Ursula K. Le Guin accepts the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the 65th National Book Awards on November 19, 2014: “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine rights of kings.”
Via Noah Berlatsky, at the Atlantic, dyspeptic about “When Science Fiction Stopped Caring About the Future“:
Most people think of science-fiction as being about the future; it’s a genre that explores possibilities, from Dr. Frankenstein’s invention of artificial life to Ursula K. Le Guin’s world populated by humans who have all evolved into single-gendered hermaphrodites. What might happen if? What could happen when? Sci-fi thinks about new technologies, new societies, and new ways of being, good or bad.
And then science-fiction fans turn to the new Star Wars trailer, and find, not the future, but a reshuffling of 30-year-old detritus. There are the storm troopers, there’s the Millennium Falcon, there’s Tatooine, there’s one of those cute droids we’re always looking for. There’s nary a pretense that we’re actually supposed to be imagining a different world. Instead, the pleasure is in reshuffling the old, worn-out bits…
It’s no accident that the most ubiquitous, overwhelming sci-fi sub-genre around is the one that has the least to do with the future: superheroes. Much of the superhero genre, in fact, is devoted to the fantasy that we don’t need to wait for technological marvels, but can experience them right here, right now. More, we can do so, magically, without the comfy old familiar world we know changing that much at all.
Tony Stark invents new magical energy sources three times before breakfast, but he uses them mostly to punch Thunder-Gods in the head, rather than, say, to completely transform the world’s technology and economy. Aliens land on earth, and rather than conquering England with H. G. Wells or forming an utterly new human race through tentacle-sex gene splicing a la Octavia Butler, they perform minor acts of altruism while taking their shirts off to reveal the pecs of Henry Cavill. Superheroes are sci-fi wonders without consequences, the future resolutely flattened by today…
I have been reading sf since I started ‘borrowing’ my dad’s pulp paperbacks in the early 1960s. (Groff Conklin‘s effect on my budding imagination cannot be overstated.) I came to science-fiction fandom in the early 1970s, when the genre was being invaded by alien minds — women (like LeGuin!), gays, people of color (Samuel R. Delany); the resentment of the white male Trufen ran deep and wordy. The one thing that unified our entire tribe, however, was the burning awareness that “real writers” considered all sf as a mental ghetto (Kurt Vonnegut: “I have been a soreheaded occupant of a file drawer labeled ‘science fiction’ ever since [Player Piano], and I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a urinal.”) The very idea that the author of Rocannon’s World or even Lathe of Heaven (serialized in Amazing Stories) might eventually be cited for her “Distinguished Contribution to American Letters” would have been considered as unlikely, as implausible, as FTL travel. Things keep changing, whether or not we like the changes…
I don’t think superhero stuff is really science fiction; it’s fantasy. David Brin wrote a fantastic article on telling the difference between a scientist and a wizard, and it has more to do with the way they act: scientists share their discoveries with the world and teach a new generation to do better, while wizards keep their powers for their own use and teach unwillingly. The “scientists” in superhero stories are much closer to wizards than to real scientists.
Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN)
Sturgeon’s Law is no less valid now than it was when he coined it. And big budget science fiction on the big screen has always been a particularly acute sufferer from it. There’s plenty of awesome science fiction around if you bother to look.
Not coincidentally, this was right around the time of “new wave” science fiction that aimed to incorporate a more “literary” style in sci-fi. Some of my favorite stuff is from this period.
Confusing super-heroes with science fiction is a huge blunder, one which would move Achilles and Hercules to the SF section of the library, for starters.
Too, just because any given story includes science (or pseudo-science for that matter) does not ipso facto a science fiction tale make.
Shorter take: Mr. Berlatsky’s eyes are very, very brown.
One wizard who sometimes shares might be Doctor Who and Harry Potter’s universe. I have no idea if this relates to the topic at hand.
Plinkett (of the Phantom Menace review) nailed this dynamic in his Star Trek (’09) review:
First video, scroll ahead to 6:25.
A long time ago in a galaxy far away..
My favorite LeGuin novel is The Dispossessed. Everyone seems to mention The Left Hand of Darkness, but it was The Dispossessed that sucked me through the worm hole to other worlds.
That was a pretty crummy article. There is plenty of good, forward-looking science fiction out there. Is it really a surprise that the new star wars film (I haven’t seen the trailer, nor do I really care to watch the film in general) is going to continue the story that was setup decades ago? And the new star wars film is in no way a reboot.
I have to think that if the author of the article tried branching out from targeted towards the general population science fiction he might have a different opinion. It has, after all, only been two years since the Banks’ last book about the Culture was published, and if he hadn’t died far too early we would certainly have a new one soon. But more than just that, there are plenty of future looking authors out there–ayou just have to look beyond the mediocre YA dystopian crap, or the Marvel universe.
Wow, sometimes some things just don’t need to be done. Sometimes people do too much.
Example: A hospitality PR firm decided to call themselves “Strange Fruit”…ok, but then in the name annoucement, here is their twitter tag line:
have been reading sf since I started ‘borrowing’ my dad’s pulp paperbacks in the early 1960s.
I started reading SF based on what I managed to find in the school library when I was 8. I managed to score my public library adult card when I was 11 and went to town from there. (Ayn Rand sucks!)
even Lathe of Heaven (serialized in Amazing Stories) might eventually be cited for her “Distinguished Contribution to American Letters” would have been considered as unlikely, as implausible, as FTL travel.
I think it’s merely awesome. I loved Lathe of Heaven.
New Horizons is awake.
[‘Fully operational on Jan. 15th.’]
@lamh36: This Strange Fruit?
Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason
Groff Conklin. There’s a name I haven’t seen in a long time. Great anthologies, including stories I’ll never see again but can’t get out of my head.
I think one of them was “The Great American Sea” or something like that, where the New Madrid fault cut loose, dropped the center of the country so the Gulf flowed in. Beaches in Colorado. Cross-country trips interrupted by 2-day ferry rides. Etc.
We’re watching Elf. Probably my favorite modern Christmas movie. It just does so many things right from a storytelling point of view.
Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN)
@Linnaeus: I have a very strong preference for more recent stuff. Ann Leckie. Lois McMaster Bujold. Iain Banks. Alistair Reynolds. John Scalzi. There’s some brilliant stuff from that period; Lord of Light is fucking brilliant. But a lot of it is just unreadable. Even Zelazny is very hit and miss; Creatures of Light and Darkness was just pointless.. I’ve tried to read Samuel R. Delaney, both Triton and Fall of the Towers and I just get lost in the sea of overwrought prose.
As I remember it, among “true” sf fans, Left Hand was exciting & literary but Dispossessed went “too far”, it wasn’t “real” sf/fantasy LeGuin was writing any more. I loved it myself, but I was a guuurl and One of Those Feminists, so my opinion was tainted. A judgement I could bear.
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN):
I read that when I was quite young. Later on, I had some serious relearning about Hindu gods and goddesses to do.
@Lennox: Yep, Berlansky does mention that coda. Myself, I found it annoying that Lucas was trying from jump to wrap himself in borrowed fairy-tale legitimacy… but I was in my mid-20s when the first Star Wars movie came out. A lot of my dearest friends adored it, while I just found the whole thing threadbare and annoying. Though even then, I admitted that if I’d been ten years younger, I’d probably have been a major fan! (even while insisting that we were lucky to have had Star Trek instead as our teenage cult-object).
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN)
Give Dhalgren a try. Convoluted but not necessarily overwrought. If you get into its groove, though, it’s happy sailing all the way through.
Closest non-SF fiction I can think of at the moment to compare it to is The Name of the Rose (which of course was published later).
@Omnes Omnibus: apparently? I mean based their tweet I would seem so…smh
Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN)
@Omnes Omnibus: Good thing you didn’t rely on Creatures of Light and Darkness to explain Egyptian mythology.
lord of light is still awesome. and very different. it’s … well, everyone should read it.
@Anne Laurie: I turned 13 the summer Star Wars came out. I am sure that was a factor in the awe I felt.
As the saying goes, the Golden Age of science fiction is 12.
and no doubt the awe we all feel now.
@Little Boots: Actually, when I was at my parents’ house over Thanksgiving, I was looking for a book to borrow from one of the rooms full of books and I picked up Lord of Light and almost took it. Maybe I will at X-mas.
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN): I know I read Creatures of Light and Darkness, but I have no memory of it.
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN):
Science fiction was never really about the future. It’s always a reflection of concerns about the present.
And Star Wars is fantasy, not science fiction.
@NotMax: I never heard that before, but I can say that my enthusiasm for SciFi did not really last longer than my middle school years.
My very first in depth comic book reading was Marvel’s The Marvel Universe, second volume. It was a 12 or 13 issue encyclopedia of Marvel’s main comic book characters; their histories and by far my favorite, a section listing “known super human powers.” Each character had a strength level, from normal human strength to whatever maximum amount they could lift. The Thing from Fantastic Four was 70 tons, while Spider-man was 10 tons for instance. I loved all that pseudoscience. Comics are also what got really made me love reading and I just expanded from their to everything else, not to sound like Sarah Palin.
Super Heroes to me aren’t really sci-fi though. I think the author is being dismissive of a genre that can be overdone and tedious for sure, but I feel like this argument erupts every few years when someone feels whatever “serious” genre of film making or writing isn’t getting the attention it deserves in favor of big blockbuster genre movies or books and series.
should have, just re-read it last month. pick it up again.
this may be too cynical.
@efgoldman: I think that is how my dad saw it. My 6 year old brother, on the other hand, had an almost religious experience.
favorite LeGuin novel
Hard to choose between Dispossessed and TLHoD — they have completely different strengths. Love the Old Religion in Karhide, and the contrasting politics of monarchy and the bureaucratic state of Oregoreyn, and the winter journey across the glacier. I find Odoism less compelling, but Shevek’s long love for Takver, and their reunion, hit me where I live, and LeGuin’s depiction of his journey between the societal poles of Urras and Annares scathes both.
But what comes _next_ ?
For me, Planet of Exile, for the close description of the Tevaran tribe of native hilfs, and their hereditary enemies the Gall, on a planet on which the round of the seasons takes sixty years or more — I guess I just have a thing for anthropology. Hardly anyone agrees with me, and Rocannon’s World, with its swords and castles and knightly honor code, is certainly more fun.
In her later work, I’ve come to be very very fond of The Telling, a subtle work which I think gets too little attention.
I’ve never been able to love City of Illusions, which doesn’t (in my estimation) have much of LeGuin’s characteristic anthropological observation of place and person and circumstance, nor her voice — it feels as if she’s trying to write a Philip Dick novel. Again, hardly anyone agrees with me.
Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN)
@Little Boots: Disagree. I thought Creatures of Light and Darkness was a pointless mess.
Somewhere between the first Star Trek movie and the second Star Wars movie, once Hollywood types started throwing the word franchise around, that particular division kinda lost all meaning. I spent many happy post-adolescent hours arguing about the difference between those categories myself (I was also a comix geek) but now I just mostly use “sf” as a blanket term we can all live with.
Lord of Light
One of the best of the best, IMHO far superior to CoLaD
@Little Boots: I don’t think so. I am still in touch with my inner 12-13 y/o. He likes swords and things that go bang. And although he doesn’t understand everything in the James Bond novels, he thinks the lifestyle is rather glamorous.
The very first science-fiction book I ever read was The Second Trip, by Robert Silverberg. I think it was published in the early ’70’s. In this particular future, capital crimes are punished by erasing the old mind and programming a new one into the body. “Rehab” construct Paul Macy finds that his predecessor, psychopathic rapist Nat Hamlin, is still in there, and he can’t get his doctors to take him seriously…
The story is awkwardly written–in teeming New York, Macy manages to bump into Hamlin’s old girlfriend–but it examined interesting issues. Who is alive? What is consciousness? What is the soul? It’s back in print if you want to read it yourself.
@Joel Hanes: Well, Lord of Light still sticks in my mind even as it fucks up my understanding of Hindu theology and Creatures of Light and Darkness is a blank even though I know I read it. That must mean something.
I feel like this post asks “science fiction” to do too much work. Either one separates hard sci-fi, heroic fantasy, dark fantasy, sword and sorcery, superhero fiction, et cetera into their own (sub)genres and assesses them thusly, or one abandons the idea that “science fiction” as a genre has to juggle Captain America and Aye and Gomorrah and answer for both.
