io9 Tries to Ice-Nine Discover; Fails

By Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor) | January 31, 2008 8:20 am

io9, the new-ish Gawker blog about science fiction, has taken offense at Discover. Heaps and gobs of offense. All about our li’l column “20 Things You Didn’t Know About Science Fiction.” Annalee Newitz, the lead editor of the blog, attempts to scare-quote and exclamation-point our lighthearted column into Internet ignominy. The complaints, such as they are, range from wrong to not right to long on sarcasm, short on logic.

The most concrete gripe concerns our claim that “in 1926 writer Hugo Gernsback founded Amazing Stories, the first true science-fiction magazine.” Newitz says this honor actually belongs to Mary Shelley for writing Frankenstein.

Which raised a question in my mind, one that I pose to our readers: Have you picked up that latest issue of Frankenstein Magazine yet? It contains the entire story of Frankenstein’s monster in one bound volume. Yeah, that heavy, leather thing that says, “Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus,” on the cover. Speaking of the cover, it’s fairly hard…

Come to think of it, this particular issue of Frankenstein Magazine is not entirely without book-like qualities. Rather book-ish, you might say. Okay, the goddamn thing is actually a book—arguably a sci-fi book—and being a book, it’s really pretty surely not at all a sci-fi magazine.

And like so the post goes on for some length, twisting and misconstruing bits in order to disagree with them—a factoid about Alice B. Sheldon being thought a spy becomes our surprise that women write sci-fi; a punchline about Pan Am being dead becomes “THREE writers [getting] so lazy” that they make a joke, or use too many words in the punchline, or commit some other capital crime. io9 has constructed a napalm-drenched straw man stuck in the path of a thresher mounted with blowtorches. (I hope the video hits YouTube soon.)

The parts that aren’t built on misinterpretations are just pure seething rage. Actually, that’s too grandiose a term—maybe “seething pissiness,” if pissiness can seethe (perhaps a question best avoided). Newitz says “I’m irrationally pissed”; seems more like she’s intentionally pissed. And pissed at what, exactly?

Maybe she doesn’t want Discover to talk about science fiction—although the genre’s been around ever since Frankenstein Magazine #1 (we have a copy stored lovingly in a mylar bag in the Discover office) was published in 1818, it now belongs entirely to io9, all of four months old?

Now that sci-fi’s on my brain, I have a couple other theories about what’s going on here. I think that Newitz might not have meant to write this post—that she may have been compelled to do so by science-fictional forces beyond her control. Specifically, it could be:

1] Robot overlords are ordering her around. That tag at the top of the post (“rant”) is actually a directive from above. (I’m picturing bossy, interrupting bots.) The robots may be experimenting on us by sowing dissent among science-oriented publications—feeling out our society’s weaknesses. And I, for one, welcome our robotic overlords…

2] Newitz is a guinea pig for a Matrix-like device that’s supposed to convert her thoughts to actions in a supercomputer somewhere in the world (okay, it’s in the Googleplex)—actions like writing out a blog post. Except this beta version is running some buggy OS, or the firmware’s out of date, and Newitz is trapped inside The System saying substantive, meaningful, correct things. But they can’t get out.

Maybe she can send us veiled messages to let us know she’s okay inside there. Give us a shout, Annalee—or a wink, or an eye-flutter, or at least a few more links.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!
MORE ABOUT: science fiction
  • Modern Rocko

    Well done, Discover. I’ve always loved your publication, and I’m glad to see you can have a great sense of humor while still writing a quality, professional publication.

  • DiscovrLovr

    Way to go you gyz! You are so much smrater than some dumb girl who thiks she c an write about stuff. Kick her ass

  • http://www.sfscope.com Ian Randal Strock

    Well, the original piece wasn’t really newsworthy, in my humble opinion, but io9′s response, and then Discover’s response to that, has ramped it up a bit. From my point of view, Discover is winning.

    Ian Randal Strock, Editor
    SFScope.com

  • http://discovermagazine.com Amos Kenigsberg

    Thanks for the encouragement. I should say that Annalee Newitz has been writing great stuff about technology and culture for a long time, and I do appreciate lots of her work. I think this post wasn’t her finest piece, but she’s writing a lot of stuff, and they can’t all be the best.

  • Mike Allen

    You guys missed an opportunity (or maybe this was intended as a subtle reference?) as Alice Sheldon actually was involved in covert intelligence operations during World War II.

