Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

Why Lucy Snyder is a better human being than I am

I was amused by this post by Lucy Snyder, in which she actually answers a set of questions from a student who is basically trying to use her brains to write her essay for her. I don't actually know Lucy at all other than having read her livejournal for the last few years (the only fiction I have read by her was a Doctor Who short story, and that very recently) but I think she is an excellent human being for taking the trouble to respond even as briefly as she did.

I have a varied approach to this kind of query (and with my level of exposure on the internet, get several such queries a week): if it's a genuine academic query about my work, I'll invite my correspondent to interview me in person or by Skype or phone, and if their questions are interesting enough I'll generally write a couple of paragraphs in reply in the first place. I do this partly because I want to and partly because my current employers (and my previous employers) include raising the level of academic debate as part of the overall mission of the organisation. (This approach has its limits; I feel a bit guilty about the Romanian researcher who came to see me last week to ask my views on Russian foreign policy, which he clearly knew more about than I do.) I will usually do the same for queries about Northern Irish politics.

But my other web presences generate other queries which I'm not always so merciful about. I was probably unnecessarily snarky a few months back to someone who asked me a question about history of science via a comment to a livejournal post on a completely different topic. I had one the other day to which I haven't responded (and probably won't respond) about Asimov's The Gods Themselves, probably prompted by my comment to Jo Walton's post about it on Tor.com.

This particular query started rather well:
I am doing a project in my lit class in which we were given a list of sci fy novels and chose one at random. The assignment is to research your author and events during their life to figure out the message they are trying to convey. I enjoyed the review and I too feel that there are many holes in the plot. Why didn't they invent a system for gravity simulation on the moon? etc.
OK, apart from the y in "sci fy", so far so good.
I do not like this assignment as i believe authors put many messages in their story to reach as many readers as possible. The question given is "What comment is the author making on the society in which they live?" My first inclination is this as a thesis: Asimov believes that humans have many flaws that affect decisions and the way one acts. I would like to hear your opinion on the overall message.
If I were as good a human being as Lucy Snyder, I would already have replied suggesting that my correspondent has missed the point of the question; that the proposed answer makes no sense; and that the social commentary in The Gods Themselves is really quite specifically about sex and the politics of how governments administer scientific research. Maybe I will actually send that reply, now that I have written this entry. But I need to finish cooking dinner first.
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