I think it’s a bit churlish to complain about the so-called death of high-quality speculative fiction when Chris Nolan has put together two such excellent (yeah, I went there) films as Inception and Interstellar, both of which are way up there in my book. Murakami and Gibson have turned out excellent books in recent years (and I’m sure that 1Q84 actually hit a different audience than anything Asimov ever wrote), and there’s stuff ranging from China Mieville’s pulp to Visit from the Goon Squad to Redshirts.
Honestly, what I’m seeing here is the same complaint that people make about music: Everyone hearkens back to a golden age (actually the same one; the 60s-70s), and talks about an amazing, diverse, and progressive body of work that didn’t actually dominate the general environment any more than it does today.
AFAICT, the current environment is about the best possible for speculative fiction. We have both Interstellar and Gravity, following closely on films like Primer, Sunshine, et cetera; the previous several decades have pretty much ONE great US film of that genre on which to lean (2001) with of course some amazing foreign films (La Jetee, Solaris), but still!
Also, griping about comic book films is a bit rough given that these films have benefited from being forced to pander to an audience that has absorbed at least a few tropes from cerebral sci-fi. Note that it’s largely impossible for a popcorn film that wants to really succeed (Iron Man, Captain America, the Hunger Games) to have a vanilla action story without bringing to the screen some kind of existential metaphor or social allegory. IMO that’s for the better; the work that speculative fiction has performed as society’s court jester is worth celebrating, and its significance isn’t lost on today’s writers.
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN):
oh, loved it, but maybe it was not the best. it’s been a while.
It’s nearly official: OSU in as 4th team. Off-shores have set the odds of OSU as the 4th team at -300. TCU at +170 (Baylor at +700). Thats about a lock for OSU.
I remember when one of Harlan Ellisons favourite put downs was…
“Ursula K. Le Guin has more talent in her left pinky finger than you.”
ETA Lathe Of Heaven:
on the other hand, Dispossessed is still in its own league.
Do you feel that Dune screwed up your understanding of the Bedouin ?
It’s supposed to have been John W. Campbell‘s response to an earnest questioner. Campbell, as an editor and publisher, “made” a lot of what we now consider ageless science-fiction tropes; at the same time, as he got older and more “respectable”, he did his considerable damnedest to freeze SF into his beloved Golden Age amber of strong, manly, yet wily engineers building neat-o toys, battling effete alien exotics, and bringing the American Way to infinity and beyond!!! IIRC, he actually published some of LeGuin’s first short stories, but he deplored her later “seduction” by “academics and political theorists”… because there was nothing political about his Cold War capitalist boosterism, that was just natural. You know, normal. How the world worked — or was meant to work.
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN):
Lois McMaster Bujold
The Miles books are a bit uneven, but when she’s on, she writes the best space-opera going.
I quite like the first Chalion book (more fantasy) too.
@Joel Hanes: No, but, as I noted above, I read Lord of Light before I read anything about Hinduism and it was interesting to see how bit and pieces from the novel would come up when I started reading about Hinduism years later. And, yeah, Scaramouche unconsciously colors my take on the French Revolution. Reading has an effect.
ETA: Dune did make me consider the differences between fencing/knife fighting with a shield and without.
Watching Twitter take these lamebrains to school has been most entertaining.
That’s pretty much the WTF?! of WTF?!ness.
Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN)
@Little Boots: In fairness, I’m autistic and it’s become clear since I was diagnosed that there are certain sorts of literature that I just don’t get. Poetry, for instance, is completely lost on me. A lot of symbolism just flies right past me, though there are instances of it that I think are great.
Another thing that separates me from most science fiction fans, and I have no idea whether this is related to autism or not, is that world building for its own sake just doesn’t interest me. That’s not saying that setting is unimportant but it’s mostly important as a means to an end, namely interesting characters. In the end, characterization is the only thing I really care about when reading and all of the other tools (plot; setting; metaphor; language usage) are really just means to that end.
And the characters in Creatures of Light and Darkness were really flat and uninteresting.
Late 20s here and I had the same results, a good movie, nothing more. But it really didn’t spark my interest to see any of the others.
I managed to score my public library adult card when I was 11 and went to town from there. (Ayn Rand sucks!)
Around the same age here for the adult card, and yes she does!
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN):
I find his early stuff to be better than the latter.
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN): Interesting observation – whether autism related or not.
I’m not disagreeing.
I knew nothing about Arab culture when I read Dune, and have had some difficulty replacing mental pictures of Arrakis with more accurate ideas about desert nomad life.
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN):
I’m wondering if autism might actually give you an advantage here. I liked them because I could read so much into them, loving Egyptian mythology. but you may have a point that they do come across actually a little flat in the actual telling.
have to think about that, and everything else you are saying here.
@Joel Hanes: Honestly, I didn’t care for the Fremen parts of the books. When i read them, the characters I loved weer Gurney Halleck and Duncan Idaho. Again, I was about 12.
There’s more hard SF in those books than most people give them credit for, too. She cares more about biological developments than physical ones, but a large fraction of her writing involves working out the social implications of new technologies, which is much more hard SF than space opera.
I think I’m glad I got involved in fandom a bit later. I got to read both and love them without hearing anyone’s judgment of which is “real” SF. (My library filed both in the SF section.)
So far, I’m enjoying the Miles as Imperial Auditor books more than the Miles as Interstellar Mercenary books. Probably because I prefer mysteries to books about the military and war.
(Okay, I wasn’t that fond of Diplomatic Immunity because Ekaterin was uncharacteristically useless, but A Civil Campaign has my second-favorite dinner party gone bad scene of all time.)
Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN)
@Mnemosyne: A Civil Campaign was awesome, my favorite book in the series.
Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN)
Yay! The last fight is over so now all of these loud people will go home.
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN): Where are you that there are fights outside?
Mary Landrieu lost – no big surprise there. Looks like 2014 marks the realization of LBJ’s prophecy exactly 50 years after he predicted it.
@PsiFighter37: How is married life treating you?
Love the ladies writing very much. The Hannish series would be my favourite.
