Niven and Pournelle
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Any suggestion as to which collaboration I should start with?
Both are excellent writers and the book is a very good read, but I noticed the change within a page or two.
To tell the truth, most of the Niven & Pournelle's collaborations read a bit dated now. They're a bit like the Planet of the Apes films - you'll forgive them a lot because of that iconic shot of Charlton Heston finding the Stature of Liberty, but their vision of the future - all jackbooted thugs and Brutalist architecture - looks horribly dated now, and their acting and dialogue in them wasn't very good anyway.
I'm about 4/5 chapters in. Is it worth persisting with?
Some peoples whole life is bound up that way Carnophile.
Inferno was pretty good, not world shaking, but cool concepts and characterisation imo.
But I'm certainly glad to know that if I can find ham-handed and unrealistic characterization of "men" as a class, that some readers won't be bothered by it. I'll be sure to pass along the recommendations.
To be perfectly fair to Nivens' writing, make it a woman who wrote the story 30 years ago, when all peoples attitudes were different as a pure and simple matter of fact.
This would pretty conclusively prove you WERE NOT seeing life through a political lens. Bet you can't do it.
* It must have some sort of relationship to how people live their real life lives, so we will consider your interweb attitude representative of you normal one.
Since the book was establishing its universe and its society, politics were a rather important part of that.
I am reading for pleasure and where women are side-lined/passive objects/stereotypes, it alienates me from the text. Where's the fun in being belittled? There has to be something really interesting or provocative to keep me reading where this is the case.
I read and enjoy a lot of older s-f, but this one just doesn't grab me and there's absolutely no point in struggling on with it if the best that can be said for it is that I have to give it a total pass on its politics.
All of literature pre the feminist movement is closed to you.
Was the way women were treated wrong?. Inarguably.
Is it immature of you to not be able to judge that one issue and move on?. Absolutely.
Don't read War and Peace.
Don't read Dickens.
Don't read Shakespeare.
Don't read the Bible.
The real world has hardship in it, and injustice. It also has beauty and worth right alongside.
Close your eyes to the one, you miss the other, and it is what a child instinctively does, a grown up ought to accept the world, faults and all, and do the best they can with it, and hope by example to do more good than wrong themselves.
Here is a thought for you. This is clearly not the perfect world. Obviously 50 years from now, SOME aspect we take as much for granted as others have taken slavery, or sexual discrimination in their time, will be the new "thought crime".
Some of the present crop of feminist writers you read probably commit this "unforgivable crime" we are all blithely unaware of now.
Gasp!. You should stop reading all together, in solidarity to the future "whatever-that-just-cause-will-be" ists.
( edit for grammar )
Frailty, thy name is woman. - Shakespeare.
Niven and Pournelle have rarely been in such high company, I'd wager.
Writing cardboard caricatures based primarily on one or another set of politics is a failing not restricted to men or to women, or to any particular time and place. It's a failure of bad writing, and Niven is guilty as charged. Lots of writers have this failing, from all kinds of different ideologies. Depending on how severe the problem is, it can throw a reader out of the story.
Ham-handed attacks on some kind of straw-person feminist ideology do not eliminate the problem that some writers have crappy characterizations of women (and men too, btw). In SF a lot of writers let their politics get the better of their characterizations; it has a reputation as a didactic literature for more than one reason.
Clearly some folks on the list don't have their suspension of disbelief or enjoyment of a story disrupted by cardboard characterizations based on gender (or other) stereotypes. Trying to argue that the rest of us *shouldn't* seems more illustrative of some anxiety around feminism and critical theory than of defensiveness towards one or another writer. In other words -- people read Shakespeare because of a wealth of virtues, among which are the creation of complex characters -- not uninfluenced by sexism and racism, sure, but complex and beautiful. Niven & Pournelle, the virtues are a little thinner, and the faults accordingly somewhat more disruptive. YMMV.
And, strangely enough, I often dream of a post-apocalyptic time where I discover libraries of necessary maps and books on how to do things. And also strangely enough, I have a few books of that sort. I don't use them, but they're ready!
Nonsense. I wasn't making an attack on feminist ideology. It is a deliberate misrepresentation by you to say so, skates the edge of out right lie in fact.
