Thu
Jan 21 2010 5:47pm

Literary and Speculative: A Rant

I used to get all upset that literary fiction journals so seldom publish speculative fiction. I’d decry their elitism as they rejected me (this helped me to divert attention from the fact that speculative fiction magazines didn’t want me either, but never mind). Scifi is good, too! You guys are jerks! I’d wail.

I’d get mad that magazines professing love for writers such as García-Márquez, Borges, Rushdie and Murakami would say in submission guidelines that they aren’t interested in genre fiction. Hypocritical bastards! I’d cry. Shakespeare wrote about ghosts and witches!

OK, to tell the truth, I still get upset.

But you know what? Screw that. Speculative fiction isn’t just “good, too.” I think speculative fiction can kick the crap out of literary fiction any day of the week. I consider the Philip K. Dick Award more important than the Pushcart Prize and one Hugo worth a dozen PEN/Faulkner Awards.

In the January/February Mother Jones, Ted Genoways, editor of Virginia Quarterly Review, wrote a short and somewhat baffling lament. He called this “The Death of Fiction?” Not the death of literary fiction journals subsidized by universities, which is the actual subject of the piece, but the death of fiction. How dire! The poor, unhappy man. Perhaps he should read more.

Fiction magazines, regardless of genre and editorial preferences, are seeing hard times. Tastes change, media change, life changes (and fiction doesn’t die). Mr. Genoways, referring to the terminal state of university press quarterlies, notes that the university money is drying up. “Once strongholds of literature and learned discussion in our country, university-based quarterlies have seen steadily declining subscriber bases since their heyday a half-century ago—and an even greater dent in their cultural relevance.”

He is right when he speaks of a loss of cultural relevance. Yet speculative fiction, I counter with total smugness, has not lost cultural relevance in the least. Why? Speculative fiction must dive into the adventure of philosophy and romance and passion and invention. Literary fiction, meanwhile, has become fixated on stilted renderings of suffering. Some might think adventure is escapist; I think adventure is vital.

At the end of the piece, he proposes his solution, of sorts. “To pull out of this tailspin, writers and their patrons both will have to make some necessary changes—and quick. With so many newspapers and magazines closing, with so many commercial publishers looking to nonprofit models, a few bold university presidents could save American literature, reshape journalism, and maybe even rescue public discourse from the cable shout shows and the blogosphere. At the same time, young writers will have to swear off navel-gazing in favor of an outward glance onto a wrecked and lovely world worthy and in need of the attention of intelligent, sensitive writers. I'm not calling for more pundits—God knows we've got plenty. I'm saying that writers need to venture out from under the protective wing of academia, to put themselves and their work on the line. Stop being so damned dainty and polite. Treat writing like your lifeblood instead of your livelihood. And for Christ's sake, write something we might want to read.”

Oh, yes, Ted. Bravo, you’ve really socked it to “them.”

Incidentally, if you are among the many intelligent, sensitive writers of speculative fiction with your eyes fixed on the microcosm and macrocosm instead of your navel, and you have never relied on academia for a damn thing and you’re not dainty in the least, well, don’t bother sending your work to the Virginia Quarterly Review. They’d be lucky to have you, but their submission guidelines state: “We are generally not interested in genre fiction (such as romance, science fiction or fantasy) unless it's of a high literary quality.”

That word “unless” indicates pretty clearly to me they feel that “high literary quality” is rare in genre fiction. I say to Mr. Genoways and editors like him, take your head out of your “unless.” Look, first of all, at where the ideas in fiction are still exciting, where prose still elicits passionate response and debate and wonder and impact. The answer is, and has been for a long time, genre fiction. Readers of genre fiction engage vigorously with the work, equally as a vehicle for philosophic inquiry and immersive pleasure.

Contrast this to what The Review of Contemporary Fiction (thank you, Wikipedia) said of The Ice Storm author Rick Moody: “Within Moody's fictional treatments, the reader is necessarily one step removed from experience. We are engaged within a tight fuselage-world of the rendered text, an intricate and highly original language system wherein lurks characters sustained by the exertion of words, like the music sustained by the exertion of piano keys. Indeed, Moody's characters are like word-chords whose considerable tribulations and emotional woundings are never the central fact of the text, but rather convincing casings, occasions to press ink on paper. Voices emerge—language projections that ignite from plot moments, from brutal experience set to the available music of language, characters finally as sonic events who inhabit a geography of print.”

I shudder to imagine on what planet that is a compliment. For a reader to be “one step removed from experience” means the writer failed. And the writer fails when he or she writes characters who are vessels for words instead of actual recipients and movers of story.

Of course, all fiction can be literary. All fiction can be speculative. All produce is organic. Right? But what Mr. Genoways is referring to is by no means the “Death of Fiction” but rather the slow asphyxiation of short literary fiction, a genre that refuses to acknowledge that it is a genre. It’s not just that all non-fantastical fiction is automatically literary fiction. No, indeed. Literary fiction is more particular than that. Gulping its own kool-aid, contemporary literary fiction poses in the mirror as the last bastion of the aforementioned high literary quality, while believing genre fiction to be the work of people who simply can’t handle the real world.

B.R. Meyers noted in his refreshingly biased screed, “A Readers Manifesto,” that “Today any accessible, fast-moving story written in unaffected prose is deemed to be ‘genre fiction’—at best an excellent ‘read’ or a ‘page turner,’ but never literature with a capital L. An author with a track record of blockbusters may find the publication of a new work treated like a pop-culture event, but most ‘genre’ novels are lucky to get an inch in the back pages of The New York Times Book Review. Everything written in self-conscious, writerly prose, on the other hand, is now considered to be ‘literary fiction’—not necessarily good literary fiction, mind you, but always worthier of respectful attention than even the best-written thriller or romance” (July/August 2001 Atlantic Monthly.) I must applaud the editors of the Atlantic for publishing what was largely a critique of their own fiction publishing standards.

I find literature imbued with the power of myth far more relevant than writing about the hope-choking everyday trundle of caricatured common people down a nihilistic slope into numbness. Literary fiction, as a genre, seems increasingly to mistake cynicism for humor, detail for meaning and mere acceptance for hope. I find nothing laudable in the fetishizing of despair, but literary fiction so often proposes that, to paraphrase Lorrie Moore, miserable people “are the only people here.” And as for dialogue, the characters in literary fiction stories sound a whole lot like authors, even when they’re supposed to be cowboys. The genre of literary fiction, at its worst, reduces the vast internal landscape of human emotion to begrudging acceptance of persistent constipation. At its best, contemporary literary fiction doesn’t make me want to punch the author in the mouth.

I doubt Mr. Genoways and his colleagues will look upon publishing speculative fiction as a means of injecting fresh ideas into their ossifying publications. I suspect they would take the position of Harold Bloom and see the dwindling of their magazines and the popularity of genre fiction as endemic of the so-called dumbing down of America. To this I say, find me anything at all dumbed down about Ursula K. LeGuin. Show me oafishness in Phil K. Dick. Show me how E. Annie Proulx understands human nature better than Ray Bradbury does.


When Jason Henninger isn’t reading, writing, juggling, cooking or raising evil genii, he works for Living Buddhism magazine in Santa Monica, CA.

80 comments
Ben O'Connell
1. benjamin_oc
I don't write this as a defense of everything Harold Bloom has ever said or written, because there's much with which I disagree. I don't think, however, Bloom is a good illustration of your point.

Yes, Bloom does believe that the popularity of some fiction indicates a dumbing down of our culture. He does not, however, use genre fiction as a whole to support this contention. To the contrary, he edited an entire book of scholarly essays on Ursula K. LeGuin's work, and he champions John Crowley whenever given the opportunity. Hell, Bloom's only novel, "The Flight to Lucifer," is a sequel to David Lindsay's proto-SF "A Voyage to Arcturus." He's also on record as an admirer of various crime/thriller writers.

Sure, you can find a lot snobbish about Bloom, but he's hardly as closed minded as the comments above make him sound.
SimonDH
2. SimonDH
I feel that you're obfuscating the arguments here (though I haven't yet had time to read the one article to which you refer). I consider 'good fiction' to occur in both literary and genre fiction. Good literary fiction gets noticed more often, but there's also a ton of bad literary fiction out there, in fact many literary authors who are occasionally good are often bad too. Take, for example, the Updikes, DeLillos, Roths, Atwoods, and Foster Wallaces of the world - all of whom I believe have written fantastic books, but all of whom have also had the privilege of writing utter trash but getting it published because of who they are. Similarly, genre fiction authors have both internal variation (consider George R. R. Martin's first 3 books of Song of Ice and Fire vs. the 4th book, or most of Robin Hobb's writing vs. her Soldier Son trilogy - these also exhibit my preferences though) and variation between authors - writers who write more consistently well and others who don't.

The question then becomes about whether the internal author variation and between author variation is equal across genre fiction writers and literary fiction writers. I'm unresolved on this. But, I can see why people invested in either side of the argument might argue for one or the other. That said, I enjoy both literary and genre fiction. So I get annoyed by the lit-fic people telling me genre fic is poor, and I also get annoyed by genre fic people arguing how hoity-toity lit-fic is. Oh well...

Thanks for bringing up the debate. I agree that it remains sad how little genre fic gets published in literary journals. We can continue to hope.
Jason Henninger
3. jasonhenninger
@1
Thank you for clarifying that. You're right, and I'd forgotten about Flight to Lucifer. Also, I was unaware of him editing a book on LeGuin. I think his various comments on King, Rowling and Lessing and others just irritate me so much I overlooked some other aspects of his work.

@2

Certainly all the genres have the variations you mention, and I'm painting things in broad strokes (big fat splatters, really).

When I read the Mother Jones article, my feeling was that Genoways is sooo close to correct--they do need bold writers and freedom from fear of academia--but he fails, I think, to see where this is already being done.

And that brought up this whole can of worms, years of anger at how genre fiction is treated as inherently inferior to literary fiction, while the literary fiction I read just felt more and more unnatural, mechanical and removed. I found it hard to care, no matter how verbally skillful the work was.

And then I see, for example, the energetic discussions surrounding the Wheel of Time or the many excellent reviews Jo Walton has written here, and I think, this (speculative fiction in general) is where the excitement is, this is where the discourse is vibrant.

