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JeffV
Posted on Monday, February 10, 2003 - 10:11 am:   

Alan DeNiro has posted this extremely interesting essay:

http://www.taverners-koans.com/ratbastards/dream.pdf

I thought it might be worth discussion in the general section?
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Jonathan Strahan
Posted on Thursday, March 20, 2003 - 03:22 pm:   

Hey Jeff-

I guess I'm going to nail my colors to the mast on this one - at least in so far as it's a response to the question: "SF/Fantasy - What's Wrong With It?". If you set aside publishing issues (which are relevant and important), then my response is nothing is wrong with it.

I doubt genre fiction has ever been in such good shape, or that there has ever been a better time to be alive and writing or reading genre fiction.

It seems to me that a lot of people with hobby horses raise shibboleths about what's wrong and wring their hands because the work they love isn't topping the NY Times bestseller lists. While that is unfortunate for writers of some excellent work, and while it's always legitimate and worthwhile to promote and develop writers and their careers - it's a side issue. The work that is actually being published right now is stunning in quality, overwhelming in quantity, and at times quite breathtaking. Whether you love the hardest of hard SF or the most baroque of literary slipstream fantasy, there's something wonderful out there.

J

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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Friday, March 21, 2003 - 02:26 am:   

Agreed.
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Don W.
Posted on Wednesday, March 26, 2003 - 05:36 pm:   

What is this? A ticker-tape parade for the fantasy genre? Just wait till episode 19 of Cyrano de Bergerac's The Other World comes on line next week. I've put a few notes in there that are designed to get some danders up.

Among them is the charge that the fantasy genre is an upper middle-class reaction to realism. And that it is a throwback to Préciosité, in the Baroque era of the early 17th century, complete with medievalistic heroes and figures out of -- or reminiscent of -- classical mythology.

Did fantasy go away? No, it didn't: wait till you read about Marie Antoinette and her beribboned sheep. But realism took 250 years to establish itself as mainline. In episode 19 Cyrano shows very clearly that a choice of genre can be a political statement.

So, what say ye? Has neoconservatism brought us into an age of corporate feudalism and given us a courtly literature to match? Today the 17th century, tomorrow the 13th?

Don W.
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Jeff Topham
Posted on Thursday, March 27, 2003 - 05:07 am:   

Don: an interesting argument, and one I'm eager to read in more detail. I'm inclined to agree with you, although I think we need to define our terms. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that Tolkien's epic fantasy, which has provided the model for most heroic fantasy--was a class-driven, conservative reaction to both industrialism and egalitarianism. His dreams of a preindustrial paradise governed by a small group of noble kings has persisted largely unaltered into the mainstream of genre fantasy today. I love Tolkein and his work deeply, but it's difficult to make any other reading.
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Neal Asher
Posted on Friday, November 21, 2003 - 07:22 am:   

How so often these discussions neglect the basic reality of a writer having to choose between producing entertaining books that sell or going back to the day job.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Friday, November 21, 2003 - 10:19 am:   

Aren't most writers still at the day job?
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Iron James
Posted on Monday, November 24, 2003 - 07:33 am:   

I don;t think anything is really wrong with science fiction, but I do think a great deal of it has appeal only to a tiny segment of the population.

There's nothing wrong with this, but it isn't your dad's science fiction. I don't see how sales can be great unless the appeal is widespread.
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richard
Posted on Monday, November 24, 2003 - 09:35 am:   

Nicholas - most writers are indeed still at their day job, but I've yet to meet one who wouldn't rather not be. As Neal asserts, there is the practical consideration that you need to sell the books you write, if only because writing something no-one else will ever read smacks a little of masturbation in a darkened closet. (That's one end of the spectrum - tired sell-out market-governed repeat-installment fiction is the other, and obviously that's not attractive either).

In the end writing is supposed to be an act of communication, so I do have a few issues with Alan's argument about "difficult" text. If a story is hard to read, there are only really two possible explanations - (1) it's badly written, or (2)it assumes competence/knowledge that the reader does not have. (2) is a much vexed question having as much IMHO to do with emotional blocks and preferences on the part of the reader than with any genuine difficulty, but for (1) there can be no excuse. It is the job of a storyteller to draw you in and carry you along - cutting edge storytellers like Kelly Link and Jeff VanderMeer do this while at the same time subverting both genre and style. But to deliberately set out to write something which your reader has a hard time getting to grips with seems to me perverse.
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Jeffrey Owens
Posted on Friday, March 12, 2004 - 04:10 am:   

The only thing "wrong" (and I use that word losely) with fantasy is that it has become incestuous. And I don't think it all goes back to J.R.R: fantasy, as we know it, came after, with Brooks, and Eddings, and Anthony. People loved Tolkien, and Brooks, Eddings and Anthony gave them a "type" of Tolkien, and DelRey turned that brand of fantasy into best-sellers.

It took Tolkien 15 years (or so) to finish the Lord of the Rings, okay? These other writers do at least a book a year. You don't have to go out on a very small limb to say that their novels are going to lack depth.

Did fantasy writers after them copy Tolkien? No. They copied the book-a-year writers and wrote marginal tales that were ghosts of ghosts that had been done before.

And they made money doing it.

So now (as an example) George Martin can write his 800 page books that have no plot, no ending, and no point...other than to sell books.



Jeffrey


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Jax
Posted on Monday, April 26, 2004 - 02:34 am:   

"People loved Tolkien, and Brooks, Eddings and Anthony gave them a "type" of Tolkien, and DelRey turned that brand of fantasy into.........." WOT A LOAD OF S**T! omg! UR ALL SO WEIRD! IF U WANNA COMPLAIN, GO AHEAD! E-MAIL ME! jaxi_taxi97@hotmail.com !!!! HAHAHA!! NERDIE!!!!!
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ellen
Posted on Monday, April 26, 2004 - 08:40 am:   

Jax,
What point do you actually disagree with?
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Monday, April 26, 2004 - 06:22 pm:   

To backtrack to this statement: Nicholas - most writers are indeed still at their day job, but I've yet to meet one who wouldn't rather not be.

Here's one! I'm hanging on tight to my day job, because it supports my writing habit. Plus, it gives me people to talk to and gets me out of the house-refreshes the well, so to speak.
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Roztov
Posted on Tuesday, August 17, 2004 - 04:28 am:   

I wish I could give up my day job :-)

George Martin may be bad at coming up with endings - but if a mark of a good book is that you can't put it down then I would say he wins on that count.
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Neal Asher
Posted on Monday, September 06, 2004 - 12:57 pm:   

"So now (as an example) George Martin can write his 800 page books that have no plot, no ending, and no point...other than to sell books."

Which means someone is reading them and enjoying them, presumably? Else they would not sell.
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Mike Coombes
Posted on Monday, February 07, 2005 - 06:43 am:   

The big problem for SF today that overall standards are still low, and expectations are lower still.

There's good stuff out there, but all the time it's stigmatised by the ghost of 50's pulp and by the below par work still being pumped out, only 1% of the potential readership will see it.

No SF novel ever won the Booker prize.

Consider - the 2 most significant SF novels of the 20th century - whose titles have entered the English language - were written by non-SF writers.

And you don't need me to tell you that the books were 1984 and Brave New World.

http://www.write_across-europe.com
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Mike Coombes
Posted on Monday, February 07, 2005 - 07:11 am:   

the above link should, of course, be

http://www.write-across-europe.com
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JKS
Posted on Friday, February 11, 2005 - 10:48 am:   

Hi Mike,

– Uhm, what started out as a few lines has metamorphosised into a general ‘state of the union’ rant. You may want to print this out for reading ease.

Respectively, I have to disagree strongly with your assessment. I believe that the quality of written work today is unparalleled in genre history; standards are high and expectations have never been higher. Which, perversely, is why there are no ‘genre’ bestsellers today but why the child of SF&F will dominate the future’s bestseller lists.

To discuss by analogy: a good friend and I were arguing years ago (must have been around ’82) about rock and roll. His contention was that every ten years or so, the next big thing would come along; the fifties had Elvis, the sixties – the Beatles, the seventies – The Sex Pistols, but the eighties, so far nothing. Now I’m not sure I buy all of his arguments (he also contented that all guys had short hair again because of Johnny Rotten!), but over the last 20 years or so, I’ve refined that discussion in my mind; wondering why there was no ‘big thing’ in the eighties. I’d guess the last big movement was Nirvana and grunge music in the early ‘90s, but since then, really nada.

I suspect that some of the things that block innovation in an art form are fragmentation and revival. The eighties saw the first revival of the 60’s rock ‘n’ roll art form (Remember Rolling Stone Magazine’s cover featuring Jim Morrison: ‘He’s Sexy, He’s Hot, He’s Dead’). In the 90’s you had the 70’s revival (most noticeable in that ghastly TV program ‘That Seventies Show’), while I’ve noted here in the 00’s, an 80’s revival is now underway (with late night TV commercials dominated by the new K-Tel’s hawking of 80’s rock ‘n’ roll compellations). Now add to that the fragmentation of the form; i.e. many different artists doing many different things with many different roots (some cite progressives as an influence, some disco, some heavy metal (in all its perambulations)), and you begin to see that it takes a genius of note to influence the whole spectrum of music culture. And note only that, but said genius has to put together a body of sustained work to have a lasting influence in the mass market. But once you’ve done that, you can milk that cash cow for a very long time (consider The Rolling Stones).

Now to adapt that above argument to SF&F: In the twenties and thirties you had a synthesis of many different aspects of literature combining into what we would call SF&F (elements of gothic, horror, utopian fiction, and futuristic warnings). Now remember, this was not all happening in isolation: the pulp market was booming, with everything under the sun being published. Now that was a time when standards were low and expectations lower! Now I would suggest that the survival of SF, while all the other pulps essentially died, is an example of artistic Darwinism: SF was the best, of the best, of the best, Sir! But still, SF was, at best, a marginal literary endeavor. It was the enthusiasm of the early fans that kept it going until John Campbell grabbed SF by the horns and insisted on some sort of literacy. Now the writers developed, the Asimovs the Heinleins and Clarkes, eventually produced such a consistently well regarded body of work in the genre, that their latter work (and not their best by far), became bestsellers, simply because they eventually received name-brand-recognition in the mainstream!

Examine, if you will, the subsequent movements in SF: The New Wave, Cyberpunk, and the rise of generic fantasy, and we can easily see the fragmentation of SF&F. But where were the Kurt Cobains? Where were our giants to replace Isaac, Robert and Arthur? Well, of the New Wave there’s Silverbob, who had some bestseller success with the ‘Valentine’ books, but he’s semi-retired now and long past producing his best work. Moorcock also had success with ‘Gloriana’, but really ditto. There’s Harlan, but his tragedy is that he’s the short story writer par excellance in the TV age where even the novel has been marginalized, and the Ursulas, Connies, Davids and Michaels, and Williams who consistently produce good work (great by genre standards), but not quite ‘literary’ bestsellers a la Margaret Atwood or Salman Rushdie (and I sincerely doubt that our literary-type authors would be willing to bastardize their work to compete with the latest Tom Clancy/Dan Brown drek).

Now, is anyone here going to seriously argue that the SF&F field has produced a talent that can complete with the sustained brilliance of the Steinbecks, Hemmingways, or Atwoods of general mainstream literature? I think not. Which is not to say that there hasn’t been fabulous books, which are recognized genre classics, but in a blind taste test, if you put ‘Dune’ up against ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, ‘The Good Earth’ or even ‘Oryx and Crake’ (to name the most recently popular whipping-boy), well, all I can say is we ain’t there yet.

However, somewhat paradoxically, the above gives me all the hope in the world for the future of the field. I think that bestsellers are just on the horizon, and the new giants are walking around among us, unnoticed at this time. They are the Synthesists (I remember reading somewhere that Einstein didn’t have an original bone in his body (no doubt from someone who had a severe case of sour grapes), and that all (!) he had done was a distillation of preceding work). This is what’s happening in the field right now. There’s something going down, and it ain’t up there among the genre bestseller titles. It is characterized by a rejection of convention, an ignoring of boundaries between genre and mainstream, and a desire of artists to do their own thang, man!

Look at the work non-genre writer Michael Chabon is doing to reinvent the short story. Or what’s going on in Britain with China Mieville, Ian McLeod, PS Publishing, Elastic Press, M. John Harrison, as documented in Michael Moorcock’s ‘Wizardry and Wild Romance’. Or what’s happening across the pond with JeffV and what Night Shade itself is publishing, or Kirsten Bishop’s surrealist/decadent inspired SF&F in Australia. This is the cutting edge. I don’t know if you can truly call it the ‘New Weird’ (bearing in mind Harlan’s comment in DV, that there is no “New Wave”, there are lots of little waves each being comprised of one author), but again, there’s something going on!

Now whether it’s some sort of general generational reaction against whatever (I’ll leave it to the John Clutes of the world, who are infinitely smarter than I, to define and describe it), but I sincerely believe it is here that we’ll find our future bestsellers: China Mieville, Steph Swainston, Jeff VanderMeer, K.J. Bishop et al. They are kicking the crap out of genre conventions, and their work will be the future mainstream by definition.

Please bear in mind there is a long road to go as already there are reactionary forces working against these artists; people in general prefer warm and comfy rather than new and exciting (which is why most people become more conservative as they grow older). This is why given an option between JeffV’s ‘Veniss Underground’, Kirsten’s ‘Etched City’, or Ian McLeod’s ‘The Light Ages’; the voters of the World Fantasy Award opted for Jo Walton’s “Dragons and Dickens”. Now I really wanted to hate that book, but after I picked it up, I found was actually a pretty good read, but, my Ghod, it was nowhere even close in imaginative quality and literary style to the others.

Ah well, c’est la guerre. I fully expect the same to happen to China’s ‘Iron Council’ this year, although it’s heads and tales above anything else written last year (with the possible exception of Zoran’s ‘The Fourth Circle’). And furthermore having had the good fortune to read JeffV’s ‘Shriek: An Afterward’, I fully expect the same thing to happen to that book:
Is it brilliant? – Yes!
Is it wildly imaginative? – Yes!
Is it stylistically innovative and an artist’s dream come true? – Yes! Yes! Yes!
Is it going to be a New York Times bestseller and win all the major awards for the year? – Christ, I hope so, but I wouldn’t bet the kid’s lunch money on it.

But here’s where hope meets certainty: All these “New Weird” artists are comparatively young. The chances are they have decades more of productive work ahead of them. And if their early works are so unqualifiedly brilliant, if a little rough around the edges at times, the chances are that at least one of them will forge the new paradigm and produce a mainstream literary bestseller.

Now will we still call that SF&F? Well, that’s a discussion for another day.

Luv to all,

Jonathan


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Jeremy Lassen
Posted on Friday, February 11, 2005 - 04:29 pm:   

"Now, is anyone here going to seriously argue that the SF&F field has produced a talent that can complete with the sustained brilliance of the Steinbecks, Hemmingways, or Atwoods of general mainstream literature? "

Yes.,.. Many SF/fantasy/horror writers can comepete with the sustained brilliance of mainstream literature, and, btw, Atwood is hardly a solid measure of sustained brilliance.

Mainstream literature is a genre, just like SF/fantasy. Having said this I'm not going to argue that the mainstre lit gate keepers will ever RECOGNIZE brilliance outside of their own little field, and form.

Otherwise, and interesting broadside.
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Mike Coombes
Posted on Sunday, February 13, 2005 - 03:42 pm:   

"Now, is anyone here going to seriously argue that the SF&F field has produced a talent that can complete with the sustained brilliance of the Steinbecks, Hemmingways, or Atwoods of general mainstream literature? I think not."

Hi JKS

I can think of one - Ballard. He crossed the boundary and is still pushing boundaries in the mainstream. Hugely innovative, he's actually still writing SF but none of the literati realise it.

I agree totally with the future - the mievilles, vandermeers, et al - they will break through. Amongst their numbers will be the next Ballard, and literary recognition.

I wouldn't discount Moorcock yet, either.

I'm guessing by your reading list you're a moorcock fan - did you read my interview with him in htp://www.irosf.com ?


http://www.write-across-europe.com
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al duncan
Posted on Sunday, February 13, 2005 - 05:28 pm:   

There's William Burroughs too, I'd argue. And I think, to go right back to the roots, Bradbury shows that you can come from the genre, work within it, and stand up fine against the mainstream canon of modern classics. He's a vastly under-rated short story writer, in my opinion.

And in terms of the most significant SF novels coming from non-SF writers, well, I'm not even sure that Brave New World is really either as good a piece of dystopian fiction as Fahrenheit 451 or that it had the cultural impact of Stranger In A Strange Land. 1984, yes, stands head and shoulders above a lot of the contemporary fiction coming out of the SF pulp tradition, but then Orwell was tackling the 20th Century, fascism and Stalinism full-on, and coming at it from direct experience of the Spanish Civil War. You can't expect a bunch of sweaty-palmed geeks with a hard-on for the Rocket Age to compete with that. No offence to the Golden Age greats but there's a certain limitation to your vision when you're staring at the stars with wonder in your eyes.

I think the really interesting thing is that the way Orwell chose to communicate was through SF, and that his SF approach arguably resulted in a more significant novel of the 20th Century than Hemmingway's realist approach did. Vonnegut, Heller and Ballard all similarly chose a non-realist approach to portraying the grim realities of the 20th Century that they'd seen first-hand. It's a mistake, I think to equate mainstream with realist. Some of the mainsteam greats have as little to do with Contemporary Realism as they have to do with SF. Or to look at it the other way round, many of them were as happy to use the fantastic, the surreal and the absurd in ways that make them as much bedfellows of SF writers as of CR writers.

So screw the literati and the Booker prize. I think the SF/F/H ghetto is actually far more dynamic than the uptown cocktail party circuit of the Contemporary Realist luvvies, which is why, I reckon, many of the experimentalists and avant-gardists, Modernists, post-Modernists and purveyors of weird shit in general often seem quite happy to hang out on the wrong side of the literary tracks, amongst the genre "hacks" of SF, Fantasy and Horror. It's so much easier to tell some bloody Bridget-Jones's-Knickers-reading drone that you're writing an SF novel, or a literary fantasy novel than to try and explain the idea of pataphysique or cubist fiction.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Sunday, February 13, 2005 - 07:12 pm:   

I believe that John Crowley's Little, Big will become a classic in the mainstream field. I see mainstream writers praising it (James Hynes has just written about it for the Washington Post Book World piece Lovestruck: 10 authors choose their favorite love stories of all time.
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JKS
Posted on Tuesday, February 15, 2005 - 05:43 pm:   

Hi Mike!

Many thanks for the Moorcock link. I’ve read the article through a couple of times now. I have to say, that honestly I’m a bit conflicted about ol’ Mike these days (after paying him no real mind for ages). I just loved ‘Wizardry and Wild Romance’ (I think I understand now why my own fiction doesn’t just swell its breast and Cock-a-doodle-doo-With-Authority!), and half the authors currently I adore are paying him ringing huzzahs! But as someone who disapproves (Strongly, Intensely and Passionately!) of the continued revisionist commercialization of the White Wolf (ongoing since ‘The Jade Man’s Eyes’), I’m just not sure where Moorcock fits into my personal pantheon these days.

I mean, call me old fashioned, but when you blow up the universe, as far as I’m concerned, that’s the end of the series! Now Mike managed a neat finagle with the all the endless Eternal Champion books to try and tidy it all up (Good on you, Mate, Make a Million!), but honestly, I didn’t particularly care for such maneuverings when Uncle Isaac was doing it, and Mike’s is not any more satisfying. (‘The Singing Sorceress’, gah! ‘Elric of Melnibone’, yuk!). I can only hope that Mike is charitable enough to write a final ‘Elric’ story transporting the now rather long-in-tooth albino back in a time where he can rule as befitting one the most decadent and depraved of Melnibonean emperors (as originally conceived; that giving him his delicious frisson); call it a literary retirement for services rendered!

On the other hand, my lovely shiny limited edition of ‘Behold the Man’ winks at me from across the room. I know, I know, most SF aficionados will point to Jim Blish’s ‘Case of Conscience’ as the ne plus ultra of examinations of Christianity in SF, but I’ll park my vote with BTM. Sigh, I guess I’m reminded of Harlan’s old comment that Mike really wanted to write SF but everyone only wanted to read his fantasies. And considering at the time Mike was cranking out stuff like the original ‘Chronicles of the Runestaff’ (considered fantasy at the time, but in retrospect the original New Weird series), why not?

I guess it boils down to being an artist or an author. If you truly believe that the written word can be an art form, rather than just (or only) purely entertainment, then you look for that sort of stuff. I would think that an artist is someone who pushes against any perceived boundaries. For example, I would cite as current artist examples Kirsten Bishop’s work (strangely enough, Kirsten is also a graphic artist), JeffV (consider COSAM, and his limited sets), and M. John Harrison (ok, although I hated, loathed and despised ‘Light’, I can recognize art when I see it. And I’m also willing to support it, having ‘Course of the Heart’ and his Virconium books lined up on my shelf to read as soon as ‘Light’ dims a bit in my memory (Gah! Serial Killers and Murders are our best and brightest and only need to ‘forgive themselves’ before we can all skip happily into the future? Of all the morally bankrupt and odious offal that I have inflicted upon myself….ok…ok, I’m not ready yet).

Not that there’s anything wrong with doing pure entertainment. Hey, sometimes I watch Fellini and sometimes ‘Smokey and the Bandit’. I think Harlan’s intro to Jacques Futrelle’s ‘The Thinking Machine’, sums it up nicely:

These stories mean you no harm! They’re strictly meant as entertainment. No more, no less.

However, any assessments get more complex because writers will not, nor should they, be pigeon-holed. China’s Bas-Lag trilogy: art, Art, ART, right? And ‘King Rat’, well, pretty much anyone doing fantasy clones could have written that, right again?

Got to pause now before considering Ballard and Burroughs,

Luv to all,

Jonathan

p.s. Hi Jeremy, to respectfully disagree with your Atwood assessment; it’s said a picture is worth a thousand words: Would a link be worth a thousand more?

http://www.web.net/owtoad/awards.html


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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Tuesday, February 15, 2005 - 06:01 pm:   

Of course, now, when I have time to read it, the link's gone and I have no idea where on the new site the essay is.
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Ron
Posted on Tuesday, February 15, 2005 - 06:39 pm:   

The original brief of the thread; what's wrong with SF/F. Some of the awards are off; Beginning to stink. Like the Nebula, which seems inbred / almost worthless these days.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - 08:38 am:   

Biased though I am, I disagree. Two stories I published in 2003 won and they were both excellent stories/novelettes. They deserved to win.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - 09:46 am:   

Of course, there are stories that should have made the ballot and/or should have won but that's always been the case in award-giving. I don't see that the past 5 year's Nebula and Hugo Awards have become any less accurate or useful --if it's quality that's being judged.

Awards (mainstream or genre) are always been iffy about judging quality. eg William Gibson never won a Nebula or Hugo award for his short fiction. I for one, think he should have.
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Kelly Shaw
Posted on Wednesday, February 16, 2005 - 11:07 am:   

It seems the lens we look through to diagnose the genre determines the way we feel about the genre, both now and in the past. There are many problems with niches of the sci-fi/fantasy community – the chief among them being myopia – but there is little wrong with the actual sci-fi/fantasy literature being written today. That is, of course, if you include Steve Erickson, Vandermeer, Murakami, Link, Lethem, Mieville, amongst others, all under one sci-fi/fantasy umbrella. One lens.

The problem comes in when we shadow that lens by separating the "mainstream" sci-fi/fantasy writers from the "sci-fi/fantasy community" writers.

As a reader, I want good writing from wherever I can find it. Regardless of who publishes it, or who deems it sci-fi/fantasy.
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Mike Coombes
Posted on Sunday, February 20, 2005 - 11:11 pm:   

Sorry, been in Italy for a week, hence no rants from me!

Behold the man - brilliant.

Moorcock SF v Fantasy: I don't think Moorcock makes the distinction, as such. same thing seen through different facets of a prism maybe. It is a sad truth that his fantasy hugely outsold the SF though. I would also point to the black corridor as being outstanding in it's field.

He has said that any book he wrote with 'sword' in the title immediately got a sales boost of about 25%.

"And ‘King Rat’, well, pretty much anyone doing fantasy clones could have written that, right again? "

Not sure if my irony detector's working... King Rat was stunning for a first novel.

http://www.write-across-europe.com
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gabe
Posted on Tuesday, May 17, 2005 - 01:35 pm:   

Because I am so fond of bringing threads back to life which I have missed....

What I find funny (and bear in mind that I have done the same thing for several years now) is how much complaint is made about the state of SFF, as if it's a dying breed or in danger of collapse.

It isn't.

SFF is alive and vibrant, even moreso than so-called 'mainstream' lit. Right now, the only fiction that is selling more than SFF is mystery (and of course romance, the 800lb. gorilla of genre), and I would go out on a limb and say that the boom in mysteries is a lot like the boom in fantasy from 5-10 years ago. It's a cycle.

Category fiction sells more copies than non-category fiction.

If there is *any* grounds for complaint, it would be in the question of reading fiction vs. reading nonfiction. Nonfiction is driving the market right now, which is a definite swing from days of yore.

Oooph. If I weren't on my way to the bank right now, I'd be able to formulate this a little better. Maybe Ellen can take over and explain the realities of publishing once again!

--gabe chouinard
http://dislofics.blogspot.com
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Tuesday, May 17, 2005 - 04:58 pm:   

NO no no. I'm outta here :-)
Off to London tomorrow morning.
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Fenn
Posted on Friday, June 10, 2005 - 07:14 pm:   

Can someone direct me to a valid link for the original essay?
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Rahkan
Posted on Thursday, June 16, 2005 - 02:31 pm:   

The biggest problem with sci fi / fantasy is that we've forgotten Sturgeon's Law...90% of everything is crap. And when I say crap, I mean that the person saying it doesn't enjoy reading it. People look at that 90% and they say..."Wow, look at how the genre is tanking". Of course, quite often they're looking at a very different 90%. For instance, many people (including me) think George R. R. Martin produces some of the best fantasy we've seen in years. Other people hate space opera and think its lack of depth kills the genre, on the other hand, I love space opera.

Most polemics I've read seem follow this line of reasoning "Most sci fi is crap, thus fewer and fewer people are going to read it, thus it will die out as a genre, to combat this...please write the kind of science fiction I write because that is the only valid kind". That's silly. You can say, "This is a worthy kind of science fiction to write, let's write more of it" but it seems wierd to think you'll make the genre better by killing vast numbers of books that vast numbers of people seem to enjoy. I for one know that if someone had gone back and killed the books of Goodkind, Eddings, Brooks, and Weber way back when I was in middle school and high school, I would not be writing (or reading) today. Perhaps it is exactly these kind of books that do grow the genre.
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TCO
Posted on Sunday, June 19, 2005 - 08:18 pm:   

The good stuff has mostly been done. The Golden Age is over.
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JeremyLassen
Posted on Monday, June 20, 2005 - 03:53 pm:   

It has never been better. We are living in and seeing "the new golden age" of Speculative Fiction.

There has never been as much, and as much quality SF written, and it has never reached a wider audience (in terms of sheer number of readers).

And despite the occasional blind spots by punters like Nick Hornsby [http://www.believermag.com/issues/200506/column_hornby.php], it's never been more accepted by non genre readers and critics alike.

Give it a couple of years, and this old genre ghetto will become "gentrified" and declared "a classic form of British/American writing”, much the same way that pulp Crime Fiction became "acceptable" in Literary circles. New generations of PHD’s have to write their dissertations on SOMETHING, and it is usually the stuff they cut their teeth on as younger readers.

The acceptance of H. P. L into the "Literary Cannon" [Penguin editions, ML editions, and American Library editions, all within the last 2 years or so] is the Canary in the mine shaft, for speculative fiction.

Can P. K. Dick be much further behind? I can just see Modern Library/American Library editions of P. K. Dick, on the shelf next to Faulkner and Hemingway...
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Daniel Abraham
Posted on Monday, June 20, 2005 - 06:42 pm:   

Late coming into the conversation. Sorry 'bout that.

I think the problem with science fiction and fantasy is that we won.

The ideas that are common as dirt to us are being scooped up, repackaged, and delivered as the cutting edge literature of the day. It turns out our stuff *is* more interesting that the failing love lives of Eastern seaboard academics. This shouldn't be a shock.

As a result, the marketing category is having an identity crisis.

We have made a fine and beautiful culture. The Romans have invaded, taken it, changed the names and now they're building a bunch of statues that look like cheap knock-offs of ours. So it goes.
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TCO
Posted on Monday, June 20, 2005 - 06:45 pm:   

Nero fiddling while Rome burns...
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Zack
Posted on Thursday, July 21, 2005 - 02:52 pm:   

Political Correctness. Introduced by Ursula le Guin and Harlan Ellison and then by a whole boatload of pretenders trying to catch the attention of a corrupt mainstream by exploiting an undefended imaginative literature. They would be, Terry Windling, Lucius Shepherd, China Mieville, Caitlin Kiernan (ludicrous gibberish), even J.K. Rowling. Ad Nauseum.
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Zack
Posted on Thursday, July 21, 2005 - 02:58 pm:   

Dick is waaaay behind Edgar Wallace's King Kong (Modern Library Classics). Just where that old dope head pretender belongs. Apologies to Filmic master Ridley Scott...
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Thursday, July 21, 2005 - 10:11 pm:   

Define your terms. What do YOU mean by political correctness? Shepard, for one, is far from pc in my book.
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jeff ford
Posted on Thursday, July 21, 2005 - 10:49 pm:   

"Political Correctness. Introduced by Ursula le Guin and Harlan Ellison and then by a whole boatload of pretenders trying to catch the attention of a corrupt mainstream by exploiting an undefended imaginative literature. They would be, Terry Windling, Lucius Shepherd, China Mieville, Caitlin Kiernan (ludicrous gibberish), even J.K. Rowling. Ad Nauseum."

Quaint. Pass the sasparilla.
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Minz
Posted on Friday, July 22, 2005 - 06:27 am:   

Ignorance is bliss...
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James M. Pfundstein
Posted on Friday, July 22, 2005 - 02:04 pm:   

Zack wrote, "...Ad Nauseum."
_____

It's actually _ad nauseam_, though. I'm not sure what a "Nauseum" would be-- a sea-sickness museum, possibly, or maybe a stadium for vomiting.

Things like "Croatoan", "Ticktockman", "Delusion for a Dragon-Slayer", "A Boy and his Dog", "Prince Myshkin and Hold the Relish" (to name a random sample of stories by Ellison) don't really seem to be designed to advance a political agenda, correct or incorrect. But perhaps Zack can supply the talking points that will instruct our thinking here.

In passing: why is it that those who are so eager to smash everything in the world onto the Procrustean bed of their particular political opinions always complain about "political correctness"? Do they at least enjoy the irony of their deliberate deception, or are they simply too stupid to understand what they're doing?

JMP
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Bruce
Posted on Friday, July 22, 2005 - 02:17 pm:   

Feh. Talk about pretenders, 'Zack' or 'Bandwidth Eater' or whatever your name is today.

Beak off when you have surpassed the vast accomplishments of the writers you insult with greater achievements of your own. And try it outside the gutlessness of anonymity.
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Tivo
Posted on Thursday, July 28, 2005 - 05:18 pm:   

It's too bad that somehow Fantasy and SF are as entangled as they are. They are intrinsically as opposite as say science and magic (rocket ships and ray guns don't make SF). I'm not talking about the literary form, but instead the bent of the stories that each of these two separate and distinct genres spawn. I perfer SF in the tradition of Clarke (hardly ever mentioned any more, I doubt he could win the Clarke prize in the UK), Benford (who has moved more toward fantasy in sytle in order to sell books), and Greg Bear (who is writing thrillers for the same reasons). There are many mainstream readers (like me) who would welcome a least a few real (mature) SF books from new authors, but many of the editors in publishing today are determined to support a certain style and a personal bais toward magic and medieval fantasy even though their numbers ($) don't support their choices. In the past, many SF editors, the guys who invented SF, were scientists or science hobbiest with a flare for fiction. But like the trend in our society today, we neither understand science nor understand that it is in fact culture; although we gobble up its fruits as quickly as possible.
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Night Shade Books
Posted on Thursday, July 28, 2005 - 06:18 pm:   

I have seen Lucius Shepard called politically correct. I am complete as a person now.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Thursday, July 28, 2005 - 08:13 pm:   

Tivo,
If book editors thought sf would sell better than fantasy, they would publish more of it. It's not bias but economics.

All the short fiction editors who I know (including myself) are desperate for good sf. We're getting mostly great fantasy and not enough great sf.
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James M. Pfundstein
Posted on Friday, July 29, 2005 - 12:05 am:   

Actually (_contra_ Tivo), I'd say science fiction is just a form of fantasy with stricter (but slightly inconsistent) rules. Fantasy fiction takes place in a world which does not exist, operating on principles chosen by the author; science fiction takes place in a world which doesn't exist but might, operating on the principles of science as we understand it (with some cheating allowed in the form of time travel, FTL drives, Amazing Mental Powers etc.).