My attack was on a single person ( and concomitantly anyone else who is ) so immature that, because a writer of fiction, embedded in a sexist culture ( though give 1060s USA its due, it WAS trying to deal with its faults ) doesn't write female characters of perfect equality, the reader turns its back entirely on all the other virtues in said author.
And your "attack" on their characterisation is just an opinion. Many writers don't build characters as well as Tolstoy, but that doesn't mean their works ought to be discarded.
Sci Fi isn't primarily read, nor written, for the baroque art of "Characterisation" anyway, imo. That is for the "true Literature" genre to wallow in, lively characters in dead plots of stale re-workings of the same ideas in most instances.
Nivens forte is something else, and I guess he wouldn't claim otherwise.
And actually, giving a moments thought to the particular book, Mote in Gods Eye, the original complaint is exposed as at best a misunderstanding of the structure of the novel.
The Co-Dominion the human culture is set in, is in a carefully explicated Reactionary Conservatism mode, the author says as much.
So here is my take on the complaint.
The pro-feminist reader was so one eyed in her anger at the female characters not being "equal" to the male ones, she missed the point that in the case of that society, it was a deliberate act by the writer to portray them as such. The main female character Sandra Bright "Sally" Fowler actually says that she is sick of being held back by societies deliberate protection and coddling of women, if I recall correctly.
If she had her way, authors would be allowed to write of Reactionary societies doing all the things they do ( Excessive respect of military, overt patriotism, insular opinions, bigotry, etc ) but NOT repression of women. We would have the perfectly ludicrous image of a Reactionary society in all respects EXCEPT it would have perfectly free and equal women.
That is the whole problem with someone being any kind of bigot. They go into everything with a twisted idea, and ONLY people who agree with them are allowed an opinion.
So just for you, here is an "attack" ( perfectly justified I believe ) on "Feminist" or indeed ANY exclusive ideology.
Feminist or Racist or Nationalist, it is all exactly the same fault. Bigotry.
And cloak itself in rhetoric as it will, it comes down to bigotry. "You WILL treat women as equals in ALL your plots, or we will denounce you".
I was looking for what's good about the book, what I'm missing: basically hoping that someone would have said something like "oh no (I see what you mean about the depiction of women/I disagree with you about the depiction of women) but anywaaaay, if you carry on, the ideas/the story Niven & Pournelle get to become really exciting or original" or something.
But instead of something positive about the book - I get I'm reading it the wrong way and basically that not getting along with this one book must mean I can't read anything non-feminist. I've gotta laugh.
So not having read this novel in more than 15 years I started flipping through it. One of the first items I encountered is that Sally Fowler is an anthropologist.
That is mentioned in one of the first few chapters.
There has to be something really interesting or provocative to keep me reading.
First contact with intelligent aliens.
First contact is more interesting and provacative than any subject taken by, e.g., Shakespeare. He never dealt with a subject that could determine the survival of the human species. You’re reaching.
Funny how, as each argument is shot down, a new one arises to take its place. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that a certain position was taken and new arguments for the position are added on an ad hoc basis to “justify” it.
That is, we aren't told "He was nice" or "She was impatient." Rather we are shown him doing favors for people or her tapping her foot and rolling her eyes whenever she has to wait for anything. Etc.
(These are just random examples I made up, not from Mote.)
I can't imagine what the "characterization" crowd is looking for here. Maybe "He was torn by ten thousand regrets from his youth, and he stared off bitterly into the sunset writing bad poetry about it." If that's what you're looking for, yes, definitely put Mote down. You won't find that kind of crap therein.
Sorry you're having trouble with this. Let me help you out. "Show don't tell" is the mechanics of writing characters, but it doesn't get to the core of characterization.
A few examples: If a writer "shows" every man being a violent asshole and every woman being an angel of peace and harmony, one could fault the writer's characterization as sexist. Similarly if you show every white character as industrious and clever, and every black character as lazy and stupid -- even if you never outright say "Tom, the black slave, was lazy" and "Jerry, the white slaveowner, was hard working," then, voilá, you have engaged in a racist characterization.
So you see, your sunset sentence is really inapposite. Hope this was helpful.
as intelligent and provocative as anything in SF.
