<< Previous Entry Next Entry >>
Journal Entry

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Begin Genre Slapfight #34702

So there's this venerable tradition of criticism, teaching, and praxis within speculative fiction that says that the true speculative fiction story is one that "could not be told otherwise".

You know, the SF story that could not be told other than in the future, the fantasy story that could not be told other than with magic. If you could replace your smeerps with rabbits, or your murder aboard a space station with a murder aboard a steamer ship, then, we are assured by John W. Campbell, Damon Knight, the Turkey City Lexicon, and the other Ghosts of Our Genre Fathers and Mothers (I imagine them hovering holographically above the dashboard of Billy Batson's big white RV from the groovy 1970s TV version of Captain Marvel, in place of Solomon, Hercules, and the other heroes and sages of the Hellenic-Judaic Pantheon), it is Not The True SF.

What, I wonder aloud provocatively, does this actually mean? I mean, I understand this as a specific criticism directed at some specific piece of amateurish prose under workshopping -- "these exotic steeds upon which your heroes canter are clearly actually horses, please call them horses." Sure. I'm down.

But I've also seen this elevated into a higher virtue, into the notion that what a story in Our Beloved Genre is worthy to the extent that you could not tell "the same story" out of it.

I find this odd. In some, trivial but perhaps not actually all that trivial, sense, you can't tell "the same story" if you change even one word -- Delany makes this point eloquently in About Writing. The story is not the plot summary, it is the aggregate effect of all those words, one after another, building structures in your brain.

If we are, though, going to admit the idea of "equivalent" stories, those in which our smeerps are called rabbits and so on, couldn't you, in the manner of Shakespeare companies everywhere nowadays, set The Lord of the Rings in World War II? Or Dune in T.E. Lawrence's Arabia? Or "The Cold Equations" in a lifeboat in the Polar Seas, cut off from Nelson's navy?

And would that, you know, be so bad? There always seems to be a hint of beleaguered self-justification about the claim that "it could not be done elsewhere", as if that answered some accusation regarding it being done at all. Why should the past be an inevitable default setting, the future only admissible with a permission slip? Why do I need a hall pass signed by Mother Necessity to get out of the classroom of the mimetic? Why can't I put in villanous polymorphic tapirs just because villanous polymorphic tapirs are cool, while gangsters are, you know, boring?

I recall having related discussion with Ted a while ago -- can't find it online now (O fickle internet!) -- and I seem to recall that (shockingly) we agreed: that the issue was whether you took your premises seriously, whether you followed your own logic. If your story is set on Jupiter, things follow from that, and you should address them, if it is not to be an ungainly wreck. Moving a story from a cell beneath the Hall of the Mountain King to a cell beneath the Ministry of Love should have consequences, and they should be carried out. Sure. I'm not arguing against that -- just against the notion that there is something particularly to be sought in a story which cannot be so moved, a story which would (supposedly) be destroyed by such a move.

Are there any such stories, really? And are they a gold standard? Weigh in.

Posted by benrosen at November 7, 2007 04:17 PM | Up to blog

Thank you! I have to admit I have little patience with the criticism "well, this story doesn't HAVE to be SF." Particularly for a story that is about characters/human nature, because sometimes the point is that no matter how strange or different or advanced "things" may become, human nature may not change so very much.... To make the point in that way, yes, this story DOES have to be SF.

Posted by: Amy Sisson at November 7, 2007 04:41 PM

You know, this may be a somewhat self-serving comment, b/c I've gotten a number of rejections saying "the speculative element could be taken out of this and it would be fine..." but I really do take exception to this idea that there is a. a way to integrate a speculative element so thoroughly that the story will cease to exist if it is removed and b. that this should be desired. I admit that as a writer sometimes I'm lazy about developing certain repercussions of speculative elements (but I have the same issue with the non-spec elements) in stories, but that is a different problem than not somehow 'being true" to the speculative element.

If a story is about a person in love with a ghost, then it would change dramatically if the lover was not a ghost, even if the relationship plays out like a "mimetic" relationship in an otherwise "mimetic" world. Now, if you just said, "blah is a ghost" and never returned to it, I would probably call that undeveloped or lazy writing. But if you used the ghostliness to create a sense of distance or strangeness in the relationship and didn't otherwise change the world-- who cares? (I believe I'm describing Barzak's short story that became his book, which I didn't exactly intend to do, but!) It's somehow implying that a person threw it in there for fun, instead of for its resonance. And, yes, perhaps people do do that ("this would be more interesting if it were aliens!") but then the issue is not developing the aliens enough, not dropping aliens into an otherwise "mimetic" story. And sometimes, if the writer does it right, just having aliens show up could be totally awesome! Part of the pleasure/power could BE that disconnect.

