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Assumptions of superiority

So today I was reading an article on how publishing and its sensitivity readers, and its “non cultural appropriation” editors have stifled literary creativity and turned storytelling into a hellish post-apocalyptic landscape in which nothing grows, and certainly not imagination or feeling.

I was reading and sort of nodding along — sort of? well, they seem to think that traditional publishing is the only game in town, when they decided it was time to establish their intellectual superiority.

The policers of imagination try to slot fiction writers into two categories, in terms of adult writing. You are either a genre writer or a literary writer. Genre writing is long on tropes. Your brain cools out, as do your emotions. It’s word-based comfort food. People might get splattered on sidewalks in a crime thriller, but you know going in that they’re going to get splatted on sidewalks. There is little risk, because there is little surprise.

Say what the actual hell?  With bells on and a little sprinkle of WTF?

I know literature, you know, the things that are supposed to be immortal.  That was half of my study degree in college (the other half was literary) and besides, my dad has never heard a book being acclaimed as a literary masterpiece and not bought it, and it was in the unwritten rules of the household that I must read every book that came into the house.  Yes, even my brother’s engineering books.  What? They were there, they were printed, and therefore they must be read.

So… the literature I read in college for various courses was full of risk, surprise and interest, and it stimulated both brain and emotions, right?

Are you kidding me?  I enjoyed Shakespeare, Jane Austen and weirdly Theodor Fontane.  I think very well of Jorge Luis Borges, but honestly I can’t remember if I read him in school, or under the desk, with Heinlein, Bradbury, Phil Dick and my other guilty pleasures.

Most of the more recent “literature” we “enjoyed” was pat and dead as a three day flounder.  Predictable and devoid of risk as Sunday evening with the grandparents.  No, wait, given my grandparents, that would be a pulse-pounding evening in comparison.  At least on one side there would be cats, and on the other, he might start cussing you out in Latin.

Look, most twentieth century literature we were forced to read — particularly late 20th century literature — was written to be “what university professors like.”  A dash of unearned superiority, a bit of social critique and always, always, every character being a worthless bastard or bitch, not worth the paper they were described on.  Oh, and the entire thing always ended in a morass of bitterness and disillusionment.

For pulse-pounding emotions and risk, I’d take the gothic romances I read in the early nineties when we were so broke my only source of reading was the free bookcases outside bookstores.  I mean, you knew the hero was mysterious and shady, the heroine scared, and there would be a HEA, but what the heck, sometimes the formula varied a little.  And sometimes the characters were interesting or at least tolerable.

Back when I was going through literature courses I cured every professor who hit me with the “genre is just bad literature” by introducing them to Bradbury then hitting them with Phillip K. Dick while they were down.  Not one retained their opinion of genre, and some of them I left converted to science fiction.  (You could trace my progress through Portuguese educational institutions by the teachers/professors who not only read but rhapsodized over science fiction.

If it were today, I’d expose them to Terry Pratchett.  And challenge them to find the predictable in that.

Sure, science fiction, mystery, all of it uses tropes. In fact, if you aspire to writing in genre, you must first learn the tropes.  It’s akin to knowing the map when you’re going to a certain city.  That way you know what’s in the readers’ heads.  It doesn’t mean you can only walk certain streets, or only in one direction.  And literary fiction has its own conventions, as I said above, it seems to consist of unpleasant people, humdrum and yet subtly depressing situations, and “Social critique” that consists of flattering the opinions of 99.9% of college professors.

It’s what you do within the boundaries that is important.  Note the example they give above is of a thriller.  It’s one of the more predictable genres. So is Romance.  They’re also the bestselling genres.  I suspect partly because they’re predictable.  Is it brainless entertainment?  To an extent.  I’ve read examples of both where I was suddenly startled with an amazing insight or an unexpected development.  But yeah, they’re the equivalent of sitcoms on television. You know everything will be solved and can usually foretell the steps.  So?  People like entertainment.

On the other hand to take those as the examples of everything in genre is more than a little crazy.  More than anything, as practiced by masters, when genre uses tropes its often to subtly subvert them or expand them.  See Jim Butcher’s character development in Dresden, pretty much all of the characters.  Or, say, well, Pratchett’s dwarves and trolls.  Standard characters?  Sure.  But that’s where the fun begins, and the surprises are rife.

As for emotions, I’m one of those people who read for an emotional ride.  I’ve got more of one from genre books than from just about any literary work you care to name.

Also, frankly, Shakespeare was genre.  The plays he wrote were within well defined genres, with their tropes.  Heck, we know for a fact that stuff like Romeo and Juliet had been written before, in some form, by other hands, but it was given its final, definitive form by Shakespeare.

And now he’s literature with a capital “intellectual” because through the centuries he continued to portray the essential in humans, and to speak to generations living in times he could never imagine.

Is there any reason current practitioners of genre literature won’t be similarly honored in the future?  Nah.  More than likely one or more of them will.  (Quite possibly Dame Christie, who spoke to me quite clearly across cultures and time.)

The article laments the death of litfic by a thousand cuts of political correctness.  But he’s confused.  If there is to be such a thing as literature, the kind of literature that will stand the test of time, it won’t come from traditionally published litfic.  (Which as Kris Rusch has pointed repeatedly, is really just another genre.)

It will come from indie, and likely it will come from genre.

