Pixel Scroll 6/22/17 I’ve Scrolled As Many As Six Impossible Pixels Before Breakfast

(1) MORE CORE. Some might wonder if James Davis Nicoll has hit peak trollage with his latest list, “Twenty Core Problematic Speculative Fiction Works Every True SF Fan Should Have On Their Shelves”. Some might thank him for listing their favorite book.

As with the previous core lists, here are twenty Problematic Speculative Fiction Works chosen entirely on the basis of merit and significance to the field 1 and in this case, the likelihood of encountering their avid fans. No implication is intended that these are the only twenty books you should consider or the only twenty books whose fans may some day corner you so they can expound at length on the virtues of these books.

Here are the first three on his list of 20 —

  • The Heritage of Hastur by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach
  • Naamah’s Curse by Jacqueline Carey

(2) YOUNG PERSON WATCHES OLD SF. Echo Ishii’s next excursion into old sf TV series has a William Shatner connection – “SF Obscure: TekWar”.

Tek War is based on William Shatner’s TekWar books, ghostwritten by Ron Goulart. There are about nine books in the series. The show started as a series of two-hour TV movies and then a proper second season, from what I can figure out. Open to corrections.

(3) THE SOUND OF WHO. Some of the more, ahem, “experimental” Dr Who soundtracks. “12 ‘Doctor Who’ Jazz Funk Greats” at We Are Cult.

The Sea Devils (1972)

A relentless barrage of white noise that was the result of a life or death struggle between sonic terrorist Malcolm Clarke and the Radiophonic Workshop’s massive EMS Synthi 100, otherwise known as the ‘Delaware’. Anticipates, at various points, Throbbing Gristle, Metal Machine Music, Frank Zappa’s Jazz From Hell and – in its calmer moments – Eno & Fripp’s No Pussyfooting. A BDSM specialist’s shag tape.

(4) DON’T RUN, WALKAWAY. The Reason interview with Cory Doctorow, “Cory Doctorow on Cyber Warfare, Lawbreaking, and His New Novel ‘Walkaway'”, is also is available on YouTube.

Katherine Mangu-Ward: Do you think that the underlying conditions of free speech as it is associated with dubious technologies, are they getting better or worse?

Cory Doctorow: There is the—there is a pure free speech argument and there’s a scientific argument that just says you know it’s not science if it’s not published. You have to let people who disagree with you—and who dislike you—read your work and find the dumb mistakes you’ve made and call you an idiot for having made them otherwise you just end up hitting yourself and then you know your h-bomb blows up in your face, right?

And atomic knowledge was the first category of knowledge that scientists weren’t allowed to freely talk about—as opposed to like trade secrets—but, like, scientific knowledge. That knowing it was a crime. And so it’s the kind of original sin of science. But there’s a difference between an atomic secret and a framework for keeping that a secret and a secret about a vulnerability in a computer system. And they’re often lumped together….


(5) DID YOU KNOW? Complaints Choirs took their inspiration from a conversation in Helsinki.

It all got started during a winter day walk of Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen in Helsinki. Perhaps it was due to the coldness of the day that they ended up discussing the possibility of transforming the huge energy people put into complaining into something else. Perhaps not directly into heat – but into something powerful anyway.

In the Finnish vocabulary there is an expression “Valituskuoro”. It means “Complaints Choir” and it is used to describe situations where a lot of people are complaining simultaneously.  Kalleinen and Kochta-Kalleinen thought: “Wouldn´t it be fantastic to take this expression literally and organise a real choir in which people sing about their complaints?”

As complaining is a universal phenomenon the project could be organised in any city around the world. Kalleinen and Kochta-Kalleinen offered the concept to different events where they were invited as artists – but it was only after Springhill Institute in Birmingham got excited about the idea that the First Complaints Choir became a reality.

And here’s a detailed plan for starting a complaints choir in your town.

STEP 1 – Invite People to Complain
Invite people from your city to join the complaints choir. Distribute flyers, spread posters and write a press release. Everybody can join, no singing skills required! The more diverse the participants the better. From pensioner to teenager, everybody has something to complain about. The people that sign up for the choir send in their complain before the first meeting….

(6) RECOMMENDED. Professional filker Miracle of Sound has a released a Wonder Woman song.

I walk a wild new world
The strangest sights surround me
I grow into
This sense of wonder that I’ve found

There is pain
There is joy
There is so much they destroy
Every soul here is a two way battleground



Octavia Butler Day

Here are links to the first five of a dozen posts BookRiot has published in honor of the day.


