Sunday, February 19, 2017

How science fiction became gamma

It was because Isaac Asimov was a spaghetti-armed nerd who hated and envied stronger men whom women liked better than him:
“I imagine that almost any male would at least occasionally wish he had biceps as hard as chrome steel and could wield a fifty pound sword as though it were a bamboo cane and could use it to drive vile caitiffs to the chine…Oddly enough, I shudder at such things…Heroes date back much farther than Conan, you may be sure. They are as old as literature, and the most consistently popular one are notable for their muscles and not much else…

It took the ancient Greeks to come up with something better. In the Odyssey, however, the hero is Odysseus, who is an efficient enough fighter but, in addition, he had brains…In this battle of brains and brawn, however, the audience is never quite at ease with the victory of brains…Clearly, the readers are expected to feel that it is noble and admirable for the hero to pit his own superhuman strength against the lesser physiques of his enemies, and also to feel that there is something perfidious about a magician pitting his own superhuman intelligence against the lesser wit of his enemies.

This double standard is very evident in sword-and-sorcery, in which the sword-hero (brawn) is pitted against the sorcery-villain (brain), with brawn winning every time. The convention is, furthermore, that brawn is always on the side of goodness and niceness (a proposition which, in real life, is very dubious…Nevertheless, I consider the typical sword-and-sorcery tale to be anti-science fiction; to be the very opposite of science fiction. It is for that reason that you are not likely to find anything of the sort published in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine.”
Gammas destroy everything they get their hands on, because they are primarily motivated by negativity. They have no desire to build or improve, they harbor the desire to get even for past wrongs both real and imaginary.

34 comments:

class A surfacing said...

"People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do."

Isaac Asimov

Says it all...

My Dead Gramps said...

Noob should've learned to kite and rotate cooldowns.

Aeoli Pera said...

This explains why Foundation was so boring.

Remo - Vile Faceless Minion #99 said...

"notable for their muscles and not much else…" Huh? Has this man read any classical literature? How about stamina, courage, and honor in addition to physical strength does that not count? I don't remember the likes of Beowulf or Hercules being regarded as stupid - flawed yes but not stupid.

pdwalker said...

One of the things I enjoyed about the Conan stories is that while he started off as hack and slash, immature, stereotypical barbarian, he grew into a wise, intelligent warrior, leader, general and king. There was nothing dumb about Conan in the slightest.

Cataline Sergius said...

Asimov bluntly is over rated as a writer.

He came up with some good concepts, I will happily grant that. But his characters fail a very simple test; without describing what they looked like or anything they did in the story...describe the character.

The only one I can come up with is the Mule. "... a spaghetti-armed nerd who hated and envied stronger men whom women liked better than him."


This double standard is very evident in sword-and-sorcery, in which the sword-hero (brawn) is pitted against the sorcery-villain (brain), with brawn winning every time.


WELL, the Mule sure showed them!

Dirtnapninja said...

Asimov projects the resentments and self perceptions of his own ethnic group.

Michael said...

Is this just more gamma binary thinking?

I like a good story that has both brains and brawn. Too much emphasis on either one just gets ... boring.

Ian Miguel Martin said...

"...they harbor the desire to get even for past wrongs both real and imaginary."

Rank: Primary Goal
Alpha: Win
Beta: Be Successful
Omega: Escape
Gamma: Revenge

Cataline Sergius said...

We need our own new Big Three.

The Big Three have been altered before with A.E. van Vogt having been nearly banished from existence.

Heinlein, Asmiov and Clarke.

Clarke is already being quietly swept under the rug by the SJWs themselves as more and more evidence crops up every year that the man was a gay pedophile.

How much does the kind of SFF we like really owe to Asimov? Yeah, he's a big name, that means New York City publishing bought it for him. So what? Lets face it the Three Laws of Robotics are dumb, self contradictory and in this day and age obsolete as hell. Psychohistory was an interesting concept but it wasn't as original as people seem to think. Nor was it explored that well.