Why from genre?  Because it allows us to stretch reality.  Sure, we stretch reality in ways defined by genre.  Any little old lady around whom as many murders happened as Christie’s Miss Marple would probably be a murderer herself.  And yeah, we do know werewolves and dragons don’t exist.  And if we ever go to space, it’s not likely to look like any space opera, or even like our hard science fiction.

But you know, ladies and gentlemen, Shakespeare didn’t write about two merchants in London arguing over which bear pit was the best; or playwrights in a vain search for the best fried fish.  No, he wrote about those hot blooded Italian families (trope) with their daggers (trope) and poisons (trope.)  And within those parameters he managed to sketch characters that are immortal and alive, and whose passions and reverses still affect us.

Pratchett’s work lives and will live as well because of the fantasy tropes and how he plays with them as despite them.  And Christie’s work benefits from exposing people to the shock of Malice Domestic.

The best of genre will live.  I promise you that.  Already it is far more enjoyed than so called “litfic” something people more often brag about reading than read.

What is already dead will never be immortal.

Yes, traditional publishers are also importing political correctness and lack of imagination into traditional genre.  But it doesn’t matter.  if it dies there, it will flower anew in indie.

We live in very exciting times, when new forms of literature, and new ways to reach the public are being forged.

Future generations will envy us.  And they’ll quite forget litfic, which got zombified while still living.

Now go and write and read and leave questions of literary worth to the future.  Because the future will have its own opinion.

122 Comments
  1. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

    Well, there was a story that ended with the “punch line” of “You gave Shakespeare an “F” for your class on Shakespeare’s plays”. 😈

    May 2, 2018
    • The Immortal Bard by Isaac Asimov.

      “God ha’ mercy! What cannot be racked from words in five centuries? One could wring, methinks, a flood from a damp clout!”

      May 2, 2018
    • Amusingly, I am reminded of the two professors/academics, who were told by the blind peer reviewers that 1) the first hadn’t referenced herself enough and needed to do it more; and the 2nd was ‘plagiarizing from’ … himself.

      May 3, 2018
      • There is some old comedy movie – possibly from the 80’s – of a rich man going back to college because he finally wants a degree, or his son is not studying diligently enough because daddy didn’t and he thinks studying with his son might push him to finish his studies, or something like that. And he has severe problems, some of which he solves or tries to solve by money because he is filthy rich.

        And one has to do with writing an essay about something by, I think it was Kurt Vonnegut. So, he cheats. He hires Kurt Vonnegut to write it.

        And his teacher totally trashes it because he thinks the writer, assumed to be the overage student, understands nothing about Vonnegut’s work. 😀

        I don’t remember much of anything else about the movie, and I don’t think it was particularly good, but that certainly stuck to my mind. Both a cliche and something which has become a cliche because it rings so true.

        May 3, 2018
        • “Back to School” with Rodney Dangerfield? I remember almost nothing about the movie, but IIRC, the premise is the same.

          May 3, 2018
        • As Mark mentioned, “Back to School”, and Kurt played himself. The scene where Rodney is chewing him out about it and cancelling the cheque was hilarious. 🙂

          May 3, 2018
        • Bahahahahaha yeah, that’s the sort of scenario that’d stick in one’s mind…

          May 3, 2018
  2. BobtheRegisterredFool #

    At first I misread that last sentence as LitRPG, not litfic, and I was prepared to object.

    May 2, 2018
  3. Way I look at it, I don’t write literature. I write stories that I want to read and want to share with other people. Do I want to be a little bit famous? Of course I do. I would love to buy my own mountain, have book tours, and other fun things. Those would be nice. Mostly though I write to write and not to become “literature”.
    School English literature drove me from a lot of genres for a good reason. Boring, pathetic, and hopeless. I am striving for hope, excitement, and other things that should uplift and cheer. Of course those are the stories I enjoy reading. Go figure.

    May 2, 2018
    • Odd, or Odd, how many of us start writing “mere genre” because we write what we want to read. And then discover that other people like it too.

      May 2, 2018
    • Soul-killing.

      With malice aforethought.

      May 2, 2018
    • That, and I want to teach people a little history, engage their interest and perhaps, if I am really engaging with the story, inflame their enthusiasm for history.
      Historical fiction is a gateway drug to a deeper interest in it, after all.

      May 2, 2018
  4. Clayton W. #

    When I was a child, all the other parents were trying to get their children to read the “right” books. My mom gave me whatever I would read. She figured if I enjoyed reading, I would eventually read the ‘right’ books. And I largely did. I actually enjoyed reading many of the classics when in high-school, because I was good at reading and had lots of practice in imagining the scenes and leaarning the characters. I still love me a lot of ‘trash’ science fiction, however. It lets me dream of a world that is better, or I could suceed, or just dream.

    May 2, 2018
    • When I was young my parents were happy that I actually started reading, they weren’t too concerned with what I read. Which explains me reading several books that were probably above my level. I was reading books that were supposed to be for 4th and 5th graders when I was in late 2nd and 3rd grade. I found the books “at my level” too easy and too short.

      Interestingly, I somehow missed most of the so called classics in school, and since we didn’t have copies around the house, I am only now starting to read some of them.

      May 2, 2018
      • I locked the racier things in a glass front bookcase, when I realized Robert was reading just before he turned 3. Stuff like the biography of Julius Caesar. By the time Marshall was 5 I realized what I’d really done is give them an incentive to lock pick and read forbidden books.

