School of Darkness — Or How I Discovered That I Was Wrong About Everything!

I keep talking about this book, so–for today’s Thursday Throwback–here is my write up of School of Darkness by Bella Dodd, a book I learned about on a Superversive SF Chat.


On a recent Superversive SF, Peter Bradley recommended a book called School of Darkness by Bella Dodd, a woman who had been active in the Communist party in the 30s through 50s, before returning to the Catholic Church.

School of Darkness

I grew up in New York. My father came from the Bronx. My mental image of Labor Unions was quite a rosy one. I had been told that businessmen were greedy. Working conditions were terrible. Workers spontaneously rose up, of their own accord, and demanded better conditions. This worked.


I knew people who thought modern Labor Unions were corrupt, but I thought that, if true, it was something that had happened once they were no longer really needed.

In high school, one of the most chilling things I learned about was the Red Scare in Hollywood. I had a mental picture of Communists sympathizers as sweet helpful souls who wanted to help the less fortunate. I figured artists and actors are often taken in by such things, and thought that the blacklisting of Communists in Hollywood was one of the most terrifying things I had heard of…because I saw myself likely to be part of the blacklisted group.

Because I thought that the actors were just innocent dupes, I figured the other people targeted by the Senate UnAmerican Activities Committee were probably equally innocent or unimportant.

After all, it did not say otherwise in anything I read in school.

Later, I heard that when the KGB opened their documents, the people called before the Senate UnAmerican Activities Committee were actually Communist Party members, many in the pay of the Soviets—actually working for the downfall of America.

I guess, at some level, I had not actually believed it. Or I had pictured them as ineffective intellectuals with glasses sitting around a table somewhere discussing politics and accomplishing nothing.

When I thought of the Communist Party, I pictured, basically, the Libertarian Party. A small party of idealistic intellectuals, devoted to a cause on principle and tirelessly working toward it despite very little success.

I could not have been more wrong.

Bella Dodd was an Italian-born American (she was an American accidentally born in Italy, who grew up there until she was about six,) who went on to become a teacher. Influenced by the young free thinking teacher at her college (who later committed suicide, so empty was her life), Bella became interested in labor rights and was targeted by the Communists.

To my utter astonishment, at that time, the Communists were a huge, well-organized group with fingers in every single pie.

Because they had many of their members stay secret, not reveal that they were actually Communists, they could be members of every group. They formed Fragments, as I think they called them, in every political party, every labor union. Because if this they knew what all the different parties and groups were up to, and could organized coordinated attacks to get their policies across.

In the various teachers unions, their main goal was getting schools to 1) accept federal aid and 2) emphasize separation of church and state.

They had as an avowed goal: designing public schools so as to break up the family and make the children idea future Communists.

The Communists attacked the Church, demonized it, and tried to separate workers from their priests at every turn. Bella saw this over and over and gave some examples. She also admitted to helping over 1,100 communists get into the Roman Catholic Church, with plans to alter and destroy it from within.

They also attacked race harmony in America. Word came from the Soviet Union that America’s racial peace and its morality were its strength, so these things had to be destroyed.

All these things, these things we all complain about but think is just ‘part of life’, this highly-organized, secret group were deliberately attempting to orchestrate.

And they were really clever at it. Whenever anyone came up with a logical argument to make the bad thing sound like the moral high ground, they quickly shared it. Suddenly, that argument was the accepted view.

Here is another person, Mallory Millet,  on the same subject.

It was 1969. Kate invited me to join her for a gathering at the home of her friend, Lila Karp. They called the assemblage a “consciousness-raising-group,” a typical communist exercise, something practiced in Maoist China.  We gathered at a large table as the chairperson opened the meeting with a back-and-forth recitation, like a Litany, a type of prayer done in Catholic Church. But now it was Marxism, the Church of the Left, mimicking religious practice:

“Why are we here today?” she asked.
“To make revolution,” they answered.
“What kind of revolution?” she replied.
“The Cultural Revolution,” they chanted.
“And how do we make Cultural Revolution?” she demanded.
“By destroying the American family!” they answered.
“How do we destroy the family?” she came back.
“By destroying the American Patriarch,” they cried exuberantly.
“And how do we destroy the American Patriarch?” she replied.
“By taking away his power!”
“How do we do that?”
“By destroying monogamy!” they shouted.
“How can we destroy monogamy?”

