Fantasy/SciFi

Top Ten Most Common Short Story Names

23 April 2015

From editor and fantasy/scifi publisher Neil Clarke:

I just noticed that we crossed the 50,000 point in our submissions system sometime in the last month. I thought it might be fun to do a quick analysis of the most popular story titles in that pile. Here’s the results:

1st Place – 18
Dust

2nd Place – 16
The Gift, Home, Hunger, Homecoming

3rd Place – 15
The Box

4th Place – 14
Monsters

Link to the rest at Neil Clarke and thanks to Dan for the tip.

PG wonders what the same list would look like for a romance publisher.

I’ve been doing my best to stay away from the current ruckus

19 April 2015

From author Eric Flint:

I’ve been doing my best to stay away from the current ruckus over the Hugo Awards, but it’s now spread widely enough that it’s spilled onto my Facebook page, and it’s bound to splatter on me elsewhere as well.

. . . .

First, on the Hugo and Nebula (and all other) awards given out in science fiction. Do they have problems? Yes, they all do. For a variety of reasons, the awards no longer have much connection to the Big Wide World of science fiction and fantasy readers. Thirty and forty years ago, they did. Today, they don’t.

Is this because of political bias, as charged by at least some of the people associated with the Sad Puppies slate? No, it isn’t—or at least not in the way the charge is being leveled. I will discuss this issue later, but for the moment let me address some more general questions.

What I’m going to be dealing with in this essay is a reality that is now at least tacitly recognized by most professional authors—and stated bluntly on occasion by editors and publishers. That’s the growing divergence between the public’s perception of fantasy and science fiction and the perception of the much smaller group of people who vote for literary awards and write literary reviews for the major F&SF magazines. There was a time in fantasy and science fiction when the public’s assessment of the field’s various authors and the assessment of its “inner circles” was, if not identical, very closely related. But that time is far behind us.

. . . .

Two examples are Murray Leinster and Andre Norton. Both Leinster and Norton had immensely successful literary careers that spanned over half a century. Leinster was once dubbed by Time magazine “the dean of science fiction”—he had the title before Heinlein more or less took it over—and it’s almost impossible to overstate Norton’s central position in the field for decades.

Nonetheless, in his entire career in science fiction, Murray Leinster got almost no recognition when it came to the field’s major awards.

. . . .

The situation was, if anything, even more extreme with Andre Norton. She was also nominated twice for the Hugo—for best novel (Witch World) in 1964, and for best novelette (“Wizard’s World”) a few years later, in 1968—but she didn’t win either time. Another way of looking at this is that, for almost the last forty years of her career (she didn’t die until 2005 and was writing actively until the very end), she received no recognition of any kind from the field’s premier award.

. . . .

Today, there are is only one author left who can regularly maintain the bridge between popular appeal and critical acclaim. That author is Neil Gaiman. And there are no more than a handful of others who can manage it on occasion. Perhaps the most prominent in that small group are Lois McMaster Bujold, Ursula LeGuin and George R.R. Martin.
Once you get beyond that very small number of authors, the field diverges rapidly. That handful aside, there is no longer any great overlap between those fantasy and science fiction authors whom the mass audience considers the field’s most important writers—judging by sales, at any rate—and those who are acclaimed by the small groups of people who hand out awards.

. . . .

Any author—or publisher, or editor—who gets widely associated with a political viewpoint that generates a lot of passion will inevitably suffer a loss of attractiveness when it comes to getting nominated for awards—or just reader reviews. Somebody is bound to get angry at you and denigrate your work, and often enough urge others to do the same.
Does it happen to people who are strongly associated with the right? Yes, it does. But it also happens to people who are strongly associated in the public mind with the left. If you don’t believe me, all you have to do is read through Amazon reader reviews of my work and see how many “reviews” are obviously triggered off by someone’s outrage/indignation/umbrage at what they perceive as my political viewpoint and have little if anything to do with the book which is theoretically being “reviewed.”

