Monday, March 20, 2017

Clearing Up Some Confusion

Okay, before I get into this, I want to make it extremely clear that I have nothing but love for the Superversive Movement. The articles that go up on are always very interesting reading, and I highly recommend subscribing to their email list. But apparently I've rubbed contributor Anthony M. the wrong way, and I'd like to take some time to just lay this out and respond to what I think is a post talking about my post Let's Talk "Hard SF".

I say, "I think," because no names were named and no links were provided, so I can't be sure. I merely saw this in my email feed this morning, read it, thought to myself, "Hey, I resemble that remark!" and decided to write this post clarifying what I think is a misunderstanding caused by the fact that I probably wasn't being clear in my original post. So, for everyone to get on the same page, here are the relevant links:

Let's Talk "Hard SF":

No Genre Purity Tests! at Superversive SF:

Now, I will be putting an archive link of the Superversive post at the bottom of this one, just as insurance y'unnerstand, but I'd appreciate it if you'd all use that one up there that links directly to their site. They're good people, this isn't anything personal, and I'd like to drive more traffic to their site if I can. I'm not interested in making enemies of people that I think are doing an extremely good thing in fiction. I'm just clearing up an issue that I believe stems from my stupid, drunk ass not being able to clearly articulate when I'm making a personal value judgment from a place of confusion and ignorance, and when I'm talking objective fact. Those positions kind of blend in my Hard SF post, so I can understand the confusion, and I'm going to do my best to correct it here.

The relevant bit from the Superversive article I'll put here in block quotes, but you really should go read the whole thing to get the full context.

Because I’m seeing this: On one hand, it’s “Write what you want! Write what you want!”
And on the other hand it’s “But also, this particular sub-genre is inherently worse than this one and if you write it you’re limiting yourself. But, hey, write what you want!”
No. My philosophy is this:
Write what you want. But remember the Josh Young principle:
A good science fiction story will look upward, towards the stars and away from the self.
A bad science fiction story will fixate downward, towards the ground and focus on the self.
If we keep that in mind, the bigger issues surrounding all of this will correct themselves

That right there is the remark I believe I resemble. There's a bit earlier that's an obvious reference to Daddy Warpig and his Howitzer over at Castalia House, and the post at Superversive SF is pretty short, so there isn't much else to be talked about since it's not my place to defend Daddy Warpig, especially on something that I disagree with him on. All of this in the Superversive post by Anthony M. is just credited to "the pulp revolution guys."

So here's where I'm going to start clarifying.

Yes, I am one of the "pulp revolution guys." There are a couple of reasons why I've chosen to join up on that particular side of the war in writing and publishing rather than joining the Superversives or just making up my own thing. The biggest and most relevant reason is, I don't think I'm good enough to write Superversive fiction. Writing something like that takes more skill than I've got. When I write, I just write. Half the time I don't even know what's going to happen next in the story, and I'm writing it to get there and see. Most of my story ideas start as characters in a particular situation, and the world just kind of builds itself around that very basic concept via my pen. I have a little control over how things are phrased, but so far as the events and dialogue, my job is to interpret what the muse (or whatever it is) is telling me and put it down onto paper properly, not to be the god of my own little universe. I know this sounds crazy, but it's my approach and no other approach I've tried has actually worked for me. I just have to sit back and let my fingers go and eventually there's a story there that I have to clean up.

It seems to me that this haphazard, honestly slapdash way of writing stories would preclude me from writing a Superversive story like, say, Canticle for Leibowitz, because by whatever insane writing method and law I'm bound by, it doesn't allow that kind of planning. And it also seems to me that planning is required to focus your story around and/or reveal a deeper truth to the universe. While I love reading that kind of stuff, because it is very entertaining and edifying, I just don't know how to write it. So, the Pulp Revolution suits me better because the basic motivation is, "Write whatever the hell you want." I fit more into that category than I do the, "Here's how you write a superversive story and there's this list of things a superversive story must have to be considered superversive" category.

