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March 8, 2004

Reviews we never finished reading. Salon’s Christopher Farah, who previously distinguished himself with his attack on the clear and present danger of pseudonymous weblogging (as I remarked at the time, if Atrios is a menace to society, the un-bylined Economist surely is too), now offers example number 5,271,009 of a reviewing approach we’ve seen before:
Andrew Sean Greer’s second novel has a high-concept premise that seems perfect for one of those $3 mass-market sci-fi/fantasy paperbacks. A man lives his entire life aging in reverse, born with the wrinkled, feeble, elderly body of a 70-year-old, and steadily growing younger and younger in his physical attributes and appearance. When Max is 20 years old, he looks like a man of 50; when he’s 50, he has the body of a 20-year-old and so on, until inevitably he transforms into an adolescent, a toddler, a helpless baby.

Of course, in a cheap sci-fi book, the main character’s name would have to be something that sounds like a new brand of antidepressant medication—and the story would be trite, gimmicky and shallow. Instead, The Confessions of Max Tivoli is a serious work of literature, written with a precision of language and a depth of feeling that doesn’t simply belie the book’s quirky premise, it transforms it, elevates it from what could have been just another clever idea to a profound meditation on life, love and the inevitability of growing old.

Ah yes. “Those $3 mass-market sci-fi/fantasy paperbacks” are obviously no good, since as we all know, literature begins at $22.95. And of course, in “cheap sci-fi books” people have funny names, unlike in serious works of literature. Never mind the possibility that one or two of those despised mass-market paperbacks might have a moment or two of “precision of language” or “depth of feeling.” In the knockabout world of aspirational book-chat, Farah knows what matters: trim size and cover price.

I can well believe that The Confessions of Max Tivoli is a good book. If so, surely it deserves better than to be extolled by means of such a display of false oppositions (“sci-fi” versus “literature”), appeals to class prejudice (passim), and straight-up ignorance (what was the last $3 mass-market paperback you saw?). Next in Salon’s fearless cultural coverage: Chris Farah explains that this Gershwin fellow is writing serious music, unlike those cheap 25-cent “jazz” records with their silly names and their trite, gimmicky jungle beat. Wait, wait, did I mention that those cheap records are really cheap. [06:15 PM]

Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Reviews we never finished reading.:

John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2004, 07:04 PM:

One might note that this cheap hack named F. Scott Fitzgerald told a "guy lives backwards" story in a pulp yarn called "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," and that other guy, Marty somebody (whose dad slummed around in sci-fi with his pal Bobby "Stalin was a Bad Dude" Conquest), did an entire novel in which time moves backward, which got reviewed in All the Right Places, but then one would have to assume that books do not spring like quantum particles from an absolute vacuum, and it is sometimes useful to know that literature has a history, and that's so Twentieth Century.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2004, 07:25 PM:

True, Mike. And it wouldn't do to mention that Merlin fellow, because he was a wizard and therefore obviously hails from cheap fantasy fiction.

I'm not going to make the rest of that argument, because we've done it before, and Christopher Farah isn't worth it, and if he were the sort of writer who might be worth it, he'd already have known that that argument's been made over and over again. Sometimes it's even been made by people he respects enough that he wouldn't burn them to fuel an otherwise inept review, cheap cliche-pandering pseudo-intellectual hack and wanna-be elitist that he is. And if he were really good, he wouldn't have made his point in the first place, seeing as how it is patently stupid.

But I'm the moderator, and I know I'm not going to get disemvowelled for it, so I'm going to call him a right asshole and let it go at that.

Melanie ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2004, 07:26 PM:

John,

Don't you know we are living after the end of history? None of that stuff applies now.

We are all post-modernists now.

Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2004, 08:07 PM:

... does he think the Internet has lost its subculture roots?

And Salon readers tended to be early adopters. (Though who knows what Salon's demographics are now. Besides falling.)

The last comic book I bought was $3.50. It had Elizabeth I as a character. Some precise language, too.

Lackwit.

C.

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2004, 08:18 PM:

I've dealt with snobbery like this in writing classes. One professor handed out copies of a dreckful attack piece (from The Atlantic? Harpers? It's been 21 years . . .) after I'd established that I wanted to write SF. It was awfully mean-spirited and discouraging.

I hope she's still stuck teaching undergrads at Nassau Community College.

Peter Rich ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2004, 08:51 PM:

The same "aging backwards" premise was used by Dan Simmons in his SF classic "Hyperion" and the sequel, "Fall of Hyperion," an SF riff on Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales."

David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2004, 09:16 PM:

If that's the attack piece I'm thinking of (tagline: Science fiction is to fiction what Christian Science is to science) it ran in Harper's.

Carlos: 1602, right?

John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2004, 09:19 PM:

Stefan, I'm pretty sure the piece in question was Luc Sante's from HARPER'S, done at the time when Sante was trying to crash NY publishing by schmoozing various Right People. It kinda worked; he's done a book or two -- LOW LIFE, which is a rewrite of Herbert Asbury, comes to mind -- and still appears in magazines every now and again. He is not untalented, and I think much of his attitude comes from wanting to remain In Good with those Right People.

If anyone missed it, Sante read five randomly selected sf novels and tore four of them to pieces. The fifth -- as I recall, it was by Michael Bishop -- he admitted he sort of liked. A large number of people wrote in noting that if you pulled five books off a Borders shelf at random you probably wouldn't get a handful of aces, and suggesting titles, to which his response was "literary talent does not pass by osmosis," which is, how do you say it, idiotic.

Mris ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2004, 09:31 PM:

Just last week I got mail from a guy who reads my blog and wanted to know what someone who thought so seriously about craft was doing trying to work in a hack genre. He shared with me his received wisdom that the difference between "literary" fiction and "genre" fiction was solely the quality of the prose: if any of this Asimov Bradbury spaceship nonsense would only be well-written, it would be instantly elevated to the heights of literary fiction, but as it was still classified as genre fiction, he knew it was crap without having to read it. And I shouldn't sully my obvious talent learning bad habits from it.

And didn't understand why I didn't feel complimented.

Zizka ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2004, 09:43 PM:

I'm so old I remember when cheap novels were cheap -- 35 cents.

Movies were a dime. No kidding. Less than two years after release, too.

sinboy (AKA Josh Jasper) ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2004, 09:50 PM:

Looks like Salon is still staffed by certain editors that value post-modern catty commentary to anything with real substance.

As for SF? Well, I'm minded of Larry Niven's old "Ghetto?" essay. I think it's in "Playgrounds Of The Mind?

I'm also minded that my life, which exists the way it does in no small part due to fandom, is an adventure for an unconformist like me. Farah can keep his views. Mine are more fun for people like me.

Steve ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2004, 10:01 PM:

It's hardly germaine to the topic, but hey -- Time's Arrow is a pretty darn good book. You can now go back to dismembering this sentence: "'Max Tivoli' is entertaining and engaging enough to rival any fun, lighthearted fantasy paperback, while also so poetic, and so powerful, that it should please the most particular literary critic."

(Because remember, fun books aren't powerful, and powerful books aren't fun! Make sure to tell a child today, and smother her love of reading!)

LP ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2004, 10:46 PM:

A slight rebuttal, PNH. Talent goes where the money is, and that's why you don't find the best writers crafting 90,000 words for a $5,000 advance.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2004, 11:21 PM:

I'll stick up for Luc Sante. His Harper's piece on SF was substantially stupid. But Low Life is much better than "a rewrite of [Gangs of New York author] Herbert Asbury." Aside from being very well written in its own right, it's also based on real history, as opposed to Asbury's half-remembered tall tales.

I'm not sure what "LP" is insinuating, but while it's true that "talent goes where the money is," the idea that most SF and fantasy writers slave away for $5,000 a book is a couple of decades out of date. Even most first novels make more than that.

Certainly publication in the "literary" genre can occasionally enable a writer to reach a much broader and more remunerative audience than toiling away over on this side of town. But for every Jonathan Lethem that pulls it off, there are a couple of dozen who don't. Meanwhile, for all its ills, the genre enables a lot of good midlist writers to pull in $15,000 or $40,000 or $75,000 a book without hitting the bestseller lists. Some of them even manage "precision of language" and "depth of feeling." Yes, some awfully good writers never make the kind of living they deserve. But nothing I know about literary publishing suggests that these chronic problems are unique to the genres. The difference, though, is that little literary books that get published on $4000 advances and distributed in printings of 2000 copies don't get auto-trashed by Salon reviewers as "cheap." It's like the old joke. We're cheap; they're above monetary concerns.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 12:23 AM:

Are you referring to the I-you-him game? "I'm frugal, you're cheap, he's a miser." "I'm firm, you're stubborn, he's an obstinate mule." I first heard about it in Isaac Asimov's Treasury of Humor, which besides being a book of jokes is also an interesting and useful monograph about what makes a joke funny.

But wait! Asimov is a Sky-Fie writer. Therefore incapable of useful thought, much less Anything Serious.

I'm occasionally mistaken, you are basically wrong-headed -- Christopher Farah is a complete jackass.

Ms. Jen ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 01:14 AM:

Dang... $3 for a new paperback? What store is Mr. Farah buying at? Do tell, I would like to become a frequent customer. All my fave Sci-fi/Fan publishing houses have $6.95 or $7.95 as their lowest MSRP these days, usually printed on the back cover just above the barcode.

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 01:28 AM:

"Stefan, I'm pretty sure the piece in question was Luc Sante's from HARPER'S"

The name isn't familiar. But if it ended with a out-of-place rant about animal testing, that was it.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 02:11 AM:

"'SF's no good,'
The critics say 'till we're deaf.
'But this is good.'
'It's not SF.'"

I'm pretty sure I'm not quoting that right. And I don't remember who said it. But I'm pretty sure it was written something like 35 years ago.

I've told people a couple of times recently that I thought that prejudice against sf was very nearly a thing of the past. Shows you what I know.

Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 02:55 AM:

It was Kingsley Amis, and you've got it slightly wrong: this is less wrong, but still off:
" 'SF's no good'
They tell us till we're deaf.
'But this is good.'
'Why, then, it's not SF'."


on the other hand, he also wrote a very elegant poem about how boring Jules Verne can be. It starts on page 95 of the Penguin selected poems, but there is no room in this margin, etc.

chris ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 02:55 AM:

I don't read much SF these days, but I'm deeply shocked that this sort of nonesense is still being peddled. I thought the generation of Tom Disch had knocked it on the head.

David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 03:29 AM:

This is from memory with no Googling either, so it's probably not quite right, but I'd lay odds it's closer than either of the previous attempts:

"SF's no good!"
They bellow till we're deaf.
"But this looks good."
"Well then it's not SF!"

Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 03:53 AM:

Ahh, the old "the I-you-him game". Recalls memories of The Frost Report with tall John Cleese dressed as a toff, middling Ronnie dressed as middle-class, and short Ronnie as cloth-capped prole delivering their various views on issues.

Time's Arrow sounds interesting. The list of things I'm finding to look up on here is building. But your prices! I guess we could get some second-hand around that price. If I ever travel to N America, I'm taking hardly anything but a large empty suitcase & a long list of books & DVDs

bryan ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 04:18 AM:

Well, when I hear a book is called Time's Arrow, has a story of a man aging in reverse named Max (is there going to be any symbolism about maximum?) Tivoli and that it is a serious work of modern literature I can't help but think it's going to be another worthless entry in the long-running competition for greatest lachrymal work in the sensitivity genre ever.

A.R. Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 06:27 AM:

Before I join the chorus savaging critic Cristopher Farah (who's a non-entity unworthy of my attention), I'm recall the unwritten rule that only black Americans may call each other "nigger" without being insulted.

I'm an SF fan and writer. Honestly. So then I'll use the "N" word, so to speak, and say: We're a bunch of whiners.

"We're not getting the recognition we deserve from the Establishment! Waaah!" Well, duh. Isn't that a teenagerish attitude?

