Archive for the ‘literary history’ Category

Which probably explains why he wrote this.

I was writing a piece about this generation gap thing and how it was affecting conventions, but Paul trumped that with his cri-de-coeur to the guttersnipes (all apparently eager to display their generational penchant for jumping on bandwagons and shouting ‘me too’, and all while probably having little or no idea what he was talking about; gotta get that E-egoboo, right?).

Let’s conveniently ignore the fact that every ‘old’ generation has lamented the existence of the ‘new’ generation ever since there has been more than one generation.  Let’s get past the hurtful and completely ineffective shouts of “you’re old and slow” and “you’re young and ignorant” and drill right down into the heart of the matter.

Jessup is wrong and Ellison is right.

Ellison isn’t right because he’s old, successful and has three-quarters of a century of experience under his belt.  Jessup isn’t wrong because he’s young, inexperienced and prone to unthinking youthful exuberance.  Not at all.  The merits of this argument rest on logic and not chronology.

Jessup starts his piece by saying he enjoys “reading some of the older books on SF, like Dangerous Visions, cause it talks about how the old guard back in the day welcomed the younger writers and their revolution, and even though they disagreed with them, still read them…”

Right there you know he’s off on the wrong foot – or didn’t read Harlan’s introduction carefully enough. Not surprising since lack of comprehension is one of those charges levelled at youth.  If you look at the TOC of DV, all you’ll see are so-called ‘old guard’ authors.  The old guard was at least half responsible for the new wave once Ellison (and Moorecock in the UK) opened up the door.

Del Rey, Silverberg, Pohl, Farmer, deFord, Bloch, Aldiss, Dick, Niven, Lieber, Anderson, Bunch, Emshwiller, Knight, Sturgeon, Slesar, Sladek, Neville, Lafferty, Ballard, Brunner, Laumer, Spinrad, Spinrad, Zelazny, Delany.

Hoary old goat-bearded men and women all.

That’s ok. Jessup wasn’t born until a decade after DV came out and the fact that it was written by a bunch of old fogies (Ellison and Asimov included) just damns the thing even more, dontchya know.

He then references Ellison’s recent comments in the Toronto Sun and says “I want to know-who are we talking about here?  What, you’re mad that a classroom full of college graduates haven’t read a book of fairy tales?  Oh gosh! Oh noes!  Yet, I bet every one of them could tell you what a Foucault’s Pendulum is.”

Yes. I’m as mad as Ellison is about that because my generation of college students and Ellison’s generation of college students and his father’s generation of college students knew both the fable AND what the pendulum was all about.  They also read Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum, knew where Pitcairn Island is and could point it out on a map.  They didn’t publicly express their joy of being ignorant but went to the Library and looked it up so they’d no longer be ignorant.   (I’ll take that bet, btw. I bet that two-thirds or more of them never heard of Foucault and have never seen one knocking over little pins, unless it was on YouTube.)

And, before I forget (which I’m prone to do because, you know, I’m old), Ellison wasn’t attacking Science Fiction or Science Fiction writers with those comments, so much as he was attacking the audience – “So, for a writer, the problem becomes: Do you write at the peak of your abilities and the highest peak of good grammar, using the precise word, and lose half your audience, many of whom will say: ‘What a smartass, using all them big words!’?

“Or do you continue to lower the bar and continue to keep writing down to the level that you think is going to be receivable by your audience?”

– an audience that includes those college students who had no right to be in college, let alone be graduates and, no doubt, are as blissfully ignorant of Science Fiction as they are of fables. 

Jessup then launches into an attack on Ellison’s writing and eventually Ellison’s entire career. This is, of course, a strawman argument because Ellison’s career has nothing whatsoever to do with the comments Ellison made about the current generation. (Other than the fact that Ellison’s success gives him a bully pulpit and gets him more attention from the press than most old fogies receive.)

Like Jessup wanted us to, we’ll ignore the glaring fact that Ellison’s work has remained ‘contemporary’ and has been embraced and sought after by many of ‘this generations’ ground breakers (Babylon 5, Masters of SF, Dream Corridor, adaptations to film and even electronic games), because otherwise we’d have the problem of explaining why someone who remains relevant 50 years after he started writing would say the things he does about the current generation.

Jessup then puts down the ‘new wave’ as mostly irrelevant, while saying this “I appreciate the New Wave, Dangerous Visions, and etc, for paving the way for what I write, but then again, at the same time, they like to toot their horn a little too much.”

Two things about this statement yank my chain. This is biting the hand that’s fed, clothed, housed and nurtured you before you were even walking the planet, have some respect.