I'd add that anyone who thinks the editors of, say, the digest-sized sf/f magazines are biased in favor of "magic and medieval fantasy" is living in a world which does not exist.

JMP
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Tivo
Posted on Friday, July 29, 2005 - 08:51 am:   

In answer to Ellen's comment, I don't think that's true. I've worked with marketing people for a long time and they're usually wrong about the choices they make. I love the story a consultant once told me about a marketing guy he worked with who bragged that a company had increased its sales by 50 million while he was there. When he left, sales increased by 100 million. They usually push material rather than trying things and seeing what works (the way science does it). I think people like JKR, and Philip Dick are excellent examples. JKR is not SF but she was turned down by virtually every publisher and agent in the UK. Got published by luck (they ran 2400 of her books as a favor to an agent) and now she's the standard. Dick's family recounts his experiences as much the same.
In response to to James, that's one point of view, I don't share it. I know most people who have actually worked in science don't share it because most of them that I know don't read SF any more.
What needs to happen, as in many other fields, is that people who have worked in science and love fiction (many of the aging science people were influenced by the SF they used to publish when people were facinated by the science culture) need to become the gate keepers (editors, business people). The problem is, of course, they're too busy doing science - catch 22.
I have nothing against fantasy, it's an expression that people appreciate, and it should be out there as it is. But it shouldn't be confused with SF. And as far as money, Ellen, talk to Crithon, Clancy, Cook, etc, etc.
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Jeremy Lassen
Posted on Friday, July 29, 2005 - 09:24 am:   

Are you trying to suggest that Crithon, Clancy and Cook write SF? That’s crazy... those writers are sold and marketed OUTSIDE the genre, and to be perfectly frank, what little of their work that might be considered SF is BAD SF. I don’t know many SF readers who read those three authors, nor do I know many people who read those authors that read inside the genre. There is practically NO crossover. And I say this as someone who has worked in genre specialty stores for 10 years… I’ve seen what sells to SF readers, day in and day out, and it ain’t Crithon, Clancy and Cook.

Your example is just as valid, and just as idiotic as saying "there's lots of money to be made publishing horror... Look at Koontz, King and Rice...” These are not valid examples of what midlist fiction in the horror category sells. They are examples of BEST SELLERS, and do not actually reflect the kind of sales that a first time, or even solid veteran midlist author can expect.

The same goes for Crithon, Clancy and Cook. AS for knowing "more" then "marketing people", I think its pretty obvious from your failure to distinguish "best sellers" from “everyone else", your perceptions should be taken with a grain of salt.

Further, your suggestion that SF is any more "realistic" then fantasy (and thus shouldn't be marketed together, or confused with each other) is a common misconception among people who feel the need to justify their SF habit. What is more "unrealistic"? Talking Dragons, or FTL? Their both as equally unlikely... One just gets dressed up in a fetishized techno Jargon that is no more realistic then the fetishized mystic/mythic jargon of the fantasy genre. They are both examples of fictional extrapolations of the “the real world” using a common set of vernacular and jargon to create “unreal” worlds.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that you are “wrong” for having a preference of one over the other.. I'm just suggesting that your preference has created a set of blinders under which your perceptions suffer. For example, I guaran-fucking-tee Ellen knows a hell of a lot more about the SF/Fantasy marketplace then you do. So when she takes the time to try and pass along a little information to you, (even if it’s info that doesn’t jive with your perceptions of the industry) perhaps you should listen, instead of going on about how much smarter you are then “marketing” people.

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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Friday, July 29, 2005 - 09:24 am:   

Tivo---

I hate to come in her sounding like the veteran who says, "You kids don't know nuthin' nowadays!", but with all due respect, I think you're speaking like an intelligent outsider. Marketing books is not like marketing cell phones or ketchup. When you buy ketchup in a store, you know what you're getting in every bottle. When you book books, you don't know what you're getting . . . so publishers slot books into genres in hopes that the buyer who likes Greg Bear's books will also like Jack McDevitt's, etc.

You may well be right that if someone comes along and publishes science fiction well, markets it intelligently and puts some real money behind the effort, they could create a bunch of bestsellers. But what I've seen in nearly two decades of observing the book publishing field (including 12 years of close observation of sales #s) is that fantasy regularly outsells science fiction. And lately the gap seems to be widening.

For instance, do you really think that Bloomsbury would have had the same success with Susanna Clarke's JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL if the book had been science fiction? If so, can you tell me what went wrong with the publication of the first novels by Greg Egan, Ken MacLeod, Peter Hamilton, Alexander Irvine, or David Zindell so that they weren't bestsellers? I can point to different factors in the publication of each of those science fiction novels that were different from the publication of JONATHAN STRANGE, but in the aggregate, they suggest to me that science fiction does not sell as well as fantasy.

In fact, if you look at the science fiction novels that _have_ cracked the bestseller list in recent years, you'll see that most of them were not sold as science fiction. They were sold as mainstream novels: THE SPARROW by Mary Doria Russell, THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger, and Neal Stephenson's books all point out to me that science fiction sells better when it's packaged as mainstream and made more accessible to the average reader.

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Tivo
Posted on Friday, July 29, 2005 - 01:01 pm:   

Well, Jeremy, what can I say, no matter how much you beat your chest and no matter how much you respect Ellen's opinion (it's just that, an opinion), I don't agree with you and neither do the many readers I know who no longer read "official" SF. When I talk about SF, I'm not talking about the niche of like minded people who have an affinity for the stuff the official SF sources are putting out; I'm talking (mature) fictional stories that correctly depict the science culture. I'm sure you guys have characterized your market, but it is a subset of what I believe is a much larger and diverse market that has been ignored - by you. That's okay - you like what you like, I wouldn't have it any other way, but a weakness in a market is a sure sign of opportunity - one I hope someone will exploit.
Also, I think your point about a best seller not being SF is, well, weird - or maybe in this case a self fulfilling prophecy. What would you call Jurasic Park, Sphere, and Timeline? - weird!
And, by the way, light travels a few percent faster in a Casmir vaccum than in the standard vacuum, Inflation required FTL in order to make space flat, and there are gravitational gradient techniques that one can use to make it seem (to the fixed stars) that an object is traveling faster than light. Furthermore, the String Theory that many SF books talk about today is not Lorentz Invarient - does not respect Relativity.
Gordon - yes, you're right. And that's my point exactly - unfortunately.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Friday, July 29, 2005 - 01:08 pm:   

So what are you saying, Tivo? That sf book editors are deliberatly NOT buying and publishing what will be bestsellers? That's ridiculous! They buy what they feel passionate about and what they believe will sell. Otherwise, they wouldn't have jobs for very long.
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Tivo
Posted on Friday, July 29, 2005 - 01:34 pm:   

Ellen, yes; editors buy what they feel passionate about. The problem is that many SF editors today do not feel passionate about what some (many?) of us consider SF written in a mainstream style. The fact that an editor doesn't like it doesn't mean it's not great, and on the other side, it doesn't mean that SF editors are "trying" to lock-out a lot of very good stuff that many people would enjoy (even though those editors, given their particular tastes don't). The problem is there isn't enough diversity (people with science and writing backgrounds) among decision makers.
And as for having jobs; after working as a particle physicist for 15 years I spent the next 15 as a principal in several science firms, there're many issues in business that could be better handled - longevity is not necessarily a sign that all is well. And Ellen, I mean no disrespect. Your're doing a great job at what you love - good. I just wish there were more people doing that job producing what I love.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Friday, July 29, 2005 - 01:57 pm:   

Tivo,
You don't have to worry about my feelings as we're talking about book publishing right now, not the magazines/webzines. :-)


But I'm afraid I completely disagree with the way you categorize sf book editors. If they weren't passionate about what they were doing, they would be making lots more money in any other business.
The ones I know are pretty committed to the field--they DO love their jobs. And I think there's plenty of diversity in taste--Baen/Ace/Tor/Bantam are all publishing different kinds of sf books.

Again, I maintain it's not taste but economics that dictates what gets published.
I was Paul McAuley's editor at Tor for three books. I loved them but they didn't sell for beans. I couldn't persuade the powers to be to buy another one. Same thing happened to him at his previous publisher. I'm sorry we couldn't/wouldn't continue to publish him but not enough readers (and those books were all sf) bought them.

But perhaps there aren't enough of YOU to buy the books you would like to see published, to make it worthwhile to publish them. That's why some of the small press is taking up the slack.
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gary gibson
Posted on Friday, July 29, 2005 - 04:32 pm:   

Without wanting to draw people too off topic, there's something that's come up in the course of reading (ok, briefly skimming) the preceding entries that I think would be very interesting to address: the fact that certain books which might be regarded as science fiction sell better when published as mainstream. There's David Mitchell, Margaret Atwood, Niffenegger, and now Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days. What gives? Are they actually sf, or non-genre works that happen to utilise genre concepts? Has sf finally been fully absorbed into the mainstream, but in such a form it's only working when it's done by people with non-genre literary kudos? These people are clearly selling. Are larger audiences only willing to accept sfnal ideas when couched in more generally acceptable literary approaches - and if that's the case, are the rest of us here too trapped in genre adventure?
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Alistair Rennie
Posted on Friday, July 29, 2005 - 05:23 pm:   

That's a suberb question, Gary G. No. It is the FUNDAMENTAL question.

My personal feeling is that the problem is "theirs" (I mean the non-genre people) because they are astonishingly ignorant of what's going on.

Their idea of "books" is what they've been taught at university and what they've learned, if they went, at university, which has ushered them into a nice cosy place of assumption about what sc-fi or fantasy or horror is all about.

Which is why they write these (intellectually)user-friendly verions of sci-fi, fantasy or horror, or whatever--giving it the "literary" spin to make it acceptable to the institutionlised "audience" of which they are part--to make themselves look somehow daring or exploratory--oooh!

Whereas the real sci/fantasy writers have been daring and exploring for decades long before this species of fungus appeared with their media-packed overdrive of empty hype.

They are play-at-its. They don't know the first thing about what they are doing apart from how to find a new angle to get themselves noticed by the media that loves them as much as they love it.

Boy, am I glad to get that off my chest. And apologies for only responding to your question by a fifth or sixth of what you were actually asking.
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Tivo
Posted on Friday, July 29, 2005 - 06:10 pm:   

I was going to leave it at that, but I can't help myself-sorry.
Ellen, I appreciate what you had to say about Paul McAuley at Tor. And I don't doubt that editors at various places are dedicated, very committed, and could be making more money elsewhere - couldn't we all. Most of my friends left physics for Wall ST and are multi-millionairs right now (they all make fun of me for having stayed in science). I stayed in science - did okay, but not as well as if I'd followed them into Hedge Funds and Derivatives. And I still disagree with your statement that it doesn't sell - it doesn't sell to a niche group who have been pruned to expect fantasy. I hate to say it this way, but I think the fantasy thing has poisoned the pot for SF visa-vie the mainstream. Most of my friends used to read Clarke, Brin, Forward, Bova, Lem, Bear, Benford etc., now they wouldn't think of going near SF (and they read a lot of fiction). Almost everyone I know, when you ask them about SF smile and say - "no, I don't read it - it's for kids isn't it?" But I know all of them used to read and enjoy it. I don't think mainstream readers have to be coaxed into SF by mainstream writers, quite the opposite. SF has become so peculiar (fantasy-like or written in a peculiar style) that it has become irrelavent to most people. Now, I find it mostly uninteresting (it's well written, but I'm completely bored by it). I don't think the mainstream left SF, it's the other way around. There should be more editors with a greater diversity of backgrounds, opinions, and tastes.
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StephenB
Posted on Friday, July 29, 2005 - 06:31 pm:   

What are you complaining about? That not enough hard science fiction is being published? It seems like you're looking in the wrong places, maybe? Take out a sub at Analog. What authors do you read?

I think there's plenty of room for all sorts of fiction, in speculative fiction.

And I agree with Alistair, academic approval is often over-rated. And the academics aren't usually the ones creating anyway. I notice that many of them are just old men who want to justify their own importance.

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Stephen
Posted on Friday, July 29, 2005 - 06:33 pm:   

And yes, that's a stereotype. They certainly aren't all old or men.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Friday, July 29, 2005 - 07:48 pm:   

On the subject of science fiction novels on the bestseller list, I should point out that very few of what you'd consider true blue science fiction writers ever hit the list. Frank Herbert was the first to do so with one of the DUNE sequels. Asimov and Heinlein both did after thirty-odd years of writing (I think Asimov's first bestseller was Robot and Empire and Heinlein's was Number of the Beast. Most of the Golden Age sf writers never did, and I'm pretty sure classics like A Canticle for Leibowitz and More Than Human were never bestsellers. Philip K. Dick never published a bestseller when he was alive.

On the other hand, I know science fiction editors who turned down Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy who remain convinced that the first book would never have been a been a bestseller if it had come out in one of the science fiction lines. And a friend of mine who rejected Alan Lightman's Einstein's Dreams says the same thing about that book (and I think he still marvels that a book that struck him as being so boring ever made it to the bestseller list).

Phil Klass (aka William Tenn) likes to say something along the lines of "science fiction is mass entertainment for an elite minority."
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M
Posted on Friday, July 29, 2005 - 08:15 pm:   

Wow. Until about five posts ago, I thought Mitchell and Niffenegger had gotten quite a good rap from people hereabouts, but now I see that they're just intellectually user-friendly. . .
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Jeremy Lassen
Posted on Saturday, July 30, 2005 - 12:57 am:   

Tivo,
You make a case that people think science fiction is "for kids". I would like to suggest that it is not Fantasy that has poisoned the well, but 30 years of "sci-fi" -- that is lowest common denominator media science fiction, be it star wars, or star trek or bab five or whatever summer blockbuster SFX extravaganza is playing... THAT has done more to infantalize science fiction to mainstream audiences then any "fantasy" books.

I see the attitude you describe all the time when "straight" people wander into my specialty store, and it is usually due to a steady diet of crap TV/movie SF.

Stop hating on China Mieville and Steph Swanson and the like, who are not part of the problem. Start pointing the finger at the real problem: Gene Rodenbery, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, et al. They make crappy SF, but it’s all that most people ever see of the genre. Most non-genre readers believe the Science fiction is illiterate Special effects laden drivel with rockets and ray guns. I had more then one person come in, convinced that “The Chronicles of Riddiock” must be based on a book, because you know… that’s what SF is…

And this impression has NOTHING to do with Fantasy.
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James M. Pfundstein
Posted on Saturday, July 30, 2005 - 02:02 am:   

Some of you guys are recycling complaints that have been made about science fiction vis-a-vis [sic] the mainstream for 60 years now-- whether it's Orwell's _1984_, or Shute's _On the Beach_ or Bernard Wolfe's _Limbo_ or whatever. And, whether it reached the nebulous state of a best-seller or not, _Canticle for Leibowitz_ reached a readership far outside the sf ghetto, partly because it was a Cold War novel, and partly because it had religious content; these made it marketable as a non-sf novel. The decade changes but the song remains the same, and all these novels appeared long before _Star Trek_ or _Star Wars_. So it's not Luke Spielwalker's fault, or the Dead Bird of the Galaxy's either.

William Tenn, whose name has already been invoked in this thread, had an interesting essay in _F&SF_ back in the 70s (May 1972?): "Jazz Then, Musicology Now." His argument was, as I recall it, that sf had gotten less fun to the extent that it had become academically respectable. I thought he was crazy, then, but I was hardly even a teenager, if that, when I read the thing, and I had no real idea of what gray horrors can be perpetrated in the name of respectability.

Now I think the fate of jazz is a good example of what happens to a popular cultural phenomenon that gains mainstream respectability. And it's not a pretty sight (or sound, mostly, these days). You may set out for Carnegie Hall, but then end up under glass at the Smithsonian, or playing in the background on the Weather Channel. I say ugh to this.

I'm not offering advice to anyone who wants to crack the bestseller lists-- I'd sooner venture an opinion on particle physics. But I think that those who want to write science fiction (or fantasy) that makes people's heads spin would do better to avoid the temptation of the mainstream.

I would say a few things to "tivo" as well, if (a.) I thought he was interested in engaging in reasoned dispute, as opposed to incanting doomfully, and (b.) I really thought he was a particle physicist, most of whose friends had become Wall Street millionaires. But I've read enough fantasy to get the flavor of the thing by now.

JMP
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Alistair
Posted on Saturday, July 30, 2005 - 02:33 am:   

I guess what my former rant (which, as rants do, tended to paint things too black and white) was more aimed at the exploitation by media darling types of sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and so on, like they use it as a means for giving a new twist to their careers that will attract the right kind of attention.

Not sure about the US, but in the UK people like Ben Elton and Muriel Gray have made best seller lists for writing sci-fi and horror respectively, or at least Elton has.

As a reader, I'm trememndously suspicious, not only of the quality of their work, but of their motives for doing it. And it's highly unlikely they would have sold so much if they weren't who they are.

It's true that they're quite entitled to do what they want. but, as a reader, I'm highly suspicious and, for that reason, will never read them (even if, for all I know, they might do the thing as well as they've done their former stuff).

My impression, maybe an eroneous one, is that there are certain writers who like to do the same kind of thing. They're entitled to, but there's something about it that sticks in my throat.

There's also the question of sci-fi etc. novels only becoming best sellers after the film version has been made, which is by no means a bad thing.

The fact that a genre-ish novel like, say, Name of the Rose became a best seller after the film can only be a good thing if it means reaching a wider audience and turning people on to the "literary" merits of genre fiction. Actually, I wonder if that book had even been translated into english prior to the film.

The other side of the question asked by Gary is not so much about why certain books become best sellers but why certain books appear to acquire "literary" respectability when, very often, there are much better examples already extant at the core of the genre.

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Alistair
Posted on Saturday, July 30, 2005 - 03:06 am:   

You're right, James, it is an old argument, but reading stuff like the following (an extract from Time magazine about Rowling's latest HP novel) suggests that it's certainly not dead. I mean to say that this is a typically ill-informed representation of fantasy by the mainstream media, completely full of anachronisms and assumptions which are wholly misleading:

"It's precisely Rowling's lack of sentimentality, her earthy, salty realness, her refusal to buy into the basic clichés of fantasy, that make her such a great fantasy writer. The genre tends to be deeply conservative--politically, culturally, psychologically. It looks backward to an idealized, romanticized, pseudofeudal world, where knights and ladies morris-dance to Greensleeves. Rowling's books aren't like that. They take place in the 1990s--not in some never-never Narnia but in modern-day Mugglish England, with cars, telephones and PlayStations."

Knights and ladies morris dancing to Greensleeves!!!!!!

This jounralist, clearly, has never read a fantsy novel in their entire life.

I've never read the Narnia books, but something tells me that they're far from conservative.

And I don't think this journalist knows much about morris dancing either.
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StephenB
Posted on Saturday, July 30, 2005 - 03:38 am:   

Yeah, I don't like Harry Potter much. To me it's full of fantasy cliche. That article's funny. I've been reading fantasy since I was young, though.

I started the first book, just out of curiosity because many people I knew were reading them. Mostly women. I got three quarters of the way through, but then I got bored and annoyed, so put it down, with no interest in returning to it. I wasn't all that impressed with the writing, really.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Saturday, July 30, 2005 - 04:36 am:   

Alistair---

I'm 98% certain that Umberto Eco's THE NAME OF THE ROSE was a bestseller in the US long before the film adaptation (with Sean Connery) was made. I remember some industry publication, probably PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, saying that if you're looking for a formula for a bestseller, figure one out that allows for a book like NAME OF THE ROSE that's half in Latin.

Strangely, I can't remember now if Arturo Peretz-Reverte's THE CLUB DUMAS was a bestseller in the US, either before the NINTH GATE film came out or after. Peretz-Reverte said his book is in part a homage to NAME OF THE ROSE and he has a character in there who's a tribute to Eco.
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Alistair
Posted on Saturday, July 30, 2005 - 04:45 am:   

Thanks for the info, Gordon. Can I say that Name of Rose was a mega-best seller after the film???
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gary gibson
Posted on Saturday, July 30, 2005 - 07:19 am:   

I didn't know that about the Peretz-Reverte. Hands up, I bought it after seeing the movie. Good example of a not bad movie putting me on to a better novel.
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al duncan
Posted on Saturday, July 30, 2005 - 09:03 am:   

Gary: Are larger audiences only willing to accept sfnal ideas when couched in more generally acceptable literary approaches - and if that's the case, are the rest of us here too trapped in genre adventure?

The key question is what exactly does the term "couched in more generally acceptable literary approaches" mean? I'd say that could be taken to imply that what these writers are doing is compromising what could be a solidly good genre novel by adding a sort of cushioning buffer of middle-brow Contemporary Realist tricks, adding a superficial gloss of domestic realism which allows them to market to that wider audience. That seems to me, is what Alistair is railing against (yes?) It ties into that hoary old idea, I think, that Philip Roth or Martin Amis (or whoever the fuck the yapping dogs of genre are protesting about being in their territory) are writing lesser books, yea, for their books are not PURE genre, nay, for they have verily been tainted with the lying subtleties of pseudo-intellectuals. Why lying? Why pseudo? Because the implication is it's about what's acceptable, what's socially acceptable. They're getting round the literati's resistance to pure genre with sops to respectability, "couching" it in "acceptable literary approaches" -- pandering to poseurs and snobs.

OK, Devil's Advocate / SF Heretic hat on. Asbestos suit on.

Bollocks. I don't buy this notion that the pitifully ignorant non-genre schmucks out there are so brainwashed by the Evil Academic Establishment that they can only cope with watered-down SF, intellectually user-friendly faux-SF. That all them Evil "Mainstream" Dabblers who try their hand at "Genre" fiction are fools and phonies who know nothing and care less. They're just literati luvvies doing something oh-so-next-year, darling; and isn't it just too exciting.

Big pendulous smelly bollocks!

X percent of those "non-genre" readers don't give a fuck for literature. They watch Sci-Fi blockbusters and enjoy them. They read Harry Potter books and enjoy them. They read other genre works -- Grisham, Cartland, Cussler, and so on -- and enjoy them. They just aren't terribly interested in the extrapolative fabulation at the heart of SF/F. If some populist simulacrum of SF/F which actually works as technothriller (Michael Crichton), or as political satire (Ben Elton), or as juvenile escapism (Harry Potter), or as absurdist comedy (Terry Pratchett) is big enough to reach their notice, yes, they'll happily pick up that work and help punt it up into the bestseller charts. But otherwise, forget it. It's not snobbishness (otherwise these people wouldn't be sitting reading a fucking kid's book on the tube). They're. Just. Not. Interested.

Y percent of those "non-genre" readers, on the other hand, do give a fuck for literature. They might well enjoy the same blockbusters and bestsellers but they're also on the look-out for stuff that's smart and challenging. Extrapolation and fabulation -- even outright experimentation -- may well appeal to many of them. So why is it that Eco, Mitchell, Danielewski, Atwood, Niffeneger, Lethem, Chabon, etc. catch that audience when works marketed as genre don't? If the pitiful mundanes have been programmed to recoil in horror and disdain from works clearly identifiable as SF/F maybe we need to ask what exactly is it they're recoiling from? We make these excuses as to the process of programming -- it's indoctrination at university or it's experience of puerile media nonsense -- but maybe those are just self-serving denials that there could ever, God forbid, be anything there that they are rationally recoiling from. No, it's gotta be ignorance or error on their part. It's gotta be the lies and blinkers of outside agents -- Academia and Hollywood -- obscuring their vision of the true beauty which is SF/F.

It couldn't be the fact that, say, Number Of The Beast is dreary wank? That Robots And Empire is The Worm Ourasimov eating its own tail in an endless cycle of derivative spin-offery? It couldn't be Dragonfuckers of Porn? Dunebuggies of Dune? The veritable smorgasbord of mindless, formulaic pap which exists within the written form, "more of the same" and "more of the same" and "more of the same" spewed out into an endless morass that no truly rational person would even consider wading into in the hopes of picking up the odd gem here or there? Let's face it, we know it exists and we know it sells, and we know that -- as much as we hate it -- there's an overlap between those who buy that and those who buy what we like (as writers, readers, editors). So we bite the pillow and think of SFland, and pray to God that niche market will continue to sustain the quality stuff we know and love. Or, in the case of many writers, take a gamble and risk alienating the genre bunnies by -- Omigod! -- just marketing your work as "fiction". Ain't that the point with the Lethems and Chabons? Lethem in particular is one of ours; he comes from the heart of the ghetto, a total fanboy from what I hear. But he's got a larger audience out there; I think it would be foolish of him not to try and reach it, and I think it's churlish of genre readers/writers to resent that as an unjust slight. It is a slight, but it's entirely justified.

Alliegance to genre is a deal with the devil, the commercial viability of formula fiction giving a whole support system for the real works of fabulation but also shrouding those works in the extruded product that really makes the cash registers go ka-ching. One advantage is, once you're on the inside, reading the magazines, the reviews and interviews, checking out the forums and so on, the network's tight and word-of-mouth spreads like wildfire, so it's pretty easy to find the sparkling wonders all over the place. But from the outside looking in? Most "non-genre" readers don't stand a fucking chance. I really don't blame them for turning their noses up at a steaming pile of shite with a little nugget of gold buried deep within.

OK, rant over. Flame away.
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Tivo
Posted on Saturday, July 30, 2005 - 09:37 am:   

James, the only reason I brought up the physics and friend things is because I wanted to emphasize that: a) I have an interested in SF beyond its genre clasification, which to me is completely irrelivant - the importnat thing is that me and many of my friends were inspired by it. I once felt SF was the cultural expression of what I did (real science) for many years at the cost of making much less money; b) a choice many of my friends thought naive.
Also, for me, the value of the mainstream is that for the type of SF I'd like to see more of, consequently, more people would be exposed to a peice of culture that we're slowly losing in this country. Something I feel is tragic.
I have absolutely no interest in fantasy peronally and only want it decoupled from the SF because they are dielectic opposites (SF in the sense that I'm using the word). I'm not belittling fantasy or people who enjoy it. Maybe the problem here is the type of book I'm thinking of as SF. Perhaps like the word "liberal" the designation SF is so far removed from what I'm talking about that people who want to read it and write it should refer to it as something else. Although, it's a shame to give up the word "science" as it applies to our real culture since that is in fact what it is.
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Alistair
Posted on Saturday, July 30, 2005 - 10:18 am:   

Yes, Al! you summed up nicely what I was getting at earlier, but it was a knee-jerk thing I wrote, fuelled by a few beers more than doctors recommend. Like I said afterwards, it's not so black and white as I put it, and thinking in terms of genre and non-genre people is downright silly. And I think you're dead right about readers. And I didn't want to sound like I was downtrodding good authors. The authors I was referring to possibily exist inside my own head.

But! I stand by my abhorrence of mainstream media's representation of sci-fi and fantasy, with its casting of assumptions all over the place, invariably with a lack of authority that necessitates a reliance on assumptions or fakery or gerrymandering of one kind or another in order to plug in the gaps. The guy's quip above about morris dancing proves the point surely.

But I think that's a general problem with mainstream media, not just related to sci-fi and fantasy, but to a lack of expertise among too many journalists that forces them to, well, speak shite half the time.

I think the media poses a real threat to the proliferation of good sci-fi.It dictates what people read and also dictates the terms by which good literature is judged as good literature which (if the kind of attitude seen above in the Time extract is anything to go by) involves a point blank dismissal of sci-fi and fantasy, which appears to be viewed as some kind of solid mass of fleshless frippery that deserves attention only inasmuch as it deserves to be ridiculed.

Academia has a problem, too. It has largely failed to live up to its promise of dismantling the canon and looking at literature without applying value-judgements based on outmoded criteria like the moral or social repercussions of a novel or whatever.

Academia, too, implicitly applies a sub-literary value on sci-fi and fantasy (which it once did openly) by its sheer failure to include anything from these genres in the academic curriculum, except for the obvious ones (usually considered worthy for their moral or social value). There are exceptions, of course, but only when there happens to be a member of staff with a particular bent.

It's a sure thing, however, that academia is gradually shifting and spreading its tendrils ever further afield towards things it would never have touched once upon a time. But the mainstream media seems beyond hope, to much fond of making good sport of sci fi and fantasy with all its bespectacled, nerdish, freakery, or whatever it is they think it has. Morris dancing indeed.

I think a lot of the time the audience is recoiling, not from sci-fi per se, but from hearsay generated by malnourished media outlets that prefer to ridicule than be exhaustive. They choose the easiest way out because they're not, after all, in the business of being accurate.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Saturday, July 30, 2005 - 10:27 am:   

Alistair, I don't understand your attack on Muriel Gray-all her novels have been horror.

The Club Dumas was a bestseller before it was made into a totally crap movie.

In the Name of the Rose was a major bestseller before it came out as a movie.
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al duncan
Posted on Saturday, July 30, 2005 - 12:25 pm:   

I won't deny that mainstream media is more than willing to jump on the easy "Sci-Fi Fans Beam Down To Glasgow" story and exploit the freak show for all it's worth, but at the same time, we have the masquerades and the filking and the furries and downright loons who buttonhole you in a corridor to tell you about the arcane mysteries hidden within this specific episode of Babylon 5 they've typed out from the video and are carrying with them in their bag (and that's a real incident I remember from last Worldcon). If Crime fans all got together and wore trenchcoats and fired water pistols at each other, the media would treat that with the same Paxmanesque ye-e-e-e-es. The media exploit the spectacle of frippery, but they don't craft it out of thin air; fandom is, for many people, partly about all that stuff, every convention a golden opportunity for exhibitionists to make spectacles of themselves. Part of me cringes, part of me says power to them; it's not my idea of fun (largely) but po-faced puritanism isn't my style so I'm not going to frown on it. But the subculture is absolutely *begging* to have the piss taken out of it. Hell, come to think of it, I think there was a Morris dancing class at the Blackpool Eastercon; there are certainly belly-dancing classes at Worldcon.

Yes, it's shoddy, superficial journalism but who are the media going to notice at a con -- the guys running around the corridors with bananas shouting "Zap! Pow!" or the guys sitting in a room discussing Borges? The media aren't really interested in writers or readers as cultural phenomena full stop, unless they tar and feather foxes, snort coke on the prime minister's plane or hit the stratosphere like J.K. Rowling -- unless they're celebrities, basically. The only story in SF as subculture is the freak show story.

And in terms of SF as literature, I'm not convinced we get such a hard time of it. Hey, Gary, tell 'em about yer review in The List, magazine for hip and trendy young thangs. Hell, that review in Time strikes me as pretty fair in its characterisation of fantasy as something which "tends to be deeply conservative--politically, culturally, psychologically." Man, what percentage of fantasy stories are about kingdoms, feudal kingdoms, feudal kingdoms in which poor orphan children are secretly princes, the darlings of destiny? "It looks backward to an idealized, romanticized, pseudofeudal world"... abso-fucking-lutely! Black and white, heroes and villains morality; Romantic plot structures; lords, dukes, barons and... hey, where did all the serfs with bubes go? And is this a world "where knights and ladies morris-dance to Greensleeves". There's plenty of knights and ladies in the MacFantasy. One does have to wonder what tunes the troubadors and minstrels are playing on their flutes. And one presumes that the characters aren't bouncing around in a moshpit to those tunes but dancing in an appropriately faux-historic manner. The only thing that review gets wrong is in picking out Harry Potter as "modern / urban / real-world fantasy" instead of, say, Jonathan Carroll.

"Academia has... largely failed to live up to its promise of dismantling the canon and looking at literature without applying value-judgements based on outmoded criteria..."

I think that is a valid criticism, to some extent. Despite the supposed 60's post-modernist democratisation trend in lit-crit, whereby the distinctions between Low Art and High Art were meant to be swept away in a wonderful "Quality is subjective!" deconstructionist frenzy, it seems to me Academia just put arch and knowing intertextual works up on a new pedestal, treating Low Art as something to be "ironically subverted". Or it took the opposite road and frowned on that posturing in favour of gritty, grim kitchen sink melodrama. But those are two extreme camps and they're not the mainstream of Academia I'd say I experienced at uni.

"Academia, too, implicitly applies a sub-literary value on sci-fi and fantasy (which it once did openly) by its sheer failure to include anything from these genres in the academic curriculum."

It was far from it, in my experience. I did Fahrenheit 451 in secondary school, I'm sure. I got taken aside by my English tutor after handing in a composition that was pure Delany rip-off, to be given encouragement; not "WTF is this tosh", but "you should keep at this". Did Heinlein for my SYS dissertation in 6th Year and got smashing marks. In my second year of English Lit at Glasgow Uni we had a choice of two strands -- one covered Spenser, Milton, etc., while the other did "World Literature in Translation". Katherine Dunne's Geek Love, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Dante, Calvino, Rabelais, this was a fantastic course in all senses of the word, and covered a whole lot of fiction that was neither arch and knowing pomo nor drab and dreary contemporary realism. Then, in the Honours year, on completely equal footing with the classes on Jacobean plays and Anglo-Saxon poetry you could do a paper on SF. And I did. There wasn't a large subscription to the class but the lecturer(who I'd eagerly enquired about it to, knowing that he'd run it in previous years, being a big SF reader himself) didn't seem to have much trouble getting the course on the syllabus despite the tiny numbers.