Their answer left me dumbstruck, breathless, disbelieving my ears.  Was I on planet earth?  Who were these people?

“By promoting promiscuity, eroticism, prostitution and homosexuality!” they resounded.

Of course, that failed. We haven’t seen any increase in any of those things…

But back to School of Darkness:

Many, many young people flocked to the Communist Party, because they were idealistic and wanted to help their fellow man. They were impressed by the idealism and lack of material goods of many of the inner circle members.

BUT…their goal was revolution. They thought that the Capitalist system had to be overthrown, so that the new better system could come, through violent war.

Everything they did was intended to disrupt America, to destabilize it, to break up the peace and cause discontent.

They caused strikes or lengthened them. They urged workers to join labor unions. American workers were fairly content. Their wages were rising. The Communists had to use propaganda to convince them they were unhappy.

And, boy, did they!

People all over the media and advertising were secretly Communists. They decided how America would see a whole series of things, starting with the idea that fascists and communists are opposites, when both sides were controlled by the same organization. During the Soviet-run Spanish Civil War, they spun the whole thing to make the Church look bad and the rebels look good.

And, they all…this entire movement, took all their orders directly from Moscow, and the moment Moscow said “Jump.” They jumped.

They courted the rich, and money poured into their coffers.

They courted the young and used them up. Bella reported that young people would come into the movement and pour their whole life into the cause in a desire to make the world a better place. The Party would encourage them, use them up, and spend their lives, without much concern for any of them.

Bella Dodd

Bella discovered that the same highly-organized group who put the Communists into power in Russia also helped support Hitler. At one period, during WWII but before Yalta and Bretton Woods, the Communists were told to make peace between the factions.

And, boy, were they effective!

They had a finger in every pie! They stopped all strikes, got the different unions and parties to work together. They had enough control in enough places that they became the go to power to get things done.

But then orders came from Moscow to go back to pushing revolution and business as usual.

This was where it all started to fall apart. These orders included turning on the man who had been running the party all this time in America. He was not necessarily a good man, he had had people beaten and killed, but he was organized and effective. After he was forced out, it began fracturing.

It wasn’t too much longer until Bella, who was a person who spoke up against some of their more foolish actions, was forced out, too.

She remained a long and lost for some time, her husband had left and her parents had died during her quest for Communism.

Eventually, however, she met Bishop Fulton Sheen and found her way back to the Catholic Church.

At the end, do you know what they did, even back then, to throw her out of the party? They called her a racist. They spread about that she was “against the Negro”. Considering that she had spent years living in Harlem among people of all nations and advocating for them, this was the worst blow to her.

It was eerie to see them doing then the exact same thing that crybullies do now: call people racists when they are not racists.

Every time I see this happen—the internet hoards descend on someone and call them out as a racist, someone who is not a racist, I think of all the real racists in the world. I think two things:

One, I think of the story of the man who is looking for a quarter under a street light, instead of where he dropped it, because the light is better under the lamp. They go for the easy targets.

The other is the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. Every time anyone attacks a fake racist, they open the door a little farther for the real racists. Because, already, I notice people who have reached the point that they just shrug and turn away at the cry of “racist,” because, in their experience, it is always a lie.
The more people realize that “racist” is just a pejorative for “we hate you,” the more they ignore it.

Which means that the real racists—and there are real racists out there—when they come will be ignored and will get away with much more than they could have in a sane society.

The most horrible part of all, to me, is that this is not a new book. Not at all. In fact, it was written ten years before I was born.

Which means, my whole life, I could have known all this…but I did not.

In case you wish to listen to Bella Dodd speaking:



The Whippersnappers Talk About School Reading Lists

This Sunday, the Whippersnappers will be discussing the relationships between schools and the arts, with the main focus on school reading lists. Do they hinder or help a child’s reading? What kinds of books are children being made to read today? What books should kids be reading?

We’ll have many different perspectives on this subject, including those of Orville and Juss Wright, who are still in high themselves! We have much to talk about, so come listen along and join the discussion!

Sunday, 3pm EST! Be there!


