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January 31st, 2008, 03:49 PM #46
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Okay, I get you're not sold on what television has to offer. That's sort of what brings us all here, isn't it? We're our own little pitty party. Okay, writing sucks. It's hard and it takes time and people don't understand mine and they are definitely not buying it in the numbers I want them to. Marketing what I've written is even harder and those damned agents are worse than the damned publishers. And then there are editors; oh, goddess, why are there editors? And there are sucky marketing departments and lousy book tours and, oh, the pain!
That's what you get from me and Gary and all the other would be writers posting here and there and we all sagely nod our heads whispering the mantra "Ain't it so?!" But, beacuse it's us and it's on the internet it's okay; it's kind of special, and maybe sort of cute, and, anyway, it's so much fun!
The second martini is better than the first.
January 31st, 2008, 04:47 PM #47
Maybe one too many, HE?
Fung, you have a very clear social eye. You're quite good at saying what you mean, something that eludes many authors.
HE, you're a cynic! Hey man, I love you too. It's not for lack of love that I say this. But you do tend to play devil's advocate quite often. In fact, you do it so often that I think maybe you're not playing at all.
Mediocrity. I'm not an elitist but so much of what I read today, in and out of our genre, is mediocre. And when the raves flood the airwaves, my expectations grow and my disappointment waxes. I was shocked that The Road made it to Oprah's list. That one choice shattered all of my negative expectations. I was happy that so dark and tragic a book, a book so void of hope and of promise, made it to the mainstream. Isn't that ridiculous? But it's true. I was shaken by The Road. I read it very early, well before I even knew what to expect from it. And in so many ways, I thought it was brilliant. It was the last book I would have expected Oprah to pick. I was angry she picked it as well, because it's too good a book for her to promote. When she endorses a book, I expect mediocrity. She destroyed my image of her with this one.
HE, what is it that you refuse to see here? No one's saying that only SFF authors can write intelligent books. We all know that so much awful stuff gets published in this genre too. But there are some real and quite logical reasons why many SFF authors deal with philosophical issues that aren't so easily dealt with in mainstream fiction. Maybe it's the market system that doesn't create the demand for that kind of thought provoking fiction. Or maybe it's just that SFF can be entertaining on many different levels, many more levels than mainstream fiction. And if you don't like to ponder the ethical implications of a long battle between good and evil, then you can still enjoy the book and ignore those aspects of it, just as so many skim or skip over the poetry in SFF that many of us painstakingly write and are so proud of.
January 31st, 2008, 11:16 PM #48No one is claiming that ALL contemporary fiction is drivel and that ALL SFF is brilliant.
It was the last book I would have expected Oprah to pick. I was angry she picked it as well, because it's too good a book for her to promote. When she endorses a book, I expect mediocrity. She destroyed my image of her with this one.
Oprah's got better lit credentials than you, Gary. And she's about the only media source other than NPR that is interested in promoting fiction, a task she undertook on her own. She picked Toni Morrison's Beloved, a fantasy story, and got it made into a critically acclaimed movie that never would have existed without her. She picks The Corrections, Middlesex, Marquez, Chris Bohjilan, and so on, but she's apparently a commercial idiot. But you're not being elitist.
And she has her own generation, you say -- except that she doesn't. She might possibly have a demographic, but that's only a portion of the market. You are again trying to squish a spectrum of people down into a nice little dot. The technology that has developed you are claiming has effected all of us in exactly the same way, giving us the same views and needs, etc. Sorry, not buying it, nor are you coming up with a lot of evidence that this is actually the case.
Chicken Little had an acorn hit his head and thought that the sky was falling. Just because you don't like a lot of what you read doesn't mean that there is a crisis in fiction. And just because SFF writers tackle philosophical issues doesn't mean that realistic writers don't. It doesn't have to be either/or and it isn't. There isn't a last bastion.
February 1st, 2008, 12:53 AM #49
***Hands out a beer to HE, Gary, Fung and KatG, and takes one too***
Can I add a little something here. I find when tackling a philosophical Idea, it is easier, IMHO, to use an imaginary world of imaginary characters and situations, where things are possible that are not in real life. For example, I can contemplate the idea of dissolution using the story of "The Twins", but trying to find a real life character, who would be able to portray that idea is difficult in my mind. My sensibilities would be shocked and appalled that a human could aspire to such a thing, but Colton can, he's not real and I cannot link him to reality in my mind. Does it make sense what I am trying to say??