If we're in a ghetto, it's because WE moved into it, locked the gates, and put up a sign that said: "We Don't Need Any Other Literature!" If fans seem insular, it's because most of them - not all, but most - ARE insular and wouldn't touch THE ARROW OF TIME, say, because there's no planets or spaceships on the cover.

Every group has its own prejudices. Bear that in mind. The Golden Rule: Treat others as you want to be treated. If you want recognition, start "recognizing" other forms of art and culture. Pick a mainstream novel from the library shelves -- any one -- open a page at random and start reading. Go to an art exhibit. Go see a non-SF movie.

Now, how you experience "their" books and culture will be different from how "they" experience it. But this is a good thing. You'll be able to see the limitations of "mainstream", but also the unwritten limitations and "rules" of "our" fantastic fiction. We have our own prejudices and limitations/hang-ups, we're just unaware of them.

For example, Tolkien fans will deny that THE LORD OF THE RINGS is built around Tolkien's fear of women and foreigners. But it is, it really is.

Or SF fans will vehemently deny that ENDER'S GAME is a piece of shameless wish-fulfilment for boys, with a tortured, mixed-up homophobic/homoerotic subtext. But it's there, it really is.

If we, instead of obsessing over superficial detail in our favorite SF/F books (technology/gear/costumes), ALSO learn to interpret levels of message and metaphor -- the way those snotty "mainstream" critics can -- we could learn stuff about ourselves which we're either unaware of, or unwilling to know. And this would make reading SF/F a RICHER experience.

There... I've drawn blood. Let the carnage begin.
;-)

-A.R.Yngve
http://yngve.bravehost.com

NelC ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 07:10 AM:

A.R.-- I don't think it's whining, so much as eye-rolling: "Not /that/ old tripe again." And really, the non sequiters that mainstream SF-deniers come out with are on a par with trufans denying the chauvinistic subtext of Lord of the Rings, if not more so.

As far as reading non-skiffy material, I think you're preaching to the choir here. Beyond a certain age, even the most die-hard fan will find themselves reading outside the genre; why, I even read a Martin Amis book once. Didn't think much of it, mind you....

Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 07:43 AM:

Well, if you liked that review, you'll love this article from spiked (via ALDaily):


But the criticism of science fiction and fantasy fans - that we are infantile and escapist people, and socially inept to boot - sadly has a little more truth to it. Of course, there are many pastimes that people pursue obsessively, and it may seem a little unfair to stick the boot into sci-fi geeks rather than car fanatics, opera buffs or stamp collectors. But of all the hobbies and interests out there, being preoccupied with the details of otherworldly settings and characters, at the expense of being engaged with the world you actually inhabit, does bespeak a certain retreat from society into the safety of one's imagination.

Whee!

Nina ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 07:46 AM:

I don't know a hardcore SF reader who doesn't also read widely outside the genre. Most of us insulate our houses with books.

I know some media-SF readers who don't read much outside the media genre. I'm related to them. I tried to get my brother-in-law to read the Lensman series so he'd know one of the things his favorite books were riffing on, but he gave up after a chapter or two.

There are people in this world who throw away books after reading them. Shudder.

julia ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 07:53 AM:

Talent goes where the money is, and that's why you don't find the best writers crafting 90,000 words for a $5,000 advance.

Talent may go where the money is, but when it gets there its likely to find that the money has already been apportioned to people with a genius for relentless self marketing and connections.

If money is the determinant, it may be worth noting that many of the best paid writers in the country write genre books, available at your local airport. How do they fit into the paradigm?

A.R. Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 08:27 AM:

Good points, all. I'm preaching to the choir. :)

What I really ought to be doing is to gate-crash a gathering of the TRULY insular -- say, a circle of literary Important People, or a Tolkien costume show/Renaissance Fair -- and piss them off.

"Martin Amis, you pompous twit! YOU never got a walking robot named after you, like Asimov did! His influence on culture and science will outlast you by thousands of years! But you will be FORGOTTEN! Nyah nyah!"

"You know what, fat boy? They didn't have eyeglasses in the Middle Ages! Here, let me help you get more historically accurate! (Snatches glasses from young man in faux-medieval garb) What're you gonna do now, fat boy? Cast a spell on me? Get your head out of your ass and get on an exercise bike! Then you might get laid someday."
;-)

-A.R.Yngve
http://yngve.bravehost.com

Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 08:41 AM:

Yngve, I admit it, I don't read a lot outside the genre. Nonetheless, I'll deny that Lord of the Rings is built around the fear of women and foreigners. It would be a good thing if there were more women characters, but I find it hard to believe that someone who was afraid of women would write Eowyn. There's fear of such foreigners as are trying to kill you (not totally irrational--sometimes foreigners do that sort of thing), but there's also a strong theme of needing to learn to cooperate with foreigners who you'd be inclined to distrust.

As for Card, it isn't exactly just wish-fulfillment or Ender's military ability wouldn't have been used the way it was.

I suspect that any fiction read with as unfriendly an eye as you're showing could be made to look bad. _Waiting for Godot_ is just pandering to people who don't want to get up and actually do something.

I believe that prejudice can just keep rolling forward on its own without input from the objects of its bigotry. Even if all fans spent some time on high culture, how long do you think it would take to get through to the likes of Farah?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 08:51 AM:

I'm sorry, I'm still blinking at the spectacle of A. R. Yngve, whatever that is, lecturing this crowd about how they ought to try some of that mainstream literature sometime.

I can't help but think that "Yngve" has really misjudged who he's talking to, and what they think.

Then again, I don't think much of people who brag about longing to do this:

"You know what, fat boy? They didn't have eyeglasses in the Middle Ages! Here, let me help you get more historically accurate! (Snatches glasses from young man in faux-medieval garb) What're you gonna do now, fat boy? Cast a spell on me? Get your head out of your ass and get on an exercise bike! Then you might get laid someday."

Yeah, picking on the helpless is really smart. Even more ultra-cool: fantasizing about doing it, and boasting to strangers about your fantasies.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 08:58 AM:

Back in the world of actual smart people, I'd like to ask Chad Orzel why he thinks my objections to Farah's review mean I would disagree with the paragraph he quotes from Spiked.

Farah is ragging on SF and fantasy in general in an attempt to set a particular work of fantasy apart--appealing to class prejudice against "cheap" paperbacks in order to convince us that a particular work with fantastic elements is something more elevated and refined. In so doing he's relying on false oppositions, unsubstantiated generalizations, and plain old untruths.

The Spiked writer is making some general observations about the SF subculture which, as far as they go, are pretty much true. They're not the whole story, but they're not wrong, either.

Why did you conclude from my criticism of the first that I would disagree with the second? I would really like to know.

Emma ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 09:10 AM:

Mr. Farah reminds me of one of my high school English teachers. She hated science fiction and insisted we read "real" literature from the textbook (all together now, AAAIIIIEEEHHHHH!)in class. My girlfriend and I used to prop the textbook up and open a paperback in front of it. I met a large number of my favorite writers that way....Ah, yes, the pleasure of the forbidden...
Ah yes, the textbook. It turned out we had already read ALL the books excerpted...on our own.

Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 09:24 AM:

BTW: "Time's Arrow" (Martin Amis) and "Arrow of Time" (Roger Highfield) are different books.

There are quite a few books with variations on that classic phrase in the title, including one by the late lamented Stephen Jay Gould.

You may have seen a UK TV series called Red Dwarf. It had an episode (possibly called Backwards?) where the crew landed on a planet like earth in the 20th Century, but where everything went backwards, and had some difficulty adapting.

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 09:29 AM:

For example, Tolkien fans will deny that THE LORD OF THE RINGS is built around Tolkien's fear of women and foreigners. But it is, it really is.

Funny. I thought fear of Death might have had just a wee bit to do with it. Lost his dad at age 4. Lost his mother at age 12. Lost two of his three best friends killed in World War I.

But I could be overstating it. :)

A.R. Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 09:32 AM:

OK, I was deliberately provoking a reaction there. I'd NEVER snatch the glasses from a nearsighted overweight person... it's not my style to bully the weak. A crude attempt at humor. Honest, Guv.

But seriously: what I'm trying to say -- in my bumbling manner -- is that any attempt to seal oneself off from the larger culture -- either by creating a fantasy world, or creating a phony "intellectual" class structure based on literary elitism -- is a flimsy and vulnerable position at best. Poke at it, and the illusion shatters.

What DO people like Martin Amis or Chris Farah say when the Asimo robots come marching into society? Will they pretend that robots do not exist, ignore that robots have a direct precedent -- indeed, direct inspiration -- in SF literature? Then it's they who're living in fantasy land.

How DOES the young man in the Tolkien costume respond if someone (not I) aggressively challenges his elaborate fantasy game? Retreat further? Break down in tears? Start thinking?

Chris Farah... he's a non-entity trying pathetically to restrict the free flow of information with non-existent powers of judgment and taste. Tell it to his face, Patrick. There is no reason you should suffer fools quietly. We're civilized beings, but that doesn't make him any less a fool.

-A.R.Yngve
http://yngve.bravehost.com

Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 09:32 AM:

The Spiked writer is making some general observations about the SF subculture which, as far as they go, are pretty much true. They're not the whole story, but they're not wrong, either.

Why did you conclude from my criticism of the first that I would disagree with the second? I would really like to know.

They're not all that directly linked-- I just saw the Spiked piece, and thought that it might be of interest to SF-reading weblog people, but lacked enough free time to write up something coherent about it on my own blog. This thread reminded me of it in a very general way, and I thought that some of the people commenting here would have interesting things to say about it, so I threw it in here. The intro to the quote wasn't a well-thought-out linkage between the two, it was just the first phrase that came to mind.

On a second read, the Spiked piece is less objectionable than I initially thought, but I still find it slightly offensive. My initial reaction was basically "Yes, SF should remain in its 'proper place.' Also, Elvis should've been stopped before he took rock-and-roll out of its 'proper place.'" The article is actually well short of that level of obnoxious, but I have a strong negative reaction to "know your place" arguments, in whatever form.

I'll try to offer a more complete explanation (probably on my own blog) later, but I really should go to work sometime today...

bob mcmanus ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 09:33 AM:

Just lurking, but I think Gardner Dozois wrote one of the finest pieces on reverse aging, a short-short 5 pages: "Morning Child" ( I think, not going thru the collections right now).

A little piece of poetry and compassion I would stand against anything. Anything.

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 09:36 AM:

Has anyone read Stanislaw Lem's essay, I think it was called, "SF, A Hopeless Case with Exceptions," which I think provoked a good deal of discussion back in the 70s? I came across it in a later collection of his essays.

Struck me as harsh--but not clueless.

Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 09:39 AM:

I have read favorable reviews of Time's Arrow in The San Francisco Chronicle and The New York Times(I think it was) that didn't venture into the quagmire of "sci-fi can't be good." Sounds like an interesting book; if someone had sent me a copy, I probably would have reviewed it myself by now (though I wouldn't have been able to track down its antecedants in the genre as efficiently as people have done here). So the guy at Salon isn't necessarily the majority view -- just an individual jerk.

A.R. Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 09:43 AM:

John: I think I read Stanislaw Lem's essay a long time ago. He was pretty harsh specifically on American SF, and complained that its intellectual potential was largely squandered.

In the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SCIENCE FICTION, I read: "Lem's intellect may be vast; it's also cool and unsympathetic." :)

-A.R.Yngve
http://yngve.bravehost.com

Mris ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 09:55 AM:

How DOES the young man in the Tolkien costume respond if someone (not I) aggressively challenges his elaborate fantasy game? Retreat further? Break down in tears? Start thinking?

I'm sorry, the disconnect I feel reading your posts is still in play here, A.R. If someone ran up to me and shouted, "Stuff you like sucks, NYAH!" in my face, I would not retreat further (further?), break down in tears, or start thinking. Oh wait, I would start thinking. I'd start thinking, "that person's a jackass."

