainment will be indie within a generation. Some old line publishing, film, and music will still be with us, in niche art markets, or as textbooks and I’m not so sure about the latter. Whatever the outcome, the rift between what the editors want and what readers want is becoming so great I don’t know if publishers will ever figure it out.

    1. A lot of indie authors have a test market; they combine it with editing and call ’em beta readers.

      Author earnings reports that of adult (as in non-juvenile) fiction, 52% of sales in 2016 were indie / Apub. That’s a pretty good indicator that if the trad pub market won’t serve what the public wants, the public will find indies who will.

      And then there’s by genre:

      full report here:

      1. HAH! I love it. A literary Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. The SF numbers and the Fantasy numbers are especially interesting. As was the Pac-Man graphic showing Amazon eating other retailers. The thing indie authors will have to keep their fingers crossed about, is that Amazon does not a) collapse under its own weight, or b) get greedy about percentages.

        1. I think inevitably Amazon will do both those things. Big companies above a certain size always do.

          However, the things I’m getting from Amazon I can get from other companies, if/when Amazon loses the thread and wanders off to Progressive Land. It is a lucrative space, someone will step up to fill it.

    2. That’s the thing about taste tests: a sip of really sweet soda is often pretty good, but people don’t usually drink just a sip of soda, and a full can will make you sick. The marketers made the mistake of confusing these things, but as you say, at least they had SOME reason for believing that they were doing what their customers wanted. I don’t know what the literary equivalent is (a paragraph or two of experimental fiction being interesting, but a full book making you want to hurl?) but I doubt the publishers even have that.

      As a side note, your point about movies…there’s been a lot of talk as to why the Oscar audience has been declining, and very few people who grasp the obvious: it’s not the presenters or the venue or the length or even really the politics, it’s the movies. It used to be that movie lovers had seen most if not all of the movies up for the major awards, had passionate opinions about what should win, and tuned in to see if they were right. Now, it’s mostly movies that few people have seen–maybe a few popular films get one of the 10 best picture nominees, but everyone knows those aren’t going to win. No one cares to spend 3 hours watching to see if Movie-I’ve-Never-Seen A beats out Movie-I’ve-Never-Seen B.

  2. Ms. Jemison’s description of speculative fiction made me wonder if we are using the same language. To me “interstitial” means 1) where diseases take place [medical person in immediate family] or 2) a geologic term, neither of which sound fun to read about if I’m in search of a Thumping Good Read (TM). “Literative stuff” is another phrase that reminds me of Margaret Atwood’s objections when people place _A Handmaid’s Tale_ under sci-fi. Together they imply that she writes literary fiction with fantastic elements, which is great if that’s what I’m in the mood for, and that implies I will have to work at the book. But it is certainly not chocolate cake, and not a sign of a Thumping Good Read (TM) ahead.

    1. Huh, so interstitial has an actual meaning. See, when I see people waving an obscure or made-up multisyllabic term around as though everybody should conform, I just take that as a self-identifier of self-righteous no-fun.

      I mean, you ever hear of something truly delightful and enjoyable coming out of someone who’s yelling “heteronormative cismale privilege!”?

      I’ll go instead with “dragon” and “hero” and “hope” and “fun.” Short, enticing, and promising that an adventure awaits.

      1. In architectural terms, “interstitial” refers to an intermediate level between two regular floors. Labs, hospitals, and pharma plants may utilize such spaces to situate certain types of support equipment.

        1. It’s also where you put wires and pipes and air ducts in commercial buildings. Rather critical elements of a living breathing building.

          1. I’m not sure, but I think commercial buildings tend to more cramped (shorter) interstitial levels, since its usually housing just the wire/pipe/duct runs, rather than more involved equipment that requires more frequent maintenance.

              1. A friend of mine always used to say that an architect is nothing but an interior decorator with a degree. He really hated them, because the plans they gave you were always wrong and needed to be fixed extensively.

                1. They’re certainly not engineers – and the architects take pride in that. Why? Presumably because too many are stuck-up artistes. French architects looked with scorn at Eiffel and his tower. American engineers had to perform structural rework to keep Fallingwater, designed by noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright, from collapsing.

                  They’re not unique in this, though. There was a bruhaha a decade or so back at work because some designer turned off the layers in the CAD model that depicted the clearances – the swings of the hatches, required clear space around areas where replacements might need to be made or other maintenance performed, etc. – and proceeded to model for several weeks like that, ignoring the reports that indicated the problems existed.

                  1. I once visited a college that had one large public building that had the HVAC so messed up it actually had fog inside. The professor was telling me the college was scrambling for money to hire an engineering company to analyze the problem.

                    “But this is an engineering school, right?”


                    “Why not make it a student project?”

                    [blank look]

                    So much for confidence in their own degree program…

                    1. Nice! Sometimes the Occam’s-Razor solution and the the customer’s “most obvious” comprehension of the problem run to mutual exclusivities, don’t they?

                2. There’s a local architect who I’ve seen at a few fairs and her advertising is all about how she can spot and fix problems on blueprints. IOW, she’s selling “you can’t open the door all the way because of the stairs” and “if you move these windows, you’ll get a nice cross-breeze AND it will look better.”

                  Honest to goodness, a lot of builders have no clue about how to build things, or sites like McMansion Hell would have no material. That first example above is a house I actually lived in. You couldn’t open the front door all the way because of the stairs.

              2. Nobody most certainly ever thinks how the space is going to be cleaned, much less bothers to plan something which would be easy to clean. Until we maybe get truly efficient cleaning robots you are going to get some cheaply paid human running up and down stairs to get all the equipment somewhere where nobody thought to put a closet for the stuff, much less install a lift which could take everything necessary up there easily. Or the glass walls you’d need a worklift – inside the room – to wash and so on.

    2. Ms. Jemison’s description of speculative fiction made me wonder if we are using the same language.

      You can be sure that we’re not. They make up meanings for words and nuances that didn’t exist until they the Enlightened Ones, made it so. And if you don’t know it, you’re a filthy plebe who wouldn’t understand their great works anyway, unlettered mud-and-shit covered peasant! (toss head, sniff)

      They murder the English language and called it art.

      1. It’s like reading some theoretical gender history paper abstracts. I recognize the words on their own, but the sum total? Gibberish unless I really, really make myself work to understand what they are trying to say.

      2. So you’re saying that, By rights, {they} should be taken out and shot, for the cold blooded murder of the English Tongue?

        (apologies to Prof. Higgens)

        1. “Hung” I think he said, but that was itself appalling (his screenwriter “warn’t no ‘Enry ‘Iggins, naow, gub’nour, naow wassee?” I reckon). The correct participle when referring to pendant execution (of pedants or others) is “hanged”.

          1. Pratchett had a conversation in Maskerade about that. After being told that people are hanged and meat is hung, the reply is, “First he was strangled, and then he was hung.”