  • June 22, 1960 The House of Usher starred Vincent Price, screenplay by I Am Legend author Richard Matheson, and directed by Roger Corman. The film was the first of eight Edgar Allen Poe based feature films that Corman directed.
  • June 22, 1979 Alien premiered.

(9) FROM SOMEBODY’S MOUTH TO GOD’S EAR. Yesterday it was (supposedly) speculation. Today’s it’s a done deal. The Hollywood Reporter says “Ron Howard to Direct Han Solo Movie”.

“I’m beyond grateful to add my voice to the Star Wars Universe after being a fan since 5/25/77,” Howard tweeted Thursday afternoon. “I hope to honor the great work already done & help deliver on the promise of a Han Solo film.”

Howard, who directed 1995’s Apollo 13 and won an Oscar for helming 2002’s A Beautiful Mind, comes to the Han Solo film with several connections to George Lucas and the worlds of Lucasfilm. He appeared in Lucas’ 1973 breakout film American Graffiti and helmed Lucas’ 1988 pet fantasy project Willow. Howard also revealed on a podcast in 2015 that Lucas had approached him to direct the 1999 Star Wars prequel The Phantom Menace.

(10) GONE IN SIXTY DIGITS. Another unexpected side-effect of tech: “‘How I could have stolen my old car using my smartphone'”.

Charles Henderson loved his “awesome” convertible, particularly the fact that he could start, lock and unlock it remotely via his mobile phone.

It was one of the first connected cars that synchronise wirelessly with smartphones for entertainment and work purposes.

But after he sold the vehicle, he was astonished to discover that he could still control it using the associated smartphone app.

“I could have found out where the car was, unlocked it remotely, started it and driven off with it,” he tells the BBC.

Mr Henderson, from Austin, Texas, is global head of X-Force Red, IBM’s offensive security group, so he knows a thing or two about security. He tests companies’ defences, both physical and digital.

(11) NEXTGEN ST. BERNARD. (Video) “The soft 3D-printed robot that could come to the rescue”.

Engineers at the University of California are working on a soft legged robot that can navigate difficult terrain. Its complex design has been achieved through 3D printing.

One possible use for the robot would be to help in search and rescue operations – perhaps in a collapsed building. Its legs can alternate between walking, crawling and climbing.

(12) TIME MACHINE OUT OF ORDER? Tech failure: “California earthquake alarm sounded – 92 years late”.

A computer error caused the US Geological Survey (USGS) to issue the false alarm about the magnitude 6.8 quake.

The quake actually took place in 1925 when it laid waste to the city of Santa Barbara and caused 13 deaths.

In a statement, the USGS said its computers had “misinterpreted” data causing the alarm to be wrongly issued.

Substantial collapse

News organisations across the US received the emailed alert about the quake which, if it had been real, would have been one of the largest ever recorded in California.

Few organisations reacted directly to the news because it was dated 29 June 2025 – exactly 100 years after the actual event took place.

The LA Times, which uses AI-based software to automatically write up the USGS alerts, did issue a news story based on the alarm notice.

(13) PLANETEXIT. The UK gets ambitious: “Queen’s Speech: Plan aims to secure space sector”.

The stated purpose of the new Bill is to make the UK the most attractive place in Europe for commercial space – including launches from British soil.

(14) DEAR DIARY. Aaron Pound reviews Carrie Fisher’s Hugo-nominated The Princess Diarist at Dreaming of Other Worlds.

Short review: Carrie Fisher found some old diaries she wrote when she was filming Star Wars and having an affair with Harrison Ford. She used them as the basis for a book.

When filming Star Wars
Fisher had a fling with Ford
Now she remembers

(15) HAPPPY NOMINEES. Fangirl Happy Hour is a Hugo-nominated fancast where Ana of The Book Smugglers and Renay of Lady Business team up to discuss books, comics, TV and movies, fandom and pop culture.

One great feature is the episode transcripts. Their transcriber has caught up to the episode that discusses the nominees for the “2017 Hugo Awards” – of which they are two.

Renay: Yeah, I remember telling everybody, “Hey, Bridget’s doing great work, why don’t we nominate her, ” and apparently everybody was already planning to because here she is. I was super excited. And then next category is Best Semiprozine which has you in it! Yay!

Ana: Yay!

