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These fictions that sustain us [Oct. 9th, 2006|09:53 pm]
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Lou Anders rages hard and holy in his blog about getting medieval on reality's ass. What is this thing we do, and is it worthwhile? What are its especial virtues and characteristics? What can it hope to be?

The drummer Steward Copeland, formerly of the Police, was once asked by a reporter why he went to such lengths with his riffs, traveling to Africa to learn unusual beats and bringing them back to incorporate into his music. "Are any of your listerners really going to understand what it is you are doing here?" the reporter asked. "No, of course not," came Copeland's reply, "but they'll appreciate the music the better for it, even if they don't know why."

Again: It is fine for the analysis and appreciate of art to be equal to the effort that goes into its creation.

But also: It is fine for art to strive for excellence regardless of whether those who will live in the house appreciate or even notice every brick that went into its construction.

Some of us enjoy examining the bricks. Admiring the craftsmanship. Seeing how they pieces fit together. Studying what worked and what didn't. This is fun. This is also instructive for those who might harbor aspirations to "go thou and do likewise."


He makes the point that teh intahweb (and its less connected, more creative manifestations) are opening up new possibilties and new potentials for people to be creative as never before. Good. Great. As I've said before here and in other places, the edit is the art ofthe 21st century. I'm starting a mentoring programme through Belfast's Creative Writers Network to work with a new horror writer to get his stuff out there on to your bookshelves. And that's damned good. None of us ever know where the next thing is coming from. Anyone who tell you otherwise is a liar.

But, Lou says, the prime component of fiction is entertainment and without that, it's not going to accoomplish much else. I have very little patience with writers or performers who complain that their audience doesn't understand them or aren't smart enough to appreciate their genius. Fiction is about reaching people. (And I hope that, with the average Pyr book, readers come away enjoying fiction that is both action-packed and thought provoking. That's the goal, anyway).

Again, quality and popularity need not be mutually exclusive.

That being said, I do feel that speculative fiction in specific has an additional role to play beyond the laudable goal of being entertaining.


I couldn't agree more. Fallacy fallacy fallacy: Cartesian dualities in fiction. Either plot or character. Either action or literary value. Nonsense. We're aiming higher than that. I want it all; and by Christ, I may seldom, if ever attain it, but that's not going to stop me trying to be much more than just entertaining.

Because entertainment is the mortar than holds our bricks of story. It's a basic and primary as good grammar and syntax. It's not an end point. It's a beginning point. The reader sould no more have to ask 'is this entertainming' any more than they shoukld have to ask, are these readable sentences, or, is this printed on paper? It's as fundamental as spelling, if you're serious about your writing. Now, many things entertain. It's not necessasily plot, or cleverness of plot, or speed of plot. I, and many other readers, find the long, seemingly plotless exchanges on shipboard life in Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series wonderfully entertaining. Character entertains, and yes, language entertains. Sense of wonder entertains; sense of estrangement entertains. A novel has a totally different structure and purpose and rules of appreciation and criticism from a movie or a teleision programme. It takes place in a different narrative space; it can handle things those other forms cannot --as they do things that the novel canot. Each has its own story-space and language.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch writes an editorial on this subject in the October/November Asimov's. It's part of the J'accuse Star Wars debate and also a contribution to the debate on SF's crisis of conscience. And believe me, the genre is going through a crisis of belief. It's not just that the sales are slumping --things go in circles, I firmly believe, so I'm not overkly disheartened (maybe I should be)-- but there's an intellectual collapse whereby a lot of writers are asking themselves, 'well, what is this thing that we do?'. China Mielville has neatly loosened our underpinnings by questioning what it is that differentiates SF from fantasy, and is SF merely a subset of the general literature of the fantastic? From the other side, the termites of the mundanistas have been gnawing at SF's wardrobe of queenly gowns and spandex tights: (pace guys, I commend your good works, though the blog needs updating).

