Planet of the Knob-heads: why do lit-ah-rary types look down on SF?

So what is it about science fiction that causes “literary” types to look down upon it? Like any genre, SF has its bad and good. No scratch that, like any writing, there is both bad and good. I’ve read plenty of unreadable “literary” fiction. But SF seems to get more derision than other forms of genre writing, perhaps unfairly. Many important books are SF.

Fantastic Adventures cover - half-naked woman on giant snakeYet, try to get Margaret Atwood to admit she writes it; yes, she writes SF (though anti-technological, like Michael Crichton) and some of it’s pretty good: The Handmaid’s Tale, for example. But no, she won’t cop to it. And I understand, because then she’d be lumping herself in with …. the pulps.

I’m not trying to say that there wasn’t any merit to them, but the covers … whoa, Betty … the covers … the covers … [sound of Mark pouring water over his massive, shaved scull, coursing down the rolls of fat on his neck]

What I love about the covers is the uninhibited yearning, for example, this scantily clad woman riding a giant snake. Yes, sometimes a giant snake is just a giant snake, but in this case, a Freudian interpretation is in order.

The real variation seems to be in HOW the women are scantily clad. Fantastic Adventures seems to go for the low-cut strapless dress, while Science Fiction clearly starts there and quickly jumps to the bikini-skirt combo. Of course, neither of them had anything on Spicy Adventure Stories (though these are not really science fiction), and none of these can hold a candle to Saucy Movie. (My guess is they had some kind of requirement that the artists show at least one nipple, or make up for the lack of nipple some other way. (For example, she’s being held by a fireman, or Satan, or even worse, a pirate! Arrrr!!))

Here are a few of my favourites:

Science Fiction Quarterly

pulp fiction cover - Science Fiction QuartlerlyIf you’re not showing some nipple, then the woman/victim/love interest could be in the arms of a psychotic space-dude! This guy has some kind of transparent helmet on, but it sure isn’t because he has to haul away his woman-prize through the vacuum of space. His nipples are exposed. I’m not sure if this picture is as villainous as it seems: if her arms were bound, I’m sure they would be dangling like her legs. As it stands, they disappear behind his buttocks. I’ll let you draw whatever inference you may.

Science Fiction

Science Fiction - pulp magazine cover of robot abducting scantily clad womanHoly crap that chick is flexible! Her back is arched enough that she can see that her toe is almost dragging on the ground. Good thing she wasn’t wearing her tight jeans that morning. Good thing she’s hardly wearing anything at all. She’s probably thinking, “why couldn’t I get kidnapped by something good, like a buff sexy fireman or a nice-smelling pirate, for God’s sake. Instead, I’ve been abducted by some chicken-legged robot with a knob-head and these six bizarre little arms that look like baby’s arms with apples instead of fists. Hey, wait a minute ….”

Fantastic Adventures

fantastic adventures - pulp cover magazine of robot with horrified womanOkay, this is getting too easy. A suspiciously shaped robot threatens a woman in a skin-tight flesh-toned dress. (And a little fashion tip for all you girls who plan on being accosted by perverted automatons on the cover of a pulp magazine — pink dress and red hair — no. Go for something white and wispy, which will be more alluring and let your hair pop.)

I will say this for her, unlike the other women, she looks genuinely horrified. Of course, you would be too if you had a six-foot condom-shaped robot shaking its business at you.

Future

princess leia - future magazine coverOne look at this and I thought, “It’s Princess Leia! George Lucas had a subscription to Future!”

Seriously, that is the Proto-Princess Leia bronze boob beguiler.

No doubt this suppurated in George’s imagination for a couple of decades until he got a chance to unleash it (pun intended) in Return of the Jedi. Thus, George paid it forward, and fucked up at least two generations of impressionable young gentlemen with this evil, suggestive image.

Damn you Future magazine, and your series of salacious covers!

princess leia cover 2 - future magazine

Now to counteract all that sexist cheese, here’s a selection of ground-breaking SF, culled from Time’s “top 100 books” and the BBC’s top 100:

  • Brave New World
  • 1984
  • Animal Farm
  • Fahrenheit 451
  • Slaughterhouse-Five
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • Naked Lunch
  • Dune
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • The Stand
  • The Clan Of The Cave Bear
  • Neuromancer
  • Watchmen
  • Snow Crash.

Still not sure what SF is? This handy chart may help. (Thanks to Robert Runte for pointing me towards making it.)

So, your turn — what SF book rocked your world?

Alltop thinks SF stands for San Francisco. Originally published, October 2009.

Ask General Kang: Do you own a typewriter? And do you have 999,999 co-workers?

Ask General KangI have neither, nor do I have an infinite amount of time, so don’t expect to see me write Hamlet anytime soon.

I do, however, have this gripping script about an intergalactic overlord who comes to Earth, starts writing an advice column, and finds himself forced to beat one of his letter writers senseless after he makes a joke about the overlord’s hirsute back, bow legs and penchant for banana cream pies.

