Over at Tangent Online SF fan/critic Dave Truesdale jumps the shark as he decrys the evil Liberal conspiracy to force short fiction magazine editors to buy metrosexualized short stories and so forth and so on. Nick Mamatas has his usually sharp retorts on his livejournal.
Anyway, Dave wonders
if SF is going soft these days. One doesn’t often see hard-edged political stories in short SF anymore—at least not many of them in the past twenty, twenty-five years or so.
There must be a certain point where anyone gets old and all they can think about was how great and golden the past was. Like all those people who think the 50s were the shit because thats when they grew up. There are some great stories from the 50s, 60s, and 70s that I’ve read in ‘Best Of’ anthologies, but even in the ‘Best Of The Golden Age’ anthologies and collections I’ve checked out, I’m still wading through white male US-centric only fiction. There’s a lot of stuff that must have seemed absolutely amazing only because the reader was 12 years old and hadn’t thought about something when they encountered it.
And that’s cool. I don’t begrudge that. The Tobias theory of literature is that the more you read the better. I started out reading light adventure novels in great bulk before I attempted a deeply serious lit novel. I still read mostly ‘fun’ stuff, I have to be in the right mood for a tougher book.
Occasionally, we’ll see something by way of satire (humorous, as in Esther Friesner’s “Johnny Beansprout” from the July, 2004 F&SF; or darker, as in some of Terry Bisson’s or James Morrow’s short work), but they are too far and few between, when taken as a percentage of the tonnage of short sf/f foisted on readers today. Most of which deals with character interaction, or the feelings of characters, or how they feel about whatever milquetoast situation lazy authors choose to put them in (yet another essay).
Ooh, today’s SF authors are ‘lazy’ and write ‘milquetoast.’
Who cares if the story itself is a tired one, the theme is trite or lacks true imagination without anything new to say. But boy, how cleverly the author left the resolution to the story so opaque as to render the reader scratching his head in bewilderment. But then the reader, not wanting to feel as if he doesn’t get it, turns to reviews in a few major publications where liberal “critics” spin the story as one of wonderment and progressive story-telling, and how mahvelous and insightful and avant garde the newest little darling (or metrosexual male author) is. And the confused reader buys it, not wanting to feel left out, wanting to be with the “in crowd.” Yup, the age of metrosexual SF is upon us, and reinforced by an elite group of cookie-cutter reviewers and critics who buy into everything they’re led to believe is cool, or progressive.
The overall point of bringing up Silverberg’s column, Ballard’s forgotten story, and my own comments, is perhaps to strike a spark in today’s short sf/f writers. Not just in a political sense of awareness, and what isn’t being written about very much anymore, but more importantly not to forget the story. If you’re not writing about much of anything, it doesn’t matter how well “nothing” is written. SF, Speculative Fiction, or whatever you want to call it, is still a literature of the imagination. So use your imagination to its fullest, work it, and many times the style of the story will take care of itself.
Okay, here’s a spark: I’m insulted by Dave’s arrogance and paternalistic attitude in insinuating that we’re all lazy and write milquetoast. That strikes a nerve. I deal with that smug shit from outside the SF community all the time, nothing new. Unca Dave knows best, we just have to listen to him. Yet he’s hopping up and down about people forcing their opinions on others? So far Dave is the loudest opinion forcer I’ve seen who is unable to conceive of people being able to enjoy a piece of fiction he doesn’t like so therefore it’s obviously the result of a VAST and GIANT LIBERAL CONSPIRACY. Sure. Or maybe, using Occam’s razor, a lot of different people like different things that differ from him. Look up long tail theory or infinite diversity in infinite combination, man.
And speaking of lazy and milquetoast, this is one of the more badly written pieces of criticism I’ve seen. It hardly addresses what makes the Ballard story better than stories published today (which would be interesting, and I’m sure you could make a good argument for the Ballard story), it doesn’t single out what stories and themes in magazines today are specifically milquetoast or who is lazy, or what editors are perpetrating the vast liberal conspiracy. This is a blog entry, but not an editorial, or a review of the Ballard story. And repetitive, I have yet to see a David Truesdale opinion piece that doesn’t repeat the same old, tired arguments like a broken record. All over the net right now SF authors are debating some fascinating things like on David Moles’ weblog (check out this amazing comment threat here) and Matt Cheney’s weblog (even his well written provocativeSH ‘SF is dead’ article is a great start. I disagree with it, but it’s thought-provoking and well written) giving us some fascinating new insights into what new SF writers are thinking about, worrying about, and criticizing. That’s some critical conversation, not a generic ‘I don’t like X/it isn’t like the stuff from the old days/people today aren’t writing write’ screed.
Go into the comments of the Tangent article, and you suddenly find out what Dave’s beef still is:
The most recent example, David, is the Karen Joy Fowler short story that won the Nebula last year. I believe it was titled, “What I Didn’t See.” We had a long (many months) discussion of it back then, and absolutely no one–with any certainty–could say, because of the opaque, open-ended ending, what the story was about.
Dave’s beating a several year old dead horse that he’s mentally incapable of getting over. A story he didn’t like by Karen Joy Fowler won a major award.
He’s still sore about it.
I wonder why its so freaking hard for some people to allow other people to be different than them.
What’s ironic is not Dave’s proposition that the field is too PC, but Dave’s insistence that everyone agree with Dave, and he won’t stop arguing until it happens.
Don’t hold your breath.