KKR confesses to being a Star Wars fangirl; fair enough. It never did it for me, but then it wasn't an allegory of our War of Independence. After fessing up and drawing up the the parameters of her defense, she says: Why is all this important to my essay? Because, in the dark days before literary tropes hit sf (which in my essay, lowercased, stands for science fiction only), the sf and fantasy genre had the same goals. Large-scope stories, in which worlds or universes were at stake, created new but oddly familiar settings that were far enough removed from real life so that readers could escape their mundane existences. The lead character was not the protagonist; he (and it was usually a he) was the hero. He often followed the hero’s journey (see Joseph Campbell, whom Lucas says he gleefully plundered). No matter how dark the journey, the reader will follow the hero because, the reader knows (and is reassured on a deep level) that the hero will triumph at the end.

Now, any beatifcation of Joseph Campbell's Department-of-the-Bleedin'-Obvious mythologising sets my teeth on edge (why do you think I partially picked that bit?) but let's proceed with the argument.

When literary tropes hit sf in the 1960s, solid characterization, good sentence-by-sentence writing, and dystopian endings became commonplace. “Realism,” both in character actions and in scientific approach, became more important than good storytelling.

Fantasy continued its heroic ways, promising—and usually delivering—those uplifting endings, those fascinating worlds, and those excellent (heroic) characters. But science fiction started resembling the literary mainstream. The novels became angst-filled. The protagonists, demoted from their heroic pedestals, lost more than they won. The worlds became as ugly or uglier than our own.

Suddenly, sf became unreliable. Readers had no idea if they would find uplifting stories or dystopian universes. They didn’t know whether, once they plunged through six hundred pages of nasty, ugly world-building, they would ever emerge into any sort of light. Sometimes, the sf devolved into one long scientific exposition. Or into jargon-filled, hard-to-follow stories that realistically explored situations set up in the bad old days of pre-literary science fiction.


Excrement.

Anyway: the ailment: SF—y’know, the genre that includes fantasy. I have no idea how low the sales would be if we were only talking about science fiction all by its little ole self.

SF is committing the common sin of a dying literary genre. It blames its problems on the outsiders—the tie-in novels, and by extension, the barbarians at the gate—who are crowding the shelves and taking away space for “good” sf.

“Good” sf can retire to the specialty press where the Science Fiction Village can read and discuss it. It’s time to return to the gosh-wow, sense-of-wonder stories that sf abandoned when it added literary values to its mix, the kind of stories that Star Wars, and by extension, Star Trek, Stargate, and all those other media properties have had all along.8

SF’s insularity is murdering the genre. Remember that publishing is a business. As a business, it is driven by sales figures, by profit and loss statements. For too long, sf has been in the loss side of the publishing column. As a result, fewer and fewer sf books are being published.


And the cure: Is current SF writing influenced by Star Wars? No, not nearly enough. We need more grand adventure, more heroes on journeys, more uplifting (if not downright happy) endings. Yes, we can keep the good sentence-by-sentence writing, the good characters, and the lovely descriptions the New Wave steered us to. We can even keep the dystopian fiction and the realistic, if difficult-to-read, sf novels, so long as we do them in moderation. They cannot—and should not—be the dominant subgenre on the shelves.

Are tie-in novels taking shelf space away from SF? Hell, no. The tie-ins, from SW to Trek and beyond, are keeping SF alive. If we, the sf writers and publishers, want more shelf space, we have to earn it. We earn it by telling stories, some of them old faithfuls that the fans like to read, the things that have been published before. We earn it by entertaining. We earn it by creating characters as memorable as Luke and Han and Darth Vader.


Let me say, if that's the highest I can aspire to if everything I have ever hoped for or dreamed of attaining, how I dared to touch hearts and minds, is measured against that; then the only morally consistent action I can take is for me to give up writing. I would never set paper to printer again if I thought that. And I fucking rage against it.

