Thursday, February 21, 2019

Fandom: An Illustrative History (Part III: Nightmares and Monsters and Stuff)

Welcome to the third part of this incredible journey through Fandom's history. I did not expect quite so much material to come from this book when I first found the thing packed away on a shelf in that store, but here we are entering part 3 of 5.

It turns out Star Wars releasing the same year as this book in 1977 really was a watershed moment. That one movie destroyed a number of delusions Fandom had about their genre as many of the claims in this work vanished overnight.

However, what has aged worst of all is the commentary.

Between packets of excellent information and intriguing history is stuffed some of the worst opinions I've ever seen in a non-fiction book. It isn't just the views themselves but the bitterness behind many of them which stand out. Mr. Lundwall is a very smart man, but his take on the genre he works in borders on idolatry and an overenthusiastic priest assessing what belongs in official canon and which works are apocryphal. That doesn't mean he isn't right at times, but many of his points require double checking due to this approach.

Nowhere is this issue more obvious than in this chapter (and one to come in the next part) where the author describes his ideal way of inputting messages into science fiction. It is always the weakest part of this work, and this chapter is no exception.

Now we reach a subgenre that swallowed genre fiction and YA books over course of the '10s until nothing was left except misery and muddy colors. This is Dystopian fiction. This is the pessimistic view of the future of humanity whereas Utopian was the optimistic one.

Mr. Lundwall describes the difference quite well:
"Utopia is what is good for others. Dystopia, or anti-Utopia, is what others (erroneously) think is good for you."

Dystopian is considered a less didactic version of Utopian fiction from some pundits, being that it is the opposite of intent in telling you what is bad for you. That is not the case. Dystopia is only a thin layer of smoke over the same sort of story. At the end of the day, most Dystopian tales have the exact same sort of message as a Utopian story does. The only difference is that the Utopian tale tells you what is good while the Dystopian story tells you what is bad. They are both used for getting messages across.

The exception would be one where the setting is backstory to create a separate plot-line, instead of a driving force for the protagonists to "fix" the world into its proper place. It's a bit different from a Utopian story where the correct view is the one the author centers in on. In a Dystopian story it centers on an incorrect view that the author doesn't believe in, which masks the author's true opinion better. This gives it a subtlety that Utopian fiction can never have.

But just like a Utopian story, this didactism can affect the narrative in a negative way, especially when the premise is false. Just as Mr. Lundwall demonstrates with this now historically-proven lie to show how bad off North America was:
"It is significant that even during the McCarthy witchhunt in the United States during the 1950s, when almost every outspoken intellectual was dragged before the House Committee of Un-American Activities, no single science fiction author was ever subject to scrutiny by that remarkable organization--of course, since North American science fiction authors never really seriously questioned the (North) American way of life."
Ah, that intellectual wet dream of being persecuted by the fascists and then having your revolutionary work passed about like pamphlets to the sheep to build the Utopian society where the dumdums are in chains and your over-sized statue is erected in the capital square. Propaganda is A-Okay to write when it is for The Cause.

But the bigger point here is Mr. Lundwall's claim that no one questioned the North American way of life because of some defect in their person. This is revisionism, something Boomers went in hard with during the '70s and '80s to great affect on Generation X, Y, and Millennials. This is an attempt to smear the older generations in order to declare them persona non grata. It's as insidious as it is disrespectful.

It doesn't cross Mr. Lundwall's mind that people in the West were happier in the '50s, not because they were stupid as per propaganda from those such as he would have you believe, but because things were better. Were the times perfect? Since Utopia is an impossibility, no. However, no science fiction author ran around criticizing their country because they still believed in it and the ideals it was formed on. They believed that their problems that would be overcome by working together, not by sowing division through propaganda pamphlets disguised as stories, but by a shared cultural heritage that they could build on.

If you want the end result of the author's subversive aspirations take a look around Western Civilization today. Do you see many happy, fulfilled people? Is anything being built, or are things getting torn down? And why is it only Western Civilization where this poisonous attitude exists? There is a correlation here. Those that are not miserable are not the ones who follow Mr. Lundwall's blueprint for a better society through weaponizing art.

The subversives are the unhappiest people on planet Earth and are dedicated to ruining your happiness by infecting it with their own failed ideas.

