Classics: a third way

Let’s face it, the field of literary Science Fiction & Fantasy is flying to pieces. There is no single gateway through which fans enter (if there ever was) and there is no single gateway through which professionals enter (thanks to electronic and indie publishing.) The lines between fan and professional have also been so thoroughly blurred, they practically don’t exist. There is merely a long, flat income curve — with most people dwelling along the flat part, and a very few people dwelling on the steep ascent; where the real money can be found. Success might be measured according to accolades, or it might also be measured according to dollars, but there is also the matter of academic recognition. There is no agreement on matters of quality, nor on matters of import. One woman’s deathless classic is another man’s throwaway rubbish; and vice versa. Tens of thousands of books, stories, comics, graphic novels, games, movies, and television series pour forth each year — all of them vying for a piece of our collective attention. (The good news being that the audience’s favor is not an exclusive commodity. A fan of one book, one author, one franchise, can be a fan of many others as well.)

I have occasionally seen good-hearted appeals to community. “Let’s patch this crazy field back together again!”

But a community requires common touchstones, and at least some degree of shared values. It ought to now be obvious (in the year 2015) that there are no more shared touchstones, nor any single set of shared values spanning the total spectrum of fans and professionals. There are simply disparate circles of interest, some overlapping with others, but none overlapping with all. They each have their own touchstones, and they each esteem different things. Sometimes these circles can happily move around or even through each other without friction. Other times they crash into each other with no small amount of rancor, because we’re talking about art, as well as passion — the subjective, backed by the unyielding.

Overlay all of this with 21st century Western political and social drama, and it reminds me of the Yeats poem, which I quote in part:

Things fall apart;
the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed,
and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
The best lack all conviction,
while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.

Is it even necessary, anymore, for anyone to try to forensically follow the threads of the field’s history, back to a time when you really could read every story, every book, see every movie, and have a sit-down conversation with others who had done the same? Because everyone was getting the same magazines at the newsstand, and the actual number of regular consumers was measured in the thousands — versus the hundreds of millions who now keep the SF/F juggernaut alive, above and beyond prose fans.

As I have said in other places, I came into the field sideways: a young fan of television and movie SF/F who began reading tie-in works, then migrated to original SF/F books, and ultimately enjoyed himself enough to get ambitious, and begin writing his own original stuff. It took a number of years to sharpen my skills to the point I could compete with the folks regularly publishing in places like Analog. Along the way, I was still reading and enjoying the works of authors such as Kim Stanley Robinson and Vernor Vinge. I also remembered with fondness the tie-in novels which had thrilled me as a teen: the Star Trek tales of Dianne Duane, Diane Carey, and A.C. Crispin, as well as the Star Wars books by Brian Daley.

Being something of a general history buff (albeit lay) I decided (in 1995) to pick up The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Science Fiction by John Clute and Peter Nicholls. I already knew some of the names I would encounter in that book — thanks to the anecdotes of Larry Niven, of whom I’d become a huge fan during my very-late teens — but there were other authors (such as Olaf Stapledon) of whom I’d been, up to that point, completely unaware.

Now, there was no way the Illustrated Encyclopedia of Science Fiction could contain every single author who’d ever penned in the field. It’s been a few years since I paged through my copy, but I am pretty sure authors like Stephen R. Donaldson and W. Michael Gear didn’t get page space — despite both of these authors being hugely influential on my writing development, and on me as a fan in general, because I’d loved and read (and re-read!) their books. But the Illustrated Encyclopedia of Science Fiction did give me a much more complete view of the landscape in which I was attempting to rise to professional competence.

It’s been 20 years since I first read that book. I think Clute and company have since embarked upon a comprehensive on-line SF/F encyclopedia. How complete it may be, I can’t say. Am I in there? (laughter) The Wikipedia page for Analog lists me. Maybe Clute’s expansive database does too?

But my point is this: after a full century of development — as a coherent genre, going all the way back to Hugo Gernsback’s “scientifiction” — the SF/F field has simply gotten too big for any one human being to grasp the whole of it from end to end. Not at depth. It’s possible to have a superficial knowledge of some of the landmarks, but nobody can possibly hope to read all the works produced in even a single year, much less all the works produced, ever, since the genre’s inception.

So, what value then, the insistence on “classics” and their necessity?

On the one hand, I think there are timeless stories that will never go away — even if I personally find the prose problematic. For instance, I think The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings will one day be regarded just as we regard the works of Shakespeare now. But so help me, I find the prose too “cozy” for my tastes. And the plot is not exactly structured like the thoroughbreds we’ve been teaching ourselves to write since the 1970s. Tom Bombadil? Hello? There’s a reason Tom got cut from the Peter Jackson movies. And if saying this gets me burned at the rhetorical stake, so be it. I happen to think the movies (the first three) nicely distilled Tolkien to a pure essence — something even very young children can embrace and adore, taking all the best parts of the story into their hearts and minds, with very little disruption of the author’s full intent.

On the other hand, I also think it’s completely possible to skip right over Tolkien, to never read a single page of his work, and still be both a fan and a professional. Tolkien isn’t the only one who wrote fantasy — specifically, “high” or operatic/swords’n’sorcery-style — and was good at it. When I was a teenager, the Belgariad and Malloreon series were all the rage. And before Eddings? Stephen R. Donaldson, who essentially thrust a modern (then) antihero into a Tolkien-flavored world, complete with a One Ring and a supernatural Dark Lord trying to capture/control said ring. I read both Donaldson and Eddings long before I ever read Tolkien, and I am glad for it. Because I was able to approach these newer authors “fresh” and without the prior exposure to cloud or jade my enjoyment.

And concurrent with Donaldson? Terry Brooks — whose Shannara books are still on my to-read list. (Sorry, I never got around to these when I was younger!)

Come to think of it, I don’t think Brooks, nor Eddings, got mentions in the Encyclopedia either.

But is that bad? And is it bad if we have young authors — 14 through 18 years old — who know nothing other than Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson books? What if we have fans who don’t know anything other than Jordan and Sanderson? Do we unreasonably freight those young readers with a burdensome expectation, if we insist that they must abide the “classics” otherwise they are not fully versed enough in their genre to even claim to be a fan in it?

My heart tells me that we risk demoting beloved works (like Tolkien) to the “boring” pile, if we frontload new SF/F readers with language like, “You haven’t really read Fantasy, until you’ve read Tolkien.” I mean, I get it. I really do. Tolkien pretty much created the high Fantastic form, with quests and heroes and magic and ogres and dragons, all mish-mashed from European traditional folklore, but woven around a delightfully modern plot. But as soon as we begin “assigning” Tolkien the way many of us were assigned Capote or Hemingway or Fitzgerald, then Tolkien stops being something new readers will enjoy — and instead becomes merely something to be endured.

And I can think of nothing which might hurt Tolkien’s legacy more.