A great review of The Product by Marina Fontaine

Tangent Online has a great review of The Product by Marina Fontaine

I was very excited to review one of the first offerings by Superversive Press. Allow me to begin by giving a brief introduction to the Superversive movement, as it is a somewhat recent development in literary circles, and not all readers may yet be familiar with it. In their own words, “Superversive Press is a new small press that aims to publish Superversive Fiction and is an outgrowth of the Superversive Fiction movement that aims to tell stories that are uplifting and ennobling. Heroes that are heroic, beauty that is beautiful, the transcendent that is transcending, stories that say virtues are real, and that Civilization triumphs over barbarism.” To delineate further, let me add that “superversive,” (as defined by one of the movement’s founders, John C. Wright, courtesy of his wife L. Jagi Lamplighter), goes as such: “You know how subversive means to change something by undermining from below? Superversive is change by inspiration from above.” I’d like to add, in my own words, that the Superversive movement represents a shift away from recent trends in science fiction and fantasy that have resulted in overly dark and preachy fiction that can leave a reader feeling punished simply for having read the stories. By this I mean that the world is, and always has been, a chaotic and frightening place, on a scale that dwarfs the comprehension of most minds. All the negative that anyone could ever desire, if they indeed desire such, can be found in history books and the nightly news, and can be quite overwhelming when not balanced by stories of hope and virtue. While I do not suggest that literature should not sometimes reflect the darker nature of humanity and life, I am comforted and excited that there is an effort to elevate literature above the muck and grime. There is a place for literature which aspires to create hope and condemns despair as much as there is a place for gritty realism.
In that vein, and with no further introduction, the review.

