Today is Mr. Asimov’s birthday, and I’ve always appreciated this quote and felt like it was a good day to share it. I’ve always been pleasantly surprised how writing, even my pulpy cosmic horror series, has expanded my own personal knowledge. It’s also National Science Fiction Day. To celebrate, I’ll continue reading the sixth book in The Expanse series, and perhaps finish 1899 tonight.
Raunch Reviews is a series about profanity. Not real profanity, but speculative swearing. Authors often try to incorporate original, innovative forms of profanity into our own fantastical works as a way to expand the worlds we build. Sometimes we’re successful. Often we’re not. In this series, I examine the faux-profanity from various works of sci-fi and fantasy, judge their effectiveness, and rate them on an unscientific and purely subjective scale. This is Raunch Reviews, welcome.
Look, I realize that Isaac Asimov wrote the first Foundation stories in the nineteen-forties, and the first book didn’t arrive until the nineteen-fifties. I also recognize that white Americans, in particular, like to pretend that this was some glorious era of American history where the nuclear family was the norm, everyone washed their hands before dinner, and children always called adults “mister” and “ma’am.” But, I also know this is an era where terms like FUBAR and SNAFU were invented, and a glance through the Green’s Dictionary of Slang records plenty of new vulgarities emerging. So, it’s important to acknowledge that the wholesome mystique of the fifties is mostly myth wrapped up in attractive propaganda. Foul language was common even then, despite what folksy feel-good television programming would like to tell us.
All that said, there’s a reason why that propaganda is effective. Much of the content from that era seems clean—but, publishing was operating under different rules in the middle of the twentieth century, and censorship was in full swing. Publishing something even mildly vulgar was difficult—J. D. Salinger notwithstanding. But that’s not an excuse when it comes to fictional profanity, which makes Asimov’s choice of “space” for a futuristic oath a bit silly, even for its era.
Throughout Foundation, it’s common for characters in the book to shout out a “No, by Black Space, no!” or “Great Space!” and every time it stands out a little more than it should—coming across more cute than effective. I’ve talked about the impact of oaths in the past, especially oaths that are blasphemous, and how they tend to extend beyond the standard lifespan of your typical run-of-the-mill profanity. That’s not what’s happening here. The concept of “space”—at least within the first book—is never treated with a particularly deific reverence. The titular Foundation’s faith is based on knowledge and nuclear energy/power. So when the “space” oath gets referenced, it feels out of place and awkward. Even swearing by “nuclear” or the “atom” would make more sense within the story’s context, and neither would have come across so twee.
Have a suggestion for Raunch Reviews? It can be any made-up slang word from a book, television show, or movie. You can email me directly with your recommendation or leave a comment below. I’ll need to spend time with the property before I’ll feel confident reviewing it, so give me a little time. I have a lot of books to read.