Nor does it matter very much whether the assessment people have is accurate or not. To give an example which is germane to this issue, there is a wide perception among many people in fandom—the average reader-on-the-street could care less—that Baen Books is a slavering rightwing publisher. And never mind the inconvenient fact that the author who has had more books published through Baen Books than any other over the past twenty years is…

(roll of drums)

Me.

Who is today and has been throughout his adult life an avowed socialist (as well as an atheist), and hasn’t changed his basic opinions one whit.

. . . .

Yes, it’s true that Larry Correia and John Ringo are pretty far to the right on the political spectrum and they don’t get nominated for major awards despite being very popular.

You know what else is true?

I’m very popular and further to the left on the political spectrum than they are to the right—and I never get nominated either. Mercedes Lackey isn’t as far left as I am, but she’s pretty damn far to the left and even more popular than I am—or Larry Correia, or John Ringo—and she doesn’t get nominated either.

Link to the rest at The official home page of author Eric Flint and thanks to Chris for the tip.

Here’s a link to Eric Flint’s books.

Some Sad Puppy Data Analysis

17 April 2015

From Difficult Run:

The list of fairly big-name outlets covering the 2015 Hugos / Sad Puppies controversy has gotten pretty long, but here’s how you know this is Officially a Big Deal: George R. R. Martin has been in a semi-polite back-and-forth blog argument with the Larry Correia for days. That’s thousands and thousands of words that Mr. Martin has written about this that he could have spent, you know, finishing up the next Game of Thrones book. I think we can officially declare at this point that we have a national crisis.

Martin’s blog posts are a good place to start because his main point thus far has been to rebut the central claim that animates Sad Puppies. To wit: they claim that in recent years the Hugo awards have become increasingly dominated by an insular clique that puts ideological conformity and social back-scratching ahead of merit. While the more shrill voices within the targeted insular clique have responded that Sad Puppies are bunch of racist, sexist bigots, Martin’s more moderate reply has been: Where’s the Beef? Show me some evidence of this cliquish behavior. Larry Correia has responded here.

As these heavyweights have been trading expert opinion, personal stories, and plain old anecdotes, it just so happens that I spent a good portion of the weekend digging into the data to see if I could find any objective evidence for or against the Sad Puppy assertions. It’s been an illuminating experience for me, and I want to share some of what I learned. Let me get in a major caveat up front, however. There’s some interesting data in this blog post, but not enough to conclusively prove the case for or against Sad Puppies. I’m running with it anyway because I hope it will help inform the debate, but this is a blog post, not a submission to Nature. Calibrate your expectations accordingly.

. . . .

Finding 1: Sad Puppies vs. Rabid Puppies

I have been following Sad Puppies off and on since Sad Puppies 2. SP2 was led by Larry Correia, and his basic goal was to prove that if you got an openly conservative author on the Hugo ballot, then the reigning clique would be enraged. For the most part, he proved  his case, although the issue was muddied somewhat by the inclusion of Vox Day on the SP2 slate. Vox Day tends to make everyone enraged (as far as I can tell), and so his presence distorted the results somewhat.

This year Brad Torgersen took over for Sad Puppies 3 with a different agenda. Instead of simply provoking the powers that be, his aim was to break its dominance over the awards by appealing to the middle. For that reason, he went out of his way to include diverse writers on the SP3 slate, including not only conservatives and libertarians, but also liberals, communists, and apolitical writers.

. . . .

Because Torgersen and Correia are more prominent, when I did learn about RP I assumed it was a minor act riding on the coattails of Sad Puppies 3 and little more. For this reason, I was frustrated when the critics of Sad Puppies tended to conflate Torgersen’s moderate-targeted SP3 with Vox Day’s fringe-based RP. But then I started looking at the numbers, and they tell a different story.

The Sad Puppies 3 campaign managed to get 14 of their 17 recommended nominees through to become finalists, for a success rate of 82.4%. Meanwhile, the Rapid Puppies managed to get 18 or 19 of their 20 recommendations through for a success rate of 90-95%.

