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Iain M Banks: Science Fiction Is No Place For Dabblers

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dpaterso

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Truth to tell I didn't know what the hell that article was trying to deliver.

But Banks is a Sci-Fi writing god, so whatever he says is okay by me.

-Derek
 

Maxx

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Truth to tell I didn't know what the hell that article was trying to deliver.

But Banks is a Sci-Fi writing god, so whatever he says is okay by me.

-Derek

I think he was trying to convey (too much showing! not enough telling) the idea that literary types to decide to go slumming in Sci Fi need to "get a grip" (as they say without the quotes in genre land). Interestingly he must have thought he was pitching the idea to lit types -- who know murder mysteries as a genre but are lost in Sci Fi as a genre.

Good moves mostly, but confusing for somebody who actually knows Sci Fi as a Genre.
 

Alessandra Kelley

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I'm familiar with the story of "literary" authors unfamiliar with science fiction who get inspired to write some and in their ignorance recreate all of the most tired old cliches. But has that actually happened all that much in reality?
 

Kitty Pryde

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Margaret Atwood, Cormac McCarthy, Kazuo Ishiguro? I dunno. I feel like fantasy tropes get artlessly vomited out in litfic more than SF tropes do. But come on. People enjoy a poor handling of genre tropes! So what's wrong with that, honestly? Twilight? Eragon? We can moan about how sucky and ham-handed they are all day long, but it doesn't change the fact that people freakin love them and they turn kids into readers and they drag folks into the bookstore who would not ordinarily be in there.

This type of criticism (too SF-nal! not SF-nal enough! i wouldn't slum in genre writing! too literary! insufficiently literary! too nerdily fantastical! dey took our tropes!) all just feels like the petty squabbling of middle school cliques--won't the cheerleaders ever be able to get along with the AV club kids????
 

Maxx

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But come on. People enjoy a poor handling of genre tropes!

I really hope so since I have the feeling I modelled my most recent attempt at a Fantasy novel on a literary
misreading of Sci fi.

I have to admit it is fun. But I think Banks has a point: why pay upscale people extra for doing a bad job
on their genre fundamentals when somebody who is really an amateur (like me) could do a better job for less pay?
 

RainyDayNinja

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I felt the exact same way when I had to read "Oryx and Crake" by Margaret Atwood for class. The "literary" world seemed to think it was brilliant, but the science fiction elements were about 20-30 years out of date, and didn't merit anything other than a big yawn.
 

Amadan

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I'm familiar with the story of "literary" authors unfamiliar with science fiction who get inspired to write some and in their ignorance recreate all of the most tired old cliches. But has that actually happened all that much in reality?

Yes. And then they win literary prizes because the literary world thinks they invented dystopian fiction.

People enjoy a poor handling of genre tropes! So what's wrong with that, honestly?

Umm, they suck?

Kids and people who are not widely read enjoy poor handling of genre tropes, because they don't know better.
 

Kitty Pryde

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I dunno, all the moaning that boils down to "this art that i subjectively dislike is objectively sucky!" just feels tired and useless. There are different kinds of books for different kinds of readers. I love speculative fiction and yet I dislike the majority of speculative fiction on the shelf. That doesn't mean it sucks. If someone finds entertainment/meaning/distraction/comfort/excitement from it, what's the freakin problem? That's all I'm saying.
 

Ria13

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I'm familiar with the story of "literary" authors unfamiliar with science fiction who get inspired to write some and in their ignorance recreate all of the most tired old cliches. But has that actually happened all that much in reality?

I can name a couple recent ones.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. The Stone Gods by Jeannette Winterson. (I feel strange saying Jeanette Winterson because she mainly writes fantasy, making her almost an sf writer by default, anyway.) The Plot Against America by Philip Roth. these all have very basic and generic sf premises.

I remember reading Floating Worlds by the historical novelist Cecilia Holland and noticing that while it had a lot of virtues it made some elementary worldbuilding mistakes one of the experienced better sf writers of the period wouldn't have made. (a really good book nevertheless. it came out in the '70's, so not by any means recent.)

on a related note, I started Shikasta by Doris Lessing and found the sfnal elements flat in a similar way.
 
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Maxx

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I dunno, all the moaning that boils down to "this art that i subjectively dislike is objectively sucky!" just feels tired and useless. There are different kinds of books for different kinds of readers. I love speculative fiction and yet I dislike the majority of speculative fiction on the shelf. That doesn't mean it sucks. If someone finds entertainment/meaning/distraction/comfort/excitement from it, what's the freakin problem? That's all I'm saying.

