Appendix N: The Generation Gaps

The recent series of posts over at Vox Popoli relating to the sins of the Baby Boomers and GenXers set my mind wandering down strange paths.

That the true giants Burroughs, Howard, Moore, and E.E. Doc Smith were forgotten and the fraudulent three – pervy Heinlein, snowjob Asimov, and pedo Clarke – elevated by the Baby Boomers for political reasons is beyond doubt.  Anyone looking at the field of science-fiction with an impartial eye cannot deny the influence enjoyed by the former to this day, nor can they deny the steady downward trend in science-fiction’s inspirational qualities or creative vision that was concurrent with the rise of the false trinity  (I won’t dignify that slight by capitalizing the words.)

There may be more to the situation, however.  The Baby Boomers are notorious for believing that the world began with their generation.  We see this in their writing on film, art, politics, and literature.  Everything is viewed through a lens of “what did they ever do for me“, and they gleefully ignore the culture that allowed them to live out their sheltered lives relatively free from the frothing cycles of history and economics that have always plagued mankind.

“Don’t trust anyone over thirty,” was the catch-phrase that highlighted their ignorance of the past, and so pervasive was that attitude that it only makes sense it would infect the field of science-fiction.  If Dad liked to read Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard then that old stuff just had to be substandard compared to the new hotness of edgy writers like Damon Knight and Harlan Ellison.  You know they are cool because they are total dicks, man.

They rejected the things their fathers honored like selflessness, romance, virtue, and…well, honor itself.  And you can’t read Burroughs or Howard without being infected by those ideas, so in order to preserve their carefully manufactured worldview that put them at the center of everything good and right and just, they had to treat the hard working and creative men and women who built the world of science fiction just as they had memory holed everything about the Silent Generation that wasn’t focused exclusively on how great the Baby Boomers are.

It might not be quite as great a sin as squandering the financial wealth accumulated by the west over hundreds of years, but squandering the cultural wealth of Burroughs and Howard certainly serves as just one example of how they left the world a worse place than the one they inherited.

On a surface level, there is a certain irony in me – a GenXer myself – repeating the cycle and rejecting the actions of the generation before me.  But where the Boomers rejected everything that came before and assumed that they could create a better world from whole cloth in a generation, we GenXers are looking back beyond those poor misguided fools to the generations that came before them to see if we might heal the world they poisoned in order to leave a better world for our children than they left for us.

We don’t reject the wisdom of our predecessors, we just reject the foolishness of our immediate forebears.  And it’s this focus on the lost wisdom that will allow us to reject their false promises and build a better world.

And that includes a better science fiction culture.

About Jon Mollison

Jon Mollison was weaned at the literary knee of Tolkein, Howard, Moore, and Burroughs. He spent decades wandering in the wilderness of modern genre fiction, wondering when the magic and wonder went out of the world of dragons and space ships. In his darkest hour, he encountered a wise man who handed him the open secrets to crafting works that emulate the stories of the great authors who built the genre. They are easily summarized in but two words: Regress Harder. Now one of the twelve champions of the Pulp Revolution, his self-published works represent a more direct lineage to the tales of action, mystery, romance, virtue, and pure unalloyed adventure than the bland imitations churned out by New York City publishing houses in recent decades.
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5 Responses to Appendix N: The Generation Gaps

  1. Jeffro says:

    The Sad Puppies had a very strong "back to Heinlein" strain. The Cirsova stuff I've read feels more in line with the seventies overall than the thirties. There's like three, maybe four authors I can name that would even know how to "regress harder".

    Seems like the whole scene is far from overcompensating. In fact… the scene is itself a response to overcompensation. But mostly, people don't need any help looking back to post-Christian authors of the seventies for inspiration. That's pretty much the baseline and it takes a lot of effort to do anything else.

  2. Jon Mollison says:

    Every damn time.

    This is a discussion of generational trends. Bringing up specific cases is so completely and utterly irrelevant it isn't even on the same planet as being wrong.

    If it helps, take heart in the fact that this analysis doesn't apply to you specifically. Just like every other baby Boomer in existence, you are special and unique and deserve only accolades and praise. I'm just talking about those *other* Boomers here, pops. Does that help?

  3. anderyn says:

    So. As a very late cohort Baby Boomer, I missed out on a lot of the entitlement, because the earlier ones used it all up. When I was coming up (too young to experience the Sixties or early Seventies; too rural to have a bookstore in my hometown) as a science fiction reader, I read what I could find at the local cigar store and grocery store, when I had the cash (which wasn't often). So I read E. R. Burroughs and Heinlein and Zelazny and A. Merritt and Leigh Brackett and Andre Norton and good old R. E. Howard — all those books were out in mass market in wide distribution when I was a young kid and teenager. No one told me I was not a decent fan because I read pulps. Of course, the only other fans I knew were the local school librarian and the shop teacher and their two daughters, who were all pretty much "live off the land" types anyway and we were all nerds and geeks before that was a thing. Anyway, my point is that you are tarring a whole lot of people with a broad brush, and a lot of us are not what you think.

  4. Jon Mollison says:

    Perhaps. As you say, there are things worth stealing from the writers of the late 20th century. It's possible we stand too close to the late-20th century writers to be objective about them as a whole.

    I'll let my kids cull through the writers of the Silver and Bronze Ages of sci-fi to decide where they rank on the galactic timescale…and thus the cycle turns ever on.

  5. Tomas says:

    I'm starting to wonder if the PulpRev crowd isn't being a bit too harsh on the Big Three and other mid 20th-century writers. These were guys still influenced by the pulps. Heinlein is a good example. He admired and was good friends with Doc Smith. He definitely had a different ideological bent than those who came before, going full libertarian (socially as well as economically).

    Ursula K. Leguin is also an interesting study. A clear leftist – see her Left Hand of Darkness especially – but she's carrying the torch of the tradition, as seen in books like the Earthsea Trilogy.

    I think the radical #regressharder is necessary right now, but I think there needs to be a pivot to letting what we've learned from the source highlight what's salvageable in the more recent stuff. I kind of like Space Opera with some Hard Sci-fi crunch – the thing is not letting that crunch belittle the majesty of the thing (Looking at [both of] you James S.A. Corey).

    In this way, we aren't even rejecting our immediate forebears tout-court (though the temptation is there…), but are rejecting where they were going and plundering what good things they did do (I'm thinking especially regarding literary style – it tends to be one of those things that organically develops and I'm not so sure there's been a clear rupture there).

    Though I'm still thinking this through…

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