Friday, September 08, 2006

What People Are Saying

Also known as: An Argument in Five Parts. Rather than talk about it, I thought I'd let other people speak. Yes, I'm lazy.

skinny posted something about the problem of speculative fiction veering towards the literary rather than to the pulp side. He sez:

see, i'm beginning to think that our problem, unlike with other markets, isn't that we're saturated with 'substandard' commercial mass marketable fics, that we don't have 'literary-grade' SF (whatever that means); in fact, (ok, here it comes) it seems to me that what we actually have is a terminally acute insistence on literary writing standards that might actually be detrimental to the natural evolution of SF.

Or, as one reviewer stated in a negative review of Kelly Link's Stranger Things Happen which had been deemed by critics as the best of 'literary speculative fiction' lot:

If I have to choose between skiffy with literary pretensions and skiffy with bug-eyed monsters, I will gladly choose the latter, any day of the week.

Science-fiction/ fantasy writer John C. Wright replied in the comment section to a similar proposition and explained why the two sides of this debate will never get along:

The reason why we cannot all get along, is that even those of us whose taste range from high to low... even if we do not look down our noses at other fanboys, the mere fact that we make any distinction at all between high and low offends those who make no such distinction.

And, again, those who cannot or will not make the distinction between high and low, between books we enjoy because they are touched with divine greatness, and books we enjoy because they are Way Cool action-splattered pulp, offend those of us who think it admirable and necessary to maintain standards in art, even in popular art like SF.

However, Wright offered assurance that the reading world is bigger than that:

I do think great books are better than potboilers, but I would not call this snobbery, bcause it is no crime to like something light and shallow if you are in the mood for light and shallow. Not all swimming needs to be deep sea diving. Sometimes you are not in the mood for profound. Sometimes you are in the mood for a luxurious feast, and sometimes you want a McBurger meat-flavored patty.

Finally, noted local writer Gilda Cordero-Fernando wrote a piece on being boxed in and the importance of the artist (that Ian has kindly posted):

Now the prestigious Palanca has been cut up into so many little categories -- 15 at last count, with first, second and third prizes for each category in English and Tagalog and some vernaculars. I always try to remember who the young winners are. But with 40 or so names to keep up with each year, I just gave up. Dare one suggest that the awards be cut down and the prizes raised to dazzling amounts? Surely complaints will arise. Bakit elitista? (It's elitist!) Why stop the multiplication of the loaves? Because an award is a distinction. It recognizes a major achievement and should be as elitist and exclusive as it can be!

(Emphasis mine.)

What does it all mean? I'm not sure. It's like a literary piece: all meandering, a lot of emphasis, no point. Take of it what you will.


David said...

I think our ability to label everything is our greatest danger and has done more to ghetto us than anything else.

Eldritch00 said...

You know, although I do sound the call for "delirious literature over serious literature," as I've told you before, it's a half-joke. I certainly read genre fiction and love it for its literary values, and if there's a "bias" against it in SF, even more so for horror fiction. I need to think more about this. Once again, you've come up with several insightful entries!

Maricchia said...

Snobbery or a distinction? Hah! Same difference. It's just a matter of being in the position to say what things are, which is which, and what is the good, the bad, and the evil text that won an award or got published. So: blame it all on the editor or the publisher.

I say, stay away from boxes and lines. Read, write, and then let it all go. {Whaddya think Mr Cat?)

skinnyblackcladdink said...

for me it's all goal-oriented. i don't care what's 'right', what matters to me is what's 'useful' to the development of our literary scene. personally, the harm i see in the lack of distinction is that our literature is becoming much too homogenized... and so there isn't a lot of activity at the fringes.

writers are afraid of labels, they think it's dangerous, but really, more often than not, it's an artificial, formless, impotent thing slapped on to your writing by people who may or may not know what they're talking about, but also may or may not have a point you should consider. and it's possible to see the silver-lining to the ghetto raincloud: the value of creating those ghettoes is to create a varied and dynamic environment of literature, rather than the relatively staid, homogenized, stuffy world that we're seeing now. and besides, writers don't have to rely on critics to slap labels on them... they can actively create movements (aka, the difference between New Weird and New Wave) when they see the need to develop certain aspects of the literature.

what i suggest in my post is that we need just such a movement, and the thrust should be in creating an atmosphere that promotes free-range imagination, not necessarily to the exclusion of technical prowess, but at least with a preference for the former.

JP said...

>>a terminally acute insistence on literary writing standards that might actually be detrimental to the natural evolution of SF.

I couldn't disagree more. I go to the SF shelves and see unabashedly geekazoid sf like Stross' books, pulp adventure by people like Reynolds and Hamilton as well as more lit'ry stuff by people like Adam Roberts all on display. For every Kelly Link on the fantasy scene, there is a Steven Erikson adding new zest to the gloriously chaotic and entertaining epic adventure end of the spectrum. What we have is an admirable state of diversity, and while small enclaves of fandom or indeed writerdom might have an excessive need to conform to some standard of literary excellence that exists as a Platonic ideal, it isn't the whole story.

It just depends on the company you keep and the books you read.

skinnyblackcladdink said...

er, sorry jp, but i was talking about local literature.

JP said...

I should have taken the time to figure that context, in the post here , it seemed to be about the worldwide sf scene.

Maricchia said...'s a suggestion: whoever would want to edit an anthology, much more be in the panel of some award pertaining to speculative fiction and sff should at least be people who read AND write (in all levels) in these sub-genres.

