Yet more responses to Paul Cook

We’re still talking about Paul Cook’s ill thought out post about what does and does not constitute SF, so here are the latest responses:

At Teleread, Chris Meadows cames to the conclusion that Paul Cook was deliberately trolling for outraged reactions and that we are obliging him by providing those reactions. He (apologies if I got the gender wrong, but the Twitter pic suggest male) also has a great response to Paul Cook’s preemptive, “Wah, you all hate me, just cause I dare to have an opinion” whine:

No, you twerp, you’ve offended people by expressing that opinion offensively. Lots of people somehow manage to have opinions without offending people. Thousands of them, every day!

Chris Meadows also links to this wonderful tweet by Patrick Nielsen Hayden in response to Paul Cook. And in the comments to his post, someone also points out that if Paul Cook was really so concerned about the purity of the SF genre, he would also have to summarily evict Isaac Asimov, because Asimov’s Elijah Bailey and Daneel R. Olivaw novels are unambiguous murder mysteries in an SF setting (and they even have romantic subplots, though relationships were not Asimov’s strong point). However, The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun are apparently okay, because Elijah Bailey and Daneel R. Olivaw at least don’t discuss fashion and don’t engage in hot robot human sex (now that’s a fanfic I’d love to see).

Angela Highland a.k.a. Angela Korra’ti finds Paul Cook’s rant simply facepalm worthy, a sentiment that I share. And for those wondering why so many people are upset about and arguing with a guy who isn’t all that important in the great scheme of things, Angela Highland answers as follows:

But on the other hand, women in SF/F don’t really have the luxury of not paying attention to this. We have to keep talking about it until it stops.

At The Other Side of the Rain, Alix Heintzman is wondering why we are still having this conversation, considering we’ve been having it for decades now.

At The Owl Underground, someone named WOL (who is very likely not really an owl) also comments on Paul Cook’s rant and offers the following quote:

After reading the article in question, it seems to me that Mr. Cook suffers from severe genre dysphoria. Maybe Mr. Cook would be happier, or at least less strident, if we created a new niche genre: “old school hard core escapist science fiction” with the target audience of middle-aged white cis male readers who objectify women and who identify as 100% red blooded manly men. We could call it “Mitty-gritty SciFi”

Though to be fair to Paul Cook, he does not blanket dislike all female SF writers. Indeed, he mentions in the comments to the original post that he does like Pamela Sargeant and Kij Johnson. And while he could be confused about Kij Johnson’s gender because of her ambiguous name, Pamela Sargeant’s name is pretty unambiguous. On the other hand, Paul Cook also dislikes a bunch of authors who are unambiguously male, namely Gene Wolfe, Steve Miller and Alexandre Dumas.

Steven Brust offers a a few points in response to Paul Cook and follows it up with this hilarious post about how women are ruining SF.

At Nighthawk Postcards (love the header image BTW), J.B. Whelan offers not just his response to Paul Cook, but also that of his wife Stephanie in the form of a hilarious short story called The Harshest Mistress.

Not a response to Paul Cook, but pertinent nonetheless, is this interview with YA author Rainbow Rowell at XOJane. It’s a great interview and you should read it all (and then go out and order Ms. Rowell’s books – I know I did), but I found this quote particularly striking with regard to the current discussion:

The thing that really enrages me is when women and girls are demeaned for wanting romance. Like there’s something weak and dumb about wanting characters to fall in love, or wanting love for yourself. THIS IS SO WRONG. Love is the finest thing. It’s the thing everyone wants and needs and searches for. We might not all yearn for romantic love, but most of us do. Men and women.

I need to see love in a story for it to feel complete to me; it’s Han and Leia that make “The Empire Strikes Back” my favorite Star Wars movie. And if I love something that’s missing romance or endlessly teasing it (*clears throat, hums Sherlock theme song, doodles picture of Mulder and Scully*), I want to read and write fic that completes the picture.

Yes, this. A thousand times this. On a related note, Apex Magazine has a great article by Deborah Stanish about how young female fans, the so-called “fangirls” are often derided for doing fandom wrong, simply because they express their fandom in a different way than older fans.

Finally, Lois McMaster Bujold, one of the authors who don’t write what Paul Cook deems “proper SF”, responds at Goodreads and points out that debates about what is and isn’t “proper SF” has been raging for longer than most of us have been alive. She also points out that the tropes, motifs and styles that annoy defenders of “real SF” tend to change with the times and that the New Wave and Cyberpunk were once as controversial as Steampunk, zombies and crossgenre elements (and fantasy, if you are Paul Cook) are now.

