Monday, June 15, 2015

Transhuman and Subhuman: Essays on Science Fiction and Awful Truth, by John C. Wright

Castalia House, May 2014

John C.Wright needs an editor.

With a bit more restraint, his prose could be lyrical--the opposite of the transparent prose the Puppies say they're looking for, and certainly not to everyone's taste, but offering its own kind of enjoyment. Without that restraint, alas, it too often becomes word salad, and at best is tiring and annoying.

Underneath all that excessively ornate prose, what he's saying in this collection of essays is no more attractive. Mr. Wright claims to be a devout Roman Catholic, yet what he is preaching in these essays bears little to no resemblance to anything I was taught in CCD, or have heard preached from the pulpit. He finds science to mostly be a source of spiritual misdirection as it leads us to reject magic and miracles... Sorry, but the priests and nuns who taught me the faith he claims to embrace thought scientific research and the study of science helped to illuminate the glory of God's Creation. That it made the world, in the sense Mr. Wright seems to mean, more magical, not less so.

More relevant to a science fiction audience is the fact that Mr. Wright appears to hate science fiction, seeing no way in which it can be a positive illumination of the world, and more likely to be Cultic or Nihilistic, as defined by him. Starship Troopers is cited as an example of Cultism in sf, a description that perhaps neither the book's fans nor its critics would recognize. You don't get at either the book's strengths or its weaknesses without subtlety and nuance, and Mr. Wright is not really an advocate of either. He knows what The Truth is; he'll tell you what it is. If you don't agree, you are, at best, sadly misguided.

One of the essays in this book is entitled "Saving Science Fiction From Strong Female Characters." Another writer might mean this title ironically; Mr. Wright does not. Those advocating strong women characters in fiction, especially science fiction, are enemies in the Culture War, and they're on the side fighting against Culture. Fortitude and justice are masculine virtues; feminine virtues are delicacy and nurturing. Oh, wait, fortitude can be feminine, but it's different from masculine fortitude; it's long-suffering patience dealing with the childish menfolk, rather than courage in the face of adversity and danger. "She can appease an angry mother-in-law, reconcile a feud, arrange cooperation without seeming to take or give orders and without anyone feeling left out or overruled, lure a Lothario to his destruction..." but this is a Wright sentence, and goes on forever. Page 228 of the edition provided in the Hugo Voters packet, by the way.

And on page 231:

"Also, a woman who is crude inspires contempt, because she has contempt for God and man. The difference is that a woman who loses her native delicacy and modesty does not become an object of fear and respect, but an object of contempt and loathing, because the aura of sanctity women naturally inspire in men is tossed away."

A woman's value is defined solely in relation to how men regard her, and no discussion of whether being confined to a pedestal has ever been either safe or productive for women is to be admitted.

Mr. Wright also includes an essay on how to write a story. He includes the standard "show, don't tell" advice, which is amusing, given the extent to which his own writing is so much Tell and so little Show.

All in all, not recommended. Not recommended at all.