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Saturday, January 04, 2014

The truth about comics, sci-fi, and fantasy

Over the years, several supposedly serious people - almost all male - have tried to persuade me that the genres of comics ("graphic novels" say the sophisticates), sci-fi, and fantasy are actually good, or redeemable, or contain a few redeemable specimens, or something to this effect. No effort on my part to read their recommended redeemable specimens has yet yielded anything that I would consider good, or redeemable. Then, the other day, I discovered (via NPR, sadly) a comic called Axe Cop (here in cruder animated form, but it's now a Fox show). It is written by a five year-old, whose ideas are illustrated by an actual adult with actual adult illustration skills.

Peeps, it is the greatest comic ever. It is impossible to get through a single episode of this comic without crying from laughter. It makes almost no sense, except to the extent that the thought processes of little boys do contain a certain logic of recurring themes. In this case, there are a lot of unicorn horns, babies, turning into whatever you touch and being able to shoot it out of your hands, and try-outs for superheroes. As far as distilled child-brains go, Axe Cop has a very high alcohol-by-volume. I offer you, by way of example, Season 1, Episode 4:


In addition to being amazing and a highly-concentrated child-brain at work, Axe Cop is also a quite pure distillation of the essence of comics, sci-fi, and fantasy as far as I can discern it: take the logic-free imaginings of a five year-old boy about robots and unicorns, string them together into a series of conflict situations, then add small number of adult afterthoughts of variable coherence about politics and philosophy. Result: genre fiction with great appeal for men and no appeal for Miss Self-Important. Except Axe Cop, because Miss Self-Important is ok with real originals.

21 comments:

Michael Frazer said...

Our actual five year old was just introduced to Axe Cop by his hipster uncle. He is now obsessed, and so am I.

Miss Self-Important said...

I think your shared obsession pretty much demonstrates my point. But Axe Cop is actually awesome, maybe mostly b/c of the deadpan narration, which I admit might work differently on children and adults.

Withywindle said...

You will force me to write an episode of Space 1749: Ben Franklin and the Kites of Mars.

Alpheus said...

"Axe Cop" had me at "We should put these dinosaur heads on sticks and put bombs in them." Let my laughter-induced apoplexy be on your conscience.

(As an aside: I'd be curious to know what sci-fi and fantasy you've tried and found disappointing. Surely in all that vast literature there must be *something* that appeals.)

Miss Self-Important said...

Withy: Go for it. Appraise me of the results.

Alpheus: That is merely episode one. The apoplexy builds into vegetative state by episode five or so.

I've read some Tolkien, LeGuin, Neil Stephenson, William Gibson - that's what I can remember from recent years. Some of it was decently absorbing for the moment, but none of it made me overly eager to read more. I never managed to finish The Hobbit.

Withywindle said...

But one needs context. What works of literature in general do you like?

I will note that the fan-base for my works centers on teen-aged girls.

Miss Self-Important said...

Actually, I'm no longer sure. I think I like satire best, social novels second best. Therefore, I guess Austen, although it kind of horrifies me to say that.

I was not aware that your brand of fantasy leaned towards "paranormal romance," which is what I think B&N is now calling "Stuff Teenaged Girls Love."

Withywindle said...

There are more subgenres than are dreamt of in B&N marketing guides, Horatio.

There are overlaps between satire, social novels, and SF; although I suppose you might say you like your satire & social novels straight, no SF chaser. Did you try LeGuin's Dispossessed?

Miss Self-Important said...

No, I think I read a book of short stories about weird gender possibilities on other planets. Very political, not too subtle. Why will this one captivate me?

Withywindle said...

Not Left Hand of Darkness?--a novel, but with interpolated tales. On an ice world inhabited by hermaphrodites. That's the one I said I found implausible, until told that it seemed very realistic to the older generation in its portrayal of gender attitudes.

The Dispossessed is a very fine evocation of how an actual anarchist society would function, with parts of the novel taking place in a capitalist and a communist state. It's not perfect, but for a politcal theorynik, it really should be the cat's pajamas.

J. Otto Pohl said...

They need to put all the Axe Cop episodes together and make one epic movie. I watched the first 11 episodes. That was awesome.

Miss Self-Important said...

Withy: No, The Birthday of the World, which features some stories from the world of Left Hand of Darkness, I think. There is a hermaphrodite planet. Some other weird sex planets too. Hermaphrodite planets! Like reality isn't weird enough.

