Thursday, February 14, 2019

Fandom: An Illustrative History (Part II: Science Fiction at the Crossroads and The Eternal Bliss Machine)

Welcome back to our series on Fandom and its grip on entertainment, specifically on the genre fiction wing. Finally I am able to get to the second part and into the meat of this work.

Last time we talked about the beginnings of genre fiction and how everything you read emerged from the same place and only split apart due to preferences of those who seized control of the industry in order to mold it in their image. Before the 20th century alstories gelled in very straightforward genres. That is, until self-proclaimed experts decided to redefine words and meanings to fragment out what they didn't like from their chosen genre and lock them all to isolated islands. Things had changed hard in mere decades.

Mr. Lundwall's opinions in this book show that quite well.

However we now move into the twentieth century, the bloodiest one hundred years on record. This is where the book begins to make its case as to what true Science Fiction is, and what we must do in order to be labeled as such.

This time we wiltake a look at the next two chapters in his book, the first of which is entitled Science Fiction at the Crossroads and is about how the rise of industrialization necessitated a change in traditional forms of storytelling. Mr. Lundwall's claim is that because of the rise of science it means the form of study should now be used as a tool for tweaking this new age. Science will show us the way forward, and our fiction should reflect that. It must teach us. In other words, "Science Fiction" needed to mutate.

Of course he already made that case in the first few chapters, but now he will tell us exactly why a genre (just this one, actually) should be based on ideas instead of story form. This is quite obvious from the title of the chapter that he believes science fiction is special.

Let's just ignore the fact that a genre can't really be at a crossroads given that they are concrete things with set meanings and that good stories are universal no matter the time or age. That is beside the point. First we must see how Mr. Lundwall views his chosen genre and what its purpose is. What is different about it from other types of fiction that makes it relevant to his cause? This chapter is where he sets his definitions on the table.
"In my own view of science fiction, the genre takes on its modern form at this time, and also disperses in in four different directions . . . The four writers were Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, George Griffith and Alfred Jarry."
Of course this is not a widely held opinion, mostly. But as we've also discussed, over a century of this definition dodge-ball and no one has defined what science fiction is except to make their form of it unique and special and above the others. Which also tells us nothing.

Anyway, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells are listed for fairly obvious reasons. Verne created stories about handy inventions that could potentially be made by man in order to go on adventures, and Wells wrote stories where the fantastical and 20th century pessimism met and were shaped by his personal opinions. Both influenced many writers in their wake.

They wrote adventure stories that happened to prominently feature man-made inventions or impossible beings and goings-on. None of this is out of joint with anything talked about before these authors were around and they were in fact adding a touch of their time and place as anchors to what they were getting across. They were already following a tradition.

Political propaganda, technology fetishism, or science fiction, they were still adventure stories and that is what they were praised as being by the larger unwashed masses.

But while Verne was merely writing what fancied him and Wells was trying to change the world through messages the audience didn't care about, it took until 1950 for Wells to really have any impact in a larger sense. "A larger sense" translates to "the last days of the pulps" as this was the era the magazines began to die out.
"In the United States this attitude is best exemplified by the sf magazine Galaxy, which first appeared in 1950 and finally brought the Wellsian attitude to the fore in American science fiction with satirists like Frederik Pohl, Cyril M. Kornbluth, and Robert Sheckley. The sort of corporativistic future envisaged in modern sf classics such as Pohl/Kornbluth's The Space Merchants (1952) and Gladiator-at-Law (1954), both originally published in Galaxy, would be unthinkable without the influence of H.G. Wells."
Some of those names are familiar, especially to those familiar with a certain movement, but there is more.

He goes on:
"When the Vernian monopoly of American science fiction--and through that, of a large part of post-war science fiction from other countries--finally ended (thanks to such editors and authors as Ilya Varshavskiy, Robert Sheckley and Donald A. Wollheim), it was the influence of Wells being felt at last."
Kind of him to admit it mutated because editors said it should, not due to any natural change. But there is a bigger point.

"Wells' influence" is not the same for writers and readers. This influence Mr. Lundwall speaks of is that of political and social engineer, not as a teller of weird tales. The latter is why he was popular and remained so over time. Simply look at any portrayal of him or his works in the mainstream over the decades. There is a reason no one remembers the man's non-fiction. But the former is what Fandom took from him, and it is what led sf down the dark and dingy path to where it is today.