Renay: It’s Ana! I’m so excited, The Book Smugglers, edited by Ana Grilo and Thea James. Look at you guys. Look at you on the ballot. so cute!

Ana: I’m very pleased about that. There is a lot of work that goes into the Book Smugglers as you know. I’m happy to be here. There are other amazing nominees in this category and I am like, “Oh fuck.” [laughter]

Renay: Would you have your feelings hurt if I voted for Strange Horizons first and then you second?

Ana: I would, but I would also understand.

Renay: Well I’m gonna put you first, and Strange Horizon second. I was just feeling it out.

Ana: I was very conflicted, because I love Strange Horizons and I think Niall Harrison has done such amazing work for the past few years. And he announced that he’s stepping down from being editor in chief of Strange Horizons and I’m like FUCK so this means that this is the last year that he’s eligible for the Hugos. And I’m like, I think he deserves one? But I also want one!

(16) ANTIQUE VERBIAGE. Brenda Clough takes us on a visit to “The Language Attic” at Book View Café.

Our language is a treasure house. Some of its glories are well-used and well-polished, taken out and set on the table every day. But up in the attic we’ve got some thrilling long-lost terms. This is a series devoted to dragging some of the quainter antiquities out, and dusting them off for you to see.

And today’s fun word is fistiana. Oh, you have a dirty mind. I can see what you’re thinking. No, no — it had nothing whatever to do with X-rated matters. We have pure minds around here, at least at this moment. Maybe later in this series we’ll get some really colorful words. This word’s close relative is boxiana, and both words refer to boxing — pummeling people with your fists.

(17) FOUND IN SPACE. Kyle Hill of Nerdist calls on everyone to “Join Us on the Bizarre Pop Culture Quest that is THE S.P.A.A.C.E. PROGRAM”

As Nerdist‘s resident sci-fientist (TM), there are never enough collisions between science and pop culture. I truly believe that exploring our nerdy passions with science helps appreciate both even more. I’ve tried my best to do this for the last few years with Because Science, but something was missing…oh, right, I wasn’t in sppppppaaaaacccccceeeee!

Starting today, you can watch the first episode of my new Alpha show The S.P.A.A.C.E. Program. It takes all the geeky analysis that I do on Because Science and combines it with a real set, actual production value, and a snarky artificial intelligence. It’s like if Carl Sagan’s COSMOS and Mystery Science Theater 3000 had a weird, long-haired baby. Check out a promo below:


[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Cat Eldridge, Martin Morse Wooster, Aaron Pound, Chip Hitchcock, Jay Byrd, and Mark-kitteh for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Bill.]

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87 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 6/22/17 I’ve Scrolled As Many As Six Impossible Pixels Before Breakfast

  1. (1) I’ve read four (I’m pretty sure) on that list. Some (Tripoint, Farnam’s Freehold) are on my TBR, some I haven’t heard of.

    (7) Interesting – Pryde’s “I was afraid to read Butler” thing is pretty much also the reason it took me years to finally read her, for pretty close to the same reasons.

    Speaking of TBR stacks – I started “This Census-Taker” yesterday. I’m not all that far into it, but it’s okay so far. Kind of Southern Gothic in feel, maybe? I haven’t read much in that vein, but it’s reminding me a little bit of Nick Cave’s “And the Ass Saw the Angel,” which I think was a gothy take on Southern Gothic?

  2. You could list ten Heinlein books as “problematic”. And a good handful of Hugo nominees (other than RAH). The list is a little bit selective.

    I think he knows that. From the quoted part (above): “No implication is intended that these are the only twenty books you should consider or the only twenty books whose fans may some day corner you so they can expound at length on the virtues of these books.”

  3. The list is a little bit selective.

    Yes, lists are selective. It’s the nature of listing things.

    My score:

    Grunts by Mary Gentle – own it but haven’t read it yet.
    Farnham’s Freehold by Robert A. Heinlein
    The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey
    Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (film) by J. K. Rowling
    Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis – started reading Blackout but got fed up with the characters acting too stupid to be sympathized with
    13th Child by Patricia Wrede

    I’m unconvinced by the arguments against at least one of these, thus proving myself an unrepentant colonialist or something. But such is life.

    On the other hand, I just re-read THE STAND, and it really jumped out at me this time how very, very white the novel is. I had to resort to imagining various minimally-described characters as black just to balance it out.