. . . .
 Finding 2: Gender in Sci-Fi
I put together a table of all the Hugo nominees and winners with their gender. I know that gender isn’t the only diversity issue but it’s the easiest one to find data on. Here’s what I found:

a1

. . . .

[T]he diversity of the early 2010s was not unprecedented. There wasn’t a long, slow, continuous growth of diversity. There were a lot of female nominees in the early 1990s, and this gets omitted from articles that act as though sci-fi had achieved some milestones of diversity for the first time. It’s true that the 2010s were the best yet, but the most important symbolic line was crossed way back in 1992 when 52% (more than half) of the nominees were women. Second, the rebound towards the overall average started last year, not with the 2015 finalists. In 2013 there was an all-time record percentage of female finalists (61%) but in 2014 the numbers had flipped and 62% of the finalists were male. Although Sad Puppies 2 did exist in 2014, it had very little impact and so the rebound towards the status quo cannot reasonably be blamed entirely on SP3 / RP.

. . . .

But the fourth complication is by far the most important one. Back in 2013 a Tor UK editor actually divulged the gender breakdown of the submissions they receive by genre.

a2

. . . .

[I]f you have a situation where men and women are equally talented writers and where men outnumber women 4 to 1 and where the Hugo awards do a good job of reflecting talent, then 80% of the awards going to men is not evidence that the awards are biased or oppressive. It is evidence that they are fair. In that scenario, 80% male nominees is not an outrage. It’s the expected outcome.

Of course this just raises the next question: why is it that men outnumber women 4:1 in science fiction? For that matter, why do women outnumber men 2:1 in the YA category?

Link to the rest at Difficult Run and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

J.K. Rowling Interview

11 April 2015

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

How Hurricane Katrina Gave Rise to a Flood of Dystopian Fiction

7 April 2015

From Flavorwire:

The word dystopia came into being in the 19th century, through two modifications of existing words. First, the utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham, in his Plan of Parliamentary Reform, simply changed the prefix of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia (οὐ or “u” means “not” — so “no place”), which signified a fictional place, to κακό or “bad,” to create cacotopia: a bad place. Decades later, in 1868, Bentham’s disciple, John Stuart Mill, made a speech to parliament in which he reiterated “cacotopia” before upping the ante with his own neologism, “dystopia.”

Mill simply attached δυσ or “dys” (meaning “ill” or “abnormal” or “bad”) to the front of the word.

. . . .

It is significant that the word “dystopia” originated in Utilitarian philosophy and parliamentary debate. For those writers and orators, the idea of “dystopia” or “cacotopia” was deeply rooted in material possibility, the idea that such a bad place does or could soon exist. Utopia, on the other hand, was from the first always about the opposite: a perfect place that is also a fiction — a place that by its very etymology cannot exist. This, too, is where dystopia gets its power. We remember Orwell’s 1984 because it has so often paralleled our own societies.

There is something powerful about this distinction when you consider the enormous upswell in dystopian narratives in recent years. We’ve long had depictions of places or spaces that have gone to hell; pick more or less any house in Greek tragedy and you’ll find a “bad” or “abnormal” or “ill” place. But in the last several years, the flood of dystopian fiction in particular, from young adult blockbusters to genre-bending literary works, has become unavoidable. From Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy to The Hunger Games, from William Gibson’s Jackpot to Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, there is no shortage now of dystopias rooted in material reality.

. . . .

Are we really in the weathering a flood of dystopian literature? Judging by frequency of the search term alone, this would seem to be the case:


It’s clear that usage of “dystopia” in terms of “literary genre” has increased at an increasing rate since 2005, whereas prior to that year it was relatively flat. And it also appears that the increase occurs after a massive spike in 2005, one that defibrillates the entire concept into notoriety. A closer look reveals that, indeed, usage of the term was flat before 2005. It also shows that the spike occurred precisely in September 2005, or when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans:  

Link to the rest at Flavorwire

The Hugo Awards Were Always Political. But Now They’re Only Political.

