Pursuant to discussions in karentraviss
and at John Scalzi's blog, The Whatever
, I've been thinking about Ben Jonson and Will Shakespeare, and the literary hierarchy, and how it's not all that different from the Geek Hierarchy
Specifically, I've been contemplating the Geek Hierarchy within SFF, and being somewhat amused by it, and the level of masturbatory energy that goes into maintaining it, arguing about it, defending it, and revamping it. And it's led me to something of a philosophical revelation regarding my own work.
The Tangent Online newsgroup at http://www.sff.net
used to be a hotbed of activity on one side of the debate. I've lost track of most of it these days; I suspect it's still out there somewhere. Some arguments never die. I'm afraid I can't be arsed to go looking for it today, though.
Essentially, the argument (although it spiders out in all sorts of directions) goes something like "They don't write/publish/create science fiction like they usedta, with Cracking Good Stories and Crunchy Ideas and Sensawunda!" And the counterargument goes "Lit'ry SF has merit too!" And then somebody's sure to bring up all the hacks writing media tie in novels (*waves to hacks on flist*) and how they're destroying SFF, and all the hacks writing Fuzzy Unicorn Fantasy (*waves to hacks on flist*) and how they're destroying SFF, and all the hacks writing military SF (*waves to Scalzi and the rest of the hacks*) and the romance hacks and the commercial fantasy hacks and the pretentious obscure horror/literature types and all the lit'ry pretenders writing SFF (*waves, waves, waves--don't think I don't see you out there!*) and--
Anyway. If you want an idea of what it sounds like and don't really feel the need to choose up sides and wear armbands, you can always read Elizabethan poets writing broadsides at one another.
John Fletcher is still a doodoohead, even though his name has changed--
Anyway, that's all backstory. The conversation between karentraviss
, combined with the one going on over at the Whatever, got me thinking. Thinking, specifically, about the perception in certain circles of SFF currently that SFF that is accessible, which is to say, can be read easily by those who don't have a twenty-year foundation in the conventions of the genre, is of necessity
less worthy than SFF written exclusively to the hardcore SFF reader.
And it sounds, to my untutored ear, exactly like LitraChur's dismissal of SFF (and mystery, and chicklit, and romance, and thrillers) as genre-and-unworthy. Accessibility, in other words, is as dirty a word in SFF as it is in Litcrit circles, and as it was to Jonson. (Who was a literary snob of the first water, and isn't it interesting that the infinitely more accessible--and, to my mind, infinitely more complex--Shakespeare has weathered so much better?)
Which made me realize something about why and how I write. I read
everything from Pa Chin to Lillian Jackson Braun. What I want in my writing, though, is twofold. I want to be read and entertain and amuse, but I also want to provide something for those wiling to put a little effort into the reading. I'm not elitist enough--at least in my long fiction (in short fiction, I am sometimes cheerfully obscure and difficult just for the hell of it, but short fiction, to my mind, exists for experiments)--to want to write books that a general reader won't enjoy. But I want to write books, as well, that provide some chewiness and crunchiness down on thematic levels one and two and three layers down, that reward both careful reading AND rereading. Which will probably open me up to misinterpretation by both extremes, but so be it.
I want to write the books that I want to write. That I want to read, frankly; something with a level of transparency and narrative (the best of the pulp tradition, you betcha, stretching back to the dim mists of history and the storyteller tradition), and with a bit of the New Wave's borrowing of literary technique and character development, and a bit of the old sensawunda, and maybe a bit of hard questions to make the alert reader think. I don't want to dictate answers. I want to ask questions.
Actually, as I get more confident in my abilities, I find myself working much less hard to be deep, and coming back to the basics: tell a good story in an engaging manner, with something behind it, and maybe kick a little argument at the genre conversation while I'm in there, and maybe kick a little argument at the world. (I wonder if anybody has twigged yet that "Follow Me Light" is a response to the conscious and unconscious racism in Lovecraft? No, probably not. But people are writing to tell me they love it, which tells me I done good. And I know why
I wrote it.)
Inaccessibility, in other words, does not necessarily equal merit. But neither does apparent transparency equal lack of merit. It's a four-part continuum--there are bad accessible plays, and bad inaccessible plays, and good inaccessible plays. But I think Will, for all the trashing he got by some of his peers, wrote good, accessible plays.
And I'd like to write me some good accessible books, even if I'm no Shakespeare, because I'm always reminded of Swanwick on Gibson, and the advisability of a creature's reach exceeding his grasp. (Reach, reach harder, stretch higher, and grasp something a little bit better than if you contented yourself with assured success)
So, in short--there's certainly a place for obscure literary fiction, and the world pays pretty well for transparent pulpy adventure if you can pull it off with a straight face and without writing down to the reader... and as usual I find myself with a foot in both camps. And probably going to get tugged apart like a wishbone. But hey, such is life.