So I'm not convinced Academia is the big bad bogeyman we like to think it is, sneering at mere "genre" with contempt. Certainly there will be sneers at the "generic", but when it comes to non-generic SF and Fantasy, I honestly don't think that gets such a raw deal. Peake has his Phd theses, you can be sure, as does Dick. There's a ton of fantastical and sfnal books and writers which have huge academic renown. They're just not a clearly-defined SF/F. If there's a lot of SF/F writers or books that don't have the same academic recognition perhaps it's because there's a lot of clearly-defined SF/F that just doesn't have the meaty goodness to get your teeth into.
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Alistair
Posted on Saturday, July 30, 2005 - 07:10 pm:   

Oh no, Ellen, I'm not attacking Muriel Gray at all--I'm just expressing a suspicion, as a reader, about what on earth she's doing writing horror stories. I remember MG with affection, bringing intelligence to an exceptionally good music programme (The Tube), which she did with staunch brilliance while everyone else was too busy trying to be hip. And I remember her as one of the most palatable media figures I saw over the 80s and 90s.

Now, all of a sudden, she's a writer of horror stories! How the hell am I meant to swallow that?

For me it smacks of Jennifer Lopez trying to be an actress (as a principle only). People using their position to exploit certain possibilities that their position allows them to exploit.

That's my suspicion, and a perfectly natural one. But I have read good things about MG, and am half way to overcoming the prejudice of which I speak. And, as I say, I've always liked her, so I may be perfectly wrong, and am already on the way to being convinced otherwise.

Yes, Name of the Rose was a best seller etc before being a film (GordonVG already corrected me on that score), but you know the point I was making (which was more an observation really. The more film/best seller integration the better).
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gary gibson
Posted on Saturday, July 30, 2005 - 07:40 pm:   

Al, the point I'm really trying to make about whatever it is these non-genre writers are doing (and I say this without having read the vast majority of them, except for a work called A Scientific Romance, by Ronald Wright, which I rather liked) is whether they are in fact free of genre conventions, and it's that freedom from specific market requirements that I both wonder at and perhaps even envy. Perhaps it's in terms of their aims that the difference lies. Ron Wright's book is a time travel novel unconcerned with many of the expectations of a genre work: it creates the sense that the future is limited, and that all will end in ashes and dust. I liked it, but I wondered if perhaps it had a limited view on things, and if that was where sf had an edge. It made me think of Francis Fukuyama's The End of History, and what struck me as an extremely narrow point of view inherent even just in the title: the occasional stated belief that everything that could be invented or thought of had, to a certain extent, been invented and thought. In other words, a dangerously limited perspective that seems to be carried by many who are, in fact, outside of the genre.

Now, I'm going to make a proviso here: somebody was talking earlier in very 'us' and 'them' terms, which I don't agree with. I think you, Al, pointed out there is no mass commonality of taste and approach amongst people who may very well be happy jumping from Potter to Proust without blinking too hard given individual tastes and circumstances. To make assumptions about what people may think of genre and non-genre can lead down dangerous avenues of self-perpetuating myth that serve only to obfuscate.

However, I got asked a little while ago to put in my two pence about 'what i thought the future would be like' for a local newspaper, and a bunch of other writers and local artists, actors, whoever, did too for some feature article on 'the future'. Now, a depressing number of them wrote about, well, flying cars. Apparently the future is about flying cars - which tells you more about their taste in sf movies than it does any genuine idea of what the future may hold.
It's the kind of incident that does occasionally make me wonder if enough people outside of the genre understand the future the way I like to think some of us here do. That it's more than a Hollywood cartoon carrying an action plot. That sf - not fantasy, not new weird - but written sf, in it's *many, many* forms and variations - has something more than just a tenuous grasp on some of the possibilities that lie ahead of us.

Flying cars? Feh. Who the hell here still writes stuff with flying cars in it? Would you want some idiot with a drink problem in charge of a flying car? I'd ban them, and *I'm* a *science fiction writer*. What I'm hoping, praying actually (just about) is that these non-genre works of sf, if such they are, in fact present not a narrowness of vision but a fresh burgeoning of the limitless and real possibilities the future may hold, whether highly technological or highly metaphorical, or whether they are in fact (and anyone who's read them, please do tell us one way or the other) works limited in vision.
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Alistair
Posted on Saturday, July 30, 2005 - 08:04 pm:   

I agree entirely with you, Al, except in the sense that, precisely, you had members of staff available who were open to sci-fi etc when it came to writing a dissertation or getting serious. But were any of these writers or texts on the general introductory courses? No!

Was there an introduction to Scottish literature featuring... John Buchan?????? NO!!!! That will not happen.

Academia, as a force, as an institution, without the individuals, still follows the general rule of teaching "literature" according the kind of terms that were set by FR Levis way back when. It does this in spite of itself. Did you get Calvino in your first year? No! You have to go deeper in order to get the risky stuff.

And, OK, so we can get Dante and Calvino, but what about Moorcock or Zelazny or William Gibson? Surely to God Moorcock's the most accomplished British writer in the past 30 years, or one of them. So why does he never feature on a course at British universities!

For me, this is a betrayal of the facts about literature--a pulling the wool over the eyes of people when it comes to explaining the realities of what literature is about.

And yes! There are dukes and barons and feudal what nots in Moorcock, but he's tearing the whole thing apart! making it senseless before our very eyes. It's not conservative. It's anarchy!

His stuff could in fact be seen as a rallying cry for dismantling the social order of Britain and creating a culture of rejection of the institutional bodies that, much to our dismay, are the things that actually define Britain in the eyes of the world. When you think about it, not teaching Moorcock at universties is a bit like not teaching Thomas Hardy--the most popular novelist of his time, noted for writing slightly disturbing fantasies about an imaginary land that can be directly related to southern England.

Or, it's like not teaching R. L. Stevenson in Scotland, where... Oh, wait. Stevenson doesn't get taught in Scotland. Now, where's the logic in that?

But, ranting aside, Glasgow has a fine reputation for being one of the best, if not the best, universities in Britain for literature, and what you're saying, Al, seems to confirm that. Where I've been, Aberdeen and Edinburgh, Calvino didn't get a look in! The nearest i got to fantasy was supernatural ballads, which I love, but it kind of stopped there.
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StephenB
Posted on Sunday, July 31, 2005 - 03:39 am:   

Part of it is that fantasy, SF, and horror type stuff, just isn't for everyone. Which's fine. This is fiction that often explores thing like the nature of reality, otherness, the unknown, etc. Things not everyone wants to think about, let alone read about. Some people are just unsettled and afraid of those things, so they'll naturally distrust it. Some people don't even like thinking about space and stuff because it's such a big, empty, and scary place. They'd prefer to concern themselves with more immediate aspects of their daily lives. That can be interesting too. I think almost everyone wants to read about people, for the most part, right?

Yeah, I agree, it's not black and white, at all. I don't think the academic establishment is this sinister organization trying to beat us down or anything. Just that, at least when it comes to art and writing, academic approval is way over-rated and not really all that important. Also, the job of the academics is partly to maintain the staus quo. I don't really agree and fit with that, but I'm still getting my degree anyway.

The truth is, many people would probably view us as pretty weird to be reading and writing this stuff -- speculating and imagining. Do we care? Some of us probably do and some of us don't. To us, weird is often a good thing. There's so many different types of people out there, with different interests and not any one is better than the other -- just different.

I've never been to a convention yet, so I don't know much about the fandom.

As for furries and people like that, well, I don't know if I've met any, and it's not really my thing, but whatever people like to do for kicks is their business as long as they aren't hurting anyone else. If they like to dress up like animals and have some sex, well, go to town. I just don;t think you have to dress up, to be an animal in the sack.:-)
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StephenB
Posted on Sunday, July 31, 2005 - 03:52 am:   

When it comes to the mainstream media and its idea of what's cool and hip, it's a joke. I don't think the people who follow that are cool at all. But, that's me. The mainstream media is propaganda concerned with maintaining the status quo.

I think it's important for people to realize that it's ok to be different. It's ok to be intelligent.

Often the message in the media is to not be intelligent or to have any depth, because Paris Hilton thinks, "that's hot". And this is precisely what the "establishment" wants -- unthinking, consumer clones.

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StephenB
Posted on Sunday, July 31, 2005 - 04:11 am:   

Maybe I am downplaying the role of acadamia in literature, forsure. Don't get me wrong, I like learning about literature and a variety of differnet subjects and points of view. I'm just not very concerned about academic approval. That's not why I'm going.
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Sunday, July 31, 2005 - 08:25 am:   

Alistair,
Hardly, all of a sudden. Her first novel was published in the US in 1994! I know nothing of her as a media personality. Her first novel was highly recommended to me when it came out. (I admit to not having had time to read any of them, but that's not the point here.)

<<<Now, all of a sudden, she's a writer of horror stories! How the hell am I meant to swallow that?
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Alistair
Posted on Sunday, July 31, 2005 - 08:36 am:   

Well, you're right to pick me up on that, Ellen. I myself only found out about it a couple of years ago, coming across one of her books and wondering if it was the Muriel Gray. It was and I found it most strange, having known her as something other than a writer of horror stories.

But now I'm intrigued. Is there any particular book of her's that comes recommended more than others?
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Ellen Datlow
Posted on Sunday, July 31, 2005 - 08:39 am:   

The Trickster was the one that people were talking about when it came out. I haven't heard much about the others.
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Gordon Van Gelder
Posted on Sunday, July 31, 2005 - 09:41 am:   

Gary G.---

I think every writer has to answer for him/herself your question about how to approach genre and whether being "in genre" means being fettered or whether it simply means being conversant with other works published in the genre, but I'll note that the US publication of Wright's A Scientific Romance was not particularly good. It came out from Picador USA, which is a division of St. Martin's, so I can say confidently that while it got good reviews overall, the sales were not really strong. My recollection is that the hardcover numbers were on a par with the typical first novel published by Tor Books. I think there was a trade paperback edition, but I'm not sure.
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Tivo
Posted on Sunday, July 31, 2005 - 10:04 am:   

I was stuck by what Gibson had to say about “flying cars.” The point that I’ve been trying to make is that there is a dimension of SF (not fantasy, not horror) beyond the marketing distinction of genre, and arc of your favorite writer’s work. It was, at the dawn of SF, a cultural looking ahead. It is not an accident that the first nuclear submarine was the Nautilus or that the first space shuttle was the Enterprise. I worked with the guys who read the works of Verne, Wells, Clarke, Baxter, Wyndham, Sagan, Benford, and many others who turned their own interpretation of that vision into something real. And as that new reality was dispersed into society, new possibilities for the human drama emerged (as we are speaking right now over www, which was developed at the CERN accelerator in Geneva – and, by the way, that’s why www is free). But, with much of the stuff that’s permitted to be published today by new writers (in SF) there is little detailed scientific (not technical – there’s a big distinction, which is often lost today) interplay with the real culture at large on topical issues.
For example, I read a book by Brad Meltzer recently in which he details, with excruciating accuracy, the upper floors of the White House. He did this, he says in a forward, because only through the accuracy of that type of research can the underlying story have the emotional impact he wants to impart – and he’s right. The public at large agree with him – his book was a best-seller. Why? Because the media is evil, because the mainstream are idiots, because academia blessed his book – no, because the story and the context had relevance for a large number of literate people (people who read as well as go to movies). As a counterpoint, I had occasion to speak to a well known editor of SF, who told me the reason he published less SF of the Clarke-Baxter type, and I quote: “people who read SF don’t want to learn anything.” He said this with great authority.
So, Mr. Gibson, are you really surprised that your futurist’s idea of the future is fly cars?
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James M. Pfundstein
Posted on Sunday, July 31, 2005 - 02:24 pm:   

Tivo wrote: "I worked with the guys who read the works of Verne, Wells, Clarke, Baxter, Wyndham, Sagan, Benford, and many others who turned their own interpretation of that vision into something real."
_____

Do you really consider Wells (e.g. _The Invisible Man_; _The Time Machine_) or Wyndham (e.g. _Re-Birth_, _Day of the Triffids_) hard science fiction writers? Lots of people are writing (and reading) sf with that sort of broad speculative edge nowadays. If their stuff doesn't have the impact of the earlier work, it's more likely a matter of literary talent than scientific engagement.

You keep referring to writers in their prime as if they were dead and buried in some neutronium mausoleum. Stephen Baxter's first books appeared in the early 90s; he's still going strong. If you meant what you said you'd be celebrating his work, not eulogizing it as a fixture of the dead past.

It's hard to make broad, accurate and meaningful generalizations about a field of evidence as complicated as the market for fantastic fiction. Reckless attempts are likely to describe nothing except the contents of one's own skull. This may not be as amusing for others as it is for oneself.
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Alistair
Posted on Sunday, July 31, 2005 - 02:45 pm:   

Thanks, Ellen. The Trickster it is, then. I'm going to get hold of it and hopefully prove myself wrong.
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Alistair
Posted on Sunday, July 31, 2005 - 04:48 pm:   

No, StephenB! you're not downplaying the role of academia at all, and I think what you're saying here ties in to what some of what Al was saying above.

To be sure, Academia has no direct influence on popular taste (though the use of the word "popular" here is a feeble generalisation in view of what you rightly say about the role of the individual).

However, academia does have an indirect influence which is very powerful, and which often manifests itself via the media, in that it acts as a kind of point of reference or a validation of what constitutes good literature (it's like a religious seal of approval, like a church deciding the rules of how we ought to, but might not, behave).

What academia says filters through--through the media, through people, and all the way through to the individual. Academia won't determine what, in the end, most people read, but it does determine what people feel they ought to say when asked, 'Who's the greatest literary figure ever?'

So, in a sense, academia doesn't matter because, even though people will answer William Shakespeare, they will always choose to read "popular" authors, and will ignore, as children do their parents, the dictates of what they ought to read.

But I'm not putting down academia--far from it--but rather complaining about a particular gap that, by now, has no excuses not to be filled. The exclusion of certain genres or certain writers for reasons which are almost always based on assumptions, rather than informed judgements, is a travesty. There's a tremendous amount to be gained through the experience of academia. Nay, an endless amount. And to have a horde of secrets revealed about mega-figures like Dante, Melville, Walter Scott or whoever is a gratification beyond all gratifications. But there are certain aspects of the whole tapestry utterly missing.

Here's the problem:

The academic study of literature is a mess. There is no other discipline in academia that so nonchalantly and blatantly disposes of areas of study that are crucial to the understanding of how the whole thing operates. Other disciplines cover EVERY single aspect related to their field. That's why they're called disciplines!

The study over literature, couched almost exclusively in literary theory these days, is a sprawling monster. In some ways it's fascinating, in other ways repulsive. But it is completely lacking in any succinct approach to studying the object of study and, for this reason, over-indulges in certain areas while completely neglecting other areas which are just as important. Among the neglected are sci-fi and fantasy, areas which are touched upon but which are so unknown to academia that they tend to become the stuff of ridicule.

The Canadian critic Northrop Frye, an esteemed but ultimately rejected figure, called for a science of literature (by which he didn't mean a science as such, but merely a systematic means of learning how to comprehend literature). That was ambitious, but he had a point. Instead of being listened to, he was cast out due to the various dubieties of his own approach, which did indeed have many flaws. Yet, in his approach, sci-fi and fantasy are on the same level as Shakespeare and are, in fact, shown to be analogous to Shakespeare to the point that it becomes impossible to separate them according to traditional criteria.

A systematic approach to studying literature, which would put sci-fi and fantasy on the same level as anything else, might not be a workable solution. It's maybe not in keeping with what literature actually does. Literature isn't systematic, but tends to reflect the fact that, to quote Stephen B above, "There's so many different types of people out there, with different interests and not any one is better than the other -- just different."

But there's the thing. Both Northrop Frye and StephenB are advocating a degree of objectivity that doesn't, yet, exist in academia which, in spite of itself, continues to resist a comprehensive appreciation of literature that includes sci-fi and fantasy as contingent elements of the whole thing. Sci-fi and fantasy remain, as regards a pseudo-religious teaching of literature, supplementary aspects of the works that actually contain them (like those of Shakespeare or Dante). "Pure" sci-fi and fantasy, such as Moorcock for example, remain a kind of leper colony of surplus works which only the most dedicated acolyte dare enter!


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Ben Payne
Posted on Sunday, July 31, 2005 - 06:04 pm:   

RE: the comments on fantasy quoted above... I think the suggestion that fantasy is conservative because of its setting is a bit of a lazy argument... a fantasy novel doesn't necessarily endorse conservative values just because it's set in a past mileu, any more than a sf story necessarily endorses radical views just because it's looking "forward"...

surely the only way to judge a book's politics is to consider the book itself... maybe i'm not reading the right fantasy, but I think I read quite a lot of "epic" fantasy which is usually the type touted as conservative (as opposed to more setting-experimental work) and I can't think of too many books which romanticise pseudo-feudal existence... most are quite explicit about the brutality and inequalities of past societies... there are billions of "serf-kid rises up to overthrow brutal lord/dictator" stories out there...

of course there are tonnes of fantasy novels that *do* promote conservative values too, but I'm yet to read a persuasive argument that convinces me that it's due to the form itself, rather than the way that form is used...

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StephenB
Posted on Sunday, July 31, 2005 - 10:15 pm:   

Both Northrop Frye and StephenB are advocating a degree of objectivity that doesn't, yet, exist in academia which, in spite of itself, continues to resist a comprehensive appreciation of literature that includes sci-fi and fantasy as contingent elements of the whole thing.

That's interesting, maybe I did imply that, but not intentionally. I think we're all subjective. And that writing and reading are both very subjective activities, mostly concerning the subjective human experience.

Science is probably the most objective way to view the world. But each individual scientist clearly isn't objective or without bias. It only works objectively as a collective whole, that is constantly remodeling and reinventing itself.

And that's a great point Alistair. Perhaps the academic literary community would be wise to apply some of those scientific methods. But like I've said, it often seems like they're more concerned with maintaining the status quo and justifying their own importance as professionals.

But back to my point about subjectivity. I'm of the philosophical view point that it's all a matter of perception. If you've ever had an interest in the animal kingdom, you would know that different animals percieve the world in very different ways, which usually serves a function for the animal's own survival. The eyes of an eagle, see a very different world than what we are used to, just as the nose of a dog smells a very different world, etc etc. Is our experience any more true than the eagles? We are limited by our senses with how we percieve the world. This is a very subjective thing we are experiencing, which we call life. We do also have a sixth sense, but let's not get into that. All I'm saying, is that I don't think science is even a completely objective way of viewing the world because it is so heavily based on what we can see, hear, taste and feel. And what we are percieving is mostly light, which can appear very differently depending on what's sensing it.

Anyway, I was initially referring more to the actual process of writing fiction, which is very personal and subjective.

I think most of us here know that some of the very best writing in the speculative genres today, are equal to the realist literary genres in quality and literary merit. Some academics would agree, some wouldn't. But I think we'll see much more speculative courses being taught in Universities over time.

Look at the Romantics and what they were doing. Also, look at the Rationalists like Swift.

Were the Beats approved of by the academic establishment in their day?

I guess for me, imagination and insight are really important in fiction. Those things come independent of academia and knowledge. They come from the individual.
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des
Posted on Monday, August 01, 2005 - 01:49 am:   

Fiction is of no possible use but it does allow one to evolve abstract musical journeys with extrapolated (pseudo and real) memory-recall or dream-recall resonated by the ricochet -- a ricochet of meaning, look, sound and syntax -- which the words inexplicably form plotically (as well as poetically) within the self.

This may be relevant to the discussion above. It is the genre that is wrong, not the stories that make up the fabricated genre. It is the self that is wrong (both writer and reader), not the 'ricochet' described above.
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Tivo
Posted on Monday, August 01, 2005 - 10:13 am:   

James you keep missing the point – and you’re a smart guy - maybe it’s because you are as agenda driven as you accuse me of being. I’m putting forward a heart felt opinion, not attacking your integrity. It’s not that good speculative writers are dead and buried – it’s that the trajectory of the genre is to lock them out. I keep referring to “new” writers. Both Bear and Benford imply that the state of the market (that which has been cultivated for this genre) for the kind of stuff they “want” to write is tough for them and almost impossible for “new” writers. It’s not the established writers who are dead and buried but the prospects for “new” ones.
And as far as Wyndham, my personal view of good SF is not limited to “hard” SF, which I think is another nonsensical classification – another square peg for round holes. For example, Wyndham’s Midwich Cuckoos was, in my opinion, a fascinating exploration of adaptive evolution. Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed and Left Hand of Darkness bring her anthropology background to bear on serious topical issues in a stunning way. Lem’s His Master’s Voice is an amazing exploration into scientific subjective bias (Lem was a mathematician).
And in terms of doom and gloom – just look around.
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 12:14 am:   

I think Tivo has a point and a genuine concern. I don't know the publishing industry that well, certainly not as much as many of the editors and writers here, but it seems like the big publishing houses at least, aren't so much interested in developing writers, but instead, want to churn out more of the same, that they figure will sell and make them profits. They want to make money and they want to make it now. This is targeted at mainstream culture, which is so manipulated and fabricated and complacent. For the writers already established, the publishers already know they can make a profit off them. (But this could open a whole other issue of really great writers who have been at it for a while, having trouble publishing).

Tivo's point, I think, is about new writers, coming up -- specifically for him, a brand of science fiction writer, who may not be as commercially viable as another writer.

But are there as many places for a variety of potential writers to cultivate today, as there was? I'm just wondering.

There's the magazines, which is great.

I see an idea for a dystopian story here. A world where fiction and publishing is dominated by Dan Browns and Rowlings and their clones.:-) The question is, how far have we already come towards that?

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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 12:42 am:   

And yes, obviously that's Tivo's point. I don;t think it. I know it.:-)
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al duncan
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 07:05 am:   

Sheesh, go away for a few days and see what happens...

Ben: there are billions of "serf-kid rises up to overthrow brutal lord/dictator" stories out there.

And how many of those serf-kids turn out to be secretly of noble birth (from Parsifal through to Luke Skywalker)? How many of them end up, saving the kingdom, marrying the princess and becoming, as Spinrad calls it "Emperor of Everything"? Or how many of them are, at least, instrumental in restoring the "just monarch" to his rule over the forelock-tugging peons? The Joseph Campbell monomyth of the "hero born in obscurity" ends up with that serf-kid sitting on a throne and ruling (but with wisdom and justice and mercy, of course) over his Happy-Clappy Kingdom. The power structures are not challenged. The paths to power are not challenged. The basic social order of the world is not challenged. In fact, those brutal lords/dictators are generally illegitimate usurpers -- so the main aim of the heroes is restoration of the social order, implying that the social order, once expunged of the Evil Usuurper, will... well, obviously it'll return to its jolly, paternalistic loveliness. Cause we all want a nice king to rule over us, don't we?

Personally, I think we need more guillotines in fantasy. Or maybe the serf-kid could marry the princess, change his mind, have her beheaded and marry someone else, only to change his mind again and declare himself head of the church so he can divorce her. Oh, but that's the sort of stuff Evil Usurpers do, isn't it? And we couldn't have our little darling of destiny turn out to be a dickwad after all, could we? Nah, fuck it... let's just add more guillotines.

Maybe that's just me.

Anyhoo, by no means do I consider a quasi-historical backdrop conservative by definition but my point is... often (not always, but often) fantasy doesn't just use feudalism as a setting; it posits "good" feudalism as the positive outcome sought by those noble individuals struggling to overcome "bad" feudalism. And while there are innumerable exceptions (Moorcock for one, as Alistair rightly points out, subverts the feudal setting constantly with anarchist politics), as a generalisation, as a characterisation, I think it's entirely valid to say fantasy is normatively conservative. The story structures, the character types, the settings -- the genre is clearly Romantic in the proper sense. To me that's a no-brainer. It's blindingly obvious. Read Moorcock's Wizardy And Wild Romance, fer crying out loud. Maybe I am being lazy here; it's just that the argument seems kinda obvious. Do I have to go through all the kerfuffle of the Pathetic Fallacy, setting as psychology, adventure story plots and so on, to show how, anatomically speaking, that there be a Romance? A Romantic, Romanticising, Romanticised, Romance.

Hence conservative.

And given that SF also has a huge wadge of Romance at its heart, maybe that says something about why academia doesn't pay it that much attention...

Alistair: So, in a sense, academia doesn't matter because, even though people will answer William Shakespeare, they will always choose to read "popular" authors, and will ignore, as children do their parents, the dictates of what they ought to read.

I guess that's the main reason why I don't think it's a big deal... in terms of its (lack of) effect on the acceptability of SF/F to a wider audience. But... I also think the fact that academia -- or to be more specific, a First Year English Lit class -- has to cover a whole swathe of history is part of the reason the SF/F field might get neglected. That 2nd year uni course I did went right back to Apuleius's The Golden Ass, but even restricting it to English brings in Beowulf (did that in an Anglo-Saxon paper). Yeats, Blake, Spenser, Milton. Most of the big names I remember covering were, I'd have to say, fundamentally fantastic, simply because that's been the mainstay of literature throughout the ages from Gilgamesh on. So in a very general way, I think the fantastic gets its fair share of academic attention.

Thing is, if it's specifically "pure" SF/F we're talking about rather than "fantastic", SF/F which clearly and consciously stamps itself "GENRE", well, OK... if you're covering literature in general at an introductory level, you're gonna have to pick out benchmark styles and movements of various eras -- Augustine poetry, Jacobean Blood Tragedy, Victorian Realism. And when you're looking at 20th Century literature, looking for what's unique to that era, well, it's either Modernism or Contemporary Realism that stand out. SF/F sits, along with the other pulp genres in a big pot called Romance. That's a generalisation, and I think the reality is way more complex and interesting than that, but I'm treating it at the level of broad overview you can make comprehensible to a 1st Year English Lit student. If you're sketching in the Literary Movememnts of the 20th Century, you put Contemporary Realism over here, Modernism over here, and Romantic Pulp over here. You might briefly mention the Beats. Post-modernism might get a look-in (though I doubt it). But you're not going to focus on SF/F individually any more than you would focus on Westerns, or Detective Stories, or Occult Thrillers.

So are there individual genre writers just So Damn Fucking Important you can't get through a cursory overview of the 20th Century aimed at school leavers without mentioning them. Gibson, Zelazny and Moorcock. They're great, but they're not Owen, Yeats or Joyce (none of whom, I believe, were even covered at the introductory level anyway). I'm sure you could pick three Crime writers equally neglected. Each of these pulp genres, I'm sure, has its star writers who can stand against any kitchen-sink CR any day of the week, who's so jaw-droppingly good it seems astonishing that academia doesn't tout them as the greatest thing since sliced bread, and who we assume get dismissed merely because they're "so terribly vulgar and popular". Each of these pulp genres is doing something unique and intersting, and deserving of academic attention and, I'm willing to bet, gets plenty of that attention at the doctorate level. But at the introductory level? At First Year uni in a general Humanities degree where English Lit is just one subject among many and the lecturers have, what, a couple of lectures and a tutorial every week in which to give their students a basic grounding in literature? Christ, you're lucky if they even cover the 20th Century in First Year.
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Gary Wassner
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 08:43 am:   

Please tell me what it means to be commercially viable today? Is it the editor who is determining what to put on the shelves or is it the point of sale reports from Barnes and Noble that drive the choices being made? How much freedom do editors have today? Ask Betty Ballantine what it was like 20 years ago compared to today. How much patience does the corporation have for titles that don't sell? I would love to sit in on an editorial meeting at TOR and listen to what types of books the powers that be are looking for. Is it safe to assume that 'will it sell' is the motivating force guiding the acquisiton editor's reads? Was this always the case?

Small presses need to survive financially as well, but since the sales expectations are so much lower, are they the fonts of quality today? Is that reasonable to assume?

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al duncan
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 09:16 am:   

"Is it safe to assume that 'will it sell' is the motivating force guiding the acquisiton editor's reads?"

Not from what my editor was saying the other week, and I suspect others will say the same. In fact, someone said as much upthread, I think...

Editors are readers, fans of the genre, well-read in it, and well-read outside it; they like good books, they know good books when they see them, and they will try and acquire those good books if they can. But it's not just a matter of slapping the money on the table and saying Bob's yer uncle. They have to persuade corporate bosses further up the ladder who might well be "professional managing directors", if that makes sense -- high level business managers who could happily switch from book publishing to music distribution to, God knows, waste control management. There, I'da thunk, it is all about the bottom line, what sells and what doesn't, what can be marketed easily and what can't, what is tried and tested and what's a fundamentally risky investment. So "will it sell" may not guide what the editor reads, or even what they push, but it might well limit how far they can push.

But whadda I know? I'll shut up and let an editor answer. I'd be interested in the answer to that "was this always the case?" question in particular. Do some of the editors who've been in the business for a while feel corporate culture now exerts more pressure against risky ventures than it did in the past?
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Gary Wassner
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 09:31 am:   

I am a businessman in addition to being an author of Epic Fantasy. I own a finance company and I specialize in financing small, creative, growing companies. But I don't fool myself. Talent is not enough. A great sensibility is not enough. It takes a combination of talent and marketability to create a viable company. I look first at the talent, at the artistic quality of the product, because I finance primarily high fashion designers who consider themselves to be artists first. They may create their art out of fabric and skins instead of plaster, but many don't feel any differently about what they are doing than a sculptor might. Lagerfeld is an aritist. Stella McArtney is an artist. Then I look at what has been done with the product, how amenable the designer is to feedback and to criticism. It's the editor who takes what they create and merchandizes it. So how much are editors required to merchandise today? Publishing is a buisness after all, though not entirely like any other business. The bookstores right to return changes the way the business functions. Still, talent is necessary and there should always be room for it. Is there an unspoken ratio? for every 10 commercial manuscripts an editor purchases they are allowed one truly unique art project? Marc Jacobs may put 50 styles on the runway and only 20 end up in the store, and then out of those only 10 sell in any nubmers.
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Tivo
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 09:41 am:   

Gary, I think you’re headed in the right direction. I, like you, have no experience in the book business, but I do have a lot of experience with software company boards and venture capitalists. And you’re right; in taking almost any gamble, the formula of what has “worked” before is the only road map these guys have – and with the odds being 7:10 against the product succeeding, the guys responsible for the money are always white knuckled at the wheel. It’s also fascinating to note that the “data” these guys (“think”) they have is incestuous and congenitally bad most of the time. I’ve sometimes questioned the decision makers when everybody else was out of the room (the only time you can make any real progress is without the rest of the mob listening in – you see some of that on the forum) and they had no real data, only their hunch as “proven” winners.
The only time you get movement in the system is when you inject decision makers who have a history with the product (love of the product, technically that is – Gates was a programmer not an MBA). An example is Steve Jobs at Mac as opposed to a businessman whose background was “sugar water”.
For those of us who like the kind of serious SF I’ve been talking about (“this should not offend anyone, serious in the way I’m using it means realistic or topical”), there must be a separation of SF and Fantasy (the situation is confusing, convoluted, and has chased away many potential readers) and there need to be more decision makers who love and have experience with a more diverse variety of speculative (“science”) fiction. A good pruning always helps a plant become heartier.
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Gary Wassner
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 10:17 am:   

You sound a bit like my friend Scott Bakker. Cognitive underdetermination! We like to believe things so the facts somehow support what we like to believe about ourselves and our environment.

I used to teach philosphy on the university level before family tragedy uprooted me and placed me in the business world in the middle of NYC. But honestly, I have a better background for doing what I do in business by virtue of that, than most of the MBAs as well. I joke always about how blind the bankers can be to the realities of the situations. They miss all of the nuances when they look down to watch where they are walking and they trip over eveything when they look up. I see things differently and from a very different perspective. Being an author with a background in philosophy (ethics primarily) and a businessman as well, I am a bit unique I believe. I write passionately and intelligently, and purely for the joy of writing. Literary fantasy? I hope so.

Am I commercial? Unlikely. But buzz proliferates oddly in this genre.

Are most editors authors? I know that my YA editor loves to write, and my adult editor has published quite a number of her own books. Have they attempted to sell their books in this market? How would they market themselves? That's an interesting question. What a tough business, for both the editors and the authors.


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al duncan
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 10:29 am:   

Tivo, (as an aside) you sound like you'd be interested in what the Mundane-SF mob are striving for (just in case you haven't already come across them).

I don't think the separation of SF and Fantasy is really practicable. Nor, I think, is it actually going to result in the (purer? harder? more rationalist?) SF-as-plausible-scientific-speculation you seem to be angling for. The real problem for both genres seems to me to be the fact that both have bound themselves to the Juvenile market.