I think we've had some back and forth here or elsewhere about sci-fi as essentially fictonalized political theorizing heavy on hypothetical situations. In some cases, like Ackerman's horri-mazing Social Justice in the Liberal State, which takes place aboard a space ship(!!), the boundary b/w pol theory and scifi appears to be entirely erased. I haven't fully formulated a thought about this, although it would make a good Series of Blog Posts that become a Future Non-Academic Article Topic. On one hand, there is clearly serious pol theory that is about ideal or imagined states - Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, More, Kant - but there is also a competing view which is fundamentally opposed to beginning from ideals or imaginaries - Thucydides, to some extent also Aristotle, Lucretius, Machiavelli, Hobbes (maybe?), Locke, etc. Is sci-fi in the tradition of the former? Is it recovering that tradition in the face of overwhelming power of the latter in the public conscience? What do we make of the fact that most of contemporary pol theory (analytic and Rawlsian democratic theory at least) is ALSO grounded in imaginaries and ideals? Does sci-fi compete with it? Translate it into a colloquial idiom? Does it focus more on the dystopian in imagined states, while strict pol theory focuses on the utopian?

JOP: Well, there is the TV show. I haven't seen it, but it's gotten a great deal of support from the precise audience pairing of little boys and grown men suggested by MF.

Withywindle said...

Oh, dystopias are popular--utopias are more boring, after all. The recommendation for The Dispossessed is because it isn't typical of the genre--because it talks about the pluses and minuses of anarchism (and, indeed, of all the systems), tries to integrate it with a sense of how different sorts of people would take to it, tries to figure out how the anarchist would actually work--or fail to work. It's the most persuasive apologia for anarchism I've ever read, precisely because it confronts head on a great many of the possible--probable-drawbacks that an anarchist community would likely face. Again, not perfect, but quite good.

And if you haven't read Left Hand of Darkness, I really do recommend it. Yes, an examination of a hermaphrodite planet really does tell us something important about ourselves.

Miss Self-Important said...

Possible problem with imagined planets telling us something about ourselves: how do we know they're not just telling us about the ourselves that the author would like us to be? That is, how do I know that if I were a hermaphrodite among hermaphrodites on a hermaphrodite planet, I would be as LeGuin claims? What reasoning makes it so?

Withywindle said...

The narrative is about someone from Earth visiting the planet; and how he keeps on trying to regard the inhabitants as male or female, when neither category is correct. The limitations of his categorization imply a similar limitation to such categorizations as applied to non-hermaphrodites in reality.

Miss Self-Important said...

Might this tendency to politically theorize be the reason for such poor depth-of-character in sci-fi? Everyone's a type?

Ok, I will look into this. After I finish the Decameron, which will take me another four months at this rate.

Alpheus said...

Might this tendency to politically theorize be the reason for such poor depth-of-character in sci-fi? Everyone's a type?

C.S. Lewis, in one of the essays collected in his "Of Other Worlds" (about fantasy and sci-fi) argues that strange situations require rather flat characters. He points out that it's hard to imagine a readable "Alice in Wonderland" where Alice is anything but ordinary.

On the other hand, I don't know how well we can even evaluate character in worlds that are alien to us. A lot of how we read people's personalities depends on how we see them act in well-understood situations.

BTW (and FWIW), I second Withy's endorsement of "The Left Hand of Darkness" (and LeGuin generally). I'm also tempted to push my personal favorite, Gene Wolfe's "Book of the New Sun" tetralogy. LeGuin once called Wolfe science fiction's Melville.

Withywindle said...

No, SF tends not to have depth of character because it's happy popular fiction, and popular fiction doesn't usually aspire to be Stendhal. Political theory is a minor key in the genre as a whole, I'd say; although a significant one. My only claim for SF is that there are good writers working in it; there's no call to embrace it or reject it as a genre.

Miss Self-Important said...

Alpheus: Well, I assume we apply the same standards to alien worlds as to our own, given that the creator of both the alien world and its characters is actually a member of our world. I thought that's why all depictions of Martians are basically humanoid, b/c we can't even imagine a world that is not in fundamental ways our world?

After reading Meville's Melville, I think I'd like a break from all Melvilles for a while.

Withywindle: So, as it happens, YA lit for girls is all about character development, despite being popular fiction. But it is, notably, unhappy.

Alpheus said...

Broadly speaking, I think we do apply our usual standards to sci-fi and fantasy. But even in real life, we admit that unusual contexts limit our ability to form a precise estimation of character. For example, most educated people acknowledge that they can't really model the personalities of foreigners as accurately as they can members of their own group. Likewise, I hesitate to draw conclusions from the behavior of literary characters -- even human ones -- who find themselves in situations radically different not only from my own experience but from anything I've ever imagined. That means an author of speculative fiction is going to have to work extra hard if he wants to impress me with the psychological nuance of his characters.

Miss Self-Important said...

Hm, maybe, but then this might explain why it's such a male genre and women persist in their quest for Mr. Darcy.