EDIT: Since posting this yesterday, several people have privately told me of more issues with Tuscany Press. Some of it has been anecdotal, but others have been verifiable; and it all adds up to an unpleasant picture. The editor-in-chief at Tuscany has told me that the essay I fisked in the following post is opinion and should not be construed as Tuscany’s stance, but he did not address the issue that it was approved by Tuscany despite being obviously wrong. I may do an update on this issue soon.
ANOTHER EDIT: I’ve posted an update on this situation here.
Tuscany Press has been my go-to publishing house to recommend to fellow Catholic authors. I’m associated with Chesterton Press, a smaller indie Catholic Press (my Novel Ninja business is separate and not exclusive to Catholic fiction), but Tuscany is a larger operation and can handle more submissions at a time. However, I’m no longer recommending them, due to a recent post on their subsidiary, CatholicFiction.Net, on why science fiction is evil.
Tuscany’s stance is that they do not need overt Catholicism in their books; something that’s rather important, as it’s often difficult to write books with overt religious elements without it coming across as just “religious fiction.” It’s an issue specifically being dealt with at Chesterton Press as well, and we have our own techniques for striking that balance (mostly informed by G. K. Chesterton, our namesake, who pointed out that the test of a religion is whether it can make fun of itself), and we won’t publish books that seem more like sermons than novels.
And yet I can’t see Nito Gnoci’s grandiloquently-titled essay “Captain Kirk’s Dereliction of Duty or, Why Mr. Faust Has Found Himself Adrift Among the Aisles in the Church of Modern Science” as anything other than a declaration of Tuscany Press’ stance on science fiction. This poorly-written, strawman-fighting essay is dripping with contempt for an entire genre, and is presented as-is on a site that Tuscany proudly lays claim to and which is curated by not just one but two editors who obviously approved this post for publication. These editors are listed as independent of Tuscany, but one of them is the second-listed staff editor at Tuscany. They cannot have their cake and eat it too; Tuscany can’t claim ownership without responsibility.
As the most casual visitor to this site can ascertain, I’m an editor who specializes in science fiction and fantasy. As a more observant visitor would notice, I’m a Catholic editor with that specialization. The idea of there being some sort of separation between being Catholic and being an SF&F fan isn’t abhorrent; it’s completely perplexing. After studying the essay, and then double-checking the relationship between its host site and the company, I’ve decided that I can no longer support this company by recommending it to any author, regardless of genre, unless and until Tuscany states its policy regarding science fiction. Merely repudiating this author’s stance is not enough; the company’s own stance is now in question.
This article was brought to my attention by Declan Finn (bloging in vehement eloquence over at A Pius Man on topics relating to publishing, reviews, writing, pop culture, and music), who is writing his own examination of this article, which will be linked to once both our posts go live. (EDIT: Here you go.) He commented to me that his analysis “involves me cutting out a lot of swearing.”
Glancing at just the first few paragraphs makes it clear why. This is my sequence of facial expressions:
- I raised my eyebrow at “Dominant genre.” Just this last Saturday I was showing my students the sales charts by genre. Romance is the dominant genre, by far.
- I blinked at superhero fiction being an “annoying younger brother.”
- I winced at the mention of Al Gore. Ad hominem, guilt-by-association attacks incoming. What does Al Gore have to do with science fiction, whether or not you like him?
- I braced myself at “dereliction of duty.” Fully expecting this to be . . .
- Yep. “Church of scientism.” Hand, meet face.
Science fiction is the dominant genre in the world today, especially if we include science fiction’s annoying younger brother, the superhero industry.
The highest-selling, highest-grossing genre is romance. Authors rarely base which stories they want to tell on which genre has the biggest market share, but if you were to do just that, you’d be looking at romance, mystery, thriller, and horror long before you get down to science fiction, fantasy, and superhero stories.
It’s possible he’s taking this from movie sales. To be honest, as a diehard SF&F geek, I don’t take the position that SF&F movies selling well means that it’s a dominant genre in people’s lives. Movies with the most hype and advertising tend to be the ones that people notice. The ones that get the most hype and advertising are the ones that have the bigger budgets, because special effects sell well. (It used to be that nudity would get people in seats, but that was before the Internet made nudity available to everyone with a computer. Now people want explosions.)
