The uproar sparked by Paul Cook’s badly argued post at Amazing Stories is happily chugging along, so here are the latest reactions.
First of all, Steve Davidson, editor of Amazing Stories, has issued an apology of sorts for shutting down the comments on Paul Cook’s rant. Now IMO Davidson is not the person who needs to clarify anything here, though I was disappointed with shutting down the comments, especially as I didn’t see them descending into “hateful” territory. Though it seems that in certain quarters (not saying that Davidson is one of them, since I don’t know him), any disagreement with straight, white, cisgender, Anglo-American men is construed as “hateful”.
Romance and urban fantasy writer Shiloh Walker responds to Paul Cook and points out that Mr. Cooks seems a tad confused about the definitions of both SF and romance.
Here is a quote:
So basically, science fiction is about how science and technology will change the future. It doesn’t focus on tension…but maybe it should. Because unless the world of the future totally eliminates sexual desire or the human need for companionship (which most of us, even the guys), then those needs and desires will also be a part of the future…not writing about them kinda means you’re skipping out on a messy, but intrinsic part of human nature.
Funny, though…one thing actually a lot of romance editors will say is a problem with submissions? Not enough tension. Hmmmm. Funny, that. Maybe Cook is actually a closet romance reader and doesn’t know it. Especially if he’s looking for tension. Come to romance, buddy. We got tension.
And here is the moneyshot:
In the years since I’ve been published, I’ve lost track of how many books I’ve sent overseas to soldiers. The majority of them, by far, are men. The books I send? They are romance. And the SOS coordinator who takes receipt of them still sends me emails from the guys who get those books. They love them. They appreciate them. One of my prized possessions is the US flag I received as a thank gift for the books I’ve sent. Many of those books are traded around and shared among the other soldiers.
So you go ahead, Mr. Cook. Why don’t you hunt up the guys serving overseas and tell them how guys aren’t into romance? While you’re at it, be sure to hunt up all the guys who’ve had me sign their books over the years–their books, not for their girlfriends, or their wives.
On a related note, here is a great post by Ann Aguirre about the lack of sex in much of science fiction. The problem hereby is not worlds where sex and reproduction have become obsolete, but that a lot of SF simply does not address the issue of sexuality and reproduction and indeed of intimate relationships at all, probably because those things are not deemed to be important by the authors. Paul Cook would certainly agree.
Of course, the need for emotional connection with others is one of the most basic human drives out there, along with the sex drive (asexuals notwithstanding). All humans have relationships of some kind, most of them have sex. And yet so much of SF ignores those basic human experiences. It’s not just sexual and romantic love either, friendships and family relationships are also given a short shift by much of SF. Romantic partners or family members may be mentioned, but often you get the impression that the protagonist has no more feelings for them than for his co-workers on the great human project of terraforming Mars or building Ringworld or conquering the bug-eyed aliens or whatever.
In fact, I suspect that there is a sizeable contingent in the SF community that does not like the fact that humans have bodies and would just love to do away with them. How else to explain the popularity of the singularity, a concept that always sounded utterly horrible to me? How else to explain to dearth of sex and childbirth and descriptions of food in SF?
Sharon Lee, one half of the Lee/Miller writing duo and also author of several enjoyable fantasy novels on her own, responds to Paul Cook by stating that his opinion doesn’t bother her much, cause everybody has stupid opinions. As an example, she states her own dislike for Dorothy Dunnett’s characters.
Now I agree that everybody has a right to their own opinion and to dislike things others like. I dislike a lot of writers, films, TV shows, etc…, which are beloved by many, myself. For example, I cannot abide the books of contemporary romance author Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I tried reading her again and again and she just doesn’t work for me. In the SF realm, I don’t like the books of Charles Stross. Again, I tried reading him and he just doesn’t work for me. I don’t care for Kim Stanley Robinson and Alistair Reynolds and Cory Doctorow and – horror of horrors – Sir Terry Pratchett. Now I like humorous SFF just fine, I just don’t like Pratchett. Oh yes, and I can’t stand The Wire, The Sopranos or Breaking Bad.
Nonetheless, there is a difference between having an opinion, even an unpopular one, and being a jerk about it. And Paul Cook’s post falls into the latter category. No one would mind if Paul Cook just didn’t care for Gene Wolfe or Lois McMaster Bujold or Sharon Lee and Steve Miller or Cherie Priest or Steampunk or zombies. In fact, I don’t care for zombies myself, though I tolerate them in small doses in settings where there are lots of other things going on. However, there is a difference between not liking something and declaring that this something should be evicted from the genre and that only members of some other, lesser group could probably care about that something. For example, I may not care for Susan Elizabeth Phillips, but I don’t think she should be evicted from the romance genre for the crime of writing books I don’t like. The fact that I don’t care for Charles Stross or Kim Stanley Robinson or Alistair Reynolds or Cory Doctorow doesn’t make their works any less science fiction. The Discworld books are still fantasy, even if they don’t work for me.
Regarding people not being outraged on behalf of Cherie Priest, I did mention her in my original post on Cook’s rant. Though I guess a lot of people overlooked her, since Cook used her book as a general illustration of what is wrong with the Steampunk genre in his opinion and did not take on Ms. Priest personally in the text. Though it is telling that of the many Steampunk novels featuring zombies he picked one that was written by a woman. The only way to make his opinion even clearer would have been by picking on Meljean Brook (not just zombies, but romance as well), but then lots of SFF people are not aware of Meljean Brook’s Iron Seas series.
Will Shetterly makes a similar point to Sharon Lee, namely that Paul Cook’s opinion is just that, one guy’s opinion, and that Paul Cook isn’t even particularly important in the bigger scheme of things. As I said before, the problem isn’t so much that Paul Cook dared to have an opinion, but the way in which he expressed it. And yes, he does attack three male writers, Gene Wolfe, Steve Miller and Alexandre Dumas, including a male writer of colour (though I’m not sure if Cook is aware that Dumas was black), along with three female writers. Nonetheless, expressions such as “the sort of detail only women are interested in” are clearly sexist. By comparison, I don’t recall him accusing e.g. Gene Wolfe of writing detailed torture scenes that only young male readers will be interest in.
Though I do agree that Paul Cook may well have posted that article hoping to gain some attention and notoriety and consequently recognition in the “SF should be manly and sciency and hard” crowd. His preemptive “People will hate me for this” whine seems to confirm this.
Well, he certainly got his attention. I just wonder if he likes it.