I read sf (as Anne identifies it) almost exclusively. Lately getting my hands on as many anthologies of short stories as possible. Favourite author of the moment is Patrick Rothfuss, absolutely wonderful world creation, character examination and writing, imho.
I love LeGuin. I never read the Dispossed because I just couldn’t get into the idea, but Earthsea was wonderful
omnes, you’ll know. On the Top of the World. who sang that?
did love earthsea even more than dispossessed. but give dispossessed a second chance.
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN):
It’s really an almost perfect balance of comedy and drama, and set in a science fiction world.
It’s funny, I’ve been re-reading some of the early books lately and the weirdest things are now obsolete science. Like people suffering from ulcers when we now know they’re caused by bacteria and can be cured with antibiotics. Or data disks not holding very much information.
@Little Boots: The Carpenters or Imagine Dragons. Which one do you mean?
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN): I love Alastair Reynolds, but what the hell happened at the end of Absolution Gap? That ending bleeeeeew. Overall really like his books though. Maybe I’m weird, but I’m not a fan of space opera with alien species that are too like humans.
@Little Boots: I’d have to give it a first! But maybe I will. I judged it too much on the jacket
carpenters, I think. someone keeps telling me it’s anne murray. I think they’re thinking carpenters version.
@Little Boots: It’s the Carpenters. Anne Murray had a hit with it, but it’s not her song.
Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN)
@SatanicPanic: I didn’t mind the ending of Absolution Gap that much, but I did think that it was easily the weakest of the series. I think my favorite of his is either The Prefect or House of Suns. Chasm City blew.
Oh, and Jon Courtenay Grimwood. I just love both the Arabesk trilogy and End of the World Blues. I think the latter demonstrates the extent to which I prioritize characterization over world building, because the world doesn’t actually make a whole lot of sense.
@Omnes Omnibus: Pretty much the same as the non-married life has (we lived together for 3 years before we got hitched). Just got back from one of her coworker’s holiday parties…would’ve gotten tanked back in the olden days, but detoxed after having some fantastic apple pie-flavored moonshine.
Work, that’s another story…seriously giving thought into looking actively at going somewhere else.
Since little boots pushed me into music and I am avoiding seeing the final score of the Badger game, here are two Take Away Shows that are worth seeing. Jack White and Cee Lo Green. Yeah, I went with colors. In any case, I think the whole Take Away Show oeuvre is worth watching.
@Mayur: Also, it’s just dumb to bemoan the state of SF by comparing classic literature to modern movies. Movies from the same era as those books weren’t, for the most part, exactly exploring deep ideas about the future, and there’s plenty of very good modern written SF that does.
Talking about what “the fans” are excited about is no more revealing. Written and media fans have always been two separate (though overlapping) audiences, and in addition, post-Star Wars media SF has become mainstream entertainment, vastly expanding that audience.
it’s what I do
@Little Boots: And I am trying to push your musical boundaries. I feel a bit like Sisyphus.
okay, turns out he was thinking of:
I am your rock. your big, hellish rock.
@Little Boots: That’s a completely different song. Great confusion results.
see I’m not the only one.
@Little Boots: Seriously, check out the Take Away Show stuff. It’s good.
Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN)
Speaking of music, has anyone checked out the new Pink Floyd release The Endless River? Even though I am a big fan of the two post-Waters Floyd albums I have this gut feeling that this one is a waste of time.
@Mnemosyne: Yeah, I recall reading a book a while back where a character on a spaceship warns everyone not to smoke, because tobacco has bad effects on their arriving alien visitor. At the time it was written, the idea that people would routinely smoke on a ship seemed obvious; by the time I read it, it was ludicrous.
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN): I have not. Pink Floyd isn’t really in my wheelhouse. I like the movie of The Wall, but it’s more for Geldof than anything else.
@Mnemosyne: @Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN): It might interest / appall you two to know that Bujold is supposed to have written A Civil Campaign as a sort of homage to Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels. I’d tried & failed to get through some of the earlier Vorkosian books, but that one I quite enjoyed, although probably not enough to read it a second time…
LeGuin can bring me to a complete mental standstill with a phrase. In the Dispossessed, a Terran diplomat is excitedly talking about how the ansible will enable people from all over the known worlds talk to one another with no time lag, and Shevek cuts her off to ask “And what will you say to one another?”
I think about that a lot nowadays. We have what are essentially ansibles, with cell phones and Twitter; and what do we do with them? What do we say to one another?
that’s wonderful. thanks.
@CaseyL: I tend not to answer my phone. And I am not a misanthrope.
@Little Boots: Which one did you like? This is the one that I think works best.
I read both sf and romance (including Regency), so I’m not appalled at all. My first favorite dinner party scene is in Jennifer Crusie’s Strange Bedpersons, which climaxes with the heroine’s best friend throwing up on her future mother-in-law’s Manolo Blahniks at the fanciest restaurant in town. To be fair, the future MIL completely deserves it.
What. The. Hell? That seems just staggeringly inept.
Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN)
@Omnes Omnibus: Given what I know of your tastes I didn’t figure you were a big Floys fan. I find The Wall to be a wildly uneven monstrosity, equal parts astonishing genius (Side 3) and incoherent mess (Side 2). As with most Floys of that period, the more a particular track was derived from Gilmour rather than being pure Roger Waters the better it was.
Roger Waters has to go down as one of the musicians most exposed as being pretty damned boring once he went off on his own.
@greennotGreen: I like the story set in the same world called The Day Before the Revolution, where Odo is an old woman looking back on her life.
A great Joe South song. Check his stuff on YouTube. I’m going to bed.
Okay, one song: “Don’t It Make You Want to Go Home.”
Neither Lord of Light nor The Left Hand of Darkness nor The Dispossessed are on the recent list of 100 of the all-time best science fiction novels voted on by 5000 science fiction fans.
@mclaren: Why should this matter to me?
Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN)
@Mnemosyne: I could probably get into certain parts of the romance genre if I put in the effort but my stack of books that I want to read is so huge without adding a whole new field that I doubt I ever will. Anyone who claims that there aren’t any good books being published isn’t trying very hard.
I like Ursula, but there were some real cop outs. Solve racism by turning everyone grey (Lathe of Heaven)? Not.
