This post will be the first part of a two-parter sponsored by ZJ, a reader who asked me to write a review of John C. Wright’s recent novel The Book of Feasts and Seasons. Wright is, as I am, an observant Catholic, and this work, an anthology of science fiction tales based on the Catholic liturgical calendar, is precisely the sort of thing to which I am by nature likely to be favorably disposed. Wright is also an avowed conservative whose views have run afoul of the Social Justice Warrior left, and to his credit he has stood firmly by those views despite their signature attempts to destroy or make grovel anyone who dares to not think as they do.
That, however, does not prevent him from being something of a “cuckservative”, and sadly I must report that the first chapter of his work is in fact so deeply cuckservative in its content that I felt the need to write a separate review of it all by itself. (Do not fear, dear sponsor – a review of the full work is still forthcoming).
The chapter, entitled “The Queen of the Tyrant Lizards”, is set in the deep south during what appears to be the 1950s or early 1960s (if you can already see where this is headed, congratulations – you’ve recognized the pattern flowing through virtually every piece of media that has been produced in the United States during the last sixty years). It is narrated firsthand by Sorainya, a white female (much is made of this, and early on) interdimensional time traveler who has come from a distant future to settle in mid-20th century America, apparently (no, I’m not making this up) because she lost her ID and it’s easier to live one’s life in time-exile than to go down to the interdimensional DMV and get a replacement. (This actually does make some sense – as everyone well knows, the DMV is a zone outside of normal physical laws, where time inevitably slows to a near stop. It seems that not even a time traveler with advanced future technology can overcome that.) Having arrived at her destination time-wise, she settles in an unnamed town that appears to be some manner of stand-in for Selma or Montgomery, Alabama. With apologies to my southern friends, I must admit to being rather baffled by this choice of physical locations to accompany her choice of temporal location. If someone with a time machine gave me a one-way ticket to, say, 1959, I would, once arrived, quickly make my way to Mad Men-era New York, or to Los Angeles during the Golden Age of Hollywood, or to Cape Canaveral to witness the early days of the Space Race firsthand. Selma would not rank high on my list of places to live in (then or now).
But the real reason why Sorainya ends up in the deep south during the dreaded, awful, unspeakably evil pre-Civil Rights Act era is the same reason that any white fictional character does – to show what a good person they are by white knighting for black people (and, by extension, to show what a good person the author is by writing about their characters’ struggle in doing so).
So Sorainya ends up on a city bus in this segregated southern town when she spots a black man riding in the bus’s rear half. Being an enlightened person from the distant future (or, alternately, being an utter dolt who didn’t do a lick of research on the time and place in which she decided to settle before she showed up in it), she of course has no idea what he’s doing there. She talks to him, and he turns out to be an aspiring paleontologist, which were apparently common in the backs of buses in the deep south during the age of Jim Crow. Perhaps even still – I cannot tell you how many times I have, when crammed into a city bus with a crowd of black people, thought to myself “I’ll bet this is a group of aspiring paleontologists”. I suppose that when you all reading this have been in a similar situation, you ignoramuses thought that the black people surrounding you were simply shouting in profanity-laced ebonics. Shows how much you know – it turns out they were actually perfecting their imitation of the mating cry of the Triceratops.
This is all told in flashback, as the opening scene takes place during the wedding of Sorainya and our budding dinosaur expert. The Ku Klux Klan has apparently somehow heard that the ceremony was taking place (How? Did somebody send them an invitation?) and the story opens in media res as the Klan is storming the church, weapons in hand. Once again, Sorainya is undone by her oddly limited skill set of being able to to move around in time, but not in space. One might think that if there was the slightest chance that something like this might happen, that it would be wise to load up a car and take a day’s drive to Ohio or Illinois to get married instead of doing so in a place where it tended to attract angry mobs. (Speaking of which, did anything like this ever actually happen? I’m going to guess not.) Again, one must question our advanced time traveler’s judgment in, with all of space-time and its collected wisdom at her disposal, moving to a backwater with a climate that half the year is like living in a dog’s mouth, and then instantly setting out to do the most offensive thing possible in the eyes of the locals in the riskiest and showiest manner that she could.
It was here that Wright came closest to succeeding in the aim of his work, and did actually make me feel bad for our padawan paleontologist. Men – of any race – do a lot of stupid things for nookie. We incessantly let women talk us into colossally dumb ideas. We can’t help it; we’re biologically programmed to. Our caveman programming tells us that when our woman says that she’s hungry and we should go fight a saber-toothed tiger so she can cook it up for dinner, we go ahead and do it. It was a useful survival strategy in those days – the physiologically weaker female was kept alive and healthy so that she could bear and raise offspring. Sadly for our dinosaur enthusiast, Sorainya’s bright idea of having an interracial wedding right in front of the Ku Klux Klan does not prove to be a very good survival strategy for him at all. How unfortunate that he lived in an age before The Artist Formerly And Once Again Known As Prince could enlighten him on the virtue and necessity of proper Pussy Control. Sometimes a man exercising better judgment and putting his foot down about it really is best for everyone.
