Category Archives: LOGIC FAIL

The Tiresome Fringe of SFWA: the Gift That Keeps On Giving

I was offline most of today because I was working on a book.  (Well, there was also a six-mile hike in there, but I consider that productive also.)  So I didn’t see the shit hit the fan until tonight.

And you know what?  I’m tired.  I’m really fucking tired of this.  I’d much rather be working on my fucking book.  My book has gunfights in it.  And explosions.  And complexity theory.  COMPLEXITY THEORY, PEOPLE.  I don’t want to be blogging about some fucking asshole who wrote some fucking petition claiming that SFWA deciding to have more editorial oversight over the professional publication of the organization after massive member complaints last year is somehow “censorship.”

That’s so fucked-up I don’t know where to begin.  You know what, maybe I won’t.  Maybe I’ll just direct you to Natalie Luhrs’ excellently articulate rundown of the situation (it includes links to the full text of the petitions, both the original horribly-racist-and-sexist one and the we’re-going-to-be-slightly-less-inflammatory-here-even-though-we-claim-to-be-against-any-editorial-oversight one, and many of the comments are also well worth reading).  Or Rachael Acks’ brilliantly incisive points about how SFWA is supposed to be a professional organization. And then I’ll go back to writing my book, because there’s only so much of this I can take.

But no, there’s one other thing I want to say.  What should be angering me here is the same old tired racist/sexist bullshit, these people’s insistence, their fucking entitlement, about their “right” to maintain a toxic environment within a professional organization.  But I’m just too tired.  Can’t muster the ire.

Instead, you know what’s really sticking in my craw on this one?  How fucking stupid the petition is.

It’s an illogical, fallacious, badly-written disgrace.

Look, I’m not even talking about the fact that I disagree with it.  There’s plenty of nuance to be had in conversations about free discourse and editorial direction.  I’ve had many a civilized debate about that sort of thing, and sometimes I disagreed, vehemently, with the people I was talking to, but they still made sense, they thought things through, they articulated arguments that made me have to think about what they said.  There’s value in that sort of debate.  A lot of value.

What makes me really disgruntled tonight is that I see the names of people who have signed onto this mess of a petition and I say, “Really?  REALLY?  You thought it was a good idea to put your name on that?  That godawful excuse for an argument that makes no fucking sense?

We’re science fiction and fantasy!  We’re the people who try to build worlds so complicated and consistent that they violate Goedel!  We’re the people who interpolate and extrapolate, into the heart of the human condition and into the future, who revel in science and logic and rational thought!  Aren’t we supposed to have some understanding of logic?  Of what a fallacy looks like?  Couldn’t one of those signatories have looked at this stupid-ass excuse for an opinion, found the kernel of truth he or she agreed with, and written something that wouldn’t have gotten a failing grade in a high school English class?[1]  You’re supposed to be writers, for crying out loud!

Disagree with me all you want.  But for god’s sake, at least have the courtesy to do it intelligently.

(p.s. — I’ve updated the timeline with this.  Why oh why are there still things happening to update it with?)

  1. To be fair, I can’t really find anything in the petition’s arguments that isn’t logically fallacious, so maybe the reason nobody wrote a better one is that it’s not possible.  But that should really tell you guys something, shouldn’t it . . .

Hard Scifi: I Do Not Think That Means What You Think It Means.

There are certain people out there who seem to be misusing the term “hard science fiction.”

In preparing to write this entry, I was actually shocked that the definitions I found for “hard science fiction” completely agreed with me on what it should mean: namely, that the fictional science included is made as realistic, as explicable, as possible.  Hard scifi seeks to extrapolate from real scientific knowledge, to present future tech that seems plausible given the current state of our real-world understanding . . . it strives both to work within known science, and to extend it.

The flip side of this is “soft scifi,” which operates on handwavium.  Spaceships exist because they do; lightspeed travel is possible because it is; the state of AI constantly contradicts itself and the technology can spawn new tentacles as the plot demands without any adherence to known natural law.

This is, of course, a continuum: many types of fiction fall between the two extremes, and people can debate endlessly whether something should be categorized as “hard” or “soft.”

These are the same definitions I have always taken for granted, until recently.  Still, I was surprised when my Google search agreed with me entirely . . . because it seems that every time someone insinuates that women can’t or don’t write hard scifi, this is not the definition those people are using.  Which leads me to: What the hell, people.

Come on.  If we accept that hard science fiction has only to do with realism and rigor, then a lot of what people say about it is just. plain. wrong!  Let’s look at this rationally for a moment, shall we?  Working from such a definition, we get:

What Hard Scifi Isn’t

  1. Hard science fiction does not preclude romance.
    Why on earth would it?  The level of romance in a story versus how well the technology is explained are two entirely orthogonal concepts.  Why would one in any way impact the other?  Why do some people set up romances as the opposite of hard scifi, when it is entirely possible to have a romance plot be central to a world of completely consistent technology and also entirely possible to have a handwaved, contradictory universe with no romance plot at all?  If two characters fall in love over a background of solving Navier-Stokes, with completely realistic fluid dynamics, you bet your ass that’s hard scifi.
  2. Nor does hard science fiction preclude a concentration on human relationships.
    In fact, I would argue that writing harder, more realistic science fiction should encourage more concentration on the relationships between characters.  What is something that anyone with even a cursory knowledge of scientific progress continually complains about with regard to science fiction?  That it completely ignores the massive collaboration present in real scientific advancement!  The “lone genius” is a common trope of fiction, but how often does this happen in reality?  The world of science is full of relationships—and not just cursory relationships, but loves, rivalries, scandals, heartbreak . . . hey, one of my favorite books as a child[1] was a book about the drama that has surrounded the history of mathematics.  The Axiom of Choice and the Well-Ordering Principle, Newton versus Leibniz, the cult of Pythagoras, the strong friendships and collaborations of Hardy and Littlewood or Lovelace and Babbage . . . mathematicians are passionate people, and the interpersonal stories of mathematics alone would fill a library.  Nor are the other sciences exempt.  A novel featuring scientists who lack any interpersonal interaction, any irrationality or yearning or vast emotion, feels . . . well, unrealistic.
  3. Hard science fiction is not limited to the hard sciences.
    There seems to be some assumption that hard science fiction must be the purview of those who are experts in physics.  Why?  Why don’t the other sciences get any love?  Hey, one of my favorite science fiction stories ever is Isaac Asimov’s tale of a goose who literally lays golden eggs—Asimov, being a biochemist, provided a very well-thought-out accounting of the phenomenon, and in my opinion, this is one of the hardest science fiction stories of all time.  Why do we not assume that hard scifi can encompass all sciences, including chemistry, biology, even sociology?  Heck, I’m dead serious when I say I think the argument could certainly be made that The Handmaid’s Tale is rock-hard science fiction (with apologies to Margaret Atwood[2]).
  4. Hard science fiction does not and should not equate with space travel, military scifi, plentiful technology, or even a plot driven by the science fictional elements. It’s the realism of the science that matters, not the flashiness.
    When most people think “hard scifi,” they probably picture something vaguely like Star Trek—except that Star Trek is one of the squishiest science fiction premises in the galaxy.  It’s practically a fluid.  Yet I’m suspicious that’s what people tend to picture, rather than, y’know, The Handmaid’s Tale.
  5. Hard science fiction is not inherently smarter, more sophisticated, more well-written, or in any way better than soft science fiction.
    Don’t believe me?  Look at some of the classics of science fiction.  H.G. Wells is about as soft as it gets, and I defy anybody to say that made his works less valuable to the genre.  Douglas Adams is another name no one would dare to defile, and the hardest thing about his science fiction is keeping all the contradictory time travel straight.  Why on earth would any writers (read: female writers) get discounted because their work doesn’t scratch diamond?  In other words, why can men be respected for writing soft science fiction, but when the author is female, the observation of what sub-genre her work falls into suddenly becomes a criticism, something to belittle her with?

I should add that of course women can write hard science fiction with no romance and a heavy emphasis on flashy space-faring physics if they want to.  Duh.  But I’m sick of the above insinuations about the sub-genre, because they do strike me as a quite blatant attempt to draw boundaries that will exclude or put down as many female writers as possible.[3]

  1. I was an odd child.
  2. For those who don’t know, Atwood has in the past resisted the characterization of the book as science fiction at all.
  3. I’m not actually sure modern SF by women includes more relationships/romance/etc. than modern SF by men—anecdotally, I’m suspicious that it’s more older SF that eschews character-driven tales, and not male-authored SF, since all the modern SF I’ve read by men seems to include relationships as well.  But because the playing field in prior decades was so much more vastly unequal than it is today, drawing the lines to exclude trends in modern SF would also result in disproportionately excluding female writers . . . as I expect the people doing it intend.

Math and Grocery Shopping, Part 2: a Follow-Up for Stupid People, or, Why This Relates to Classism

I was catching up on John Scalzi’s blog today, and he linked to a story on CNN that referenced his enduring “Being Poor” piece (it’s an excellent and sobering read; go take a look if you haven’t seen it).

Of course, then I made the mistake of looking at the comments on the CNN article.

It’s generally axiomatic that Internet comment threads are the home of some completely moronic fuckwads. So I don’t know why I looked. But one piece of asshattery stuck out at me as being particularly odious, namely, that some of the commenters began castigating the people pictured in the photo for daring to be overweight while simultaneously being poor.  Here’s a (incredibly gross) sampling of the commentary:

I love how almost all of these “poor” people in the photo are OVERWEIGHT! What a JOKE.

Even if they eat unhealthy, if they eat less they won’t be fat. It is a fact.

Seems like every “poor people” line I see are FILLED with overweight and usually obese people.

Every single person in that picture is fat and overweight. Doesn’t look like they are starving that is for sure.

If people would just take time to cook and not stuff themselves and their children with fast food, it would cost less and be way healthier. “Healthy foods are expensive” is a myth perpetrated by lazy people.

One might eat cheaply from the dollar menu, but you won’t get fat or stay fat by eating reasonable amounts of food, whether it’s a burger or a salad. They are still consuming too much food. If they ate less from the dollar menu, they’d lose weight and have more money to spend on other things […].

Okay, let’s set aside the raging snobbery of privilege going on here. I’m going to step away from the emotional response of “BWUH YOU IGNORANT IDIOTS!!” that I want to shout at these commenters, and address this coldly and logically instead, with:


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Ranting Against Stupidity: In Support of Genevieve Valentine

Genevieve Valentine posted again on the Readercon mess.  Other people are also still talking about it, often with insightful points.  Sometimes with not-so-insightful points.

I don’t know Genevieve Valentine, but I’m sorry she is having to go through this.  For me, the most unbelievable part of the ugliness has been related to this: no one disputed the facts.  Valentine, her witnesses, the man she accused, Readercon—not once, from what I can tell, did any one of these parties ever contradict Valentine’s description of events.  The facts of the case are not being debated.

So why the hell has she been getting so much shit over this?

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