One of my best friends is in the SCA (although of course I wouldn't want my daughter to marry one), and he has a much firmer grip of the historical realities of pre-Renaissance Europe than most people. He wouldn't find a comment about his glasses challenging to any assumptions he was making, he would find it patronizing and stupid and unrelated to his views of history. (He also is pretty good with a great big stick, so I wouldn't recommend any hypothetical person go for his glasses.)

I just don't see how creating a fantasy culture and sealing oneself off from the real world are related. At least, not nearly that directly.

But then, I also have no desire to go kick Martin Amis in the shins. I think most literary types are not scoffing at SF for being impossible or poorly speculated. I think the ones who scoff want very different things out of a book and are sometimes unwilling to see that speculation about possible futures can be one of the functions of literature.

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 10:10 AM:

OK, I was deliberately provoking a reaction there.

In some circles, that's called "trolling".

Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 10:19 AM:

Calling Yngvi a troll? That's just lousy.

Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 10:35 AM:
I have read favorable reviews of Time's Arrow in The San Francisco Chronicle and The New York Times(I think it was) that didn't venture into the quagmire of "sci-fi can't be good." Sounds like an interesting book; if someone had sent me a copy, I probably would have reviewed it myself by now (though I wouldn't have been able to track down its antecedants in the genre as efficiently as people have done here). So the guy at Salon isn't necessarily the majority view -- just an individual jerk.

The book Farah reviewed (and presumably the one you've seen reviewed elsewhere) is The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer. Time's Arrow is Martin Amis' take on the idea.

Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 10:35 AM:

Farah's piece reminds me of the time a librarian said that my fantasy was really pretty good, had I ever thought of writing a real novel? I didn't feel insulted so much as bemused. Likewise with this. I can read _The Confessions of Max Tivoli_ *and* _Hyperion_, he's furiously barricading gates that swing open for me in both directions.

Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 10:40 AM:

Is Philip Dick's "Counter-Clock World" now available in one of those upscale Vintage trade paperbacks?

Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 10:40 AM:

Anyone else look at Yngve's page of self-published fiction? Anyone else not surprised by the content? I was particularly not surprised by this bit from the "about" page:


Traditional publishing houses, on the other hand, are mainly after the money. Which makes it nigh-impossible for the little guy to get an honest chance.

Jim Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 10:54 AM:

John Updike gave a sympathetic review to "The Confessions of Max Tivoli" in the New Yorker, and compared it to other novels using the aging-in-reverse device, all of them outside the science fiction tradition, I believe.

Inside the science fiction tradition, aging-in-reverse seems to be a rather frequently used device, going by the examples given in previous comments. Updike's review made me remember a Fritz Leiber story, in which the entire planet Earth aged in reverse, in rejection of mankind's invention of nuclear weapons. I thought it was rather eloquent. On the other hand, aging-in-reverse showed up on the old "Mork and Mindy" TV show, when Mork fathered a middle-aged man (played by Jonathan Winters) as a son. Maybe that's the sort of writing Christopher Farah was thinking about.

Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 10:58 AM:

A.R. Yngve wrote:

What DO people like Martin Amis or Chris Farah say when the Asimo robots come marching into society? Will they pretend that robots do not exist, ignore that robots have a direct precedent -- indeed, direct inspiration -- in SF literature? Then it's they who're living in fantasy land.

An odd assertion, considering that Martin Amis wrote the script for a sci-fi flick by the name of Saturn 3:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0079285/

...and probably isn't quite as ignorant of robots as you might think he is.

Read Martin's memoir Experience sometime to find out about Kingsley's adoration of the Terminator films, as well as his crush on Linda Hamilton. Martin can be a putz, but he's never been as ignorant and vituperative on the subject of science fiction as, say, a dipshit like Chris Farah.

A.R. Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 11:10 AM:

I apologize for my trolling tendency.

"I just don't see how creating a fantasy culture and sealing oneself off from the real world are related. At least, not nearly that directly."

It depends on the individual, I guess, and how broad his or her range of interests is.

"But then, I also have no desire to go kick Martin Amis in the shins. I think most literary types are not scoffing at SF for being impossible or poorly speculated. I think the ones who scoff want very different things out of a book and are sometimes unwilling to see that speculation about possible futures can be one of the functions of literature."

OK... then I'll argue that the old distinction between "realistic" and "speculative" literature has now become illusory. Any attempt to write, no matter how much gritty social realism it is meant to be, involves a degree of speculation. Was it Emile Zolŗ who invented the notion of the "realistic" writer as a cool, detached scientist, merely observing the world and analyzing it, without adding anything imaginary? Naturalism was an invention anyway, and it's obsolete. Ditto for Modernism.

We are living in an SF scenario. (Or rather several ones.)

Any good writer, regardless of genre, has to observe reality in order to write involving fiction. And we're observing the merging of SF speculation with that reality. That is why Chris Farah is talking out of another orifice than his mouth, so to speak. The quality of fiction can no longer be judged solely on the basis of obsolete standards. (Then again, SF/F can't completely escape some of those standards either.)

There are critical standards that should apply to any genre... it's hard to define what I'm thinking of here, but it's something like "consistency" (similar to "the interior logic of the fictional world"), and "psychological honesty". Let's say I'm personally working my way toward a set of standards for what literature should try to accomplish.

All I'm sure of is that I don't want to tilt at intellectual windmills like Chris Farah. He and is ilk are not relevant anymore. Either ignore him or tell him the game is up.

I propose:

1. Any attempt to write "realistic" fiction according to the old standards will ignore the scientific and technologial realities of the present-day world, and how they affect our social interactions and psychology.

2. Any attempt to ignore ANY sort of standards of the quality of fiction, will result in a deterioration of fiction. "What do I care about spelling, grammar or psychological credibility? If it feels good, it IS good!"

3. Readers have the right to ignore standards. What they experience when reading, belongs to them personally. (But try to re-read the book you loved as a child, and you might change your mind.)

4. Writers, on the other hand, can't work without standards. We have a duty not to get sloppy. That's where critics can be helpful -- if THEIR standards are good and relevant.

-A.R. Yngve
http://yngve.bravehost.com

A.R. Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 11:17 AM:

Martin Amis wrote the script for SATURN 3? I stand corrected. He's nothing like Chris Farah -- I have no right to pigeon-hole them together. My sincere apologies.
(Wasn't SATURN 3 the movie about a robot trying to rape a woman?)

-A.R.Yngve

Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 11:39 AM:

I find it hard to believe that Martin Amis is ignorant or disparaging of sf for a couple reasons: first of all, his father "slummed around in sci-fi with his pal Bobby 'Stalin was a Bad Dude' Conquest" (--Mike Ford, above) and in fact was one of the first "OK" literary figures to take notice of sf in a serious and basically admiring way in his book New Maps of Hell, which, though to my mind wrong-headed in a number of important ways, is still a very readable and interesting study. Second, I think that in Britain the status of sf is not the same as in the US. Brian Aldiss and J. G. Ballard have crossed over without any sort of disavowal of the field that I'm aware of. Here, Farah's ignorant snarking (as well as that of Sante and even Updike [a few years back in The New Yorker] gets over, even considering the success of Dick (posthumously) and Delany in the trade paperback market. There, I don't think it would fly.

Yngve, let me join the chorus of those who remind you you're beating a dead horse.

Bretona ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 11:41 AM:

A.R.Yngve writes: If we're in a ghetto, it's because WE moved into it, locked the gates, and put up a sign that said: "We Don't Need Any Other Literature!"

Of course we need, and enjoy, other literature. SF/F fans and writers are some of the most well-read people on the planet. If you doubt this, only imagine the personal libraries belonging to authors such as Kage Baker, Vernor Vinge, and Jo Walton.

One resident does not a ghetto make.

If fans seem insular, it's because most of them - not all, but most - ARE insular and wouldn't touch THE ARROW OF TIME, say, because there's no planets or spaceships on the cover.

That is as stereotypical a remark as Farah stating "...in a cheap sci-fi book, the main characterís name would have to be something that sounds like a new brand of antidepressant medication."

If you can, please resist the desire to quantify us. We are a diverse group, to which labels rarely apply or stick.

Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 11:45 AM:

Wasn't SATURN 3 the movie about a robot trying to rape a woman?

Yes, with Farrah Fawcett, Harvey Keitel, and Kirk Douglas. Weird Factor: 11 out of 10 and still rising, 24 years later.

As for your proposals-- dude, you have gone tangential with a vengeance. Who, exactly, is in your crosshairs?

Cheers,

SL

HP ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 12:13 PM:

Okay, I just want to say that Patrick's Gershwin analogy is really apt and illustrative of something I'm deeply interested in, and I was about to write a response about the futility of defining genre or style in terms of content analysis, and how we really should be looking at social identity groups and how audience identity contructs drive genre content expectations, and not the other way around (and what a great thread this is [and what about Michael Chrichton, then?]), by way of comparing the way various American music genre historians speciously claim some unique quality for their genre and arbitrarily exclude counterexamples (which are, generally, more typical when viewed contemporaneously), when I realized I was writing a book-length analysis and not a blog comment. So I'll stop.

Mark Hand ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 12:17 PM:

Margaret Atwood drives me crazy. Her writing makes me weep it's so good, but her stand on science fiction brings about tears of a completely different sort. Here's something she said that's always driven me crazy:

"No, it [The Handmaid's Tale] certainly isn't science fiction. Science fiction is filled with Martians and space travel to other planets, and things like that. That isn't this book at all. The Handmaid's Tale is speculative fiction in the genre of Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Nineteen Eighty-Four was written not as science fiction but as an extrapolation of life in 1948. So, too, The Handmaid's Tale is a slight twist on the society we have now."

So very anger-making.

Which is why I was so happy to stumble across a review of Ursula K Le Guin she wrote in the New Yorker that renewed my faith in Atwood and allowed me to enjoy her writing without the same degree of bitterness. The envy still burns, but that's just something I have to live with.

Another interesting Atwood article appeared in Canada's Globe & Mail newspaper recently, where she admitted to having written science fiction books, though she still prefers to make the genre snob's "speculative fiction" tow-may-tow/tow-mah-tow distinction concerning her work.

(Credit to this and this for helping me find those links and quote again. Bless this internet thingy.)

LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 12:23 PM:

I have a friend who rails at me for writing SF. "Why are you wasting your talent? You could be writing the most amazing books, if you'd only let yourself!"

Heh heh heh, I think. I already am. :)

Really, many of us imprint on a genre (and I include "literary" in that box as well) at an impressionable age, and forever afterward, other genres don't measure up. Because it's not why _we_ read. I have certainly read widely outside SFF, but I always come back home. SFF satisfies my taste buds in a way no other genre can.

But like most people, I'm able to recognize that there is a strong element of personal taste. I don't feel the need to belittle people who prefer a different genre.

Teresa has an excellent post in Making Light's archives. It's Stephen King's acceptance speech at one of the lit crowd's big do's, where he was given a lifetime achievement award of some kind. I don't know how to search P&T's archives to find it, but it's well worth the read. It gives you a good dose of this strain of snobbishness in the lit genre.

As for why we feel the need to comment, well, why shouldn't we? That attitude is nothing but ignorance and prejudice. I won't have my beloved form, and my favorite writers' works--works that have moved me and brought such pleasure to me--put down. That superior, sneering attitude is bullshit, plain and simple, and I'm going to call people on it when I hear it being said.

Or, here's another take. The annoying thing about genre snobs is the same thing that's annoying about fundamentalists. You know the old joke, the agnostic dies and goes to heaven, and St. Pete is showing him around. There are people standing around on all these clouds, laughing and chatting.

"Over there are the Methodists," St. Pete says, pointing, "and over there are the Catholics. That one over there is the Buddhists, next to them are the Hindus, and there are the Muslims and the Jews. There in the back are the Atheists and Pagans. Take your your time and have a look around. It's your choice."

The man notices that around one of the clouds is this really high wall. He looks questioningly at St. Pete, who gestures and says, "Have a look, by all means."

