utter exasperation

Damien Broderick (damien@ariel.ucs.unimelb.edu.au)
Tue, 08 Apr 1997 12:43:44 -0600

At 10:58 PM 4/7/97 +0200, a list member responded directly about my comment:

>> (BTW, I don't write `sci-fi', and neither do Swanwick or Simmons. We write
>> sf.)

>I'm terribly sorry. Grave apologies, indeed, are due to those unjustly
>slightened. No, nay, never will we ever utter that "SceeFee" obscenity in
>the presence of our betters.
>In utter exasperation

I'll copy here to the list what I sent privately, in case others felt the
same baffled exasperation:

Calm down. The distinction is not as foppish or gratuitous as you seem to
think. Here's a rather over-excited statement of why, nabbed without
permission (but I hope he won't mind) from Harlan Ellison's Web fan page.
Harlan was asked to write a piece for *Newsweek* on the Heaven's Gate
suicides. `for the week ending April 5th, 1997. The piece was requested by
Newsweek to examine the link between the Heaven's Gate cult's mass suicide
and science fiction'. It eventually appeared in massively revised form.
The original version had this to say, inter alia:

`Try this for an answer: *nothing*.

`They had *everything* to do with that hideous verbal
crotchet "sci-fi," however. And they are light-years apart, so
don't confuse them. At peril of your life.'

Harlan added further on:

`The concepts that abound in fantastical literature have the
magical capacity to inspire dreams that become enriching reality.
Science fiction, like The Whole Earth Catalog, is only
an implement, a tool of the mind's imagination. It employs the
technique called extrapolation, allowing us to play the game of
*what-if?*. A game of intellect and daring, of special
dreaming and determination not to buy into all those boneheaded
beliefs that always tell use we're too stupid and too inadequate
to prevail. That we need some kind of mythical alien or
supernatural babysitter to get us over the rough spots. Science
fiction says otherwise...

`"Sci-fi," that hunchbacked, gimlet-eyed, slobbering village
idiot of a bastardized genre, says only that logic is beyond us,
understanding must be crushed underfoot, that the woods are full
of monsters and aliens and conspiracies and dread and childish fear
of the dark...

`And *that* is the dichotomy of science fiction, as opposed
to the tabloid mentality of UFO abductions, triangular-headed ETs,
reinterpreted biblical apocrypha, and just plain bone stick stone
gullibility. It is obscurantism and illiteracy, raised to the level
of dogma. It requires that you be as ignorant today as you were
yesterday, that you be no brighter than the sap who keeps playing
three-card monte on a street corner with a hustler who will
*never* cut you a break.

`"Sci-fi" is what the Rancho Santa Fe sleepers bought, in that
flashy but adolescent shell-game called *Waitin' for the UFO*.

Given that this is the accepted and long-standing usage among practitioners
of sf, can you see why we resent having the alternative thrust upon us? If
you doubt the significance of such verbal dichotomies, try the
time-honoured method of approaching a large [----] and calling him a
[`-----']. (Enter target and epithet of choice)

Damien Broderick