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Great Jerks of Science Fiction

Posted by Sunday on Mar 28, 2008 at 4:49 am in Daily Space

Hot on the heels of claiming to want a kinder, gentler science fiction fandom, I found myself thinking about the genre’s people I’d like to kick in the mcgillicutty.

I am fascinated by the jerks, largely because the genre doesn’t seem to allow for it. Scifi, it seems to me, draws the liberal and the democratic among us, being so heavily entrenched in the subjects of morality, freedom and tolerance. Classic scifi nearly always deals with the misunderstandings between man and alien, or the lessons we learn at the hand of great unfathomable holocausts. Because we certainly don’t learn anything from the fathomable ones. Loners and intellectuals flock to scifi, hoping to find in it some acceptance – or I did, anyway, and look! My naiveté is showing! Satiny, lacy naiveté.

Some folks get grievously worked up over entertainers being jerks in their private life, and just to twist back into an even further hypocritical pretzel, I am not one of those people. But, it’s 3:30 at night and I was awoken by a thunderstorm and a headache, so I’m going to write about them anyway. Believe it!

Larry Niven

It pains me to put Larry here, but he lands here for something you’ve probably already read about: he recently advised the government to spread a lie that the US steals the organs of Mexican hospital patients. Why? So they stop illegally coming into the US just to usurp our precious medical services. Oh yes he did:

“The problem [of hospitals going broke] is hugely exaggerated by illegal aliens who aren’t going to pay for anything anyway,” Niven said.

My first reaction was to snigger, because I’m an asshole and when people say shit like this I often dismiss it – we all say dumb garbage, and if only a fraction of the things I say in conversation were taken out of context than I’d be in jail by now. Also I can’t tell if he’s intentionally turning the Mexicans Stole My Kidneys urban legend around. Obviously Niven couldn’t be serious, because nothing says “secret lie” like announcing it at a press conference. The more I thought about it though the more irritated I became: does he really believe that the current healthcare crisis is the cause of illegal aliens? What kind of moron believes we have better hospitals than Latin America? Shit, Cuba has heathcare that migratory workers could actually afford to pay for, and without the agonizing process of just trying to get medical attention in America. I’m thinking about going to Mexico and getting some things taken care of as I type this. Anyway, Niven seems like an otherwise alright dude who is suffering from a bout of Crazy Old Man-ism. Drink your soluble fiber and take a nap, Niven.

James Cameron

Another that I am hesitant to add but more hesitant to leave out: the madness of Lord Cameron. Father of some seriously great (and seriously abhorrent) film, Cameron is well-known in the industry as being a bit of a raging asshole. For nearly every movie he has made, there has been someone speaking out against his behavior. For Aliens, the entire endeavor was infamously imperiled due to Cameron’s belligerent mistreatment of the British studio workers. Orson Scott Card said of him, regarding their collaboration for The Abyss:

“Hell on wheels. He was very nice to me, because I could afford to walk away. But he made everyone around him miserable, and his unkindness did nothing to improve the film in any way. Nor did it motivate people to work faster or better. And unless he changes his way of working with people, I hope he never directs anything of mine. “

Actress Kate Winslet politely said she’d never work with him again, after Titanic (and apparently not because watching Titanic is like having cramps in your eye sockets for two hours). And we don’t even have time to get into The Lost Tomb of Jesus.

Cameron’s new boner is the advancement of 3D film, something I am I am half excited for and half expecting smell-o-vision; Cameron’s next two films will both be this “new” 3D technology that combines CGI main characters, live action and 3D technologies, a triple-threat of gimmicks. He calls his 3D technology the Reality Camera System, which makes me cringe. On the other hand, it sounds like the old Cameron is back: demanding in excess of $100 million dollars for his film and now an extra year for post-production, the old bastard may yet totally blow our fucking minds. Or he may pull a Waterworld.

Orson Scott Card

Speaking of Orson Scott Card! Meet the Lord of Hypocrisy himself! Boy, I don’t even know where to start with him. Well, let’s try this: he claims to be a anti-capitalist, anti-racist Democrat.

He also is for the current war in Iraq, encouraged Republican voting as recently as 2006, is opposed to gay marriage and homosexuality in concept, loves Fox News, pooh-poohs Darwinism, acts suspicious about Global warming and thinks that birth control has led to promiscuity and crime.

Card creeps me out. His novel Songmaster is a psychiatrists’ piñata: in it, children are given a drug to retard them in a physical state of adolescence so they may sing and be sold to adults – there is a clear expectation of a sexual relationship. The main character, a beautiful young boy who appears to be 10 years old until he is fifteen (when the drugs are stopped) eventually has homosexual sex. The sex is of course tender and bittersweet and meaningful. The whole book is a awkward fantasy of someone who clearly desires to explore both homosexuality and pedophilia – and while I believe that people should be able to explore any subject on paper – even criminal ones – I can still get the heebie-jeebies from it. Particularly coming from a hysterically hypocritical Mormon.

(As an aside, writer Piers Anthony is also well-known for having instances of writing about adolescents having (enjoyable) sex with adults. However, Anthony’s more reliable and consistent overall world views tend to imply he writes this as a natural exploration of unusual and uncomfortable realities – he writes about sex frequently, and from many points of view and to many ends. Compared to Card, who rarely does, it strikes me as much less alarming.)