Here is a quote:

Each decade seems to have had its own version of the barbarians at the gates – the New Wave in the late 60s and early 70s, Cyberpunk in the 80s, the rise of fantasy since Tolkien, and so on. (Some reader older than me will have to tell us what the 50s and 40s and 30s were kvetching about, but I guarantee there was something.) Boiled down, it was as if each camp in the arguments believed that there existed some Platonic Ideal of SF (suspiciously matching the promoter’s own tastes), toward which all works and all authors ought convergently to aspire.

And another:

What I think is actually happening is that each writer (and reader and critic) is supplying their own bright thread to a growing tapestry that we shorthand “the SF field”, and when people squint at it as a whole, they see some picture emerge. No single thread is the picture, though it could not exist without all of its threads, any more than a painting is some measured amount of canvas and pigment and glue; if you reduced a painting to its elements, the image would disappear. That image is an emergent property, no less real for not being material. (Some people think human consciousness itself is something like this.)

People being what they are, I think it is also probable that everyone perceives a different picture from this tapestry (thank you, Dr. Rorschach), just the way every person reading the same book constructs a different reading experience in their head.

Lois McMaster Bujold makes some very important points here, namely that attempts to define the genre are as old as SF itself and indeed one of those debates that resurge every other year or so (along ironically with the “women in SFF” debate) and that all too often those debates take a turn towards excluding that sort of SFF that the debater doesn’t personally like.

The other important point is that SF is a big genre (and itself part of the even bigger umbrella genre of speculative fiction) made up of dozens of different subgenres and trends. And while we personally may not enjoy every single subgenre or trend out there and usually have our very own ideas of what the perfect SF novel looks like (I post a bit about my personal criterias for the ideal SF novel here and how “fighting against tyranny and oppression” has always been a crucial element of the genre for me, even if it doesn’t show up in any of the official definitions), that doesn’t mean that those works that are not to our tastes are not part of the genre. Cause the genre is big enough for all of us.

BTW, those of you who wonder just what Paul Cook considers “real” SF, here is a list of his published novels at Fantastic Fiction.

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6 Responses to Yet more responses to Paul Cook

  1. Hey, thanks for the mention! I wrote my bit in blissful internet isolation, not really realizing that it was already a Thing, and many clever-er people than me had the situation well in hand. Thanks again.

  2. Frank Dellen says:

    Paul Cook wrote: ” I’ve read several of the books in the Liaden Universe® and to me they are romances in disguise (…)”
    The description of a randomly selected book from the Liaden Universe series, copied from Baen Book’s website:
    “Space ships, action, adventure—all tied together with a strong dollop of romance and clan intrigue—make this a compelling series for a wide range of readers, from romance to military SF lovers.”
    I guess a similar description can be found on the back cover of the print book or in the book’s page at Amazon or elsewhere. Disguise?
    So what’s the problem? If you don’t like romance in your SF, you’ve been warned. Read something else.
    If Mr Cook would make the case that some descriptions are delibaretly misleading, I’d probably be on his site.
    But as it is, I’ll have to assume he buys anything that is tagged SF, doesn’t read any description and blames others for his idiocy.
    Or he’s just bitter he isn’t the bouncer at the SF club and “they” tainted his little pleasure dome. Which is as stupid as saying “I like only apples but now those heathens at the store sell oranges, too! Yes, they still sell apples, BUT THAT’S NOT THE POINT!”

    (I admit to not having read all the responses to Cook’s post you linked, sorry if someone else already discissed this)

    • Cora says:

      The respective blurbs make it pretty clear that there is romance and intrigue in the Liaden Universe books, that there are zombies in Boneshaker, that Book of the New Sun is set in the sort of pseudo-medieval setting that is most frequently associated with epic fantasy. Those of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan novels that contain major romance plots are clearly marked as well.

      However, the problem with Paul Cook seems to be that he not just doesn’t read blurbs, but that he hasn’t read many of the books he criticizes either, at least not recently. Hence, he writes that the moon is missing in Book of the New Sun, even though it isn’t, and believes it was influenced by Ender’s Game, even though Book of the New Sun was published two years earlier. He gets omnibus editions and individual novel titles confused in the case of Bujold and one of the romance heavy later works by her that he doesn’t like was actually one of her first two published novels, etc…

      I guess it is bitterness at the fact that people are writing SF novels with elements of other genres that Paul Cook doesn’t approve of.

  3. J. B. Whelan says:

    Hi Cora,–thanks for the link, I just saw it. That post is all my wife’s by the way. I was just the conduit on that one. 🙂

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