Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Two Authors and One Arthur

Just returned from the World Fantasy Convention in Madison, WI, that Graham Joyce-styled mobile Brigadoon of like-minded friends meeting once a year to pick up where they left off. Highlights were meeting Pyr authors Charles Coleman Finlay and Michael Blumlein in the flesh, as well as artist Caniglia (who provided the excellent cover illustration for Michael's book). Also good to see copy editor extraordinaire Deanna Hoak, Jonathan Strahan, Toby Buckell, Greg Manchess, Irene Gallo, and a host of others. Most gratifying: seeing John Picacio win the award for Best Artist. Most surprising: finding out that Jay Caselberg is good with kids. Who knew? Pictured right is my son Arthur, who made his convention debut this weekend, seen enjoying himself in the company of authors Jess Nevins and Hal Duncan.

Ironic framing: the night before the convention, hanging out in Jonathan Strahan and Garth Nix's suite (thanks guys), discussing definitions of SF with Borderland's Alan Beatts, who floated the criteria that for a work to be SF an author had to be deliberately and consciously writing within the tradition, aware of the history of SF and part of the community, a definition which excludes works like Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife and Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. Then, the night after the convention, a final late-night conversation with Paolo Bacigalupi (or someone claiming to be Paolo Bacigalupi, hugs to Cheryl). Paolo, it turns out, reads only nonfiction and The New Yorker, and confessed that he had no idea who any of the writers he met during the con were. This did not stop him from writing the Hugo-nominated "The People of Sand and Slag." My own 2 cents: When Professor Roy Hinkley Jr. invents a flying plastic disc in his new university lab in Rescue from Gilligan's Island, it's still a frisbee, whether he knows it or not.


Cheryl said...

As I recall, Niffenegger claims to be a keen reader of SF, especially during her student days. How that affects her book I don't know as I couldn't finish it. Roth, on the other hand, is supposed to have said that he was the first person ever to write an alternate history.

Jess Nevins said...

These discussions are ultimately pointless, of course, but...I think that's an overly restrictive definition, as it would, at the very least, exclude a lot of pre-Wells, pre-Verne sf, and seems to demand more from an author than is reasonable. Under-21s who write sf can hardly be expected to be aware of the history of the genre or part of the community, after all.

Lou Anders said...

The way I believe Roth said it was that he had "absolutely no precedent" for writing the book. Perhaps he meant no, ahem, literary precedent. Offensive either way. And I, of course, favor more comprehensive definitions to restrictive ones.

But I'm curious - what about writers (and there are quite a few of them in our field) who are versed in the famous old guys - Asimov, Clarke, Tolkien - but nothing more modern? They are writing with a knowledge of the tradition, albeit an outdated knowledge.

Anonymous said...

I'm suspicious of the definition as it requires knowledge of the author that we're not always privy to (viz Cheryl's point about Time Traveller's Wife). Also where does it put books written before SF acquired a tradition? Unless we can all agree on a definition for what SF is (and let's face it we cant, or at least haven't yet) SFness is always going to be in the eye of the beholder.

Strikes me that 'SF' is at its clearest and most defined as a term when it is used as marketing label.

Lou Anders said...

If I may quote Frederik Pohl again:

Does the story tell me something worth knowing, that I had not known before, about the relationship between man and technology? Does it enlighten me on some area of science where I had been in the dark? Does it open a new horizon for my thinking? Does it lead me to think new kinds of thoughts, that I would not otherwise perhaps have thought at all? Does it suggest possibilities about the alternative possible future courses my world can take? Does it illuminate events and trends of today, by showing me where they may lead tomorrow? Does it give me a fresh and objective point of view on my own world and culture, perhaps by letting me see it through the eyes of a different kind of creature entirely, from a planet light-years away? - These qualities are not only among those which make science fiction good, they are what make it unique. Be it never so beautifully written, a story is not a good science fiction story unless it rates high in at least some of these aspects. The content of the story is as valid a criterion as the style.

Anonymous said...

Yeah OK, I'll sign up to that one. That makes three of us. Are we are a movement yet? 'Pohlists' sounds suitably 'agitprop'. :-)