July 6th, 2009


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.