Also, I feel like this critique is leveled most often at stories with a. a more literary sensibility and/or b. a more "domestic" focus. In other words, perhaps it is gendered?

Posted by: Meghan at November 7, 2007 05:26 PM

Weighing in just to say that I enjoyed reading the post and I'm interested to see the ways people respond to it.

(Also, that I don't see any reason why it would have to become a slapfight -- it's a fair question, and you're not alleging that anyone out there is "doing it wrong.")

Posted by: Dan Percival at November 7, 2007 06:55 PM

Ben, the threads in which we touched upon this topic before are here and here.

Posted by: Ted at November 7, 2007 07:53 PM

Thanks, Ted.

Unnervingly, I still agree with what I said in the second link, though, reassuringly, not so much for the first link...

Dan, shoot. You mean I wasn't sufficiently slapfighty?


How was that`?

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at November 7, 2007 08:31 PM

If nobody in the audience identifies with "you", still all you'll get is nods. *nods*

...I think Meghan said more or less exactly what I wanted to say, except better and with more authority. Because "speculative elements" can also add strangeness, or mystery, or flippancy. It's not just plot that can be fundamentally altered by their addition or subtraction--tone and ambience and theme are also fair game.

Posted by: Jackie M. at November 7, 2007 10:05 PM

Oddly enough, I just finished blogging about having re-read Cold Comfort Farm, which is set twenty years into the then-future, and which has only a few jokes about that skiffiness, and is otherwise not speculative at all. I'm still not sure why the author decided to set it in the future, but what the heck. It's a great book, and if it's not a great specfic book but is a great book, that's probably fine with Ms. Gibbons.

As a reader, and not a particularly hi-falutin' reader, I have to say that the whole question of the integrity of the speculation doesn't come up in reading, as long as the book is good. If the book is annoying me on some level, then I'll be annoyed by it just being a western in space. If it's a good western in space, then I'm happy, and in fact will enjoy the western-in-space aspect.

But then, I've only heard the "could not be told otherwise" in the subgenre writer's slapfights I occasionally view. Is this some sort of writer's thing? I'm not even sure I understand what it means.


Posted by: Vardibidian at November 7, 2007 11:51 PM

Regarding Vardibidian's comment that "the integrity of the speculation doesn't come up in reading, as long as the book is good," I think that to some extent this can be said about any supposed flaw in writing. If you as a reader don't notice a certain issue, then the book is working for you. If you do notice it, that means the book isn't entirely working for you.

For much of its history, SF/F has emphasized plot over other qualities, so it's not surprising that its readers and writers have been more attuned to the ways that plot is affected by speculative elements than the ways tone and ambience are. I think that's changing, but not equally rapidly for all corners of the field.

As for why anyone thinks a speculative element should be integral (whether to plot or to tone), I think the motivation is roughly analogous to Chekhov's old dictum, "if you show a loaded gun on the wall in the first act, someone has to fire the gun by the third. Otherwise, it shouldn't be there." I'm no expert on the era in which Chekhov wrote, but I suspect that he offered this rule because he believed audiences were dissatisfied by plays containing such extraneous elements (whether or not they could articulate the reason for their dissatisfaction). Obviously a writer can ignore audience expectation or deliberately play against it, but it's useful to be aware that the expectation exists.

Posted by: Ted at November 8, 2007 01:45 AM

The point about Checkov's gun makes me wonder if there's also a generational shift at work here. The point about dueling pistols is that they are salient, attention-grabbing, an implicit threat. No one says "If Uncle Vanya is sitting on a paisley sofa in the first act, there must be a discourse on the textile trade with India in the third." The paisley sofa, unlike the pistols, is welcome to be background.

I wonder if certain tropes functioned as dueling pistols thirty or forty years ago, but can function for many readers as paisley sofas now? (And, no doubt, the reverse?)

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, someone help me out here.

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at November 8, 2007 01:03 PM

Ted, I'd also be interested in your answer to the question of whether there are stories that cannot be "moved", and whether a special virtue inheres in them.

I confess I find it somewhat hard to imagine retelling, say, "Story of Your Life" as a non-genre story. Well, not without great violence. (You could consitute the whole static time thing more as metaphor, I guess...)