5 April 2015

From io9:

Last August, the Hugo Awards were swept by a younger group of women and people of color. At the time, we said “This was really a year that underscored that a younger generation of diverse writers are becoming central to the genre.” So maybe it’s not surprising that there was an organized backlash.

. . . .

The new slate of Hugo Awards nominees were just announced …. Suffice to say, the nominees in pretty much every category (other than Best Novel) come pretty much exclusively from a fan campaign called Sad Puppies, organized by Brad R. Torgersen and Larry Correia. Last year, Correia organized a campaign which successfully placed one item in each category on the Hugo slate — so this year, they decided to go further. As John Scalzi has pointed out, this was not against the spirit or the letter of the Hugo Awards rules.

The Hugo Awards are voted on by fans, and anyone who purchases a supporting membership at Worldcon can nominate two years in a row. (And typically, it doesn’t take that many votes to nominate something successfully.) To Torgersen and Correia, this meant that a “rarefied, insular” group of writers were promoting their agenda by nominating works by women and people of color. To the rest of us, it looked as though science fiction and fantasy were finally catching up to reality — the best stories aren’t only the ones told by straight white men.

. . . .

 In any case, this slate of nominees has already launched a Twitter firestorm, and lots of people are planning to vote “No Award” in every category except “Best Novel.” It’s definitely a weird turn of events that, the year after Kameron Hurley’s double win, we see list of nominees that includes someone published by “Patriarchy Press.” And this new slate can only really be understood against the backdrop of ongoing, vicious fights over racism in science fiction.

Link to the rest at io9

Former TOR editor still longs to gatekeep the field

1 April 2015

From author Brad R. Torgersen:

I don’t usually take to fisking the comments of others in the field, but the recent words of Teresa Nielsen-Hayden simply demand it. Since my inception as a professional, I have made the case for an “open” system. No barriers. Not on writers, and not on fans. Publish, connect with your audience (for fun and profit!) and for God’s sake, no more gatekeeping of the “ghetto” that is the literary Science Fiction and Fantasy field. Writers are writers are writers, and fans are fans are fans. My reasoning along these lines is not original to me. Others were saying similar things ten-plus years ago. But now it’s gotten to the point that certain would-be gatekeepers have become so thoroughly convinced of their station — and so absolutely sure of your unworthiness to partake — that it’s time to stand up.

Sad Puppies 3 terrifies CHORF queen (and former TOR editor) Teresa Nielsen-Hayden because she knows that TruFans (the dyed-in-the-wool, insular, legacy group of fans who cluster about World Science Fiction Convention) are a dying breed. She knows that if enough glare is placed on the award (the Hugos) and enough “outside” fans (you and me and the rest of the universe) come to claim our place, then TruFans are done. Their relevance will be at an end. They had a good run, got big heads, decided they could begin trashing whomever they felt like, and now the mask is being cast off — at the end, when TruFans are imperiled by the harsh light of reality.

TNH: I should have been clearer. Those of us who love SF and love fandom know in our hearts that the Hugo is ours. One of the most upsetting things about the Sad Puppy campaigns is that they’re saying the Hugo shouldn’t belong to all of us, it should just belong to them.

. . . .

We never said the Hugo was ours, nor did we claim it should be ours. We claimed it belonged to no single person, nor any special group. It was (and is) the award of the field. Of all Science Fiction & Fantasy. It’s not Teresa’s personal property. It is not the property of the TruFans. Nor the CHORFs.

. . . .

No more gatekeepers. No more CHORFs. No more big fish in small fishbowls. No more taste-making.

TNH: When I say the Hugos belong to the worldcon, I’m talking about the literal legal status of the award. But I also know that one of the biggest reasons the rocket is magic is because it spiritually belongs to all of us who love SF.

