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Lord of the Swastika: Political Backgrounds in SF and Fantasy

By TheophileEscargot in Culture
Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 10:26:51 AM EST
Tags: Politics (all tags)

The cover art is pretty typical: a tall blond hero boldly faces a crowd of misshapen mutants. Only the swastika emblems on his sleeves are distinctive. The cover says "The Iron Dream" by Norman Spinrad, but the flyleaf declares the book to be "Lord of the Swastika" by Adolf Hitler. A brief biography follows, describing Hitler's emigration to the US in 1919, followed by a career as SF author and illustrator. Before the novel itself, there's a list of other Hitler SF novels, including "Emperor of the Asteroids", "The Twilight of Terra" and "The Thousand Year Rule".

This article discusses both this curious book, and what it tells us about SF and Fantasy in print and on screen.

[An earlier version appeared on Radio Free Tomorrow.]

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The Iron Dream / Lord of the Swastika
"Lord of the Swastika" is a fast-paced, disturbingly enjoyable read. Heroic leader Feric Jagger returns to find the kingdom of Held menaced by mutants without, and sinister mind-controlling Dominators from within. Jagger retrieves the mighty "Truncheon of Held", takes over Held in a manner rather like that of the real Hitler, cleans out the Dominators and wages a war on the mutants. An extract:

Feric lowered the Great Truncheon to waist level; holding the great gleaming steel shaft in front of him, he approached the kneeling Stag Stopa. "Arise," he said.

Stopa looked up at the great shining headpiece of the truncheon which Feric held before his face, a headball carved in the likeness of a hero's fist... then touched his lips to the swastika on the head of the Great Truncheon.

The fetishism and Freudianism is rather more exaggerated than a typical SF or Fantasy novel. But rather worryingly for a fan, the ideas and the plot are extremely familiar.

"Lord of the Swastika" is satire, of course. Norman Spinrad wrote the book in 1974 with two purposes. Firstly, it is a satire on the rather unpleasant ideas buried in the SF and Fantasy genre. Secondly, it is a warning on the seductiveness of these ideas when separated from the symbols that warn us against them. Remove the swastikas, replace the Great Truncheon with a more traditional Great Sword, and the book would be routine rather than shocking.

The SF and Fantasy genres have come to incorporate certain ideas that are rarely examined. Races all share the same characteristics: it's no harder to accept the evil of the Dominators as the greed of the Ferengi or the violence of the Klingons. Evil deserves to be exterminated. The Iron Dream is fascinating in that it brings the subconscious unpleasantness of much SF and Fantasy to the surface.

Even more disturbingly, the satire of the book has been rather missed by the modern far right. The American Nazi party put the book on its recommended reading list. The "Aryan Unity" book reviewer describes it as having "pretty shrewd ideas". Perhaps they, too, yearn to kiss the Great Truncheon. This misreading may explain why the book is out of print in the US, but available in the UK.

What Lies Beneath
True originality is rare. Most SF and Fantasy books borrow their backdrops from a kind of collective unconscious of the genre. Repetition can foster blindness to these clichés: despite utter implausibility, the reader begins to take them for granted. Galaxy-spanning empires are run on the feudal system, packed with Emperors, Kings, Queens and Princesses. Occasionally, there's a attempted explanation for this. For instance in Dune shield technology has caused military technology tactics to regress to a pre-gunpowder state, so that once again a tiny but highly-trained army can defeat a vast uprising. More often there's no explanation at all. It's also surprising how often civilizations are ruled by the champions in single combat.

Familiar ideas are rarely questioned. In 1950's SF, a familiar sight was the bored future housewife, sitting at home with nothing to do but press the clean-the-house button at noon, and the make-the-dinner button at five. To a 1950's mind, it didn't seem odd that she would choose to sit at home rather than go out and do something useful. Doubtless in another fifty years, current ideas will seem equally ludicrous.

What is interesting is the way that these ideas somehow make their way even into books by authors whose overt beliefs are the direct opposite. Ursula Le Guin is now known as a prominent feminist, but in her original Earthsea trilogy "woman's magic" is always weak or wicked: something addressed in the more recent books. Going further back, technological optimist H.G. Wells found himself using the familiar mad scientist stereotype in The Island of Dr Moreau and The Invisible Man, before consciously using a more realistic depiction of scientists in The Food of the Gods.

Only occasionally, as in the Culture books by Iain M. Banks, does an author consciously think through the entire backdrop to his books.

The Federation and the Republic
The actual effect of all this is debatable. It does not seem that the effect of reading SF and Fantasy is to brainwash the minds of its readers into supporting fascism. Although conscious attempts have been made to promote particular ideologies, aside from a few teenagers converted to libertarianism through Heinlein, there's little evidence of much effect. It is also impractical to distinguish between correlation and cause. Even if it could be established that SF-influenced groups tend to see the complicated conflicts of the real world in terms of childish notions of "goodies" and "baddies", it would be impossible to prove that this is because they have watched too much sci-fi.

It should also be noted that there are a variety of different ideologies competing. The Federation of Star Trek was designed almost as an early type of political correctness, intended to show a better society, free of racism and hatred. This was partly vitiated by internal evidence: without elections or internal politics, and with foreign policy apparently decided by Starfleet; the Federation looks suspiciously like a military junta.

What is interesting is that even on screen, in recent years the political backdrop is being taken more seriously. In the movie Starship Troopers, director Paul Verhoeven brought the authoritarian elements of the background to the fore; deliberately subverting them, to the fury of some fans.

Even George Lucas is backtracking on some of the elements of Star Wars. In Attack of the Clones it is revealed that Queens, and presumably Princesses, are actually elected officials. Although again the internal evidence is that democracies are corrupt and inefficient, this is partly counteracted by ponderous speeches in defence of the democratic ideal. This may be a response to criticism of the Star Wars universe as anti-democratic; for instance in David Brin's notorious Salon article. It's also notable that Brin's article itself displays a rather savage morality: Brin appears to find the very idea that an evil person can be redeemed rather than destroyed to be morally repugnant.

In written SF and Fantasy, the same trends can be seen. In George R.R. Martin's fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, brutal and cynical political manoeuvring is a main feature of the plot. It would be difficult to come away from this series with an idealistic view of the feudal system. SF authors like Iain M. Banks and Ken McCleod also take their politics seriously. Some contemporary hard SF authors like Greg Egan are also reluctant to take backgrounds for granted, preferring to think things through rather than adopt standard scenarios.

Who knows: if these trends continue, we might even hope that in the future, "Lord of the Swastika" might become obsolete as a satire. Which of course, really is a science-fiction scenario.


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Most fascist universe is in
o Asimov's "Foundation" 3%
o Foster's "Kuro5hin" 24%
o Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" 34%
o Hitler's "Lord of the Swastika" 3%
o Lucas' "Star Wars" 13%
o Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" 0%
o Roddenberry's "Star Trek" 10%
o Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" 9%

Votes: 112
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o earlier version
o Radio Free Tomorrow
o out of print
o available
o Dune
o original
o Earthsea
o trilogy
o more
o recent
o The Island of Dr Moreau
o The Invisible Man
o The Food of the Gods
o Culture
o childish notions of "goodies" and "baddies"
o Starship Troopers
o Attack of the Clones
o David Brin's notorious Salon article
o A Song of Ice and Fire
o Iain M. Banks
o Ken McCleod
o Greg Egan
o Also by TheophileEscargot

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Lord of the Swastika: Political Backgrounds in SF and Fantasy | 177 comments (132 topical, 45 editorial, 0 hidden)
Perhaps it is you that will be ridiculed (2.00 / 2) (#16)
by Citizen B o b on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 07:16:34 AM EST

In 50 years, perhaps it is democracy that will be the strange concept that will be ridiculed and laughed at.

Imagine this - 15 human planets trade nebari females with 1 sebecean planet. The federation consists of 20 planets, 15 humans, 1 nebari and 4 sebecean. Every year, they hold a vote on whether to abolish slavery. Each time, the humans vote no, and the nebari vote yes.

A failure of democracy, isn't it? But a military dictator with a heart could say, let us abolish slavery right now, and it's done.

Democracy doesn't have to be moral (4.66 / 6) (#49)
by TheophileEscargot on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 10:09:50 AM EST

Democracies can be pretty nasty to minorities, and utterly evil in their foreign policy, without being any less democratic. Democracy is not innately "good": it's just a system, which often but not always works out less evil than alternative systems.

Your example is not a "failure of democracy". Tts inhabitants would still probably be quite proud of its democracy, just as slave-owning democracies have been in the past.

Yes, a benevolent dictator could hypothetically be better than a democracy. But in spite of much trying, truly benevolent dictators are hard to find...
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]

Benevolent dictators (4.00 / 2) (#55)
by Khedak on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 10:37:36 AM EST

Yes, a benevolent dictator could hypothetically be better than a democracy. But in spite of much trying, truly benevolent dictators are hard to find...

Well it's easy enough to find one, the problem is getting an entire line of them once your nation is set up as a despotism. Power corrupts, as it's said...

[ Parent ]
re: Benevolent Dictators (5.00 / 2) (#78)
by Maserati on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:06:37 PM EST

With very little fanfare President Rawlings of Ghan actually did the country a lot of good after taking power in a military coup in the 70s (iirc). He stabilized the economy, normalized the political situation with a mix of repessive tactics and growing the parliamentary system, spent a lot of money on the educational infrastructure and turned Ghana into a net exporter of electric power. Then he set up elections and resigned. He also put Ghana on good relations with his neighbors and participated in the UN (having a Ghanaian SecGen didn't hurt) peacekeeping activities in Africa.

There's an interview with the current president here. It sounds to me like they still have their act together so far as being a responsible, civilized country goes.


But by no means is this more than the rare benevolent dictator. And the peaceful transistion of power is a rare in Africa. There is no guarantee that a new dictator, unless hand-picked and trained by the incumbent will be anything approaching benevolent, history argues the opposite.


For the wise a hint, for the fool a stick.
[ Parent ]

Singapore (none / 0) (#165)
by Wulfius on Fri Aug 30, 2002 at 12:27:16 AM EST

The big cheeze of Singapore (whatever his name is)
is a good example of a benovelent dictator.
His tiny domain is a powerhouse of Asia.
Virtually no real democracy to speak off.

Another good example of a benovelent dictatorship
is the US but a I would probably get a lot of flak
for going there :)


"We must believe in free will, we have no choice."
http://wulfspawprints.blogspot.com/ - Not a journal dammit!
[ Parent ]

I believe it was Churchill that said.... (4.00 / 2) (#58)
by madgeo on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 10:55:23 AM EST

"Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried."

