Return of the Blog Gate - Mirror of Ambrose James Enge
Return of the Blog Gate
After well over a month of slacking, I've finally posted a new Blog Gate entry, this one a dignified whine about whiners, specifically the type of person who says (and people have been saying this for as long as I remember), "SF doesn't get any respect!" Appropriate answers run a narrow gamut from "Yes," to "No" to "So?" but I managed to expand those three words into roughly 500 because I am a professional. So my SFWA card keeps on telling me.
My return to the lists of bloggerdom was partly inspired by a fortunate accident: Lou Anders kindly quoted a wisecrack of mine about "those who thirst for the foamy gray poison of respectability" in a post which sparked an interesting discussion, and the quote was picked up by Pat's Fantasy Hotlist and io9, not exactly in the Oh-my-God-what-a-genius acclaimy way one would always prefer to be quoted. But it suddenly occurred to me that those that are begging for genre-respect always achieve the opposite. They're like Rodney Dangerfield, only they can't smell their own flop sweat. So I thought I would kindly point it out, that being the kind of guy I am.
I notice that in one link, someone claims that the ghettoization of SF is something new. . . .
And there is, in this particular area, another reason not to whine. They can't give you what you want. If you have a country of the blind, and they practice a form of sculpture that is tactile, their judgments on our sculpture would -- miss something. The literati are not interested in what speculative fiction is about. This is why they like 1984 and Brave New World -- because they are really about contemporary times, and they can overlook that they are situated elsewhere.
I'm not sure there are literati anymore (in the sense of a coherent group of influence). Certainly, in academia, anything can be studied and anything can be amusing, but nothing can be reverenced. We've more or less gone out of the business of canonizing literary works.
You don't live in NYC. Believe me, the twittering classes (of which I am a proud member), are all about canonizing what they like. And their influence on the cultural aspirations of the rest of the country is inordinate.
I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on this one, James.
I think that SF deserves a chance to prove how good it is. Most literary awards are supposed to be about pushing the boundaries, and the avant garde, and right now, SF is at the forefront of literary form, but no one seems to know. And if we don't shout out about it, they never will.
Of course no one wants to see SF go down the path of boring formulaity, but it would be nice to get the chance to see an SF novel spank the mediocre stuff that has been winning the Booker over the last few decades.
It's okay if we disagree, and I'm not going to talk you around. But I don't think awards are particularly important, compared to reaching an audience. Many people (including me) would say that James Joyce was the greatest English language novelist of the 20th century. But he never won the Nobel. His reputation hasn't suffered from it.
You're right. It isn't about the awards. But sometimes those awards are a way to reach a wider audience - most people who are currently reading the Man Booker winning novel (at #1 in UK sales ranking, ahead of Dan Brown as of two days ago) had never heard of the book or the author just a week earlier.
I can see that... but the status of an award ultimately rests with the quality of the work it honors. I have a Darwinian sense that either these awards will honor good work (whether it's sf or not) or they'll become irrelevant. If SF has to depend on a direct appeal to readers, rather than an introduction via an award, I'd say SF is better off in the long run.
How "vaguely grandiose" of you, Mr. New-book-release!
I wonder, though--don't you think that jazz's "respectability" helped it survive the popular wave that rock music represented? Few musical forms ever completely disappear, but don't you think the interest and accolades of elites preserves artistic forms that would otherwise fade away? You don't see a lot of barbershop quartet clubs, after all.
"I wonder, though--don't you think that jazz's 'respectability' helped it survive the popular wave that rock music represented?"
I see what you mean, but (and I'm sorry if this sounds callous) I don't think jazz's survival amounts to much. When I listen to newer jazz (which I do now and then) I hear players rendering older music with more solos and less swing than the older versions or doing newer music that is strikingly free from flavor. I'm willing to believe that Wynton Marsalis, for instance, is as good a guy as he is a player; and he's doing good work in preserving the heritage of jazz. But Miles Davis he's not.
Jazz was still sometimes charting well against other forms of popular music as late as the early 70s--Redd Holt and Eldee Young, a couple of Ramsey Lewis' former sidemen, had a couple of big hits around that time. And Herbie Hancock and others have done a lot of work to keep jazz lively. But, in general, musicians seem to have opted for safer, blander sounds. I don't think modern jazz compares well to classical music, where you can find artists performing with fierce commitment music that was written centuries ago.
All this seems vaguely grandiose, but there it is.
"You don't see a lot of barbershop quartet clubs, after all."
Sadly, you do...I used to work at a large convention hotel and 3-4 times a year, we'd get barbership quartet conventions filling the hotel. I don't recall the name of the male outfit, but the female barbership con was called "The Sweet Adelines." They'd wander the hallways, in costume, singing to each other. Rod Serling would have loved it.
I'd say the writer of our era and the "recent" past most likely to be still read five centuries from now would be Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and he never won a Nobel or any other major writing award (at least, as far as I know). His knighthood came as a reward not for his Sherlock Holmes stories or his Professor Challenger stories or his "serious" historical novels, but from a grateful British government in recognition of his propaganda writings supporting the Boer War.
The ultimate writing award: the government handing you a title in front of your name that requires you to change your card, your letterhead, all that good stuff. (Extra credit: I wonder if Terry Pratchett's Visa card says "Sir Terry Pratchett?")
Your most recent post reminds me of these lovely seven words that we can also say:
Doris Lessing, science fiction writer, Nobel Laureate
The sf community doesn't seem terribly interested in Lessing, perhaps because sf wasn't the majority of her work, but she was as ardent as any ghettoized heir to the pulp tradition in her defense of the genre. I heard her speak to a full house in one of the largest venues at Rutgers University, and she devoted a good five minutes of her talk (on what most people would have considered a completely unrelated topic) to detailing the ways in which science fiction was at the forefront of world literature despite the mainstream literary world's failure to notice. The Nobel committee doesn't seem to have held it against her.
Some seek the foamy gray poison of respectability, and some have it thrust upon them.