October 15th, 2011 / 1:24 am

Something Film Understands but that Literature Doesn’t

I was talking with Jeremy M. Davies recently (actually, we were on our way to see Drive), and the topic of genre as art came up. Now, Jeremy and I are both huge into genre, in all media. We’re nuts over spy thrillers, sci-fi, and fantasy, for instance—not to mention Batman comics. (Only the good ones, though, natch.)

And of course lots of people in various lit scenes (all over) don’t think that genre fiction can be art. They’re really wedded to that “high art / low art” divide. (Or the “literary fiction / all else” divide, as it’s so commonly called.)

Me and J, we were saying how we don’t get it. How can someone read, for instance, Patricia Highsmith’s Ripliad and not recognize it as total artistic brilliance? Or Philip K. Dick’s VALIS, which is one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, hands down? And of course I’d argue that Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is one of the finest things published in the 1980s, “despite its being” a comic book. (I didn’t spend all that time analyzing it at Big Other because I thought it was merely cute.)

Anyway, I came to a certain conclusion…

I said to Jeremy, “I think what’s going on here is that you and I come from a film background, just as much as we come from a literary one. And in cinema, this divide doesn’t exist. There, it’s completely accepted that genre films can be great art!

“Just think about it: A Trip to the Moon, The Great Train Robbery, The Birth of a Nation, Nosferatu, Metropolis, Love Me Tonight, Trouble in Paradise, Duck Soup, Bringing Up Baby, The Maltese Falcon, Cat People, Heaven Can Wait, The Seventh Victim, Out of the Past, The Third Man, Sunset Blvd., The Asphalt Jungle, Johnny Guitar, Kiss Me Deadly, The Night of the Hunter, The Searchers, Written on the Wind, Touch of Evil, Vertigo, Sweet Smell of Success, North by Northwest, Rio Bravo, Some Like It Hot, Breathless, Yojimbo, La jetée, Charade, Point Blank, 2001, Rosemary’s Baby, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Two-Lane Blacktop, Solyaris, Don’t Look Now, The Godfather Part II, Night Moves, The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Empire Strikes Back, The Shining, Blade Runner, Blue Velvet, Goodfellas, Dead Man, Babe: Pig in the City, The Thin Red Line, The Limey… all widely regarded as great works of art, and all indisputably genre films. I mean, no one in cinema ever says anything as laughable as, ‘2001, great movie—but of course it’s not really science-fiction…'”

So I think that’s something that film understands but that literature has yet to grap.

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  1. Kyle Minor


  2. Kyle Minor

      One thing about those genre films you mentioned, though: One way or another, they are technically virtuous. In film, it is more often the case that genre movies are, because they have the money to hire the talent that makes their surfaces as beautiful (or ugly, if that’s the aim) as the vision of their maker requires. In film, genre movies are more likely to be craftsmanly than indie or “literary” films. 

      In prose, this seems to be less often the case. The equivalent of the visual and auditory surface in prose is language, and genre fiction less often has craftsmanly beautiful (or ugly) sentences than indie or literary fiction. Ultimately, I think that this is the strongest argument against the artliness (or willful artlessness) of most genre fiction — the crafters aren’t as often able to achieve the effects they mean to achieve. Even Philip K. Dick’s novels, which I often admire, are often flawed by the unintentional clunkiness of the prose.

      I think that genre fiction is more likely to move in the direction you’re talking about when more accomplished writers take it on. Recent genre-inflected work by the likes of Richard Price, Donald Ray Pollock, Grace Krilanovich, etc., seems likely to win more converts to your position. And, outside the United States, I don’t think there’s ever been quite the divide there is here — to give a few examples: Stanislaw Lem, Doris Lessing, Haruki Murakami, etc.

  3. A D Jameson

      That’s a fair point, although I’m a bit wary to follow the line of reasoning here that equates technical virtuosity with “fine prose” (especially on a sentence level). Philip K. Dick, for instance, was certainly not the finest prose stylist to have ever lived (although I think his prose is much, much better than people usually give him credit for—check out the coda of Flow My Tears, or really anything he wrote after 1970, when he finally started revising)—but that doesn’t mean his writing isn’t virtuoso.

      (Jeremy will insist here that I point out the first chapter of A Maze of Death, a brilliant and underrated PKD that he and only recently stumbled across, and which really does have a fantastically well-written first chapter.) (And for anyone out there who hasn’t read PKD, the general rule of thumb is that everything pre-1964 is “disposable,” 64–67 sees lots of brilliant but “badly written” stuff—but c’mon! the guy was on speed and churning out 60 pages of finished prose per day!—1967–1970 sees truly brilliant insane stuff (A Maze of Death stems from this period), and then 1970 onward sees his late, lush, “fine prose” period, during which he doesn’t write too many books (though they’re all brilliant; VALIS comes from this period), but instead spends most of his time working on his 8000 page-long (yes) philosophical/theological/whateverological Exegesis, still very sadly (though understandably) unpublished… (Lethem’s supposedly editing a version of it; I cannot wait.)

      Someday I’ll write my treatise on PKD (in a nutshell, I regard him primarily as a prophet, not an artist—which isn’t to say he also wasn’t an artist), but for now: someone was asking me recently why he’s so good. And I said one of the things that makes his whole body of work so unique is that PKD ultimately wants to argue that nothing will save you. Religion, drugs, the government, love—they’re all lies; everything that you believe is a total lie, and that includes fiction. And as such, everything must be constantly undone. So from that (admittedly extremely paranoid) point of view, it really wouldn’t make his books any better if they were “better written”—they’d just be better lies. At least as they are now, the lie is more apparent…

      But where Dick really excels, and has always excelled (besides his pure visionary function, which is unparalleled by anyone in recent fiction) is in his wielding of genre conventions. Which he wielded the way King Kong wielded biplanes—he just smashed those things against one another. Terms like “mash-up” don’t even begin to describe it; Dick is positively loopy the way he skips from genre to genre, and from one novel to the next, all in the space of 60 pages bound within one cover. (Check out, for instance, The Game-Players of Titan (1963), not because it’s particularly well-written—it’s minor Dick—but for a prime example of how the novel “resets” every 60 pages or so. It makes total sense: Dick would bang out 60 pages, crash, recover, they bang our another 60 pages without bothering to read what he’d already written. So it’s constantly evolving underfoot, as four or five different novels just get smashed together. There aren’t really plotholes because that implies that any of the plots in the novel are consistent enough to have holes! It’s pretty deranged writing beyond the wildest dreams of many experimental novelists—and it’s minor Dick. Very bad sentences.)

      So one really shouldn’t read him so much on the prose level as on the device level. Which must be a large part of why I, pure formalist that I am, adore him so much…

      Patricia Highsmith, meanwhile, was a truly magnificent prose stylist. “Better than Kafka,” is what I like to call her… (She certainly was meaner.)

  4. Joseph THomas

      I have to disagree with you, Kyle, respectfully. (And I mean that: you seem like a cool guy.) I think that there are just as many BAD – as in badly made: containing poor, unsatisfactory aesthetic choices – genre films, proportionally (because there are fewer films made than books published, as films cost so much more to produce), as there are books. Think of all the clunky, badly filmed, horribly acted, terribly written sci-fi movies produced in the 80s alone, or the number of shitty westerns for every The Searchers or The Good the Bad and the Ugly. I suppose one could do a systematic study on this, crunching numbers and all, but I’m not the cat to do it. Plus, the question of style – and what counts as successful style – is complicated. I’ll take (and LOVE) Phil Dick’s so called “clunky” prose over some willfully “beautiful” or “literary” novel any day (lots of folks love The Corrections, but I’d put Phil up against Franzen any day. Sure, there are some novels that Phil was cranking out because he needed rent money, and thus couldn’t revise and rework as much as the novel deserved, and there were some projects that he no doubt wouldn’t have written had money not been a concern (the old question of autonomous verse heteronomous art, as Adorno puts it), so most “literary” novelists don’t crank out as many books as Dick did. But Dick’s best? His prose is different, surely than, say Dave Wallace or Don DeLillo or whomever, but different doesn’t mean worse. 

  5. daniel bailey

      I love the babe movies

  6. A D Jameson
  7. A D Jameson

      Joseph! Good to see you here!

      I want also to piggyback that I, personally, really love Dick’s prose style, warts and all. It took me a little while to get used to it, but once I did, I came to see it more as idiosyncratic than bad, per se.