Both SF and Fantasy are types of extrapolative fabulation, I'd say, and playing the plausible rationality of SF off against the psychological power of Fantasy actually complexifies and makes for a very interesting approach to writing -- and can make for fiction more realistic (because it gets under the skin with fantastic metaphors) and more topical (because it can explore reality through grand conceits). More relevant, basically.

What hobbles both genres, to my mind, is the cross-over between the market for fabulation and the market for juvenile fiction. Heinlein wrote both at the start of his career, and he wrote both at the end of his career. But at the end of his career, those two were combined in every book -- which is why I think Number Of The Beast is a godawful pile of tripe.
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 10:32 am:   

Do I have to go through all the kerfuffle of the Pathetic Fallacy, setting as psychology, adventure story plots and so on, to show how, anatomically speaking, that there be a Romance? A Romantic, Romanticising, Romanticised, Romance.

Hence conservative.


That's a very narrow interpretation of the term Romantic, Al. And I believe it's false.

What fantasy have you been reading? I'd say a good portion of fantasy takes place in a contemporary setting. Sometimes we call this horror. But the genres definitions can be so interchangable that way.

Still, even in the medieval setting, look at say, Martin's Ice and Fire saga. His world is very gritty and unromanticised. It owes as much to historical fiction as it does to fantasy.

The Cyberpunk movement has a Romantic sensibility. Would you call it conservative?

Was Lord Byron conservative? -- Of course he wasn't. I find the idea that he was, absurd.

Romanticism is, at least in the original sense, in opposition with Rationalism. Rationalism isn't always liberal and vice versa.

I think science fiction is in Rationalist mode, while fantasy is in Romantic mode. The Rationalists were all about logic and reason, and in science fiction, even though it may not be possible, we still expect it to have a certain ammount of logic. In fantasy, just as in Romanticism, there isn't logical limits to what can be imagined, and hence be "real", in the fantasy world. Fantasy has magic and SF has science. Either one is NOT inherently conservative or liberal.

As for the fantastic always being a part of literature. Yeah, of course it has. But the examples you list are no less fantasy. They just came before there were any genre distinctions. Maybe we're heading back towards having less genre distinctions in literature? This idea of genre ghettos, is very 20th century.

Gulliver's Travels is a great example of the fantastic in the Rationalist mode, as satire.

Then the examples of fantasy written by the Romantics, is vast.

Frankenstien, is a bit of both, but with Gothic sensibilities. Percy Shelley, as you know, was a hardcore Romantic.

The Gothic, which is also obviously closely tied to fantasy and horror, started when the Romantics melded in with the Victorian era.

The Modernist movement in the early 20th century, was when the fantastic first became unexceptable in literature. When the pulps flourished. Modernism is Rationalism taken to the uber-extreme. A movement which I think is long dead and irrelevant, even though I admire some of the writers involved. Like Lawrence and Wolfe. How little did they know, that fantasy and fabulism would be so popular today. They were ironically very un-modern in the long run.

The Beats were more like the Romantics in their sensibility and did something entirely different.

Postmodernism brought Fabulism back in fashion, which is really just a fancy word for fantasy. A word that stuffy academia has found more "exceptable". Personally, I don't care what you call it.

Then there's also the Realist movement from the 80s that kind of went alongside the fabulists. Like Carver, often pared down, just the facts, in the realm of the mundane.

Ok and I'll mention Magic Realism, which provides even less of a logical explanation to the fantastic then most fantasy. The fantastic is simply matter of fact, coming from the South American culture.

I think what makes fantasy and all its fantastic forms so powerful, is that it resonates eternally within us, through archtypes and symbols etc -- which will never get old and is constantly reinventing itself.

Speculative fiction, seems to be the modern term covering everything fantastic, from science fiction all the way to magic realism.

I think China Mieville started the whole New Weird thing, which has a Romantic pre-modernist sensibility.
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Peadar Ó Guilín
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 10:34 am:   

One of the best books I read last year was the "mainstream" SF novel, "Cloud Atlas" by David Mitchell. None of the SF elements were very original. Nor were any of the literary gimmicks employed particularly fresh -- the French had done 'em all before (stories within stories etc). But it was just a great read, a marvellous read.

SF fans often claim the attraction of their genre is the "wow" factor, the original, the bleeding-edge. Some of them get annoyed when they don't find this in "mainstream" or "rip-off" SF, ignoring the fact that most books aren't about "going where no man has gone before". In literary fiction, the fantastic is just one more flavour in a richly textured soup.

Peadar Ó Guilín
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 10:39 am:   

there must be a separation of SF and Fantasy (the situation is confusing, convoluted, and has chased away many potential readers) and there need to be more decision makers who love and have experience with a more diverse variety of speculative (“science”) fiction. A good pruning always helps a plant become heartier.

I don't agree with that Tivo. And speculative doesn't only mean science. In fact, I think that's why the term was started by Sturgeon or Heinlein or someone. Because a lot of the fiction has little to do with science.
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 10:48 am:   

I think we're essentially agreeing on most things here, Al.

Peter, you bring up another literary movement which has close ties with modern fantastic -- French Surrealism.
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Tivo
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 10:53 am:   

Well Gary, that’s very interesting. I completely believe that, like you, much better experience toward a successful business is experience in the subject or product of the business rather than being the master of the P&L statement. And I know there’s probably not a lot of sympathy for my point of view on the forum because most of you guys are writing/reading/loving Fantasy. I think today’s Fantasy is well written and probably very diverse – it’s just that it’s not what I personally prefer, which has no bearing on Fantasy as an art form or a “viable” product.
Imagine in some alternate fantasy universe that you had just put the finishing touches on your latest epic fantasy (and were an established writer) and your publisher reluctantly publishes your wonderful book and puts it in a shelf filled with Kim Stanly Robinson novels as far as the eye can see. Meanwhile, readers looking for books like yours have stopped coming to those shelves – I wonder why?
And as far as Al Duncan’s point, I completely agree, the front line guys, the editors, are probably exactly those people who love the product. The Business people (corporate) on the other hand love it only when the money comes in. The only thing I would add to that is that editors are people too. Some, like me, like Robinson, some like Gary’s epic fantasy – all is as it should be. That’s why Analog publishes a lot of “hard” SF (I hate that term-but I’m trying to be brief). Is it a surprise that Stan Schmidt, like me, is a physicist by training – no, I don’t think so. And with its reasonably well defined program, Analog is a viable business – as it should be.
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 11:00 am:   

And doesn't Analog have the highest circulation -- contradicting your theory?
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Tivo
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 11:08 am:   

I agree, Stephen, speculative doesn't mean science. And I also agree that there is a large swash of SF where the focus is fiction not science per se (although I've always taken SF to mean “science fiction” not “fictional science”, which is an oxymoron – the science must be well researched and tight). In terms of speculative, I must admit, I have a soft spot for the likes of Le Guin (some of her stuff) and others of that ilk.
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Tivo
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 11:13 am:   

No, Stephen, not contradicting my assertion - contradicting Ellen's. I advocate a clear focus ( separating sf from fantasy) and greater numbers of decision makers with a background in the product - the content of the stories in this case.
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Tivo
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 11:25 am:   

Stephen, you’re putting this stuff up faster than I can respond to it. “Magic Realism?” – magic’s not real Stephen – don’t you know that? And science not romantic – obviously you don’t know many scientists. The endeavor of science is one long romance. That’s one of the reasons why I sometimes come to these forums – to test how deaf we are to the music of the spheres and to try to put something out there that might spur the literary community to reinvigorate our culture with a facet of itself which is slowly being lost.
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 11:42 am:   

Actually Tivo, it's a matter of perception and I think some things we might label as magic, ARE real. Although magic is probaly the wrong word to use, for things beyond our current understanding. What we now know as science, was considered magic in the past, right?

But I think the world is weirder then many people, especially coming from the British culture, give it credit.

I think that prcog dreams and stuff like that sometimes happens. I know this from first hand experiences of people close to me. As well as my own odd experiences. I don't know entirely what to make of it, or what it means. I can't explain these types of things but I know they do on rare occasion happen. It depends on the day, I guess -- how I view it. But the esoteric and unknown fascinates me. It's stuff we can't disregard or prove, with any certainty. But it's possible that the fantastic does sometimes enter our world...
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gary wassner
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 11:48 am:   

Jules Verne was one of the founding father's of science fiction in the 1800's. What would you call him if he wrote his books today?
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 11:49 am:   

In terms of speculative, I must admit, I have a soft spot for the likes of Le Guin (some of her stuff) and others of that ilk.

And that's where the term hard science fiction applies. Le Guin had a degree in anthropology, I believe, and was often writing about the social sciences, or "soft" sciences. So this is where the distinction of "hard" science fiction applies. Physics is the ultimate hard science, but I think biology and chemistry are included.

You're a phycisist, correct? I respect that. I AM interested in astronomy and physics.

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Tivo
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 11:58 am:   

Stephen you’re forcing me to say things that are awkward because I know my meaning will be lost – but here goes. No, science was never magic and never will be. That is the kind of thinking that has lead our societies down long tunnels called the “dark ages” – the good old days when mystics could have you burned at the stake for saying Copernicus was right about the sun being at the center of the solar system or the outrageous contention that the world might be round – after all, we’d fall off, wouldn’t we? The world is complicated – yes, some of it is unknown – yes, some things (many?) might be unknowable because of our limitations – yes. However, science is the light in the darkness. It compensates for our failure of intuition and the subjective arc of our personal lives. It paints a true (to a couple of standard deviations) picture of reality more shocking and abstract than has ever been dreamt of by mystics - the tick to ride – about twenty years of rigor and mathematics. That’s why it’s not that popular and so misunderstood. And that’s why it can make such elegant and romantic fiction.
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Tivo
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 12:03 pm:   

I'd call Verne mainstream science-fiction/adventure. Also, I must say, I love Verne. I've tried, in vain, to have my kids read him along with their Harry Potter.
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 12:09 pm:   

Tivo: I never said that science ever actually WAS magic. Just that some people, at that time, percieved it to be magic because they were ignorant of what science actually was.

I'm saying that even though science is the best tool we have for understanding the physical universe, some things are beyond its current understanding. Perhaps down the road a completely new way of percieving the universe will explain certain phenomena which science can't?

Do you see what I'm saying?

That's why I'd hesitate to call things we don't understand magic. But some of those things you would probably call magic, which you don't believe is possible, right?
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 12:15 pm:   

Think about it this way. From the dark ages on, The Bible and priests were considered the rational authorities on reality. It was irrational and heretical not to believe them. It was not until the enlightenment that people really began to question and rethink that.

Some people still have that attitude, that Christian mysticism is somehow the rational way to view the world, along with science.

I'm not saying science isn't a rational way to view the world. It is. But is it the be all and end all authority on reality?
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Tivo
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 12:21 pm:   

I know what you mean Stephen. Clarke said: "the techology of a sufficiently advanced civilization would appear, to us, to be magic." My point in beating you down is that the word magic is dangerous because of its history. It evokes in people that primal desire to dance around the camp fire (not a bad thing if done with eyes wide open). I would perfer to say "unknown".
Also, reality is one of those things where we "know" we are incompetent to decide between winners and losers. Go where the data tell you to go - don't assume. You know creation by what it "tells" you, but you have to understand its language.
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JV
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 12:21 pm:   

This is all pretty funny. The findings of science change all time. We find ourselves believing--yes, belief enters into it--in scientific theories later disproven. We base our world view on some of these beliefs. And how we reach these conclusions is often not based so much on logic as on the individual foibles of scientists. This gets worse the softer the science is. I completely agree that science is the bedrock of logic, but it's a porous bedrock, and therein lies the interesting thing about it from a fiction writer's standpoint.

JeffV
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 12:29 pm:   

Logic and science are completely different things. Logic is a philosophical way of thinking.

I guess metaphysics is the realm I'm getting at -- speculating possibilities which can't be proven.

Many things that are considered scientific fact today, such as atoms, started as metaphysic theory.
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 12:34 pm:   

The funny thing about logic is that perfectly logical thinking, can lead to a completely irrational and absurd conclusion.
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Tivo
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 12:42 pm:   

It's interesting that the conversation has taken this turn. I'm buoyed by the interesting comments. I'm writing a book - nonfiction on this subject right now. JV your statements about theories being disproved - yes and no. On the yes side - yes - some are. My favorite recent example - The 5th Force Theory. I was there when it was introduced at a Berkeley seminar (I won't mention things like cold fusion or Podkletnov/Modanese anti-gravity, which fall into the crack pot column). But the 5th Force was legit. And it was proved incorrect on the basis of follow up and pier review - that's how science works and that's why well established science is right up to a known statistical uncertainty. Now the no - no Newton was not wrong and Einstein right. They're both right. The reasons for this is beyond where I want to go with this, but science is the "only" tool (art) we have to ferret out what is real and what is not and why.
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Vera Nazarian
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 03:07 pm:   

Tivo,

I do understand what you say but in several things I must disagree.

Science is not exactly a tool but a method of exploring the world based upon observation of patterns, and as such it is only one of several. (Other methods, less hands-on, are introspection, meditation, imagination, sensation, focusing).

Magic is not "dangerous," but is simply a wonderful term to describe something powerful and positive that is just out of reach of current understanding.

Science and magic are not opposites but apples and oranges.

One word describes a method, the other an impression.

It is rather unconstructive to argue that a method of doing something is more valid than an impression of something -- see what I mean?

The only fault with magic is the baggage the term itself has carried over time. Often it is a load of erronious connotation.
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al duncan
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 07:14 pm:   

Stephen, I suspect we've got more of a disagreement over terms here than anything else. I think its useful to make a distinction between capital "F" Fantasy (i.e. *generic* fantasy fiction) and small "f" fantasy (i.e. fiction using the fantastic, which may or may not be labelled as genre for marketing purposes). Small "f" fantasy I don't think is intrinsically conservative at all, but small "f" fantasy is not a genre; it's a catch-all term for any work with fantasy elements, which could include anything from Gilgamesh through The Oddysey up to Angela Carter and beyond. It could have a contemporary setting. It could be set in an entirely different reality. Shit, it could be labelled "horror" or "magic realism" or, God knows, any number of things.

Funny enough, it's my love for this that draws me to the Modernists. As you say, "what makes fantasy and all its fantastic forms so powerful, is that it resonates eternally within us, through archtypes and symbols etc." And what the Modernists were interested in most was abstraction, which goes hand in hand with this type of fantasy. To me, Wallace Stevens is fantastic. Joyce, in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, is fantastic. I'd classify Borges and Calvino, Eco and Carter, and Guy Davenport and so on, as Modernist and I think they all try to tap into those powerful abstractions. Look at Modernism in the visual arts -- Surrealism, Futurism, Cubism -- and you see a love affair with the fantastic that is, to me, what makes it way more interesting than either Rationalism or Romanticism. To me, it takes the best of both worlds.

Anyway, that aside, I'm happy to refer to this more general "stuff with fantasy in it" as fantasy ("speculative fiction" doesn't seem terribly apt in many cases where there's not a whole lot of speculating going on) but I don't like calling it Fantasy myself because that seems a bit like referring to any fiction which has warfare in it as War Fiction, grouping Alistair Maclean in with Gone With The Wind, Commando comics and Catch-22. I mean, I'm not talking about Neil Gaiman or Johnathan Carroll or Clive Barker or Gabriel Garcia Marquez here when I refer to Fantasy. All of these writers may be published as Fantasy but they might just as easily be labelled Horror... or just plain Fiction. All of those writers are to my mind small "f" fantasists... but I'm talking more about genre writing, about capital "F" Fantasy -- Fantasy as a late 20th Century pulp form which is defined by something more than the mere presence of a fabulous element. I'm really using, I suppose, the layman's definition of Fantasy, the definition of the bloke on the Clapham omnibus, to whom Fantasy is Epic Fantasy, Heroic Fantasy, Romantic Fantasy. Glancing at the shelves in a bookshop, it seems fair to me to treat the minority of almost-impossible-to-define "kinda sorta fantastic stuff" (which could well be shelved in the General Fiction section) as a separate thing - small "f" fantasy - and look at the rigidly defined majority - the Heroic, Epic, Romantic stuff - as what really constitutes Fantasy as a genre.

But even this capital "F" Fantasy is, I think, only normatively conservative rather than intrinsically conservative. It doesn't have to be that way, and there are plenty of examples where it isn't. However, the reason we segregate out books as "Fantasy" at all is so writers who want to write a certain type of book can connect with readers who want to read a certain type of book (and vice versa); and the follow-through of that is that these books have features which typify them, by which they can be identified, and which will render a book commercial to that niche market. Putting that capital "F" Fantasy label on a book is a promise of sorts that those key features will be there, that this book essentially offers "more of the same", that being, in this case Epic / Heroic / Romantic Fantasy.

Aesthetically, that makes it a conservative form. It follows patterns laid down in the mists of time (if you believe Joseph Campbell) and codified into the mix of low-brow and high-brow literary forms of 18th and 19th Century Romanticism. It conforms to conventions of plot, character and setting which were innovations for Mary Shelley, which were at that time radical in their opposition to the Rationalist / Neo-Classicist aesthetic, but which are now, by definition, politically and culturally conservative. Tropes like the Noble Savage, the dark Satanic mills, the last scion of a noble line, the wicked governess, the square-jawed soldier boy, the sensitive poet, the joking bard -- I'm not saying you can't update these, make them relevant - that they're intrinsically obsolete - but I do think it's all too easy and all too common - i.e. I think it's normative - for these to be used in exactly the same way that they have been for centuries. I don't think there's any other word for that but "conservative".

Well, I suppose you could call it "reactionary". :-)
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 10:49 pm:   

Yes, alot of Romanticism is reactionary. But reactionary isn't always conservative and isn't always a bad thing. Do you like our current culture?

The Beats were reactionary towards the puritanical 50s America, but they certainly weren't conservative.

The hippies were reactionary and romantic.

The punk social and musical scene that started in the 70s and continued into the 80s was reactionary to things like Vietnam and later to Reagan and the Contra wars.

Many of the Cyberpunk writers in SF were/are reactionary and Romantic.

You could also say the post-modern fabulists were reactionary towards the modernists.

ok, back to the top. This is going to be long.

but small "f" fantasy is not a genre; it's a catch-all term for any work with fantasy elements, which could include anything from Gilgamesh through The Oddysey up to Angela Carter and beyond.

Yes, exactly, fantasy is really such a broad genre of various degree. Some of it is more literary, some more pulpy, or whatever. Some is more escapitst, and some more relevant. Some more contemporary, some more traditional. Some of it is darker, others lighter in tone. Some humorous; some very serious; sometimes both -- satirical. etc, etc. Just as you've pointed out, it has such a rich history and broad possibilities. But I find, people like what they like -- some people like more of the same and some people's tastes are broad, to include all forms. I guess we don't need to label it, but it's all fantasy of one form or another.


Anyway, that aside, I'm happy to refer to this more general "stuff with fantasy in it" as fantasy ("speculative fiction" doesn't seem terribly apt in many cases where there's not a whole lot of speculating going on) but I don't like calling it Fantasy myself because that seems a bit like referring to any fiction which has warfare in it as War Fiction, grouping Alistair Maclean in with Gone With The Wind, Commando comics and Catch-22.

Well, I guess you have your own way of looking at it, which is good. At least you're not just going along with marketing or academia. I'm not sure if I see it quite that way, though.

I mean, I'm not talking about Neil Gaiman or Johnathan Carroll or Clive Barker or Gabriel Garcia Marquez here when I refer to Fantasy. All of these writers may be published as Fantasy but they might just as easily be labelled Horror... or just plain Fiction.

Well, yeah, anything fiction could be labelled as "just plain fiction". When it comes to individual writers, I often find they don't want to be labelled as anything specifically, as I'd think many writers would want to try different things. I know I do.

But it's interesting that you'd lump those four authors together. All fine authors, forsure.

Neil Gaiman is interesting, in that he has always stayed inside the genre, with no intention of leaving. You could say, he's never "sold out" to the mainstream. But he has found a large audience and success both inside and outside marketed genre distinctions. I think it's partly because he's never talked down to or alienated ardent genre fans, but he also appeals to a variety of other readers, both casual and habitual.

Johnathan Carroll has also found an audience both inside and outside the genre, but I think he is more of a borderline case, writing literary fantasy that could be marketed either way. While Gaiman sticks to the genre, which is probably partly why he's so beloved in it.

Clive Barker is more of a horror genre writer, but he's also cracked the young adult market.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is easily the furthest from the genre, and was part of starting a new genre entirely, being one of the great magic realists. He's beyond any distinctions other than he's a great magic realist.

Funny enough, it's my love for this that draws me to the Modernists. As you say, "what makes fantasy and all its fantastic forms so powerful, is that it resonates eternally within us, through archtypes and symbols etc." And what the Modernists were interested in most was abstraction, which goes hand in hand with this type of fantasy. To me, Wallace Stevens is fantastic. Joyce, in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, is fantastic. I'd classify Borges and Calvino, Eco and Carter, and Guy Davenport and so on, as Modernist and I think they all try to tap into those powerful abstractions. Look at Modernism in the visual arts -- Surrealism, Futurism, Cubism -- and you see a love affair with the fantastic that is, to me, what makes it way more interesting than either Rationalism or Romanticism. To me, it takes the best of both worlds.

Yes, you seem identify much more with modernism than me. I think I may identify more with the Romantics than you, including the Beats and Cyberpunks, not just the old school poets. Sturgeon, one of my favourite golden age writers, was a Romantic.

The experimentation and abstraction is mostly what I admire about that movement. I mean, they brought stream of consciousness to the table, which is great. But I don;t think all the experimentation for its own sake made for good writing. It was just a time trying to find less conventional ways to tell a story.

I think I'm more of a post-modernist as well, which incorporates modernism, but moves forward, embracing both the fantastic and mundane. Modernism may have opened up new abstractions, but I think they were overly materialistic, and rejected the fantastic sometimes at the expence of imagination.

I'll bet you also identify with postmodernism quite a bit, because I recall you mentioning that Delany is one of your favourite writers and he was very postmodern. We probably share that in common.

I haven't read much Joyce. Picked up Finnegans Wake, but even though there's some nice poetry in there, it seems overwrought and contrived, and a little pretentious. And I'm not that big into puns, either. I think I'd enjoy A Portrait of an Artist As a Young Man, much more. Maybe work into Ulysses, maybe not. I doubt I'll try to read all of Finnegans Wake again. It may put me to sleep.:-)

I've never associated Borges and Calvino as modernists, but I like them both. They were doing fantasy/SF, magic realism, and metafiction kind of stuff, I think -- experimental stuff. I've read a short or two by Carter, but isn't she doing more magic realism, fable, literary type fantasy? I've heard of Eco, but haven;t read anything by him. Didn't all those writers come from post-modernism? Or is it that you view them as sharing some Modernist sensibilities? As some writers do.:-)

Not familiar with Wallace Stevens...

T.S Eliot and Yeats are both poets I like. I think Yeats especially, was like the Romantic poets -- he just came later.

Aesthetically, that makes it a conservative form. It follows patterns laid down in the mists of time (if you believe Joseph Campbell) and codified into the mix of low-brow and high-brow literary forms of 18th and 19th Century Romanticism. It conforms to conventions of plot, character and setting which were innovations for Mary Shelley, which were at that time radical in their opposition to the Rationalist / Neo-Classicist aesthetic, but which are now, by definition, politically and culturally conservative. Tropes like the Noble Savage, the dark Satanic mills, the last scion of a noble line, the wicked governess, the square-jawed soldier boy, the sensitive poet, the joking bard -- I'm not saying you can't update these, make them relevant - that they're intrinsically obsolete - but I do think it's all too easy and all too common - i.e. I think it's normative - for these to be used in exactly the same way that they have been for centuries. I don't think there's any other word for that but "conservative".

Okay, but going by that, the Modernists are also, now conservative. The unconventional experimentation of the Modernists, is no longer experimental today. I think sometimes writers can get too hung up on trying to be experimental, without telling a good story, with good characterization, imagination and insight. You can do all of that and still be unique and playful stylistically. I think the modernists did a good thing, but it's already been done. You know?

I'll end on the subject of Epic or High fantasy. Not all of it is more of the same, tolienkienesque, generally conservative stuff. Martin and Erickson are both doing different things; more complex, not so black and white good vs evil, anymore. Erickson definitely has the environmentalism aspect in common with Tolkien. By the way, I think that aspect is what made Tolkien endearing to less conservative types. I would call the envirnomental spirit romantic, but not conservative.

Then look at what China's doing with The New Weird. His series is Epic Fantasy, just very different than what's been done and not at all in the Tolkien tradition -- with Steampunk aspects and a style harking:-)back to the more florid style, of pre Modernism.

So I think any type of Fantastic fiction has equal potential, really. And just because we are influenced by, and identify with, things that have come before, doesn't mean we can't do something new, as well.
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 10:50 pm:   

Tivo: What do you think about Compact Time?
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, August 02, 2005 - 11:31 pm:   

Al: I just want to add, it's not like I'm intending to rework the Romantic tropes. I'm just doing what comes to me and going along with it. I don't think about it that way. I just identify with the Romantics in some ways. But they aren't the only ones.

Also, I just want to add that it does feel kind of weird talking about my writing with you, considering you're now, a real, published writer and I haven't published anything yet. I'm new at this, so I;m working on it. I just don't want to seem presumptious.
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al duncan
Posted on Wednesday, August 03, 2005 - 05:57 am:   

Bah. Don't worry about that "real, published writer" nonsense; Two short stories and a novel (which isn't quite out yet, anyway) don't make ye a Grand Old Man Of SF/F. Anyhoo...

I think yer being a bit sneaky with "reactionary" there and substituting it for "radical" when yer talking about Beats, hippies, punks and Cyberpunk. "Reactionary" isn't the same as "reactive" -- yes, it's "in reaction to" but it carries a strong sense of looking backwards, of trying to reverse the wrongs of modern life. I think in an environmentalist sense, the hobbit-lovers and hippies could (theoretically) be classified as "well-intentioned reactionaries". We have fucked up and are fucking up our planet and that is a Bad Thing. Unfortunately, we can't turn the clock back to the Middle Ages and all live in huts in the rural countryside (or we could but I just don't want my life expectancy cut down to 30; shit, I'd be dead already). The full-fledged retreat from modernity is just sticking yer head in the sand. The Beats, punks and modern subcultural variants thereof tend to be much more about tackling the modern world than running away from it -- radicals rather than reactionaries.

With the Modernists and post-modernists, I don't really see any distinction. The post-modernists simply expanded upon what the Modernists were doing and made a lot of noise about the end of the author, or the death of history, or some such anti-essentialist "it's all subjective" stuff. They're just existentialist Modernists, far as I can see. I like the way that makes them more playful. Can't be bothered with it when it makes them all arch and knowing. Anyhoo, I'm probably more pomo than Modernist in my own reading and writing, but I (idiosyncratically perhaps) see the two movements as just different facets of the one aesthetic, an aesthetic which, in a world of mechanised warfare, internment and mad revolutionary ideologues seems just as relevant as it was in 1916. This aesthetic has things in common with Rationalsim but it also has things in common with Romanticism. c.f. Stevens's "The Man With The Blue Guitar", where I read the opening as anti-realist, anti-rationalist:

The man bent over his guitar,
A shearsman of sorts. The days was green.
They said you have a blue guitar.
You do not play things as they are.
The man replied, things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar.


That's a forthright defence of fantasy as far as I'm concerned. And there's a ton of other lines and images in Steven's work that have this wonderful pro-fantastic, numinous, mythopoetic quality.

Yeats kinda nails the Romantic/Modernist relationship for me. His early work is Romantic pure and simple -- Celtic Twilight, Mad Toms and Crazy Marys and suchlike. It's OK, but it just doesn't float my boat. Then the political turmoil of the 20th Century really kicks in around the time of WW1 and Yeats's writing transforms. You get works like "Easter, 1916", "Byzantium", "Sailing To Byzantium" and, the absolute corker "The Second Coming". The Byzantium stuff is "fantasy" and it still feels quite Romantic, but there are other threads in it, other tensions. "Easter, 1916" has that Realist feel of straightforward, matter-of-fact descriptive quality -- "MacDonogh and MacBride,and Connolly and Pearse" -- but every so often the Romantic, the sublime, rips through in a line like "A terrible beauty is born". Joyce has a similar irruption of the sublime in the closing line of Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man "... to forge in the smithy of his soul the uncreated conscience of his race". Powerful, resonant imagery.

Anyway, I think it's the tension between Romanticism and Realism which really makes for powerful writing (I think the Beats also have that tension in spades, btw), and Yeats, the Last Romantic, has that tension in his later work where the Rationalism is a prime creative force in the shape of his theory of the Gyres, these spiralling upwards-and-downwards "time-vortexes". This working with a Grand Theory of History, and the way he came to use abstract / archetypal symbols (Yeats uses the Sphinx in "The Second Coming", to my mind, the same way Picasso uses the Minotaur in "Guernica") makes him Modernist, I'd argue -- a Romantic and a Rationalist. Which is what I look for in writing -- the best of both worlds.

I just want to have my cake and eat it, I guess.
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Scott Bakker
Posted on Wednesday, August 03, 2005 - 06:05 am:   

AL DUNCAN: "So I'm not convinced Academia is the big bad bogeyman we like to think it is, sneering at mere "genre" with contempt. Certainly there will be sneers at the "generic", but when it comes to non-generic SF and Fantasy, I honestly don't think that gets such a raw deal."

STEPHENB: "I don't think the academic establishment is this sinister organization trying to beat us down or anything. Just that, at least when it comes to art and writing, academic approval is way over-rated and not really all that important. Also, the job of the academics is partly to maintain the staus quo. I don't really agree and fit with that, but I'm still getting my degree anyway."

ALISTAIR: "However, academia does have an indirect influence which is very powerful, and which often manifests itself via the media, in that it acts as a kind of point of reference or a validation of what constitutes good literature (it's like a religious seal of approval, like a church deciding the rules of how we ought to, but might not, behave)."

For the longest time I was so embarrassed of my writing hobby that whenever any of my classmates or advisors asked me what I wrote, I would always say 'speculative fiction' - to which I received a reliable nod of approval. At a certain point, however, I began calling my work what it was, epic fantasy - to which I received a reliable blink, and quick change of topic. This experience has been repeated at the literary festivals I've since been to. I truly had no idea how deep the pigeonhole went...

The irony of this, of course, is that I intentionally embraced the conventions of epic fantasy because I believe that mainstream pop cultural genres are where literary types SHOULD be concentrating. Since this is a pretty strong prescriptive claim, I should probably explain.

The thing to remember about academics is that they are also humans, and as such unconsciously invested in all the same status dynamics as the rest of us. They're just as inclined to make their practices the yardstick for other practices (think of social constructivism or post-structuralism: should we be surprised that the literati like to believe that reality is TEXTUAL?). They're also inclined to gain status within their groups via variations of those practices. The result is that academic literary contexts tend to evolve highly specialized norms which are pretty much inaccessible to mainstream culture. Add this to the tyranny of post-modern sensibilities in the arts (where defection from existing norms is typically confused with profundity and originality), and you're bound to have a society where mainstream cultural production is largely ornamental: think of how many sensitive, imaginative individuals get shunted into general cultural irrelevancy because they've been convinced that abiding by the 'hothouse norms' of academia and post-modernism is what it takes to be recognized as a 'serious artist.'

I actually think we might be witnessing a reversal of this trend in fantasy, at least. If this is the case, then it would constitute a very important cultural turn: the return of the artist to the general community. As such, it's pretty much doomed to be recognized after the fact.
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Scott Bakker
Posted on Wednesday, August 03, 2005 - 06:20 am:   

AL DUNCAN: "Small "f" fantasy I don't think is intrinsically conservative at all, but small "f" fantasy is not a genre; it's a catch-all term for any work with fantasy elements, which could include anything from Gilgamesh through The Oddysey up to Angela Carter and beyond. It could have a contemporary setting. It could be set in an entirely different reality. Shit, it could be labelled "horror" or "magic realism" or, God knows, any number of things."

The thing to remember is that the meaning of 'fantasy' has an important cognitive component. We typically identify works as fantasy because they possess elements that have no cognitive legitimacy by our lights. Since institutional science is the only reliable yardstick of cognitive legitimacy we possess, this means that fantasy is actually as much a product of the rise of science as is science fiction. In a sense, there literally was no fantasy before science.

If we abide by Dilthey's dictum that understanding literary artifacts requires understanding their reception at the time of their composition, then calling things like GILGAMESH and THE ODDYSEY fantasy is as problematic as calling the BIBLE or the QURAN works of fantasy - it's just easier because they've actually outlived the age of their import.
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Scott Bakker
Posted on Wednesday, August 03, 2005 - 06:29 am:   

STEPHENB: "I'm not saying science isn't a rational way to view the world. It is. But is it the be all and end all authority on reality?"