This agenda was pushed by a small crowd who slipped in the door and decided what the audience should and should not get to read. This was not a natural evolution, and it is not even treated as such.

Nonetheless you are expected to accept it unquestioningly.

Next he describes George Griffith, an author one does not hear of much these days. He was a writer between that of Verne and Wells and is considered to be somewhat of a missing link between the two. According to Mr. Lundwall, he was more or less known for writing Penny Dreadful style works with an eye on future possibilities such as invasions from far off places. I have never read Mr. Griffith's works but they do sound quite imaginative and very reminiscent of the adventure fiction of the time with a "future possibility" angle.

Some info on Griffith from infogalactic:
"Griffith's epic fantasies of romantic utopians in a future world of war, dominated by airship battle fleets, and grandiose engineering provided a template for steampunk novels a century before the term was coined... 
His science fiction depicted grand and unlikely voyages through our solar system in the spirit of Wells or Jules Verne, though his explorers donned space suits remarkably prescient in their design."
Mr. Lundwall credits Griffith with creating Space Opera, or at least it's beginnings, and I can certainly see where he gets that. That said, his influence was not that well felt or acknowledged in the wider genre, especially outside his home country. Writing something first means little if later writers take no notice of it. Not to take anything away from his own writing, of course, but the man was buried rather fast. That said, I would be interested in reading some of Griffith's material for myself. It does sound exciting.

Lastly we reach the fourth in Mr Lundwall's list. That being Robert Jarry. This inclusion is sketchier than even Griffith as the reason for him being listed is mainly due to "'pataphysics" which is a "metaphysical approach to the riddles of reality" which some people, confusingly, consider a unique approach that sf covers which other genres do not. There does not appear to be any info about him online that I can trace, making his influence suspect.

I suppose his inclusion can cover for Dianetics and Scientology as well as general scientism that the genre became consumed in during the middle of the 20th century, but I do not think that means Jarry inspired or defined it. Especially considering there is little to no info about him easily available. Someone that important would have something.

Anyway, Nihilism is not exactly new, no matter how much you paint in pastel colors and wink about it. Reality still remains staring you in the face.

Plenty of fiction deals with the riddles of reality and doesn't need a cobbled together Dadaism to do it. That said, I understand Lundwall's point and this sort of attitude did come to define the worst of the genre (and art itself) as the decades went on. So its importance is noted.

Interestingly enough, Mr. Lundwall blames Hugo Gernsback and Amazing Stories as the reason this absurdity never really took off in the English speaking world. This doesn't take into account that the mass audience instinctively retches at any form of nihilism, no matter how sugar coated, and that Gernsback was a penny pincher who understood the market better than the absurdists who either committed suicide, went insane, overdosed on drugs, or grew bitter and hateful as the world went on ignoring them.

Gernsback was a much smarter man than he is given credit for being.
"English-language science fiction was cut off from this invigorating aspect of science fiction when Hugo Gernsback, an avid Vernian with as much true imagination as an empty bucket, created the English-speaking science fiction ghetto with his magazine Amazing Stories."
Mr Lundwall's vocabulary means that "true" imagination translates to "correct" imagination in this case.

I never thought I would be so thankful to Gernsback's underhanded practices, but if it kept Dadaist moon-bat nonsense out of adventure fiction for even one second then I salute him. He might have been shifty and cheap, but he wasn't pushing that sort of nonsense.

He has at least given us that reprieve.

But then we come to this delicious bit of irony that has aged as well as ice cream left in a broiler:
"A. E. Van Vogt's novels have been heavily criticized in the United States for not being logical (i.e. Vernian) enough, and of course they would appear absurd and incomprehensible for a reader raised on American pulp magazines. The more sophisticated French science fiction readers knew better..."
I know he couldn't see into the future, but it isn't going to stop me from pointing out how one who feels it their job to do so get it so very wrong. Even secular psychics can blow it.

What happened to Van Vogt was Fandom's fault. Hack critic Damon Knight is the one who destroyed Van Vogt's reputation and career, and he was no fan of the pulps. Fandom tore him down because he was "nonsensical" and full of "plot-holes" and not enough of a propagandist for them. That is why the writer they replaced him with was one.