  • corwin

    “constructed a napalm-drenched straw man stuck in the path of a thresher mounted with blowtorches”

    Isn’t that Michael Bay’s next movie?

  • http://discovermagazine.com Amos Kenigsberg

    Interesting to hear, Mike. Do you have a reference for this? (Something that you could tell me without having to kill me, that is.)

  • Mike Allen

    It’s somewhat common knowledge (among those to whom Tiptree/Sheldon awareness constitutes common knowledge); if you don’t want to just rely on the Wikipedia entry, do a Google search on using the words _alice sheldon air intelligence_ and Google Books will show you a relevant passage from Julie Phillips’ excellent biography.

  • Mike Allen

    This is from the back cover of Julie Phillips’ biography, JAMES TIPTREE Jr.: THE DOUBLE LIFE OF ALICE B. SHELDON: “She was an artist, a chicken farmer, a World War II intelligence officer, a CIA agent, an experimental psychologist.”

  • Lartronics@aol.com

    I’ve recently published a new 900-page biography about the life and times of Hugo Gernsback. It is available on Amazon. Just follow this link.

    The manuscript was found while I was in the process of closing down Gernsback Publications Inc. in 2003. It was apparently written some time in the 1950’s. It covers all the areas that Hugo found interesting: wireless communications, science fiction, publishing, patents, foretelling the future, and much more.

  • dlomax

    Face it, that list wasn’t that good. Annalee was right — it was written with a poor idea of its audience. “Things you didn’t know”? What demographic exactly wasn’t supposed to know those things? It was a careless, slapdash list. The rant against it was a little heavily worded, but you maybe ought to just take your lumps here. I mean — a thing I didn’t know about SF was that I like to call it SF? Another thing was that PanAm is out of business? Another is that Alice Sheldon was a woman? Oh, and your Gernsback factoid was labeled “birth of the (un)cool” so I think it was pretty unclear what you were saying it was the start off. Like I say, just take some criticism, willya?

  • Nancy Jane Moore

    Since Locus Online linked to your list, I had hoped to find something new and interesting on it. Alas, instead you simply listed some things known to everyone in SF and easily discovered by quick online research. The fact that you didn’t know that James Tiptree/Alice Sheldon did intelligence work during WWII shows that your research for this article didn’t go far. Your piece was, alas, the typical SF piece for the non-SF audience (though I’m not sure they cared).

    I’m sure this article was meant as a quick and amusing filler and that you didn’t devote much time to it. That’s too bad, because you could have done something with your contention that SF can be traced back to mythology. Since the line between SF and fantasy is fuzzy at best — both Gene Wolfe and Ray Bradbury are particularly noted for work more easily classified as fantasy — you can make a real case for your myth theory. Yes, I09 is right about the influence of scientific speculation, but if you read a lot of SF, you’ll find that myth and science frequently come together in the stories.

    And Mary Shelley is the mother of science fiction. Hugo Gernsback did start the first popular magazine, but of course people had been writing SF for many years before he came along — Jules Verne and H.G. Wells come immediately to mind, but there are others not so well known. Despite the efforts of those wedded to the so-called “Golden Age” to limit SF to the world defined by Gernsback and John Campbell, it’s a broad genre with significant literary roots and an open-ended future.

  • yrag

    After reading your fun piece “20 Things You Didn’t Know About Science Fiction.” I posted my comment to Ms. Annalee Newitz of io9 basically ssaying that although I’ve enjoyed her website in the past that I thought she ought to just calm down— that Sci-Fi— oops— wow! excuse me— SF is essentially good forward thinking fantasy and speculative fiction, not a religion, and not to react like a raging fundamentalist. Today I see a lot of comments on that subject on io9 —but not mine. I kept my language within the bounds of good taste— so apparently a full democracy of opinions are not really welcome on io9. Pity.

  • http://discovermagazine.com Amos Kenigsberg

    Alright, then. Hear ya on the spy business. Keep in mind that the person writing the blog post (me) isn’t the same as the people writing the article. I didn’t do the research for it, I just leapt (dashingly!) to its defense.

  • Pingback: DISCOVER.com Science, Technology and The Future

  • David Bullock

    I’ve run into the Annalee Newitz gestapo myself, and ended up having my posting priviledges removed from the site when I started producing research showing that their articles were poorly researched linkbait at best, and thinly disguised op-ed pieces employing Newitz’s editorial position to promote her liberal politics at worst.

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