Is God the New Yoda?
Vox Day, Castalia House, & the Battle Against Political Correctness
SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police
Foreword by Milo Yiannopolous
Castalia House, 2015
“Another reason these SJW ambushes are so often surprising is because . . . some of them have nothing to do with any animus for the target, but are launched in order for the SJW to obtain status within the social justice movement. . . . Sensing an opportunity to make a name for herself by vilifying a Nobel prize-winner, [Connie St. Louis] struck [at Sir Tim Hunt].”
—From SJWs Always Lie, by Vox Day
What was I saying just last week? That social justice warriors do extreme things precisely in order to advance their careers as social justice warriors, if I’m not going completely senile.
This week I made it my business to catch up with some of the summer 2015 output of Castalia House—the publishing company where fantasy author and Very Nasty Fake White Man Vox Day is lead editor—and it turns out I’m not the only one who glimpses a perfectly rational careerism under the waves of teal-dyed hair.
But Day has more to say on the subject than I do; due to his cartoon-villain participation in the Hugo hoopla over the past couple of years as the leader of the Rabid Puppies, he’s had a ringside seat to a certain segment of the identity-politickers’ antics.
Day’s brand-new nonfiction book on Castalia—SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police—is half Rabid Puppies memoir, half field manual for dealing with the sort of people who repeatedly call Day a white supremacist even though he repeatedly reminds them that he’s part Native American, and won’t shut up about his great-grandfather who was some kind of Mexican war hero. (They call Day a cracker because he is nasty; I call him the George Zimmerman of fantasy fiction.)
Before I tucked into Always Lie—which would obviously present just one man’s viewpoint on the Sad/Angry/Poison-Tipped Puppies, however well-informed on his own position he may be—I asked my Facebook friends to kindly catch me up on the Sad Puppies-vs-SJWs Hugo kerfuffle.
I had no informed opinion on these disgustingly democratic sci-fi awards—they’re voted on by Worldcon attendees—because it causes me physical pain to pay attention to high-school-style popularity contests. (As a ridiculous failed elitist, I only bother my head about awards that are curated by people who didn’t just pound fifteen kegger cups of Everclear and Green River at a room party before blitzedly conferencing on which of their Twitter buddies to all fall in behind. In other words, I don’t bother my head.)
The anti-Puppies were first to the thread, informing me that the Puppies were sort of about race-baiting, sort of about being bullies . . . but mostly about having bad taste. I asked for an example, and they gave me a story called “Turncoat” (by Steve Rzasa) that started thus:
I am a knight riding to war.
My suit of armor is a single Mark III frigate, a body of polysteel three hundred meters long with a skin of ceramic armor plating one point six meters thick. In the place of a lance, I have 160 Long Arm high-acceleration deep space torpedoes with fission warheads. Instead of a sword, I carry two sets of tactical laser turrets, twenty point defense low-pulse lasers, and two hypervelocity 100 centimeter projectile cannons.
It is, indeed, a drearily written and cluttered opener, and I began to agree . . . but with an odd sense of déjà vu.
I read on, till I realized I had already read this story. I had disliked the first few paragraphs the first time around as well, but I kept going, because “Turncoat” was placed in the middle of a Castalia anthology that had already coughed up a few nice yarns. I had trust invested in what Rzasa’s story might bring. And sure enough: “Turncoat” paid off in the end, with a highly touching and well-executed premise that brought tears to my eyes on first read.
I said so, and one of my anti-Puppy friends, whose opinion I respect, grumped that it was just another Bible story that didn’t make sense as science fiction.
I reluctantly half-assumed he was forcing himself to stick to his political guns. It seems that one of the more common Stupid Internet Tricks these days is to declare anyone you disagree with politically or philosophically to be an illiterate hack who is no fun to read, and to keep insisting heshit is so despite any evidence to the contrary.
It’s a convoluted and sneaky, therefore effective, ad hominem; since the Internet is 95 percent ad hominem, it makes sense that there’s an arms race going on in that sector of rhetoric (SJWs Always Lie, by the way, has an extensive section on dealing with people who only understand rhetoric). Then again, this is a guy who isn’t a typical idiot. What was going on?
So as I turned my eyes to one of Castalia House’s new fiction releases for this summer—Somewhither: A Tale of the Unwithering Realm, by John C. Wright—I begin to consider giving the aesthetic anti-Puppy arguments against all things Jeebus the benefit of the doubt.
Some benefit, anyway. I was vastly enjoying the book. Somewhither starts off by giving the reader the impression that it will describe the adventures of the heirs of the old Knights Templar, who in modern times are charged with keeping out invaders from alternate history lines. But it spirals off into the delightfully unexpected, with great invention and humor.
