Hugo Livestream Saturday

I just can't seem to stay off of podcasts lately. This Saturday, August 1 at 3:00 PM EDT, I'll be joining the Superversive SF team for another live hangout. The topic this time will of course be the upcoming Hugo Awards.

Should be a rousing conversation. Keep checking the link for more details as the event draws near.


Drunken Zombie Had Me Back for Some Reason

I went on the Drunken Zombie podcast again last night to talk about horror movies, general geekery, and my writing. The DZ crew were kind enough to let me plug Nethereal and Sci Phi Journal. So I owe them a debt of thanks once again.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with DZ's "format", each episode ideally revolves around a particular film they've chosen as the main topic (and copious amounts of booze--it's not just a name). This time, that film was Strangeland by Dee Snider. It turned out to be a dated piece of garbage, but we had fun pointing out its faults.

Even more fun was had yakking about The Death of Superman Lives, Netflix's Daredevil, and the camel at the fair that nearly ate Randy's beard. Experience all of the nerd camaraderie at the first link above.


Between Light and Shadow: The Works of Gene Wolfe

Author Marc Aramini has taken up the herculean task of analyzing each and every story by Gene Wolfe--who is himself the greatest living author, period

Volume one of BETWEEN LIGHT AND SHADOW is available now.


Transhuman and Subhuman Part XIV: Childhood's End and Gnosticism

Continuing from the previous post, we now consider the Gnostic foundations of Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke as demonstrated by John C. Wright.

"I say CHILDHOOD’ S END is ‘Gnostic’, a heresy of the Christians," Wright explains, "because I do not see the attitude or mind-set of any other religion represented."

Wright bases his case for Childhood's End's Gnosticism on the scene in the book where an alien device capable of looking into the past is said to disprove "all the world's religious writings" and "all the world's great faiths". Clarke depicts everyone on earth abandoning religion as a result.

Pointing out that Christianity is the only major religion that claims its theology is based on concrete historical events, Wright concludes, "...there is only one religion under attack here, and it is misleading to pretend any religion but one is in the crosshairs. Like far too many atheist writings, this passage is not atheist, merely antichristian."

The resemblance of the aliens who provide the time device to devils from Christian demonology is significant, says Wright, because the inversion of good and evil is a central Gnostic theme. Gnosticism teaches that the Christian God is a liar who must be cast down. As a science fiction story, Childhood's End can't literally portray God being overthrown. Instead it uses the exposure of his lies to prove that he doesn't exist.

Wright calls the story's conceit that images from an unsubstantiated alien source would drive the whole human race to atheism, "...a ridiculous idea, handled with ham-handed clumsiness that breaks suspension of disbelief." In response to Clarke's wishful thinking, Wright points out that, "Religion answers basic and deeply-rooted human emotional and psychological and intellectual needs."

Even when he himself was an atheist, Wright "...thought religion would always be among us, and never pass away, any more than racism or warfare would ever pass away. I now believe religion will always be among us and never pass away, any more than true love or times of peace will ever pass away."

In response to the line in Childhood's End where men are said to have outgrown gods, Wright asks, "...what is the evidence that religion is not a development of intellectual effort away from a more primitive state, rather than the opposite?"
In real life, every regime that has attempted to eliminate religion for something more modern (The Revolutionaries of France, the bloody gangsters of Russia, China, and Indochina) always ushered in a rapid decivilization, a new barbarism. It is almost as if—heretical thought alert—atheism is a regression to a more primitive state, not an improvement.
Wright acknowledges that Clarke himself wasn't a Gnostic. Why, then, did Childhood's End turn out to be such a Gnostic work? "It is always the Judo-Christian tradition they plagiarize for ideas. No one bothers to blaspheme the Aztec Gods."

The answer: "...if Clarke had written any other book aside from CHILDHOOD’S END it would not have been an answer to the question posed by the Space Trilogy of C.S. Lewis." Wright views Childhood's End  as part of a dialogue among the great books of Western fiction about the final destiny of man, along with War of the Worlds and Out of the Silent Planet.

Wells started the conversation by asking readers to imagine what would happen if a race more highly evolved than man invaded earth according to merciless Darwinian principles. Lewis turned the tables by asking what would save a hypothetical unfallen race from fallen human space explorers. Wouldn't it be better for violent, vicious mankind to remain earthbound?
Arthur C. Clarke answers C.S. Lewis with speculation of his own. 'What if science can take the place of religion? What if evolution, the striving ever upward, can replace these primitive superstitions, and offer a transcendence that is real? What if it is not only good, but necessary, for us to venture into space?'
Why did Clarke frame his answer to Lewis in Gnostic terms? "Clarke could not help but give a Gnostic answer to the Christian challenge because, within the framework of Western assumptions about man and life and afterlife, there is no other answer."

Within the confines of Western thought, there are only three possible answers to the question of man's final fate. Either there is no God, and humanity is doomed to be surpassed by another species; there is a God, and humans are individually saved or damned according to his will; or--the Gnostic answer--each man is a god.