And to be clear, I'm not bashing that type of writing. I just can't do it. So given my style, the Pulp Revolution seems a better fit for me than any of the other movements going on at the moment. Also I'm just a bigger fan of the pulpy stuff than I am the explicitly superversive, or the hard sf stuff.

I think this is the big issue with my previous post, and I have to thank Anthony for pointing it out. Being clear about when I'm talking objectively and when I'm talking personal preference or experience.

So I was talking objective fact when I said that eventually the hard science in a hard sf story will most likely be proven wrong and your story will be down here with the rest of us. The part that Anthony seems to have taken issue with is my claim that this is limiting and seems unnecessary, which was not a statement of fact, merely my personal opinion. Given my personal writing style, I don't understand why someone would put in all the work to make sure that they have their scientific realism nailed down pat when fifteen years down the road it could all be for naught and you may as well have been writing soft or pulp sf. Once again, not knocking that approach, I just don't understand it.

Karl K. Gallagher commented on my post in an attempt to clarify this:

Seeing your science superseded by new facts is part of the fun in the game. It happens to everyone. Larry Niven's first published story, "The Coldest Place," was negated by research finding Mercury wasn't locked to the Sun. The Martian's adventures in water making became superfluous when NASA discovered permafrost where Andy Weir set the story. Fans will try to poke holes in a stories science. This is part of what hard SF fans enjoy.

This explanation is adequate for these purposes, I suppose, but I still don't really grok it. I think that's a better word to describe my confusion. I don't grok. I understand that hard SF fans think it's fun, but I guess that's just something that I'm not going to get on a basic fundamental level that would allow me to partake in that fun. It's like my attitude to sports, which I mentioned in responding to Mr. Gallagher. I totally understand that sports fans enjoy watching the display of skill and talent required to play a sport well. I understand that they enjoy keeping eyes on player stats, team stats, rankings, and trivia going back 200 years (or however long). However, I personally don't see that as fun. Now there is a break in my opinion on this with regards to SF. I don't see that as fun in my own writing. I figure why put all that effort into realism when it's probably eventually going to be fiction anyway by virtue of the inexorable forward motion of scientific discovery? But that stuff can be really fun to read occasionally. Like I said, I'm a bigger fan of the pulpy stuff, but I do enjoy a good hard science tale every now and again.

So, on a personal level, yes, I do view hard SF as inferior to the pulps. This is, once again, my personal opinion. If that opinion that I'm not trying to foist onto anybody else rustles some jimmies, then so be it, but that's how I feel with regard to my own reading and writing choices. I'd rather kick back with an issue of Cirsova than read Clarke. I'd rather just write the story and scientific accuracy be damned than spend hours doing research into something that I probably don't care all that much about just to make sure I've got all the details down with humanity's current scientific understanding of them. Usually I write fantasy, so I don't run into this problem a lot, but occasionally I write something that could charitably be called "science fiction," and when I do I don't like being saddled with what I view as unnecessary restrictions. It feels confining and limiting, as I said, and I don't like doing it.

Which leads me to my next point, jumping off from this:

Because I’m seeing this: On one hand, it’s “Write what you want! Write what you want!”
And on the other hand it’s “But also, this particular sub-genre is inherently worse than this one and if you write it you’re limiting yourself. But, hey, write what you want!”
Okay, look. I am firmly against art policing. I have no right to tell you how to make your art, be it drawn, painted, musical, written, or some other thing I can't think of right now because I've had a couple fuck off. Point is, yes, "Write what you want! Write what you want!" However, this does not preclude me from having an opinion on what you write, how you write, or what you think of what you write and how you write. I also reserve the right to voice this opinion in whatever manner I choose. And since, as I frequently say, I'm just some drunk dickhead, this may come out course or offensive. I'm not going to curb my language or my opinions on my own blog or in my podcast unless I believe it necessary, in which case you'll get slightly fewer "fucks" thrown into the mix. If you find my opinion objectionable for whatever reason, feel free to call me on it. Karl did, and I bear the man no ill will and he actually taught me a couple things, for which I'm grateful. So go for it. Try to change my mind. On subjective matters like my opinion of hard SF, you just might do it. No promises, though. If you find my opinion offensive, you're free to ignore me. You don't have to read my blog, or listen to my podcast, or follow my twitter, or tumblr, or gab, or minds, or whatever. That's an activity that you're willfully and knowingly engaging yourself in when you're well aware that I say offensive shit all the time and you're probably going to run into something that you vehemently disagree with on a fundamental level. And if you willingly put yourself in that situation, I have no sympathy, nor will I offer any apologies.