Last edited by zorobnice; February 1st, 2008 at 01:58 AM.
February 1st, 2008, 04:07 AM #50
If you're reading too much you're interpretative muscle gets stuck in a rut. If you're reading something esle then, you have a mind explosion.
People with no background in SF kept telling me how Matrix was all philosophical. Perhaps, but to me it was - at best - second hand philosophy, passed down to the whimsical offspring who runs down the firm. And that only after it's been pointed out to me. What you have read before has more influence on the "mind explosion" you get from a book than the book itself.
If you read much of the same (and this happens a lot in academic circles because of a trend towards specialisation; you have experts on authors or movements or genres [the academic term] etc.), you may experience fatigue. You've seen it all before. What people often don't see is that what they read is the result of a selective book-choosing process that runs its course much the same way every time.
If someone stuck in a mainstream fiction rut (and that could be a stream-of-consciousness rut, or a social-realism rut, or an epistolary rut, or a tortured-artist-stories rut) then turns to SF and it works out... well, let me say that it's not a surprise to find such an article as a result.
I notice that the article mentions Stross' gimmick as a point of philosophy; he doesn't say at all how Stross treats it. That's classic for the SF=literature of ideas mindset. It's mistaking the X on the map for the treasure.
Last year I got more thinking out of Julian Barnes' Arthur and George (part biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, part mystery - after a historical incident) than out of Charles Stross' Glasshouse ("what if computer viruses could affect the assembly stations that everyone uses to change their biology?"). The thing about genre (any genre) is that the gimmicks get worn down. That's true of biographies, of mysteries or of what-if-stoies. At that point, perhaps, I should point out that I've read far more what-ifs than I have mysteries or biographies (fiction; not non-fiction).
Where do we locate the ideas? In the author? The reader? The text? The culture?
February 1st, 2008, 07:46 AM #51
Well, but that's good for us. The key thing is that they try SFF and they get blown away because it's new to them. It's literature, they cry, and go around talking about how it offers new vitality and ideas and philosophic relevant substantive meaning and prose ability. And they're talking about Charlie Stross, not Margaret Atwood. That's how we get rid of old prejudices. Then we get Charlie Stross on Oprah, lots of the books made into films, and next thing you know, Richard Morgan will be up for the National Book Award. It's genius.
Okay, I withdraw my objections. Let's be elitist. SFF is the last bastion of philosophy and all things good. Unrealistic fiction is always better than realistic fiction, at least for pondering the universe. Realistic fiction is a dead graveyard.
February 1st, 2008, 08:58 AM #52
KatG, you and HE must be tipping the same glass! What's in that glass? Das Kapital Vodka?
Give me a break! You're not actually claiming that all literature is equal? That all people are as smart as each other, as sensitive as each other, as kind, as mean, as good as bad? What exactly are you saying?
Oprah? She's a nice lady. I think she's empowered many women, given hope to countless individuals etc. etc blah blah blah. Good for her. She's not the issue. Again, are you saying that she's today's judge of literature? Certainly not me, because I never read anything and I never went to school or college or pursued advanced degrees. Certainly not, because I don't have a TV show with millions of viewers? She's the one, right? God, she must spend all night reading! I bet she never sleeps.
Sometimes you crusade against the wrong people for the wrong reasons KatG. SFF, as Zorobice so succinctly expressed, can use the freedom inherent in the genre to postulate in different ways than mainstream fiction can. It therefor can help the reader think through issues more clearly at times. NOT ALWAYS!
And please don't put words into my mouth. I think there is some great literature out there today in all genres. Some. I've read some really good books, like Call Me By My Name, this past year. Did you read that? Was it on Oprah's list? It was sentimental enough, and empowering enough and it dealt with minorities. It had all of her criteria. And it was really really good.
February 1st, 2008, 09:46 AM #53
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My disdain for vodka is legendary. Gin, man, gin. That's what William and Mary were on to and royalty knows its alcohol. Though, Z, I do appreciate a fine beer now and then.
