Monday, December 13, 2010

how characters react to their environments

Lots of talk about genre fiction lately, by which I mean two people are saying words on the Internet about it. Charles Stross' harsh appraisal of steampunk is here, and Beth Woodward's defense of genre fiction as a whole is here. Stross joins in the drum-beating about steampunk not doing enough to acknowledge how nasty the Victorian era was for people who weren't white property owners (a topic which the steampunk community itself is fiercely discussing) and Woodward makes the case that genre fiction and proper big-L literature are blurring together much more than either side of the argument cares to admit.

I like both posts - Stross (who designed the lovely image in the left hand corner up there) is a little harsh on the steampunk community (and doesn't mention that Blaylock's work is as ignorant of class as the stuff that followed him), but it is easy to get caught up in the trimmings of the genre and ignore the nastiness behind it, which is often more interesting than yet another story about brass-goggled inventors killing zombies from the observation deck of their airship. That grit is something my work needs to be more attentive about, actually, so Stross' griping served as a good reminder. Of course, his own' work, namely the Laundry series, has its own issues with trope satisfaction (I thought The Jennifer Morgue was underwhelming because it took the government techie protagonist I liked and turned him into a less interesting James Bond homage), but Stross is a solid writer and generally knows what he's trying to do, so I trust his observations most of the time.

Woodward's post provides a welcome return volley against the hordes of whiners who use literature as a pedestal for their own perceived enlightenment. Her strongest point is that the best of genre fiction and big-L Literature should be compared, instead of holding up carefully-chosen Nobel Prizewinners to sci-fi/fantasy authors picked at random and declaring the superiority of the former. She's also absolutely right about genre fiction and literature holding hands a lot these days (providing examples like The Road and Never Let Me Go), and reminding us that even shitty pop-fiction proves that there's still a market for fiction itself, which may very well broaden as e-reader technology takes off. Granted, access to that market requires a huge marketing engine and other intangibles that are by no means easy to get or fairly distributed, but that's not the argument she was trying to make.

Interesting reading, for sure. But enough dawdling - back to work!