      I still haven’t read everything by the guy (I’ve read maybe 20 of his 60 books), although I’m steadily working my way through all of it, and each time I pick up a new one and encounter his unique voice, I have to smile; it really is like re-encountering an old friend. … My that sounds terribly clichéd, and won’t do anything to win over the wary, so let me say instead: “When I pick up a new Dick novel and start to read, I can well understand what Brian Wilson felt when he heard a passing bicycle bell. Minus the nervous breakdown part.”

      OK, here, for everyone’s Wilsonian pleasure, is a link to the Google Books edition of A Maze of Death. Do check out the first chapter. Hell, just read the table of contents!

      1. In which Ben Tallchief wins a pet rabbit in a raffle
      2. Seth Morley finds out that his landlord has repaired that which symbolizes all Morley believes in
      3. A group of friends gather together, and Sue Smart recovers her faculties
      4. Mary Morley discovers that she is pregnant, with unforeseen results
      5. The chaos of Dr. Babble’s fiscal life becomes too much for him
      6. For the first time Ignatz Thugg is up against a force beyond his capacity
      7. Out of his many investments Seth Morley realizes only a disappointing gain- measured in pennies
      8. Glen Belsnor ignores the warnings of his parents and embarks on a bold sea adventure
      9. We find Tony Dunkelwelt worrying over one of mankind’s most ancient problems
      10. Wade Frazer learns that those whose advice he most trusted have turned against him
      11. The rabbit which Ben Tallchief won develops the mange
      12. Roberta Rockingham’s spinster aunt pays her a visit
      13. In an unfamiliar train station Betty Jo Berm loses a precious piece of luggage
      14. Ned Russel goes broke
      15.Embittered, Tony Dunkelwelt leaves school and returns to the town in which he was born
      16. After the doctor examines her X-rays, Maggie Walsh knows that her condition is incurable

      And that opening paragraph!

      His job, as always, bored him. So he had during the previous week gone to the ship’s transmitter and attached conduits to the permanent electrodes extending from his pineal gland. The conduits had carried his prayer to the transmittter, and from there the prayer had gone into the nearest relay network; his prayer, during these days, had bounced throughout the galaxy, winding up—he hoped—at one of the god-worlds.

      Don’t miss Gandalf’s cameo later i the chapter. (Yes, Gandalf!)

      And the novel’s “Author’s Foreword”:

      The theology in this novel is not an analog of any known religion. It stems from an attempt made by William Sarill and myself to develop an abstract, logical system of religious thought, based on the arbitrary postulate that God exists. I should say, too, that the late Bishop James A. Pike, in discussions with me, brought forth a wealth of theological material for my inspection, none of which I was previously acquainted with.

      In the novel, Maggie Walsh’s experiences after death are based on an L.S.D. experience of my own. In exact detail.

      The approach in this novel is highly subjective; by that I mean that at any given time, reality is seen—not directly—but indirectly, i.e., through the mind of one of the characters. This viewpoint mind differs from section to section, although most of the events are seen through Seth Morley’s psyche.

      All material concerning Wotan and the death of the gods is based on Richard Wagner’s version in Der Ring des Nibelungen, rather than on the original body of myths.

      Answers to questions put to the tench were derived from the I Ching, the Chinese Book of Changes.

      “Tekel upharsin” is Aramaic for, “He has weighed and now they divide.” Aramaic was the tongue that Christ spoke. There should be more like him.

      I mean c’mon that’s terrific terrific stuff! I’d kill to be able to write a foreword like that! (not to mention, to also mean it!)

  8. Joseph THomas

      A Maze of Death is one of my favorite Dick novels. And, man, VALIS? Horselover Fat? God, I love that book. I especially dig the way he blurs the line between Horselover and himself and the “speaker” of the book, yet another character. The best parts are the spots where Dick seems like he’s making mistakes, moving from “he” to “I” and back in the same paragraph or sentence. I was young when I first read it, and was really confused by it at first – delightfully so.

  9. Sks

      You sound like you’re lost in a field of straw men.

  10. Jon

      But the divide between ‘art-house’/’indie’ and ‘Hollywood’ does exist in modern film-making, as does the generally accepted rule that a good ‘popcorn’ movie is a different kind of entertainment to an artistically accomplished film. Remember that much of what we recognise as genre in either medium is the wilful intervention of the marketing department, who will push a book or film as sci-fi/romance/crime if they think it will appeal to existing broad audiences for those genres. Hence the more ‘artistic’ a product is, the more it attempts to challenge convention or employ subtlety and originality, the less likely it will make a good genre product.

      If there is, however, more of a stark divide in literature, I think it’s more likely because there’s more of a stark contrast between writers who aim to merely entertain, and those who aim for artistic accomplishment. In cinema, the budgetary stake means that arty types will still rely on genre tropes to keep the producers/investors on-side. It’s rare that you get a Lynch or a Kronenberg. In literature, there’s more of a precedent for writers staying well outside of established genre conventions.

      Let’s not forget also that writers like Dick and Vonnegut are generally accepted as transcending the genre of sci-fi where most sci-fi writers do not. The ‘high’ and ‘low’ art categories are only broad guidelines, with both categories being somewhat dismissive (‘high art’ is characterised as dry and impenetrable) and the implication being that the good stuff likes somewhere in between.

  11. gregory howard


      Maybe you can help me with this by defining literature and clarifying genre.. Because, while I think at one time there was a divide, that time has come and gone. There are plenty of writers who acknowledge the importance of/are influenced by genre (written). Lethem, Evenson, Juliah Leigh, Cormac McCarthry. I mean China Meiville, Neil Gaiman– are people arguing that they aren’t good writers? I haven’t met a writer that doesn’t take Hammett seriously. There’s the Shelley Jackson-Kelly Link Continuum, which may come from Angela Carter who people love. What about Ballard? And Burroughs for chrissakes? HTML’s own Blake Butler is certainly working with horror and dsytopia in some capactiy. Hell, dystopia is everywhere in fiction these days. I feel like a lot of writers today are working in the Calvino tradition, which you could call genre-influenced or at least inflected. Wallace took the scifi parts of Infinite Jest very seriously. So I guess I’m a bit unclear (it’s early, the coffee hasn’t really kicked in, I haven’t been sleeping well) here: is the question why doesn’t lit take genre seriously (which think it does and has, but maybe before and the once again after Modernism, maybe your target is Modernism?) or is it, if the writers take genre so seriously why didn’t they actually write straight-up genre? 

      Ok. confusing post over.

  12. Nathan Huffstutter

      With the basic assumption that the film community “gets” something that the literary community can’t quite “grap” (leave it, it’s my new favorite word, like clutching for crap), I think you’re making the mistake of comparing the end results of a collaborative medium with the end results of a solitary one. If, just to get their literary novel off the ground, every novelist had to endlessly pitch their concept, write treatments, sell draft after notated draft of the blueprint (script), proceed through “dailies” where after each day’s progress they had to justify to the moneymen why that day’s progress was worth that day’s budget…then you would likely see a much different end result.

      Conversely, in film, when you let the inspired genius run wild without those maddening hurdles, well, I’m guessing you’ve seen Hearts of Darkness (not to get into a debate on the merits of Apocalypse Now, just to point out that no one in Hollywood is eager to repeat that sort of production). Whatever thin background I can claim, it’s a background in film: the “A-Ha!” moments when I was young came watching Do The Right Thing, Heathers, Blood Simple, etc, and among the many lessons I learned from writing in Hollywood, the most powerful is that a screenplay that does not sell is truly a worthless object. It is not a work of art that justifies itself, it holds few satisfactions for the creator and few (if any) pleasures for an outside reader – a script exists purely for it’s potential to be adapted, molded, oftentimes to have virtually every word changed in the service of a collaborative vision (let’s agree to set aside the outlier of auteur theory).

      Anyway, my point, insofar as I have one, is that the difference you see relative to genre is probably less a result of the literary community’s collective snobbery and more just the grinding gears that go into filmmaking as a functional practice.

      And still, at the end of the day, Nelson Algren, Graham Greene, James Jones, Cormac McCarthy, the aforementioned Highsmith, I think we could still pull together a list of great books with genre elements at least the equal of your list of great genre films. Carry on…

  13. Bill

      I agree with Gregory, confusion and all. I follow (and enjoy) most of the writers he named. And PK Dick.

      I used to read a huge amount of what most people would consider genre fiction. Sure, some of it I would consider comparable to Ballard, Burroughs etc, but there’s also a lot of what I consider plain sloppy and bad writing.

      This topic seems to come up here every few months. Perhaps AD can name some “genre writers” (whatever that means) who “don’t get respect” (whatever that means), and we can all argue about whether they belong on the list? It helps to nail down specifics.