    As far as I can tell, the only black people we see who survive the plague are a bunch of half-naked black soldiers who have fun killing white people on TV until they’re shot, Mother Abagail, and a guy named the Rat-Man who dresses like a pirate, has flashy teeth and talks jivey. I wasn’t counting Asians or Hispanics, but they seemed even less prominent, and I don’t remember anyone being identified as such, but maybe there was a last name or two that suggested a non-white heritage.

    As for LGBTQ characters, there’s one lesbian-turned-bi on the good guys’ side, and all the others are bad guys and/or depraved.

    Still a terrific book, but wow, it got dated.

  4. @James Nicholl: “research failure” is pretty mild compared to outright flaming racism like “Farnham”. So you’ve got a wide definition of “problematic”.

    Regarding JKR’s all-white NYC, don’t forget the essays leading up to that, where we got Mighty Whitey, Noble (Less Competent, Now Extinct, But No Genocide) Savages, erasure of slavery due to the FRIENDS timeline, and oh so much more.

    I’m reading her pen-name’s mystery novel, where she describes a passing character as a “flat-faced oriental woman”. The. Hell.? I checked with the Oxford dictionary, and it said “dated, offensive”. It’s not like she’s some 90 year old great uncle who never bothered to keep up with the slang these crazy kids use. And it wasn’t even capitalized, which is a sin against grammar. (No spicy zeppelins.)

    Big ups for noticing the ableism in “Ship Who…” and how the society bred slaves by not treating the physically disabled babies, and the eugenics/euthanasia of the lower-IQ ones. Do ALL lower-IQ babies, even if not physically disabled, get killed off? We don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised. If the society isn’t willing to put in wheelchair ramps, are they willing to do individual learning plans and supported jobs/housing?

    I haven’t read that Koch “Alien” book; the one I did read, I was so horrified by the overwhelming Mary Sue-ness of the lead I could hardly go on. Seriously, I’ve read wish-fulfillment fanfic that had less perfect heroines. You look up “Mary Sue” in the dictionary and there’s a picture of that chick.

    “Windup Girl” was worse than several books on the list. Mighty Whitey and awful physics (and other sciences). Worse than “The Sparrow”, which after all is a parable and doesn’t pretend to be near-future high-tech SF.

    @August: Huge chunks of your review of “Walkaway” could be applied to all of Doctorow’s novels. “Little Brother” started with a completely bogus premise (Microsoft giving a console away for free?) and got dumber from there.

    If Carrie was still with us, the slightness of “Princess Diaries” wouldn’t have mattered as much. Her looking back on her younger self was very good and wow, it took guts to put her teenage poetry out there for all to read. It’s not going high on my ballot as I’d rather the award go to someone who’s still around to enjoy it. But it’s not last, either. And I’m wondering if it would have made the ballot if it weren’t for our sympathy and grief. I’m glad to have read it, and I enjoyed it a lot, and recommend it as long as you can stand being stabbed in the heart at random intervals when you remember her.

  5. @Nicoll: Darkover is supposed to be reactionary; it fell back into a medieval-at-best culture. (Most of the books are about trying to break out of that mindset without becoming Terran.) Your summary of Tripoint is debatable — and even if Marie was raped, the kid’s father is saner; Marie is an example of toxic parenting that Cherryh was probably too familiar with. And while I didn’t think much of Fantastic Beasts, it’s unclear that the supernatural entertainment is in Harlem; the discussion on Making Light suggested that African Americans on midtown streets were not common at that date. (Sorry I missed your listing — I didn’t refresh before posting.)

    @me: I was unclear; 14/20 is a record for me. (I see somebody previously knew 15.) And it probably should be 13/20 — I think I misremembered which Koch I’d read.

    @Joe H: Farnham’s Freehold makes me wince a lot (now — when I was in 8th grade there was a lot I didn’t pick up), but I can see issues today with some of the others (e.g., in Heritage of Hastur (beyond @Nicoll’s comment) n zbyrfgre “ercnlf” ol znxvat gur ivpgvz gurve urve, fb gur ivpgvz unf gb or nebhaq gur nohfre n ybg).

  6. I’m reading her pen-name’s mystery novel, where she describes a passing character as a “flat-faced oriental woman”. The. Hell.? I checked with the Oxford dictionary, and it said “dated, offensive”.

    Whenever I’ve seen an online argument about whether the term “Oriental” is offensive when used to refer to people, those saying it is are usually Americans and those saying it isn’t are usually affronted Brits saying “Well, it isn’t here!”