In fact when people like Scalzi praise Asimov (and formerly Clarke) there is always just a bit of effort justification involved. The influence of the works aren't all that self-evident. They have to push a bit to make the argument that Nightfall was a great story.

Sure he was one of the founders from the forties but we don't go around constantly droning on about the importance of Wells, Verne and Haggard.

My suggested new Big Three are Heinlein, Herbert and Poul Anderson.

Man of the Atom said...

"Cataline Sergius said...
We need our own new Big Three."

No, that's just "Aping the Gamma". Find the best, and promote the best. That's what we need to do.

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JohnR219 said...

As I posted at castalia house blog, Odysseus was the only man strong enough to string his own bow 20 years after he left Troy. He would have been middle-aged. He had brains and brawn.

ECM said...

Note to would-be, "spaghetti-armed", sci-fi authors: when faced with an archetypal "brawn>brains" human, in real life, you're probably not going to 'science' your way out of getting your ass kicked.

Trevor Goodchild said...

Asimov once again displaying his ignorance of the classics. Odysseus in the legend was an archer so strong that none of the suitors lusting after Penelope could string or draw his bow when challenged to do so. His intelligence and cunning supplemented his physical capabilities rather than replacing them. Additionally, there are instances in the Iliad where he is looked down upon by other heroes (particularly Achilles) for entertaining stratagems in favor of open combat.

Erynne said...

It seems like the Gamma cannot get over the fact he's unattractive to women. I think Deltas are very similar to Gammas but understand their place in the hierarchy and don't resent it. I think I stopped being Gamma, not when I stopped putting women on a pedestal, but when I stopped regretting being unattractive when I was younger, and no longer envied guys who were better than me.

VFM #7634 said...

The funny thing is, I never really could get into SF/F until I found what Castalia House puts out. Asimov's fiction is very tedious somehow, and he is by no means atypical. Pullman's "The Golden Compass" bored me literally within the first few pages.

Edgar Rice Burroughs was one of the few exceptions. But then again, come to think of it, Burroughs tends to write either Alpha or Beta protagonists.

Also, I wonder if this "Alpha = brawn = stupid" trope helps explain why so many progtards really seem to believe that Trump is an idiot and/or crazy.

Daniel said...

Asimov's best works were of social adventure. The laws of robotics, psychohistory, the moral warfare of the Mule, etc. provided rich superstructures for imaginative stories...but his aversion to physical adventure restrained his opportunities.

This is why the most exciting Asimov novel is one that did not share Asimov's Fear...because it was actually written by Bruce Bethke. Look up Asimov presents Maverick.

Megamerc said...

"I think I stopped being Gamma, not when I stopped putting women on a pedestal, but when I stopped regretting being unattractive when I was younger, and no longer envied guys who were better than me."

You've hit close to the mark. Betas and deltas still pedestalize women, and even at times envy the alpha, so it is not quite right that envy is what makes a Gamma. What characterizes the Gamma is mostly resentment towards the alpha. It's a mentality that is based on a "it should have been me" mode of thinking. Ergo, "If it wasn't for that alpha, it would me who got the girl/glory/crown, it should've been me!"

In Asimov's case, as Vox pointed out above, if it hadn'the been for all those stories about brawn, the stories about brains would be the best!

This is why pretty much every Scooby-Doo villain is a Gamma

Rob said...

wield a fifty pound sword...

WTF?

Your average sword weighs between 2 and 4 pounds.

https://www.albion-swords.com/swords/albion/nextgen/sword-medieval-ringeck-xva.htm
Weight: 3 lbs 5.5 oz (1.5 kg)

https://www.albion-swords.com/swords/albion/nextgen/sword-medieval-talhoffer-xva.htm
Weight: 3 lbs 5 oz (1.5 kilos)

https://www.albion-swords.com/swords/albion/maestro/sword-practice-marxbruder-grossemesser.htm
Weight: 2 lbs 1 oz (944 g)

You don't need any "brawn" to pick up and use a sword, it takes skill and practice actually.

