The OF Blog: So the old argument for SF "respectability" rears its ugly, dead horse head again

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

So the old argument for SF "respectability" rears its ugly, dead horse head again

Pretty much the same old shit, to be blunt.

John Howell starts this off with "Why Science Fiction Authors Can't Win," including repeating the same, old, tired quotes from the usual suspects from the past generation or two.

Lou Anders links to the Howell piece, quotes something that James Enge had said months before, and several authors, many of whom have had some sort of publishing connection in the past, respond.

io9 article that pretty much repeats what was said earlier, with just a little bit more commentary.

Another repost that has even less commentary, but likely will have some reader responses in the next day or two.

Nick Mamatas on how the Howell piece is little more than a "clip job."

And finally, my thoughts (which are just a summation of previous thoughts stated in posts here and elsewhere over the years):

It really is a tragicomedy these days reading comments from those who consider themselves part of some genre lambasting those who apparently are outside of the commentator's perception of "genre-friendly" for having some sort of opinion that seems to be derogatory toward the perceived "genre" works in question.  Most of the time that I read such screeds, there is this constructed monolithic "literary establishment" that is set up, either to be a false representation of what "good storytelling/writing/literature/etc." ought to be or that said perceived entity is about to be relegated to the dustbins of (literary) history.  After a while, it gets to be a bit old.  There is a presumption of authority here, even if Authority is being attacked.  After all, isn't much of the fight going to end up revolving around who ought to be the arbiters of elegance (or literary taste)?  That seems to be the crux of the "respectability" issue.

Sadly, most arguments of this nature seem to have a very myopic view, either of the "outside" literary modes or, even more damning, of the cultural context in which such defining turf wars are being waged.  So many of the quotes used to support the notion that there is a "them" attacked an "us" come from a generation or two older than the current blogging one that consists primarily of readers 40 and younger.  After a while, one begins to wonder if those trying to reargue the arguments of decades past have bothered to look around a bit and to read some of the so-called "mainstream" or "literary" books.  Quite a bit of "genre blending" is going on and people like it.

Furthermore, when will more people just stop and consider what the longue durée might end up being.  The world, it's a-rapidly changin', as Dylan once sang, and perhaps the good warhorses need to be put out to pasture.  But something tells me that every so often, perhaps in rhythm with the sun, the moon, and the stars (I swear!), such arguments will crop up and people like Howell will again use "clip jobs" to sustain their own, rather stale arguments.  But what do I know?  This observation surely is rather stale as well.


Seth Merlo said...

The problem as I see it is that these kinds of debates can never be resolved, because Literature and popular fiction (yes, those wonderfully artifical literary blocs) need each other to define themselves against. Literature is Literature because it is not genre fiction, and vice versa. It's not something that's going to go away, but in my view the relationship is definitely one that both parties can benefit from.

Larry Nolen said...

I've found these bar stool-like arguments to be worthwhile only if it makes one think a bit from a different point of view. Sadly, the article I linked to didn't. I would argue that some interesting insights might be generated if one were to look at various literary forms as being reflections of a society's material culture, but as I've said in the past, that thinking is a by-product of my grad studies a decade ago in cultural history :P

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