          2. You are correct. Slight misquote, but far more in keeping with today.

            Not the only grammar gaff in the play, I think.

  3. “Science fiction has, for years, allowed a fairly vocal subset of its readership to declare”

    “Allowed”. I guess the First Amendment doesn’t apply to fandom. But I guess I already knew that, after recent events.

  4. In fairness to these folks, it’s not that they’re pushing sawdust and claiming that it’s chocolate cake. What they’re doing instead is pushing turkey bacon and claiming that it’s just as good as pork bacon–which it manifestly is not.

        1. There’s a local restaurant that offers a couple of vegetarian burgers, one of which is actually really tasty (as long as you aren’t thinking of it as meat.) Falls apart like mad, though, making it difficult to eat.

            1. It’s not, but it is a chickpea-based pattie. I love garbanzo beans, so that was a point in its favor before I even ordered it.

              I don’t mind vegetarian food as long as it doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not.

      1. Or vegan sausages. If you want to get an idea of what CMOT Dibbler’s infamous sausages taste like, try a vegan sausage.

        1. Pfft, most vegan sausages are entirely too lacking in character to be a CMOT Dibbler sausage. Now, a lutefisk/kimchi sausage might come close.

          1. I can’t remember the book, but PTerry described a CMOT Dibbler sausage as having no flavor or texture at all- no matter how much mustard one put on it. I’ll have to check the archive when I get home.

  5. There is an underlying anti-egalitarian assumption in this piece that “market-driven” translates into a particular mindset that the authors see as reactionary. That is simply the lament of the second class artist who reframes a lack of sales as being true to my muse.

    In the 1960s and 1970s Science Fiction was breaking out of the Sci-Fi ghetto and into high paying markets–slick magazines like Playboy and The New Yorker, hardcover Book Club editions–and it wasn’t their stereotype of “boys with screwdrivers” that was doing it, it was the New Wave authors such as Ellison and Moorcock and Disch. There was–and still is–a market for fantastic fiction that breaks down barriers and challanges preconceptions.

    But it has to be good fiction. Fiction that doesn’t demand special pleading. You don’t get a free pass from the rules of a compelling narrative just because you’re coming from a different perspective. You have to be able to compete in the free market with everyone else, and that means that you have to deliver the public what the public wants to read.

    And that also means that you have to understand that if your work isn’t to everyone’s taste, that’s not something that you can change. Some types of fiction inherently have a smaller market. Like with tastes in food, some things will always sell better than others. In America, hamburgers are going to outsell Korean food. Instead of trying to shut down McDonald’s, concentrate on making the best damned bulgogi beef and kimchi you can and trust that your audience will appreciate that you are serving them something they won’t get just anywhere.

        1. You can get bulgogi burgers at McDonald’s in Korea. They taste about as good as you’d expect fast food bulgogi to taste. Which is still better than a regular hamburger.

  6. One thing I’ve noticed visiting the bookstore of late is how SF/F covers are starting to mimic “literary” style covers. Personally, I’m drawn more to covers with a genre element than something that looks like it was misfiled.

    1. I think the best, most recent example of this, is All The Birds In The Sky. It’s packaged deliberately as a lit book. It desperately wants to escape the SF/F shelves and go live on the mainstream shelves where the “important” books live. (chuckle) I blame Irene Gallo, who is very much responsible for this trend at TOR. She wants the field as a whole to stop looking like it did during the high period. Because making all that amazing money with space art that actually looks like space art, and swords’n’sorcery art that actually looks like swords’n’sorcery art, was just so gauche.

      1. Baen takes a lot of flack from certain quarters for its cover art, but a Baen cover is more likely to get my attention than blurry spaceships.

      2. Like SS/GB or Fatherland… the publishers went to great lengths to avoid having them shelved with the scummy SF trash fiction.

      3. I read All the Birds. I wish I hadn’t. That is time I cannot get back. It was utter drek.

        The plot is ponderous and meandering. There are several scenes that did not truly advance the story, or should have been somewhere else in the book. There were very few surprises in the story; in fact, most of it was painfully predictable. The one plot point that I didn’t figure out before it was revealed fell flat – my reaction was “give me a break”. The foreshadowing for one event was so heavy handed that you know it is going to happen, it is just a matter of when. The characters were poorly developed. The MC’s were two dimensional, at best, with only a few hints about their motivations. I was ready to stop by halfway through but kept reading in mixture of hope that it would improve and morbid fascination. It was like looking at a train wreck – how bad is it really? I gave it a 1 out of 5 because you can’t give a zero in Amazon.

    2. I have gotten a lot of flack for my covers, which are definately not traditional SF/F covers (one critic said that my first book made him think of “haiku about cancer”.) However, I do think that I have picked up readers who would not have picked up a more traditional cover. My strongest audience seems to be readers who are turned off “Science Fiction” as a brand, and I suspect that traditional publishers may be trying to go after the same audience.

  7. Apologies for a tangent, but my dad had a tale about Sawdust. He talked about how a farmer fed a horse sawdust and oats, and the horse did well, so he kept on adding more sawdust, and the horse did well, so he kept on adding more sawdust, right up until the horse died. This must be applicable to something you said somewhere LOL.

    1. Did the farmer keep track of what kind of sawdust he used?

      The oddest things can be toxic to horses, and sawdust might have substantial variations in what chemicals are in it.

      1. Pressure-treated sawdust would be bad, but I suspect the moral of the story was there was not enough oats to nourish the horse.

        1. I was thinking more pine versus juniper versus mesquite versus, say, white ash.

          1. I seem to remember one of my country relatives explaining it to me as the difference between straw, and hay. Us city folk tend to think of them as being one and the same, but straw is merely cellulose, whereas hay has nutritional value. I am guessing the horse in question literally wasn’t getting the nutrition it needed, so, despite having a full belly, it starved.

            1. Straw was what remained of the stalks after grain was harvested (before modern combines and short-stemmed wheat). Hay is special grasses and clovers grown specifically for fodder. Straw is scratchier and more “pokey” than hay to land in.

              No that wasn’t me playing slide-on-the-haystack. If it was, the statute of limitations renders it moot.

              1. They look different, they smell different, who’d try to feed a cow or a horse something that doesn’t even look like it’s edible… right, I didn’t grow up on a farm but did spend plenty of summers there during the hay making season. Back when the stuff was collected loose and stored in a barn loose. I was told to jump in it, as much as possible, when it was being – now what would be the right term, pitchforking? – put in by the adults so it would settle as tight as possible, and as much as possible could be fit in. Fun times, except in the evening after those days when you’d itch all over.

                Sometimes it is bit of a shock how damn little most people now seem to know of that kind of stuff. It’s not as if I was a farm girl or something, I have spend most of my life in cities or towns. But back when I was a kid most people had relatives who owned and worked small family farms, and they’d visit. Now most of those little farms are gone and what survives are the big ones which are being worked as a real business rather than for mere self-sufficiency.