You hear that, fans? We don’t count. The Hugo is Teresa’s personal prize. Hers, and that of the other TruFen and CHORFs. Nobody who voted for or supports Sad Puppies 3 loves SF. Teresa herself — the queen CHORF — has declared it. Nobody who hasn’t been properly inculcated into fandom to Teresa’s satisfaction will ever be allowed to love SF/F the way Teresa and her fellow TruFen love it.

Link to the rest at Brad R. Torgersen

Here’s a link to Brad R. Torgersen’s books

Controlling The Creatives

26 March 2015

From Kristine Katheryn Rusch:

Right now, a visible group of people in the field of science fiction are engaged in a protracted battle about the genre’s future. Both sides are practicing a nasty, destructive campaign against the other, and not worrying about the collateral damage they’re causing on the sidelines.

Those of us who’ve been in the field a long time have pretty much abstained from the arguments. Not because we lack opinions. We have opinions and have discussed them with each other privately, but we remain quiet because we’ve seen such protracted battles before.

When I came into the field in the 1980s, I watched the remnants of two such protracted battles. The first was about the legitimacy of Star Wars and Star Trek and whether or not Trek and SW fans even belonged in the genre, let alone any writers who admitted they enjoyed those things.

That first argument spilled into a sillier side argument about whether or not tie-in writers tainted their writing skills by writing novels in someone else’s universe. Hugo Award winner Timothy Zahn pretty much destroyed the naysayers by writing excellent sf novels under the Star Wars label and making a small fortune doing so.

The second argument was about whether fantasy was a legitimate genre. The writer-critics agreed that slipstream fantasy—the kind that where you can’t tell if the fantasy is something that really happened to the character or something that he misinterpreted—was legitimate. But the rest of it? That could’ve been crap, as judged by the terms the writer-critics used, like “fat fantasy novels,” as if they were all the same or “elfy-welfy” novels that obviously weren’t up to any kind of quality whatsoever.

When I published my first novel, a not-quite-fat fantasy novel set in a magical kingdom, a writer-friend told me that I had just ruined the career I was building because I was writing crap fantasy, not real literature.

. . . .

If you think these kinds of arguments only occur in the sf genre, think again. In the past few years, I participated in a few group projects in the romance genre. In two cases, one of the participants was a male romance writer, and I’ll be honest: until this sf argument started, I had never before seen such naked bigotry between writers.

Some of the female romance writers hated that a man was involved, wouldn’t admit that he could contribute anything of value, and essentially treated him (if they spoke to him at all) as if he was an imbecile. These women, all of a certain age, had had the same experience themselves in reverse in their real-world careers, so I was stunned that they would turn on a fellow human being like that, but turn they did.

. . . .

While these distinctions might sound silly to the casual reader, they’re extremely destructive to writers inside the various genres. I know of writers who stopped producing in the genres they loved because of the vicious attacks from one side or another. I also know of writers whose outspoken nastiness destroyed their careers with the very editors (and readers) they wanted to sell books to.

Since the advent of indie publishing, it’s not as easy to destroy a career as it was in the past. An editor might not want to take a toxic writer into the fold, but the writer can self-publish. You’d think that would solve the issues of divisiveness—if writers want to write something, they can—but it hasn’t. If anything, the problem has grown more pervasive, louder, and uglier.

Personally, I believe that a writer’s politics and religious beliefs (including beliefs about a favorite genre) should remain off-social media if at all possible, and that arguments in favor of one thing or another should be made in person, if at all.

I think it’s more important to incorporate your worldview into what you write and let the readers decide whether or not they want to read your work than it is to win an argument that will seem quaint fifteen years from now. Of course, I also believe that we should all look at the way people live their lives rather than focusing on the words they use or the color of their skin.

. . . .

My tenure in the publishing industry has shown me that these bitter disputes are really about change. One side resists the change while the other side advocates for it, and they remain locked at each other’s throats, calling each other names. The thing is, as they’re screaming at each other, other writers are quietly effecting change by doing what they do best—writing fiction.

. . . .