The novel’s weak point, however, in the face of hostile scrutiny, may be that isn’t hard sci-fi; it’s far from it, and far from it in an unusual way, one that may have trouble being forgiven. (Not that it’s trying to be hard sci-fi, but you know people. They’ll claim they got nuttin’ out of a groin massage if they disagree with the guy who’s giving it.)
Somewhither is told from the point of view of Ilya, a bright but very young man who grew up on our Earth, so—and this is a little-used narrative tactic that I found impressive—he can’t give omniscient low-downs on how all of the wacky technology in the parallel world works.
So his narration mixes his best guesses at hard sci-fi explanations with frank admissions of ignorance, which cleverly parody nearly every sci-fi writer’s occasional collapses into hand-waving. Some of the characters Ilya meets explain with a straight face that their technology works by magic, since magic is still an effective branch of the philosophies in their world, and . . .
Well, here’s where the “Biblical stories that don’t work in sci-fi” factor comes in.
When Ilya gets so nervous that he starts praying to capital-G God—merely as a form of meditation, just to calm himself down, you understand—he discovers that it affects the outcome of events.
Is it impossible for supernatural characters that real-world people believe in to effectively populate science fiction? (I mean, post-Homer.)
I guess the real lit-crit question (yes, that is mild sarcasm) is: Does including God the Father in a science-fiction plot require too much suspension of disbelief?
It certainly requires some suspension of disbelief; for me, anyway. You know what else requires it? Any book that involves inter-solar-system travel.
Considering the giant distances between stars and the limitations of lightspeed, colonizing other galaxies seems about as likely at this point as finding out that my cat is Jesus. Doesn’t stop me from enjoying the fantasy when I read space sci-fi. Wright himself, on the not-infrequent occasions when he goes “meta,” takes comic swipes at:
. . . those annoying “sufficiently advanced technologies” that are indistinguishable from magic[.]
Time travel in sci-fi is similarly fairy-dusty: As one of my Classics professors, of all people, pointed out: if time travel ever existed, then there would always be time travel. So hell, why not let God into sci-fi? He’s the sort of character who could spruce up the place.
And unlike travel in space and time, big-g God—at least the way Wright handles the theme—adds some moral ballast to the novel’s engaging slapstick.
Think about it: the usual conventions of science fiction hero(ine)ism have narrowed to relatively few options, most of them very nearly as unlikely and grandiose as Yahweh. Your characters—however small, dorky, or clueless—may save the entire world/humanity/universe, à la the new Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars, or any of that massive subgenre. Or you can have a crew of lone-wolf badasses just doing cool stuff, as on Firefly (or the old Doctor Who). For the pessimists, there’s confusion and degradation in the face of an impossibly vile system, à la Philip K. Dick.
There’s a little more flexibility if you pledge to an SJW clique; you may write—as Day puts it—“romance novels that may or may not take place in space.” SJWs may also find success by exercising trendy but terribly mammal-bound options like pan-sexuality as a conceit, à la that horrible dinosaur story (fine, not technically mammal-bound, but you can’t tell me dinosaurs enjoyed sex) that not even intelligent non-SJW anti-Puppies will praise, but which the moron masses nominated anyway because it is a meme.
But for those who want to keep their sci-fi more heady than that, we’ve accumulated so much of the stuff, past and present, that, combined with the constraints, we’re left with a rather small and worn corridor in which to write. And as much as I find formal constraints foster invention, I’m not as certain about thematic constraints.
Unless it’s a social-justice-approved moral theme, we seem to have a gentlemen’s agreement to limit our moral themes to massive, galaxy-size white-hat choices (or inevitable and worn dilemmas such as “Which crew members get the last of the oxygen?”). A small but soulful decision as the one upon which “Turncoat” gently hinges may seem “Biblical” and odd, but that might make it just the thing to refresh the palate.
In the same vein, Somewhither’s moral seriousness is beyond the pale by the usual standards; most religious sects in traditional sci-fi are relegated to nasty, ugly, and corrupt priestly castes—unless you’re a bunch of Buddhist hippies. And Somewhither does feature some nasty–mancers, but there are also the doughty Templars. Whether you believe in God or not, it’s a welcome change of pace—you don’t have to believe that Danny John-Jules is really a giant cat to enjoy Red Dwarf, either. Unfortunately, we’re so jihad-prone these days that perhaps fans feel a knee-jerk disgust response to anything like a familiar Earth religion. This is understandable, but limiting.
For example, science fiction sometimes seems like it’s running out of jokes. Adding priests as members of an inter-reality gateway guardianship opens up new opportunities for humor:
Once they knew, how did they keep it secret? Could anyone really keep such a thing secret? It would be as if someone had made a moonshot on the sly. The Pentagon cannot even keep its private papers safe from the New York Times.