Like Interstellar, great start and idea and just copped out to a weird time cliche and soapy ending. The future is supposed to be mysterious and weird, Kubrick got that.
Exactly. The mere presence of space travel does not science fiction make. I love epic science fiction that really dares to imagine a wider universe — the death of Iain M. Banks was a terrible loss. But give me a straightforward space opera or superhero fantasy any day over some of the pretentious crap in the field. I realize that I may be alone in having thought that “forming an utterly new human race through tentacle-sex gene splicing a la Octavia Butler” was not a future I wanted any part of. I remember reading that book, in which Butler keeps bitching about human hierarchical thinking being our main problem and the cause of all our wars and struggles. The aliens save the human race after a nuclear holocaust and, noble creatures that they are, only insist that the remaining humans “share” the aliens’ biology as a free gift — oh, and by the way, in order to keep their so-generous spacefaring culture going, they destroy the planet by ripping off all its resources before they move on with the “new” human race happily joined to them. You’ll notice that “insist” doesn’t exactly match the idea of “free gift,” and “share” struck me then, and still strikes me now, as a horrifying euphemism for “submit.” No thanks.
“I like Ursula, but there were some real cop outs. Solve racism by turning everyone grey (Lathe of Heaven)? Not.”
You missed the point, then.
EtA: “The future is supposed to be mysterious and weird, Kubrick got that.”
Sort of. :)
Certainly the Weird. :)
@aangus: People do that.
@Redshift: Damn straight. I know that it’s a bit precious to bring up 1Q84 as an example, but if we’re talking about Wells or (for crissakes) Butler, how about mentioning that we just had a better-popularized NYT bestseller that shares the revolutionary speculative sci-fi mindset?
That Atlantic piece is generally a mess because it’s wrong in so many ways that it’s impossible to even address properly. The fact that the writer talks about fiction “these days” and then brings up SUPERMAN (an 80+-year-old narrative) as an example is just one element.
And BTW, he’s not even right about how technology is treated in the most mainstream of mainstream fictional media. The Marvel movies are all about how Stark’s technology has transformed (or is transforming) the world, and actually yield a more realistic assessment of how that transformation would occur than a lot of so-called “hard sci-fi”; the central debate in Iron Man, for instance, is whether it’s really possible for a defense contractor to just stop being a defense contractor and play hero, and the answer given by the films made afterward (esp. the Avengers and Captain America 2) is an emphatic “no.”
What I think is really interesting about the current wave of mainstream speculative fiction is how lefty it generally reads, at least to my eyes. I’m sure there’s a ton of confirmation bias happening but at the very least, there’s a strong anti-authoritarian and anti-militarization bent to a lot of stuff produced these days. Some of that is the stupid half-a-loaf offered by libertarianism, but I honestly get less Heinlein and more LeGuin from the majority of the interesting writers and directors out there.
@CaseyL: That was Henry Thoreau’s comment about the electric telegraph. It’s still quoted, but I’ve found myself thinking that the telegraphy business thrived, even though most messages weren’t profound enough for Thoreau’s taste. So, it’s more of an irritable mental gesture than a legitimate complaint.
@Tehanu: It’s not Iain M. Banks, but Peter F. Hamilton alternating with Stephen Baxter and Ian McLeod scratches the desire for galactic scope with added rigor and a Scottish facility with words. I’ve also been saving the last one or culture novels to read slowly, when I need them.
@Scamp Dog: Most of Thoreau’s work was an irritable mental gesture.
Sorry you don’t like City of Illusions, it’s actually my favorite LeGuin book and I don’t think it bears any resemblance to a Philip Dick homage. The moment when Falk rises up out of Ramarren’s subconscious to ambush the Shing lord still sends shivers up my spine. And when I re-read it recently I noticed that it actually foreshadows Always Coming Home, and you can’t get much more “anthropological” than that.
Tenar Darell: Thanks, I’ll check them out.
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN):
Sure, new wave had its excesses and even some of its best authors had their misses, so it’s important not to overstate its importance. And I do think that there’s a lot of more recent work that is as good or better. But I think it really was a positive influence on the genre – I think it expanded what we can consider to be science fiction and made for more complex and layered stories. Even the older authors adapted to it and newer authors learned from it.
That’s the old definition. The new one is scientists keep their discoveries secret until they get a patent, incorporate, and profit.
Major police riot (is that the correct term) in Berkeley now, with tear gas, rubber bullets, military vehicles, etc. being used again largely student protesters in mostly peaceful protests. Many helicopters circling for hours now.
There’s something very wrong in this country when in Berkeley of all places the police are proving the point of protesters who are protesting police violence.
“Sure, new wave had its excesses and even some of its best authors had their misses, so it’s important not to overstate its importance. ”
Oh, please, I went through that 35 years ago and I”d rather not again.
ETA: “New Wave” that is.
But in Lathe of Heaven it’s very clearly spelled out that the hero discovers “turning everyone grey” is not the solution — he’s appalled when his well-meaning therapist’s suggestion puts him in a world where, among many other tragedies, the biracial woman he loves simply doesn’t exist. The whole meaning to Lathe is that there are no shortcuts to solving our problems, large or small… just the ongoing struggle to improve, one step at a time, one foot ahead of the other.
As I said!
It it’s the police who are rioting, yes.
Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason
@Anne Laurie: I think my two favorite Vorkosigan books are the ones before Miles was born. My God Cordelia had sand!
The police PR was quick to send out official word (that got picked up early on) blaming the protesters and using a broken window or something to that effect as justification for major police-initiated violence.
I just hope folks start calling their city councils, not just here but everywhere. Because if it can happen in Berkeley, a place with a long history of protest where it’s supposedly accepted by authorities, it can happen in your town too.
@Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason:
@Tehanu: Did you read the entire Xenogenesis trilogy, or just one of the three books? It’s been a while since I read them, but IIRC, over the course of the story Butler used a variety of viewpoints to demonstrate that the “alien saviors of struggling humanity” (an ongoing sf trope) had their own blinding prejudices and that not all humans would be properly grateful to be “saved” out of their myriad imperfections.