Yes, yes, like I said, I get it. I do. When generation(s) come to love and revere a thing, there is a very strong desire to pass that love and reverence on to those who come after. This isn’t unique to literature. Several times in its history, baseball fans have bemoaned the dimming of that sport’s classic stars. Especially in an era where steroids have done more to warp the game, than anything Pete Rose or the Black Sox did. People yearn for a “cleaner” and more authentic baseball, with cleaner, more authentic heroes. Babe Ruth may have been a whoring, cigar-smoking, hard-partying son-of-a-bitch, but he hit 60 homers the hard way. He was a true original. And baseball purists want to make sure that the sport — and the fans — never, ever forget it.

But do you have to have seen Babe Ruth play, to understand how much of an impact he has on baseball, even today? I don’t think so.

Just as I don’t think you need to read Tolkien to grasp who Tolkien was, or what kind of impact he had on SF/F when “fantasy” was still very much in “scientifiction’s” shadow.

That may sound like heresy for Tolkien devotees — and I want to stress that I am not trying to dethrone anybody. I am just pointing out that between the arguments “Forget the classics, they don’t matter!” and “The classics are a must for anyone!” . . . there is a third way.

Certainly I haven’t had to read Star Maker or Last and First Men to understand that Olaf Stapledon was doing something truly remarkable with those works. Especially considering the fact that when Stapledon’s stories were hitting print, the nuclear fission bomb was still theoretical, and we were decades away from landing men on the moon.

Nor have I had to read Heinlein to the same extent I’ve read Niven, to discern the obvious impact Heinlein had on the field; and the obvious influence Heinlein had on both Niven and his frequent collaborator, Jerry Pournelle — two men who have been influential on me. (NOTE: I am fond of calling myself a grandchild of Heinlein, in this way, though I will always — out of respect to the Heinlein faithful — make clear that I can’t claim to be any kind of Heinlein devotee. I know many of his more famous short works because I read a treasury of them when I was 20 years old, and I have read perhaps two or three Heinlein long works, such as the fix-up book Revolt in 2100. And not even his most famous publication: Starship Troopers. That book also sits — with the The Sword of Shannara — on my to-read pile.)

Put it in musical terms: do you have to be a raving Led Zeppelin fanatic, to understand that Led Zeppelin was the single-most recognizable and influential “bridge” band, between the blues-and-folk-influenced rock of the 1960s, and the hard/metal rock that emerged in the late 1970s and 1980s? Do you even have to have heard Jimmy Page play, to become a virtuoso (on the guitar) in your own right? What if, instead of Led Zeppelin, your musical roots trace to Eddie Van Halen? Or, more recent, Soundgarden? Or, more recent still, Lady Gaga? (I know, I just made some people begin stabbing their screens, as I connected the musical dots from Led Zeppelin to . . . Lady Gaga.)

Right now, somewhere, there is an amazing singer/musician who is going to be the next hundred-million-dollar quintuple-platinum icon, and (s)he will have never heard any pop music played prior to about the year 1993. (S)he may be dimly aware of phrases like “Michael Jackson” or “The Beatles” or “Elvis Presley” but these will be vague, far-away signposts on the musical history highway. Nothing for him/her to get wound up over, unless (s)he is a rare student of music as an evolving historical art form, and/or has studied, and/or passed through conservatory training.

Likewise, there is an amazing author/writer who is going to be the next Brandon Sanderson — sorry Brandon, let’s face it dude, you’re establishment now — and this individual will have come of age reading J. K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, and Jim Butcher. Asimov? Heinlein? Tolkien? Who are they? Probably boring old writers that grandparents like to read. Tsk, tsk.

There you are, stabbing your screens again — I see you! And I understand. When we love books and stories from “our” writers, we want these things to not only matter, we want them to be eternal. We want them to have a permanent place in the sunlight. It bothers us to think that “our” writers (and their works) won’t live forever. I know I’ve been super-zealous about proselytizing the virtues of Chris Bunch & Allan Cole, just because I think Bunch & Cole together have written some of the best military fiction — and also the best science fiction — I’ve ever read. Period. I happily buy and give away omnibus copies of their STEN books. I name-drop A Reckoning For Kings at every single military fiction panel I’m ever on, because I think that particular book is the best war novel I’ve yet read — and I have read a goodly many war novels and technothrillers. I do this because I don’t want the world to forget. I don’t want the yearly tide of new authors and books to further push Bunch & Cole into the rear-view mirror. The STEN books were, for me, what Heinlein’s Starship Troopers has been for many other people — seminal.

And we don’t want those seminal reads — those seminal authors — to fade.

But just because somebody hasn’t read our seminal author(s) or book(s) doesn’t mean those people aren’t 100% fans, or 100% authors for that matter.

I mean, I can’t imagine me being the fan or the author that I am, without having read both Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead. It cheers me enormously to see Scott Card’s Enderverse as widely-celebrated as it is, roughly three decades after the Enderverse rose to international prominence. I think Scott Card is one of the very, very few SF/F writers of his era, who is going to be popularly read beyond his death. I’d put Scott Card right up there with Frank Herbert, in terms of impact on not only SF/F, but popular fiction as a whole. Ender’s Game still pops up on bestseller lists from time to time. It routinely outperforms even the better-performing new books released in SF/F each year. And it might very well continue to do so, even when Scott’s gone — and all we have left of him, are his writings.

But that doesn’t mean someone who has never read Ender’s Game — or who has never become familiar with Scott Card — is somehow deficient. In fact, I’d like to propose we scuttle the whole concept of deficiency, where the SF/F field is concerned. Since no single person can possibly hope to read it all. And we are now besieged with identitarian political minders who want to place every book or story on a cutting table — for identitarian vivisection. Can’t we just say, “People like what they like, and if liking what they like inspires them to make other things, which are also liked, isn’t this enough? Does it really matter if said fan or creator is versed in this or that ‘required’ reading?” Because Lord knows there is no such thing as a Top 10 or Top 20 or Top 50 SF/F novel list, which any 10, or 20, or 50 readers won’t find reason to disagree with. My favorites are different from your favorites, which are different again from the favorites of any four dozen other fans and authors; taste being completely subjective, but also completely immune to persuasive argument. Nobody has ever been “talked into” enjoying a book. Enjoyment either happens, or it does not. As Niven counseled, don’t argue with the audience! Let it be.

So, too, I think we can “let it be” where the classics are concerned — especially if we’re worried that authors and books we love, aren’t being given proper due. There are books which manage to speak to our hearts — across generations — without any need for us “pushing” them (Ender’s Game? Or Dune?) And while some books may sweep the awards table one year, or achieve raves in academic circles the next, neither the awards nor the academy can dictate to the generational audience what that generational audience finds worthy of embracing. Remember: the hoity toities of SF/F thought Star Wars was drivel, when it came out in 1977. Yet Star Wars not only saved the entirety of SF/F from oblivion, Star Wars was the vehicle that made SF/F a common household commodity, and launched the revolution whereby geek ultimately became chic. Anyone want to take bets on Star Wars: Episode VII challenging Avatar for the highest-grossing movie of all time? If Episode VII is tightly-written and hits a sweet emotional spot with viewers, I think it will.

