Some Responses

…To my last post.

  1. The idea that I’m not responding to the bulk of Daddy Warpig’s case is perfectly true. In fact, I don’t know nearly enough about the history of sci-fi to dispute his case even if I wanted to. I was – as he correctly pointed out – responding to a very specific point that I objected to. Indeed, I said as much.
  2. Incidentally, in the comments, my point was vindicated. Acknowledge that sci-fi and fantasy are clearly not the same thing, even if people can and do (and should) bend genres, and his whole case DOES work! Don’t do that, though, and it fails.
  3. That said, I do find it rather unfair to imply I’m responding to some minuscule, unimportant point. I mean, when we have quotes like this (linked to in the previous article):

Fantasy & Science Fiction is one genre, separate and indivisible*. Some stories have technology and aliens, others magic and nonhumans, others technology and magic, and so on and so forth.

People who try to disavow 95% of the genre are free to do so. If I need to speak their language to make my point understood, fine. But I don’t have to accept the validity of their mistaken beliefs, or cater to them.

And also this:

SF kicked out Fantasy. Got rid of it. Built an Iron Curtain between the two, and began a long program of sneering at the magical stuff.

You don’t get to disavow a huge category of stories for 80 years, then claim their successes as your own when it becomes inconvenient. Sorry.

(Incidentally, those two comments directly contradict each other!)

And when Jeffro just bluntly says this:

The genre delineations are useless.

Or DW says this (a repetition of his earlier comment, but with a different tag at the end):

Fantasy & Science Fiction is one genre, separate and indivisible. Some stories have technology and aliens, others magic and nonhumans, others technology and magic.

Yes, it’s worth it to salvage the good pieces from technology-centric F&SF, and to ensure that stories like that still get told. Even if we have to call them “SF” so the obsessives can understand.

Or a whole article written making the claim that hard SF doesn’t exist, which I still can’t help but think is just obviously wrong (and John C. Wright agrees with me).

…I think it’s safe to say I’m responding to a real, repeated, insisted upon point. DW can insist it doesn’t impact his overall thesis, and that’s true…IF he concedes the point and acknowledges a distinction between sci-fi and fantasy.

Because there is, and there has to be, or the whole thing fails.

So why AM I harping on this (and, again, it’s worth noting that I really am responding to something very specific here, the one point I disagree with, not the whole argument. And, again, I have great respect for both DW and Jeffro)?

Because a whole post was spent on the claim hard SF doesn’t exist.

Because ink has been spilled over and over on the claim that there’s no distinction between fantasy and SF, and that it’s all one genre, separate and indivisible. And it’s sparked arguments and disagreements and claims from many intelligent people, including John C. Wright, Josh Young, and myself, who all see comments like that and say “Wait, you’re saying the things I like to read don’t actually exist? But how is that true?”

And it doesn’t matter. It’s irrelevant. Totally besides the point. If people say “I like sci-fi more than fantasy”, or “I prefer hard sci-fi”, who cares? We have bigger fish to fry: The loss of the superversive in fiction*.

Not changing genre distinctions.

*Incidentally, this is the reason I consider myself a part of the superversive fiction movement more than I would identify as a specific part of anything else, like the pulp revolution or blue sci-fi or red sci-fi or whatever. I believe that the issues we are attempting to tackle and correct here transcend the others in scope and importance; bring back superversive fiction, and the rest falls into place like a well-played game of Tetris.

  • I admit, I’ve been trying to follow this argument and I’m not quite sure I understand the issue. Maybe it’s too far into the weeds for me.

    Both sci-fi and fantasy fall under the speculative fiction umbrella, right? Speculative fiction being distinct from mere fiction in that there is an element to it that’s contrary to reality. So Die Hard is fiction, but not speculative fiction, even though it didn’t actually happen, and uses Hollywood physics to make the story work. It is not contrary to reality because it doesn’t rely on a speculative element—no extrapolation of science, no magic, no paranormal elements—even though some of the stunts are contrary to reality.

    Both science fiction and fantasy rely on a speculative element. Science fiction’s speculative element being some extrapolation of science, and that includes things that violate our understanding of it, like FTL and time travel. Fantasy’s speculative element, however is the existence of magic. Now maybe you can make the argument that magic is just science we don’t yet understand, but does that change the fact that at the time the story was told, the speculative element was, err… speculative, and an extrapolation of our understanding of the science (even if it was wishful thinking).

