Genre Dialogue: SFF vs Literary

June 4, 2009 at 9:03 am (Genre Dialogue)

Robert V. S. Redick recently had some interesting things to say about the SFF genre and genre-ism generally over here at Suvudu.

Pull quote:

… what goes by the title “literary.” The term is preposterous, of course: like a street gang that calls itself “The Human Beings” to the exclusion of all others. But like “science fiction” and “fantasy,” it does mean something. To fall back on another old-fashioned term, it means craftsmanship.

It’s a weird world that sweeps thoughtfulness, linguistic precision, sensitivity and what Updike calls the “human subtleties” into a category apart, but such is the territory claimed by literary fiction. Tragically, we SFF writers often concede that ground without a fight.

I’m not as fond of “literary” or “mainstream” fiction as Redick is, but I do read it sometimes.   Though not in the last couple of months.   Some of it really annoys me – like Updike, whom I’ve nearly thrown across the room.   But some of it is really good, which is why I give it a chance now and again.

And Redick makes a bunch of good points in that post, which is why my Diary will continue to be a potpourri of whatever catches my interest.

Or gets thrown across the room.  Watch this space to see what happens next …


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#17: May 2009

June 1, 2009 at 8:52 am (Reviews)

Okay, so I haven’t finished any of the books on my bedside table – I’m *partway* through several of them still.  Here’s the books I actually did finish this month.

Springer, Nancy.  The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan (2008).  Enola Holmes’ next case involves one of her previous ones – the left-handed lady is in danger again, this time from her own kin!  The hard part is finding the young woman again; helping her escape is a trifle in comparison.  And she runs into (and escapes) her brothers Sherlock and Mycroft again.  Coincidence continues to play a large role in events once more, but Enola’s planning (and daring) also feature largely.  Ms. Springer can keep this series going for as long as she likes, if you ask me.  There’s a new one that came out in May, in fact, but the library hasn’t processed it yet, alas!

Goldman, Ari L.  The Search for God at Harvard (1991).  Apparently this was a national bestseller back when it was first published.  I was expecting, I think, a little more about Harvard and a little less about Goldman, but it was an interesting book all the same.  The author, a New York Times reporter and a Modern Orthodox Jew, took a year off work to attend Harvard Divinity School and learn about other religions, in order to become a better reporter.  He was nervous; he had in mind (taking it as an analogy for visiting the non-Jewish world) the first-century Talmudic story of the four who went down to the orchard: One died of illness, one became a heretic, one went mad, and one, Rabbi Akiba, emerged whole.  But in the remarkably liberal halls of mid-1980s Harvard Div, Goldman was hard put to it to find anyone who would directly challenge his faith.

The author is mindful of the historic context of his experience and his work – namely, the rise of right-wing religion, even in his own branch of Judaism.  Perhaps the reason the book did so well is because it spoke to everyone else in the country – those who were (and are) trying to figure out the role of their own faith in a largely secular world.  Perhaps that’s why the perspective of an Orthodox man wrestling with the same questions, and documenting the experiences of some of his fellow students, seems so helpful.  This is not a very profound book, but it is moving all the same.

The Editors of Cook’s Country Magazine.  America’s Best Lost Recipes.  I really, really liked the baked goods section of this book – so much that I renewed it and then kept it overdue.  Still haven’t actually tried any of the recipes, but they looked good.  Next time I have time to do some experimental baking, maybe I’ll borrow it again.  The other sections (vegetables, main courses, etc.), unfortunately, contained fewer and less interesting items – otherwise I’d be seriously tempted to add this to my collection.

Garwood, Christine.  Flat Earth:  The History of an Infamous Idea (2007).  An interesting work that’s fundamentally about the production of knowledge, and remarkably sympathetic to the admittedly odd proponents of the flat earth idea.  I was surprised to learn that there’s a widespread idea that Columbus thought the world is flat, which in turn is based on a work by Washington Irving (who made it up).  Garwood emphasizes this bit of trivia because flat earthers – or zetetics, as some have called themselves – often claim the idea of a globe is new, when in fact it’s been widely accepted (among educated people) since the 5th century BCE.  Garwood’s study goes into the beliefs and lives of some of the chief proponents in sometimes excruciating detail, beginning with the campaign’s nineteenth-century originator, a man who called himself Parallax, through a Canadian professor’s satiric version and a Californian man’s efforts through the 1990s.  The notion of a flat earth, though never widespread, fits into the dialogue between science and religion, and (as Garwood says) is interesting because of that location – and also for the way it shows how belief, even when couched in the same appeal to reason and logic as science, can trump evidence for some people.

Gilman, Laura Anne.  Blood from Stone (2009).  Still not your typical paranormal romance series – here, Wren finds herself in a race with some unscrupulous European mages to get her hands on a book that’s extremely important to her friend, P.B.  She and Sergei are still working on how to fix the romance part of their relationship, and I believe it’s not often that a “romance” features snippets from one of the parties’ therapy sessions.  And I have to wonder if the persistent FBI agent is going to be important in the new series set in this world (the first volume of which just came out, I believe).  I enjoy Wren’s adventures and this one ties off and resolves a number of background issues that have been lurking for a while, while delivering a fast-moving plot and more development of this alternative version of the real world.  I gather it’ll be a while before we see more about Wren and Sergei in print, but I suppose I can console myself with the police-investigation style series that’s (temporarily?) replacing it.

Riordan, Rick.  The Last Olympian (2009).  Another series closer!  Percy Jackson’s adventures have a suitably dramatic conclusion, with a Titanic invasion of New York City and Olympus, Percy taking terrible (but necessary!) risks, and most of the characters reaching their full potential and/or completing their personal plot arcs (including, amazingly, Clarisse).  Okay, so I figured one of those out in about Chapter Two; the most plot-important one might be seen as hackneyed, but it fit the structure and type of story perfectly.  And of course it all ends with a new “Great Prophecy,” and the author’s acknowledgments refer to this as the “first” Olympians series, so I guess we can hope there’ll be more some time soon.  (This is a YA series, incidentally.)

Nix, Garth.  Mister Monday (2003; Keys to the Kingdom #1).  The new bedtime reading, and a re-read for me.  Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom series for older juveniles is a wild ride, full of bizarre and alarming creatures and events – as if Nix were channeling Roald Dahl on speed.  The action almost never stops as Arthur Penhaligon, surprised and not really willing Heir to the House, has to pursue his weird inheritance.  It seems the real center of the multiverse is a House (itself multidimensional), which is inhabited and run by unaging Denizens, only some of whom appear human.  The Architect, who created all this, apparently went away some time ago and left a Will – which the seven Trustees have demonstrably NOT been following.  Part of it escapes, chooses Arthur, and the ride begins.  I still haven’t gotten around to reading all seven, mainly because I expected to be reading them all to my son at some point.  The story is a bit dark and the symbolism (to me) a tad heavy-handed, but I’ve enjoyed the three we own so far.

Moon, Elizabeth.  Hunting Party (1993) (re-read).  Space opera!  One of my favorites, with a number of follow-ups in the same setting.  Vile villains, young scions of wealth getting a major shock and growing up a bit, and interesting major characters – Heris Serrano, former space navy captain, and Lady Cecelia, maiden aunt and horse enthusiast.  Okay, so the plot isn’t the most original out there (how many times will “The Most Dangerous Game” be re-done?), but it’s a fun book all the same.  I also happen to like horses, and it’s a character-driven story and all that.

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