Nothing like a good sound-bite.....

[ Parent ]

This would never happen (4.22 / 9) (#51)
by Phelan on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 10:13:27 AM EST

As the humans would have long learned that eventually they would have to pay reparations to the descendants of the nebari females.

[ Parent ]
And they still won't (none / 0) (#70)
by CodeWright on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 11:53:44 AM EST

Have satisfactorily resolved my CodeWright vs. United States of America cum United Federation of Planets class-action lawsuit to re-instate me and everyone else in the Garden of Eden!

"Humanity's combination of reckless stupidity and disrespect for the mistakes of others is, I think, what makes us great." --Parent ]
Democracy (5.00 / 3) (#108)
by DarkZero on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 02:38:16 PM EST

Of course democracy's a stupid idea when you look at one small part of it, such as public voting, and ignore the massive other sections that keep that part in check, like the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the similar documents that appear in just about every democratic society. These documents certify that the government WILL NOT oppress people in certain ways without so heinously circumventing its own rules that it becomes a completely different form of government.

Democracy is not and never has been simply "people vote on stuff". Its main problem, however, is that it doesn't sound good when you strip it down to the ridiculous single sentence explanation that gets to the public. When you strip down communism to its core element that's easiest to explain, it becomes financial equality. When you strip down a dictatorship to its core element that's easiest to explain, it becomes instantaneous action on the part of a single ruler. When you strip down a democracy, it becomes "people vote on stuff and that's what happens". As history has shown, none of those explanations really explains anything about their system of government.

[ Parent ]

Democracy (none / 0) (#174)
by Robert Uhl on Sun Sep 01, 2002 at 02:27:26 AM EST

Those things you point to are precisely what make our system not a democracy. Democracy is simply majority rules: the very word means mob-rule.

The fundamental problem is that monarchy, oligarchy and democracy are all piss-poor systems. The Founding Fathers knew this, and tried to combine elements of each (a monarchical president, an oligarchical Supreme Court, a state-appointed Senate and a democratically-elected House) in an attempt to create a system which, while far from perfect, would be better than anything else.

They did a fairly decent job, although looking back on history we can see how the edifice they erected has endured some damage. One of the worst things to happen to America is the belief that we are a democracy. Democracy is bad. At least with a king, he is at the end of the day one man, outnumbered by all; in a democracy, if the majority want your head on a spike, you've no recourse. In a democracy, religion and speech can be freely trampled upon. In a democracy, our fundamental rights are meaningless.

Fortunately, we don't live in a democracy, but instead in a constitutional republic. Our rights are being sapped away, but the process is slower than it would otherwise be.

[ Parent ]

Modern Democracies (5.00 / 3) (#145)
by bodrius on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 06:18:28 AM EST

Modern democracies are not about efficient and effective government, just as you claim.

In order to get efficient and effective government, you have to centralize and concentrate power. Then with capable leaders that can make the correct decisions, government can act quickly and in a consistent manner for decades.

The results can be astounding indeed. A good dictator can do marvels in a generation.

The problem is that capable leaders are hard to find; be that because they lack capacity or they just refuse to use it for the benefit of the country, most leaders tend to be quite incompetent.

When you're stuck with one of these for decades, the results are appropiately catastrophic. A bad dictator can destroy a generations' work in less than a decade, and if given more time transforming a First World country into a Third World failure is a piece of cake.

Dictatorships are like playing the lottery, except that if you lose you end up paying more than the prize.

Modern democracies are about dilluting power. Checks and balances, bureaucracy, rule of the law.

The system is meant to be self-adaptive and correct failures before they grow into catastrophes, and hopefully allow a steady improvement of society by addressing individual issues and concerns of the citizens.

Most of the real development, in fact, is expected to "just happen" due to the natural interaction of society (free markets, as a metaphor that extends beyond the monetary).

They're not about growth, they're about damage control. Growth is left to society.

For some reason, democratic governments have spent a lot of time and resources convincing the population that the benefit of democracy is some sentimental, moral framework based on the rule of the mob (the kind of interpretation that made "democracy" a dirty word until more recent times).

This incomplete and inaccurate understanding of modern democratic systems has very serious consequences in both developed and developing countries.

In the former, citizens consider the checks and balances of the system as obstacles rather than the core of modern democracies, and back their democratic convictions with moral axioms rather than practical considerations.

In the latter it encourages the establishment of populist, unstable democracies that lack the main benefits of modern systems and spreads among the population a disappointment with the democratic promise.

Freedom is the freedom to say 2+2=4, everything else follows...
[ Parent ]

Fantasy, through the eyes of The Pratchett (4.66 / 9) (#17)
by rusty on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 07:27:33 AM EST

I think Terry Pratchett ought to be mentioned as well, in the category of "authors who have also noticed this." As he himself says: "[Discworld] started out as a parody of all the fantasy that was around in the big boom of the early '80s, then turned into a satire on just about everything, and even I don't know what it is now."

His books are very notable for perfectly pinpointing and skewering a lot of the standard fantasy elements that other authors tend to just consider part of the genre's scenery. I'm sure at least 80% of the people who read this article are already Pratchett fans, but if you're not, please do become one. :-)

Not the real rusty

Pratchett [spoilers for 'Amazing Maurice...' book] (4.16 / 6) (#29)
by TheophileEscargot on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 08:07:41 AM EST

He generally does a good job of thinking the consequences of things through... which is why he doesn't really fit in here ;-)

IIRC, In an interview he said that the Granny Weatherwax character was created in "Equal Rites" after he read the Earthsea books and wondered about the absence of female wizards. Also interesting is the way he took Tolkien's idea that female dwarfs look the same as male dwarfs and ran with it, with Cheri/Cheery Littlebottom starting to wear nail polish and high-heels.

Finally in the latest book "The Educated Maurice and his Educated Rodents" there's a pretty explicit message at the end, where the rats have to give up their ideal of a separatist state and learn to co-exist with humans, which will involve lots of painful compromises on both sides.
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]

Don't Forget His Nasty Elves (2.00 / 1) (#149)
by dirtydingus on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 09:59:22 AM EST

All other Fantsy that I have ever read (I think) has based Elves on the Tolkeinesque long-lived beautiful and good etc model except for Pratchett's ones in Lords and Ladies who may be enchanting etc but are also downright nasty.

The problem I have with most recent Pratchett is that the story tends to die at the end. But the humour remains so I dount I shall stop buying them

People can be put into 10 groups: Those that understand binary and those that don't.
[ Parent ]

Pratchett has changed. (4.57 / 7) (#36)
by rleyton on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 08:50:35 AM EST

His books are very notable for perfectly pinpointing and skewering a lot of the standard fantasy elements

Shouldn't that read "used to be very notable"...

I read Pratchett avidly between about 1989 and 1997 (or so). Bought all the books in hardback as they came out. Then I realised he was just getting formulaic. They're brilliant earlier in the series (Guards! Guards!; The Light Fantastic; Mort; Small Gods etc.), but it all just kind of went pear-shaped/written-for-teenagers with Soul Music/Interesting times.

I'm sure he's a very rich, and very happy man. I just have this feeling he's deserted the thing that made him great in the first place. New and interesting characters/takes on things. Now it's just rehash after rehash.

Ooooooooooooooh! What does this button do!? - DeeDee, Dexters Lab.
My Website
[ Parent ]

You go that far? (2.25 / 4) (#43)
by porkchop_d_clown on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 09:41:32 AM EST

I gave up on pratchett after Equal Rites.

So many freaks, so few circuses.

[ Parent ]

Equal Rites was not so hot (3.00 / 1) (#91)
by greenrd on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 01:08:30 PM EST

... and nor were the first two. Try one of the more recent ones.

"Capitalism is the absurd belief that the worst of men, for the worst of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all." -- John Maynard Keynes
[ Parent ]

Discworld (none / 0) (#173)
by Robert Uhl on Sun Sep 01, 2002 at 01:54:31 AM EST

Oddly enough, the first two are my utter favourites. If the series had continued in that vein, I think I might still be reading it. He was onto a good thing, but somewhere it just...died.

[ Parent ]
Hmm (4.20 / 5) (#54)
by rusty on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 10:30:42 AM EST

I sort of agree, though I got into him much more recently. The old stuff is really funny. Then there's a kind of formulaic period toward the middle. But I think his recent books (The Truth and Fifth Elephant especially) have been top-notch. It's not the same as the older ones -- he's more about social commentary now than fantasy genre commentary. And that's probably as it should be, IMO.

I quite liked Interesting Times though. So maybe you won't like the newer ones.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Somewhere in my shell script collection (4.50 / 6) (#64)
by Rogerborg on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 11:24:47 AM EST

Is a "Pratchett Script Generator".  It actually produces quite a detailed outline for a book based on a series of rules and characters.  It's fairly easy to split into three acts of setup, conflict, epiphany and resolution, with different event weightings.

The tricky part is that Pratchett doesn't use chapters, which makes the detailed breakdown a little tricker, but I just got it to generate mini-conflicts, along the lines of "[pick a meme] Romantic / [pick a direction] estrangement / [pick a character with an attachment] Carrot (therefore) Angua" or "[pick a meme] Character exposition / [pick a direction] unexpected hobby / [pick a character] Nobby (therefore a refined hobby)"

It actually got easier when I realised that Pratchett is all about character interaction, not events per se, and that Prachett characters, when all's said and done, are just as stereotypical and predictable as the ones that he started out by parodying.  All you have to do is to decide how "absolute" each character is in each trait, to identify when you need to do some bona fide writing to explain why a conflict goes in a given direction, e.g. "[pick a meme] Personality clash / [pick a direction] integrity / [pick two characters] Carrot (9) + Sergeant Colon (3) (Carrot wins)"

There's more to it than that, it adds suggested third parties or known situations into conflicts, and it keeps track of prime players in each "novel" to they're more likely to feature in the third act.  But you get the idea.

Note that I wrote this back in 1994 or so, but it's still as relevant today, it's just that I'd need to update the characters (I use the Watch as examples, but I think it's still heavily Witch oriented).  Sad to say, Pratchett really hasn't moved on since then.

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

Care to share? (3.50 / 2) (#73)
by CodeWright on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 11:56:55 AM EST

Your Genius? I'd be interested in taking a peek at the script...

"Humanity's combination of reckless stupidity and disrespect for the mistakes of others is, I think, what makes us great." --Parent ]
Ahem (4.00 / 2) (#88)
by Rogerborg on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:42:23 PM EST

When I say "in my collection", I mean "on a university tape archive or if I'm very lucky on a mouldy floppy marked 'Beware of the leopard'".  And when I say "shell script", IIRC, I mean an "S-Algol program".