The argument, it will get people reading sf, is true only as far as it goes. A diet of bubble-gum will turn you into Veruca Salt. Yes, and I read James Blish's sly Star Trek novelisations (his theological speculation on the state of the transported soul I still remember with glee), but it led me on to the first volume of the Asimov edited Hugo Winners. And the first person I met there was Jack Vance: The Dragon Masters. And I was swept away. And Harlan Ellison's ,Repent Harlequin, said the Ticktockman. Worlds more diverse, more sharp and strange and pleasureful than TV SF's limited range of ensemble playing. It's a different medium, its stories are different, its structures and strictures other than the purely written story. Would I have found all this but for Trek? Yes. Hondootedly. Because Trek was never science. It was telly. And there's any God's amoubt of meeja stuff out there already. The curse of our age is 'If You Liked That, You'll Love This...'

It's all very well flooding the market with meeja clones (but isn't it already? As Joel Shepherd said at Worldcon when we discussed this, 'haven't they tried that already?'). But where do you go on to? Where are the Jacks and Harlans to take you somewhere richer and stranger and more rewarding by far than the Federation, or Star Wars' infantile universe? Books touch lives, books change lives, books change civilizations and whole worlds as no TV series, no movie, even, ever has.

As I said, entertainment is where we all begin, not where we end up. Call me fussy, but I'm not after your beer money. Beer is always good, but keep it for the beer: I'm after the money you spend on beautiful, precious things. The ornaments, the treasures. The things that really matter to you. The money you spend on lovers, I want that money. The money you spend on plastic surgery, drugs, hopes, faith and fetishes --the things that change your life, that make and remake you: that's the money I want. Keep your beer money, you've worked for it, I want your triple-distlled whiskey money.

Because it's more than just entertaining.

Lou quotes meme therapy's recent chitchat on What's the point of science fiction? Though I say so myself, most of responses are fairly weak-livered variations on the 'it's just entertainment, basically.' Nothing is just entertainment; that's the hurdle you jump to get out of the slush pile in the first place. Lou makes good points, but it's Paul McAuley who, in typically two-Uzied-style-- chanticleers what needs shouting from the spire tops of Coruscant, or whatever other simplistic, moralising shit they try to peddle you:
Science fiction doesn’t have a job - it’s too busy hanging out on street corners, trying to look tough and knowing, cracking wise and dissing passing scientists: ‘Yo, Hawking! See this? See what I did to your fuzzy black hole my man? You like that?’

Science fiction is the holy fool of literature. It can say what it likes and get away with an examination of truly radical and subversive ideas because no one takes it seriously. When it’s at its best, we’re generally in trouble. Science fiction flourished during the social and economic upheavals of the 1930s, during the Cold War, and during the Iron Age of the 1980s. It should be flourishing now, damn it, but too many people who used to hang out with it have wandered off into some kind of fluffy make-believe world or other. Real science fiction doesn’t make stuff up. It turns reality up to eleven. It takes stuff from contemporary weather - stuff no one else has bothered or dared to question - and uses it to make an end run on reality. It not only shows us what could happen if things carry on the way they are, but it pushes what’s going on to the extremes of absurdity. That’s not its job: that’s its *nature*. And what’s happened to science fiction lately, it isn’t natural. It’s pale and lank and kind of out of focus. It needs to straighten up and fly right. It needs to reconnect with the world’s weather, and get medieval on reality’s ass.



Now I know why I do what I do. Thank you for your attention. You may leave quietly now.
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[User Picture]From: rimrunner
2006-10-09 09:22 pm (UTC)

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I confess that I was in my early 20s before I realized how fundamentally shallow Star Wars is. I still enjoy it (well, I enjoy the movies I saw when I was a kid, and I don't much care whether they're really better than what followed—though I think they are—or whether it's the Nostalgia Goggles™ making me think so) but it eventually dawned on me that there was better, meatier stuff out there.

I find Rusch's description of the genre simplistic, anyway. I'm far more aware of fantasy than of science fiction, myself, if one cares to make the distinction, but to my mind fantasy's turn into darker territories is getting back to what made it so appealing in the first place. Uplifting endings? What the hell has she been reading?

