Archives for category: criticism

One of the reasons I got along with Bill Bradford, late editor of Liberty, so well for so long — long after most of his hires could tolerate his supervision — was his glee in acknowledging criticism. Not personal criticism, mind you, but literary. Specifically, he liked printing negative letters-to-the-editor, and did not really think most should be responded to by the authors or editors criticized. If someone marshaled a negative judgment, well, the letter-writers in the Letters column should, if at all possible, retain the last word. If the critic were correct, well, there it be; were he were not, then, the idiocy should be plain to see, and the criticized author should know when he was being unjustly criticized. And be content. With the content. In context.

But you guessed it, we did gloat over some especially silly responses.

Of course every writer prefers praise to contempt. And when we learn something, we find it difficult to complain. Indeed, learning should always be welcome.

That being said, expressions of disapproval that performatively prove our points are especially rich.

I get some pushback on Quora, for example, primarily from leftists. Some of it is instructive, but most is gloat fodder. And then there is the praise, too. For example, from a recent answer:

And I wonder if Bill Bradford would advise me never to hit REPLY. I suspect he would.

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Selfism & Woodford Tough

…as posted first on Goodreads….

Maid Unafraid (Godwin, 1937), is the second novel of Louella Woolfolk, which she wrote under the pen name Louella Woodford, at age 18.

Ms. Woolfolk was the only daughter of Josiah Pitts Woolfolk, who wrote risqué “sex novels,” so-called, under the pen name Jack Woodford. Though Woodford is best known, today, for his still invaluable if brusque and cynical writing advice books — most famously Trial and Error — it was as a writer of pulp romance targeted at men that he made his claim to fame, and which still captures the spirit of his age, perhaps more accurately than many literary novels of his time.

Maid Unafraid is a very Woodfordian title, and the novel itself bears evidence of her father’s influence. But Louella sports a more humanistic outlook on the relationship between the sexes than had her father, “Jack.” But then, she was young, and hadn’t been married to her mother. And there are not a few passages reminiscent of her father’s tough-minded “selfism,” especially of his view of most people’s romantic economizing. And yet the main character in this book, though Woodford Tough, doesn’t seem so granitic as Jack’s female characters. The motivations of her novel’s heroine are far more noble and sympathetic. Yet in many ways, this follows the Woodford method, setting two members of the opposite sexes together and letting them “gnaw at each other” until there is “nothing left to do but get married” (quoting from memory Jack’s explanation of his technique in The Autobiography of Jack Woodford). But Louella has a more feminine take on the whole business, since the mission of the woman changing the man is set closer to the center of the plot than in her father’s fiction.

Indeed, I think this could be read as a fairly decent romance. I’d be less hesitant had I read more in this genre outside of the literary classics.

It has been fascinating reading this book, comparing it to the work of the author’s father. In terms of style, the young author can boast of a simpler but less literary style. (On the whole, I much prefer her father’s prose.) And her philosophical interests are not as well developed. As I have argued elsewhere, at least some of Jack’s “sex novels” are actually novels of ideas. Maid Unafraid is definitely not.

While her father’s characterizations are better developed, her use of plot is clearer and makes for a more normal melodrama. There is a sense of contrivance, but remember, this is very much a popular novel, not an attempt ape Anna Karenina. I judge this to be a successful novel, and her father’s books more problematic. But they hold more literary interest, as well as sport greater historical and sociological — and, yes, philosophical — value.

The father and daughter were extremely close. He dedicated all his books to her — they undoubtedly constituted a major part of her education — and she dedicated this book to him.

A decade after this novel’s publication, Louella Woolfolk developed schizophrenia (or some madness, however diagnosed), and her father tormented himself until his death trying to help her, liquidating his fortune in her cause. He himself died after having been institutionalized in the same sanitarium she was confined to. I suspect that he had feigned his madness just to be near to her.

Alas, Jack Woodford does not discuss her malady in his otherwise terrific autobiography. And of course he could not relate the final, sad decade of his life.

Louella Woolfolk remains one of the more interesting female prodigy-authors on the margins of American respectability. Still, she probably offers little gristle for feminist tearing and mastication, so we can expect no future study about her from the dark academic mills. Which is a pity, since Ms Woolfolk had a few great quips, which her father later memorialized. “I prefer the cliterati to the literati,” she once admitted.