And don’t you think it’s just a bit disingenuous to condemn the older generation for doing exactly the same thing you are? Isn’t this the age of electronic self-promotion? Aren’t we all supposed to be enabled and empowered these days?  Or is Jessup  saying that now is the time for a kiddie swim, all the adults out of the pool?

Jessup wants to have this argument with Ellison both ways – the old guard isn’t allowed to defend themselves because they’re the old guard.

But nothing he says can erase the monumental contributions those authors, including Ellison, have made in shaping the genre as it is today.  You can ignore and belittle them as much as you want to, but the hard fact remains that what you are doing today is based, at least in part, on what they did yesterday (and in many cases they will still be doing tomorrow).

No surprise we’re hearing this kind of thing as the gen-gap wars heat up. After half a century or more you get used to listening to irrational exuberance from the kiddies.  Funny thing is, they never seem to realize that all too soon, they’re going to find themselves on the other side of that divide.


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It has, of late, (and of early and of ‘tween times) been fashionable for the SF literary community to bemoan its fate as a ghetto.  Misery loves company and this shared viewpoint has no doubt provided thousands of hours of panel and hall fandom discussion, numerous fanzine articles and umpteen blog entries.

I have become aware over the past year or two that there seems to be an attempt at an engineered cultural shift, captained by several (here unnamed) editorial giants of the field.  This may be nothing more than impression, or the imprimatur of personal taste, or may actually be a deliberate attempt on the part of those EICs to usher in the ERA OF THE LITERARY SF NOVEL.

In an earlier post I offered my opinion as to why I think this is a misguided effort.

(Note to EICs to whom I may someday submit stories for consideration: I disagree with what may be your strategy, but I think YOU are all fine, upstanding, wonderful, huggable, lovely, salt-of-the-earth folk who I will gladly entrust my authorial future to…)

Today I was pointed to an NPR quickie interview of Michael Chabon, recent Hugo Winner for Best Novel (The Yiddish Policeman’s Union).

Michael is a Pulitzer Prize winner as well, an absolute dahling of the literary world.  Here’s what he had to say about genre fiction in general and science fiction in particular:


NPR Michael Chabon Interview

All Things Considered 8/10/08


At 2:15 in to the interview –

NPR: Do you read science fiction?

MC: Yes I do. I still read science fiction, and I see all kinds of diversity. I think, I find a very intense, ongoing kind of intellectual and esthetic debate in the world of science fiction. The people who are reading it and the people who are writing seem to me to be engaged in an on-going conversation about the fiction that they love on a level that I think is enviable, that would be a credit to the world of mainstream fiction.


Michael is going to be the first example of a highly-respected ‘literary’ author who’s deliberate association with science fiction is NOT going to hurt his sales.  In fact, we’ll probably be able to use TYPU as a demonstration of how an association with genre fiction helps sales.

I suspect that some of his peers are re-examining their story files for titles that can be tweaked to fit into the SF category.  I’ll bet that some of them have already called their agents and said something like “You know that Chabon guy that won the Pulitzer? I’ve got something like what he did in the works…”

Michael is certainly one of the first mainstreamers to be associated with SF who hasn’t run screaming away in horror over the impending (and presumed) destruction of their career.  There he is above, actually admitting that he reads the stuff and crediting it with an awareness and engagement that is enviable.

As this kind of thing evolves, it is going to be important for the SF genre to make sure that it retains its unique identity.  Genre fiction that can be just as good and literate and thought-provoking as mainstream fiction, only different.

The genre doesn’t need to do anything to gain ‘acceptance’ – the hoity-toity literati are going to come to us – there isn’t an author out there who doesn’t want ‘engaged readers’ and they’ve just been told where they can find them.  (I’ll mangle Machiavelli here by presuming he said something like ‘when they come to you, you’ve already won the negotiation’, or some such.)

All we need do is exhibit a little patience, embrace the (coming) efforts of our non-ghetto literary brethren and remember our roots.

PS:  Michael – you need to find someone to work on your website

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SFSignal has started a meme – The Top 48 Sci-Fi Film Adaptations.

Fred Kiesche (of the Signal and Texas Best Grok) tagged me.

Mike Glyer of File 770 tagged me too.

Does that mean I have to tag ten other people, or can I still get by with only five?

Is it possible to get tagged twice, or does one tag cancel out the other tag?  Anyway.  I’m honored by all this tagging and pass the honor on below.