                And most people can’t tell hay from straw.

                Damn. If there is some sort of collapse due to whatever and suddenly those farms need hands because they can’t get fuel for their machines or they have been fried due to something like a Carrington Event… with most of the generation which still had people who knew how to pitchfork hay or milk by hand (not me, I did try to learn but never got even close to okay, much less good) and so on getting too old to work like that… we are so screwed. Well, I guess necessity might be a good teacher so maybe the situation would improve after a while, but meanwhile… yep, screwed.

            2. Straw bales are a *marvelous* way to turn clay dirt into good growing soil. Dig out a hole where you want the garden, put the bale in and pop the strings, then cover over with the dirt you dug out. Put some compost or fertilizer on top, water the whole thing, and then plant. The straw rots as the plants grow in it, and loosen up the clay really well.

              Try that with hay and you’ll end up with a whole lot of plants you hadn’t planned for.

              1. I’ve heard the same story as a joke. “He’d just got the horse to a diet of straight sawdust, when it up and died, so he had to get a new horse and start over . . . “

    2. I’ve run into that story before. Didn’t turn up in a web search, but this (formerly) city boy heard or read it. Sounds like something Lazarus Long might have told…

  8. Brad said: “It’s not that New SF/F is measurably inferior — though some would argue it is.”

    You’re too kind to them, sir. By the metrics used in the book business to measure quality, it IS measurably inferior. Poor gross sales, even poorer repeat customer sales. Book stores dying in droves means nobody is buying the product. Particularly after the demise of Borders and the current shrinking of B&N, that is not a good sign for the biz.

    Meanwhile, Indy authors who are not subject to the publisher’s gate-keeping nonsense are doing pretty good numbers. This despite having -no- advertising, -no- brick and mortar outlets, -no- editorial support and -no- dead tree products.

    Some might say there is no better way to read Science Fiction than on a gee-whiz Buck Rogers eeelectronic tablet, but I’m an old dude. E-book is not a selling point for me. I want a book, and I find the “shopping experience” of Amazon annoying.

    I want a proper book store, with a proper sales clerk who knows Heinlein from Horatio Hornblower, stocks new authors I’ve never heard of, and actually knows what authors write what kind of things. That’s what I had growing up, and all the way through until about ten years ago. The current situation torques me off. I’m probably fairly typical of the over-30 market.

    Doesn’t matter. Indy e-books are out-selling trad-pub, according to the numbers we keep seeing here at Mad Genius, with the exception of Big Names.

    This parallels my experience. I have bought no new books except Big Names (Correia, Weber, Asher) in the last year or two. Because Nutty Nuggets. They just are not entertaining anymore. I stopped buying comic books back in 1994. Same reason. Not entertaining.

    I am not paying ten bucks for another paperback written by some Leftist about horrible people doing horrible things to each other in some horrible place. Not happening. Dystopian futures, anti-heros, relatable villains, I am so done with it. After chapter two I am rooting for the BEMs to eat the main character with extreme prejudice. That is not what I want.

    I am NOT going to read the Handmaid’s Tale. I do not care how well crafted the sentences are, or how good the editing is. I will go and clean the bathroom sooner than read it. I will cut the grass sooner than read it. The same holds true for the whole Nebula Award list this year.

    I can only imagine the farce that the Hugos will be. “The Water That Falls On You If You Are a Dinosaur When The World Turns Upside Down, My Love.”

    1. Gazing at my royalty statements from two different publishers, e-book sales dwarf paper. In fact, if I had to rank the modes, it would go: e-book, audio, paper. With paper lagging a good deal behind the first two. I am like you, in that I prefer paper too. But the consumer inevitability of both e-book and audio, tells me that these are the emergent modes. Kind of like how vinyl never went away entirely, even when digital disc dominated, and now streaming and downloadable digital has mostly displaced discs; while eradicating cassettes.

      As for the trend which elevates “flawed” worlds and characters to literary prominence, I think this has infected television as well.

      Example: for all the great acting and writing of Breaking Bad I couldn’t get into it, because the show seemed to glory in the moral debasement of the “protagonist.” Which is seen as a feature of modern cinema, both big-screen and small-screen. Perhaps because the people who run Hollywood are so often morally debased themselves?

      We all create heroes in our own image.

      This tells me modern storymakers — at least the ones getting all the attention and the awards — are a fallen lot. With few exceptions.


      1. Likewise, “Breaking Bad” left me cold, but I can’t rewatch “Fargo: Year 2” enough.

      2. Mine are the same. Ebooks, Audio, Print. Roughly something like a 100:1 for each ratio as you go down. Audio books just aren’t that popular, yet. And people who want print go to the bookstore usually.

      3. I had the same reaction to Breaking Bad. So many ostensibly SF stories on TV go the same way.

        These days I am much more likely to be watching schlocky anime, a Chinese movie or a Korean drama series. That’s how far I have to go to get something not kissed by SJWs.

        This is not to say those things are not ruled by rigid cultural rules as Hollywood is. They certainly are. But they are -different- rules, and more importantly the purpose of the show is not to denigrate and destroy MY culture.

        Anime has dueling sets of tropes and propaganda in it for certain, and if I was Japanese I might have something to say about that. But the show was written and put on for a purpose other than attacking Western civilization, so it is a bit fun to watch somebody else’s ox being gored for a change.

    2. Someone needs to figure out how to make an internet-connected Makerbot level book printer/binder.

  9. Jamison let slip the underlying truth of message science fiction/fantasy fiction. When you cut through all the virtue signalling, the elitist attitude, the moral preening, all of this message sci fi/fantasy boils down to is “we (minority writers) want (our minority characters) to poke stuff with sticks” like white characters do. It’s all envy.

    Then she goes full projection mode and asserts that “people get their backs up over it.” Read “people” as anyone who disagrees with her, but especially white heterosexual male conservatives.

    No one gets their backs up over anything besides crappy writing being peddled as great writing because it (or its author) has checked off the boxes in some SJW’s diversity list. Fifth Season wasn’t a great novel. It, and it’s author, did check off a bunch of boxes.

    1. “Jemisin” – failed to notice the autocorrect until I’d already posted. Apologies.

    2. Nora’s online persona comes across pretty resentful. Which is funny, given she’s actually succeeded at becoming a best-selling author. After winning the awards and getting the Best Seller and all that, she really doesn’t have much legitimate room for resentment any more.

      The other thing you said, non-white people poking stuff with sticks, this leaves me puzzled. When someone writes a character as non-white, personally, as the reader, I don’t care. I am very interested in what the characters are going to do with the bucket of trouble the author has dropped them in. I’m not too interested in their described surface albedo. It does not interest me.

      The other thing about Nora’s work is, I do not want to read about horrible people doing horrible things, in a horrible place. If the whole basis of the story is “Humans suck !” then again, I’m not interested. That theme has been done to death, and done better.