The problem with all of these arguments, from the cozy versus the hard-boiled, the fantasy versus science fiction, the women versus men, the white folks versus people of color, is that they prescribe how a story should be written.

What’s wrong with writing a story from your own heritage? If the story’s from a perspective that hasn’t seen a lot of print, then write it. If the story’s been done before (as is the case with so much white American-European fiction), write it anyway.

Write it. Because it comes from your personality, your knowledge, and your heritage. That story will contain your passion. Write it and let it find its audience.

I know that a lot of curated fiction—stuff that came out of traditional publishing—closed and barricaded the door to people of color (in almost all genres), to women (in most genres), and to men (in the romance genre). I know that these issues still need resolution.

I also know that indie publishing has allowed these voices to finally be heard.

That’s change, and so many people are so terrified of change that they react with startling bigotry and language or behavior that they would never use in polite company. Social media has allowed a lot of horrid things to slip through the cracks—racist, discriminatory, biased and just plain ugly stuff.

And because of it, so many newer writers are backing away from topics that they could easily write about now that the gatekeepers have lost their hold on the entry points into various fields. These newer writers are letting the opinions of others—others who, in the scheme of things really don’t matter much—shut down the creative process.

What these newer writers don’t realize is that a lot of these arguments are a last-ditch effort to control the conversation—and more importantly, to control the creatives.

Link to the rest at Kristine Katheryn Rusch and thanks to Bruce for the tip.

Here’s a link to Kristine Katheryn Rusch’s books

Helpless in the Face of Your Enemy: Writers and Attack Novels

20 March 2015

From author Harry Connolly via Black Gate:

Some writers plan their careers.

They scan the top of the best seller lists, think Hmm… here’s a police procedural, this one’s steampunk, these two are zombie novels, and this one’s about angels. Great! I’ve been wanting to try steampunk. I’ll write a steampunk murder mystery about a pair of mismatched cops. One will be a zombie and the other will be an angel. No, a fallen angel who has lost his celestial whatsit.

Which is a silly example, obviously, but authors manage the non-silly version to great success. As I recall, John Scalzi has said that he wrote Old Man’s War because MilSF seemed to be selling well. There are others, too, but I hesitate to name them because writing to the market has a bit of a stigma attached to it, although it shouldn’t. More power to them, I say.*

Me, I can’t do it. Not that I haven’t tried, but I can’t make it work. I don’t read fast enough to sample the sales lists widely, I can’t make myself write a book without screwing around with the tropes of the genre, and I suffer from attack novels.

. . . .

The first book I ever sold was an attack novel. So was the first book I ever started and abandoned. They haven’t all been, but when they come on me, all I can do is put them off until I finish whatever’s on deadline.

At the beginning of March, I released an attack novel that I started five years ago, and in every way that matters, it was a book I shouldn’t have written.

In fact, I shouldn’t even be talking about it here.

. . . .

I’ve put off writing about my attack novel long enough. For this final blog tour entry, I want to talk about that book, why it was absolutely the wrong thing to write, and why it couldn’t be denied.

I can almost pinpoint the day that the attack novel hit me. I was finishing Game of Cages, my second book for Del Rey, when I began to think about protagonists and exposition characters in urban fantasy. They were all Buffy and Giles: young fighters and the knowledgeable elders who told the fighters what to do.

But why did it have to be that way? In the modern day, sensible people don’t solve their problems by strapping on plate armor and a broad sword. They use peaceful means. The law. Diplomacy. Compromise. And yet, ever urban fantasy novel I read — set in major cities around the world — was written as though the characters lived in a lawless world of might-makes-right.

“Only trust your fists. Police will never help you,” is the quote, right? For thriller narratives, it’s a fine thing,*** but did every urban fantasy have to be a thriller of some kind?

At the same time, I was coming across a lot of articles, interviews, and news stories about people treating older women as though they were invisible: actresses who could not find roles to play, wives whose husbands had finally made their fortunes turning them out in favor of trophy wives, and so on.

