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Great and Ignored

Today's compliment comes from Rjurik Davidson:

I suspect here we get an interesting example of a divide that runs right through the SF world: the differing aesthetics of readers who like traditional genre elements (plot, pace, sense of wonder) and those who are literary, concerned with deep character, theme, mood, language. Dave falls on the former side of the divide. And it seems to me that writing literary SF is probably not a great career move. It’s a form of marginalising yourself doubly. First, you marginalise yourself from the literary mainstream which often sneers as science fiction, then you marginalise yourself from the bulk of SF genre readers who are often attracted to its pulpish elements. You end up with a very small readership indeed, unless like Ballard, Le Guin and others, you can reconnect with the literary mainstream. Or if you’re really smart, you write science fiction which is able to hide the fact that it is science fiction (here I’m thinking of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go or Margaret Atwood’s work). Otherwise you are likely to end up like Thomas M. Disch - a great and ignored writer.

It seems to me that there are a number of writers I know who run this risk: in terms of Australians, someone like Ben Peek (who has written for Overland), might be sitting in this space. Peek’s Twenty Six Lies One Truth is a smart novella which owes much to experimental or ‘postmodern’ fiction, and yet I suspect its main readership came from the SF community, the place where Peek made his name.


Sometimes, it strikes me as strange the things people say about me. I've been a jealous bastard, I've been the next best thing, I've been a has been, and now I could possibly be great and ignored, though only time will prove, I suppose.

At any rate, it's still a nice compliment, and Davidson's comment that there is a divide in the speculative fiction scene is true, though I hardly think that it is a new one. In fact, I would go as far as to say the divide exists in fiction, no matter the genre, since there has always been the people who value plot, pacing, and suspension of disbelief over everything else. The number of people who read Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code and told me it was poorly written but an engrossing plot, for example, would be a key indication that this audience exists. Of course, this doesn't mean that you can't have a book that does both--but everyone likes a good divide, and me, I look forward to the day when all those people who want a cracking plot and taken to the wall and executed.

Viva la revolution, as they say.

(crossposted)

Comments

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bluetyson
Jul. 6th, 2009 11:42 am (UTC)
So you'll get a postapocalyptic world with the only people left not knowing how to do anything?

:)
benpeek
Jul. 6th, 2009 11:44 am (UTC)
my kinda place
ex_benpayne119
Jul. 6th, 2009 11:46 am (UTC)
I concur! Plot is for cowards! Cowards!
benpeek
Jul. 7th, 2009 12:25 am (UTC)
cowards!
ataxi
Jul. 6th, 2009 02:09 pm (UTC)
That writing without aiming at a popular audience and without the sponsorship of a publishing industry clique isn't going to earn you $$$ seems rather obvious.

I'd have been more interested to read an opinion on how to become the next Ishiguro or Atwood, if that is the supposed route to writing "stealth literary sf" and making money, while preserving enough intelligence and credibility not to have to hate oneself!

I realise that guys like you (and Rjurik, a few of whose excellent short stories I've read) have made a commitment of time and effort to writing, but lots of people commit lots of time and effort to things that don't make money, as you know. Bitching about royalties, print runs and the vicissitudes of the world of publishing doesn't interest the wage-slaves of the hoi polloi like me, people who've already largely tossed aside their hopes for fulfilling work and don't see why you have an inalienable right to better ... we'd rather just see more of the end product alongside a confident 'tude.
benpeek
Jul. 7th, 2009 12:29 am (UTC)
to be honest, man, that way of making a lot of cash or respect/fame no matter what kind of book you write isn't something you can easily duplicate. even the dan brown thing is as much chance as it is everything else (though obviously helped by marketing, and the like).

i'm afraid you're not likely to get out of hearing about print runs, royalties and the such from some writers, because to a degree, they're just discussing the job.

and everyone has an right to better and fulfilling work.
ataxi
Jul. 7th, 2009 12:55 am (UTC)
"that way of making a lot of cash or respect/fame no matter what kind of book you write isn't something you can easily duplicate"

Sure. I wouldn't expect anything else.

"everyone has an right to better and fulfilling work"

I don't see why or how that'd even be feasible, given that the work that needs to be done is determined by economics but whether it's fulfilling is determined by the individuals that have to do it.

"I'm afraid you're not likely to get out of hearing about print runs, royalties and the such from some writers, because to a degree, they're just discussing the job"

Well, actually, I think those being frequent topics of conversation on a writer's blog seem a bit symptomatic of the "niche" character of the lit. SF scene that's talked about.
benpeek
Jul. 7th, 2009 02:11 am (UTC)
"I don't see why or how that'd even be feasible, given that the work that needs to be done is determined by economics but whether it's fulfilling is determined by the individuals that have to do it."

well, econoics and people often decide the end, and there are people throughou the world who won't have fulfilling or good work, for various reasons. but they still ought to have it, if for no other reason than you spend so much of your life doing it.

as for the topic being symptomatic of the lit sf scene, perhaps. i've seen it in other places, however--and to me it's just part of a lit scene.
ataxi
Jul. 7th, 2009 02:41 am (UTC)
Agree in essence, but I'm not down with the practice of calling unachievable ideals "rights" though.

As for the topic issue, your space, your choice: I'm just telling you my non-writer preference.
(no subject) - brendanconnell.wordpress.com - Jul. 6th, 2009 08:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
benpeek
Jul. 7th, 2009 12:24 am (UTC)
well, since both as a subjective opinion, i'd rather go for the second...
(no subject) - brendanconnell.wordpress.com - Jul. 7th, 2009 12:40 am (UTC) - Expand
benpeek
Jul. 7th, 2009 12:43 am (UTC)
a lot of people do suck and get positive press, though. books, films, music, it happens all the time.

but! i'd still take fame and cash. cause i'm tired of not having the latter.
(no subject) - brendanconnell.wordpress.com - Jul. 7th, 2009 12:54 am (UTC) - Expand
benpeek
Jul. 7th, 2009 02:12 am (UTC)
i'm actually not against the PR, and the time i'd spend on it, i imagine, would probably just take the time i currently spend on trying to find decent publishers and the like. which, meh, is how it is.

i think i need a second me. i'll do the writing and the other guy can do all the other stuff, like selling, representing, dancing.
catsparx
Jul. 7th, 2009 12:23 am (UTC)
thing is... it's not a singular thing I want from literature. Different stories offer different experiences. Some days I'm looking for deep engagement with a smart, creative mind. Other times a bit of rollicking gung ho adventure might be what I'm after. Many and varied audiences exist. I'm tired of being told what I should be liking or should be reading, same as I don't want to be told what to wear or what to think. Cloud Atlas made me happy last week. This week it's Ice Station Zebra.
benpeek
Jul. 7th, 2009 12:29 am (UTC)
well, of course.

but those people who love plot still must be shot.
catsparx
Jul. 7th, 2009 12:32 am (UTC)
people who have mullets should be shot. Everyone else is OK
benpeek
Jul. 7th, 2009 12:33 am (UTC)
a lot of them are children, cat. think of the children.
catsparx
Jul. 7th, 2009 12:33 am (UTC)
their parents should be shot
benpeek
Jul. 7th, 2009 12:36 am (UTC)
plot lovers, all of them.
catsparx
Jul. 7th, 2009 12:37 am (UTC)
dude, those folks don't read
benpeek
Jul. 7th, 2009 12:38 am (UTC)
lol. that's not true. they often read a lot.
catsparx
Jul. 7th, 2009 12:41 am (UTC)
they oughta be reading magazines about good hair
benpeek
Jul. 7th, 2009 12:43 am (UTC)
it's reading some
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