Lying Liars Who Lie

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice.

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May 7, 2014

So John C. Wright wrote a column for some website called the Intercollegiate Review. A quick perusal shows that its primary audience is conservative students.  I’m sure that’s not political at all, amirite?

Fine, whatever floats his boat. Except it’s full of–let me be generous here–statements that are not quite true.  In other words: John C. Wright is a lying liar who lies.

Luckily for me, I don’t have to fact check that piece because Rachael Acks and Foz Meadows have already taken care of it for all of us.

ETA 05/08/14: And here’s Elizabeth R. McClellan taking apart Wright’s specious description of the differences between law and custom.

It’s just.

Okay, one of my favorite SF authors when I was a teenager was Heinlein. Loved him. Read everything I could get my hands on, reread the few books I owned, and then, once I got a drivers license, took myself to a used bookstore in Pontiac called Honeycomb Books where a libertarian dudebro named Tracy sold me piles of vintage paperbacks.  Read them all.

Read other SF (and F), too–I also discovered Joan D. Vinge around this time–Catspaw was the first time I ever read SF and realized that it actually wasn’t talking about some other planet and some other people but about things that were going on in this world–it is a deeply political book. And Anne McCaffrey and Piers Anthony.  Weirdly, I didn’t discover Mercedes Lackey and her telepathic sparkleponies until much later. Also read a lot of Weis & Hickman and Alan Dean Foster and R.A. Salvatore (oh, Drizz’t!).

But back to Heinlein. I really imprinted hard on Heinlein. Dude had voice–which is one of those things that’s ineffable and so, so, so hard to learn. His voice was authoritative in a way that really worked for me–even after I figured out that he didn’t quite see women as human beings, I still kept on reading. The way he strung sentences together is really quite masterful–even as you’re grossed out, you’re almost compelled to keep reading.

One thing that always gets brought up when I mention the women in Heinlein’s books is that they were intelligent and had careers.  Sure. But they were also hot and the male protagonists wanted to fuck them. And knock them up. It was a kind of determinism that didn’t sit well with me then and doesn’t sit well with me now.

And can I just say that neither Stranger in a Strange Land or Time Enough for Love are polyamory handbooks? Stop using them as a way to get into women’s pants, dudebros. Just stop.

So when someone like John C. Wright holds up Heinlein as the best SF writer ever, I have to wonder what world they’re living in. An important writer in the genre, absolutely. The best ever? Really? Way to declare the race over before everyone’s even gotten to the starting line, buddy.

Because that’s what he’s doing, right? He’s trying to draw a line around SF. In Wright’s world, there’s no room in SF for people who aren’t like him and, furthermore, no one’s work can ever come close to that of a man who died in 1988.  That’s just. No. I don’t want to read that kind of SF anymore. I did my time there and it’s well past time to move on.

Here. Have some kitten GIFs. It’s the least I can do, really.



kitten box


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  1. jennygadget

    “Way to declare the race over before everyone’s even gotten to the starting line, buddy.”


    “He’s trying to draw a line around SF.”

    and yes.

    Particularly the latter. I feel like it goes back to the idea of “what is core genre?” that was the topic of discussion…two years or so ago now? (short answer: there isn’t such a thing) They keep wanting to define the sff they like as not only the best written, but the most sff-iest. And any sff that doesn’t center their pov as being outliers at best.

    And it’s all complete bullshit.

  2. Tricia

    Bravo! I went through my Heinleinan phase in my 20s. I SO agree with how you describe his work! Also went through a poly amorous phase. That was a utopian disaster.

  3. DameB

    When I talk about Heinlein as a feminist, I always have to deal with that same thing. “But, but, they were strong characters who had careers!” Exactly.

    I call it the first step problem. Heinlein took the first step towards equality. But it was just the first step. He continued to treat women like not-quite-people who were there as trophies and baby-making machines for the hero. If they were strong and beautiful, ti was to make them *better* trophies, not real characters. He took a first step and I’m glad. He gets a cookie. But, even though it was a good step, it wasn’t enough. SFF, as a culture, needs to go further.

    Mr. Wright seems regard any further steps down the road towards equality as terrifying/bad/evil simply because it leaves the place where he is.

  4. Michele

    This is a GREAT blog post. Thank you Natalie.

  5. Fred Davis

    The offhand comment in Wright’s peice about either the pox or Correia (the wording is actually ambiguous but most people seem to assume it’s Correia he’s referring to) being Hispanic keeps bugging me;

    Okay, so the logic seems to be that “IF non-white THEN racist=FALSE”, but his argument then seems to rest on this notion that the Spanish ain’t white, that just… maybe it’s just because I’m European but what sort of HP Lovecraft grade racism is that!?