And yet . . . there are fans who aren’t going to bother with Episode VII. They’re not into Star Wars much. Maybe, not at all? They are aware of what Star Wars is, and they know Star Wars has a gargantuan cultural footprint. They acknowledge this, without having to compulsorily partake. And that is the third way.

I know when I die, there will be some fine books by some fine writers, of which I’ve never made myself more than cursorily familiar. Like Ursula Le Guin, who (for lack of a better way of stating this) put me to sleep with The Dispossessed. I don’t know that I will ever find the time for The Left Hand of Darkness even though Le Guin fans and many academicians would hang me from my toes for insisting that I am not in a big hurry to push The Left Hand of Darkness up my priority list. As Tom Clancy noted, becoming a writer plays hell with your reading time. I cannot hope to read everything I am told is a “must read” by every sector of the field. In point of fact, I’ve got some David Drake books waiting at home, which will get read long before another Le Guin book. And that’s not a dig on Le Guin, it’s just a fact: Le Guin didn’t snag me with The Dispossessed and there are plenty of other authors putting hooks into the water. It might be a long time — maybe never? — before I swim back Le Guin’s way.

Am I therefore deficient? As a fan? As an author?

Le Guin devotees might emphatically state, “Yes!” Academics probably would too. Many younger fans would say, “Who?”

Again, there is not enough time to read it all — no, not even everything that we’re told by the cognoscenti is a “must read.”

I somehow suspect Le Guin’s place in the sun won’t dissolve just because I kick the bucket without reading another of her books. Just as her place in the sun is not magnified even if I spend the next two years reading nothing but Le Guin books, back to back.

Will Le Guin be read beyond her death? Undoubtedly. Especially in the academic world. Is any fan made “less than” for not reading Le Guin? Is any author made “less than” for not reading Le Guin? I don’t think so, provided that said fan or author at least is aware of Le Guin’s place on the map of SF/F. It’s a very prominent place, and her influence goes far. You don’t have to read Le Guin to see it. Just as you don’t have to read Arthur C. Clarke to understand how much of an impact he had on the field, too. His works may not be flying off the shelves at this point in history, but his name — like Isaac Asimov’s — is stamped deeply into the hull of science fiction. And that’s not going to go away. New fans and authors may pass their fingers over the marks in the metal — read the name, the citations, and titles of the works — and grasp that this was an important man, who contributed greatly to the establishment of SF/F in the days when SF/F was still emergent as a distinctive literary enterprise.

Thus, the third way acknowledges the men and women who built the field, without saddling new fans and authors with the unpleasant chore of having to push up-hill through thousands of books and thousands of stories, all the while never even catching up to what’s current.

Like any culture argument, this one won’t ever be settled. Nor am I trying to have a last word. I am merely thinking about my own experience — as someone who came in very “late” and who can’t mass-consume every single piece of the field, dating back to the 1920s or beyond, much less everything generated in 2015 alone. It’s too much.

But with some curiosity and a little research, I was able to make myself aware of the field’s major literary players. At least up through 1994. New players have since emerged. Some of them probably are (*ahem*) for lack of a better term, overhyped. But many are not. I think Andy Weir’s book is liable to go down as having been a very significant landmark in the SF/F of the new century — just like Hugh Howey’s Wool universe, and of course J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Past a certain point, audience penetration becomes self-sustaining and self-expanding. “Viral” is the term most people under thirty would use today.

Knowing the new landmarks, as well as the old, is (in my opinion) a happy chore that shouldn’t consume a lot of time. Just pay attention to what’s going on. Read the things that look genuinely interesting to you. And don’t feel bad if you can’t get to everything. Nobody can. Nobody has, for many decades. And nobody will. Let it not be your fault, as long as you’ve seen the forest for the trees.

110 Comments

Filed under BRAD R. TORGERSEN, POLIT(ICK!)S, SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY

110 responses to “Classics: a third way

  1. One doesn’t have to have read the classics to appreciate SF, no. But I think a lack of broad reading in the classics hurts new authors, because when you understand how bricks are made it changes your expectations of the house built from them. When you remember B/W TV, radio, and multi-party phone lines, it gives you a different understanding of today’s cellphones. Not everyone can ride in a horse-drawn carriage and thus gain a fuller perspective on the automobile… but they could at least visit a farm and learn what kind of work went into it. That’s what contempt of classics really is — refusal to visit the farm because they just KNOW it’ll be icky. Mistaking “I don’t like doing farm work” (a fair judgment) for “ick, you touched manure!”

    I don’t care for Lord of the Rings myself, I found most of it a long dull slog (and I read it back in my faraway youth when I’d read anything with words), but I’d be poorer if I’d not read it. (Shannara is the almost-identical story, but done simpler and more direct.) But I agree that LOTR was the gateway through which the ancient tales entered the modern fantasy world. Without it, what we know as fantasy today might never have developed, or might still be in its infancy, or might have found a different gateway and become something else entirely (possibly going nowhere until Harry Potter, and thereby having urban fantasy instead of elves as its pinch point).

    I’d contend Weir’s book isn’t really SF at all, or even anything special; it’s rather ordinary desert-island-survival fic that happens to be set on Mars. But it’s accessible even to non-SF fans, much as Harry Potter and Star Wars were in their time (in fact I’d say in its day, SW was responsible for 90% of the people who became fans, far overshadowing that previous gateway, Star Trek — but making ST’s continuation and SF’s expansion possible by generating the necessary volume of fans to be commercially viable). So, yeah, I think it will be a major doorway into SF for a generation who otherwise might never stick their nose into our tent.

    These entry points get hyped and overhyped, precisely because so many people pour in through them.

    BTW, I too am rather bored by most of LeGuin, but I love Rocannan’s World; that book makes me cry.

    • scott2harrison

      Oddly enough Star Wars did not make be an SF fan (I already was one), but did make me a symphonic music fan.

      • For me, the best part of the whole Star Wars thing was/is… the Cantina scene music. Somewhere I have a recording that was that, but distorted. I do not know if intentionally or accidental tape stretch, but it actually still works with the defects. I did enjoy some of the results of Star Wars: The various TV shows, especially parodies, that were created in its wake were what I found of interest.

        Every once in a while I feel a bit.. like Rudolph and Hermey in the Land of Misfit Toys – misfit even in a land of misfits. As “Of course I’m a {geel, nerd, whatever} I’m into {games, Star Wars, Tolkein}” and I am… an outsider again? There are times a Labyrinthine (no, it’s NOT a poison gas from WWI, really) lifestyle begins to look appealing rather than appalling.

  2. As Tolkien himself noted in his famous poem “The Lord of the Rings/Is one of those things,” it’s one of those books with a reader response that is drastically different, and where there is no convincing anyone to move his opinion either way. I’ve noted elsewhere that it seems to me that it could even be a neurological wiring thing, much like the famous division between “people who find geometry easy” (and often have found all previous math classes impossible, because most school math is algebra) versus “people who find algebra and symbol manipulation easy.” So it’s essentially a rabbit hole. I am sorry for people who don’t like LOTR, but it’s not a fault in them (or in me); it’s just a useful taste indicator.