Here comes another "however."

HOWEVER. I am open to correction, if you're actually right with regard to objective matters, or can convince me that you're right with regard to subjective matters. This post on Superversive SF is a good example of the latter. Honestly, Anthony and I don't disagree except in matters of personal taste. At least with regard to this latest bit of saber rattling between allied forces. I dig what he's laying down in that post, and I agree and endorse that last bit, the Josh Young Principle. That's something that I can 100% get behind, and I think it would do SF authors good to take that into account. But once again, "Write what you want! Write what you want!" Don't let me, or anyone else for that matter, tell you how to do your thing. Although, of course, constructive criticism should be taken into account.

So if you think I'm fucking up on something, call me out.

And this is just a personal aside to Anthony, who seems to be doing most of the critique of the Pulp Revolution over at Superversive SF, KEEP IT UP. If there's one thing I've learned in my time on the internet, being apart of fandoms, movements, philosophies, it's that we drastically need people willing to call us on our shit. Especially if our shit is shit. Someone has to be willing to suffer the slings and arrows of ass-pained fanboys, and I have nothing but respect for those who do, provided they're actually providing criticism and not just going, "lol autism," which Anthony doesn't. I should've been clearer, and I appreciate the bullshit-calling he did. So this post, while it may seem adversarial or combative at times, is not an attack on either the Superversive Movement, or Anthony personally. Though I will say, if you're going to critique something I wrote, you can name me, dude. It's not like I'm going to appear from the shadows and defenestrate you without warning or something. Unless you have an issue with personally calling someone out and linking to their post, in which case...keep doing what you're doing?

This is the issue here on my end, and why I'm a bit nervous about posting this, because I'm not totally 100% sure Anthony's post is referencing me, and I might be letting my ego get away from me. It might turn out that this post on Superversive is just a general thing about the supposed obsession the Pulp Revolution has with genre walls, and have nothing to do with me. Although his post was released a couple days after mine was, to my knowledge I'm the only one who beat this dead horse of genre distinctions within that time frame, and I do think that I resemble that remark. So I'm like 95% sure that this post was in regards to mine, but that certain level of uncertainty still nags.

Maybe it would help to end this post with describing how I view the Pulp Revolution and the Superversive Movement in relation to each other, and in relation to the crumbling edifice of traditional publishing. Because I'm apparently constitutionally incapable of just shutting the fuck up and leaving it at that.

I view what we're trying to do here in military terms. Maybe I've been listening to Sabaton too much lately, which is entirely possible, but this is how I've been conceptualizing it. There is, as I said, a crumbling edifice that I'll dub Tradpub (yes I stole that from Brian Niemeier shaddap). Tradpub is a kingdom on the decline. It ruled with an iron fist for many years, but now there are many disparate forces that are looking at the jewels heaped inside and thinking, "I'll be damned, but those would look mighty spectacular in my coffers." There are also those that just want to burn the place to the ground to watch the light show. And so, not through any conspiracy but through sheer organic growth, armies formed and began to assail the kingdom of Tradpub. The two we're concerned with are the Superversive Army and the Forces of the Pulp Revolution.

Each of these armies has different specialties. From what I can gather; and these are by no means fixed lines, but hear me out; the specialty of the Superversive Army is long, protracted, seige warfare. They release large novels of earth-shattering quality, the likes of which the Kingdom of Tradpub hasn't seen in decades. These strike mighty blows against Tradpub. This is not to say that the Superversive Army doesn't have their skirmish forces as well. There are Superversive authors that do short fiction very competently, but the majority of the writing that I've personally seen coming from the Superversive Army is long-form. So we're speaking in generalities here.