      1. That was my problem with her Hugo winner. Read maybe 50 pages (not contiguously, because I got bored and started skipping ahead) and while the prose was often lyrical and even beautiful, the world was unremittingly ugly — and more important, I didn’t _like_ anyone I met there. When I start thinking “I don’t like any of these people” that’s the end for me and that book.

        1. This is a recurring thing for me. I’m reading about people who need to be in jail, and those are the good guys in the story. When does that start being fun?

        2. I do this with film and television especially. If, by the second or third episode, I have not identified at least one genuinely good and decent character, who will do the morally right thing in a tough circumstance, I check out. The Sopranos is a good example. Just about everyone in The Sopranos is a killer, a thief, a liar, an addict, a coward, or some combination thereof. I can’t watch that for long, without feeling like I am bathing in sewage. So I stop watching, and devote my attention to something else. It was the same for Six Feet Under, which my wife adored — and I hated.

          1. “one genuinely good and decent character”

            The Expanse (TV and book) has one of those. He’s also the catalyst character, in that doing the good and decent thing launches everything into massive trouble.

            Mind you, doing the good and decent thing also gets everything out of trouble, so it’s not presented as inherently bad. Just that doing the “right thing” can have massive repercussions if you’re not thinking things through.

            1. Are you familiar with the story of the Mahabharata? (NB: Almost no one on earth is actually familiar with the Mahabharata itself, including me, because it’d take a lifetime.) The near-apocalyptic war that kills 18 million combatants is the outcome of the sequence of events started when the incorruptible Bhishma will not break his oath of celibacy.

          2. (Nods) Sounds like what I call “The Lunch Test.” If I’m going to be inviting these people into my life, at least one of them must be someone I would be willing to have lunch with–and this person must not be presented as a villain.
            Fail that test? You’re out.

          3. I used to say, when it came to books, TV and movies like that — If I don’t want to spend five or then minutes with them in a stuck elevator — then why do I want to spend an hour or two with them in a theater, or in front of my TV set.
            Life is to short to spend it, staring in horrified fascination at someone with very few redeeming characteristics.

          4. I have seen enough evil in my life that the last thing I want to do is watch a show that tries to glorify it, or the people doing it. The people who make these movies or stories think they’re being ‘tough’ or ‘edgy.’
            But if you put them in a room with any people who actually behaved the way their characters do, they would piss themselves.

          5. Okay, big question:

            I’ve just finished a crime thriller short story that I’ll be handing to my wife for beta reading. None of the active characters are saints. The protagonist is beyond sleazy; the antagonist is, by definition, reprehensible. So is a supporting character. Another turns out to be crooked. And yet . . .

            I made the protagonist sleazy so the reader would like the ending. There’s an unwritten sense of what goes around comes around, even if what comes around isn’t the same thing. The protagonist gets his. There is, I hope, a sense of justice, even if it’s administered by someone who’s willing to dabble in corruption. The Funeral March of a Marionette kept going through my mind as I wrote it, which should tell you the type of story.

            I don’t have the sense that it’s gray goo, even though it’s horrible people doing horrible things to each other. I hope that two pass the lunch test. One of those is reprehensible, but may have at least one redeeming quality. The third is up in the air. The protagonist, though – you’d probably want to shower just from being in the same room with him. But he has to be that sort of person for the pay-off at the end.

            The big question is, what do you think? I don’t consider it literary at all because of the what goes around comes around idea, but is it? There comes a reckoning, and my theory is this keeps it out of the gray goo. But is that an accurate impression?

            1. Depends. You can get away with stuff in a short you can’t in longer work.

            2. Kevin- sometimes, a story with all bad characters can be good, even entertaining. “Goodfellas”, for instance, or Richard Stark’s “Parker” novels.
              Often, there will be some sort of comeuppance at the end- either due to a character’s hubris or bad karma, which can make the story more palatable.
              Sounds like you’re on the right track.

              1. Parker was conscienceless and amoral, but he was never gratuitously bad. It would have been a waste of effort he could have directed to something useful.

                He was also something of a paladin among his peers; honest when he didn’t have to be, and always trustworthy. Which is a pretty good trick for a thief and occasional murderer.

          6. Ditto. If I can’t find someone or something to connect to, I stop watching. I’ve lost count of the number of shows that I have passed it. Interestingly, many of those turn out to be top ranked, or fan favorites. (neo Battlestar Galactica and later ST jump to mind. Oh, and 70% of every reimage I have seen.)

          7. The TV series Gotham. The only tech Bruce Wayne should have been researching was how to rock the place from orbit.

            1. After sticking with Gotham from the beginning until early this year, I must agree. There seems to be a tacit principle among the writers that there will never be a moment of victory, joy, or catharsis that lasts past the next commercial break. I couldn’t take it anymore. Good luck, kid, and one day you will meet a certain Mr. Nolan ….

          8. The thing that really struck me about Larry Correia’s Grimnoir books, and what finally made me fan (couldn’t get into the Monster Hunter books, tried the first couple and just didn’t connect with me) was about halfway through Hard Magic I realized something about the protagonists: these are good people. Not sanctimonious or saccharine like I’d seen in other stories, but just…good. Or maybe a better term would be ‘flawed but trying to be and do good, and making headway.’

            1. I keep talking about The Expanse lately, but it is the series I’ve just finished and it is much on my mind. There’s a bit in there that involves genuine sociopaths (and because it’s SF, created sociopaths, in that the parts of their brains responsible for ethical considerations have been turned off.) The last short story I read from that series was from the POV of one of those characters, and it was pretty chilling. It also underscored how many of the other characters in the series use ethical considerations by the contrast.

          9. I understand why you felt that way about ‘The Sporanos,’ but for me the combination of caring father and gangster hoodlum. And he struggles with morality.

            Not saying you’re wrong. There have been shows and books I can’t stand because the characters are annoying creeps whom I would dearly love to beat around the face an neck (Looking at you, ‘The Magicians’ and ‘Cather in the Rye’!). But Tony Soprano et al are, for all their flaws, interested.

      2. I agree with you. I couldn’t care less about the skin color of a character unless there is something that makes it relevant to the story. But Jemisin seems to only care about that.

        I had high hopes for the Fifth Season. The whole earth magic seemed like a fascinating concept, and she handled it fairly deftly for the first half of the book. But then something changed and I lost interest. When she gratuitously made a character transgender, in a feudal, bare survival level agrarian society, I actually started to snicker.

        1. I love history. But the thing about history is that there is an essential method to the madness. The humans behave as human beings, and the world makes an insane sort of sense. Someone writing unpleasant fiction solely for the sake of ‘authenticity’ removes the hope that the determined can find in very bad circumstances. Grey goo paints the world in shades of despair, tastes like a psychological weapon used against you, and can leave one with so empathetic a rejection of the author’s emotional framing that one wishes to punctuate it by beating the author’s skull in.

          Much of human history and prehistory is horrible. Life is not horrible. Live and draw strength from it.