    I don’t know whether they’re right or not, but it’s apparently seen as more offensive in the US than in the UK, to one degree or another.

    As for “flat-faced,” well.

  7. @lurkertype
    outright flaming racism like “Farnham”.

    How does one distinguish between “racist book” vs. “book with racist characters” (vs. “book with racist elements which the author was using to make a point about racism but didn’t do a very good job”)?

    And another Filer mentioned the cannibalism elements as the problematic part. Which is more problematic — racism or cannibalism (or racist cannibalism)?

    It’s been a while since I read the book, but as I recall, Hugh is much more sexist than he is racist.

  8. @Kurt — Yeah, that’s one (of a number of) reasons why I’m not going to be revisiting Tom Clancy any time soon — of all of his books that I’ve read (pretty much everything through The Bear and the Dragon), I remember exactly one LGBTQ character, and she was a lesbian who was co-opted by the Soviets, who had promised to kidnap the (straight, married) woman she was crushing on if she’d spy for them.

    @Chip — For whatever reason, even back when I was young, I never quite got into Darkover, although I still have a bunch of Sword & Sorceress anthologies and a number of issues of MZB’s Fantasy Magazine.

  9. (1) I thought I had read 14 of these but after checking I have actually read 16.

    The Heritage of Hastur by Marion Zimmer Bradley
    Naamah’s Curse by Jacqueline Carey
    White Tiger by Kylie Chan
    Tripoint by C. J. Cherryh
    Grunts by Mary Gentle
    Farnham’s Freehold by Robert A. Heinlein
    Touched by an Alien by Gini Koch
    Sword Art Online: Aincrad by Reki Kawahara
    The Storm Lord by Tanith Lee
    The Sardonyx Net by Elizabeth A. Lynn
    Tea with the Black Dragon by R. A. MacAvoy
    The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey
    Voodoo Planet by Andre Norton
    The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri S. Tepper
    Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis
    13th Child by Patricia Wrede

    And I only think five of them( Blackout/All Clear, Sword Art Online, Touched by an Alien,Farnham’s Freehold, White Tiger) are bad which gives it the best like/dislike percentage of any of James lists so far.

  10. How does one distinguish between “racist book” vs. “book with racist characters” (vs. “book with racist elements which the author was using to make a point about racism but didn’t do a very good job”)?

    Those categories aren’t remotely mutually exclusive. Each of them is a separate thing, and can be true or untrue independently of whether the others are, so distinguishing between them is an unproductive exercise. It’s like asking how to distinguish between books about dentistry, books that have dentists in them and books that try to address dentistry but do so poorly.

    I think FARNHAM’S FREEHOLD is all three, as it happens. There’s no “vs.” to it — the book is racist because it’s packed with racist stereotypes that the author seems unaware are racist, the book has clearly racist characters in it, and the book has racist elements that Heinlein was trying to use to make a point but fell on his face because he couldn’t dig free of his own unconscious racism.

    FARNHAM’S FREEHOLD has been described as “a privileged white male from California, a notoriously exclusionary state, trying to understand American racism in the pre-Martin Luther King era. And getting it wrong for facepalm values of wrong, so wrong he wasn’t even on the right map … but at least he wasn’t ignoring it” (Charles Stross), and an attempt to “show the evils of ethnic oppression”, which sadly “resurrect[s] some of the most horrific racial stereotypes imaginable”, ultimately producing “an anti-racist novel only a Klansman could love.” (The New Republic)

    Different readers may agree or disagree with these comments, but that’s the nature of literary criticism; you can’t objectively define the borders of “science fiction” and “fantasy,” so determining objectively where the line is between “racist novel” and “non-racist novel” is going to be pretty fuzzy. Defining a border between “racist novel” and “novel with racist characters in it” is impossible; they’re not categories in opposition to one another.

    And another Filer mentioned the cannibalism elements as the problematic part. Which is more problematic — racism or cannibalism (or racist cannibalism)?

    Do they have to be ranked? Needing to rank them seems like a distraction, like saying “You can’t say two things are bad without measuring which is worse!”

    Sure you can, and different people may react to different things more strongly.

    It’s been a while since I read the book, but as I recall, Hugh is much more sexist than he is racist.

    I don’t think the people who have said FARNHAM’S FREEHOLD is racist are saying that the racism is from Hugh, but from the way RAH built the world and the characters, and his underlying assumptions.

