Thought: F/SF is the only place where literature is hated.

Not by all the fans. But by a large number.

some traditional science fiction readers wanted a story in which the non-normal situations could be explained away by science… Some…weren’t prepared for a book in which the anxiety quotient connected with such images came from the fact that the scientific institutions that could have afforded explanations…were what had eroded from the landscape. You couldn’t call up the astronomy department [to ask why there were suddenly two moons in the sky]. (“Conversation” 4)
[from – http://www.theminnesotareview.org/journal/ns6566/lukin_josh_ns6566_iae.shtml ]

AND

Ok, but what I hate is that this is turning out to read like an artsy movie…the story is so broken and confusing that I get frustrated trying to understand it.  Having deeply layered meaning is great, but it’s so ridiculously thick that I can’t even wade through enough to see the story.  And everything is so pedantic that I actually have to pause and collect myself before diving back in.
[about Gene Wolfe’s now classic Urth books from http://katiyaz005.livejournal.com/18337.html ]

AND

Mr. Živković’s resolution of the mystery that unfolds in The Last Book was at best boring and at worst seemed so totally bizarre and insufficiently related to anything to be satisfying to any real degree. The book might as well have progressed by Lukić learning that the bookstore deaths were the result of the deceased having come into contact with poisonous goo unwittingly left on the books by two extraterrestrial patrons who liked to frequent the shop. In hindsight, it seems clear to me that one of the main reasons for this is that the author appears to be primarily concerned with preserving the ending twist to the book rather than with writing an interesting story. As a result, the book simply fails to capitalize on its promising premise.

[from here- http://www.speculativefictionjunkie.com/2009/07/review-last-book.html ]

etc etc etc etc etc etc etc ad infinitum

It seems that only F/SF readers get up in arms (storm the castle!) when a story doesn’t deliver on a coherent series of linear progressions, does not contain exactly the right level of rules to understand the little imaginary worlds we offer up. There are traditions, I guess, and of all things they most be followed and everything must be as it should be. We shouldn’t experiment, throw knives in the wind, we shouldn’t wound the reader, challenge the reader, stand up and say

YOU ARE SMART AND CAPABLE. YOU CAN HANDLE THIS.

Because that is not what they want. They want to be told they are special snow flakes. The like their antagonism small and delicate, holding their hand. Cuddling them and whispering sweet some/nothings into their ears at night. Outside of the genre, we don’t see this. I would say we need to change, but the change has to come within.

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23 thoughts on “Thought: F/SF is the only place where literature is hated.

  1. F/SF is the only place where literature is hated.

    If you really believe this, I can only conclude that you have never looked at reader reviews on Amazon.

    • Hmm.

      But how do you know those ppl posting negative reviews to non-genre literary books aren’t genre readers?

      Like I said- not everyone. But there is a large, vocal group that likes to blast it’s opinions the minute it can.

      • But how do you know those ppl posting negative reviews to non-genre literary books aren’t genre readers?

        Because (a) it seems unlikely that readers of the kind you describe would even bother reading non-genre books, and (b) it’s trivial to find examples who, say, hate Pride & Prejudice and have haven’t reviewed genre.

      • Oh, come on, you surely know I could have picked almost any book with more than a couple of dozen reviews for the sake of that demonstration. And I have no idea why you’d want to stand by an easily-disprovable absolutist position. I wouldn’t even agree that SF readers are more likely to react negatively to experimental fiction, or that the structures of discourse in the SF community are set up to give more weight to the voices of those who react negatively than is the case in other communities, but at least both of those are cases that could reasonably be argued.

      • I didn’t say every reader, did I? Still there seems to be a contingent among a vocal growing majority in the field that is conservative in their approach to genre fiction- and they act like a book simply by the fact that it tries to be literary or experimental is grounds to deny it as a genre book. My argument is that in other genres you don’t see this as much, or as clearly, or as ingrained into the community itself. F/SF is a small community, and it has a large portion of which that is anti-experimental.

        You can’t ignore this.

        It’s considered accepted practice within the genre to attack this frame of mind, and it’s embedded in workshops and critique groups and reviewer guidelines. And you don’t see this- you don’t see the community behind any other branch of fiction actively saying that you can excuse a piece of work because it is literary. Because it tries something new.

        Of course, this is all anecdotal and in parts complete straw man. I’m not saying this as an argument with logical basis, but rather an emotional one that others have experience just as frequently as I have.