Best for all concerned if it never sees the light of day.  However, I do remember the mechanism (just a big roulette wheel, really), so it might yet be resurrected.  Perhaps even (to continue the masochistic language choices) in Javascript for that juicy "Reload to get a new novel outline" experience. ;-)

"Exterminate all rational thought." - W.S. Burroughs
[ Parent ]

Hrm. In that case... (4.60 / 5) (#89)
by CodeWright on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:55:36 PM EST

"I wrote this back in 1994 or so"
really mean?:
"In Freshman Calc, I had a sleep deprivation and beer-bong hangover induced programming idea that I never implemented but could have, honest!"

"Humanity's combination of reckless stupidity and disrespect for the mistakes of others is, I think, what makes us great." --Parent ]
My observations on Star Wars (4.00 / 5) (#34)
by Echo5ive on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 08:35:56 AM EST

Star Wars isn't science fiction. It's space opera. It's more or less a fantasy story set in space somewhere Far, Far Away.

You have the society of elite warriors and diplomats, the Jedi, with their magic (the Force) and their magical swords (light sabers) that take great skill to use. Opposing them are the Sith, evil (well, generally evil -- some are just selfish) warriors who excel at close combat and manipulation. Lead by the aging Emperor and his black-clad right hand, Lord Buckethead (spot the movie reference).

I find it interesting to note that the Jedi, the "good" guys, according to Yoda must be cold and without emotions in order to be a good Jedi. "Fear leads to the dark side," he says. There is not much room for emotions as a Jedi. Emotions made Anakin fall to the Other Side and become Black Helmet Man.

So essentially, you have the bad guys, the Sith, and the "neutral" guys, the Jedi.

Frozen Skies: mental masturbation.

Why is emotionlessness neutral? (3.66 / 3) (#42)
by porkchop_d_clown on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 09:39:40 AM EST

You can't be good unless you're a bleeding heart?

So many freaks, so few circuses.

[ Parent ]

Brin's 'notorius' article (4.00 / 2) (#47)
by zephc on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 09:51:16 AM EST

Brin's 'notorius' article states basically that Star Wars is the older-style story where a select few with some 'divine gift' (force talent, being a queen, princess, etc), whereas more modern hero stories revolve around underdogs and average people standing up to meet extraordinary circumstances.  I prefer the more modern style, in which is a way to inspire Joe Sixpack to do good, as opposed to laying down one's will for some supposed leading few who have some 'greater' providence to lead, divine or otherwise.

The Jedi being emotionless is of course impossible.  They are all emotional beings like humans. Lucas' fault with the Jedi is not to block out emotions which supposedly 'cloud your thinking' but rather simply balance yourself, realizing both emotion and reason have their places.

It's totally ludicrous to suggest, as Lucas does, that killing the leader of a massive army of hate will somehow lead to your own downfall.  You will not become a monster by assassinating Hitler.  This is along the lines of total pacifism, which tends to lead the downfall of these pacifists. Find the middle road: don't revel (or revel long anyway) in the destruction of another. This places your mind in a state of glorification and satisfaction from killing in general. A lion does not revel in its kill; it kills to eat, and it eats, and moves on with life.

Does a cow rancher revel in the death of each cow that goes though?  Of COURSE not: he's just doing his job.

Pure pacifism ignores the truth of death as part of life.

Anyway, I'm done streaming from my mind.

[ Parent ]

ludicrous? (4.50 / 6) (#96)
by aphrael on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 01:36:51 PM EST

It's totally ludicrous to suggest, as Lucas does, that killing the leader of a massive army of hate will somehow lead to your own downfall.

You'd think that. But a quick look at history shows that the vast majority of revolutions, in which one tyranny was overthrown by a group of people dedicated to just that end, resulted in the revolutionaries imposing their own tyranny. See, for example, France (1789); Russia (1918); Mexico (1821); England (1640). The US revolution is a historical anomaly in that.

A lot of that has to do with the political cultures of the countries in question. But there would be more exceptions if that were the only thing involved; there's something else going on, too.

A banal answer would be to say that it's the result of the corrupting nature of power. But that misses an important question: why is power corrupting? The argument in star wars is that giving in to anger (a) creates a situation where you can easily become a creature of anger, driven by it and nothing else; and (b) makes you more likely to become corrupted by power.

Part of the idea is akin to the slippery-slope argument: does doing one bad thing desensitize you to doing other bad things? There's plenty of evidence that it does ... and there's good reason to believe that killing a tyrant *because it needs to be done* and killing a tyrant *because you are angry at him* have two completely different results vis-a-vis desensitization; the former is unlikely to turn you into a monster, but the latter can --- especially if it turns out you enjoyed it.

For every force there is a counterforce.
Violence, even well intentioned,
always rebounds upon oneself.

[ Parent ]
The Dark Side (2.00 / 1) (#118)
by Cro Magnon on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 03:54:50 PM EST

It's totally ludicrous to suggest, as Lucas does, that killing the leader of a massive army of hate will somehow lead to your own downfall. You will not become a monster by assassinating Hitler. This is along the lines of total pacifism, which tends to lead the downfall of these pacifists. Find the middle road: don't revel (or revel long anyway) in the destruction of another. This places your mind in a state of glorification and satisfaction from killing in general. A lion does not revel in its kill; it kills to eat, and it eats, and moves on with life.
Obi-Wan's killing of Darth Maul did NOT turn him towards the Dark Side. However, Anikan's killing those Sand People WAS a major step towards becoming Darth Vader.
Information wants to be beer.
[ Parent ]
Try again, fucko (1.61 / 18) (#50)
by ubu on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 10:10:29 AM EST

"Lead" is pronounced "led" only when referring to an element with the atomic number 89. "Lead" is not the past-tense of any verb spelled "lead".

If I "lead" (present tense) a horse to water, I have "led" him. If I "lead" a group of people to fix their completely fucked-up spelling from "sounding-out the words", I have "led" that group of miserable illiterate geekheads to embarrass themselves by committing the literary equivalent shitting on their own faces less often.


As good old software hats say - "You are in very safe hands, if you are using CVS !!!"
[ Parent ]
Thou art arrogant, mortal. (2.00 / 8) (#53)
by Echo5ive on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 10:26:19 AM EST

Heh. Thanks for a laugh and proving that you're a retard. Yup, that was wrong by me. So what? English isn't my primary language. Nor my secondary or tertiary -- it possibly ranks as number four (how many languages do YOU speak?). You understand what I wrote, even though it was gramatically incorrect, right? So why bite my head off and prove yourself to be a rude loudmouth at the same time?

Oh, how I miss the good old days in fidonet, where bitching morons like you were banned and kicked so fast the skid marks in your underwear were transferred to the ground where you landed.

Excuse me, but I have more pressing matters to attend to now. I need to go take a dump.

Frozen Skies: mental masturbation.

[ Parent ]
A most erudite response Echo5ive! (2.00 / 5) (#57)
by madgeo on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 10:50:46 AM EST

BRAVO Echo5ive!!!

[ Parent ]
Shitting on your own face (1.38 / 18) (#61)
by ubu on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 11:11:54 AM EST

The legacy continues.


As good old software hats say - "You are in very safe hands, if you are using CVS !!!"
[ Parent ]
How appropriate, you fight like a cow. (1.28 / 7) (#63)
by Echo5ive on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 11:22:57 AM EST

I have a friend who has a small card taped to her door. It says, "You, dear Sir, are so stupid that I wouldn't even want you as an enemy." Now go away, or I shall taunt you a second time.

Frozen Skies: mental masturbation.

[ Parent ]
fwiw (3.50 / 2) (#109)
by adequate nathan on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 02:40:58 PM EST

I speak four languages too. All you've done is to demonstrate that your English isn't all that great - that and you have also managed to entertain Ubu.

"For me -- ugghhh, arrgghh."
-Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, in Frank magazine, Jan. 20th 2003

Join the petition: Rusty! Make dumped stories & discussion public!
[ Parent ]

Everybody join the ho-down! (1.50 / 2) (#124)
by Rand Race on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 05:40:05 PM EST

You forgot a word there in the last sentence. And "lead" pronounced "led" is often used to refer to a form of the element with an atomic number of 6. Usually I could give less of a fuck, but if you are going to be a pedantic ass you had damn well better have your shit strait.

Errors in puerile pedantic posts; the troll's equivalent of shitting on their own faces.

"Question with boldness even the existence of God; because if there be one, He must approve the homage of Reason rather than that of blindfolded Fear." - Thomas Jefferson
[ Parent ]

Heh (1.00 / 3) (#132)
by ubu on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 09:35:28 PM EST

And "lead" pronounced "led" is often used to refer to a form of the element with an atomic number of 6.

The atomic number six is for "carbon", pronounced "carbon". I guess you needed to get in on the shitting, yourself, fuckwad.


As good old software hats say - "You are in very safe hands, if you are using CVS !!!"
[ Parent ]
Har-de-har (1.00 / 1) (#146)
by Rand Race on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 07:15:11 AM EST

Very good, now look up "form" and your tenuous grasp of the language will be improved.

Of course you could have looked up "lead" and saved yourself another dose of shit-on-da-face.

"Question with boldness even the existence of God; because if there be one, He must approve the homage of Reason rather than that of blindfolded Fear." - Thomas Jefferson
[ Parent ]

neutral vs. good (3.66 / 3) (#79)
by ucblockhead on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:10:17 PM EST

That's not really what Lucas means when he talks about emotion...that bit is all cribbed from various eastern religions, in muddied form.  The idea is not that they are neutral but that it is strong emotion that leads to bad behavior.  By staying calm and by not giving into emotion, you retain the rationality to choose good.  That's the sense of it.

Not originated by Lucas, certainly.  The most obvious other SF reference is Dune, "Fear is the Mind Killer" and, of course, the Vulcans of Star Trek.  But all these really take the ideas from Buddhism and Taoism.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

Alignment, D&D style (3.00 / 1) (#83)
by Echo5ive on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:18:29 PM EST

Yeah, that's just about what I meant but didn't write. :-)

But the Jedi in general don't fight for the "good cause" -- they fight to "keep the balance."

in D&D terms, you have an alignment as a measure of your personality. One axis is good-evil, the other is lawful-chaotic, with neutral in the middle.

Both Jedi and Sith tend toward the lawful end of the spectrum -- a chaotic person usually doesn't have the discipline to learn mastering the Force. Darth Vader is the epitome of Lawful Evil, IMO. Yoda is Lawful Good or Lawful Neutral. Luke starts somewhat chaotic, but becomes more lawful as he learns more and more.