Harlan Ellison

Oh, Harlan. Why you gotta be such a cunt? I’ve written extensively about my dislike for Ellison on other websites, so I’m a touch over it; it is easy to google something like “Harlan Ellison, asshole” and see what you get. In short, though: he’ll sue anyone that so much as quotes him, takes loud-mouthed pride in being a dick, and once thought it’d be really funny to grab another writer’s breasts (female) in public and then later gripe about how she had it coming. Most recently he sued underdog comics publisher Fantagraphics for using their own 20-year-old material quoting someone else who told an anecdote regarding Ellison being crazy. Fantagraphics didn’t have the legal resources to deal with the situation and was forced to settle by removing their own material from their own products. He also finds himself the hottest shit that has ever been shat, which taken alone is enough to land him on this list.

An example of Ellison’s entitled, egregious pompous-assism can be found in his book of movie reviews, Harlan Ellison’s Watching:

“(…) it vacillates between a disingenuous homeliness and an egomaniacal nastiness.”

What movie is he talking about? Ben Hur, perhaps? Schindler’s List? Sorry, the correct answer is Gremlins. I think he’s talking about the part where the mogwai are eating fried chicken.

The Wachowski Brothers

I have also griped about these two on numerous occasions, and stand by all my original griping. I am one of a very few people, it would seem, that are disappointed to hear the Wachowski name associated with science fiction at all. To put it bluntly: the Matrix Trilogy is the most derivative, clumsy, masturbatory scifi work of recent decades, and easily the most mainstream-popular. The Wachowskis are making science fiction for people who want more Die Hard movies.

Every chance these guys get they discuss themselves as though they were their own hired PR team, bragging about how they find modern cinema boring and how they are here to mix it all up. Right. Because The Matrix wasn’t a pastiche of stale scifi mores. I’m sure that their upcoming Speed Racer will be equally ground-breaking. Mostly I, like many, are irritated that they steadfastly refused to give direct credit to the two sources they “borrowed” from in their creation of The Matrix: William Gibson and Grant Morrison (creator of the comic series The Invisibles). I also discovered, while reading a lesser known novel by space opera master Peter F. Hamilton, a scene where a young hacker who existed entirely outside his broken husk of a body was often positioned directly in front of monitors with glowing green cascading symbols, glyphs, letters and numbers representing the pattern of the unseen digital world. I shouldn’t have to tell you that it was written long, long before the Wachowskis were making movies.

China Mieville

This man hates Tolkien. Hates him. Has terrible things to say about him, ranging from the inane (blaming him and his success for the resulting hordes of homages and homogenization of fantasy literature) to the truly insulting (calling him a racist). Also takes every opportunity to dissect The Lord of the Rings from a political point of view, particularly boring since Mieville has a PhD in Marxism and is basically stroking himself. He could do the same thing to Sesame Street and make as many salient points.

Mieville decided to title a novel of his King Rat, despite there already being a well-known novel of the same name by James Clavell. While naming a book something that is already used isn’t in and of itself a piece of douchebaggery, naming your novel after a well-known book that has been made into a movie strikes this author as confusing and a lazy.

Mieville insists that he doesn’t write science fiction, he doesn’t write fantasy, he writes a NEW GENRE which he calls New Weird. I’m a traditionalist that acknowledges that books stores aren’t going to be putting up “New Weird” aisles anytime soon, nor are publishers going to start new imprints. Well they might, but publishers have no idea what the fuck they are doing and cannot be trusted. It sucks to be stuck in genre fiction, yes, but prancing around wearing a big hat and spouting “It is not a hat! I call it a NEW ACCOUTREMENT!” should not be rewarded with a Wikipedia entry. And yet!

I initially looked up Mieville on the internet after I’d read his novel Perdido Street Station. It was a hit, I had heard, and raced to the library to secure my copy (it went on to be nominated for every known award and to win the Arthur C. Clarke Award). The novel was so atrocious that throughout the reading of it I read parts aloud to my housemates so that we could have a bit of entertainment. While I appreciated the multitude of grand and unusual ideas, the central ideas were beyond repellant: the protagonist is a muscular, handsome, compassionate genius. The ladyfriend is a sexy (though insect-headed) emotional, spiritual artist who is kidnapped by a drug-running mob-boss, a predicament from which she must be rescued from. The antagonist is a moth-monster that EATS YOUR DREAMS. Oh my god, I love writing that sentence. The word “vertiginous” was used as often as possible. Or rather, more often than is possible.

Not knowing Mieville personally, he strikes me as a chap that doesn’t know what he wants to be. He clearly has a passion for science fiction and fantasy, and in several interviews states that he’d always wanted to be a comic book artist, but as a intellectual, I think he succumbs to the belief that one can’t be “just” a genre writer or comic artist. Getting a PhD means that he’s now a scholar, and being a writer of New Weird means that he is now separate, special. When I talk about “jocking up” science fiction, Mieville is my poster-boy: those who claim this genre as a hobby, but who have to be the VIP if they are going to come to the party. If they are going to play, they have to elevate it all to something much, much more respectable (this is already called “popular fiction”).


Oof! That was long. I have forgotten some, I know it. I’m also disturbed to see no women on the list. I’ll try harder next time. Any I should know about? Inform me!

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March 28th, 2008 | Daily Space

2 Responses to “Great Jerks of Science Fiction”

  1. aargh Says:

    I read the article the the Niven quote was from. i got the impression that he was being snarky. that he said it for the laugh. i don’t believe that he was being in any way serious.
    also, when handing out the douche bag awards, one can never forget Warren Ellis. He hates America, Valentines Day and Dogs.

  2. subspace Says:

    It seemed snarky, but not well-delivered. Either way I was disappointed.

    I totally and completely forgot Warren Ellis. He’s going on the list for the next round.

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