On the other side of the field, you have the Forces of the Pulp Revolution. These are mostly skirmish forces. Cavalry, infiltrators, assassins, what have you. This is mostly a random assortment of people who all decided to do the same thing at once. They climb the walls and engage in all sorts of fuckery, ambush from the tall grass, and generally do their best to befuck and befuddle the forces of Tradpub through their prolific short fiction that brings customers away from the coffers of Tradpub with more frequency, but with less turnaround with regards to financial gains.

Now, both of these armies are explicitly engaged in achieving the same goal, the destruction of Tradpub. Fortunately, there is more than enough loot to go around. These armies may be allies of convenience and circumstance, but allies they are, and there is more than a little overlap between their forces. Of course, as I mentioned before, there is saber rattling. Competition and conflict between allies of convenience and circumstance is only natural. But we should remember that our goals are similar, and while we may disagree on personal matters we gain nothing from this kind of dick measuring. Admittedly, this particular conflict was spurred on by my inability to make it clear when I'm talking about subjective or objective matters, but the point remains. There is a damn good reason I called my newly-forged blogroll "Brothers In Arms," and further there is a damn good reason Superversive SF is listed there. I view the Superversive Movement as an ally and compliment to the Pulp Revolution, and I would prefer we didn't engage in petty arguments over personal taste. Which is why I'm penning this post right now. My personal failing led to this needless saber rattling, and perhaps I can stop it so we can all move on to talking about something more interesting by attempting to clarify my points. Although I'll probably just wind up making it worse as usual because I'm a tactless, thoughtless, drunken arsehole. But what will be will be. I just hope I've made my point clearer with this post.

One last little thing I'd like to clear up before I finally end this fucking thing already. Yes, I am one of the Pulp Revolution guys, but that said, I don't speak for anybody else, nor would I presume to do so. My opinions are my own. I don't speak for Daddy Warpig, or Jeffro, or Jon Mollison, or Alexander, or Rawle, or anybody else. I also don't know if I'm considered a "thought leader" or influential person within the (at the moment) meager bounds of the Pulp Revolution, but if I am I'd like to make it very, painfully, excruciatingly clear that I only speak for myself and you take my information and opinions into your worldview at your own risk. I frequently fuck up, am wrong, talk out of my ass, and say stupid shit in a fit of drunkenness. Take me seriously at your own risk. But the point of bringing this up is to let anybody who may take issue with something I say know that, if you do take issue with something I say, it's perfectly, 100% okay with me if you address me directly. I won't take offense, file a DMCA, or something equally retarded. Because quite frankly I'm not shy about naming and quoting people that I think are addressing me (when I have a reasonable certainty that they are), let alone people responding to me directly. And I would expect the same treatment in kind. So, if you want to respond to me, respond to me. Don't lump me in with a bunch of other people and act like I'm speaking for them when I'm explicitly not and attempting to avoid the perception that I am. Not that I'm offended at being lumped in with Daddy Warpig, Jeffro, Alexander, or whoever else. I consider it an honor, so long as they're not saying something I disagree with. But I'm an individual. And if you have an issue with something I individually said, address me as an individual. I think we'll all find that a much easier way to continue forward instead of painting with unnecessarily broad brushes.

Besides, that post was the culmination of weeks of thought, reading, and consideration needing some kind of fucking outlet for god's sake. This happens frequently to me. I'll just be thinking about something off and on for a couple weeks, and eventually it'll pop up in either an autism-laden rant on the podcast or an autism-laden, unnecessarily long post on my blog. Most of my writing is done drunk, besides all that, and I'll frequently say stupid shit when I'm drunk, or make my point badly, try as I might to curb this.

So hopefully I've cleared everything up here, and we can move on to talking about something more interesting. Once again, I thank Anthony M. for his criticism. I should be clearer in the future when I'm talking matters of personal taste vs objective fact. And to everyone at the Superversive SF blog, and the Superversive Movement in general, keep doing what you're doing. I thoroughly enjoy it all, and I really, truly do want you all to succeed in your efforts. So with a respectful nod to my brothers and sisters in arms, I'll finally shut the fuck up now and leave you with this slightly relevant Sabaton song to close things out.