And discussion is the key to it all, I think, to a genre living or dying, staying relevant or becoming irrelevant. If I can spark some discussion about it, I'm happy. Thanks for your reply!
SimonDH
4. Weijian
I think literary snobbery, like all forms of snobbery, comes from people unable to fathom how others can enjoy something they themselves can't; and so they do their best to try to make others feel bad for liking what they like. I should mention, both genre and literary camps are guilty of this. Just read good books, regardless of labels!
SimonDH
5. euphrosyne
I like the standalone image of Delany. He need not even invoke words (here, again); his reproachful glance is sufficient retort.
Jason Henninger
6. jasonhenninger
I forgot earlier to mention this tor.com post, for another perspective on literary fiction/ speculative fiction

http://www.tor.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=blog&id=6842
Jer Brown
7. designguybrown
Excuse my input for dumbing-down the conversation, as I have very little formal education in literary works, but:
As someone who works in another art, i deem the success of a work as something which ignites intense debate/discussion, a 'new' personal introspection, and a re-examination/re-assessment of the world. But beyond that, it is accessible on, excuse the cliche, many 'different levels' - some academic, some popular. It is these levels of understanding, insight, and personal 'access' that, to me, seem to indicate a profound depth to the story. I would submit that 'genre-fication' shouldn't really come into it. If a work can spawn university courses; debate in the papers, blogs, and around the water-cooler; and can continue that discussion over years, even generations, then it has achieved a certain greatness, even a certain innate profound complexity. One would think that this could only come to 'literary works', but often comes to many works which have not been described as literary. Perhaps, let us again define 'literary' and 'success' - and so from there proceed.
((excuse the poor grammar - this was a comment on-the-fly))
SimonDH
8. N. Mamatas
I believe it's been hours since similar sentiments have been expressed on the Internet.

The Virginia Quarterly Review had a theme issue on superhero fiction in 2008. I suspect you're simply not familiar with the journal, though it is one of the rare little magazines widely available in chain bookstores. You just decided, more or less arbitrarily, to attack that journal because of the article in MoJo. You don't seem to know very much about "literary fiction" at all, especially if you follow up your inaccurate remarks about Bloom and VQR with a silly remark about The Ice Storm (which has much to criticize) based on Wikipedia's cherry picking of a piece of a single review of the book! You topple right off the moral high ground there—first you fume that the editors of literary journals denounce genre without giving it a chance, and then you declare the author of a book you haven't read a failure based on a similar prejudice!

How ridiculous.

PS: Most genre fiction is indeed not of "high literary quality."

PPS: Most of Delany's fiction output for the last twenty-five years is more closely linked to literary fiction (particularly the transgressive tradition) than SF, so the talismanic use of his photo in this essay is pretty silly.
SimonDH
9. rachel v. swirsky
I dont think it's helpful to get into these "LITFIC IS BETTER THAN SPECFIC" / "NO, SPECFIC IS BETTER THAN LITFIC" wars. I get pretty tired of them from lit people. I don't know why I'm supposed to be more receptive to it from spec people.

I also have to agree with Nick that most genre fiction is not of "high literary quality," both because A) most of everything isn't of high literary quality, including most litfic, and because B) generally priorities between the genres differ. "High literary quality" is a kind of signaling about what kind of character- and language-work is expected, and the requirements for what constitutes well-rendered character and language are different in the lit world than in the spec one. On the other hand, the spec world tends to demand (in my opinion) better performance from its writers in terms of originality and concept creation.
SimonDH
10. euphrosyne
Wow, Nick, are you this grating in all your social interactions, or just in online forums? Every post I've ever seen of yours in response to another has been full of contempt and bile.

And considering Delany's fairly large body of critical work on SF, your final postscript misses the point. I suspect you're simply not familiar with his corpus, even though it's widely available and a portion has even been recently republished...
SimonDH
11. Harry Connolly
I haven't read this post, but the wikipedia entry on it pointed me to a third-party opinion that confirms my basic suspicions about it: this is yet another reverse-elitist spec up! lit down! burst of insecurity, and the arguments within are shallow and based more on prejudice than direct experience.

Thank you, Wikipedia!
SimonDH
12. AnnLeckie
I love spec. I read a lot of different things, but my first love was science fiction, and I still prefer the Fantastic.

The Readers Manifesto, linked above, irritated me immensely when I read it some weeks ago. Why does it have to be either/or? Why can't people like what they like without insisting one's own preference is superior to the jejune tastes of those other readers?

Most spec is not of high literary quality. Most "Lit" or "mainstream" or whatever you want to call it is not of high literary quality. As Rachel says, spec prioritizes different things. I happen to like that, but not everyone does. I'm cool with that.

And I don't worry too much about lit-fic folks who diss spec--I just mark them down as people I don't want to discuss books with. Same for spec people who diss lit-fic. Especially people in either category who diss entire swathes of writing that they have not read much of, or even read to start with.

And while Nick is often abrasive, he's also often right. I think he definitely got the point. If anyone missed his, it was a tremendous feat of agility, as Nick was, as usually, direct and...uh, pointed.
SimonDH
13. N. Mamatas
Every post I've ever seen of yours in response to another has been full of contempt and bile.


Perhaps you only read the silliest posts on this site. At any rate, if you want to know what I'm like in real life I suppose you'll have to invite me to dinner with your parents.

And considering Delany's fairly large body of critical work on SF, your final postscript misses the point.

Was the "rant" we are discussing somehow secretly about critical work?
SimonDH
14. euphrosyne
Perhaps you only read the silliest posts on this site.

Not just on this site.

At any rate, if you want to know what I'm like in real life I suppose you'll have to invite me to dinner with your parents.

You see? That, right there. BTW, this is "real life", even though you can't see my face--and you're the one acting like a child scoring points in a video game against imaginary opponents (and yet trying to infantilize me!).

Was the "rant" we are discussing somehow secretly about critical work?

Considering that Delany has repeatedly and explicitly addressed the "can SF be real fiction" question presented (if somewhat fumblingly) in the original post, the image seems entirely appropriate.

In fact, the only reason I bothered coming here from my RSS feed was that very image. I normally don't expect too much analytical depth from this blog, and I'm certain you don't either--which is why your abrasive triumphalism seems even more petty here than it might elsewhere.

I'm not defending the substance of the post--in fact, I might even support your response to it if I wouldn't feel like such a dick by association.
SimonDH
15. Leah Bobet
I've never understood the constant urge to play King of the Mountain with two different genres bearing two different readerships, hitting two different kinds of reading protocols for readers who care about two different modes of story. Or, to be accurate, more than two. There are a lot of readerships overlapping and moving and at work between the SFF and litfic genres. A lot of people read and write in both genres. I do.

It is actually pretty okay to like what you like and have other people like what they like without having to pee on each other over it. Just sayin'.
SimonDH
16. N. Mamatas
you're the one acting like a child scoring points in a video game against imaginary opponents (and yet trying to infantilize me!).

Adults don't eat dinner with their parents? Fascinating. But heck, Froso, if you're inviting me to a night out with just the two of us, how could I say no!

Considering that Delany has repeatedly and explicitly addressed the "can SF be real fiction" question presented (if somewhat fumblingly) in the original post, the image seems entirely appropriate.

Is that the post's claim? Is that Delany's claim? The OP pretty clearly says that his readerly pleasure WRT SF comes from it not being like "real fiction" (by which I can only assume you mean "literary fiction")— he says that he prefers adventure (it is "vital") to literary fiction's interest in "suffering", that literary fiction is "dainty" (this is a typical sort of near-homophobic slam one sees in attacks on literary fiction, or even some SF or horror that is not sufficiently awkwardly written), etc.

Delany himself is very interested in the notion of the paraliterary, which informs both his SF and his pornography. That is, he is interested at least in large part in what it not "literary" ("real" in your phrasing) and seems to have rather less interest in slamming literary journals because they want stuff that is "of high literary quality" than the OP who uses Delany's photo here as if it were an icon in my grandmother's kitchen.

Does Delany think SF is good? Sure! Some of it anyway. Me too. Big whoop. Pretty much anyone who writes SF thinks it's good. We could have stuck Jerry Pournelle's face up there instead. (His stuff has rather more adventure than Delany's—Delany's stuff has always been a bit, you know, "literary.")

I wouldn't feel like such a dick by association.

Well, perhaps you can manage to feel like that on your own. Good luck with it.
SimonDH
17. Leah Bobet
But heck, Froso, if you're inviting me to a night out with just the two of us, how could I say no!

Nick? Not cool, man. Really entirely uncool and over the line.

Speaking of pissing matches, I know I'd really prefer discussing the topic of the post, rather than watching people piss into each other's eyes over unrelated personal stuff. I'm sure there are others who feel the same.

Thank you.
SimonDH
18. Foxessa
If this particular cri de coeur has been issued a thousand times it surely has been ten times a thousand, and it's silly as well as boring. Nobody has ever come up with anything else new to say.

In the meantime the Times Literaru Supplement, the London Book Review, The New York Observer, ad infinitum write of and about genre with great admiration and respect several times a year.

Maybe you ought to read more outside your genre and see you're knocking at your own straw man , sir.
Eric Fleming
19. ErFeFl
Reading posts like this always reminds me of Nietzsche's discussion of ressentiment. Instead of taking rejection as a sign that you have to improve your craft, you do a bit of scapegoating and claim that those who rejected you are practicing or promoting an irrelevant and degenerate art. Don't do this. It looks weak.

I enjoy and read a lot of both genre fiction and what you call literary fiction. In a way I believe that making too much of the distinction between different genres, and between genre fiction and non-genre or literary fiction, doesn't do anybody any good. After all, these genres are not eternal categories of human expression. They are culturally and historically contingent (and oh yes, claiming that Shakespeare is genre, which you sorta suggest, is silly and anachronistic), are constantly in the process of transformation, and it seems to me that most of the interesting stuff being written today is by people who are actively subverting literary and genre conventions. Look at people like Brian Evenson, Michael Cisco, Russell Hoban, Adam Roberts, and Steve Erickson. However, it is also true that people who read and write science fiction are often looking for different things than those who read and write literary fiction. When I read science fiction, I want weird environments, aliens, and technology, I want mind-blowing concepts, and I want speculation on how what it means to be human is being continuously redefined by technology. In literary fiction I look for beautiful writing, interesting characters, and, for lack of a better way of saying it, a more philosophical approach to its subject matter. But never mind what I personally am looking for, the point is that if you want what you write to be accepted by a publisher of literary fiction, there are certain requirements you have to meet. You wouldn't think of submitting a story that didn't involve a crime to a crime fiction magazine, so why would you think that a literary journal would be interested in what you write if you flat-out ignore what their audience is interested in reading? Furthermore, by the standards of literary fiction, most science fiction is not worth squat. I can think of only a handful of writers within the genre who can write a sentence that blows me away and leaves my head spinning in pleasure.

Regarding your caricature of literary fiction as nihilistic naval-gazing, it is exactly that: a caricature. If you had more than a superficial acquaintance with literary fiction you would know this. Secondly, hey, some of us love a good bit of nihilistic navel-gazing, so let us be. Thomas Bernhard 4ever.

