At Amazing Stories, Paul Cook rants about SF which is – at least in Paul Cook’s opinion – not SF. This includes such luminaries of the genre as Gene Wolfe (just Arthurian fantasy), Lois McMaster Bujold (romance – ick), Sharon Lee and Steve Miller (romance – ick) and Cherie Priest (zombies – ick).
It’s a grossly offensive piece, which can be summed up as “I like my SF hard, masculine and sciency.” Which may be fine for Paul Cook, but lots of us want different things from SF.
Here is a quote:
But the romance elements creep in very early on. Bujold tips her hand in the eloquence of her language (normally a good thing) and the attention to detail that only women would find attractive: balls, courts, military dress, palace intrigues, gossiping, and whispering in the corridors.
Here is another:
Bujold is a closet romance writer. Not that this is a bad thing, but some of us aren’t that interested in romance. For me, personally, it takes much of the dramatic urgency out of a story if the hero is already married or if during a skirmish comes back to canoodle or wine or dine with his beloved before rushing back to the fray.
True, steampunk is considered a fantasy genre, but the best of what I’ve read in steampunk oscillates between good, extrapolative science fiction (drawn from what the Victorian age might have had to offer by way of science and invention) phrased in a fantasy story-telling mode. I have no interest in reading about zombies, fancy dress balls, smooching warriors, or star-lit dinners on the terrace overlooking a waiting army about to go to war.
Now the idea of romance writers disguising their work as SF to trick the SF readership into buying their books is flat out ridiculous, because romance vastly outsells SF, so a writer foregoing the romance audience in order to “trick” the SF audience into buying their books would leave a lot of money and sales on the table. No, people write SF – even SF with romantic elements or straight up SF romance – because they like SF, not because SF is such a big selling genre.
That said, I’m not actually surprised that Paul Cook dislikes Lois McMaster Bujold and Sharon Lee/Steve Miller, since a lot of the macho SFF brigade does, usually without ever having read them. But I’m quite floored that he also hates Gene Wolfe, since the sort of SFF fans who dismiss Bujold as lightweight (Have they ever read her?), usually adore Wolfe, because he writes about torture, which is oh such a macho subject. But I guess Paul Cook doesn’t like anything that doesn’t have shiny future tech.
Here is another quote, this time about Gene Wolfe:
I was never once convinced that I was reading science fiction in these books. These are fantasies. The earth does not wobble on its axis (as it would if the moon were gone) and without vulcanism and tectonic plate induction in the ocean, carbon dioxide would not be removed from the atmosphere and recycled into the mantle where it can stay out of the atmosphere and not smother life. These things don’t matter to the fantasist. They didn’t matter to Wolfe.
So it seems that Paul Cook likes exactly the sort of endless tech infodumps that usually cause the book to meet the wall very quickly for me. I translate tech specs for a living. I certainly don’t want tech specs in my leisure time reading, because – guess what? – I read that stuff all day. And sadly, a lot of tech heavy SF is only distinguished from the sort of specifications I translate by the slightly better grammar and lack of overt typos (many engineers are not on good terms with language). Now I don’t mind worldbuilding at all, but it should be woven into the narrative, rather than sitting in the middle of a given novel in huge blobs. My response to overly info-dumpy, tech heavy SF is usually, “I only read through pages of tech speak, if I’m paid to translate it.”
Under normal circumstances, Paul Cook’s post would be only be one guy’s opinion, albeit badly phrased and deliberately confrontaional. However, he digs himself in even deeper in the comments (until Amazing Stories disabled them) by responding to every “Dude, you’re entitled to your opinion, but that was kind of misogynist” comment and every “Have you actually read Bujold?” question in a passive aggressive “You just hate me cause of my opinion” way. Dude, no one hates you, you’re just very hard to take seriously.
A piece as contentious as that is bound to elicit responses, so here are a few:
First of all, here is a fairly lengthy comment thread at The Passive Voice.
At the Mad Genius Club, Kate Paulk says that it’s all just marketing, though she thinks that anything with a strong romance element is romance rather than SF. But then, the Mad Genius Club seems to be a site for people who wish Heinlein were still alive.
Joshua Reynolds has a rebuttal on his blog and points out that people might be more willing to engage with Cook’s points if he did not phrase his opinions in such an offensive way. Yes, it’s a variation of the tone argument, but sometimes the tone argument is appropriate.
Here is a quote:
Dear Mr Cook, if you’re reading this: you’re not the most hated person on the internet. Michael Brutsch couldn’t even claim that much, and he might actually have deserved it. Nobody is sending you rape or death threats; nobody is telling you, in graphic detail, the things they’ll do to your children or pets in revenge for what you’ve said (though all those things have happened to women writers just for existing on the internet, let alone saying anything controversial). All they’re doing is sharing their opinions of your opinion, as they – we – are entitled to do; and because we think your opinion is bullshit, you’ve elected to view our response as persecution. You aren’t being persecuted; you’re being argued with, and the fact that you can’t tell the difference is a sign of the privileged echo-chamber in which, until now, I suspect you’ve spent your fannish life. I’d tell you to grow up, but seeing as how, the last good story you read was apparently written almost fifteen years ago, one suspects it wouldn’t help.
As far as I can tell, your tastes are so firmly fixed in the stories of your youth that every development undergone by the genre since then is something you’ve elected to view with suspicion. And that wouldn’t bother me, but SFF is my genre, too, and I’m sick of watching bitter old men try to claw away and disparage everything about SFF that’s welcomed me and drawn me in by saying that it isn’t really SF; that the genre is changing, not because the audience and the world are changing together, but because shallow people just want to make money. I’m sick of it, and so I’m arguing against your opinion – at length, in my own time, even knowing that, unlike you, I am actually risking a genuinely abusive backlash by doing so, because that’s what happens to women on the internet when the really ugly trolls catch wind of us.
She certainly hit the point with that last bit. For the SFF genre is changing and evolving and some people like e.g. Paul Cook really don’t like that. Which is their right, e.g. I don’t like many of the directions in which the romance genre is moving (domineering billionaires, stone age gender relations, over-the-top angsty college romance, jerky alpha heroes) either, but I don’t go around telling those who write or enjoy such works that their works are not “real romance”.
And indeed the very fact that the SFF genre is evolving and that more and more fans and writers are rejecting attempts by self-styled genre gurus to tell them that the SFF they enjoy is “not proper SFF” and that they are bad fans for liking/writing it (a variation of that attitude drove me away from SFF for several years, even though I clearly loved the genre, I just didn’t love the right books), lies at the heart of most controversies in the SFF genre in recent years, whether it’s Racefail and the various follow-up fails, the criticism of Orson Scott Card’s increasingly bigotted views and the subsequent criticism of those who criticise Card as “hateful” and “intolerant”, the grimdark debate, this year’s Hugo debate and the “sexism in SF and SFWA” debate earlier this summer.
SFF is a big genre and it’s getting broader and more inclusive of different and traditionally marginalized voices. And that is a wonderful thing, even if people like Paul Cook disagree.