The Product takes place in the near future, presumably in the US, although the exact timeframe is unclear, and really, the location is vague enough that perhaps I’m simply seeing my own country of origin in the mirror. There are numerous similarities to our own time, especially in terms of things like technology, vocabulary, and environment, but it is not concurrent with our own timeline, inasmuch as the government has all but completely succeeded in stifling all free will, individuality, and for the most part even personality. The descriptor of drones is used frequently, and does not seem to be an exaggeration or over-simplification. Those it refers to are typical of a dystopian society: emotionless and apathetic, physically deprived and inferior, and seemingly capable of taking delight only in the suffering of others. The lack of independent thought and mindless savagery is striking, and is present in far more concentration than a lot of other stories in this genre. This story approaches alternating levels of bland apathy and vicious voyeurism seen only in the darker realms of dystopian fiction. Concepts like Re-ed (re-education) and Enforcers (brutal thugs, read: bullies on steroids) are common to dystopian fiction, as is the damage caused by living in fear that any slight word or action not in conformity will subject the individual to torture, abuse, and re-programming unthinkable, even in all but the most devolved corners of modern societies. The contrast is only made more severe by how personable and relatable the main characters are. “Users” are those who have sampled the product, and “dealers” are those who risk life and limb to bring it to them, not unlike the nomenclature of the drug world in modern society.
The main characters consist of three Dealers and one User, who are survivors of a system designed and apparently quite successful at crushing the souls of those within its grasp. The protagonists are split evenly, two male and two female, which flows nicely as far as how the four of them interact with each other, and offers varying pictures into how both sexes cope and survive in such hostile conditions. Kevin, the first of the four to whom we are introduced, is defined mostly by his determination and force of will, as shown on multiple occasions when he is subjected to abuse that would break most people I’ve ever met, yet he never yields. He approaches that chasm several times, as would anyone, but it is his force of will that keeps him from plunging headfirst into despair. Let me be clear: regardless of Hollywood interpretations, there are many unspeakable things that one human may do to another, and no one can remain unbroken forever. I appreciate how the author acknowledged this, from Kevin’s perspective, without ever giving up hope. It’s a delicate balance, and the author conveys it well. There is the knowledge and trepidation of what is to come, and the inevitability of a fate far worse than death should the Enforcers succeed in dragging him to their compound, but through it all he faces every moment with strength and conviction.
The second of the four is Lily, Kevin’s girlfriend, and the one User amongst the Dealers. She is refreshingly less hardened than the other three, surprisingly innocent and virtuous in a place where such things are by all rights impossible. There is a moment much later in the story where she finds a flower, growing healthy and free, hidden in amongst the larger weeds, that sums her up perfectly. The flower is a daylily, for which her mother named her, and the joy it brings is that of simply knowing that such a thing is possible. It is the joy of hope. It’s also appreciated that she isn’t portrayed as helpless. This is not some mockery of the virtuous, or some weeping damsel, but someone who has before now not truly walked through the fire, and when she finds herself in the flames, rises to find strength in herself, and acts in the face of danger. One criticism that seems to be constantly flung at the Superversive movement is that traditional SF/F objectifies women, being nothing more than helpless damsels waiting to be rescued by overly macho heroes, and thoroughly objectified as sexual prizes to be won in some meaningless contest of toxic masculinity. Lily is a wonderful example of how false those accusations are. Not only does she rise to action in defense of Kevin on several occasions, but she remarks casually about her proficiency with guns, and hesitates not in the slightest to put her life on the line for others, even strangers she has never met. This is a woman who refuses to be a victim, even when victimized. She is portrayed not as demanding love or sexual affection, but as being worthy of it. Not as an object of sexuality, but as an individual worthy of the love Kevin holds for her.
Justin is the third of the protagonists we meet, and is the dealer boyfriend of the fourth dealer, Gina, who is Kevin’s ex. The two of them are both gritty realists, but they are such in their own ways. Justin is quiet, reserved, with a core of tempered steel, both a tortured soul and a healthily masculine hero wrapped up in a grimly experienced visage. He reminds me of many veterans I’ve known. Haunted by the reality of things he has lived through, things he has had to do simply to survive, but resolute and full of life all the same. He is easily my favorite character, and the one that resonated most with me on a personal level. This is the sort of man I aspire to be, and hope I have become. Gina is beautiful and happily sociable, which belies the grim determination and raging fire within her soul. While perhaps not entirely rational, and indeed sometimes simply rash, her heart is always in the right place, and she follows it with the strength of her body. This is someone who can not only keep up with Justin, but push and challenge him. She manages to be feminine and sexual without ever devaluing herself, and it never defines her. It’s nice to see a woman who is defined by the virtue and strength of her soul, while being accentuated by her beauty and allure, as opposed to many so-called feminist icons, who are defined by their sexuality and allure, and are accentuated by the lack of virtue and weakness of their souls. Gina is a woman anyone would be thrilled to call a friend, but even more importantly, a woman anyone would be thrilled to have covering their six. The Product itself, which seems to have remarkably transformative properties, is none other than music. For those who doubt the legitimacy of the transformative power of sound as rivaling that of a drug, I suggest a wide array of literature and science on the subject.
All in all, this is a well-paced, descriptive offering that upholds the intent of both its publisher, and movement. The best advice I can offer is to approach it without the baggage of previous prejudices or bias, and simply enjoy it for the story it is. It is not as lengthy as many other dystopian stories tend to be, which may be the result of being an early offering, but personally I find it to be something of a blessing, insofar as it accomplishes its goals and doesn’t overly linger in an attempt to do too much. I recommend it to anyone, and I specifically recommend it to anyone who is looking for fiction from the Superversive movement, or who is interested in finding out what it are all about.

No, really, why AM I superversive?

One may – or may not – be surprised to know that despite being a part of the superversive team, I have a reputation in my family as a curmudgeon. In “real life”, distinct from my writing here and other places, I am quite cynical. I tend to believe that bad news is far more likely than good; as a Catholic, like Tolkien, I believe we’re in for the long defeat.

It was my sister who posed the question to me. I don’t remember the context, but I was complaining about something or other when she looked at me and said “Why are you even part of Superversive SF, anyway”?

It’s a great question, and the answer is somewhat personal. You see, I have a secret.

A BIG secret. It’s one I really don’t like to admit out loud. But here it is:

I’m not really a cynic. I’m actually a romantic. Deep down, I believe in true love, happy endings, heroism, and miracles. Or rather, I want to believe in them. I want desperately to believe they’re true.

Of course, out here in real life, we’re living in the enemy’s world. So those things don’t happen as often as they should. But they DO happen…and more importantly, they SHOULD happen. And I don’t mean that in a pathetic way, either, like it’s a fool’s dream and I’m just not willing to face reality. I mean that the world was literally created to be better than this.

And I think that in fiction, the most powerful stories are the ones that recognize we live in this horrible, messed up, dangerous world…and that we’re destined for something better. That humanity can be better. That yes, things suck, but we have the ability to rise up and change – to live for something greater than ourselves.

