i’m done with old scifi


a few years back i thought, hmm i claim to like science fiction but i haven’t Read The Classics, i therefore must be a poseur

i wish i had encountered start often, fuck achievements before burdening myself with this task. don’t ever be afraid to just stop reading a book that’s not doing it for you. it’s okay.

so i tried for a few books, and was less thrilled than i thought i would be for all of them, grimacing and holding my nose through certain sections. long story short, i abruptly ended that experiment mid-book after arthur c. clarke suddenly lurched off the otherwise very boring road of rendezvous with rama (1976) (hugo and nebula award winner for best novel) to pack my eye sockets with these shards of autoglass:

Some women, Commander Norton had decided long ago, should not be allowed aboard ship; weightlessness did things to their breasts that were too damn distracting. It was bad enough when they were motionless; but when they started to move, and sympathetic vibrations set in, it was more than any warm-blooded male should be asked to take.


He was quite sure that at least one serious space accident had been caused by acute crew distraction, after the transit of a well-upholstered “well-upholstered?”

how is he writing that to mean “nice tits,” and not “nice, supportive, well-tailored spacesuit, which helps to maintain one’s comfort in zero gravity”?

and on that subject, why is this man even getting his jollies from his colleagues’ breasts moving around anyway? do… do astronauts in clarke’s high-tech science-fiction future not know what a sports bra is?

and then: today, after writing most of this page, i learned that this book was published two years before the invention of the sports bra.

sorry, not a good enough excuse for this shit.

lady officer through the control cabin.

so “crew” (who in this universe are always heterosexual men with an american fixation on large breasts?) are so “distracted” by boobs that they will proceed to crash a whole fucking spaceship? (killing everyone aboard, presumably?)

okay, so in this universe the health and safety departments of local polities should absolutely, no hesitation, deal with this problem by banning men from operating any vehicles, heavy machinery, construction equipment, and by god don’t let them near a spaceship. obviously. sorry guys your focus and self-control is just inadequate for careers where people’s lives might be on the line

Some women should not be allowed aboard ship


He had once mentioned this theory to Surgeon-Commander Laura Ernst, without revealing who had inspired his particular train of thought. There was no need; they knew each other much too well.

he told the boobs, (ahem, the lady whose boobs he likes so much) (at least, whenever said boobs are not under the influence of gravity) that he (ahem, “the crew,”) would crash a spaceship because of them, and therefore she (and other women whose breasts he enjoys looking at) should be barred from all occupations and circumstances that would ever have them board a spaceship.

well, okay maybe this is not the author preaching his worldview through his character’s mouths. maybe i am just supposed to viscerally hate this commander norton character now? he’s about to get some well-deserved comeuppance right? wait, uh-oh:

On Earth, years ago, in a moment of mutual loneliness and depression, they had once made love. Probably they would never repeat the experience (but could one ever be quite sure of that?) because so much had changed for both of them.

she did not murder him nor get him fired and banned from the industry for egregious sexual harassment. no, instead, they did one sad sex to each other. they might do one more someday! how titillating

Yet whenever the well-built “well-built” here meaning not “gideon nav-esque biceps,” but instead the exact same thing as “well-upholstered” earlier. prose truly deserving of the highest awards in science fiction literature here folks /sarcasm

Surgeon oscillated into the Commander’s cabin, he felt a fleeting echo, of an old passion, she knew that he felt it, and everyone was happy.

i know one person who isn’t happy, old man clarke: your fucking reader

halp i can’t finish this book because the ink is smearing under fountains of my own vomit i would later learn that arthur c. clarke was gay, which threw me again. what was that nugget of sexist shit squished into the middle of the book for? was he just mimicing normative tropes of his day, like those michelin tire commercials that portrayed women as terrified, unsafe drivers? did an editor tell him “this needs more character development” so he phoned it in? i just don’t get it

why is this otherwise boring-ass book on lists. winning awards. why is it a “classic.” why do people revere this author. what is up with this cackhanded attempt at romance crammed ungracefully between chapters of boring prose in a desert of character development

what am i even doing here. what is my life spent on. why have i gone out of my way to, essentially, study what gets boomers off? why did i think asking grandpa about his innermost fantasies would be a good idea?

some short time after that experience, i declared a moratorium on reading any more straight white cis men (clarke, as mentioned above, was not straight. but there was no queer representation in his story and almost all the other disappointing works in my experiment prior to the rama disaster were all written by ostensibly straight old white dudes.)