Uh. Well. I don't know quite where I'm heading, so I'll stop ranting here. :-)

Frozen Skies: mental masturbation.

[ Parent ]
A provocative and opinionated critique of SF is (3.75 / 4) (#40)
by wiredog on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 09:19:42 AM EST

The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World
by Thomas M. Disch

Can't sleep. The clowns will get me.
Very nice article (3.00 / 2) (#41)
by porkchop_d_clown on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 09:38:57 AM EST

Back in the day, guys like Michael Moorcock used the anti-hero to get a different angle on fantasy. Annoyingly, figures like Elric have degenerated into the Punisher and Wolverine.

I have to say I've more or less given up on reading fantasy and science fiction; the best SF book I read in the last decade turned out to have been written in the 40's.

So many freaks, so few circuses.

There's some good stuff out there. (none / 0) (#92)
by aphrael on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 01:16:40 PM EST

Ken McLeod, for example, has written an enormously entertaining set of stories set in an anarcho-socialist universe. Greg Egan's stuff is usually quite good, although it often degenerates into mental masturbation towards the end (something that is common to any form of science fiction which depends on quantum theory). Guy Gavriel Kay has a set of fun, and well-executed, historical fantasy novels.

It's just hard to find the stuff that's good; Sturgeon's law still applies.

[ Parent ]

Stephen R. Donaldson (none / 0) (#143)
by kvan on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 06:00:19 AM EST

The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever is still the best fantasy I've ever read, and strongly questions pretty much every single fantasy convention there is.

Donaldson is not for everyone. Nasty things happen to good people for no reason (or bad reasons), and the protagonists are extremely tortured people. This makes him a hard, but also extremely rewarding, read.

"Many people would sooner die than think; in fact, most do." - Bertrand Russell

[ Parent ]
Sure, TC was great. (none / 0) (#148)
by porkchop_d_clown on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 09:13:01 AM EST

TC is also at least 25 years old. I read them all (the first time) in '82.

Donaldson's book of shorts, Daughter of Regals was also pretty good.

So many freaks, so few circuses.

[ Parent ]

Sorry but your poll (3.66 / 3) (#44)
by porkchop_d_clown on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 09:45:33 AM EST

Is a complete abuse of the term "fascist". The only story world in your poll that fits the definition except maybe "Lord of the Rings".

So many freaks, so few circuses.

Yo no hablo Englais. (4.00 / 1) (#46)
by porkchop_d_clown on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 09:47:03 AM EST

Sorry. That should have read "The only story world in your poll that fits the definition is, maybe, Lord of the Rings."

So many freaks, so few circuses.

[ Parent ]

Hmmm (3.33 / 3) (#48)
by TheophileEscargot on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 09:52:07 AM EST

Definition 2: "Oppressive, dictatorial control." seems to fit what I was aiming for.

It was going to be "fascist/authoritarian", but I decided that was too long and clunky for a poll.
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]

Okay, so which stories fit the definition? (4.50 / 2) (#72)
by porkchop_d_clown on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 11:55:30 AM EST

  1. Foundation - one Foundation was a technocracy or possibly an oligarchy. The other more nearly fits the idea of total control, except for the fact that they operated so secretly that no one knew they existed. Hard to be oppressively dictatorial in that model.
  2. Starship Troopers - more classicly fascist in the idea that they were militaristic and extremely nationalistic (species-istic?) but still a democracy. They didn't have universal sufferage, but they did guarantee you the right to earn your vote - you just had to volunteer for 2 years of federal service and presto, you now had the vote and the right to run for political office.
  3. Didn't read Lord of the Swastika.
  4. Star Wars - the empire was a classic fascist system, right down to the racism. The republic was a democracy and, contrary to what you asserted about the electing of Queen Amidala I believe that feature was present in the Episode I book.
  5. Didn't read "Songs of Ice and Fire"
  6. Star Trek - interesting choice since ST is more closely communist or extremely socialist than fascist. Who is the dictator in this picture? Star Fleet?
  7. Lord of the Rings - Sauron is a classic fascist, true enough, and Tolkien even has orcs demanding ID numbers from each other and so forth. The western kingdoms were apparently absolute monarchies of one sort or another so the potential for tyranny was clearly there, as well.

So, like I said, the only world in your list that (a) I've read and (b) doesn't absolutely endorse democracy is Lord of the Rings. Being a product of the 30's and 40's, I don't even find that very surprising.

So many freaks, so few circuses.

[ Parent ]

Democracy can be fascist... (5.00 / 2) (#77)
by TheophileEscargot on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:05:50 PM EST

...in both senses as defined by dictionary.com.

I think from your post you have an odd idea that fascism is the opposite of democracy. Hitler and Mussolini both had widespread support. I suspect that from your point of view Hitler was not actually a fascist until he suspended the democratic institutions, which is a bit of a hair-splitting definition.
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]

Not hair splitting. (1.00 / 1) (#95)
by porkchop_d_clown on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 01:30:15 PM EST

As long as you consent, you aren't being oppressed. The germans weren't suffering from an oppressive dictatorship until they let Hitler strip them of their rights.

So many freaks, so few circuses.

[ Parent ]

"Fascist" (3.00 / 1) (#98)
by ucblockhead on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 01:48:18 PM EST

Remember where the word comes from: It was first used by Mussolini's followers to describe themselves.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
Older than that. (4.00 / 1) (#101)
by porkchop_d_clown on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 02:13:41 PM EST

the original idea of fascism as "strength thru unity" goes back to the Romans.

So many freaks, so few circuses.

[ Parent ]

Yes, I know... (5.00 / 1) (#103)
by ucblockhead on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 02:24:13 PM EST

But the word was invented to describe Mussolini's party, and while it was explicitly invented to refer to the Roman symbol of authority, the fasces, it was still invented in 1919 as the name for the Italian fascist party.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
I did not know that. (none / 0) (#107)
by porkchop_d_clown on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 02:33:53 PM EST


So many freaks, so few circuses.

[ Parent ]

fasces (none / 0) (#128)
by ender81b on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 06:50:31 PM EST

Fasces, the root of the word facist, and the roman symbol of authority also has a unique history.

Used originally in the time of the early republic by the patricians to control (symbolically and otherwise) the plebian's the fasces was, iirc, like a whipping stick. To have one meant that you held the power of life and death over the plebes and, of course, only the patricians had fasces.

Interesting eh?

[ Parent ]

middle ages too (none / 0) (#135)
by martingale on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 10:57:41 PM EST

Quite right. Although the real power in Roman society probably lay in the economic system of patrons and clients. During the middle ages, the sword was used to similarly separate the nobles (who were allowed to carry one) and the peasants (who weren't).

[ Parent ]
Definitions (3.00 / 1) (#99)
by TheophileEscargot on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 02:05:10 PM EST

As I suspected, you're defining the word "fascism" so narrowly it excludes Hitler's and Mussolini's early regimes. Well, by that standard you're correct: my examples are no more fascist than Hitler's Germany or Mussolini's Italy. Hmmm.
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]
*I'm* not defining the word (1.00 / 1) (#102)
by porkchop_d_clown on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 02:21:44 PM EST

*I'm* using the accepted definition.

`When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'

So many freaks, so few circuses.

[ Parent ]

Oh no you're not (3.00 / 1) (#106)
by TheophileEscargot on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 02:33:50 PM EST

You're using the standard K5 debating tactic of mangling a definition into absurdity and hoping no-one will notice ;-)
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]
Absurdity? (2.00 / 1) (#112)
by porkchop_d_clown on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 03:01:02 PM EST

I don't think you're using that work correctly.

LoL. We have certainly gone far afield from the original topic, though.

So many freaks, so few circuses.

[ Parent ]

PS - I will admit (2.00 / 1) (#113)
by porkchop_d_clown on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 03:03:51 PM EST

For being fanatical about the meanings of words - not as a debating technique but simply because being loose with words creates barriers to understanding. To use a word incorrectly is to invite needless conflict or unwarranted agreement. Ask any lawyer.

So many freaks, so few circuses.

[ Parent ]

Except, of course, for the Shire. (none / 0) (#115)
by rodgerd on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 03:40:42 PM EST

Which isn't a monarchy. Well, it may nominally be under the rule of the Kings of the West, but it's organised along fairly egalitarian lines, with elected mayors and other officials. It's also worth noting that the Shire is the part of the West Tolkien is most interesting in saving.

[ Parent ]
Lord of the Rings and politics (none / 0) (#172)
by Eater on Sat Aug 31, 2002 at 09:11:22 PM EST

Although I agree with you that Lord of the Rings is probably the only one with a "fascist" government, I really don't think that the book is about a political system. What did you expect? This was based on various European myths and legends, and until rescently Europe was almost completely governed by monarchies. It would completely ruin the atmosphere to have anything other than a monarchy in place. Of all the things Lord of the Rings is about, government, in my opinion, is not one them.


[ Parent ]
Tolkien NOT fascist! (none / 0) (#175)
by OldTomB on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 10:57:57 AM EST

Where do I begin? The charge is so hopelessly absurd.

Tolkien did not believe in corporate-State "bundling" aka the "fasces" of Moussolini's Italy.

Nor did he hold to the post-modernist, deconstructionist mysticism of the German National Social Democrats. They passionately denied the concept of a transcendant objective, signified. Tolkien was totally devoted to Christ, the very transcendant objective, signified, Himself.

They passionately denied the concept of individual responsibility. Tolkien strongly believed in it, and it is one of the major themes of _The Lord of the Rings_.

They believed that all that was left was the group will to power. Tolkien, like other Christians, believed that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power, absolutely, and that is the main theme of _The Lord of the Rings_ - that and the renuncation of power by those exercising individual responsibility and self-sacrifice for the good of others.

Neither was Tolkien a Darwinist, as the National Social Democrats were.

When the Germans wanted to publish the Hobbit, they asked him if his name was 'Aryan'. He replied that he was not in fact of Indian or Iranian descent, but that he supposed that what they really wanted to know was if he was Jewish, and that sadly he was not of that noble race, so far as he knew. They were NOT given permission to translate his novel. :-)

You should read some George Steiner to get cleared up on this.