      • My argument is that in other genres you don’t see this as much, or as clearly, or as ingrained into the community itself.

        That wasn’t your argument. Your argument was that the SF community is the only place where such attitudes are seen. As I say, I still disagree with your modified position. The list of Booker Prize winners, especially recently, is not exactly a roll-call of fiction that’s ambitious and challenging in the ways you want it to be; a large proportion of all readers do not care for experimental fiction, and I see that in the pages of the Guardian or New York Times as often as in Interzone or Locus. On the plus side you no longer sound as ignorant as the readers you were trying to attack …

        I’m not saying this as an argument with logical basis, but rather an emotional one that others have experience just as frequently as I have.

        … although you are starting to sound like you’re the one that wants to be treated like a special snowflake.

        Also, I don’t know much about workshops; I’m sure there are ones that are as conservative as they come. But out of interest, since it’s the subject close to my heart, which reviewer guidelines are you thinking of?

      • Niall-
        Another key to this that I forgot to mention- it seems to be a very US mindset (hatred of literature) that doesn’t seem to stretch across and out of our little community. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking, again, since I’m not 100% sure of this. But it seems that outside of the US, the hatred to literature is less and less, and it’s more open for genre to be experimental. I mean, we see a lot of US authors who write lit/genre either getting their start in Britain, or having a large audience outside the US (like Jonathan Carroll being big in Finland), or something else of the sort.

        Again…this is all just speculation and heresay and backed up by nothing other than some random thoughts. Although one of these days I should troll the internet and find some proof to back this up.

        PS- I don’t think I’m a special snow flake. I’ve not actually experienced this hatred first hand. Most reviews for my more experimental stuff have, at the most, expressed joyful confusion. Not hatred or malice. I had one reviewer pan Open Your Eyes…but that was one. And I didn’t take it personally 🙂

  2. Allow me to say this: everything you pointed to above is why I’ve yet to write my review of Open your Eyes. Because it’s literature disguised as SF, and I write for primarily SF/F readers. Do I think SF/F readers would enjoy it? Absolutely. But based on experience trying to get SF/F readers to pick up David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten, Mark Jacobs’ Gojiro, or anything by Vonnegut, Pynchon, Lethem, Chabon or Eco, It’s like trying to sneak vegetables to a kid. If they think it might be good for them, they spit it out and cry for cookies and ice cream.

    It’s a reverse ghetto. The same people that would love mainstream recognition of SF/F as a valid form of literature themselves reject literature because it’s not what they expect of SF/F. And SF/F itself by definition should be more experimental and less formulaic. It gives me a headache.

    • Man, you hit the nail on the head exactly.

      Although I wouldn’t say Open Your Eyes is literature disguised as SF….since it needs the SF part for it to still be literature…if you know what I mean. It wasn’t a trojan horse, it was just how I write. I mean, yeah I’ve tried to write something plain straight up literary (it sucked eggs) and I tried to write plain straight up F/SF (and sometimes it works- like the Werewolves book that just got released…but that was a single instance).

      But what you say is exactly what I’m talking about- it’s frustrating in a way because there are brief moments when it changes. And it’s like when Nirvana hit the scene in the 90’s and everything looked different for a little while. And then 5 years later we still have pop and we still have the same old same old….

      Ah well. maybe I’m just cynical. DAMN YOU KIDS GET OFF MY LAWN.

      • I know, but you follow what I mean. Open Your Eyes is a peanut butter cup. I see peanut butter inside the chocolate and think “oh goody, a splendid combination!”. They ask “what’s this shit hiding inside my damn chocolate?” Sum of parts greater than whole, yadda yadda, vs perception that combination equals dilution of both, vs an expectation of chocolate without any sort of surprise inside.

        Hmm. I think I have my angle for the review now.

        Try writing a formula novel series about a teenaged Jedi Vampire with a talking kitten-dragon, and you’ll be a millionaire. I’d never read the thing, but you’d become a beloved author overnight.

      • Yeah, but by time I write it and get it published (year to write, 2-3 years to publication) no one will care and the next fad will be out. I mean, 10 years ago I should’ve wrote abou boy wizards and a magical school 🙂

  3. I don’t think it’s fair to say that that many genre fans hate literature. A more accurate description might be that they are consumed by a projected self-loathing born of a sense of inferiority.

  4. Classification of my stories is also a problem (is it magic realism? horror? historical?). I’ve had people complain it was a character study or nothing was resolved in a traditional manner, things which I don’t consider necessarily bad (one look at Latin American writer Cortazar would show either option can work).