And that description is why an awful lot of people I know don't read SF. They see that whiz-bang sparkly franchise spinoff stuff and think that all of it's like that. I have a colleague who won't touch it—and yet Jonathan Carroll is one of her favorite authors.
[User Picture]From: ianmcdonald
2006-10-09 09:25 pm (UTC)

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Exactly! I meant to make that point --it's the Star wars/Trek stuff that ghettoises SF and turns people off. (Too busy trying to get my LJ cuts to work --they didn't)
[User Picture]From: slimmeroftheyea
2006-10-09 10:46 pm (UTC)

What you said

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I agree. So there.
[User Picture]From: slimmeroftheyea
2006-10-09 10:51 pm (UTC)

endings

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I agree with the person above who said that in fact Star Wars and Trek novels are what put people off. Also with regard to comments made about building worlds and bright and happy endings, what is the point in reading a book if you know what is going to happen?
[User Picture]From: redbird
2006-10-09 10:52 pm (UTC)

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What universe is this coming from, where "Fantasy continued its heroic ways, promising--and usually delivering--those uplifting endings, those fascinating worlds, and those excellent (heroic) characters" in the 1960s? "Continued" implies a large amount of heroic genre fantasy being published and bought, by individual readers and libraries, in the 1950s and 1960s. In the universe I grew up in, well, there was The Lord of the Rings, not very popular at the time [and full of academic-seeming appendixes], and I gather people sought out second-hand copies of Dunsany and Cabell.

See also Ursula Le Guin on the amount that Star Wars lifted from Leni Riefenstahl.
[User Picture]From: rimrunner
2006-10-11 06:40 am (UTC)

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Lord of the Rings's ending isn't exactly with the mega-happy, either. I mean, it's a lovely ending, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows and puppies, you know? (Just mostly.)
From: fionagh
2006-10-09 11:25 pm (UTC)

What's with all the and/or thinking in these quotes?

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This was a great read. Thanks for it!

So ... I don't understand the reason for the fat division happening in the articles you quoted. Every good writer I've ever read includes everything plus the kitchen sink in their book. I know I do my best to include both the petty and the epic in my novels (or anything I write for that matter).

What I don't understand in all this is why people don't use both epic grandeur and realism, and then choose one or the other where it's called for (or hell even a little of both and give the reader an epic-leptic joy fit). Look, you don't read a book because it's purely vapid escapism, you read a book because one minute they're eating a fantastic but humble meal that you realize you could make at home, a meal that makes you hungry despite just having had dinner or it being 3:00a.m.; and then in the next chapter they are in some freakin' amazing place you would never have thought up yourself, blowing your mind wide open, food now entirely forgotten. Here, I should point out that most humble or petty things have great links to epic history and culture in them. Food is the heart of all ritual, just as an example. And if a writer writes about a huge ritual without using any reference to the food served (I mean as if she forgot about that part) then you know, no one believes it. Some things are universal and most of those are petty.

It's also perfectly acceptable to have a traditionally "epic" story with a lot of Very Important (read: Very Realistic) Shit in it. Richard Donner wrote, of his movie Ladyhawke: "It's adventurous, outrageously romantic, and pure escapism, which I prefer to films which set out to show how dull everyday life is ... and generally succeed." Amen! Nothing bores me more than a book aiming to show how boring life can be. I live that already! And nothing can be more teeth-grindingly real-life than the scene in that movie where you're watching the old priest yank a bloodied arrow out of a woman's chest... Sure this lady happens to also turn into a hawk during the day -- and becomes a woman again at night -- but you're getting the epic and the bloody realism in a fat and delicious sandwich!

The hardest thing a writer can do is provide narrative of the mundane with an overwhelming sense of entertainment. Ever cracked open The Lord of the Rings just to read Tolkien's page-long descriptions of how Frodo and Sam walked from Bagshot Row to the open country just beyond Hobbiton? Read it OUT LOUD sometime. Then you can't conveniently skim that, and it makes you realize how difficult a passage like that is to write. And let me tell you, today we'd just fake in a movie-style "cut to:" so we can avoid writing about the plodding walk along the road. Why? Because it's easier on the writer! This is where I think we have to be careful in our job. Short-cuts for us are just damn boring for the reader.