    Moving along… the major question about classics and fandom is probably “reading speed.” If you can only read a book a week, or a book a month, you don’t need to bother your head about most of the classics (unless you just happen to run across them and like them). Why? Because you really don’t have time to explore the field, and anything you do read is pretty much a matter of chance. Pick what you like and what is accessible, and you will be using your reading time wisely.

    OTOH, if you are a kid with a reading speed that goes through short novels in an hour and longer novels in a couple more, you can explore the heck out of the entire length and breadth of the field. During junior high and high school, I probably managed to read somewhere between three to five books every day. Obviously they weren’t all sf/f, or even all fiction, and I did reread quite a lot; but you can get a pretty good handle on the field if you read 500-600 books a year for several years in a row.

    The big hurdle today is that many school and public libraries are pitiful shells, and most English teachers no longer have the huge stash of paperbacks for classroom borrowing. But obviously the Internet allows one to legally borrow or free-read quite a lot. (We will hope that kids aren’t forced to read pirated books to feed their fannish needs.)

    • P.S. I advocate reading widely – but not in the spirit of “Eat your peas and carrots.” Rather, I feel that reading voraciously and omnivorously is the natural way for any kid or beginning fan to read. It’s also a good thing for a writer to do, because it fills up his toolbox and lets him steal with more confidence. 🙂

      That said, there is absolutely nothing stopping someone with little knowledge of the field from writing a darned good fantasy or sf novel without reading even a single book of that sort. Sui generis sf and fantasy was the usual way to do things, back in the day, so I’m hardly going to forbid people from doing it. Such folks would benefit from a genre-savvy editor, in many cases, but a strong story and characters will make readers ignore almost any “fault,” including reinvention of the wheel.

    • Robin Munn

      We will hope that kids aren’t forced to read pirated books to feed their fannish needs.

      My guess is that many will be, but that once they become employed adults, they’ll buy copies of many of their favorite stories from their childhoods. But some of them will have gotten used to the idea that “Oh, it’s okay to just download stories for free without paying the author”, and so the lack of good books in libraries will end up costing future authors real money. But not all of them will be permanent pirates — as we mentioned in a discussion right here last month.

      … Ah, found it: https://madgeniusclub.com/2015/10/09/what-piracy-affects-authors/

  3. It’s one thing to be merely aware of the classics and how they shaped where we are today. The big problem is that there are those out there who want everyone to be MISINFORMED about the classics because they want to RE-shape where we are today into something more amenable to their bizarre politics. It’s not enough that people haven’t read Heinlein in favor of newer stuff, no, they insist that Heinlein be burned down, plowed under, and the earth salted so that no-one would ever even have the curiosity to see what he was about.

    We don’t have to fight to make people read the classics (Although their classic status should cause at least a few to check them out). What we have to fight is the attempt to destroy the classics and replace them with a false history.

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      Indeed, it’s easy to lie about books when people haven’t read them. That’s how we get absurdities like claiming Heinlein was sexist/racist. I avoided Heinlein’s stuff for a long time because I made the mistake of trusting the naysayers.

      • And of course, the naysayers have never read them either, they base their opinions on the words of other naysayers, who in turn have not read the books, and so on.

        • You have to have some comprehension of social history to appreciate the older books. They may read as sexist or racist today, when they were daringly forward at the time they were written.

          • Christopher M. Chupik

            Or, as the old cliché goes, you gotta know where you’ve been so you can know where you’re going.

          • Uncle Lar

            One of my personal pet “crimes against humanity” is the way Twain is rejected or heavily edited due to his use of the “N” word. This is exactly the sort of behavior that dooms us to repetition of the worst of history from a refusal to acknowledge it ever happened.

            • It’s why my kids came away not liking Twain. Turns out they read a heavily edited version of Tom Sawyer in school, and of a good bit more than the “n” word.

              OTOH, I remember surprise at finding the copy of Robinson Crusoe in my school library was heavily edited.

              • The Count of Monte Cristo version used in school is about one-third of the book. Leaves out the runaway lesbian subplot and the drugs, but also most of what is funny dialogue and most of what makes sense of the women characters.

            • Okay, so you touched a nerve. I made it a point to read the kids Uncle Remus stories. There’s a good bit of opposition to Joel Chandler Harris today, both because he doesn’t portray the acceptive narrative and his use of dialect. Yet those dialects were spoken by blacks and whites, and he recorded folklore not recorded anywhere else.

              • Chris Nelson

                We used to have a “Song of the South” album with stories about Brer Rabbit that we listened to at school.

          • Right, and understanding the past is the LAST thing they want people to do. It undermines their false narrative.

      • Reality Observer

        Which is why I read all of the Hugo nominees, including reserving the Leckie at the library to read the entire thing. And why I trust the Puppies far more than the Kickers.

        (Thinking back dispassionately on it – the saddest thing, as opposed to the most enraging thing, was the Heuvelt win. The man has potential as a writer there – but is now unlikely to ever get the concept of willing suspension of disbelief, as he is an “award winner” for the sad piece of dreck he turned out.)

        • Chris Nelson

          I checked out “Ancillary Justice” from the library and was so unimpressed with the quality of writing and story, I considered perpetually renewing it to save other readers from the disappointment. But I realize that somewhere in my town there’s some poor SJW that may find a couple of evenings confirmation in it’s message, so I returned it with the rest of the books. Plus I’m not one to censure what people read, even though the library wasted money on it, they have multitudes of better offerings from other authors.

    • It’s even possible to “lie” (for SJW values of “lie” = Are merely mistaken about. Because that happens.) about the classics after you read them once, as a young man or a kid.

      In other words I kept stopping this essay to roll my eyes and say, “Oh, Brad Torgerson, No.” We don’t have the time to go through all the errors in describing The Lord of the Rings, but Mr. Torgersen is charter member in your “passing on the misinformation” club. Just as one example: that the LOTR is a mish-mash of European traditional folklore.

      Which doesn’t change the point he raised: Is having read Tolkien a requirement for reading and loving fantasy? Of course not. Ditto liking The Lord of the Rings. But the former is a requirement for sounding off on the field, and the latter for sounding off on the kind of fantasy J.R.R. Tolkien wrote. But it show how a steady diet of misinformation about the canon can be make even the most well-meaning of honest men a tool in the campaign to eradicate “Dead White Men” (and any living noncompliant types) from everyone’s literary landscape.

      The problem is the usual suspects in the disinform the next generation for fun (aka prestige) and profit are trapped in binary thinking: either you know of, have read and like the canon and have good taste… or you don’t. (If only they had the same kind of interest in non-binary thinking that didn’t just involve folks’ fiddly bits–!) There are three axis:

      1. Your taste is not terribly well-informed or just ignorant vs. knowledgeable.
      2. Your taste is BAD: you prefer Cheese-toes to actual cheese and poison to clean water vs. sound or wholesome.
      3. Your taste is other or eclectic.

