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Third time is enemy action

May 28, 2020

For the second time now I’ve come across Leave supporting material in some fiction I was reading.

Now, it has to be said that my preferred reading for relaxation isn’t most people’s. I’m a long time sf fan and I have a tendency to gobble up low grade pot-boilers as long as they’re SF or Fantasy. I’ll buy whole series of them in Kindle form and work through them in orgies of eye-strain. I accept that I’m going to end up with some clunkers that way but I get some good experiences (try Harry Connolly’s TWENTY PALACES sequence for gore-splattered modern fantasy-horror) and if I don’t like what I get I can stop reading.

But twice now I’ve found modern British writers of SF&F speaking as if departing the EU was the obvious, sensible and patriotic thing to do. And this is as bizarre to me as discovering a modern book of economics that praises feudalism or a contemporary book of medicine that holds the germ theory an unproven fad.

In the first, a time travel series with a humorous tone, there was a remark made in a scene set in our near future that someone who did an academic dissertation on the history of the EU wouldn’t have much material to master.

In the second, a modern fantasy police procedural (funny how many turn up in the wake of RIVERS OF LONDON) a Welsh police officer stoutly reminds Our Heroes that Wales voted Leave and that they, who come respectively from Geordie-land and rural Gloucestershire, must be on the side of the Angels too.

Now, a certain amount of satisfying of fantasies is baked into the two types of ‘speculative fiction’. I can’t remember who said it but it’s true that pornography and SF are two genres where the universe is an unreasonably hospitable place. However, both times my Disbelief Suspenders shattered against this evidence that there is a body  of opinion out there that plays in the same sandboxes as me but has a very different model of how people work.

Time machines, faster than light travel, human  immortality, ghouls and dragons… I can handle all the  stuff that non-sf readers find throw them  out of the story. But this is what does it for me and I find myself sitting there seeing all the creaky plotting and lazy writing that I was forgiving for the sake of the tale come rushing up into my consciousness.

One has always known that there are modern SF writers of a weirdly conservative bent but up to now most of them have been Americans. I remember feeling quite smug that we didn’t do this sort of thing when I read a story which involved Texas breaking away from the US because the newly elected first female President (a thinly veiled caricature of Hilary Clinton) made her lesbian lover the Chief of the General Staff, created an SS equivalent out of the Department of Health and went around forcing women to have abortions.

But now the plague of idiocy has reached Britain and I can’t even withdraw to my armchair to avoid it.

Dammit, I can’t change my reading habits this late in life. I wouldn’t be able to convert to literary fiction: reading about middle class persons having angst… It doesn’t bear thinking about! Do you think I could get people to put content warning on their books if they’re going to do this?


I read in my mail queue but seem to have lost a comment from my  friend Roger about how  I could maybe review before purchasing… But this would make me into the sort of sensitive snowflake that I am not in point of fact. It’s not that I can’t bear to read things that disagree with me. It’s that I see a trend and I want to mock it to death before it spreads.

If I allow myself to be depressed by the idiocy in modern public and intellectual life I shall shudder flabbily  down into a slough of perpetual despond and become even more of a disappointment to myself than I already am.

It would be nice if I could think of a way to use  the tropes of the genre to produce a little counter propaganda but I can’t just now. I can only hope that in a few decades time if anybody notices what I seem to see right now they will pay it the same sort of attention we now do to  the peculiar portrayal of the Jews in Christie, Sayers and Dennis Wheatley and the even more direct bigotry and antisemetism in John Buchan.

“Well,” our successors will say, “you have to understand the times it was written in…”

And the stern young people of those days will look at their middle-aged parents with disapproval and quite right too.

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  1. Chorlton Voice permalink

    Why can’t you right now? Summon up counter propaganda, I mean. Clearly not making eough effort, man!
    And be careful about blanke assumptions re “literary fiction”. Middle class angst is ot the main theme of this genre, if genre it is. I am thinking a book about Lincoln’s feelings on the loss of his son, a book about the underground railway in the USA, two books about Thomas Cromwell, and many many more. I think you may be thinking more of the Aga saga – ot really “literary” but very popular.
    I think some literary fiction could be described as sci-fi depending on your definition of sci-fi. Margaret Attwood, perhaps?

    • Margaret Atwood does do Science Fiction, however much she may prefer not to think so. (Or was that Fay Wheldon?) My friend Dave Langford’s SF newsletter ANSIBLE has a section for ‘respectable’ author’s pronouncements that assert that what they have produced is by no means to be associated with that terrible SF stuff.

      I think by literary fiction I mostly mean ‘mimetic’ fiction set in what is laughably called ‘the real worl’d. Which tells me that the authors mostly think they know what the real world is and have a very dull mental model of it.

      Genre fiction always seems to have an element of world building to it: the creation of a model of existence the exploration of which is a part of the literary pleasure. (And for some reason I think of Dickens as someone who does this with all his works: perhaps because even in his contemporary time he was taking most readers to places they would never see in their own lives.)

      Historical fiction is necessarily a fiction where you have to step out of the world as currently defined. A good historical author is not only accurate but also makes that time real for you while making you feel you’re living with it.

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