Tag Archives: debate

Gary Gibson – the state of the debate

Richard Morgan‘s recently-posted essay about the bitchiness and infighting of the sf/f fiction scene caused a flurry of reactions, some sympathetic, others less so.

Gary Gibson‘s response chimes best with my own feelings on the matter, though:

“To me, I’d say all the bitchiness is a sign that things aren’t nearly so moribund within the genre as some have claimed. I’m not saying the arguments and fighting are always healthy, or necessarily mature; but I am saying it feels more alive than some genteel, mannered alternative. At least the way things are, it feels like people give a damn.”

Indeed. I mean, sure, sf people can get pretty entrenched in things, and rather more emotionally attached or opposed to certain words and definitions than really makes much sense (cough *mundane-sf* cough).

But if I’d stumbled into fandom as I did and found it to be an echo chamber … well, I’d probably be more focused on writing about music, I guess. The ability to debate the merits of a piece of art without resorting to fists, name-calling and hissy-fits is rare enough in my daily life that I’d rather not lose it.

That said – live and let live, eh? Maybe it’s just my nature as supreme wishy-washy diplomat of compromise, but I’ve always found the best way to get anyone to respect my opinion (even if they don’t agree with it) is to respect theirs. As my mother used to remind me at the end of every school sports day – it’s not the winning, it’s the taking-part.

[Disclosure- Richard Morgan is one of my clients.]

Paul Kincaid’s book reviewing credo gets my vote

Well, the Readercon panel on book reviews seems to have generated a lot of dicussion around the issue … kind of the inverse of the Eastercon panel, which took place after the worst of the smoke had cleared from that particular salvo.

But here’s the inestimable Paul Kincaid, hitting the nail on the head and describing my own standpoint on how and why I review books almost exactly:

“My own credo is simple. A review should be honest (any reviewer who allows her opinion to be swayed by friendship, bribery, peer pressure or whatever, is not worth reading), defensible (I don’t mind if people disagree with my judgement, I am quite used to being the only critic to hold a certain position, pro or con, on any particular book, but I want to be sure the readers can see why I reached that particular judgement), and, so far as I am able, well written (a review is also an entertainment, the reader should be rewarded for taking the time to read the piece). This credo, it should be noted, is an aspiration; I have no idea how close I ever get to achieving it.

Notice I say nothing about reviews being good or bad, positive or negative. It is part of the honesty of a review that if you don’t think a book is any good you have to say so. It is also part of the honesty of a review to recognise that very very few books are entirely wonderful or entirely terrible, and the job of a reviewer is to identify and note that balance. Because of that I do not believe I write positive reviews, or negative reviews – but I hope I write honest reviews.”

Result. Paul Kincaid is one of my newly-inherited reviews team at Interzone, which – given his pedigree and experience – is quite bizarre, because by rights he should be the person editing me. Though I doubt he wants the administrative headaches that come with the post – another indicator of his native common sense!

He and I (and others) are keen to see what comes from Jonathan’s plans for Son of Scalpel, too. This debate – for better or for worse – probably has a good few years mileage in it yet.

Norman Spinrad and the victimisation of genre fiction

In between giving some awards to a whole bunch of stuff I’ve never read, the SFWA held some discussion panels over the weekend of the Nebula ceremonies. GalleyCat has a run-down of one that featured science fiction editors and other notables discussing the ‘market problem’. As I wasn’t there (I guess my complimentary tickets got lost in the mail or something), I have no idea how balanced the report is, but taken at face value it suggests that Norman Spinrad has a serious case of victim syndrome on behalf of the genre:

“After some of the other panelists spoke, Nielsen Hayden rexplored the notion that the hardcore SF fan who had long constituted the genre’s target audience was gradually being replaced by a young reader who delves into all sorts of popular culture, only some of which is science fiction and fantasy. Bantam senior editor Anne Groell ran with that ball, talking about her own experience seeing fantasy titles cross over to romance audiences. “There’s a lot of freedom in how you can cross genres today in ways you couldn’t before,” she said, to which Spinrad countered that he believed it was harder for established SF/fantasy writers to make that crossing than writers from other fields who added fantastic elements to their writing. “Science fiction creates a floor,” he insisted, “but it also creates a ceiling.””