Here’s the instructions for the meme-spreading:

  • Copy the list below.
  • Mark in bold the movie titles for which you read the book.
  • Italicize the movie titles for which you started the book but didn’t finish it.
  • Tag 5 people to perpetuate the meme. (You may of course play along anyway.)
  • Here’s my list:

    1. Jurassic Park
    2. War of the Worlds
    3. The Lost World: Jurassic Park
    4. I, Robot
    5. Contact
    6. Congo
    7. Cocoon
    8. The Stepford Wives
    9. The Time Machine
    10. Starship Troopers
    11. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
    12. K-PAX
    13. 2010
    14. The Running Man
    15. Sphere
    16. The Mothman Prophecies
    17. Dreamcatcher
    18. Blade Runner(Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
    19. Dune
    20. The Island of Dr. Moreau
    21. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
    22. The Iron Giant(The Iron Man)
    23. Battlefield Earth*
    24. The Incredible Shrinking Woman
    25. Fire in the Sky
    26. Altered States
    27. Timeline
    28. The Postman
    29. Freejack(Immortality, Inc.)
    30. Solaris
    31. Memoirs of an Invisible Man
    32. The Thing(Who Goes There?)
    33. The Thirteenth Floor
    34. Lifeforce(Space Vampires)
    35. Deadly Friend
    36. The Puppet Masters
    37. 1984
    38. A Scanner Darkly
    39. Creator
    40. Monkey Shines
    41. Solo(Weapon)
    42. The Handmaid’s Tale
    43. Communion
    44. Carnosaur
    45. From Beyond
    46. Nightflyers
    47. Watchers
    48. Body Snatchers

    *not science fiction because it’s Hubbard


    I added the following: an underlined entry is NOT SF

    And the editorializing on Hubbard was not included in the original. Just my (considered) opinion.


    I have no italics because I finish reading whatever I’ve started – with literally one exception, and I’m not even going to foist the title of that horrible experience on you.


    Opinions of the above stories?


    Jurassic Park – ok – can’t stand Crichton’s overbearing anti-scientism

    WotW – great, wonderful, Herbert George Rocks

    I, Robot – Ike does this kind of thing best

    Contact – Sagan rocks.  Most people missed the message at the end of the book:  there are always more questions and our job is to keep on asking them

    Congo – meh

    Stepford Wive – ok

    The Time Machine – my man HGW again

    Starship Troopers – all time fave.  If you start yapping about militarism and neo-fascism again I’m gonna hit you, hard.

    HHGTTG – meh.  Sorry, I know people love this one, but I think Harrison and Russell do funny far better than Adams could ever hope to

    2010 – decent sequel, Clarke’s done better: hey, why isn’t The Sentinel in this list?

    Running Man – hate King, hate Bachman; you’ll get no reasonable consideration out of me on this one

    Sphere – slow, dry, stupid, derivative, obvious and a waste of time

    Dreamcatcher – forgettable

    Blade Runner – PK Dick is brilliant. End of story, period, the end.

    Dune – there was a time when I wanted all blue eyes.  First two novellas, excellent, everything else, mostly suitable for doorstops

    Island of Dr. Moreau – HG, you’re hogging the limelight

    Invasion of the Body David BrinSnatchers – Finney is good

    Iron Giant – wonderful

    Altered States – meh.  drugs are cool but, meh

    Timeline – Crichton’s try at time travel. predictable

    The Postman – Brin rocks

    Freejack – meh

    Solaris – Lem rocks big time

    Memoirs – meh

    Who Goes There – one of Campbell’s best ever

    Puppet Masters – RAH again.  Just re-read it (unexpergated version), which is a clue

    1984 – Orwell rocks

    A Scanner Darkly – PKD again.  Uber rocks

    Communion – Streiber is a nutball

    Watchers – ok

    Body Snatchers isn’t this a double entry?


    I tag:


    Bill the SciFi Guy

    Heckler and Kochk

    Gary Wolf of Roger Rabbit

    John Whalen of Raygun Revival

    Rick Novy



    If I’m responsible for tagging another five, it’s gonna take a while.




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    The article you are looking for can be found HERE on the new version of my blog.

    Please change your bookmarks and RSS Feeds.

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    Take a look at these quotes:

    Young people “aren’t as troubled as some of us older folks are by reading that doesn’t go in a line,” said Rand J. Spiro, a professor of educational psychology at Michigan State University 1

    Last fall the National Endowment for the Arts issued a sobering report linking flat or declining national reading test scores among teenagers with the slump in the proportion of adolescents who said they read for fun.