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at November 8, 2007 01:38 PM

Bringing the Chekov quote into it makes it clearer to me what you're on about, actually; it's a sometimes-relevant piece of advice that's good to keep in mind but bad to take as a Law. There exist, of course, times/places/social classes in which a naturalistic set really ought to have a gun over the mantle. Chekov's advice would prevent anybody from writing a drawing-room comedy set in such places, at least a comedy without gunplay. Taken as general advice, though, it's not bad.

Is it the same thing with this advice? In the same way that some people will declare a play bad because it breaks Chekov's rule, do people declare a specfic story bad if it breaks the Not-Otherwise rule? Because those people are dim. They are rule-manipulators, which occasionally does serve them well in careers including criticism or theater administration. Still.

I like the idea of the paisley sofa demanding a textile-trade scene, but to make it Chekovian I think the formula should be "don't have your characters talk about the weather unless their world will be destroyed by global warming".


Posted by: Vardibidian at November 8, 2007 04:39 PM

I have a pretty strong "if the sf aspects aren't important to the story, don't include them" gut feeling. As it's a gut feeling, I don't know that I can rationally justify it or that it'll stand up to close scrutiny, but I'll give it a try. But really, it's a gut feeling, so even if you poke holes in my attempts at justification, it'll still be there.

My favorite example is the story we got a while back in which some space outlaws enter a space Old West town on their space horses, rob the space bank with their space guns, then free their space friend from the space jail. It was a hackneyed and stereotypical Western story, in which the author had changed words like "six-shooter" to words like "ray gun." It obeyed (nay, slavishly bowed down to and worshipped) Western genre conventions; it used the language of a Western except where the author had thought to do a search-and-replace; it had a Western setting and culture and economy and technology (with a light veneer of pulp sf); there was, in short, nothing sfnal about it except for certain pieces of vocabulary and technology that were just thin disguises for something else. In response to my rejection letter, iIrc, the author somewhat sheepishly admitted that he had in fact done just the sort of weak substitution I'd objected to. And why had the author attempted this? As far as I could tell, it was because he had a Western story and we were not a Western magazine, so he put a light top coat on the story to try to fool us into thinking it belonged in our genre rather than his.

Obviously this is an extreme example, and a lot of the problem was that it was a bad Western. I think there's a lot of truth in what some of you have been saying here about other sources of reader pleasure making such things less important -- if it had been a really good story, I would have been more inclined to say "Cool, this is a pastiche about the dangers of genre conventions" or something, or even just to enjoy it on its own terms. I imagine many of you could have written a story that would've more or less matched my above description but that we would've bought.

And yet, for me there's more to it than the sources-of-reader-pleasure. Some people -- myself included, but I think not Ben and probably not most of y'all who comment here -- have a gut feeling about sf. Stories that feel like sf to me feel different to me, at a fundamental level, from stories that feel like, well, non-sf. (Though yes, there are plenty of gray areas.) There's a scene in one of the Edward Eager books when the kids read a book that sounds from the title like it's going to be fantasy but they discover that it's not and they're terribly disappointed; that's me. In that Eager book, iIrc, part of the kids' disappointment was that the story was dull and moralistic and annoying, but I get that disappointment even if the story's a good one. I even got some of it with Andy Duncan's brilliant "The Chief Designer" (and yes, I know the arguments for why it counts as sf (I'm even willing to more or less agree to them), and yes, I voted for it for the Hugo). And I've felt a little uncomfotable when we've published a couple of stories that I've thought were really good but that could only be considered sf by stretching and by calling on the mighty "speculative sensibilities" concept.

Back in 2002, we rejected two good stories by authors we really like because the only sfnal elements in them seemed gratuitous to us. I'm not sure we would make the same decisions about those stories now -- we're a little more willing to stretch our ideas of genre boundaries now, and I especially regretted one of those decisions when the story showed up later in Polyphony and I re-read it and really liked it -- but still: no matter how good the story is, if the only sfnal thing in it is that halfway through the story, an alien lands, waves hello to everyone, and then flies away again (and nobody ever mentions this again), then that doesn't trigger my "this feels like sf" reaction. And likewise if the only sfnal thing is that in the world of the story, horses are called "zorses." This ties in with y'all's previous discussion about taking the story seriously and avoiding having what Ben called "an irritatingly thin world" -- the kind of story that I'm objecting to (and that I think most people who say they want the sf to be integral are objecting to) usually doesn't feel like the world of the story is internally consistent. But for me, that's again a rationalization; my gut feeling says "this isn't really sf," not "this is bad worldbuilding."

