05 June, 2008

Why I've Become a Portable Atheist-carrying Atheist

Up until now, I've not been the sort of atheist to buy books on atheism. Haven't read a single one, in fact. Not Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian. Nothing by Hitch. Nothing by Dawkins. Don't even spend much time on atheist blogs, unless they've got something else going on and the atheism's just incidental. I just didn't feel a need. I don't believe in God, gods, goddesses, demons, spirits, fairys, the Divine, or anything else. Don't need validation for that, it's just who I am. Don't need a philosophy to fill any empty holes in my life - friends, science and Zen do the trick nicely. Why the fuck should I need a book on atheism?

I think I'm buying them now as a protest against what's happened to my beloved Sci-Fi section.

Garrett and I went to Barnes and Noble in the U-District. I wandered over to the Religion section to see if I could get a chuckle - I wouldn't have been surprised if some stupid fucker in the corporate office had decided that atheism belonged next to Judaica and Christianity. They've bunged the atheist tomes in with philosophy, alas, where it almost makes sense. They didn't have The God Delusion anywhere I could see, but Hitch's bright yellow (why, WHY yellow?) covers were bulging from the shelves, and there were several others whose names escape me at the moment. I had my quiet chuckle - we're growing in volume and quantity, take that, religion junkies! - and headed up the escalator to Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Crap, crap, pure crap, and more crap, with a few shimmering diamonds thrown in.

Science fiction is a misnomer for that section. It should be "vampire bullshit, paranormal detective bullshit, and really vapid fantasy bullshit." What the fuck has happened? It used to be you'd go there and see maybe a few silly books written by utter fucking wankers. Now, they're everywhere. They've grown like kudzu.

And don't even talk to me about the bargain book section. It's overflowing with woo. Fortune telling, new age crap, fluffy bunny spirituality crap, and more crap.

If this truly reflects the tastes of the current reading public, then I understand why that public elected Bush not once but twice. (We won't get into semantic arguments over stolen elections. If the margins had been big enough, Republicons wouldn't have been able to steal a peanut, much less foist Monkey Boy on us for eight years of assclownery).

I snatched up a couple of Neal Stephenson novels and fled into the loving arms of Hitch's the Portable Atheist. And I found Dawkins's The Ancestor's Tale behind the counter, along with a Pharyngula fan.

When my finances have recovered from this best-friend-visiting extravaganza, I'm going to have an orgy on Amazon. The God Delusion. That one that Neil Gaiman contributed to. Russell. More Hitch. All of the science books PZ mentioned in his talk. Louis Black's new one whose name also escapes me at the moment. Look, I'll have the titles for you once I order.

I'm going to fill my house with godless goodness. I shall fondly recall the days when fantasy and science fiction shelves were chock full of actual fantasy (as in the brilliantly-written, epic, magic totally rational in that milleu type of fantasy) and science fiction (science fiction that included science, not just a rocket or an android or other gimmick). Eventually, I'll comb Amazon for SF authors who really know their shit and who wouldn't touch a vampire with a ten foot garlic-encrusted stake. And then I'm going to finish writing this damned novel, the one that doesn't have magic per se, and doesn't have a single fucking paranormal investigator who's also a vampire who's investigating the murder of a fucking fairy. It's going to be unique, which means it probably won't have a legless, senile octagenarian's chance in a triathlon of getting published - but I'm sure as fuck gonna try.

And if you ever see a single fucking vampire trying to creep into my books, I want you to take me out back and shoot me with a grenade launcher. Ditto for paranormal investigators looking into the death of another fucking fairy. Or any of the other fluff that's currently standing in for the genuine article.

I'm going to read every single fucking worthwhile book on atheism, just so I can marshall the philosophical arguments of far greater thinkers than I the next time some stupid fucker tells me atheists are nihilists. But the most devastating blow will come when I extract the information that they're the tasteless fuckers who're lapping up regurgitated dead-fairy murder mystery with vampire investigator thrown in bullshit that's infesting my genre, and ask them what fucking philosophical need that can possibly fulfill in a person's life.

And as for those who buy those ridiculous fortune telling books, I'll just have one question: why didn't their predictive powers warn them they were about to get beaten over the head by an angry atheist wielding a bright yellow copy of the Portable Atheist?

Anything to make the woo go away.


Josh said...

I highly recommend "The Demon Haunted World" by Carl Sagan, or "The Varieties of Scientific Experience." These aren't necessarily atheistic books in the sense that they are arguing against religion, but atheistic in that they argue for science, and against all forms of woo. It's great stuff.

george.w said...

Three deaths - Clarke, Asimov, and Heinlein - mark the drifting of science fiction away from science. Not that other writers didn't keep the credibility gulf to a minimum but those three provided such a bottomless wellspring of ass-kickery that to some extent it kept the others in line.

george.w said...

