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Instapundit linked to this post by Andrew Fox, one of those pretentious twats who feels compelled to make lists of everything and squeeze creation into his narrow little boxes.1

See, this is what I loathe about a lot of people in literary fandom. They feel compelled to slice up SF into a bunch of subgenres and make quality judgments about the whole damn subgenre. They also seem compelled to take note of "movements" and "manifestos", as if anyone not hopelessly obsessed with that kind of pseudo-academic crap in the first place gave a flying fuck about that sort of thing. Most fans I know want something to read that engages them and that is at least mildly entertaining, otherwise we come away with (at best) a feeling that we've just wasted ninety minutes of our lives that we won't get back. This is why subgenre descriptions like space opera, cyberpunk, combat SF, steampunk, and Cthulhu Mythos are useful and vague movement titles like "new Wave", "New Weird", and "Slipstream" are useless: the former tell you something about the story you're going to settle down with, and the latter don't. And if a label doesn't tell you anything useful, then what the hell is it there for? I'll tell you. It's a way for the "cool kids" to identify themselves to the other "cool kids" as people who Really Know What's Going On. When in fact, they really don't know a goddamn thing about the history of the genre outside the walls of their own little circle of fellow aesthetes. Or worse, they do know the history, but insist on twisting and bending that history to suit their own dishonest interpretations.

Let's start with Fox's description of the New Wave as a reaction against the kind of SF published by John W. Campbell Jr. in Analog, which for those of you who came in late was what Astounding had changed its name to long about 1960. That description implies that Campbell dominated the field to such an extent that the literary stylings and sexual topics that were the hallmark of the New Wave couldn't be published, and as such, it is complete bullshit. Fantasy And Science Fiction had been publishing stories that didn't fit Campbell's vision ever since the 1950s, and the same is true of Galaxy under H.L. Gold, Fred Pohl, and Ejler Jakobsson. The only thing "new" about the "New Wave" was the amount of self-promotion and epater les bourgeois attitude exhibited by its members.

Moving on, he criticizes the late 70s for a "conservative reaction" exemplified by the success of Star Wars and (oddly) Ballantine's decision to publish a lot of elf & dwarf crap. This is so wrong I hardly know where to start hacking it up, but let's start with the first space opera to make it big in America. First of all, it's an homage to Akira Kurosawa, who is about as conservative as Leon Trotsky. Secondly, it anticipates cyberpunk with its "used future" appearance, and finally, is a fusion of science and fantasy in a way not commonly seen in the US, but extremely common in Japan. As for Ballantine's decision to publish a lot of derivative fantasy, this in fact dates back to the 1960s when Ballantine made money hand over fist with the paperback editions of Tolkien, to say nothing of adult fantasy line edited by Lin Carter; there was also the introduction of Katherine Kurtz' Deryni novels, which are hardly derivative. Ballantine also deserves credit for bringing H.P. Lovecraft's work back into print - all of this long before the late 1970s, and none of it terribly conservative in any sense. Need I also point out that applying vague political terms to SF smacks of idiocy?

Writers are always looking for things to write about, and it's no surprise that in SF, old themes and plots are frequently dug out, remodeled to fit the changing times and tastes, and trotted out to see if anyone bites. It's no surprise to me that given the popularity of The X-Files and its continuing plot line devoted to government conspiracy and alien invasion that we would see a resurgence in Lovecraftian horror adapted to the 21st Century, most notably in Charles Stross' The Atrocity Archives, Tim Powers' Declare, and the Delta Green role-playing game. Similarly, it's been long enough since the New Wave has been around that authors have gone back to its literary tropes and bad attitude, this time rechristening it as "Slipstream". What is surprising is that anyone with more than a superficial knowledge of the field would think that there is anything surprising - or even interesting - about any of this.
















1 He also appears to have a problem with reading comprehension; this is the same guy who bitched about the absence of ray guns/blasters/static disruptors in a number of combat SF works, including the Falkenberg's Legion stories where it is explained quite clearly in several places why everyone is running around with assault rifles, grenades, and other ironmongery easily recognizable by most soldiers from 1930 to the present.

Comments

( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
polaris93
Sep. 18th, 2011 07:13 am (UTC)
I've run into the type in other venues -- politics, pop culture, you name it: always they start cresting new divisions of whatever it is they're into, divisions that turn out to be utterly useless and a pain in the rear to deal with.

