Reviewer scorn for Choosers of the Slain

A review of CLOCKWORK PHOENIX singles out yours truly for contempt. The cause of the reviewer’s discontent are self-explanatory.

There’s always one story in an anthology that just makes me want to put the book down, at best, and the WTF award for this book goes to "Choosers of the Slain" by John C. Wright, boring old-style sff’s great white hope: blah blah blah manly warriors blushing Valkyrie time traveling maiden I don’t care. I’m honestly not sure what about this story is supposed to fit under either parts of the ‘beauty and strangeness’ rubric, since nothing in it is beautiful except the obligatory girl who beseeches the manly warrior out of his destined heroic role, and it’s not strange at all, just another boring valorization of patriarchy. It’s no surprise that Wright’s been chosen to carry on A.E. van Vogt’s work (leaving aside the question of why anyone would want more of that work, but I think I know the answer), but let me just say, if there were a Museum at the End of Time, I should hope that instead of Homer they’d save Sappho, or instead of stupid misogynistic slave-happy Aristotle the Museum staff would save Hypatia in the instant before her stoning. I’d rather read one line of her lost philosophy, or of Sappho’s vanished poems than the second book of Aristotle’s Poetics or more epics by Homer, but of course my point would be lost on Wright, who’s very much into Great (White) Men. Blech.

Being a classically trained scholar myself, I cannot withhold the observation that neither Sappho nor Hypatia (note the correct spelling) were abolitionists nor feminists nor egalitarians. If either of them voiced opposition or objection to their privileged positions in the slave-holding Hellenic or Roman aristocracy, no record of it survives. In other words, they were as misogynistic and slave-happy as Aristotle and Homer. Since Hypatia was a scholar and a teacher, no doubt Aristotle and Homer were her texts.

One small correction: Hypatia was not stoned–she was flayed alive by sharpened clamshells by Christian rioters during a grotesque power struggle between Orestes the Prefect of Alexandria and Cyril the Patriarch.

By all accounts, Hypatia embodied the classical (i.e. Aristotelian) virtues of reason, chastity, modesty and moderation, and she taught Neoplatonism. She is known to have written a commentary on the Conics of Apollonius.

While anyone’s speculations as to what motivates the Time Wardens of Metachronopolis are as good as mine, I venture to say that if the Museum of Man at the End of Time wished to preserve neoplatonism, they would perhaps pick Plotinus, author of the Enneads, rather than a mere instructor in Plotinus, or pick Apollonius over someone who commented on Apollonius. Unless, of course, they pick by gender quota.

Need I mention that Sappho, even though she was a woman, wrote poetry from the point of view of a man, that is, love poems with woman as the love-object? Rather than being a sign of nonconformity in sexual orientation, this is a sign of rigid adherence to tradition. Sappho wrote as a poet because there were no poetesses in those days, no such thing as love poems directed at men. That had to wait for Christendom.

In this case, I wrote a humble story with an interesting variation on an old Norse myth about the Valkyrie who gather slain heroes to Valhalla. This is a case where the Valkyrie had a bit of a crush, one might call it hero-worship, on the hero; but, ironically, the hero resisted the temptation to be gathered up into the pleasures of Valhalla. Because of the choice of my theme, the main character had to be a hero, and a warrior-hero at that. This offended a reader I had been hoping to entertain.

Not to spoil the surprise ending, but he dies a particularly pointless death, so I am not sure in what way this supports the Patriarchy (unless this is an obscure reference to the politics of the Kzinti of 61 Ursae Majoris? No? I thought not).

The review makes no mention of the merit of the story, the craft or clumsiness of the telling, the cleverness or dullness of the premise, et cetera. The reviewer is indignant that I wrote a story about a hero and a girl who loves him.

She is right that the story is nothing special. I thought it was creepy in a Twilight-Zone way, but not so very original (retellings of old myths are not meant to be), so her boredom, I sadly admit,  is justified.

So what is the source of the indignation? Ah. To answer that, you will have to look at the indignation, and not at the story.

Is the point lost on me? No, I fear it is crystal clear. I never understand why those who uphold bumpersticker dogmas as conformist, sheeplike, and simplistic as "Four legs Good! Two legs ba-aa-ad!" opine their thoughts are somehow too high flown or deeply spiritual for the rest of us working Joes. (In my case, a working Joe with a classical education and a doctorate in law.) I wrote a story where the hero had two legs. But two legs bad! Aristotle male. Male bad!

Got it. Point taken.

An interviewer once asked me if my Christianity or my political philosophy would offend readers, by which he meant readers to the Left of Center. I answered that since such readers get offended at plain, ordinary and decent things like heroism, romance and marriage, I have no need to expend effort to offend them with more abstract or topical questions.