I hope I won't be accused of creating a false parallel here, but after my previous post re: SF&F characters of stature, I wondered about the way SF&F authors have rather narrow parallels as well with their non-genre (or at least out-of-genre) counterparts.
In other words, while we have plenty of SF&F authors who are in the mold of, say, Jack London, Joseph Conrad, or even Ernest Hemingway (and more because of his lesser attributes than his greater ones, I'd say), we don't have as many who parallel a greater diversity of authors and their outlooks.
Where is SF&F's Virginia Woolf, for instance? Not in the sense of someone consciously mimicking her style, but in the sense of someone who brought the same variety of insight to SF&F that Woolf did to literature generally. We have a Dumas and a Balzac or two, but only in the most superficial senses of what those writers brought to the table. We might even have a Graham Greene or a John le Carré. But we have no Woolf — the closest thing we had was James Tiptree, Jr., now passed on. (Or perhaps Joanna Russ.) No Borges, not since Phil Dick left us, although we have plenty of folks who again mimic the surfaces without really having access to the depths.
And we have few SF authors who bring to mind the bright motley panopoly the rest of recent literature exhibits: Bulgakov, Nabokov, Chekov (no, not that one, you ninnies), Burgess, Hesse, Steinbeck, Thomas Mann, Robert Musil, André Gide, Colette, Anita Loos, Heinrich Böll, Doris Lessing (who herself wrote some fine SF, come to think of it), Jean Rhys, Ousmane Sembene, Anne Tyler, Iris Murdoch ... I could go on, but you get the idea.
Again, I'm not running down a list of name-checks as a way to show off how broadly read I am. I'm trying to evoke, if clumsily, a sense of how SF&F seem to be letting in such a small list of influences. They have no trouble being inspired by previous generations of SF&F, but anything outside of that is problematic.
It helps to know that these other flavors exist, to not shut them out from snobbery or disaffectation, and to know they can serve as models to inspire us. We know our own territory very well, but how often do we step outside and look around? And to what end? I won't be foolish and assert that this never happens, or that my fellow authors are all a bunch of subliterate ninnies; from all I've seen they're anything but. But all the same, when it comes to the finished products, the range of influences they are permitting into their work seems woefully constricted.
I do not ask these questions because I believe no one at all could be slotted into these roles. I'm also not insisting that people be bold (or mad) enough to step up and claim they fulfill such parallels, me least of all. I ask only because it seems like SF&F is determined to impoverish itself, to allow its most regressive and hidebound tendencies to dictate not only what is possible but what's desirable. We should never be content to aim low and settle for less, when everything we profess to be writing about demands we do otherwise.
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Other Lives Of The Mind