I have not finished Forbidden Thoughts yet, so a review will have to wait. Overall I’m enjoying it so far but some of the complaints noted by several people are, IMO, valid criticisms… certainly a couple stories preach with a 4×4 that did not have to.
That said, the intro, by Milo, was brilliant. And in that, the following leapt out at me:
“SJWs produce terrible work SJWs are fantastic at complaining, but terrible at creating. Like games and comics, SJW science fiction is drivel. The low quality of the content is why controlling industry awards, publishers and hobby journalism is critical” from “Forbidden Thoughts”
OK. What do we mean by “terrible work.”
There are of course obvious choices with cardboard cutout characters standing in for not just conservatives, but for strawman versions of them. There is the “humor” of Jon Stewart and Colbert, that occasionally is funny when apolitical, but devolves to “they’re stupid” when their favorite whipping boys are the subject. There is movie after movie with fundamentally ugly, miserable views of humanity where even the protagonists – I cannot call them heroes – are ugly.
But I don’t believe, especially given the context of the comment, that Milo is talking about such incompetent and obviously incompetent and ugly dreck that even liberals blanch. I want to discuss the competent – where the craftsmanship is there, but the work itself is hollow, or rotten.
Take Game of Thrones. Yes, I’m going there, because having read a number of works from before ASoIaF like the Sandkings, or the Tuf stories (which should have been a hint, frankly…), and finding them darkly amusing, and hearing so much about the epic fantasy series, I sat down and started reading it.
And my sense of disgust and disappointment as I finished the first book was so profound, I never cracked the cover of the second.
Is he a bad author? No. He’s an excellent writer, and as evidence I’d submit that the visceral reaction I felt to the incest, depravity, the killing off of the Starks, and the betrayal and futility of all that is virtuous in the quest for “realistic” (and hitting instead unceasingly grim) is a mark of the impact his writing had. Ditto how the Tuf stories, and the SandKings are so vividly recalled after all these years.
But his stories are hollow, lacking in true joy or light.
Take Stephen King. I’ve read It, The Stand, The Long Walk, The Running Man, Dreamcatcher, Cycle of the Werewolf, Eyes of the Dragon, and the Gunslinger books through Wizard In Glass. I’d also seen Misery. Over time, several overarching themes became apparent – King’s disgust with people, with civilization in the fore among them. In the Stand, like any good horror story, at the end, the horror was civilization itself and all the trappings built up, and the town of “good” survivors had started becoming a bunch of controlling busybodies. The sense of decay, especially in Roland’s background, is palpable. The mundane horror of The Long Walk still palpably haunts my memories. He’s celebrated for bringing out the horror and evil in people and the mundane rather than overtly supernatural things – and after a while one gets the sense that not only is it inevitable that some people are evil, but that most are helpless. Add to that increasingly shallow “good” and “bad” (conservative, of course) characters as portrayed in “Under the Dome”, and no, I no longer read him.
Compare this to Dean Koontz, who often explores the darkness in people, but also has the theme of virtue, nobility, and without making it a pointless game for chumps. In Watchers there is both the “evil” monster, born of meddling in things man was not meant to know, but also the dog. The moonlight bay series also explored many of these issues – technology being something that enabled people to be more – more good, or more evil – and civilization being overall a force for good.
So King is again, an excellent writer, who passes off toxic sludge for stories.
In the Walking Dead, the creator openly opines that it isn’t just about the drama of good and bad people in a horrible situation, but that it’s about how even compared to the monsters, we are the real horrors.
What about games?
I’ll leave the controversy over triple-A titles aside, and look aside, at the stuff recommended on, for example, the iOS app store. I’ll also focus on stuff that is at least well crafted rather than, say, Depression Quest.
Sure, a number of puzzlers, racing games, and traditional twitch games exist, but I’m also struck by the kudos I’d seen for apps like Monument Valley. it is, indeed, a beautifully executed puzzle game, with an interesting art style, yet in the end, it’s not a very deep one. The puzzles were noted by Polygon – the same guys who couldn’t play Doom as well as a noob – as being not very difficult, and there aren’t many of them. The “story” is not only shallow, but in true liberal fashion explicitly eschews conflict. From the developers app page:
AN ILLUSORY ADVENTURE OF IMPOSSIBLE ARCHITECTURE AND FORGIVENESS
In the end, it’s beautifully crafted, was worth the time spent playing through it for some clever puzzles, but did not have not much other substance, and little replay value.
But occasionally you’ll bump into another player on the same pilgrimage. You can only communicate with musical notes, but these sonic interactions feel reassuring, reminding you that you’re not alone. The identity of your companion is never revealed, either, but you feel a connection to this mysterious other player as you make your way through your journey.
And it also explicitly eschews competition or violence:
The multiplayer component of Journey was designed to facilitate cooperation between players without forcing it, and without allowing competition. It is intended to allow the players to feel a connection to other people through exploring with them, rather than talking to them or fighting them. The plan was “to create a game where people felt they are connected with each other, to show the positive side of humanity in them.”
The author appears to be extremely aggressive in her attempt to counter female stereotypes in science fiction, but she doesn’t seem to have anything compelling to offer in their place. There is no power here, no virility, no beauty, no passion, and no meaning here. There’s just a woman that strikes me as being an inadvertent reductio ad absurdum to our culture’s dominant views on women and women’s roles. Sure, she gets to be the hero and the astronaut in the end… but her sacrifice is more about her and how it makes her feel than anything else. She’s so myopic… and yet, she really would have been happier if she’d just been a mom and stayed at home. (Everyone else would have been happier, too. She’s strikes me as being the sort of person that you’d never want to do anything for you because she’s such a martyr that you’d never hear the end of it.)
I don’t have anything against this author personally and have no idea what else she’s done. Just based on reading this, I can only conjecture that she’d hate the sort of works that I prefer– Tolkien’s writing, for example. She strikes me as a competent wordsmith, but I don’t know that I can readily forgive her for using her talents to make something that is so intentionally ugly and hollow. Maybe I should feel sorry for her for her lack of imagination? Ah well, I guess this is all that’s left when a person has purged the chainmail bikini from their science fiction and fantasy. At the very least, this piece graphically demonstrates where that sort of idiocy ultimately leads….
They are incomplete.