Liz Lutgendorff Sieves SF/F Classics for Offense

And finds some, of course: I read the 100 “best” fantasy and sci-fi novels – and they were shockingly offensive 

Any more when a Progressive-type says “that’s offensive!” I prepare myself to laugh – their sources of offense have become so contrived and trivial in recent years that this gimmick is now the a setup for a joke, with their description of the purported offense a punch line delivered with a passion and seriousness that transform its simple ridiculousness into sublime absurdity. And when they add qualifiers like “shockingly” to the word to make up via emphasis for the shock value lost to their own chronic overuse, it’s even more lulzy.

Of course these books were shockingly offensive. If they hadn’t tickled her offense-detection lobe, she would have had nothing to say about them. Of course they were shockingly offensive. There is no place for mild disapproval or reasonable pass-giving when an opportunity for self-righteous moralizing is on the line. And of course she knew going in that she would find something to take shocking offense at. She was plainly sifting for outrage rather than giving the list an intellectually honest evaluation.

On the other hand, looking through her reviews of those books with which I am familiar suggests an intellectual evaluation, honest or otherwise, may be a bit much to ask. Don’t take my word for it, enjoy the absurdity for yourself: The List

The prose is that of a sixth-grader’s book reports. Which is no dig at sixth-graders; that quality of prose is fine when it’s age- and education-appropriate. Unfortunately the same can be said for her reading comprehension. I’m suspicious that she didn’t actually read these books, but instead read the Wikipedia plot summaries or simply scanned the e-book versions for certain keywords sure to mark rich veins of shocking offense to mine for her project.

Case in point: her review of The Mote in God’s Eye

It’s bad enough that she read (?) one of the most impressive works of world-building in the SF genre and thought this the most noteworthy part of the experience:

There’s also the delightful exchange between Sally and her alien counterpart talking about birth control. This book was written in 1974. 13 years after the pill was legalised. Yet, Sallys says this:

“But a proper woman doesn’t use them [birth control]. P. 247.

Omg. Fuck off patriarchy.

What’s worse is that she can’t even grasp one of the fundamental fictional premises driving the plot of the book. How rapidly the Moties reproduce and why is of central importance, and the quoted exchange can only be properly understood in the context of that premise. She also fails to understand that after a devastating interplanetary civil war that kills off humans by the planetload, people in this fictional future history might reasonably take a dim view of interfering with the method by which the human population might eventually recover. 

In other words, she is peeved because fictional characters in a story set a couple millennia into the future don’t share her worldview, and she lacks the imagination and empathy to understand these characters’ perspectives and lived experience and that they have valid and world-consistent reasons for their views. I’m not sure whether a feminist exhibiting such attitudes qualifies as irony or hypocrisy, but it’s pretty funny either way. 

(As this post is already running long, I’ll simply note with regards to her so-bad-it-must-be-read-to-be-appreciated review of Out of the Silent Planet that despite not having read it myself, even I know that describing it as “an early attempt at explaining space flight and encountering an alien race” with “some hilariously obvious religious overtones” rather misses the point.)

Ridicule aside, I’m honestly curious what she would make of In the Shadow of Ares. In feminist jargon, the story could be described as an empowered young woman choosing to embark on an adventure of her own design while exploring her own identity, challenging ageist assumptions, and exploding the corrupt lies of the male-dominated power structure in which she is immersed.

I’m sure she’d dismiss it as “misogynist” in some way despite the multiple differentiable and plot-relevant female characters, if for no other reason than that it was written by two straight white men. But hey, we pass her version of the Bechdel Test with flying colors, so…