He wings his way over there and soars up to the top of the wall, and looks down. There's a group of people standing around, laughing and chatting. They look exactly the same as all the other groups.

He asks, "What gives?"

St. Pete shrugs. "Oh, they're the Baptists. They still think they're the only ones up here."

-l.

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 12:23 PM:

" . . . the young man in the Tolkien costume . . ."

Are fans dressing up *as* Tolkien these days? Tweed jacket and a pipe and all that?

Man, that *is* weird.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 12:58 PM:

Gosh, I thought SF stood for "Speculative Fiction" -- not really, but I wish we could sell that idea. That way Atwood could get her nose out of the air. 1984 is SF. So is Stranger in a Strange Land.

But. Depending on how you define 'science fiction', she may have a case - though not the case she argues in the quoted paragraph. I've heard 'science fiction' defined as 'fiction that draws its themes and plots from the impact of new technology on people and society'. That's not the only definition, of course, but it's interesting.

By that criterion, The Handmaid's Tale isn't science fiction. I want it under the umbrella, though, so I'd add 'or fiction that speculates on the near-future consequences of present-day trends and events'.

If we try to rigorously define science fiction, we will argue a lot, and possibly make progress, but we will not come to consensus. This is good; it keeps the genre dynamic.

BTW, two other subtypes of speculative fiction are 'fiction that speculates on the personal and social conditions and events that would arise had the fundamental rules of the world or universe been (slightly to extremely) different' (fantasy) and 'fiction that speculates upon what would have happened had certain historical events gone differently' (allohistory).

All of these are important to a progressive mindset. Thinking about how the world could change in the near future helps motivate one to try to shape those changes. Thinking about how the world could have been different helps one to understand what makes the world the way it is. Nothing like narrowly dodging a bullet to make one wary of bullets, and if the bullets are fictional, they're less likely to result in outright phobias (like my complete unwillingness to work in high-rises ever again).

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 01:04 PM:

And btw, Yngve, eyeglasses ARE period for the Middle Ages. They were poorly ground, not especially customized, and very uncomfortable to wear, but they did exist. I saw someone wearing a period design (presumably with better lenses) at an SCA event once; it confirmed me in my own choice, which is to wear contacts (which are NOT period) and pretend I simply don't need vision correction.

Bifocals are the one Franklin invented. This confuses a lot of people, who can't see how there can be many centuries' difference between those two technologies.

Matt Peckham ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 01:37 PM:

Look at this another way though. Answering "false opposition" with turnabout biting satire only ensures that more bad energy is going to hit and continue hitting the fan down the road. As they say, consider smartly killing them with kisses, instead of the all-too-familiar acidity of online grandstanding.

Wrong as Salon is to create the false dichotomy between "sci-fi" and "literature," reaching out to them with the back of our hands just digs the trench a little deeper.

Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 01:38 PM:

Xopher -

Carla Speed McNeil makes an interesting distinction between hard SF (dealing with technological science) and social SF (dealing with "soft" sciences like sociology, anthropology and psychology), placing her work in Finder in the latter. Which is also where the science fiction of Atwood goes, along with the work of Sherri Tepper, Joan Vinge, and Frank Herbert, just for starters.

I thought it was a nice reminder that the "science" in SF didn't have to be about machines, but could address theories of society, history, politics and the human mind with the same sense of speculation.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 01:56 PM:

Dan - there we go. Right on.

colleen @ del rey ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 02:04 PM:

Three dollar sci-fi novels? Where the hell does he shop? [And he sure ain't buying any of our books.]

Chump. Patrick, on behalf of all of us, I will go bitchslap him.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 02:23 PM:

I am irresistably reminded of Tom Lehrer's "National Brotherhood Week".

Oh, the white folks hate the black folks,
And the black folks hate the white folks.
To hate all but the right folks
Is an old established rule.

Yeah. But just who are the right folks? Depends on your point of view dunnit?

Oh, the poor folks hate the rich folks,
And the rich folks hate the poor folks.
All of my folks hate all of your folks,
It's American as apple pie.

Sadly too true too often.

Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics,
And the Catholics hate the Protestants,
And the Hindus hate the Moslems,
And everybody hates the Jews.

Everybody hates sf? Well, except us of course.
Whole song here

bob mcmanus ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 03:14 PM:

"I thought it was a nice reminder that the "science" in SF didn't have to be about machines, but could address theories of society, history, politics and the human mind with the same sense of speculation"

Old guy here, who grew up in the era of Lafferty and Disch and Effinger and Ballard and the wilder days of Aldiss. Was trying to explain Lafferty to someone last night. I really don't follow the field anymore, so don't know what is being published. But somebody who defined the field in the years of "What Entropy Means to Me" doesn't have many rules or justifications.

Steve ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 03:15 PM:

What DO people like Martin Amis or Chris Farah say when the Asimo robots come marching into society? Will they pretend that robots do not exist, ignore that robots have a direct precedent -- indeed, direct inspiration -- in SF literature? Then it's they who're living in fantasy land.

As noted, Martin Amis has dabbled in science fiction before; his reaction would almost certainly be to incorporate the marching robots into a novel, one which probably wouldn't be any good. (Aside from Time's Arrow and the wonderful, breathtakingly nasty London Fields, his entire canon that I've run into has ranged from mediocre to jaw-droppingly bad. There are some amusingly mean reviews of his last, Yellow Dog; the one I'm thinking of seems to have been written by someone named Tibor Fischer.)

And to Robert L.'s comment about Ballard and Amis, I'd add Iain Banks (various people on this board can correct me, but I believe he is considered a Serious [Pop] Novelist in England). Various Brits like Julian Barnes, Graham Swift, and Anthony Burgess have crossed over the other way and written genre fiction at one point or another. Other than Richard Powers* and Joyce Carol Oates (and I suppose John Updike's occasional half-hearted dabbling), I'm having trouble thinking of major American writers who did the same.

* Whose Galatea 2.2 is absolutely heartbreaking.

Sean Bosker ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 03:30 PM:

I'm coming into this a bit late, but I have to respond to A.R. Yngve.

Even if Tolkien was scared of women and Ender's Game was had a homophobic subtext, which by the way, I don't see in either, that wouldn't invalidate their contributions as literature. Lolita had overt misogynistic themes and worse, and it's a fantastic book. If a well adjusted narrator with a politically correct view of the world is necessary for good fiction, why are so many great works shot through with neurosis, loathing, fear, hatred, and all the stuff that's much more fun to read about than it is to experience?

Your argument is totally bogus. I love SF and I love so-called literature. The difference to me is indistinguishable. If a book bores me, it bores me, I donít care if it has spaceships or accountants. Although I do really dig a spaceship now and then.

The demarcation of the genres is utterly arbitrary. Kavalier and Klay was fantasy. The Life of Pi was fantasy. I loved the latter, was bored by the former.

As for the OP, when I was a young writing student, I dutifully carried Sartre around in the cafes and read Science Fiction at home, hiding my shame. It took me a few years to realize that if Kafka can turn into a cockroach, then Ender can exterminate him. A good book is a good book. We might not agree on which books are good, but to malign a so-called genre with which one is clearly unfamiliar is cliquish, childish, and absurd. Itís also a symptom of one of my least favorite intellectual positions: contempt prior to investigation.

John Scalzi ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 03:47 PM:

PNH writes:

"I'm not sure what 'LP' is insinuating, but while it's true that 'talent goes where the money is,' the idea that most SF and fantasy writers slave away for $5,000 a book is a couple of decades out of date. Even most first novels make more than that."

Just not *much* more.

I also disagree that talent necessarily goes where the money is -- I think quite a lot of talent goes where it wants and by dint of talent the money follows. "Having the money follow you" is one very real working definition of "talent."

I personally write science fiction because I like science fiction, and don't particularly care whether the chattering classes care for what I write or not. My own creative writing teacher in college laid out the "science fiction is not literature" thing and then spent the quarter praising the kids who wrote interminable stories about their emerging bisexuality a la Bret Ellis; so I learned not to worry too much about it from there.

I am of course tempted to send him a copy of my novel when it comes out and note to him that I'm the only member of that particular class who's published a novel, I expect that might just seem petty.

Sean Bosker ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 04:11 PM:

You go, John. Send him your novel and ask him if he needs any advice. Maybe you can get him an educator's discount if he orders in bulk.

You might even be free to guest lecture his class on the merits of ignoring bad advice and making a career as an author.

Arthur D. Hlavaty ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 04:59 PM:

Harper's and Atlantic take turns every few years doing the Sneer at SF article. Sante's was fairly typical; the most recent said that Robert Heinlein wrote Stranger in a Strange Land because he wanted to start a religion, the way Hubbard did (which kind of leaves out his repeated refusal to start a religion). One time one of the magazines gave the assignment to Tom Disch, who of course was knowledgeably and wittily wrong.

CHip ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 05:13 PM:

Xopher (topically): I revise, you slip, he is late submitting. (I've heard it called Conjugations.)

re Luc Sante -- in retrospect it was sophomoric, but I remember being amused when J. Neil Shulman (Schulman?) talked of channeling Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged: calling up Sante at some horrid hour, making sure the right person was on the line, and calling him a prat (quoting exactly).

Mitch et al: My recollection of the couplet (by Amis, in one of his Spectrum introductions):
      "SF's no good!" they holler 'til we're deaf.
      "But this is good." "Well, then, it's not SF."
Amis was good at epigrammatic verse; another introduction had
      "All systems go!" The countdown starts;
      A universe attracts our arts.
      "Three ... two ..." but stop; he might get hurt --
      That poor sod of an introvert.
(IIRC, appended to a quote from a mundane saying that horror was the proper reaction to outward urges)

A.R.: seconding Xopher, there's even a pamphlet from the SCA on period glasses. (Twin Cities residents and friends on this list may remember the main author, Al Kuhfeld(?); many of you may recognize his wife/collaborator, Mary Monica Pulver, as the author of Murder at the War and other mysteries featuring a cop who is active in the SCA.)

Steve ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 07:11 PM:

Lordy, this J. Neil Schulman? (I cannot find Adam Cadre's MSTing of Schulman's review of Showgirls on the Web, but it -- like his Eye of Argon effort -- was painfully funny.)

Bob McManus -- I'm not sure if Lafferty has any real successors, but heavens to Betsy, if anyone has any suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

It's funny seeing the suggestion that The Atlantic goes after science fiction, because the last time I saw a critical hatchet job published there, it was buried in critical faves Cormac McCarthy, Annie Proulx, and (spectacularly misguidedly, I thought) Don DeLillo. (Here I risk veering off into discussing/attacking Dale Peck, but that's even further off-topic and Teresa's covered that ground.)

Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 07:31 PM:

David Goldfarb, I am so tempted to say it was Virgin Queen #32, Gloriana vs. Bobadilla, guest-starring the Incredible Fulke Greville.

But yeah, you got it.

C.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 07:58 PM:

A nitpick to Mark Hand: That Atwood review of Le Guin appeared in the New York Review of Books, not the New Yorker. I am Joe Bibliographer.

Xopher, rather than get into the endless brangle of "defining" science fiction, I'd like to agree with Chip Delany that it's much more interesting to describe it. Definitional arguments all wind up focussing on edge cases, to the exclusion of the often more interesting center.

Dan Layman-Kennedy writes:

"Carla Speed McNeil makes an interesting distinction between hard SF (dealing with technological science) and social SF (dealing with 'soft' sciences like sociology, anthropology and psychology), placing her work in Finder in the latter. Which is also where the science fiction of Atwood goes, along with the work of Sherri Tepper, Joan Vinge, and Frank Herbert, just for starters."

"I thought it was a nice reminder that the 'science' in SF didn't have to be about machines, but could address theories of society, history, politics and the human mind with the same sense of speculation."