I have never met a reader of the pulps who has anything bad to say about Van Vogt, nor have I seen any written evidence to the contrary from writers or readers of the time. The only ones these days talking about Van Vogt that aren't older readers are pulpsters. Blaming the audience for not understanding him is a dodge and a way to pass the buck.

The ones who attacked and dethroned Van Vogt from prominence was the very clique Mr. Lundwall has been referencing and praising throughout this entire book. The inferior and ape-like pulp readers this man has such disdain for were the only ones who kept buying and talking about Van Vogt's works years after they went out of print and were tossed in the garbage to be replaced by Arthur C. Clarke's empty stories about nothing. He was no longer useful to them.

Pulp aficionado and sf writer John C. Wright even asked permission from Van Vogt's widow to write a sequel to his most popular novel and put it out via a major publisher. The more refined and smrt readers and writers? They did nothing as he fell into obscurity moving on to the next big thing. Burying the past will do that--revisionism exists to rewrite it. That's about how useful Fandom is.

All those movements Mr. Lundwall described earlier are very loosely related and led to much confusion in the fiction world. Not so much to general audiences, however. They mainly walked away instead.

Naturally this mess led to a rebellion against the new world order of fandom by upcoming writers. Yes, I'm referring to New Wave. This was the post-modern movement that directly criticized the state fiction had been brought to. They made their style by ignoring the new rules. One would think Mr. Lundwall would be ecstatic for such a new movement. After all, he championed overthrowing the Vernsian order! But Mr. Lundwall simply wasn't interested in this new movement. He detested it.

This is a shame because New Wave's existence is fascinating, and should be for a science fiction scholar. To begin with, it only existed because of his movement. They threw out the old ways just as those like the Futurians did. Self-reflection would go a long way.

You might think the hunger for reforming ideas and aesthetics that were shattered by the rebels is worth discussing. Especially from one who praises the old order getting chopped down and supplanted by his new one. Not so in 1977. These were Mr. Lundwall's thoughts on New Wave:
"New Wave is matter of form alone, the justification of fleeting images, invented words, and updated Dadaism as it were."
The irony is palpable for one who raved about a form of modern quackery that was two steps removed from Dadaism itself. The rest of his criticism says nothing about the stories themselves. But then he begins to miss the point of the movement by comparing it to . . . James Joyce.
"It can be powerful and exciting in the hands of a master, and James Joyce created a masterpiece with Finnegan's Wake. The trouble is that science fiction so far has not yet produced a James Joyce, alas, but it has authors who do their best to emulate him before an awed crowd of readers who do not know what Dadaism was and have never read Joyce and think these great science fiction authors have created the so-called 'New Wave' all by themselves."
Considering that James Joyce is the man who murdered literary fiction and sent readers running for the hills I suppose this could be looked at as compliment for those with literary aspirations. That is, if Joyce's post-modern nihilist outlook wasn't still coating a good portion of modern sf today.

But in regards to New Wave? I'm not sure that was the goal of it.

The worst that can be said is they simply took the next step the Futurians refused to take. If one in charge demolishes the old rules and makes up new ones then what is to stop someone new from destroying those and coming up and creating their own? It is almost as if the rules established were there for a reason. You can't pick and choose which ones you want to follow. It's either all or none. 

But I don't blame these new writers for being rambunctious. There was no reason for them not to be. They were dealing with a straight-jacket of rules that did not exist before Fandom created them to keep out the riffraff.

New Wave just consisted of writers born after the war who were influenced by modern writers of the time. In essence the strangeness is not any different from post-modernists except there was not otherwise much of an overarching theme between the writers. You would have to stretch to find similarities to Harlan Ellison, Phillip K. Dick, Roger Zelazny, and Brian Aldiss, who all wrote in that era. But none of them followed the rules, and that was simply unacceptable to those such as Mr. Lundwall.

There is a good argument to be made that New Wave didn't really exist and it was merely just the new generation of writers coming up weaned on the anti-pulp and anti-tradition attitudes those such as the author of this book embodied. They were taught no respect for tradition so what did you think they were going to do? They wanted something different from the sterile sf they were being fed but were too tainted by postmodern ideas to look to those that came before fandom ruled them persona non grata. Instead they ended up rejecting the new normal around them. Which is no different than what the modern writers of the time did.

There is nothing you can criticize them for that you can't criticize the so-called "Golden Age" writers for.