But I still re-read those narrative passages of LOTR description, and every time I think to myself: How the hell can Tolkien make walking down a damn road that freaking entertaining? Your own mileage may vary on that -- but I just wanted a concrete example of how someone needs skill and talent to make something very realistic, very mundane, hold your attention until they get to the next big fascination.

So, yeah: you absolutely need both. Pettiness (or reality if you like a pretty word for it) is the glue that holds the epic grandeur together. Pettiness in the face of the huge philosophical issues that you wish to address in the novel, for example, allows the reader the escape from your dogmatism. It gives them a back-door until they want to face the issue you raised in the book.

Realism. Epic-grandeur. They are the shoes on both your feet. Bunch'a people are hobbling arout without one shoe on, and it really shows.

(Think I'm gonna make this a post over on my LJ and cross-post to yours for my readers to reference.)
[User Picture]From: rimrunner
2006-10-11 06:43 am (UTC)

Re: What's with all the and/or thinking in these quotes?

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This is a gorgeous comment, and I immediately thought of authors like Gabriel Garcia Marquez who do this all the freakin' time, there's something in Love in the Time of Cholera about a parrot just for example that is deliciously fun to read, and I mean, it's just a parrot.

I read somewhere once that Tolkien disliked traveling by car and preferred to walk. That may be apocryphal, but having read some of those lovely descriptions you mention, it's easy to believe.
[User Picture]From: angeyja
2006-10-09 11:54 pm (UTC)

you may leave quietly

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.. or dancing.
From: (Anonymous)
2006-10-10 01:37 am (UTC)

The heart of the question

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I think you and Rusch agree a lot more than you think you do, Ian. The disagreement is really over a difference in perceptions. You wrote: "Because entertainment is the mortar than holds our bricks of story. It's a basic and primary as good grammar and syntax. It's not an end point. It's a beginning point. The reader sould no more have to ask 'is this entertainming' any more than they shoukld have to ask, are these readable sentences, or, is this printed on paper?"

I agree -- the reader shouldn't have to ask that. The problem is, with a majority of current sf, the reader does have to ask that -- because all too often, the answer is "no." Personally, I hate dystopian endings. I hate them in real life. I hate them in sf. I hate them in fantasy. I hate them in movies. I hate them in plays. I hate them in any form, in any genre, in any storytelling format of any possible description. By definition, I do not consider a story with a dystopian ending to be entertaining. That, I think, is what Rusch was trying to say: there are a lot of readers out here who are like me, and if you the SF-writing community try to feed us a steady diet of dystopian stories, eventually we're going to stop buying it. Many of us already have. And that's a big reason why sales of mainstream sf are down so much.

[signed] -- JSW
[User Picture]From: jaylake
2006-10-10 01:57 am (UTC)

Re: The heart of the question

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It's interesting, the reaction people seemed to have to my novel Rocket Science often ran along the lines of "thank god, a dispatch from the Golden Age!" I'm one of those people who loves dystopian exploration, but I recognize that JSW and many others (including myself in certain moods) wants the upward lilt, too. I am afraid that I have literary disease, my own self, sadly.
[User Picture]From: lokicarbis
2006-10-10 01:44 am (UTC)

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Apologies if the following is a little disjointed. I have several reactions, but they don't go together amazingly well.

Books touch lives, books change lives, books change civilizations and whole worlds as no TV series, no movie, even, ever has.

It's hard to think of any science fiction book that has changed the world even as much as say "Super Size Me" did. But that's an easy target. I'd argue that television, increasingly, does touch and change just as the best literature does - "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" springs to mind as an example of a show that's famed for having precisely that effect. And sure, it's the exception rather than the rule, but that exception does seem to be becoming more common.