There are at least four subcategories of stories that trigger my "the sf elements aren't integral to the story" reaction:

1. Story that in all ways appears to be from some other genre, except that some of the vocabulary has been changed to sf vocabulary without any other changes.

2. Story that has a clearly sfnal (or at least surreal) scene in it that doesn't appear to have any impact on the rest of the story. (I suspect in most such cases the author meant that scene to enrich or refocus the reader's understanding of the whole rest of the story; I like that when it's done in a way that works for me, but I'm talking about the stories where I can't see what relevance the one sfnal scene has to the story.)

3. Story that has only one element that's intended to be sf, but the author doesn't realize it's true in the real world, or that it's only a very slight extrapolation of something that's true in the real world. (Like a story presented as sf in which there's an intersexed character, because the author doesn't know that such people really exist; or the Asimov's story from a few years back in which a repressive government had the amazing high-tech ability to easily edit photographs.)

4. Otherwise good story in which the sf element distracts (for me) from the core story that the author is really trying to tell. There are a lot of writers (myself included) who don't know how to go about trying to sell a non-sf story, and who will thus try to write a given story as sf even if it's not comfortable there. More than once, I've suggested in a rejection that the author consider removing the extraneous sf elts because that'll make it a better story, and then trying to sell the story to literary venues.

I do think there are a lot of gray areas. For example, one of sf's traditional modes is to exaggerate or distort a particular real-world thing, to make a point about it in the real world. That can result in stories where the sf looks like a thin veneer -- like, a story in which there's a superweapon that's just like an H-bomb only a hundred times more powerful! -- but where the sf part is there to make a point. I tend not to like such stories, but they're a very long-established tradition in sf.

And I know that plenty of people just plain don't care about the "integral to the story" criterion. When Mary Anne and I were working on a collaboration a while back, at one point I said something like "Well, I'd like to change this aspect, because otherwise it feels like we're taking exactly the real-world historical situation and setting it in space," and Mary Anne basically said "So what? What's wrong with that?"

But for me, it really does make a difference. I want sf to feel fundamentally different. I want that sense of unheimlich and/or sense of wonder; that feeling of unordinariness; that touch of strange. And if I feel like the touch of strange doesn't add anything to the story, then I feel cheated -- I feel like the story is claiming to be magical, sets me up to expect my unheimlich sensors will be fondled, and then fails to fondle them.

Posted by: Jed Hartman at November 8, 2007 06:12 PM

I think that that makes a lot of sense, Jed, and it seems to me to accord exactly with the "sources of reader pleasure" theory. You are miffed when you are set up to expect a certain kind of pleasure, and it is not provided (and no other, more wonderful pleasure arrives based on fooling that expectation).

Sure. That doesn't seem unique to SF, though. It's possible to misread lots of genre-based signals and end up with an unsatisfying reading experience: to expect an elegant "locked-room-puzzle" solution to a mystery, only to find that it is a non-mystery crime story which is a meditation on the meaningless of crime and the futility of police work; to expect steamy erotic fireworks from what turns out to be a chaste romance, or, alternatively, to expect delayed-screw romantic comedy tension from a story which then veers into straight-up erotica. All of these can trigger the same "but I wanted chocolate!" effect.

And, of course, lots of non-genre specific signals can misfire, too, so that the curtain goes down, the lights go up, and we turn to each other, distracted from the denoument by the fact that that damn gun on the mantelpiece never WAS fired.

But this is different than saying that a story can only be told as SF if it COULD only be told as SF -- or that such stories in which "the speculative elements are integral, and were they removed the story would collapse" are of special value.

Or at least, it is different if we presume that there is any way for an author to signal to a reader that a "speculative element" is there for a non-speculative, or non-plot, or whatever, purpose.

It seems to me that over the past generation we have developed substantial skills in flirting with the speculative without necessarily afflicting our readers with "but you PROMISED me... sensawunda!" blue balls.

I would agree with the following: "if speculative elements distract from the story, don't include them"; and, as Ted reminded me in the earlier discussion, the exotic (which is really more the issue, here, than the speculative per se) is salient by its nature, and so tends to distract if it doesn't belong. Nonetheless, you should really remove anything from your story, paisley sofas included, which does not add to it.

What I'm annoyed by is not the injunction to take our stories seriously and force all their details to justify inclusion, nor to think through logical consequences (if you set a historical situation in space, LOTS will have to change!) -- it's just the notion that "speculative elements" are in their own special category with regard to this. That seems to me to tend to lead to laziness, and safe walled havens of genres in which the rules are known.