Now Mr. Lundwall is surprised they had no respect for tradition when he and his ilk didn't? That's no surprise: that's justice.

Here's what Harlan Ellison had to say about the New Wave mess:
"It was all a manufactured controversy, staged by fans to hype their own participation in the genre. Their total misunderstanding of what was happening (not unusual for fans, as history … shows us) managed to stir up a great deal of pointless animosity and if it had any real effect I suspect it was in the unfortunate area of causing certain writers to feel they were unable to keep up and consequently they slowed their writing output."
This sounds like much of the pointless division in adventure fiction since those in the early 20th century decided to draw lines where there weren't any before. Just think about all of this conflict that never had to exist in the first place.

But this is why we are where we are.

And with this I want to move on to the next chapter, as there is nothing left to say in regards to this one.

Well, maybe just one last quote:
"But the Universe is really no secure place, the 'natural laws' are the ever-changing products of our own imagination and, really, anything could happen . . . Change is upon us, gentlemen, and this time not even the powerful spells of science and technology will help you!"
Indeed. Star Wars released months after this book did. It sure did change everything.

The next chapter, The Eternal Bliss Machine deals with a tradition that died out before John W. Campbell attempted to bring it back in the 1940s.

Utopian stories attempt to imagine how science will save humanity and create a paradise. They are meant to show the world an honest to science possibility of a perfect world if only they could be more like the author.

Star Trek in the 1960s might be the most famous example of this mentality, and is the peak of that thought and hope the materialists clung to before reality and strife pushed back in on them in the dreary '60s and '70s. For now, we take a look at this long forgotten worldview that once dominated this tiny fragment of a once larger genre.

Mr. Lundwall spends this chapter describing the Utopian fantasy and why it will never be realized. I actually do agree with many of his points as to why, though there are a few strange notions that he makes. Nonetheless, it was a common story idea in the late 19th and early 20th century before being repackaged as Campbell's answer to life's ills.

The world was changing fast and led to the mistaken belief that humanity was on a never-ending path forward to . . . well, this is hard to imagine from the 21st century. Those of us that have lived in an era of social decay, alienation, and emptiness, know that Progress does not exist. Technology can never repair humanity's ills or give them meaning.

But back in the '70s? This placebo was all they had to keep hope in the progressive cause alive.
"The dream of the perfect society, the ideal commonwealth, Utopia, Schlaraffenland, is as old as mankind--for obvious reasons. Man has never ceased to hope for a better world than his descendants, and this recurrent dream is, in fact, the basis for nearly all fantastic fiction, be it Utopian tales of descriptions of the horrors awaiting us all, should we not all do as the writer wants us to do."
They are a form of religious tract, yes. The only perfect future one could imagine would have to be one the author believed would be perfect. You can't write a true Utopian story if you don't believe in it otherwise it would just be a setting. They have to be propaganda to be true to the cause of the author.

Naturally there was kickback to this sort of story. Parodies and satires are quite easy to dream up, since all one has to do is poke holes in another's worldview to make them. But this also in turn led to a sort of fiction of its own.

Though some of Mr. Lundwall's own examples of anti-Utopian fiction aimed at religion are also embarrassingly juvenile and clueless in its criticism.
"If your idea of happiness is living in an army camp for the rest of your life, or playing the harp for eternity on a cloud with nothing whatsoever to do, then the traditional Utopia, nineteenth-century style, or the traditional Western Paradise, old, old style, would suit you to perfection. The rest of us would probably find it somewhat less than perfect."
Not that I don't doubt there were terrible stories using those ideas as a base, which might have even been parodies for all I know, but that is not the traditional view of Paradise. It wouldn't take more than reading a single theology book from . . . well, any Christian, to know that. But I digress.

He goes on:
"The best comment on this sort of Utopia is probably Mark Twain's short story Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven (1908), in which the rough, hard-drinking, hard-living Captain dies and comes to Heaven where he is given a harp and a couple of wings and is told to sing and play the harp and behave like a good, solid angel. Heaven soon bores him out of his mind. He throws away wings and a harp, hating the whole place, realizing at last that Utopia might be fine for a fairy tale, but only a fool would want to stay in it for more than five minutes."
Is it really so difficult to talk to a religious person to understand their religion before describing it to others like this? Mr. Twain's bitterness at his deeply trenched nihilism has always been his fatal, and most tiring, flaw. Not to mention that Twain's story is message fiction made purely to push a viewpoint by attacking a straw-man, making it no better than the silliness he is criticizing. Take out the moral and there is no story left worth engaging in.