  10. First, Vox Day has surfaced with the Rabid Puppies list. He has also done all fandom including his bitterest opponents the favor of explaining how the new Hugo rules work, namely that the correct answer to winning is single-item slates.

    Perhaps those of you with web skills should move with all due haste to assist Sad Puppies 5 in getting off the ground.

    Some of you mentioned The Fifth Season. I did a review of it in Tightbeam, one of the four (soon to be five) zines published by the National Fantasy Fan Federation ( (free with a public membership, which is free at

    George Phillies

    For reasons best understood by its supporters, The Fifth Season, a novel by N. K. Jemison, published by Orbit Books, was the 2016 Hugo Award winner. The writing is, all things considered, abysmal. The author appears to have identified a set of major stylistic conventions, seemingly only so that she could trample them under foot. One could say that the writing style was ‘experimental’, but if so the experiment should be viewed as a write-off. There are so many problems with the work that it is difficult to choose where to begin.
    Let us begin our comments with the positive and ironic. Readers may be aware that the Hugo Awards have become locked in political controversy. There were suggestions that cliques having particular political, literary, or other persuasions controlled the nomination process. There were suggestions that some subgenres, books from certain companies, authors of particular political persuasions…never saw Hugo nominations. In particular, milSF (military science fiction) novels were said to be excluded. There was then a movement, the Sad Puppies, to publicize this issue and generate Hugo nominations for SF works that were supposedly being excluded. A second, separate movement, the Rapid Puppies, appeared, having different leadership and entirely different objectives. I could go on describing this process, including the new Asterisk Awards, but I would rather not put you, the gentle reader, to sleep. Nor would I care to give apoplexy to some other readers.
    We come to The Fifth Season, chosen by folks who did not support the Sad Puppies.
    It’s Military SF. It’s not any military SF, though it does include a naval battle. No, The Fifth Season is the oft-deprecated superhero/psionics SF, in which the heroes—I use the word very broadly—are orogenes, people with the power to silence earthquakes, move vast slabs of rock, and at one point detonate a transcontinental fault line. The continent splits in twain. Readers will correctly infer that there are negative consequences for the climate. Supporters of the Sad Puppies may be amused to note that their side won by losing; the Hugo went to a MilSF novel.
    Some readers will have heard of the literary construct plot, the notion that events proceed forward in time in an orderly manner. The antithesis of plot was invented by a German author of fifty years ago, who had his work printed on a series of cards, the cards being packed in a box with the instruction that the reader should shuffle to cards and read them in whatever sequence they appeared. The writing was adequately good that much of the time the reader could survive reading his reader-constructed novel.
    Here we have a synthesis. You could, of course, choose to believe that the author has given us a world in which time is incoherent, so that people grow up in a city that has on earlier pages been blown to smithereens. That would be a brilliant literary conceit, a variation on time travel in which time has no meaning. A more plausible interpretation is that the novel has several threads that actually occur seriatim, one thread after the next, but that short segments of each thread are interdigitated with short segments from the other threads. It is possible that if you reread the work, perhaps several times, you will be able to sort out what is going on, but it is not clear why anyone would want to do so.
    At the highest level, writing style is described by tense and person. Most SF is past tense: ‘The hero dropped from the tree’. Modern Literature often uses present tense ‘The hero drops from the tree’. That’s a mark of the profound division between modern literary fiction and modern romantic (e.g. SF, western, detective) literature. Present tense gives a sense of immediacy; it is rarely used in SF. L. E. Modesitt’s Spellsinger series used a convention in which scenes involving the heroine are in past tense, and scenes involving the villains are in present tense. Modesitt reports that readers did not like this clever literary conceit. However, in Modesitt’s series alternation of tense was the only experiment. Here present tense is one of several experiments.
    Jemisin gives us another experiment. She experiments with person.
    By ‘person’ I refer to ‘person’ as used in a description of pronouns. First person: I climbed to the top of the tree. Third person: She climbed to the top of the tree. And, then, there is authorial omniscient, in which the writer breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the reader. The author tells the reader something that no character knew and that was not implicit in the descriptive prose.
    If you count carefully, you note that between first person and third person there must be a second person: “You”. Second person is used in tale-telling, notably by D&D gamesmasters: “You climb to the top of the hill. Before you is a shepherd’s hut, scarcely wide enough for a man to lie down inside. You open the door to the hut. There before you is a thirty-foot-wide white marble staircase, richly inlaid with gold and precious stones. The staircase leads up until it fades into the darkness above.” That’s second person.
    Jemisin gives us entire sections of her book written in second person. These are sections in which the author speaks directly at the protagonist. That’s not authorial omniscient, speaking at the poor reader. That’s speaking at the protagonist. “Night has fallen, and you sit in the lee of a hill in the dark. You’re so tired. Takes a lot out of you, killing so many people….” That’s second person, present tense. The author uses it extensively. If the author had a clever rationale for using second person, she hid it well indeed; I never found it.
    Then there is the author’s use of wall-breaking, speaking directly at the reader. Contemplate–

    “While we’re doing things continentally, planetarily, we should consider the obelisks, which float above all this…But the obelisks exist, and they play a role in the world’s end, and thus are worthy of note…”

    not to mention this line opening a section—

    “Back to the personal. Need to keep things grounded, ha ha.”

    In those lines, you see an exact opposite of the sometimes overstated directive ‘show, don’t tell’.
    The only other author who comes to mind as using that terminal ha ha phrase is the late John Darger, whose novel In the Realms of the Unreal (there is also a full title; it is much longer, as befits an 8-10 million word novel.) uses it with some frequency. There are good reasons to suppose that Darger’s perspective on the world was not the same as ours.
    There are obligatory sex scenes. I counted off-hand three, though one is a second hand account by a minor character. There are several rationales for obligatory sex scenes. They can significantly advance the plot or develop characters and their interactions. The finally-consummated affair between Honor Harrington and her commanding officer, in one of the Honor Harrington novels, fits the character-development model. On another hand, there are sex scenes so graphically described as to be selling points, particularly to younger teenagers. Jean Auel’s Cave series, which is a wonderful discussion of life in the post-glacial stone age, also had graphic scenes that were a major lure for young adults. As an undergraduate once remarked to me, in the Junior High School Library book the scenes were easy to find, thanks to the paper clips. The series was a huge amount of work to develop and write; we should not complain if it also used a few relatively classical sales techniques.
    What about the sex scenes in The Fifth Season? The first extended scene does show how totally awful the local culture is. (It gets much worse.) Two of the lead characters are orogenes. They have been ordered by the government to reproduce with each other. Neither of them is at all interested, so making things work requires, ummh, graphic description not to be repeated here. “Think of England” may sort of work for some women, but for men…it’s more complicated. The other scene, well, the author’s ideas on ‘insert tab A in slot B’ are unlikely to be a major source of sales to teenagers, and, no, I was not particularly referring to the gay male component.
    In order to report on the core plot, I would have had to figure out what it was. I was never quite clear until the end on the relative order of the interleaved sections.
    In conclusion, the Fifth Season is severely deficient in basic issues of SF writing. The use of present rather than past tense grates. There are good reasons why second person is not used in extended works, and they are visible here. Authorial omniscient was used well by the greatest of Victorian authors, Edward Bulwer-Lytton (who, as may be recalled, wrote an influential science fiction novel). Its use in this work is as an antithesis to the doctrine ‘show, don’t tell’. The underlying society is an abomination down to the cannibalism apparently still practiced by the ruling class.
    As an amusing aside, there is a societal fixation on hair texture as a description of a person; the author handles this bit well. The plot lines are incoherent, though with effort I believe a determined reader can untangle them. To give credit where it is due, the closing line–in which one characters asks another if she knows a specific fact–is brilliant. The volume is in no sense a match for Starship Troopers, The Forever War, Cyteen, or any of the other novels that have received a Hugo. There are people who claim that the style is ‘experimental’ and therefore meritorious. Unfortunately, these are the people who are subject to the misapprehension that ‘experimental’ and ‘good’ are synonymous, a belief forever disproven by this work.