Are tie-in novels taking shelf space away from SF? Hell, no. The tie-ins, from SW to Trek and beyond, are keeping SF alive. If we, the sf writers and publishers, want more shelf space, we have to earn it. We earn it by telling stories, some of them old faithfuls that the fans like to read, the things that have been published before.

Of course KKR would say that - take a look at what she's written.

One of the biggest problems SF and Fantasy face is that from outside the ghetto, it all looks like Star Trek/Wars, The Matrix, or whatever else was big last year...
[User Picture]From: ianmcdonald
2006-10-10 06:16 am (UTC)

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I'm Buffy agnostic, and despite its wide-spread fanbase, its difficult to see the expression 'Whedonesque' spreading beyond that base in into general society the way that 'Orwellian' (specifically meaning 1984) has.
[User Picture]From: jaylake
2006-10-10 01:51 am (UTC)

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You want power and beauty, I think. I couldn't agree more. I'm not sure uplifting heroes is the requirement to achieve that, but what the hell, I haven't uplifted much yet in my career thus far.
From: kateshiflett
2008-08-11 02:38 pm (UTC)

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Think about what you want you poem to do, what you want it to say, when you choose your diction. As with many things, consistency is key.
[User Picture]From: cyperus_papyrus
2006-10-10 02:53 am (UTC)

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"Because entertainment is the mortar than holds our bricks of story. It's a basic and primary as good grammar and syntax. It's not an end point. It's a beginning point."

I completely agree with this statement. And would add that beyond a beginning point, it is a way of effective communication.

I once had a teacher of linear algebra who gave entertaining lectures and made a pretty tedious subject rather enjoyable, along with keeping us awake in a warm, dim, lecture hall after lunch. At the end of the quarter, he was very offended by our reviews of his teaching that we found him entertaining to listen to. He ranted that he was there to teach us, not entertain us. I lost all respect for him then. How can you teach or entertain if you bore you audience into a stupor? There is joy and entertainment in all human endeavors, be they reading or writing fiction, studying history, writing code, rebuilding an engine, or doing original physics research. Those who do these things who cannot express that joy to others often are lacking in a vital communication skill, rather than engaging in something they personally do not care to be doing.

If science fiction is failing anywhere, it is in not conveying its own joy in itself and its explorations.

[User Picture]From: triciasullivan
2006-10-10 04:33 am (UTC)

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That's two days running you've put up superb posts.

Not taking anything away from Father Ted, this one's real food for thought. Gracias.
From: alvarokriel
2008-08-11 06:38 pm (UTC)

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 They've had a post up all day claiming that Obama supporters can't name any of his legislative qualifications.
[User Picture]From: r_urell
2006-10-10 05:47 am (UTC)

Why do we do what we do?

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All that rises.... Haven't writers always introspected along these lines? Coleridge and Wordsworth certainly did. Well, all the Romantics did, but the best 18th C. musings about it were in Biographia Literaria. I'll bet Patronius sort had his moment after The Satyricon hit Rome and Nero had him slicing open veins at a party.
Why do we do what we do? The trite answer'd be, "Because we have to." or perhaps, "For the art's sake." Posh. We do it because...
Sorry, but this debate chaps my ass something fierce. Science Fiction vs. Fantasy seems like such a false dichotomy. I had the pleasure of being Bob Sheckley's friend, and you can believe we talked around this one, as probably everyone reading this has. He like to call his stuff Science Fantasy. He told me once that he wasn't smart enough to write really good science fiction, and he wanted wiggle room when he wrote himself into a corner. Bob was smart enough, of that I'm sure. I think he simply wanted to write what he wrote without extrinsic meddling and the market niche polis that desperately needs to pigeonhole and seperate, putting big fat walls and scads of floor space between various literatures in a conspicuously arbitrary schema that fails to define the difference, one from another.
Fuck 'em. Write what you write. For God's sake, don't stop, whatever you do.
[User Picture]From: ianmcdonald
2006-10-10 06:18 am (UTC)

Re: Why do we do what we do?

