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SF Tidbits Part VIII

Welcome to another installment of SF Tidbits!

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

7 Comments on SF Tidbits Part VIII

  1. I fear I only reached about halfway through Jeremy Adam Smith’s article on stupid utopias, when his combination of the childish crudeness of his insults and the crackpot leftist bigotry forbad me to continue.

    In one sentence he condemns America for the religious asperations of the founders of Boston, with there words: “The New World was to be More’s Utopia, at last made real. In Salem sixty years later, witches would burn. A Native American apocalypse was not far behind, followed by Filipinos, El Salvadorans, Vietnamese, Iraqis, and anyone else who ran afoul of this utopian marriage of theocratic and imperial aspiration.”

    In another sentence, be condemns–wait for it–suburbs! Yes, in an article criticizing the utopian dreams of man as being unrealistic or racist, he assigns an equal place to the totalitarian daydreams of Plato, the puritanic communism of Thomas Moore, and the desire of some families to have a backyard.

    Even more telling, out of all the utopias described or dreamed in science fiction, his discriminating mind can only find three worthy of criticism: one book by a feminist (whom he accuses of racism) and two by libertarians.

    Other feminist Utopias he does not mention, even though there is a whole subgenre on this topic. Only HERLAND is singled out for criticism, and then only for its racist subtext.

    Notice what is absent from his list of stupid utopias. Ralph Bellamy’s LOOKING BACKWARD is mentioned, but not criticized: Bellamy is a socialist. Ursula LeGuin’s THE DISPOSSESSED is not mentioned: the planet described their is a socialist anarchy, without property. CASSINI DIVISION is not mentioned: it is a communist utopia, where everyone volunteers for any and all work without pay in order to maintain a complex technological society. WYST: ALASTOR 1716 by Jack Vance is not mentioned: it is an unsympathetic portrayal of egalitarianism. WORLD OF NULL-A by A.E. van Vogt is not mentioned: the world there is run by an elite of utterly sane individuals, liberated by neuro-linguistic science: they also live without laws, and food and shelter is free. STAR TREK, whose Earth exists without striving for money, is not mentioned.

    In other words, Mr. Smith finds only those utopias based on racism or radical liberty to be offensive and stupid. He finds America and Suburbia to be offensive and stupid. Socialist and anarchist ideas? He gives then a pass. Living without money is possible; living without gun control is not.

  2. Codacil:

    I should also add that Mr. Smith’s first entry in his second article on the “Ten Sexiest Dysutopias” is The Christian Hell.

    The hells of their other religions, Hades, Gehenna, Nastrond, are not mentioned. The fact that a myth about punishment in the after-life has nothing in common with the anti-utopias of cautionary SF literature does not seem to matter.

    Notice he is not analyzing Dante’s INFERNO or Sartre’s NO EXIT, or any other fictional or poetic artifice: he is merely scoffing at the religious sentiment of Western civilization.

    And, again BRAVE NEW WORLD seems to be absent from his list–perhaps I missed it, my eyes were glazing over–since this is, of course, a leftwing dystopia in the same fashion that V FOR VENDETTA (also not mentioned) is a rightwing dystopia.

    The overall impression I am left with is that the man may be a political writer of interest to those of his same political opinions. But Mr. Smith is disqualified by his partisanship to be a commentator on science fiction.

  3. I only skimmed the Sexiest Dystopias, he almost lost me with the Christian Hell and finished the job with Weimar Germany. Its ‘sexy’ because they had liberal views on gays and such? Alright, but what about the out of control inflation? I can’t buy a loaf of bread without a wheelbarrow of cash, but I can walk down the street with my good friend Hans. Isn’t that sexy? Whatever, I’m assuming it would have sucked to live in Germany then. And, more importantly, how is that SF related? I think he had an axe to grind.

  4. I actually read to the end of the Utopia article (well OK, I skipped what were clearly lame sections and skimmed to the end.) The last ‘stupid utopia’ is … wait for it … The Internet. That anybody would think it is utopia does sound a bit naive (I hesitate to use the word stupid myself) but there are some extremely liberating and amazing things here.

    Let me count a few:

    – The primary way for evacuees from New Orleans to get information, register for services, and find out about current events is the Internet. I volunteered with at a local Red Cross (I’m in Houston) and found out that the first question asked of every caller was ‘do you have Internet access?’ so they could point them at all the good resources. Most of the shelters (and all the major ones here like the Astrodome, Reliant Center, and the convention center) all have access (in fact, they put out an open call for anybody with a WiFi enabled laptop to come down and lend a hand!)

    – This blog is amazing – how is it that a group of geeks like us has a voice that anybody else reads or pays attention to? Sure, we’re quick with the sarcasm (the language of the devil indeed) but other than that, I can’t believe this blog works out so well.