So Sorainya’s ill-considered plan to get down with the swirl goes about as badly as one might expect, and the rest of the story is told from her perspective, starting at the moment when her brontosaurus-loving beau has taken a bullet through the chest and is headed towards the floor to expire. From here on, we enter Matrix-style bullet time, flash back and forward, and hear lots of internal monologue from the most unprepared time traveler ever to have moved between dimensions. It’s written in the literary Modernist style – anyone who has read James Joyce or Virginia Woolf should be familiar with it. It is also an exceptionally inappropriate style in which to write genre fiction. Science fiction, in particular, should always be written in a straightforward manner. By its nature, sci-fi is already taking the reader into unfamiliar territory that may be difficult to grasp. When that’s true, writing in an intentionally obscure style only serves to confuse the reader more than is necessary. Authors tend to write in Modernist style mostly because they think that it makes them look highbrow and avant-garde, and also because it seems easier to do than it actually is. But the thing about literary Modernism is that it’s like cooking scallops – it results in something delightful when done just right, but it is so very easy to end up with something that’s overdone and tough to swallow. Unless you really know what you’re doing, don’t try this at home.
One of the most common and expected of cuckservative memes raises its head in the course of the narrative: the notion that – say it along with me, kids – the Democrats are the real racists! There really is no statement in the whole world more cuckservative than this. Hey jabronis – even if it’s true, it doesn’t matter and nobody cares. The left doesn’t care. They don’t give a damn about your signaling and it’s not going to persuade them of anything because they aren’t even listening to it. They’re not going to stop calling you racists no matter how much you countersignal, and they’re not going to stop calling you racists no matter how much you bend over backwards (or forwards) to white knight for blacks. As has been noted elsewhere, in this matter, you’re going to do the time no matter what, so you might as well do the crime. As for blacks themselves, they don’t care either. The Republican Party spent a hundred years after the Civil War fighting for the rights of blacks, but as soon as the Democrats came along in 1965 and started bribing them with emoluments from the public fisk, blacks dropped the GOP like a hot rock, and now 95% of them vote for Democrats. Wright takes the time to accuse the Democrats of dastardly dealing by quoting LBJ’s remark that with his welfare programs, he’d “have those negroes voting Democratic for the next 200 years”. Perhaps this is so. And yet from the Democrats’ perspective, so far so good.
It’s hard to argue with success, especially if, as cuckservatives have, you’ve spent the last half century losing just about every battle you’ve had to face.
Rather less expected, especially in a book written by a conservative Catholic in the year 2014, is a cameo appearance by the “love is love” meme. This pops up a few times in the chapter. For example, as Sorainya considers her options, an alternate-universe version of herself from a reality in which humankind never rose above the level of tribal savages has occasion to tell our own Sorainya: “Either hate overcomes love, or love overcomes hate. That is the only decision to be made.” And there you have it: NO H8, shitlords! Was Wright just too tone-deaf to see the obvious way in which that sentiment could be applied to gay “marriage”, which, as a Catholic conservative, he opposes? Or worse, can he not see how once one accepts the frame represented by the sentiment that he is expressing, opposing gay “marriage” becomes indefensible? If the only decision to be made is indeed between love or hate (Two extremes! No nuance allowed! How Totalist!), and if the only factor involved in the decision to marry is the choice between the two (Are there no other considerations involved?), then by what justification do we tell gays – or anyone else – that they cannot marry? After all, whether or not they love each other is the only decision to be made. If there actually are other things worth factoring into the decision, Wright does not consider them important enough to be worth sharing.
This disappointing omission points to Wright’s most fundamental philosophical error, which is that he is unable to make the distinction between three concepts that are often conflated, yet are crucially different: a sin, a crime, and a bad idea. It is understandable that many do get them mixed up with each other, as the same act is often all three at once. For example, axe-murdering your wife and children is simultaneously a sin, a crime, and a bad idea. However, few individual acts achieve this trifecta. An act can be just one of these things, or any two of them. Adultery is a sin and a bad idea, but not a crime. Speeding is a crime and a bad idea, but not a sin. Engaging in the “Three S’es” (shoot, shovel, and shut up) if one finds a protected endangered species on one’s farmland is a crime, but neither a sin nor a bad idea. Smoking marijuana is a crime but not a sin, and whether it is a bad idea depends on whether or not one does it to excess. And so forth.