  11. (1) Coincidence of coincidences, I picked up a copy of The Sparrow at the library yesterday. I was looking for Doc, another book by the same author, and they happened to have the SF title as well, so I grabbed both. A creative writing instructor–one who doesn’t normally read SF but nevertheless appreciates its value–mentioned The Sparrow to me a handful of years ago, and I’ve thought about it off and on ever since, making a mental note to eventually read it.

    A previous comment points out that its problematic elements are found in its physics, and since I don’t have much of a background in that field, I’m curious as to whether those issues will be obvious to me. It won’t be for a bit, yet: I need to finish Different Seasons and the new issue of Asimov’s before I decide which of the two Russell novels I want to tackle first.

  12. @Bill: I mentioned the cannibalism in Courtship Rite. Not FF. It’s been so long since I tried to read FF that I didn’t even remember there being any cannibalism elements there. But cannibalism is front and center–a primary theme, you might say–of CR. And disturbingly/amusingly (take your pick) not presented as a negative element. It’s a planet of generations of Donner Party.

  13. It’s a planet of generations of Donner Party.
    When a lot of the native stuff is actively harmful, your eating habits have to change. (It’s a reasonable solution in their situation. Also not particularly squicky, as most of the times you see it, it’s involved with major ceremony.)

  14. (1) I’ve read the Bradley, the McCaffrey, and the Norton (don’t remember it) and I’ve seen “Fantastic Beasts.” I’ve heard of some-to-many of the books, of course.

    I don’t know whether my copy of Heritage of Hastur (part of an omnibus from the SFBC, lo these many years ago) has that particular dedication or not.

    Thanks to @Nicoll for giving brief blurbs here on what was problematical in the books. That’d be good to add to or link from the original post, IMHO.

    Probably if I read the badly-researched books I’d understand how that makes a book problematical and not just, well, badly researched. Bad research leading to some actual problematical aspect of the plot/characters/themes/etc.?

    ETA: I bought Courtship Rite from the SFBC when I was a teen, but Mom found out it was marked with the dreaded asterisk (adult themes or mature or something, I forget what that indicated), and took it away, gasp! I still haven’t gotten around to reading it, but it’s on My List. 😉

  15. @Xtifr: IIRC (it’s been a while), in “Farnham’s”, the ruling black people liked to eat the oppressed white people. Yes. Black cannibals. Not at all problematic.

  16. Long time since I read Farnham’s Freehold and I mostly remember it for the main protagonist being such an incredible asshole that I wanted him dead the instant he opened his mouth. Did not make for an enjoyable book. Can’t even remember if I finished.

  17. If I wasn’t limiting myself to one book per author per list, I might be able to do “20 core Heinlein characters who could do with a vigorous kicking.” Although Chad wossname from Brunner could give any Heinlein blowhard a run for his money.

  18. @William R: do you have any feel for how time stretching/contraction works near lightspeed (particularly how close to lightspeed you have to be)?

    @James Davis Nicoll: ah yes, tastes differ. ISTM that Chad Mulligan is a speaker of truth to power; this involves being abrasive. (Side note: I’ve never gotten to ask Gaiman whether the small-town sheriff in American Gods was deliberately named for the Brunner character.) And like Mia Havero (another counter-Heinlein in another now-questionable book), he’s not a superiority snob. The fact that the whole novel has a very pre–2nd-wave-feminism view of women is expressed in many characters.

  19. The fact that the whole novel has a very pre–2nd-wave-feminism view of women is expressed in many characters.

    This novel = Stand on Zanzibar? Yes, yes it does.

  20. Yes.

    side note: The original of The Heritage of Hastur appears to be dedicated to Jacqueline Lichtenberg. (My copy doesn’t have the cover I remember, but it appears to be the 6th printing from the original plates.) I don’t know what other questionable novels are in the omnibus, but there are plenty of questions about Bradley’s work at this point.

  21. @Chip Hitchcock: I’m familiar with the concept in fairly broad, layman terms: I know that time gets wonky the closer you get to light speed, but I don’t know any of the calculations that go into determining how wonky it is at x% of c as opposed to y%.

    If this is a book where none of that happens at all, yeah, I’d notice. If it’s a matter of Russell trying to explain it how it works but being unsuccessful at doing so, I might pick up that it’s wrong, but I wouldn’t be able to tell how wrong it is.