But as already learned in earlier chapters, the author is not interested in continuing a tradition of art that has gone on for thousands of years. He is interested in warping it into his image instead.
"British and American science fiction authors of today were reared in the pulp magazine tradition, a heritage difficult to shake off. Pulp magazines were exported to Europe, together with the science fiction ghetto, after World War II along with other goodies of the Marshall plan, and Germany in particular has suffered from these--there is practically no Dystopian science fiction being written there now, only way-out space opera stuff with broad-shouldered heroes fighting obnoxious aliens richly endowed with tentacles."
I can't believe I have to say this, but here it is. That is how it is supposed to work. You're writing entertainment meant to entertain customers. You are not a priest, prophet, or king. The audience wants entertainment and you are the vendor for the product they want. This is not difficult to understand. You work for the customer. Art is the only place this selfish attitude of customer as pay pig exists.

No one walks to a hamburger stand, orders a hamburger, is handed a half-cooked soy dog because the cook decided it is "better" for them, and then continues to patronize the place afterwards. No one goes to a furniture store for a desperately needed bed and instead walks out with a table because of incredible salesmanship. No one calls a plumber and applauds when he hands them a Koran instead of fixing the pipes flooding the floor.

This isn't complicated. The audience is not your lapdog or trained seal.

Decreasing sales in the genre only proves this right. This entitled artist attitude has killed art and entertainment in the West--the only place this mentality exists. Now there is a division between entertainer and audience that never used to exist where the entertainer is put on a pedestal and the customer is required to shut his mouth and swallow whatever he is given otherwise he is a selfish child who deserves scorn. This is not how it is supposed to work.

Again, try this at a restaurant and see how long before the windows are boarded and everyone forgets the place existed while the customers continue to visit the family restaurant that has been in business for thirty years.

Art is no better, and to think otherwise is undeserved arrogance peddled by propagandists who are doing it for a reason.

This subversion of traditional exciting stories meant to unite people and offer fun and hope to readers has twisted into this sick obsession with becoming secular preacher over the braying masses instead. This is the gross mistake we need to correct. If you want a religion, then get one. Keep it out of entertainment. Readers want honesty, not a scheming propagandist whispering in their ear.

It doesn't mean Dystopian fiction can't work, but it requires a deft touch instead of a heavy hand.

Unfortunately, the author of this book is not entirely honest about works that oppose his views. He misreads some Dystopian novels deliberately.
"Another, Atlas Shrugged (1957), is a 1168 page novel describing what would happen if we don't give industrialists and millionaires more privileges."
Comments like this make it hard to take Mr. Lundwall seriously. I might not be a fan of weaponizing art, but I would at least try to present the story Rand was telling. But because it delivered the incorrect message to the braying masses it must be dishonestly buried and spat on. The message must be protected.

This open-air propaganda war is quite tiring.

Dystopian stories were more popular among the elites and the privileged then they were among the populace back in the day. It was as if they were battling over who should be the one to offer the homily to better humanity, and it is all so exhausting to look back on now. A bit embarrassing, as well.
"All of this goes to prove once again that Utopia is unattainable since Utopia demands unselfishness and altruism, something that at least the many followers of Mrs. Rand are not prepared to offer anyone."
I cannot imagine writing that passage seriously. This is a colossal blunder of Mr. Lundwall's that he does not see what he actually meant. He has missed the point.

Utopia is not unattainable because of those like Ayn Rand. It is unattainable because people like Ayn Rand will always exist! Just as people like Mr. Lundwall will always exist to prevent people such as me from purchasing A. Merritt paperbacks in bookstores. People who have different ideas of what is good and true will always clash with those who think different. Because that is humanity. This isn't new.

Then we have nebulous floating terms such as "unselfishness" and "altruism" which vary depending on the user. How do we decide the correct view and usage of these terms? Who gets to be the one that tells us what these words mean and to what extent? Mr. Lundwall? The Pope? Me? But the human race has different ideas of what being good means, so how do we come together on this issue to build the Utopia? I don't see it happening. It sounds as if Utopia needs a fascist in order to be realized.

And we know how some react to that term.

If you want to know why "fascism" (a synonym of "leader" from the big-brained crowd) takes hold in any Utopian vision possible, it is because a leader with defined vision is the only thing that can form a united society working towards a single goal. History has proven that time and time again. A collection of individuals all arguing over every single issue, and the terminology within, cannot come together for the simple reason that they do not believe the same things and cannot compromise on their ideas. Otherwise they wouldn't be individuals!

How you have propaganda stating everyone should be 100% original and unique like a special snowflake then turn around and say those same people should form a cohesive Utopian society is beyond me. It is impossible to a laughable degree.

This is classic 1970s arrogance from that decadent, drug-addled, bloated-corpse of a decade. This isn't that out of step from what that time was like. Just an ugly era of hideous art.