    Are nanites merely stand-ins for magic because they don’t exist? Well, maybe if the writer is using them as a magical element they can just pop in as a story-telling device. But that’s a storytelling issue, not a genre one. Because your nanites should have limitations, preferably ones grounded in the laws of nature, like thermodynamics. Otherwise they’re just pixie-dust. And what if they are? Does the target audience care? Or are they more enthralled by a good story well told? If the story is good and well told, does that mean we should throw out the science or at least sacrifice it on the story-telling altar?

    Maybe that’s the defining factor? How much is the story driven by adherence to science? How much handwavium and unobtainium is being used? And how it’s being used. Is the science itself a character? Is it essential to the setting? Can you take it out and still have, essentially the same story? Is Star Wars science fiction? It isn’t about science. I’d maintain that it’s science fantasy because it’s not about the extrapolation of science. It uses elements of science fiction as window dressing. It’s definitely speculative fiction because it’s contrary to reality.

    So maybe the arguments could be made that what defines the type of speculative fiction a story is, is the setting — how it’s contrary to reality and to what degree. And the setting is a spectrum. But it’s not even as simple as a spectrum, because you can’t go in and say that at this wavelength, you have this, and at that wavelength you have that.

  • The reason why Appendix N is so astonishing to people is that none of it fits what you’d *think* should be the literary antecedents for D&D. People define fantasy as the more or less Tolkienesque stuff. They see D&D and assume that’s what Gygax was on about. They have no idea that Tolkien was a late bloomer, only beginning to gain influence and popularity in the sixties when he hit paperback. The guy was late to the party. So late, that Le Guin’s essays refer to Lord Dunsany as being “Mr. Fantasy” in the seventies. Tolkien simply was not synonymous with the field.

    But look over the list. There’s the science fantasy of Norton and Lanier that would lead to Gamma World. There’s swords & sorcery that is VERY DIFFERENT from what people THINK swords & sorcery should look like. There’s the planetary romance of Burroughs and Brackett. There are weird fiction authors like H. P. Lovecraft and Jack Williamson. There is the new wave fiction of Zelazny and Moorcock. There is the “fantasy” of de Camp and Pratt that has been abused and twisted to conform to the strict demands of the heyday of the Campbellian period when fantasy was pretty well suppressed.

    The common denominator here is that NONE of this stuff registers as being anything remotely like straight ahead science fiction or straight ahead fantasy. They are “both at once” and “neither at all” at the same time. Looking back at the history of sff is absolutely astonishing. The definitions of genre that we take for granted today are recent developments and they are absolutely useless if you’re trying to understand what happened in the field between 1910 and 1980. Just as one example, the average fan of today cannot wrap his head around why H. P. Lovecraft’s bust is on the World FANTASY Award when he was being published in SCIENCE FICTION magazines. It does not compute!!

    Does it matter? Is all this just pedantry at this point?

    Well I think it does matter and I don’t think this is just pedantry. Things were different before 1940. People did not get hung up on the question of genre. Science fiction was NOT a ghetto. That changed with the advent of Hard SF. It formally divorced itself from the wider field that you might call “FantasyAndScienceFiction” while heckling planetary romance and fantasy in general out of the marketplace. This came top down from gatekeepers, and the readers simply walked. All the great problems of science fiction that people wring their hands over are basically SELF-INFLICTED. And it all goes back to the genesis of the kind of genre distinctions we take for granted. (And remember, fantasy almost didn’t exist during the fifties because of this and sword & sorcery became really huge in the sixties because it seemed BRAND NEW at the time… just like Star Wars would seem like a BRAND NEW type of science fiction when it came out.)

    What’s going to happen?

    With the end of the eighty year reign of the gatekeepers, the artificial restrictions imposed from the top down, you’re going to see a lot more writing that happens without any regard for the genre conventions that seem so permanent and inviolable. You’re also going to see a resurgence of the sort of PROVEN, TIMELESS storytelling what was once ubiquitous and then artificially suppressed starting around 1940. It’s going to be a big deal, because things are going to be really different when this huge underserved segment of the market figures out that reading is LOADS OF FUN again. And make no mistake, it will be in short fiction where the awesome things happen FIRST, because creators do not have to take time to put together the elaborate productions involved in getting a movie or a comic or even a novel off the ground.

