LE Modesitt Clarifies

Lawyers are required by the canon of ethics not to contribute to provoking controversy. Philosophers and Opinion Journalists do not have the same canon of Ethics, so we are allowed to seek out and emphasize controversy even where only trivial disagreement exists.

Even in the theoretically more open society of the United States, there are tens of millions of people who cannot conceive of, let alone accept, any sort of domestic arrangement besides a two-partner paternalistic, heterosexual union sanctioned by a religious body. There are possibly more than a hundred million who have no understanding of any theological system except those derived from European Christianity. Effectively, the vast majority of individuals from such backgrounds are self-alienated from science fiction and to a lesser degree from fantasy.

In an earlier post, I bellyached about a casual comment made by the well-respected author L.E. Modesitt Jr. made here (see the entry “A Sideways View of F&SF and ‘The Literary Establishment’ ” posted 6/25/2007).

Now, I was unfair, because of course, Mr. Modesitt Jr. was writing something serious, and I replied with scorn and sarcasm. My sincere apologies for that. I sort of assumed automatically that when someone answers sarcastically, they are beneath answering (and I mean me). I hope he was not talking the time to answer my objection seriously, since what I wrote was more or less the same as if I had merely snorted and tossed my head.

However, it seems that other people raised either the same or a similar objection to the paragraph in question, and Mr. Modesitt Jr. here issues a counter-rebuttal to clarify.


Siris writes a counter-counter-rebuttal.


If I were the jury in this case, I would be inclining toward Siris.

Mr. Modesitt’s statement was that there are tens of millions of people who “cannot conceive of” any arrangement aside from monogamy, and “more than a hundred million” who “have no understanding” of any religion other than European Christianity (I am not sure why he excludes the Nestorians from his calculus). So far so good: let us not argue his numbers. The point of controversy is the next sentence: the vast majority of people “from such backgrounds” are self-alienated from Science Fiction.

Now, either he is saying that the people who cannot imagine anything outside monogamy and monotheism are unable to savor science fiction BECAUSE they are unimaginative (which is my reading of the sentence) or he is saying that the people who cannot imagine anything outside monogamy and monotheism and it is merely an unrelated coincidence that they do not appreciate science fiction. In the second case, he is saying nothing at all. In the first case, he is saying people like me, conservative monotheists, don’t like science fiction, a statement that, in my case at least, is simply false. I like science fiction just fine, thank you.

Now, he was careful enough to say “the vast majority” of people from such backgrounds don’t appreciate science fiction. I might be a member of the tiny minority. Fair enough: I do not know what the numbers are on Christian versus non-Christian SF writers and readers. My own experience is that SF guys tend to be fairly non-dogmatic and easygoing on a wide number of topics, and where we are dogmatic, it tends to be on crackpot topics like the Dianetics, the Singularity, the Gold Standard or The Right To Buy Weapons (sorry, crackpots, no offense. I strongly believe in two of the four things listed). The only passkey to liking science fiction and fantasy is a hunger for scenes from somewhere other than the here-and-now.

The writers that openly (Bob Heinlein, Isaac Asimov) or in passing (Larry Niven) mock Christianity garner a lot of attention for their stance, whereas writers who happen to be Christian and don’t make a big deal out of it in their writing (Jules Verne) do not. I will be the first to admit that Christianity and Science Fiction do not blend easily, unlike, say, Fantasy, which, because it lends itself naturally to supernatural themes, either tends to have a European Christian flavor (JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Gene Wolfe) or a European pseudo-classical pagan flavor (Robert E. Howard).

Mr. Modesitt in his rebuttal merely wishes to clarify the first part of the paragraph, which is fair enough, if that is where he encountered adverse comments. Siris points out that these clarifications, in and of themselves, do not support the main contention of the argument, which seems to assume that religious people are too unimaginative to like SF, and, indeed, the closing comment about “true believers” of Mr. Modesitt’s can be interpreted as another sign of disdain for religion. I don’t wish to read between the lines, but it does look as if this condescending tone toward us poor unwashed religious masses is something he is comfortable mentioning merely in passing, as if it is too obvious to merit support.