        May 2, 2018
        • 😀 Most of the stuff I, er borrowed, was from my brother’s shelf so nothing was racy, just a bit over my level. (Russ was 27 months my senior) I remember reading Citizen of the Galaxy around 12. (Star Beast was about a year before that.) Tarzan and John Carter were around that time as well.

          May 2, 2018
          • I went through every single book on the parental bookshelves when I was about nine and a half – although if the first couple of chapters looked boring, I dropped it and went to the next book. Dad’s physical anthro textbooks were interesting enough – with all the pictures, and diagrams of skeletons. Read a couple of chapters of Lady Chatterley’s Lover – boooorring! (Dropped it before getting to the naughty bits, which just possibly might have gone over my head anyway.) Skimmed a couple of other novels, didn’t get much from them – but adored Osbert Lanchester’s “Here of all Places” because of the pictures.

            May 2, 2018
            • “I went through every single book on the parental bookshelves when I was about nine and a half”

              My parents’ bookshelves were… a wee bit too big for that. I come by my hoarding honestly. (And my speed of reading through long practice—I’ve been tracking this year on Goodreads and I’m apparently about 30 books a month.) I also dislike the use of “adult” as “sexed up”—some of the books were “adult” as in “not so interesting to younger types.” I bounced off Startide Rising when I was a teenager and actually offended my mom by liking it when I was older—until I explained to her that she’d pushed it on me when I was a bit too young.

              Loved Watership Down when I was eight, though. I think I must have read it a dozen times in close succession.

              May 7, 2018
          • My brother was 9+ years older. Some of the stuff I read standing by his bedside, ready to drop it in the drawer and run to my room was… uh… let’s say it gave me very weird ideas of the world.

            May 2, 2018
        • I wasn’t reading at an early age. According to my mother, I was slow to talk and slow to start reading. But I made up for it once I got started. 🙂

          My parents bought me a 1st grade reader to “practice” between 1st and 2nd grade. Somewhere in the middle of 2nd grade something clicked and I started to like reading. (that something was Russ, btw.) I went from Random House early reader books to The Black Stallion series in about a year. By the time I finished 3rd grade I had moved into the top reading group and had finished all of the Black Stallion books plus The Great Dane Thor, Black Beauty, anything by J.W. Lippincott, and was moving on to the Hardy Boys. By 5th grade I was starting to read Heinlein. According to my 5th grade teacher (God Bless that man, he had a small library in his class. And it was he who gave me the dream to write) I was reading at mid to upper 7th grade level.

          May 2, 2018
          • I was diagnosed as learning disabled, they sent me into the special ed teacher…and his solution was to point me at a wall full of a bunch of books, and let me pick any of them.

            Turns out that basically I’ve got a rotten memory under stress, so I flubbed a few letters (the only one I can remember is that I’d blank on ‘T’. Never with my family, just with the teacher, who was a prize winning jerk.) and they “knew” I was stupid, and then there was a policy that you had to graduate to reading each level of book…..

            By the time Mr. Brown finished the first month, I was reading at fifth grade level. He told them to let me read anything I wanted in the library, and my mom apparently “had words” when she found out there WAS a restriction on what I could check out before that. At one point I checked out a Stephen King novel (one of the Dark Tower ones), got about a chapter or two in, decided it was both boring and scary and informed my mother of that when she noticed it in my backpack and very casually asked if she could borrow it. (That tactic backfired, hard, in high school– I got her hooked on Drizzt.)

            May 2, 2018
            • I’ve mentioned before I don’t remember learning to read; my parents say I was reading before I was a year old, and reading encyclopedias (and apparently, understanding them) at 2 (ah, asking parents at breakfast about if they did what was necessary to induce fertilization of Mom’s ova to produce me… That was apparently very memorable.)

              This proved a little problematic when it came to teaching my kids to read, but I am happy that son overcame his initial ‘but it’s boring…’ to ‘oooh, dragon books’… to complaining when he reached the end of a series and ‘augh, where’s the next book?!’

              Oh, on a tangential note: I was waiting in a clinic waiting room yesterday and the news was talking about how there are proposals to ban children from playing at school, before class starts. Apparently, they are too ‘hyped up’ to ‘settle down for class’ and there were the usual noises about ‘safety concerns’ and then complaints that ‘parents were dropping them off earlier and earlier.’ Gee, watch obesity rates soar, then blame the parents for ‘their children not being physically active’ and blame the food they’re eating again…

              May 3, 2018
              • *sigh*

                I know from my experiments with delaying school that they settle down best after between half an hour and 45 minutes of play; if they’re having a slow morning, they can linger over breakfast instead…but then lessons start half an hour earlier.

                Five bucks says that the “hyped up” kids would’ve been dang near asleep otherwise.

                May 3, 2018
        • Zsuzsa #

          I may have to keep that particular child-rearing technique in mind. You never know when it might be useful to know how to pick locks : – )

          May 2, 2018
  5. If your emotions are “cooling out” during genera reading, ur doon it wrong.

    May 2, 2018
    • Right? What the heck does that even mean?

      May 2, 2018
      • I think it means they read really, really bad examples.