    Nadia said she wanted to major in English at college and someday hopes to be published. She does not see a problem with reading few books. “No one’s ever said you should read more books to get into college,” she said. 2

    Critics of reading on the Internet say they see no evidence that increased Web activity improves reading achievement. “What we are losing in this country and presumably around the world is the sustained, focused, linear attention developed by reading,” said Mr. Gioia of the N.E.A. “I would believe people who tell me that the Internet develops reading if I did not see such a universal decline in reading ability and reading comprehension on virtually all tests.”3

    “Reading a book, and taking the time to ruminate and make inferences and engage the imaginational processing, is more cognitively enriching, without doubt, than the short little bits that you might get if you’re into the 30-second digital mode,” said Ken Pugh, a cognitive neuroscientist at Yale

    “It takes a long time to read a 400-page book,” said Mr. Spiro of Michigan State. “In a tenth of the time,” he said, the Internet allows a reader to “cover a lot more of the topic from different points of view.”4

    “On the Internet, you can hear from a bunch of people,” said Zachary, who will attend Columbia University this fall. “They may not be pedigreed academics. They may be someone in their shed with a conspiracy theory. But you would weigh that.” 5

    Though he also likes to read books (earlier this year he finished, and loved, “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand), Zachary craves interaction with fellow readers on the Internet. “The Web is more about a conversation,” he said. “Books are more one-way.” 6

    Web readers are persistently weak at judging whether information is trustworthy. In one study, Donald J. Leu, who researches literacy and technology at the University of Connecticut

    “Kids are using sound and images so they have a world of ideas to put together that aren’t necessarily language oriented,” said Donna E. Alvermann, a professor of language and literacy education at the University of Georgia 7

    In a book, “they go through a lot of details that aren’t really needed,” Hunter said. “Online just gives you what you need, nothing more or less.” 8

    Experts on reading difficulties suggest that for struggling readers, the Web may be a better way to glean information. “When you read online there are always graphics,” said Sally Shaywitz, the author of “Overcoming Dyslexia” and a Yale professor. “I think it’s just more comfortable and — I hate to say easier — but it more meets the needs of somebody who might not be a fluent reader.” 9

    according to Stephen Denis, product manager at ETS, of the more than 20,000 students who have taken the iSkills test since 2006, only 39 percent of four-year college freshmen achieved a score that represented “core functional levels” in Internet literacy. 10

    Web junkies can occasionally be swept up in a book. After Nadia read Elie Wiesel’s Holocaust memoir “Night” in her freshman English class, Ms. Konyk brought home another Holocaust memoir, “I Have Lived a Thousand Years,” by Livia Bitton-Jackson.

    Nadia was riveted by heartbreaking details of life in the concentration camps. “I was trying to imagine this and I was like, I can’t do this,” she said. “It was just so — wow.” 11

    Hoping to keep up the momentum, Ms. Konyk brought home another book, “Silverboy,” a fantasy novel. Nadia made it through one chapter before she got engrossed in the Internet fan fiction again

    All of those quotes are from an NYT article entitled Literacy Debate. I include the link because I was a bit selective in the quotes I chose and I want you all to be able to read the entire thing so that you can see that the selectivity has not slanted the presentation.

    Now I want you to read one more quote:

    I’ve always been a staunch defender of the web as a source of both entertainment and information, and challenged those who are quick to pooh-pooh the internet as intrinsically inferior. As I began the Times piece, I was preparing a rebuttal against the internet naysayers….

    Suddenly, I was pooh-poohing the internet along with its critics. She wants to be an English major, be a writer, and get published?! She can’t even spell dying, or be bothered to use spell-check! She can’t even be bothered to read other books to see what her competition is up to! Never mind that as an English major in college she’ll be required to do much more reading than she ever had to do in high school, and for which she will be unprepared without practice. Whoever’s not telling her that she “should read more books to get into college” is doing her a grave disservice….I realized that mine is the last generation to know what life was like before the internet. The internet was only a baby when I began junior high in the early nineties…” Teresa Jusino over at Pink Raygun

    Ms. Jusino has just won Pink Raygun the first ever CROTCHETY OLD FAN AWARD for BEING YOUNG BUT NOT BEING STUPID.

    No one ever said you need a walker or a cane, gray hair, no hair or a pacemaker to recognize when a new trend is new-and-stupid as opposed to just being new.

    1. books go in a line?  All those hoary old English Professors I studied under must be wrong then. They taught me all stories were circular.  Hell, even Dhalgren is circular.  That novel makes a very fine point of the fact that a circle has no definitive beginning or end.  But hell, this guy’s a psychologist and every literary critic knows Freud trumps any work of fiction.