This is actually a bit of an SF-reviewing cliche, and one I've long been interested in prodding at with a sharp stick. For one thing, a great deal of what we call "hard SF" doesn't so much "deal with" technology or the hard sciences as it attitudinizes about them. As Teresa has observed, a great deal of SF written by women (hello, Nancy Kress!) is full to the gills with actual science, but it doesn't get called "hard SF" because it doesn't feature enough guys standing around in rooms talking tough about engineering. If you want to conclude from this that "hard SF" is actually a label for a notably mannered subdivision of the genre, I won't gainsay you.

How much SF is actually "about machines", anyway? The SF of the Campbellian "Golden Age" certainly wasn't. Asimov and Heinlein were all about history, psychology, social planning, and other social and sociological issues. Yet when we make these "hard" versus "soft" generalizations, you never see the authors of Beyond This Horizon and the Foundation trilogy listed in the "soft" column. Forgive me for suspecting that the division is--to quote commenter HP above--more about "social identity groups, and how audience identity constructs drive genre content expectations." Right on.

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 08:15 PM:

On Margaret Atwood: Atwood uses a categorization system which is fairly consistent and which puts A Handmaid's Tale in one category ("speculative fiction") and The Left Hand of Darkness in another ("science fiction").

This is not a judgment against science fiction in her mind, any more than saying that The Left Hand of Darkness is science fiction while A Wizard of Earthsea is fantasy is a judgment against science fiction. She has written stories that she thinks are science fiction, complete with rocket ships, and sold them to science fiction anthologies.

Stefan: Joan Gordon, mainstay of the science fiction critical world and one of the editors of Femspec, teaches at Nassau Community College. So it's not all hopeless.

Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 08:21 PM:

I read stuff like that review and things like, "A Canticle for Liebowitz" and, "The Sparrow" come to mind, and I know that they are wrong.

Yngve... as one who is, and has been active for some years in a renaissance fair, those who work them (who are decidedly different from those who attend) are more than aware that glasses are 1: period, and 2: most of us don't have period glasses. I opt for contact lenses, but I have friends who will grind a set of lenses down to fit period frames (far too small for the field of view I need to feel comfortable, elst I might opt for them, as different, so likely to start a conversatin wherein I can educate the customer).

And while I appreciate that you have those atavistic urges only in your head... I can't help but wonder at what drives them. I can say that (as has been pointed out above) trying to do so for real is likely to lead to a painful knock on the head, prior to the arrest for battery.

The comments about the ghettoisation of the genre being self-inflicted from a crowd that fails to look outside its walls are patent crap. It is said that a classic is a book everyone praises and no one reads (Twain, IIRC) and I have to say, given that I get to go to and fro in the world a fair bit, that of the people, and classes of people I know, the most widely read of them are SF fans.

It may be that I am being self-selecting (and certainly I can't say I know ALL of fandom). It is quite possible that being the sort who has read, and for his own pleasure/edification a large number of the, "classics," that I am drawn to such people, but I doubt it, or I should expect to encounter more of them when I am out and about.

So, I have to say that such views as Farah's speak more to his prejudices than they do to our insularity.

Terry

Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 10:48 PM:

Patrick -

Sorry; didn't mean to ruffle any feathers there. My point was only that SF was more inclusive than it's sometimes given credit for. Discussing a genre in terms of words like "hard" and "soft" is useful for exactly as long as those words broaden the field (and I don't much like the coloring those particular words bring to it either, partly because of the attitudinizing you mention). Spending a lot of time and energy deciding which neatly-labeled box literature should go in is ultimately pretty silly.

The Carla McNeil interview I was thinking of when I posted is here, incidentally.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 10:51 PM:

Carla Speed McNeil rocks the house, by the way, in case I wasn't clear about that.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 11:01 PM:

Patrick, you're right that very little SF is "about machines." (Analog in the 70s had too many of them, and I let my scrip lapse for that reason.)

While not all fiction is about people (one way or another), all good fiction is, IMO. Of course, in SF the definition of 'people' is part of what's being stretched...I can imagine, though I've never read, a story entirely about a conflict between two AIs (and not a shoot-'em-up either). The AIs would qualify as "people" -- or the story would be bad.

And should I ever read a brave new story that hath no "people" in't, I will promptly revise this opinion. I am nothing if not flexible, particularly when I abruptly realize I've been being a jerk about something...

LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2004, 11:52 PM:

OK; we're not defining it but describing it. I can bounce to that. In which case, I like Pohl's description of SF as the literature of change.

Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2004, 03:31 AM:

I'm sorry, I'm still blinking at the spectacle of A. R. Yngve, whatever that is, lecturing this crowd about how they ought to try some of that mainstream literature sometime.

I can't help but think that "Yngve" has really misjudged who he's talking to, and what they think.

Are you saying that Yngve is a louse?

Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2004, 03:41 AM:

By the way, when I was reading that review, I stopped short, said, "Who wrote this crap?" and scrolled back up to the byline. And lo, I did receive enlightenment.

Dave Langford ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2004, 05:52 AM:

"SF's no good!" they bellow till we're deaf.
"But this looks good." -- "Well, then, it's not SF."

Several people have quoted or misquoted this and other epigraphs from the Spectrum anthologies, ascribed to Kingsley Amis rather than his co-editor Robert Conquest. I think we can infer that the squibs are all by Conquest, since (a) they don't appear in Amis's collected verse; (b) they do appear in a Conquest collection, The Abomination of Moab (1979).

Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2004, 07:17 AM:

Xopher, I can recommend Egan's _Diaspora_ as a good novel almost entirely about AIs. (I *think* there were a few biological humans in it, but if so, they were a minor part of the story.)

Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2004, 07:52 AM:

I can imagine, though I've never read, a story entirely about a conflict between two AIs (and not a shoot-'em-up either).

The first thing I thought of was Terry Bisson's "They're Made Out Of Meat," though that might not quite be what you had in mind...

Rivka ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2004, 08:45 AM:

HP - I would absolutely want to read that book-length analysis. Although maybe not in someone's comment section, I suppose.

Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2004, 09:33 AM:

Re: Atwood and Heinlein: I've been of the opinion for some time that The Handmaid's Tale is actually Heinlein's unwritten future-history novel The Stone Pillow as filtered through a feminist Canadian late-20th-century consciousness as opposed to Heinlein's libertarian/engineer/whateverthehell Midwestern early-20th-century one.

Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2004, 10:17 AM:

Sean Bosker said:

It took me a few years to realize that if Kafka can turn into a cockroach, then Ender can exterminate him.

I just wanted to admire that sentence for a while.

Carry on.

Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2004, 10:30 AM:

"I have done a little thinking about this bloody preface...One general line to take would be that since Spectrum was published - we're too modest to suggest that it had any actual influence on this - things have been moving so quickly that the anti-sf chap is now in very grave danger of finding himself high and dry, not merely square or not with it, but in the position of finding Antic Hay a bit modern and in poor taste. [discusses various publications taking favorable notice of the field.]...All right, we say, this isn't official highbrow approval. not yet, but other 20th-century art-forms - jazz, cinema - have won popular support first and then gone on to win highbrow approval.

"We offer this series of Spectra to solve a difficulty always acute such art-forms - described by a sf writer as 'the bouillabaisse problem,' i.e. getting a chap to try it for the first time.

"Ignorant bastards are still sounding off, like the sod in Ill-Lon-News..., but, we go on, shitting on this sort of shit is a bit too easy and too dull when such fascinating developments are taking place in the genre. Let's talk about those - in future Spectra, perhaps, we shall cut all this stuff aimed at the general reader and just talk to people who know and like the medium, i.e. all the chaps with sensitivity to lierature."

--Kingsley Amis to Robert Conquest, 1962 (The Letters of Kingsley Amis, ed. Zachary Leader [New York: Talk Miramax Books, 2001], 597-598)

Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2004, 10:32 AM:

Damn. Make that "literature" at the end.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2004, 11:12 AM:

Thanks, Nancy, I'll look for it. I take it you're not putting it forth as a counterexample to my point, which wasn't that a novel couldn't be about AIs.

LOL, Dan, and no, it's not. Those characters, silly as they are, are definitely "people."

Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2004, 11:30 AM:

Robert L re "lierature"
Certain puritan types look[ed] on playacting & writing fiction as "lying". Only religious works and books of practical instruction are/were permitted. Perhaps that which we call "literature", they would name "lierature"?

Mark Hand ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2004, 11:48 AM:

I have a question for people who work in the book biz: is there an actual system to the way shops triage books into genre categories, or is it really as arbitrary as it often seems?

Specifically, what transcendental qualities does a novel need to have to get placed in the vaunted Mainstream Fiction section, as opposed to getting shuffled off into the Scifi/Fantasy ghetto (which at my local Chapters/Indigo in Toronto is a wee corner on the top floor shared with Mystery and Romance as well)?

Does it come down to the store itself to choose where they think buyers are most likely to look for it or find it, or do the publishers say where it should go? Is it a matter of sales, since it seems like the popular ones by genre authors make it into Mainstream, or do books get to be popular because they're placed on Mainstream Fiction shelves?

To whom do I lobby to get a Slipstream section in my bookstore?

(To PNH: thanks for nitpicking my sloppy New Yorker/New York Review of Books gaffe. How embarrassing.)

(To Kevin J. Maroney: I concede to your point that Atwood doesn't necessarily see herself as above writing science fiction or pass judgement against it, and that her distinction between science and speculative fiction -- although it grates by virtue of pretension and snobbery -- is at least consistent for her. And hey, whatever keeps her in favour with the Bookers and Gillers and Governor General Awards, right? It still doesn't dispell the niggling impression I get that she feels just a little bit dirty about having any connection at all to science fiction, though.)

Sean Bosker ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2004, 03:42 PM:

OK, this is war.

Now it's not just panning the genre, but deciding that Science Fiction will ruin our country.

excerpt:
But the criticism of science fiction and fantasy fans - that we are infantile and escapist people, and socially inept to boot - sadly has a little more truth to it. Of course, there are many pastimes that people pursue obsessively, and it may seem a little unfair to stick the boot into sci-fi geeks rather than car fanatics, opera buffs or stamp collectors. But of all the hobbies and interests out there, being preoccupied with the details of otherworldly settings and characters, at the expense of being engaged with the world you actually inhabit, does bespeak a certain retreat from society into the safety of one's imagination.

Link:

Click here for the full article.

Murph ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2004, 04:10 PM:

Mark, I won't link to my post on Ms. Atwood at Cold Ground since you so kindly linked to it yourself. I'll note that after Ursula Leguin was selected to be SFWA Grand Master I was the publicity dude, and I wrote to Atwood asking for a nice quote. She was generous with her time, thrilled that Leguin had been selected, and not at all concerned that her name was being linked with a Sky-Fye honour.

D

Ogre-Eyed ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2004, 04:59 PM:

Actually, I believe Roger Bacon in 1268 made the first mention of lenses used for scientific vision correction. Bacon also predicted that investigative science would one day lead to wonderful and marvellous inventions. As this discussion is taking place on an Internet weblog by means of incredibly powerful digital computing machines, it is safe to say that he was correct, and as a corollary, his statement about medieval eyeware was true, meaning that spectacles are perfectly medieval.

As for the assumption of people involved in SF/F isolating themselves from the world, this is proved absurd by the very environment of this weblog. After all, Mr. Nielsen Hayden makes his living as a SF/F editor, yet this blog is primarily considered with liberal/activist issues. Many of the commentators involved in SF/F in some way, yet comment vigorously on the various "real-world" issues.

eric ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2004, 05:06 PM:

Not to beat a dead horse or anything, but IMHO, the distinction between hard and soft SF can be summed up as: Hard is about $30 a book, heavier, and takes up more room on the shelf. Soft is the convenient travel size.

But then I'm known to judge a book by it's cover.

Sean Bosker ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2004, 05:12 PM:

As for the assumption of people involved in SF/F isolating themselves from the world, this is proved absurd by the very environment of this weblog.