[ Parent ]

Exactly (2.00 / 1) (#62)
by europeanson on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 11:17:55 AM EST

Nearly nobody seems to know that the basic condition for a fascist system is the believe in a vague "universal power"  that justifies the deeds of the "superior ones". Since I read about this I mistrust amy kind of esoteric or "fantasy" kitsch.
-- my other signature is even funnier
[ Parent ]
Cultures Portrayed in Sci Fi (3.66 / 3) (#52)
by thelizman on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 10:15:51 AM EST

Particularly in Star Trek (since we're inundated with Trek), I have noticed that many of the cultures are strongly reminiscent of different societies on Earth. This is only natural since Star Trek has long been a haven for political writers (and the message is often very subtly buried, but hidden in plain site). Here's how I see it (and without the reasons why, 'cause this will likely start some shit).

    Star Trek
  • Klingon = Imperial Japanese (WWII and prior)
  • Vulcan = British
    Star Trek:TNG
  • Romulan = North Koreans
  • Borg = Communists
  • Ferengi = Capitalists
    Star Trek:DS8
  • Cardassian = Israeli
  • Bejoran = Palestinian (this was rather transparent)
    Star Trek:Voyager
  • Kazon: Arabs / Persians / Stans

Anyway, I'm sure I missed a lot (and I decided to forgo comparing Jem'Hadar to Hessians since Hessians are long gone). I also left out a large portion of the Canon of ST regulars like the Andorians, Betezoids, and so on.

"Our language is sufficiently clumsy enough to allow us to believe foolish things." - George Orwell
I'd say it would be more accurate... (2.33 / 3) (#75)
by Alannon on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 11:58:13 AM EST

I'd say it would be more accurate that the Cardassians are the Germans in WWII and the Bajorans are the Jews.

Israel never captured Palestinian territory in a war of aggression.  All disputed territory was occupied by Israel after the Palestinians' 'allies' (Syria, Lebanon, etc...) told them to pull back across the borders so that they could capture the entirety of Israel.  Almost all did, so when Israel captured the territory that Syria, Lebanon, etc... used to stage the attack, those people lost their homes.  On the other hand, the vast majority of those who did not leave 'Palestine' when the Arab states attacked are now Israeli citizens with all the rights given to one.  It's the matter of if that territory that was captured in these attacks (West Bank, Gaza, etc...) should be used to create a new state that is in dispute.

Comparing this situation to one where a large military empire (Cardassia) attacks, captures and enslaves an entire planet of people as a prize of war shows how little people actually know about the history of Israel.  Search back in the K5 archives for several very well written articles on the subject.

Taking the German metaphor further, it's even easier to see that after losing a major war (WWI) against the Federation (Allies) and going into complete and total economic ruin, their pride took such a beating that as soon as the power-mad Dominion (Hitler) offered them a chance to give the Federation a beating again, they went for it, even though it once again lead to their ruin.

[ Parent ]

I saw it more as.......... (2.00 / 1) (#84)
by Jamie Roquai on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:19:30 PM EST

....Bajorans = Irish Cardassians = the oppressive British. In fact I remember reading somehwere an episode (poss TNG) being chopped for viewing in Britian as it was too reminiscent of the Troubles........

[ Parent ]
Actually... (2.00 / 1) (#125)
by nustajeb on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 05:45:27 PM EST

I came to the same conclusion about the Bajorans and Cardassians when their conflict was first outlined in TNG.

[ Parent ]
The High Ground (3.00 / 1) (#129)
by J'raxis on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 08:29:50 PM EST

I think you’re talking about this episode, not the ongoing Bajoran–Cardassian theme. In this episode, Data talks about how terrorism is often successful as a means of promoting political change; he gives an example that Ireland “was” reunited in 2024.

— The Raxis

[ J’raxis·Com | Liberty in your lifetime ]
[ Parent ]

The High Ground (3.00 / 1) (#167)
by PenguinWrangler on Fri Aug 30, 2002 at 08:00:20 AM EST

Yes, that was cut - because the IRA had just been blowing people up and stuff. They used to be quite fond of that, especially in London, where they've tried to blow up financial centres, demolished or severely damaged buildings, and blew up a railway station. Why are there no litter bins in London rail and tube stations? Because they made good dropping off points for bombs. Evacuating buildings due to suspicious packages has been a regular feature of London life for years. So a programme which goes on about negotiating with terrorists was found politically incorrect and cut.

Would American TV show an episode of an SF series which talks about the US negotiating peace with Al'Queda? Somehow I think not.
"Information wants to be paid"
[ Parent ]

Whoa there! (1.00 / 1) (#76)
by porkchop_d_clown on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 11:59:49 AM EST

Vulcans == British?

If the Vulcans were modelled after the British they'd have bad teeth and an obsession with topless women.

So many freaks, so few circuses.

[ Parent ]

Well, (3.00 / 3) (#82)
by Jamie Roquai on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:16:33 PM EST

That was a well thought out and mature response, wasn't it?

[ Parent ]
No.... (1.00 / 1) (#93)
by porkchop_d_clown on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 01:19:55 PM EST

It was a sarcastic and off the cuff one. Who gets laughs (deliberately) with a well thought response?

So many freaks, so few circuses.

[ Parent ]

Not you obviously. (2.00 / 1) (#141)
by Jamie Roquai on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 04:16:42 AM EST

[ Parent ]
British? (4.00 / 1) (#114)
by Happy Monkey on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 03:06:10 PM EST

Your description sounds like human males to me. (People with perfect teeth aren't quite human in my book.)
Length 17, Width 3
[ Parent ]
Think Victorian [n/t] (2.00 / 1) (#139)
by thelizman on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 12:02:03 AM EST


"Our language is sufficiently clumsy enough to allow us to believe foolish things." - George Orwell
[ Parent ]
What? (1.00 / 1) (#153)
by ucblockhead on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 11:26:18 AM EST

You mean arrogant, sexually repressed imperialists?
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
hooah, the boys alive [n/t] (1.00 / 1) (#160)
by thelizman on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 04:09:35 PM EST


"Our language is sufficiently clumsy enough to allow us to believe foolish things." - George Orwell
[ Parent ]
le borg (3.75 / 4) (#80)
by omegadan on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:10:52 PM EST

I always felt the Borg were a metaphor for the US "We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service ours. Resistance is futile. ".

Religion is a gateway psychosis. - Dave Foley
[ Parent ]

Umm.. (4.00 / 2) (#85)
by ucblockhead on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:21:10 PM EST

I have to dispute a lot of that.

In the original Star Trek, the Klingons were modelled after the russians and the Vulcans were an amalgam of the jews and the chinese. (At least, according to Nimoy.) The Romulans in the old Star Trek were very explicitly modelled on the World War II Japanese...they were introduced in an episode that was a remake of an old war movie.

Back when I was more of a dork, I could have come up with textual evidence for all of this, but alas, I've thrown all my "Making of 'Star Trek'" books away.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

I think not.... (3.66 / 3) (#94)
by DesScorp on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 01:28:01 PM EST

Klingons were clearly based on Russians, and as the years went by, Mongol influences were added. The Romulans, at least today, seem to me a mix of the Roman Empire and modern communist China. As for the Cardassians/Bajorans, I don't see the Israel/Palestine thing. Cardassia was a fairly large power, and allied themselves with the Dominion. Hard to see a comparison to Israel there. I think those were simply inspired by a generic example of conqueror over oppressed peoples.
Go straight to Hell; Do not pass Go, Do not collect 200 Dollars
[ Parent ]
Uh oh... (2.00 / 1) (#123)
by nustajeb on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 05:38:51 PM EST

Watch it, someone will call the U.S. the Dominion =P

[ Parent ]
Russians? (4.00 / 1) (#138)
by thelizman on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 12:00:47 AM EST

Klingon societ is based upon a Warrior Code passed down from Kayless. Ideals of Honor, Family Lineage, and conquest are highly valued.

That doesn't sound a damn bit like the Russians.

"Our language is sufficiently clumsy enough to allow us to believe foolish things." - George Orwell
[ Parent ]
Yes, Russians..... (3.00 / 1) (#150)
by DesScorp on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 10:30:14 AM EST

In old Russia, your station in life depended on your lineage. Honor is a funny thing. Different cultures will disagree on what it is, but all cultures have a definition of it, and Russia was no different. And conquest has always been a central theme in Russian society. Fear of it, AND the desire to aquire new lands. Over 70 percent of what constitutes Russia today has been aquired in just the pastfew centuries. This should not surprise you. Remember my Mongol refernece? Keep in mind that the Mongol's controlled Russia for over 200 years, and were very influential in the shaping of the Russian mentality. Most historians agree that the Russian ethos of "expansion" was "learned" from the Mongols. For reference on this, I recommend Nicholas Riasonovsky's history of Russia, published by Oxford Press. Probably the best text on Russia ever published.
Go straight to Hell; Do not pass Go, Do not collect 200 Dollars
[ Parent ]
Watch the original series (3.00 / 1) (#152)
by ucblockhead on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 11:25:25 AM EST

It's pretty damn explicit in the original episodes in which the Klingons appeared. All were obvious cold war tales with "Federation == America" and "Klingons == Russians", all of which show the two in a belligerent "almost war" state, and one of which even shows the Federation and the Klingons both trying to sway an "undeveloped" planet over to their side of the fence.

It was fudged a bit later in the newer series, but as others have noted, the reference was still there in one of the later movies.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

I don't know about the warrior stuff (3.00 / 1) (#155)
by Cro Magnon on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 11:43:14 AM EST

but the Klingons relationship with the Federation screamed "cold war"!
Information wants to be beer.
[ Parent ]
A myriad of references (5.00 / 3) (#104)
by DarkZero on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 02:28:49 PM EST

In my opinion, the races in Star Trek are really just taken from a myriad of political situations and political sources. There have been many different writers over about three decades writing for this show and I think it shows. Here's how I see it:

Vulcans = Elves
Romulans = Dark Elves

The nice, pale, experienced, and pointy-eared friends of humanity and their dark, evil mirror images that are just as experienced and worldly. That can't be a coincidence.

Borg = The Undead

Zombies have been a staple of fantasy and horror for about as long as either has been around. They're the walking dead and they have the horrific ability to turn any fallen soldier from the forces of light into one of their own soldiers, thus gaining the ability to overwhelm their opponents unlike any other force. In the context of the episode that they originally appeared in, I think the Borg fit this description even better. Q introduced the crew of the Enterprise to pure, mindless, unstoppable evil, in stark contrast to the foreign armies led by petty political ideologies that they had to face before.

Cardassians = Anybody That's Ever Invaded Anybody

You could say that the Cardassians are the Israelis because they're the only popular image of an ongoing occupation of a foreign land in the last couple of decades, but really, the Cardassians were just every military occupation in human history -- they oppress, demean, and often destroy the people that they're occupying, which have usually been rendered into docile innocents after the first decade or so of occupation.