  14. Joseph THomas

      Hey, Nathan. I’m a professor at SDSU, and I teach SciFi, Children’s Literature, experimental literature, etc. etc. But I do hear my colleagues say things like, “Oh, Lethem? He’s not SciFi, he’s speculative fiction.” And my MFA students come up to me all the time with comments like, “God, I loved your SciFi class, but I can’t write a SciFi story in my fiction class.” Or, “There’s no way I could write a children’s poem in my poetry workshop.” 

      These points of view are changing, but they’re changing slowly. We need to acknowledge, I think, that they’re wide-spread (every school I’ve attended resisted genre conventions in the writing workshop), so as to better combat them.

  15. Marco

      To start with? M John Harrison – Samuel Delany – Thomas M. Disch – John Crowley – Russell Hoban – Alan Garner – Alan Moore – David R. Bunch – Shirley Jackson – James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon) – Karen Joy Fowler – Maureen F. McHugh – Molly Gloss – James Crumley – Charles Willeford – Horace McCoy – Jim Thompson – Chester Himes – James Sallis – Patricia Highsmith – Donald Westlake – Dorothy B. Hughes – Carol Emshwiller – Gwyneth Jones – John Sladek – Avram Davidson – Kathleen Ann Goonan – Eleanor Arnason – Greer Gilman – Pamela Zoline – Gene Wolfe – The Strugatsky Brothers – Ted Chiang…

  16. BadVibes

      And Mr. Thomas Pynchon is the elephant in the room, again.

  17. A D Jameson

      Yeah, A Maze of Death belongs among his major works, I think (others: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Do Androids Dream…, Ubik, Flow My Tears, A Scanner Darkly, VALIS).

      In VALIS, I adore how he interrogates not only his real and  fictional selves (as successfully as Borges, IMO), but the distinctions we make between science-fiction, religion, and drug use until there’s no longer any distinction.

  18. Marco

      Robert Aickman, Thomas Ligotti, Michael Cisco, Davis Grubb, Charles Portis…

  19. A D Jameson

      You’ve kind of repeated my point: that in lit we regard folks like Dick as having “transcended” genre, as though they’re no longer in it. No one says anything like that in cinema studies.

      Jack Vance, totally a fantasy/sci-fi guy. He doesn’t transcend that in the slightest; he’s also a brilliant writer. Just like in that mind-blowing Matrix spoon scene, there need be no contradiction.

      Genre can be (and is) a marketing category, but it also can be (and is) a formal-analytical thing. (I know capitalism has totally subsumed art, but not every decision need be purely a marketing decision.) I think other categories you point to, like “art-house/indie/popcorn/Hollywood,” are much more marketing categories than genre is.

      To say that an artwork belongs to a genre just means, really, that its artist has employed “enough” conventions taken from a recognizable body of conventions (i.e., that body is the genre). As Wallace Stevens put it:

      I placed a cowboy in Terrell County,
      And rugged he was, upon a plain.
      It made the Western genre conventions
      Surround that plain.

      But for some reason lots of lit folks like to read something like No Country for Old Men and say, “Despite the setting and cowboy and said cowboy’s ruggedness, NCFOM isn’t really a Western. Cormac McCarthy has once again transcended the genre.”

      It’s like a magic trick! But it’s not good magic; I think that it’s Mistaken.

  20. A D Jameson

      I’d argue that Neil Gaiman isn’t a good writer. :)

      Literature: written stuff
      Genre: a body of associated conventions

      I don’t necessarily disagree with you, Greg. Sure, some writers in some genres are taken seriously, and some folks these days are using genre conventions in their work. (And I want to stress that this post grew out of Actual Comments that people left here at HTMLGIANT, dismissing Drive as clichéd genre work. So that bias still exists somewhere at least, and even in the way some approach film.)

      But I think that’s something different from what I’m saying. Might you not agree—I mean, it’s certainly been true in my experience—that many, many lit folk, when discussing the authors you name, say that said authors have “transcended the genre”? Certainly not everyone says it—I myself would never say it—but lots of
      people still do say it. My point is, nothing needs

      Meanwhile, can you and I name a single romance novelist who’s taken seriously*? Or is it laughable to think there might even be such a thing? So there’s one whole genre that’s excluded from Quality.

      Furthermore, the artists you mention are often those who take genre conventions and then create hybrid texts that exhibit the traits that appeal to High Lit folk. (To paraphrase Quentin Tarantino: “It doesn’t surprise me that most film critics think Jackie Brown is my best film. I made that one for them.”) But what do we do with a “pure” genre writer like Jack Vance? We tend to relegate him to the sci-fin bin of history, that’s what.

      …Always good to hear from you, Greg!

      Cheers, Adam

      *I’d propose D. H. Lawrence.

  21. A D Jameson

      Yeah. Delany makes a great example. Lit folk will discuss (and publish) Hogg, but not Jewels of Aptor (my personal favorite of his novels).

      (OK, Delany also make a poor example, because some lit folks do take Dhalgren seriously.)

  22. A D Jameson

      That’s basically my point. Thanks, Joseph! And thanks, Nathan, for catching that typo! (I’m a terrible speller.) I’ll leave it as per your suggestion…

      I like a lot of your points, too, re: collaboration; you may have something these… Although I also think we tend to erase signs of genre in “literary fiction.”

      Cheers, A

  23. A D Jameson

      I’ve only ever heard sci-fi folks refer to Gravity’s Rainbow as science-fiction. Which may speak to the limits of my experience but…

      Again, the literary fiction folk I’ve talked with, and the lit professors I’ve talked to, tend to talk about stuff like GR as “transcending” genre or employing certain genre conventions but ultimately not being reducible to a genre, etc. And those points may be true—that may be what Pynchon is doing—but, again, he’s not a good example of a “Genre Author” that people celebrate as being a “Great Author.”

  24. A D Jameson

      See also Joseph’s point below about genre fiction* being banned from most creative writing classes. Which suggests, I think, the following logic: if you think genre writing can be great (or see no conflict or distinction between genre and literary fiction), then it follows that creative writing classes should allow students to write genre fiction.

      (Greg, Joseph, did you guys know one another while we were all at ISU?)

      *This of course means “certain genres” like horror and romance; others, like the “Sad White People” story (as Jeremy M. Davies calls it) are perfectly fine.

  25. Ken Baumann

      American Gods is great.

  26. Bill

      Delany gets plenty of respect. He shared an issue of Review of Contemporary Fiction with Edmund White, just for starters. I’m a big Delany fan; I own just about all his fiction, and most of the non-fiction; a lot of the the non-fiction was published by university presses.

      Of the names mentioned, I also like Disch, Tiptree, and Gene Wolfe. I like some of Ligotti, but I think he often overwrites and not in a way I agree with. The little I’ve read of Crowley and M. John Harrison have not impressed me.

      I’m a big Alan Moore fan too, but isn’t that a bad example too? There are lots of writers working in non-fantastic comics that won’t get any attention from literary pubs. Unless one considers “comics” (or whatever the correct term is) a genre in itself.


      p.s.: there are lots of non-genre writers who get no respect either, of course. So I’m beginning to think this is a futile exercise…

  27. Bill

      I don’t think Shirley Jackson dates very well. (Ok, I won’t make a lot of friends here :-))

      I have had Karen Joy Fowler on my list for awhile. Maybe I’ll report back…


  28. Bill

      I wouldn’t publish Jewels of Aptor either, sorry :-)

      I didn’t care for Hogg either. But I’ve read everything from Babel-17 to Dhalgren several times. I guess I’m not a “lit folk”.


  29. BadVibes

      Yes, this is true. Pynchon has never fit into a particular genre. GR is not the only Pynchon novel to fall into a genre. He’s always played with genre from V. through Inherent Vice. In the Against the Day, a massive novel with no main character and no overall plot, all there really is a collage of genre and pastiche. My point is how can Pynchon, a writer who has used genre that in a  way that is regraded highly by “high brow” culture, be completely  ignored in this conversation. I mean isn’t he doing the same thing that the filmmakers you love do? Using a particular genre and presenting it as something thought new, thought provoking, and interesting. Isn’t Pynchon doing what MFA’s students are scarred to do? I don’t know…maybe I’m talking out my ass. BTW, GR wreaks of the subject of film. 

  30. BadVibes

      Uhh…sorry for the typos

  31. Marco

      Delany mainly gets his respect for his post-science fiction work.

      The little I’ve read of Crowley and M. John Harrison have not impressed me.