        ….since “Bridge to Terabithia” was promoted to me as “you’ll like this, we’re reading a fantasy book next,” and it’s a solid challenge on if that book is more depressing or predictable, that would make sense…..

        May 2, 2018
        • That book would have been fairly fun if it didn’t merely end in misery toward the end.

          May 2, 2018
          • I found it dull because it sounded like when adults tried to describe the kind of games my siblings and I played– sort of like when TV shows show someone in an MMO by sticking the actor in their character’s gear. But not as fun. And you knew something horrible was going to happen because there wasn’t a point to the story, otherwise– they wouldn’t do a story where things ended by the POV character recruiting someone new in, it just didn’t have that vibe. I don’t know how to describe it, other than “everything sucks, here’s a hint of sunlight, k now everything sucks even more.”

            May 2, 2018
            • Zsuzsa #

              “I found it dull because it sounded like when adults tried to describe the kind of games my siblings and I played.”

              That’s a good way of describing it. I remember thinking when I read it that Terabithia was really Leslie’s game and Jesse just kind of went along with it. Since the book was from Jesse’s point of view, that meant that every time they were talking about Terabithia, there was this aura of “isn’t this stupid?” from the book.

              Really that book needs a warning on the front: “THIS IS NOT A FANTASY NOVEL. THIS IS ONE OF THOSE BORING/DEPRESSING COMING-OF-AGE BOOKS THAT YOUR TEACHERS WILL PRESS ON YOU TO CRUSH ANY JOY IN YOUR LIFE.”

              May 2, 2018
              • Joe in PNG #

                It’s bad enough they pushed books where the poor dog dies.

                May 2, 2018
                • Evenstar #

                  Where the Red Fern Grows.

                  May 3, 2018
  6. Quite possibly Dame Christie, who spoke to me quite clearly across cultures and time.

    Oh, gosh, The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side. I didn’t “get” the setting as far as having a clue of what was normal, but that story grabbed me by the throat and dragged me along. I could see it happening.

    May 2, 2018
    • Try The Hollow. It’s one of my favorites. Also The Moving Finger.

      May 2, 2018
      • For something totally different from lots of her mysteries try The Man in the Brown Suit. I love it still.

        May 2, 2018
        • TonyT #

          BK (before kids), I managed to read almost all of Christie’s books. The Moving Finger and The Man In The Brown Suit are two of my favorites.

          IIRC, Christie wrote The Man In The Brown Suit very quickly and never cared for it.

          May 3, 2018
    • That was one of the few Christie novels where I twigged to the motive before the reveal. Let me just say that I know something that few of my generation do, and why it would be such a big deal.

      May 7, 2018
      • Ditto; mine because where we lived at the time, it was a serious hazard.

        I totally didn’t see HOW it was managed, until shown– and then it was perfectly sensible.

        An awesome example of “how to do it.”

        May 8, 2018
  7. > A dash of unearned superiority, a bit of social critique and always, always, every character being a worthless bastard or bitch, not worth the paper they were described on.

    But they’ll never worthless in an interesting way. The cold and distant parents that the protagonist agonizes about endlessly will just be mundane low-grade assholes. They won’t be serial killers, or Soviet sleeper agents, or…

    > Oh, and the entire thing always ended in a morass of bitterness and disillusionment.

    All to the soundtrack of softly mooing NPR announcers.

    May 2, 2018
    • Please don’t equate NPR announcers to cows. The cows tend to resent it. 😛

      May 2, 2018
    • THIS.

      May 2, 2018
    • The villain in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 was an incredibly mundane kind of evil… and one of my favorite villains in any media.

      I think it might be the difference between someone who’s self-centered because the author believes the world is cruel and cold and people are just bad for no reason, and someone who has, without apology, literally decided he’s the only worthwhile thing in the universe, and what might follow from that.

      (Because we’ve all–I think–met that person. Making them larger than life is entertaining because you know people who would do the same if they could.)

      May 2, 2018
  8. Read the link, and this is the summation that does it for me: “But, eventually: this system is going to fall. Because no one wants any of this garbage. This may be where imagination comes to die.”

    There is, right now, a conflagration in the Twitterverse because a White girl dared to wear a Chinese dress to prom. https://pjmedia.com/instapundit/295463/

    Thousands of SJWs scolded her. But then this happened:
    http://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/2144207/qipao-us-prom-wins-support-china-after-internet-backlash
    Thumbs up from a tsunami of Chinese people appreciating her dress.

    Point being, the publishing industry as represented by this story is trying to appease a group of mentally ill grievance-seeking assholes. These are people who will swarm a high school girl over a prom dress picture. You can’t appease that mob. It cannot be done.

    But you can IGNORE them and continue doing what you want. They’re quick to screech on Twitter, but who actually cares a tinker’s damn about what happens on Twitter?

    May 2, 2018
    • Yep. They are not sane people.

      May 2, 2018
      • Clearly, right?

        Next thing then, what kind of business spends hard-earned profit trying to appease lunatics? One that is circling the bowl of insolvency and ruin, I would venture.

        I saw Infinity War last night. If anyone wants to see the difference between a company focused on the right things and another one focused on the wrong things, just compare Infinity War with Justice League. Marvel movie vs DC movie. That’s as stark as it gets. (Oh, and if you haven’t seen Infinity War yet, avoid all spoilers until you do. It’ll be a lot more fun.)