      It requires a lot of wise judgment to make any of those claims about other people’s reading habits. I suspect that anyone doing so (The Closing of the American Mind’s Bloom is a possibility) needs a depth and breadth of knowledge not available to most would-be critics.

      On the other hand as self-evaluation (I use it for music all the time) it’s not a bad idea. Because the last thing you want to be is the kind of person who can’t eat elf-food because the only thing he can tolerate is raw fish and goblin-flesh.

      There’s a reason public buildings play Mozart to keep teenage thugs from hanging outside their buildings.

      • There is something about this timeless fantasy that even young children can enjoy, and the part that my siblings and I enjoyed the most in LOTR were the Bombadil Chapters. We didn’t know or care about Joseph Campbell when my Dad sang Tom’s songs in his booking voice. Yes, there is a reason it was left out of the Peter Jackson’s movies- too much insistence on The Hero’s Journey. They tried to add cozy back in The Hobbit in order to milk the cash cow to death, but failed pretty badly…and that’s because L.R.R.T. knew something they don’t know. Tom Bambadil is way cooler than sleigh rabbits and a goblin super-villian subplot.

  4. When I was 16 years old, there were a couple of sick days (home from school) where I was able to read a whole novel in one 24-hour period. In the first case, it was one of the Eddings books. Castle of Wizardry if I am not mistaken? In the second case, it was Prime Directive — a Star Trek novel by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens. Neither of them were terrifically thick books. Certainly not of the “doorstop” variety, like Stephen King’s The Stand. That particular book took me about two weeks, reading in one or two hour blocks, once or twice a day.

    • That’s more the speed I use while listening to audiobooks. There’s a lot of pleasure in realizing that tomorrow morning, there will still be a good chunk of book still to go!

      (And again, of course there’s no “right” reading speed. A naturally fast pace doesn’t destroy the reading experience by “skimming,” and a naturally slow pace isn’t dawdling or losing track of the story. People can learn, make memories, and experience the same kind of absorption in a story at any speed which is reasonable for the individual reader. I emphasize this, because there have been some incredibly stupid education “studies” about reading speed. Neurolinguistics people spend a lot of time trying to shoot this stuff down.)

      • Reality Observer

        Yup. The only time to worry about someone’s reading speed is if there is some underlying problem making it difficult. Usually, those can only be dealt with by teaching some compensating techniques.

    • Holly

      Reading speed–I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy in a 24 hour period–my freshman year in college. I also ate, slept, and practiced several hours. Judging from the reactions of my dorm mates, I’m the abnormal reader here.
      To me, however, the solution to my problem is obvious: you need to write faster so I can read more!
      For someone like me to say, well, everyone ought to read the classics. You ought to have some Verne, a side of Wells, some Shakespeare, some Tolkien, well, it doesn’t even occur to me that I just outlined something more than a week or so of reading. My thirteen-year-old reads slowly from my perspective: about five novels a week outside of his school reading.
      So maybe there’s some talking past each other. Cedar suggested audio books to me yesterday, and maybe that’s a good solution for some folks. I’m not sure movies are because they have to be so abridged to fit the time block.
      I tell the kids that books are a conversation over time between people who are dead and people who live now, and if you don’t get the early parts of the conversation you just walked into (The Gospels, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) you won’t understand entire phrases of the current speaker (The Deathly Hallows). But the conversation does keep getting longer and longer.

      • I”m not as fast as I used to be (long dry spell = slower speed due to lack of practice, and life reduced my reading time), but I was similar. The Lord of the Rings took me two days, or three if they were school days. There are classics I haven’t read, and classics that I couldn’t get through, but with most of them I could at least see why they were classics.

  5. I’m largely in agreement, but wanted to note that Clarke is flying off the shelf by comparison to some of our modern “masters”. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, published in 1953, has a Kindle Sales Rank of #1,114. Redshirts, by John Scalzi, published 2012, has a Kindle Sales Rank of #9,918. Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Mercy, published October 2015 is sitting at #1,198. In other words, a one month old Leckie book is getting its ass kicked by a sixty year old Clarke book. That’s just embarrassing.

    As I’ve noted before, it’s not old white guys who are buying this stuff. The old white guys bought their copies of Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke decades ago.

    • The classics are competitive. The people that have most loudly repudiated them are unlikely to stand the test of time to near the same degree as the books and authors they sneer at.

    • I think Childhood’s End gets some push from English classes about sf, and possibly also from atheist reading lists. Mostly, though, it’s because a lot of people love that book to pieces at a certain time in their lives. (Incomprehensible to me personally, but I know several people personally who love love love Childhood’s End. And it is definitely an influential classic.)

    • Childhood’s End is sometimes assigned in high school/college English classes. And it is being turned into a TV series on Syfy airing in a month. Both of these give it a high ranking. And price is a factor too. The Kindle edition is $6 while Ancillary Mercy is $10. If we compare similar priced Arthur C Clarke books, Against the Fall of Night is #49,001, Sands of Mars is #38,060, Islands in the Sky is #41,179. And while Rendezvous with Rama does better at #1,655, that ebook is currently selling for $2. So, no embarrassment. A frequently assigned classroom book with a new tv series will sell better than a book costing 2/3rds more without these extra readers.

  6. Mauser: I hear you, and I consider myself almost violently opposed to the cultural Stalinist school that says, “We must erase the classics from memory, because they are (insert badness here).” For those particular individuals — and they seem to be multiplying in number — I reserve a defiant hand-and-arm gesture typically punctuated by a middle finger.

    • “the Four Olds must go”

      We know how that went. I had a teacher who survived the Cultural Revolution and told us a little of what he went through because he was an “intellectual.” He survived and escaped to the US. A lot of people he knew didn’t.

      • Mary

        I recommend When Huai Flowers Bloom: Stories of the Cultural Revolution by Shu Jiang Lu because it’s not only about the time, but about stories.

    • That’s because they’ve got it set up now so that there’s “Power” in victimhood, and they all want to grab on to some, no matter how tenuous that grasp might be. Your response is really the only appropriate one.

    • It is *literally* Stalinist. Go to Youtube and check out videos of former KGB agent Yuri Bezmenov. Most enlightening.

  7. From Led Zeppelin to Lady Gaga? Brad, Brad, Brad . . . you’ve been in the sandbox too long. The goats have got to you!

    😮

    • That’s nothing. I contend that punk rock is directly descended from classical music, in both sound and structure.

      Don’t think so? Crank that Beethoven as loud as it will go!!

      • Actually, as an old fan of Walter Murphy, I don’t think so. OTOH, listen to Mountain and heavy metal groups, then compare them to punk.

        • Holly

          Metal is the Russians. Just listen to what it sounds like when Appocalyptica plays it.

          And Reziac, “The reason why we analyze Bach instead of rock is because Bach uses in eight measures the same chord progression that takes an entire rock song. Do you really want to copy that?” Dan Bukvich, my freshman music theory teacher.

    • Joe in PNG

      Well, a person who named themselves after a Queen song would probably be familiar with Led Zep.

