Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Recovered History: Michael Moorcock on the Previous Generation of "Sad Puppies"

Earlier this year, the venerable Hugo Awards were vote-rigged and spammed by a conspiracy of neofascist lunkheads. This upset everyone who isn't a goddamn moron but also prompted a discussion on the politics of the sci-fi and fantasy genre that - for better or worse - dominates popular Anglo-American culture. Are the stories of spaceships and dragons getting too liberal and PC? Is there room anymore for "good old fashioned SF" - which for some reason always means Robert Heinlein's hackneyed Americana futures and never the brutal weirdness of Jack Vance.

Being an internet debate, it's miserably ignorant of history. Michael Moorcock, fantasy author and creator of the endearing rat-bastard Elric, answered these very questions back in 1977:

The bandit hero -- the underdog rebel -- so frequently becomes the political tyrant; and we are perpetually astonished! Such figures appeal to our infantile selves -- what is harmful about them in real life is that they are usually immature, without self-discipline, frequently surviving on their 'charm'. Fiction lets them stay, like Zorro or Robin Hood, perpetually charming. In reality they become petulant, childish, relying on a mixture of threats and self-pitying pleading, like any baby.

John W. Campbell, who in the late thirties took over Astounding Science Fiction Stories and created what many believe to be a major revolution in the development of sf, was the chief creator of the school known to buffs as 'Golden Age' sf and written by the likes of Heinlein, Asimov and A.E. Van Vogt wild-eyed paternalists to a man, fierce anti-socialists, whose work reflected the deep-seated conservatism of the majority of their readers, who saw a Bolshevik menace in every union meeting... They were xenophobic, smug and confident that the capitalist system would flourish throughout the universe, though they were, of course, against dictators and the worst sort of exploiters (no longer Jews but often still 'aliens'). Rugged individualism was the most sophisticated political concept they could manage -- in the pulp tradition, the Code of the West became the Code of the Space Frontier, and a spaceship captain had to do what a spaceship captain had to do...

Over the years Campbell promoted the mystical, quasi-scientific Scientology... a perpetual motion machine known as the 'Dean Drive', a series of plans to ensure that the highways weren't 'abused', and dozens of other half-baked notions, all in the context of cold-war thinking. He also, when faced with the Watts riots of the mid-sixties, seriously proposed and went on to proposing that there were 'natural' slaves who were unhappy if freed.

Heinlein's paternalism is at heart the same as Wayne's. In the final analysis it is a kind of easy-going militarism favoured by the veteran professional soldier -- the chain of command is complex -- many adult responsibilities can be left to that chain as long as broad, but firmly enforced, rules from 'high up' are adhered to. Heinlein is Eisenhower Man and his views seem to me to be more pernicious than ordinary infantile back-to-the-land Christian communism, with its mysticism and its hatred of technology. To be an anarchist, surely, is to reject authority but to accept self-discipline and community responsibility. To be a rugged individualist a la Heinlein and others is to be forever a child who must obey, charm and cajole to be tolerated by some benign, omniscient father: Rooster Coburn shuffling his feet in front of a judge he respects for his office...

Here's the full essay. It expands on some things I've touched on myself in the past but Moorcock is much better at placing the reactionary trend of genre fiction within a larger political context. For those of you too lazy to click the link, it's basically how Ayn Rand is to "liberty" what Adolph Hitler is to Hanukkah.

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