The Grand (Dirty) Old Men of Science Fiction

The Grand (Dirty) Old Men of Science Fiction October 21, 2013

From PZ Myers, I found this painfully accurate review of Piers Anthony’s Spell for Chameleon. The author of the review, Jason Heller, is in the same position I was in a few years back: rereading some of the fiction he remembers fondly from his youth … and wondering just how much crack he had to be smoking to make this pile of misogyny seem appealing.

The examples of Bink’s misogyny are so numerous and so innocuously presented throughout Spell, it’s hard not to conflate them with Anthony’s own views. Patronizing potshots at women is what passes for wisdom in the book, as delivered through Anthony’s mouthpiece Bink. And every major character in the book, women included, reinforces it.

The namesake of the book, a woman named Chameleon, shifts continually between two poles: smart-but-ugly and pretty-but-dumb (and easy.) I just can’t imagine how that could be seen as misogynistic.

Heller goes on to talk about some of the unjustified pedophilic overtones of Antony’s other works. Honestly, this is small potatoes. Anthony’s works frequently feature rape, S&M, bizarre fetishes, bad science and bad psychology. Off the top of my head:

  • His first book, Cthon, the main character commits rape and there is a race of alien women who are all extreme masochists.
  • In Race Against Time, the protagonists discover that most of the human race has been mixed together, and that they are the last representatives of the distinct races. In the end they decide to abandon their other-ethnicity crushes and re-establish the races of their forefathers.
  • In the Tarot series, one of the main characters is a gay Satanist. Yeah. That lasts until he has to have sex with a woman during a Black Mass and realizes he likes it. Anthony makes it clear in the text that homosexuality is a psychological condition. Oh, yes, and there’s more rape from the protagonist.
  • And don’t get me started on his short stories. Somewhere out there is a psychology student writing an entire thesis on the Freudian implications of “In The Barn” (women-as-cattle) or “The Bridge” (sex with an 8 inch woman).

It’s hard to capture the light, matter-of-fact tone with which Anthony drops most of these. It makes everything go right over the head of the 14 year old reader, but it’s extra squicky for the adult.

Some years back I tried rereading all the classic science fiction that I raided from my mother’s collection when I was in high school. So much of it was misogynistic. Heinlein? Remember Number of the Beast, with a main female character who had breasts with more personality than she had. Asimov? He wrote the book on being a dirty old man. Literally.

There has to be classic science fiction that is better than this, but I can’t remember any. Does anybody remember any of the classic stuff that would pass the Bechdel test?

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