Flight of the Vajra: Human Wave: To Sum Up

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012-04-21 21:05:30 No comments

For perspective, here's a roundup of all my previous "Human Wave" commentary posts.

And the original article that started it all. Read that first if you're wondering what this is about.

Now that I've gone through each of the points (with one particular point condensed into another for the sake of brevity), a thread common to most of the posts has become clearer:

Science fiction (and fantasy) (SF&F, for short) have many things to teach self-consciously literary fiction, just as the latter has many things to teach the former. The problem is that each has learned the wrong lessons from the other. SF&F has taught litfic to pretend an interest in technology and science as a cover story for the same-old same-old, and litfic has taught SF&F to be pretentious and audience-alienating.

This isn't how it's supposed to work. SF&F should teach litfic how to he truly unrestrained in its vision and sense of wonder, and litfic should teach SF&F how to observe and report back on human behavior, wisely.

The number of books on either side of the camp that accomplish this is small, and that may will just be Sturgeon's Law at work, ensuring that the number of truly good things in any field remain a minority. There are very few SF&F books that feel like they are about people or that seem to stem from any sense of well-observed human behavior, just as there are few litfic books that seem to have any real sense of wonder or curiosity about existence.

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Random example. I submit as evidence for the latter Jonathan Franzen's recent statements about technological efforts towards immortality, which he finds silly — and not in the sense that Stanisław Lem found them silly. Lem made fun of them in the way Swift mocked his countrymen: he wanted to provoke them into taking a good hard look at themselves. Franzen doesn't even seem interested in the subject as one worthy of literary study, not even for satire's sake; he comes off as incurious, a word I feel terrible typing but which seems all too fitting here. (It's not helped by the fact that his own POV on the subject — which amounts to "why would anyone want to do that?" — is itself worthy of a good discussion, but if his mind's elsewhere, no amount of grousing from me will change it.)

Is it any wonder that there is such renewed interest in fiction normally marketed to young adults? There, at least, some sense of wonder remains alive, even if it is being squeezed into forms more amenable to marketing than awakening a greater consciousness about life. People my age and older read The Hunger Games and feel for once like they are being shown something halfway new. We should feed this urge as best we can, and it's not as if we have any shortage of material for doing so. We just do a terrible job of presenting it and awakening interest in it.

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My position is ticklish because I walk from one side of the aisle to the other freely and sometimes feel as if I am doing the people I just left behind a disservice by doing so. If I tell this budding author of military/political sci-fi that he should read Graham Greene instead of David Drake, will he feel like I'm doing him no favors? If I mention to this one with more conventional literary ambitions that a little less posturing and a little more storytelling wouldn't be a bad thing, is he going to feel like I'm saying he should tattoo SELL OUT on his knuckles?

Please note I'm not saying these things out of some sense that only I have the answers that would bridge the gap between the two. I have more questions than I do answers. I've only just started to wade into this dilemma, and I'm not even up to my ankles yet. All I can promise is that I'll continue to grapple with it.

Tags: Flight of the Vajra Human Wave fantasy science fiction writers writing