Her readership, were it ever to re-emerge, would most likely be found among members of her preferred class.


See also my review of Unmoral, by Jack Woodford.

A satirical article by the Genius Times begins in this manner:

POLL: Most people unimpressed with their 30-day free trial of Communism

A poll conducted by the Pew Pew Institute shows that a majority of Americans are unimpressed with their 30-day free trial of Communism.
“It kinda sucks,” 19-year-old San Diegan Britta Fowler said of the trial. “I was expecting all this free stuff, which I guess we’re getting, but I also didn’t expect empty store shelves and house arrest for everyone. It’s really lame!”
The trial was imposed involuntarily by governments across the country in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Yesterday I called the current economic system of the United States “State Bailout Capitalism.” But I also called it “Pseudo-Stimulus Socialism.” That latter term is only half-right, since socialism, surely, would be a system in where capitalism’s profit-and-loss mechanism has been replaced by socializing both the gains and the losses of human coöperation. Under State Bailout Capitalism, the socialism part is the protection from loss. Profits still can be reaped, only now it is a protected class that reaps them — existing businesses targeted for bailout, and those with early access to loosened credit, have had some of the burdens of business risk removed from them by the federal government. So, we are not all gaining from protection of loss — unless you call the $1200 or $1400 personal subsidy for most taxpayers just such a protection — and we are not all sharing in profits, which is what socialists want.

So, how fair a joke is this “30-day Free Trial of Communism” mockery?

Isn’t it a bit unfair?

Sure. But there is enough of Trump’s beloved “fairness” to justify the jest.

First off, capitalism has mostly been shut down. (On my podcast I called the coronavirus quarantine the worst hit to capitalism since communism.) So, socialists and communists hate capitalism, and a communist state does indeed shut down most businesses. So, that’s fair.

Second, the communist “experiments” of modern times have all produced poverty, and could not provide consumer goods like capitalism has. So, by the rules of comedy, taking an effect identical to communism’s is as fair as comedy gets.

Third, it was indeed “involuntary,” which is the whole point of making socialist and communist ideas political, rather than a voluntary community idea. Basically, utopian socialist experiments tend to work out pretty badly. But most people want them to work out better. So, why don’t they work? Well, socialists think it is the fact that everyone isn’t forced to go along. So focusing on the involuntary nature of communism and identifying that as a feature of the coronavirus quarantine is also fair.

Interestingly, the common identification of a lack of universality as the source of the failure of utopian socialism was not a universal conclusion of 19th century utopians. One utopian experimenter, Josiah Warren, fingered a different culprit, and invented the American form of anarchism in the process.

So, if you ask me, anyone who yearns for a radical alternative to our world of woe and seeks to force socialism down others’ throats is double suspect: not only has that ideologue jumped to a conclusion, he has jumped to a conclusion that proved dangerous after at least one person thought his way out of the utopian experiments’ trap.

“Yeah, they’re giving us money but what good is that if you can’t spend it on anything you want?” Fowler asked.

Here we get to the profundity of this satirical piece. With this one question we get to the heart of the beginning of economic theory, especially per David Hume:

Hume realized that money is not wealth. You can have all the money in the world, but, if there are no goods to purchase for it, money doesn’t do any good.

And if you think this is a trivial matter, you are wrong. But you would be in good company:

“Poverty is not a character failing or a lack of motivation. Poverty is a shortage of money.” 

—Barbara Ehrenreich

Ms. Ehrenreich no doubt thought she was being at once clever and expounding upon a principle of common sense. She was neither. Poverty is what humans have when they do not have enough resources to survive and thrive. But resources aren’t money. And resources without labor aren’t wealth. We produce wealth by transforming resources. And this is done, chiefly, in coöperation with others, through a division of labor. In a capitalist society this is done by trade. That’s where I offer something of mine — say, my labor, a resource of my time and attention and effort — in exchange for something I want more than that time and attention and effort. People rise out of poverty by creating wealth by offering something within themselves — often, just a potential activity — that they have more than a potential trading partner has. It is not money that is key here, it is mutual advantage. But there is no mutual advantage if you have nothing to offer. Why is there poverty? Because too many people have nothing much to offer, or are unwilling to make the trouble to develop something to offer.