    So what’s the bottom line here…? Trying to talk about genre outside the context of how we got here and where we’re going just doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s not fair, really. When pulp revolution guys write one thousand word blog posts to the effect of, “good golly this is mind blowing no really you gotta look at this the narrative is totally wrong and this changes everything AIIIEEEEEEE!!!!!”, coming back with some variation of “muh Campbell”, “muh Big Three”, and “muh hard sf” is just kind of dumb. The point is… the concept of genre that you grew up with and that you are nostalgic about is narrow, limited, and destructive. We are expanding the scope of the conversation to include authors that were dumped by the establishment and/or that have been routinely slandered and ridiculed for decades. We are expanding the creative palette to include creative choices and techniques that have been artificially excluded from the writer’s palette. To look at what we’re saying and go, “hey… if I ignore the wider context and just look at this one thing I hear you saying, then it doesn’t add up”– that really doesn’t create a conversation. People are going to do it, sure… but it really does grind everything to a halt. The expansion of the context is the entire point of the editorials. That’s the challenge. And no, it DOESN’T make sense. That’s why people’s minds are getting blown as much as they are!

    • Bellomy

      That’s all fair enough. I’m pro-Appendix N big time. Superversive, at least generally, is as well; we have some projects coming up I think you’ll appreciate. I have a writing project in the background that I originally thought of as urban fantasy/street level superhero but very much in the vein of the sort of stories that crop up in the Appendix N discussions,.

      I just look at guys like Josh Young going “Well, I like men with screwdrivers”, and John C. Wright – a guy who has written intros to Appendix N! – also having long, well thought out essays on science fiction, fantasy, and how they’re distinguished (including references to Heinlein, Asimov, and…Van Vogt as the Big Three of sci-fi, a period he called the Golden Age for years), and people like me going “You know, you’re bashing Asimov, but for all his snobbish opposition to heroic fiction he ALSO made hughe contributions to the field, but I don’t see that being recognized”…

      Now if John- who was bringing back pulp before the pulp revolution became a thing – is seeing the same genre distinctions, and even liking and disliking, the same sorts of things, I’m seeing..well .I’m looking at a “reverse bubble” here, to put it one way: A lot of the guys sympathetic to you are still big fans of stuff you’re outright bashing!

      The problem is that the old works were lost, yes, but the distinctions between genres are a symptom, not the disease, and not all of it was bad. The disease is the loss of the superversive.

      Again, I agree with most of what you’re doing. I applaud your efforts. But I think the mark we should be aiming for is higher. And that’s what superversive is about: It’s a movement that says “These genres and subgenres and no genres and new stuff and old stuff if fine, we SHOULD be bringing back the old and classic works, the pulps WERE unappreciated, but ultimately to fix things we need to bring back courage, heroism, love, hope, and transcendence to fiction, and eliminate nihilism.

      Once we do that, the issues with all of those categories…hard, soft, fantasy, science fantasy, pulpy, adventure fiction…well, they’ill fall away, and things will click into place.

    • Bellomy

      (Incidentally, this is why Josh and I have been intentionally focusing our articles on topics the rest of the Castalia crew hasn’t been – modern (or at least post-1980) fiction, movies, anime, and things of that ilk that fit the superversive mold. Because even if that stuff isn’t pulp – and most isn’t – if we get more of it, sci-fi and fantasy literature will still VASTLY improve.)

    • Bellomy

      And lastly, for now – I was also a little miffed that my article was sort of brushed off with a “Well even if you’re right my thesis is still true!”

      Well, yeah, but don’t try and act like this hasn’t been a major issue for you guys! It’s a relevant point, at least, agree or disagree.

  • Jon M

    “Wait, you’re saying the things I like to read don’t actually exist? But how is that true?”

    If that’s your response, you’re an idiot. You think a statement about TAXONOMY applies to the things being classified. No one claimed that the stories don’t exist. The arguments here are about the foolishness of the little boxes that the small minded built to contain their little fiedoms.

