Thursday, July 07, 2005

still more news

Jeez, busy day. Okay, first I find this Livejournal rant about the declining state of SF magazines. Looks like I'm not the only one who's bored with the post-modernist LeBrea pits.

Secondly, Greg "The Source" Araujo sent me this link. Want one now.


AJM said...

Good rant, thanks for the link. Had to comment, and did so over on the LJ, too.

Still not sure the suckitude of much of the contemporary stuff is really much about postmodernism's baleful influence on literature, though. Beginning to think that while that contributes, it's more about folk with 'literary' pretensions who haven't been thinking terribly hard about just what literature is, or why the hell anyone would want to read it.

I'm actually all *for* stories with some depth, characters with some depth, worlds with some depth, if that's all they mean. I like the stuff I read to have both crunch (meatiness? the world needs a better word for this) and artistry. I salute the folk trying to get that in. I like a good action film as much as the next guy, but on the flip side of the coin from the tediousness and pretentiousness of a lot of literature, I've found a lot of those of late just as disappointing, for entirely opposite reasons. If it's all SFX and explosions, no time to get to know or care about the characters, and one more 'gotta save the world from an evil villain thing', I'm likely to find it just as unsatisfying (if a smidge more entertaining) than yet another ponderous weepfest in which someone's inner child is slowly tortured by its demons, for no better reason than that that's supposed to be *deep* for some damned reason.

I'd write a recommendation for how you avoid that, but I all I guess I get is (i) Try not to get trapped by *any* ideology or aesthetic (nor, for that matter, opposition to them)--these just inform art, they don't give it soul. (ii) Care about your story and your characters, and pour your heart into them and your writing. (iii) Respect your audience.

I think that's mostly it. You do that, you'll care that what you've just produced is ponderous and boring, and you'll likewise care if it's shallow and empty. And, presumably, you won't produce as much that is.

In any case: I share your conviction that SF (and, for that matter, fiction in general) have been more than a bit moribund of late, and are ripe for a renaissance.

Holly said...

Yeah, I'm probably putting too much weight on the post-modernist thing. I actually started to write "literary" in place of that phrase, but figured that was being too vague. Definitions aside, I think we all know what we're talking about.

Holly said...

Okay--pursuing this topic--never really got off it, to be honest...

All this throwing around terms of "literary" and "action" and whatever... what upsets me here is what's always upset me: the vast, jealously-guarded no-man's land between literary and genre fiction. We can argue round and round about whether it's real, and what defines it, and point out examples that seem to bridge the gap, but it's there, we all know it's there, otherwise the critics wouldn't embrace it and we wouldn't be talking about it.

There is a pervasive attitude, which I think originates in college writing departments, that plot has no place in Literature, and genre fiction is too "slick" to support character or message.
Check out some of the reviews of Batman Begins--almost every one of them professes shock that a genre movie can be that deep and thoughtful. That's just the latest example.

The critics and audience buy into it, too: I know people who won't watch mainstream movie releases, either, because nothing that comes out of Hollywood can possibly be worth watching. (Yes, the chances have gotten slimmer of late, but do your homework and keep an open mind, okay?)

It's the same damn thing I've been saying since 1993, when Mark Walters first told me I was a hack: plot is not a dirty word. Genre fiction can be sensitive and revealing of the human condition; literary works can contain a plot without it getting in the way of their 'message', and by the way... "literature" is a genre, too. Maybe a little tough to define, but like porn, we know it when we see it.

AJM said...

Ummm... Who's Mark Walters? And why should anyone give a rat's ass that he can't smell talent when it's right under his nose?

And I'm curious. Where's his career, lately? Cause I can't seem to find it on the web. And I'm pretty good at finding stuff. Even really inconsequential stuff.

Yeah, meow.

Anyway, for what it's worth, I'm a thoroughly bitchy, picky reader. And I think you're a writer of rare promise, who's already shown some real talent, and real taste, and who's got a really interesting vision for what her writing could and should be. And I think if you really want to show folks where literature could go, you will.

I would say though--speaking out of turn as always--I wouldn't get all hung up on identifying yourself by what you're not. Just write it the way you think it should be. If it works, you're not going to have to harangue anyone about why so much of modern fiction's so anaemic. You can just point to the stuff that isn't. Yours.

As to that gap--sure, it's there. Probably will always be, to some degree, culture being what it is. And it's not all about snobbery (just mostly). Got a whole theory on what else it is, even--involves a general discomfiture with escapism (something someone who normally considers himself a very grounded empiricist and materialist who just wrote a fantasy novel and got bitched out for it by certain parties would know something about) and a terrible fear of displaying anything that might look like immaturity. And then there's the whole subversive nature of a lot of good speculative fiction in an era of conformity and discomfiture with substantial debate. Add that to certain cultural hangups along those axes which not everyone shares equally, and there's your gap. I could go on for pages, but will spare your comments section, for now. Besides, I should be working on a manuscript.

As to the action films: I do my research. I research everything. And I once had a much higher tolerance for pain, and spent a lot of time watching bad movies hoping I'd be wrong. So I think I can say with much confidence: most of them really are quite unsatisfying, for some of us, anyway.

But I might try to get to a theatre for Batman Begins, just on your say-so.

AJM said...

Oh. Wait. I think I found him. Told you I was good at this...

One novel, far as I can tell. Realizing Hannah. In 1997. Seems to be pretty hard to get hold of, now.

Not that that's anything to be ashamed of, of course. I'm sure he was just ahead of his time or something.

Or it was a really bad book. But hey, it was his first. Maybe it just didn't find its audience. That happens a lot, I hear. And maybe there've been others... which I just can't seem to find.

Fun fact: the search terms '"Realizing Hannah" novel' are, in fact, a perfect three word Google bomb. One hit in the whole wide world.

Holly said...

Oh, you found Hannah, huh? Last I heard it was in publishing limbo; he'd been paid the advance but the editor had left, and no one knew what would become of it.

Mark Walters was my college creative writing professor. I learned a lot from him, tho not, perhaps, what he would have wanted me to learn. His two favorite words were "banal" and "ambivalent." His favorite authors were Updike and Faulkner; he force-fed us the Atlantic Monthly and the New Yorker. He had an excerpt from Realizing Hannah published as a short in the Atlantic Monthly. He was very proud. I considered it an example of everything that was wrong with the state of contemporary fiction.

I'm not all down on the man; he said several complimentary things about my work, and when I dropped out of college he said, "Let me know when you get into print." He just thought that I was wasting my abilities on genre fiction. He really did think plot was a dirty word, and said as much in an interview in the 1997 Writer's Market.

Realizing Hannah is the story of an English professor in a small Midwestern private college, watching his wife be pregnant for nine months. I was and am deeply scornful of it. The man was a decent writer, but just as he thought I was wasting my time writing adventure fiction, I think it's a waste of time to distill one's life onto the page. Real life is boring.

AJM said...

Hee hee. Well, it depends on your life, I guess...

Okay. Getting gratuitous. Stopping now.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.