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I'm with Sheckley on that.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]From: autopope
2006-10-10 09:36 am (UTC)

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PS: As for the Mundane SF falacy, I am currently writing a Mundane SF novel ... just for the chops, so I can go back to writing space operas with a light heart, knowing that I've got your serious strait-laced preoccupation with realism right here, buddy. (And for added points, it's Mundane SF with zombies. See! It walks!)
[User Picture]From: ianmcdonald
2006-10-10 09:49 am (UTC)

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huzzah for mundane zombies!
From: (Anonymous)
2006-10-10 07:38 pm (UTC)

Thanks

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Ian:

I just wanted to say thanks for that post. Why can't we have it all as readers and as writers? I've loved your work for a very long time and when I was growing up it was inspirational because you did (and do) everything and anything.

The most important point for me in your post concerned what can be considered "entertaining". I think "entertaining" is sometimes equated with simply surface plot or drama in work that isn't firmly in the humorous vein. But, like you, I find those conversations in those O'Brian intensely entertaining. And all kinds of other things that I don't think get thought of automatically as "entertainment". Which is, as you say, just the starting point.

Jeff VanderMeer
[User Picture]From: ianmcdonald
2006-10-10 08:09 pm (UTC)

Re: Thanks

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Hi Jeff, thanks for this and your kind comments. Of course I agree: as writers we aspire to the highest common factor, now the lowest common denominator. I do think there's a lot of confusion between plot (and, specifically, plots that resemble screenplay and teleplay structure, which is different from novel structure) and entertainment, when there are many more things to enjoy (with emphasis on the 'joy') than 'and then and then' plot-harried writing. There's a dreadful inverted snobbery about our genre(s): fantasy is breaking out of it, alas, it seems SF may be becoming moe reactionary. What's the old quote? 'Get SF out of the classroom and back in the gutter where it belongs'? Well, to parry with an older quote, 'we're in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars.'
Re: Thanks - (Anonymous) Expand
From: (Anonymous)
2006-10-11 04:00 pm (UTC)

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Did I say that? It sounds vaguely intelligent, and we were in the bar most of the time, so it couldn't have been... but I'll claim it. (you linked to the pyr webpage, by the way) :-)

I know the Poms like to claim everything, but I think classification is a universal disease. It's also a disease primarily of the intelligent and educated, like snobbery itself, which classification usually is. I'm very wary of intelligence, as a concept, because as a concept, it's such a fraud. Those things that claim to be intelligent, meaningful, or worst of all, worthwhile (puke, puke) are these days usually all of these things in inverse proportion to what they claim.

Literary fiction is to insight what lard is to cuisine (always floating on the surface), most modern art is less creative than the galleries that house it, modern classical music sounds like a truck load of instruments thrown into a cement mixer, and the whining, hysterical, self-flagelating rubbish that passes as intellectual discourse on current events sounds more like a group therapy session than a reasoned analysis of today's world.

None of which is to excuse any of SF and Fantasy's various conceits, merely to wonder where anyone, and in particular the self-appointed 'intellectual' arbiters of quality, gets off on casting aspersions upon any genre as 'unworthy'. And then you've got the mass market, and those who pursue it frantically, claiming that SF and Fantasy are not entertaining enough either... or 'unintellectual enough', they mean, well knowing that all the high culture I've mentioned is entirely supported by government spending because no one else is stupid enough to pay for it (any wonder they're all leftists?)

The result being that SF and Fantasy is solely defined by what it is not, rather than what it is. One big, fat negative, not smart enough for the snobs, nor stupid enough for the mass marketers. So what are we? I think some positive definitions would be useful here, I don't like being a negative.

Joel Shepherd
www.joelshepherd.com
[User Picture]From: ianmcdonald
2006-10-11 05:42 pm (UTC)

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you did say that. We were in the bar with Tobias Buckell, talking all manner of airy nonsense. Damn good fun.
[User Picture]From: lproven
2006-10-11 10:50 pm (UTC)

Good rant

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Not entirely sure if I agree with it yet, but I think so. I shall sleep on it.