What other 'authority' could there be? It's not that science has access to absolute truth, but that when it comes to theoretical claim generating institutions (like religion or philosophy), nothing comes remotely close to science in terms of relibility, efficacy, comprehensiveness - pretty much any theoretical virtue you can think of... What makes science the 'be all and end all' is that it's the only game in town. Given their miserable track records, it seems pretty clear that no other institution is capable of making claims that warrant exclusive commitment (which is not so say that their claims aren't important or interesting, only that we have to lay on the salt).
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al duncan
Posted on Wednesday, August 03, 2005 - 08:07 am:   

I began calling my work what it was, epic fantasy - to which I received a reliable blink, and quick change of topic.

Fair point. Yes, the snobbery is there if you identify your work with that big rubber stamp that says "GENRE". What I'm saying (with my Devil's Advocate hat on, bear in mind) is that some of that snobbery is valid in so far as that market is saturated with MacFantasy; if you were a teenage lad in a band with a bunch of other teenage lads, no matter how different your music is from the norm if you call yourself a "boyband" you'll get a certain hmmmm, o-kay reaction from musos.

I believe that mainstream pop cultural genres are where literary types SHOULD be concentrating... think of how many sensitive, imaginative individuals get shunted into general cultural irrelevancy because they've been convinced that abiding by the 'hothouse norms' of academia and post-modernism is what it takes to be recognized as a 'serious artist.'

Actually, I think that's another fair point. I don't like the "pomo" label any more than the "genre" label because the ivory towers of academia have their own stultifying, side-lining norms. I think the 20th Century aesthetic that fused Romanticism and Rationalism into something new and wonderful can be either theoretical or applied. With Modernism it was both, in heaps, but straightforward Modernism got a bit outre for many. The backlash against that splintered the two sides, to my mind, leaving pomo on the one hand over-theorised, over-intellectualised (all that arch and knowing irony) and genre on the other hand utterly pragmatic and deeply experimental in the way it constantly recombines Romantic and Realist tropes and techniques... but perhaps under-intellectualised, having chucked all the theory and just got on with making shit up. Carrying on the music metaphor, it's experimental jazz versus pop/rock. The latter has arguably been more innovative and more dynamic over the last fifty years than the former, and I think the same can be said with mainstream pop cultural fiction as opposed to pomo. The perceptual problem (why it doesn't have the same credibility, I mean) is it's chock-full of the literary equivalent of boybands and girl bands and imitations of imitations of Black Sabbath, dressed in spandex and mullets and making the sign of the Horned God, dude.

In terms of the "reversal of this trend in fantasy", I'm quite excited by the current state of things. [Warning: Al's pet hobby horse approaching] I think it's to do with mainstream pop cultural fiction, like pop/rock music reaching a stage where the approach is much more complex, more pick-and-mix as regards influences. Like a rock band with synthes and decks cribbing from disco and New Wave and Garage and Acid House and fuck knows what else, what you end up with is something more than the sum of its parts because although it's deeply populist it's not formulaic, not generic; it's independent of any simple formula with a simple label -- Indie Fiction, so to speak.
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StephenB
Posted on Wednesday, August 03, 2005 - 08:25 am:   

Al:


I think yer being a bit sneaky with "reactionary" there and substituting it for "radical" when yer talking about Beats, hippies, punks and Cyberpunk. "Reactionary" isn't the same as "reactive"

I don't think I'm being sneaky at all. I'm just calling them what they are. Those examples are reactionary, radical, and romantic. They can be all those things. In fact, they often go hand in hand, together. That doesn't mean they automaticaly all want to go back to Middle Age times. Who would want that? I don't think anyone does, as the dark ages were even worse than today in many social and intellectual ways. I think the Cyberpunks say, would admit to being reactionary but also radical. How can you NOT react against some of the modern world.

In finding a balance we can take some of the admirable qualities of a more "primative" life. By that, I certainly don't mean the European Middle Age. We can still embrace technology and progress, but in an intelligent, NON greedy and exploitive way.

If we can imagine a better world then it's possible to make a better world. But we're going to have to use our brains! Get rid of all the horrible conditioning that's steering us in the WRONG direction.

For example we should be switching over to fuel-cells and solar-cells as an alternate energy source. The only people who would loose out in such a switch, for the most part, are the corporate heads profiting off oil and gas.

Thing is, you can have those romantic ideals, but still be forward thinking and idealistic. Romanticism is involved with taking the best of both worlds, right? So we can move forward and embrace change, but also work to correct the wrongs of modern society without hiding from it and get back to some of the basics which are important.

The spirit in all of those examples is similar. Back to basics. Back to what's inportant. Community. Introspection. Freeing the mind. etc. Taking away from the big guy and getting back to nature, you know? Corporations are some of the major villains today. We can try to bring things back to communities, reject their culture and create our own. Rejecting all the materialism and soulessness. That's reactionary, in the true sense, but it's also radical in the true sense.

An example: How many people living in the modern western world are still in touch with nature? How many people seek out nature and find peace there, in our crazy world -- instead of just fearing nature because it's not human and in some ways beyond our control? Even the people living in small towns are often out of touch, but especially in big cities, where most people live. Don't get me wrong -- big cities have their positives and their fun. The concrete jungle can be an exciting place and it IS humanity, in all its grit. But after getting away from that -- then going back and observing people going about their days to and from work, with their walls and noses high up -- you realize something is wrong there. The disconnection and alienation of modern life.


That's a Romantic ideal to strive for!

The post-modernists simply expanded upon what the Modernists were doing and made a lot of noise about the end of the author, or the death of history, or some such anti-essentialist "it's all subjective" stuff. They're just existentialist Modernists, far as I can see. I like the way that makes them more playful.

Yes, and that's what I identify with. The existentialism. The original Modernists, to me, have much more in common with the Rationalists then the they do the Romantics. Their world view was entirely materialistic, believeing only in the material world and that science can explain everything. This is no great surprise, considering all the breakthroughs in science that changed our perception of the world -- rightly, I might add -- like Freud, Darwin, and Einstien.


Anyway, I think it's the tension between Romanticism and Realism which really makes for powerful writing (I think the Beats also have that tension in spades, btw), and Yeats, the Last Romantic,

I entirely agree Hal; that's partly what's so good about Postmodernism.

a Romantic and a Rationalist. Which is what I look for in writing -- the best of both worlds.

I just want to have my cake and eat it, I guess.


Exactly! And we can achieve a balance between both worlds. Between the rational and scientific and the irrational and imaginative. Look at Blakes -- "Songs of Innocence and Experince", as a great example of striving for a balance between two polars.

We can be both reactionary and radical. That's how I feel.

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StephenB
Posted on Wednesday, August 03, 2005 - 08:34 am:   

Scott: Hi -- I haven't read your work but I've heard it's good. Compared to Erikson, who I like.

Yeah, I certainly don't think we should snob down on Epic fantasy or Sword and Sorcery. These sub-genres can be really fun and not just escapist but also relevant to the modern human condition. But there's nothing wrong with pure escapism either -- as entertainment, it can be a fun ride.

Sturgeons law can apply to everything.

Now, about science:

What other 'authority' could there be?

The authority that isn't an authority at all. Looking within yourself, instead of seeking external authorities to tell you how to think, feel and percieve the world. You know?
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Tivo
Posted on Wednesday, August 03, 2005 - 09:44 am:   

I will leave this interesting discussion with the following points that will no doubt incur wrath and loathing from most of you, but I respect you too much to bullshit (an acceptable academic term) you:

1)Yes, there was fantasy before science. Simply put, it was and is called religion. Whether the religion of the ancient pagans who named the constellations and worshiped nature or the deity centered religions of today. These are institutions or social movements based on introspection, personal experiences, visions, imagination, vanity, and social control. They have consistently been wrong about the physical world, they persecute those who disagree with them (we’re getting a sense of the 7th century right now, the most dramatic display in New York a few years ago). They have continually sidelined women, and with the help of the anti-nature philosophies of Plato, Augustine led the western world down a thousand year stagnant hiatus of darkness, self-hate, anti-knowledge, and repression we rightly call the “dark ages”.

2)Yes, what we call science today is the only reliable way ever developed by humanity to correctly understand “objective” reality. Imagine taking a trip on a 747 designed by introspection and faith with nothing between you and the ground but 40000 feet of air. Is that any way to run an airline – or a culture? If we live past 40 and enjoy the freedom of movement, information, and opportunity given to us by the scientific culture, we would be delusional not to acknowledge its magnificent connection to a truth that transcends human distortion.

3)None of what I’ve said intrudes on the validity of “subjective knowledge” – Vera’s introspection, meditation, imagination, sensation, focusing, but one has to be careful to understand these a internal personal truths and have only a coincidental relation to “objective” reality. They are important to us individually but are inappropriate when trying to cure disease or chart a course to a distant place…

4)And finally, magic and science “are” opposite – are and always have been. Science is based on provable principles and experiments supported by valid statistical techniques – period. Magic is whatever you want it to be. And yes it is dangerous to confuse what you want to be with what is – we do it all the time and the results are often very bad.

I apologize in advance if I’ve offended anyone.
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StephenB
Posted on Wednesday, August 03, 2005 - 10:29 am:   

Hey Tivo, don't worry about it. You're just being honest about your views of the world.

I think there's a difference between religion and mysticism or spirituality. A big difference. I'm not so much interested in following a religion. Although Buddhism and eastern mysticism appeals to more than western mysticism, I wouldn't call myself a Buddihst. Obviously it's really attractive to believe in it and in reincarnation. I see it more in a Jungian sense though...

Yes, what we call science today is the only reliable way ever developed by humanity to correctly understand “objective” reality.

Remember my whole point point about it being a matter of perception -- a subjective experience? Science is limited by the observations of the five human senses. Are were experiencing FULL reality there?

As a physicist, you would know that we only percieve a very small portion of the spectrum of light, right?

Also, again, I want to ask you, what do you make of Compact Time? Do you know what I;m referring to?
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StephenB
Posted on Wednesday, August 03, 2005 - 10:50 am:   

Also, as a physicist you understand mathematics, correct? Probably far better than I do. Couldn't mathematics at least suggest the possibility of divinity?
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Tivo
Posted on Wednesday, August 03, 2005 - 10:51 am:   

Stephen, that's why we develop instruments. For example, in my fifteen years as a practicing legitimate particle physicist, I've seen matter and anti-matter annihilating - almost in real time. I've seen an atom! etc, etc.
As for time, I don't know anything about something called "compact time." But, I do know a lot about what we perceive as time - it is one of the very great open issues of our "time."
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Tivo
Posted on Wednesday, August 03, 2005 - 10:58 am:   

And, no. The only way to know of a divinity or anything else is through repeatable, verifiable, dispassionate, statistically significant proof. Christ should have congratulated doubting Thomas. The most important thing to carry away from anything I've said is that the acquisition of real knowledge is above all "impersonal and dispassionate." Once you insinuate your personal desires the chance you'll acquire anything resembling object truth diminish.
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Jeremy Lassen
Posted on Wednesday, August 03, 2005 - 11:07 am:   

Tivo, I would suggest you search out Karl Scrhoder's article in the most recent NY Review of Science Fiction. (It's not online anywhere that I know of). You might find it interesting, and I'd be interested to hear what you think of it.

-JL
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StephenB
Posted on Wednesday, August 03, 2005 - 11:09 am:   

Well I think complete objective truth is almost as unattainable as the mysteries of the universe.

This is stuff that we can't be certain of, right?

I'm just saying, it's good to be open to possibilities. Because just because we can't prove something with scientific evidence, doesn't mean it doesn't, or can't, exist.
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Tivo
Posted on Wednesday, August 03, 2005 - 11:10 am:   

Thanks Jeremy, I will try, but I think you need a subscription for the NY Review of Science Fiction. If that's true, could you give a synopsis?
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StephenB
Posted on Wednesday, August 03, 2005 - 11:10 am:   

Like ghosts, for example.
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Tivo
Posted on Wednesday, August 03, 2005 - 11:17 am:   

Stephen, you remind me of many of the Russian physicists I worked closely with. As a group, they were brilliant but had a quirky cultural bent that often lead them to very strange places in those alcohol laden bull sessions when we couldn't work any more.
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StephenB
Posted on Wednesday, August 03, 2005 - 11:27 am:   

Well, I'll admit, I am a little messed up. But I want to be a fiction writer, so I'm allowed.:-)

I want to go to strange places!
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Gary Wassner
Posted on Wednesday, August 03, 2005 - 12:28 pm:   

Tivo, you should take a moment to read some of the voluminous posts on my author's forum at SFFWORLD.com.

A few months ago I started a thread on Scripture: History or Fantasy, and it turned into an incredible dialogue between fundamentalists, atheists, nihilists, agnostics, scientists and just about every other category or believer and non-believer. After 64 pages and almost 1000 posts we exhausted the topic for the time being, but we certainly did cover a lot of ground.

Scott, do you feel like we are starting all over again?



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Gary Wassner
Posted on Wednesday, August 03, 2005 - 12:29 pm:   

Oh, I forgot. Here's a link:

http://www.sffworld.com/forums/showthread.php?t=10153
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JV
Posted on Wednesday, August 03, 2005 - 12:44 pm:   

Re this from Tivo:

"The most important thing to carry away from anything I've said is that the acquisition of real knowledge is above all "impersonal and dispassionate." Once you insinuate your personal desires the chance you'll acquire anything resembling object truth diminish."

This is poppycock. There is no such thing. Everything we are is strained through the subjective. Anything objective is inert and of no interest whatsoever to a fiction writer--one trying to express a Truth or one who doesn't give a flip.

If you're trying to represent the objective in fiction, then, in my humble opinion, you're confused as to what fiction is.

JeffV
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Scott Bakker
Posted on Wednesday, August 03, 2005 - 01:22 pm:   

JEFFV: "This is poppycock. There is no such thing. Everything we are is strained through the subjective. Anything objective is inert and of no interest whatsoever to a fiction writer--one trying to express a Truth or one who doesn't give a flip."

People get hung up on these philosophical terms, 'subjective' and 'objective.' There's people out there (like Adorno) who argue that art offers humanity it's ONLY access to objectivity, and that science is subjective through and through.

All I know is that some institutions have little or no ability to resolve incompatibilities between claims, while one - namely science - seems to muddle through quite fine. Given the history of human theoretical claim-making, this is nothing short of miraculous (as though thermonuclear explosions and cures for smallpox weren't demonstration enough).

The fact of the matter is that, far from being poppycock, 'disinterest' is something we rely on all the time. It's the whole reason we resort to third party arbitration to resolve our disputes - which is to say, our whole justice system. In fact, you could make a powerful case that methodologically, this is the core of scientific practice. Science is a social mechanism that CORRECTS for bias, a way to arrive at conclusions that jar against our norms and intuitions. Before science, the only real constraints on human theoretical claims were sociological (our beliefs tended to reinforce the status quo) and psychological (our beliefs tended to gratify the believers). This is generally not the case with scientific claims.

Any critique of the status of scientific claims has to account for these glaring differences. Tivo is simply offering 'disinterest' as an explanation for this difference. If it's all filtered through the 'lense of subjectivity,' as you say, Jeff, then why are scientific claims possess so many theoretical virtues, many of which are entirely absent in other claim-making institutions?

And of course, we have to consider the whole problem of using a prior commitment to a very specific, very contentious philosophical claim to condition our commitment to ALL scientific claims (as social constructivists and post-structuralists do on a regular basis).

Seems like using Ted Bundy's testimony to convict Mother Theresa to me.
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StephenB
Posted on Wednesday, August 03, 2005 - 02:17 pm:   

Before science, the only real constraints on human theoretical claims were sociological (our beliefs tended to reinforce the status quo) and psychological (our beliefs tended to gratify the believers). This is generally not the case with scientific claims.

Ok. But what happens when science becomes the status quo, refusing to see a bigger picture beyond its own perceptions, which are based on both theory and empirical evidence?
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JV
Posted on Wednesday, August 03, 2005 - 02:19 pm:   

I'm just saying that The Truth and any attempt to record a supposedly objective experience is very boring, and antithetical the truth because it is actually *false*, given the subjectivity of the way we perceive the universe.

JeffV
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Ben Payne
Posted on Wednesday, August 03, 2005 - 06:41 pm:   

Al:

I'm not entirely convinced that a story in which reform occurs within the social order is necessarily conservative... even if it's not revolutionary... replacing a bad king with a good king isn't necessarily saying "kings are good"... otherwise all politically radical novels would have to end with a revolution...

i think the critique can be subtle and come from the author, rather than have the characters necessarily realise it...if that makes sense...so the characters think "okay the bad king was fucked for our kingdom" but the audience is able to extrapolate (if given the right cues) "feudalism(and its modern descendents) is a fucked-up way to run things and encourages bad kings who are gonna come along"

But maybe I'm just splitting hairs now... I certainly agree that I'd like to see fantasy become more radical more often and I do have a problem with those novels which do romanticise... so by all means bring on the guillotines!

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Lisa Goldstein
Posted on Wednesday, August 03, 2005 - 09:25 pm:   

Al -- You mentioned Joseph Campbell, and one of the things I thought of when reading this whole discussion was something Campbell said about the hero's journey -- that the hero, after leaving the framework of his everyday life and adventuring outside, returns to his culture bringing something new, something never-before seen or understood. So the hero of an epic, it seems to me, is a force for change, even revolution, in his (or her, of course) culture. You can see this in Tolkien, when Frodo returns to the Shire determined not to use a sword or fight a battle ever again. The other hobbits think he's crazy, of course -- the hero's contribution to the society is sometimes not understood, or far ahead of its time.

Of course most epic fantasies these days aren't this thoughtful, more's the pity, so we get things on the level of, Ohh, epic battle, cool!

Scott -- I too started calling my stuff epic fantasy, and I got a snicker -- and a quick change of topic.

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StephenB
Posted on Thursday, August 04, 2005 - 04:05 am:   

I should add that the New Wave was also, for the most part, reactionary, radical and romantic. They were, of course, reacting to the Golden Age.
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Tivo
Posted on Thursday, August 04, 2005 - 08:12 am:   

JV, boring is a matter of experience (how many times have you heard your kids saying that great works of art and literature and yes science are boring) and you don't have to worry that science will ever be the status quo (unfortunately). Think about an objective reality the next time you’re hiking near the edge of a cliff and think today you’d like to fly like a bird, or you find yourself needing medical treatment, or … well you get the picture.
Like anything else, like dancing or basketball or anything that requires skill and experience, those who find something boring often are often those who don't know how to play - so they invent their own rules. Well, your physical stay (only stay) on Earth is one of those games you can't game. Many have tried (with terrible consequences) and none have succeeded because the game is fixed at a level beyond our influence. And for those who have taken a serious look at “real” science, they have found that it is richer, more unexpected, and stranger that anyone without this unique portal into true reality has ever been able to "make-up."
Strangely enough these days (and I find this sad) I sometimes find myself asking, within the course of a discussion, "do you believe in an object reality?" If the answer to this question is no, then we have very little ground for a discussion of anything at all.
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Scott Bakker
Posted on Thursday, August 04, 2005 - 08:49 am:   

STEPHENB:"Ok. But what happens when science becomes the status quo, refusing to see a bigger picture beyond its own perceptions, which are based on both theory and empirical evidence?"

I'm not sure I understand the question. What is it that science 'refuses to see'? As a human institution it's bound to suffer all the foibles of other human institutions. But that does nothing to gainsay the fact that it's the ONLY family of practices we've discovered that produces robust theoretical claims. Given that we humans are far, far better at making claims than at making them stick, it just seems obvious that we should be deeply suspicious, cynical even, of claims arising outside its confines. Personally, I think the fact that it's the only game in town is THE tragedy of modernity - we definitely NEED something more. I just refuse to BELIEVE on the basis of that need, to confuse hope with knowledge as our species is so inclined to do.

JEFFV:"I'm just saying that The Truth and any attempt to record a supposedly objective experience is very boring, and antithetical the truth because it is actually *false*, given the subjectivity of the way we perceive the universe."

I'm not sure anyone was talking about absolute truth so much as what is MORE true - which is an important distinction. The fact remains, all claims are not equal. It is also a fact that the type of philosophical claims you're making - particularly once you engage occulted registers like the 'subjective' and the 'objective' - simply do not warrant the kind of exclusive commitment ('where you can say 'this claim is true and that claim is false') required to justify modifying your commitment to scientific claims. It's like saying, 'I so believe this philosophical claim regarding the nature of scientific claims, that I'm willing to suspend my commitment to scientific claims' - even though science has the best track record in the history of the human race, and philosophy, excepting religion perhaps, has one of the worst.

Again, it's like convicting Mother Theresa on Ted Bundy's testimony.

As for boredom, I'm inclined to think that it's no coincidence that there's little that's boring in philosophy and religion, and much that is boring in science (which again, demonstrates its remarkable ability to cut against our psychological tendencies - in this case, to sensationalize). ;)
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Tivo
Posted on Thursday, August 04, 2005 - 10:23 am:   

I’d like to ask a favor of people reading this thread. First off, I don’t know much about NightShade Books, so I don’t know the tastes it caters to – although I suspect it is heavily geared toward Fantasy. I logged onto this thread originally because I thought I’d have the best chance of encountering people who prefer what most people would call “hard” SF to Fantasy. It’s a difficult rhetorical exercise to define exactly what I mean by hard SF– I don’t mean some mind numbing exposition on the minute workings of an exotic gadget. I mean a story whose environment more or less consists of well-researched aspects of the real world as we know it, or extrapolates it, and whose elements involve speculation on the human condition given extraordinary circumstances. Even if you disagree that this excludes conventional Fantasy, let’s accept that for my purposes (you may not know what I said but you know what I mean). So:

1)Is there anyone reading this thread who prefers “hard” (mainstream) SF to Fantasy?

2)And, is there any forum that you know of where the preference of the participants is “hard” (mainstream) SF?

3)And, of those of you who read/write “hard” (mainstream) SF, would you find it useful to separate “hard” (mainstream) SF from Fantasy in order to reinvigorate the genre for all involved?
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StephenB
Posted on Thursday, August 04, 2005 - 10:32 am:   

It's true that science is our best way to explain the physical world. But it's possible that it only covers half the picture right? Science so far, hasn't made any claims on anything beyond the physical world. It just doesn't concern itself with that.

Tivo: What do you think of quantum mechanics. Even though it's model is too young, and undeveloped to be accurate, it does suggest that the human imagination or perception could have an effect on reality on some level. I'm not saying I believe that, it's a possibility -- but frankly, I don;t know all that much about it and going by what I've learned, it doesn't really make sense.

Also, I've had some wilder theories about Compact Time, that may be able to explain ghosts as after images. Paticularily concerning violent deaths.
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Night Shade Books
Posted on Thursday, August 04, 2005 - 10:41 am:   

Night Shade likes a little of everything. We're trying to keep a broad base of fiction. Horror, fantasy, contemporary spec-fic lit, science fiction, milsf, space opera, some of this, some of that. However, we're limited to what we get manuscripts for.

I like hard sf just fine, but I wouldn't want a steady diet of it. I don't particularly give a damn about the "science" aspect of it, as long as the story and characters and writing are good. I'm fine with handwave explanations most of the time.
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Tivo
Posted on Thursday, August 04, 2005 - 10:51 am:   

NightShade, first of all, thanks for your comment. The point of my query is to find out how many readers/writers DO care about the science. For some readers/writers not caring about the authenticity of the science is like not caring about the authenticity of the characters or story.
What I'm asking is: how many people reading this thread DO care about the science in "science fiction" as much as (not more than) the characters or story? And, when you want to find people who do, where do you go?
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StephenB
Posted on Thursday, August 04, 2005 - 11:16 am:   

That should be, What do you think of Quantum Mechanics? With the question mark behind it.

Unless you don't want to discuss this because I remind you of a drunken Russian physicist?:-)

how many people reading this thread DO care about the science in "science fiction" as much as (not more than) the characters or story?

Don't care about it as much as characters and story. I was into fantasy and horror before science fiction. I think I read my first science fiction book when I was 13.
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Ben Payne
Posted on Thursday, August 04, 2005 - 03:58 pm:   

I can enjoy hard sf and fantasy in equal measure, and anything in between, as long as the characters are good and i care what happens...

i don't enjoy science for its own sake... or i do, but not in fiction... i'm of the opinion that if a story exists just to put across science, quite frankly i'd rather read it in New Scientist... but that's just me...

Greg Egan for me is an excellent example of a good hard science fiction writer, because while his fiction is ideas-based, it is always intimately connected to character... that is, the point of any story is not the science, but the way that that science impacts on humanity...

Tivo, I don't know of any Hard SF forums, but I'm sure that on both this and the Asimovs forum you will find many Hard SF threads...maybe you should start a new thread called "Discussion of Hard SF" or something?.. the title of this thread is going to attract a much broader audience than you're looking for imho...
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Vera Nazarian
Posted on Thursday, August 04, 2005 - 06:14 pm:   

Seems to me, Tivo, that you might look to Mundane SF for the hard science fiction focus:

http://mundane-sf.blogspot.com/

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StephenB
Posted on Friday, August 05, 2005 - 05:32 am:   

Also Tivo, remember that a lot of us wouldn't always know whether the science is good or not, let alone care, as we're not scientists.
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Scott Bakker
Posted on Friday, August 05, 2005 - 06:32 am:   

STEPHENB:"It's true that science is our best way to explain the physical world. But it's possible that it only covers half the picture right? Science so far, hasn't made any claims on anything beyond the physical world. It just doesn't concern itself with that."

This is what I meant earlier when I suggested that the fact that science was the only game in town when it came to theoretical knowledge was the tragedy of our age. Science deals with matters of fact, and as such has no answers for questions of value; it tells us what is the case, not what ought to be done.

This suggests that there are no matters of fact regarding value.
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StephenB
Posted on Friday, August 05, 2005 - 06:51 am:   

Yes, but maybe what we percieve as fact may not always be so concrete.

We typically view the dreamworld as an irrational realm of our psyche. Jung believed that with dreams, we pass into deeper and more universal truths.
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Tivo
Posted on Friday, August 05, 2005 - 09:30 am:   

Thanks for your responses. I’d just like to express how I feel about this part of the genre (SF) as a long time reader and former scientist. I used to read a lot of fiction – all kinds of popular and classic fiction, cause like you, I enjoy a good story, sufficiently well told, that one can build an emotional bond to wherever the writer is taking you. Now, in a lot of fiction, whether it be the story of a southern drunk, the adventures of a true believer in the Spanish civil war, a detective/crime story (Ed McBain, Rex Stout, RB Parker, Torrow, Martini, etc.), an intrigue (Ludlum, Clancy, Meltzer, etc) the authors “try,” along with the story and mechanics of the writing, to get the circumstances “right” – in fact most of them tell you as much. Many of these writers are either professionals in the subject of the story and have direct authentic experience, or are enthusiastic armatures who “give a damn” about the details. For me, and many other readers, we not only appreciate that but we require it; and many writers respect their readers enough to understand that.
Now, we come to the “strange” case of SF. The S in SF is science, which is closely associated with, if not the definition of, a careful, thoughtful, rendering of the state of the art in any physical venue. And it appears that, of all genres, it is this one, strangely enough, where at least some readers and writers don’t seem to care about the facts or the reality of the environment and circumstances of the story (I’m not talking about Fantasy here, I’m talking about SF). Imagine a crime writer saying “I don’t give a damn about CSI in my story, or a Legal fiction writer saying “I don’t give a damn about the legal details I put in my novel,” or a historic fiction writer saying “I don’t give a damn about the history in my novel.” The readers would go elsewhere.
Now, in SF, it is no surprise to me that the best SF you’re now finding is outside the genre – that’s why most (all) best sellers are appearing outside the genre. The mainstream readers, in general, don’t accept this kind of sloppiness and go elsewhere, as do many good writers – most people hate hand-waving as do I.
Also, I’d like to add, just because one does research to get the facts of a story “right”, that doesn’t mean that the story, characters, or writing should suffer. For an excellent SF, you need it all. That’s not only my opinion, that’s the opinion of many readers going elsewhere – sadly enough.
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StephenB
Posted on Friday, August 05, 2005 - 09:51 am:   

SF could also stand for speculative fiction. So it can be both. In speculative fiction the science doesn't have to be authentic.
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Tivo
Posted on Friday, August 05, 2005 - 10:00 am:   

Vera – I just went to Mundane SF. Man, what is it with folks? I felt the hand of oppression lift from my head as soon as I left the site. Why is it that people have to be so extreme – it’s either anything goes or nothing goes. Mundane reminds me of Plato, Aristotle, and their followers, who both misunderstood and mangled the truly brilliant science of the Pythagoreans before them, and led the western world into the dark ages. Science is not stagnant and it’s not dogmatic – it’s exactly the opposite. That is why it has led to worlds unimaginable to the closed stagnant minds of medieval philosophers and thinkers (and I use that term loosely).
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Tivo
Posted on Friday, August 05, 2005 - 10:11 am:   

Stephen, it's okay to make things up. It's not only okay, it can be billiant - as are many great Fantasies that have, no doubt, inspired you. But that should be called Fantasy; that's my "only" point. And, as Fantasy, the reader knows what to expect (look forward to) when they seek it out. My proposal is to give the readers and writers a break and split Fantasy from SF. If I were a Fantasy reader/writer I would find the clarity refreshing.
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James M. Pfundstein
Posted on Friday, August 05, 2005 - 11:11 am:   

Tivo wrote (in part): "Mundane reminds me of Plato, Aristotle, and their followers, who both misunderstood and mangled the truly brilliant science of the Pythagoreans before them, and led the western world into the dark ages. Science is not stagnant and it’s not dogmatic – it’s exactly the opposite. That is why it has led to worlds unimaginable to the closed stagnant minds of medieval philosophers and thinkers (and I use that term loosely)."
____

The ignorance of someone who would confidently argue (a.) that the Pythagoreans were not dogmatic, (b.) that Plato and Aristotle shared a common attitude toward physical science, or even the physical world, (c.) that Plato and Aristotle "led the western world into the dark ages", is almost beyond belief. Convention places the beginning of the Dark Ages, at the earliest, in the fifth century AD (and frequently even later). Aristotle died in the fourth century BC. A minimum of seven or eight centuries is a pretty sizeable distance between cause and effect, even disregarding the triumphant zenith of Greek mathematics and science which prevails in the interim. Tivo is living in a fantasy world and doesn't know it. Or perhaps he doesn't care, as long as the characters and the plotline suit him.

Modern science is a medieval invention: have a look at the career of Roger Bacon. Medieval-haters will find, in that stretch of history, ignorance and narrow-mindedness enough to satisfy their ignorant and narrow-minded souls, but they will also find that experimental science (like many of the other distinctive cultural features of the Renaissance) is a development of medieval culture.

JMP
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Tivo
Posted on Friday, August 05, 2005 - 01:59 pm:   

Well James, even though you are right about the gap between Plato(428-328), Aristotle (384-322), and the Middle ages(5th to about the 15th century), you are right about very little else.
First, Pythagoras of Samos lived around 530 BC. Of the Pythagorean movement, which he founded and which became the template for the “Heroic Age” of Greek science (as opposed to the “Dark Ages” of medieval times), was said – “it unified science, mathematics, medicine, cosmology, body, mind, and spirit in an inspired and luminous synthesis” (Arthur Koestler). They were a society who accepted women in an equal standing with men and were the first in recorded history to apply mathematics to the study of nature.
Sometime around 413 AD Augustine created the perfect storm of regressive cultural philosophy in a fusion of Christianity and Neoplatonism (as in the followers of Plato – bad things never seem to die out as you may know if you’ve ever had a Platonic relationship) and produced the so-called bible of the Middle Ages, “The City of God” and another vile document “The Confessions”, regressive dogmatic documents of self-hate and stagnation. And if you want to know what is so bad about Plato – it was he who instituted a treacherous dogma that taught the study of the natural world was useless because of its imperfection as compared to pure thought. As a result of the imperfection of the natural world, the human body as well should be regarded with distain. His philosophy single handedly retarded the development of science for almost two thousand years.
Somewhere around 1200-1300 AD there was an Aristotelian Revival, which admittedly better than Plato, never the less was another Witch’s brew of misleading and flawed thinking. Of Aristotelian physics it is said – “Aristotelian physics is really a pseudo-science of which not a single discovery, invention, or new insight has come for two thousand years, nor could it ever come – (The SleepWalkers).
This then was the scene of the middle ages and if you think the Middle Ages represent anything even remotely resembling legitimate science, then you know absolutely nothing about science. And all the insults and bravado you can muster wouldn't change that.
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Tivo
Posted on Friday, August 05, 2005 - 02:10 pm:   

"Tivo is living in a fantasy world and doesn't know it. Or perhaps he doesn't care, as long as the characters and the plotline suit him."

Where in the world did you get that? More distortions to suit whatever chip you have on your shoulder? - It's embarrassing.
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StephenB
Posted on Friday, August 05, 2005 - 02:17 pm:   

Tivo's right. He knows his science. Too many philosophers and scientists held on to Plato's ideas for thousands of years. His assertion of perfect heavenly motion in perfect circles which reside on perfect spheres, is way off base, as we now know. He was perverted in many ways. In his perfect society, many of us here would be cast out.

