Quoting “for truth”, as we used to say—or, perhaps more truthfully, quoting for the almost adrenal relief of reading someone else say something you’ve been thinking/feeling for ages. Jake Casella Brookins takes an end-of-year turn on the mic at Ancillary Review, and it’s quite the blazer:
Amidst much larger (and fatuous) claims about the moral or intellectual superiority bestowed on readers by the very act of reading, speculative fiction is prey to a theory that it in particular is a noble and ennobling art—though SF readers don’t use the phrase anymore, we’ve never fully excised the belief that “fans are slans”, superior to non-fans, and back this up with questionable studies about readers’ greater empathy, imagination, and scientific knowledge, or the belief that somehow Star Trek (and, by extension, Trekkies) are to be credited with actual aerospace developments. (This might sound like an exaggeration, but I assure you that, in the halls of science fiction conventions and in the discussions of many online communities, this kind of invention-by-association is a common talking point.) This discourse has taken a distinctly moralizing turn in the last decade or so—part of a much longer and larger history, to be sure, but fandom’s reaction to and rejection of overtly right-wing bigotry during the “Sad Puppies” era has led to the frankly bizarre stance, rarely stated openly but readily discernible, that merely consuming properly diverse and inclusive science fiction is itself a moral act.
And, a little further down:
The comfort with science fiction’s morally troubling aspects go hand-in-hand with an increased appetite for comfort within science fiction—both for stories that are smooth and palatable, and for the meta-comfort of being told that liking the genre is acceptable, is even laudable, is good. Science fiction is good, and technology is good, and your consumer choices have a positive impact on the world. In one of my favorite pieces of SF criticism in 2023, Clark Seanor wrote, of Becky Chambers’ Wayfarer series, that it “calcifies the current state of affairs in America and presents it as a future that we should be excited for.” That’s exactly it.
I am not opposed to comfort reading—ask me how many comfort re-reads I did over this miserable, trying year—but I am incredibly wary of the insistence on and defense of comfort, of coziness, in our science fiction, of the insistence that they should reassure us. […] Where speculative fiction is at its best is where it defamiliarizes, where it challenges us, where it unsettles. We should beware and abjure, now and always, ideologies constructed around settlement.
So much this. So much all of this.
(I evidently missed the socnet dramatics that prompted the dramas that power Brookins’s piece, but that merely confirms my sense that I’m not missing anything worthwhile by way of my absence from The Discourse. I also missed the wadings-in of the punditry which are discussed toward the end, but given one of the waders in question is Noah Smith—a man whose life and work seem to me a perfect illustration of not only the Dunning-Kruger effect itself, but also the startling and counterintuitive success that those who bear its mark can achieve in the world—I’m quite relieved to know that someone else has done the necessary eyerolling for me.)