      • Chris Nelson

        Actually Lady GaGa has a metric shit-ton of real talent, it’s her “act” that makes money in todays world. And if you investigate some of the newer musicians like Elle King, they have a background in blues, rock and country.

  8. If our current ‘hot’ talents want to admit they cannot compete in an open market with a bunch of Deasd White Men (and quite a few Women), let them.

  9. morrigan508

    so it appears I’m dink (submarine term, delinquent in qualifications) as I’ve never read Bunch, or Cole, and have never seen A Reckoning For Kings, much less read it. OK on my reading list it will go.

  10. sabrinachase

    It’s a dynamic tension thing. I don’t believe there should be a checklist someone needs to complete before being allowed to write (or read) anything new, but it would be nice to perhaps have a list of things, and authors doing the things, so we don’t have the Handmaid’s Tale charmer saying “its not science fiction because this could *really happen!*” and the “nobody has ever done ambiguous gender/nonbinary/hot alien tentacle sex before!” or “women sf writers have always been stifled!”. Because it gets old. You don’t have to read Asimov (and I love him like an elderly uncle who maybe forgets he’s told the same story about chasing Pancho Villa with Pershing a few too many times) to know about the Three Laws of Robotics.

    Further, there are some touchstones that simply haven’t been improved on to date. I maintain that H. Beam Piper’s “Omnilingual” is the best SF short story ever. (throws down gauntlet). Does that mean it will always be? I hope not. Read it, and try to do even better. Piper would approve.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      “H. Beam Piper’s “Omnilingual” is the best SF short story ever.”

      Don’t know about that but it is an excellent one concerning the problems of translating a dead language and how you might actually learn it. [Smile]

    • Reality Observer

      I shall not take up the challenge, Sabrina – I am not worthy. IMHO, except for the tragic workings of fate, we would be talking about the “Big FOUR” these days, not just three.

      I vacillate between “Omnilingual,” “All You Zombies,” “Nightfall,” and “The City and the Stars” as the best short stories ever (pretty much depends on which one I’ve read last…). Note that the last two I absolutely mean the originals, not the watered down “novelizations.”

      One novel that I almost never see mentioned, and absolutely fascinated me, was Clarke’s “Glide Path.” That is one “non-classic” from the classic era that I would recommend to anyone (it’s on KULL, for those with subs).

      • It makes Brad’s point that I’ve only read “Nightfall” and “All You Zombies” of the 4 you mention. I’ll have to get the other 2. Still, making a short list of the best SF short stories is just fodder for disagreement, but in the spirit of exposing others to good, perhaps unread, fiction, I would point to Heinlein’s “Lifeline” not just because it’s beautifully written, but because it demonstrates the full societal implications of a single idea/invention as well as basic truths about society and the academy of experts. In the same vein is Bixby’s “It’s a Good Life”–you can always watch the Twilight Zone adaptation. BTW if you haven’t seen it, and probably you haven’t, I recommend “The Man from Earth” –Bixby’s final meditation on being immortal, finished on his deathbed and lovingly put to film by his son.

        Bradbury was a unique figure who stands somewhat outside traditional streams of SF, and is perhaps less important to read to see the tropes and roots of the genre, but I would nominate “The Small Assassin” as the ultimate horror story, and the hauntingly beautiful and irrepressibly sad “There Will Come Soft Rains” as another story that should not be missed. The latter has the bonus of introducing the reader to Sara Teasdale.

        • For great, timeless, dead white male SF, you can’t beat Cordwainer Smith. “Scanners Live in Vain” and “Alpha Ralpa Boulevard” are too memorable ones.

          And I’ve been ripping off his title “western science is so wonderful!” for decades now.

    • ChuckC

      After looking up what it was, I realized I’d recently re-read Omnilingual. It’s in the World Turned Upside Down anthology, which does contain a lot of great classics. Pretty much every one of them had and has punch.

  11. Nathan

    I think there’s a difference between not enforcing a canon of works as classics on fans and the movement to essentially erase anything not written in this century as “too hard for the modern reader” that pops up again and again on io9 (Gawker delenda est) and Tor.com .

  12. Uncle Lar

    Brad, I would strongly urge you to add two more of Heinlein’s novels to your “to be read” list. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, and Time Enough For Love. Both will I guarantee bring tears to your eyes, or you have no soul.
    In fact, let me know what format you prefer and I’ll send them to you. Something to do in your copious free time over there. TEFL might be best as it’s really a very long collection of short stories tied together with a common thread.

  13. Luke

    Fie for shame.
    The movie adaptations of LotR were an abomination that missed the milieu. The exclusion of Tom Bombadil was only one example of many. (Starting with omitting the iconic poem. But rapidly degenerating to dwarf tossing, shield surfing, and using defensive walls for catapult ammunition.)
    Jackson put pretty images up on the screen, but deliberately divorced them from context. And I rather dislike him for that.

    As to the rest of it, I’m pretty easy going and don’t really care.
    With two exceptions:
    1: Don’t call Heinlein a fascist.
    2: If you’re running an RPG, have at least a passing familiarity with the dagum source material the game is drawing from.
    Violation of either will invoke an impassioned lecture.

    • I’ll leave the Lord of the Rings arguments to the kids. They have had Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit all nighters where they and their friends watch the movies with the books in hand. I think what shook out of the last one was that the movies concentrate on the visual because it’s a visual medium, while the books can go in depth on things that don’t translate well to the screen.

      • Reality Observer

        I’m cool with that observation, Kevin.

        The thing that annoyed me was that (IMHO), they ruined the impact of Theoden’s final speech before the Fields of Pelennor. Should have been done as well as Henry V’s “St. Crispin’s Day” by Ken Branagh – and it wasn’t.

      • Chris Nelson

        Most science fiction doesn’t translate well to the screen, it’s the nature of the literary interface.

      • They started well. Mr. Torgersen’s observation about being “true to the spirit” of the story was spot on to describe both the art direction and the music. Shoot, the 7th or so time I saw the first movie in the theater I “watched” it with my eyes closed.

        But the script-writers’ parochialism made a solid start with a few minor flaws go from bad to worse. We just got lucky that they cast an Arwen who was such a girl-girl that she turned out to be incapable of riding, shooting, or fencing (Pure Susan, no Lucy) or we would’ve got the abomination of female elven characterization that showed up in the Hobbit. Most of the great lines that remained in the movie did so because the actor playing Gandalf insisted on putting them in.

        Cut-off-from-their-shared-literary past moderns just don’t understand that different kinds of stories exist, and can be told. The relation of form and function. By the time we got to the Return of the King, some of the coolest parts of the book were lost, including the Faramir/Aragorn dynamic, the Denethor/Saruman parallels, and the scouring of the Shire.

  14. I suspect that what I enjoy about Science Fiction is not the same as what you (or any other random fan) enjoys about it. The field is both impossibly broad and irreducibly vague.

    What I get out of it (and try to put into my own work) is the sense of the uncanny, the feeling of entering a world with unknown (and possibly unknowable) rules. For me Science Fiction is the literature of the disturbing and unsettling.