Answer: If anyone could keep a secret, any priest who ever staggered out of a confessional booth, ears ringing from the nauseating repetition of the most perverse and deadly sins anyone can imagine, but mouth zipped shut, he could do it, that is for sure.
Sure, it ain’t Spaceballs-level slapstick, but Wright is feeding on a nearly untouched supply of fodder for dry, sly humor. And he fires less gently at more conventional parodic targets, like costumed con-goers; some of the slapstick and wordplay he wrings out of a substance he calls “void-vomit” or “Oobleck”—a near-sentient goo that inhabits the “uncreation” zone between two universes—is full-blown wet humor:
I was touched by the show of mindless loyalty from a writhing mud ball I had stimulated into a hideous mockery of life, but it was also darned inconvenient . . .
Mulling it over, I’ve come to suspect that some anti-Puppies—the not-completely-humorous non-SJWs, at least—are probably telling the truth when they say they have aesthetic objections. Perhaps the weirdness of God makes things feel lopsided, out-of-sorts, an Aristotelian fail. Sci-fi can (and I’m not the first to pat myself on the back for noticing this) tend toward aesthetic conservatism.
In short, aside from enjoying them despite being told I’m stupid for enjoying them, I feel for writers like Rzasa and Wright. Although the science fiction novel I’m finally finishing writing is in no way traditionalist in its themes, it’s also hell and back from being conventional science fiction. (Spoiler alert: my “heroine,” such as she is, makes a sad excuse for a lone wolf, and she refuses to save the human race, at least not in a way most people would recognize.)
So I don’t expect to win any awards either. I expect sci-fi fundamentalists and SJW entryists alike to turn up their noses at my blithe disdain for their expected tropes, tactics, and feel-goodery.
But listen, kids: if nobody broke the rules, we wouldn’t have sci-fi in the first place. So clear some space on your plate for the mental minorities (I’ll be the first to admit I’m completely mental).
To hold up their end of the deal, however, the mental minorities, if they want to be heard, must go in fully armed.
The first few pages of Wright’s book, like the first paragraphs of “Turncoat,” are weak, written nowhere near as well as the rest of the book. Both authors use too many feints and dodges in the openers in an attempt to build curiosity, but these are more confusing than intriguing. This is a weakness that’s absolutely rampant in current science fiction—there’s probably an overpaid “writing teacher” somewhere who’s to blame—but it’s easier to get away with it when your themes are obviously conventional coming out of the gate.
There are even some distracting punctuation errors early on (also rampant in 90 percent of “published” text these days, but don’t get me started). Frankly, if I weren’t at a point as a reader where I trust Castalia House’s choices, I’m not sure if I would have read on.
Perhaps more important, if I weren’t interested in truly unconventional themes in sci-fi, I almost certainly would not have read on to get to the juicy meat. The flimsy opening pages are preceded by a series of traditionalist and even (shock, gasp, etc.,) Christian-oriented quotes. This declaration of war on modern conventions should have been followed by a jaw-dropping opening chapter, displaying the most note-perfect prose of which the author is capable; instead his best writing is buried mid-book.
For example, this line on page 13 almost convinced me I had stumbled into some postmodernist English professor’s drunken attempt at Christian sci-fi:
Her name was Penny Dreadful. Unless it wasn’t. I was in love. Unless I wasn’t.
Lest I be misunderstood, the book begins to hook the reader in just a thousand words or so beyond that clunker. The food for thought is heavy with linguistic delights, as much of the stage business hinges on an Indo-European proto-language; the frothy humor makes space to probe the nature of evil, free will, autocracy, and mitochondrial matriarchs—all suspended in an unpredictable, wonderfully inventive plotline. Christian soldiers aside, it’s not that far off the mark set by this year’s Best Novel Hugo winner, The Three Body Problem—the one work which, not coincidentally, was so good both the Puppies and the anti-Puppies were pulling for it (although Day got around to reading it too late to put it on his slate).
But if a great book wanders in the forest and no one came out to read it . . .
The take-away is pretty clear: Especially in a genre with lots of rules—plus new SJW rules—if you want to be different, you have to be perfect.
Yeah, life’s not fair. But having an extra incentive for excellence means you might have a chance to pass the test of time.
And the quality of your opening pages or paragraphs (length of the work depending) is crucial. People turn up their noses with depressing speed—and how can you put all the blame on them, with all the genuinely rotten books clogging the pipes? Douglas Adams didn’t get a pass for his bizarre genre-wrecking-ball project because he was cute; he got a pass because the opener to The Hitchhiker’s Guide was striking. Come to think of it, it’s about time I quit essay-writing and went over my first chapter again.
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