I'm not going to address the B.R. Meyers article, which people who have made posts similar to yours sometimes link to, other than to say he sounds like a frigging snooze. What a bore. Instead of condemning wide swaths of literature as irrelevant or over-difficult and not worth the time, I wish people would read whatever is good and interesting, however it might be categorized or however and for whomever it might be written. I would love to meet someone who could tell me that William Vollmann, Stephen Baxter, Lucy Corin, Stanley Elkin, Stanislaw Lem, Angela Carter, Richard Wright, Jim Thompson, Javiar Marías, and Karl Schroeder are the last ten authors they have read.

Anyhow, here is the deal: if you think that academics and literary snobs look down upon you and your genre, and you want your writing be respected as literature, take this as an indication that you have to get your act together. You don't necessarily have to stop writing about ghosts and starships, but you do have to start writing stories that resemble in some way what most people are talking about when they talk about literary fiction (a term that in my experience seems to be tossed about only in the science fiction and fantasy community and never among the writers of literary fiction themselves, but whatever, I might be wrong on this).

You also might be surprised by how much time academics and literary folk spend sneering at genre literature: very very little time. Furthermore, quite a few of us actually enjoy and admire genre fiction, and, personally, when I read blog posts like the one above, I always find it a bit embarrassing.

Sorry this was too long....
rick gregory
20. rickg
@19... Nice sentiment, but you do exactly what Jason is annoyed about. "Instead of taking rejection as a sign that you have to improve your craft..." and "Anyhow, here is the deal: if you think that academics and literary snobs look down upon you and your genre, and you want your writing be respected as literature, take this as an indication that you have to get your act together." What do those statements say but that "literary fiction is of a higher order than genre fiction"? After all if your craft was better and your writing to be respected you'd write pretentious self-involved crap for journals that are losing support... oh wait. That's right, you and virtually everyone else above MISSED THE POINT.

The central thing about the post was that an editor of a respected literary journal was lamenting the lack of support for at least some of the writing that the journals are publishing. What I took Jason to say was that there's writing out there that IS being read and that the lit fic people can learn from it instead of segregating it as 'genre' and dismissing it, as you do above, as inferior.
SimonDH
21. N. Mamatas
It seems pretty obvious if the respect of Person X is important to you, that you should endeavor to measure up to the standards of Person X rather than ranting that Person X is dumb, wrongheaded, or pretentious and self-involved.

After all, who cares about the respect of dumb, wrongheaded, pretentious or self-involved people? Well, the state of thinking both "I need Person X's respect" and "Person X sucks!" is ressentiment, more or less.


At any rate, as already pointed out in the post itself, VQR has no proscription against genre fiction (as many lit journals do), but it wants its genre fiction to be of the same quality (and have the same qualities) as the rest of what it publishes.

How many SF magazines ask for SF of low literary quality?
SimonDH
22. Ryan DH
Every time I see a variant of this article, I feel the need to post this article by Jeff Vandermeer, called, "The Language of Defeat."

http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/vandermeer_11_07
Justin Adair
23. Hobbyns
Sorry Mamatas, but in terms of a throwdown, I'm going with euphrosyne, just for the fun of it and the fact the your rejoinders just don't do the subject justice. Take issue with the larger issue in your own post.

Err, just thought I'd throw in that I loved "Move Under Ground" and think you're amazing, though, not in this thread.
SimonDH
24. omega_n
"I'm saying that writers need to venture out... to put themselves and their work on the line. Stop being so damned dainty and polite. Treat writing like your lifeblood instead of your livelihood. And for Christ's sake, write something we might want to read.”

Isn't that what we all want as readers, regardless of our personal preferences for genre?

Reading the work that ends up in the creative writing magazine that my university publishes, I'd say young writers certainly do need to get their gaze out of their navel. And most of them do, as they grow up and become better writers.

This is what I say to most people who moan about different genres: if you don't like it, don't bloody read it. Some people won't like spec fic; deal with it. I don't like most horror or crime novels. Yes, genre fiction is marginalized, though less and less as the years wear on, but whining about how repressed we are as a fiction category just makes us sound like sad little geeks looking for a way out of the high school English reading list.

And as far as academia goes, kindly don't knock the Supernatural Literature class I'm currently taking or my plans to get a PhD in fantasy literature.
Jer Brown
25. designguybrown
I like how Ms. Swirsky #9 (i follow your inspiring podcast avidly) has brought to the fore the idea of two different sets of priorities (with apologies for the simplification and if I have misunderstood): concept and originality for GenFic (specifically Speculative) and refinement in character and language for LitFic. But, shall the two never meet? I see an analogy in hard sciences versus soft sciences - physics vs. psychology. There is a certain different approach - perhaps, over-simply put, one is more concerned with causality and the other correlation. Yet there are reasons that they need each other. Using the one effectively, improves the reach (and quality) of the other.

So, is it reasonable to say that being proficient in both priorities makes a novel truly magnificent, say for arguments sake, Lord of the Rings. A profound concept and world-building masterpiece set with a language (though i am certainly not one to judge) that is evocative and well-developed (i am sure others can find better examples). But my point is that perhaps GenFic and LitFic are simply brothers, who are better off for having overlapped characteristics, but are still most valuable for individual and different reasons. My question is whether trying to introduce both priority sets into a single work necessarily damages the work unless it is done magnificently. Is there a certain conflict? My two cents.
SimonDH
26. N. Mamatas
Take issue with the larger issue in your own post.

Uh...what? Put what in the where now?
Jessica Reisman
27. jwynne
As someone who actually went to an MFA program in creative writing with profs who were actively hostile to (and clueless re) speculative or fantastic fiction, but prided themselves on being literary masters (a workshop convo on one story of mine: I can't pronounce these names, what are they? well, they're Russian names, actually, real Russian names because the characters are Russian; you're picking on the names because this story has fantastic elements, aren't you?) I feel there are some valid points in Jason's rant (even if they have been made many times already).

What's written and largely published in most literary venues, and what prospective and eventual students of many university writing programs produce is, in fact, a genre of its own. It has (or should have) no more--or less--claim on the title of "literary" than GOOD work that partakes of any other genre--genre, as we know, being a marketing device rather than truly a child of literature. Literature embodies it all; there is plenty of spec fic of more literary merit than much of what passes for "literary fiction" and also plenty of that literary fiction that's a)of more merit than much spec fic or b)actually partaking of spec fic tropes while professing loudly not to be spec fic of any sort.
SimonDH
28. individualfrog
I've read more than one article like this, that is, saying "genre fiction is better than literary fiction", but can anyone point me to an example of the reverse, saying "literary fiction is better than genre fiction"? Preferably from something more 'prestigious' (for lack of a better word) than some unpublished author's personal blog or a forum post or something.
SimonDH
29. N. Mamatas
@28 The most recent I've run into is "Stranger Things" by Debra Spark in the Sept 2009 issue of The Writer's Chronicle (basically, a magazine sent to most graduate writing departments).

She writes, in part that in her classes, "I just don't want my students writing within the plot-driven formulas of the genres. No little green men from the planet Urk, please. If there's a barbarian in your gathering of characters, please don't invite me to the party." She also cherry-picks a quote from Dan Chaon to justify her notion that "true genre fiction" is "pulpy" and can be identified because "Characters do things, because the author wants them to."

After all the usual bad thinking, Spark goes on to explain that garsh wow Kelly Link and Elizabeth Hand (and Harry Potter!!) almost kinda changed her mind about the genre. Then she summarizes her reading on the term "slipstream." In the end, it's the old trick of saying that genre fiction is terrible except for the good stuff which is no longer genre fiction because it's good, but this time it's also an overly long and embarrassing episode of thinking aloud in essay form. (Spark also suggests that Lethem and Chabon have boy cooties.)

So it does happen. Just only about 1/100th as often as the reverse, mainly because literary fiction people have other things to worry about than skiffy.
Eric Fleming
30. ErFeFl
@20

Here is how I understand the point you are making: the issue is that publishers of literary fiction are being hypocritical when they outright dismiss genre fiction to the extent that some of what they publish is genre fiction? I guess my point is that just because a work of fiction includes elements commonly identified with a certain genre, that doesn't mean that it qualifies as genre fiction. So for example, I don't think that the fact that Gravity's Rainbow includes robots, giant octopuses, and whathaveyou necessarily makes it a science fiction novel. You might say it has science fictional elements, but ultimately what Pynchon and other literary writers are interested in is not what genre writers are interested in. Specifying what exactly these distinguishing qualities are is a different, and also very tricky and perhaps ultimately pointless, matter.

But....

World building, for example, seems to be a significant concern of much science fiction and fantasy, and literary fiction writers don't really invest themselves in it. Furthermore, even when literary writers do engage in world building, it rarely is a central feature of the fiction, and when it is given more emphasis, it is often not that well done. When I want to read a book that features good world building, which is quite often, I almost never reach for a literary novel.

Good style, on the other hand, seems to concern literary writers much more than it does genre writers. This doesn't mean that there aren't writers in genre fiction who are concerned with the literary qualities of what they write, but I honestly do think that if you take the best writers (stylistically speaking) in genre fiction and compare them with the best writers that literary fiction produces, there is no competition. Compared to the dozen or so great stylists currently at work in genre fiction, I can think of dozens and dozens of writers currently writing in literary fiction who are as good or better. Furthermore, I can not think of a single writer in genre fiction who has anything on someone like Nabokov or Beckett, but there are a handful of people currently writing literary fiction who I might say are equal in talent (for example, maybe Denis Johnson or William Vollmann...).

Or many I have gone too far: Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker is the best example I can think of of a book that excels at being both science fiction and literary fiction. If you want to write genre fiction that also has a chance of being taken seriously by readers of literary fiction, Hoban would be a good model.

Regarding whether or not academics sneer at genre fiction, my point was not that they don't, because many do, but that they don't spend a significant amount of time getting worked up about it, whereas it seems that a lot of people within the science fiction and fantasy community actually expend quite a bit of energy getting worked up about the fact that are not seen as legitimate by the non-genre people. This energy would perhaps be more usefully directed toward either doing what science fiction and fantasy literature does well and doing it as good as you can, or working on improving those elements of you writing that readers of literary fiction are interested in. Or both.

And regarding points being missed, my essential point is that if it bothers you so much that you aren't respected by the elite literary establishment, which probably has a readership that is much smaller than the science fiction and fantasy readership, don't get indignant and accuse them of being pretentious. If you want to be accepted by them, start writing for them and for that audience. If you don't want to do that, get over it and stop poisoning the genre with this silliness.
SimonDH
31. individualfrog
@29 Thanks, I knew someone here could find one for me. Hopefully my library has that magazine. It would be very insteresting to compare that article to this one and see what they have in common. I presume that will be almost everything.
Andrew Mason
32. AnotherAndrew
I think there are lots of people who think that literary fiction is capable of achieving a greater degree of merit than genre fiction (though, as Nick Mamatas and ErFeFl point out, they don't spend that much of their time saying it). That isn't the same as 'literary fiction is better than genre fiction', though; I don't think anyone would deny that some literary fiction is worse than some genre fiction.
Jon Evans
33. rezendi
@30

I can not think of a single writer in genre fiction who has anything on someone like Nabokov or Beckett

Gene Wolfe?