I should give some context to this. In the 1970s the intellectuals believed that the disturbed and disgusting were the highest forms of art. Because they themselves were spiritually hollow with sick vices they couldn't control and believed them virtues, they asserted that normal people were the same and forcibly served these lies to the masses in their art. It didn't take very well. This is why the only thing any normal person remembers the 1970s for is the music, cheesy B-movies, bell-bottoms, and Star Wars.

Hideousness fades. Truth wins out again.

The rest of the chapter contains more examples of Dystopia as propaganda to better the world, oblivious to how similar it is to the author's hated Utopian fiction. Aside from a bizarre claim that Solzhenitsyn was living on his own private property in North America as some sort of commentary of his personal Utopia (?), I'm at a loss as to what I could possibly add to any of this. The chapter is fairly straightforward and repetitive otherwise.

One last quote before I leave this section behind. When speaking about the works of Soviet writers the Strugatskiy brothers, he drops this line:
"... [T]hese works, so very different from the prevalent Western attitude in science fiction of looking at aliens as either monsters or supermen to conquer and teach civilized manners, are one hopeful sign that science fiction as a tool for social discussion and debate at last may be leaving the pulp ghetto."
I think a quick man on the street poll would reveal which approach is more popular between the Soviet brothers and Star Wars, but I'm more interested in his wording of science fiction as a tool for social discussion instead of storytelling to entertain the reader. This is the central point of his book, after all.

Whether we want something to be different or not is irrelevant because it still is what it is. Stories are meant to entertain first and foremost. All of fandom's work to mutate adventure stories about Big Men with Swords taking place in space, mystical lands, and far-out planets, to low testosterone literary think-pieces meant to educate masses that don't want indoctrination, was destroyed in the very year this book came out. Star Wars settled that debate. It should have ended right there.

We know what the people want.

White hat men fighting black hat monsters and aliens is what they want. Sure in recent years Disney has tried to warp Star Wars to being like Fandom's slop, but that has not been working out so well for them. Perhaps if someone in Hollywood would actually read a Leigh Brackett pulp story without gagging as Mr. Lundwall has done over the course of this book we would all be better off.

But if it didn't happen back in the '70s there's little hope of it happening now. They're still heading full charge into a dark and dreary future, and have long left the audience behind.

At some point Fandom is going to have to admit that their entire quest to change the world has been a waste of time and that they should get working on writing books about manly men punching mystical cyborg boars in the face. The audience has been telling you for over a century that this is what they want, but you just won't give it to them. Men against monsters is an easy place to start! That is, unless you can't help picturing your political opponents as some hack allegory for the alien beast. That would be pathetic.

Maybe it is you who are the true monsters.

Which leads us into the next chapter on monsters in science fiction. From mythical monster to alien beasts, this has been a staple in storytelling since the very beginning.

Of course we need to mention the old standby cheesy monster stories with bad prose and ridiculous plotting which have been used to tar all of pulp as garbage (and which the author gleefully engages in here) however there are also ancient creatures, Middle Age bestiaries, and those from Gothic Horror, all of which form a link to those such as the ones Lovecraft, Smith, and Moore, used in their stories in the pulp era. This would prove an even stronger link between the past than previously expressed, especially when beings such as aliens are involved.

However, Mr. Lundwall is not so interested in that as he is in the "messages" of books such as War of the Worlds. Once again it is more important to discuss what the monsters "represent" instead of what they "are". That is a fine discussion to have, but it is only half the conversation.

As I previously stated, readers didn't read Wells for what the monsters "represented" and a simple Q&A of any random person outside Fandom would tell you as much. People simply like creative monsters. It's that straightforward.

So let me be upfront about this, as I do not think anyone thinking they are writing in the "Wells tradition" really understands it. The stories are popular because they are about human protagonists engaging with alien, nearly incomprehensible, and disturbing antagonists. You will not find a single man on the street who cares that Mr. Wells was a socialist or anti-Imperialist or what in the story was an allegory for his position. They like the monsters. That's it. This is why his stories are popular and why literally no one who follows in the "Wells tradition" has ever achieved a fraction of his popularity.

What his monsters represent don't matter: they are monsters and they are imaginative and different. That is it. They are monster stories. There's a reason none of his political philosophy has survived while these stories have. Readers don't care about his messages, and they never have.