Twentieth century religious criticism is the worst kind of religious criticism because it is based on ideas that no one actually believed. Mr. Lundwall's goofiness in embracing this stupid perspective has not gone unnoticed, either.

That aside, Paradise on Earth is an impossibility, one that was known to humanity before the industrial revolution lured optimists to the altar of science worship. Progress was a false god, and was known by the backwards theists long before the materialists got a clue. This is probably why the Utopian tale was practically strangled in its crib before propagandists tried their hand at it in the 1940s.

Despite modern examples of acolytes of scientism having to lie about Western suicide rates to push their agenda of the world constantly improving, and inventing moral systems out of concepts they admit don't objectively exist, most of the normal sane people realized the Utopia won't ever come. Decay is reality.

There's also the fact that Utopian writers can't imagine a world better than our own, let alone Heaven. This is why so many of them are dull and pointless like the above mentioned stories. How full of yourself would one have to be to think they have the key to cure billions of other people of their delusions and problems? If all one is hoping for is a world where other people are "fixed" then there is a good chance they don't understand what is broken in themselves.
"The Utopian tale as a genre points to some of the best and worst traits in Man--the best, since it hopes for the future and a desire to change society into something better and more perfect; the worst, since it gives no room for doubt that there exists a small Fascist in every man, or at least in every Utopian."
This is reductive and far too vicious. Certainly they are better left to fantasy than being played out in real life. At the very least there can be discussion as to why X and Y doesn't work and the writer can absorb criticism and grow from there. It should also be pointed out that just because a writer writes it, it does not mean he believes it. Mr. Lundwall, being a writer, should know this, and his conclusion is very uncharitable given that.

I understand mindless individualism was a religion in certain circles back then, but not everyone that isn't for destructive decadence and celebrating mental illness is a fascist waiting under beds to club the big brains and throw their broken bodies into the gulag. Sometimes ideas are just that.

The true issue with Utopian writing is that it is shallow. The story exists for one reason, to pursue a world where Heaven has come to Earth and where humanity has reached perfection. Beyond that premise there is nothing else to be done.

You cannot have conflict because it would destroy the central idea. You cannot have character arcs or strong villains for the same reason. You cannot have violence. In other words, all that is left is to write a fictional guidebook and pamphlet for this perfect world. There isn't anything else to do.

"This fairyland existed until 1912, when the greatest achievement of the machine age, the unsinkable passenger liner Titanic, collided with an iceberg and sank. Two years later, World War I broke out. The dream of the machine fairyland was shattered."
Conflict and evil are inevitable in this world. They will never go away. This is why the public saw the writing on the wall and understood mindless optimism was never going to save them. Why do you think that the romances of Burroughs, Merritt, and later, Howard and Tolkien, were what the audience craved? This was before the optimists decided they would once again try to use genre writing as a social tool in the late '30s, to far worse results and shrinking audience interest. This engineering tool could not be abandoned just yet.

To teach the audience a lesson, adventure was banished to Planet Stories, comic books, and television, away from the prophets of the new age and their serious stories of Big Brains With Screwdrivers. It wasn't quite the Utopian fiction of old, but the intent remained the same. They were leading the way forward!

Utopian writing never left, it merely changed its hat and clothes. I do credit John W. Campbell for at least trying to force a smile through a bad situation, but those who followed him soon shifted the goalposts and left the audience's needs and wants behind entirely. A new Utopia was sought, and it was even more ridiculous than the one of the late nineteenth century.

You won't see Mr. Lundwall address this elephant partially because of hindsight and partially because the endgame of his own crusade is a Utopia in itself. This is what he has already admitted his Science Fiction is for. Several times, in fact. Did you miss it? Social engineering exists in order to create a Utopia. No wonder the New Wave writers were unconsciously rebelling even though they didn't understand why.

Look at where we are now after decades of pursuing vices at the cost of losing our better traits. The new Utopia is worse than the old.