Money just makes the trading easier, getting around the barter stricture of the coincidence of wants.

That Ehrenreich, a mostly witless leftist, does not see that is no surprise. Which is why we make fun of leftism’s most extreme isms: socialism and communism. And that one line makes this particular bit of satire so good.

The rest of the satire goes in different directions. I enjoyed those directions. But it is this first segment that needs explaining to some people.

Though this later paragraph is pretty funny:

“Everything went well but only a few Karens across the country are really enjoying it.” Lennon added. “They really revel in telling people to ‘stay the f**k home!’” 

Shut the fuck up, Karens. No reasonable person likes snitches and bullies.

I picked up a paperback in town yesterday, Weird Tales #3, edited by Lin Carter. As is my habit, when obtaining a new anthology, I immediately try one story. This time it’s the title story by Robert E. Howard & Gerald W. Page. Howard is known for his Conan tales, primarily, and this is not one of them. The narrator explains up front what is going on:

The conceit of a first-person account of a buried-in-deep-antiquity tale established, the story proceeds. It is simply and effectively written. And it goes on to advance a familiar idea, of a race of giants — ferocious quasi-human demigods or some such:

The extent to which this is familiar to today’s readers not through Sword & Sorcery fantasy tales, but from the speculations of “alternative archaeology,” is . . . interesting.

We are not far from Burroughsian territory, I guess, in terms of premise and conceit, but the prose is much more elegantly rugged and effectively paced.

As I have confessed before, this is a genre I have not read much. This is indeed my first reading of a Howard story. And, because the writing credit is shared with another, one could argue I still cannot mark the kill on my readerly coup stick.

I will give Howard another chance.

By Gorm.

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I was reminded of my Facebook post, above, while watching Late Night, tonight, the drama about broadcast television’s least funny time slot, late night.

Though Seth Meyer, the no-longer-funny-at-all comedian of post-primetime network TV, actually makes an appearance (as himself) in this sorry contrivance, do not let that fool you: the melodrama is not without a few laughs.

But it is not a comedy, and I do not think it was trying to be.

It is the adult SJW equivalent of an “After School Special” — an earnest attempt to provide a smart secular morality play. I watched it because it got rather high marks on Rotten Tomatoes, and because I suspected these numbers were inflated by ideologues and “low-IQ individuals” (thanks, Trump).

The show stars Emma Thompson as a typically unfunny but otherwise untypical (for the networks) NPR-lite/midcult “entertainer.” You know, the kind of snob who thinks California Senator Diane Feinstein is a smart bet for a chat in front of a live New York (and national TV) audience. In other words, in a world where unintentional comedy is the kiss of death, this film specializes in unintentional realism. And the realism is about how unfunny late night comedy now is.

Just read the official synopsis — does this sound like a comedy to you?

So, why, when watching the flick, did I think of my Facebook post regarding the two stories of ideological Gray Lady nonsense?

Not because of the word “crone” — Emma Thompson is not there yet. Not quite.

The reason is the story arc: an allegedly misogynistic woman professional is redeemed by becoming yet another woke-scold pseudo-comedian, telling jokes about how male Republican Congressmen want to legislate women’s bodies because they cannot get laid, or some such nonsense.* This joke, of which much is made in service to the main plot — rescuing the career of “Katherine Newbury” — is astoundingly stale. That the authors of this lame commonplace think it (a) funny and (b) daring shows how out of touch they are.

The 80 percent Tomatometer rating is inexplicable, except as an indicator of how ideological and stupid critics have become.

But what stuck out, to me, was how conservative it all is. The whole saccharine moralism that imbues the show with its “heart” is essentially conservative. Oh, sure, because of the core bit of intersectionalism featuring writer and co-star actress Mindy Kaling — a young, earnest Indian-American — one might mistake it all as “progressive.” But progressivism is, as I have argued before, nowadays almost wholly a conservative movement, moralistically shoring up the power of a paternalistic elite. And in this movie the allegedly “progressive” #metoo hashtaggery is cautiously merged with an anti-adultery message, and we are really not very far from 1950s cultural conservatism.

