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Author Topic: The more I read, the more I despair.  (Read 5328 times)

Offline OneChapterMore

The more I read, the more I despair.
« on: April 27, 2011, 06:07:18 PM »
I often question why Science Fiction has such a bad name. Everyone knows it has one, even Kazuo Ishiguro:

"For years there has been a prejudice towards sci-fi writing, which I think has been to the loss of the literary world, and not vice versa. "

He accepts this, then expands the ghettoization by maintaining that his Science Fiction novel, The Remains fo the Day, by attacking Science Fiction lovers:

"In truth, the sci-fi label is misleading. I'm just wary like everybody else that it'll bring in the wrong audience with the wrong expectations"

Bollocks to that.

And then, browsing the Guardian, as I do from time to time, I found this. For fucks sake. That military claptrap is the dark-side of the moon. It is far from the literary side of science fiction as its likely to get. Weber's novels are good, don't get me wrong, and his place at Eastercon deserved, but Ringo? Battlestar Galactica? Don't tar us all with your same brush, eh?

I'd like to point you to this review of Ringo's Watch on the Rhine to show what a true science-fiction fan thinks of that shit. Weber starts well, and gets worse, but his military Science Fiction is at least well though out. Haldeman's The Forever War won a Hugo and a Nebula for a reason - it was bloody excellent. Scalzi takes military Science Fiction and drags it back down to earth. Military Science Fiction can be good. Its just a lot isn't. And it effects the perception of it.

In effect, take your genre-bashing hats off, and fucking read something decent before you jump on the bandwaggon. Shakespeare wrote genre-fic. Shelley wrote genre-fic. Emily-fucking--Bronte wrote genre-fic.

Genre-fic is literary. I'm not instantly thick, moronic or unappreciative of other literature because I read it. Not all Science Fiction is bug-shoot, just as not all fantasy is sex-with-Vampires or Farm-boy-becomes-hero. And not all bug-shoot, sex-with-Vampires and farm-boy-becomes-hero is necessarily bad (though most is...). Get some perspective, then write on our genre, knobheads.

Rant over.
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Offline missoularedhead

Re: The more I read, the more I despair.
« Reply #1 on: April 27, 2011, 09:26:42 PM »
And a solid rant it is. There's a HUGE difference between dreck and brilliant work. I would argue that painting, say, Richard Morgan or Iain Bank's Culture novels with the same brush as the serial Star Wars books (some of which, I am told, are quite good, but others are positively wretched) is sort of like lumping Shakespeare in with serial Romance novels.

But I really do think that this is, as you so wisely note, a function of not actually having read anything. And we've seen what a storm that creates (re Game of Thrones and the NY Times). It's why I think Stephen Hunt and the co-signers of the protest letter to the BBC are right...people read this stuff, and it's time 'serious' reviewers stop dissing it for no other reason than because it gets labelled 'sci fi' or 'fantasy'.  And why Margaret Atwood tries so very desperately to say she isn't a genre writer.
"Well behaved women rarely make history" ~Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Offline Funky Scarecrow

Re: The more I read, the more I despair.
« Reply #2 on: April 28, 2011, 04:21:41 AM »
I think the thing that bugs me most of all about all of this genre snobbery, and it isn't just fantasy and SF that have to put up with it, is the insidious notion that the genre of, I can only think to describe it as "lit-fic", has somehow managed to position itself as True Literature while everything else gets dismissed. This despite the fact that the genre which touts itself as The One True Path is actually quite a recent invention. It wouldn't bother me so much, but people fall for it.

How many book clubs trudge their way through The Secret Life of Bees, The Kite Runner, The [insert job title]'s [insert familial relationship] and all manner of things the literature press tells them they should read, all the while craving a book in which something other than "A person mistakes emotions for epiphanies and a dark family secret (dad banged his secretary/mother banged the help/one of the kids was adopted - delete as applicable) is revealed" is the entirety of what takes place, but no-one wanting to speak up in case they're then perceived as the philistine of the club?
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Offline missoularedhead

Re: The more I read, the more I despair.
« Reply #3 on: April 28, 2011, 05:45:57 AM »
My mother was, at one point, doing the Oprah book club, and she commented that every single book was depressing. And I read a couple of them (White Oleander is one that comes to mind) and she was right...apparently, to write highfalutin' lee-tra-chur, one must be as depressing as possible.
"Well behaved women rarely make history" ~Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Offline nilling

Re: The more I read, the more I despair.
« Reply #4 on: April 28, 2011, 09:48:25 AM »
And that is why Fantasy Faction is the book club for me! I really pay so little attention to what the media, the broadsheets or the Richard and Judy book club peddle. I know what I like and I read what I like :)
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Offline Autumn2May

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Re: The more I read, the more I despair.
« Reply #5 on: April 28, 2011, 01:58:44 PM »
Speaking of depressing literature that everyone 'must read', I always thought a lot of the modern 'classics' they made you read in school must have been the most depressing books ever published.  I had no idea reading could be truly fun and entertaining until the teachers started letting us pick our own books!  Seriously kids are depressed enough with life already.  Do they really need to read the complete works of John Steinbeck, Where the Red Fern Grows, The Summer of My German Soldier, and other such uplifting pieces?  Why not let they read something they might actually enjoy?  Something that doesn't remind them that life sucks?  Maybe something like a fantasy story where the hero saves the kingdom from some sort of evil, instead of reading about some well meaning character that gets his life destroyed by the end of the story? :)

Not that all of the classics are bad, but there are more uplifting things out there, even in regards to the classics!  Small wonder so many high school kids are depressed, I know the book choices we had certainly didn't help me any. :P  I think that might be where some of this genre snobbery starts.  If you only have kids read one type of book, then that's what they are going to end up reading as adults, simply because they don't know any better.