    – Blogs, and other methods of self-expression – from Michael Yon to Dave Barry, from Wonkette to Winterspeak – they all bring voices of the famous, infamous, super-smart, and just well written to EVERYBODY ON THE PLANET (well, at least everybody with access – admittedly I didn’t find much access in Kenya while I was there, so I do appreciate that everone isn’t wired yet.)

  5. Jeremy Smith // September 13, 2005 at 12:46 am //

    Jeremy Smith here, author of the article in question. A couple of points:

    1) Yes, it’s true that a basic belief in human rights and social equality informs everything I write — I guess that makes me a leftist. However, I think it’s fairly clear that I am extremely critical of utopias of the left as well as the right; the Soviet Union, for example, is mentioned critically in several places. Also, New Babylon is a left-wing utopia. Most of the utopias on my list are neither left nor right — the Republic and the Radiant City, for two examples, have been embraced by both sides and, in different times and places, rejected by both.

    2) Yes, it’s true, I consider racism to be an example of stupidity. I looked for utopias that contained racist elements.

    3) No, I don’t hate America. Or the Suburbs, for that matter. However, I reserve the right to criticize witch hunts, slavery, racially discriminatory lending practices, etc. If those are easy targets, that’s because a history of progress has made them easy — they were once uncontested features of American life. The intent of such criticism is not to tear America down; the intent is to make America better, to help it live up to its own ideals, to remind us of how far we’ve come and how much further we have to go.

    4) I didn’t mention books like Le Guin’s Dispossessed or MacLeod’s Cassini Division or The Stone Canal or Brave New World because those books are supremely intelligent. Le Guin is profoundly critical of her “ambiguous utopia” Anarres; her character Shevek abandons it early on. Shevek is no cardboard cutout, there to make an ideological point — he’s a real person, brilliantly written. The Stone Canal depicts a libertarian utopia that is fascinating and intelligently crafted; it’s also a real novel, full of great writing, world-building, and characters. There are quite a few smartly written libertarian utopias (e.g., Moon is a Harsh Mistress — one of the greats); I just picked on the dumb ones. Note More’s Utopia is mentioned in the intro but didn’t make the list; that’s because More’s Utopia is a really good book. My praise for the book doesn’t mean that I’d want to live there!

    6) For clarification about my attitude towards religion and Christianity, see my dialogue with an atheist on the Strange Horizons forum at http://www.strangehorizons.com/ubbthreads/showflat.php?Board=articles&Number=2337

    7) Of course it sucked to live in Weimar Germany. It would suck to live in all the dystopias that make my list. The point is that there is something in all of us that longs for such terrible places. Friend, you should have read the whole article, and read it more carefully.

    8) My point, which I think is pretty clear, is not that the Internet is a bad thing. The Internet is a good thing. I like the Internet. I don’t like the hype and utopian foolishness that surrounded the dot-com boom. The Internet will always reflect the conflicts that exist in the rest of society; it’s not an escape.

    9) It’s not clear to me why I should have only restricted myself to science fiction utopias.

  6. I’ll address 7 as its directed at me. Thank you for speaking for me when you say “…there is something in all of us that longs for such terrible places.” No, actually, not all of us. I don’t long for terrible places. There’s a difference between longing for something and finding that same thing to be interesting. For this discussion, Weimar Germany is an interesting place to study especially since the events that occured there ended up creating the biggest war we’ve ever seen. Doesn’t mean I long for it, or any other terrible place. If that was the point of the article, I’m relieved I didn’t read it all the way through.

    And as for 9, I will admit that, as I saw the article was published in Strange Horizons, I assumed it would be focused on SF. My mistake.

  7. Jeremy Smith // September 13, 2005 at 11:12 pm //

    ” I don’t long for terrible places… For this discussion, Weimar Germany is an interesting place to study especially since the events that occured there ended up creating the biggest war we’ve ever seen. Doesn’t mean I long for it, or any other terrible place.”

    You don’t have to respond to this, just think about it, if you want to. What if history looks back at America in 2005 and judges it to be a terrible place? We are surrounded by social ills and environmental catatrophes; we’re acclimated — most of us, not all — so we hardly notice stepping over the homeless, etc. It all seems pretty ordinary. It’s home. There are problems, but advantages, too, if you’re properly placed in society. If fact, we — many of us, not all, and some have no choice — are pretty much asked to overlook the problems in exchange for the advantages. As for events in Weimar leading up to “the biggest war we’ve ever seen” — how do you know you’re not living through a similar period? America is currently occupying two countries, our troops spread the breaking point, our infrastructure at home eroding, with a political class that prides itself on not being “reality-based.” This isn’t about Dems or Republicans; it’s about a system and a culture. We are already in a devestating shooting war. Where will it go? Will the next war make WWII look small by comparison? Is this really the best of all possible worlds?

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