When An Opinion is Not an Opinion (or An Opinion on Opinions)

So, yesterday, I happened across this little nugget of hotly contested opinion. I’m not going to argue Mr. Cook’s points because, (a) it’s an opinion piece and (b) I don’t care about what he does or doesn’t consider Science-Fiction. Just like I don’t care about what is or is not New Pulp or Lovecraftian Fiction or Steampunk or whatever other arbitrary genre classification tag you’ve got your teeth in.

That said, what follows is a disorganized mess of thoughts that I felt like sharing, because its my blog and I can delete it later if I feel like it. 

If you want to spend your time defining the entirely arbitrary limits imposed upon your chosen genre by market forces outside of your control, rather than, say, adding to said genre, or enjoying the fruits of said genre, you go on with your bad self. More power to you. Do as thou wilt, said the bald-headed beast.

Here’s the thing though…the reason I link to Cook’s piece above, is that it is a picture-perfect example of what happens when someone says something innocuous, but says it like an asshole. Cook seems to be under the misapprehension that the people who disagree with him hate him because they dislike his opinion. He’s speaking up and sharing an unpopular belief, and they can’t stand him for it.

But that ain’t it. It’s because he came off as a bit of an asshole. See, arbitrary genre discussions ain’t got a lot of–whatchacall–importance. None of that shit matters, and most people know that, and keep it civil. It’s like arguing about sports teams, you know? You keep it civil, have a few beers and compare SEC rankings.

And then somebody says something stupid. Or, in this case, posts a piece about what is and what ain’t Science-Fiction in as dismissively generalizing a manner as possible, and then gets pre-emptively defensive about it in the closing paragraph. Because pre-emptive defensiveness is the sign of a man certain in the rectitude of his opinion.

In some discussions, on some topics, how you say shit is more important than what shit you is saying. Not all discussions, not all topics. Some stuff is too important to be polite about.

But some shit like this? About what books you don’t like, and how they ain’t nothing but girly novels, what with the dresses and the kissing and such, and if you disagree you’re an enemy of free expression? See, you can spit facts as blunt as you want. That up there I linked to? That ain’t a fact, it’s an opinion, which means it behoves the owner not to share it in an insulting and/or condescending manner (as I am now doing), if they expect civil discourse to result.

Because that’s the whole damn point about sharing an opinion on books or television shows or genres of said consumables–you want to talk about ’em, preferably with other people. Which means you don’t play the asshole card. If you have an opinion, people will disagree with it. That’s life.

And as I said, there are times and subjects where sulphur and thunder should permeate every paragraph, things that are too important to be nice about and ain’t, by any description, fun. Sometimes that shit even has to do with Science-Fiction and the like. When you’re dealing with misogyny and racism and such in the genre and the publishing business, pungency in tone is, from what I’ve witnessed, sadly necessary in order to alert people to the seriousness of that shit.

But talking, in general, about Science-Fiction and Fantasy and Gandalf and stuff? Talking about what defines a book as being of one genre or another? That IS supposed to be fun. If you invite a damn discussion about that kind of thing, don’t wuss out because people point out none of what you said made any goddamn sense, or tell you you’re wrong. You roll with it. You discuss. Maybe you change your mind, maybe you change theirs, maybe nothing happens except you kill an hour having a conversation like a goddamn adult.

And if you act like an asshole, don’t be surprised when you find that nobody wants to agree with you except other assholes.

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19 comments

  1. If I could actually get away with saying, “Yeah, baby!” That’s what I’d say, but since I cant’ get away with it, and never could. I’ll simply say this: Good point, well made. Bravo!

  2. Couldn’t stop laughing when I read the guy’s article. Because he pretty much comes off as a grown up member of Calvin & Hobbs’ G.R.O.S.S. (Get Rid Of Slimy GirlS) club.

  3. This x1000000. Talking about genre divisions can actually be a really interesting discussion! But you hit the nail on the head with post. I especially like what you said about that pre-emptive defensiveness — by saying that he’s going to be hated on for having an opinion, he’s pre-categorized everyone who disagrees with him as WRONG and a HATER and a WRONG HATER, and therefore he’s already won, doncha see. *eyeroll*

    (Oh, and thanks for making a distinction about when one *shouldn’t* be polite. Basically I love everything about this post.)

  4. About 20 years ago, his points might have been valid, but genre manipulation is no longer something frowned upon in fiction. Hell, it’s been outright embraced since the rise of “urban fantasy” as a concept.

    But I remember a dozen writing books or magazines talking about how you couldn’t sell to the science fiction publishers if you were not writing “true” science fiction. I remember thinking this was incredibly stupid and something I needed to find a way to fix.

    Turns out the market did it all by itself.

    My favorite part of the article BTW is the sudden “Steampunk shouldn’t have zombies” addendum that has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the article. The new Amazing Stories needs better editing if they’re truly going to succeed with articles about science fiction.

    1. I thought that last bit was a strange addendum as well. It was a bit out of left field, wasn’t it? And the adherence to genre as something sacrosanct always puzzles me. It’s a market classification, used to organize books, to make it easier for readers to find what the things they’d like to spend money on. That’s it. It has no bearing on what a given book is about.

    2. Out of the several WTF? sentences in the article that gave me fits of hysterical laughter, “Steampunk shouldn’t have zombies” was the best.

  5. Wow, I, uh, dude… that guy. It felt like one big “get off my lawn” rant from a dude who’s been chilling in his comfortable, air-conditioned house for too long, with the blinds drawn unable to see what’s going on around him.

    As far as I’m concerned, any genre (sub- or otherwise) that has its roots in science fiction is science fiction. Label it a sub-genre if you must, but it’s valid. End of the day, the only genres that really matter in fiction are good and bad.

    Which is all to say a) what a wanker and b) I agree with you.

    I’d love to see what this dude thinks of my upcoming cyberpunk-mecha-kaiju-fantasy Argonauts mashup.

      1. Romance? You mean that complex, but entirely commonplace human construct? Yeah, there’s some of that. Well, at least one-sided. Fancy dresses? Not so much because that would just further subjugate females. Or something.

  6. I’m new to the SF community, in terms of following conversations about the genre and its sub genres, and I’ve heard from fellow writers–and read a little–about some SF folks not being happy with romantic subplots (written by men or women) and, to some extent (not necessarily pertinent to Cook’s post), not being happy about the contributions of women, period. When I read Cook’s post on the AS website, my first thought was: “Oh, shit! Everything I’ve heard is true.” The responses to his misbegotten opinion piece–and his bizarre non-responses to comments–were not only heartening in their vehemence, but in their intelligence, to include your excellent post and the responses of your readers. You are so right: Choose wisely how shit is shared.

  7. I milit since a long time for the recognition of science fantasy as a real genre, a real label. Since the golden age until 80’s science fantasy was the royal way of SF. Gabe Chouinard have defended this fac in the 2000. He was right.
    The “true SF” today is limited to the hard science and socio political near future anticipation ( dystopia for major part). The space opera is recognized only if hard SF one. In Europe we are more tolerant and consider science fantasy as a part of science fiction. It seems the american was’nt.

    1. Dans le milieu universitaire americain, c’est de la science-fiction qui est un sous-genre du fantastique.

      Fantasy est fiction qui s’ecarte de la realite consensuelle. Science-fiction est un sous-ensemble de ce genre de fiction.

      Excusez-moi mon mauvais français, s’il vous plait! Ce n’est pas ma premiere langue. Aussi, je ne peux pas trouver les marques diacritiques!

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