This individualist Utopia of endless sex, drugs, and sugar, replaced the one of flying buildings, fed orphans, and unlimited natural resources. So Mr. Lundwall offering criticism to those long gone writers has not aged well. What a step down in imagination the new age has brought. Far worse than any criticism of Hugo Gernsback he might have had.

The rest of the chapter merely goes over more examples of Utopian writing, with the writer oddly giving positive comments towards the Soviet Union (remember, this was written in the '70s) as an "enlightened" society, and giving examples of some certainly not censored works of the period. The message remained the same: Utopia will never come.

There is not much more to say. But I will close this post off with the final book he brings up as a Utopia, because it is a fundamental misread of the work and very telling.

It's J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

He describes Tolkien's worldbuilding and the way he crafted everything about it from the language to what Nordic myths he used as inspiration. Very meticulous stuff. This is what Tolkien was doing, not because he was crafting a perfect world or one humanity could aspire to (because he didn't believe either were feasible) but because it was fun for him to imagine such a world as a mirror of our own. His stories exist due to him playing around with the mythology of his own world. It is pure imagination.

Seeking out some grand plan for humanity in its pages is doing it a disservice, especially considering how Tolkien himself abhorred such stories and didn't enjoy The Chronicles of Narnia for much the same reason. He didn't believe in that. Tolkien is well known for disliking fiction as a moral tract.

But Mr. Lundwall can't help himself and has to have his say on the book audiences actually want to read. He also can't help playing armchair psychoanalyst.
"Tolkien's Midgard (Middle-Earth) is in many ways not so much a creation of unbridled imagination as a conservative man's Utopia, where an old white-haired philologist can expect to study to his heart's content without being disturbed by the coarse populace and their annoying cries of justice, food, freedom, human rights and other trivialities."
Now we get to what I dislike about this book.

Whenever we get some interesting information on history of the genre or a piece of work now lost to time, the author can't help shoving his inane worldview into every single aspect of every single facet of other people's lives and in the process making himself look like a complete ass. All because he can't process worldviews other than his own.

Tolkien was a war veteran and had seen his share of death, despair, and destruction. He writes about them very well in his works, if you're paying attention. He knows suffering, and has a worldview that includes it as a very important aspect of how life works. This isn't a deep read into the works, either. This is common knowledge for anyone who wants to look into the man. There is no shortage of depth in his material.

Tolkien was more interested in writing a story that was fun--that tickled his fancy and that excited him and his readers than he was in telling the stupid masses how they should correctly dole out bread in the state-run food line. He wasn't that much of a hack.

His books, not coincidentally, contain much philosophy, heroics, and imagination, that have inspired many for decades to come to this very day. To badmouth his books because they are baked into the world and story and not a bludgeon over the head is quite ignorant for one who fancies himself a science fiction scholar. Scholars are supposed to hang their tin foil hats on the rack to tell the audience what the author meant instead of what the scholar thinks they meant. Otherwise they end up looking like an ignoramus in the process.

You know who still gets talked about decades after his death? Tolkien. You know who doesn't? The Futurians. Maybe one had a better grasp on what the audience craved in their hearts than the other did. Or instead we can take the pathetic approach of ascribing stupidity to the masses instead. That's always possible with cultists who can't admit fault.

Star Wars releasing later that year and The Lord of the Rings being named, by actual readers, the novel of the century must have flabbergasted Mr. Lundwall. How do I know that? I don't. But if he feels fine assuming how other people think and act based on his own shallow religious dogma, I can do the same.

The audience had left this shattered shell of a science fiction behind for the glorious plains of action and adventure storytelling. All it took was an opening sting and text crawl of a space opera film directed by the man who made American Graffiti.

How embarrassing.

I apologize if I sound harsh, but there are few things more dishonest than misconstruing someone's meaning deliberately to warp perception of that person. Tolkien deserves better than that sort of libel. There are quite a few digs such as those in this book and they bring down the experience due to it. Professionalism would have gone a long way to address it.

But do not worry: there is more to come. This is not even the most egregious example of attempted character assassination. Thankfully that was the end of the section so we don't need to discuss it now.

Funnily enough, I will leave you and this chapter with a quote that the author puts at the conclusion as his last word. The quote is from a man with the exact same worldview as Tolkien and who is quite admired by others who share it. Yes, he quotes G.K. Chesterton.

I'm going to die of irony poisoning.