        To do the same thing in comics, you have to do a time warp. 1980s Marvel vs anything after about 2000s Marvel.

        In science fiction/fantasy books, really, about the only fun thing out there IMHO is Monster Hunter International, Neal Asher’s Polity series, Ringos various series (he needs to write faster, that’s my only complaint there,) this Sarah Hoyt character who keeps threatening to release a Monster Hunter book, maybe a few other shining lanterns in the sea of dreck that’s being pushed out the doors of the Big Five.

        I’m not a good gauge of quality anymore, as I frigging well stopped reading three years ago due to every f-ing thing I picked up being the same as everything else. I decided I would have to finally get to it and write what I want to read, because not many others are. (I know, I say this all the time, but really, its true. And it hacks me off immensely.)

        May 2, 2018
        • Brett Baker #

          John G. Hemry?

          May 4, 2018
        • I just burned through the entire Dresden Files in two big chunks (interlibrary loan.) That’s fun. I also rather like Seanan McGuire’s two urban fantasy series, October Daye and InCryptid. All three of those series involve kicking ass and taking names—the last one sometimes even does so in high heels. Or roller skates.

          May 7, 2018
          • I read it the week I was recovering from surgery. Dresden I mean. Fun. Now I WANT the next.

            May 8, 2018
      • Twitter has made it possible for a relatively tiny number of people to make a huge impact, way beyond their numbers. The people taking advantage of this seem to largely be the basement sub-dweller types, because they have time on their hands.

        Like phantom, I, too, follow comics. A major campaign was waged against one of the few comics pros who is openly conservative, with hundreds of negative tweets accusing him of the usual. Only it turned out that it was just a few people, but each was tweeting many times per day. But just by keeping the lie in play, over and over, these few people were able to give it credence.

        May 2, 2018
        • Remember when “openly gay” was a big thing? Yeah, the good ol’ days…

          May 2, 2018
        • Joe in PNG #

          In his classic “From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor”, Jerry Femina noted he could rule advertising just by having a handful of old ladies write multiple “I’m offended” letters.
          Of course that was back in the early 70’s.

          May 3, 2018
    • Ah, thank you. Now I know what that was about – I can’t follow up every article about the SJW outrages du jour, so I had no idea.

      It always amuses me when the Left tells us all about how horrible our culture is – and then forbids us from “appropriating” from our “betters.”

      Culture – good or bad – is always appropriation. Supposed “Western” culture is an amalgam of appropriations. Greek, Roman, Germanic, some Nordic (all of which were mish-mashes of appropriations themselves; I once spent some enjoyable hours with a book that attempted to identify all of the different strains in “Classic Greek Culture” (they probably missed some, and of course only went to the first level)).

      May 2, 2018
  9. Zsuzsa #

    Somewhat of a side point, but I’d say that part of the reason why the “literary” crowd tends to think of genre fiction as inferior literary fiction is that some of it is. I’m sure all of us have run across the “Abbess Phone Home” trope, where you have something that’s a standard literary piece with some random twist thrown in at the end in order to make it sci-fi. I’ve also seen it a lot in mystery: technically, there was a murder near the beginning, and yeah, it’ll get solved by the end, but no one really cares about that. Really, it’s a “slice-of-life” novel with the murder thrown in so that it could be sold as mystery.

    So, given that apparently it works for the “literary” writers to take their failed pieces, tack on some genre bits, and sell them to the genre publishers, I can’t really blame them for thinking genre is just inferior literature. What I don’t quite get is why the genre gatekeepers and presumably at least some of the readers put up with it.

    May 2, 2018
    • Probably because for so long there was so little choice. And we humans are eternal optimists. “Surely it gets better on the next page.” “There has to be a mystery novel in here somewhere!”

      May 2, 2018
      • I actually read the first one of those novels thinking that EXACTLY. “These must be deeply laid clues” Yeah.

        May 2, 2018
      • I read one of those, but what I was thinking is “There MUST be pony in here somewhere!”

        May 7, 2018
    • Yeah, I came across one of those slice of life being sold under mystery. BUT a) they’re a tiny proportion. b) not terribly successful b and large.

      May 2, 2018
      • I don’t know what the “Abbess Phone Home” trope is. And I probably really should because I wrote a book that I labeled on the front cover — A novel with a little murder — because I didn’t know what else to call it. So probably terrible but at least honest.

        May 2, 2018
        • Zsuzsa #

          It comes from a somewhat infamous short story that has been described (I’ve never seen the original) as a story about life in a Medieval abbey, then at the end it’s revealed that the abbess is an alien. This comes out of nowhere, isn’t foreshadowed at all, and adds nothing to the earlier story. It’s historical fiction with the “twist” tacked on so that it could be sold as sci-fi.

          In general, it’s used to describe stories where the sci-fi elements are tacked on and could be easily removed without effecting anything. I’ve personally taken to using it for other genres as well, such as mystery or romance, where the genre elements are typically there but feel like an after thought for both the author and the characters.

          May 2, 2018
          • Ahh. Thanks. I did do a little better than that….

            May 3, 2018
          • Oh, I know one of those. It was up for a Hugo (naturally) several years back, and was not a bad story—but all the fantastical elements were so tacked on that I got to the last page and was flabbergasted that nothing showed up until the end.

