Friday, May 27, 2011


Full disclosure -- I am a recovering science fiction nerd. Back when all the cool kids were getting stoned and all the lame kids were reading Tolkein (and also getting stoned -- it was that kind of school), I was building a personal religion around Dune and a stack of other paperbacks full of spaceships and rayguns. I'm better now but the experience has left me with a unique perspective on the genre -- mainly, how deeply fascist it can get.

Whether it's the classic hero's journey (the aforementioned Dune) or some utopian vision (Heinlein's infamous Starship Troopers), the sci-fi genre tends towards might-makes-right reasoning and resolving any and all conflicts through violence. The epic space battle has become such a staple of genre that an illiterate twelve-year-old could likely describe it in exact detail -- but how often does the square-jawed hero sit down to work out a treaty with the slimy reptoids?

I'm not the only one to notice this -- The Iron Dream is a whole novel within a novel by Norman Spinrad directly satirizing the fascist undertones of heroic genre fiction. He illustrates how all the trappings of fascism -- the all-powerful leader, the alien enemy, the snappy uniforms -- have become genre standards to the point that subverting them is considered new and interesting.

However, new and interesting just don't get read. Even Philip K. Dick -- the finest American writer of the twentieth century and the most prescient in the whole sci-fi genre -- remains unknown to the core consumers of these books because he simply didn't write about The Marines!

If you ever see someone reading a sci-fi book on the bus or the Metro or in a taco place, chances are damn good it's not some long dissertation on the human condition in a vast cosmos. It's about The Marines! kicking some alien ass. This goes back to Heinlein -- a glorification of space soldiers in fancy, hi-tech armor and weapons going toe-to-toe with giant alien cockroaches because, y'know, roaches are bad and stuff. While it could be argued Starship Troopers is a little more nuanced than that, the derivative works which currently fill the market aren't concerned with any of that citizenship crap. It's about stompin' bugs and making the swishy liberals look all swishy.

Just off the top of my head, here are some books that glorify military service and denigrate pacifism or journalism or both -- In Death Ground, The Shiva Option, Galactic Corps, StarFist (technically a series), and naturally Starship Troopers. When the issue of violence never solving anything comes up, Heinlein immediately dismisses the idea with this gem -- "What would the people of Hiroshima have to say about that?" See, 'cause Hiroshima got nuked and stuff. Bully logic.

Which should come as no surprise once you familiarize yourself with the authers -- universally white, fat, and conservative. Most of them are pretty old now too, the younger variety making up the fans. That's what shows this to be the escapist fantasy it is -- the heroes are universally muscled, masculine, and more successful than anyone reading -- or even writing -- their stories.

I've rambled too much in this, danced around what I'm trying to get at -- that the abused are developing into just closeted abusers. Lacking the power to actually force their will upon others, they retreat into a fantasy world where such behavior is encouraged and rewarded.

There's more to say on this. Next week I'll review two brilliant deconstructions of this trend that ultimately got absorbed into the cannon because nerds are just as dumb as the cool kids.

Monday, May 9, 2011

So Fraking What?

America is still collectively blowing itself in celebration of finally snuffing some seven foot golem in in Pakistan. It's all far from over -- the celebrating that is. The actual war has been over for a long time but expect plenty of noise a year from now about Obama finishing Bush's mission. But somewhere under all these jubilations is a stark and ugly fact no one wants to admit --

He still won.

He's dead, his lieutenants are dead, and his movement is in steep decline as cranky Muslim teenagers turn to jihading against their own opressive governments -- or the nearest US patrol -- but none of that matters.

Because he still fraking won.

It's hard for a culture so immersed in comforting delusions to even see this. People have conveniently forgotten the decade of lost wars, economic failure, and general bad craziness we subjected ourselves to all in the name of slotting this guy. And that's the real kicker -- Osama bin Laden provided the money and the logistics for those 19 true believers to murder three thousand people but every other misery afterwards was our own damn fault. We've more than exceeded 'Sama's body count of our own people just trying to catch his hairy ass.

From any perspective, that's a net win for the bad guy. So what if he's dead now? He already beat us ten years ago.