Butler’s novella Bloodchild (which won just about every sf award, among others) is kind of an early version of the ideas she’d expand in Xenogenesis. It’s also a sly, morbidly funny reversal of the standard romance-novel tropes about a fiery young woman being “tamed” by a dashingly omniscent male ruler. America’s original sin (slavery) was never not a part of Butler’s writings, however obliquely…
To be honest, most of Thoreau’s life was an irritable mental gesture.
(I think he’d have grown out of it, eventually, but we’ll never know.)
@Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason:
ETA: I’ve actually met the author.
Etta: not Thoreau though.
@aangus: I had the chance to introduce myself to Octavia Butler, but not the courage to do it. I’d argued to get her invited to a Midwestern academic conference (Black Women Writers & the African Diaspora), but every time I saw her magnificent self stalking the corridors that week, I quailed at the thought that maybe she wasn’t happy to be there. Some years later, Butler said at an sf convention that she’d really appreciated the invitation and been inspired to be among so many diverse writers, so I’ll never stop regretting my social anxiety…
I remember the late 1970s pretty well, and I disagree. LeGuin was very well respected back then, to the extent that stodgy old PBS even dramatized “Lathe of Heaven” (and pretty damn well to my 13 year old mind). She would have been the obvious choice for a mainstream award even in 1979. Back in the 1970s it was still possible for a science fiction work to be considered a great serious work of literature, with no qualifiers. Now a great science fiction novel will be just considered a great example of the genre, the difference being people don’t sneer at genres the way they used to. This has a downside, giving us a world where movies like The Avengers or Dark Knight are considered “serious” films rather than simply teenage escapism. Science Fiction writers are no longer ashamed of writing sci-fi, sure, but I get the impression that often allows them to wallow even more in the conventions or subverting the conventions and making less of an effort to think outside the sci-fi box than writers in the 70s did. The genre is often too self aware. How many Butlers, Ellisons and LeGuins are running around today? I also note that authors like Marukami and Houellebecq are still always classified as “serious writers” even though much of their writing could easily be called Sci Fi.
The other issue is that simply writing fiction, of any kind, in 2014 has become almost as much of a fringe activity as writing sci-fi was in the 1970s. I have met a number of people lately, mostly men, who even boast that they never read fiction, as if fiction were a frivolous waste of time. Apparently we are all supposed to spend our free time reading The Economist or Malcolm Gladwell.
That said, with podcasts like Escape Pod, Starship Sofa and Drabblecast available in some ways we are living in a golden age of Sci Fi storytelling, it just doesn’t seem to be making much of an impact on the world at large.
Random observations after skimming through the comments.
Dispossessed is my favorite LeGuin S-F. Followed by Lathe of Heaven. I also loved the Earthsea series but the kind of meta feel to it brings the series down a few notches after the second or third read-through.
The best Delany to start with is Nova. One of the best hard S-F novels ever written, plus scintillating prose and resonating mythical allusions. Triton is an incredible read but you have to be in the right frame of mind for it.
A lot of folks express wistfulness for the hard, predictive S-F of the Golden Age, but, they were wrong about all sorts of stuff. Computers being the prime example. Smart phones being another. White guys uber alles being a third. Though, a shout out to Heinlein for having a scattering of strong female protagonists and secondary characters.
C.J. Cherryh is the mistress of latter day hard science S-F.
No Phillip K. Dick?
It’s outdated now, but John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar is still a good, rich sprawling S-F novel.
Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars is my all time favorite S-F novel.
Reading Andre Norton, with her numerous Native American protagonists, when I was a pre-teen, in the ’50’s, made me much more receptive to non-white characters having agency.
In a broader way, the outsider point of view of a lot of S-F from back then also shaped the way I feel about society and the place of outsiders in it.
I still have a crush on Dejah Thoris. And, Susan Calvin. Calvin was about the only distinctive character Asimov ever wrote. With the possible exception of R. Daneel Olivaw.
Jack Vance . Check him out.
Forgotten gems. Way too many to list. I’ll go with Edgar Pangborn’s Davy. A wonderful, sweet, Huckleberry Finn of a novel.
Gully Foyle is my name
And Terra is my nation
Deep space is my dwelling place
The stars my destination
Alien? Aliens? Blade Runner?
Too many authors to name, really, dependent on one’s mood.
Niven & Pournelle
A. E. van Vogt
to list a mere few aside from the usual ‘big’ names.
Well, at the Archdruid site, the site proprietor asked his readers to send in their sf stories so he could compile them into an anthology. The rule was that the stories had to be about plausible futures based on trends underway around us right now.
The results were overwhelming. There were so many great submissions that there will be two collections published instead of one. One book will include stories about the near future. The second book will include stories set in the more distant future.
Anne Laurie @ Top:
Sorry, a bit late to the conversation here.
Anyway, I have to say I’m with Vanya on this one. LeGuin was pretty well respected outside the SF genre, even in the 70’s and 80’s. As Vanya points out, as early as 1980, stodgy old PBS was adapting her work.
I’ll add another supporting piece of trivia to that contention: LeGuin is the only author of any genre to have two stories appear in the same edition of Best American Short Stories (1983, edited by Anne Tyler and Shannon Ravenel): The Professor’s Houses and Sur. Of course, it probably didn’t hurt that they were both published in that venerable short story institiution, The New Yorker.
Even then, LeGuin was already an exception to the mid-20th century critical disregard for SF.
Brazil? Blade Runner? Alien? Empire Strikes Back? Primer? Forbidden Planet? Donnie Darko? Gattaca? The Wrath of Khan?
Iowa Old Lady
@Joel Hanes: I love Bujold.
At least in young adult books, dystopia was dominant in books right now, not super heroes. You try to sell a super hero book and see what happens. I don’t know what that book/movie split means.
Frankly, I’m not much interested in splitting hairs over what belongs in what genre. Genre is hard to define anyway. In some ways it’s mostly a marketing tool, though at WorldCon one year I heard Bujold say she sees it as a conversation between a group of writers.
My go-to about sci-fi v fantasy is from the late, lamented “Party Down”.
This scene is between caterer ROMAN, a self-destructive jerk with a number of unfinished sci-fi works, and a PORN STAR who is hitting on him at an after-party for an adult film awards show.
ROMAN : I’m a writer. I write movies and books, I have a blog. It’s pretty cool. So what kind of stuff are you into?
