Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

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Quality Is Just Another Word for Makes Me Think

From Nick Mamatas (nihilistic_kid)

Are you saying, Nick, that other magazines aren't committed to quality writing and a wide variety of stories.

Yes, that is exactly what I'm saying. I know this, because I read the magazines. Most of the stories are utterly dreadful. The prose is workmanlike (and often laughable) in most SF magazines, and the stories themselves generally read as though they have been written for retarded children with an interest in either the visual artifacts of their cough syrup hallucinations or advanced modes of transportation.

(This, incidentally, is a major reason why SF mags are now dying. Forget the decline of the distribution system — that was a decade ago. That is NO LONGER an excuse. SF essentially appeals to too small a market. Plenty of people like to read books, but SF does not offer what most readers want to read: sentences that don't treat them like morons. SF as a whole has been dedicated to appealing to the non-reader — generally fans of movies — for decades; it's everyone's secret recipe for success, except not one person or venue has actually succeeded with it. It's only been tried for the length of an entire generation of readers, maybe next time it'll work!)

Quality of writing is not valorized in SF, with rare exception. The Asimovian "pane of glass" metaphor predominates, and "literary" is most frequently used as an epithet. Indeed, the same fanzine editor who now has a berth at F&SF's website to write about pussy previously complained that "metrosexuals" were ruining SF and by metrosexual he apparently meant well-written. You know, unlike his essay. And when, of all the would-be pundits from whom you could possibly solicit commentaries, you choose some random semi-literate, that just means you're NOT actually interested in high-quality material.

What most SF magazines instead are interested in are in satisfying their declining pool of readers. Their declining pool of readers want not-very-well-written stories about the same themes they were entranced by as children.

And when this pool finishes dying off, those magazines will be gone.

It's a bit of a lengthy quote, but I dug it.

I find myself, these days, amused when people talk about how speculative fiction--to use the umbrella term--is getting more mainstream acceptance, when authors such as Michael Chabon and Cormac McCarthy, to name two, start writing in 'the genre'. Firstly, I hate it when people say 'in the genre' as if there is only one genre, rather than hundreds, but that's neither here nor there. A side track. But. But the simple fact is, long before McCarthy wrote The Road and won Oprah's love, there were authors using the fantastical. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Peter Carey, George Orwell, Mikhail Bulgakov, and Haruki Murakami: each one of them has work that can sit firmly and comfortably within the speculative fiction barriers, and each of them sells well, is respected, has been around for years and, in some cases, is considered part of the canon in various literature movements and historical periods. There hasn't--and will never be--a sudden grasp for respectability by authors who look at 'the trash genre' for ideas. There isn't a transition going on. The status quo hasn't been altered. The divide has always been and always will be artificial.

When I see this conversation pop up--or I hear it--I think, "Someone isn't well read," which is an interesting thought, because I know I'm not well read. But after that, I also tend to think that main difference between the above 'mainstream' authors and 'the genre' big names is simple writing skill. That's a fairly blanket statement, and there are, of course, exceptions, but the prose level that Mamatas comments on, and which I tend to lump in a general conservativism of form, concept, and thought within speculative fiction, is slowly becoming the true division in the popular and respected ends of spec fic and the mainstream.

Anyhow, there's a thought for the morning. Off to do some work now.

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