They say writers should write what they know, Isaac Asmiov didn't follow that advice...

modsquad said...

Gammas destroy everything they get their hands on, because they are primarily motivated by negativity. They have no desire to build or improve, they harbor the desire to get even for past wrongs both real and imaginary.

Sounds a lot like feminismn.

Dexter said...

I forget, was Asimov a pedo?

It seems like the Gamma cannot get over the fact he's unattractive to women.

In many cases gamma unattractiveness to women is purely in his behavior, not anything intrinsic to his appearance. The #1 thing he could do to become attractive is identify and purge himself of his gamma behaviors.

Daniel said...

No, but he did literally write the book on being a Dirty Old Man.

Daniel said...

Exhibit Z:

http://www.collectorsweekly.com/stories/113920-isaac-asimov-is-my-favorite-dirty-old-ma

Cail Corishev said...

But his characters fail a very simple test; without describing what they looked like or anything they did in the story...describe the character.

I'd say Elijah Baley is the exception that proves the rule. Deep characters definitely weren't his strong suit. Asimov himself, in a foreword of my copy of the Foundation trilogy, says when he reread it decades later, he couldn't see what all the fuss was about because nothing happens: it's just people talking about ideas.

The Asimov books and stories I've enjoyed all tend to be a crossover of mystery and sci-fi, or simply mystery placed in a sci-fi setting. That's what the Baley books are, and even many of the robot stories and early Foundation stories -- whodunits or puzzles with robots and spaceships. It's common for detective stories, especially older ones, to have a protagonist who's not well developed. He's just there to be a sort of avatar for the reader and carry the investigation forward. So a thin character isn't necessarily a dealbreaker for that kind of story, but a fully-developed character can add a lot to it. Baley was good, and unusual for Asimov, but could have been better.

Anyway, that's all to say I wouldn't say poor character development is the sign of a Gamma; the bit Vox quotes here is a much better indication. His misunderstanding of classic heroes is a strong tell.

It's a bit of a surprise, because I'd heard he was a rogue with the ladies at conventions and such. Women are usually able to smell the difference between a real alpha and a gamma pretender, and not allow the latter to get away with that, but enough fame might cloud their radar.

VFM #7634 said...

It's a bit of a surprise, because I'd heard he was a rogue with the ladies at conventions and such.

That doesn't necessarily mean anything. If the women at such conventions themselves skewed below average, as is likely, a famous Gamma could still clean up very well.

ace said...

Odysseus is a mind-alpha. VD is more of an Aeneas.

Jon Mollison said...

Cataline Sergius said: "Sure he was one of the founders from the forties..."

That ain't right at all. Asimov was a Johnny-Come-Lately who took Campbell's ideas and ran with them, but all he did was take what Robert E. Howard and A. E. van Vogt and Doc E. E. Smith and Edgar Rice Burroughs did and strip out everything that made them worth reading. He had no conception of duty, honor, courage, or loyalty, and it shows in his writing.

The only reason anyone thinks Asimov built the genre is because he wrote a LOT of stuff how about everyone should just ignore anyone who wrote sci-fi before him, because he was so much smarter than them, and his brand of sci-fi was The One True Way. People bought that garbage back then not because it was true, but because Asimov and his little cabal did everything they could to shut out alternative voices who still championed things like courage, decency, absolute morality, and kebabing evil villains with a well-deserved knife in the gut. Back then, the gatekeepers decided that tales of good versus evil were childish and real adults only read deep think pieces about ideas and obtusely written character studies worthy of ivory tower professors. They hated C. S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein for their moral positions, not for their writing, and they and their gatekeepers just blacked out anyone from before 1940 as not worth reading specifically because they knew they could never compete with the giants on whose shoulders they stood.