  22. @lurkertype: oh god, yes, that rings a bell now that you mention it. *sigh*

    @P J Evans: Yes, Courtship Rite makes (or tries to make) cannibalism about as inoffensive and innocuous as it’s possible for it to be. It’s still disconcerting (though I sincerely hope, not triggering) when the protagonists pause to tuck into a nice bit of baby. And even the woman who opposes cannibalism (sbe nyy gur jebat ernfbaf) still keeps a few strips of dried Papa around to chew on in times of stress. 🙂

    Really, though, the cannibalism is not what makes CR problematic–or, not the main thing. The social darwinism elements are a bit disturbing (though perhaps understandable for a society of cannibals). And the idea of proposing to a woman by trying to kill her to see if she’s fit…could be a bit triggering. (To be fair, the custom is both rare, and not limited to women.) And then there’s the society of courtesans (all female, of course) who sleep with the powerful in order to influence them. The author tries to suggest that sexism is rare–though certainly not unheard of–in this society, but this undermines that a bit….

    But all-in-all, for a book which deliberately tries to push values-dissonance, it really is a oustanding bit of worldbuilding, and an entertaining story with some nicely subtle humor.

  23. @William R: the plot depends on crbcyr gnxvat 50 lrnef gb trg gb n cynarg 10 yvtug-lrnef njnl (fb gung ercbegf bs jung unccraf gurer trg onpx ybat orsber gurve fuvc qbrf) ohg abg ntvat fvtavsvpnagyl — juvpu jbhyq erdhver gurz gb gnxr zber yvxr 12 lrnef rnpu jnl (orpnhfr gvzr pbagenpgvba ebhtuyl nf gur sbhegu cbjre bs p, fb vg’f vafvtavsvpnag hayrff lbh’er geniryvat ng nyzbfg p), va juvpu pnfr gur arjf qbrfa’g cerprqr gurz (naq Rnegu qbrfa’g punatr rabhtu). Note that this is based on long-ago recollection; I read it when it came out because everyone was going gaga over it and haven’t heard much about it since. Amusingly, Russell went Western some years ago, telling of the Earps and Doc Holliday in Kansas City and Tombstone, making a reasonable story while adhering scrupulously (she said) to the facts and known characters (with one small addition in the first book, and one change in the 2nd) — just after Bull started to tell the OK Corral as a story of competing mages/magics.

  24. @Chip Hitchcock: I see. Had I read the book before deciphering that ROT13, I might have felt that something was off, but I probably wouldn’t have been able to pinpoint exactly what it was. I can certainly see how that would rankle people; thank you for specifying it for me. I’ll try not to let it bug me when I get to reading it.

    I don’t recall any buzz about the novel, though that’s probably because I was only nine years old (a week or so shy of turning nine, to be precise) when it came out in ’96, and I didn’t frequent the circles that would have discussed it when I was that age. I probably would have never even heard of it had that college instructor not mentioned it in passing four years ago.

    It’s funny how my target at the library the other day was one of her westerns. I hadn’t remembered the name of The Sparrow‘s author, so it was a bit of a surprise to see it on the same page when I did a catalog search for “Russel, Mary Doria.” Had I not looked to see if the local branch had a copy of Doc, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. It’s funny how things come together sometimes.

  25. I would certainly say that ‘oriental’ is dated but not necessarily offensive in the UK. It might get some funny looks, depending on audience (especially younger), but it’s also part of the name of one of our finest and most respected universities, so. I wouldn’t use it, personally, especially in online or international spaces, since I know it is definitely offensive in the USA and I’m not super keen on lumping big groups in together anyway. (Although I do like the way ‘oriental’ and ‘occidental’ sound as words, that’s not really a good enough reason to use them.)

    I’m not going to touch ‘flat-faced’ though.

    The first race-related drama I ever saw for Harry Potter was someone absolutely furious that Dean Thomas is described as black and not African-American. It was a bit frustrating.

    I was very disappointed when I reread The Ship Who Sang a year or so ago.

  26. I would certainly say that ‘oriental’ is dated but not necessarily offensive in the UK. It might get some funny looks, depending on audience (especially younger), but it’s also part of the name of one of our finest and most respected universities, so.

    And we have the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the United Negro College Fund, but those terms are dated too, yeah.

    The first race-related drama I ever saw for Harry Potter was someone absolutely furious that Dean Thomas is described as black and not African-American.

    Uh, Dean Thomas isn’t American, is he?

  27. @Kurt Busiek

    Uh, Dean Thomas isn’t American, is he?