Emma Thompson is a fine actress, and does her best with the limited material. She manages to almost convince the forgiving viewer that her character is a comic of the first water. When she takes to the stage in the third act, and proceeds to bomb, it is her acting alone that convinces us that her “spontaneous” routine is worth a laugh.

Mindy Kaling, who wrote as well co-stars, is thus the one to blame.

But really, for once we should spread the responsibility around: society is to blame for this inanity. For just as late-night TV has been ruined by social justice and political partisanship, so that nothing is funny any more, Late Night shows us a fantasy world where young, talentless women of color can save a show (and, by synechdoche, an industry) just by earnest moralism and blunt confidence and shepherding more talented people to being more social justice-y — a sort of doubling down of a failed strategy. Late-night and comedy in general has been ruined by the moralism of the Millennials. This movie, which asserts that this moralism and these Millennials can save late-night comedy, is not the more laughable, alas, for being preposterous.

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* The link is with the first Times story I mention, about the young leftist who is “brainwashed” by the “alt right” to wind up exactly where Late Night winds up: in the arms of the SJWs.

I asked a question about Menippean satire and the works of Jack Vance, in a Facebook discussion group, and in the conversation that followed I encountered this:

What is remarkable about this passage from a fellow Vancian is how easy it would be to satirize, in Menippean fashion.

But instead of doing so, I will just explain: the truth of the matter is almost precisely the opposite of the notions for which my interlocutor expresses certainty.

“We” do not destroy the environment to enrich the “1 percent.” This “1 percent” works mightily to fulfil our desires, and in the course of the process some damage is done to the “environment.” Trendy progressives — by which I mean “trendy anti-progress doomsayers” — never seem to understand how the world works. They seem to think that if the 1 percent goes about enriching themselves, we allow them to do that because we are suckers. Not quite. We allow them to invest, and to build businesses, so that those businesses can increase the quality of our lives. The dreaded Greenhouse gases do not come, primarily, from the recreational activities of the very rich. They come from all of our driving in automobiles, heating our domiciles, and eating meat. Sure, many people get rich providing us with cars and fuel, electricity and natural gas, and raising beef animals that fart up methane. It is because we engage in consumption that production is developed, and some people — serving vast hordes of consumers — get very rich.

Capitalism is mass production for the masses.

It is a defect of leftist thought that what leftists object to is the great successes of the most productive, not the real drivers of the market system, consumers.

I find it hysterical coming from folks who readily parrot Keynesian doctrine, since Keynesians fixate almost wholly on consumer spending as the driver of market activity. I think the actual implementation of capital is way more complicated than Keynesians think, but nevertheless I more than acknowledge the consumer sovereignty idea embedded (perhaps precariously) within Keynesian dogma.

But leftists and environmentalists and other responsibility-evaders must always shift blame for unfortunate social patterns away from themselves and onto the dreaded Rich.

I guess this allows them to justify their lust to tear away at other people. And because they do not see the integral role of entrepreneurs in markets, or recognize the symbiotic relationship of all market participants, including between “classes,” they eagerly attack one sector, in vulgar fashion, while inflicting harm more generally.

Then, of course, they blame the rich for not being more productive.

This general attitude is what I think of as a satirizable — and is satirized in some of the character types to be found in many of Vance’s best work, such as Wyst and Emphyrio.

It is not just the attitude that is bothersome, however. Also latent in my interlocutor’s sort of complaint is lack of recognition of a fairly basic truth: it is only the comparatively rich societies that find ways to make industry cleaner. America and Europe developed strategies for cleaning up industrial excess only after a level of wealth was reached, far in advance of what big polluters in India and China now possess.

This may be a sad truth, but it is a truth regardless.

Environmentalists so rarely recognize it.

And yet they often do so tacitly, by focusing their ire on First World polluters more than in China and Africa, for instance.

Pure comedy gold.