    1. When I was on deployment, one of the other officers in the Task Force found out I was a science fiction author, and he started asking me a few questions about writing craft. The conversation eventually got around to his annoyance with a particular book he was reading, without him naming the book specifically. I asked him what had been bothering him about the book, which had been recommended to him by his sister. He cited the book’s tense, above all else. But he also felt like the book was badly done, from a standpoint of storytelling. It was a distracting book. He wasn’t enjoying himself at all. He was slogging through it. Despite wanting to like the thing, based on his sister’s adamant recommendation.

      I finally asked him, “So, what’s the name of the book?”

      You guessed it, it was The Fifth Season.


    2. Thank you for confirming my initial reaction to the cover blurb. Which was to toss the book back on the shelf before something rubbed off on my hands.

    3. I didn’t read the whole book but far as I got, that’s a fair assessment. And it’s not that she’s unskilled; much of the writing was, as I put it, lyrical, but it also felt inappropriate for this story: Like we’re supposed to experience beauty in the ugly place it describes, and meanwhile the inhabitants are flinging poo at each other (and sometimes at the reader), cuz that’s all they’ve got and they don’t like living there either.

      “It is a beautiful flower … that smells bad.”

        1. I’d have to check google to find out which episode, but I’m pretty sure that’s a quote from Spock, one of the times when they were driving an AI nuts with illogic. So, Star Trek: The Original Series writing, IIRC. Oh, wait, Christopher says androids? So that would be… drat, I can see him, with the blinking light on his chest. Argh, I’m going to fail my Trek test.

            1. Okay. Now, was the lead android Norman? (Why do I remember that?) And did they leave Mudd surrounded by a flock of android wives, or was that another episode? What really boggles me is that I’m remembering most of this from watching the originals.

              1. That’s the one.

                Oh, the android wives were copies of Harry’s wife who he had left.

                These android wives had begun to harass/nag “poor little Harry” when the crew left. 😀

      1. The Usual Suspects remind me of the androids in that episode. It doesn’t take much to make smoke come out of their ears.

    4. This may be a spoiler but it isn’t the *author* who is speaking to the protagonist in the 2nd person in those chapters but a character from the story (although this is not immediately obvious).

      1. Came without being summoned this time, imp?

        Perhaps you can explain how a genre is to survive the demanding and competitive entertainment market, when rewards and prizes only get handed out to ugly, opaque and relentlessly negative books?

        1. I’m very much in favour of authors being paid, if that’s what you mean by rewards. As for prizes, your claim is false – prizes are not only awarded for ugly, opaque, relentelessly negative books – not even the prizes you dislike.

          1. Right – only most of the prizes go to ugly, opaque, or relentlessly negative books. Some go to mediocre books written by special snowflakes. And a previous few actually go to the authors of good books.

          2. That’s true, imp. “Redshirts” won a Hugo. It was not ugly, opaque or relentlessly negative. It was crappy fan fic. So crappy that although I read it, I can’t remember any of it.

            I stand corrected. Almost all, not absolutely all. Corruption and log rolling do have their place.

            1. It’s arguable that Redshirts wasn’t crappy fanfic. Bland and hopelessly derivative, sure, but not outright crappy.

              1. True, but it did not distinguish itself even as good fanfic. Just…average, just like the hundreds of fics going up on today.

    5. ” He has also done all fandom including his bitterest opponents the favor of explaining how the new Hugo rules work, namely that the correct answer to winning is single-item slates. ”

      HA! I knew someone would see it. All they really did was making it easier to stack the vote. All that rule did was hurt people like me, who vote their conscious, not what someone else suggests. (still trying to decide if I want to pay the $ this year.)

      1. I am not buying a Worldcon membership this year. Now that the voting rules have been rigged to devalue participation, I think the point has been made. This is not about legitimate fan participation, its about a clique staying in control.

        They can stay in control without my money to keep them warm.

    6. Again, I don’t know how to say this in MORE ways. I’ve said it everywhere in as clear language as I can: SP5 is not going for the Hugos. I did not mean to have it delayed past the Hugo noms, but health and work seem to be dictating that, and it’s good.
      We’re not going after the Hugos because I cannot IN CONSCIENCE recommend anyone spend the money to be mocked. The Chavez can go to hell without us. Vox and the CHORFs DESERVE each other and can go on hitting each other till the end of the book. I Don’t Care. Again, I can’t in good conscience recommend anyone spend good money to fight it out for an award so debased it means nothing, and in the process allow the despicable people who debased it to party high on our money. They’ll get no more from us.
      SP5 which I hope to get up this month, (Probably next week, barring major health incident) will be a monthly recommend list, culled once a year, probably December, to a yearly recommend list. The site will also have a page per each award I’m made aware of, and its rules. And each book will indicate what it’s eligible for, if anything (we’re not barring older works.) The books will include mystery.
      What you do with it is your problem. As far as I’m concerned, the Chavez awards can’t die fast enough. Since this is something the current controlling clique is doing its best to fulfill, we’re in perfect accord.

  11. Just be glad that indie books and indie publishing are still allowed to exist. Because Hollywood, and to a lesser extent all trad publishers, are trying to regulate the Internet (or at least its essence, the ability for anyone to be a publisher) out of existence in the hope of preserving themselves. And if they succeed in making publishing require a license, we will be living in the world of Pournelle’s Fallen Angels.

  12. The complaint in the linked interview about fantasy, about how it is mostly set someplace “like medieval England.”

    Well, this is the English-speaking world, and most fairy tales are set in a place that is sort of like medieval England. King Arthur is there.

    OTOH, pretty much everybody is willing to read fantasies that are not set in fairy tale land. Oz, for instance, which Baum provided with many modern conveniences. (And plenty of multi-ethnic groups, including people of colors.)