And that’s the heart of superversive SF, right? That we’re out here hoping and praying and living and dying not for ourselves, but for something higher and better than us.

In a world that is often terrible and depressing we need to be reminded sometimes that there’s hope. We need to remember that hope is just as real and just as important – maybe even more important – than all of those terrible things, and that we fools who strive to be better do not strive in vain.

And we go back around again to square one. Why am I, a cynical curmudgeon who complains about things all the time and picks petty fights with people for no good reason, a member of the superversive fiction movement?

Maybe it’s because guys like me need superversion most of all.

Caption This! week #6

Hey all!

I got a fun one this week! Star Wars fans raise your hands! Which….. is probably everyone here. Is there any nerd or geek that isn’t a fan of some aspect of Star Wars? If there is, I want to meet them.

Anyway, here’s your picture!


And the winner of last weeks caption is: 

The Mohs Scale of SF Hardness

In the ongoing discussion this corner of fandom has been having about genre, a sub-argument broke out about what counts as “hard” SF. Some people think “hardness” is a yes or no property and are indignant if some work is excluded. So it’s time to go over the Mohs Scale of SF Hardness.

(For non-geologists, the Mohs scale is a way of rating the hardness of rocks. It ranges from talc (anything can scratch it) to diamond (no lesser rock can scratch it). For genre discussions this is, of course, a metaphor.)

Disclaimers up front: “Hardness” is a separate property from whether a story is entertaining, actually science fiction, part of a particular sub-genre, or possessing the Campbellian “sense of wonder.” Yes, there are stories that are diamond-hard without stirring any sense of wonder. Us Hard SF fans call them “boring.”

Eight: Starting at the hardest level of hardness, there’s Real Life. Everything in the story exists today. SF fans consider this the least interesting level. Pulp stories with hard-boiled detectives are here.

Seven: The next level is A Simple Matter of Engineering. The gadgets in the story are compliant with known science and could be built if we put in the effort. The settings are as realistic as current knowledge allows. The Martian is at this level with the exception of its initial dust storm. The ion drive of the Hermes and automated Martian fuel manufacturing landers are just awaiting funding. The recent discovery of permafrost in the Martian soil means the hero could have dug for his water instead of messing with hydrazine (shudder) but this doesn’t make the story less hard, it just dates it. James Cambias’ Corsair is here, and hasn’t been ruined by a new discovery yet.

One problem with this level of hardness is that it only makes sense a short distance into the future. If your story is set a thousand years from now it’s ludicrous to think there will be no new rules of physics discovered in that time. If the setting isn’t as different from today’s as our lives are different from the world of 1000 AD that’s a failure of imagination.

Six: The third level is One New Thing. Invent a gadget, scientific law, or strange place, and examine the implications as it interacts with known reality. Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is level two with a spontaneously-created artificial intelligence. Niven’s “Inconstant Moon” is Real Life with an exploding sun.

Five: New Physics is where writers can invent lots of stuff. The trick to keeping it on this level is picking a few new inventions and dealing with their consequences rigorously. The Mote In God’s Eye and the related stories of Pournelle’s CoDominion series were here–Alderson drive, Langston Field shield, and weird yet plausible aliens.

Four: Artificial Gravity and Other Toys. Spaceships no longer need seat belts. This can still involve running numbers: Weber’s Honor Harrington series includes careful calculations of how much acceleration ships of each size can get from their gravitic impellers. This can still be “sense of wonder” hard SF. Ringworld had all sorts of impossible tech (teleporters, hyperdrive, invulnerable hulls, hereditary luck, and the scrith the Ringworld was made out of) but expanded our imaginations with what could be done with it.

Three: Who Cares How it Works? Spaceships fly, blasters zap, Death Stars blow things up. The gadgets enable the heroes to do their stuff. Numbers are a distraction. Firefly and Star Trek fall here. Most space opera is here as well, such as Lee and Miller’s Liaden series.

Two: Add A Dash of Magic. It looks like a cyberpunk or space opera setting, but some of what’s going on is just beyond physics. Star Wars Jedi can control minds, hurl objects, and create lightning with their minds.

One: Never Mind Science. Sometimes the author wants to do something and doesn’t care if it’s proven impossible. Mammals interbreed with egg-layers, rocks hang in the air, and Rule of Cool is all.