Meantime, though, and totally unconnected with your post - I think you probably ought to read this post I just made in my own journal, as it concerns you!
[User Picture]From: ianmcdonald
2006-10-12 08:01 am (UTC)

Re: Good rant

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ahem, well, good to you man. They do say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
From: blzblack
2006-10-18 09:48 pm (UTC)

What Makes Entertainment Good?

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blog updated.

I do agree that Star Wars is no great shakes as an intellectual phenomenon, but the original series had incredible energy--reminiscent of Roger Zelazny's first few Amber books. There's something about them that sucks me in better than any other entertainment. I don't think it's the American allegory--unless it's the idea that small town boy can go to the big city and make a difference at city hall. That may not be universal in some cultures that believe that individual must be subjugated to the whole, which while it has some truth, what bureaucracy in history hasn't subjugated its subjects? We're all under the government's thumb, so I don't think the dream of subjugation is quite as necessary as the dream of making a difference. Preference for the cog is easy way to shove people into slots they may not be inspired to occupy.

But it's not like other stories haven't attempted this. Why does this succeed where others fail?

This reminds me of my reading of Joan Aiken's The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. The middle part of this brilliant. You don't feel like the 2-D bad guys are unfairly painted, or that the good girls are too lovingly rose-tinted. Okay, yes, there is sentimentality, but so has Austen. There's something in the middle half of the book that's absolutely enthralling. I found myself laughing at how bad the baddies are and yet I care. I want them caught.

Part of it is that the tomgirl is reacting strongly if impotently against this adult power. But I need more study to understand the success of such sweeping entertainments.

BTW, I am not a girl, nor am I British for the past 300+ years (though my last name is Welsh--probably plenty of other breeds, too); therefore, neither the mythology of a nation nor gender was a barrier to my getting caught up in the experience.
[User Picture]From: wizwom
2006-10-25 03:16 pm (UTC)

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First:
I have read KKR, some - you have never inspired me to read a book of yours. I'd say that says something about her ability to entertain vs. yours.

Anyway, with that out of the way, I find your childish language here offensive.

OK, having cleared the air, I shall address your points. I know you have them hiddewn amongst the invective.

A jenre must have a base to have a pinnacle; without the base, the ivory tower crashes to the ground, because no one bothers to get there, and soon, no one bothers to erect it. That, my good man, is the direction science fiction lead to after the 70s. Heinlien showed that you started with simple twists, little, small additions to TODAY, and watched what happened - and you could make it entertaining.

Campbell never allowed anything to be published which wasn't grammatical and legible. so the "we write in sentences" thing is a big load of whitewash and pretension. E.E. "Doc" Smith wrote in sentences, and he was as sure a writer of heroic science fantasy as anyone you can name. Were there rags which published the real-life equivalent of Vonnegut's Kilgore Trout? Maybe - I've never seen them or tried to read them. If they happened onto a good story, the story was picked up by a decent editor in an anthology, because guys like Lester del Rey made good money bringing out good solid anthologies.

So, maybe you are a great writer - the perfect blend of wit, sarcasm, characterisation, scientific knowledge, and entertaining plotting that makes books which deserve to be purchased. But if I'm searching for the gilt-edged leather-boand edition I seriously doubt I'll find it. Get off your high horse, you are no Poe or Wells. You're not even a DeCamp.

Your lot is to write books - you like it, you have some people who like them. Maybe you could change your next books so more people would like them; maybe not. Maybe you could, but you won't because of your attitude.
[User Picture]From: ianmcdonald
2006-11-01 01:57 pm (UTC)

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I'm afraid I'm not entirely sure what your beef is. Hubris on my part? No more so than anyone else who ever put a pen to a page and made a story believing someone would enjoy reading it. After all, it takes a certain degree of self-belief to get into the ring with Tolstoy. (Someone else's line, not mine) All writers are in a sense attention-seekers.

I'm interested in the examples you cite: do you not read much SF after 1964? And if so, why? Genuine question, BTW.
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