            Contrast that with Pamela Dean’s novel Tam Lin, which on first reading seems to have the fantastic elements coming out of nowhere, but on the second reading, you realize that they were woven in so well that you simply didn’t notice them the first time. It’s college. College is weird.

            May 7, 2018
  10. I tried reading the “Zombie Lit” article. Then I started skimming it. Then the author got the Monty Python reference wrong – it’s the Black Knight who has his legs cut out from under him, not the Knights Who Say Ni – and I stopped reading it. Whatever else you can say about us genre authors, we make sure our pop culture references are right!

    May 2, 2018
    • That’s about as bad as calling Gene Wilder’s character in Blazzing Saddles Lone Starr.

      May 2, 2018
      • *gets the giggles*

        For a moment I misread that as “BraveStarr.”

        Which is less accurate, but I got a kick out of it.

        May 2, 2018
  11. wolfwalker #

    My 2 cents worth: Like Zen, the more you try to write “literature” the more you will fail, because “literature” is not something you can do on purpose. It’s something that a work _becomes_ when it adds up to more than the sum of its parts, in a certain and specific way that I can’t really put into words. I can only say that IMHO very few works of any kind, in any genre, ever manage it.

    However, be it noted that what is “literature” is an opinion, and just ’cause Person A calls a certain book “literature” doesn’t mean Person B is wrong to say it’s a dreadful hack job, a complete waste of paper and ink and reading time.

    May 2, 2018
    • You tried that one too, did you? 🙂 I didn’t like it the second time I tried to slog through it, either.

      May 2, 2018
    • Zsuzsa #

      I’ll disagree. I’ve always thought that “art” was an opinion, but I have a firm definition for literature: anything that’s still being read voluntarily 100 years or more after its publication. If something has continued to speak to people for that long after the author first wrote it, I think there’s something worthwhile in it, even if it isn’t to my personal taste.

      May 2, 2018
      • I like this one– it recognizes Chesterton and Sawyers. 🙂

        (K, few years early on Wimsey, but they’re not going to stop selling in five years.)

        May 2, 2018
      • It’s a good definition.

        May 7, 2018
  12. I have rarely, almost never, enjoyed a classic as much as the best some sci-fi authors, obviously RAH, but also less famous series like Leo Kowalski’s Cross Time Engineer series or Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat novels. You can enjoy those books without STUDYING them, like you must to appreciate Shakespeare or Melville. Methinks p’raps this is why professor types pooh-pooh them. Trying to maintain some sort of job security. Heaven forfend we understand and enjoy some book without the guidance of our tenured betters!

    May 2, 2018
    • Leo Kowalski’s by which you mean Leo Frankowki?

      May 2, 2018
      • My memory fails me. 🙂 Yes, Leo Frankowski. Unpardonable mistake for a man once married to a Polish woman. 😦

        May 2, 2018
        • LOL. He was one of the people who brought me back to SF.

          May 2, 2018
          • I immensely enjoyed his Conrad Starguard series, and it ignited a love of the much ignored to this day history of the Eastern European conflict with the invading Mongols, which I actively devour to this day.

            In my WIP, one of the MCs is a Blackwater-ish private security firm guy whose operatives call themselves the “Mongols” because of the terror that survives to this day in the ME due to the way they took apart Baghdad, then the flower of the Abbasid Islamic Empire, in 1258. By most accounts, that city never recovered its former eminence.

            Had you asked me earlier today, I would have said Dan Carlin’s podcast “The Wrath of the Khans” was the genesis of that idea, but now I realize Frankowski was in fact the man who I borrowed the idea from. Leo planted the seed, Carlin fertilized it. I am inspired by (steal from) only the very best. 🙂

            May 2, 2018
    • Zsuzsa #

      I don’t know about Melville, but Shakespeare at least I don’t think needs to be studied. You can, if you want to look at the poetic language and the larger themes and what it all says about the Elizabethan view of the world. Or, if you just want sex and violence and fart jokes, that’s okay too; they’re there. Shakespeare would have been happy to take your ticket money either way.

      May 2, 2018
      • Zsuzsa, I must disagree. Take an average sophomore in high school. S/He has no earthly idea what a “fardel” is, or knows what “contumely” means, or gets half of Willie’s mythological, historical, or literary references. Who the hell ever heard of “Queen Mab” before they read R&J? Elizabethan English is completely beyond their ken. Intelligent adults find that verbiage heavy sledding on first read-through, decipherable only with constant referral to foot and endnotes.

        May 2, 2018
        • I followed him just fine and so did most of my class when we were reading out loud (one of the few times I approved of that particular trick). Better when he was being performed, but that’s because (shock!) he wrote PLAYS. No, he doesn’t need to be studied to be understood and enjoyed. His plays, by and large, just need to be treated like plays not novels.

          May 2, 2018
          • It may be that you and Sarah’s classmates were able to enjoy Shakespeare at first sight. I will first mention that the readers of this blog are hardly typical folk to draw conclusions about the general population. I find it worth noting, Wyrdbard, that you encountered him in a classroom setting. I had only a few of his plays in a formal classroom setting. The rest of the works I read on my own, but by then was “used” to reading Elizabethan English.

            A further observation I’ll make is this: why do you think translators/publishers take the time/energy/ink/pages to so heavily footnote his works?

