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Archive for May, 2011

One author sits atop the Canadian science fiction scene, with Hugo and Nebula and all sorts of other awards stacked under him in some monstrous pyramid: Robert J. Sawyer.  He’s written twenty-some novels and is probably the biggest name in “traditional” science fiction out there, but whatever accomplishments go to his credit, I will always remember him for one book that, to engage in some slight hyperbole, nearly ruined my childhood.  Even Gary Jennings, with his historical/pornographic (in equal parts) fiction like Aztec and Raptor didn’t manage to traumatize my elementary school mind in quite the same manner Sawyer did.

Now, the beginnings of all this are fairly innocuous.  I saw this book on the shelf at the public library and had the immediate reaction of “a dinosaur with a spyglass?  How can this not be awesome?”.

Well, this looks harmless...

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Horse manure does not, in fact, smell all that bad.  Further, many people would tell you that horse excrement actually smells good.  It would be well for writers in these genres, considering how often horses appear, to actually visit a stable at some point.

“He wrinkled his nose at the smell of horse dung…” would not actually be a common action in any age, unless said person had a very sensitive sense of smell.

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Reductionist arguments rejecting an author’s work are easily found while wandering across the internet (sword in hand, I suppose), or even in general conversation: Dostoyevsky and Milton are terrible because of their misogyny crops up frequently, as if one particular element often arising from historical or geographic context will negate the entire literary output of an author.  However, with acknowledged classics critics are at least willing to acknowledge that there’s more to a work than just that one problematic thing.  In genre works, that forgiveness tends to evaporate.  Thus, I’ve only known Chinua Achebe to actually insist Joseph Conrad is most assuredly not classic literature due to his depictions of Africa (primal, savage, uncivilized, driving white men to madness…), but most arguments don’t take the path of “Joseph Conrad’s stories are horrible and you’re horrible for liking them” despite the racist undercurrent to much of his work.  However, this is exactly the sort of treatment showered on literature not espoused by Howard Bloom, that is, literature that’s not actually literature.  Robert E. Howard falls pray to this for his apparent misogyny (to which I would direct you to Jessica Amanda Salmonson’s review of “The Sword Woman”), but much more often, for his racism.  Bringing up racism and Robert E. Howard has always been touchy for Howard’s fans, mostly because it can’t be denied.  Yet the fact critics take this is the sole defining feature of his work seems a tad close-minded, and follow exactly the sort of reasoning I mentioned above:

“Robert E. Howard’s stories are horrible because they’re racist and you’re a horrible racist for liking them.”

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