"By sticking with the Christian assumptions about ultimate destiny, but rejecting the Christian answer," says Wright, "Arthur C. Clarke has no choice but to pen a naturalistic and science-fictional version of an old Gnostic myth."

Wright concludes: "Either you glorify Man with the Gnostic and call God a liar, or you glorify God with the Christian and call Man to repent."


Transhuman and Subhuman Part XIII: The Fourth of the Big Three of Science Fiction

Expanding on a a point from last time, we turn to John C. Wright's examination of Arthur C. Clarke, and why he shouldn't be included among Campbell's Big Three.

"I submit," says Wright, "that Arthur C. Clarke has...a broader vision, and yet it is a darker vision, of man and his ultimate fate in the universe which is in keeping with H.G. Wells and alien to Campbell."

Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and A. E. van Vogt wrote of pragmatic characters solving problems in a relatively near-future setting, with science and determination in a spirit typical of American optimism."On the other hand, Arthur C. Clarke and H.G. Wells are haunted by a sense of the true magnitude of time, and while some of their stories...are near future tales, they are most famous for those who go to the end of mankind and beyond." The latter two authors' characters usually face conflicts produced by cold, blind evolutionary forces, and are almost always outmatched.

According to Wright, "...the clearest expression of this theme of deep time is CHILDHOOD’S END." In this novel, Clarke posits the intervention of advanced alien overlords who conquer the earth to prevent man's nuclear annihilation and impose a ban on human space travel. Over two centuries of enforced peace, humanity loses self-determination, religious faith, and collective self-preservation. Children are born with psychic powers and a revolting lack of humanity, heralding the next and final step in human evolution. At last, the incomprehensible post-humans destroy the earth and merge with a sovereign space Overmind, leaving the invaders who served as cosmic midwives stuck in an evolutionary dead end.

"Now," says Wright, "I suppose an utterly bloodless intellectual with no great love for mankind...might regard the theme of transcending into posthuman inhumanity as a noble or hopeful one, but that is not the message of the book."

There are strong Wellsian themes in the story of Childhood's End. "To fly off as disembodied minds in the train of a cosmic Overmind is a fate as disquieting as that of the Eloi or Morlocks, but if these creatures were at the same time as superior as the vast, cool, unsympathetic intellects of Mars."

Wright makes no secret of his preference for Campbellian tales over Wellsian tales. In regard to Childhood's End, he gives numerous reasons for this bias.
  1. Having superior invaders confiscate mankind's nuclear weapons and spaceships like alien nannies is heavy-handed and annoying.
  2. It's absurd to think that everyone everywhere on earth would surrender without a fight.
  3. The story takes for granted the ahistorical idea that native populations always die off after prolonged contact with more advanced peoples.
  4. The part where the overlords abolish bullfighting is a brazen authorial conceit that unnecessarily dates the story.
  5. "...the idea that religion would simply...disappear is stupid. If anything, the stress and pressure of being confronted by alien overlords would encourage religion. Someone would start worshipping them, if nothing else."
  6. Depicting the post-human supermen as discorporate psychic beings is lazy. "It is...just a vague pink cloud labeled ‘The Superman’ with nothing in it."
"What," asks Wright, "was Arthur C. Clarke trying to accomplish in this book? I suggest that he was trying to tell a myth rather than a story, and that he succeeded brilliantly."
Myths are about religious notions. The notion here was that science, or the purely materialistic and naturalistic world view, the cold and dull and empty world without God, could somehow find in its remorseless grind of blind evolution something as interesting and dramatic as damnation and salvation.
As a scientific myth, Childhood's End falls short in one respect. "The core idea of seeking for religious transcendence in the dead cosmos of materialism is an incoherent idea, a self-refuting idea. The mythical image produced is one of beings of immense power and retarded capacity for love..."


The Advent of Somewhither

John C. Wright's latest novel is here!

What is the whimsically titled Somewhither about?

The long answer is that SOMEWHITHER will be in the same category as THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE but if, instead of being a good fairy tale and well written children’s book, the author was an anime-overdosed ex-lawyer who decided it would be way cool if Aslan wore power armor and swelled up to giant size like Ultraman to fight Godzilla, who, in this version, is the Beast from the Sea called up by the Whore of Babylon; and if the Dark Lord were a determinist materialist astrologer who is half-senile; and if Nimrod still owned the shining robe given to Adam and Eve by Jesus after they discovered they were naked, and this robe made him invulnerable; and if Serafina Pekkala from GOLDEN COMPASS were a babelicious busty blond dimension-sailing storm-witch teenager from Slytherin House, which, in this version is at the school on the Island of Roke, which is also in the dimension of Charn ruled by Jadis the White sister of Saruman the White, but her pet bird was not her familiar but instead was her horcrux; and if Ramses from Anne Rice’s THE MUMMY showed up as Black Lensman of Boskone; and if there were a plumber named Pally working in Barad Dur to fix the backed-up toilets in the Dark Tower;  And if John the Baptist showed up as a character who could fly like the Nazi-punching ROCKETEER from the Dave Stevens comic of the same name; and if King Edmund were Connor McLeod the Immortal from HIGHLANDER; and if instead of a thoughtful, and funny and moving parable about the nature of sacrifice and the beauty of forgiveness, CS Lewis were a fan of pulp novels and samurai movies, and threw in a bunch of stupid extraneous junk, including The Shadow, who has the power to cloud men’s minds, and, if there were some way to swing it, end up with John Carter,  Warlord of Mars and Robur the Conqueror fighting a air-to-sea duel with Captain Nemo.
Now, I like me some genre-bashing. And brother, that there is some epic genre-bashing!