The highest market share in movies, however, is — you guessed it! — romances and comedies. Individual sci-fi and superhero movies might do well, but as a genre it’s not as mainstream as yet another movie about boy meets girl.
Think of all those sci-fi movies and TV shows blessed by the most august and tiresome authority figures. (Al Gore is a big Star Trek fan.)
Okay, let’s pretend for a moment that generic “authority figures” are actually all sci-fi fans. (Personally, I doubt it, since when President Obama reaches out to pop culture personalities, I see a significant lack of people involved in “geek activities.”) But hey, I’m an SF&F geek, I know how to play “pretend.”
Why exactly does former Vice President Al Gore liking Star Trek matter? President Obama and former governor Sarah Palin both apparently like beer. I don’t like beer myself, but that opinion isn’t influenced one way or another by whether a politician does.
Plus, a Google search indicates that this is considered a fact solely because the former vice president’s ex-college roommate once remarked that they spent more time shooting pool and watching Star Trek than studying. I can only assume that Nito Gnoci is also against pool as a result.
Science fiction has also been derelict in its duty.
Its duty? I’m sorry, I’m unclear on what its duty is. In fact, I’m unclear on who gets to define the duty of science fiction.
Looking at Tuscany Press’ philosophy, I find this: good fiction should be 1) well-written, 2) tell a good story, and 3) “capture the imagination of the reader.” Nowhere in that do I see what Tuscany might say is the failed duty of science fiction. They certainly can’t claim that there are no well-written, good, imaginative science fiction stories.
Who does science fiction serve? Sci-fi is a significant buttress propping up the established church of Scientism.
I . . . what?
Sci-fi flatters both rightist and leftist elites: square-jarred heroes battle alien savages along the outer space frontier while proclaiming anti-religious and anti-natalist platitudes.
I guess I was mistaken about the multitude of sci-fi books by devout religious authors of many different faiths, examples of devout religious characters by authors of differing faiths or no faith at all, and books and characters who celebrate human life of any age but especially children, that I could have sworn were sitting on my shelves at this very moment. Babylon 5, Honor Harrington, Doctor Who . . . admittedly, Doctor Who goes between different stances, but it has some of the absolute best sci-fi material on belief, the joy of life, avoiding war, and the wonder and value of children in all of science fiction.
I have come up with a list of the major shortcomings of the genre:
1) Aliens: Sci-fi?stories often involve contact with numerous alien civilizations.??In 1950 Enrico Fermi, in conversation with his colleagues at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, famously asked “Where is everybody?” (Meaning: If alien civilizations exist why haven’t we heard from them?) I don’t think the question has received a satisfactory answer. It is unlikely other technologically advanced civilizations exist within our galaxy. If they existed they would have already explored the galaxy, a process which takes only some hundreds of thousands of years, which is a mere moment in geologic time.
So . . . the fact that we haven’t encountered aliens yet . . . is why science fiction is bad?
Tuscany Press prominently refers to Tolkien as an example of good fiction. Since we haven’t encountered hobbits, dragons, elves, dwarves, magic rings, or wizards who like to make fireworks when they’re not out recruiting for dangerous missions, I have to assume that’s a mark against fantasy as well.
We write lots of stories that don’t take place in reality. It’s called fiction. SF&F just takes it a little further, what Tolkien called “sub-creation” in his writings on the art of storytelling. I assume Gnoci is similarly critical of books and movies and TV shows that feature characters who never existed in real life, involved in events that never happened in real life, often in ways that can’t happen in real life but are portrayed that way because it’s easier for a story.
2) Bad predictions: Sci-fi?often features time travel or routine intergalactic travel.? Instead of dubious scenarios that involve debating with Socrates or zooming to the Andromeda Galaxy for the weekend, sci-fi should focus?on less speculative but still astonishing advances in medical, communication, and computer technology.? Sci-fi readies us for a future that will never come, and too often assumes the future will mirror the past, an assumption both unrealistic and unimaginative. After all, what is the starship Enterprise but a British or American colonial gunboat? ?
Random extra question marks always make you seem more intelligent. Keep it up.