The upshot of all of this is that just because something isn’t a sin, that doesn’t require a Christian to believe that it isn’t a bad idea. Someone once said of Mao’s China that it was a place where “everything that’s not forbidden is mandatory”. Wright seems to be going for a derivation of that in which if an act – in this case, interracial marriage – is not specifically condemned as a sin in the Bible, then Christians must celebrate it and cheer it on (especially if the culture around us insists that we should). To say that I find no scriptural justification for this attitude is an understatement. Christianity is not a religion that relies primarily upon voluminous books of religious law to regulate all the various aspects of life. We are given a few such laws, certainly, but mostly we are taught a worldview and then are left to use it as a basis on which to exercise our own good judgment. I see no reason, therefore, why a Christian cannot come to the conclusion that, while degrees and exceptions exist and generalities may not apply in every single specific case, interracial marriage is generally a bad idea.
(As for Christian love extending to all people of faith, I am reminded of the statement, attributed to no less than Dr. King himself, that “You can be my brother, but not my brother-in-law”. It is a pithy way of expressing the idea that Christian fellowship does not, in fact, obligate one to find every request made by a fellow Christian to be wise or worthy.)
It is tempting here to accuse Mr. Wright of being a cuckold for not opposing interracial marriage, but that would be dishonest of me. In fact, I’m not calling him a “cuckservative” because he doesn’t find interracial marriage to be a sin (I agree with him that it isn’t), nor because he doesn’t find it to be a bad idea (I have my reservations on this point, but respect his right to disagree). No, I am calling him a “cuckservative” because Mr. Wright, obviously spooked by his encounter with the Social Justice vigilante squad no matter how defiant his public face may be when dealing with them, felt the need to include in his anthology this gratuitous bit of anti-racist countersignaling. What is any of this doing in what is ostensibly a book of Catholic-inspired science fiction? What is its relevance to such a work? Here’s an even better question: to whom is it directed, and for whose benefit did he write it? Certainly not leftists, who hate him, won’t read his book, and don’t care what he has to say in it. The other obvious answer is that he’s directing it towards fellow conservatives in the belief that they simply don’t get enough passive-aggressive tolerance lectures from the left, so he had best step in to do the left’s job for them by delivering one of his own.
But there is one other possible explanation: that he’s doing this for himself.
The story ends with Sorainya, after powering up with rage and summoning some ex machina particles, turning her almost-dead almost-husband into a prehistoric monster who tears the Klan members, some innocent bystanders, the choir that came to sing for her wedding, the National Guard soldiers who eventually show up to stop the massacre, and essentially everyone he can get his claws on to pieces, all told from Sorainya’s perspective and with a tone of absolute glee. It ends only when (as they had previously warned her that they would if things went this badly), all of the alternate-universe versions of her get together to erase her from the time stream completely, thus preventing the whole affair from ever having happened and saving everyone except her. There is some real psychology to be found between the lines here. Wright is willing to unleash an unthinking violent beast that will terrorize and brutally murder guilty and innocent alike, that will rip his own kind and even people who have come to help him to shreds, and to laugh over their bleeding bodies – anything, ANYTHING – if there is the even the slightest chance that it will get people who hate him to stop calling him a racist!
This is a story filled with fantastical elements of science fiction – time machines, parallel universes, alternate versions of ourselves – but the sad truth is that the idea that Wright ever could get those people to stop doing that, no matter what lengths he may go to in his attempts, is the must unrealistic of them all.
Many thanks to Zetjintsu for sponsoring this post. My review of the rest of The Book of Feasts and Seasons will be coming to this space shortly.
UPDATE: It has come to my attention that this chapter is, in fact, Wright’s attempt to rewrite (reWright?) a short story by some Social Justice leftist entitled “If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love”. I skimmed the original – it’s short and unimpressive, but of course won enough awards to fill up the trunk of a ’62 Cadillac (which has more trunk space than any car made in the last thirty years) because it signaled the right things to the right people. I must emphasize, however, that what Wright has written is in no way a parody of the original – it is an attempt to show off by doing the same thing, only better. Thus, far from making me want to retract my charges against Wright, this discovery only adds to them. “I’ll do a better version of your leftist anti-racist story, but in this one, the Democrats are the real racists!” is about as cuckservative as it gets. But beyond that, it demonstrates a common bad habit of cuckservatives – an unhealthy obsession with what the left is doing and an irresistible drive to respond to it by topping them at their own game. This always ends badly – anyone remember the disastrous “The 1/2 Hour News Hour” that Fox News tried running as a conservative version of the Daily Show? It lasted seventeen episodes, and with good reason. Those on the right need to stop responding to what the left does – that only leaves the left leading the dance and setting the frame. Ignore what the left is saying; build your own ideas (including your own, distinct, unique arts) instead.
It also demonstrates a common bad habit of science fiction writers: assuming that everyone will get their industry in-jokes or care about their exceptionally nerdy versions of rap feuds with other authors or with industry organizations. I cannot speak for others, but I certainly do not, and I am again left wondering how this attempt at one-upsmanship directed against another author who won some awards that Wright thinks she shouldn’t have (and for the record, I agree) is relevant to a book of Catholic liturgy-themed science fiction. Add “indulgent” to my list of charges against “The Queen of the Tyrant Lizards”.