Pick it up in DRM-free epub and Kindle formats here.


Reviewer Praise for Nethereal

The Millennial King was recently kind enough to devote an in-depth review to my book. In a delightful twist of form I've never seen before, he wrote his post as if he were a theater critic reviewing an opera based on Nethereal (which is appropriate, considering it's a space opera).

Overall, a fantastic read. I look forward to the next book, and will buy it on kindle when it comes out. Anything in the book I didn’t talk about negatively consider a positive. Brian Niemeier has put out a strong first piece, and we hope to see more of him in the future.

Go read the whole review. [WARNING: SPOILERS]

Transhuman and Subhuman Part XII: The Big Three of Science Fiction

The twelfth essay in Transhuman and Subhuman by John C. Wright corrects the popular misconception that the third member of the Big Three Campbellian authors, alongside Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, wasn't Arthur C. Clarke or Ray Bradbury, but A.E. van Vogt.

Wright points out that neither Clarke nor Bradbury were Campbell authors. "...Arthur C. Clarke is from an older tradition of science fiction than Heinlein and Asimov, and is an heir to H.G. Wells..." Bradbury, meanwhile, "...was a man before his time, and fathered a younger tradition. He was 'New Wave'...years before the New Wave was new."

In contrast to the sci-fi stories that preceded his influence on the genre, which "were mostly boy’s adventure stories set in space...Campbell established a new type of story, less about weirdness and wonder and more about what we now call 'Hard' Science Fiction..."

Hard science fiction, says Wright, "consists of two elements...first, a social or philosophical commentary about man’s place in the universe...second, a fascination with the nuts and bolts of legitimate speculation into the near future of technical advance..." Campbell was the first to popularize stories combining both elements.

Describing the definitive mood and spirit of Campbellian tales is difficult these days, Wright contends, because they were "an extension of the scientific optimism and classical liberalism of the time." A further characteristic of Campbell's stories was "...a touching childlike faith in Theory, and, for conservatives (in the brilliant words of William Briggs) 'Love of Theory is the Root of All Evil.'"

Wright goes on to take issue with the prevailing definition of hard SF, observing that this classification is based on only one story element: world building.
...[T]he common consensus is that 'Hard SF' is any story whose core revolves around some real science...and that 'Soft SF' is any story whose core revolves around the humanities or some less rigorous discipline...[T]his is insufficient, since...the grouping of certain tales and novels into sub-genres should also tell you something of the other elements of the story, including the plot, character, and theme.
Besides world building, Wright asserts that Campbellian SF can be recognized by similarities in plot, characterization, and theme. He cites van Vogt's "The Black Destroyer" as the first of these stories. "The tale contained in embryo the elements of the typical Van Vogt tale: superhuman powers...the interest in psychology and parapsychology, the scope of action, and the breathless pacing..." Slan and World of Null-A also stand as conspicuous landmarks of Campbellian SF.

"...[M]ost of these stories," Wright points out, "are not very 'Hard' at all...replete with unscientific gobbledygook as mindreading guns, time travel, teleportation, and the transfer of human memory from clone to clone."

Wright identifies three philosophical underpinnings of all Campbell stories: malleable human nature that is open to advancement through technology, lead characters who solve problems through intelligence guided by a properly calibrated moral compass, and finally, the optimistic theme "which said that men were moral creatures who...could become large enough in their time to conquer the stars."

"For Van Vogt, the larger brain of the Martians of H.G. Wells, or the cold remorselessness of the superman imagined by Nietzsche were of no account if not also wedded to a greater moral sense."

"This," says Wright, "was not Arthur C. Clarke’s view...that man would eventually evolve into something glorious in its own way but ultimately inhuman, and certainly not Ray Bradbury’s view, which was...more interested in the joys of home and hearth and the mysteries of the woods beyond the backyard..."

It isn't due to any nuts-and-bolts realism of that van Vogt merits his title as the third of Campbell's Big Three. "...'Hard SF' is not just any story that puts technology at its heart," concludes Wright. "The heart of Hard SF is this cynical optimism, the paradox of men whose feet are firmly planted on the ground, and yet whose hands reach for the stars."