I think one of the problems here is that relatively few people have read both deeply and widely in both literary genre fiction and the genre of literary fiction. The latter has something of an established canon, and thousands of carriers of the canon in English lit departments around the world, but the former is entirely ad hoc and subjective.

You may be an exception to that problem - I don't know. I'm certainly not; the only Nabokov I've read is Pale Fire.)
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34. heresiarch
AnnLeckie @ 12: "And while Nick is often abrasive, he's also often right."

Being a troll isn't bad because their arguments are wrong; it's bad because they degrade the quality of the dialogue and conceal the actual arguments beneath a chaff of hot emotions and point-scoring. I'd say it's worse when they're right, because their vitriol makes accepting what legitimate insights they have even harder.

N. Mamatas @ 16: "that literary fiction is "dainty" (this is a typical sort of near-homophobic slam one sees in attacks on literary fiction, or even some SF or horror that is not sufficiently awkwardly written)"

That particular adjective came first from Genoways' pen, actually.

I'm really not worried about sneering from the literary elite anymore. From all I can see, they're stuck in a vicious spiral of irrelevance and self-absorption, and they're either going to define themselves down to insignificance or revitalize their culture by borrowing elements from genre fiction a la Lethem or Chabon. Either way, I think that a couple decades from now the "genre"-"litfic" dichotomy will be a historical curiosity (probably with its own academic subfield.)
René Walling
35. cybernetic_nomad
I have two problems with the Genoways article:

The first is the hubris of title: "The Death of Fiction", like what we here refer to as literary fiction is the only fiction there is, never mind romance, mystery, SF, fantasy etc... Maybe that's why you don't find that many literary folks writing essays on why genre fiction is bad: some may not even consider it fiction.

The second is the hubris of the title: "The Death of Fiction" combined with the line: "...a few bold university presidents could save American literature, reshape journalism...", like what we refer to as American literature is the only fiction there is, never mind Canadian, Australian, British etc... not to mention what's written in other languages.

Yes we here in the genre ghetto need to look elsewhere a bit more, Genoways could do the same too.
Erika A.
36. brownjawa
As someone who had to wait until I transferred to a 4-year University to finally find a professor who taught a Speculative Fiction course (and by way of its existence and his devotion--its literary merit was well supported in my mind by at least one corner of academia), I'm glad for this rant! There are few and far between champions of Speculative ("genre") fiction. This professor introduced me to Ursula K. Le Guin, Samuel R. Delaney, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Philip K. Dick. I'll forever be grateful to him for that and to everyone after him who I find takes up the same cause.

I also wish people would stop looking at the difference in terms of vertical movement and more in terms of a lateral shift that can address and explore things literary fiction does and sometimes, things that it can't (and do it very well, thank you very much).
SimonDH
37. N. Mamatas
That particular adjective came first from Genoways' pen, actually.

And the OP happily embraced it, so of course he can be criticized for it. He was happy to complain about Genoways's use of the word "unless", after all, so clearly he is sensitive when it comes to the use of words.

As far as "the quality of the dialogue", the OP is so completely wrongheaded on both matters of fact and emphasis—in the end he is complaining about lit journal editors not taking genre fiction seriously by targeting a journal that does accept genre fiction submissions!—that even random LOLcats wouldn't degrade the "dialogue" any further.

It is obvious to me that supporters of the OP aren't really paying attention to its content, but are simply applauding its sentiment. At this point, nothing new need be said on the topic. All one has to do is go, "Literary fiction, yucky! I like skiffy because it's awesome!" and plenty of people will line up to agree that truly, we do love us.
SimonDH
38. JeffVanderMeer
This circular, raised-every-few-months-or-years debate, largely supported by general anecdotal evidence by those on both side tends to waste energy to little purpose while turning so-called genre writers/institutions/subcultures and so-called literary writers/institutions/subcultures into little more than caricatures and straw men. The smart money is on avoiding generalizations and dealing with people (writers, editors, etc.) as unique individuals.

Personally, I prefer to just continue on doing projects that are as blind as possible to this kind of largely artificial divide, and to continue to engage each person I meet based on who they are, not some perception I bring with me about who they are supposed to be.

JeffV
Aimee Stewart
39. Foxfires
I applaud Rickg for actually comprehending what this is all about.

And now, I shall sit back and try to recover my eyeballs, as they have rolled right out of my head after slogging through some of the more grandiloquent replies.
zaphod beetlebrox
40. platypus rising
@29

So it does happen. Just only about 1/100th as often as the reverse, mainly because literary fiction people have other things to worry about than skiffy

But that's because 99% of the time literary fiction people ignore skiffy altogether.

@30

Your argument is just a slightly more sophisticated version of the same old canard Mamatas mentions in the comment immediately preceding yours.

but I honestly do think that if you take the best writers (stylistically speaking) in genre fiction and compare them with the best writers that literary fiction produces, there is no competition.

Ooh Literary Death Match! The Pokemon Evolution of Literary Critique! Let's play!

Harold Bloom honestly thinks that 3 of John Crowley's novels merit inclusion in the Western Canon. The same number as Denis Johnson and one more than those of Rushdie, Coetzee and Vollmann taken together.
According to your definition John Crowley is not a "genre" writer - if you were to look for action and wordbuilding in Little, Big you'd be in for a bitter disappointment.
The fact remains that his work is reviewed, discussed and acknowledged nearly exclusively inside the spec-fic community.
He is never mentioned in discussions of literary writers with which he shares obvious similarities of style, approach or interests - such as A.S. Byatt, Michel Faber or Anthony Powell.

I honestly think that M John Harrison's The Course of the Heart is an infinitely better novel than Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger; yet Sarah Waters gets shortlisted for the Booker, Harrison doesn't. I've read "mundane supernatural" stories by Chris Adrian published to rave reviews in Esquire and the New Yorker - good as they were, none of them approached the subtlety and elegance with which M John Harrison thread similar territory in stories like Gifco.
Honestly, I'll take Karen Joy Fowler's Sarah Canary and Sister Noon over Chabon's Kavalier & Clay and TYPU any day.
You mention Hoban, but even him, who is consistently brilliant, seems to me to be largely ignored by readers of literary and speculative fiction alike and confined to his own niche of ardent followers.

I did not invoke Bloom as a figure of authority, but because, whatever we make of his opinions, he did read widely across genres - he interested himself not only in the fantastic, but also in crime fiction, western, etc. He seems to me more the exception than the rule.

The point is not your "honest opinion" that the best of the Litfic camp will beat the best of the Specfic camp everytime , nor that genre and literary fiction tend to have different and conflicting goals and merits. The point is that literary critique should concern itself with all fiction, and often doesn't. Many critics are only interested in what arrives to them from safe, tried and tested routes - like the literary journals mentioned in the OP.

This would be bad even if we take for granted the genre-literary dichotomy that's been suggested - because a truly original work written in competent prose isn't necessarily inferior to a work whose language pyrotechnics aren't in service of a strong vision.

But the worst part is that there are a lot of grey areas - and not recognizing similarities across (often arbitrary, or at least justified only on some levels) genre lines, mainstream critique fails to connect writers with potential readers.
Is Carol Emwhiller's The Mount closer to Anne McCaffrey's Pern novels (both are labelled sci-fi) or to the works of Angela Carter? Is it more likely to be enjoyed by the fans of the former or of the latter?
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41. heresiarch
Nick Mamatas @ 37: "And the OP happily embraced it, so of course he can be criticized for it."

Yes, by throwing Genoways' words back in his face he's clearly endorsing his views.

"As far as "the quality of the dialogue", the OP is so completely wrongheaded on both matters of fact and emphasis—in the end he is complaining about lit journal editors not taking genre fiction seriously by targeting a journal that does accept genre fiction submissions!—that even random LOLcats wouldn't degrade the "dialogue" any further."

Which very neatly absolves you of any responsibility for your own actions. The fire is already burning; what harm in pouring on a bit more gasoline?

If your intent is merely to score points and enjoy that ever-satisfying sense of moral superiority, none at all. If, as you say, you do care about the interconnections between genre and literary fiction and you honestly want more people to share your opinion on that relationship, then perhaps you should try explaining your views in a way that doesn't push people towards opposing you if for no better reason than spite.

"It is obvious to me that supporters of the OP aren't really paying attention to its content, but are simply applauding its sentiment."

Also conveniently freeing you to say whatever you please, without worrying about such hindrances as communication and persuasion! I see you've constructed a very neat narrative in which your deliberately offensive and trollish behavior is entirely justified. Have you considered a career in fiction?
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42. heresiarch
Jeff VanderMeer @ 38: "Personally, I prefer to just continue on doing projects that are as blind as possible to this kind of largely artificial divide,"

Without disagreeing with your larger point (which I interpret as "segregating SF and Literature does both a disservice," please correct me if I'm wrong), I don't think that you can really describe the divide as "artificial." However imaginary the basis for the literary/genre divide is, it's ossified into very real divisions among readers and authors. It is absolutely real and true that over here there is a discussion among a bunch of people who read and write SF, and over there is a discussion between a bunch of people who read and write Literature, and the connections within each group are far, far stronger than the connections between them. I don't think that ignoring the division is going to do much to wear it down: the case for why cross-pollination is desirable and good needs to be explicitly made.

(Maybe I'm reading far too much into your use of the word "blind.")
SimonDH
43. N. Mamatas
Yes, by throwing Genoways' words back in his face he's clearly endorsing his views.

Genoways isn't here. Genoways isn't being addressed in the OP's use of "dainty" either. (He isbeing addressed and taken to task for the word "unless" though, which the OP evidently thinks is far more problematic.) The OP isn't throwing "dainty" in anyone's face or even examining its use in Geonways' essay; he's simply adopting it wholesale.

If, as you say, you do care about the interconnections between genre and literary fiction and you honestly want more people to share your opinion on that relationship,

I've said this? I don't really care at all about interconnections between genre fiction or literary fiction, especially since the division is more hole than wall. They already are interconnected; actually existing phenomena don't need my special help.

then perhaps you should try explaining your views in a way that doesn't push people towards opposing you if for no better reason than spite.

Why spend time trying to recruit people who make decisions based on spite, or who can read the OP and actually think that the poorly reasoned and poorly fact-checked self-described rant is talking about some Really Deep Stuff. Were I recruiting for the Socialist Party, I wouldn't start off by attending a Tea Party protest and walking up to the loudest shouter with the dumbest sign either.