Lord knows I'm not arguing for paucity of imagination, or slapdash whitewashing of cowboy stories as space ad-ven-tuuuures. But I also think that a story in which, say, aliens make an appearance for five seconds and disappear never to be mentioned again can be brilliant: just that exact device is used to brilliant comedic effect in the move "The Life of Brian".

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at November 8, 2007 06:36 PM

P.S.: I know I already wrote way too much on this topic, but I want to add one more thing.

I wrote a story a couple years ago that consists of three de-sfnalized parodies of certain famous sf novels. I submitted it to (among others) Gordon, who told me (I'm paraphrasing here) that I had succeeded in proving my point, which he took to be that if you removed the sf from these works, they would become boring. Until I got that note, I hadn't thought about what my point really was; I subsequently decided that my point was partly the opposite, that the core of these stories still worked when translated into other genres. (I think part of the problem was that I had set expectations wrong by calling the story "Mundanities." And part of the problem other editors have had with it is that it really is a slight story.)

So it's not that I really believe that the core of a story can never be successfully translated from one genre to another. Part of what I like about Firefly, for example, is that it's essentially a Western in space; and more generally, stories get reworked all the time. But to me, there remains a gut-feeling difference between a particular instance of a story in which the sf aspects feel like a part of the story and a particular instance of a story in which they don't.

Posted by: Jed Hartman at November 8, 2007 06:37 PM

We've all heard that there are three or seven or thirty-six basic plots that describe all fiction, and in some sense I suppose that's true. But if you're willing to allow more specificity when describing a plot, then I think it's definitely the case that some stories can't be told outside of the genre; many time travel stories, for example.

I'm not going to argue that this is a special virtue that objectively outweighs others. But in terms of my own reactions as a reader, I share a lot of Jed's gut feelings on the matter. When I read a story that cannot be told outside of the genre, I often find it to be satisfying in a way that I don't when the story's speculative element could be easily removed.

As for Life of Brian, it may be a brilliant comedy, but would you argue that it's brilliant SF?

Posted by: Ted at November 9, 2007 09:17 AM

Some things, genteel to, but not actually on the subject.

1. I can imagine a play in which a gun is brought on stage, shown to the audience, and hidden, and the action of the play is centered around a vicious marital argument, whereby the gun would be used to heighten suspense and tension, but never actually used.

Ending one: the actor who hid the gun leaves in a dramatic door-slamming way, and the other actor finds the gun. Curtain.

Ending two: the gun is revealed by the actor who hid it, and reconciliation occurs. Curtain.

Ending three: the actor who is ignorant of the gun leaves in a huff, and the other actor goes thoughtfully to where the gun is hidden and looks thoughtfully at the door through which the lover has just left. Curtain.

Any of these could be powerful drama without actually firing the gun. (Although ending two reeks of a Will Smith Oscar vehicle. No thanks.)

On the subject of the alien showing up, waving hi, and leaving: as Ted and Ben have indicated, something like this could be used for surreal comedic purposes to good effect. Another possible use would be to inform the action of the story in another way. Say the story were apparently a thoughtful meditation on religious faith, and then aliens showed up, stole the Pope's personal sliver of the Holy Rood, 'cause it was the best fuel Earth had to offer, and then left. Now the meditators would have new fuel for the conversation. What does it mean that this object was the aliens' fuel choice? Is it really holy, or is it useful as fuel because of the faith that so many people have in it? Both? Neither? And what of the aliens? Do they have souls, and do they need a savior? Does it have to be Jesus? Usw.

As for the oppressive Photoshop-enabled government, what if the doctored photos can change reality?

I'm done.


Posted by: Matt at November 9, 2007 03:15 PM

Matt, you are an idea factory! Who knew?

Ted, I don't think Life of Brian is SF. (Indeed, it would make a great counterexample to the "one drop rule" way of thinking by which an SF story is anything with a plausible counterfactual in it, and a fantasy story anything with an impossible counterfactual "by the rules we know", etc. etc., which we all know I hate). I am not arguing that dropping a little SF spice into a non-story makes it SF.

On the contrary, I am the "sources of reader pleasure" guy -- I think a story is SF if it provides sfnal pleasure to the reader... or, more properly, if it can be predicted to provide such pleasure to a large number of readers ...which Life of Brian does not.

But I am arguing that adding a little dollop of SF is allowed. Life of Brian could be told without aliens -- cutting that one scene, or replacing it with something else funny and out of context -- wouldn't ruin it.