Banks does well in all genres and he gets paid to moan about what he doesn't like. He has an interesting point and he puts it well (the shift to "detective story" is interesting anyway) and if people can't usefully argue about aesthetic perceptions -- what can they usefully argue about?
 

Amadan

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I dunno, all the moaning that boils down to "this art that i subjectively dislike is objectively sucky!" just feels tired and useless. There are different kinds of books for different kinds of readers. I love speculative fiction and yet I dislike the majority of speculative fiction on the shelf. That doesn't mean it sucks. If someone finds entertainment/meaning/distraction/comfort/excitement from it, what's the freakin problem? That's all I'm saying.

I try to avoid saying "Anything I don't like objectively sucks," but I'm also not a fan of "There's no such as objective quality in literature."

What I think Iain Banks is getting at is that no one has any qualms about evaluating "literary" fiction as if one can objectively measure literary quality, but as soon as you dip into genre fiction, people think "Oh, well, it's sci-fi, so it's not like one story about rocket ships and aliens is going to be particularly better than another." So if Big Name Literary Author writes a story about rocket ships and aliens (or the end of the world) obviously it's Literary!
 

RemusShepherd

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In my opinion Iain Banks is not a good writer, and what he writes is space opera so vague and technically inaccurate that it can barely be called sci-fi.

But he makes a fine point in the linked article. Writers need to know what tropes already exist in the genres they choose to write. I completely agree with the hack this time. :)
 

Ria13

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In my opinion Iain Banks is not a good writer, and what he writes is space opera so vague and technically inaccurate that it can barely be called sci-fi.

technical inaccuracy doesn't invalidate the worth of a story, though. not alone, anyway. it does if you set out to write hard sf, sure, otherwise not. though I have not read his space opera, only his slipstream work, he most definitely can write.

going back to Floating Worlds which I mentioned above, I would no way call it a bad book, just one that made some common worldbuilding errors.

also, an addition to the list above: The Giver by Lois Lowry. very standard stuff. it also not persuade me that the novel took place in a real society. (that may have had to do with the writing itself, though, rather than the sf aspects.)
 

movieman

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technical inaccuracy doesn't invalidate the worth of a story, though. not alone, anyway.

But I'm still amused to see him telling people how to write SF when he's writing completely unrealistic space opera (or was, when I stopped reading his books a few years back). Often entertaining, but I'd say it's more fantasy than SF.
 

Maxx

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But I'm still amused to see him telling people how to write SF when he's writing completely unrealistic space opera (or was, when I stopped reading his books a few years back). Often entertaining, but I'd say it's more fantasy than SF.

I don't think he is telling SF writers how to write SF, he's telling non-SF writers that they need to look more deeply into the genre.

Or to put it another way: Banks point is that the SF genre has a lot of conventions (like any genre) and literary writers who don't know much about these conventions show the usefulness of these conventions.

I think Banks follows the conventions for Space Opera pretty well. Space Opera is notoriously different from Hard Science Fiction.
 

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Banks, IMHO, is inconsistent. He has delivered some of the most entertaining sci-fi I've read with Use of Weapons and Excession as good examples and yet has excreted some of the worst too, Feersum Enjinn was painful and Surface Detail seems to exist solely to set the record for the most F and C words published in a novel.

I think it was a variation on the 'Read widely in your genre so you don't try re-inventing the wheel/hobbits/grokking' mantra.

I think you're right, IdiotsRUs, but once again he's buried the message so deep in the verbage that many find it necessary to re-read the piece in order to understand it.

As for The Wasp Factory...
 

Amadan

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But I'm still amused to see him telling people how to write SF when he's writing completely unrealistic space opera (or was, when I stopped reading his books a few years back). Often entertaining, but I'd say it's more fantasy than SF.

The point of writing science fiction "right" is not being realistic (even hard SF is rarely completely realistic) but knowing the genre, knowing what constitutes willing suspension of disbelief and what doesn't within the genre, and not writing as if you're saying something new and original when you aren't.
 

Ria13

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But I'm still amused to see him telling people how to write SF when he's writing completely unrealistic space opera (or was, when I stopped reading his books a few years back). Often entertaining, but I'd say it's more fantasy than SF.

that holds true of the sub-genre in general, though, with the exceptions made for space opera self-described as doubling as hard sf. (personally, I think -- just a personal prejudice -- that as soon as you get into the idea of galactic empires or human-style aliens without a very solid rationale for it that makes a work, by default, borderline fantasy, anyway.) if you wanted realism, you would pick up a book set in the near future.
 

Ria13

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@Amadan: totally agree with you there.
 
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