Also conveniently freeing you to say whatever you please, without worrying about such hindrances as communication and persuasion!

Fume all you like. Would you prefer a line-by-line dissection of every comment made here to prove my point?

Plain and simple: VQR's journal takes genre fiction submissions. VQR has published a theme issue on superhero fiction, surely a subset of broad-strokes SF. So to point to VQR and say, "See! See! You're ignoring SF and plus your stuff is pretentious and boring and Harold Bloom doesn't like any skiffy either and here's a picture of a guy I won't even mention in my article!" is silly. It is.

Also silly: giving such nonsense a round of applause and then baiting the people who don't clap.
SimonDH
44. rachel v. swirsky
Someone asked if litfic and specfic can attempt to acquire each other's good qualities. Sure, I think so. Octavia Butler and Toni Morrison strike me as examples of authors who've done so.

Each piece of work will have its own goals and purposes though. So, not every genre work needs to have particularly lovely language, or even particularly lovely character development (nor do all literary stories). And not all literary stories need to have surprise, strangeness, and originality (and actually, not all spec stories need to either). So I'm wary of looking at it as a mathematical game where the work with the most nameable good qualities wins best possible work. No one suggested this, necessarily, but I worry conversations will be boiled down to that.

Personally, though, my favorite stories and novels tend to be those with great language and with innovation. I'm a novelty-seeker, which is probably why I read in the SF/F/H genre.
Ann Leckie
45. hautdesert
Ann Leckie here. I finally signed in.

@34 heresiarch Being a troll isn't bad because their arguments are wrong; it's bad because they degrade the quality of the dialogue and conceal the actual arguments beneath a chaff of hot emotions and point-scoring. I'd say it's worse when they're right, because their vitriol makes accepting what legitimate insights they have even harder.

Trolls make comments in an intentionally offensive way in order to provoke outrageous responses. Trolls live to make other people angry, and to provoke them to respond in kind. You may think Nick fits this definition. I don't, I just think he's sarcastic and opinionated. Not the same as "troll."

And the comment in question was hardly vitriolic. Pointed, yes. Sarcastic, yes. Vitriolic--I've seen vitriol, and that wasn't it.

And right is still right. Note, I did not say, "It is admirable that Nick is abrasive." I said, sure, he's abrasive. He's also right. His post would still be right if he were the image of courtesy, if he were a serial killer, if the post had been written with an expletive every other word, or if he devoted every single other post he made on the net to the rescue and welfare of stray kittens. None of those situations would have anything to do with whether he was right or wrong.
SimonDH
46. seth e.
Heresiarch @34, slightly shorter version (and he's hardly the only one): "I abhor trolls who lower the tone of the conversation, so I'm going to refer to the "literary elite" with belittling naughty words ("a vicious spiral of irrelevance and self-absorption"), without attribution or argument. Remember, others are responsible for their rhetorical actions, but my biases are tasteful, just, and wise. Huzzah for rational discourse!"

For whatever it's worth, my feeling about the lit-spec genre divide is that there's an interesting conversation to be had about genre, and I had it in 2002. I've also had it several times since then, and it's been getting less and less interesting every time. I'm not yet to the point of paying people not to have it any more, but it wont' be long. Meanwhile, I agree with the commenters here who have suggested that there isn't much left to say about it, especially in conversations of the "keep those spears pointed outwards, boys!" type.
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47. heresiarch
Nick Mamatas @ 43: "The OP isn't throwing "dainty" in anyone's face or even examining its use in Geonways' essay; he's simply adopting it wholesale."

He is, rather, creating a parallel structure in which every one of Genoways' descriptors in the preceding block quotation are repeated; yet you act as though Henninger seized upon "dainty" and exclaimed "Yes! This is precisely what literary fiction is!" and repeated it constantly through his own writing.

"I don't really care at all about interconnections between genre fiction or literary fiction, especially since the division is more hole than wall."

Oh yes? You think that if you surveyed a hundred SF readers, more than fifty of them would also regularly read literary fiction? You think a majority of literary fiction readers also regularly read SF? Most bookstores shelve them together and Amazon has them listed under the same categories? I'm not claiming there's some literary Iron Curtain between the two, but there's a self-evident divide.

More to the point, if you don't care then why are you so very intent on making sure everyone knows how stupid and wrong they are?

"Were I recruiting for the Socialist Party, I wouldn't start off by attending a Tea Party protest and walking up to the loudest shouter with the dumbest sign either."

Yes, the tor.com readership is just like the Tea Baggers, a self-selected cadre of zealous ideological purists all dedicated to the principle that SF is way better than snobby ol' Lit Fic, and Jason Henninger is our Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin rolled into one, Vapo-rub tears streaming from one eye while he winks at us with the other. It's exactly like talking with Tea Baggers about socialism.

And yet in the five non-OP comments that preceded yours, two of them were criticizing Jason's position. Since then, rachel v. swirsky, AnnLeckie/hautdesert, Harry Connolly, Leah Bobet, Foxessa, ErFeFl, Ryan DH, Jeff VanderMeer, and seth e. have all voiced agreement with your position. That is, slightly less than half of the posters on this thread already agree with you, and yet it's such a terribly, utterly hostile arena for your viewpoint that you have no choice but *sob* to resort to mockery and insults!

"Fume all you like. Would you prefer a line-by-line dissection of every comment made here to prove my point?"

That would be nice! For one thing, you might realize how pathetic your "lone voice of reason" act is.

"Plain and simple: VQR's journal takes genre fiction submissions. VQR has published a theme issue on superhero fiction, surely a subset of broad-strokes SF."

...and Barack Obama was elected president and therefore racism is over. How would you feel about a hiring policy that said "We are generally not interested in ethnic applicants (such as Asian, latino or black) unless they are of a high professional quality." Would you point to that and crow about how non-discriminatory it is? How would you feel about someone bemoaning the slow death of the human race through underbreeding when actually there are plenty of brown babies being born? Would that seem okay to you? All of which makes your championing of VQR as a particularly good lit magazine re: genre all the more laughable. If you consider that good treatment, then I wonder what you would consider bad.

hautdesert @ 45: "His post would still be right if he were the image of courtesy, if he were a serial killer, if the post had been written with an expletive every other word, or if he devoted every single other post he made on the net to the rescue and welfare of stray kittens."

He would also be right if he wrote it in Basque, or an obscure dialect of Elvish he had made up. It wouldn't matter whether he was right, however, because no one would know what he was saying. You're writing as if "being right" was the be all end all of communication, but it's not--in fact, it's tangential at best. Communication is about transferring ideas from one brain to another; if your rhetoric is so off-putting that your listener stops listening, that's by definition a failure of communication.
SimonDH
48. rachel v. swirsky
Aside from the endless and pointless retread of the tone argument, I am rather encouraged by the fact that this kind of silly attempt to shout MY GENRE BEST, YOU SUCK has gained so little agreement in this comment thread. I quite enjoyed Leah's king of the mountain analogy.

I guess I've always felt like the more dysfunctional manifestations of defending SF by trying to tear down literary fiction -- calling people who like literary fiction "mundanes," for instance -- was the playing out of an inferiority complex.
SimonDH
49. N. Mamatas
yet you act as though Henninger seized upon "dainty" and exclaimed "Yes! This is precisely what literary fiction is!" and repeated it constantly through his own writing

This is, of course, your personal fantasy, not actually anything remotely true—it's one of three terms I listed that the OP used at various points in the post. However, if Geonways had just come out with it and said "faggy" would it have been all right for the OP to just chant along with?


You think that if you surveyed a hundred SF readers, more than fifty of them would also regularly read literary fiction? You think a majority of literary fiction readers also regularly read SF?

Define "SF reader" or, for that matter, "literary fiction reader." At any rate, most people who go to school in the US manage to read a bunch of Poe, who is...what? Many people who are still regular readers by the time they hit high school go through a Vonnegut phase, (he's also often assigned), and Vonnegut is...what? The novel that won the Hugo award (and was nominated for the Edgar) 2008 is shelved...where? (Hint: The same book was also excerpted in VQR in 2006.) The Lovely Bones sold five million copies in this country to...whom? When I went shopping for Dark Reflections at the bookstore on the LIRR concourse a few years ago this utterly realistic novel was stocked...where?


Yes, the tor.com readership is just like the Tea Baggers

Do you suffer from the delusion that every comment you make on this thread or any other is read by "the tor.com readership"? I sure don't. But then again, I'm an intelligent grown-up.

Since then, rachel v. swirsky, AnnLeckie/hautdesert, Harry Connolly, Leah Bobet, Foxessa, ErFeFl, Ryan DH, Jeff VanderMeer, and seth e. have all voiced agreement with your position.

I'm amused to note that a number of those people almost certainly found their way to this discussion or decided to participate in it via my link to the OP in my blog.

yet it's such a terribly, utterly hostile arena for your viewpoint that you have no choice but *sob* to resort to mockery and insults!

You seem to have gotten yourself so worked up you've lost track of what you're actually complaining about. I said I have no need to recruit people to my opinion, and if I felt the need I wouldn't go to the kookiest screechers (that would be you at this point, with Froso and the OP a very very distant second and third) to persuade them. One reason why I don't feel the need to recruit is because...

rachel v. swirsky, AnnLeckie/hautdesert, Harry Connolly, Leah Bobet, Foxessa, ErFeFl, Ryan DH, Jeff VanderMeer, and seth e. have all voiced agreement with my position. And yes, I do take Harry, Jeff, Rachel, and Ann more seriously than I take say, you. You can hardly blame me. They're able to read carefully for comprehension.

you might realize how pathetic your "lone voice of reason" act is.

You will, of course, cite chapter and verse where I claimed or implied anything of the sort, or you will apologize in full for lying and give all your money to the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund as way to make amends to the universe. 'kk?

...and Barack Obama was elected president and therefore racism is over.

No. The OP is, in your formulation, is pointing to Barack Obama and claiming that he isn't sufficiently black to be the first black President because he's a Democrat, like a whole bunch of white Presidents have been.

Oh, and he's doing this without actually having seen Barack Obama, except that he read somewhere that he had a white grandmother.

We are generally not interested in ethnic applicants (such as Asian, latino or black)

Depends. For example, if the hiring policy was in the form of a casting call for actors to play a squad of Nazis during WWII, that would be perfectly appropriate. For jobs where race (or, more broadly appearance) isn't part of performance and thus doesn't matter, it would be inappropriate. But editorial policy isn't like hiring policy. VQR is for literary fiction and non-fiction. Some of the literary fiction it runs is in the form of excerpts from novels that go on to win the Hugo award, comics, and short stories about superheroes. You know, the stuff the OP insisted that it would be a waste of time to submit.

VQR also isn't interested in bundling reels of 35mm film with their issues, or running 1500 pages of old Census information in every issue, or in publishing the photos I've taken of dog shit left in and around Berkeley, California. Just like a bunch of racists!