Ferengi = Anybody that's ever wanted money

You could say that they're capitalists, but for as long as there has been money, there have been depictions of inherently greedy people in fiction. They're no different than the goblins or trolls that horde gold in fairy tales.

Kazon = Uninteresting, undeveloped shit

You read far too much into Voyager, man...

[ Parent ]

Bajor != Palestine (1.00 / 1) (#116)
by Cro Magnon on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 03:43:21 PM EST

The Bajorans actually targeted the Cardassian MILITARY! And I don't think they blew themselves up in pizza parlors.
Information wants to be beer.
[ Parent ]
Following the Mythology (3.00 / 1) (#137)
by thelizman on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 11:59:02 PM EST

ST:DS9 watchers would disagree. Extremists within the Bejoran libration forces advocated the targeting of any Cardassian, it's just that most of the civilians were on a separate planet. There was at least one episode where Odo thwarted an assasination attempt on a Cardassian embassador, and as the plot thickened it was actually orchestrated by elements of both the Bejoran provisional government and the Cardassian high command in an attempt to restart the conflict. Another episode highlights the Bejoran conflict with the Federation. Remember, the Federation is not a military organization, nor is StarFleet, so targetting StarFleet personnel is tantamount to targeting civilians.

"Our language is sufficiently clumsy enough to allow us to believe foolish things." - George Orwell
[ Parent ]
Missed a lot (2.00 / 1) (#154)
by Cro Magnon on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 11:40:20 AM EST

I've watched DS9, but I certainly haven't seen all the episodes. I don't recall any where Bajor targetted StarFleet personnel. IMO, Starfleet IS at least partially military, but it seems pretty damned stupid to target non-Cardassians. Maybe they ARE Palestinians.
Information wants to be beer.
[ Parent ]
Klingons (3.00 / 2) (#120)
by hardburn on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 04:17:59 PM EST

Star Trek VI is actualy satire on the fall of the USSR. Just do an s/nutral zone/berlin wall/g. That would make Klingons the communists.

It is intresting to note that Roddenberry didn't like the way Klingons were done in the orginal series, because they were always evil. He didn't believe anyone could be purely evil, so he put a Klingon on the bridge in TNG.

Also, Romulans are more based on the Roman empire. Their homeworlds are called "Romulus" and "Remi" . . . according to Roman mythology, Rome was built by twins named Romulus and Remi (sp?). They also use Roman military titles (such as "centurian").

while($story = K5::Story->new()) { $story->vote(-1) if($story->section() == $POLITICS); }

[ Parent ]
Romulans... (3.00 / 1) (#122)
by nustajeb on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 05:35:29 PM EST

The Romulans may be named in a manner consistent with Rome, but I also saw them as embodying the negative image the West has of the Chinese. Xenophobic, territorially aggressive, a corrupt "Government of the People" instituting a police State, etc.

Also it's "Romulus" and "Remus." Romulus and Remus were twins, with Romulus being the actual founder of Rome.

While brutally violent, I don't think one can really think of Rome as as introverted as the Romulan Empire.

[ Parent ]

Farengi (The Philosophy of greed) (4.00 / 1) (#164)
by Wulfius on Fri Aug 30, 2002 at 12:17:42 AM EST

I initially despised the Farengi.

However, there was one episode of DS9 (cant remember which). Synopsis;
The Farengi (Quark and Co.) form a team (4-6) Farengi to go to an abandoned DS9 station clone
to retrieve something/someone.

The way in which the unit was formed and the mission executed was a complex web of favours, counter-favours, obligations, old debts and rules of aquisitions.

It really made the whole culture sound plausible and workable instead of the caricature most perceive it to be.

"We must believe in free will, we have no choice."
http://wulfspawprints.blogspot.com/ - Not a journal dammit!
[ Parent ]

For star trek, the Ferengi are very odd. (none / 0) (#177)
by gromm on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 02:12:01 PM EST

For the most part, I find all the races in the star trek world to be incredibly flat and one-dimensional.

The Klingons are all stupid warriors. Don't they have any geeky scientists and accountants? How the hell can you run an army without these types? You wouldn't be able to create new technologies or keep any semblance of organization. Strength without discipline is the definition of impotence, and Klingons, while very strong and fierce, seem to act blindly and without direction. I can't see how they got to the point of piloting starships, they seem to be much more suited to beating each other over the head with rocks, in an entirely disorganized manner for the purpose of blood feuds between clans.

This is but one example. I'm sure that you could discern others. To me, all the races seem to be some one-dimensional facet of the human race.

However, the Ferengi seem to be the best thought-out, most developed, and deepest race in the star trek world. They also happen to be the most human, however, with just a few changes here and there, although their lack of courage and a military help their one-dimensionalness along.

What really bugs me is that the one-dimensionalness of the star trek races also extend to the humans. The Ferengi are ruled by greed. The Klingons are ruled by blood lust. The Vulcans by pure logic, and so on. What are humans ruled by? As far as I can tell, it's absolutely nothing. They are all plain, flat, and boring, without any passion, without any personal problems, without addictions or quarrels. Hell, the civilians don't even wear colourful clothes. Members of starfleet appear to be perfect in every way, carrying out their orders in some sort of totalitarian's vision of perfect control. They might as well all be named "Data."
Deus ex frigerifero
[ Parent ]

good work, now (1.75 / 4) (#56)
by turmeric on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 10:44:07 AM EST

how about taking on socrates, plato, and just about every other arena of creative modelling of society .... sci-fi/fantasy conventions arent the only places to find fascist slovenly geeks obsessed with their narrow fantasy world view

Part of the reason I got tired of SF ... (4.00 / 3) (#66)
by pyramid termite on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 11:39:49 AM EST

... and Fantasy was this; the other thing that I got tired of was the "One Person Saves/Changes the World" theme of the majority of books written in the field. That's been done to death. It'd be refreshing to read science fiction or fantasy about ordinary people living in the world they inhabit, doing things that are important to them, but not necessarily important to the world at large. That's one of the reason I liked Phillip K. Dick so much is that many of his protagonists have very little influence at all on the world. It'd be even better to find "sword and sorcery" fantasy that was written from that perspective - as great as Tolkein was, he overshadowed some other writers that could have been followed as examples like James Branch Cabell and Fritz Leiber, to name a couple.

"I forget, in a certain way, everything I write, doubtless also, in another way, what I read." - Jacques Derrida
SF (2.00 / 1) (#81)
by ucblockhead on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:15:32 PM EST

There's a lot more good SF out there. The trouble isn't that it doesn't exist, it is that it can be so hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Spinrad's satire is, sadly, no less relevent than it was in 1974.

Fantasy writers that buck the trend include Neil Gaimon, Gene Wolfe and Harlon Ellison (though sadly he doesn't seem to write much anymore).
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

Robert Sheckley (3.00 / 2) (#134)
by martingale on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 10:30:47 PM EST

You might like Robert Sheckley's brand of zany SF short stories. He's a bit hard to find in bookstores, and typically you'll find only his most recent stuff (he no longer writes much SF). But if you go to an SF specialist bookstore, you might find the stories he wrote in the 60s. Those are really very different from the type you are so tired of.

[ Parent ]
George R.R. Martin (2.00 / 1) (#142)
by rootz on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 05:47:56 AM EST

As mentioned, his "A Song of Ice and Fire" is very non-typical for sword and sorcery fantasy - give him a try.

R.O.O.T.Z: Robotic Organism Optimized for Troubleshooting and Zoology
[ Parent ]
Stephen Baxter (3.00 / 2) (#171)
by spiralx on Sat Aug 31, 2002 at 08:17:05 AM EST

...the other thing that I got tired of was the "One Person Saves/Changes the World" theme of the majority of books written in the field.

Have you read any Stephen Baxter? I'm not sure that in any of his books I've read anyone has saved the world; indeed his entire Xeelee sequence is about how humanity has engaged in a war against an utterly superior species which isn't even their enemy while completely missing what is really happening. And his Manifest trilogy has the same setting of people against a background far vaster than any one of them.

You're doomed, I'm doomed, we're all doomed for ice cream. - Bob Aboey
[ Parent ]

Issac Asimov, Frank Herbert, and Al Quaeda. (4.57 / 7) (#69)
by wiredog on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 11:50:36 AM EST

This is, ummm, interesting.

Can't sleep. The clowns will get me.
Hmmm (2.00 / 1) (#71)
by TheophileEscargot on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 11:55:19 AM EST

I wrote another RFT story about that story. Maybe I should try to work that up into a K5 submission... not sure there's enough meat there tho.
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]
Thanks for a great story! (3.00 / 1) (#86)
by Echo5ive on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 12:24:42 PM EST

I posted the link to this story on a mailing list where me and a bunch of other random people discuss philosophy, politics, and the New World Order for when we overthrow the government, and this sparked a really interesting discussion. Not to mention that the comments contain good book recommendations.

I've only read a few of the short stories about the Culture, but I've been meaning to read more by Banks. Looks like it's time for it now.

Frozen Skies: mental masturbation.

I saw the book as nearly the exact opposite (4.80 / 5) (#90)
by Ken Arromdee on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 01:05:01 PM EST

And though it wasn't intended that way, I still think it makes a lot of sense.

There are lots of science fiction stories, some good and some not so good, which try to sell ideas. And the most common way for a science fiction author to sell idea X is to write a story where X is true within the context of the story and pretend that that somehow legitimizes it. It happens for just about any idea, from stories where some political principle favored by the author leads to a near-utopian society, to stories written by believers in UFOs where the aliens in the story just happen to resemble the kind of aliens they think exist in real life.

I read the book as an attack on this overused concept. No, you *don't* prove an idea just by writing a book where it's true. Look here, Hitler could write a book where Aryan supremacy is a good thing, but that wouldn't make it be so.

Sadly, Spinrad's actual motives seem to be more of the same old thing. Write a book where X is true in order to prove it (where X is "stories about power are fascist").

I like my version better, and it has some lessons for Star Trek, where the socialism works because the writers say so.

you're overlooking... (4.25 / 4) (#100)
by Phantros on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 02:07:51 PM EST

You're overlooking a number of necessary conventions in writing a book, as well as overlooking those books which don't support your point.

