writing rengeek magpie mind

July 2014

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writing rengeek magpie mind

More on the SF/F divide. Also, BPAL: Arachne

Gregory Benford and Darrell Schweitzer on science fiction and fantasy.

scott_lynch responds.

Grr. Okay, I am annoyed by the implication there that George R. R. Martin has somehow betrayed the genre by writing fantasy instead of SF.

I obviously need to order one of those "science fiction is dead" t-shirts. Whenever I encounter somebody who thinks that science fiction is ultimately forward-looking and fantasy is ultimately nostalgic, I want to force them to read different books. And different online arguments. Especially the ongoing Truesdallian argument that SFF was so much better in the old days--if that's not scary nostalgia, I dunno what is. (And what Darrell said about Lovecraft. And even more especially about Crichton: there's where the real anti-intellectualism lies. If fantasy writers could tap into that kind of egghead-hate, man, we'd be rolling in the dough.)

It seems to me that science fiction limits its own audience--especially so-called "hard" science fiction, or the current subgenre that tends to get called "post-Cyberpunk" but is really post-New Wave, except apparently Cyberpunk made such an impression on the genre consciousness that we've somehow managed to forget the revolution in craft and literary sensibility that took place between 1960 and and 1980 (and by this I mean Charles Stross, Chris Moriarty, Mark Budz, Peter Watts, and other fine writers with an uncompromising prose style that kicks the reader in neck-deep and expects him to parse neologisms and work out complicated ideas on the fly)--is hard to read. It tends to lose readers when it gets inward-looking, and doesn't make allowances for the guy walking in off the street who maybe needs his hand held a little. It's the Heinleinian exposit on the fly technique taken to a logical extreme, and it's a literature of alienation, among other things.

On the other extreme is the science fiction that's hard to read because it exposits at length, and the story gets lost in the explanation--or the story is, at worst, a framework narrative tacked on around a bunch of theoretical nattering.

The problem here isn't that fantasy is stealing SF's audience. The problem is that SF isn't making itself accessible to a general audience. It's easy to whine about how nobody likes me when I'm not making an effort to be likable.

It's the Geek Problem. We want the pretty girls to like us, but we don't want to stop talking about Mecha-Godzilla all the damned time. (Why yes, I am still reading the Minister Faust book, How did you know?) Alternately, it's the Ghetto Problem. We want to be accepted, we want people to bring us their business, but we don't want no sellout gentrification here.

...and so it seems a little unwelcoming to those who aren't already in the club.

Also, we want validation as artists.

Dude, right there with ya.

Gotta say, (because I can only talk about my goals, and not the goals of The Genre(s)) as a whole--I don't think my SF is about embracing the future, or my fantasy is about nostalgia, though. I think they're both about finding ways to talk about people's choices, and tell stories about people's lives, and maybe promote a little understanding, and consider the ethicality (or inethicality) of what we do and how we do it. I think in both cases, I'm writing stories about how people suck it up and get through the day and try to hold on, a little, to their souls. There's certainly a pro space exploration theme in the Jenny books. (Corporate space flight, here we go!)

But man. The idea that all fantasy is about nostalgia for simpler times really ignores anything about the genre except the sappiest, sloppiest wish-fulfillment princesses-and-pretty-horses novels, and judging fantasy by that is like judging science fiction exclusively by E.E. "Doc" Smith.




BPAL Description:

A victim of her own arrogance, conceit and hubris, Arachne, the greatest mortal weaver, had the temerity to claim herself superior to Athena. Arachne was truly gifted: not only was her art astoundingly beautiful, but the vision of her in the act of weaving was a joy to behold. When one observer commented that her skill was so great that she must have been trained by the goddess Athena herself, the proud woman scoffed: she was insulted, and proclaimed aloud that the goddess could do no better than she. Athena heard this, and, as she is not a vindictive or jealous goddess, gave Arachne the opportunity to redeem herself. Disguised as an elderly woman, she came to Arachne and warned her against hubris. She laughed at the old woman and declared that she would welcome a contest with Athena. The goddess accepted the challenge. Athena wove a stunning tapestry depicting her victory over Poseidon, thus gaining patronage over the city of Athens. Arachne, who couldn’t leave well enough alone, wove a vulgar piece that depicted Zeus’ dalliances with Leda, Europa and Danae. Appalled at the woman’s audacity and blasphemy, Athena tore Arachne’s tapestry to shreds, crushed her loom, and bonked the mortal on the head, forcing her to feel remorse for her actions. In guilt and grief, Arachne hung herself. Again, because the goddess is merciful, she took pity on the woman and, after sprinkling aconite upon her corpse, transformed her into the first spider. A gossamer scent, as light as a spider’s footfall, touched with sighing mists: pallid flowers, dusty woods and soft herbs.

My Notes:

...because the goddess is merciful.

*grins*

Vial: Kind of a sour floral.

Wet: Still sour, still floral, traces of sandalwood underneath. Pleasant enough, I guess.

Drydown: sandalwood and flowers

Dry: ...and more sandalwood and flowers. Of course, this lasts much better than the yummy Black Forest did, because life is like that.

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p.s.

Oh, Robin McKinley. Mmm. Also, The Hero and the Crown.

Re: p.s.

Hal Duncan. My, the use of 1940s lace curtains in his work had me all choked up.