wombat_socho (wombat_socho) wrote,

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Your movements suck, and so do their manifestos.

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.
Tags: books, the bush of fandom
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