"This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother, Which thou takest from me ... "
If a writer "shows" every man being a violent asshole and every woman being an angel of peace and harmony...(etc.) Not clear what your point is here. Surely you're not saying that is true of Mote? What are your objections to characterization in Mote?
You didn't respond to this: "I can't imagine what the "characterization" crowd is looking for here." (Unless you meant to respond by asserting that every man in Mote is violent, etc.)
So you see, your last two paragraphs were inapposite.
Also, I wrote "He (Shakespeare) never dealt with a subject that could determine the survival of the human species." The magical creatures in the Tempest never are a threat to the survival of the human race.
>39 TLCrawford: I didn't know Shakespeare wrote Forbidden Planet. Or is the point that an author should be assigned the credit, or blame, for every work based on, or similar to, their own works?
Why don't you just say, "I don't care for the characterization." Since that's entirely subjective, no one can formally disprove it. Thus you can declare victory and go home.
The Tempest has been remade into everything from a Western (Yellow Sky) to a comedy (Age of Consent).
Forbidden Planet has been called one of the most facinating recreations of the play where the island of Prospero becomes Altair IV, Prospero is Morbius, Miranda is ALtaira, Adams is Ferdinand, Robby is Ariel and Earl Holliman is Stephano. That would make Caliban the invisible monster.
It all seems reasonable to me.
No, I'm not speaking of Mote here. If you recall you seemed confused about characterization, and talked about show don't tell. That's not the kind of characterization problem that I was talking about. So I am giving an example to you of characterization that can be problematic even though the problem is not "show don't tell".
I had hoped that if you understood different types of characterization, perhaps you could then "imagine what the characterization crowd is looking for". I don't think I can say it much more clearly.
As for "I don't care for the characterization," I don't. But one might ask why, and there are sometimes reasons that are not entirely subjective. Even if you disagree with them, Carnophile.
Anyway I have no particular interest in "declaring victory" (over whom?). If you don't understand what we're saying, that's a problem of communication; but you need not assume that there's no there there. ... Anyway, don't trouble yourself about it further. Some folks think that Niven & Pournelle do a crap job of characterization. Clearly you don't. C'est la vie.
Or of course you could just burble out a disjointed statement and back it up with repeatedly saying "Cardboard Characterisations" as if that carried proof, and THEN claim the communications failure is on the other end of the line.
You have not supplied a word of Nivens writing from ANY book, to point out where his character is cut from cardboard. Just your own repeated accusation.
That makes your statements ENTIRELY subjective of course.
I pointed out the first complaint was that of a bigot, and have since picked up and read the first two chapters.
Her only complaint was about how the females were depicted therein.
No complaint about how the young people were all in low positions on the ship-board hierarchy.
No complaint about how the only Arab character with any depth of portrayal was portrayed as a sneaky intelligent criminal traitor to the human race.
No complaint at the portrayal of the people of Scots descent being overtly religious and insular.
No complaint at the portrayal of the Military hierarchy being ossified.
No complaint at the portrayal of the Russian as dour and paranoid.
No complaint at the Aristocracy being portrayed as effete.
The only complaint seems to be based on the fact that , on board a military ship of a conservative society, in a time of civil war, there was a male bias.
Bigotry, pure and simple.
Just as if everything were reversed for some internally consistent reason ( As if say, instead of an explicitly conservative and reactionary society, there was a rampantly feminist and determinedly NON conservative society where the men refused to follow their urge to climb hierarchies specifically because that was a social wrong, or for whatever internally consistent social reason the author chose ) and a male then chose to denigrate the book based one the one fact that a male character was not Captain, he would be being bigoted.
remember the Hippies in Lucifer's Hammer?, Not to mention the finally drawn mobs of cannibals in the same work.
Surely though mephit's complaint about the the aristcratic structure was aimed at the ossified miliitary and effete aristocrats?
Still Annodyne is right people in their books do tend to be political stereotypes (Hell after all according their Inferno houses Those Lying Anti-Nuclear Protesters, and people who find it hard to swallow political arguments that stem from cardboard cut outs instead of facts or people. might be well advised even if they hold similar views not to read them.
I am curious Annodyne, do you beleive Mephit thinks as Pournelle and Niven seem to, that the Scots are insular, aristocrats are effete, and Russians are Paranoid? Do you think this yourself? Or do you just accept these stale stereotypes as unimportant to the plot which after all is not about people but about the riddle of the Moties.