People enjoy monsters because they like the unknown, they like being scared, and they like heroic protagonists facing insurmountable odds. The more horrific and intense the enemy is, and the more they clash with the protagonist, the more the audience is engaged. This is why those bad horror stories from the splatter pulps still persist to this day while those writing in the "Wells tradition" need Patreon accounts to pay the rent.
"Wells and others had given some purpose to their monsters, but the monsters that now deluged science fiction, at least in the United States, had no purpose whatsoever other than offering cheap thrills to unsophisticated readers."
It should also be noted that the author does not mention Lovecraft or any of the Weird Tales writers in this chapter, framing this entire episode as being about intelligent allegories of smrt writers against stupid shallow pulp hacks. It should also be mentioned that I am waiting for a mention of Abraham Merritt, and have still not gotten one in this entire book so far. There probably won't be one, even though he was the biggest name in the field for decades and had many monsters in his stories. There is no way our author wasn't aware of Abraham Merritt.

This is why the Pulp Revolution erupted in such a violent fashion when they realized what had been hidden from them. It was due to deceptive attitudes such as this. Back in 1977 they were already passing off this incorrect and blatantly false view as truth and hoping no one noticed. Many of us simply had enough of it.

If I didn't know any better I would say he is carefully editing this chapter to frame a narrative instead of informing his "unsophisticated readers" of the truth.

That is perfectly in line with Fandom's past, though.
"Until the advent of Amazing Stories, science fiction had been enjoying a good reputation as a useful tool for social criticism and also for its literary quality; this flood of pseudo-scientific poorly written tales, abounding in racism, violence, puerile sex and primitive views of society, soon destroyed the last vestiges of that reputation. Science fiction became "that Buck Rogers stuff.""
Now we get to the entire reason this book exists: to craft a narrative. It's already been established that Adventure and Romance, of the old sort, go back far into recorded history and link up to Gothic Horror, the pulps, comics, television, movies, cartoons, anime, bande dessinee, Penny Dreadfuls, manga, and so much modern entertainment being made now. The pulps were not an aberration of anything. They were part of that tradition.

The question one has to ask is what "good reputation" is he talking about here and from what crowd? Who has the clout to tell us the correct way to use storytelling as a tool for shaping thoughts? No one. He is either making it up, or piggybacking off of someone who did.

This propaganda is the aberration. This is not part of any tradition aside from a subversive one made up to overturn tradition itself.

Instead of universal stories that connect to unite the audience, the goal is a dividing message to create arguments and debates meant to topple society for the greater future that the clique has in mind. Forever and Ever, Amen.

And lastly, he has given no evidence or examples of any racism, violence (?), puerile sex, or poor writing in Amazing Stories or other pulps. I'm sure there were examples of the poor writing (as there are in any genre) but he has given no examples of any of the former or how it would lead others to put them in their stories. That was a dishonest way to frame that paragraph because it was meant to craft a narrative and not a conversation.

But this was never about a conversation.

These stories were not hijacking "true" science fiction, they were following the same formula stories had followed since they were first recorded. "True" science fiction spearheaded by Fandom is the aberration, relegated to a small ghetto of elites who use their influence to foist stories on the masses that they just aren't interested in.

The "Buck Rogers stuff" is epic, imaginative, and exciting, full of heroes and villains and pro-social content. This is what all the great stories are made of.
"...[M]ost American writers were reared on the local cheap fiction magazine tradition, which called for WASP heroes, villains easy to hate, and simple sexual interest, with lots of gore, naturally. Science fiction in the United States faithfully followed the pulp magazine formula, as witness the greatest names of the time--Edgar Rice Burroughs, E. E. Smith, Edmond Hamilton and others."
He just described the majority of fiction pre-20th century, but that aside we now have hindsight on our side where Mr. Lundwall did not. We see the results of his group subverting the Burroughs tradition that went back much further than him.

The only argument he is making is that this is what people want and were given, and he thinks they should be given what he likes instead. Except that they have been given what he likes for over 40 years now and we see the results of it. Science fiction is the lowest selling genre, the Hugo Awards are an embarrassment with no clout or relevance and voted on by a tiny clique, and indie books outsell the Fandom darlings.

So, yes, the cheap magazine tradition is apparently what the majority wants, and not even decades of social engineering has changed that. In fact, attempts to do so with the recent Star Wars met with such backlash that Disney's profits in the franchise have sunk and they have put projects on hold. It doesn't work.

This subversive brainwashing bitterness has to stop. It's been a failure and all it does is make its proponents hateful and stupid. One perusal of social media shows this. There are 20 minute videos about how plot holes don't matter, for crying out loud. All to protect a movie that has the correct message and nothing else. Enough is enough.