Agreed. And as a friend of mine also pointed out, "Being obsessive about the minutae of sports, to the point where you memorize the stats of all the players, and take as much or more pride in your favorite team's accomplishments as your own is perfectly normal and not escapist in the least."

Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2004, 05:53 PM:

Such fun, such fun...

I think I'll give Mr. Yngve's fiction a miss. It's not that he dislikes Tolkien. Rather, he misses so much that is in the books (and, I'd like to add, I've quite impressed by how much of the books is lurking in the films).

Tolkien is taking stuff from the writers who went before him, and if you don't have some knowledge of that English literary tradition, you don't get the book. And maybe there's stuff you don't get in the film either. That literary context isn't limited to the great works of world literature. Sometimes the memorable moments that matter are in the bad books, and the bad movies, because people remember them.

Though Starsky and Hutch probably have nothing to do with Merry and Pippin.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2004, 06:44 PM:

Mark Hand: You're going to really hate this answer. Look at the spine of the paperback. If it says novel, it goes in the Literature section. If it says SF or Science Fiction or Fantasy it goes there. At any rate that's how we did it in the bookstore I worked in. I sometimes subverted the dominant paradigm by placing certain books in both literature and a genre category (either sf or mystery usually) but that carries its own problems.

MKK

Eric Walker ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2004, 11:01 PM:

1. What I find curious in this discussion is a presumption that mainstream and speculative fiction, and their respective readers, are monolithic categories. I don't suppose for a moment that anyone posting here, facing the question direct, would so assert--but look back through the posts, and remarks with that clear
implication are frequent.

Such a position places Jacqueline Susann and Gore Vidal together in one box, and Piers Anthony and M. John Harrison together in another. The assertion that the assumption of people involved in SF/F isolating themselves from the world . . . is proved absurd by the very environment of this weblog is false: this weblog can neither prove nor disprove anything so general. The folk posting here are obviously not in the same box as those whose chief criterion of novelistic merit is a count of the proverbial exploding spaceships (or exploding orc heads); but a nontrivial fraction-- the daring might venture to say a majority, or even a substantial majority--of readers of speculative fiction are of that sort, and the evidence is there to be seen on the shelves of any bookstore (and, sad to say, of too many libraries).

No rapprochement between the forms is possible so long as they are placed in such a monolithic opposition. Each form is, like most things, a quality pyramid, and that needs to be recognized on both sides of The Great Divide. I daresay Salon and Harpers and that lot don't base their concept of mainstream literature on the works to be found in supermarket racks, and the appropriate response to any generalized criticism of speculative fiction is to point that out: you ask us to evaluate general fiction on its select best--return the favor.

2. I submit that a satisfactory working definition of speculative fiction is tales told in a world where one or more significant rules, physical or social, work differently than they do, or than we believe that they do, in the mundane world; and good speculative fiction is tales in which those differences are used to make some comment on Life, the Universe, and Everything which comment would be harder to make well, or at all, absent the differences.

3. Lafferty's work is nearly unique, but Charles G. Finney's Unholy City and Ghosts of Manacle are pleasingly close.

Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2004, 12:22 AM:

Eric Walker: Yes, the same would apply to other 'genre' works (both books & films). I don't think Sturgeon's Law* was supposed to be restricted to SF.
* 90% of everything is <euphemism>rubbish</euphemism>

adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2004, 12:26 AM:

Mary Kay answers a question much like I was going to answer it: "I sometimes subverted the dominant paradigm by placing certain books in both literature and a genre category (either sf or mystery usually) but that carries its own problems."

I did exactly the same thing, which I suppose still begs the triggering question from Mark: "Specifically, what transcendental qualities does a novel need to have to get placed in the vaunted Mainstream Fiction section, as opposed to getting shuffled off into the Scifi/Fantasy ghetto?"

What I did was decide whether I thought a book, were I to successfully recommend it to a mainstream reader, that reader might enjoy reading it, or at least not feel cheated having bought it.

Some calls were easy. If there's any reason Philip K. Dick and Raymond Chandler aren't acceptable mainstream fiction, I don't know what it is. I also found it easy to shelve Orwell and Vonnegut on both genre and mainstream shelves. (I believe--but wouldn't be shocked to discover this was a false memory--I kept a copy of The Handmaid's Tale in the SF section, too.)

I only picked a small number of some author's works to double-shelve. There's no point in trying to sell Rocket Ship Galileo to a general fiction reader--there is a lot of sense in selling some of those people Job. And there's the key word--selling. If the works wouldn't sell pretty well, I couldn't justify keeping two copies on the shelves. One copy, even, sometimes.

That was my procedure--it worked pretty well. Trade books were a small section of the store, I did most of the maintenance, and I had a good clientele. I'm sure it's different in chains.

(By the way, while I agree that most SF readers do read more than SF, I'd have to also agree that the ones I know mostly aren't big readers of current mainstream/general/literary fiction. These are well-read people, readers of the classics [often in their original languages] and of a lot of fiction up to about a century ago, but they seem to start slipping away around 1900.)

FMguru ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2004, 01:07 AM:

What a lot of people don't understand is that sorting books into genres isn't a value judgement or an attempt to ghettoize certain books - it's about sales. Books are sorted into genres because that's where they sell best. I agree, Gene Wolfe and Terry Pratchett and Philip K. Dick deserve to be ranked, qualitywise, with the good literature - but that's not where you'd go to look for them. Raymond Chandler's books are terrific, true classics, but 99% of the people looking for him in bookstores head for the mystery section - because that's where they expect to find him. It's not a slam on Chandler or his work that he's not mixed in with the modern literary classics - it's just a fact of sales. Steven King writes a lot of modern fantasy, but it's racked in the horror section, because that's where people go to look for his books. Racking them with the fantasy might make aesthetic sense, but it would make things more difficult for customers, which is exactly the opposite of what smart bookstores do.

A roommate who worked at Borders once told me about how his region had Anne Rice books shelved in with 'Fiction', rather than 'Horror'. We figured some gothling working the computer was incensed that her favorite author was condemned to rot in the genre ghetto, and decided to strike a blow against the literary elite. The problem was that my roomie couldn't go a shift without someone asking him "where are those Vampire books, the ones written by that lady?", and he'd have to tell them to walk to the other side of the store and look under "R" - and who knows how many other browsers (not just newbies, but fans who wanted to see if she had a new book out) couldn't find her in horror, and just shrugged and moved on. Our little gothling probably did more harm to her favorite author's sales and audience than good.

Being placed into genres is GOOD for authors. It places their work in a sales context that reaches their audience.

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2004, 01:33 AM:

A friend sent me a New York Times essay recently about Robert A. Heinlein's recently rediscovered and published long-lost first novel.

The article was unremarkable, so I didn't bother blogging it. The discussion of the novel was familiar to Heinlein fans or even casual observers.

What strikes me now is how straightforward the article was. There was none of this patronizing review of sf as we see in Christopher Farah's review. The article takes the position that Heinlein is a respectable writer, read by respectable people, and that his books had respectable things to say. The article didn't even say any of this, it was just assumed, same way it would be assumed in an article about Joseph Heller, Ira Levin or J.D. Salinger -- I mean, has anyone ever written an essay pointing out that boarding-school books are just kid stuff but this "Catcher in the Rye" thing, it's literature?

And it struck me as weird that the stuck-in-the-past, obsolete, ink-on-dead-trees Times is taking sf seriously, while the hip, digital Salon is still making cracks about that Buck Rogers stuff.

Patrick: Definitional arguments all wind up focussing on edge cases, to the exclusion of the often more interesting center.

Actually, the edge can be pretty interesting too, in that it helps us determine what are the essential characteristics of sf.

My definition of "slipstream" fiction is fiction that uses the themes and storytelling devices of sf, but is not in itself sf. I realize that's not the standard definition.

So let's look at some candidates for slipstream stories:

- "Apollo 13," the movie. Hellofa space opera. Best science fiction movie ever made. Happens to be based on a true story.

- "Kavalier & Klay." This was referred to as a fantasy novel earlier in this threat. I said to myself, "Why? Just because it's about comic book artists and writers?" And then a voice in my head said, "Not fantasy? How about that freaking golem, ya mook?!"

On further reflection, I still am uncomfortable with the classification of K&K, wonderful a novel as it is, as fantasy. The golem is incidental to the story; it's a McGuffin for getting Kavalier to the U.S. And, furthermore, we don't know that the golem in the novel was actually animated; I think that the narrator carefully sidesteps the issue, any actual walking-around-and-smashing-things that the golem is alleged to have done happens offstage and is reported to us through unreliable channels.

Still, it's definitely a slipstream novel, because it is a novel about superhero comics.

- "1968," by Joe Haldeman. The protagonist, Spider, is an 18-year-old stone sf reader - I don't think he's involved in fandom - who goes to Vietnam and gets busted up. He comes home and tries to work out his psychic damage in many ways, among them by writing endless pastiches of "Starship Troopers." "1968" isn't sf, and I don't even think it's slipstream since it isn't much about the themes of sf - but it is a hellofa Vietnam novel that happens to have some sf in it.

If you want to conclude from this that "hard SF" is actually a label for a notably mannered subdivision of the genre, I won't gainsay you.

This is what I was thinking when I uttered gnomicly elsewere on this blog about how Heinlein's famous "the door dilated" says a lot about how to write hard sf. Hard sf doesn't have to adhere to the laws of science and engineering, but it has to sound like it does.

Eric Walker ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2004, 03:38 AM:

Re: Kavalier & Klay:

". . . I still am uncomfortable with the classification of K&K, wonderful a novel as it is, as fantasy. The golem is incidental to the story; it's a McGuffin for getting Kavalier to the U.S. . . . ."

I suggest that the golem is profoundly intertwined with the thematic material of the entire novel. This is a book about the Golden Age of comics as Moby Dick is a book about the craft of whaling. The golem is arguably the centerpiece symbol of the whole shootin' match.

Jeff Spock ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2004, 10:40 AM:


I don't think Margaret Atwood's novels should be classed as SF, because they would ever sell to an SF editor. Why? Because the backstory and exposition seem so ludicrously implausible that no SF editor would accept it.

Sure, of course I'm serious...

The Handmaid's Tale was supposedly on a near-future Earth, and she actually tried to explain how the changes in the American government had occurred that led to her society.

I'm sorry, but I actually laughed when I read that part.

Now, if she had been brave enough to actually say that it was a parallel or alternate world, with metaphorical/allegorical similarities to our own, then I might buy into it. But as a "speculative" view of what could happen on Earth, it just didn't fly.

What she did was write a beautiful and painful novel about gender and oppression and revolution. If it had just been a little more plausible, then it could have been SF. She should have taken a page from Joeann Russ's "When It Changed," which said all of that and pretty much just as well, but as real SF and without embarassment.

Alas, she was unable to rise to those heights...

A.R. Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2004, 12:00 PM:

I like how this debate has evolved: many interesting comments and lots of insights made. I certainly learned things from the other posters, even those I disagree with. (I will never join the Tolkien camp! Never! Not even at gunpoint! A writer who so loathes race-mixing has no place in the bookshelf of a mixed-race reader like myself, so there.)

I did read "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay last year - a very good novel - and I didn't worry too much about which genre it belonged to. It touched so many genres at once! Which, perhaps, should be a model for any writer...?

Most interesting are the comments about the "center" and the "edge" of the genre we call science fiction. Also illuminating: the differences between "SF" as a critical definition, and the purely commercial definition made out of convenience. Loved the one about the reader asking for "those vampire books by what's-her-name..." :)

Here's a thought: For a long time, the "great center" of SF built its popularity on best-selling tales of interplanetary war, life in the future, contact with aliens... the stuff we now think of as the staples of SF.

What really constitutes the "popular center" of the genre today? Techno-thrillers like the ones Michael Crichton writes? The space-operas of Peter Hamilton? Or is the genre still dominated by media spin-offs like STAR TREK and the likes?

I wouldn't ask this, if I took the answer for granted, and this debate has taught me not to take much for granted...