    Having a default is not oppressive. It just means a genre is popular enough to possess default settings.

    1. I noticed that many of Robert E Howard’s Conan stories take place in some analogue of the Mid-East, Far East or Africa. But I suspect that the SJW crowd would find those rather triggering.

      1. Lost over time is just how popular the chinoiserie and japonisme were during the pulps all the way up to the present day, even if the venerated editors of the 1980s began to make them rare. China and Japan have fascinated English language audiences for decades.

  13. I just got back from watching “Logan”, which my roommate insisted on seeing. It was a fascinating piece of work from a philosophical point of view–the film was able to utilize the conventions of the superhero genre while at the same time adhering to a worldview that was entirely antithetical to the philosophical underpinnings of that genre.

    It was like watching a murder mystery in which none of the characters cared who the murderer was, or a porn film about people who didn’t like sex. The conceit of humans with superhuman abilities was used not as a metaphor for what is pure and noble about humanity, but as an excuse to celebrate what is fallible, weak, unpleasant and base.

    From a purely technical standpoint it is an impressive achievement, but from an artistic standpoint it was nigh-perfectly executed example of something that there is no reason to do. 

    1. Did they PC the crap out of it?

      I love Wolverine. I have ever since I first ran across him in X-men comics in the 80’s. If they have PC’d him, even seeing Huge Jackman shirtless may not be worth the price of a ticket.

      1. Not Wolverine himself so much, although they have made him a sick old man. The story all around him, yeah, it’s got the usual liberal talking points in all caps. For example, the new mutant-killer, since the sentinels got erased out of time in “Days Of Future Passed”, are GMOs. Yes, genetically modified corn syrup killed off all the mutants.

          1. Not as much Jackman eye-candy as most of the X-men franchise, and a lot of it is covered with some fairly gross prosthetics much of the time.

        1. It was GMOs? You sure you didn’t mishear that scene? I thought it was a variant of the Legacy Virus that gets released that kills off all the mutants, and Dr. Rice was talking about using GMOs and tailor-made mutations as a replacement for the naturally-occurring variety.

          1. I may have, I was not paying a lot of attention at that point. But I don’t recall hearing the words “legacy virus” and my roommate had no idea where the mutants had gone–she didn’t even hear the GMO part. It wasn’t heavily stressed in any event. They were just sort of not around any more.

            1. I took the references to Xavier’s guilt to mean killed off the majority of them somehow, possibly by accident or with a (Sinister-induced?) seizure. That would’ve taken out those already around, and the sterilization virus would prevent any new ones being born.

                1. His real name is Nathanial Essex, that bit at the end of Apocalypse, where ‘The Essex Corp’ gets Wolverine’s DNA, that was a major shout-out, and he was supposed to appear in Logan. The moviemakers were saying so until very recently, when they decided he didn’t ‘fit’ with the gritty atmosphere.

                  Still, he’s behind everything: he was the one who had Wolverines DNA so he would have been behind the creation of those experimental kids/super soldiers. The whole idea of controlling mutations and controlling the new kind of people that will populate the future that Dr. Rice was talking about? Sinister is big into that. He’s even experimented on himself (I don’t think he’s a naturally-occurring mutant, he gave himself powers) so he won’t go down easy, and he’s effectively immortal, having artificially preserved his life so that he can start one experiment and see its result generations into the future.

                  But Sinister has primarily been an adversary of Cyclopes and Jean/Phoenix. He’s obsessed with using Phoenix to create a godlike being who’ll rule the world, and who Sinister will control. That’s why Cyclopes has such hatred for Sinister: he’s always targeting Jean.

                  That’s another thing I’m excited about: Cyclopes has really gotten the short shrift in these movies. In the second one he was mind-controlled by Striker, in the third one he was broken and killed off to give Halle Berry more screen time, but if Wolverine is out of the picture, and Sinister starts targeting Jean as he’s wont to do, then Cyclopes can finally come to the fore and prove himself to be the leader and the only true love for Jean I know he is!

                2. Sinister was also responsible for the Morlock Massacre in one storyline. The Morlocks were a bunch of mutants who had to live in the sewers and tunnels under New York because their mutations made them too deformed to pass for human. Like Beast, but their mutations were more of a palpable disadvantage than an advantage. The X-Men had some run-ins with them, since the Morlocks were outcasts among outcasts and subsisted by stealing from the world above, but were largely on friendly terms with them.

                  But Sinister considered the Morlocks to be dead-ends in mutations, and being big into eugenics he didn’t want them polluting the mutant gene pool, so he sent his minions in to slaughter them all. It stands out in my mind because that storyline was my first introduction to the X-Men comics.

                  So bottom line: Magneto’s a tragic and sympathetic figure, but Sinister’s pure evil.

                  1. “But Sinister considered the Morlocks to be dead-ends in mutations, and being big into eugenics he didn’t want them polluting the mutant gene pool, so he sent his minions in to slaughter them all. It stands out in my mind because that storyline was my first introduction to the X-Men comics.”

                    I remember the last scene from that arc; they had Thor be the one to come across the massacre scene and give them a “Viking funeral” by scouring the tunnels clean with lightning and fire while having the “Masque of the Red Death” as the background “dialogue” (Thor wasn’t reciting it; it was just in the frame). One powerful scene.

                    Of course, they couldn’t do that today, because most of their readers would know what “Masque of the Red Death” was.

        2. *SPOILERS*

          Yet somehow Beast, a supergenius who regularly dabbles in genetics and genetic modification, didn’t notice any signs of CRISPR analogues, even though that sort of gene-editing leaves signs. Not to mention any super-healing boost that Wolverine gets in the movie would have flushed the ‘toxins’ out of his body and reset his healing factor to if not it’s prime than certainly significantly better than sick old man.

          1. Perhaps in the next movies it’ll be x23s healing factor that combats the disease and creates the necessary antibodies, which is maybe why she’ll need to go back in time?

    2. I saw the film this evening. It was as unremitting a scolding as I’ve witnessed on film in a long time. I felt like I was being chastised for liking super heroes. “How dare you expect Wolverine to have -learned- anything from living for 200 years!” Like how to drive from Point A to Point B without getting randomly attacked by bad guys every ten minutes.

      They spent a lot of time lugging Patrick Steward in and out of the bathroom. Spoiler, that was some of the better parts of the movie.

      Don’t take the kids. Dooooon’t do it. You have been warned.

      1. “How dare you expect Wolverine to have -learned- anything from living for 200 years!”
        How dare we expect the movie writers to have -learned- anything from the success of Deadpool, Guardians of the Galaxy, or Ant-Man!

        We need a Squirrel Girl movie. With Deadpool in it.

          1. Simple: Deadpool’s a comic book character who KNOWS he’s a comic book character.

            That’s why things like morality simply don’t apply in Deadpool’s case. Imagine that you and everyone around you, and the entire world for that matter, is all fiction, and that you’re the only one who knows it. How would you act?