PORN STAR: You know, all of it. I mean, what I really like is dragons.
PORN STAR: Dragons.
ROMAN: Dragons are fantasy. If there’s magical talismans or a magic sword or wizards or fuckin’ crazy not real animals all those basic things that breaks the laws of reality, that shits all fantasy. I’m into hard scifi, fantasy is bullshit!
We used to have something called cultural criticism in this country. But now our youths are treated to blowhards trying to milk significance from 60 second trailers. I’m concerned, deeply. And you should be too.
I think I’m with the characterization of superheroes as neither science fiction nor fantasy, but a third genre of fantastic fiction, one that can incorporate science-fiction and fantasy elements as needed.
These “who/what killed science fiction?” articles have been around almost from the dawn of science fiction. I put them in more or less the same category as “where’s my flying car?” and often it’s essentially the same sentiment.
The main thing that’s happening that cheeses the old guys off is that science fiction as a print publishing category is dying, but it’s mostly because a lot of the stuff that used to be shelved as science fiction is going to the Young Adult section instead, and that stuff is actually thriving. Meanwhile, media SF is everywhere, as well as fantasy and superheroes, though a lot of it is crap… but a lot of it was always crap.
I met Octavia Butler at a Luna Con and spent maybe a half hour talking with her. We talked about how you always have more stuff than you think you do and getting larger spaces to live in just means getting more stuff. She was a lovely and nice woman. I enjoyed speaking with her. It’s too bad she didn’t live long enough to truly enjoy the MacArthur Award she won. We lost her way too early.
…Also, classic SF was a genre that revolved around magazines that printed short fiction, and magazines that print short fiction of any sort are nearly extinct. The major SF magazines are all moribund publications with tiny circulations now, if they exist at all. But the “slicks” that used to be the mainstream big time aren’t there either, at least as significant fiction markets.
@Omnes Omnibus: Having a memory of reading something… I know I’ve read Childhood’s End. I’ve read it several times, in fact. There are hash marks inside the front cover. But I can never remember what the story is about.
I don’t know if I’m going to bother reading the whole article — just from the portion quoted, it’s clear the author doesn’t know very much about science fiction and fantasy — science fiction is about extrapolating from current conditions, and hasn’t been primarily about technology since the years after Hiroshima, when everyone who was thinking about it got a sharp wake-up on the “benefits” of technology. Fantasy is about creating myth. Star Wars is really fantasy cum space opera. (Joseph Campbell had some interesting insights on the mythic quality of Star Wars in an interview from a number of years ago, and I can’t for the life of me remember who the interviewer was.)
And another point: superheroes (which are not science fiction, they are fantasy) are not about technology saving us. Warren Ellis had an interesting insight (from an interview included in Voices in Noise): superheroe stories are about someone saving us, rather than us saving ourselves, which is one reason he’s ambivalent about them (although he’s written several superhero series, generally taking the opportunity to turn the genre on its head). He’s pushed back against that idea in series such as Global Frequency and seems to be taking it further in a current series, Trees.
The quote really reminds me of an anecdote from the time when universities, which had been looking down their collective noses at science fiction and genre fiction in general, started offering courses in science fiction, fantasy, and “alternative literature” — when asked whether his course included Arthur C. Clarke and a couple of other seminal authors, the instructor looked blank and asked, “Oh, are they important?”
OK — I’m going to stop now. Science fiction and I grew up together, and I’ve been writing on sf (and no one who knows anything about it calls it “sci fi”) and fantasy for the last decade or so. I could go on for pages. But I won’t.
I think we should all agree that the new Star Wars trailer is a bomb. Two thumbs down, way down. 1 1/2 stars. It’s so bad, I’ve released a listicle of other bad trailers.
I read a lot of science fiction up through the 1980s but then kind of tailed off. There used to be the notion that SF was a literary ghetto, and I think that’s faded away for the most part, but my impression is that the situation was produced by people both inside and outside of the field. Some of the giants of the Golden Age and earlier were just not very good writers, even if they had lots of exciting ideas to describe. And up until the New Wave, I think a lot of readers were dismissive of SF that wasn’t “hard” SF, which typically meant an emphasis on math and physics and engineering rather than what we’d ordinarily associate with good literature. Today, I think the best SF writers would be good in any genre or style they might take on, something that wasn’t true in the past.
The usual move there is to blame the world, not the science fiction.
There’s been a recent spate of “where’s my flying car?” essays asserting that there’s been no really significant scientific or technical progress since [year], as proven by the lack of flying cars and moon colonies and cancer cures, and the stuff that did happen doesn’t count because the Internet and smartphones are stupid and make you stupid, etc., etc. Usually, the author has some political demon to blame that shows up by the end. In most cases the author is some kind of libertarian and blames some aspect of Big Government or risk-averse culture or self-esteem training or some such traditional punching bag, but David Graeber recently wrote the left-wing version saying it was the contradictions of capitalism. The notion that, say, flying cars might have always been an implausible idea gets dismissed somehow.
Yes, though from a modern perspective those portrayals always have some kind of sexist turd in the punchbowl: the woman almost always eventually gives up being an independent agent in favor of making babies or serving a man somehow, or else there’s something wrong with her. I think this was less of a theme in Heinlein’s earlier works and actually got worse as he got older and was reacting to feminism.
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN): A lot of symbolism just flies right past me,
For me, it’s not that symbolism or references to a previous piece of literature are lost in me, but rather than my reaction is, “what’s the point?”
@JGabriel: what is with the love for Gattaca? I mean, as far as science fiction films go I enjoyed it, but it always gets hailed as one of the best science fiction movies of the last 20 years, and I can’t undertand why….
And outright creepiness. The Door Into Summer? Ugh.
@Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason:
I got a strong Obi-Wan Kenobi vibe from this. LOL
If a newbie here might recommend movies: I haven’t seen Twelve Monkeys mentioned. And Time After Time (1980?) is undeniably SF, not space opera, and excellent.
(for comparison purposes: I loved Interstellar and found Gravity mostly annoying. Saw Star Wars when it first came out, at age 17, and didn’t think much of it. Love Bujold’s SF and Le Guin–with about equal points to Dispossessed and Left Hand of Darkness, no Zelazny except “A Rose for Ecclesiastes,” adored John Varley’s short stories but not his novels. Currently love Ellen Klages (Portable Childhoods), Ken Liu, Ted Chiang, and Charles Stross’s Merchant Princes series.)