I have a college degree though I never noticed that it affected my reading habits nor did it make me a better critic of the world around me save in that broad specialty that I majored. Well it did get me a stint as technical reviewer for Berrett&Koehler. It certainly didn't help in the sffworld for you find very few, if any, business organization and execution themes in the field. Sure, there's Feist's Rise of a Merchant Prince but that isn't truly about the kinds of things the PMI or Wharton or even Carnegie Mellon get involved in.
My reading is eclectic, whatever I have on hand. At the moment, sff is at the bottom of the pile because Christmas seemed themed more politically, all my relations are trying to convert me to some cause or other. Though I received a compilation of stuff titled The American Idea from The Atlantic Monthly that made extremely interesting reading. The last sff I read was Vellum, which I blame on KatG. As you may conclude, though I admired the construction of the first half, I was mostly unimpressed by the whole. I tried Scott but, after the first, had no interest in th remaining.
The last mainstream I read was Coyote Dream by Jessica Davis Stein, picked up because of its treament of a locale I have a fondness for. It's about culture clash.
At the moment I am reading a political treastise on the nature of fundamentalism in the U.S. and Kafka, which makes an intresting diversion from polemics.
I am an expert on nothing, a dabbler in everything, and remain interested in almost everything there is about the world around me. I hear that, at my age, such interests become more intense but I haven't noticed that to be true.
But, because of that generalist, dabbler, dilletante aspect of my nature I read lots and lots of stuff, though I seem to avoid Harlequin romances. My favorite mystery writers are Hillerman and Alexander McCall Smith.
So, with that established, from my semi-literate, poorly educated vantage, I find it odd to claim that one field of writing can think of itself as somehow advantaged in the world. Have you not heard of magic realism which treats the same issues as you want to treat but finds them in the magic of this world. Read Bless Me Ultima and tell me you or any other contemporary sff writer has covered the topic better.
I suspect but am too lazy to prove that any theme you can claim for sff has been done, and in the last decade, by some writer in "mainstream" fiction. As well? That is pretty subjective an argument. Give me an objective scale to rate it on and I may try to work up the energy to do the research.
In the meantime, I recognize this is my opinion versus yours and we all know that mine suffers from my affection for Beefeater martinis, very dry, shaken, with olives.
February 1st, 2008, 10:04 AM #54
Straight up or on the rocks?
None of us are experts! Is there such a thing in this regard? But we have opinions based upon our speculations and experiences. I find that SFF deals with provocative themes that tend to be more philosophical than contemporary fiction. Simple. I think the genre lends itself to such speculation for many and varied reasons. Simple. And I think that the climate in the publishing world today is more mercenary than it ever was by virtue of business consolidations in the industry etc.
Where and who are the Bennett Cerf's of today?
February 1st, 2008, 10:17 AM #55
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Shows like Oprah have always been about advertising. At least, that's where it started. Then the reality TV element took off, and it pegged us all as having some new suburban form of original sin -- some kind of widespread cultural deficiency, based on the perceived distance in our lives between each other, the "natural world," and "real" experiences. Dr. Phil took off from this premise of day-time pseudo-reality TV, and gave credence to the loss we evidently believe that we feel. At that moment, therapy became a much, much bigger consumer product.
Don't get me wrong -- I think reality TV is brilliant. But, it's at its best when abstracting reality. Survivor is an absolutely brilliant premise for a show. In no other way (outside of the speculative fiction it is based on) can we observe what we might actually do in such a situation. What really do we have to learn from Extreme Home Makeover? It does nothing to improve anyone's life (except for the family getting the new house, and even then it's a debate of "can money really buy you happiness?" : "no, but it can make you comfortable while you're miserable") -- its altruism is tempered by the sheer weight of product placement and corporate sponsorship. It's complicit with the system of manufactured anti-suffering.
The point of it is to make mega-corporations seem like they're really not so bad... Look at us helping the common man! Aren't we likewise improving your life? And yet we know their intention is solely to improve public perception in order to.... $$$.
Not all of what TV has to offer is crap. But when its M.O. is to convince me they aren't evil when we can quite clearly see that they are, I get defensive of my mental freedom.