The basic formula for science fiction is, "change one thing, see what develops." In other words, "What would the world be like without iron?", "What if Hitler had been born a century later?", etc. Not only is this a replication of most scientific experiments (change one variable at a time), but it's almost necessary for coherent storytelling. Humans communicate by using symbols and common knowledge. The more that is changed in a story, the greater effort it will take for the readers to grasp it. So yes, if you look at most books, the bulk of each resembles our world, while one or a few ideas are "revolutionary." There are of course exceptions, but some of them seem rather hodge-podge; Stranger in a Strange Land is an example, espousing everything from polyamory to cannabalism. It has high shock value, but has lost much of its entertainment value and coherency.

This brings me to an important point. Sci-fi and fantasy should not be lumped together. Not only are their motifs very different, but they have contrary aims. The purpose of fantasy is often either a "milieu story," to describe a new world for the reader, or an "adventure story," to lead the reader through some action, within the very narrow confines of the common themes in fantasy.

This is completely contrary to the better works of science fiction. Science fiction is about breaking a motif, and showing the results on a fictitious society that is close enough to our own that we can picture it. I'd like to go on, but I could say enough that it really should be a story of its own.

I'd also like to note that you're taking some things at face value that you shouldn't be. For instance, in my eyes, your 1950s housewife that pushes 2 buttons for her day is not another cliche; it's satire. It's the author asking the question, "Are our lives really this empty?"

Incidentally, here's a recent review I wrote for a book that made one change to the world we're used to with very shocking and interesting results.

4Literature - 2,000 books online and Scoop to discuss them with

your generalization (4.50 / 2) (#133)
by martingale on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 10:24:28 PM EST

The basic formula for science fiction is, "change one thing, see what develops."
This is an interesting general rule for SF, but I think it is too simplistic. It doesn't cover the type of SF wich simply explores completely new ideas (robots, time travel, space exploration) in their own right, which a lot of '40s and '50s stories do. The introspective, "how does our society change if we change this thing" type of story is a more modern phenomenon which is only possible because the more basic exploratory stories have been pretty much exhausted.

There's also a dichotomy between stories centered around humans and their interactions, and those around systems and technologies. The former don't really need the Science Fiction setting, and could work equally well in a Fantasy setting, while the latter are really dependent upon, and only interesting because of, the speculative science. Those are the "hard" SF stories.

To give you an example, Asimov's Foundation series is basically about humans and could easily be written in a Fantasy setting. But the robot stories, especially the early short stories, are about exploring the consequences of the three laws, and the human interaction is only there to provide an artificial setting to run the machine instructions.

Time travel is another topic which amounts to "let's explore a paradox"; these days, the paradoxes are well understood and time travel is more a means to an end rather than an end in itself.

[ Parent ]

GASP! (2.33 / 3) (#105)
by tkatchev on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 02:31:29 PM EST


Me must punish these vile people from thinking such harmful thoughts!

Up with the jackboots, dude. You're going the right way.

   -- Signed, Lev Andropoff, cosmonaut.

Uh...what? (none / 0) (#110)
by TheophileEscargot on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 02:42:17 PM EST

If there was a point to that post, I didn't get it...
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]
Dumbass. (1.00 / 8) (#156)
by tkatchev on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 12:19:14 PM EST

Learn to read, moron.

   -- Signed, Lev Andropoff, cosmonaut.
[ Parent ]

Learn to make sense (none / 0) (#158)
by TheophileEscargot on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 01:29:09 PM EST

I have no idea what I'm even being criticized for.
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
[ Parent ]
Mars (3.66 / 3) (#111)
by Scrymarch on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 02:43:08 PM EST

It does seem harsh to criticise a lack of political awareness in modern SF without mentioning Kim Stanley Robinson.  I realise he bewildered rage in some readers, but even they have to acknowledge he did sell a lot of books and gain critical plaudits while devoting  nearly around half a whole bugcrusher trilogy to new-Leftish politics and economics.  And he went with the full complement of wonkish detail too, just like in the science parts.

If you're a fan of the politics in the Mars series, some of his other books are worth checking out, particularly Pacific Edge from the Orange County trilogy.  The Martians, a collection of his writings around the Mars series, also includes items like the Martian constitution (and, sop that I am, one of my favourite short stories, Arthur Sternbach Brings the Curve Ball to Mars).

Neal Stephenson, another SF bestseller, definitely considers politics and economics when he writes his books, though again you can argue about their plausibility.  (Particularly that comic-book masquerading as a novel, Snow Crash.  But I digress.)

Pinpoints the weakness of this article. (4.00 / 1) (#117)
by rodgerd on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 03:51:58 PM EST

It's very narrow, and is building a thesis essentially by ignoring huge cunks of sci-fi; Frank Herbet, Christopher Priest, John Christopher, Orwell, Cherryh all come to mind. And the analysis of many figures seems pretty deficient. I'm left wondering if the author has actually read Le Guin.

[ Parent ]
Not quite so narrow... (3.33 / 3) (#119)
by ucblockhead on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 04:04:59 PM EST

On the one hand, you are right, actual literary SF doesn't fit the mold well...but on the other hand, go to a bookstore, grab some things at random and see how much is the sort of quasi-fascist SF Spinrad was satirizing...

Put all the authors you list together, and I bet you still don't get even a fraction of the sales of the average Star Wars novel.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

You can say the same about mainstream fiction. (3.50 / 2) (#127)
by rodgerd on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 06:10:34 PM EST

Look at the popularity of Tom Clancy, as a trivial example.

And my point about whether much of this article and poll is an accurate reading of various authors stands: Lord of the Rings as an advocate/apology for facism? Somebody not paying attention.

[ Parent ]
Narrowness (4.66 / 3) (#121)
by Scrymarch on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 04:58:57 PM EST

I think the article's on target, it just exaggerates the political ignorance of SF authors.  There's a trade-off at work in this sort of article too; it's easy to just turn them into long bibliographies with occasional prose.

I don't know about Le Guin, but the author is pretty bloody well read.  Just leaf through his diary; I'm assuming he's not putting all those What I'm Reading entries in for fun ... if he was there'd be more comments like ... What I'm Reading: War and Peace - Nice, but the Peace bits are overrated, not an unpleasant afternoon.  Original Russian version is far superior.  

[ Parent ]

nitpicking... Brin (4.33 / 3) (#126)
by KiTaSuMbA on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 06:09:56 PM EST

I followed the link to Brin's article at Salon and watched him scrutinizing star wars to the impossible (sounding like a leftie weenie rather than a mature analyst). But then suddenly I stopped and refused to continue any further, for I was surprised and disappointed. Quoting:
In contrast, "Oedipus Rex" is about as interesting as watching a hooked fish thrash futilely at the end of a line. You just want to put the poor doomed King of Thebes out of his misery -- and find a way to punish his tormentors.
I have never seen such a childish, simplistic and "myopic" (to use his own terms) interpretation of a drama. Even a 12 years old kid can see further than that! Yet "Star Wars" which by definition is rather a "fairy tale" than "drama" is put by the author under the microscope. David Brin is not really unable to look inside a classic drama but unwilling because it would be inconvenient for his thesis of "brave new authors vs. old fools." As far as I am concerned, he just shot his own arguement in the head.

On the real topic of this article (not Brin's), I have to agree that many of the popular SF and fantasy books and films are under the classic umbrella of the "handsome born hero saves the stupid from the bad and ugly." But wait a moment, that's the standard for any other popular "art" piece, especially in the film industry! It's not SF that is the problem here, but the very audience that prefers black & white to more colourful stories, wether future, past, mythical or contemporary.  

There is no Dopaminergic Pepperoni Kabal!

Banks, Egan, and Martin (4.00 / 3) (#130)
by danny on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 08:31:09 PM EST

I really like all three authors, but I don't think they are as immune from cliches and stereotypes as you make out. A Song of Ice and Fire is indeed unusual in that its medievalism captures something of the nastiness and brutality of war and politics, but there are other areas where it's not so convincing. The treatment of religions is interesting, for example, but I wouldn't describe it as particularly plausible under close scrutiny. It also has its share of fantasy cliches, some of them given original twists and some of them not.

Egan's novels are so focused on science and the philosophy that they neglect other areas - Diaspora is an obvious example, but to a lesser extent that's true of all his works. The world Quarantine was set in, for example, had some fascinating features, but the novel is so focused on the quantum mechanical plot that they are never expanded on.

And Iain M. Banks' Culture novels are space opera - intelligent and provocative space opera, sure, but I'd hardly say he has thought through "the entire backdrop to his books". Technology in his sf is subject to ad hoc constraints and given ad hoc potentials in order to serve the plot.

There's nothing wrong with any of this, mind you. Like music and art, writing is 95% familiar and 5% originality. Thinking about everything and changing too much, challenging too many assumptions, produces works that get critical attention but aren't nearly as popular: Dhalgren, Always Coming Home, ...

[900 book reviews and other stuff]

SF is more of a modern day coping mechanism. (3.66 / 3) (#136)
by Goldblubber on Wed Aug 28, 2002 at 11:21:02 PM EST

Thank you for the very fine article. I tend to differ on the cause and effect of SF. SF obviously popped out of the technological revolution( a revolution that has been on going for about two hundred years!). Everyone needs a basis by which they can understand their universe. With the advent of Technology, our understanding of our purpose on this planet becomes foggier. Sci-fi is the psychological mosh pit of when traditional myth and belief, confronts the modern technological world. The result from this is that humans finally transfer mythology from the past to the future. Humanity has always strived to control it's own destiny and Sci-fi is one philosophical tool that has shaped our destiny. Is Plato's "Republic" a work of Political Science Fiction? If so, people today aspire to a philosophical notion of "Republic", when it reality it is Science Fiction.

Original sci-fi (2.00 / 1) (#140)
by tuxedo-steve on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 03:33:01 AM EST

You could say that the very first science fiction author (in the modern sense) was Galileo.

- SMJ - (It's not just a name - it's a bad aftertaste.)
[ Parent ]
Le Guin and imagined politics (4.25 / 4) (#147)
by daragh on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 07:22:08 AM EST

For those of you interested in a nice description of a functional anarchy, contrasted with (what I read to be) democracy gone wrong, try Ursula le Guin's The Dispossessed. Remarkably well written.

No work.

Another good example (3.00 / 1) (#163)
by Wulfius on Fri Aug 30, 2002 at 12:10:31 AM EST

is a very fine work by Vernon Vinge.
I think its called "Across realtime".

Worth reading if not for entertainment value (enormous).