But back to your impertinent question: can a million monkeys typing randomly create a work of Shakespeare? No, Shakespeare has already written his oeuvre, so the best they could do is make a copy. (Which would be silly, because it’s now all available on the Internet.)

Some people have done the math, and believe it is impossible, thus proving the existence of God. Others believe that it demonstrates how the universe has evolved. Personally, I’ve watched a few movies by Million Monkeys Studios (a subsidiary of Fox), and I have to side with the first group.

Not only does God exist, It has a cruel sense of humor. More vicious even than Kragnarok the Icky, whose favourite pastime was eating the deep-fried skin of his victims while he bathed them in lemon juice.

Next time: Is it true that putting you face near a quasar will clear up acne?

Alltop could never be written by a million monkeys. Apparently a few thousand is enough. Originally published June, 2008.

A writer writes

writing with giant pencil

Ignatius was working. That was the first rule for writers. It wasn’t about the tools, his teachers had said, back in school. It was about discipline. Work.

A writer must write, even if, as Thomas Mann said: “A writer is someone for whom writing is harder than for other people.”

Of course, he might find a pen somewhat less of a challenge than the over-sized novelty pencil. And he’d heard great things about something called a word processor. Maybe regular-sized paper?

No! he thought. It’s not about the tools.

Another tiny sheet of paper ripped apart, unable to withstand Ignatius’s impatience and the giant pencil. He sighed, and started his to do list again.

Alltop does not know this “pencil” Ingatius speaks of. Photo by Natalie Down.

Pirate Therapy

Pirate flagLaurence arrived a few minutes late for his regular Thursday morning session, but his therapist usually ran late, so he wasn’t worried.

From behind the door of his therapist’s office, he heard a blood-curdling scream, and then a thump. A door opened somewhere, and Laurence heard a strange sound, almost as though something heavy was being dragged. He heard grunts, scraping, and the rhythmical percussion of something booming on the floor. Laurence looked around, and realized the secretary was not there. He also realized he was standing, tense.

The door to his therapist’s office creaked opened, and he heard a rough voice shout: “Ahoy Larry! Be ye out there laddie?”

“Uh. Yes.”

“Come in, matey.”

Laurence walked unsteadily to the door and opened the door fully.

A pirate sat in his therapist’s chair. He had wild, unkempt hair held in by a greasy red bandanna, and a full dread-locked beard that looked like it was made out of black steel wool. He was wearing a stained white silk shirt, a sash of what was probably once a lovely dark green silk and pantaloons. He had one black boot, and he was missing a leg, which was replaced by a wooden peg that was carved into the shape of …

Laurence looked away.

“Arr matey, don’t ye like me leg?”

“Uh, it’s very creative,” Laurence said. “Um. Um, where is Dr. Glick?”

“She’s in-dee-sposed,” the pirate said. “She’s asked me to take care of her sessions today. Now, repeat after me: Arrrr!”

“Ar?”

“No, like ye mean it. Take a deep breath. No, don’t sit down. Ye won’t be sitting down this morning Larry, ye’ll be workin’! Now, say it: arrrr!!!”

“Arr.”

“Avast!” the pirate stood, the obscenely rounded end of his peg leg booming on the floor. A cutlass lay on Dr. Glick’s desk, and he picked it up. “I want to hear a real pirate yawlp before ye leave, ye bilge rat!”

Larry suddenly understood what that dragging sound had been. He looked around wildly for a weapon to defend himself; he picked up a pillow from the couch. Perhaps it would work as a shield.

“Would ye like a blankie too Larry? I won’t be caring if ye need to carry around a stuffed bear, as long as I hear ye. Now take a deep breath, and say it: arrrr!” The pirate’s voice was incredibly loud.

Laurence dropped the pillow and held his ears. He started shaking.

The pirate took a step closer and pointed the cutlass tip at Laurence’s throat; he lowered his voice and said menacingly: “I’ve slit the throats of better men than ye, Larry me boyo. Now say it, smartly lad, smartly!”

“Arr!” Larry managed, terror driving his voice several octaves higher.

“Grand! Grand!” the pirate enthused. “Now, let’s pretend you’ve got a pair, and say it again.”

“Arrr!” Larry shouted.

“Again!”

Pirate Therapy and Other Cures
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“Arrr!”

“Again! Louder!”

“Arrr!” Larry screamed.

“Arrr!” the pirate joined in.

“Arrr!”

“Arrr!”

“Arrrrr……..” Their joint shouting tailed off, and Laurence realized that the pirate was grinning at him.

“So how do ye feel matey?”

Laurence wanted to say he felt good, but he know that wasn’t the right answer, so he just muttered: “arrrrr.”

The End

Alltop be wanting yer attention too, the scallywags. The title story in my collection, Pirate Therapy and Other Cures.