    2. Teresa said it well:  whoever told this poor benighted girl that fact of life has a lot to answer for. Nadia might still luck out though – there’s plenty of room and employment for vapid, air-headed females.

    3. Teresa again:  ‘quality’. Damn straight skippy.  I caveat with the fact that written tests are not entirely accurate.  After all, you have to READ and WRITE to take them…

    4. Mr. Spiro – some things are worth working hard for. Bet you never read War and Peace. ‘Cover a lot more of the topic’ – like what? youtube videos?

    5. They may not be pedigreed academics but that hardly matters in a world where everyone can have a blog. No wonder Fox News’ rating are so high…

    6. Books are more one way Root/core/heart of the problem right there. Books are NOT ‘one way streets’. Without going into a bunch of literary falderol, there’s at least two ‘ways’ – the author’s and the reader’s.  The problem with reading on the internet is that the very second the source starts taking you in a direction you might not be interested in or want to go, ‘click’, you’re off to somewhere else. With a book, you have three and only three choices: let the author take you on the trip, throw the book in the crapper or skip that page.  You can’t go and find ‘different viewpoints’ (that agree with your own).

    Therein lies one of the great problems.  The internet allows you to believe that you are well-informed, when all you’ve really done is find a bunch of external sources that confirm what you already believe. 

    7. Aren’t necessarily language oriented Yeah, well, that’s kind of the one thing we all use to exchange information now, isn’t it?  Is this why fast food cash registers have pictures of food and drinks on the buttons instead of numbers?  Can you imagine a world post-language? 

    8. This is my absolute favorite quote from the article: (in a book) they go through a lot of details that aren’t really needed.  This is just so wrong-headed, uninformed and ignorant, I can’t even find the words to express myself.  Maybe what the troubled publishing industry needs is this guy as an editor. (What I really wanted to say was “How the fuck! does this idiot know?”)

    9. I’ve worked with learning disabilities kids and my mother spent a life’s career working with them. She’d be the first to tell you that what we don’t need is ‘ways to make things easier’ – we need ways that enable folks. You don’t carry a wheelchair-bound individual around – you build ramps and lifts so they can get around themselves.

    10. TWO THIRDS of college students CAN’T EVEN DO WELL ON A TEST OF INTERNET SKILLS! We are absolutely NOT talking about reading books versus reading on the internet here – we’re talking a complete and utter lack of education and ability on the part of the vast majority of higher education students.  They gave up on book reading cause ‘400 pages takes too long, dude’ and ‘there’s lot’s of unnecessary words in there, dude’ and, ‘like, I can sample ten times the idiocy lots easier on da web, man’ – and they can’t even pass a comprehension test when they’re hand fed exactly what they say they’re looking for, using the delivery model that’s tailored to their gnat-sized attention span.

    11. Nadia’s summation of her holocaust book read is the perfect end to the horror story that is unfolding all around us. She can’t even express herself beyond an ‘oh wow’.

    Oh, wow.

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    The Great Romance
    By The Inhabitant
    Edited by Dominic Alessio
    University of Nebraska Press/Bison Books

    Summary: A second section of a short novel originally published in New Zealand in 1881 is recently discovered. This short story contains some of the earliest hard sf ever written in the English language.

    Summary the 2nd: John Brenton Hope revolutionizes the ‘future’ of the 1950s with his mechanical design genius and then drinks a suspended animation potion. He reawakens in the far future of 2143. Humanity is now telepathic and lives a utopian existence.  Hope falls in love, makes friends, is recognized for his genius and leads the first interplanetary expedition to Venus, where he meets and befriends the intelligent natives.

    Summary the 3rd: Dominic Allessio writes an introduction that ably explores the history of this newly recovered tale, provides an excellent literary CV – including plausible identities of its anonymous author and explores the numerous ground-breaking (for 1881) concepts detailed in the text.

    HIghlights: Aerobraking, the physical effects of zero-G, and an astounding (for 1881) exposition on celestial mechanics.

    Key Themes: Interplanetary travellogue, future utopias, telepathy

    Datedness: cobwebs and bookworms in this one

    Audience: If you can handle Mary Shelly, HG Wells, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, this ought to be a piece of cake.  If you are into steampunk – REAL steampunk, give it a read.  If you are a student or historian of science fiction, its a must 

    Fan Rating: Would be relatively low, except for the great historical importance.

    Special Note: Alessio’s introduction deserves four or more walking sticks if taken as a separate piece.

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