I guess Gnoci’s idea of the “duty” of science fiction is to predict the future, not tell an entertaining story. If I want to read about people predicting the future accurately, well . . . last I checked, that doesn’t happen. Ever. Fifty years ago people were certain that we’d have flying cars. Why? Because in their lifetimes, they’d witnessed their society transition from horses and trains to ubiquitous automobiles and regular air travel. Drawing a line from that particular progression to flying cars seemed to be logical. Same thing with ray guns and space travel and robots — they all seemed logical progressions from innovations of the time.
Instead, we got innovations in computer technology. No one in 1965 predicted that we’d go to the moon and then never go back, much less that we’d be able to access the world’s largest library from devices we fit in our pockets. I defy anyone to make 100% accurate predictions about how society will change in response to technological developments. I defy anyone to be even 50% accurate. I might settle for 20%, if I’m feeling charitable.
3) Genocide: What is it with science fiction and fantasies of mass extermination? It’s troubling how often sci-fi Superior Beings engage in mass murder. Super geniuses, often with great intentions and well thought out justifications, find it necessary to commit genocide – eliminate all those inferior superstitious childlike barbarians. Influential authors like Olaf Stapledon (see Last and First Men) and Arthur C. Clarke (see Childhood’s End) seem sympathetic to this kind of mass extermination. ?
I haven’t read either of these books, but even if they’re depicting gleeful killing sprees where our brave heroes slaughter helpless children like Anakin Skywalker in the Jedi Temple while patting themselves on the back for their self-assured enlightenment, that’s hardly a feature of the genre. Normally our heroes are going out of their way to minimize the loss of life, even life hostile to their own.
4) Inadequate examination of the threat posed by technocracy: Does advanced technology concentrate power in technocratic elites? What will happen to the masses as robotic technology progresses and they are no longer needed to man the factories and fight the wars of the plutocrats? Does scientism/materialism lead to dehumanization and despair? If man is just a sack of chemicals, the random product of an indifferent universe, why should he possess dignity or rights? Will a hedonistic society of abundance destroy itself? What further drama will accompany the rise of Faustian man?
. . . what?
Does Gnoci seriously just say that science fiction has no stories about the dangers of totalitarian societies, robotic revolutions, consumerism, despotism, materialism, dystopias, or human rights?
5) Women: Has sci-fi really thought about the status of women in a technologically advanced civilization? In the future will wombs be needed to procreate and will mammary glands be needed to nurture? If wombs and mammary glands are unnecessary isn’t the male body more functional? Will a technologically advanced society eliminate the female sex? ?
And here we really go down the garden path in the insane asylum. Of course science fiction has covered artificial wombs. It’s all over sci-fi. In fact, one of my favorites is a minor point, practically a blink-and-miss it issue in comparison to the larger series, in the Honorverse books by David Weber. In Honor’s society, most women will use artificial wombs rather than carry their children to term themselves, with all the discomfort that brings; but her own mother decided to do it the old-fashioned way, even though by that point it’s the cultural equivalent of eschewing modern plumbing. I thought it was rather a tender plot point.
And certainly this hasn’t resulted in an elimination of women from society. The series is normally held up as an example of strong female empowerment in science fiction without simply making all female characters into men with breasts. (Personally, I think it’s easy for a man to write a military female, compared to a man writing a woman in a non-aggressive context; but Weber is very good with nuances, and he has plenty of civilian women in the series.)
Really, Gnoci is grasping at straws, trying to find something bad to talk about; but this would be a poor attempt to talk about the dangers of real-world artificial wombs (which we have the technology for now) on the way society functions today, in the real world; it’s laughable to suggest that science fiction hasn’t already anticipated such coming changes and written far more books about it than he has time to read.
6) Virtual reality: Sci-Fi’s materialists/atheists are more easily lost in the hyperreal house of mirrors known as modern skepticism. Materialists lack access to or even awareness of a being who knows the absolute Truth. If our universe is considered accidental and deficient man will be more inclined to find refuge in a virtual universe of his own making. If man considers himself less than the Imago Dei he may feel incompetent to discern what’s lacking in a virtual world.
