Friday, October 20, 2006

Don't Look Back In Anger

Science fiction is in trouble, no doubt about that, either. It has lost a considerable share of the market it once owned, its audience is growing older because it is having trouble attracting new readers, and it has lost confidence in itself. Reading through the responses to my little rant, and thinking on it some more, I know that I can’t offer a pat solution to this (and hey, if I had a solution, do you think I would share it with you, until I’d written that genre-defining, best-selling novel?). But I think a couple of things have become clearer.

There’s nothing wrong with old skool sf. There isn’t even anything wrong with old-fashioned Star Wars style sf, if that’s what floats your boat. But if that’s all science fiction has to offer, then it will no longer be a vital genre: it will have become a museum of taxonomy. Because retreating from the present into the familiar comfort of the past means giving up on something that makes science fiction distinctive. It means no longer dealing with the shock of the new, no more wild extrapolations or metaphorical constructs ripped from the bleeding edge of science and technology, an end to pushing trends to their limits, and explorations of the limits of what makes us human. Goodbye to all that; hello to a little cell that’s getting smaller by the minute, padded with worn-out tropes from some mythical Golden Age, inhabited by catatonics.

Science fiction isn’t going to win a new and wider audience by turning its back on the world and talking to itself. It has to engage. It has to produce novels that are part of the world’s conversation. Paul Cornell is right. If someone somewhere could write a definitely great populist but finely imagined science fiction novel, it would not only be a lovely thing in its own right; it would, like a supernova, make the science fiction galaxy more visible. But I’d go further. One singular novel, or one lone author, is in danger of being traduced by the too-good-to-be-science-fiction brigade. If we’re going to get our mojo back, we need a shelfload of good books that connect the present with fabulous futures, weird worlds, and even weirder ideas made as real and plausible as any armchair.

So if you’re a writer, write from the heart as well as from the mind. Aim for an audience if you like, but know this: at best you’re going to hit nothing more than a temporary, here-and-gone demographic. Wouldn’t it be better to try to write the book that means more to you than any other book? You’ll probably fail. But you can always try again, and fail better. And, dear reader: buy books. Tell people about the books you like. Spread the word. Behave like you have found the best and finest secret in the world. And who knows? Perhaps you have.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Players - 13

Denise Childers said, ‘When we talked last night, on the phone, you said you’d be willing to help out.’

Summer said, ‘I’m still willing.’

‘That’s good, because I have a couple of favours to ask,’ Denise said. ‘First off, I’d like to take you up on your offer of finding out whatever you can about this boyfriend, this Billy no-last-name. What he does, who he associates with . . . You know, the usual stuff. If you could track him down and bring him here, I’d love to sit with him and have a long talk about Edie Collier.’

‘Is this an official favour?’

‘If you mean, am I going to get Sheriff Worden to ask your boss if he can give you some time and resources to chase up any leads, then no, it isn’t exactly official. As far as the sheriff’s concerned, the case is down. Nothing to see, time to move on. Otherwise I’d go up to Portland myself.’

‘I guess I can talk to Edie’s probation agent when I get back, and ask around at the place where she worked. But I’ll have to clear it with my sergeant first, and he’s already pissed because I’m taking an extra day down here.’

‘If it’s going to cause problems . . . ’

‘I’ll find a way around it,’ Summer said. ‘I have my own reasons for wanting to help out.’

Denise smiled. ‘Jerry and his little practical joke being one of them, I bet.’

Summer smiled too, relieved that Denise had brought it up. ‘If you mean the dust-up between
Randy Farrell and Joseph Kronenwetter, then yes.’

‘You probably don’t know it, but Jerry is good friends with the TV reporter who just happened to be there when your Mr Farrell and Joe Kronenwetter pitched up at the same time. Right now he’s probably telling his buddies down at the Hanging Drop, the cop bar, all about it.’

‘I already had a pretty good idea that he’d set it up,’ Summer said, and explained about the phone calls Jerry Hill had made at the morgue, his beeper going off on the way back to the Sheriff’s office. ‘It isn’t just about that, though. I want to do right by Edie Collier, and I think there’s a lot more to what happened than your sheriff wants to believe.’

Denise said, with a sad smile, ‘It’s a real heartbreaker, all right.’

There was a silence. Summer saw Edie Collier’s face plain, her serene indifferent calm, and knew that Denise was seeing her too.

Summer said, ‘You said you had a couple of favours to ask. If finding Edie Collier’s boyfriend is one, what’s the other?’

‘I’m going to visit someone who might shed some light on the nature of Joe Kronenwetter’s monster, and the question of why Edie Collier ended up where she did. I was wondering if you wanted to come along.’

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Why I Write, Part 302

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Beneath The Valley Of Top Of The Pops

A bunch of top, terrifying and positively weird outsider tunes courtesy of the archived 365 Days Project. My top three so far: the bathos of ‘Love Hurts’ by the Phi Mu Washboard Band (144), the unexpectedly lush arrangement of Barbie and Ken’s ‘Nobody Taught Me’ (151), and the cheerful lunacy of the Reverend Glen Armstrong’s ‘Even Squeaky Fromme Loves Christmas’ (148).

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Don't Fence Me In

I was supposed to get on with my attempt to jump-start the new novel today, having lost much of Friday thanks to an existential hangover caused by too much desperate fun at the launch of The Joke’s Over, Ralph Steadman’s book memorialising his times with Hunter S. Thompson. But after making some notes on the immediate direction of the plot and some local colour Sunday morning, I engaged in a little bit of monging around on the Web, came across Lou Ander’s rant and assorted associated pieces as noted above. So that was half the morning gone, hey ho.

Then, walking to the Farmer’s Market (yeah, I’ve been getting really bourgeois lately), I became more and more enraged by Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s piece in Asimov's, mostly because it exemplifies the lamentably pious, holy-than-thou obsession with definitions that's becoming rife in the science-fiction community. If you really want to kill SF as a genre, go right ahead and tell people what is and what isn’t really SF, and don’t forget to exclude people whose work borrows from and expands on the central themes and tropes of the genre simply because they forgot to include a heroic narrative or some other tick mark that meets the approval of the Guardians of the True Quill.

Listen, here’s the secret. There’s no one right way to write a novel. There’s no one correct style, or tense, or subject, or angle of attack. But the one thing all novelists should be doing is aiming at the Universal nerve. Literary novelists try to hit the Universal by particularising the experiences and inner life of a character. Science-fiction novelists try to hit the Universal by particularising the Universe. And since the Universe contains pretty much everything, SF should be a big, roomy mansion that welcomes all kinds of fantastic fiction. Instead, it’s becoming a shabby little theme park jealously guarded by self-appointed narrow-minded gate-keepers. If you want to save SF, argue right back. Better still, laugh at them. Because their Achilles heel is this: they don’t have any sense of humour.

And while we’re at it, what’s this American obsession with the New Wave? Look, it happened thirty years ago. It shook things up a bit, it added some useful stuff to the common humus of the genre, but the people responsible have moved on. It isn’t around anymore. It’s as dead as a parrot. So why are people still acting as if filthy dirty New Wavers are about to ravish their precious little genre and piss on the furniture afterwards? Get over it, or get out of the way.

True Grit

I guess I should mention this little pearl from the wonderfully passionate Lou Anders, in part grown around a bit of grit I sent to Meme Therapy in answer to a question they asked. Ian McDonald has some good things to say too, especially about Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s unfocused idea that SF is too serious, should get back to the kind of entertainment you find in tie-ins and Star Wars, and Lou Anders follows up here.
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