They should have listened to Aristarchus, hey Tivo?
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StephenB
Posted on Friday, August 05, 2005 - 02:21 pm:   

The prick also betrayed Socrates.
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StephenB
Posted on Friday, August 05, 2005 - 02:32 pm:   

The difference between Plato and Socrates, is that Socrates got people to think, while Plato told people what to think. Socrates was the dangerous one?
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JV
Posted on Friday, August 05, 2005 - 03:55 pm:   

Just in a quick response--I think I'm talking about something different, perhaps. The difference between what's important for fiction to be good as opposed to what's important for our lives to be good and governed by reason/logic.

It's not necessarily good for fiction to be governed by generally accepted logic/reason, or to kowtow to science (as opposed to the internal logic of a story). All the points I was making were geared toward describing what I think is an ideal for fiction. I absolutely believe in science and logic in our lives. But that's something different.

JeffV
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James M. Pfundstein
Posted on Saturday, August 06, 2005 - 01:20 am:   

I was going to respond to Tivo's bogulent non-history of ancient and medieval philosophy point by point, but it's hardly worth the trouble-- he doesn't even know what our sources for Pythagoras are (that cataract of learning, ingenuity and error he blithely describes as "Plato and Aristotle and their followers"). Anyone actually interested, and willing to go a little deeper than a laudatory blurb by Arthur Koestler (!) can find some accounts at the URLs below. No person with even a basic knowledge of the evidence would dispute the fact that Pythagoreanism involved mathematical, astronomical and musical knowledge, but also and especially religious dogma. It's ridiculous to claim that the Pythagoreans first applied mathematics to the study of the universe: the Ionians, at least, were in the field earlier.

The entry on Pythagoras from Seyffert's Antiquities:

http://www.ancientlibrary.com/seyffert/0533.html

A longer account from Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology:

http://www.ancientlibrary.com/smith-bio/2949.html

Anyone who uses the word "medieval" as a mere noise of dislike, as Tivo does, is going to prove useless in a discussion of the middle ages or medievalism, and so Tivo has been.

Tivo professes to be embarrassed by my posts; I doubt it. Anyone who can write, even pseudonymously, the uninformed illogical nonsense he has written about the intellectual history of western civilization must have a pretty high threshold of embarrassment. The Dark Ages caused by Augustine! Has he ever heard of the Goths, the Vandals or the Vikings? (And I am not talking about the football team; I'm sure they would have lost against Mediterranean civilization in the Super Bowl, they way they lose to everyone else.) Tivo hilariously claims that Augustine held back the development of science for "nearly two thousand years." Apart from the fact that all his explicit statements about the content of Augustine's philosophy are false, a little simple addition (apparently a lost art among particle physicists) will show that the two thousandth anniversary of Augustine's death will occur in the 25th Century. Apparently, Galileo and co. will be contemporaries with Buck Rogers. What exciting times those will be, as long as that stupid robot Twiki doesn't show up.

Fortunately, that's all tangential and doesn't need to be dealt with in detail; I've only written about it as much as I have because it seems to me that certain gross errors of fact posted on internet sites require refutation.

More on topic: Tivo has claimed that fantasy and science fiction are somehow antithetical, and that the decline he perceives in hard sf (or whatever he prefers to call it) is bad news for the rising generation of potential scientists. I'm inclined to think this is false in every one of its essential elements. Certainly new hard sf is still being published: I was just looking at the new Stewart/Cohen collaboration (_Heaven_). Is there a market shift, on the book level, toward fantasy right now? Possibly, but markets change; it's a little early to start sounding the death knell for hard sf.

Further, writers of hard sf have also and often been writers of fantasy: Heinlein, Niven and Le Guin spring to mind. (Le Guin is not usually counted as a writer of hard sf, but Tivo counted her _Dispossessed_ on the premise that anthropology and sociology are sciences. One could quibble about that, but kudos to Tivo for displaying principle in what he includes as worthwhile.)

Further yet, Clarke (whose name Tivo has frequently invoked) was inspired, at least in part, by fantasy, particularly the fantasies of Lord Dunsany. I'm not just speaking of obvious imitations, like the "White Hart" stories. "A Walk in the Dark" shows the influence, and his early novels, I think. Doubters can also consult the correspondence between Dunsany and Clarke, which was published in '98 and is still in print, according to Amazon. (In passing, it's clear that Dunsany was also stimulated by what he learned of science. Contemporary theories of the Moon's formation crop up several times in the Jorkens stories for instance-- an observation I can only make because of the awe-inspiring edition of the complete Jorkens published recently by a noted small press. Unpaid advt.)

An imagination unlimited by the real is not the same as an inability to distinguish what is real nor the same as a distaste for what is real. In fact, only such an imagination can increase our knowledge of reality by imagining what was previously not known to be real. Imagination and science are inherently interlinked, and so must fantasy and science fiction be. Fantasy-haters who try to pass opinions on imaginative literature are like tone deaf people who set themselves up as music critics. They will never understand their error, but they must not be taken seriously.

JM("Ming of Mongo")P
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Tivo
Posted on Saturday, August 06, 2005 - 10:21 am:   

"His philosophy single handedly retarded the development of science for almost two thousand years."

There you go again James. I hope you read your ancient history more closely than you read my posts in establishing your faulty opinions. "His" philosophy in the sentence above refers to Plato NOT Augustine, as anyone actually "understanding" what I have said would know. Count them yourself - I'll help you. Plato 450 BC to the 1550 AD, the approx end of the Middle ages - that's what - oh my 2000 years!
Also, the Goths etc - marauding hordes that were the beginning of the end of Rome were significant but that's not what we're taking about. This is too cumbersome to continue - believe (have faith) in what you will James.
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StephenB
Posted on Saturday, August 06, 2005 - 10:43 am:   

One thing I'd just like point out, Tivo, is that you are painting a very simplistic portrait of the Germanic tribes -- including the various Goths and Gauls -- by describing them as, "marauding hordes". They were actually mostly an agrarian people. Tough. Yes. But they were not primarily warlike. The Huns would fit that description better. As would the Romans, except the Romans weren't marauders, they were systematic and duplicit conquerers.

The term Barbarian, at that time, meant anyone who didn't speak Latin. By that definition, more than likely all of us here are Barbarians.:-)
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GabrielM
Posted on Saturday, August 06, 2005 - 06:35 pm:   

This just goes to prove the old adage that given enough time every reasonably interesting forum thread will degenerate into a couple of amateurs browbeating each other with competing Wikipedia entries.
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Stephen
Posted on Saturday, August 06, 2005 - 07:12 pm:   

Mine ain't from anny Wiki place.:-)
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James M. Pfundstein
Posted on Sunday, August 07, 2005 - 01:49 am:   

Seyffert and Smith are pretty respectable, if elderly, reference works. It's true the site that hosts them on-line also hosts a wiki about the classical world, but so what? GabrielM: do you think they forged the (thousands of) scanned page images? According to my (print) copy of Seyffert, they didn't.

I'll take Tivo's point that I misread him as referring to Augustine when he was really referring to Plato. It actually makes his position even more dimwitted, though. Plato's importance for Greek science is quite trivial, since he was almost wholly uninterested in it. Greek science reaches its zenith in the Hellenistic period (i.e. in the age following Plato) with Hipparchus and Archimedes, although it continues to develop through Ptolemy. Interested parties who disdain Smith or Seyffert can pursue the matter in Kuhn's _Copernican Revolution_, Heath's _Aristarchus of Samos_ and Evans' superb and fairly recent _History and Practice of Ancient Astronomy_.

It's too bad GabrielM has been annoyed-- if he's really interested in Tivonian thoughts on sf/fantasy I'm sure Tivo could be persuaded to post more of them. But he hasn't responded to any of mine (typically taking refuge in the subjectivity defense he scorns in others), so someone else had better try to lure him out of retirement.

JMP
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Tivo
Posted on Sunday, August 07, 2005 - 11:49 am:   

I haven't scorned anyone James, quite the opposite. It's been you who have crawled out of the woodwork to insult me. You can have any opinion you want, read/write whatever you want without my insulting you. However, when trying to pick me apart, just try to get something right. There seems to be no point too obvious for you to miss, or phrase you can read without misunderstanding or distortion.

Yes, Stephen the Goths et al are a mixed bag. In fact, they were as you have said, originally a peaceful people, the unfortunate victims of Rome that gave them sanctuary, then turned on them. My only point here is that it's not what I was talking about.

In terms of ancient history, while it is true that the Pythagoreans mystified whole numbers, they pulled elements from Babylonian (etc) science and math into the beginnings of deductive logic, derived geometric theorems, explored parallel lines, "derived" the "Pythagoras theorem" of the ancient Babylonians, discovered the vibration modes of terminated strings, and much more. Euclid in his Elements incorporated much of Pythagorean geometry, and even Plato used Pythagorean logic as a bias for his philosophies, although he screwed it up. As to dogmatic, the Pythagoreans discovered irrational numbers, which was a blow to their mystical ideas about whole numbers. But the society survived and prospered anyway - lasting about 300 years. Copernicus more than 1500 years later, knowing less about the physical world than Archimedes (because of Plato, Augustine et al) took his only brilliant inspiration - a sun centered solar system -from the Pythagoreans.

Finally, my only contribution to this thread “What’s wrong with Fantasy/SF”: I believe, it is my “opinion”, that SF – the SF or Clarke and Bear – would do better if the two weren’t mixed up together. In my opinion, they are opposites. Some people who have written in this thread have suggested the best SF they’ve read recently has been marketed in the mainstream, giving my case some support. Others in the business have suggested SF on its own is not favored economically. And still others have said Analog, the “hard” SF magazine, has the greatest circulation, giving my case some support. I think there is reason to believe that having Fantasy and SF marketed together has chased off significant readership. I’m not telling anyone what’s good or bad. I’m not telling anyone what to read or write. I’m just suggesting a divorce of Fantasy and SF would benefit writers and readers of SF. If you don’t agree, that’s fine.
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Vera Nazarian
Posted on Sunday, August 07, 2005 - 02:53 pm:   

James M. Pfundstein said:

An imagination unlimited by the real is not the same as an inability to distinguish what is real nor the same as a distaste for what is real. In fact, only such an imagination can increase our knowledge of reality by imagining what was previously not known to be real. Imagination and science are inherently interlinked, and so must fantasy and science fiction be.


This is an excellent point, very well stated.
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Gary Wassner
Posted on Sunday, August 07, 2005 - 02:56 pm:   

That certainly seems to me to be perfectly fair and balanced summation. In fact, most recently in the big Barnes and Noble stores that I frequent, the fantasy and sci/fi shelves are separate and distinct from one another. There are now at least 4 banks of shelves devoted to fantasy and no more than 1 for sci fi.

On a related topic, I just left the Convention in Glasgow and though it is ostensibly devoted to science fiction, as the title seems to indicate, there were as many authors of fantasy as there were others in attendance. By the way they advertise and promote the Con, you would think that fantasy is a sub genre of science fiction. Mysteries are mysteries and thrillers are thrillers. How much does Epic Fantasy actually resemble hard core sci fi really? Shouldn't they be separate? Readers of one are not automatically readers of the other, and it seems to me that in most cases, they are quite distinct.
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James M. Pfundstein
Posted on Sunday, August 07, 2005 - 04:02 pm:   

Tivo scorned Plato, Aristotle, Augustine (with particular venom and ignorance) and anyone who participated in the enterprise of Greek science except, for some reason, those adhering to the religious philosophy of Pythagoras. I have a fondness for these guys, even the Pythagoreans, and Tivo's self-contented symposium of error annoyed me, not unreasonably I think. (Just one gross error from his last: the Pythagorean system of astronomy wasn't, or wasn't always, geocentric, but it wasn't ever heliocentric. Both the earth and the sun, along with the counter-earth, were held to orbit an unseen "central fire." The reasoning: this resulted in 10 celestial spheres, including the sphere of the fixed stars, and ten was a perfect number, approved by mathematico-religious dogma. Is this science? Not in any way most ancient or modern astronomers would accept. See Heath's _Aristarchus_ on Pythagoras, pp. 49-51; on the Pythagoreans, p. 94ff.)

Tivo's opinion that sf would do better without fantasy was not, as we know, shared by Clarke himself when he was doing his greatest work as a science fiction writer, a scientist and a visionary of science. (Again, see his correspondence with Dunsany.)

James Blish argues in _More Issues at Hand_ (p, 47f) that fantasy (in the psychological and literary senses) was essential to Clarke's sf. The whole passage is too long to quote, but the conclusion is worth attending to: "an important part of Mr. Clarke's success as a fiction writer... can be attributed to the use-- the unashamed use --he made of these semi-erotic, semi-irresponsible daydreams, which he told us as soberly as though they were worth taking seriously as hard truths. Instead of clinging to them in privacy, shame or penuriousness, he voiced them for all of us, as though he were reporting an important part of the real world. And of course he was; hence, how could we fail to be moved?"

Tivo, of course, will take refuge in his "you say po-tay-to, I say po-tah-to" subjectivism. But I'd say that his Great Divorce between sf and fantasy is objectively off, because it's impossible. Science fiction is a form of fantasy; seperation from the main body would not be divorce but amputation and the severed limb (sf) would die. Fortunately, for those of us who like it, that's not too likely.

JM("Marriage of Heaven and Hell")P
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James M. Pfundstein
Posted on Sunday, August 07, 2005 - 04:14 pm:   

Tangent Online has just reposted an old (1997) article by Dave Wolverton, "On Writing as a Fantasist" which might be of interest to anyone who was interested in the original topic of this thread.

http://www.tangentonline.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=529&Itemi d=284

JMP("Phantastes")
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Tivo
Posted on Monday, August 08, 2005 - 08:09 am:   

"Shouldn't they be separate? Readers of one are not automatically readers of the other, and it seems to me that in most cases, they are quite distinct."

I think so, and so do a lot of others who have stopped reading SF. The numbers speak for themselves - the people in the business know it and, I suspect, most people who know the difference between science and fantasy know it - the ones who no longer go to the shelves looking for SF because so little of it can be found there.
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Tivo
Posted on Monday, August 08, 2005 - 09:02 am:   

Oh, and by the way. In Copernicus’s "Revolutions", his only printed work, the center of the solar system is not the sun but a point outside the sun in empty space. Today, we've calculated and measured the center of mass of the solar system to be a point inside the sun, but not at its center, so that the sun wobbles as it orbits the center of mass of the solar system. Furthermore, if the sun had been smaller, the center of mass would have been in empty space. Both Copernicus and Archimedes ( “The Sand Reckoner” - a work by Archimedes) attribute the sun-centered-universe to Aristarchus, a Pythagorean. Today, we use the Pythagoras formulas both in geometry and quadratic equations. We teach Euclidean geometry to students in high school – much of which Euclid found in the works of the Pythagoreans.

Let’s take this thing all the way. Copernicus, who died depressed, knowing that his work was absolutely wrong and his measurements even worst, is known today only for rediscovering the work of Aristarchus. Tycho and Kepler started the light flickering, Galileo took huge original steps toward modern science, but it was Newton who sealed the deal. If Plato et al were responsible for the darkness; it was Newton who finally turned the lights on. Science, as we know it today, reflects the work of Newton. Einstein wrote of Newton, “if I have seen far, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of a giant.”

As for Clarke, who I think the world of, a well know British literary agent told me that he believed that if Clarke was unknown, it’s unlikely he’d be published today given the state of the genre. Then he laughed and said, he didn’t think Clarke could even win the Clarke prize today given the sensibilities of the genre.
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James M. Pfundstein
Posted on Monday, August 08, 2005 - 01:08 pm:   

Tivo again shows us that, whatever his merits as a digital video recorder, he's an incapable guide to the history of science. (I remind the long-suffering reader of Tivo's insistence that writers should "'give a damn' about the details" and invite him/her to compare Tivo's theory to Tivo's performance).

Aristarchus, of course, was not a Pythagorean: he was one of those much-despised followers of Aristotle (taking over the leadership of the Peripatetic school after the death of Aristotle's successor, Theophrastus). The heliocentric system he proposed was original with him-- the sole (and not insignificant) similarity between it and the Pythagorean cosmos was that it put the earth in motion. The Pythagoreans can justly claim to be the ancestor of _eppur si muove_ but not of heliocentrism.

I don't expect these facts to make any impact on Tivo's fiercely held neo-Pythagorean faith, but it's barely possible that this might come under the eyes of some interested and reasonable person.

JMP("Peripeteia")
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Danny Adams
Posted on Monday, August 08, 2005 - 04:18 pm:   

And here we have another example of the fact that somehow science-fiction zealots are much, much worse than "mainstream TV show" zealots:

>.If Crime fans all got together and wore trenchcoats and fired water pistols at each other, the media would treat that with the same Paxmanesque ye-e-e-e-es.<<

No, what we have now are crime fans who watch too much CSI and end up rendering jury verdicts of innocent because they think if there's no forensic evidence, the defendant must not be guilty.

It always struck me as funny that those who make fun of people standing in long lines to see "Star Wars" would shut the world out to watch "Friends", or those who gripe about adults dressing their children in little Jedi robes at SF cons will cheerfully turn over their own children to the TV-as-babysitter.

It's all the same sort of frippery, as the author called it; it's just that some frippery is more socially acceptable than others.
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gary wassner
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2005 - 02:44 am:   

That was quite astute actually. I run outdorrs everyday,usually 6 - 7 miles. And I run in the winter when it is rather cold in NY. On my way to my starting point I ride beside a golf course and I always find myself wondeing how these insane people could be playing golf in 30 defgree F weather. Yet here I am about to run 7 miles in that same weather.

There is your way. There is my way. But there is no 'way'.
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Tivo
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2005 - 08:15 am:   

A general description of Aristarchus (almost any reference):

“Aristarchus of Samos was a Greek astronomer and mathematician belonging to the Pythagorean school. They attempted to understand the universe in terms of geometry and arithmetic. Aristarchus proposed that the earth rotates on its axis daily and that heavenly bodies, including the earth, revolve around the sun. This heliocentric view predated Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) by almost 2000 years! He is also known as the first astronomer to calculate astronomical distances using mathematics, which up to that time had been a matter of guesswork and speculation. A prominent lunar crater (the brightest feature on the moon) is named after him.”

From Arthur Koestler – nominated for the Nobel Prize three times:

“Aristarchus, last in the line of Pythagorean astronomers, came like the master Pythagoras, from Samos...”
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al duncan
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2005 - 09:59 am:   

And here we have another example of the fact that somehow science-fiction zealots are much, much worse than "mainstream TV show" zealots... it's just that some frippery is more socially acceptable than others.

And here we have another example of the fact that poor downtrodden SF genre bunnies are being scorned unjustly by evil Muggles.

"It's so unfair! Those mainstream types don't get the same derision we do! They only act like that because they're meanies!" Or "because they're snobs!" Or basically "because they're shallowly and snobbishly obsessed with social acceptability".

I still don't buy it.

Those people standing in long lines (for weeks (and at the wrong cinema)) to see Star Wars... they get the piss taken out of them because they're exhibiting a nutjob level of obsession. We are talking about activity just a wee bit more extreme than taking the phone off the hook for an hour a week so you can watch CSI (or read a book, even) in peace. If those CSI fans were dressing their kids up as corpses and queueing round the block to meet a sodding actor, they'd get the piss ripped out of them for sure. Talk of jury verdicts and neglected children is just muddying the issue. I repeat:

If Crime fans all got together and wore trenchcoats and fired water pistols at each other, the media would treat that with the same Paxmanesque ye-e-e-e-es.

The media has the same reaction to SF/F it does to any circus side-show of overgrown adolescent freaks and geeks, the same reaction it had to glitter-spattered glam fans outside Bowie concerts in the 70's, or the Tartan-clad fans of the Bay City Rollers. It points a camera, describes the scene with wry dismissive amusement, and comes up with crappy puns for headlines. Why does it do that to these poor people? Because these poor people are... well... uh... fans. As in fanatics. As in "filled with excessive and mistaken enthusiasm" (Concise Oxford Dictionary -- not sure I agree with the "mistaken" bit -- I'd use "indiscriminate" meself -- but you get the drift). And if folks dress like clowns, talk like bufoons and have such devotion to formulaic product they can sit through the risible crud of Episode None and, Ye Gods, go back for more, then there are, I'm afraid, those who will roundly mock these fools and fruitcakes. Yes, that's awfully rude of those horrid press people, and I'm more than happy to slag back journo hacks who take the cheap and easy option, but Christ, it's long past time to ditch this Poor Me victim pose. We're not persecuted pariahs doing "the same sort of frippery" as fans of mainstream TV shows. It's not some evil conspiracy of conditioning that some frippery (i.e. Theirs) is more socially acceptable than others (i.e. Ours). The frippery is not the same. If it was, the telly addicts would get the same reaction. In fact where hobbyists are seen as similarly cracked, as a bit bonkers, as proper full-on fanatics, well, they generally do. I mean, trainspotters are hardly treated with reverence and respect.

However... fuckwits who take their knowledge of the criminal justice system from CSI, bores who witter on interminably about "Friends", lazy breeders of goggle-eyed TV drones -- these "fans" are not really obsessives in the same way you get in true fandom, in SF/F, Goth, Glam, whatever. Yes, they're twats, but they're not dancing around in the traffic, waving their imaginary lightsabres and shouting "Vrrrrrouw! Gzzzzzt! Gzzzt-zzt! Vrrrrrrouwooo!" So what's the story to them?

Tonight on the news: Fuckwit stays at home and watches CSI. But first here's Tammy with the weather.

No. I rather think if you could establish a causal link between overly lenient jury verdicts and watching too much CSI (rather than, say, not paying fucking attention to the "reasonable" part of "reasonable doubt" when the judge explains things) you might end up with a story the press would run.

A Government study today suggested that jury verdicts may be erring on the side of caution due to televsual brainwashing...

A juror's confession to having "been a brain-dead moron who thought CSI was real" today stunned the Supreme Court...


But those are different types of story entirely. It's a specific type of frippery that the media latches on to - the particuarly puerile frippery of people who dress up in costumes when it ain't even nearly Halloween, who collect children's toys that aren't even teribly rare, who've seen the same movie, read the same book 120 times, who obsess over pitifully insignificant details of continuity and accuracy, who will tell you in all seriousness that some schlockbuster shite is the Best Film Ever In The World... who are, for want of a better term, raving loons. So... the media focus in on the minority of fans who are the most entertainingly extreme, in a lowest common denominator tabloid way? Ye don't say? No shit? Hold the press, Jimmy Olsen! We got a new front page! Here's the headline.

Attention Seeking Freaks Get Attention!

Hey ho.
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2005 - 11:17 am:   

Al, I do agree with some of what you're saying. But calm down man.:-) I didn't even know it was it was this big of an issue. But then, you'd know fandom better then me, as I've never been to a con.

To me, being a fan can just mean, simply, you like or admire someone's work. Doesn't mean you're fanatical. You know?

Also, you seem to sometimes oversimplify people. Just like the media. You lump SF/F with goth and glam. That doesn't make sense. SF and fantasy are a type of literature. Glam -- whatever you mean by that? --was just a subgenre of rock, which yes, Bowie started.

As for goths -- they really vary. I've known some who are just that way because they're a little screwed up, probably bacause of tramatic events in their past. I have a lot of empathy for those people. Some just like to wear black or are sick of all the clones. Some like to shock or get attention. Some are complete try hards, who annoy me. Often they're just young kids, trying to fit into something, so I can cut them slack. Some girls, if not overblown, actually look really sexy in that style. But they're usually exceptional...

In reality some people are just dark. They aren't trying to be. They just are. They don't need makeup and dark clothing to pretend to be dark. But people like that, usually wouldn't want to be labeled as anything, anyway.

You probably wouldn't have liked the hippies in the 60s...:-)
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Night Shade Books
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2005 - 11:20 am:   

I think I love you.

Wear a bathrobe to Hitchhiker's at the movies, get the piss taken out of you. It's an equation most of us figured out on the playground in grade school.
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Night Shade Books
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2005 - 11:23 am:   

"Also, you seem to sometimes oversimplify people. Just like the media. You lump SF/F with goth and glam. That doesn't make sense. SF and fantasy are a type of literature. Glam -- whatever you mean by that? --was just a subgenre of rock, which yes, Bowie started."

I think it's pretty straightforward. When you act like a whackjob in public, expect people to poke fun. Dressing up in full glam for a Bowie show is the same kind of whackjob as wearing a fucking jedi robe to WorldCon (and by extension, down the streets of San Jose).
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Night Shade Books
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2005 - 11:24 am:   

Which is not to say there's anything wrong with it, just that you shouldn't be surprised if you get mocked for it.

My hair is green. I get stupid comments about my hair being green. It's idiotic to expect that I wouldn't get stupid comments about it, so if I minded getting stupid comments, then I shouldn't have done it.
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gary gibson
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2005 - 11:28 am:   

Unless, of course, you're going to a football match. In which case dressing like a loon (painting your face blue seems to be de rigeur in Scotland) becomes entirely socially acceptable. Basically it comes down to whether or not you're with the 'right' gang. Them or us.
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Night Shade Books
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2005 - 11:33 am:   

It may be socially acceptable to dress like an idiot and paint yourself blue at a sporting event (yes, they do it in the US as well), but they still get mocked for it.
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2005 - 11:38 am:   

Dude, I'm not the type to dress up like that. But I don't want to look down and judge people because they choose to dress a certain way, just because it isn't the norm. Fuck the norm.

If a punk wants to have a big green mohawk, because he likes the way it looks, or to make a statement, then good for him. It's his deal. I'm not going to assume the guy's nuts because of that. It's about respect. Respecting people who are different.

Because as soon as don't, you're becomming like one of the bullies. Part of the crowd maintaining the staus quo.
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Night Shade Books
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2005 - 11:50 am:   

That was a royal "you". I don't know you, and I haven't the faintest idea how you dress.

That's a very naive attitude. Nice, but it doesn't work in the real world. Dress weird, get mocked. We all know it. The majority says "Football jerseys ok, jedi robes bad". Like it or not, that's the deal.

Of course, you're saying you're any different. I'm certainly not. I mock as much as anyone, I just tend to mock people who drive SUVs or who wear football jerseys or who watch Friends. Mocking is mocking, and my mocking is just as valid as anyone's.

Mostly it doesn't matter. Dress like a goth, get mocked. Ok, but you're being mocked by people you probably don't like to begin with, and you're flying the flag to people that you'll probably like that "hey, I'm weird too, come hang out with me." So why stress it?
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2005 - 12:02 pm:   

I'm not being naive. I know how the real world works. And I'm fighting against it. Not many people do. Most go along with it.

It's bullshit how people are manipulated and controlled by corporations, corrupt governments, and the media. To quote Timothy Leary -- "Learn to control your own eyes".

Fuck the bullies.

Fuck the rich who walk around in gucci, with 1000 dollar hairdos, looking down at other people as if they were trash.

Fuck people who can't think for themselves; who appease authority; who all they know how to do is conform.

Fuck people who only care about getting a head in life, no matter who they hurt, who they have to step on to get their.

Fuck the status quo.

Fuck the people who are running this world.
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2005 - 12:07 pm:   

Excuse my french. I am laying it on strong...
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2005 - 12:28 pm:   

So here is my suggestion:

Instead of mocking and picking on those already being mocked and picked on by the majority. Turn it around. Stand up for those people and maybe they'll learn to follow your lead, and start standing up for themselves. Show them that you can go your own way in life.

Some of the coolest people I've known have been misfits in life. They're often the ones who get beyond all the bullshit. Who do their own thing. Who achieve something worthwhile.
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Jeremy Lassen
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2005 - 02:03 pm:   

There will always be boundaries. And there will always be people pushing against those boundaries. Keep up the good work, Stephen. Because people pushed against those boundaries, I can now walk down the street with my wife, and not be subject to scorn or derision, or physical violence because we are not of the same race.

But as enlightened as I like to think I am, I still have a condescendingly smug attitude towards people who dress up as Klingons. I don't have that attitude because I am OUTSIDE of the genre of SF and fantasy. There are plenty of people who dismiss anything outside of the norm because its not the norm. That’s not what’s going on in my case.

I dismiss Klingons because I've known a lot of people... I've had a lot of social interaction with people who dress up as klingons. And for the most part, to make a generalization that has proven pretty reliable for me in the past... I don't want anything to do with those people because we don't have anything in common, and have completely different aesthetic tastes.

Does it make me an elitist snob, or some kind of conformist? No... It means I'm using people’s public behavior as a way to identify if I want to associate with them. I’m using passed experiences with said public behavior to make those decisions.

Its a common sociological phenomenon. It happens in ever group, and every sub group. It's tribal. Mainstream and counter cultures both engage in this selection process. Go to a punk rock show in a 3 piece suit… Hell show up in fratboy attire… Expect to get a fisheye from the green haired mohawked kids. And don’t expect to be able to successfully pick up on that earnestly punk rock girrrl with the safety pin in her lip. Because you are going to be filtered out on the basis of your public appearance, and their previous experiences with frat boys and suits.

Is there a possibility that I might miss out on meeting a great person because of this filter? Sure. But there’s a million interesting/cool/well read people out there that I would get on fabulously with, and a billion ones that I won’t . And I have to separate the wheat from the chaff somehow.

Throw a mono-culture, lowest common denominator/easiest story to tell based media, and you have (gasp) clichés. Generalizations. The media has spent the last 20 years making itself irrelevant as a gatekeeper of culture/counterculture. Expect that trend to continue. The dumber the mono-culture gets, the less relevant it will be to people.


There's fighting the good fight, and there's pissing in the wind. It's a fine line, and It is constantly moving... Set your filters appropriately. Make sure your kill file rules are up to date, and occasionally double check your spam folder.

Peace.
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2005 - 02:49 pm:   

Fair enough. I know what you mean. I haven't really known or hung out with people who dress up as Klingons. I'll bet some of them are pretty annoying. But for the most part, they're probably mostly just people who're into Trek, who like to dress up with and hang out with their friends, girlfriends and boyfriends, who're also into Trek. I'm not really into Trek, but I know some people who I like and are interesting to talk with, who I'd consider friends, who are. It's not like we should define people by the T.V. shows they watch.

Maybe some of the hardcore media type fans give other people who're into SF, fantasy, or horror a bad name? At least in some people's eyes. But I'd say, who cares? Let 'em be. Who cares what most of those people think anyway? Just leave some room on the bookshelves for those who have taste.:-) And now with the internet, you kind find pretty much whatever you want, anyway.

The problem I have I guess. Is how the big publishing CEO's would rather publish media tie-n stuff because it's safe and profitable.

But the small press is really good right now, anyway...
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James M. Pfundstein
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2005 - 09:45 pm:   

Tivo wrote:

"A general description of Aristarchus (almost any reference):"
____

and then, having injudiciously revealed the fact that he has not consulted any source, and that his quotation is fictitious, he repeated his fallacious description of Aristarchus, along with some corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative. (That's from W.S. Gilbert who, like Arthur Koestler, did not win a Nobel Prize. As far as science goes, Koestler was frequently a quack.)

Anyone who prefers Tivo's fictionalized pseudo-account of ancient science over the ascertainable facts (i.e. the masses of primary evidence cited in Heath's and Kuhn's standard works on ancient astronomy, and Seyffert's or Smith's encyclopedic entries on the relevant figures) is at liberty to do so. But devotion to an inerrant text (apparently Koestler in this case-- maybe "The Sleepwalkers"?) is not the sign of a genuinely scientific mind.

More and more I imagine Tivo as one of the Scientific People from Bester's _The Stars My Destination_-- the space tribe whose religion was "a barbaric travesty of the scientific method." As long as Tivo keeps shouting "Quant suff!" or similar catchwords of which he has no clear understanding, he figures he's being scientific.

Given Tivo's inability to come to terms with historical fact, it's hard to accept his plea for more genuine science content in science fiction. To put it mildly, he hasn't shown himself a good judge of what's genuine and what's not.

JMP("Potassium Bromide gr.3")
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2005 - 10:37 pm:   

Personally I tend to like people who aren't just like everybody else. Who aren't quite like anyone else. Who stand out.

So, I guess I can be a little prejudice towards people who are too average, or square, or similar or whatever. No one's completely innocent in that regard.

But to each his own and all that.
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, August 09, 2005 - 10:58 pm:   

But it's more about how a person acts, for me.
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al duncan
Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - 04:23 am:   

But it's more about how a person acts, for me.

Well, yes... that's kinda my point. Putting a Jedi robe on yer kid is an action which, along with a host of other more obsessive actions, identifies a person as not-normal. SF/F fans don't just get the piss taken out of them for dressing up as Klingons. It's the devotion beyond the norm, the fact that they dress up outside Halloween, that they dress up en masse, that they speak Klingon, know vast amounts of trivia about Star Trek and so on. That they stand in the wrong queue for six weeks.