For all I actually did was write a purposefully derogatory dismissal of a few picked characters, nothing at all like an in-depth analysis of the characters as written by N & P.
WHY I did so would be self evident to any candid person, and as you are not one, I will explain.
I was trying to take her claimed attitude and opinion of " Terrible characters" and show how she would/could have included at least a few of my examples, were she not a bigot. SURELY a person crying out against injustice in an authors work would at least have included the poor Arab character alongside the woman, in her list of sins?. But no.
Here is a more accurate assessment.
The Arab character actually comes across as a sensible pragmatist when you read the extended internal self-justifications he goes into, his own culture and personal philosophies are pretty rugged and not dis-similar in fact, from the "self-interest-paramount" we hear on this site from certain right wingers. It is actually when he is viewed through the eyes of the aristocrat "hero" Blaine, who sees everything quite differently ( you know, as complex characters always will ) and views Bury as a threat to Blaines' own people and culture, that he becomes a "stereotype". And yes, pretty black and white Blaine does form this view via a species of racism . . . . you know the sort of thing millions of your countrymen do exactly the same today, right now, to Arabs. Do you consider THEM damned by this to be "cardboard cutouts"?.
Blaines having this culturally inculcated racist fault, is actually indicative to me of his being a well rounded character. As I said earlier, the image of a Lord of a Aristocratic, ( Please note the correct spelling sport ) Conservative and Reactionary society being all those things but carefully NOT being at least a little racist, is absurd.
The young characters forced into low places on the ladder of rank, well that is self explanatory, it is what happens in a military organisation, and quite rightly too.
I am of Scots descent. Also Pacific Islander. Compared to my PI family members, the Scots are in fact pretty damned insular as a bunch. Won't invite a stranger to tea, not hardly. Not all of them, but enough that ( again, to a candid person ) it isn't so much a stereotype as an observation. Two seconds work on google finds out that Niven is a Scots name, et voilà, I guess he has some alike experience.
I know a Scot from New Brunswick quite well, and she has told me about how her extended clan treat people new to town. Pretty insular. Opposite ends of our earth, same observation, not stereotype but seemingly fact. Good enough to chance a cultural character trait in the future on?. I think so. Especially when you see that they DELIBERATELY adhered to what they remembered as "Cultural Virtues" on that world. Craftiness, Faith, Parsimony, and Suspicion of strangers. Stereotype or culture building with some reason behind it?.
Don't personally know anything about, nor any Russians, so I can't do more than go with their own assessment of themselves I have read at times. Proudly they will say "We have a REASON to be paranoid, 3000 years of invasion". Shall I find you a link?.
However the Russian Captain is CHOSEN by the Imperial government specifically because he is paranoid, and tasked with going as far as killing anyone and everyone who presents a threat to humanity, in contacting the aliens, including himself and the members of his own crew. No point I think in putting an average Californian in that position?.
So you know, a candid person would say "Yes, a stereotype in a way, but hand picked as one BY THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE BOOK". If you know a candid, honest person who has read the book, you may ask them and see if I am right there.
Well, it historically has been a rare beast, an NON-ossified Military Hierarchy. And seeing as it is such a regular occurrence for an English Speaking Peoples' Military Hierarchy to be this way, to fight the next war the way they fought the previous one,, maybe that can't be considered a stereotype?.
Aristocracy being portrayed as effete.
Well, this seems to have been Kevin Renners original attitude, but then he seems to be of Aussie extraction to me stereotype So he is a drongo mug who wouldn't know effete if it bit him in the tail /stereotype and besides he comes to admire the Lord and think him quite "the man". ( All Aussies ultimately will of course, damned good troops if they have British Officers you know ).
How unfortunate for you then that you succeeded in convincing me.
It is unlikely now that I will ever reread the book though I enjoyed it at the time. I freely admit to having only the vaguest of recollections of the characters. something that makes me only to willing to think your portrayal of them as unimaginative stereotypes was accurate. My thoughts on the characters in their other books were I assure you entirely candid. Those I mentioned I indeed regard as unrealistic stereotypes. I find it hard to believe that the authors would have suddenly gain the ability to craft realistic people in this one book without me noticing.