"We must believe in free will, we have no choice."
http://wulfspawprints.blogspot.com/ - Not a journal dammit!
[ Parent ]

the difference between pulp and literature (3.50 / 2) (#151)
by ph0rk on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 10:46:51 AM EST

I hate to use the word literature, but i really do believe there is a difference between books that are primarily to entertain, with little or no moral or political content, and books heavily laden with messages. if books designed to entertain borrow heavily from a preassumed backdrop, it is because anything else would disrupt the effect. In a way, they can be like big studio movies. Nothing to rock the boat, just a quick read. some exceedingly long series grow to be like this as well, though any longterm message from the original may still continue to be outlined, they end up more as entertainment than anything else. (any of Robert Jordan's recent books, anyone?). I don't think there is anything wrong with the pulp, and thats what I tend to write myself, as its easy and tends to be more fun to create. If everything we read was new and different and meaningful, there wouldn't be genres anymore. Or, the concept of genre wouldn't help us to find books we like, at the least.
[ f o r k . s c h i z o i d . c o m ]
Flawed belief (1.00 / 1) (#162)
by Wulfius on Fri Aug 30, 2002 at 12:01:36 AM EST

We are a sum of all that shapes us.
This includes pop culture. Especially pop culture
since this by its very definition is the one that is most popular.

One could easily choose examples like the culture
of the gun in the US where confrontation
is encouraged in anything from childs play through
hollywood pap and ending in state foreign policy.

No one reads the 'worthy' high brow work with the
sole intent to become a better person.
Likewise, no one accesses the populist entertainment to be 'dumbed down' or 'reprogrammed'. Information is like a virus,
most of us are infected as soon as we ingest it.

"We must believe in free will, we have no choice."
http://wulfspawprints.blogspot.com/ - Not a journal dammit!
[ Parent ]

unless I'm mistaken, the jury is still out on NvN (2.00 / 1) (#168)
by ph0rk on Fri Aug 30, 2002 at 10:17:54 AM EST

I could be wrong, but I was under the impression that I spent all that time at University learning that science hadn't really decided yet if Nurture defined us more than Nature. Also, If you lack the ability to filter information as you read/hear/watch it, then thats pretty scary. I can read a story about a racist protagonist, and not become a racist myself. (Remember, fisction is just that, fiction.)
[ f o r k . s c h i z o i d . c o m ]
[ Parent ]
Democracies (2.50 / 2) (#157)
by heatherj on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 01:02:44 PM EST

Actually, democracies DO tend to corruption and inefficiency. That's why the framers of the US Constitution were trying to create a republic. Contrary to popular opinion, the two are not the same. The Romans were doing fine with a republic, until the people turned it into a democracy and voted themselves bread and circuses. Then Rome declined. Several classic authors you did not include in your article that have interesting societies: Anne McCaffery, Marion Zimmer Bradley (Darkover), Gordon R. Dickson, and E. E. "Doc" Smith.

What a load of bullshit (none / 0) (#166)
by bemann on Fri Aug 30, 2002 at 03:20:03 AM EST

You have no idea whatsoever of what the reality of the situation in the Roman imperial period was and how the Roman republican became the Roman empire. For starters, it can be said that there never was a democracy in the true sense in Rome or in Athens; the supposed democracy in Athens was only such for the ruling class, and thus was not really a democracy but rather a sort of oligarchy. What actually happened in the Roman republic is that it was extremely corrupt long before it became the Roman empire, at least once became a sort of military dictatorship (at the end of the Social War), and in the end Octavian (who became Caesar Augustus) hunted down the senators (members of the ruling class, of course) after the assassination of Julius Caesar (who appeared to have wanted to make himself dictator/king/you know what I mean) and made himself effectively a dictator. Later on, the Roman Empire became an effective military dictatorship, as while the Senate in that period officially chose emperors, the military practically forced the Senate to choose emperors that it favored. As for the bread and circuses thing, that was not "democracy" as you call it, but rather simply the emperor and the ruling class in general acting to placate the plebes (what would today be known as the working class) by distracting them from their practical reality.

[ Parent ]
what did the Romans ever do for democracy? (5.00 / 2) (#169)
by d0ktor on Fri Aug 30, 2002 at 10:39:21 AM EST

I agree that democracy, if by "democracy" we mean that sort of faux-democracy we have now, tends towards corruption, but that, what you said about the Romans, is so not true.

Up until the coming of Empire, the Romans, with very, very few exceptions were true to their Republican traditions and never even came close to democracy. Most Romans were incapable of even concieving of any "civiized" system of government other than the old Republican order. There were no organized (or disorganized) groups proposing any significant change and even their radicals would seem very conservative by our standards, only ever campaigning on single issue reforms to satisfy immediate, rather than long-term goals. Most of these reforms didn't get through and the only ones which did succeeded only in making small changes in the balance of power but with no great structural changes to the political organization of the Republic and certainly no devolution of power down to the general populace. Frequently, the reward for those who engaged in popular agitation and opposition to the old order was to be hounded to death.

What is most notable about the political climate in the late Empire is how unable the Romans were to "think out of the box" of their own political system and even comprehend that there could be any legitimate alternative. They did not have political parties or popular political movements like we do now and those who wanted change were restricted to a number of isolated, powerful individuals with a personal grudge against the old order, such as the Gracchi, Marius, Sulla, Pompey and Caesar.

The usual reason for holding such a grudge would be pretty disappointing to any democrat. As the Republic expanded way beyond the bounds of the old city state, and indeed even Italy, to become a huge empire, the strain on the Roman political system became too great. No longer was it possible to control such a large territory with a soldiery composed of farmers who were only soldiers part time, since these people were expected to campaign away from their homes and families for many, many years in faraway countries. Thus a new breed of professional soldier was created, most of whom had no land of their own, and it came to be expected that after their years of campaigning they would be rewarded with some land of their own. Since the soldiery was recruited by individual commanders and generals, they came to depend on, and have more loyalty for, their own commanders than they had for the Senate, and it was their commanders who they looked towards for this reward.

Thus one of the greatest strains upon the old order was the pressure for agrarian and land reforms from powerful military commanders. By Caesar's time, after many years of unrest and after the first civil war when one such commander, Sulla, marched his army on Rome, this had resulted in the Senate becoming increasingly fearful of individuals with too much power.

Caesar, on returning from protracted campaigns in Gaul, was faced with a hostile Senate who wanted to politically castrate him, so he made the momentous decision to cross the Rubicon with his legions and invade Rome.

Even Caesar dared not abolish the old power structure, and satisfied himself largely with putting his own people in positions of power and ruling through them, so although the old forms of the Republic were kept in place Caesar became effective dictator. It was many years later, when he decided to officially nominate himself Dictator for Life that he was assasinated.

After the death of Caesar, Rome slowly declined through many years of unrest and civil war into Empire, with Caesar's nephew and heir Augustus rising to power as the first Emperor of Rome.

Okay, so that's a pretty sketchy account which leaves out a great deal, but nowhere does democracy enter into the picture. And even if it did, the Republicanism that the Romans followed does not strike me as being a particularly fair or desirable system of government since the political class consisted almost entirely of the old guard nobility and "new-men", the sort of Roman equivalent of the nouveau-riche. There were popular assemblies of sorts, but they were structured and organized in such a way as to leave no real power in the hands of the general populace.

If you want to study ancient democracy, the place to look is the Athenian Empire, not to the Romans.

[ Parent ]

Athenian Democracy (5.00 / 1) (#170)
by ucblockhead on Fri Aug 30, 2002 at 12:35:21 PM EST

It is important to note that the Romans themselves knew all about the various Greek attempts at Democracy, and believed them to be unstable. And in truth they were basically right about that, as none of the Greek attempts lasted any appreciable amount of time. The sort of representative democracy that we have in today was unheard of then.

Also, it is worth noting in any discussion on the Roman Republic that the Roman Senate was not an elected body.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

Ken Macleod - The Cassini Division - Polititcs (3.00 / 1) (#159)
by ajm on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 03:24:37 PM EST

I found this a very interesting alternative to the feudal model of the future. The triumph and success of socialism in the solar system, the success of the libetarians on new mars. The fact the the hero ends up doing what turns out to be the right thing for the wrong reasons. Her complete assurance that she's right even when she's not. The exploration of anti AI prejudice. Well worth reading.

Why is this disturbing? (3.50 / 4) (#161)
by epepke on Thu Aug 29, 2002 at 10:28:50 PM EST

The fetishism and Freudianism is rather more exaggerated than a typical SF or Fantasy novel. But rather worryingly for a fan, the ideas and the plot are extremely familiar.

So nu? Hitler was influence by Northern European mythology. So was Tolkien. So are umpteen gazillion fantasy writers. Hitler was a vegetarian and a tee-totaler, too, and I don't see a lot of them losing sleep. Sure, Spinrad is second only to Harrison as the iconoclast of the universe, but a good story is still a good story.

It's fascinating what happens with symbols. Before Hitler, the swastika was so tame a symbol that I've seen high-school yearbooks that used it. Four winds, cycle of life, all that. And, the salute to the flag wasn't the hand over the heart, but the stiff-armed salute (to quote John Gordon, in comparison to which, an actual erection is a pretty middling phallic symbol.) If Hitler had used the olive branch as a symbol, it would be impossible to get a decent dry martini now.

Even more disturbingly, the satire of the book has been rather missed by the modern far right. The American Nazi party put the book on its recommended reading list. The "Aryan Unity" book reviewer describes it as having "pretty shrewd ideas". Perhaps they, too, yearn to kiss the Great Truncheon.

Why is this disturbing? It just means that Nazis are too stupid to get it, which we knew already, because they were also too stupid to get Nietzsche. I find this both unsurprising and heartening. Also, while satire has many uses, one of them at least is to run people through who are too stupid to know they've been run through.

This misreading may explain why the book is out of print in the US, but available in the UK.

Don't read too much into this. It's just in the nature of the American publishing industry that SF classics are often out of print. The U.K. publishing industry is different. For one thing, there isn't as much stigma attached to SF as being (not literature). Back in the late 1980's and early 1990's, I had to resort to going to Foyle's bookstore in London to round out my Philip K. Dick collection. The only way to get Counter-Clock World or The World Jones Made in the U.S. was to pay $20 for a used Ace special. Now you can buy trade paperbacks of his work just about anywhere, and you can get all the short stories, collected into five volumes. (Although I notice they've been reissuing some of those volumes with topical covers.) Anyway, I've seen The Iron Dream, new, in three different mass-market paperback editions with different covers over the past decade or so.

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett

swords (none / 0) (#176)
by OldTomB on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 11:06:46 AM EST


In England, the nobles had the swords, but the commoners were required to train with the bow as the Englishry in arms.

Agincourt and Crecy showed which was more effective in battle ;-)

Lord of the Swastika: Political Backgrounds in SF and Fantasy | 177 comments (132 topical, 45 editorial, 0 hidden)
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