If you took a novelization of Life of Brian to an average SF workshop, some tiresome critiquer would no doubt tell you you had "tacked on" the aliens "in order to sell this essentially Biblical humor
story... to an SF market!"

Indeed, a good reply to the critiquers who tell Amy and Meghan "this doesn't have to be SF" might, depending on the story, be "I don't think it is SF. So?"

I also think you can drop a bit more sfnal pleasure into a story, so that it does become SF of a sort... and still have it not be "so integral that the story would collapse were it removed."

I also concede that there's a distinct kind of pleasure in the kind of idea story in which the SFnality is pretty much the whole kit and kaboodle.

But basically I'm arguing that you are allowed to have your story spend as little or as much time "SFing" -- anywhere on the spectrum from 0% to 100% -- as the story needs.

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at November 10, 2007 08:49 PM

Let me return to something you said in an earlier comment:

The point about dueling pistols is that they are salient, attention-grabbing, an implicit threat. No one says "If Uncle Vanya is sitting on a paisley sofa in the first act, there must be a discourse on the textile trade with India in the third." The paisley sofa, unlike the pistols, is welcome to be background.

I wonder if certain tropes functioned as dueling pistols thirty or forty years ago, but can function for many readers as paisley sofas now? (And, no doubt, the reverse?)

As you note, in Chekhov's day, loaded pistols required more justification for their presence than paisley sofas. Whatever the reason, for good or for ill, pistols grabbed the attention more than sofas did then. (Things may or may not have changed since then.)

In an analogous fashion, for most of the 20th century, speculative elements grabbed the attention more than any non-speculative element. The difference between pistols and sofas was miniscule compared to the way invaders from Mars grabbed one's attention. This disparity was so great that it essentially gave rise to a separate genre of fiction whose distinguishing feature was the inclusion of a speculative element; note that we never saw the rise of the paisley-sofa pulp magazines (although I wouldn't be surprised if someone writes an alternate-history story about them soon).

Because of this history, many readers have become accustomed to stories in which the speculative elements have more justification than even loaded pistols. They're used to stories in which those elements have the ultimate justification, in which they're the engine that drives the story, the axis around which it turns.

Of course, times change. More and more readers will accept a story in which a werewolf or an alien appear in the background and do nothing else; werewolves and aliens no longer grab the attention as much as they once did, or in the same way, and now can serve different roles in a story. For some readers, speculative elements like these require little (or different) justification for their presence, and may eventually be no different than a loaded pistol or a paisley sofa.

Ideally, workshop participants should recognize when a story is actually a failed attempt at a classic SF idea story, and when a story is trying to fit in the newer tradition. (I do believe there's a difference between the two.)

Posted by: Ted at November 10, 2007 11:50 PM

Yes, Ted, I think that's an excellent analysis.

The call for submissions to Niche Market: The Journal of Neo-Retro-Pulp Paisley Sofa Fiction!!! will be soon forthcoming.

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at November 11, 2007 09:40 AM

Do not be surprised, however, if my rejection letters say "this story doesn't actually need a paisley sofa; one is led to the inescapable conclusion that the paisley sofa has been 'tacked on' (with upholstery tacks) in order to sell the story. Niche Market is only for stories which would collapse were their paisley sofas removed."

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at November 11, 2007 09:45 AM

Paisley sofas always have required, and always will require, justification. Just saying.

Also, isn't the proper response to

Indeed, a good reply to the critiquers who tell Amy and Meghan "this doesn't have to be SF" might, depending on the story, be "I don't think it is SF. So?"
simply, "Thanks for your input?"

Unless you want to have a genre slapfight.


Posted by: Matt at November 12, 2007 04:37 PM

You know, instead of the egregious use of blockquote, I should have simply said, "this doesn't have to be SF," above.

Ah, well. Markup happens.


Posted by: Matt at November 12, 2007 04:39 PM

I mean, I understand this as a specific criticism directed at some specific piece of amateurish prose under workshopping -- "these exotic steeds upon which your heroes canter are clearly actually horses, please call them horses."

The way I always have understood this criticism is that it's a historical artifact coming from a time when science fiction had just started to become a genre, but was already flooded by a thousand hack writers retyping their western scripts as science fiction. That was Campbell's great innovation, to insist that science fiction should be science fiction, dagnabit, while people like Knight and Blish a little bit later used this rule to start looking at what sf actually is, at a time when there was no critical attention whatsoever.

Posted by: Martin Wisse at November 20, 2007 07:36 AM
<< Previous Entry
To Index
Next Entry >>