Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Geeking Out

The latest issue of Publishers Weekly has a piece from Ron Hogan called "Too Geeky for Its Own Good?," concerned with a number of SF professionals' reactions to that now-infamous Dave Itzkoff review "It's All Geek to Me."

For those who came in late, in his debut SF review column for the New York Times, Itzkoff says that David Marusek's Counting Heads was "one of my favorite books of last year in any category." Yet he bemoans the fact that he can't recommend the book to his fellow commuters on the train because it is "too geeky," complex and technical for someone reading The Kite Runner or A Million Little Pieces to comprehend.

In response to this, Hogan's article, in the April 3rd issue of PW, quotes Diana Gill, Jaime Levine, yours truly, David Hartwell, David Moench, and Itzkoff himself, who again assures us that he loves SF while paradoxically stating that the opinions of those who produce it matter little to him. (This is in odd contrast to the self-styled "outright advocacy" of his Times piece.)

Meanwhile, Hogan has found himself with more material than column inches, and so he has posted more thoughts online. "Outakes from This Week's PW Cover Story" is more than it sounds and constitutes a second article in its own right. In addition to yours truly, Hogan quotes Tor's David Hartwell, BL Publishing's Vincent Rospond, and Tachyon's Jill Roberts on the matters of smaller press publishing.

(A related PW article, "Fantasy Goes Literary" by Gwenda Bond, is also worth noting.)


A.R.Yngve said...

But is SF publishing losing money?
That is, to put it crassly, more important to the genre's future than getting "respect".

So spill it: are the numbers for SF publishing going up or down? Confess, Herr Anders! Ve haff veys of making you talk...

Ted said...

paradoxically stating that the opinions of those who produce it matter little to him

I took Itzkoff to be saying that he's not going to worry about bloggers' reactions to his column. Which is, I think, a not unreasonable stance for a reviewer to take.

Tim Akers said...

Borders carry this? My father subscribes, but it'll be months before I see him again...

Lou Anders said...

Hi Ted. I could see that. I read it as he didn't care what the professionals quoted in the same article thought, which is how I believe Ron took it as well. But I'm not anti-Itzkoff. Very curious to see where he goes from here though.

Hi Tim. Borders carry PW? Don't know. Perhaps because this is BAMM HQ, there is no Borders in Alabama. Damn frustrating, that.

Anonymous said...

I took it to mean that Itzkoff didn't care how anybody in, as I put the question to him, "the science fiction community" reacted to his essay, although in retrospect I'm not sure that he fully understood that I was getting reactions from professionals as opposed to fans.

Lou Anders said...

Well, again, I didn't take offense at his statements. I'm much rather have a beer with him and try to see where he's coming from than get hot under the collar. I still think his perception of the genre is skewed. John Scalzi's thoughts on this are on the money. From Whatever:

I've sat out the Itzkoff thing because I think Itzkoff asked the wrong question, so answering the question would simply result in further error. The question is not why science fiction is so geeky -- really, that's like asking why romance novels are so kissy -- but why SF does only a so-so job at best at trying to convince people who have the equivalent of Star Trek communicators and 17 jukeboxes in their pockets via their cell phones and iPods that science fiction can speak to them. Anders is exactly correct that SF has no need to apologize for being what it is, but it wouldn't hurt for SF from time to time to explain itself a little better to the unintiated, or more accurately, to the people who think they're the uninitiated, even as they live in a science fictional world.

I particularly like Scalzi's distinction "the people who think they're the uninitiated."

Anonymous said...

I hope you do get that chance to shoot the breeze over beers with Itzkoff; when he's not on the defensive, and it comes to sci-fi and comic books, he can be intensely animated about the stuff that he likes.

But, absolutely, Scalzi nails the issue and then some.

A.R.Yngve said...

I see Scalzi's point, and I agree: you have to write also for the "uninitiated" reader. Why make a ghetto of the genre?

Years ago (in the 1990s), I sent an SF novel to a well-known editor/writer. He sent it back and explained that while ny novel wasn't bad, it was clearly aimed at a mainstream audience, and this wouldn't sell.

He elaborated: books that sold well were aimed at very specific audiences (he mentioned as an example, fantasy books with cats as characters -- for some reason).

Is this still a prevailing mindset among SF editors? "We live in a ghetto, so we sell to the ghetto."

The danger of living in a ghetto is that at any moment, a pogrom might come and raze it to the ground... ghettos may feel "safe" from the inside, but are actually quite vulnerable.

Anonymous said...

Is this still a prevailing mindset among SF editors? "We live in a ghetto, so we sell to the ghetto."

In short: no.