Asimov was a great non-fiction writer, but as for fiction? The man was a shyster, a snake-oil salesman, and a hack.

pyrrhus said...

When I started reading SF, I noticed that none of Asimov's characters seemed to ring true or have any depth. I found him almost unreadable, and now I know why.

Zach said...

My teenage Asimov phase was followed by my teenage Heinlein phase. I've had the urge to go back and re-read Heinlein, but never Asimov.

Looking back, I made the switch about the time I started lifting and transitioned from spaghetti-armed nerd to passably mediocre athlete occasionally willing to ask girls out.

Coincidence?

wp said...

There are problems which can only be solved by reason, and there are problems which can only be solved by the sword. Interesting and compelling heroic narratives often involve some combination of the two. Asimovs statement stinks of resentment and the kind of inferiority complex which often causes those of higher intelligence to neglect and resent their own physical form, and even to identify with the "sorcery-villain" of the classic narrative. There is a reason that the wizard and the warrior are the two most ubiquitous archetypes in fantasy; why "Sword" and "Sorcery" appear together. It is because they are inextricably linked by a mutual dependence and necessarily coexist. Their dichotomy symbolizes the eternal human existential dichotomy of the mind and the body, of reason and the divine, etc. The Wizard cannot succeed nor even exist without the warrior just as the warrior cannot without the wizard and both are worse than lost without the moral guidance that Asimov so perfidiously and derisively names "goodness and niceness". Gandalf, the warriors, and the hobbits. The warrior, the wizard, and the un-corrupted moral innocent.


His point that "the sword-hero (brawn) [being] pitted against the sorcery-villain (brain)" represents a deficiency in the fantasy heroic narrative is totally incorrect. This narrative pattern does not, as he implies, incorrectly equate evil with "brain" and goodness with "brawn", that is a puerile simplification and arguably the result of projection by Asimov of his resentment for those with the latter. It symbolizes the immense capacity and power of the mind and our faculties for reason to become arrogant, ideological, corrupt, and evil and to make us resentful, malevolent, and murderous, particularly when those faculties diverge from and do not willfully subordinate themselves to physical reality and morality. The wizard who eschews the warrior and the innocent becomes a sort of satanic figure. In some sense very powerful but at the cost of becoming inhuman, twisted, pathological, and corrupt. The warrior who eschews the wizard and the innocent loses his purpose, ignores his responsibility and becomes a tool of those with greater purpose for better or worse. The innocent if abandoned becomes a victim.

BA said...

VFM #7634 was right.

I'd rather read Burroughs over Asimov any day. I own a bunch of Burroughs and Howard, but no Asimov

Unknown said...

Asimov sets it up as brains VERSUS brawn, but in reality the two are orthogonal to each other. Whether a man has brawn has nothing to do with his intelligence. I learned that my freshman year in college when I arrived earlier than usual for breakfast at the cafeteria, and randomly sat down at a table that turned out to be the usual table for a bunch of football players. They were polite but mostly ignored me as they carried on their own conversation, which was about philosophy. I've forgotten the details at this point, except that they clearly were very intelligent people. It was that conversation that cured me of any notion that brawn was opposed to brains.

As usual, I'm going to end up being listed as "Unknown", probably because I've never registed with Blogspot (and don't intend to). I don't intend to post anonymously; my name is Robin Munn.

Nate73 said...

wp: I read your comment and couldn't find any evidence that the sword=good, sorcery=villain trope is uncommon. If it's the majority doesn't that support his argument? I'm not as well-read as others, so the only example that comes to mind is Lord of the Rings where wizards are fighting on both the hero and the villain sides. I'm trying to think of a story or movie where it's a physically weak wizard as the hero vs a muscular, ripped Genghis Khan or Conan the Barbarian and nothing comes to mind. Is it usually a mix of swords and sorcerers vs another mix of the same?

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