    No, he isn’t, which is why it was frustrating. I assume the originator thought that the only polite term was African-American, and they failed to adjust their thinking when it came to people who weren’t American and might very well object to being called African too. If they’d suggested Black British, maybe, but pretty much everyone I know calls themselves black if they aren’t being more specific (‘Jamaican’; ‘Nigerian’).

  28. @Kurt — my question wasn’t meant to imply that the categories were mutually exclusive; rather that “problematic” is such an open-ended term that using it without further explanation doesn’t say very much at all about the work under discussion.

    I’ve bounced around over the years with how I think about FF. I’m not sure I consider it to be a racist book (it’s hard to say what a racist book is — something along the lines of “narrator or POV character is overtly racist”, but that is only a starting point). There are racist characters in the book, but I’m not sure that Hugh is one of them (he seems to be more of a “I’m superior to everyone else, and their race has little to do with their inferiority” kinda guy). And I don’t know how much racism I ascribe to the author. It’s easy to say that a guy who grew up in pre-WWI Missouri would be a racist by default, but OTOH you can point to several racially progressive elements in RAH’s works both before and after FF. By 2017 standards, he still may have had a long way to go, but I think he probably put some effort into not being one.

    But despite those comments, it’s very difficult to read nowadays without cringing at the way race is handled in the book. It is a book of the 1960s, and attitudes about race were different then. And not all of those differences are reflective of what is understood now to be racism.

    @Xtifr — I was thinking more of James Davis Nicoll’s comment. I should have identified it specifically, rather than saying it was from “a filer.” I myself don’t see the cannibalism as “problematic” so much as I see it to be gratuitously shocking. It was a short-cut by RAH to establish attitudes.

    To me, the most problematic element in any of RAH’s fiction is in To Sail Beyond the Sunset, when Maureen discovers her young (adolescent? don’t quite recall) son and daughter in bed together, about to get busy, and strips down and joins them.

  29. my question wasn’t meant to imply that the categories were mutually exclusive; rather that “problematic” is such an open-ended term that using it without further explanation doesn’t say very much at all about the work under discussion.

    Well, sure. I expect that by using the term, James was making reference to the extensive further comment there’s been about most of these books, not expecting people to get everything from the one word.

    By 2017 standards, he still may have had a long way to go, but I think he probably put some effort into not being one.

    I think he did too. And I think in FARNHAM’S FREEHOLD, he failed.

  30. I disagree with the premise that it’s impossible to disentangle a racist work from racist characters. Out of some perverse impulse, I skimmed Farnham’s Freehold last night. (I was looking for a particular line that turns out to be almost at the end of the book.) Heinlein stacks the deck more than most authors do (possibly even more than his later work usually did), but there’s a clear division: Hugh Farnham knows racism is bull (per the quote I was looking for, about seeing a society of educated achieving blacks and shuffling ignorant whites), while the racists (particularly Duke and Grace) are failures as people — more educated than the rednecks RAH derides in other works but in possibly even greater failures because they should know better. I suppose readers can say that having a ~~black tyranny with white “crops” is racist (leaving aside the question of what might arise if radicals willing to alter the Koran took power in equatorial regions after the northern temperate zone had broken itself), but what does that make (e.g.) Lion’s Blood, which paints a very unrosy picture of a simple inversion of white/black free/slave roles? This is not to praise the book as a whole; stacking the deck is still cheating, and Hugh may be the most pigheadedly authoritarian character in RAH’s work (which is saying a lot) — and the opposition to racism is much subtler than the effect of making the tyranny ~~black (even when a racist heir to a tyrant is shown to be as stupid as his white counterpart). But I think it’s worthwhile to be clear about what isn’t wrong with the book, to make more visible what is wrong.

  31. None of the comments above cover what I consider the most incredibly unlikely and problematic parts of the Sparrow, which (if I can phrase this at all usefully without MASSIVE spoilers) human beings reacting to another human being, and a likely series of traumatic events, in ways that make roughly zero psychological sense, either for their assumptions about the trauma OR their attempts to treat the aftereffects thereof. The Jesuit underpinnings don’t explain or excuse this.

    OTOH, I loved the book when I read it (though I knew a lot less about trauma, trauma treatment, an the like at the time), enough to read the sequel. The sequel is even worse for both authorial railroading of events with implausible excuses, and abuse of time-dilation. I think it was a bit better about trauma, but while I’m afraid to reread the Sparrow with more knowledge now, I’m flat disinterested in ever revisiting the sequel.

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