Taken together, those observations made me want to read an urban fantasy novel with an older female protagonist, a book where the character who knows what needs to be done doesn’t pass that information like a shopping list to a young character. I wanted a book where she does it herself.

Link to the rest at Black Gate and thanks to Cora for the tip.

Here’s a link to Harry Connolly’s books

We’re all genre readers now: Can we finally stop the tired “pixies and dragons” vs. literary fiction wars?

14 March 2015

From Salon:

From the moment  a profile of him  appeared in the New York Times late last month, it was obvious Kazuo Ishiguro was going to be getting grief. “Will readers follow me into this?” the British novelist said of “The Buried Giant,”  his new book set in Britain during the Dark Ages, when dragons and ogres were regarded by the populace as simple facts of life. “Will they understand what I’m trying to do, or will they be prejudiced against the surface elements? Are they going to say this is fantasy?”

It was only a matter of time before someone in the fantasy/science-fiction world would take very public offense at these remarks, especially since Ishiguro didn’t go on to issue a neon-lit, marquee-size disclaimer stating that he sees nothing wrong with fantasy. There is no one more tetchy than a genre reader who suspects his or her favorite books are being denigrated — even when they’re not.

. . . .

I disagreed with both Le Guin and Kakutani; “The Buried Giant” is not, in fact, a fantasy novel. Like Ishiguro, I intend no knock on fantasy by making this distinction. It’s a genre I love, and the subject of my own book. Yet, just as people who dislike reading about ogres and wizards may turn up their noses at “The Buried Giant,” readers who love Tolkien, George R.R. Martin or Le Guin are likely to be disappointed with it, as well, especially if they expect a similar experience. Le Guin was one of them. She complained of “The Buried Giant” that “a fantastic setting requires vivid and specific description; while characters may lose touch with their reality, the storyteller can’t. A toneless, inexact language is incapable of creating landscape, meaningful relationship, or credible event.”

Longtime Ishiguro readers will recognize that “toneless, inexact language” could describe much of his work. From “The Remains of the Day” to “Never Let Me Go,” his fiction conveys an image of the world through the limited perspective of people who don’t understand, or who refuse to see, crucial aspects of their lives and environments. The reader views the story through this pinhole aperture, gradually acquiring a different picture. But the resonant emotional effect of Ishiguro’s fiction comes from the reader’s understanding of the tragic interplay between the aperture and the world on the other side of it — and, ultimately, every human being’s hobbled grasp of our true condition.

. . . .

The trouble is, few contemporary readers take a long view of literary genre. All of the books we label “genre fiction” today are novels or short stories, essentially modern fictional forms. In that sense, George R.R. Martin’s novels, for all their magic and dragons, have more in common with John Updike’s realistic fiction than they do with “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” A chivalric romance like “Sir Gawain,” besides being written in verse instead of prose, has a different conception of character, different narrative strategies and makes different uses of figurative devices than the novel. It’s the expression of a culture, the Middle Ages, with a fundamentally different concept of the universe, society, stories and the self.

. . . .

Now that the novel has swallowed and digested nearly all of the literary genres that preceded it, the term “genre” serves as a marketing rubric under which we group related novels. What connects them is, typically, motifs. Science fiction usually features advanced technology or a futuristic setting. Crime fiction has murders, detectives and clues. Fantasy has dragons and wizards or other supernatural elements from myth and folklore, or simply posits a world in which magic is real.

Still, motifs are not the same thing as form, and all of these books are recognizably novels, an essentially modern genre, even if “the novel” is fiendishly hard to define. Jane Smiley’s excellent “Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel” proposes that the novel is a long prose narrative that has a protagonist, or central character, although there are now novels in verse, ensemble novels and novellas that dance on the line between the short story and its bigger relative. Nevertheless, Smiley’s formulation is good, and the works that conform to it tend to share, as well, qualities that are harder to nail down, such as an effort to create and explore plausible human psychology in the main characters and a series of events that constitute a shaped plot.

Link to the rest at Salon and thanks to Tom for the tip.

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