Too complicated? Oh, it gets worse. Many stories are rigorous in some areas of science and hand-wave others. An argument broke out over Dune in the CH comments. Where does it rank on this scale? The treatment of ecology is at One New Thing–a desert dominated by sandworms, with the implications for human society and future terraforming worked out in detail. Meanwhile the Bene Gesserit and Navigators Guild were effectively working by magic.

Another example of that mixed level is Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. Most tech in the stories is generic space opera, but the biological tech for reproduction, genetic engineering, and terraforming approach A Simple Matter of Engineering in the detail and accuracy provided. Whether this counts as “hard” SF depends on which aspect the viewer cares most about. If forced to assign a label I’d go with “partially hard” or “biologically hard,” which I’m sure amuses the twelve year olds in our midst.

So where is the line for defining something as “hard” SF? With most of the other things we argue about in the genre war it’s a matter of taste. I’ve noticed the most common line is artificial gravity. If the author make the crew strap in for acceleration and float the rest of the time the book will be called hard SF even if he’s resorting to blatant handwaves such as passing through a “loop of cosmic string” to travel between star systems.

This also points out the weaknesses in the definitions people are tossing around for “Campbellian SF.” Plenty of non-hard SF books such as Ringworld and Hogfather (a pure fantasy) provide the sense of wonder or “conceptual breakthrough” Campbellian fans desire.

The “hardness” of a story is just one way to describe it, separate from whether it includes any entertainment or other qualities. A hard SF story doesn’t guarantee it will provide sense of wonder. What the term “hard SF” does is give readers an idea of what to expect from the story, so they have a hint of whether it’s what they’re looking for. Which is all any genre label is really useful for.

FOOTNOTE: TVTropes has a version of this scale but I disagree with part of their analysis so I wrote this.

Corroding Empire: Amazon’s Civil War

The controversy over The Corroding Empire just gets stranger and stranger.

The Corroding Empire

Amazon KDP has given Castalia House’s new science fiction parody more green and red lights than a drag racing track.

First it was thought that the book had been pulled at the behest of Tor Books, publisher of The Collapsing Empire.

Suspicion also fell on Collapsing Empire author John Scalzi, who tweeted this message the same day:

However, details emerged last night that neither Tor, Scalzi, nor Amazon per se were to blame for The Corroding Empire’s publication delays. Castalia House Lead Editor Vox Day explained:

UPDATE: Since some people seem to want to go on the warpath, let me be perfectly clear here: Amazon is not to blame. I even suspect that it is entirely possible that Tor Books is not to blame either, based on a) when the book was pulled and b) the fact that the book has shown as Live for nearly 24 hours but still does not have a page on any Amazon site. The most likely scenario, in my opinion, is a rogue low-level SJW employee, possibly two, in a specific department.

I have already spoken to the manager of one department and they have begun to investigate why Corrosion is Live but not available. They’ve done everything we asked and we have no problem with the way we have been treated.

Today, Vox announced that Corrosion (The Corroding Empire Book 1) was finally live on KDP.

As we suspected, there appear to have been internal shenanigans taking place at Amazon, as one or more SJWs appear to have abused their positions to interfere with our ability to sell THE CORRODING EMPIRE.

We’re still working with Amazon to sort out exactly who was responsible for precisely what, and to establish what, if anything, legitimately needed to be changed according to their guidelines. This should all be nailed down by the end of the day, but in the meantime, you can now order the book and post reviews again.

The Corroding Empire isn’t out of the woods yet, because following that conversation, it was blocked again, reinstated again and blocked a third time in short order.

Corrosion (The Corroding Empire Book 1)

Here is where the matter stands as of this writing:

UPDATE: Finally got to speak to a supervisor. She’s not only escalated the matter to legal, but has assured me that the book will be unblocked, stay unblocked, and that the matter will be fully investigated. It’s not just the three blocks, the culprit(s) also put the book on the Excluded list for Amazon Associates, which prevents others from being paid when someone buys the book.

The publisher insists that the issue is with rogue elements within KDP quality control and not with Amazon itself. If so, we could be witnessing a civil war within the world’s largest book distributor. However the situation gets sorted out, the resolution should be informative for publishers, authors, and readers alike.