Maybe I'm not being Uncle Al, the Kiddies' Pal here but they are freaks and fruitcakes. There are many different types of freaks and fruitcakes. Some of my best friends are freaks and fruitcakes. I myself am probably quite classifiable as a freak and a fruitcake. I could call them "socially challenged monomaniacs" but fuck that for a game of sodjies. It's not a big issue with these guys, really (well, OK, if I get stuck trying to be polite to some loon in a uniform who wants to tell me all about the secret messages in Babylon 5, yes, it's an issue; otherwise you can stick on a green tutu and sing "I'm A Happy Cauliflower" for all I care... at a convention I'll probably be making a tit of myself trying to drown you out with an appalling rendition of "Born Free"). What kicks me off in my ranting with all this is not the fact that these particular freaks and fruitcakes are the self-proclaimed avatars of SF/F and make us awfully serious writer types look terribly silly, dash it! No, what kicks me off on this rant is the self-aggrandising idea that it's all about SF/F, you know... it's anti-genre prejudice, it's mundanes, muggles, norms who just hate our wonderful imaginative visionary SFnal spirit and want to crush us all for daring to believe. I mean don't they know how -- *sniff* -- how sensitive we are. The brutes.

No, I say. They just think we're being silly, childish and obsessive. Extremely silly, childish and obsessive. Silly, childish and obsessive to a point which can, quite accurately, be labelled crazy like a coconut, brother. The behaviour of many football fans is, of course, equally silly and obsessive, but, ye see, football's a manly pursuit -- it's about testosterone-fuelled aggression and warrior heroes in ritual combat. That's why those fans get away with it.

So, yes, I could have used hippies as an example and talked about naming yer kid Moonbeam, dressing in tie-dye, and so on but it's not because I disdain all outre behaviour as foolish frippery; I'm just pointing to the fact that this is hardly unique to SF/F. My point about goth and glam wasn't to lump them in with SF/F as "the same thing" but to set up a comparison of subcultures / counter-cultures where people come together over shared interests and often wear certain clothes and do certain things to mark out their membership of a certain clique. My point is that those guys had to put up with the same shit because they take sartorial unconventionality to a ridiculous level. So did hippies. So do punks. Punks, of course, don't tend to whine about the sniggers of norms because the whole point is to be confrontational even in yer style -- exactly the type of "fuck the conventional" attitude you're supporting. Teddy-boys and psychobillys and metalheads and New Romantics, Hari Krishnas, and on and on and on and on all get the sniggers and either shrug it off with a smile or a sneer in return, or don't.

So... either one expects the mockery or one is exceedingly naive. If you expect it but think "fucked if I care" and fight the good fight against the norms, then power to ya. I've had the green hair meself too and I'd hardly classify meself as a conventional dresser even now; I still regularly get jeers from neds in shell shuits walking down the street. I respect all those thrawn bastards with no time for the peer pressure exerted by pansy-ass pussies, no time for the bullies driven by cowardice. But I really can't be bothered with the defensive denial that SF/F's bad treatment in the press is ultimately to do with our own people making themselves look stupid.
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Tivo
Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - 07:34 am:   

Is there anyone out there who is currently writing "hard" SF right now (or any SF that would not be considered Fantasy)? I'd be interested in hearing your experiences of late in terms of what you've seen in the market. The good, the bad, or the ugly.
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StephenB
Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - 07:55 am:   

lol
Okay, I totally see what you're saying now, Al. It's true. Like I said, I've never been to a convention, but if I do go to one and some guy in a Babylon Five outfit comes up and starts going on about it, in my face, I'd find a way to get away pretty quick. I remember at a Halloween party me and my buddy went off into the garage to smoke a bong with these guys. Just as we're leaving, some of the drama crew walks in. One guy's dressed as Captain Kirk. I say hi -- I haven't met the guy before and he starts yelling with his hand in the air -- "I'm James T Kirk of the Star Ship Enterprise, blah, blah -- so I pretty much just walked away.:-)

Goths and punks aren't quite the same as Star Trek nerds. But whatever. Still, I think I've grown beyond having to dress a certain way to combat the status quo or norms or whatever. I mean, I think it's cool when people try to be different. To me though, normal isn't usually what I'm looking for. Excessive normality is boring. But like you've said, there's different types of crazy, different types of freaks, and not all of them appeal to me. But still, some families who every now and then like to dress up like Jedis, isn't really a big deal to me, as long as they don't annoy me. If they're good people and can have intelligent conversations, I'd talk to them. I'd probably tell them their devotion's silly and that, sure, I loved the original trilogy as a kid, but the prequels suck, and you're just buying into Lucas' marketing Empire. If that offends them, well, that just goes to show that we probably wouldn't have a lot in common. They might just say, we know, but we just like to have fun this way. And fair enough, if that's the case.
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StephenB
Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - 08:29 am:   

So... either one expects the mockery or one is exceedingly naive.

Actually, you'd be surprised what some people can get away with...

I've been known to test the limits at times (usually when I'm in an impaired state:-)). See what I can get away with. Of course, not everyone can pull off, or get away with, the same shit...

It's often a matter of confidence.
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StephenB
Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - 08:45 am:   

And, yes, it doesn't always work...:-)
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Jörn Grote
Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - 09:58 am:   

Is there anyone out there who is currently writing "hard" SF right now (or any SF that would not be considered Fantasy)? I'd be interested in hearing your experiences of late in terms of what you've seen in the market. The good, the bad, or the ugly.

There are so many SF writer who think "hard" about some aspect of the future in their fiction that it would be hard to count them all. If you mostly count physics as hard SF, you should try most of Greg Egan's books. "Schild's Ladder" is his latest, that one should sate your "hard" SF appetite. Then you can try other who are less hard than Egan, "The Collapsium" by Wil McCarthy, "Permanence" by Karl Schroeder, "Revelation Space" by Alastair Reynolds, "Accelerando" by Charles Stross.

Ps.: anyone who thinks that "hard" SF doesn't exist anymore, can't have read much SF in recent years
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Stephen
Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - 10:06 am:   

I though "Oceanic" was pretty great.
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Tivo
Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - 11:57 am:   

I'm curious about is the experience of "new" authors of non-Fantasy SF trying to get their stories/books published right now. I was wondering if anyone on this thread is a new author with interesting experiences to relate as to their reception by publishers and/or agents. Or whether there are publishers and/or agents on this thread that might speak about what the trends are right now.

PS I've read Egan (mathematician), Reynolds (a physicist), and Stross (an ex-software developer). Egan has been publishing since the early 90's, Reynolds has been publishing stories since 1997 and Stross since the late 80's.
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Tivo
Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - 12:16 pm:   

Almost any source (on Aristarchus)- I phrased it that way because of the many that came up - that was the first one:

http://psych.athabascau.ca/html/Glossary/demo_glossary.cgi?mode=history&term_id= 679&color_id=1

Here's the second:

http://www.hao.ucar.edu/Public/education/bios/aristarchus.html

there are about 500 others but I won't list them.
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Jörn Grote
Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - 12:28 pm:   

Okay, you want a recent recent hard SF author, try Mike Brotherton's "Star Dragon".
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Tivo
Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - 12:43 pm:   

Yeah - I read it - and liked it. You can download it for free on the web. Also, I like Greg Egan very much. It's not so much that I'm saying there is no new "hard" (don't like that term) SF - of course there is; I'm just interested in first hand experiences of people trying to do it today. Also, some on the business end have expressed fears that "hard" SF in the genre is not economically viable. Since I assume there are authors and literary business people on the forum, I was wondering what their experiences are.
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Jörn Grote
Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - 12:53 pm:   

I think for hard SF writer you might be on the wrong board.
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Jörn Grote
Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - 01:14 pm:   

It's not so much that I'm saying there is no new "hard" (don't like that term) SF - of course there is; I'm just interested in first hand experiences of people trying to do it today.

Are you talking about short fiction or novels?

Whenever I read what the magazines want, they always say that they don't get enough good SF, so IF you write good SF short fiction, then you will get published (good by standards of the editors, not their own, many aspiring writers seems to confuse that).

I don't know about novels, but from what I read on writers sites and in forums is that good hard SF will always find a place. The only problem is that it has to feel edgy, I think. If you write a book that has the same sensibilities like an old Clement or Niven book, then you will probably have problems selling it. Nobody will read stale fiction.

All that said, I'm a reader not a writer, so if I'm wrong someone will probably correct me.
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elizabeth bear
Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - 02:05 pm:   

I'm a science fiction writer, first published in novel form as of January 2005. (full disclosure: I also write fantasy, mystery, historical fiction, and anything else that amuses me.)

Writers such as myself, John Scalzi, Ken Wharton, Mike Brotherton, Liz Williams, Kristine Smith, Peter Watts, Richard Morgan, Karin Lowachee, Chris Moriarty, M.M. Buckner, Wen Spencer, and Cory Doctorow have all started publishing more or less hard SF in the last five or six years (that's just off the top of my head, and covers a range from crunchy crunchy hard SF to space opera, hitting bases like sociological SF and what not in the middle, and if you gave me half an hour I could come up with ten or fifteen more.)

And that's, lessee... Two physicists and a marine biologist, a bunch of computer geeks of various stripes, and, um, me. *g* I have no credentials. But I'm not afraid to ask people who do.

Anyway, my experience is that publishers are actively looking for good novel-length SF, and frankly, when I offered my SF publisher a fantasy novel, they turned it down.

They wanted another science fiction novel.

The fantasy novel sold to another publisher, so I'm pretty sure it was a turn-down on content and not quality.

The idea that SF is dead, or that it's just not being published anymore, is essentially a non-hunting dog.

--Bear
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gary gibson
Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - 04:38 pm:   

I heard sf of the type I write - which, with lots of provisos, you could maybe label hard sf - isn't so easy to sell at the moment. Possibly because the 'new weirdish' stuff like Mieville is selling better? Mind you, I'm writing from the British side of things, and I assume the US market is a different kettle of fish. I suspect the reports of the imminent demise of 'hard' sf in favour of more fantasy-esque stuff is indeed exaggerated. It seems to depend who you talk to.
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Tivo
Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - 04:54 pm:   

That's great feedback, but would you call something like "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" SF or Fantasy? And, yes, I think you're right about edgy - but what does that mean today?

I think "Star Dragon" was the kind of SF I'm talking about, but it's hard for me to come up with another example like it. Although, I not familiar with most of the authors you cited Elizabeth.
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James M. Pfundstein
Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - 09:21 pm:   

After posting URLs for a couple of dog-ate-my-homework-so-I-just-downloaded-this-off-the-internet
web-pages, Tivo wrote (or rather: quantsuffed):

"there are about 500 others but I won't list them."

So Tivo expects these things to count as _sources_? There must be at least an equal number of ignoramuses claiming on-line that the theory of evolution is false, or hawking the virtues of one race over the over the others. Tivo's scientific method: counting noses. It would be interesting if matters of fact were settled that way (a sort of fantasy world where objective standards didn't apply) but, fortunately, they aren't.

Does any of this goo (which cites no primary evidence) outweigh the facts that Aetius, the Greek doxographer from the 1st century AD, tells us that Aristarchus was a pupil of Strato the Peripatetic, and that no ancient source associates Aristarchus with the Pythagorean movement (which in any case was based in southern Italy, not Samos or Alexandria)? Short answer: no. Long answer: a million bushels of nothing still weigh less than one fact.

It does raise a parallel question, though. How many content-free posts from Tivo would it take to completely fill cyberspace? If only there some modern Archimedes willing to reckon how many of these sandy bits of nothing are in our future. But Cantor, sadly, is both crazy and dead.

JM("Myrios")P
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Jörn Grote
Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - 11:16 pm:   

but would you call something like "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" SF or Fantasy

I don't see how you can label that any other than SF. Very fine SF also. Just not very "hard".

From Elizabeth's list I say added to Mike Brotherton that Peter Watts writes hard SF. The rest not. I find it sometimes funny how many writer categorize themselves as hard SF who are clearly not.

And no, handwavium and technobubble don't count as "hard" SF.
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elizabeth bear
Posted on Thursday, August 11, 2005 - 06:55 am:   

In addition to Peter and Mike, Ken Wharton's pretty unmistakably writing hard SF. As is Chris Moriarty.

*g* And writers generally don't categorize themselves. That's overwhelmingly marketing's job. But as you'll see if you glance back at my comment, I said "covers a range--"

Oh, and I see I forgot to mention Karen Traviss, above.
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Tivo
Posted on Thursday, August 11, 2005 - 07:59 am:   

I read a novel about every two weeks, usually not SF these days. However, on that occasion when you find a really great SF novel, it's usually the best. The last one that I read, which I thought was really outstanding, was Greg Bear's "Queen of Angels." It is truly an amazing book.
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Tivo
Posted on Thursday, August 11, 2005 - 08:02 am:   

Jorn, you mentioned before that there are other forums (or sites) with a "hard" SF bent. Which might they be?
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Tivo
Posted on Thursday, August 11, 2005 - 08:06 am:   

I'd call "Down and Out" dark satire.
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Jörn Grote
Posted on Thursday, August 11, 2005 - 11:24 am:   

The usenet group rec.arts.sf.written has many hard SF fans
http://groups-beta.google.com/group/rec.arts.sf.written?start=0&hl=en

So does the Analog forum, there are also writer
http://www.analogsf.com/discus/
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Jörn Grote
Posted on Thursday, August 11, 2005 - 11:32 am:   

I'd call "Down and Out" dark satire.

Yes, but why should that mean that it's not SF. Fiction can be both.

In addition to Peter and Mike, Ken Wharton's pretty unmistakably writing hard SF. As is Chris Moriarty.

I have "Spin State" lying around, I should read it one of these days. Hmm, haven't heard anything about Wharton, but thanks for the tip.
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Chelsea
Posted on Thursday, August 11, 2005 - 05:19 pm:   

Okay, I didn't read ALL of that (who would?) but did you guys forget Robert Charles Wilson?

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Jörn Grote
Posted on Thursday, August 11, 2005 - 11:06 pm:   

He isn't really new, his first novel came out in 1986. That said, his new book Spin is really good.
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Tivo
Posted on Friday, August 12, 2005 - 08:13 am:   

I guess you could say many things (almost anything) are/is SF just by the way the genre has evolved (marketing catch-all). But if everything is SF, then, in my opinion, the "science fiction" wing of SF losses its focus and potentcy.

Thanks for the tips.
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Jörn Grote
Posted on Friday, August 12, 2005 - 08:33 am:   

I don't say everything is SF, but if you don't see "Down and Out" as SF, something is wrong with your perception of what SF is.
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Tivo
Posted on Friday, August 12, 2005 - 09:10 am:   

How would you define science fiction?

By the way, I went to Google - interesting site, thanks.
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gary gibson
Posted on Friday, August 12, 2005 - 11:17 am:   

The definitions are just down to what an individual sees as the necessary components for a particular label. Those components shift according to a person's own preferences, which can also be determined by peer pressure - how they think people whose opinions matter to them will think of them depending on the choices they make. One reader's fantasy is another's hard sf.

Look at the emphasis on the absolutely verifiably real in 20th Century realism: it's a similar argument to the hard sf argument which tries as much as possible to stick to the known rules. Writing stories of the absolutely, verifiably real - represents a denial of the escapism at the root of so much fiction, regardless of how philosophically or politically important it happens to be: a refusal to exit the real world for escapism in any form.

But it's not an absolute. Different people like different things, and have preferences in how they take in new ideas (which, after all, is what good writing is all about). Same goes for general sf and hard sf. You coul argue that what I write is fantasy flavoured with science. But much of it is derived from reading wildly speculative articles by people who are highly regarded scientists and rationalists (Tipler's ideas about the singularity, for instance). Does that make it hard sf? In the end, it's just arguing which box something belongs in. In the end, let's just accept we all have different boxes with different labels and different contents.

Not to say it isn't fun to argue anyway, though ...
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Jörn Grote
Posted on Friday, August 12, 2005 - 12:48 pm:   

Sure, the definitions or boxes people use to sort for example fiction into categories differ from person to person, but more often than not these definitions overlap neatly, which allows us in the end to speak about something like science fiction or hard SF as if it were something real.

If Tivo's definition of SF may differ so much from the common SF category most people use that it doesn't include Cory's "Down and Out", he's not wrong. But if he want to talk about SF with others, he may find that they don't understand his arguments, since what he perceives as SF and what others perceive as SF differs so much.
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Jörn Grote
Posted on Friday, August 12, 2005 - 12:58 pm:   

Writing stories of the absolutely, verifiably real - represents a denial of the escapism at the root of so much fiction

Most hard SF authors just like to solve problems, the more constrainst a background has, the more they have to find ways around.
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JV
Posted on Friday, August 12, 2005 - 01:39 pm:   

I'd define most SF as fantasy set in the future.

*Running for my life*

JeffV
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Jörn Grote
Posted on Friday, August 12, 2005 - 02:15 pm:   

But what is your definition of fantasy?
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JV
Posted on Friday, August 12, 2005 - 02:20 pm:   

Seriously? A mindset, reality, or style that is not attempting to replicate a mimetic version of our past or present as we commonly agree to define it.

JeffV
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JV
Posted on Friday, August 12, 2005 - 02:24 pm:   

"reality" could mean "setting" to be more precise. But I'm not fond of definitions, which is why I made the comment more as a joke. you are all way too serious.

jeff
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Jörn Grote
Posted on Friday, August 12, 2005 - 02:25 pm:   

Then most standard fantasy wouldn't fall under this definition, since most of it tries to replicate a sort of pseudo-middle age past. But I like your definition, I think many SF writer indeed try to do this.
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Jeremy Lassen
Posted on Friday, August 12, 2005 - 03:36 pm:   

I disagree with you Jorn: Most fantasy, be it an specifically historical setting, or a fetishized Western Medieval analog is specifically NOT "replicating an agreed to and common accepted version of history." Jeff's definition clearly encompasses endeavors that fall under the common marketing category of "fantasy".

Otherwise it would be sold and marketed as "historical fiction", which specifically DOES try to adhere to a commonly accepted version of history.

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Tivo
Posted on Friday, August 12, 2005 - 04:47 pm:   

It's interesting to me that we intuitively know what historical fiction is. We know what crime, mystery, or adventure/intrigue fiction is. We know what literary fiction is. On most literary forums they may argue as to style, % passive sentences, PV, etc., but they seem to know what the content/environment of the story should be in order to qualify as a particular genre or category. As a culture we have good intuitive notions of what these things are. Science fiction - fantasy is where this "what is it" debate most often rages. It may be that as we're debating evolution in Kansas or Intelligent Design in Okla., we may not, as a culture, understand what science is. I know that most people I talk to do not.
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Tivo
Posted on Friday, August 12, 2005 - 05:01 pm:   

I want to add that maybe where I'm having a problem communicating what I think SF is to people in the SF/F business is that I don't know what fantasy is to the SF/F community.

I take fantasy to mean stories whose elements include magic and the supernatural. There may be other elements or cultural icons thrown in, swords, castles, creatures that speak or behave like people fashioned after stylized animals, but the distinguishing elements for me are magic and the supernatural.
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Jeremy Lassen
Posted on Friday, August 12, 2005 - 05:50 pm:   

Tivo, you are making some very broad assumptions that I don't think we "all" agree on.

Do you know what differentiates :"Crime" fiction from "Mystery" fiction? Do you REALLY think "we" KNOW what constitutes "Literary" fiction?

These debates of meaning and content and membership exist in every corner of fiction, regardless of genre, It's a bit more than arguing about "passive sentences." Genre aficionados, be they Mystery, or horror, or SF or "literary fiction (itself a genre) CONSTANTLY argue about what constitutes the core of their respective genres. Are there western fans who say that Joe Lansdale's novel DEAD IN THE WEST is NOT part of the genre of Westerns? probably.

SF isn't "special", and peoples understanding or lack thereof of Science has little-to-nothing to do with the question of what constitutes Science Fiction.

The people who read it, and the people who write it... the people who self-identify as reading and writing and publishing Science fiction... THOSE are the people who DEFINE it. And there are just as many definitions as their are people

But a lot of us can come to a common set of definitions that accommodate a lot other peoples views. You do not seem to be able to come to any kind of accommodation with anybody else's definitions.

If you haven't read it, and it isn't to your liking, according to you "it's not science fiction". Your questions about "Down and out in the Magic Kingdom" demonstrate your overly rigid stances quite clearly.

So lowering yourself to giving us your definition of "fantasy" really doesn't do this "debate" any good. It's as equally rigid, (and equally uninformed) as are your definitions of SF.


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Jörn Grote
Posted on Friday, August 12, 2005 - 09:07 pm:   

specifically NOT "replicating an agreed to and common accepted version of history."

That's why I wrote pseudo-middle age past. All those Tolkien clones try to replicate to a certain extent this fetishized Western Medieval analog without creating something original.
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Jeremy Lassen
Posted on Friday, August 12, 2005 - 11:30 pm:   

So how does this suggest a conflict with Jeff's definition of fantasy? "pseudo middle age past" is not "an agreed upon history".

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Jörn Grote
Posted on Friday, August 12, 2005 - 11:44 pm:   

Hmm, I see your point. My error. I somehow read something into Jeff's definition that wasn't there.
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Tivo
Posted on Saturday, August 13, 2005 - 11:30 am:   

So what makes "Down and Out" SF for you? And why say "science" in SF if "Science" is irrelevant to the category? And if it's not irrelevant, what part does it play? And, just as a matter of interest, what is your definition of fantasy?
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Alistair
Posted on Saturday, August 13, 2005 - 02:30 pm:   

Surely the whole point of genres is that they are generic, meaning that they are general categories that cannot, and do not, account for the specific examples they (purely hypothetically) refer to.

Once we start talking about the specific, the whole idea of generic classification goes out the window. It's no longer viable as a descriptive terminology when we are dealing with one specific book.

Most fictions, when you think about it, probably have an element of just about everything in them. So, it's not so much a case of saying: So which category does this book fit into? It's more a case of saying: So which categories fit into this book?

The whole thing about generic classification is that it should give an indication only. What irks me is when a genre -- any genre -- is perceived as subliterary or downright bad in a wholesale sense when (precisely) it consists of so many different examples that range the full spectrum of good / bad or literary / not-so-literary or whatever.

Arguing, Tivo, about whether the book you're arguing about is sci-fi or not is a bit like arguing about whether a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable. It might be one or the other but, in the end, it's a bit of both, and probably something else besides. You might tell me that, generically, it's a fruit but, as far as I'm concerned, it has all the characteristics of a damn good vegetable.


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al duncan
Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2005 - 08:14 am:   

How would you define science fiction?

Pompously and academically!

Science Fiction was a short-lived pulp genre of the early to mid 20th Century which combined Romantic plot structures, settings and character types with a Rationalist focus on scientific explications of reality, concentrating in particular on theories and conjectural applications of those theories. Originally coined as a substitute for more unwieldy terms like "Scientific Romance" or "Scientifiction" (Hugo Gernsback's "charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision") "Science Fiction" properly applies to a genre which existed for perhaps a few decades at most before its practitioners moved beyond the rigid proscriptions and prescriptions of the original pulp form.

It is the opinion of this writer that the conflict between the Romantic idealisation of the "sublime" and the Rationalist idealisation of the "logical" is what quickly splintered this original genre into, on the one hand, Romantic adventure stories where the scientific extrapolation was merely a means to an end -- a technique for developing wild, visionary worlds inhabited by strange creatures and weird technology which could instill a powerful sense of wonder in the reader -- and, on the other hand, Rationalist "what if" stories where the scientific extrapolation was an end in itself -- where the drive of the narrative involves a logical working-through of the possible (and preferably plausible) ramifications of a scientific speculation. Complementary exemplars of these two forms, one might argue, are the Dune series on the one hand and Asimov's Robot stories on the other.

In the dawning space age of nuclear power and automatic appliances, the sublime seemed logical, the logical sublime and this may have held the Romantics and the Rationalists together through the Golden Age, the period of John W Campbell, the Futurians and so on. But the increasing sense of a gulf between these two modes soon led to the coining of terms like "Science Fantasy" and "Hard SF" as attempts to distinguish them. This, however, only succeeded in opening up the definition of Science Fiction to include works on the borderline between Fantasy and Science Fantasy on the one hand, and on the borderline between Hard SF and Thriller on the other, as the science in the Science Fiction became either more or less "realistic". Ray Bradbury is essentially a fantasist. Michael Crichton is essentially a thriller writer. Both may well be referred to as Science Fiction writers by advocates of one or other form.

Generally though, the term "Science Fiction" remained in use among the literary subculture of readers, editors and publishers which had firmly established itself in that Gernsback-Campbell period and whose tastes like the writers ran a broad spectrum between the fantastic and the realistic. Many writers worked as much in one mode as the other, and within the one story or novel. Many writers found the market as eager for picaresques and social satires, bildungsromans and "twist" stories as for Romantic adventures involving Rationalist science. Science Fiction thus became a catch-all term for fiction which shared a market rather than any clear definition -- which, in fact, had at least two utterly opposed aesthetics at its extremes.

As a field in which terms like "sense of wonder" or "plausible speculation" are still very much in use, some characteristic components of the original genre clearly remain in vestigial form -- the Romantic idealisation of the "sublime", the Rationalist idealisation of the "logical" -- but in many novels or short stories these have been delibertely subverted or wholly abandoned in favour of a more Modernist (or at least modern) aesthetic which seeks to balance the "sublime" with the "domestic" and / or to violate the "logical" with the "irrational". A prime example of how Science Fiction has long since ceased being a genre definable in the same simple terms as Scientific Romance is the late fiction of Philip K Dick, where domestic relationships and religious vision are actually more important, in many cases, than any sense of the sublime or the logical. See Valis or The Transmigration Of Timothy Archer for Science Fiction which is really neither Romantic nor Rationalist at all. And which, ultimately, has really very little to do with Science.

Contemporaneous with this schism between the Romanticism of Science Fantasy and the Rationalism of Hard SF, moreover, and adding to the difficulty in finding an accurate definition or even description of "Science Fiction", this diverse market for Science Fiction was, from the outset, partly adult and partly juvenile. Writers such as Robert Heinlein initially published works which were clearly one or the other but any distinction between Adult SF and Juvenile SF quickly became muddled in a market catering to both precocious adolescents and immature adults. By "Starship Troopers", we might argue, Heinlein was already fusing the juvenile with the adult, creating a classic example of the SF bildungsroman aimed at adults and adolescents alike. This is not, of course, a reflection on the quality of writing -- Juvenile Fiction is not the same as juvenile fiction -- but the commercial pressures on fiction aimed at juveniles in a conservative culture could be seen as formative for the "Science Fiction" which replaced Science Fiction.

It seems to this writer that a second opposition now came into play within the wide field of writers and readers calling themselves "Science Fiction", a conflict between fiction which seeks to challenge the reader with unconventional ideas and approaches, and fiction which seeks to comfort the reader with entirely conventional ideas and approaches. A conflict of Radical versus Reactionary. Science Fiction has often been called the "fiction of ideas" because in its original form it sought the sublime in the logical, its sense of wonder inspired by the scientific theories of its day; essentially a Science Fiction novel or story of this form is offering "something different"... its very own Big Idea as the Unique Selling Point for that story. As a pulp genre however, exploiting a market of readers many of whom are seeking a retreat from the pressures of adult life and requiring consistency of effect more than originality, there is a pressure on Science Fiction towards the stability and security of conventions, a pressure to offer the reader "more of the same". For truly Radical works one only has to look to the New Wave writers. For truly Reactionary works one only has to look at the Military SF sold on the shelves beside them.

An awareness of this tendency and a resentment of its effects is, one might argue, the reason many readers and writers are uncomfortable with the term "Sci-Fi", applying this to media tie-ins and spin-offs and the derivative and formulaic written works they imitate. This distinction between Science Fiction and Sci-Fi is by no means universal but it does shed light on what many people mean by the term "Science Fiction". On the one hand, there are those who mean quite simply Sci-Fi, whether they use this as a term of derision or approval, making no distinction between formula product and the original work it imitates. On the other hand, there are those who mean quite definitely Not Sci-Fi, segregating out "true" SF, "proper" SF as not formulaic product, not generic product, not -- one might suggest -- genre.

So... we have one use of the term so widely inclusive that it does little good as a definition -- everything from Ray Bradbury to Michael Crichton. And we have another use of the term which is essentially definition by negation -- that which inhabits the shelves with but is not genre. It is the opinion of this writer that the term has, in fact, long since ceased being descriptive never mind definitive and has become largely nominative, a label for a diverse field no more a genre capable of definition than it's antithetical counterpart, the "mainstream". Attempts to rename this diverse field "Speculative Fiction" have been partially successful within the subculture of writers, readers, editors and publishers but not in the wider culture at large -- and even within the subculture there can be resistance to such renaming, perceived as it is as an attempt to gain literary credibility by distancing one's work from its pulp origins, and hence a betrayal of one's comrades in favour of the literary elite. Speculation, it might also be argued, is hardly any more essential to the form than Science. The more accurate term might, one suggests, be Structural Fabulation. Given the exceedingly pompous and academic tone of that term, however, one imagines that it's hardly likely to catch on.

Or to put it in Norman Spinrad's terms "Science Fiction is anything published as Science Fiction".
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gary gibson
Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2005 - 08:23 am:   

It might also be worth considering that much of what one or another person defines as SF, Al, has to do with who that person thinks is listening, and their subsequent opinion of them.

What I'm saying is, I don't think anyone can analyse the field without reference to the social meaning and the social context of sf to individuals or groups of individuals. What are they getting out of it? What does that derived pleasure have to do with the socioeconomic circumstances of the reader or writer? It's clear, given the enormously male, white, anglo-saxon, middle-class tendencies of the readership as I understand it, that these are factors that can't be ignored.

The main reason I bring this up is, let's all stop wittering on about what sf is and isn't and take a look at what it means to different groups of people, and why they would seek to ally or not ally themselves to a particular fictive form.

Hell ... knew that sociology degree would finally be useful one day ...
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Jeremy Lassen
Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2005 - 09:39 am:   

As usual Al, your posts are knowledgeable and eloquent, and relevant. Thank you.
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Tivo
Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2005 - 10:19 am:   

Very well written analysis of the history of the term, Al - thoughtful, informed, and professional - absent of insults, bad language, and self-serving grandstanding - thanks. Also, I agree strongly with Gary's comments on social context.

My only point in all this is that I believe fantasy and science fiction, at their core, imply dialectically opposite things. I know that in my circles almost everyone I know no longer reads SF because they associate it with fantasy. That has nothing to do with the worth or quality of fantasy, it only has to do with the tastes of various groups of people – the context.

As to definitions, they are only important because marketeers and business people make them important. I believe that the least empowered people, in all this, are readers and writers.

My personal feeling as it applies to the business outlook for science fiction, in particular, is to divorce it on the bookstore shelves from fantasy. I believe the same marketeers who make decisions on a day-to-day basis as to what various genres are, on a book-by-book basis, can separate the two. The demarcation will be when the sales of both are optimized. What that will mean is that people looking for a certain type of book will quickly find it by going to a particular shelf.
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Jörn Grote
Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2005 - 11:23 am:   

If you agree with AL that Science Fiction is anything published as Science Fiction, and to some degree I think the same could be said about Fantasy, then how could both have a core at all.

I think it could be argued that Mievilles "Perdido Street Station" shares more things with Stross "Accelerando" than with a fantasy book ala Eddings, and to some degree common Baen military SF shares more characteristics with common high fantasy ala Eddings than with Stross "Accelerando".
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Tivo
Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2005 - 11:37 am:   

I said I thought that Al's analysis was thoughtful, professional, and probably correct historically, but I have my own opinions on what is healthy for SF, as I understand it, both from a reader's and business person’s perspective.

I don't have to agree with the chapter and verse of someone's opinion to appreciate it. And by the way, I said I strongly agree with Gary's comment on context.
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Jörn Grote
Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2005 - 12:09 pm:   

Al's analysis was thoughtful, professional, and probably correct historically

but wrong in the end?

business person’s perspective

So you're in the business of selling SF. Interesting.

what is healthy for SF

I didn't knew SF was ill.
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Lucius
Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2005 - 01:22 pm:   

What exactly is the derivation of poppycock? Anyone know? It sounds like some weird British food item.
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StephenB
Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2005 - 02:29 pm:   

Al: Don't like your analysis or agree with it, although it may be very professional etc. It's nothing personal. I just don't agree.

It sounds like you've spent a lot of time in the classroom. The problem is, you oversimplify and catagorize things to suite your academic view of literature.

First of all, the modernist movement wasn't trying to find a balance between Rationalism and Romanticism at all. It was extremely unRomantic, in fact it was uberRationalistic. In the modernist world view, the material world is all that exists and science can explain everything. With Freud, psychology became a big thing and the modernist writers were quite interested in it. I think because of that, alot of interesting and good things were done, but it was a very narrow world view, in my opinion. I really like D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Wolfe. D.H. in paticular was really doing some great stuff in the realist psychological mode. Wolfe was even even doing some stuff that resembles SF. Guys like Ezra Pound and Joyce don't really do as much for me. I think now, academia is just trying to hang onto that era and I don't really care much for the whole academic post modern thing. It's a lot of bullshit.