      That’s entirely your problem :)

      there are lots of non-genre writers who get no respect either, of course. So I’m beginning to think this is a futile exercise

      Kind of like saying that the persistence of racism renders discussions of sexism and homophobia moot. It’s a systemic issue. You only have to look back at Kyle Minor’s comment, which exemplifies the attitude of a lot of the frendlier/more enlightened lit types. They read experimental/indie literary fiction, read what they consider “middlebrow” literary fiction (say, Franzen) – if only to dismiss it, and when they dip into “genre” from time to time only look at the most obvious and safe choices – King, Gaiman, Dick – which they tend to evaluate in terms of “good storytelling”. Not artistic success or innovation: that’s for the literary authors who employ genre elements.
      Disch or Russ or Harrison or Hoban or Garner or Highsmith or Sallis – good, at times exceptional prose stylists, and often very daring at the structural level (334, The Female Man, Riddley Walker, Red Shift, etc.) – are de facto less crafty or innovative than Price/Pollock/Krilanovich because “even Philip K. Dick” – someone who’s more or less thought to have trascended the genre, and therefore “should” be better than them- is sometimes clunky? What kind of reasoning is that? Where else do you hear generalizations of this kind?
      Of course genre isn’t necessarily an endless cornucopia of wonders waiting to be discovered, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t explore it and carve your own path into it according to your tastes, judging on a case by case basis – and just like everywhere else the most interesting things you’ll find will often be among the most obscure.

  32. Anonymous

      Lethem’s not SciFi but is speculative fiction? Ha! That’s just the snobbery of the lit set. Until he published Motherless Brooklyn (a literary novel with plenty of links to the mystery genre), Lethem was well known within the SF field and virtually unknown outside it. (He was published widely in the genre magazines during the ’90s.) Now he writes mainstreamish novels with SF/fantasy elements, like a magic ring. (His pre-Motherless Brooklyn work owes a huge debt to Phil Dick.)

      The term speculative fiction was invented during the New Wave of the ’60s to distinguish between what these new writers — Disch, Ballard, Pamela Zoline, etc. — were doing from what the older generation thought was SciFi–i.e., explorations of inner space vs. explorations of outer space. The quintessential texts of the New Wave are Disch’s Camp Concentration, Ballard’s Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race, and Zoline’s Heat Death of the Universe, a story that can still blow off the top of your skull.

      SciFi is an abbreviation, btw, that many writers and fans disdain as a vulgarism.

  33. Nathan Huffstutter

      Hi Joseph –

      Right there on the opposite Mesa, huh? I could heave a frisbee from my front doorstep and have it land at the juncture of the 8 and the 15…

      Back to my point with AD, I wasn’t trying to argue the absence of literary snobbery, just that the effect he was trying to define has less to do with a natural open-mindedness among film-types and more to do with the practical realities of the medium; an author working on a manuscript can proceed from beginning to end in whatever manner he/she chooses, but for artists working in film, in order to see their particular vision reach it’s natural form (a completed movie), there are overwhelming pressures to localize that work in established genres. 

      Having never been in a workshop or a writing group, I can’t really speak to the B.S. genre writers might face in those settings. In the broadest sense, I can understand the argument that learning the craft of literary fiction confers skills that ideally ought to translate across disciplines, whereas the study of Children’s Lit or Romance may have narrower applications (since there’s a very good chance that the style that interests you in your early twenties may not be the same style you continue to work in as you get older.)

      On the other hand, it’s a ludicrous misuse of authority for a teacher to tell one of their students “you must not write detective stories, you must not write Sci-Fi, you MUST write literary fiction!” What kind of fucking asshole would dare tell their students what they can and can’t write? Far better a damn good robot story than a half-assed story about the time they had knotty feeling in the pit of their stomach, and more importantly, in the big picture, what’s the possible justification for pushing students away from genres where they just might sell a few books and earn a living, insisting instead they should set their sights on a tradition where even Marilynne Robinson needs to grap for teaching gigs to pay the bills?

      Incidentally (or not), this morning I happened to hit up the Mira Mesa Barnes & Noble, my wife needed to get a classroom set of Alex Rider books for her sixth graders (those lamenting the future of literacy need to spend a lot less time looking around the subway, a lot more watching 6-8-10 year-olds devouring physical books of all varieties.) Tops on my personal to-get list were Under the Net and a copy of Murphy. Turned out, no Iris Murdoch or Beckett in the entire joint. Seriously, I hope you’re telling the students in your classes to just write the best shit they can, whatever form or subject matter they choose.

  34. Mike Meginnis

      I liked American Gods a lot and Sandman was incredible when I read it as a teenager (scared to read it again now) but other than that he hasn’t really thrilled me. I do like the Beowulf film, actually, and I suspect movies are where he should be.

  35. deadgod

      How does Gravity’s Rainbow fit in with or use the “body of associated conventions” (a practical definition of “genre”) called “science fiction”?

      A useful way to define this “body” – “science fiction” – is ‘an exploration of the psychological and/or social consequences of proposed scientific understanding and/or technological innovation’.

      Gravity’s Rainbow has an “erectile” plastic and e. s. p.–is that enough, along with its fictionalization of actual technology, reasonably to call it a ‘sci-fi novel’?  –or is that a reverse snobbery – ‘ooh, it’s genre, man!’ – to set against a creative-writing program (or English professor) who’d deny that “science fiction” is a kind of ‘lit’ratoor’?

  36. Anonymous

      “Science fiction is what we point to when we say it” — Damon Knight. That’s the only good working definition of SF anyone has devised.

      Gravity’s Rainbow was nominated for a Nebula Award (lost to Arthur C. Clarke’s rather bland and timid Rendezvous with Rama, showing the pushback by the old guard against the New Wave.) Anyone who doesn’t think GR is SF should read a plot summary — Wikipedia has a good one: Gravity’s Rainbow is, of course, science fiction, but that’s just one aspect of what it is.

  37. deadgod

      That ‘there’s nothing to transcend’ for a genre piece to be “great” is a needed point.  –but in the blogicle, several films are called “great works of art” that happen to be genre.

      Does this terminology show that the same criteria of ‘greatness’ that pertain to ‘unhappy privileged people’ films and literature are at work in calling a genre piece a “great work of art”?  –to the point that enjoyment of Dick might suffer in advance (as it were; in terms of the imposition of expectations), on the grounds of (say) elegant sentences, in comparison, not to Beckett or McCarthy, but rather, to Bester or Gibson.

      That’s what (some) people mean by “transcends the genre”:  ‘leaps beyond all ordinary usage in a way that few genre pieces do – even fewer than “unhappy privileged people” pieces do’ (I doubt the validity of that last premise).

      –not that the piece is not still in the genre, but rather, that it is a genre piece and also “great” in the way that a “great” ‘unhappy privileged people’ piece is “great”.

  38. deadgod

      I sensed a lifeworld in an object,
      And animate it was, in a work of art.
      It made its coherent horizon
      Surround my art.

  39. deadgod

      Well, clearly from the championing of Dick’s sentences, ‘technical virtuosity’ is a contested domain.  –but the major premise obtains:  similar criteria are applied – for example, to assess the beauty and other effects of sentences – across genres.

      I wonder, though – and not that you’re insisting on or even proposing it – , about some historical impermeability in writing between ‘genre’ and ‘literary’, at least in the cases of a few generally-accepted-as-“literary” writers.

      The examples are obvious:  Frankenstein (only recently taken seriously? I’m not sure).  Poe.  The Turn of the Screw.  As mentioned already on this thread, Greene, whose “entertainments” are preferred by many – most? – , in comparison to his dull, theologically serious novels. 

      Aren’t there enough such neglectings of genre inferiority by “literary” big shots to warrant not being defensive or at all apologetic about “genre”??

  40. deadgod

      Okay; one can always turn to the ‘if I have to explain it, you won’t understand the explanation’ argument-from-ineffability.  If one compares a definition (in words) to a thing or process, the words will fall short of being the definiendum.

      –but what’s wrong, on a practical scale (rather than compared to absolute identity), with psychological and/or social consequences of proposed technology and/or proposed scientific knowledge as a definition of “science fiction”?

      I’ve read Gravity’s Rainbow itself.  Slothrop’s talent is fantasy – at least – , but, among the knowledges the book intricates within its storytelling and the us/Them conflict (that I take to be the story’s overarching paranoia-confirmed meaning), where is the story’s “science fiction”?

  41. deadgod

      –I should have said, ‘with making present so as to enable exploration of those consequences’, “science fiction” being a kind or zone of art (and not nature).

  42. Anonymous

      Deadgod, your definition of sf isn’t a bad one — it’s pretty good, in fact, but it is limiting. For fun you might look at the definition of sf entry in Wikipedia — there, you can see not just Damon Knight’s smartarse definition but plenty of others that show how the people doing the definers don’t agree w/each other.