-A.R.Yngve
http://yngve.bravehost.com

Mr Bill ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2004, 12:25 PM:

I run an inde Bookstore in the wilds of North Georgia, and put Dick and Le Guin in sifi/fantasy because it has to be somewhere. Currently the genre seems to be dominated by the Fantasy work: Robert Jordan and David Eddings seem to be big.
Of Course, I put Stephen King and Anne Rice in sifi too.
And thanx Patrick for the numeric reference to the Alfred Bester Story that is a classic send-up of cliches of the "Golden Age of Science Fiction.

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2004, 01:39 PM:

I remember a time in grad school when a professor tried to teach us the difference between "slick fiction" and "quality fiction," and how slick fiction was genre stuff, written for money to be published in magazines with slick paper, and quality fiction was literary, and published in small chapbooks. He then dumped down a pile of chapbooks he'd just ordered, among which were a handful of SF fanzines. I asked if the fan fiction was now "quality fiction," and if things published in The New Yorker were now "slick fiction" because of the slick paper and money paid for them.

I probably shouldn't have taken pleasure in seeing a seventy-five-year old professional writer have his world view shattered, but to his credit he started looking at the fanzines he'd brought with him and admitted his definitions were completely screwed and needed to be re-examined.

Hugh Sider ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2004, 01:53 PM:

Jon,

"Calling Yngvi a troll? That's just lousy."

Now my co-workers are wondering what could be _so_ funny.

A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2004, 02:21 PM:

I've heard the Yngvi joke a thousand times, it's from an old Andre Norton book... maybe I should change name to something respectable, like Sider or Meltzer.

Marshall McLuhan said: "A man's name is a blow from which he never recovers." :)

-A.R.Yngve
http://yngve.bravehost.com

Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2004, 02:55 PM:

Eric Walker: I suggest that the golem is profoundly intertwined with the thematic material of the entire novel. This is a book about the Golden Age of comics as Moby Dick is a book about the craft of whaling. The golem is arguably the centerpiece symbol of the whole shootin' match.

Interesting. Expand, please? Also, do you think the golem in the book is an actual supernatural creature, or just a clay statue that people tell a lot of stories about?

Kevin Andrew Murphy: I remember a time in grad school when a professor tried to teach us the difference between "slick fiction" and "quality fiction," and how slick fiction was genre stuff, written for money to be published in magazines with slick paper, and quality fiction was literary, and published in small chapbooks. He then dumped down a pile of chapbooks he'd just ordered, among which were a handful of SF fanzines. I asked if the fan fiction was now "quality fiction," and if things published in The New Yorker were now "slick fiction" because of the slick paper and money paid for them.

Commercial art is when you find out how much they'll pay first, then do it. Fine art is the other way around.

Rachel Brown ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2004, 03:39 PM:

Tolkien loathed race-mixing? What about Aragorn and Arwen? Elrond Half-Elven? Luthien and Beren?

Eric Walker ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2004, 04:47 PM:

"The golem is arguably the centerpiece symbol of the whole shootin' match."

Interesting. Expand, please? Also, do you think the golem in the book is an actual supernatural creature, or just a clay statue that people tell a lot of stories about?

The book's several threads deal with the nature of oppression, of all sorts, and responses--appropriate and inappropriate--to it. The inappropriate responses can all be broadly characterized as running from the problem: "escaping", which is why The Escapist is the character K&K create. Virtually every character in the tale is in some sense "escaping" something, often more than one thing, from Nazism to poverty.

But in the end, we are made to see, one cannot ever really "escape" oppression--whether from Nazis or a homophobic HUAC or one's inner demons--it can always run faster than you can, and each "escape", like that of The Escapist, only leads on to a new confrontation. The book's point, as I see it, is that "escape" from problems is ultimately impossible, the idea--The Escapist--literally a fantasy--as is (enter the golem) the "superhero" who will rescue you because Good Must Triumph. One must stand, alone if needs be, whatever the risk, and fight the thing.

The book is more symbolism than allegory, so it is hard to more exactly fix the denotation of the golem, but the fact that when transported to America it undergoes a "sea change" in the original sense of that phrase, and crumbles into dust, is, I think, extremely important, perhaps critical, not to the tale itself but to the freight the tale carries; indeed--as I said--I reckon the golem the key symbol, the center about which the rest of the symbology is arranged.

Whether it was in fact ever animated is almost irrelevent, but the evidences suggest that it was. It is in this that the novel becomes speculative fiction: not merely because a supernatural clay block once shambled, but because that clay block embodies (or embodied) the hopes for rescue of an oppressed people. That of old it could save them, but can no longer do so, nor even survive in another land, is the the sad magic.

A.R. Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2004, 05:03 PM:

Rachel: mixing with non-white, non-Western people.

People from "the East", from "the South."

You know... Negroes. Asians. Mulattos. People of "impure blood." People like me.

The foreign hordes who threaten the middle-class Anglo-Saxon paradise.

Steve Burnett ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2004, 06:11 PM:

"Yngvi is a louse" is from L. Sprague DeCamp and Fletcher Pratt's "The Roaring Trumpet", not anything by Andre Norton.

Eric Walker ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2004, 07:07 PM:

Re: mixing with non-white, non-Western people.

People from "the East", from "the South."

You know... Negroes. Asians. Mulattos. People of "impure blood." People like me.

The foreign hordes who threaten the middle-class Anglo-Saxon paradise.

The Forodwaith, people from "the North": you know... white nordic types, people of "pure blood".

Selective memory is a wonderful tool in argumentation.

Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2004, 10:30 AM:

Whether Tolkien was a racist (which I'm not convinced of, one way or the other, but let's say so for the sake of argument) really ought to have nothing to do with whether you care for his fiction. (BTW, I'm not a particularly big fan of JRRT myself.) Kipling, who you wouldn't have much difficulty making a case for as a racist, wrote some of the best short fiction of his time. Ezra Pound was definitely a racist crank. Are we therefore to toss out all his poetry? Do we dump the writings of Jefferson because he was a slaveholder?

Or do we see these writers and others as 1) the products of their own times, which in many ways weren't so progressive as our own, 2) each a mass of contradictions, which should not particularly affect our view of their work?

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2004, 10:44 AM:

Much as I'd like to agree with everyone, I have noticed that Tolkein does have a thread of racism running through. It's not really about mixing, I don't think, but "swarthy men" are all bad, as is anyone with slanty eyes (a sign of orc blood IIRC).

Now this WAS in the middle of WWII, and anti-Japanese racism was pandemic (internment camps, anyone?) and the Allies were at war with Italy. That gives JRRT some mercy, I think, but it doesn't change the fact that the racism is there.

The most noble-heroic ethnic group in the story are the Rohirrim (unless I'm caving to my own prejudices; I like the whole "Forth Eorlingas!" kind of talk/action), who are also the most Nordic. However, Tolkein's letters prove that he had no use whatsoever for the Nazis, well before the war IIRC...

Here's someone else writing it up:

Tolkien knew what was happening in Germany. In 1938 he was contacted by his publisher, Allen & Unwin. A Potsdam publisher wanted to bring out a German translation of the The Hobbit, but needed to know if the author was of proper 'arish' (aryan) origin. Though desperately in need of money for his family, Tolkien's reply was blunt. Their laws were "lunatic" and as far as he was concerned a German translation could "go hang." He saw no honor in not having "Jewish blood."
But Tolkien recognized that his publisher had a financial stake in his book. For their sake, he enclosed two letters they could send to Germany. Only one is in Unwin's files, so it is likely the other was sent. The one that remains is riddled with sarcasm. He feigns confusion about what they mean by "arish" since in academic circles that meant his ancestors spoke languages like Hindustani, Persian, or Gypsy. To the other meaning, that he is of Jewish origin, he replies that he regrets he does not know of any ancestors from "that gifted people." He goes on to assert that, although in the past he has regarded his German name with pride, if this continues, a German name "will no longer be a source of pride." The result speaks for itself. The Hobbit was not published in Nazi Germany.
In 1941 he wrote his son Michael that the "little ignoramus Adolf Hitler" was "ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light..."
This went a long way toward mollifying my squick over the racism in TLOTR.
jjasper ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2004, 11:45 AM:

If we're in a ghetto, it's because WE moved into it, locked the gates, and put up a sign that said: "We Don't Need Any Other Literature!" If fans seem insular, it's because most of them - not all, but most - ARE insular and wouldn't touch THE ARROW OF TIME, say, because there's no planets or spaceships on the cover.

I'd like to see that survey and check out your data collection methods.

What I really ought to be doing is to gate-crash a gathering of the TRULY insular -- say, a circle of literary Important People, or a Tolkien costume show/Renaissance Fair -- and piss them off.

[...]

"You know what, fat boy? They didn't have eyeglasses in the Middle Ages! Here, let me help you get more historically accurate! (Snatches glasses from young man in faux-medieval garb) What're you gonna do now, fat boy? Cast a spell on me? Get your head out of your ass and get on an exercise bike! Then you might get laid someday."

Actually, most Ren rats I know simply have better manners than to beat the snot out of someone who so obviously is dying to get attention for being a big manly man in the real world. I'm sure you fantasize about coming to tell us poor looser caricatures that we lack the huge cock you've so obviously got, and how much pussy it gets you.

The culmination of your school yard bully fantasy has us crying and wailing at your oh so studly ways, as you ride off into the sunset.

The reality of the situation is that a goodly number of us could beat the snot out of you. We're just better mannered than you are, so we'd just throw you out.

And then we'd laugh at you thinking that we have any trouble getting laid.

Varia ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2004, 12:58 PM:

And then we'd laugh at you thinking that we have any trouble getting laid.

It might just be in Minnesota, but at the Ren Faire there at least, the overlap between Ren Faire-ers and polyamorous people is really really huge. Several of my friends have ren friends they see pretty much only then and the parties are Rather Crazy. There's a lot to be said for having fun in each others' imaginary worlds; you meet some really interesting people that way.

Seriously, "I've drawn blood, now let the carnage begin"?

That entire post, and its sequel, was the rhetorical equivalent of shouting "you are a big fat doodyhead!", and then when people say "umm...no.", saying "well you lot are OK but all those other people are big fat doodyheads." Hardly drawing blood, much less incitement to carnage. At best it rates mildly annoyed puzzlement.

(Note: in its original form, this post contained p**p, subsitute o's for the asterisks, rather than "dood". Personally, my sense of humor has yet to go beyond seventh grade, and I found it much funnier, but my apologies for the offensive content :) ).

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2004, 03:17 PM:

Yngve, are you here for any reason other than to try to get even with the SF community for not liking your novels? Your time might be better spent here. Scroll down; you'll know it when you see it.

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2004, 10:12 PM:

This is a really silly thing to comment about, but, hey, 'racism', back before DNA, was a respectable position -- obviously people were different, you could see it! -- and not necessarily attached to the peculiar delusions of the American attempt to excuse chattel slavery by that same means of deterministic character, nor its many modern political consequences, where bad insecurity management gets written over and over again in blood and suffering.

JRRT makes it clear that Numenorean 'blood pride', pride in 'purity of descent', is a fault; has all the really successful elvish societies (Gondolin, Lindon, Hollin) be mixed, hybrid, mishmashes of various tribes, has one of Aragorn's successes as king (echoing the success of Echthelion, Denethor's father and a better Steward) in encouraging folk who are not from the tribal bloodlines of the elf-friends, and bunches of them swarthy, to move to Gondor and establish themselves among its people, has the greatest hero be a mix of man and elf, something borne of a desire that would not have been possible without the perversion of the world by the devil. (Morgoth is the literal devil, and all things rebound to the will of God; there is no getting away from that, anywhere in Middle Earth.)