(i make a couple exceptions to my boycott for authors i already know and enjoy, like greg egan and charles stross)

there’s a very small and finite number of books i’ll be able to read in my lifetime

(and that lifetime is, statistically, already half-expended) i’ve made a big deal here about two bad paragraphs in the middle of one author’s book, which i claim caused me to swear off both straight cis male authors and “classic” sci-fi. maybe that’s a little unfair to clarke. more charitably, i was noticing cringeworthy bits throughout this experiment with multiple authors and was, in general, not having a good time. the bit in rama was just shock-surprising and non-sequitur enough that it sticks in my brain. it was the snowflake that started the avalanche, the motivator to finally reevaluate what i was doing.

at the beginning of my “read the classics” impulse, i was also planning to reread the robert heinlein book stranger in a strange land. it, like rama, is revered and award-winning. stranger, for its deliberate attempt to challenge social norms of its day.

i read it as a kid and don’t remember it well, but now i’m afraid to look at it again. despite whatever progress it may have made in the era it was published, i’m anticipate another experience like rama where i will hate both it and its author and myself for wasting time better spent with underappreciated authors of contemporary work.

there’s so many stories out there. so the limited book-slots i have left in my slowly expiring meat-bag should henceforth be occupied by authors who have systematically been given the short schrift

and let me tell you!

the stories i have read since enacting that filter have been so, so, so good. best decision ever. good life choices maker right here that’s me

i can’t imagine ever bothering to waste a second more on any fantasy universe where queerness doesn’t exist because its imaginator, with the most charitable accounting, was just never exposed to it? never really thought about it that much?

fuck that

fuuuuuuuuuck that

this is supposed to be science fiction. escapism! exploring the boundaries that we can’t explore in polite shitty society. and not one character in your entire novel is trans, gay, ace, or queer?

you may be excused, old dead white dude, for being born in the early twentieth century when your very exposure to such ideas would have been oppressively policed.

like ianthe says, i can respect that but i can’t admire it

fade into obsolesence pls kthx

so there’s been more than a few times when the work i’m reading by a queer or trans scifi author makes a point of skewering cisgenderedness

some propose universes where men simply do not exist, and this conceit goes completely unexamined

(by the way have i mentioned how much i enjoyed this weird book, the stars are legion by kameron hurley?)

some introduce a cis male character and proceed to basically ignore them. feels like they did it just to satisfy a quota or something

(let me not forget to press upon you to read only my most favorite series of books in the entire frickin’ universe beginning with gideon the ninth by tamsyn muir)

some dedicate pages of purple prose to describing everyone else, but terse with cis bro’s description. it’s a cis bro, you already know everything else. who would want to know more about them anyway?

it stings. a tiny bit. like an alcohol swab over a papercut.

people look for themselves in stories. it’s one of the reasons representation is important.
well, i’m a cis dude. not a baby trans, not an egg.
married to a woman. made some kids.
what queerness i may claim is basically moot; i barely qualify

so i am a very serviceable model of what my new favorite authors paint as:

but you know what?

i’ll fuckin take it
i loooove it
enough with the fictional dudes who think, act, and look exactly like me
i couldn’t get more bored of these assholes
dismiss me daddy

these stories are so fuckin good. it’s about damn time we let these authors have a seat the table
and if they want to punch back a bit?
doo itt

egalitarianism is nice but
sequestering me and my bros in a forgotten corner for a half century would be totally fair

i’m not quite done being grumpy about old white guy authors. someday i’ll reread donald knuth’s surreal numbers and write an opinion about it. the first time i did, i had a similar reaction as i did with rama, for similar reasons.

but that was long ago. maybe i was in a bad headspace and read something into it that wasn’t there? after i’ve finished constructing a set of full-plate armor made of spoons, i’ll see if it too deserves 700 words of frothy spittle

srsly write a whole novel where every cis bro is a send-up of the archetype,
textually erase every single me that appears in the universe
make it a celebration of queer and trans domination over decades of exclusion from science fiction
come tiger woods our respectable golf tournament
win some nebulas and hugos and locusts
i, the clown of this book, will yet happily plonk down my twenty bucks for it at whatever ebook retailer offers me a drm-free copy

because i know from experience that it’s probably going to be an awesome story


and i get it, i understand that i’m not going to win any feminist-of-the-year awards with the tepid take that privileged men living in a much more sexist time wrote much more sexist stories. attacking old media for sexism, homophobia, and worse is fish-in-a-barrel stuff.

where the anger comes from is my indignity that i somehow saddled myself with this notion in the first place: that popularity and awards indicates that one must read the classics. where’d i come up with that?

fuck the classics! they’re terrible.

read the kids, they’re alright. (they’re far better in fact)