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Anaparenna
03-18-2005, 08:13 AM
Hal Duncan does up a nice blog rant/essay about lots of stuff here (http://notesfromthegeekshow.blogspot.com/2005/03/in-ghetto.html). The language, for some, might be a bit what my grandma called, er, earthy. :) Thought it might be interesting for conversation about the "genre."

Zane Curtis
03-18-2005, 04:37 PM
I come away from this article feeling somewhat bemused. In some ways I agree with Hal Duncan. A lot of genre stuff is pretty bad, as is a lot of anything, including realist fiction (which he acknowledges). But come on, what's all this "yo momma is a ho" stuff? I never had anything much to do with the classic age of pulps. I'm not American. I wasn't even born in the 50s. I grew up on Gardner Dozois anthologies, Terry Pratchett, and Michael Moorcock. And not the trashy Moorcock stuff either. When I want to pick up one of those, I go to the SF/Fantasy section in the bookshop. When I write something similar, I want it to get shelved in the same place, so it can find an audience.

The reality of SF that I know is a reality where generic formula fiction gets placed on a shelf beside the ambitious genre-bending stuff. It makes perfect sense to me. In the strict taxonomical sense, there are only really two types of book length fiction -- romance and realism. The defining difference is that one relies on invention and the other doesn't. That's the sense in which I would call a book like Farenheit 451 SF. It's got absolutely nothing to do with whether or not skiffy writers hoar themselves for a quick buck. On the other side of the fence, you get cheap and nasty literary writers hoaring themselves to Eng Lit professors for academic credits. What's the difference?

If anything has to change it's the artificial separation between romance and realism. They are simply two different approaches to writing, and one is not intrinsically more worthy of academic attention than the other. It is only an accident of history that they have become so. Good writers can and do cross this artificial boundary at will. And when they are good, they don't get called hacks. Pratchett and Moorcock both claim that, actually, they don't get a lot of bad reviews from being "genre hacks".

I don't view commercial fiction as hoaring anyway. I see it more as a discipline (the same as good prose style is a discipline). Writing commercial fiction is what keeps you grounded. It stops those flights into pretentious modernism that Hal so vividly describes in the article. Because you are writing for an actual audience, and you want them to spend real money buying your work, you cannot be self-indulgent. You have to get the mix between art and entertainment right. That's the challenge of it -- at least, for me. That's not at all the same thing as standing on a street corner and selling ten dollar knee-tremblers.

Anaparenna
03-18-2005, 05:31 PM
Further response to the blog here (http://www.livejournal.com/users/matociquala/465645.html), by Elizabeth Bear, author of sci-fi novel Hammered.

I'm not from the age of pulps either, and am tragically under-read in "science fiction" as opposed to "fantasy." I'm still musing over where the China Mieville's and Kelly Links fit into this perspective.

Enjoyed your response, Zane!

victoriastrauss
03-18-2005, 09:17 PM
Ouch. I think his arguments could have been made in perhaps a quarter of the words he used, and this kind of big-dick hyperbolic ranting really turns me off. Still, there are some interesting points buried in there.

I do agree that the so-called genre ghetto is at least partly self-imposed. The same people who moan about the literary world's lack of respect for SF (never fantasy, mind; to the angry SF folks, all fantasy is crap) are the ones who excoriate a "mainstream" writer like Margaret Atwood for dipping a toe in "their" genre. Only a real science fiction writer can write science fiction, they say. So they want mainstream respect, but they don't want any nasty mainstream writers in their clubhouse. So who's propping up the ghetto walls?

I also think that the mainstream snobbery decried by those who want speculative fiction to get more respect is reproduced inside the genre ranks. The general sneer aimed at fantasy by aficionados of science fiction, for instance. Or, among "serious" fantasy readers and reviewers (most of whom currently worship at the altar of the New Weird), the sneer aimed at epic fantasy. Highly literary works of epic fantasy--such as Scott Bakker's Prince of Nothing series or Ricardo Pinto's The Stone Dance of the Chameleon series--can barely get the time of day from these folks, whose attitude toward this kind of fantasy is very much like the attitude of people who don't read fantasy at all. So even within the ghetto, there's ghetto-ization.

The secret of getting "mainstream" audiences to pay attention to a work of speculative fiction is pretty simple, and goes back to "genre" as a marketing category: have a non-genre imprint publish it. Would Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell have gotten such huge sales and attention if it'd been put out by, say, Del Rey? Or Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow? I think not.

The truth is that most fiction is formulaic drivel. In every category or genre, not just SF and fantasy. The Booker nominees, the Moorcocks and the Wolfes, are a tiny, tiny minority of the whole. Popular, commercial fiction is what sells. This has always been true. The only reason it seems that more good books were published in the past (something often said by people upset over how much crap is being published "these days") is that the good stuff is what's remembered.

- Victoria

Anaparenna
03-18-2005, 11:45 PM
Ouch. I think his arguments could have been made in perhaps a quarter of the words he used, and this kind of big-dick hyperbolic ranting really turns me off.



LOL! I *was* wondering whether that would get a reaction or not. I, like Zane, was mostly bemused at the end, which may not have served his purpose, if his purpose was for me to take him completely seriously. :)



I also think that the mainstream snobbery decried by those who want speculative fiction to get more respect is reproduced inside the genre ranks.


You know, I think I must just have lucked out in my relationship with sci-fi/fantasy. I started reading it because my mother (a librarian) stuck it in my hands at a young age (Le Guin, Norton, et al.), and writing it at about 12 years old. And I don't remember encountering any true snobbery about reading or writing it until just a few years ago, when I began to get published. I know that while I enjoy reading widely in all the "sub-genres", my "cozy" books are more often than not big, fat epic fantasies. (Er, as long as the female characters are well represented. That may be my snobbery.)

I've never met anyone who truly recoiled when I mentioned reading and writing fantasy. In fact, as a teacher, I have a lot of colleagues and parents who, wanting to support their kids' interests, come to me for recommendations. So, while I know it happens, I personally haven't come up against it yet, knock on wood.

Zane Curtis
03-19-2005, 03:54 AM
I've never met anyone who truly recoiled when I mentioned reading and writing fantasy. In fact, as a teacher, I have a lot of colleagues and parents who, wanting to support their kids' interests, come to me for recommendations. So, while I know it happens, I personally haven't come up against it yet, knock on wood.

Huh! I wish I was so lucky. In Australia we've got this whole "small country that wants to be taken seriously" thing going on, so our Eng Lit people can be some of the most brazen and intractable snobs you'd never want to meet. It's actually not too bad with fantasy, because there are Australian fantasy writers doing well overseas. (Doing well overseas is the one real way that Australians can get respect at home.) But SF? Forget it.

I once heard a prominent editor in this country say, "People keep sending me all this horrible sci-fi stuff." By her tone of voice, you'd have thought she was talking about people sending her dog's business in the mail. She was, of course, implying that if you want to get published, don't write SF. It doesn't occur to them that there may actually be a local market for this stuff. As it is, Australian SF and Fantasy writers send a lot of MSs via airmail to the US.

Still, it's not all bad.