Reason #142 Why Dave Itzkoff is a No-Nothing Assclown

New York Times: “All science fiction has some element of titillation — a strategy of taking known facts and stretching them to the limits of credulity, for the purposes of both entertaining and enlightening.”

Gee, I thought the purpose of speculative fiction was, much like many other novels, to provide a narrative that reflected the human condition: sometimes using provocative ideas or meticulous atmosphere (a la China Mieville) and, in the case of hard sf, sometimes employing rigorous scientific justification to explain the imaginative scenario (and thus pushing the narrative well past “the limits of credulity”) (a la Robert Charles Wilson’s excellent Hugo-award winning novel, Spin). That Itzkoff sees science fiction from a failed English major’s dichotomous mind set (“entertaining and enlightening,” but not challenging, humanist or literary) is a great indication that he should probably recuse himself from literary criticism. His work for the NYTBR reads like a Strom Thurmond-like politician trying to use States Rights Democratic Party rhetoric (circa 1948) to run for President in the 21st century.

[RELATED: Levi Asher points out that Tanenhaus’s team can’t even get basic Beat history right. Maybe they truly are operating as if it’s 1948 at the NYTBR.]


  1. My favorite line of Itz’s was his condemnation of Crichton for using science fiction to mix science with fiction: “The author makes no attempt to distinguish his extrapolations from established fact, and even seems to relish the ambiguity.” That’s right, he even seems to relish the ambiguity!

    I’ve got no love for late, polemical Crichton, don’t get me wrong, but when book reviewers run around accusing storytellers of relishing ambiguity, it’s a clear sign that replacements are desperately needed.

  2. Part of the fun of reading science fiction is in seeing how “real” science is melded with the real-sounding but “made up” speculative stuff. Jeez.

  3. …I still don’t get all the seeming dislike toward Itzkoff. I agree the line you quoted isn’t a good one because it’s too dogmatic, and I think Itzkoff is making a mistake when his review implies science fiction should agree with science “fact.” (Think I’ll post more at my blog about why I think he did this.) But the dig at Bush as the “leading purveyor of alarmist fiction” is fucking great. And I think he’s correct about Crichton and his work overall. He’s written a few pretty good books and I love the movies Sphere and Coma, but he’s turned into a gargantuan illogical asshole, which has permeated his writing, and, apparently, his fictional characters.

    Also, I don’t agree with: “That Itzkoff sees science fiction from a failed English major’s dichotomous mind set (”entertaining and enlightening,” but not challenging, humanist or literary) is a great indication that he should probably recuse himself from literary criticism.”

    I’m not a failed English major; I’ve never even BEEN an English major. And entertaining and enlightening are my exact requirements for excellent writing, no matter the genre. In my opinion at least, science fiction shouldn’t be judged by different standards than any other genre; great writing should simply be great writing. It should defy genre. It should both illuminate and excite; humanism and “literaryism” aren’t required, neither is intellectualism. Requiring those often pushes literature into the Only For Aristocrats To Experience realm, a realm I cannot stand.

    I don’t think anyone should be “recused from literary criticism” based on the criteria that person uses to judge written works. What are the qualifications for criticizing literature? Is a certain degree required, a certain taste, a certain wardrobe? I thought the ability to read was the only requirement. To me, everyone’s entitled to an opinion, no matter how ridiculous and uninformed some opinions may be. Most people shouldn’t need credentials to simply express their opinions, even in The New York Fucking Times.

    Iztkoff seems meek, no-nonsense and yet funny in his reviews–I think that’s somewhat responsible for the attitudes toward him. Should he sound more full of himself? Hasn’t he only just started as a NYT reviewer? Give him some more time to mature at reviewing, try criticizing his reviews more constructively. Maybe he’ll listen. He doesn’t sound unreasonable to me.

    I generally can’t stand reviewers, and TNYT leaves me cold. Yet here I am defending both. The world must be ending tomorrow.

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