            Modern SF/Fantasy spends much time on “worldbuilding.” Willie does not. He wrote for an audience that would know the intricacies of British royal kinship, history, and succession law in an intuitive way that modern teens could not be expected to. Understanding plays like Richards II and III is much easier if you know this crap. Only the most extraordinary kid today does. The ones that understand this before they are exposed to W.S. are an astronomical rarity.

            Sarah, I TAUGHT Willie to ESL kids, in Colombia. (If we’re going to use anecdotal personal experience as argument) While much of the slapstick humor needs not even translation (think Trinculo and Caliban getting falling down drunk) their appreciation of the work as a whole was enhanced by some explanation. (What’s a blowfly? Why would he blow Ferdinand’s mouth?) The same class needed no such help to watch and enjoy The Avengers In English.

            Finally, I will say to both Wyrdbard and Sarah – you are both very extraordinary readers, and we cannot, as authors, take your experience or diligence as typical.

            May 2, 2018
            • Which is why I specified MY class mates. They were typical kids in a typical public school. I call bull on ‘they need the details’. The plays can be enjoyed. Folk may not get everything YOU think they should out of it, but they don’t need the detailed intricacies of background to appreciate the betrayal of Julius Ceasar or Hamlet. They may miss some things, but it is an exceptionally rare reader or viewer who catches everything.

              May 2, 2018
        • No. Just no. Look, I was ESL and enjoyed Shakespeare. You can deduce the meaning of the words you don’t know by the context. It’s fine.
          You were turned against it and convinced it must be studied by encountering it in an academic setting, is all.

          May 2, 2018
          • wolfwalker #

            “You can deduce the meaning of the words you don’t know by the context. ”

            Um, I beg to differ. The average reader/watcher can deduce some of the meanings of the words they don’t know by the context…. but they will have a lot of trouble getting puns, double entendres, references to contemporary events, or anything else that depends on knowing the lingual, historical, and cultural context in which the play was originally performed. They can also misinterpret things because words that had one meaning four hundred years ago have a different meaning today.

            At least, I did.

            May 3, 2018
            • Sure, took me years to get “the full Shakespeare” but he was enjoyable enough at a high level.

              May 3, 2018
      • Nope. You can just enjoy him.

        May 2, 2018
        • This. Admittedly I only know one other person who’s done anything of the sort and I married him, but I figured out Elizabethan English from reading King Arthur and His Knights (well, most of it)- as a third grader. Then in sixth grade voluntarily picked up our copy of Shakespeare and loved it. That was the same year I read Three Musketeers after watching the live-action Disney version.

          May 3, 2018
    • You may have to study Shakespeare if you encounter him in text only, but if you see a half-decent production, you’ll get him just fine without study. Elizabethan English is basically modern English with different slang.

      And if you see him performed by a superior company, like the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, you’ll even like the plays that are commonly thought of as dreck. I’m sorry that I didn’t get to see Pericles when they performed it a couple of years back, because they apparently made even the cynical reviewers like it. (And I’d love to see them do A Winter’s Tale, which has the immortal stage direction: “Exit, pursued by a bear.”)

      May 7, 2018
  13. Joe in PNG #

    I suspect that most current littatachure is written by bitter middle aged spinsters for other bitter middle aged spinsters (who replaced the bitter, drunken men of the previous generation).
    At least Hemingway had people machinggunning sharks in some of his books.

    May 2, 2018
    • You’ve heard the joke about that, right?

      “Literary authors tend to take to heart what they learned in creative writing class about ‘writing what they know,’ which is why there are so many books about middle-aged academics thinking about committing adultery with co-eds.”

      May 3, 2018
    • Christopher M. Chupik #

      I like to joke that literary fiction is stories of middle-aged academics cheating on their spouses, written by middle-aged academics.

      May 3, 2018
  14. TonyT #

    One thing to remember: a lot of the classics (such as Dickens, Austen, etc) were “best sellers” in their days, and Shakespeare was quite popular. They didn’t aspire to be professors or have their worked studied by academics.

    Many years ago, I snaffed up, from a used book store, a fascimile edition of the original, serialized NIcklaus Nickleby with all its ads and such – it’s fascinating.

    May 3, 2018
    • Joe in PNG #

      The “Illiad” is basically Mil SF, but with gods instead of aliens.

      May 3, 2018
      • Would that make it Mil Fantasy? It’s a novel thought. I never thought of it that way. Though I did read Dan Simmons’ Ilium/Olympos stuff.

        May 3, 2018
        • Oooh! Have you heard the one about the Divine Comedy being theology fan-fic?

          May 3, 2018
          • Makes sense. After all, you’ve got the Torah as the first book, the New Testament as “we liked it so much we wrote a sequel,” the Quran as a reboot, and The Book of Mormon as a follow-up book in the series that followers of the first three listed look at as non-canon.

            May 7, 2018
            • The Quran is fanfic. It’s one of those fanfics that misinterprets a lot of the previous works….

              May 8, 2018
              • How DARE you insult the Religion of Peace! (Do I really need to add /sarc tag?)

                May 8, 2018
                • If I don’t yet have a fatwa against me, it’s not for lack of trying.

                  May 8, 2018
                  • Do NOT insult the Allah! (pbuh.) I will be forced to report you to the Hugo nominating Poobahs!

                    May 8, 2018
        • It took me decades after I first learned that most of our “mythology” was taken from plays, that were put out during a regular contest (mentioned when learning about the Oedipus Cycle), and then drawing a connection to the question on if we had the faintest clue what the original mythology was. 🙂

          May 3, 2018
      • This.

