Forbidden Thoughts (review)

Forbidden Thoughts
Edited by Jason Rennie
Published by Superversive Press (2017)
$4.99

DISCLOSURE: I know the editor and most of the authors in this anthology through social media, e-mail, and blogging. I was also given a free review copy by Josh Young, one of the authors. Finally, Jason Rennie edited and published my short story, The Teenage Girl’s Robot Army, on The Sci Phi Journal.

Mainstream American pop culture is under assault by extreme leftist authoritarians. Every part of it, from the commanding heights of Hollywood to the geeky pursuits of gaming and sci-fi literature, is harangued to follow in lockstep with whatever political crusade the thought controllers dream up. Not enough women portrayed in the approved feminist way? You’re “sexist.” Too many white people in your work? You’re “racist.” The only way to be declared innocent is to submit to them in total — even the smallest deviation from approved thinking will get you branded as a hater and a bigot.

Against this spate of thought control comes Forbidden Thoughts, an anthology of science fiction deliberately written to offend the oversensitive and pillory the politically correct. Containing stories from a variety of non-SJW authors, it dares to smash the shibboleths of our age and break the intellectual chains holding sci-fi back.

Unfortunately, it utterly fails to entertain.

Judging from the foreword written by Milo Yiannopoulos, one would expect to find stories that broke some politically correct taboo. One would expect characters and plotlines that enticed the reader with conflict and drama, ending in either triumph or tragedy. I was expecting something that, while not rivaling Appendix N, at least aspired to its qualities.

But no. Instead, I got the right-wing equivalent of “Cat Pictures Please.”

Virtually every story goes as follows:

*Terrible incident happens due to political correctness.*
MAIN CHARACTER (MC): This sucks.
POLITICAL CORRECTOR (PC): No, it’s wonderful.
MC: No, it sucks.
PC: No, it’s wonderful.

There is no real conflict or drama in the stories, just vignettes about the terrible effects of one far-left crusade after another. There were no dramatic arcs, just one thing after another with largely unsatisfying endings and even crappier characters. Many of the stories read like sermons, putting message above entertainment. Instead of real stories, I got extended complaints. It felt like the pablum I read in my English textbooks back in middle and high school — it was that bad. After reading up to Larry Correia’s recounting of the Sad Puppies effort, I just skipped ahead to other stories; I didn’t even read all of the ones after Larry because I had been blasted with such an avalanche of bad writing.

Of what I read, Vox Day’s entry was the most entertaining (and it was an actual story, unlike most of the entries), and it was pretty much what I hoped the entire anthology would be like, but one story was not enough to save this book. I tried to read the others that told actual stories, but they bored me to death, and the bad taste in my mouth from the earlier sermons didn’t help at all. For a book of “forbidden thoughts,” everything was unbelievably tame and poorly executed.

By and large, the authors can do far better than this; they would have to if they seek to end the scourge of political correctness. I cannot recommend this anthology to anyone.

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17 Responses to Forbidden Thoughts (review)

  1. PCBushi says:

    Kudos for writing this review, Rawle; I think it’s gotta be tough to pen something like this when you’re friendly with a lot of the people involved in the project.

    Personally I decided I wasn’t interested when I read about the premise, and I see my caution was warranted. As much as I enjoy a good SJW smackdown, non-(blatantly)political SFF is often the best. And if you’re going make a political/cultural statement, you gotta couch it in skillfully crafted plot so that you’ve got something that’s still fun and entertaining to read in its own right (see Vance’s Grey Prince).

    • Rawle Nyanzi says:

      Kudos for writing this review, Rawle; I think it’s gotta be tough to pen something like this when you’re friendly with a lot of the people involved in the project.

      Thanks; writing this really did give me pause, but I figured I wouldn’t be doing anyone any favors if I lied about what I thought.

      Personally I decided I wasn’t interested when I read about the premise, and I see my caution was warranted.

      Likewise, but I said I would review it, so I did.

      As much as I enjoy a good SJW smackdown, non-(blatantly)political SFF is often the best.

      No arguments there.

      And if you’re going make a political/cultural statement, you gotta couch it in skillfully crafted plot so that you’ve got something that’s still fun and entertaining to read in its own right (see Vance’s Grey Prince).

      Which is what I thought they would do. It really does pain me to see otherwise skilled writers just phone it in; only Vox Day’s story was any good.

  2. “But no. Instead, I got the right-wing equivalent of “Cat Pictures Please.””

    Whoah, critical hit!

  3. Nathan says:

    Sounds just like the criticisms of Dangerous Visions, but without that anthology’s attempts to push “incest is best.” Since Forbidden Thoughts used that as its model, it hit what it was aiming at. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like the criticisms of the 2015 Hugo short story noms were addressed.

    I’ve read two of the stories. Nick Cole’s was half a story too long for the joke about the crew. And while L. Jagi Lamplighter’s “Test of the Prophet” was excellent as a tale of faith, it lacked the weirdness of a Seabury Quinn or a Manly Wade Wellman to make it SFF. Maybe I’ll come back to the others soon, but I’ve got a stack of other works to go through first.

    • Rawle Nyanzi says:

      Sounds just like the criticisms of Dangerous Visions, but without that anthology’s attempts to push “incest is best.” Since Forbidden Thoughts used that as its model, it hit what it was aiming at.

      That may be so, but it was still not very good. What is needed are strong stories, not whiny vignettes.

      • Nathan says:

        I didn’t say it was a good model. It’s telling that Harlan Ellison, the editor of Dangerous Visions, would later rant at the SF world that “before you can educate, you first must entertain.” (In this, as in many things, Ellison had a blind spot as to how he contributed to what he railed against.) By copying Dangerous Visions, Forbidden Thoughts was limited into turning into another “(X Group of People) Ruins Science Fiction” book.

        • Rawle Nyanzi says:

          And it’s sad that Forbidden Thoughts turned out as badly as it did, since so many talented authors had contributed to it.

  4. I passed on this one because I had a feeling it was going to be exactly this. You can’t bitch and moan about boring leftist message fic and then put out boring message fic from the other side.

    Keep writing great reviews and commentary. Your stuff is spot on.

  5. L Jagi Lamplighter says:

    Hey, thanks for the review. ?

    You might want to try the rest of the stories. We put the majority of the short distopia pieces up front, to give a quick opening that moved along swiftly. There are some much longer and more story-like stories (of which Vox’s is one), but they all come aftet Larry’s piece.

    • Rawle Nyanzi says:

      Duly noted, but I’m just not in a hurry to get back to that book.

      • L. Jagi Lamplighter (Wright) says:

        For that, you have my personal apology. It was my decision to put those particular stories up front. I thought they kind of built on each other…you could imagine the same society getting worse as one went to another, so I moved the longer stories (like John’s, which is–as always–quite long) to the middle.

        In retrospect, maybe one of the more story-like pieces should have been closer to the front.

        But thanks for taking the time to review it!

        • Rawle Nyanzi says:

          Your apology is accepted. We all have times where we fall short of our goals, but the important thing is to get back up and try harder.

          • L. Jagi Lamplighter (Wright) says:

            We had the long stories up front at first, but it was generally felt that new readers to the genre would be a bit intimidated, proving…in the long run, that we can’t please everyone. 😉

            Should you ever feel like picking the volume again (and, no prob if you don’t), you might start at the back…Brian’s and Sarah’s stories might be more what you were looking for.

          • L. Jagi Lamplighter (Wright) says:

            I should add: If we do a Volume 2, we should have a lot more stories to choose from.

            Thanks very much for your input.

          • Rawle Nyanzi says:

            You’re welcome.

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