Here is the final word on Utopias:
"The weakness of all Utopias is this, that they take the greatest difficulty of man and assume it to be overcome, and then give an elaborate account of the overcoming of the smaller ones. They first assume that no man will want more than his share, and then are very ingenious in explaining whether his share will be delivered by motorcar or balloon."
Spare us, Lord, from Utopian thinkers. We could all use the break.

See you next time for Part III where we will see the flip-side of this Utopian nightmare: the Dystopic reality. I promise it will be even better. There are more monsters to come.


  1. Another great post. Well done! Lundwell's "essays" have aged just as poorly as Michael Moorcock's(although not quite as snobbish).

    As a kid, I always liked Jules Verne far more than H.G. Wells but I never understood why; people kept telling me it's because I was too young to understand Wells. I started reading him again as an adult, and researched a bit about the man; I realize that I liked him even less because he was propagandist more interested in his utopian visions than entertainment. Granted he was far more entertaining than most propagandist but today his fiction tastes like sour milk, whereas Jules Verne has aged like fine wine and is still very much readable.

    A lot of people like to lay the blame on Tolkien for the modern trend of fat fantasy volumes so steeped in world-building with no sense of wonderment present in their fiction. I used to believe this as well, until I realized now that it's not so much Tolkien's influence at fault, as the influence of editors and scholars that misconstrued LotR and The Hobbit, and pushed for their bastardized version of the man's works, stripped of all it's deep themes, melancholy and invocations of the old Epics. I remember reading somewhere that he was disgusted with the fairly small amount of ripoffs he observed in his age, and I can see one of the reasons why. Perhaps I am wrong.

    Looking forward to the third part(hopefully not the last one!).

    1. Thanks for stopping by!

      I heard the same about Wells. I appreciated his ideas, but there was always a sick undercurrent that never gelled with me. Now I know why.

      There will be 5 parts. Each one contains two of the ten chapters.

  2. George C. Griffith at

    I recommend "The World Masters" or "The Romance of the Golden Star" as a starter.

  3. Wells had some interesting ideas, but his heavy-handed Socialism was always 'fun poison' while reading his stories.

    His most egregiously poor ( yet grimly chilling in its suppression of Humanity ) SF work was Utopian in nature, and one he consulted on as it was being filmed as a movie: The Shape of Things to Come (1933)

  4. I have not read Jarry, but I did blog at about Brian Stableford's essay "Opening Minds" about Wells and Jarry.

    1. Thank you. I'm definitely going to check that out.

  5. Talk about missing the whole point of Tolkien. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are full of the ruins of fallen empires and faded greatness. The story is about the end of the magic of Middle Earth and the beginning of our more mundane one. That's the hook of the thing. Middle Earth going away and the reader is screaming "No!!!!!"

    1. The long defeat is a big theme throughout his work.

      It really was just the biggest misunderstanding of Tolkien.

  6. "In my own view of science fiction, the genre takes on its modern form at this time, and also disperses in in four different directions . . . The four writers were Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, George Griffith and Alfred Jarry ..."

    I pride myself on my encyclopedic knowledge of science fiction, but I could not place two of the names on this list.

    Flying to Wikipedia, I read that one of them was a Victorian Era socialist who wrote socialist fantasies about air war conquering the world, and the other was a French absurdist playwright, who wrote deliberately meaningless, offensive, and silly plays, meant only to shock the sensibilities of the bourgeoisie.

    This list is notable in how absurdly lopsided it is, placing two giants of science fiction -- the inventor of the engineer's fiction still popular among readers of Analog, and the inventor of social commentary science fiction, still popular with everyone else -- in the same sentence with two dwarfish unknowns, remarkable only in their insular devotion to an stagnant intellectual backwater of socialism and absurdism.

  7. I note the irony that the true original Utopia tale, namely, UTOPIA by Thomas More, is just as much a biting, acidic, dystopian satire as PAST MASTER by R.A. Lafferty--and Lafferty once said that all utopia stories are dystopian satires, merely that in some cases, the author knows it, and in others, he does not.

    To see modern or postmodern scholars read Thomas More is something of a shock, since they take entirely seriously, and laudable, political ideas a Catholic of his century would regard as absurdities, if not blasphemies, such as when he talks about Platonic concepts of sharing wives and property in common, or agnostic concepts of having no established Church, no legal check on heresy. The moderns cannot see More is kidding.