I would like to second the two recommendations from Josh, posted at exactly the same time. Those are both outstanding books.

Webs said...

This summer marks my entry into the endless world of good literature as well. I will also post my titles as I read them and write about them.

NP said...

Methinks the shelves be bulging with crap because they're just filling the void until you get published, dear one!

Chaos Lee said...

Funny, my novel has vampires, creepy old wizards, a displaced god, pseudo-satanists trying to develope pyrmaid schemes and the bastard child of earth-bound demons having weird sibling rivalry issues.

Of course, it isn't what you write about, it's being shit writer who sucked off the right publisher that's the problem.

Efrique said...

I'll second the recommendation of The Demon-Haunted World.

If you want strong arguments for the more sophisticated type of theist (one who can follow basic logic just fine already and has thought about it for more than half a minute), The God Delusion may not suit so well. It's a good basic book for combatting the much less sophisticated moron we see a lot doing drivebys on the Internet - which is what I imagine TGD was intended to be. However, you'll probably get mileage out of it.

[More sophisticated counter arguments are available on the Internet of course.]

If this truly reflects the tastes of the current reading public, then I understand why that public elected Bush not once but twice. (We won't get into semantic arguments over stolen elections. If the margins had been big enough, Republicons wouldn't have been able to steal a peanut, much less foist Monkey Boy on us for eight years of assclownery).

Heh. Yeah. My partner asked me a couple of days ago why I paid so much attention to the US election this time around (to the extent that I could tell her who most of the candidates had been in both parties, what their politics was basically like, and when they dropped out). I said "Well, I just used to watch it on the news, and basically trust that the Americans wouldn't do anything too crazy, but then in 2004 they re-elected Bush! Something very strange was going on in the US, because I thought I basically understood Americans, and in spite of having been there many times, clearly I had no fucking clue at all. I figured it was no longer safe not to pay extremely close attention and do what little I could to encourage more sane choices in the future.

[Then again, we re-elected the Howard government several times... he was Prime Minister for 11 years. Crazy. It didn't seem to matter how much he lied, he just had to manufacture a scare each election time and they'd vote him in again. And the media was so fucking slack, they'd almost never ask the obvious damn question, as if it was just their job to report what people said, not whether it was true, or utterly inconsistent with what they said a month earlier.]

Efrique said...

Regarding The God Delusion (which I enjoyed, in case it wasn't clear before), it is apparently quite effective at what it was designed for, if:


is any indication.

Cujo359 said...

I never thought of Demon Haunted World as an atheistic book, although it strikes me as humanistic (sorry for seeming contradiction, but there you are). It's just about being a rational person, or at least trying to be. Oh, and it's a terrific book.

The God Delusion was the first book of that type that I've read. I think the reason I picked it up, besides that it was a book by Dawkins, is that America just seems so insanely religious and superstitious. I've noticed the same thing about the science fiction section. There's very little science fiction there any more. Kim Stanley Robinson and Michael Flynn are the only two authors I can think of who are still writing who deserve that title. (I assume Connie Willis isn't writing any more?)

So, yes, I can understand the sentiment, Dana.

Dana Hunter said...

Thank you all for the recommendations! I've read and loved The Demon-Haunted World - in fact, that's the book that tore me away from all the X-Files inspired crap and got me excited about real science. Sagan was a genius.

@Cujo: Connie Willis is still writing. In fact, she just published a narrative outline - I mean, book - called All Seated on the Ground. Fun, but not as meaty as I would have liked.

@NP - I love you to pieces, you know that? Thanks for the ego boost!

I have a question for you all: do you think the degradation of the SF genre ties into the rise of the Religious Right? I can't help thinking that's part of the reason why we're seeing a decline in demand for excellent hard sci-fi and non-woo fantasy (and yes, there IS such a thing), and a huge rise in the insipid bullshit that passes for storytelling these days. It's like... it's like they've infected the entire culture, dumbed it down to the extent that they've killed demand for weighty books that demand thought from the reader.

Argh. Ah, well. Just you folks wait until Cameron's done with his magnum opus. I've had the great good pleasure of reading his fiction, and I can tell you this: if he wrote a story about a vampire PI investigating the murder of a fairy, it would be the most unique - and disturbing - book ever written. Maybe someday he'll be kind enough to post an excerpt up here.

Josh said...

As a former member of the Religious Right, I can without a doubt that it is not responsible for the loss in Sci/fi / fantasy quality.

To the evangelical christian, most of these books are pure evil - the work of the devil, and only those satanists or witches would want to read them.

Anything that can remotely be considered satanic (unless it was say, a christian novel where christ wins erherm...Frank Peretti), is off the list. Look at the backlash against Harry Potter, for example.

Things may have changed a bit, though, since I've left. After all, I did recently hear my evangelical sister praising the new 'I am Legend' movie while refusing to listen to just why it sucked.