We'll leave aside your trivialization of racism to make a (dubious) point about VQR for now. Heck, we'll see if some of the moral police upthread will return to wag their fingers, or if they really do just play favorites.
SimonDH
50. Andy G.
Half of Henninger's argument is continent on the belief that Genoways wrote the headline on his article. Of course, he did not. Magazines and newspapers have editors who write headlines. Genoways surely had nothing to do with the attention-getting headline; blame Mother Jones for that.

Sorry, Henniner, but there goes the bulk of your lament. Most of the rest of it disappears neatly by glancing at VQR, which publishes comix in most issues (Ware, Spiegelman, Sacco), recently put out the aforementioned superhero issue, and a variety of other pretty unusual things for a literary magazine. You might do yourself the favor of actually looking at a copy, or even just spending five minutes on their website, to notice that your strawman is rather a poor simulacrum of this particular publication/
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51. heresiarch
N. Mamatas @ 49: "However, if Geonways had just come out with it and said "faggy" would it have been all right for the OP to just chant along with?"

If Genoways had just come out and said "faggy," do you think Henninger would still have "just chanted along?"

"Define "SF reader" or, for that matter, "literary fiction reader.""

Someone who reads, of their own volition, twelve genre works per year. Alternately, someone who raises their hand when asked "Are you a reader of ?" But no, you're right: a scattering of edge cases render the vast swathe of the genres indistinguishable.

"Do you suffer from the delusion that every comment you make on this thread or any other is read by "the tor.com readership"? I sure don't."

Do you suffer from the delusion that the only people who read your comments are either people who already agree and find them clever or clueless morons deserving of no respect?

"But then again, I'm an intelligent grown-up."

You know what really makes people sound intelligent and grown up? Talking about how intelligent and grown up they are.

"I said I have no need to recruit people to my opinion,"

Then why did you post in the first place? If you don't care what anyone who doesn't already agree with you thinks, why did you post and why do you continue to post?

I suspect it's because you enjoy insulting people and basking in the warm glow of self-congratulation it brings, but I'm open to alternative suggestions.

"if I felt the need I wouldn't go to the kookiest screechers (that would be you at this point"

What, you think I agree with Henninger? Ha! You might want to go and read my comment @ 34. No, I think Henninger's genre war mentality is antiquated, and his arguments in that direction are about as interesting as Genoways' on the Death of Fiction. There's still plenty of disdain for "genre" in the literary community, but a) it's dying out, b) lit fic is dying out (or so Genoways says) and c) I really couldn't be bothered to care even if a) and b) are false.

"You will, of course, cite chapter and verse where I claimed or implied anything of the sort"

@ 37: "It is obvious to me that supporters of the OP aren't really paying attention to its content, but are simply applauding its sentiment. At this point, nothing new need be said on the topic. All one has to do is go, "Literary fiction, yucky! I like skiffy because it's awesome!" and plenty of people will line up to agree that truly, we do love us."

@ 43: "Why spend time trying to recruit people who make decisions based on spite, or who can read the OP and actually think that the poorly reasoned and poorly fact-checked self-described rant is talking about some Really Deep Stuff."

Of course, the fundamental irrationality of your opponents is the basis for all of your behavior on this thread (and every other conversation I've seen you in)--were you to concede that anyone could possibly have a sensible disagreement with you, you'd no longer be able to treat them so insultingly. You'd have to like, try to change their minds and address them civilly! Not nearly as fun.

"Depends."

Omitting the second clause rather conceals the insult, doesn't it?

"We'll leave aside your trivialization of racism to make a (dubious) point about VQR for now."

That's right, comparing some minor sort of discrimination which most people haven't bothered to think about much to another, more serious and widely discussed sort of discrimination in order to illustrate a point is terribly, terribly uncouth. How wrong of me.
SimonDH
52. N. Mamatas

If Genoways had just come out and said "faggy," do you think Henninger would still have "just chanted along?"


I'd hope not, but given that he was writing a rant, who knows? By definition rants aren't very thoughtful, and he clearly didn't put much thought into his nonsense.

But no, you're right: a scattering of edge cases render the vast swathe of the genres indistinguishable.

Examples are by definition exemplary, not exhaustive. Where's your exhaustive data on the "vast swathe" of genres that show the distinctions you're claiming exist? Really, show me the huge piles of literary fiction that contain not a trace of genre. Show me the great piles of genre fiction that haven't adopted the forms and rhetorics of the nineteenth and twentieth century Western novel—you know, the very basis of the tradition of "literary fiction"? Do it.


Then why did you post in the first place?


To let the OP and by extension the editorial staff of this site know that I found this blog entry to be ridiculous. What they do with that information is their own affair. Why are you posting—just to get in some typing practice?


What, you think I agree with Henninger? Ha!


No, I said you were the kookiest of the screechers. Nothing in that implies that you agree with Henninger...though of course you did later not only adopt his argument wholesale but used race relations and even little brown babies as a metaphor. Rather passionate of you. (Oh, and you're still doing it, even going beyond the OP to call VQR setting its own editorial policies "discrimination" of the sort comparable to institutional racism.)

And now your two pathetic attempts at finding me saying that I am the "lone voice of reason" (with snips for space):

"It is obvious to me that supporters of the OP aren't really paying attention to its content, but are simply applauding its sentiment."

"...who make decisions based on spite, or who can read the OP and actually think that the poorly reasoned and poorly fact-checked self-described rant"

Nothing there claims or implies that I am the "lone voice of reason" but that "supporters of the OP" and people who make decisions based on spite aren't worth recruiting. Since I never said or implied that everyone who isn't me is a supporter of the OP or just being spiteful, I never claimed to be the lone voice of reason.

Or to put it even more simply—in the hope that even you can follow it—other voices of reason include: rachel v. swirsky, AnnLeckie/hautdesert, Harry Connolly, Leah Bobet, Foxessa, ErFeFl, Ryan DH, Jeff VanderMeer, and seth e.


So your next post will be an apology and proof of transfer of all your wealth to the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund, right? Chop chop.

Omitting the second clause rather conceals the insult, doesn't it?

How does one "omit" what people have already read? Clearly, quoting is a sort of shorthand so that people can keep track of the conversation, not a way of exhaustively annotating someone else's text. Didn't they teach you anything about our quaint human ways on your home planet?

That's right, comparing some minor sort of discrimination which most people haven't bothered to think about much to another, more serious and widely discussed sort of discrimination in order to illustrate a point is terribly, terribly uncouth.

It's not uncouth, it's just inaccurate and betrays some pretty shallow thinking on your part. Really, I should have typed "thinking" since what you're doing doesn't rate as the real cerebral deal. Editorial policies aren't "discrimination" except in the broadest sense of the word. (i.e., VQR "discriminates" by not choosing three short stories at random to run in their magazine every quarter.)

VQR will consider genre material that meets their guidelines—they define high literary quality elsewhere in those guidelines.

Compare this to another set of guidelines.

Both guidelines talk about the importance of language and then go on to warn against things they don't generally want, while explaining that if the material is good, they will consider it.

So, does Clarkesworld Magazine also "discriminate" against genre fiction? There are whole bunches of genre stories it doesn't want (unless very good), and indeed, its guidelines give no sign at all of even potentially considering a non-SF/F/H romance tale, though VQR's hint that it might.
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
53. pnh
Regarding the original post (and sidestepping the increasingly hard-to-follow food fight about tone in the comments), I agree with Jason Henninger that "discussion is the key to it all, I think, to a genre living or dying, staying relevant or becoming irrelevant," but I don't think his original post's tendentious stereotypes and generalizations are very helpful. I don't think that "Literary fiction...has become fixated on stilted renderings of suffering" or that it's epitomized by "the hope-choking everyday trundle of caricatured common people down a nihilistic slope into numbness." I don't buy the categorical claim that "literary fiction so often proposes that...miserable people 'are the only people here.'" Quite the contrary, I think the broad category of contemporary "literary fiction" is vastly more diverse than the stereotypes asserted in this post; indeed, that it's as full of "philosophy and romance and passion and invention" as any other kind of storytelling.

Certainly there are people with snobbish attitudes about genre. Many of them are high-school and college instructors, and a lot of people in the SF world seem to carry the scars of having had their tastes and interests traumatically dissed by such teachers at some point. This didn't happen to me very much, possibly because I dropped out of high school and never went to college. So while I sympathize with the aggravation of being told that your reading interests are below the salt, the conclusion I draw is that second-rate teachers are second-rate, not that "literary fiction" is the suxxors and SF rules OK.

A little more seriously, I also kind of wish the front page of Tor.com didn't sport the line "Harold Bloom can bite me," for a couple of reasons. First, because when Teresa and I served among the in-house editors of one of Bloom's multi-volume compilations of other people's literary criticism, back in the mid-1980s, he was happy to have us include sections compiling and summarizing critical assessments of quite a few SF and fantasy writers, including Heinlein, Asimov, Dick, Le Guin, Delany, Zelazny, and Russ. And second, because Bloom, who is 79 years old, has recently been described in the Yale Daily News as "gravely ill." He's been in the hospital since December and the two classes he was scheduled to offer in the coming semester have been cancelled. This does not seem to me the ideal time to be slinging silly insults at a guy who, for all his famous eccentricities, has actually done rather a lot for modern fantasy and SF.
Lydia Laurenson
54. Shataina
Ha, well, I frankly didn't bother reading all the comments -- just wanted to chime in with a YES! TOTALLY! I feel you, brother. Indeed, I recently wrote a short but similarly ranty entry to my blog in response to a rationalist website's question, "Do Fandoms Need Awfulness?" ( http://dragonladyflame.livejournal.com/166330.html )... God, the assumptions behind that question make me so mad!
Jon Evans
55. rezendi
PNH @53:

a lot of people in the SF world seem to carry the scars of having had their tastes and interests traumatically dissed by such teachers at some point.

Armchair-psychologist mode: I speculate (with only anecdotal substantiation) that among SF writers or would-be writers, this leads to both anger at having had one's tastes slighted and the deep desire to write something that will impress their once-disdainful teachers, and the combination of those not-exactly-compatible reactions tends to provoke clouds of irrational dissonance when the subject comes up.

(This is at best secondhand, mind you; mine own degree is in electrical engineering...)
- -
56. heresiarch
N. Mamatas @ 52: "Show me the great piles of genre fiction that haven't adopted the forms and rhetorics of the nineteenth and twentieth century Western novel—you know, the very basis of the tradition of "literary fiction"?"

Does SF pay rent for using the English language too, or is the novel unique among literary traditions in being a wholly-owned subsidiary of modern LitFic? I hate to get in the way of that gorgeous strawman you're building, but I never claimed that there is any sort of sharp boundary between the two, nor that there ever has been. I'm taking issue with your assertion that the boundary is "more hole than wall;" for the sake of argument let's assume that the boundary is 49% porous. Prove that it's more than that.