      I kind of prefer the term “fabulation” (rather than SF) to describe works like Gravity’s Rainbow. But labels shouldn’t much matter. GR is pretty big to slap an encompassing label on.

  43. Anonymous

      Sorry, I meant to type — “the people doing the defining…”

  44. BadVibes

      That is a great question to ask Byron the Bulb. 

  45. jtc

      For what it’s worth, I’ve never met a “literature” person who didn’t see the literary merit (or the possibility for literary merit, if they had not read any) of genre fiction. I don’t know where this false dichotomy comes from. Maybe intro writing classes where ‘genre’ writing is eschewed for the sake of creating the basics of fiction, like characters and scenes and shit…

  46. Anonymous

      I completely agree with your point though we have very different tastes in genre reading.

  47. Anonymous

      I’d say Jane Austen is taken seriously.  After that, good luck.

  48. Anonymous

      I’m pretty sure he knew that.  Seeing as he teaches a class in the genre.

  49. Lilzed

      Perhaps it’s not that “Film understand something that literature doesn’t”, but that HTML Giant (or its marquee) doesn’t understand something. This is the website for “experimental” literature after all. The fact that you’re couching a conversation about narrative in terms of “genre” seems to indicate restrictions on what you feel you can seamlessly talk about.

      Not to rag on HTMLG–these restrictions are something you would find in literature classes too. Cos we read literature often as artifacts in literary history or as the brain gems of individuals, rather than artifacts in story history. If more attention were paid to folk tales, folk literature and story elements of literature in higher echelons of literary culture maybe this would change. Faust was based on a folk tale after all and now it’s a world classic. It seems academic courses in lit care more about “literary periods / eras” than genres.

  50. Lilzed

      Try out this understanding of science fiction. http://boingboing.net/2011/03/09/wondrous-detailed-ma.html

      It includes the Arabian Nights, Paradise Lost, Rime of an Ancient Mariner, Beowolf and dozens of other works no one’s used to thinking of in that way.

      The thinking behind this map feels very true to me.

      Perhaps genre is deeper than we think. Some say science fictions are the new westerns. You could say that noir, detective stories are inflected with sci-fi themes as well.

  51. Lilzed

      It comes from preferring to discuss “fiction” rather than “stories.”  It comes from delegating “serious” only that literature that has explicit existential themes. Or conversely, only that literature that has a bias towards realism. It comes from a  distrust for what stories are and a disdain for quality literature that happens to addresses emotional needs before it does anything else. (Especially juvenile emotional needs.)

  52. deadgod

      Ha ha; okay, perpetual motion/mechanical zombieism is a great sci-fi premise.  Still doubt that Gravity’s Rainbow actually disposes ‘speculation on the consequences of imagined technical innovation and/or scientific discovery’.

  53. deadgod

      Agreed that, as impositions, “labels” should be challenged and, often enough, resisted.  But, as discovery, labeling is how – or the ice cube at the tip of the iceberg of how – cognition happens–at least, as a practical determination.  Arguments about mere “labels” are proxy arguments about the movement of thought, and about the actual border/pores between ‘you’ and ‘not-you’.

      “Fabulation” – ‘fables’?  A generative genre, worthy of reading and thought, but (it seems to me) “science fiction” gets at what the ‘kind’ of storytelling is about as a kind.

  54. Marco

      Fact is, Science Fiction Magazines, even in the Golden Age, always published stories where ‘speculation on the consequences of imagined technical innovation and/or scientific discovery’ was entirely absent.
      At a certain point theory must gave way to reality, and the only lowest common denominator definition able to encompass  everything that has been labeled science-fiction would be something along the lines of “the kind of fiction set in a reality which differs from our own in ways that can be constructed as logically coherent or scientifically plausible instead of magical”. And even then, you have surrealistic science-fiction or magical-realist science fiction.
      Gravity’s Rainbow may be “less science-fictional” than the novels of Arthur C. Clarke, but it does consistently interrogate real-world scientific theories and developments in an imaginative way and it feels much more science-fictional than works published under the genre label by authors like Davidson, Rafferty or Emshwiller.

  55. NLY

      The fact is the idea that the great novels of the past didn’t exist within ‘genres’ is ridiculous.  Henry James had the well-worn conventions of genre within his sight when he began to radically intensify their formulas–conventions going all the way back to Clarissa. The only thing that separates any book from any other book is ambition and execution–how ambitious, how executive? What people mean when they speak disparagingly of ‘genre’ is a world in which convention frequently takes the place of originality, which kind of sounds like this world. Where the concern over genre becomes legitimate is in the double-edged sword of niches–they breed insularity, but they are the result of individuation. If you view yourself within the context of a single genre, let’s say hip-hop, then the only art to which you must compare yourself is that within your niche: your standards have become less expansive, which makes your ideas about mediocrity and originality substantially less observed. This is a kind of inbreeding, a deficiency of stimuli. So there you have it–a false choice between individuating and becoming smoothed over with inclusiveness. In reality, choosing a niche is an act of conformity, and exploration of their nexus is the process of individuation. This means that a legitimate concern about genre overstates its case into a dismissal of it: the plight of the ‘genre’ is always to be a satellite, and the plight of a satellite is always to be marginalized. It’s just how the game is played, and how the balance is kept. One day a white-hot little comet is gonna crash into that moon, man.

      Asking all interested parties to view the situation with a rational equanimity might be just as ridiculous, though, at the end of he day. The ambitious will always be a ponce, the unambitious will always be a hack: what I like, at the end of the day, will always becomes my reason for hating something else. And that won’t change. Can’t change.

  56. Anonymous

      Man, I love Shirley Jackson.  The Lottery is pretty whatever, but We Have Always Lived in the Castle is fucking killer.

  57. Anonymous

      wtf it didn’t post my comments as replies?

  58. deadgod

      Entirely absent”?  Do you have examples to hand of “science fiction” stories/novels where “imagined technical innovation and/or [imagined] scientific knowledge [my earlier, and better, word]” are entirely absent?

      Gravity’s Rainbow does not include “interrogat[ion]” of mathematics, science, or technology in the sense of doubting accepted versions or norms of them or their histories, nor in the sense of proposing alternate science and/or technology in its world.

      For example:  the V-2 program, Pynchon’s treatment of which doesn’t vary from generally accepted historical fact.  –so Gravity’s Rainbow intricates the history of, say, rocketing.  Is that what you mean by “interrogat[ion] of real-world scientific theories and developments”?

      –or is the e. s. p. angle enough to call Gravity’s Rainbow “science fiction”?

      Pynchon might doubt claims for universal applicability that a rationalist might make for rationality, in that he uses his novels ‘to disbelieve in’ a perfect comprehension of the rationality of reality (or that (human) reality is rational).

      –but is Pynchon’s skepticism that social systems of control are rational (or even mechanically coherent) enough to call this novel “science fiction”?

  59. Nick Mamatas

      Pretty much the entire subgenre of alternative history, which is widely published by SF authors, by SF imprints, and in SF magazines.

  60. Marco

      For example, since I’ve cited Carol Emshwiller, Sex and/or Mr.Morrison is a story in which an older woman stalks a younger man and the male body is defamiliarized by being described as alien. Pamela Zoline’s The Heat Death of the Universe alternates between description of real-world physics and the descent into entropy of the life of a Californian housewife, counterpointing the personal with the cosmic.
      The Rathenau sèance posits a self-replication of the structures of death (of which polymerization the creation of plastic are a new stage) :

      “You think you’d rather hear  about what you call ‘life’: the growing, organic Kartell. But it’s only another illusion. A very clever robot. The more dynamic it seems to you, the more deep and dead, in reality, it grows. Look at the smokestacks, how they proliferate, fanning the wastes of original waste over greater and greater masses of city. Structurally, they are strongest in compression. A smokestack can survive any
      explosion—even the shock wave from one of the new cosmic bombs”— a bit
      of a murmur around the table at this—”as you all must know. The persistence,
      then, of structures favoring death. Death converted into more death. Perfecting
      its reign, just as the buried coal grows denser, and overlaid with more strata—
      epoch on top of epoch, city on top of ruined city. This is the sign of Death the

      And of course this vision is one of the core themes of the novel ,modifidied and modulated continuosly. That’s what I mean by “consistently interrogating real-world scientific theories and developments in an imaginative way “. You may call it philosophy or metaphor, but there are examples of science-fiction that works exactly in this way, projecting an extranging light upon real-world theories or phenomena.