Zelazny reminded me of a younger, more romantic version of Hemingway. Some of their characters seemed similar to me. I liked just about everything they both wrote, including “Creatures of Light and Darkness”. I’m mainly a character guy, but any novel which starts out with a person on their “1000-year eve” in the realm of Anubis has captured my attention. I would say he was more a fantasy writer than a science fiction writer. Fantasies in general tend to have have less realistic characterizations (including Tolkein’s) for obvious reasons. I should clarify that Hemingway had better characters (more real) than Zelazny. Many of them were in fact real people (despite the legal disclaimers at the beginning of all of his novels). Both authors had characters which could make me laugh at their stray comments, which I guess is my minimum standard for good characters.
I have just about every LeGuin book, in old paperbacks, but I never got past the first chapter in “The Lathe of Heaven”. I flatly couldn’t accept the premise, and always thought her characters were kind of bland (never made me laugh, that I can recall off hand). I could tell the author was a good person though, so I kept buying them. I guess “The Left Hand of Darkness” was my favorite. I think the sense of being a stranger in a strange land and yet muddling through was appealing to the awkward youngster I was (and still am, internally). Yes, good books are all about me – how I am, how I’d like to be, people I’d like to hang with, etc. I’ll bet good psych profiles could be compiled from the books people like and don’t like.
@Anne Laurie: That’s too bad because because Butler was a really nice, warm and friendly person. And easy to talk with.
I loved LeGuin as an adolescent and young adult in the 70s and early 80’s. Which pretty much means I was by definition never one of those adolescent boys whose lives were going to be permanently warped by inadvertent exposure to Ayn Rand. (And, hey, if you’re going to expose yourself to libertarian goldbuggery as a young man, at least get it from Heinlein and be entertained and diverted by the cannibalism and incest.)
But the thing about her in her prime is that she wrote novel after novel that seemed to be deeply meaningful but, somehow, you could never quite put your hands on what, exactly, that meaning might be in an articulable way.
J R in WV
@lamh36: If the famous singer was Bille Holliday, her strange fruit was lynched black men hanging from trees down south. these PR people don’t know their own turf, evidently.
I see others have criticism of the name, without specifying why it is so horrible. So here. This is why. Lynching black men to keep the race on their knees.
Still going on today, officiated at by rogue cops. Shot instead of hung, what’s the diff?
@Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason: I’m another person whose adolescent mind was shaped by Groff Conklin anthologies. I just pulled one off the shelf — 17 x Infinity, a very yellowing paperback from 1963, and wow are there some good stories in there.
Between that and tear-gassing protestors I feel like I’m time travelling back 40-50 years.
extremely late seconding
Everyone who loves Golden Age SF ought to own a copy of Clarke’s Tales From The White Hart
and a closing shout-out to
Zenna Henderson The Anything Box
I did read all 3 but it was a long time ago. Yes, she did acknowledge that a lot of people weren’t grateful for a “rescue” that was so fraught with coercion, but overall the whole trilogy hammered so hard on the contrast between the aliens and us no-good humans with our silly hierarchical ideas about force, that it just left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe she meant something different, but I just didn’t get it.
Good list — I might quibble with 1 or 2 but yes, those are the writers. Egar Pangborn’s A Mirror for Observers was my favorite book when I was 12 and still is in the top ten. Not that there aren’t many terrific writers today – Scalzi, Abraham/Corey, Bujold OF COURSE, Banks, Elizabeth Moon, … I could go on and on so I won’t!
Bob In Portland
Yes. And some people never see the change.
When it comes to sf versus fantasy, I like one of Damon Knight’s definitions: whose authority does the work appeal to? That is, there comes a point where someone says, or the narrative suggests, that things are the way they are because $REASONS. What are those reasons like?
If the reasons involve quantum flux, the early evolution of our ancestors on the savannah (including hominid girls’ affinity for pink for evolutionary psychology reasons), and such, it’s science fiction. It’s appealing to the authority of science. Never mind whether it’s doing it well or badly – this is not a test for good versus bad writing. A work couched in an attitude of underlying science, the scientific method, and such, is sf.
On the other hand, if the reasons involve the soul of history, the legacy of dragons, and the workings of angels, you’ve got fantasy in hand. The authority for what’s being explained is magical and/or mystical.
Interesting stuff happens at the margins. You can have high-tech milieus still anchored in magic, like Melissa Scott’s alchemical starships in Five-Twelfths of Heaven and Walter Jon Williams’ Metropolitan. You can also have work that appeals sometimes to the authority of science and sometimes to other authorities, like the original Star Wars, which had both hydrospanners, computers, and parsec and energy fields and such.
I agree, that his later books were kind of bizarre about women. And, yes, the romance in Door into Summer was definitely creepy. But, I was thinking more of his early stuff, especially his juveniles. Tunnel in the Sky, for instance. The main guy’s sister was an elite soldier. The first person he hooked up with on the planet they had ported to for their school survival project was a female, though the main guy was too much of a doofus to realize it until much later. Tunnel came out in 1955. Try to think of another novel from 1955 with female characters like that. Hazel Meade-Stone, from The Rolling Stones and Moon is a Harsh Mistress. The female operative in We Also Walk Dogs. Podkayne, the heroine of Podkayne of Mars is a bit of a mixed bag. She is determined to become a space pilot even though the odds are against her because of her sex and social class. On the other hand, as I recall, she is written to be a bit too naively girly to count as a strong female character. On the gripping hand, this came out in 1963. Were there any commercial air line pilots back then? A couple years later, in Starship Troopers, most of the spaceship pilots were women because of their better reflexes and good math skills.
I’m late chiming in on this but John Updike wrote an essay in 1980 arguing the LeGuin was one of the greatest writers in America, not just one of the greatest scifi writers and that she shouldn’t be relegated to a categorization.
I’m glad others are coming to that conclusion, though sadly, apparently not scifi readers.
And something LeGuin did too is looked at the population of earth and realize that most people aren’t white and therefore in the distant future, presumably many of our envoys and leaders won’t be white by default.