    I can just see this guy typing in defense of Correia and feeling icky because he’s defending someone with a single drop of southern European blood rather than respectable fellow of pure blooded Anglo-saxon or Teutonic stock. And then he hears a passing car playing jazz and has to have a lie down.

    • Natalie Luhrs

      @Fred Davis: …yeah. Correia is a Portuguese name; I have no idea of VD’s ethnic background, but I’ve heard that it’s Hispanic. It’s possible to be both Hispanic and white, it’s a really complicated category. I am pretty sure that the logic is that since they’re both Hispanic then it’s not possible for them to be racist–which is sort of a perversion of the definition of racism as power + prejudice.

      Or something. It makes my head hurt to think about it.

  6. Wuvva

    This. Right here.
    “I really imprinted hard on Heinlein. Dude had voice–which is one of those things that’s ineffable and so, so, so hard to learn. His voice was authoritative in a way that really worked for me–even after I figured out that he didn’t quite see women as human beings, I still kept on reading. The way he strung sentences together is really quite masterful–even as you’re grossed out, you’re almost compelled to keep reading.”
    You have almost perfectly summed up how I feel about Heinlein.

  7. steve davidson

    There are two things that bother me about the post more than anything else: Wright has taken an internecine fight deliberately out into the mundane world. This is a tactic that does note bode well for the future.

    But what really gets my goat is his trying to put on RAH’s shoes in a manner that Heinlein himself would have vociferously objected to. The behavior is not just non-logical, it’s disgusting.

  8. Tasha Turner

    I can’t say I’m the least bit sad that I came to SFF without reading the “greats” and as an adult so when I look at these posts where someone tries to define SFF by their special definition I’m able to just shake my head. By the time I read many of the great SWM authors of the golden age I’d already been exposed to many other works and was in my 30s having been a quiet feminist for most of my life. I found most of my attempts difficult as I could not get past the sexism to enjoy the writing. Sometimes I feel sad about that but it never last long.

    While I was a big romance reader when younger I knew I had to set my feminism aside. There was never a question about that except with a few regency authors.

    But when I broadened my reading into SFF I was lead to believe it included diversity & the future & what could be & I thought that meant I didn’t have to set aside my principles to enjoy books. I think my husband may have tried to warn me & I know he did not recommend the “golden age SWM” authors.

    These ongoing discussions of what is “real SFF” and bs about how things used to be leave me wondering if being hit by a truck in 2012 left me more brain damaged than I realize. Thankfully blogs like yours reassure me that it’s them not me. Thank you.

  9. JR Smith

    Thanks Natalie, Heinlein was great to read, I really enjoyed the early work, but the stories at the end of his career were unusual to the point of I really wondered if perhaps his age was catching up with him. It seems to me that as usual it is always about polarization, they have their reality and the rest of us are idiots because we won’t join in their attempted justification of their vision of the world.
    Sorry Mr. Wright, but Number of the Beast was just weird, it started out interesting, but quickly moved into the odd, to I needed to quite reading it because it just got weird.
    Thanks again Natalie for keeping them honest or at least the rest of us in the game.

  10. Stretch

    Heinlein was great to read when I was a kid. He kept your attention and gave you the occasional thing to think about. I suppose philosophy is what we should all be reading, but I can’t seem to figure out who’s right and who’s wrong.

  11. Megpie71

    I started reading Heinlein in my teens, and for a teenaged girl growing up when I was, it wasn’t the worst thing I could possibly have been reading. The female characters were reasonably well-developed (even if they were mostly big-breasted super-genius mathematicians and engineers) and they largely did things other than standing in the background being helpless (even if those things mostly consisted of “having sex with the strong-chinned white-skinned hero”). As I said, given the time-frame (mid to late 1980s) there were certainly worse things I could have been reading.

    But there were almost certainly better things as well. I could never get too far into the “juveniles”, because they all struck me as too fifties for words. About the only one of Heinlein’s juveniles I had time for was “Time for the Stars”, and that was because it was a nice manipulation of the twin paradox. I cut my teeth on “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress”, but the main reason I enjoyed it was because Heinlein had clearly performed his research somewhere along the line and spoken to some Aussies – he had the “damned colonial” mindset, subset “free-born prison colony colonial” down pat. I also appreciated the conceit of a sufficiently complex supercomputer (approaching the level of complexity of a human neural network) becoming capable of intelligence (due to some rather elastic parameters in its design and original programming), and the first manifestation of this intelligence being the development of a sense of humour. But I wasn’t fond of the politics inherent in the book, and I found the increasingly polemic nature of what he was writing to be troubling. By the time Heinlein died, I’d largely given up reading his stuff, and moved on to other authors.

    Around this time, I was introduced to Pratchett via a friend of a friend. If you’re interested in a writer of fantasy who can also deal with the philosophical questions, I sincerely recommend his works. Even if you aren’t interested in the philosophy, the stories still manage to be fun.


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