The Sad Tale of the Ininite Monkeys, Who Just Wanted Science Fiction Without Politics

This post is adapted and expanded from a Twitter thread. It may sound familiar to some of you.

Do not click this link. (“Indie Sci-Fi Authors Are Upending Traditional Publishing, And It’s Turned Into A War”) It’s hot garbage. I warned you. It’s an article from The Federalist, a conservative web-magazine founded about six years ago. The site generally tries to be both savvy and serious, although it has been accused of pandering to lunatic conspiracy-theorists. I don’t recall having ever read anything from The Federalist before a link to this article popped up in my dashboard. I was aware of the magazine and its general reputation.

I clicked the link for two reasons. First, because it’s undeniably in my wheel house. I am an indie sci-fi author. (I have yet to upend anything more serious than a game of Monopoly.) The other reason is that I make it a point to read things from sources I know I won’t agree with. I avoid the echo-chamber effect where possible, while keeping my blood pressure in mind. Did you appreciate the layers of that Monopoly reference though?

The TL/DR is this: the publishing establishment has been “violently” taken over by left leaning extremists bent on pushing their progressive agenda on hapless readers who were just hankering for a good yarn. The piece contains an extremely revisionist overview of the Sad Puppies bullshit from a few years ago, connecting it to a currently extant group called 20Booksto50K, which I will hereafter refer to as The Infinite Monkeys.

The Infinite Monkeys started as a Facebook group created by a cat named Michael Anderle and his buddy Craig Martelle. Anderle did some research and figured out that “he needed to produce 20 books to make $50,000 a year so he could retire in Cabo.”

The more I looked into the Infinite Monkeys after reading the piece, the more I felt like Anderle and Martelle had also figured out how many conferences they needed to hold in exotic destinations like Bali, and how many American dollars to charge attendees, in order to retire in Cabo. But that’s just my opinion.

What is true is this: the Infinite Monkeys will never produce the complete Shakespeare, but they will churn out books for the sole purpose of getting rich. Now, I want writers to make money. Since I am one. But I’ve seen enough of these build-your-backlist-as-fast-as-possible types to smell the stink. It’s a content-mill practice, and this sort of thing genuinely does – on average – lower the overall quality and perception of indie, self-publishing. Yes, there are four-book-a-year writers who are AWESOME.

But the majority are shit-merchants peddling garbage in their quest for quick riches.

So, The Federalist praises these Infinite Monkeys. Not for their Amazon-gaming business insight, but for their stated purpose of being “apolitical.” A term which – I can attest, having been a member of many online writing groups for years – is typically used by right-wingers whose definition of apolitical is actually “in line with my personal beliefs so that it doesn’t seem political to me.”

Here’s the part that made my brain explode:

The 20BooksTo50K group is focused on appealing to readers—and what most readers want out of science fiction is escapism and fun. The big authors of the past understood this, and that’s why we still hail so many of the greats like Frank Herbert, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Robert Heinlein. The classic stories have a vision that brings fun and awe to their readership. Modern establishment publishing stories are mired in literary traps and identity politics in order to impress elites, but most readers don’t identify with those kind of stories.

Jon Del Arroz, indie sci-fi author of what should now be obvious character, writing in The Federalist. Emphasis mine

Holding up Robert A. Heinlein as an example of “apolitical” writing is one of the most absurd, laughable claims I have ever seen. Robert A. Heinlein wrote to express his political opinions. They changed over the course of his life, which can give a false impression, but the man had strong opinions first and became a writer second. He became a writer to share those opinions. Anyone claiming otherwise is wrong. Were he alive, Heinlein would tell them they were wrong. He would write a fucking novel telling them they were wrong, and probably win a Hugo.

If you’re interested in Heinlein, his politics, or the internal fan wars of the 1930s that are almost identical in tone to those of today, I cannot over-recommend Alec Nevala-Lee’s Astounding.

I grew up reading Heinlein. I loved his books. The wild disparity in his early, liberal thinking (The Moon is a Harsh Mistress) and his later fetishising of the military (Starship Troopers) and strongly conservative ideas, sprinkled with almost-but-totally-not hippie-ism like Stranger in a Strange Land…

To think he was apolitical is to take a lifetime of work and reduce it, to ignore the evidence of a man whose thinking evolved over the course of his life, and to completely fail to understand anything about literature. It’s a fucking insult.

“In terms of morals there is no such thing as a ‘state’. Just men. Individuals. Each responsible for his own acts. I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free, because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything that I do.”

Robert A. Heinlein, “apolitical” writer, in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Heinlein once said, “I do not think we have better than an even chance of living, as a nation, through the next five years.” He was talking about the content of his writing. See, he had this well-known and well-documented goal of INFLUENCING THE FUTURE THROUGH HIS FICTION. Does that sound apolitical to you? At all? From a science-fiction writer who described a Lunar colony’s war of independence, or a fascistic global state where only military veterans are enfranchised?

And, by the way, Frank Herbert? You thought Dune was apolitical? You’re on more drugs than he was.

For that matter, ALL OF CLASSIC SCIENCE FICTION IS POLITICAL. Or, at least all of it that’s still in print. You just don’t recognize it as such. There are three possible reasons for this:

  • It’s not pertinent to the CURRENT discourse
  • It’s in your echo chamber and you don’t notice because it doesn’t make you think.
  • You’re a fucking moron who lacks reading comprehension skills.

If they wanted to hold up some classic writer as an example of “apolitical” in defense of an infinite-monkey group churning out text for no reason but money, L. Ron Hubbard would be a much better bet. MUCH better.

And as for those who like their science fiction to be without political aspects: you are fools. Science fiction is and has always been political. You just don’t like the conversation the rest of us are having now. You’d rather we didn’t. And you know what? You’re welcome to that opinion, but when you start targeting the industry as a bunch of “extremist” “elites” that you want to overthrow, when you try to silence the conversation and wave it all away as “political” when you just wanted a ripping good yarn, when you try to drown out the voices you don’t agree with …. there’s a fucking word for that, but you’re not going to like it. It’s a political word.

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