    I also remember a rejection where someone said the story was good, but too literary.

    But I really can’t do heroe’s journey. I’ve tried. Just can’t. And I (think) I’m pretty mainstream, but still, there’s some gap I struggle to jump.

  5. It’s not just SFF readers (well, some of them) that react that way. You find readers with very specific and very narrow ideas of what a story should look like in every genre.

    For example, readers of crime fiction can get very upset if the murder isn’t properly resolved or the resolution comes too much out of the left field or clues haven’t been planted properly or the detective spends more time contemplating his own mortality and fixing his broken marriage than detecting or if a cat is killed. Romance readers get upset when a character has sex with someone else after having laid eyes on his/her true love to be, if characters violate arbitrary moral rules, if there is more than one potential love interest, if the ending isn’t what they consider a happily ever after ending, etc.. I’ve met one who felt betrayed as a reader when a novel turned out to be written in the first rather than third person and kept on complaining that the author had switched genres and was trying to trick her and that this book was ot a romance and would end horribly, because romance novels were always written in the third person and this one wasn’t.

    You get these sort of readers in every genre (including literary fiction) and they’re always obnoxious. And if they screech like that when an otherwise perfectkly normal genre novels deviates from expectations in one or two tiny points, it’s easy to imagine how they howl when they run into something that is genuinely experimental rather than daring to use first person POV when third is common.

  6. Okay, well, like I said- it was a thought. It wasn’t really backed up by anything, and I’ll concede to the fact that there are ignorant writers everywhere, just not in our community, and there are people that attack experimental writing no matter what the stripe and cause just cause they can and want to. Including that ridiculous article at the Guardian about difficult books being not worth it in the long run.

  7. I’d say some SF/F critics/reviewers behave this way, some mind you, but it’s not necessarily because of anything considered experimental to anyone who has been reading widely through the last century or more of fiction.

    I don’t think my little cold-induced rant is showcasing a review indicative of that approach, though. I just find it a sloppy read. And, if you mix enough genres someone somewhere is going to get their wires crossed or get hung up on tropes. (This is assuming my read of the review is even valid and i’m not just a crank destined to soon fade into senility.)

    But the anti-intellectualism you describe I can’t stand. I also can’t stand reviews that prejudge for readers what they might find entertaining as opposed to what they might think of as vegetables. Readers, given an enthusiastic recommendation, the right entry into a novel, often surprise.

    JeffV

    • Yes- I should have made it clear I meant some, not all, in the beginning….


      but it’s not necessarily because of anything considered experimental to anyone who has been reading widely through the last century or more of fiction.

      This made me laugh because it was so very true! I mean, the techniques used are just repetitions of old techniques used by the masters from before, and applied to SF/F, no? It’s a great point. And I love it.

      Yeah, I should take down that review of yours…I was desperately wandering, looking for examples. And that one sprung up as an almost example. But I’ll remove it…since it doesn’t prove the point inasmuch. I also had originally (and taken away) a link to John Clute’s recent review in Scores where he tears Corey Doctorow for playing it too nice and not experimenting enough. But at the same time, I realized that might egg people on….so….

      And good point on the end there- readers can surprise. I always think readers are a lot smarter than people give them credit for.

  8. Honestly, I have not read review of non-speculative variety. I tend to gloss over reviews of speculative books, because I often find them repetitive. However, I do find that among our group [reviewers that is] we are a lot more vocal [direct and often extreme in our expression of what we feel to a book]. Sometimes I consider this to a point because genre readers do not consider WHY a novel has been written and what point it’s trying to convey.

    I think it’s because of SFF readers’ culture. Because some people expect all SFF to be linear and obvious. I even think that this comes from the school years, when teachers forced us into writing these hellish book reports and seek meaning in everything [though sometimes a scene is a scene, no matter how many teachers and critics insists there is more] and well it’s scarring and makes reading a burden as the seeking element has been forced onto us. Which in turn drove us away from the literary and into genre fiction, because all the meaning is laid out in the fantastical. Yes, the empire represents evil. Yes, the zombie represents the fear of winding up empty. Fear of death. We like it linear, because we have been turned off from the seeking, the searching and the dialogue with the novel. And when we do not get it, we hate.

    At least this is my personal experience. Perhaps a bit overgeneralized and not true at all for the majority of these readers you mention of, but an angle nonetheless.

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