And finally we get to the money quote. The admission that science fiction as it is today was deliberately concocted in order to form the genre that fandom wanted.
"With time, of course, strong-willed and single-minded editors appeared, forceful enough to affect a change. Good editors, such as John W. Campbell [. . .] found new authors by the dozen and also had enough muscle to develop them into the new generation of writers so urgently needed."
As those in the Pulp Revolution asserted, and Campbellian zealots denied, here is one man in fandom who is no fan of the pulps admitting what they did. John W. Campbell came in, forced out the old guard, put in his picks, and reshaped a kingdom in his image. They needed to replace the old ways because . . . I suppose because the advancement of the human race is that important. He rewrote history and forged a new science fiction into his image. This was a takeover, pure and simple.

In other words, there is no "Campbell invented the genre" or "Solidified the rules" or anything of the sort. There is only Campbell throwing out the old rule-book and deciding new ones for the shrinking cult of readers and writers.

It is in fact no different than what the New Wave writers did, but Campbell was never criticized for it. He was lauded.

Funny, that.

Mr. Lundwall then goes on to describe many Campbellian monster stories you probably haven't read unless you are a hardcore SF geek as the audience only shrunk and shrunk once his style took hold of the genre. But I suppose it was worth it to spit on the mouth-breathers and slit your own throat in sales.

Not to say any of the stories the author mentions are bad, but his constant shots at the pulps and their monsters while deliberately ignoring the weird magazines is dishonest. Therefore I feel no inclination to be charitable when it involves Campbell's contracting of the genre.

And let us not forget Mr. Campbell tried to take Gothic out of horror and fantasy with Unknown--another attempt at warping a genre for a small crowd who hated the genre in question. You can say Unknown was "important" and "gamechanging" all you like, but that doesn't make the assertion reality. It was cancelled because the readers weren't there and it shuttered long before Weird Tales ended its run. Therefore the readers did not want Campbell's changes, despite a small clique pushing for them and ignoring what the majority wanted. Campbell created no Golden Age, just a rusted one.

In science fiction he deliberately changed the genre and it resulted in less success and an influence that no longer exists. That is not the mark of a Golden Age. Meanwhile the pulp authors that were not deliberately buried by his ilk still live on in pop culture today. Hopefully that will be kept in mind for future scribes to consider.

The rest of the chapter is Mr. Lundwall waxing poetic on Man being the Real Monster and Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama being about how there are no aliens: what we meet is incomprehensible because Man can't figure it out. Anti-human fiction at its finest. Then he brings up John Gardner's Grendel and how he subverts the story to, again, being about how the monster is really Man. This pattern is all too obvious.

In case you haven't noticed, the reason Mr. Lundwall doesn't like traditional monster stories is because he hates humanity. They are broken and filled with injustices and until they realize they are disturbed he can't prescribe the cure to fix them. Other people are the problem and he is the solution.

Stories about the monster being external, or sin within, involve humanity having to reach for the best in themselves and others to overcome hurdles are abominable to him. It requires a pro-social action to solve these issues. Stories with the monster being internal psychoses are whiny sobfests about an individual who cannot connect with others because of their broken nature. And the damaged individual with the disturbing personality is the one to laud.
These two sides are very different. One is something anyone can relate to and has positive content that can bring others together, while the other exists to wallow and pull the reader into the muck and alienate them from the larger world. Audiences have been rejecting that for centuries but those in charge insist on shoving it into their faces. One might even question why that is.

This is not to say stories cannot have interior reflection, but they have to involve self-assessment and moves to fix the problem. They have to realize harmful behavior and mindsets for what they are. Stories that exist solely to trash humanity have no intrinsic value except to plant seeds of doubt in the project of society--which is the goal of the worst propaganda. Insidious ideas should be shown for what they are. These are stories, by definition, that exist to harm.

In other words, these stories are themselves monsters.

In the religion of science fiction, Man is the Devil. The only salvation comes from lord god Science and its powers to atone by wiping away defects through evolution to lead us to the post-human Paradise. Is it any wonder Dianetics, Scientology, and Scientism, all sprang out through this cocoon of anti-social insanity? This is the result of "social" science fiction, and it might be the worst monster of all.

That is all for this installment. Next time we look at both Robots and E.E. Smith's Galactic Patrol in addition to other space opera. Seeing the author's views on humans should make the latter a real treat to explore.

Until we meet again: keep watching the skies!

Or just go to Church. Either or. I recommend the latter.


  1. I enjoyed this post a lot. I just discovered your blog via the #PulpRev twitter-verse. I'll be book marking the blog & reading the preceding posts in the series asap.

  2. Can't wait for the e. e. Doc Smith stuff. He, along guys like Edmund "World Wrecker" Hamilton invented the space opera.

  3. "Why weren't the post WW II Germans writing edgy dystopian fiction?"

    ... Nigga there was A WALL.

    1. Right. The last thing those suffering want to do is escape to more suffering.