He also has the people of the East -- "the endless East, out of which enemies mostly came" -- be evil out of the domination of Sauron; has evil as a thing that came into the world out of the action of malicious gods, from whom no rescue came. That isn't ironic, symbolic, allegorical, or even a substitution of labels; it was, by everything that can be told from his writing, his literal belief, an expectation as concrete as rocks. (Just like his actual belief in elves as meaningfully historical entities.)

While there is surely a lot to be said against that view of the world, starting with 'we know now that this is counterfactual', you do the work a dis-service to read it as coming out of 2000, or even 1950; Niggle's leaf comes from AD 800 or so, out of vanished Mercia (maybe); the core ideas were set in the time of the seventh Edward. It was a book out of its time when it was published; it is falling ever faster into a great abyss of time, a distance as great as that which separates us from Will Shakespeare, or him from Geoffrey Chaucer.

The shape of the world is changed, in more ways than being made round. The Lord of the Rings is not a book you can read out of this time, any more than you can do that with Mansfield Park, that was wrought by a woman in the days when women were chattel.

People keep trying to read sf out of its time, and with the wrong insecurities; of course this destroys sympathy with the text. (Sometimes the time is fourteen years old; sometimes the time is a peculiar fear of nuclear death, or the unfortunate sense that Progress has suffered a deicide. It depends, surely and surely enough, on the book, and the mind that comes to it.)

Other books are not different; if you try to read Moby Dick with Marxist sensibilities, or ecologic ones informed by modern marine biology, it's not going to be Melville's book -- more distant from Melville's book than it need be; once a reader starts building a story from Melville's instructions, it's not all Melville in there anymore, not ever once for all the very many turning pages -- and it is not going to be the tale that was told, with little hope of being any joy to you.

You could think of 'genre' as the label that tells you what kind of insecurities you are expected to bring to the text. I find that works pretty well.

Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2004, 11:51 PM:

Graydon said: You could think of 'genre' as the label that tells you what kind of insecurities you are expected to bring to the text. I find that works pretty well.

*blink*

That's brilliant. Thank you. Fascinating.

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2004, 11:35 AM:

Graydon, it's rare that I see a post that I so agree with in detail while so disagreeing with its conclusions. Certainly it's a grave mistake to judge Tolkien or Melville in the light of modern sensibilities, but there's nothing wrong with approaching any of their works in the light of any sensibility you choose, so long as you don't accuse the author of having put there whatever you find there. Forbid that, and I think you forbid one of the great wellsprings of human creativity — I think a case could be made, for instance, that we'd never have had LOTR if Tolkien hadn't been willing to reintepret Norse myth in the light of his own Edwardian, Catholic, Oxbridge sensibilities.

You're never going to get to "Tolkien's book" or "Melville's book", — "the tale that was told" — anyway; trying to get as close to that as you can is only one way to read, albeit a valuable one; it's not the only one and it's not even the only one that allows sympathy with the text.

If it's the only way you like to read, fine, but let the rest of us take our joy where we find it.

(I'm tempted to title this In memory of Pierre Menard.)

elise ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2004, 04:13 PM:

Hm. Two things:

"well you lot are OK but all those other people are big fat doodyheads."

The real problem seems to be that we are not properly grateful when we are told that we write just as good as a man. Er, as a literary writer.

Secondly, I now have an image stuck in my head of Yngve as one of the Ladies from the Ladies' Betterment League, trying to bring us charity bags of carnage for our own good. (See, now, if we were worthy, we'd know how to be grateful. We'd be the very spiffy poor, and perhaps not so dreadfully skiffy.)

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2004, 07:09 PM:

David -

I don't object to people reading with whatever sensibilities they care to bring; I was trying to object to blaming the author for not having those sensibilities in the first place, which is a practice I regard as unhelpful.

meta4 ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2004, 07:41 PM:

well, i always liked sci-fi that didn't take me too far from my reality, but instead injected the surreal or futuristic into it.
trips to other galaxies, strangely syntaxed dimensions, impossible-to-remember names, all these things chilled my appreciation for the genre over the years.
when i did read sci-fi, i was aware that the writing left something to be desired as a rule, but it seemed obvious that the trade off for increased imaginative range was a less textured prose.
the most fun i had with this thread was when i started pretending that SF stood for San Francisco, and reinterpreting it in that light.
a lot of comments gained in meaning....
oh yeah and i went to school with martin amis. remember him well as a 16 year old.
wry, sly and dry, was our martin, as he still is, though back then he hadn't taken up the ponderous pontifex orb.
i find his acidity more entertaing on tv in interviews, than in his books, which are insufferably puerile in their desire to be worldly-wise and precocious, but which succeed only in being shallow and snide.
a one-riff writer, lugubriously, studiedly unfunny and pseudo-jaded. i really don't think anyone would have taken much notice of him, were it not for his father's more merited fame.
he was entertaining in person, though the edge was already fearsome at that age.
an awesome and quite magnetic intellect, no doubt, so far much too blunted by mannerism and a turgid, repetitive, rote cattiness to have done more than hint at its true potential.

Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2004, 07:05 AM:

Xopher, in re the Rohirrim being the most noble/heroic people in LOTR:

Yes, no, maybe and sort of. They're wonderful warriors, but they're ignorant of the culture of Middle Earth, and that's a major thing for Tolkien. Also, (note Faramir) Tolkien makes it clear that being a warrior is sometimes necessary but not the highest value.

There might be an intentional contrast between Theoden/Wormtongue and Denethor/the palantir. The heroic warrior is too naive to defend himself from an emotional/verbal attack, while the sophisticated city ruler overestimates how much power he can handle. No simple hierarchies in Tolkien.

I've a notion that the Rohirrim (blond and blue-eyed, but racially inferior to the black-haired Numenorians) were partly Tolkien's swipe at the Nazis, but this is only a guess.

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2004, 11:34 AM:

Given that Tolkien felt the need to explicitly deny it, I've always figured the Rohirrim/Gondorian thing was basically Germanic/Roman or Germanic/Byzantine in inspiration.

And at least in the film version, Gondor's troops were certainly decadent enough to need the help . . .

Alan Lattimore ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2004, 01:35 PM:

Has anyone been able to find an e-mail address for Mr. Farah?

Best regards,
Alan Lattimore

JMKagan ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2004, 12:58 AM:

I've been unable to find out how old Christopher Farah is but I'd bet money that the year of "those $3 dollar mass-market sci-fi fantasy paperbacks" was the year that some teacher or friend of his bullied him into thinking that his taste in fiction was low-class. When I get a moment, I'll go thru my collection of paperbacks of all genres (gosh, wow, even LITERATURE!) for a rough estimate of when paperbacks went over the $3 price.

Farah touched a sore point. The first hard-cover book I ever bought with my own money cost me $3. The cover wasn't cloth and I knew it was a cheap and shoddy printing for "juvenile" readers. "My own money"---well, no---the only reason I had enough money to buy it was because four or five relatives gave me "book money" for my birthday that year and the money added up to $3 and I knew I could get that book I'd seen in the bookstore that my local library did NOT have. I have that book still. It still makes me happy to see it on my shelf...and to reread it .

Alan Lattimore: If I had Christopher Farah's e-mail address, I'd leave him alone. As far as I can see, he's already had a hard enough time in his life---to the point that he hasn't for many many ($3 paperback era) years been able to read books he'd love to read---because somebody stomped his head. I couldn't bring myself to add to his grief.

Rethink: if I had his e-mail addres, I might drop him a note to recommend a book or three or several I think he'd like. Nothing more than that.

FMguru ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2004, 01:37 AM:

Heh. I always figured the Rohirrim were the USA to Gondor's Great Britain. Brash, energetic, rough-hewn, not as civilized, but with cultural ties to the older country that can be counted on to rally them to her side when the need is greatest.

Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2004, 12:25 PM:

I think "Ender" would be a great name for a roach poison.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2004, 12:57 PM:

FMguru, while your analogy has merit, I'd take issue with "not as civilized." Though I've recently come to the conclusion that there is only one civilized country in the Western Hemisphere - Canada - I'm not sure Britain does better than the US.

More recently we could compare the US with Numenor...a once great country with corrupted leaders, (about to be) crushed by the gods.

Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2004, 10:24 PM:

For the record, not that I want to knock old Ben from his pedestal,John Wycliff ca. 1350 was the inventor of bifocals.


He is far more famous for doing the first English translation of the Bible, and then for being posthumously executed.

Terry K

Trent Walters ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2004, 08:29 AM:

I think what Yngve was trying to say is that, when confronted by literary elite who have one set of standards, fans may retort that Heinlein invented the Waldo.

On the one hand, I don't buy the argument myself. Any literature that is actually impacting the culture has to be doing something effectively.

On the other hand, literary elite do have a certain set of rules where impacting culture in such a manner will not impress them, for it does not play the game as they see it being played.

Some don't believe in a mythical literary elite. However, there has been much evidence to the contrary, which is not to say that everyone in literary market is not close-minded concerning genre, but that the more boisterous do discourage its reading or writing or accepting it critically.

Matt Peckham thinks we should kill them with kindness--that maybe it will get them to notice us. Certainly if we can demonstrate that we know how to read the more important works, that will get attention. But it seems they would remain unimpressed until they learned variations on the rules for a different game.

My personal conclusion is to have an open critical dialogue about whatever, trying to examine everything with panache.

Zed ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2004, 11:29 AM:

Here's a good take on that Salon review.

Pamela ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2004, 08:46 PM:

Terry Karney: that John Wycliff anecdote is worth de-lurking for. How does one get posthumously executed?

Pamela

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2004, 10:17 PM:

Pamela, if you don't mind having me answer the question: by having one's bones formally dug up, burned, and the ashes thrown in the river.

Religious conflicts give rise to weird events.

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2004, 09:18 AM:

But some day we'll be able to do better.

Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2004, 09:47 AM:

Trent,

If we're doing the "sf writers invented thus-and-such" bit, Arthur Clarke and the comsat is a much better example: he did, and published, enough of the work that it was unpatentable when they actually built one. For Heinlein, I'd say the waterbed, not the waldo (Stranger in a Strange Land is more often pointed to as a source of ideas about sex and religion, but there's also that bit of usable tech).

An idle question that this thread brought me to: how many self-published books other than their own do these people who argue that self-publishing is inherently better than going to a commercial publishing house read? And how do they decide which ones?

CHip ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2004, 11:24 PM:

Vicki: For Heinlein, I'd say the waterbed, not the waldo (Stranger in a Strange Land is more often pointed to as a source of ideas about sex and religion, but there's also that bit of usable tech).

Heinlein first mentions waterbeds in Beyond This Horizon, ~20 years before SiaSL, and the idea wasn't original with him; I've seen various references, although I have my doubts about a local merchant's claim that the Egyptians had a form of waterbed.

For that matter, I'd be surprised if he were the first to mention remote manipulators -- but he made the idea so interesting that his name for them stuck.

Trent Walters ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2004, 06:34 AM:

Hi, Vicki,

Clarke is another example. My point was one randomly chosen example of how SF impacts our culture and that that impact may not mean much in a game that plays by different rules but that impact may signify that a different game is at work. I think Samuel Delany pointed out that SF surpassed poetry as having introduced more words into language.

As for self-publishing, many major writers have done it (off the top of my head: Williams, Whitman) although, as you intimate, wading through the dreck to find the gem would probably be like... working as an editor at a major publisher. I do understand the urge: this is finished, so now I can move on.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2004, 03:05 PM:

That post linked by Zed above is marvelously to the point. Never heard of the blog before (Three-Toed Sloth) but it looks worth checking out.

Rebecca ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2004, 12:07 PM:

In the Globe and Mail, Canada's National newspaper, I recently read a review of Guy Gavriel Kay's newest offer: "The Last Light of the Sun". The review ended with the following line:

"Most fantasy writing is aimed at airheads with little, if any, knowledge of the past. The Last Light of the Sun will sink beneath the ken of such readers, and that is definitely not a pity."

While the book in question may have been treated with respect in the review, fans of fantasy fiction, apparently were not.

The whole review can be found at:
Globe and Mail Review