Offline OneChapterMore

Re: The more I read, the more I despair.
« Reply #6 on: April 28, 2011, 02:20:27 PM »
Fair point all. Lit-fic, as a genre, does have good books. It does have uplifting books. It is however, as said, a genre of its own. 'Literature' as a more broad term, I think ought to cover all forms of greats, and all things that can be critically analysed. That includes people like Martin, Lynch, Rothfuss and the like in fantasy, and Banks, Watt, Herbert, Mieville and suchlike in Science Fiction. Just as it includes McCall-Smith and Dexter in Dectective-fic, or Rushdie and Kundera in Magic-Realism, or Kingsolver and Martel in "lit-fic".

And what fucks me off is that 3 out of those 5 are respected. 2 aren't. 2 are scattered by the wayside, and left for the intellectual snobs of the world to laugh at.

It boils down to my recommending thigns to people. They inevitably ask "What's it about" - as soon as I get to space or magic, the instance response is 'nah!'. 
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Offline pornokitsch

Re: The more I read, the more I despair.
« Reply #7 on: April 29, 2011, 08:42:28 PM »
And that is why Fantasy Faction is the book club for me! I really pay so little attention to what the media, the broadsheets or the Richard and Judy book club peddle. I know what I like and I read what I like :)

Nicely said!

Offline WizardofWestmarch

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Re: The more I read, the more I despair.
« Reply #8 on: May 11, 2011, 06:45:31 AM »
Part of the reason such perceptions hold out is the fact that what the lit-fic people consider well written sci-fi or the like get rolled into their genre instead (Magical realism being one such example). So basically they just co-opt anything good enough to fit their world and ignore its roots :P
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Offline HotdogMcGoo

Re: The more I read, the more I despair.
« Reply #9 on: May 11, 2011, 01:04:46 PM »
Speaking of depressing literature that everyone 'must read', I always thought a lot of the modern 'classics' they made you read in school must have been the most depressing books ever published. 

I totally agree with this.  Almost everything we read in high school was depressing and I think back on my reading experiences with disdain.  If I want to be depressed I turn on the news, not open a book.  That's why Pride and Prejudice was my favorite book from high school - it was the only one with a happy ending!

I have been getting a little more worked up lately with people just dismissing science fiction out of hand.  There is a lot of bad stuff out there, sure, and I think that's what colors people opinions.  It infuriates me that people won't give the true gems a shot (for example The Forever War) simply because it's science fiction.  In my book club (~10 people) the only book that everyone has liked thus far was The Forever War.  You should have heard people groan and complain about having to read sci-fi, but did it ever feel good to throw it back in their face ( ;D) when they admitted that it was amazing.

Offline Dan D Jones

Re: The more I read, the more I despair.
« Reply #10 on: May 23, 2011, 09:50:10 PM »
While I agree with the underlying points of much of what's been said here, I also have points of disagreement and believe that much of the anger is misplaced.  I don't see any reason to object to Kazuo Ishiguro's statement, nor do I read it as attacking science fiction lovers. 

There are incredible works of literature within the genres of science fiction and fantasy.  The Forever War is a very fine piece of writing and is better than the vast majority of the books in the literary genres that critics praise so highly.  But the article in the Guardian is talking about Baen's military science fiction imprint.  And 90% of those books are pure crap.  Sure, sites like SF Reviews slam books like Watch on the Rhine.  But that doesn't change the fact that Watch on the Rhine is much more typical of the genre than is The Forever War.  Is it really justified to be angry at a critic because they don't dig through a bucket of pig slops to find the few pearls hidden here or there? 

Baen publishes what it does because those books sale.  They sale because they meet the expectations of Baen's readers.  Will those readers be happy with Ishiguro's book?  Is Ishiguro really wrong or being insulting to worry that calling his work science fiction might raise the wrong expectations?

There are excellent works being published in genre fiction.  There are discriminating readers who find and love those books.  But I think we're more the exception than the rule.

Offline Rhevian

Re: The more I read, the more I despair.
« Reply #11 on: June 01, 2011, 05:59:00 PM »
FWIW, the Kazuo Ishiguro novel that he was concerned about labeling as SF is "Never Let Me Go"

http://martyhalpern.blogspot.com/2011/03/kazuo-ishiguro-on-science-fiction-oops.html

Offline pornokitsch

Re: The more I read, the more I despair.
« Reply #12 on: June 01, 2011, 11:03:03 PM »
Wasn't it nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award? Clearly his concerns are justified. HE'S ONE OF US NOW.