        May 3, 2018
    • I’m pretty sure the Avengers complex of movies are going to be popular when the suit is as obviously bad special effects as, oh, the moving trees in the Wizard of Oz.

      May 3, 2018
  15. Synova #

    The author does go on to describe a twisted version of “literature” as well, so I think that he wasn’t describing his own opinion of genre but imagining the opinion of genre held by the publishing industry.

    The article itself seemed good and rather surprising in that the author seems clearly “left”, but I suppose that most people wake up when they find themselves reaping consequences of the thought police.

    I’m glad, though, that serious discussion is going on. It gives me hope.

    May 3, 2018
  16. Draven #

    if we go into space, its also not going to look like star trek… 😀

    May 4, 2018
    • Other than a lack of Bones, Spock and Bashir, I can live with that.

      May 4, 2018
      • Draven #

        I’m sorry, the more i think about it the more i am thinking “worst post-scarcity society EVAR”

        May 4, 2018
        • It’s a fun platform to jump off on mind-toys with– same way that there’s a difference between the books that are all about making shelter, finding food and using the toilet safely and they’re utterly different than the “having adventures” ones.

          May 5, 2018
      • Quite honestly though, the ‘no longer need money’ thing never seemed consistent to me. They had trade agreements throughout the Federation, I remember seeing ‘credits’ being mentioned, and I distinctly recall Uhura being given the tribble by the trader, as opposed to her buying it (and the trader was trying to sell the tribbles to the barman.) Barter trade is still trade, and it seemed trading for dilithium was common, among other things.

        And looking it up, yeah it wasn’t consistent.

        May 5, 2018
        • Definitely not consistent. 🙂 Didn’t help that half the writers were just taking existing stories and putting the characters into them– you know, just like fan fic. 😀

          May 5, 2018
      • Trouble with Tribbles

        On K-7, Spock berates Jones for removing tribbles from their natural predators and letting them over-breed. Jones counters with excuses and insists that, at six credits each, they’re making him money.

        May 5, 2018
        • From there: Federation Credit … and there is a link to a credit chip (I reckon it works like a debit card.)

          May 5, 2018
          • Draven #

            yes,but ‘The Trouble With Tribbles” was before Gene bought into that Great Bird of the Galaxy balderdash.

            May 5, 2018
        • I usually mentally explained it as being like how there wasn’t any religion in the Federation– anybody who wasn’t up for the whole “not actually able to make any money, but you also get everything free” deal bailed out. Would explain Worf’s human brother, too.

          May 5, 2018
          • And the Bajorans… I really found it hard to buy that a place that had infinite diversity in infinite combinations would kick out trade, money and religion full stop. I figured it would be not too different from the US in ideal.

            May 5, 2018
            • The Vulcans weren’t very logical, honestly– although it made sense to cling to “only the stuff that is objectively verifiable and follows directly” when you remember they’re basically two sneezes from going murder hobo.

              Makes sense that the humans that would tend to work with them the most would be the sort to not mention that.

              The Bajorans… their religion made little to no sense, although it sort of shook out a little in the ep where it was somewhat recast as India’s…argh, ranking thing, rather than “Catholicism in SPAAAAAACE.” Cultural? Yeah, that works, sort of; philosophical? Uh, whut?”

              May 5, 2018
              • BobtheRegisterredFool #

                I think the economic analysis where murder hobo was coined may have been contaminated with leftist economic thinking. ‘Think’ and ‘may have’ because my grounding in economics is only a little bit better than my grounding in theology.

                I also think there are two different ways you can interpret it. Per Moe Lane’s write up of the Angel of Hobos for In Nomine, I think now defunct, Hobos work, Bums steal. If we assume Hobo is correct, we have itinerant mercenaries taking work to get by, and the killing is for all practical purposes licit enough that murder is probably incorrect. If the murder is correct, they are bandits, heavily armed bums wandering around. One option and you can ignore steady state analysis as ill-relevant, because of boom town economics. (Fun to combine with something Great Depression like.) The other option, and maybe there is too much civil disorder for economics to really be described in terms of steady state factors.

                Anyway, so now I have an impression of Vulcans constantly fighting the urge to pack some supplies and go on an armed treasure hunt. Which is actually just what I needed for this mad creative writing project I’m attempting to make useable and file.

                May 5, 2018
                • Anyway, so now I have an impression of Vulcans constantly fighting the urge to pack some supplies and go on an armed treasure hunt.

                  ❤ ❤ ❤

                  May 5, 2018
                  • BobtheRegisterredFool #

                    “What then are the Romulans?”

                    “Chuuni Hoka Elves.”

                    “How do you explain canon then?”

                    “Their ‘government’ is simply their totalitarian cosplayers.”

                    “Don’t tell me. You think Paramount should be publishing Star Trek Isekai.”

                    “Look, it would not even be in Star Trek’s Top Ten most absurd.”

                    May 6, 2018
                    • It would be an utter goldmine.

                      And they already did it. *waves her X-Men meet TNG novel in the air*

                      Nightcrawler with Chief O’Brien? ❤ ❤ ❤

                      May 6, 2018
                    • Husband:
                      That is the Mirror Universe.”

                      May 6, 2018

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