[Wheel of Time author Robert] Jordan’s strengths as a writer were also his weaknesses. He abhorred instrumental characters, the stock pawns of the genre, there to be set up and knocked down to move the plot along. And he hated being obvious, choosing instead to subtly foreshadow plot developments whole books in advance (then ridiculing readers who couldn’t quite put the pieces together). Most of all, Jordan loved his own creations, good and evil alike, and wrote circles around them, developing their respective psychologies and romantic entanglements at what became a laughably immersive, infinitesimal pace.
I've cited Wheel of Time as one of many examples of why fantasy (and SF) is in such a bad state: length is not depth, convolution is not complexity, and detail is not observation. (And as someone writing a fairly long, complicated and detailed SF work, I'm fully aware of how those observations could just as well be used against me. I never said I was immune to my own bullets.)Read more
It's time the major literary awards stopped being a gated community (io9, by way of Salon)
The traditional objections to genre fiction - that it is formulaic, psychologically inauthentic and indifferently executed - are not without merit, but then neither are the genre fans' familiar retorts that literary fiction is self-indulgent, feebly plotted, overwritten and dull.
Yes, I normally wince at most anything io9 puts out, but this was worth chomping out and discussing. (That and it's a link from elsewhere.)
Right there is the same thing I've been saying here in one form or another for a while now: SF&F and mainstream/literary fiction have a lot to teach each other, and it's often not the things most people assume. I find much literary fiction can be "formulaic, psychologically inauthentic and indifferently executed", and SF&F can be just as "self-indulgent, feebly plotted, overwritten and dull" as the competition. Neither one has a monopoly on wretched excess or mingy middle-mindedness.
The hard part seems to be getting critics of one field to take the other more seriously, as the article goes on to note. Most mainstream literary critics aren't trained to pick up on when SF&F leaps out of its box and becomes something a little mroe ambitious, just as they're not terribly clued-in on when mainstream lit tries to spin in SF&F tropes without actually thinking through the full implications of their inclusion.
So what will it take? New critical standards, at the very least — something that won't happen until the current crop of mainstream lit-critics stop flipping their noses up at everything that doesn't have a book award ribbon on the cover. It takes at least a generation and a half for that kind of turnover. In short, no holding your breath.
Dale Peck, he of Hatchet Jobs fame, once said, "Literature does have its enemies, and chief among them are pseudointellectual artists and critics who think their love of books translates into some kind of knowledge."
This problem is writ large in SF&F fandom, where most of the criticism has passed into the hands of fans. What sounds like a good idea on the face of it — fans serving other fans! what's the problem? — has a downside: fans can be both the best and worst evangelists for, or interpreters of, something.Read more