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Lin-Carter-Down-to-a-Sunless-Sea

Down to a Sunless Sea by Lin Carter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lin Carter was important to my early literary education, such as it was. Were it not for his books Tolkien: A Look Behind ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and Imaginary Worlds: The Art of Fantasy I may have never found some of my favorite writers, such as Lord Dunsany, Mervyn Peake, Peter S. Beagle, and the great James Branch Cabell.

But Carter’s own fiction did not beckon my attention. The books of his I saw looked like hackwork, rehashes of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Leigh Brackett. And, what with their garish covers, I avoided them as if they were the Gor books by John Norman.

Well, as if to break a long habit, I bought two Gor novels, not long age. I took a dip its pages. Not exactly my cup of tea, and I did not get very far. Which does not mean I found anything objectionable. They seemed somewhat like throwback fiction, good Burroughsian fun. But of course their reputation is harshly negative, especially along “political correctness” lines. That is, as Jack Woodford might have said, there is no Communism in them, and (I hear tell) Norman does not believe today’s accepted feminist fictions, er, norms. I do not either, so I may return to Gor some day.

Not long after I put down Norman’s Tarnsman of Gor a few months ago, I bought a few Lin Carter fantasy/science fiction paperback on a whim. And I then read the one that seemed to have the most promising beginning, Down to a Sunless Sea, one of his last books, written, I gather, while he was dying of cancer.

The romantic-sexual interest in the book is not too far from what I have heard to be John Norman’s. The hero is masculine, and the two women are distinct and familiar feminine types, though both Martian. There is no political correctness in it, just as there is no Communism. But there is frank sexual talk, and acceptance of the Sapphic practice. Not very far from Woodford territory, after all, though the focus is on the hero, not the heroine — which is where it almost always was with Woodford (who claimed to have written the same book over and over).

This retro-sexuality does not bother me. It seems pitiful and weak to even bring it up. Masculine and feminine are archetypes, and reflect a lot of biological and historical reality. To object to it now is merely to accept current ideological fashion as Eternal Truth, which is of course bilge water.

Carter combines, as he states in his afterword, Brackettian fantasy with a Merrittesque descent into a Lost World. The first half or more of the short novel is adventure; the second half introduces our ragtag band of outlaws to a fantastic underworld civilization that is mainly shown to us in a slightly dramatized utopian format. The point being: the utopia is too good for these depraved, uncivilized Terran and Martian adventurers.

I cannot say that this seems in any way exceptionable — or very exceptional. Except — yes, there is an “except”: the writing, on the sentence level, is superior to popular No Style style writing of current popular fiction.

So, there is more than one way that Down to a Sunless Sea is throwback fiction. And more than one way that this is not at all a bad thing.

View all my reviews

The Loud Literary Lamas of New YorkThe Loud Literary Lamas of New York by Jack Woodford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bitter fun, Woodford at peak invective. The target? The book publishing industry at mid-century.

His main advice? Ignore publishers; self-publish.

Whether this advice be good or ill, the contempt and wit and contrarianism sparkle on every page.

If you are interested in writing, in literary culture, or, more generally, in American character, this book by an authentic American character is almost required reading.

Besides, the book is short.

View all my reviews

spoiler alert!

In the movie Black Panther, we are introduced to a superheroic country hidden in the snowy mountains of Africa — this is very much an H. Rider Haggard/Edgar Rice Burroughs sort of utopia. The country, called Wakanda, is technologically advanced and has been for eons, but has kept out of world affairs on the grounds that its treasure, a philosopher’s lode of a supermetal, if transported out of the region, would destabilize the world and ruin the country. So it is isolationist. Yet technocratic.

Now, much has been made of the movie’s racial politics, and it has been lauded — and prodded into the limelight — for its social justice-y elements. But what struck me about the movie was that the baseline mythos could best be described as “Wakandan exceptionalism” of an almost Trumpian sort. The antagonist of the film is a bitter, resentful African-American criminal bent on world revolution (with a special attention paid on killing “oppressors”). In fact, he talks like a “Black Panther” of days of yore (racial solidarity, revolution) and it is he who must be destroyed so the country can grow into its new role as world benefactor. So the moral arc of the story is from isolationist exceptionalism to globalist benefactor — essentially moving from Trumpism back to standard-brand 20th century American globalism, where foreign aid is parlayed as the prime diplomatic value, above revolution, militarism and trade — the latter not even getting any mention. The real-world “Black Panther” type must be put down so the mythic “Black Panther” may triumph.