(I'd include a threat of forcing you to donate all your money to Haitian relief should you fail, but the King of the Internet is still processing my application for a Permit to Use Unilaterally-Determined Yet Legally-Binding Defaults to Intimidate in Internet Arguments. He's still processing my application for a Permit to Use Inappropriate Come Ons to Intimidate, too. He really needs to hire some interns.)

"To let the OP and by extension the editorial staff of this site know that I found this blog entry to be ridiculous."

I'm sure that your obvious disdain will make them quite eager to address your concerns. And you continue to post because...?

"Why are you posting?

Because I believe in the persuasive power of argument, obviously. (Not that I couldn't use the typing practice.)

"you're still doing it, even going beyond the OP to call VQR setting its own editorial policies "discrimination" of the sort comparable to institutional racism."

It is a process called "analogy." Using it, one might say something like "This pile of dirt is shaped much like Mount Fuji" without implying that Mount Fuji is, in fact, the pile of dirt, or that the pile of dirt is as large as Mount Fuji. Concepts like tokenism and counterchange are much better understood in the context of racism, so I made an analogy.

"Didn't they teach you anything about our quaint human ways on your home planet?'

So far you have described me as childlike, stupid, screechy,* kooky, and an alien. Not that you're trying to make it personal or anything.

*(Which, along with "shrill," is a typical sort of misogynistic slam that regularly accompanies attacks on people for being irrational and emotional, or overly sensitive to tone)

"Both guidelines talk about the importance of language and then go on to warn against things they don't generally want, while explaining that if the material is good, they will consider it."

The difference is that Clarkesworld describes itself as "an online science fiction and fantasy magazine" and then lists cliches they're tired of. VQR describes itself as a venue for "writing that uses intensely focused language to affect the way that readers see the world. A well-crafted poem, story, or essay is, at its heart, a statement of refusal to accept conventional wisdom and instead study the world for oneself. We seek that writing which illuminates what we, as a culture, may learn from such close inspection" and then says outright that genre only occasionally does this. VQR implies that their standards are synonymous with good literature, whereas Clarkesworld openly acknowledges their limited scope.
- -
57. heresiarch
(This is too tangential to go in my main reply, but too precious to leave out entirely.)

"How does one "omit" what people have already read?"

If you don't think that the omission matters, then let's put it back in:

me: "How would you feel about a hiring policy that said "We are generally not interested in ethnic applicants (such as Asian, latino or black) unless they are of a high professional quality.""

you: "Depends. For example, if the hiring policy was in the form of a casting call for actors to play a squad of Nazis during WWII, that would be perfectly appropriate."

They wouldn't hire Asian applicants to play Nazis, unless they were of high professional quality! That makes perfect sense.
SimonDH
58. N. Mamatas

They wouldn't hire Asian applicants to play Nazis, unless they were of high professional quality! That makes perfect sense.


And indeed, in some cases, this happens. In opera, for example, character appearance is often secondary to the required virtuosity so it isn't unusual at all to see a fat man in his sixties play a thing man in his twenties, or a black woman play the daughter of two white parents. Roles are also sometimes rewritten to suit actors—a role originally for a white character or black one is altered to suit a particular actor of high quality.

You like to say, frequently, that things don't make sense. They actually do make sense. You're just incapable of actually looking at facts and evidence first and then coming to a conclusion.
SimonDH
59. rachel v. swirsky
"They wouldn't hire Asian applicants to play Nazis, unless they were of high professional quality! That makes perfect sense."

Or, to usefully sustain the metaphor rather than just snark, they wouldn't hire asian applicants unless they had whatever qualities were being looked for in the casting call. Which, in that case, would be "looking passably like nazis" -- which of course, some Asian-identified people can do. (Similarly, some speculative fiction has the traits that are being telegraphed by "high literary fiction.")

This whole useless Godwin metaphor is going to end up being really offensive, if it hasn't gotten there already. Bleargh.
- -
60. heresiarch
rezendi @ 55: "I speculate (with only anecdotal substantiation) that among SF writers or would-be writers, this leads to both anger at having had one's tastes slighted and the deep desire to write something that will impress their once-disdainful teachers, and the combination of those not-exactly-compatible reactions tends to provoke clouds of irrational dissonance when the subject comes up."

ErFeFl mentioned ressentiment earlier, which is pretty much the same process. I think ressentiment plays a big role in causing people on both sides to construct SF and Litfic as adversarial: as someone noted somewhere (maybe the reading protocols thread?), literary readers and writers could be justly envious of SF's relatively strong sales and wide appeal. I think it goes both ways.

To bring things full circle, a variation on ressentiment is also central to Bloom's theory of poetry: "A new poet becomes inspired to write because he has read and admired the poetry of previous poets; but this admiration turns into resentment when the new poet discovers that these poets whom he idolized have already said everything he wishes to say....In order to evade this psychological obstacle, the new poet must convince himself that previous poets have gone wrong somewhere and failed in their vision, thus leaving open the possibility that he may have something to add to the tradition after all."
- -
61. heresiarch
rachel v. swirsky @ 59: "Or, to usefully sustain the metaphor rather than just snark, they wouldn't hire asian applicants unless they had whatever qualities were being looked for in the casting call."

If VQR said "we're looking for works which match our particular stylistic interests" I wouldn't have any problem with them. It's that they, on the one hand, claim to be looking for "writing that uses intensely focused language to affect the way that readers see the world" and on the other, are actually only interested in a particular literary style. It makes them sound as if they believe that "affecting the way readers see the world" can only be done by the one style they champion.

Imagine a record label that said "we're looking for music that uses intensely focused rhythms and melodies to affect how people see the world...a well-written song is, at its heart, a statement of refusal to accept conventional wisdom and instead study the world for oneself" and then wrote "we're not generally interested in genre music (such as hip hop, punk, or country) unless it's of high musical quality." Would you think that they believed country and punk to be of equal musical quality as non-genre music?

There's plenty of genre writing that doesn't affect how people see the world, that doesn't refuse to accept conventional wisdom. But there's plenty of non-genre (i.e. literary) fiction that doesn't either, and VQR feels no particular need to explicitly warn them away.
SimonDH
62. Foxessa
There might be too much fantasy going on here!

I'm "accused" of posting to this discussion because of NM (not that I have anything aqainst this caballero -- I don't know him -- but I do know SF/F, the other fiction genres and literary fiction too). Puleeze.

I read this site regularly all by own self. I don't read MM's blog or whatever.

I was a registered user from the first offering to register while it was being built, though under another name. So busy with other things I didn't have time to read properly and thus make decent remarks.

By the time JW and some others began regular columns here I couldn't find my registration password, so I just stuck with one of my blog handles.

I found that registration and password during one of my semi-annual file cleanings. But I've just allowed things to remain as they are.

For the record I tend to read the genres far more than lit-fic, at least the lit-fic of the later 20th c and the 21st. Whatever!

But it is so freakin' boring to see this bs brought up over and over and over by people who are young enough to know better. The war has been won. Many genre writers are considered as much lit fic as Cormac McCarthy and Zadie Smith. But Robert Spenser, for instance, genre novelist of genre novelists, isn't. So what? He's not literary. Some are, some aren't. Who cares?
SimonDH
63. N. Mamatas
Does SF pay rent for using the English language too, or is the novel unique among literary traditions in being a wholly-owned subsidiary of modern LitFic?

Do you know very much about the difference between the Western novel of, say, the early twentieth century and the novel of the early nineteenth century? When aspiring SF writers get the often overstrict advice not to shift POVs within a scene, where that comes from? Why omniscient POV is to be so thoroughly avoided? Why a protagonist has to "change"? Why SF readers often complain that this or that character action isn't "realistic" based on their own informal understanding of human psychology? Why using magic in certain ways is a "cheat" and why magic should have "systems" with "rules"? None of these are natural properties of storytelling—all are historical artifacts of literary realism of the mid-19th century and have relatively little to do with the traditions of lyric poetry, of adventure tales and epics, or of supernatural folklore.

""This pile of dirt is shaped much like Mount Fuji"

Psst, when most human being use the word "analogy", they don't mean "any comparison of any single attribute between any two things." The first definition of the word in the ol' Merriam Webster is: 1 : inference that if two or more things agree with one another in some respects they will probably agree in others.

This is why "Natalie Portman's dinner plate looks much like Hitler's, as they were both vegetarians" isn't an analogy of any communicative utility.


So far you have described me as childlike, stupid, screechy,* kooky, and an alien


Well, if you grew up a bit, demonstrated the ability to think logically, stopped ranting, and used words the way humans use them...none of that would have happened.

This is why persuasion is ridiculous. The OP demonstrated himself proof against persuasion when he seriously insisted that his attack on a magazine he never read even a single page of should be taken seriously. The supporters of the rant, none of which actually engaged the text in any real way in their comments, also demonstrated themselves to be immune to persuasion. It was a near-textbook example of the reinforcement effect. The OP sounded kinda sorta like complaints they already had, so of course it was a sensible post to them.

You've demonstrated that you are proof against persuasion by flaunting your inability to think.

then lists cliches they're tired of.

That is not a list of cliches. (PS: I wrote most of the items on that list.) Do not use words you don't know.


and then says outright that genre only occasionally does this.

And VQR is utterly correct. Only occasionally does genre fiction use "intensely focused language to affect the way that readers see the world." And that is what VQR wants to see. Indeed very many genre writers and readers are suspicious of the idea of intensely focusing on language, and instead valorize the use of what they call "plain" language or language that "doesn't get in the way" of the story.

VQR implies that their standards are synonymous with good literature, whereas Clarkesworld openly acknowledges their limited scope.

So you acknowledge that CW does discriminate more overtly than VQR. It doesn't matter how good non-genre material is, they ain't gonna publish it. Forget, we'd rather not hire Asians unless they're very good, it is no Asians ever. I look forward to you spending five thousand words castigating that magazine for engaging in behavior analogous to racist hiring practices. Be sure also to include Tor.com, Analog, Asimov's, Weird Tales, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, True Confessions, and every magazine of poetry, creative non-fiction, and reportage in your next bit of babble.
SimonDH
64. N. Mamatas
I'm "accused" of posting to this discussion because of NM (not that I have anything aqainst this caballero -- I don't know him -- but I do know SF/F, the other fiction genres and literary fiction too). Puleeze.

I guess you're referring to this:


I'm amused to note that a number of those people almost certainly found their way to this discussion or decided to participate in it via my link to the OP in my blog.