When she endorses a book, I expect mediocrity. She destroyed my image of her with this one.
I am a self admitted indie music elitist. I hate it when a little known but extremely brilliant band finds widespread success. I'm all for them being able to do what they love. But I'm with Dylan... Success is a failure, and failure is no success at all. To me that means that success should be localized. It's better to mean something to a few people than to mean a little bit to everyone. Kurt Cobain's suicide is the expression of that tension. Books that Oprah recommend have an alarming tendency to wind up as noise in the cultural background radiation. The book's success kills its importance. "Real" classics seem to go almost unnoticed.
I mentioned Ishmael Beah's "A Long Way Gone" (and screwed up the title) earlier. If reading is an act of compassion, if the result of reading is to learn about oneself and ones place in the world, if the enjoyment is the escape and/or the education, if its the understanding of values and cultures... What is the message? What am I -- what is anyone -- to learn from reading that book? Why is it important for me to read that book? Oprah recommended it on her show. She said it was important that everyone read it. Why? She has clearly stated she's trying to change lives for the better.
What does reading about the tragedies of civil war in Sierra Leone have to do with improving my life? How does it improve my life? How does it improve my life to understand the realities that forced a young man into becoming a child soldier?
The thing is, Ishmael Beah and Valentino Achak Deng from "What is the What?" are about the same age as me. They both have very similar stories. Part of what I'm supposed to get from reading about their lives is and understanding of the conflict and their culture that's part of this world. The other thing -- and this is the kicker -- is that I'm to be thankful that I'm not in their shoes, and most importantly to question if I could've gone through what they went through.
The only reason that the last question is relevant is because the worst thing most people endure in the first-world is an upset stomach from self-inflicted misery from aforementioned martinis. So your daddy was mean to you.... f**k off, this kid was forced to kill his own friends and lions ate the other ones. So you were raped... f**k off, this little girl saw her mother's lactating breasts cut off, her nursing little infant brother's neck snapped, then saw her mother raped with a machete before they turned on her.
It's absolutely heart wrenching to read about this stuff. It's happening all over the world. And I'm pissed because the job I go to that allows me to post on this messageboard all day doesn't pay overtime? F**k off!!! These books are recommended to me in order to invalidate my complaints about my own life. How many times a show does Oprah say "look how good we've got it"??? But the message isn't to be grateful -- it's to be guilty.
That's what I object to about reading about suffering. I read about it to learn about and to appreciate others and their triumphs. But I'm not going to invalidate their experiences by using them to invalidate my own bloated sense of suffering. That is what Oprah is after, and she feels that's what we need.
Is it that she's on t.v., that she's a woman, that she also believes in self-help books? Is it that her audience you see as housewives in Des Moines who must of course be stupid and gullible? But you're not being elitist.
The worst experience you've ever had is the worst experience you've ever had, even if the worst thing that's ever happened to you is the ice cream falling off the top of your cone.
Just because you don't like a lot of what you read doesn't mean that there is a crisis in fiction. And just because SFF writers tackle philosophical issues doesn't mean that realistic writers don't. It doesn't have to be either/or and it isn't. There isn't a last bastion.
"At least we've got our principles!" O-dee-o Dee-oten-day, o-dee-oten day-o! Fattening up our taaaaaapeworms!
February 1st, 2008, 12:59 PM #56
Originally Posted by GW
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An opinion which I am not required to share and I don't.
To turn our opinions into working hypotheses we'd probably need some criteria and then some data to measure against those criteria. Sounds like a lot of work, doesn't it?
February 2nd, 2008, 10:36 AM #57
February 2nd, 2008, 05:39 PM #58
Sorry, HE. But I loved Vellum. I think it's brilliant. I'm getting Ink for an anniversary present. What sort of stuff do you prefer, and maybe I'll do better on the recommendations?