You seem to think stereotypes necessarily lack a basis in fact. What a strange thought. I would say rather that real character transcends stereotype. A scot is not defined by his Calvinism or an Italian by his Catholicism. To stereotype is to limit them to such definitions. Many people are of course complicit in their own stereotyping.
Do you really believe that not one Californian is capable of killing himself if he thought his duty to the human race necessitated it? That Californians are incapable of paranoia?
you seem to be saying that Scots are not stereotypical when they act like their stereotypes. Further that N&P did not pluck a stereotype out of the air when they needed some one to fill a paranoid role because only Russians are Paranoid.
Was I wrong do you think stereotypes are not all false but rather always true?
Perhaps are they are some sort of platonic ideal or allegorical figures? (I can see Californians as Mr Worldy Wiseman, and the Russian as Giant Despair:^)
As to the Hierarchy you seem to miss my point that mephit was not necessarily complaining about just the role role of women but was criticising all aspect of the heirarchy.
As to Australians I must say that I for one do not think they are at their best under British officers. Too many remember Gallipoli.
Unless a drunken Scotsman on an Intercity train between Glasgow and London has been included, I'd say it failed on the Scottish Stereotyping front.
Ah, but you could, by providing specific examples from the work under discussion.
If you don’t want to do that, I could understand. Maybe you’re bored, you have other matters to attend to offline, etc. I didn’t provide them either, in post 36.
But if you don’t provide examples you can’t make derisive comments like
Sorry you're having trouble with this. (37)
If you recall you seemed confused about characterization (44)
If you don't understand what we're saying, that's a problem of communication; but you need not assume that there's no there there (44)
That leads to scenarios like this:
lquilter: “That Carnophile sure is dumb! He couldn’t understand any of my examples from the work under discussion!”
Bystander: “Oh, what examples did you provide?”
Lquilter: (Stands red-faced and silent.)
Your posts in 35 & 36 seemed to miss the boat entirely, and display that you did not understand the general complaint about N&P's characterization issues. I gave general examples about the issue. You have failed to acknowledge the distinction that I think I made pretty clear, between (a) "showing not telling" and (b) stereotyped characterizations.
I was derisive because you were snarky yourself -- "characterization crowd". Whatever.
At any rate, I think we're going to have to agree to disagree. I, and some others, have found Niven & Pournelle's characterizations to be lacking and even stereotyped. You have failed to even acknowledge the very concept, attempting to shift the focus to the mechanics of writing ("show don't tell"). So I don't see that there's much room for dialog with you. If you won't acknowledge the concept of stereotyped characterizations, why on earth would anyone waste their time giving you page numbers & character names & descriptions about where they've seen it.
But here's a tip if you are in fact in earnest about your interest in the "characterization crowd": google "gender stereotypes Niven Pournelle".
What a joke for you to say "You have failed to even acknowledge the very concept, attempting to shift the focus to the mechanics of writing" when actually it is you who failed to bother to provide even ONE actual example of what you consider to be "Faulty" characterisation by the authors.
Why should we "acknowledge the concept of stereotyped characterizations" when you won't even bother to offer an example of what you mean by it?.
You ought to be so red faced that you never show it here again, you are arguing with the utmost subjectivity, just SAYING something is so doesn't make it so. On being challenged, you say "why on earth would anyone waste their time giving you page numbers & character names & descriptions about where they've seen it".
All I can say to you is, you should do so, because it is how an ethical person argues his case, with, you know, facts, as opposed to opinion. YOU have not even mentioned one characters name and attached even the broadest fault to them. Dishonest in the extreme, imo.
Do you realize that you have just undermined the entire political system of the United States?
EDIT: I should have put a smiley face in there somehow.
Annodyne said pretty much what I would have said. So, up and out. - C.
Getting back to the original question...if you read Legacy of Heorot and like it, then definitely go for its sequel, Beowulf's Children. I think the addition of Steven Barnes as co-writer on those books gives them a delightful zing of horror, which Barnes on his own does very, very well.
I also didn't think The Gripping Hand was as good as The Mote In God's Eye, but it was adequate brain candy.
Stereotypes have a place in fiction. they are a convenient shorthand. to be a good book there must be more to it than shorthand.
In general, Niven is a better writer than Pournelle (imo), and the collaborations reflect that.
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