In English, "a number of those people" describing a group means "some members of that group, not all of them." Nobody "accused" you of anything.
SimonDH
65. rachel v. swirsky
H.,

Your reply to me is incorrect for the reason Nick notes. "Writing that uses intensely focused language to affect the way that readers see the world" does not describe most science fiction and fantasy. Earlier, I said that "high literary quality" telegraphs particular conventions about language and characters, and the quote you pull proves that, not undermines it.
Jason Henninger
66. jasonhenninger
To all: You have given me a great deal to think about. Thank you all for taking the time to respond. I will say that, at the very least, I admire the passion tor.com readers have for the subject.
SimonDH
67. Foxessa
NM -- not you, I think. Wasn't it 'him' who said it first?

It's all gotten mishmashy confused, with such very long posts, referring back to each other and themselves.
- -
68. heresiarch
N. Mamatas @ 63: "This is why persuasion is ridiculous. The OP demonstrated himself proof against persuasion when he seriously insisted that his attack on a magazine he never read even a single page of should be taken seriously."

And yet, before your first post he had already acknowledged the criticisms of two people and begun walking back his more grandiose claims. Euphrosyne's first comment was supportive of Henninger, and yet in replying to you Euphrosyne admitted that your point might be valid. The premise of your entire engagement on this thread is that persuasion is useless; every justification you've made for your behavior is contingent on it. Yet it is demonstrably untrue.

Furthermore, if you are so sure that persuasion is useless, then why do you continue to argue with me? What do you hope to achieve?

"I look forward to you spending five thousand words castigating that magazine for engaging in behavior analogous to racist hiring practices."

I would, really I would, but I'm too busy castigating The Journal of African American Studies for not publishing more articles on the Amish.

I have no problem with a magazine which, say, only publishes stories and poems without the letter "e." I have no problem with a magazine which publishes be absolute best work of any sort they can get their hands on. I do have a problem with a magazine which says they're doing the latter but in fact does the former.

Foxessa @ 67: "Wasn't it 'him' who said it first?"

I assume you mean me? I wasn't accusing you of anything. When I mentioned your name, I had no idea that many of the people agreeing with Nick were regulars at his blog. I assumed from the first you got here on your own.
SimonDH
69. N. Mamatas
And yet, before your first post he had already acknowledged the criticisms of two people and begun walking back his more grandiose claims

No, he actually leaves all of those—most of them ably repeated by PNH before—intact. He simply acknowledges that Bloom doesn't hate all fantasy—that is easily the least of his claims, not at all among "the most grandiose." The rest is just a repetition of how made the while thing makes him and a link to another post on this blog.

Ditto euphrosyne; first comment is simply about a photo, second comment agreeing with me. There's no shift in position there at all—one can certainly admire Delany and agree with me simultaneously; heck I admire Delany and agree with me—and certainly no shift in eu's position contingent on my comments.

When you're making reference to something, you should be sure that what you think is being said actually is. Otherwise, you come off as either semi-literate or a plain and simple liar. Indeed, at this point I'm posting just to see how many times you'll lie about what other people have said and how many times you'll even change your own position while claiming some sort of logical consistency. Well, that and as entertainment-cum-warnings to third parties. I've already gotten notes saying about your comments "If I were a better person, I'd go through his post and draw little circles around every speck of flung monkey shit. I'm not a better person, though; I'm a tired person. So I'm making note of the username and skipping everything they ever write, forever."

Public exposure of kooks for lulz is just one of the many services I provide.

I do have a problem with a magazine which says they're doing the latter but in fact does the former.

As has been pointed out already, several times, VQR with its comics and Chabon excerpts and superhero-themed issues, is not that magazine. They publish work with "high literary quality" which they define in large part as involving a certain focus on language. SF that meets that requirement can be published in VQR. So too can romance. So too can travel essays. So too can comic strips.

And, of course, VQR doesn't say "of any sort" and in fact warns against particular sorts while leaving open the possibility of publishing superlative material of those sorts anyway. I know nuance is hard for certain people to grasp, but it is there both in the guidelines and in the actual material the magazine has published (which you can look at any time you want by going to their site)

PS: Thanks for demonstrating that you were lying when you insisted that you did not agree with OP and that you didn't "care" anyway. To use your word: Ha!
SimonDH
70. Foxessa
Was it you? Just. Can. Not. wade back through the mishmashy.

All that mattered to me was that people might think I come to wade in because somebody else did, when I have inhabited this space all by own self from the beginning. Since, you, sir, say you knew this, we're good.
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71. heresiarch
Nick Mamatas @ 69: "Ditto euphrosyne; first comment is simply about a photo, second comment agreeing with me. There's no shift in position there at all—one can certainly admire Delany and agree with me simultaneously;"

You mean the post in which euphrosyne says "I like the standalone image of Delany. He need not even invoke words (here, again); his reproachful glance is sufficient retort." A retort to what? Henninger? It wouldn't make sense to say "like" if that was euphrosyne's intent. A retort to Genoways, rather--just as Henninger intended it to be.

Euphrosyne isn't just complimenting Delany--euphrosyne is approving of Henninger's usage of Delany's image, seeing it as comfortably aligned with the post's message. You do not approve. Yet that isn't disagreement? That's an amazingly selective reading of euphrosyne's post.

In that context, your following paragraph is laughable.

"Indeed, at this point I'm posting just to see how many times you'll lie about what other people have said and how many times you'll even change your own position while claiming some sort of logical consistency. Well, that and as entertainment-cum-warnings to third parties."

So you agree then with what I surmised back up @ 41: that you have no intent to converse, only to show off how smart you are and how stupid anyone who disagrees with you is.

Glad that's settled.
SimonDH
72. N. Mamatas
A retort to Genoways, rather--just as Henninger intended it to be.

No. Genoways, in his long essay, makes not one mention of science fiction or genre fiction generally. Genoways makes no claim at all about science fiction, except perhaps in the guidelines (and we have no idea if he wrote them)—in them he says he prefers his SF to be of "high literary quality."

Delany in both his reading and his creative writing shares exactly that opinion with Genoways.

Who knows what euph was thinking when he or she wrote "retort"—If I had to guess Delany's image was a retort to the idea that SF couldn't be good or interesting...which was never something that Genoways claimed. It was a strawman the OP brought up and attempted to attribute to Genoways (and Bloom), just to knock it down.

only to show off how smart you are and how stupid anyone who disagrees with you is.


And you've been a great help in that.
SimonDH
73. Harry Connolly
jasonhenninger @ 66: Even though I razzed you in my earlier comment, I want to add that I generally enjoy your posts here and always perk up when I see your name.
SimonDH
74. Ted Genoways
Sorry to be so late to the proceedings—but my thanks all around for the spirited exchange. I don't want to get into the nitty-gritty of my article in Mother Jones, especially since all of you have debated its points already. However, I do want to say a little something about the fiction I've published in VQR as its editor.

Since I took over six years ago, the magazine has run three straight-up sci-fi stories (robots, aliens, post-apocalyptic landscape), three superhero stories, and four speculative or magical realist stories (set in non-existent countries, alternate realities, or in universes where characters can do things like fly). Those pieces have appeared in Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, Best American Mystery Stories, and been turned into a Marvel comic book and a Coen Brothers movie due out next year.

Admittedly, that's only one or two speculative stories per year. But I've also published six detective stories, three Western stories, three fable-esque stories, plus a lot of comics (about half with fictional narratives). And that doesn't account for our war fiction—which could be another dozen stories, depending on how you classify it.

In all, somewhere close to half of the fiction I've published would be classified as "genre fiction." But it's absolutely true that I want that fiction—including the science fiction—to say something about our world. Why? Mainly because we publish about four times as much nonfiction as fiction. If a story is going to appear alongside reporting from Iraq, Gaza, Afghanistan, or Somalia, then it better earn its space.

Personally, I don't think that's so hard. I mean, don't 1984 or Fahrenheit 451 reveal the terrors of life under totalitarianism better than any realist novel? What book is a more haunting evocation of the horrors of modern warfare than Slaughterhouse 5? And doesn't Ender's Game, born from the anxiety of the Cold War, now seem like a prescient vision of Predator drones in Afghanistan?

That's the kind of fiction that demands my attention. That's the kind of fiction I'm looking to publish.
David Barr Kirtley
75. davidbarrkirtley
And doesn't Ender's Game, born from the anxiety of the Cold War, now seem like a prescient vision of Predator drones in Afghanistan?

Hey. We actually just talked about this exact thing in the latest episode of the Geek's Guide to the Galaxy podcast, which includes an interview with P.W. Singer, author of the nonfiction book Wired for War, about the real-life use of military robots. To listen to the episode, click on "Podcasts" at the top of the page and then look for Episode 3.
SimonDH
76. Pat J
Tom Gauld has a very succinct view of the literary vs. sf arguments:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tomgauld/3440873009/
Jason Henninger
77. jasonhenninger
I can’t possibly respond to everything said here, but as I said earlier, this has given me a lot to think about.
I will respond to Mr. Genoways(@74) in particular, though, as I had already thought about writing to him personally. Since I brought this up in a public forum and he responded, it seems best to reply here.

Mr. Genoways,
First, thank you for replying, and for stating your views with greater aplomb than I did. Second, I owe you an apology. Your article in Mother Jones brought up old anger in me, and the piece I wrote focused on you and your publication even though the relative merit of genre and literary fiction was never the topic of your article. I was unfair to you and I sincerely apologize.

Though you can’t tell from this particular post, I am generally a pretty even-keel person. There are times, though, when my anger gushes out with such vehemence that the very thing I’m trying to defend becomes buried in my vitriol. In those moments, sarcasm overrides fact. This was obviously one such moment.

To state my position without sarcasm or accusation, I still prefer genre fiction to literary fiction. That’s my opinion; so be it.

I still believe that if magazines maintain an open mind regarding speculative fiction, this would be to everyone’s benefit, though based on your response I can see that your mind is already pretty open on the subject.

I still think speculative fiction deserves greater respect than it receives. I still consider “literary fiction” to be the name of a genre of its own, rather than a declaration of superior written content. I think all fiction is about the real world, real life, but each genre observes life from different parameters. In the future, though, I believe that my efforts would yield greater results if I focus on discussing the genres I love rather than vilifying those I don’t like.
--

Thank you once more, to all who responded, whether you agree, disagree or are simply tired of the argument.
SimonDH
79. Arthur J. levine
I agree.

Arthur Levine - author of the speculative fiction novel Johnny oops
http://johnnyoops.blogspot.comp
SimonDH
80. Ileana
SF? Are you by any chance discussing the Stormfront forum? ;)

Oh, you're talking about Science Fiction. Never mind, heh heh.
SimonDH
81. literary terms
As we all know literary fiction is a term which are commonly used for fictional works which contains literary merits.Literary fiction words are mainly used in the thriller or ficion movies, drama or some fictious short story.
<a href="http://literarydevices.com">literary terms</a>

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