    Consequently I consider my spiritual antecedents to be writers like Phillip Dick, Samuel Delany, William Burroughs, George Alec Effinger, Tanith Lee, Norman Spinrad, Harlan Ellison, and Kate Weilheilm–authors not likely to show up on most lists of Classic Sci Fi.

    I am not a fan of Star Wars or Star Trek (okay, I liked the original series, but I was a child then) and have finished very few epic fantasy novels (none that I can recall, actually, except for Michael Shea’s “Nifft The Lean”, if that one counts.)

    On the other hand, there are a great many readers–the majority, I suspect–who are looking for something completely different. Instead of seeking a universe that is dangerous and inexplicable, they are looking for something simple and safe. There are good guys and bad guys and the good guys always win.

    That’s going to lead to a completely different list of authors.

    • “Instead of seeking a universe that is dangerous and inexplicable, they are looking for something simple and safe. There are good guys and bad guys and the good guys always win.”

      Have you actually read Childhood’s End?

      • Yes, I have. Why do you ask? I didn’t mention that book at all.

        What I am saying is that there is a large degree of latitude in what is considered Science Fiction. I would not say to someone, “Oh, you liked the Transformers movies? Here, read VALIS–it’s science fiction, too.”

        I wouldn’t say that because although they are both considered science fiction, they are not at all the same genre. Even within the classics, there is a huge difference in the type of work. I don’t think you could really consider, say, “The Martian Chronicles”, “Dhalgren”, and “Starship Troopers” to all be the same genre–stylistically and thematically they are worlds apart.

        • Your description of unnuanced fiction where “the good guys always win” does not sound like anything I (or anyone else who has actually read it) would consider classic science fiction. Maybe the Lensman stuff. Maybe.

          It does, however, sound exactly like the cartoon parody the CHORFs trot out to denigrate the type of fiction the Puppies supposedly like.

          • Fair enough. That was an over-simplified description of works that I will admit to having little familiarity with. I’m not sure how one would categorize the philosophy of the Star Wars movies, for example, because I don’t remember enough of any of them to say for certain which ones I’ve seen.

            The point that I was trying to make (and I was trying to be non-judgmental) is that Science Fiction means too many different things to too many different people for there to be any general agreement as to what the classics of the genre are.

            The way that I define the genre is different than the way that any other fan defines the genre. I didn’t intend to imply that my definition is better than any other and I’m sorry that it came across that way.

            • Define classics as “anything written by someone who’s been dead for at least a couple generations” and the problem solves itself. If anyone still remembers it at that point, it’s a classic.

              Tho the other day I saw something by Jemisin called a “classic story” and that’s when I knew the term had been corrupted past use. 😦

  15. scott2harrison

    There is no need to get anyone to read the classics. They are classics because many many years after publication (sometimes over a century) people still want to read them. I contend that until a novel has been around for at least a quarter century, no-one can know that it is a classic (although they can know that it isn’t if it tanked).

    • I’m going to have to disagree. I think a lot of classics are only read because they’re taught in school. But they are taught in school because they are good books that can hold up to discussion and can be used by teachers to explain how good literature works.

  16. Steve Schaper

    Gathers firewood.

  17. I think the key phrase here is ‘have to.’

    No, you don’t ‘have to’ read anything in particular. Read what you want.
    Larry Correia on the classics addresses this quite well.

    http://monsterhunternation.com/2011/01/12/correia-on-the-classics/

    Something in the perversity of human nature responds to ‘have to’ with ‘make me’ and will fight tooth and nail as a result.

    But generally speaking what are considered classics are considered that for a reason. That reason is that people still read them and the stories keep being published. (see the Childhoods End reference above)

    For instance, I’ve never cared much for Shakespeare mainly because I find it such a chore to get through and because I HAD TO read it out loud in class. (Yes, I will hold onto a grudge like the precious jewel that it is.)

    I didn’t read the Robert Howard Conan stories until I was much older, mostly because I didn’t want to explain to my mom what the books with the half naked people on the covers are about. But I can appreciate their energy and imagination and can see why they are still popular.

    Reading the classics of science fiction and fantasy is generally a good thing because they are in general really good stories.

    However.

    When people telling me what stories to read and like and making grandiose claims about how everything that has come before is racist, sexist, thisist and thatist crap, then that perversity in my nature rises up and I get annoyed. Really annoyed.

  18. No offense, but that’s a lot of words to say different strokes for different folks. I seriously doubt you’ll find regular Mad Genius readers arguing that you must read the classics to be a fan. You’d have to insist fans never read the classics before you raise hackles. It’s that very insistence from other circles that has irked many of us.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      I’ve half a mind to look into Bradbury’s Martian stories. Not because I’m expecting it to hit my buttons, but because a guy I kinda know in real mentioned it as something he liked a couple of weeks back.

      (I was sort of talking around my story of having worn a Pat Buckman costume, and the guy doesn’t come across as a Kratman fan.)

      • Luke

        Do it. Good stories. You’ll most likely like them.

      • Some weather well; some don’t. FWIW, I consider Bradbury to be better than Hemingway in skill and range.

      • Holly

        Pretty sure the title of _The Martian_ is a straight up tribute to Bradbury. As sure as I can be without asking Mr. Weir. Just hits exactly the end of _The Martian Chronicles_.

      • Frank

        As a devout Bradbury fan, I’d recommend “Vintage Bradbury” over “The Martian Chronicles”. It gives a much broader view of his works. Several of his books like “Martian Chronicles” were pieced together because he had such a collection of short stories, but the publisher needed a book length manuscript. Tying the stories together was frequently an afterthought.

  19. Just a recommendation: The old SFWA Hall of Fame compendia edited by Robert Silverberg gave a great introduction to the “classic” short stories and novellas from about 1930 to 1965 (really from the pre-Nebula-Award era). For the most part these are page-turners full of clever ideas and imaginative visions with some stylistic high points. Part of the additional fun of reading them decades later is decoding their assumptions about technology and about what mattered, thereby recapturing the “feel” of, say, Cold War fears about nuclear war or 1940s concerns about automation compromising humanity’s independence. These things were printed in fat mass-market paperback form factor; I still have mine.

    An interesting column about the genesis and impact of the Hall of Fame volumes is here:
    https://www.kirkusreviews.com/features/sfwa-and-science-fiction-hall-fame-anthologies/

  20. “But a community requires common touchstones, and at least some degree of shared values.”

    Yes, it does. Which is, inter alia, what’s wrong with mystery / detective fiction, for example, as against the Golden Age. Without a certain base of common assumptions in readers and writer, “fair play” writing, all the little signals and clues, and the approved breaches or aversions of those tropes and rules, don’t work. I think this is seeping into SF/F increasingly, of course, and (of course) has been, for some time; but the situation is most evident and most ruinous in the mystery / detective story. (Probably neck and neck by now with ghost stories. As Susan Hill, I think, learned. M. R. James, nowadays, would simply not bother trying to carry on.)

