Well, I half-​​saw it; so maybe it was only half-​​awful.

As an English major I was painfully aware, some­times, of how dread­ful some sto­ries could be. Directionless and point­less dri­vel which seemed of inter­est pri­mar­ily for his­tor­i­cal value, but cer­tainly not for lit­er­ary qual­ity, was reg­u­larly heaved across my palate. I was sub­jected to the con­trast of Nadine Gordimer ver­sus Ayn Rand1; I was forced to read Sarah Grand2 while at the same time try­ing to appre­ci­ate George Eliot; I was sub­jected to Moby-​​Dick and Emma3 as though they were equals.

For recre­ation I indulged many casual tastes. Generally these were of the SF nature. Not Asimov — Foundation is too facile, too easy; not Bradbury, though I still love Martian Chronicles and Dandelion Wine; not Burgess, though Clockwork Orange is still just fuck­ing amaz­ing. No, for recre­ation I indulged instead the works of Philip K. Dick, Italo Calvino, Stanislaw Lem and Samuel R. Delany.

I became, in short, an SF lit­er­ary snob.

And what amused and amazed me, in a good way, was how bril­liant some SF really was; not just in the writ­ten realm. Babylon 5 was ter­rific, since it had a well-​​planted and –planned story arc and indulged the here­sies of Lovecraft; Lain and Cowboy Bebop sat­is­fied my crav­ing for good animé cou­pled with my need for a solid, cogent story; and the very first time I saw Firefly — its pre­mière episode on Fox, when the series aired out of date and out of order — even then, I knew I was see­ing some­thing that would not last, could not per­sist; for it was far too good, far too deep, and far too original.

Contrasted with the luke­warm offer­ings of shows such as Star Trek: The Next Generation, and then Deep Space Nine, I began to feel frus­trated — how stu­pid were these peo­ple, being sur­prised week after week by meet­ing hack­neyed “dilem­mas” that had been resolved in sto­ries I knew already? How sad was the Federation in hir­ing ship’s crew that appar­ently hadn’t ever read a page of good SF? How could these morons be sur­prised by some “story” whose end I could pre­dict, with about 80% pre­ci­sion, before the open­ing cred­its rolled?

And then, of course, I fig­ured it out. The prob­lem wasn’t with the crew; the prob­lem was with the shitty, naïve writing.

SciFi Channel, you’d think, would have a vested (or at least nom­i­nal) inter­est in doing bet­ter; yet I seem to keep return­ing to that well, even though it’s basi­cally dry. Stargate and all its per­mu­ta­tions are sim­ply worth­less. BSG, while cute, has basi­cally run its course; it’s no longer what it was when it began, a deep and mean­ing­ful inter­ro­ga­tion into what human means, or what prej­u­dice is, or how racial hatred can cause geno­cide. Eureka is fluff; the tech­nob­a­b­ble is often quite painful, though there at least the char­ac­ters are gen­uinely inter­est­ing.4 Doctor Who is about the only good rea­son to watch SFC now, and it’s not even one of their shows. It’s orig­i­nal to the Beeb, and it’s def­i­nitely dif­fer­ent from the all-​​videotape, all-​​the-​​time orig­i­nal incar­na­tion; but that’s actu­ally good. WhoTwo is a hell of an improvement.

And as for the made-​​for “movies”: Mosquitoman. I rest my case.

So, non-​​god help me, there I sat, decid­ing to take a chance, numbly tak­ing in the sec­ond half of an ep of Flash Gordon.

I really, really wish I hadn’t.

What I saw started with a tribe of half-​​naked bird-​​man wannabes, who occa­sion­ally “screamed” like preda­tory fowl, but whose main pur­pose seemed to be show­cas­ing barech­ested mus­cu­lar men in leather. Okay, fine; aes­thet­i­cally it worked — but it was just pure bull­shit. Apparently these men (no women were evi­dent, pos­si­bly for some rea­son explained in the half of the show I missed) were a race called the Dactyls, and they — get ready for this — they flew by spread­ing their arms, let­ting a loose leather cloak flap behind them, and run­ning into the wind.

Angels and min­is­ters of grace, defend us.

In addi­tion to the sheer phys­i­cal impos­si­bil­ity of this, I was treated to a panorama shot of the cap­i­tal city of Mongo — and the last time I saw a matte paint­ing that crappy, done in all seri­ous­ness, was 1973 or so.

The Human Interest side lacked it as well. There was the typ­i­cal tor­rid plot of a badly-​​done coming-​​of-​​age story that fea­tured some kid who had, for deus ex machina rea­sons, “lost” his true her­itage as a Dactyl, who went through typ­i­cal Teen Angst type self-​​doubt, and who did the pre­dictable thing, embraced his her­itage based on noth­ing but a brief pep talk, and flew just like Dear Old Dad.

It wasn’t even the crappy SF, or the crappy, recy­cled plot. I’m tired of all that already. It was just the insult, the idea that such dreck could be cranked out under the aegis of SF when there really is good stuff out there in the genre, stuff that is either never pro­duced for visual media or, when it is, gets cast aside.

The insult is not that the char­ac­ters are so naïve they can’t even see where they’re going when it’s obvi­ous to any­one watch­ing; the insult is in the shitty, lazy writ­ing that pro­duces this hack­neyed, bor­ing men­tal pab­u­lum. Masturbation is more sat­is­fy­ing and, usu­ally, more productive.

There is just no rea­son to let these kinds of trav­es­ties exist or be played out. There is more out there, and a lot of it is bet­ter — and what pisses me off the most is that SF used to be, and in some cases still is, an inci­sive tool of inter­ro­ga­tion and explo­ration of human cul­ture, mean­ing and place in the uni­verse. To see it reduced to a stu­pid pageant of far­ci­cal cowflop and inanity truly, deeply pains me.

This is what we’ve made of sto­ries such as Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, or The Cyberiad, or even 2001.

Thanks, SFC. Thanks for noth­ing. I hope the inane Stargate refugees take solace in your lat­est trav­esty. I, for one, shall not.


1. Every Ayn Rand story is the same as every other one: Some Brilliant, Individualistic Man invents some Truly Original Idea; the Forces of Mediocrity and Oppression try to steal it from him; he nearly gives up hope; but then an Independent, Strong Woman loves him; and he Finds the Strength To Resist and Remain a Man Unto Himself. On top of the repet­i­tive sto­ry­telling, Rand was a gen­uinely shitty bor­ing writer whose main points were usu­ally made by solil­o­quy, gen­er­ally with her Heroic Man strik­ing an Heroic Pose and utter­ing a five-​​page dis­qui­si­tion on the value of indi­vid­ual cre­ation. For a woman who appar­ently had one orig­i­nal thought in her life, Rand man­aged to gather a sur­pris­ing cult of drool­ing, slack-​​jawed followers.

2. Re Sarah Grand: There is a rea­son why many Victorian nov­el­ists are unknown, unread, and for­got­ten today by any­one but Women’s Studies majors.

3. Re Jane Austen: See foot­note 2.

4. For now.


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