There is nothing radical here. It is essentially a JFK “liberal” movie.

It also contains a quite a bit of tribalistic mysticism, and rituals of a primitive, ooga-booga type. Rather embarrassing. We are really not far from Hollywood Tarzan tropes here.

As a Marvel movie, it is of course expertly made, a technical marvel; and if, like me, you enjoy watching scantily clad bald black women kicking ass, you will find some thrills. Andy Serkis has a fun role as a mad Russian criminal mastermind.

I saw it in Astoria, Oregon, in a theater half-filled with white Americans … and no one else. (Astoria has a sizable Mexican population, but is otherwise lily-white.) I did not feel a whole lot of excitement coming from the audience — not like in the Iron Man and Captain America flicks — but no hatred, either. I have no idea how it fares elsewhere, but in this neck of the woods it does not appear to be a hit.

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N.B. The popular meme of Wakandan exceptionalism being “alt-right” is accurate, for the most part, insofar as the country is portrayed at the beginning of the movie. It is 4C6A88CB-B755-4E6B-815C-786D49F5BA10also not inaccurate to describe the country at the end of the movie, though the kingdom’s new “black man’s burden” policy would surely undermine the stalwart atavisms of its traditionalist nationalism. As with most comic-book world-building scenarios, it does not bear close examination — just as the amazon-warrior theme does not. And alt-right dreamers might note that American exceptionalism came from open borders and trade — not anything like Wakandan autarky. There is a disturbing cargo cult element to much current political fantasizing. The wealth redistributed by any real or fantasied State entity has to come from somewhere. In Black Panther, it came from outer space and lies in the ground in the form of a metal that the Wakandans mine.

I forget the name of the metal, but it is really just a McGuffin, as in the goofy, embarrassing “unobtainium” of the horrible science fiction film Atavism, I mean Avatar. I could look up the name of this fantasy material, but memory tells me that it starts with a “v,” so I just think of it as “virkkalanium.”

Philip K. Dick’s 1952 short story “Human Is” is clever. Not great. Just clever. (You can find it in the collection We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.) It is not unlike, say, a Fredric Brown story, but not as well written.* It does not present an elegiac mood, or aim for anything like the sublime. It is a rather cynical sf tale about marital discord and unhappiness. And betrayal.

But it was taken as the inspiration for Amazon Prime’s new series Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, appearing as the third episode. And was it changed! Only the ending of the short story remained untampered with, quoting (adopting) about two lines verbatim.

Yes, friends, there are spoiler ahead. . . .

The short story’s basic premise — of a mean, cold bastard of a husband (Lester) going off to an alien planet, Rexor IV, and coming back changed, turned into a nice, easy-to-live with loving man — that is the same. But instead of a literalist, a scientific researcher, the show features a callous warrior (renamed Silas, played by Bryan Cranston), bent on exploiting and killing an alien race for the good of “Terra.”

The short story’s subplot about the wife’s brother and nephew, that is gone. And all the dreck of everyday life? Gone too. The change of scenery and alteration of tone from the original make the show different. Very. Instead of reading about an unloved wife whose uncharitable husband will not help an inlaw out, we see an unfulfilled and tyrannized wife — emotionally abused and domestically oppressed despite her elevation to a major official role in the futuristic sealed-off society.

Yes, in the TV show she has been turned into a professional — a government official, even. And instead of suffering neglect from the man who won’t serve as foster father, we see our heroine suffer from coldness, indifference, and even envy from her husband. Actually, he is much worse, because minatory. Yes, he threatens violence.

The show’s penultimate scene takes place in a court room, in a trial that spells the issues out very clearly, cleverly. The written story is nowhere nearly so thematically tight.