It would also help if they know a bit of literary theory and criticism (that would make assertions more valid regarding the "literary" merit of these texts). Beginning from Post-structuralism would do.

Interesting friends you have, Mr. Cat. Hihihi.

banzai cat said...

david: Hey! Welcome aboard! That's true though people can't help but give a tag to anything that moves (or not).

eldritch: Hah! Then my job here is done. *strikes heroic pose*

maricchia: Hehe that's true. To paraphrase an old saying, just write and let the critics sort 'em out. ;-)

banzai cat said...

(Dammit, my computer shut down at the wrong time-- which is why I had to separate this comment.)

skinny: I can see your point but isn't local spec fic already on the fringes of local lit?

Likewise, from what I've seen, writers are normally apathetic to labels-- or outright hostile (see Vandermeer). But who can blame them? Labels are just words that ironically, the writer has no control of. Another word is "ghetto" which has become a badge of shame given to the spec fic community. But it's still a word: why not turn it into a badge of pride? Call it a "suburb" or better, an "exclusive subdivision". ;-)

JP: Don't worry, no blood no foul. :-)

Still, I was wondering about that also since the local SF community is too small to divide itself as such. I already asked skinny this but I did point out that I disagreed with his assessment considering only a few writers are considering taking a literary bent to SF.

One example I cited was Dean's first Phil Spec Fic antho. Now that one ranged from literary to genre. I wonder though what the percentages were in the submission Dean got.

maricchia: The people around here is one the best things about this blog. ;-)

I agree that anything involving spec fic should involve spec fic people. However, as I mentioned before, the local community is too small to divide itself for such a task. There are not too many writers to act as judges, critics, writers, etc. separately without taking on another role. Ah well...

skinnyblackcladdink said...

bc: writing SF is a badge of honor. and sure, SF is fringe, but remember, the fact that it's fringe doesn't mean that there aren't internal movements on the micro level (i.e.,within the field) that need attention.

the problem with local SF in that respect imho is that it's trying so hard to break out of being fringe that it's forgetting the internal nuances that make the 'genre' what it is. which is my case regarding the thrust of SF advocates for 'literary SF'...i have no qualms about SF being more literary, it's just that it leads local writers to lean so far (imho) into the style territory that the idea side is being left too far behind.

and so's i don't sound like a damaged audio file, the details are in my comment to your comment on my comment to other people's comments and your comment over at zen.

try saying that when you're drunk.

skinnyblackcladdink said...

funny, i never actually read the main post of this thread.

thanks for "quoting" me, bc, but really, i wish you hadn't used the phrase "we're being snobbish". i wouldn't. and don't.

i really ought to have set the record straight sooner. and after this, don't worry i'll shut-up about the whole thing.

i personally don't see the literary angle as snobbishness. i merely point out that it seems we're forgetting the roots of the genre as a *genre*, and so haven't really developed a strong, specific tradition to call "SF".

people keep thinking i'm all for badly-written pieces as long as they have the idea element. not at all. i keep reiterating that writing competence is the barest minimum, and idea-centricity doesn't preclude coming up with "well-written" works. i merely state that, personally, i find that "good writing", at some point, is too subjective a criterion, and not particularly *useful* for developing the field as a *genre*. *transcending*, perhaps, but not *developing*.

the value of so-called "literary SF" is its potential to *transcend* the genre.

me, i want a solid *genre* presence in the country for our more literary fellows to *transcend*. (note: these terms are not to be used as synonyms for "high" and "low", and not to suggest that one is "better" than the other.)

that's what i don't see now, and that's what i want to see.

if we don't create that tradition, why don't we just give up the whole idea of "genre"? because without the specific characteristics that make a genre both more and less than the so-called "mainstream", there's no point in fighting for it. we may as well all just say "everybody write good stories. period" and forget about slapping the word "genre" on them, and trying to pick them apart with genre criteria, and creating these so-called ghettos. which is another way to develop lit in the country, a good way, at that, but not particularly to my taste, because, again, i like having genres.

banzai cat said...

skinny: Sheesh. I really should have some kind of marker when someone's put in new comments on this blog. I almost missed your last posts.

First of all, sorry if am putting words in your mouth. I never intended that. However, I admit that I read your post on the idea-centricity of stories right after I read another post about the call for more stories without literary pretensions.

Likewise, I know for a fact that you aren't calling for badly-written stories and we've already established this way back in previous arguments. Heck, you adore Mervyn Peake so this shouldn't be the case. Unfortunately, some people may misconstrue this since they don't know where we're both coming from.

However, the pattern I did want to mention with your post and the following post I mentioned was about the too-much focus on stories with a literary bent and not much on the ideas.

Still, just a few clarificatory questions? To be clear, maybe you're worrying too much? Granted that one writer has cited more literary aspirations over her stories, that writer did admit that she had no prior background in the genre. And I'll be the first one to admit that it's hard to write a literary-type story, much more a literary SF-type story, so I think that most writers would undoubtedly veer into writing a story on ideas rather than style. But I'll say this only based on the number of local spec-fic stories I've read; You may have read some that I haven't that are like this.

All in all, I actually see now your point and am slowly being convinced by your argument of a more idea-centric focus of stories. Heaven knows this is a hard thing for me to admit since I've realized that I will never, ever be a good stylist to merit the attention of Datlow and companies, much less the local literati.

Anyway, just a few thoughts before I run a correction of my post...