    Your points regarding superversive-ism are helpful, though. I could never put my finger on why I find the Pulp Revolution a more satisfying home than the Superversive movement until you clarified the key difference. They have the same endgame in mind, sure. But the latter is all discussions on grand strategy that will someday, somehow just sort of work out. The former is a take-no-prisoners attitude focussed the bloody work of implementing tactics on the ground.

    Have fun rubbing your chins around the strategy table while we’re busy storming the ramparts. We’ll see you at the victory party.

    • Bellomy


      Yes, if you interpret my words in the stupidest possible way, they’re quite stupid. Don’t do that. It’s just rude, for one thing.

      My point is that when I say “I like hard sci-fi” people know what I mean; you can try to claim that the category doesn’t exist, but I find the claim silly at best. You can say we shouldn’t use it as a classification, and okay, but take it up with John Wright too.

      Obviously I’m not implying that DW has never heard of “The Martian” or something silly like that, especially since he discussed it frequently, occasionally with me, in the original thread.

    • Bellomy

      Also, if you seriously think we’re not doing anything to change things ourselves, you’re either astonishingly ignorant or astonishingly stupid; I’ll be polite and refrain judgment. But I alone have contributed as much or more to the attempted restoration of modern sci-fi than probably well over half of Castalia readers, let alone the fellow superversives. Vox Day even tried to nominate me for best short form editor in his rabid puppies group; I’m a Castalia author myself. I’ve published a story by John C. Wright. I’m also going to be publishing an author recently recommended by Jeffro on the Castalia blog.

      We are your allies. Why do you want us to be your enemy?

      • Jon M

        You tell us we’re doing it wrong. You complain about our tactics. You tell us to stop talking about this stuff. You don’t want us analyzing first principles or questioning the culture too deeply. You’re spilling digital ink pearl clutching that our discussions are even happening.
        And you think we’re the ones trying to pick a fight with you…

        • Bellomy

          You tell us we’re doing it wrong. You complain about our tactics. You tell us to stop talking about this stuff. You don’t want us analyzing first principles or questioning the culture too deeply. You’re spilling digital ink pearl clutching that our discussions are even happening.

          I did literally none of those things, and love that Jeffro and Daddy Warpig both dropped down to have this discussion, and contribute to it very often. In fact, I was told by Jeffro to start taking it off blog so it would spread around the web, which I did, because I wanted the ideas spread. Jeffro linked to my original post in his sensor sweep; go ahead, check.

          I have no issue with the tactics taken generally. Appendix N is a remarkable book that will hopefully spark a cultural revolution. I disagree with various things, but now you’re telling me that because I and other superversives don’t think in lockstep on *every specific issue*, we are apparently your enemies.

          Look, all of this might have worked on me if you tried to sell me on this crap right after I joined on with this movement. But I’ve been here awhile now, interacting with these people for a long time, reading some of them for years, in fact. You have no idea what you’re talking about, and you’re digging yourself into a hole. Stop it. I’m not your enemy, or Daddy Warpig’s, or Jeffro’s.

    • Bellomy

      And one last thing – where on earth did I mention anything about grand strategies? We actually have a detailed list of concrete goals and just opened up submissions for an anthology series. How is that not concrete?

      • Jon M

        “Write more,” is grand strategy. Write more heroism is grand strategy.

        Read the old works. Question first principles. Write more reviews. Look into the history of SF/F. Question everything. Analyze everything. Moar romance! Re-read the works you loved as a kid to see if they hold up. Check out these essays from back in the day where the Futurists admit to their tactics, aims, and goals. Beg, borrow, and steal ideas from everywhere. Smash genre distinctions in order to open more up the land for development. Make sure the hero gets the girl. Make sure you include girls that aren’t worth getting. Make sure your fight scenes reveal character. Don’t write sympathetic villains. Make sure the hero fights for something larger than himself. Make sure that…well, you get the idea.
        Those are tactics.

        As I said, it’s a subtle distinction that took me months to realize. We clearly have the same endpoint in mind, it’s just that some of us enjoy the nitty-gritty details and getting our hands dirty with the greasy nuts and bolts of things. I guess that makes us the bad guys.

        • Bellomy

          We are doing *all of those things*. Almost certainly more than you.

          You have this weird idea that we sit on our hands and do nothing but write blog posts. This is because you know nothing about us, but think you do. We’re probably the second most active part of this movement only to the Castalia blog.

          • Jon M