‘Making Light’ by James P. Hogan
I was reading Hogan’s obituary in yesterday’s paper and thought that was a good prompt to re-start The Ascent Of Wonder. Unfortunately, on the basis of ‘Making Light’, I’m not able to give Hogan much of a eulogy. This was made clear by the utterly damning introduction which I feel the need to quote extensively from:
James P. Hogan, with Robert L. Forward and Charles Sheffield, was a leader in the new generation of hard sf writers in the early 1980s. At the same moment when Gregory Benford (and slightly later, Greg Bear) raised the literary standards of hard sf with their novels and stories, Hogan entered the field as if it were 1939 or 1949 and he had just discovered Heinlein and Asimov, Campbell and Astounding. This was in certain ways a great step backward, and shows a strong reaction on the part of a significant portion of the reading audience against the fashionable literary sf of the day (not, we hasten to add, against the hard sf but against the “speculative fiction”). Generally uninterested in reading in the contemporary field, Hogan in particular set about reinventing it from the forties onward… This little hard sf satire skewers one of the favorite targets of the techie community: bureaucracy and governmental regulation of science — as Mr. Spock would say, “it is illogical.” Regularly presented as the enemies of science and reason since the 1940s, the politician and the bureaucrat had become in the 1980s stock stereotype villains of Analog-type stories. Hogan, who writes for scientists and engineers and not for the more literate segments of the sf community, represents that community’s feelings and prejudices through his fiction as much as any sf writer of the 1980s… While it is intended to entertain by preaching to the converted, there seems to be an endless appetite among devotees of hard sf for amusements of this sort. And one must acknowledge that it seems easy enough and clever enough to the nonliterary aspiring writer of sf that in each decade it encourages new writers from the scientific and engineering community to enter the field, as Hogan has remarked he did, with the attitude that “I can do that and do it better.”
Hartwell and Cramer might as well have written: ABANDON HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE. Anyway, onto the story. The title is pun on the fact the story both involves genesis and is a really shit joke. You see, the General Operations Director of the Celestial Construction Company has got a big job on. The General Operations Director. The GOD. Do you see? Do you see? This might be considered witty in a twelve year old, in a professionally published story it is just embarrassing. The reader must wade through a couple pages more of this – “Gabriel, the Vice President of Manufacturing” – whilst, with an adolescent sense of cleverness, Hogan brings us to the Point of his story. Because Equal Employment Opportunities Creation complain that making only the humans intelligent discriminates against the other animals. So the GOD has to remove the humans. But then Feathers, Aviation and Aquatics – the FAA, do you see? Do you see? – complain about the birds:
“Our birds only have a single nervous system. Also, we’re allowing them to fly over water without inflatable life jackets.
And so on and so on until there is nothing left. Equal opportunities, health and safety, environmental protection, these are all evil things; government regulation is literally the end of the world. But of course the GOD, being an engineer, is much cleverer than these pathetic bureaucrat with their ludicrous desire to decrease human suffering. He creates the laws of physics and slips the Big Bang under the radar. Hooray for engineers!
It is horrendous, small-minded, conservative, self-aggrandising tosh designed to be consumed by people of the same mentality. As Hoagan’s obituary noted:
In recent years he appeared to be attracted towards deliberate contrarianism, expressing his scepticism about global warming being man-made, about the cause of Aids and about evolution, in his book Kicking the Sacred Cow: Heresy and Impermissible Thoughts in Science (2004). His purpose seemed to be to question accepted wisdom and apply the methodology one would expect in scientific investigation to physics, history, medicine and other subjects. However, this caused controversy when he praised the quality of research performed by some Holocaust deniers.
I’m glad this sort of science fiction is dying out.