    And what hits “genre fiction” today will inevitably topple fiction generally next week. And thus culture. But that’s Big History. Suffice it to say, a public, or a subsection of it (readers, say) thus Balkanized is heading for trouble.

  21. Reality Observer

    Doing some thinking on this, from two different directions.

    To be a fan of a genre (whether by reading, listening, or viewing really doesn’t matter), no, you absolutely do not need to read the classics of that genre.

    To be a writer in, or about, a genre or subgenre, though, you are handicapping yourself immensely by not reading and analyzing the classics. Classics are classics for the simple reason that their author(s) did far more things right, so far as appealing to their audience is concerned, than they did wrong.

    The Santayana quote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” has a corollary of “Those who know the past are able to repeat its successes.”

    • While I don’t disagree, there’s a nasty little secret with the classic The Great Gatsby. Apparently sales weren’t so hot until after it was picked up by lit classes. Which begs the question: Would it be considered a classic if it hadn’t become a fixture of high school lit?

      • Reality Observer

        Point to you, sir. I happened to enjoy the movie – the book was, kindly, “adequate.”

        Then, of course, there is the media issue. I have a serious nit with English Lit classes that have the hapless student read plays. Absolutely inappropriate. My kids will rewatch Branagh’s Henry V, for instance – it would probably take a bullwhip to make them read it, as I suffered through in college. I think that would obtain even for a “modernized language” version.

        • Chris Nelson

          Lord help all the children that will have to suffer through “Sister Carrie” in the spirit of reading the classics.

      • Randy P.

        I like Gatsby. It’s a great tragedy.

        Much more than something like Salinger’s turd.

  22. A writer can’t consciously and cleverly violate the rules and tropes of a Genre if he doesn’t know what they are.

  23. Christopher M. Chupik

    From the Vile File:

    “But, hmmm, if Brad gets that he is really still learning about how broad and expansive the genre is then is it really that hard to join the dots and see why setting himself up as a gatekeeper to an major SF award was a bad idea *regardless* of what he might think about ‘CHORFS’ etc.”

    How is Brad a “gatekeeper”?

    • Because he displaced THEIR Gatekeepers. In their minds, there always has to be a gatekeeper, and they’d much prefer he be one of theirs.

    • Chris Nelson

      Vile is the same source that actively promotes Delany multiple times a year without any disclosure of his true love while slamming everyone Puppy as a racist.

      I regard it as a place to get recommendations on what to read and watch by seeing whom they hate on. And avoiding most of what the denizens there fawn over.

    • Because the boys and girls over at File 770 don’t believe him when he says that he had no idea that the SPs would do so well, and don’t believe him when he says he had nothing to do with RP, and don’t believe him when he says he insisted that people read the works and decide for themselves.
      While the first two are arguable, the first because it is his own thoughts and the second because no one has seen his e-mail inbox, the third is obviously true.
      The reason they don’t get it is called “projection,” and it’s obnoxious.

    • Having discussed it with Larry, Sarah, and a few others, we were amazed at how well Sad Puppies 3 did during the nomination period — which merely drove home the point that it doesn’t take (or it didn’t take, prior to The Great War of 2015) a lot of nominators to get a work onto the final ballot. The quiet manipulators have relied (for years) on extremely low turnout (during the nomination period) and it’s been the quiet manipulators (and their fellow travelers) who have shrieked the loudest about the heinousness of the Sad Puppies campaigns.

  24. Ken J.

    Brad wrote: “Yet Star Wars not only saved the entirety of SF/F from oblivion….” Why do you think science fiction and fantasy were threatened in the mid-1970s?

    From my late-adolescent memories —
    In media SF, Star Trek was becoming ubiquitous through daily TV syndication in major markets. In books, perhaps nostalgia colors my views, but the mid-70s brings us (checks Hugo nominations):
    Rendezvous with Rama, Heinlein’s Time Enough For Love, lots of Larry Niven at his peak including The Mote In God’s Eye, lots of James Tiptree Jr. short fiction, The Dispossessed, The Forever War.

    Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, Robert Silverberg, Jack Vance, Roger Zelazny, all still going strong in the mid-1970s. The short fiction magazines still had life, and the original anthology business was booming. Book sales were strong enough that the publisher DAW was started in 1971 and the Del Rey imprint was started in 1977.

    Mid-1970s SF/F didn’t seem like a genre in need of saving.

    • Yes, and none other than Judy-Lynn del Rey was the greatest marketing force that print SF has ever seen. But even Judy’s total market would have been limited without Star Wars expanding that market by, oh, at least a thousand-fold. Yes, a great deal of amazing print SF/F came out of the 1970s, but prior to Star Wars nothing had yet made SF/F into a world-wide household phenomenon. Not even Star Trek did that — despite its success in syndication. In fact, Star Trek would have terminated permanently at the end of Season 3 without Star Wars causing enough general audience upswell to make Star Trek films profitable for Paramount. (Key word: profitable.)

      If Star Wars had never happened, I don’t think Star Trek would have gotten its second wind, nor do I think the total number of teen readers — the essential life blood of SF/F in any era — would have been there. SF/F in print would have remained a niche market which, while rich with history and quality writing, did not have the same kind of popular culture penetration it actually had in the 1980s, thanks to Star Wars opening doors in millions of homes all over the globe.

      And I think that popular culture penetration is what kept SF/F from slowly wandering off into academic oblivion — a fate (for print SF) that never really goes away, because SF/F can be experimented with in an almost unlimited fashion, leading to esotericism that pleases fewer and fewer readers.

      Now, would something else have done the same job, in the same time frame, if Star Wars had never existed? In the words of Carl Sagan . . . well, maybe.

      Gene Roddenberry was going around and around with Paramount, about his plans for picking up Star Trek again. What finally made Paramount pull the trigger (and finance a big movie) was the fact that Paramount was staring enviously at Fox and saying, “Why don’t we have something like that?” (referring to Star Wars.)

      Could Judy-Lynn have single-handedly forged the mass reader audience that developed in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s? Millions upon millions of copies sold? I do wonder. Del Rey was to the 1980s what TOR became in the 1990s, and more or less remains to this day — though even TOR is feeling the belt tightening (as the total market for print SF/F continues to shrink in the new century.)

      I am sure nobody in 1975 thought print SF/F needed to be rescued.

      But then, I am sure nobody thought Westerns would die out, either. And that’s a genre which used to thunder across the popular literary landscape in mighty herds. It’s since become a shadow of its former self. I think SF/F could have gone that way too — and it may yet.

  25. “Babe Ruth may have been a whoring, cigar-smoking, hard-partying son-of-a-bitch”

    You say this as though these are bad things.

    😛

  26. Frank

    Reading the “classics” because they’re classics can have it’s uses, but can leave newbies puzzled because what was new and original in a classic has now been trodden so many times in the things they’ve read that built on, or stole from–not saying that’s always a bad thing–the classics.

    Show “Citizen Kane” to any modern film lover, and he’ll probably think, “What’s the big deal?” because everything that Welles invented has been imitated so much that it’s just accepted practice.

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