And finally: you find the most useful bits of information hidden in Charles Brown’s “Editorial Matters” column in Locus. For instance, the news that Neal Stephenson’s next novel, which he hopes to finish this year, is “set in the future, on a different planet, and is shorter.” Waterhouse in space, anyone?
…Oy, not more of the this-isn’t-science-fiction, this-isn’t-literature, science-fiction-writers-should-write-for-geeks, only-science-and-technology-buffs-should-be-able-to-read-science-fiction implications and/or arguments. I think these are just as bad as the print-world-once-again-crapping-on-the-blog-world state of affairs; it’s all too hierarchical-sounding for my tastes. It’s also where people should look for answers when wondering why it often seems that only diehard science-fiction readers enjoy reading most science fiction. If that’s indeed the case, maybe it’s because, um, too much science fiction is too exclusive? Maybe it’s because, um, too much is too lacking in the human element, too lacking in drama, too lacking in character development? I doubt most people want to read techamas; they more likely want to read dramas.
Science fiction generally isn’t science “fact.” If some people insist on reading science fact in science fiction and not much if any literature in science fiction–I repeat, FICTION, which one of my dictionaries defines as “nonfactual or imaginative LITERATURE”–they should really pick up science textbooks, go to school for science, etc. I think fiction should be considered fake, and it can be whatever fake thing it wants to be. Putting too much real science in science fiction, too much medical science in medical thrillers–that stuff is irresponsible, especially when the writers doing so have no real background experience in those fields.
Science can sometimes simply encompass a scientific approach, a methodical way of making and attempting to verify observations about the universe and life, so can science fiction. A story that contains a fifty-fifty split, fifty-percent scientific in subject and/or approach on the part of the characters and/or author, and fifty-percent literature based in character development, plot, drama, style–that would probably be a really well-crafted story, that’s what science fiction writers should shoot for. That’s what I shoot for when writing some of my fictional stories. Works that swing too hard toward one pole aren’t the best “science” “fiction” to me. In my opinion, writers like Catherine Asaro, Kim Stanley Robinson, Jonathan E. Stith, Ursula K. LeGuin, even H. P. Lovecraft (though I think his stuff has many horror aspects too)–their works tend to have a good mix of both elements, though they each probably lean one way a bit more than the other way, toward either science or fiction.
When this stuff comes up, the arguments usually sound very black and white to my ears. It’s like some people don’t see genre blends or works outside of genre, they don’t see a continuum of works, they see discrete categories. That people insist on seeing genre at ALL troubles me, even while I also see it in fictional works sometimes….
Eh, I’m just really tired of the whole genre bickering thing. I think each artistic work should be evaluated on its own as if it existed in a vacuum, should be judged based on its own parameters, based on what it’s trying to be as an individual work and whether it seems to have met those goals.
But then I’m largely a nihilist–with some background in real science.
uzwi, do you mean my post? I’m not sure because you posted shortly after I did, but I’ve now read through a bunch of interviews with you and you said so many great things about all this, things I agree with.
If you meant your compliment toward my post, thanks! If you didn’t, that’s okay too,
Sorry, Fran. Yes, I definitely meant your post. You make three or four points which , taken together, make a very powerful critique of genre, & one it’s consistently failed to confront. (I left you a post on your own site, by the way, but it’s probably just as feeble as, “Oh absolutely brilliant & well said.”)
Most habitual readers of sf are interested in technology, not in literary style and character development. While there aresf novels and stories that combine the tech with the quality lit, it is lost on most sf readers. They are style deaf and uninterested in fictional relationships.
“Most habitual readers of sf are interested in technology, not in literary style and character development.”
I think that’s probably the case. But most regular sci-fi readers aren’t most fiction readers in general. The last sentence of my first paragraph–I said “most people.” Most people INCLUDES the much smaller subset of regular science-fiction readers–not the other way around.
I don’t think most readers, especially most fiction readers, care about gadgets, technology, and “science” as much as most regular science-fiction readers. Most fiction readers are probably looking for more “organic” content, more human content. But if sci-fi focuses on that other tech stuff rather than the human-character based stuff, the genre shouldn’t be surprised if many not-regular science-fiction readers view sci-fi as an exclusive writing-to-themselves club–and even view those works as being outside fictional literature. Sci-fi stories that combine an almost equal mix of both “science” and “fiction” will probably appeal to the largest number of fiction readers–or at least to the largest variety because the stories can more easily appeal to both regular and not-regular sci-fi readers. To me, those books are more likely classics too, assuming they have wide appeal because they’re universal stories and not pablum for whatever the current human herd may be….
Reading writing about certain real-life “subjects” can be dry reading. Most science textbooks and other professional nonfiction science writings are subject-oriented writings about specifics principles, scenarios, theorems and technologies in science. Not only do I have some real science experience, I also spent over eight years freelance-reading for a nonfiction scientific publisher. In my experience, most people find science subject-reading boring.* I think sci-fi has become too much a scientific-subject-based writing field and has de-emphasized how humans INTERACT with and around the scientific subjects, has de-emphasized how humans are affected by the subjects. That’s asking for sci-fi to remain in a spot outside most people’s seeming reading tastes.
(*In my opinion and experience, explaining science is often more difficult than doing science. Quite a number of people have been and are good at doing science, but only relatively few have been good at explaining the principles of science, how science works, etc., and explaining this so that most people listening can understand and won’t be put to sleep.)
Ooops–to illustrate doubt, I should have said, “Most people can INCLUDE the much smaller subset of regular science-fiction readers–not the other way around necessarily.” Because the extent of that inclusion depends on what most regular science-fiction readers actually want from a sci-fi read, which is a premise people (including me) tend to assume but haven’t necessarily proven (assuming it can be proven, it probably can’t). Like it’s possible (but seems doubtful to me) that all regular/habitual sci-fi readers really want more human stuff over tech stuff, then the whole group of regular sci-fi readers would be included in that larger set of most people. Or maybe most regular sci-fi readers want the human over the tech, then most of them would be in that larger most people set.
But my basic point was: “most people” and “most habitual readers of sci-fi” aren’t necessarily equivalents, and I didn’t mean them as such in my first post. Because B is a subset of A doesn’t necessarily mean A is also a subset of B. The specific and the general shouldn’t be confused or automatically equated….
Oy, one more thing I want to mention, one more possibility. It is possible that most people in general are also regular readers of sci-fi, which would mean “most people” and “habitual sci-fi readers” are actually equivalent sets and could then be used interchangeably. However, the sci-fi sales numbers and self-reporting on reading patterns I’ve seen don’t support those two sets being equivalents or even near-equivalents, unfortunately for many sci-fi writers who could probably use more publishing contracts (or ANY publishing contracts) and more royalties. But then I think they could help change that, they could help make those two sets of people more equivalent by in-their-written-works addressing what I’ve gone on about here….