  61. Marco

      sorry, wrong comment

  62. Marco

      For example, since I’ve cited Carol Emshwiller, Sex and/or Mr.Morrison
      is a story in which an older woman stalks a younger man and the male
      body is defamiliarized by being described as alien. Pamela Zoline’s The
      Heat Death of the Universe alternates between description of real-world
      physics and the descent into entropy of the life of a Californian
      housewife, counterpointing the personal with the cosmic.
      The Rathenau
      sèance posits a self-replication of the structures of death (of which
      polymerization the creation of plastic are a new stage) :

      think you’d rather hear  about what you call ‘life’: the growing,
      organic Kartell. But it’s only another illusion. A very clever robot.
      The more dynamic it seems to you, the more deep and dead, in reality, it
      grows. Look at the smokestacks, how they proliferate, fanning the
      wastes of original waste over greater and greater masses of city.
      Structurally, they are strongest in compression. A smokestack can
      survive any
      explosion—even the shock wave from one of the new cosmic bombs”— a bit
      of a murmur around the table at this—”as you all must know. The persistence,
      then, of structures favoring death. Death converted into more death. Perfecting
      its reign, just as the buried coal grows denser, and overlaid with more strata—
      epoch on top of epoch, city on top of ruined city. This is the sign of Death the

      of course this vision is one of the core themes of the novel
      ,modifidied and modulated continuosly. That’s what I mean by
      “consistently interrogating real-world scientific theories and
      developments in an imaginative way “. You may call it philosophy or
      metaphor, but there are examples of science-fiction that works exactly
      in this way, projecting an extranging light upon real-world theories or

  63. deadgod

      ‘Alternative history’ that doesn’t somehow propose imagined technologies or scientific knowledge isn’t “science fiction”!  –or all historical fiction is.

      Just because a book is marketed as, or talked about as, belonging to a genre doesn’t put it in that genre, and just because a book employs science substantially doesn’t make it “science fiction”.

  64. deadgod

      Let me answer below (unless it gets erased from below while I’m responding ha ha).

  65. deadgod

      Well, you have the better of me, in that I don’t know the two stories you summarize and the one you excerpt . . . but maybe I can respond reasonably anyway.

      (Let me forewarn that none of this speculation has anything to do with a guess at the quality of the stories!)

      Sex and/or Mr. Morrison doesn’t sound to me like “science fiction”–unless the male body is stalked (engaged otherwise?) by the woman, not just as alien, ‘different’, but as non-earthling, extra-terrestrial:  ‘different’ from her not as a dog or a dildo or an other woman’s body might be, but ‘different’ from her horizon of everyday experience.  Even then, is science being “interrogated”??  –or psychological coherence, community, gender, and so on – as they are in, eh, many stories not called “science fiction”.

      As to The Heat Death of the Universe – you know Oedipa Maas? – enweaving scientific knowledge or technology that are or were actually used into a story doesn’t make that story “science fiction”.  There’s plenty of technology in Homer; the Iliad and Odyssey are ‘science epics’?  Perhaps the point is that technology and/or scientific understanding is narrated as to its human meaning–and in this way “interrogated”.  Is The Jungle “science fiction”?


  66. deadgod

      The excerpt from The Rathenau Seance (?) is a nice change on the life=death-on-a-small-enough-scale melody – and, I’m guessing, essential to a nice “interrogation” of the boundary/porosity between ‘life’ and ‘death’ in (throughout?) the novel – .  Perhaps the novel treats of ‘life/death’ in an “interrogative” way that proposes an imagined (but fictively real) science–which I’d call “science fiction”.  –and perhaps it makes a more theological point – a Buddhist point – .

      Again – and not idiosyncratically, though perhaps as a dog with a bone – , the science and technology in the tale have to be imagined and not simply reported – even skeptically ‘reported’, or ‘reported’ so as to brood over – for it to be “science fiction”.

      In short:  Describe how a car engine works and/or what happens when everybody drives a car–technological, maybe scientific (‘first principles’), not sci fi.  Describe how a time machine works and/or how time travel changes being ‘human’–sci fi.  I do think that’s how people use the phrase.

  67. deadgod

      ‘To extrange’ is good.

  68. Marco

      Sex and/or Mr. Morrison doesn’t sound to me like “science
      fiction”–unless the male body is stalked (engaged otherwise?) by the
      woman, not just as alien, ‘different’, but as non-earthling, extra-terrestrial

      It is described by the woman in terms which remind of the extraterrestrial (or “different species”) alien, but there’s nothing that substantiates her delusion. It is just her perception of the male – and the male body – as different.
      A story with a somewhat similar premise, though simpler and dealt more in the manner of a shaggy dog, is online here:

      The Rathenau Seance comes from Gravity’s Rainbow.

  69. Marco
  70. A D Jameson

      I’m not claiming that no genre works are taken seriously. But I do think they’re taken more seriously in film than in lit.

      I think Joseph’s comments elsewhere in this thread are invaluable in this regard. If genre’s perfectly OK in fiction, then it should stand to reason that we’d be perfectly OK with students writing it in fiction workshops, right?

      I have a friend who’s studying directing at UCLA, and they’re allowed, if not encouraged, to make genre pieces for their projects.

  71. A D Jameson

      Delany mainly gets his respect for his post-science fiction work.


  72. A D Jameson

      Neither am I! So we can be friends. :)

      I’ve never been able to convince anyone else of Jewels of Aptor‘s literary merit. But I think it’s one of the best literary treatments of uncertainty, and the limits of knowledge, I’ve ever read. …Well, I’ll write a post about it…

  73. A D Jameson

      To be fair, I haven’t read American Gods. I kinda burned out on his work in the ’90s. I should give him another shot. I did enjoy Good Omens

      A friend of mine whose opinion I really respect thinks the Beowulf film is really, really well-written. I haven’t seen it.

      But I did see Mirrormask, and UGHHHHH…

  74. A D Jameson

      But I also saw Mirrormask and—UGH. One of my least favorite films of the 2000s…

  75. A D Jameson

      Again, I think you might have something there, Nathan. I’ll have to think through it… Thanks!

  76. A D Jameson

      I’ll try to post something more on the origin of genre. Thanks to everyone here for helping to push my thinking in that direction.

  77. A D Jameson

      jtc, you’re luckier than me!

  78. A D Jameson

      I sometimes have that trouble, too.

  79. A D Jameson

      Could be. I’ve encountered such prejudices elsewhere, though, too.

      C’mon, HTMLGIANT’ers! Rally around genre! It’s hip!

  80. deadgod

      Genre is taken more seriously in film on the grounds that genre films are ‘well-made’ in the same way that ‘unhappy privileged people’ films are–which I take to be Kyle’s point as well as my own (relating to criteria of “great[ness]”).

      It strikes me – and probably everybody! – that, where books had been paid for and (mostly) written by privileged and, increasingly, bourgeois people during the (modern) rise of the novel (18th-19th centuries), films, comapratively expensive to make, have pretty much always been paid for by middle-class and even working-poor people.  Filmmakers seem at least as eager to reflect (and question) the problems, interests, and obsessions of people who almost never read for pleasure as those of people who do, where novelists had been concerned more with the ambitions and anxieties of the upwardly mobile – or at least upward looking – middle-class readers-for-pleasure.

      Maybe this (potted) sociology has something to do with many of the best filmmakers, from the get-go over 100 years ago, comfortably making movies from pulp or mass material (Westerns, slapstick, and so on), while there is, I guess, a lingering suspicion among litterateurs that Serious Novels are packaged within seriously.

  81. deadgod

      Thanks for the links – and the cunningly smuggled seance, ha ha.

      I don’t think In the House, Another is “science fiction”.  It’s a cute twist – to make presumptuous neglect a species of unconsciousness – , but where in the story is science (and/or technology) imagined differently from what is given in contemporaneous textbooks?

      The (to me:  unpleasingly) arch intellectuality of The Heat Death of the Universe doesn’t itself put the story in the category “science fiction”.  The story doesn’t involve the imagining of alternative knowledge and/or technology–it dramatizes a desperate questioning after the meaning of life in terms taken from, say, Scientific American without re-imagining those terms themselves (just their human implication).  Its central speculation – in the l o n g view, “life” is as nothing – is indeed “ontological”–and not ‘scientific’.

  82. deadgod

      A bit more context for that episode from Gravity’s Rainbow – Rathenau’s ghost (or is it?):

      All talk of cause and effect is secular history, and secular history is a diversionary tactic.  Useful to you, gentlemen, but no longer to us here.  If you want the truth–I know I presume–you must look into the technology of these matters.  Even into the hearts of certain molecules–it is they after all which dictate temperatures, pressures, rates of flow, costs, profits, the shapes of towers.  . . .