In the case of science fiction, they seem to have forgotten, or never knew, that the main purpose of reading the stuff is to get plesure out of it, not start a movment from it, nor spend hours and hours deconstructing the whole thing. I've been reading hard s-f since 1953 and love it all (well, with some exceptions), and writing it since I was 7 years old, and I can't imagine living in the tedious little world so many of these "fans" dwell in.
wombat_socho
Sep. 18th, 2011 03:05 pm (UTC)
To quote graffiti allegedly found on the blackboard of an SF 101 class at UMKC: "Get SF out of the classroom and back in the ghetto where it belongs!" Of course, that was back in the days before SF won the culture wars.
polaris93
Sep. 18th, 2011 04:02 pm (UTC)
Those fans are still waging the culture wars, just in a different form. Maybe they have our-parents-lived-during-the-real-science-fiction-culture-wars envy, but have no idea how to get embroiled in the same type of warfare. So they make up a bullshit one. ;-)
wombat_socho
Sep. 18th, 2011 07:06 pm (UTC)
I think it's simpler than that. How can you be part of the select circle of trufen if everybody knows the password and the good books? You redraw the circle and redefine the list of esoteric knowledge. Good riddance to 'em, I say.
polaris93
Sep. 18th, 2011 07:09 pm (UTC)
As far as the conspiracy theorists go, they just compete among one another with bigger, better, and stupder conspiracy theories. Guy with the most outlandish one wins.

But yeah, avoiding the fans in this case may be the best way to go.
otherles
Sep. 18th, 2011 06:57 pm (UTC)
I once owned a copy of Harlan Ellison's sole completed novel. Something from outside the SF genre.

Spider Kiss was a nihilistic retelling of the story of Elvis. While I'm not an Elvis fan I certainly thought that this novel sucked.

I don't have it anymore.

I can live without the "New Wave" or those who emitted it.

wombat_socho
Sep. 18th, 2011 07:05 pm (UTC)
I used to like a fair amount of Ellison's work, but I was young and nihilistic myself back then. These days I'd be happy to sell his books for the shipping price, just to get them out of my apartment.

The problem with throwing out the New Wave as a whole is that it actually includes some good writers and some good work, but I think critics tend to give it too much credit for the changes in SF back in the day. The genre has always reflected (to a certain extent) the state of society in the US & UK, so it's no surprise that SF became more interested in sex and antiheroes in the 1960s and 70s. Still, for every dozen Ellisons and Moorcocks, we did get a decent Silverberg and Zelazny.
(Anonymous)
Sep. 18th, 2011 07:11 pm (UTC)
I would say that I'm fortunate in being able to take mine down to Uncle Hugo's here in Minneapolis.

Now that I'm getting used to working with my new laptop I should be getting back to work on my own novel. (Dammit!)
wombat_socho
Sep. 18th, 2011 09:22 pm (UTC)
There is that. One of the major shortcomings of the DC area is that there's no SF bookstore anywhere in it.
(Deleted comment)
wombat_socho
Sep. 18th, 2011 09:21 pm (UTC)
What, comparing him to Silverberg isn't good enough for you? ;)

Look, I like Zelazny as much as any of the other great writers in the SF canon, but just like Heinlein, he cranked out his share of clunkers. I was never able to get into Nine Princes In Amber, and Doorways In The Sand was mediocre at best - but Lord of Light was awesome and To Die In Italbar scarcely less so.

(Deleted comment)
wombat_socho
Sep. 18th, 2011 10:20 pm (UTC)
Well, yes. :)
harvey_rrit
Aug. 29th, 2012 05:27 am (UTC)
%P
I've been selling for ten years now.
If I ever get any of my work compared to Roger Zelazny's I will be able to die knowing my life was not wasted.
Have you read _For a Breath I Tarry_?
Best story ever written. By anyone.
wombat_socho
Aug. 29th, 2012 07:07 am (UTC)
I read a lot of Zelazny when I was in high school, and didn't buy nearly enough of it. That was definitely one of many outstanding tales he told.
redmartel
Sep. 24th, 2011 02:50 pm (UTC)
Elf and Dwarf crap? Elf and Dwarf /crap/? Explain yourself!
wombat_socho
Sep. 24th, 2011 04:55 pm (UTC)
Best explanation of the term is here. I'm not saying that all fantasy since Tolkien is crap, but 90% of it sure is, and a lot of that crap includes elves, dwarves, and humans off on a quest.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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