Gary, I was saying that you're being a snob about Oprah. And I wasn't putting words in your mouth. I quoted you. The fact is that it is extremely hard for fiction authors to get on television, to be able to promote their books through major media that other things like music and movies can do for even small projects. Which is a big part of why fiction books sell in such small numbers comparitively. And Oprah, for all that you might not like her beliefs or politics or that she has a big old t.v. show, has been one of the few still willing to put a fiction author on air and pimp their books, and this has been enormously beneficial, especially for those authors who are called literary writers. Which is not to say that I watch Oprah or am any sort of fan of hers. But that Oprah picks a title as something she finds valuable and that is believed to lessen the value of the work -- that I think is fundamentally idiotic. On a philosophical level. And a large part of the problem that exists in the world of books, one that keeps SFF from being appreciated properly.
You're not actually claiming that all literature is equal?
Again, are you saying that she's today's judge of literature?
I think there is some great literature out there today in all genres. Some. I've read some really good books, like Call Me By My Name, this past year.
However, it was pointed out to me by Dawnstorm that this argument for SFF as the last bastion was because of revelatory urges of discovery of SFF. And my argument has always been that we need to present SFF as literature and encourage those outside the community to see it and advocate it as literature and that this helps us. If the people doing that feel that it is necessary in the process to trash realistic fiction, well then, maybe it is, given people's prejudices. And so, I moved on my position.
Foo -- that you don't like stories about suffering is not something that I in the least object to (not that it would matter if I did.) It's your view and how you experience art. I understand also your view that popularity makes something less valuable. I understand it, but I don't agree with it. And this idea -- that the more commercially successful something is, the less value it has -- is one of the major reasons that horror and SFF have had a difficult time being considered valuable literature.
Gary, your latest post in which you state that you find SFF to offer more opportunities for philosophical exploration than realistic fiction is interesting, and in line with some of the things you've said in this thread and previously about why you write fantasy. If you don't feel you are repeating yourself, could you elaborate on it some more?
February 3rd, 2008, 03:38 AM #59
Foo -- that you don't like stories about suffering is not something that I in the least object to (not that it would matter if I did.)
February 3rd, 2008, 10:51 AM #60
Sometimes we tend to sound as if we're agreeing with another's POV simply because we're the first to point it out and raise questions about it. My initial comment after quoting this article was, "Any thoughts?" I don't recall at that point saying whether I agreed or disagreed with the article.
In any case, it was provocative, which is always my intention here.
KatG, I don't truly believe you when you say you feel that all literary criticism is purely subjective and not based upon any tangible or objectifiable criteria.
What Oprah may or may not be doing for reading and books in general also wasn't the topic. This wasn't about Oprah. She can be beneficial to the general public and to authors and publishers and the book selling community, and we know she is, and still not be a great critic of fine literature. She also may be a great critic! That says nothing about whether of not SFF is a genre that is conducive to philosophical discussions and speculative thought.
In what other genre can an author break out into verse and wax poetic about destiny or fate or suffering? In what other genre can we create characters who are not real, not meant to be real, but are symbolic and metaphoric and allegorical all at the same time? In what other genre can we use magic and powers that are not real and not meant to be real to discuss cosmological and metaphysical issues? In what other genre can beasts and fantastical beings speak to the earth's problems?
I write SFF because I feel I'm unconstrained when I do. When I write contemporary fiction, as I do with my children's books, I don't always feel quite the same way. But I choose to write works for young people as opposed to adults when I write contemporary fiction because I can break the boundaries of reality. At least when it comes to writing children's books I feel more free and more able to fantasize and imagine, as a child might fantasize and imagine. Not as an adult might. We fantasize totally differently, don't we, adults as opposed to children? Children really do believe things are possible that adults know are not. Their imaginations are unconstrained. And they don't distinguish between reality and imagination all the time. We know when we are imagining, when what we're fantasizing about is not real.
KatG, I've felt this way since the very first day I started to put words down on a page. I want freedom to express myself. I want freedom to imagine. I want freedom to postulate situations in order to examine possibilities that the real world only presents in theory. And most of all, I want to understand the meaning of good and bad in a world not governed by laws and lawyers and prisons, and all the very real constraints that society puts upon us to preserve our civilized way of life.
If there were no laws at all, if anything were allowed, what would happen? We can examine this in post-apocalyptic worlds and in fantastical worlds much more easily than in this world. In fact, we'd have to create a world within our world in order to do it, so we'd be writing SFF anyway. Why not just start there?
Last edited by Gary Wassner; February 3rd, 2008 at 10:56 AM.