      You must ask two questions.  First, what is the real nature of synthesis?  And then:  what is the real nature of control?

      Pynchon is using scientific understanding here to speculate on ‘being qua being’ and on how it might magically (“seance”) be known, not on science or scientificity itself.

      One might feel that the novel “interrogates” science itself, but I don’t find that that’s how the “paranoia” challenge to knowing works in Gravity’s Rainbow.

      Again:  just because a fiction employs scientific understanding and/or technological innovation, and just because a fiction is called ‘science fiction’ because it employs science and/or technology in order to be ontologically or epistemologically investigative, doesn’t make that fiction “science fiction”.  For that–and I think this is a reasonable reading of the common usage of the phrase–, a fiction needs to speculate – to propose impractical or ‘untrue’ technology and/or scientific knowledge – on accepted science and/or actual technology itself/themselves.

      –just as a story exploring or turning on romantic love is not necessarily “romance fiction”.

  83. Marco

      I think that Gravity’s Rainbow – all of Pynchon, really – depicts a
      conflict between organic and inorganic, which, while expressed in terms
      that can be conceived as metaphorical renditions of real scientific
      theories, actually feels like a kind of “secret history” of life on this planet – and therefore something which would be science-fiction.

      Countless classic science fiction stories have used aliens, e.s.p. or
      time-travel without seeking any grounding in science or technology, only
      for the imaginative appeal of these ideas. The same stories with
      monsters, magical powers or reincarnation would have been published –
      and perceived – as fantasy. You think genres are defined by dictionary
      entries, whereas in practice they are defined by usage, accretion of
      meaning and lateral expansion. Saying the two stories I linked are not
      Science Fiction is more or less like saying that Highsmith or Raymond
      did not write crime novels, because they did not write classical
      whodunnits. I think Science-Fiction has always been a misnomer, because
      there have always been stories where the actual science part was nearly
      nonexistent; in any case today it is an umbrella term under whose banner is published “the kind of fiction set in a reality which differs from our own in ways
      that can be constructed as logically coherent or scientifically
      plausible instead of magical”.
      Which traditionally includes all Alternate Histories (one could argue that ultimately all historical fictions are alternate histories, but in the same way one could argue that ultimately all fiction is fantasy) and lots of other things, while fiction that seriously deals with plausible science and technology (ie doesn’t use science-as-magic)  probably constitutes a minority. That’s why The Road, for instance is Science-Fiction: post-apocalyptic stories never needed to concern themselves with the cause of a catastrophe or the science behind it to be recognized as such.
      (of course genre labels are not exclusive – any novel can belong to many different sets)
      The only reason why not every story that explores romantic love is necessarily called “romance fiction” is because there is a fixed set of expectations that must be met in order to be published by imprints specialized in romance fiction.
      This hasn’t necessarily been the case for other genres.

  84. deadgod

      in the same way one could argue that ultimately all fiction is fantasy

      Exactly!  In the way that a story that doesn’t ‘explore the consequences of proposed scientific understanding and/or technology’ can be called “science fiction”, in that way, there are no “genres”–any story with a man-made object in it is “science fiction”.

      The point of the genre – at least as I’ve tentatively defined it – isn’t that it “ground[s]” its speculations in explanation, but rather, that those “aliens” and that “time-travel” are are somehow proposed and not already given (to the storyteller and audience) culturally as ‘scientific fact’.  A projection of madness or otherwise alternative attention is not “science-fictional”; an “alien” imposed on perception from without is.

      (“E. s. p.” is more problematic a topic; scientists look for parapsychological phenomena, but rarely seem, as a community, to find something parapsychological to be ‘scientific’ towards.)

  85. deadgod

      –and my definition and discussion, while dogged, are not prescriptive (“defined by dictionary entries”); they’re descriptive in that they’re abstracted tentatively, though doggedly, from “usage, accretion of meaning and lateral expression”.

      If we accept “genres” at all, and reject the (from an extreme perspective, rational) view that all text is, being equally ‘textual’, a blur or smear of undifferentiated stuff, then we mean something coherent and stable–however problematically and tentatively and even mutably so–by each genre, in which some items are found (or put) and others not.

      You don’t talk about my tentative exclusion of those two stories on the terms I exclude them.  Certainly, my arguments are not at all “like” saying that Highsmith and Chandler didn’t write crime novels (they both are interested in the facts and consequences of “crime”), “crime” and “whodunnit” are overlapping but non-identical categories, and Chandler did write “classical whodunnits” (of the partially-informed-narrator sort, no?).

  86. deadgod

      ‘Logical coherence’ is true of genres other than “science fiction” (all of them?; maybe), but ‘scientific plausibility’ is a useful criterion for the genre.

      The problem for your argument is that scientific plausibility has nothing to do with In the House, Another nor The Heat Death of the Universe!  The “plausib[ility]” of the science in each story is not controversial nor, as I say, “proposed”–not noticing the physical properties of a spouse-mass and entropy, respectively:  there’s no “fiction” in the “science” of either case.

      As I say, describing an engine that exists (or used to) and storytelling about the human meaning of such a thing:  not “science fiction”.  Describing, even superficially, a creature, engine, material, or ability (or some such thing) that current understanding doubts would work or is ‘true’:  “science fiction”.

  87. deadgod

      Compare, for example, the (perhaps liminal) case of e. s. p. in Gravity’s Rainbow with jaunting in The Stars My Destination.  Are these novels really peas in a sci-fi pod? or is the latter a pea and the former a similarly green, similarly textured lima bean?  (Again:  this category wrangling is not a matter of of quality, of ghettoizing an inferior set of things; it’s just a matter of getting precisely at Books I Like.)

  88. Marco

      Are these novels really peas in a sci-fi pod?
      The problem is that stories with even less a claim to being science-fictional have been accepted for publication in science-fiction magazines and/or won science-fiction awards. Stories like Always or Standing Room Only or What I didn’t see by Karen Joy Fowler are farther from The Stars my Destination towards conventional realism than Gravity’s Rainbow. The s-f element there is, at best, a possible, non exclusive, interpretation. For instance, in Standing Room Only a couple of lines describing the strange behaviour of some minor characters might suggest that they are time-travelers which have come to see the unfolding of a major historical event (the assassination of Lincoln). When this story has been republished in Fowler’s collection, countless otherwise astute readers and reviewers took it as a straight historical piece.
      So perhaps your tentative abstractions are faulty because you are not fluent with all the subleties of the dialect.
      “Crime fiction” may be a larger taxonomical unit which contains noirs, hard-boileds and mysteries, but originally all crime stories were whodunnits.
      “Science Fiction” has, in practice, become the larger taxonomical unit of itself – your definition is a subset of it. That’s why there are periodical discussions about changing its name into something like “Speculative Fiction” because most of it is not really about science, and why as early as 1960 a story like “In the House Another” could be accepted in a science-fiction magazine.

  89. deadgod

      Well, I think my tentative abstractions are accurate, so I guess I’m going obstinately to keep being pedantic, even at the cost of iconoclasm:  if the science (and/or technology) in a story isn’t fictive, then it’s not “science fiction”. 

      (The fact that stories are labeled inconsistently for commercial reasons (or just carelessly) doesn’t automatically persuade me to change how I label them; in the dialectical entwinement of description and prescription, the ‘intractability of matter’ does stand somewhat over against description’s capacity to construct experience.)