The more accurate term might, one suggests, be Structural Fabulation.

What's that all about Al? To me, that's ridiculous. Watership Down, now that's Structural Fabulation.:-)

For truly Radical works one only has to look to the New Wave writers. For truly Reactionary works one only has to look at the Military SF sold on the shelves beside them.

This really annoys me, how you make these broad generalizations which are silly. First of all, the New Wave is about as reactionary as you can get. I don't know why you can't see that. Yes, the New Wave was also radical. Often a radical is reacting to something, right? The New Wave was a reaction to the Campbell era Golden Age, which itself moved the genre beyond pulpish adventure into intellectually credible science based fiction. The problem was, it was a very restricted place to write in, just as the 40s and 50s were in general. Writers basically had to write pro-science or science based stories in a form which Campbell approved of, without much or any sexuality etc. Stugeon, a Romantic, was kind of a precursor to the New Wave kinda guy, who was getting away with things that few other Campell writers would. To say that the military SF is the truely reactionary stuff is a joke. What are they reacting towards? The military? Last time I checked war's still going on and the big powerful governments have big powerful militaries. An anti-war book would be more reactionary.
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Jörn Grote
Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2005 - 02:35 pm:   

POPPYCOCK

Nonsense, rubbish.

It’s a fine-sounding expletive, but hardly heard on anybody’s lips these days, and with a dated feel. It seems eminently English: think of elderly ex-Indian-Army colonels in retirement in Tunbridge Wells exploding in wrath over some supposed mismanagement of the country’s affairs and writing disgusted letters to The Times about it. And most of the citations for it in the big Oxford English Dictionary are from British sources. But, as the OED reminds us, the word is actually American in origin, first turning up there about 1865. The OED is silent on its origin, but most modern dictionaries know well where it comes from: the Dutch word pappekak for soft faeces. The word was presumably taken to the USA by Dutch settlers; the scatological associations were lost when the word moved into the English-language community. The first half of the word is closely related to our pap for infants’ soft food; the second half is essentially the same as the old English cack for excrement; the verb form of this word is older than the noun, and has been recorded as far back as the fifteenth century. So there’s no link with the vulgar meaning of cock. Nor is it linked to the sense of cock for rubbish (as in phrases like that’s a load of old cock), as that’s a shortened form of cock and bull story, which comes from a fable concerning a bull and a cockerel.

from Weird Words
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StephenB
Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2005 - 02:38 pm:   

As for clear definitions. Who cares? Just read and write what you like.
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Lucius
Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2005 - 03:00 pm:   

Thanks, Jorn.
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StephenB
Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2005 - 04:16 pm:   

Funny thing about post modernism. In my last lit class, my prof was talking about how according to the academic establishment, we're now in post-post-post-modern or something, and they haven't agreed precisely on what to call it. How about just giving it up and having some original thoughts about literature?

Al: You remind me a lot of some of my uncles on my Scottish side. They're educated men who like to argue, play Devil's advocate; educators themselves, very Scottish intellectual elite.

That's not a bad thing altogether, as I've had some really great conversations and debates with them and learned a lot, although we don't always agree and can argue shit to death.:-)
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StephenB
Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2005 - 04:24 pm:   

Not one of them, though, who is the complete opposite.
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AT
Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2005 - 05:58 pm:   

Poppycock is alive and well all over the English-speaking world, including the USA. Google it in News, to see. Examples that come up at the moment include "'Poppycock, pure and simple,' responded Tom Torti, secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources, which regulates sewage discharges.." -Burlington Free Press, VT.
"Moreover, there are political myths to be honored, among these the myth of racial background or poverty as excuses for substandard performance. Poppycock!" - East Texas Review
"...grizzly has a bad day. Not to mention that this whole 'good bear/bad bear' notion is nothing but poppycock." - Anchorage Daily News, AK.
and then there's the Poppycock caramel corn written about in an Albequerque, NM paper, and made by Lincoln Snacks. But poppycock is a name for caramel corn. Here's a recipe from Canada.
http://www.gov.pe.ca/infopei/index.php3?number=15472&lang=E
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al duncan
Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2005 - 06:50 pm:   

Stephen, um... I think you're wrongly conflating "reactive" with "reactionary". Yes, the New Wave were reacting to the Golden Age, just as Campbell was reacting to the pulp era before; I'm not arguing that sort of a distinction between radicals and reactionaries. All radicals are "reacting" to something or other. However, the common use of the term reactionary is not just "someone who is reacting to something or other" -- it's specifically used to refer to someone resistant to change, opposed to progress or liberalism, with an extremely conservative outlook. Hell, it's synonymous with far-right or ultraconservative for most folks.

I assume you don't mean to characterise Michael Moorcock and J.G. Ballard as "far-right" or "ultraconservative". :-)
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Tivo
Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2005 - 07:31 pm:   

Unit sales of Science Fiction have declined dramatically over the last ten years; almost any agent or publisher will confirm that - in some estimates by as much as 70%. That is not healthy for SF - not by my estimation anyway.

I believe Al's analysis is interesting historically. I don't believe that as a product people may want to buy, it (SF) is being correctly marketed.
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al duncan
Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2005 - 07:37 pm:   

As for the influence of Romanticism on Modernism, OK, a Wikipedia article is not an awe-inspiring source but I'm feeling lazy tonight so I'm just going to point you here. The important part, and what might well be in tune with some of the ideas I've heard from yourself, is (my italics):

"What united all these writers was a romantic distrust of the Victorian positivism and certainty. Instead they championed, or, in case of Freud, attempted to explain, irrational thought processes through the lens of rationality and holism. This was connected with a general search to culminate the century long trend to thinking in terms of holistic ideas, which would include an increased interest in the occult, and "the vital force".

Out of this collision of ideals from Romanticism, and an attempt to find a way for knowledge to explain that which was as yet unknown, came the first wave of works..."

Really, some of the Modernist writers are a bit dry for my tastes in their narrow focus on the domestic but there's a huge element of mysticism in the painters (SF writers weren't the only ones talking about the Fourth Dimension), and the more lyrical writers also have that in spades.

In "The Man With The Blue Guitar", Stevens sets a metaphoric guitarist-as-poet against an uber-rationalist audience who want "reality". They stand against him, accusing him that he does not "play things as they are" (i.e. as absolutely verifiable reality). There's a tone of scorn I think in their reaction to poetry, a scorn of romantic mysticism which, implicitly, the guitarist/poet is offering. They say:

Do not speak to us of the greatness of poetry,
Of the torches wisping in the underground,

Of the structure of vaults upon a point of light.
There are no shadows in our sun,

Day is desire and night is sleep.
There are no shadows anywhere.

The earth for us is flat and bare...


Later on in the poem, Stevens returns to this imagery reminiscent of that oh-so-Rationalist idea of the "light of reason"...

Throw away the lights, the definitions,
And say of what you see in the dark

That it is this or that it is that,
But do not use the rotted names.


He makes his own position pretty clear here, and I don't think you could describe it as remotely Rationalist. Stevens and the other Modernists are, in many ways, striving to get beyond the limited and limiting idea of reality as something that can be taxonomised, categorised and put away in little labelled boxes. They can be very abstract and intellectual, but they can also be deeply passionate and romantic in all senses of the word, breathlessly so in the Molly Bloom section that ends Ullysses, for example.
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al duncan
Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2005 - 07:46 pm:   

Oh, and "balderdash" is a much better word than "poppycock", IMHO.

Unless it's "tosh and poppycock" together, which trumps anything.
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AT
Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2005 - 09:20 pm:   

Yes! Balderdash! Yea, tosh and poppycock together, and I'll throw in a hogswallop.
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AT
Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2005 - 10:35 pm:   

Hogswallop is only a variation of codswallop (I had land critters on the brain earlier, but prefer codswallop as it has more of a slap to it). But may I make a turn in meanings, and bring up flapdoodle, which in some ways seems to define this heated conversation (possibly because it's stratospherically above my head). I don't see SF and fantasy as mutually exclusive at all (and btw, because the level of scientific knowledge in the reading public and more than a few writers is at such a great distance from the realities of science and science's potentials, some sf can be fantasy unawares). Many of the books that are the most honestly revered need to be tackled and trussed, if they are to be branded, but I don't really see the point of all these categories and definitions, many of them post-. Are they for other writers? The trade? How many people even know what slipstream is, for instance. I don't,which possibly is a stupid admission. But I'll compound that stupidity by crassly saying I don't want to know. Why should I, or anyone?
Mostly, I wonder what would happen if fiction were sold between generic boards again (generic to fiction, but no further broken down in marketing and POS)and the books were again, that friendly pocket size. What would happen? Would it be disastrous? Possibly this whole posting is like walking down the street with a big sign on my back that says "Fool".
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AT
Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2005 - 10:57 pm:   

Oh, and more self-indulgence. The disparity of judgements here is great to read as well as the passion of enjoyments and otherwise told. I've learned about some books that I will finally read, not because they got some stupid political prize like the Booker, but because people I respect argued about them here.
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Jörn Grote
Posted on Sunday, August 14, 2005 - 11:44 pm:   

Unit sales of Science Fiction have declined dramatically over the last ten years; almost any agent or publisher will confirm that - in some estimates by as much as 70%. That is not healthy for SF - not by my estimation anyway.

Oh shit, you're one of these idiots who thinks SF is dying. What can I say, actually every year more SF (I'm talking about the number of different novels, not about unit numbers) is published than any reader can actually read.

I don't believe that as a product people may want to buy, it (SF) is being correctly marketed.

Are you maybe the troll TCO in disguise, someone who spouted exactly the same nonsense again and again here and on the Asimov board.
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AT
Posted on Monday, August 15, 2005 - 01:16 am:   

Tico makes an objective statement about unit sales, quoted above by Jörn. Yet this statement conflicts with, for example, Gabe's objective statement "...SFF is alive and vibrant, even moreso than so-called 'mainstream' lit. Right now, the only fiction that is selling more than SFF is mystery (and of course romance, the 800lb. gorilla of genre)...It's a cycle.Category fiction sells more copies than non-category fiction."
Then there are other comments from folks who should have made Tivo's toenails curl--Gordon himself: "I hate to come in here sounding like the veteran who says, 'You kids don't know nuthin' nowadays!', but with all due respect, I think you're speaking like an intelligent outsider...", and Jonathan Strahan: "I doubt genre fiction has ever been in such good shape, or that there has ever been a better time to be alive and writing or reading genre fiction."

When is something not worth debating with someone who doesn't substantiate an 'objective' statement with factual backup, and identity? This argument on Tivo's part is irredeemiably Gaussian ("I have had my results for a long time: but I do not yet know how I am to arrive at them.")

As for Tivo being TCO, nah. TCO, who stated "The good stuff has mostly been done. The Golden Age is over." is the tortured soul of Charles Duell, head of the US Patent Office, who said in 1899 "Everything that can be discovered, has been discovered."
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StephenB
Posted on Monday, August 15, 2005 - 02:31 am:   

Stephen, um... I think you're wrongly conflating "reactive" with "reactionary". Yes, the New Wave were reacting to the Golden Age, just as Campbell was reacting to the pulp era before; I'm not arguing that sort of a distinction between radicals and reactionaries. All radicals are "reacting" to something or other. However, the common use of the term reactionary is not just "someone who is reacting to something or other" -- it's specifically used to refer to someone resistant to change, opposed to progress or liberalism, with an extremely conservative outlook. Hell, it's synonymous with far-right or ultraconservative for most folks.

I'm not conflating anything, I just don't share your academic definition of reactionary. To me a reactionary is reacting to something. It's not a left-wing, right-wing, good or bad thing. It can be any of those things.

I don't really see the liberalism thing, as you do, either. I guess I'm farther left -- socialist-libertarian -- so I find liberalism and all this neo-liberalism conservative, in comparison.

But, once again I don't see it as so black and white. Progress isn't always good. Right now, our capitalistic world is pushing progress in certain directions, driven by some of those conservative right-wing, asshole nut bags.

I guess I just don't see things as academically, and, in some ways, simplistically, as you do.

As for the influence of Romanticism on Modernism, OK, a Wikipedia article is not an awe-inspiring source but I'm feeling lazy tonight so I'm just going to point you here. The important part, and what might well be in tune with some of the ideas I've heard from yourself, is (my italics):

I'm not really into these types of definitions. I skimmed it. Sure, I've already said I admired what they were doing when it was new and rebellious, but it's no longer new, or rebellious. It's now just a part of the academically maintianed status quo. I've learned about the academic points of view, and will continue to, both independently and at school. But, I don't follow it and won't let the academic establishment tell me what to think. I'm going to establish my own point of view and ways of looking at things. I've been talking about writing, not painting, of course. During the early 20th century a lot of good abstract modernist art was produced, both as painting and writing. Just the same with the Romantic period, and other movements that primarily sprung from British literature. I guess I don't really see the Romantic influenced lit, like Yeates and Eliot, in that era, as Modernists. To me the Modernists were a select few, group of writers and artists, that brought a great deal of Realism and Rationalism, but also lots of Abstraction, in the early 20th century. I see Ezra Pound more as a Modernist. I don't really agree with the academic establishment, which is clinging onto that world view and literary group, to this day, through post-modernism. It's basically conditioning people into a certain, narrow way to view literature, which has been going on for quite some time.

In "The Man With The Blue Guitar", Stevens sets a metaphoric guitarist-as-poet against an uber-rationalist audience who want "reality". They stand against him, accusing him that he does not "play things as they are" (i.e. as absolutely verifiable reality). There's a tone of scorn I think in their reaction to poetry, a scorn of romantic mysticism which, implicitly, the guitarist/poet is offering. They say:

Perhaps Stevens is commenting on the Modernists during that time. Maybe he was a little more Romantic than many of the altra Rationalist Modernists. So, I can almost see it as Satire.

Anyway, I'm sure you'd be down for looking at things in new and original ways...
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StephenB
Posted on Monday, August 15, 2005 - 02:38 am:   

I think one distinction, which Tivo may be making about Fantasy vs Science Fiction, is that Fantasy usually involves Metaphysics, while Science Fiction, Science (Physics).
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des
Posted on Monday, August 15, 2005 - 03:11 am:   

Mostly, I wonder what would happen if fiction were sold between generic boards again (generic to fiction, but no further broken down in marketing and POS

For the full experiment, you'd need no upfront by-line either.

des
http://www.nemonymous.com
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StephenB
Posted on Monday, August 15, 2005 - 03:12 am:   

Just to add about the Modernist poets. Eliot and much of Yeates work isn't all that Romantic. They were also conservative and right-wing, especially Ezra Pound, who was a Fascist. Much more right-wing and conservative than the Romantics and even the Restoration before that.
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StephenB
Posted on Monday, August 15, 2005 - 04:40 am:   

That's not to say that I don't like Eliot's work. Sure, he has some Romantic qualities, but he's coming from a very anti-Romantic school (which I think still lingers on). I don't have to agree with his world view to like his work.

D.H. Lawrence, one of my favourite Modernists, is actually, in my view, much more of a Romantic than Eliot and most of the rest of the Modernists. Although, his romanticism isn't always overt, sometimes underlying the surface of the realism, symbolic, sometimes straight in the characters.
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des
Posted on Monday, August 15, 2005 - 04:55 am:   

I'm in the process of reading all DH Lawrence's short stories & novellas (a massive number). He is fiction injected straight into the vein.
des
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al duncan
Posted on Monday, August 15, 2005 - 07:27 am:   

I'm not conflating anything, I just don't share your academic definition of reactionary.

If ye don't share my "academic" definition of "peanut butter" are ye going to deny that my sandwich has peanut butter on it, then? :-)

Really, there's nothing academic about saying a reactionary is someone who's resistant to change; it's what's in the sodding dictionary. Many dictionaries. Does that make it "aceademic". No. It just indicates that that's the accepted use of the word in common parlance. If ye wanna invent your own use of a word, well... you could decide to use the word "nose" contrary to common parlance, but you can't base your disagreement with someone who says "people generally have noses" on the fact that, for you, "nose" means "lampshade on the head".

To me a reactionary is reacting to something.

So "reactionary", for you, is synonymous with "reactive". So you are conflating "reactionary" with "reactive". It's like saying "monkey" means "primate" so monkeys may not have tails. No. Monkeys are a particular subset of primates, ones which have tails... unlike apes, say. Reactionaries are a particular subset of "people reacting to something or other", ones who are reacting with entrenched dogmatic opposition to progress.

Sheesh. I'm not even saying that progress is an inherently good thing meself. Or that the radical-reactionary thing maps simplistically to left-right politics. Thatcher was a radical, as are the NeoCons in the US, out to make broad, sweeping changes in the system and, trust me, me no likee Thatcher or the NeoCons, me thinkum them right-wing arsewipes. A radical could well be seen as having an entrenched dogmatic belief in progress. Moreover, a radical who achieves their goals, has the revolution, makes the sweeping changes, and then battens down the hatches to make damn sure those changes never get unmade, has then become a reactionary to the next generation.

But I'll tell ye what, rather than argue about what the word "reactionary" actually means, I shall throw dictionary definitions to the wind! No more radicals! No more reactionaries! Instead I shall henceforth talk of "Raaraas" and "Harrumphs". So just substitute every use of the word "Radical" for "Raaraa", and every use of the word "Reactionary" for "Harrumph".

So the New Wave was written for and by Raaraas, whereas Military SF is largely for and by Harrumphs. All Harrumphs may be kerfloogle according to you, or some of them may jahinky in the yuptadine, but no, I say, you are not talking about Harrumphs, my friend, when you speak such tosh and poppycock, for Harrumph are never kerfloogle and they never jahinky in the yuptadine. To do so is anathema to a Harrumph. Why, the very thought of it!

I guess I just don't see things as academically, and, in some ways, simplistically, as you do.

Except that I'm the one arguing that Modernism is a complex interplay of Rationalist and Romantic sensibilities, while you're making the simplistic assertion that it "... was extremely unRomantic, in fact it was uberRationalistic."

In fact? In absolute, indisputable, undeniable black-and-white fact?

So when I say, no, look, it's a tad more complex than that; actually they had their roots in Romanticism as much as in Rationalism, honest, lookee here, and then go on to show how you can see quite clearly in, for example, Stevens's poetry, a deeply Romantic sensibility at play, well, you shrug off one of the central figures of Modernist writing by casting him as an outsider "commenting on the Modernists during that time". I guess you have to do this to hang on to your idea of Modernist writing as absolutely, without-a-shred-of-doubt, essentially Rationalist but...

Sheesh, here's me on the one hand pointing out the diversity of aesthetic ideals within Modernism, how some of those ideals can be traced back to Rationalism while others can be traced back to Romanticism, and here's you on the other hand, waving any detailed argument away and saying, "[t]o me the Modernists were a select few" -- specifically the select few that fit your concept of Modernism as uberRationalist.

Talk about simplistic. Talk about a "certain, narrow way to view literature".

I mean, cor lummy crikey, Stephen. Have you been toking while posting again? :-)
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Tivo
Posted on Monday, August 15, 2005 - 08:49 am:   

Well guys it's been fun. I'm reminded of that Monty Python skit where medieval "scholars" engage in a rhetorical debate about whether a duck is wood or not, because they both float. Now I know how they came by their arguments.

As for the sale of SF (not SF/F - whatever that is), like I said, every agent and publisher in the business will confirm that "fact" whether you like it or not (Ellen acknowledged it as an "obvious" fact up-thread).

One thing’s for sure, though, I am on the wrong forum - bye.
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Nicholas Liu
Posted on Monday, August 15, 2005 - 09:43 am:   

Classy.
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StephenB
Posted on Monday, August 15, 2005 - 11:05 am:   

I mean, cor lummy crikey, Stephen. Have you been toking while posting again?

Actually, yes, you're right, I was.:-)

I even contradicted myself, I guess, pointing out that D.H. Lawrence had Romantic sensibilities. Yeates is another one, who's certainly coming from Romantic influence. I just think that Lawrence, for example, was largely eccentric and unconventional within the Modernist group of writers. His individualism is a characteristic he shares with Romantics.

It seems, overall, Modernism was highly rationalistic, being a world view which was heavilly influenced by Darwin, Freud, and later Einstien. Who were all revolutionary in intellectual thought. Freud gave a more rationalistic explanation for the unconscious and irrational. This was both an exciting and daunting time. You can't deny that these writers were influenced by the dawning of the scientific and industrial age, as well as the tragedy of WW1. Yet, I agree it was an interesting era in literature, with a range of writers involved. I just think that era is done and past and we should move on into new territory. You've stuck with arguing semantics, but I notice you haven't responded to my points about the academic status quo.

One of the things I like about the Romantic poets, which are one of my favourite groups, is how they were so different and individualistic, even amongst themselves. Looking at the core group -- Blake, Woodsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Percy Shelley, Keats, along with Wollstonecraft and Burns. None of those guys can be pigeon holed into a single definition. They all shared Romantic sensibilities and ideals but they each had their own way of looking at things, which was sometimes in opposition with each other. Byron didn't think much of Colridge's Metaphysics and Woodsworth's theory and method, for example.

I think one thing which many of the Modernists share with Romantics is nonconformity. But I think overall, the Modernists were unified by what was at the time breakthrough science. Like Freud and the advent of psychology.

Anyway, I've had a bit of sleep and some coffee in me since last night.:-)
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Huh?
Posted on Monday, August 15, 2005 - 11:56 am:   

Who's Woodsworth?
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James M. Pfundstein
Posted on Monday, August 15, 2005 - 12:24 pm:   

I nearly fell off my chair when Al Duncan quoted Stevens' _The Man with the Blue Guitar_. For years it's expressed to me the paradoxes implicit in fantastic literature.

They said, "You play a blue guitar.
You do not play things as they are."

The man replied, "Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar."

And they said then, "But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are."


JM("Man and a woman and a blackbird walk into a bar")P
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StephenB
Posted on Monday, August 15, 2005 - 12:27 pm:   

And Al, I still don't agree with your definition of reactionary. If you want to get into dictionary definitions, here you go:

reactionary, of, characterized by, or advocating reaction, esp. in politics.

That's from the Webster's New World dictionary.

That's what the word means. It doesn't specify whether it's resistent to change or anything like that. It's simply, as the word suggests, reacting to something, which is often promoting some sort of change.

I think somewhere in pop-culture or something, the word got associated with right-wing conservatism, but that isn't true.

The Romantic period, for example, was one of the most revolutionary times...

Perhaps you should rethink how you define reactionary?

If not, whatever. We shouldn't just argue semantics here.

What I've been really getting at, is how the academic establishment has been conditioning certain ways of viewing literature in those who go along with it. This is what I'm disagreeing with. Postmodernism is not at all rebellious or experimental anymore. It's become the status quo.
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StephenB
Posted on Monday, August 15, 2005 - 12:29 pm:   

Romanticism never became the status quo, like Modernism has...
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AT
Posted on Monday, August 15, 2005 - 05:09 pm:   

A question. Bruce Sterling hasn't come up in this discussion, though I think he writes trenchant SF. But I'm no encyclopedia, not even a scrap of paper in this field. Here's some of his stuff.
http://www.chriswaltrip.com/sterling/fiction.html
I thought his flash piece in Nature, "A Place to Call Our Own" was spot on.
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StephenB
Posted on Monday, August 15, 2005 - 07:46 pm:   

Also Al, I should make it clear that I was unfair, saying that Modernism was entirely uberRationalistic. Just look at Virginia Wolfe --she was kinda crazy.:-) But seriously, I still see it as a largely Rationlistic time and worldview.

That's not to say that's a bad thing, neccissarily. The Restoration had interesting work. The Romantics were also rational at times.

The Romantic writers are exceptional, I think, for the fact that they all were liberal; they all did new and experimental work; and pretty much all of them had a revolutionary spirit, in a time of great change and revolution, both political and industrial.

The Romantic era includes the gothic novelists like Anne Radcliffe, Gregory Lewis, Mary Shelley and William Goldwin.

Austen was the only writer in that period who was left untouched by all the revolutionary thinking and was instead perfecting the traditional novel of manners.

Sir Walter Scott was also unlike his Romantic contemporaries because he was conservative.

But the truth is, as you know, all the different eras had great, interesting and diverse work, including the Victorians and the Georgians who became associated with Modernism.
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StephenB
Posted on Monday, August 15, 2005 - 08:14 pm:   

But whatever. I'm saying what doesn't need to be said. This is getting all too academic, instead of personal.:-)
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James M. Pfundstein
Posted on Tuesday, August 16, 2005 - 12:33 am:   

StephenB--

You might want to look at the 19th C. again. Wordsworth & Co. got more conservative as they got older, and the younger generation of Romantics (Shelley & Byron) despised them for it. (See the "Dedication" to Byron's Don Juan.)

Also, Romanticism really does become the status quo in the 19th century. Modernism was a necessary rebellion against all that stale creampuffery.

The reason why this matters for this discussion: fantasy and science fiction, as modern literary genres, really began to thrive as rebellions against 20th C. Modernism. If the Post-modernists are right about the day of Modernism being over, that has implications for sf/f. (Of course, the obituary for Post-modernism has been written several times, too.)

JMP("Pound of Prevention")
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Captain Literacy!
Posted on Tuesday, August 16, 2005 - 08:35 am:   

And Al, I still don't agree with your definition of reactionary. If you want to get into dictionary definitions, here you go:

reactionary, of, characterized by, or advocating reaction, esp. in politics.

That's from the Webster's New World dictionary.

That's what the word means. It doesn't specify whether it's resistent to change or anything like that. It's simply, as the word suggests, reacting to something, which is often promoting some sort of change.


You know, if you're going to use a dictionary-based argument, you'd better learn how to use a dictionary. If a definition of a word (like "reactionary") itself contains the in-use root word (like "reaction") then you're best served by looking up "reaction" as well rather than simply assuming that you know what it means.

Good ol' m-w.com, for example, defines reaction thusly:

1 a : the act or process or an instance of reacting
b : resistance or opposition to a force, influence, or movement; especially : tendency toward a former and usually outmoded political or social order or policy

dictionary.com
3. a. A tendency to revert to a former state.
b. Opposition to progress or liberalism; extreme conservatism.

Of course, you may also be served simply by looking up the word "reactionary" in the first place, and not just avoiding those definitions which don't suit your ignorance:


m-w.com: relating to, marked by, or favoring reaction; especially : ultraconservative in politics


dictionary.com: Characterized by reaction, especially opposition to progress or liberalism; extremely conservative

I anticipate some whining about how the above definitions only say "especially" or about how there are other definitions as well on some of those entries (yes, "reaction" means a number of things) but it's rather clear from the context that Al was using the word correctly and that his definition is standard.

Just because YOU'RE TOO STUPID to know something, doesn't mean that you get to "disagree."
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, August 16, 2005 - 09:48 am:   

James: I know about how Byron hated some of Wordsworth's methods.

You have a point, but I guess back then, the education system was different. I don't think Romanticism became ingrained into academia quite like Modernism is today.

Captain Literacy:

You're funny, but none too bright, I see.

Clearly there is more than one definition of reactionary. Al brought out a dictionary definition to support the definition he was going by, before me. He used dictionary.com, just like you have here.

Personally I'd prefer to not use dictionary.com because I don't really like it compared to some print dictionaries. Thw definition I provided is staraight from the New World Websters dictionary and is perfectly valid.

If you want to go by the dictionary.com definition, go ahead. I don't care. That doesn't make you right and me wrong.

Anyway, I'm wasting my time with a nitwit like you...

nit: 1 the egg of a louse or similar insect 2 a young louse, etc.

wit: 1 powers of thinking; mental faculties 2 good sense 3a) the ability to make clever remarks in a sharp, amusing way b) one characterized by wit.
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, August 16, 2005 - 10:02 am:   

I guess I just really like the core group of British Romantics. Partly, James, like I said, because they were each so individualistic and had different methods, etc. As a whole group, I identify with them.

I think with Modernism vs. Romantics, it comes down to not just Rationalism vs Romanticism, which are different approaches to poetry and writing. One more intuitive and less contrived, looking inside to the imagination as apposed to seeking external objective truths.

It's really a matter of Realism vs Romanticism. Modernism was about realism. I think it was really cool how they applied psychology and through stream of consciousness, tried to give a more accurate portrayal of how people think. But realism isn't always good and it isn't inherently better than romanticism. The two can be combined to good effect, of course.

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Captain Illiteracy
Posted on Tuesday, August 16, 2005 - 10:08 am:   

Start a fucking new thread, will ya? You guys are killing my browser. Soon I won't be able to keep up with this scintillating display of wit and wisdom in the service of an argument that I have never heard debated before. :-)
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Huh?
Posted on Tuesday, August 16, 2005 - 10:09 am:   

Virginia Wolfe? You mean the author of YOU CAN'T GO HOME TO THE LIGHTHOUSE AGAIN?
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, August 16, 2005 - 10:17 am:   

The very same.
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, August 16, 2005 - 10:18 am:   

Go ahead. Start a new thread..
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Tomas Pelos
Posted on Tuesday, August 16, 2005 - 12:03 pm:   

Yes, Sir Walter Scott was also unlike his Romantic contemporaries because he was conservative.

But also because he wore blue pantaloons.

The Modernists never wore blue pantaloons.

Except for Virginia Wolfe, who was a Realist.

The Realists also included Realist writers like Stephen Crane and HP Lovercraft.

HP Lovercraft was different because he was conservative and was influenced by Nietzsche.

There were gothic novelists who were also Realists, like Joyce Quaker Oats.

Back then the education system was different!
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, August 16, 2005 - 01:21 pm:   

Lovecraft wasn't a Realist. You jokin' Tom? He didn't go along with the Modernist thing.

James: To continue about what you were sayin'. The Romantics were not at all popular in their time, aside from Lord Byron. In fact they were often mocked and hated.

Because of that, I think some people like to put emphasise on Byron and what he said. Personally, I like 'em all, and think they all did great shit.

Woodsworth was the first to really reject traditional poetry. He was about the whole "Poetic Spontaneity and Freedom" thing. Describing good poetry as "the spontaneous overflow" of feelings. Before, poetry was considered an art with classical precedents and rules. Romantic poetry is sometimes called "Nature Poetry", for obvious reasons. Paticularily Woodsworth, Shelley, Colridge, and Keats, were adept at capturing nature. Woodsworth was also fascinated with the ordinary and common, making it not so ordinary. As well as outcasts. He wrote about the lower class, pastoral and rustic life. He wrote about peasants and stuff but he also liked the outcasts and delinquents -- convicts, vagrants, gypsies, idiot boys, mad moms, etc. He wanted to shatter custom and refresh the everyday sense of wonder. Check out his "Lyrical Ballads".

That's what Byron was outraged about. He was alone in instisting that Dryden and Pope layed out how poetry should be done. He didn't want to write about commoners. He said: "Peddlers," and "Boats," and "Wagons"! Oh! ye shades Of Pope and Dryden, are we come to this?" He wanted to keep the traditional form, despite his liberalism. Byron often made use of the fascination with the forbidden and the appeal of the terrifying Satanic hero. His long form narrative poem, "Don Juan," was a great innovation in the satire mode.

There's the fascination with nature and the ordinary with the Romantics, but at the same time, with the supernatural and strange. Colerigde and Woodsworth were good buds. They both dealt with the ordinary and both were also interested in unusual modes of experience and altered states of conciousness, but Woodsworth didn't really write about the supernatural. He did, like Blake and Colridge, write about visionary states of consciousness, commonly found in children, but not adults.

Coleridge wrote about the supernatural quite a bit. He was heavily interested in dreams and nightmares. He opened doors of mystery and magic, to poets. Like Blake and Shelley and most of the others, he was well studied in the occult and esoteric lit.

They were into "Strangeness in Beauty".

Keats also wrote a lot about the supernatural in the Romantic mode, like Coleridge. Keats had an erotic love affair with death. The mingling of pleasure and pain and destructive aspects of sexuality. Him and Byron were very much gothic. With the same phenomenon explored later in Gothic fiction.

The writers before the Romantics were writing about society (paticularily high society) and distrusted radical innovation, trusting in the good sense of humanity and tradition. The Romantics were interested in solitary protagonists, who were separated from society, because he rejects society or society rejects him. Fascinated by outlaws and rebels in myth, legend, and history. Shelley's drama "Prometheus Unbound", of course, refers to the greek champion. Byron had heroes like Manfred and Don Juan. So, previously in literature, what they called "pride" and those who overstepped the "limits of man" was attacked. To the Romantics, these guys were heroes.
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Threader
Posted on Tuesday, August 16, 2005 - 01:37 pm:   

Snipped. See new one at bottom.
Threader
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StephenB
Posted on Tuesday, August 16, 2005 - 01:39 pm:   

The alienated nonconformist heroes were also, at times, portrayed as sinners but with redemption or retribution. My introduction to Coleridge was, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," when I was 13.
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Obvious
Posted on Tuesday, August 16, 2005 - 01:40 pm:   

THIS THREAD CONTINUED AT PART 2--SCROLL DOWN ON GENERAL

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