I wonder if Gnoci is even expecting people to read his own essay at this point, because this reads like a half-hearted attempt even on his own part. Virtual reality is a danger to an atheist, but not to a theist? There’s nothing about a belief in God that somehow makes you more able to discern and interpret reality. At best, a belief in God might give you a leg up on the concept and study of causal relationships, but that in itself is not causal, as evidenced by the vast number of my fellow theists who can’t find reality with a map.
Honestly, I think Gnoci has moved from grasping at straws to thinking they’re not necessary for his bricks. Science fiction, as has been a constant theme of this rebuttal, is full of stories about telling the difference between reality and fantasy, and it isn’t limited to Barclay on the Enterprise-D‘s holodeck. Holograms, VR goggles, computer games, drugs . . . it’s all fair game, and there are many more examples of this concept than stories with artificial wombs.
But by this point, my palm is tired of encountering my face anyway. I’m reduced to shaking my head and wondering, again, why Tuscany Press thinks this individual is worth being so prominently displayed.
So how about science fiction that prefers challenging our elites to groveling before them?
It’s too bad that The Hunger Games was all about supporting the status quo dictatorship, or else that would be just one of many counter-examples.
Science fiction that doesn’t defer to the conventional unconventionalities of postmodernist philosopher Jean Baudrillard or cosmologist Carl Sagan?
Like sci-fi with, y’know, heroes who rally people to fight for a cause and believe in something higher than themselves . . . yeah, that never happens.
Science fiction that isn’t misinformed by simple-minded positivism?
Because we don’t have any books by Orson Scott Card, Christopher Stasheff, Sarah Hoyt . . . maybe I should just introduce Gnoci to my bookcase.
Science fiction that is more comprehensive when identifying the dangers we’ll face in the future?
I’ve got an idea. How about you read some science fiction?
Science fiction that is less “masculinist” (if I may coin a phrase)?
I’m honestly not sure what that means, but I can introduce him to some feminist sci-fi if he really wants. Of course, it would be faster for him to just, y’know, do a search on Google. But that would be work.
Science fiction that prepares us for a future that will actually come to pass?
Tell you what. Predict 2115 to just 10% accuracy and I’ll give you a gold star when we get there. Ten percent. That’s all. Limited-time generosity here. I hold meteorologists, politicians, and hot dog street vendors to a far higher standard than that.
I’m sorry to disrupt services at the Church of Scientism, unsettling all those wizened IT billionaires and their minions worshipping like so many mantises with their broods, but it has to be done.
Terribly sorry, but the only thing Gnoci disrupted was me promoting Tuscany as knowing what it’s talking about. He’s so far off the mark that even comparing sci-fi fans to bugs isn’t even a credible insult. (And that assumes an insult that even makes sense.)
This rebuttal is getting close to being a literal example of Brandolini’s Bullshit Asymmetry Principle (which postulates that it takes an order of magnitude more effort to dismiss bullshit than it does to produce it), so I’ve not listed all the specific examples I’ve thought of along the way that disprove his accusations. Honestly, I shouldn’t even have to. Not only is the burden of proof on the accuser, but the point here is to show why I’ve dropped Tuscany in the first place.
I did, however, leave out seven words from the review itself. I moved them to the end, because they work better as a punchline.
As an avid reader of the genre . . .
I think we need to have Gnoci revisit the definition of “avid,” and perhaps “reader” as well. Looking at his essay, I can only come to the conclusion that an avid reader is one who watched through a handful of Star Trek episodes, glanced at the back covers of random books with spaceships on the covers, and skimmed-until-offended through Arthur C. Clarke’s Wikipedia page. I haven’t seen this level of meticulous research since the last time I accidentally wound up on a Bigfoot conspiracy page. (Which was actually last week. I was researching an obscure Amazonian myth about spirits in the jungle.)
Unless and until Tuscany Press proves otherwise, I have to assume that they approve of this snide attitude by virtue of approving it for publication. This level of contempt for a good chunk of the reading public (even if it’s not the biggest chunk, as Gnoci believes) is frightening in a publisher. As another Catholic author just said to me, having read the essay herself, “I think I would be worried if I were a SF author for them, or any author, if this is an example of their editorial control.”
EDIT: As mentioned at the top of this post, but for those who don’t feel like scrolling all the way back up, you can read a short update on this topic here.