Reading Jeffro Johnson was an interesting and even SFFnal experience. I mean, one of the most enjoyable aspects of science fiction and fantasy is that it has the capacity to offer alien experiences and viewpoints.
Most likely I disagree with Jeffro Johnson on a wide range of topics, but unlike the three Mad Genius Club bloggers who are competing with him for the Best Fan Writer Hugo, Johnson makes a better job at explaining his views. He is also mainly interested in science fiction and fantasy instead of waging a culture war against “social justice warriors” which is more than a welcome change after wading through the polemics of Dave Freer, Cedar Sanderson and Amanda S. Green.
The most striking thing that put me into pondering mode was actually only an offhand remark about George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. Johnson opined that only “a freak show can result” if you have as story’s protagonists “a bastard, a dwarf, a cripple” et cetera, and it is this feature that makes Martin’s epic message fiction.
For me, that’s very alien (and thus fascinating) logic. I always thought that having characters “with the equivalent of a hundred points or more in GURPS disadvantages” makes the Song of Ice and Fire world more realistic and enjoyable. Every living person I know is a constellation of unique disadvantage points if you want to use those terms. Martin manages to bring that real-life complexity to fantasy and renders much of the epic fantasy that came before him unbearably obsolete as far as the characters are concerned.
There are other aspects in his work that one can certainly object to, but I consider characters one of the strengths of Song of Ice and Fire. Johnson disagrees and is disappointed when, for example, “a rather touching origin story” is given to a repugnant character (The Hound, in this case). Conversely, I have always had trouble with suspending disbelief when people seem to already be chaotic evil when they emerge from their mothers’ wombs, so to speak.
So, in general, Johnson and I like different kinds of stories (he likes, God forbid, Rzasa’s “Turncoat”). However, he manages to enthuse about the exact same part of Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber that I found most compelling: the protagonist blinded and being thrown into jail for years (and the emotional significance of cigarettes). It was nice to notice some details such as that.
Too bad Johnson’s main focus is on role playing games — which is a field I’m not terribly interested in and have no clue as to whether his insights are revolutionary or not — and being nostalgic in a way that dismisses most modern SFF. Still, it’s a nice read and he may be able to beat No Award if I’m in a good mood when I send my votes in.