But the big change? The whole story has become politicized. The husband in the show is portrayed almost exactly as leftists see “right wingers” — eager to kill and exploit foreigners (aliens), and as being emotionally withdrawn and cruel. And since the woman is now a career woman, a leader, this makes her a feminist heroine rather than the pathetic character that Dick imagined. With the child gone, it is just the microsocial antagonism of a childless couple, not a family drama — and the show carefully evades any issue of parental feeling from her husband to his brother-in-law’s son. This excision allows our feminist heroine to be portrayed as romantically and sexually unfulfilled. The very model of a modern Ms. obsession.

Indeed, in the show, because of her husband’s lack of interest in intimacy, early on she seeks out some sad satisfaction in a far-flung-future orgy in the sterile city’s underground (yes, the teleplay writers made sure to hit every possible mythic beat). When her husband comes back transformed, changed into a cheerful, sympathetic, and very sensual sexual partner (we “get” to see Cranston’s full-rear view nude form in a lovemaking session), she defends him — chooses him — even though it has been proved that he is not her husband.

Who is he? Well, her husband’s body, possessed by an alien metamorph. Invasion of the body snatcher!

The alien is from Rexor IV — as in the original PKD story. But where in the original the husband had been a careless innocent, his soul stolen by surprise while on a solo vacation, in the show there is war, and he was the aggressor and he became a casualty. At the beginning of the show, our heroine had politically opposed her husband’s plan to kill Rexorians and steal their atmosphere (or something like that). At the end of the show, she lets the enemy, the Rexorian, not only into her society but also into her bed, ostensibly because her human husband had not been nice enough to her. Not appreciative enough.

And was a bad guy anyway.

All this is standard left-right archetypes and stock figures and bigotries. Let me spell it out:

  • The husband? The very cliché of a left winger’s idea of a conservative.
  • The wife? The leftist self-image of a feminist heroine, ill-treated by her conservative partner.
  • The Rexorian? An exploited alien (foreigner) just “fighting for its life” and perhaps justifiably attacking our military and Silas, the Cranston character.

It would be hard to imagine a clearer allegory to today’s conflict with the Muslim world. The feminist women betray conservative men because those evil conservatives are bent on defending their nation by exploiting and killing foreigners (Muslims/Rexorians); further, those feminists replace the murderous conservatives with the foreigners, going so far to bedding them . . . because the frustrated, unfulfilled feminist women will be more sexually fulfilled by the foreigners/aliens than by their fellow nationalists/Terrans.

Also present is the “right wing” fear that the enemy will infiltrate and pretend to be “one of us” but then betray us completely, taking our place — this “paranoid” fear is exactly mirrored in the television story. And, going another step even further, the right wing suspicion that the leftists will betray us, preferring the other to their own, and making cuckolds of the West’s men . . . that is very close, too — for the woman does betray Terra, and just because the alien treats her better as wife and lover.

So, the fantasies and fears of both rightists and leftists are played to. Both sides could view the story with a kind of . . . indecent? . . . pleasure. And, because the Amazon version is so artfully done, it turns out to be a beautiful, sublime story, too. Much more powerful than the original.

It is now a philosophical horror story, not just a clever little domestic drama with a cynical sci-fi surprise ending.

The wonder of it is how brazen it is, how timely. The perpetrators — I mean, writers and actors and producers — of the new drama surely know what they are up to. But why? Why do it this way? I assume that these are all left-leaning Hollywood types. The story, though with all the biases of your standard-brand Hollywood Left Coast cosmopolitan written deep into the story’s premise, and played out as the drama unfolds, in the end gives away much of the game to the right wingers. What could be worse than the Left shown as the betrayer and the enemy shown as capable of using elaborate deception? And all because the leftist woman demands love she is not getting at home.

First world problems leading to the conquest of that world by the Third.

She even goes as far as cuckolding the Right in the end. In a sort of Gertrude-and-Claudius way.

A cautionary tale — an apocalypse! — indeed.

Ah, the culture wars. All-too-human, is.

twv

* Dick’s science fiction short stories, at least the early ones, are not very artful on the sentence level — his realistic novels were far more carefully crafted. The short stories are also rather tawdry, as are many of the science fiction novels, filled with the dreck of everyday domestic conflict.

N.B. I wrote the above before reading anyone else’s criticism. And now, as I clean this up, I flit around the net and find appraisals that do not go very far. And not a few just show the insipid shallowness of modern feminism.