            1. I would probably act the way I do, because my concept of morality is internal. However, I’d certainly have a blast with fictional powers.

            2. Honesty, I think I would endeavor to live my life as a work of art and to create beauty whenever I could. But I’m something of an Epicurean.

    3. I’ve got some very, very mixed feelings on that one.


      The biggest issue I had with the movie was the inclusion of the Decimation/Day of M, plot arc, which the comics only did because they wanted to phase out mutants since they couldn’t make any movies out of them. There was no reason to let that into the movies, and it overshadows Wolverines’ personal journey and its end by making everything he and Xavier and the rest fought for futile.

      I can handle beloved characters dying. What’s really spirit-crushing is when their lives are rendered meaningless (aka Han Solo).

      Indeed, the whole X-Men movie franchise, the nature of the team, and the questions and moral quandaries about the relationship between human and mutant, all meaningless.

      But with that in mind, I’m actually very excited for the next films, because there’s no way this is how it’s going to end. Not with so many questions about what led up to the future world of Logan left unanswered. And we’ve got Cable going back in time – perhaps with X-23? – for what reason except to PREVENT the virus that sterilizes the mutants.

      I’m hoping…I’m really hoping….

    4. Side-note, another disappointment in Logan: I never got to see Sinister triumphant, in all his ugly glory. One or two scenes with Sinister would have cemented the idea that this isn’t the end, just one of those lets-show-an-alternate-reality-where-the-villain-wins-so-we-see-how-bad-it-could-be things.

  14. Here’s Cammy on his own blog:

    “We are back to the unspoken logic of much of what has consumed the right for decades. It is unspoken and avoided, an incomplete argument leads people to a conclusion that they would reject if spoken. By not following the logic they can retain a belief that they are moderate and reasonable. However, their argument always leads to the same spot. Brad would just rather these wrong books DID NOT EXIST. He doesn’t want to ban them or burn them or imprison their authors (although how else can his wish come true?) he just wants them to magically not be there.”

    1. I saw the Flopatron post today. The pivotal sentence seems to be:

      “Brad would just rather these wrong books DID NOT EXIST.”

      As usual, the point has passed you at Mach 2, Floppy. There it goes, on full afterburner. You missed it.

      Nobody cares that these crappy books with depressing stories exist. We just wish something else did. All we want is something to read that is not crappy and depressing.

      Clearly, in your world we are not allowed to want that. Your opinion seems to be shared by the Big Five, all they print these days is crappy and depressing take-downs of western culture. Then they make crappy depressing movies out of them, and you get “Logan,” which manages to add ‘pointless’ to the crappy and depressing.

      Again, how does this help the SF/F genre to grow?

      1. //We just wish something else did. All we want is something to read that is not crappy and depressing.//

        Another complaint without substance. Try this: go to this site called “”, look up ‘science fiction’. Ta da! Seriously, there is *no shortage* of SF books these days, in every sub-genre & sub-sub-sub-genre. Your complaint is not just bogus, it is obviously bogus. Heck, just by browsing Mad Genius you’ll see a plethora of SF books of various kinds whether they are Sarah Hoyt’s Darkship series, or John Van Stry’s Portals of Infinity or Peter Grant’s Maxwell Saga – just to name book series from regulars here.

        Amazon has hundreds of thousands of SF books. Very, very few of them are like the Fifth Season. There’s enough military science fiction (for example) on Amazon that if you could read one a day, it would last you 30+ years.

        So no. Your complaint is not just bogus but clearly insincere. You do care about books like the Fifth Season (as shown by your repeated complaints about it) and not because some how your needs aren’ being attended to. Your issue is that *other* people might be getting something *they* like.

        The boundaries of SF don’t grow by sticking to one formula – this is almost true by definition. Brad’s analogy is a poor match to the situation he is trying to describe – he isn’t actually complaining about new Coke, he’s complaining about the existence of 7-up in competition with coke, and Dr Pepper, and Mountain Dew, or things that he didn’t grow up with like Vimto, or Irn-Bru, or things that seem very odd indeed like Inca-Cola from Peru, or L&P from New Zealand.

        1. “Your issue is that *other* people might be getting something *they* like.”

          Are you calling me a liar, Camestros? I hope not. That would be uncouth of you.

          We are tired of seeing and hearing nothing but pretentious scolding crap about how bad we are. That accusation forms the basis of current popular entertainment, and we are tired of it. We would very much like to see something else. Anything else, at this point.

          Those of you who pretend to love pretentious scolding crap are free to spend your money as you see fit. That is what a Free Country is about. You can have my share too.

          “The boundaries of SF don’t grow by sticking to one formula – this is almost true by definition.”

          Yes, I know. Hence my complaint, sir.

          1. //Are you calling me a liar, Camestros? I hope not. That would be uncouth of you.//

            I don’t know what is going on in your head, so I can’t assert to what extent you knowingly say things that are clearly not true. However, I can note your habit of doing so and refute your claims. I have done so. What more needs to be said?

    2. Christopher, I would like to point out that Cameltoe is precisely the kind of sawdust-gobbler who would dutifully eat a turd, if the Great Minds of the genre told him to. He would further pronounce the turd delicious, as he desperately sought to be relevant in the arena of the Great Minds.

  15. “When you’ve got a slew of stories that are set in a version of medieval England that’s curiously devoid of people of color, and poor people, and queer people, and women, you’ve got this strange secondary world where it’s a bunch of white guys running around poking things at each other and having empowerment fantasies, that’s political. That’s communicating a political message. That’s just communicating a political message that’s fairly commonly seen in our society, and which we don’t necessarily think is weird.” ~ from the original fiskee’s interview
    Of course, it would probably send this writer into terminal fantods to point out that medieval England WAS “curiously devoid of people of color, … and queer people, and [Sangerite-Empowered/Emancipated] women,” and that many readers care more for accuracy than inclusivity in their world-building.

    “Taste-makers may secure for themselves the levers of academic or institutional power — pressing a kind or style of fiction on largely captive crowds. But nobody likes to be force-fed a handful of sawdust, while being told that the sawdust is in fact a rich, delicious piece of chocolate cake. A few people, wishing to join the taste-making set, may embrace the sawdust. Swearing up and down that the sawdust is, quite simply, the greatest treat (s)he has ever had. (S)he will gobble further handfuls of sawdust, to prove that (s)he has adopted the acceptable and correct values.
    But in the end, it’s still sawdust.
    Which is why a Hugo or a Nebula short list — in 2017 — isn’t indicative of organic enjoyment. The Hugo and Nebula short lists are created by, and for, the sawdust set.”
    Or as John C. Wright has called it, “Calling a deer a horse.”

    1. “…this strange secondary world where it’s a bunch of white guys running around poking things at each other…”

      Heavens! The very idea that white people would want to tell stories set in -their- history! Its racism, I tell you!

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