So, any thoughts? Is the genre a box? If it is, have genre authors created that box for themselves, or are they being picked upon by the cruel and merciless chain book stores and amalgamated publishers who care only for quick profits?

The inclusiveness question, plus extras

The inclusiveness debate seems to be gathering pace to become the current blazing topic of the sf-nal blogosphere. I’m keeping my mouth shut quite firmly – not because of any particular shameful or virtuous opinions that I feel I should hide from view, but because I believe that in these sorts of situations, if you feel you have nothing original or constructive to say, you’re best off keeping your lip buttoned. Jonathan McCalmont has a good overview of the situation, however.

I mean, I can see there’s a male/white/Western/Anglicised bias in sf, but I have no idea how the hell we should go about changing that situation. I’m not even sure if it can be done purposefully, either – I think it may be one of those things that can only change slowly over time as generations succeed each other. It puts me in mind of a quote from Poincaré, talking about the way that scientific theories and ideas tend to stay in currency while their progenitors are still around:

“Science advances … funeral by funeral.”


Talking of views dissenting from the canon, I thoroughly enjoyed the channelled ire of Liz Henry taking the freshly-fueled chainsaw of feminism to the old wood of Anne McCaffery’s Pern novels:

“The main thing Lessa seems to do in her capacity as Weyrwoman is to serve food. She’s always deftly serving F’lar’s dinner. She pours the klah during important meetings. She clears the table a lot too, and rings for food. Which appears magically from a dumbwaiter from the Lower Caverns where all the slutty kitchen women live. You could go through the book and mark up all her waitress moments.”

I cut my sf-nal teeth on those books, but you don’t read from a very critical perspective at eight years old. Hindsight is a curious thing.

And talking of feminism and diversity in sf, Cecilia Tan has reposted an old interview she did with Octavia Butler, which is well worth the time it takes to read:

What do you think is going to happen to the human race in the next millennium?

Pretty much what is happening now. Why should anything different happen? There will be technological innovations and biological innovations, but things will be essentially how they are. The future is not some mystical magical place. The future is moment to moment. Thirty years ago we didn’t have the computers we do now, but we’re still doing the same things.

Meaning, even if the power grid collapses on January first, human beings are still going to be pretty much the same.

The human being is essentially lazy.”

Smart lady; I must read some of her books soon. Or rather, I’ll add her to the ever expanding list of authors I must pay attention to – a list that grows in inverse proportion to the amount of time I have available for reading things I want to read. *Sigh*

The perennial cheesy cover art debate

Looks like the good old cover art debate has reared its head again, with Rick Kleffel ranting passionately about the need to abandon ‘slabs with abs’ and ‘Fabio-alike’ cover art, especially in the fantasy genre, and the always lucid Andrew ‘SFBC’ Wheeler deflating the issue with the perspective of a man who works in publishing – those covers get used because those covers sell books.

You want my opinion on this issue? Well, I don’t really have one. Sure, I can appreciate a good piece of cover art, and I can see when one is cliched and out of kilter with the book’s content. But it’s what’s beneath the cover that really interests me, and if the fiction is good enough I don’t give a damn what’s on the front and back. I’ve never understood this idea that people are embarrassed to be seen reading certain books in public – I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, I’m just saying that I can’t imagine it ever happening to me.

That having been said, I spent my teenage years as an RPG geek who read every spin-off novel he could get his hands on, so maybe I self-medicated against chainmail bras and leather nappies with aversion therapy early on. Then again, those who’ve seen what I look like are probably well aware that the last thing anyone sat opposite me on a train is going to notice about me is the book I’m reading at the time! 🙂