Archive link of the Superversive SF post:


  1. Rallying the clans together is a goal I can get behind.

  2. For are we not allies engaged in the same great war?! Combining our strength can do nothing but aid in our cause! Rally, brothers! For today we assault the flailing kingdom of Tradpub!

  3. Jim,

    I haven't read through the full article of yours yet (I will! I promise!), but it certainly was not you I was responding to! In fact, it was really a general thung, probably directed more at DW and Jeffro than anyone else.

    You guys are 110% allies and from my perspective this is all quite fun; if it comes off as mean-spirited, it's not supposed to.

    In any case, I appreciate the praise and will read through the full thing soon!

    - Anthony M

  4. General rule: If I have someone or something *specific* in mind, I will refer to them directly. I don't like snidely referring to people, unless I know they're reading me often and have a decent idea of what I think of them already.

    1. In that case I'd like to apologize for the misunderstandings. I've only been reading the stuff at Superversive SF for a few months now, and I'm not entirely sure what your policy was with things like that. Personally I'd rather us all be friendly as well. As I said, we are engaged in the same battle, just coming at it from different angles. I guess I just let my thoughts get away from me, and writing drunk doesn't really help with regards to not sounding like an asshole.

      But I'm glad that was cleared up, and again, sorry for taking personally what was meant as a general admonition. I'll keep that stuff under wraps in the future. Thanks for letting me know.

  5. Having finished your article...

    Again, I want to emphasize - I wasn't trying to do a hit piece or whatever on you without referencing you. Believe me, if I had your specific article in mind, I would definitely have linked to it. And I really do appreciate the kind words. The nearest direct reference was conversations I was having in the comments sections of Superversive and Castalia with DW and Jeffro, and some of DW's posts (I had his "There is no such thing as hard SF" post in mind too, which I did reference). It was a general critique; I had no *specific* post in mind, just sort of the culmination of lots of different conversations.

    I LIKE the pulp guys! I support the pulp revolution, if that means "I support people making more pulp works, correcting errors about the pulp era of sci-fi, and bringing back forgotten masters". My criticisms are specific critiques of specific things; no more, no less.

    I want to make something clear: I don't know how this is playing out to all of you, but this is all fun to me! Believe me, I'm still being friendly; if I wasn't interested in allying with you guys, I'd just say so. But I LIKE this sort of discussion. I LIKE debating. This is entertaining to me. If I'm coming off as a jerk, it's unintentional.

    Anyway - you're allowed to dislike hard SF. I'm not a HUGE fan of the sub-genre, nor do I particularly dislike it. I just think that the loss of the superversive is the biggest problem in SF right now, even more than a lack of appreciation for the pulps. If we fix that, everything else is going to click into place, and SF literature will be saved.

    1. I didn't mean to accuse you of doing a hit piece, and I'm sorry if it came off that way. It would seem that we have a similar technique with blog-ranting, letting stuff build for a while and then kind of unleashing it and damn the torpedoes. I enjoy the debate as well, though with as sensitive as everyone seems to have become lately (not necessarily anyone in the literary movements, but people in general), it's hard to know how people will take things, which is part of the reason this post was so damned long. Now that I know where you stand on the debate aspect of things I'll be a little more sure-footed going forward with the apparently few topics we actually do disagree on. So at least my sperg-out was good for something!

      So far as the pulp/superversive stuff goes, I kind of view them as complimentary. They're both necessary in my opinion, and both have their part to play with regards to saving SFF. But like I said, I'm just better with pulpy stuff than I am superversive stuff, so that's the team I've thrown my lot in with. But I love what you guys are doing and support you all 100%.

  6. "Letting stuff build and then kind of unleashing it" is more or less my style as well. Except it's a combination of needing to let ideas ferment to be able to express them clearly and having a list of fiction projects I should be working on instead.

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