  90. Marco

      The fact that stories are labeled inconsistently for commercial reasons
      (or just carelessly) doesn’t automatically persuade me to change how I label them

      Genres exist for commercial reasons and expand through accretion.
      Before the birth of a genre its ancestor texts were unmarked variants in the “mainstream”; afterwards, ancestors are co-opted and adjacent texts are absorbed, the scope widens and borders get fuzzier.
      Nowadays the vast majority of science-fiction – commercial science-fiction – uses science and technology only as a fig-leaf, a way to strenghten the suspension of disbelief with technobabble in order to explore various imaginative possibilities (time-travel, aliens, war in space). You only have to think of Steampunk, which arises from the equation Victoriana + Cogs, Gears and Goggles = Übercool.
      To say that Science Fiction “explores the consequences of proposed science and technology” in any meaningful sense would be in many cases getting it backwards.
      The movement towards “In The House, Another” is very straightforward: science and technology – science and technology as a way to depict ideas or situations that could not be explored by purely mimetic fiction and to confer ‘believability’ through a set of pseudo-realistic ground rules – ideas or situations become topical and need only vestigial explanation (the existence of aliens or robots becomes a given) – ideas or situations may still be portrayed realistically in the world of the story, but increasingly function also as metaphors, direct or complex, for something else – ideas or situations (tropes) become metaphorical resonances or subjective perceptions/delusions or ambiguous possibilities (à la Turn of the Screw) superimposed upon a realistic plot.
      Examples of each of these stories can and are – quite rightly – published as science-fiction. There’s neither carelessness nor inconsistency, but a logical progression.
      “In The House, Another” builds upon the imagery of the alien – it wouldn’t make sense, would be impossible to imagine without familiarity and dialogue with science-fictional ideas (if only the possibility of the existence of non-human species), therefore it IS science-fiction.
      There are even murkier cases – Samuel Delany has written a book-long analysis of a short-story by Thomas Disch, Angouleme, which in isolation can be read as a realistic coming of age/attempted crime story, but published in a science-fictional context and seen through the relative expectations is usually read as a dystopia.
      There are many passages in Gravity’s Rainbow that evoke science-fiction, but ultimately that’s a moot point; science-fiction is only a part of what Gravity’s Rainbow is.
      But your definition is not a useful descriptor anymore of what is actually published as science-fiction nowadays. You’re being pedantic in the exact manner of someone who resents the usage of gay as synonim of homosexual because  it really means ‘happy’ or ‘carefree’ and insists that those that employ that word in its new meaning – even to label themselves – are etymologically wrong in doing so.

  91. deadgod

      It’s a fair point that In the House, Another uses the anticipations of “science fiction” – “alien” beings – as the spring in its word-play trap, but, again, that doesn’t make it a “science-fictional” story:  its “science” is just not fictional!

      Likewise, the science in The Heat Death of the Universe isn’t fictional, proposed, hypothetical, imagined–it’s empirically and mathematically determinate scientific thought placed illuminatively alongside an emotional inner climate.

      The homosexual/gay analogy is not accurate.  I’m saying that the category name “science fiction” should describe the members of its category accurately.  A closer (but imperfect) analogy would be if someone insisted that two men or two women kissing were ‘homosexuals’, because people of the same gender would be doing a thing which is also a sexual thing.

  92. Marco

      its “science” is just not fictional

      Again, you’re being too literal. You’re reverse engineering a hard and fast definition from a name – science-fiction – which has only ever been an indicative shorthand.
      Science-fiction has always included, for instance, stories of social extrapolation set in the future (or in an alternate past). Some of them may have imagined scientific developments at their core, some only cosmetic extrapolation which only serves to give the feel of a future setting but is otherwise irrelevant, some even, under your definition, may have no science-fictional elements at all, yet they’re clearly part of the same continuum. Would a definition of science-fiction which excludes Fahrenheit 451 or The Handmaid’s Tale be useful? Where’s the fictional science in those stories?

  93. deadgod

      I’m being “literal”, but not more “literal” than an argument that “science fiction” is a genre with nothing essentially to do with science would have to be.  The difference would be in how ‘literalness’ is used:  to indicate semantically with what degree of precision?

      What would be the usefulness of this definition of “science fiction” – namely, ‘stories that employ made-up scientific understanding and/or technology based on made-up scientific priniciples’ – ?  Well, it’s a definition that would define.

      The question is really for your point of view:  why is Fahrenheit 451 called “science fiction”?  What’s the usefulness of calling all dystopian fantasy “science fiction”?

      Are the boundaries of the genre so insecure that it needs to absorb all Bradbury novels?  (–and he’s so limited that everything he writes that’s at all speculative has to be “science fiction”?)  Or so insecure that all fiction nominally set in the future is “science fiction”?

      Again:  this quarrel, for me, has nothing to do with issues or expectations of quality, but rather, with with calling things by names that say something both true and practical about them.

  94. Marco

      Not everything Bradbury writes is science-fiction. Fahrenheit 451 is, because dystopias have been part of the discourse of science-fiction from the very beginning – which means the definition you expose has always been imprecise.
      Further, your definition creates arbitrary distinctions in a class of works which at their core are very similar, and may present made-up scientific understanding and/or technology only as a minimal decorative consequence of their chosen setting (the future).
      A stricter, workable definition would be “the kind of fiction that directly concerns itself with believable extrapolations of real-world science and technology”. This is what is called “hard” science-fiction, for some is the only true science-fiction, and it may well exclude Fahrenheit 451 (but also The Stars my Destination, because jaunting is, for all purposes, magic).
      Science-fiction (in the larger sense) has always included thought -experiments  (in the future, or alternate past or present) – you could argue that the sciences being fictionalized in these stories are the social sciences  – whereas true, “hard” science-fiction has always been a minority of what was actually published.
      Again, for me this has nothing to with “claiming”, rather with the difference between the nuances a word has/acquires in parlance and usage through time in a community of speakers, a language or a dialect versus the simpler and stricter definition abstracted from the root meaning of the word.

  95. deadgod

      Yes, I, too, just thought of the “hard/soft” distinction–but even then, I’d pedantically insist that “soft sci-fi” is really ‘not sci-fi’.

      I don’t see the difference between “believable extrapolations from” and my (earlier) “consequences of proposed” or even (just above) “made-up”.  I think The Stars My Destination counts as “hard”, because the jaunting is presented as an “extrapolation” of current scientific understanding; in other words, jaunting is explicitly not magical (or do I misremember the presentation of Foyle’s discovery of it?).  (The novel also has space travel before the fact.)  Even if the “extrapolat[ed]” science and/or technology is “decorative”–if it’s in the story, then the story is a ‘scientific romance’ – a “science fiction”.

      Agreed that prescription ought not to stand over against usage in every case, or even generally–but there is a Pedant’s Prerogative, in that usage is hinged to some ‘strict definition’.

  96. Marco

      Hard science fiction deals with things that COULD happen – that do not contradict accepted or proposed “real world” science theories. Teleportation, faster than light travel, time-travel are physical impossibilities (unless you are a virtual particle) – anything that employs them is fantasy that uses handwaving and jargon to pass as “scientific”. Furthermore, TSMD doesn’t explain jaunting so much as present it as fact.
      Of course if you seek absolute plausibility there’s not much that passes muster – novels lauded for their physics may be hilariously wrong in their understanding of biology or genetics, etc.

  97. deadgod

      Wait a minute.  –The fact that a story is “science fiction” and not science fact means that there’s a point (in the presentation of the “extrapolat[ed]” scientific understanding and/or technology) beyond which the “extrapolation” must be inexplicable as current understanding/technology.  The gizmo isn’t simply a unicorn – a car with an ejector seat! and machine guns! – , but rather, represents imaginatively a leap beyond current principles – matter ‘translated into’ light and beamed elsewhere for re-translation back to its earlier (material) form, as in Star Dreck – .

      I think this, what, humility is essential to “science fiction”, as it is to scientific research:  we’re committed to principles, but we also, paradoxically, understand that we don’t know what will be known.  So, fictively, we can “propose” unfeasible and even contrary-to-‘fact’ devices and theory (or ability), and if they’re accountable within a scientific framework – accountable in the sense not of explanation, but rather, of assertion (that there will be an explanation) – then the tale is sci-fi and not fantasy.

      A ring that confers invisibility in an unreproducible way–that’s not “scientific”.  If you’re wearing the ring and a shirt, the shirt is invisible, too.  But what if you’re wearing the ring and you pick up a shirt – how much of the shirt do you have to put on before it, too, – all of it – is invisible?  This question is not even a question in LOTR–it’s a magical ring!  Jaunting will become as consistent and cogent as Newton and Darwin would be to Aristotle, is (part of) the “fiction” of TSMD, as I understand it.

  98. deadgod

      By the way, superluminary movement of matter is not impossible according to Einsteinian relativity–that’s been a badly misreported factoid recently (with the apparent superluminosity of neutrinos).  What Einstein asserts is that no particle (or composite) of matter can be accelerated to (or beyond) the speed of light – it requires more and more energy to get the subluminary thing to light velocity, until it takes an infinitude of energy to get a massive subluminary particle to that speed.  Plotted with the velocity on the X axis and the energy needed to make a massive particle get to that x-value on the Y axis, the speed of light is a vertical asymptote.  Well, on the ‘other side’ of that asymptote is a mirror image – the graphed curve is an absolute value (its variable coefficients at every position are positive or zero) of a hyperbola – , and, theoretically, it would take an infinite amount of energy to slow down a superluminary massive particle.  –but superluminosity of mass is not theoretically impossible – the particle would just have to be superluminary at the instant that it winked into existence.  These proposed particles used to be called “tachyons”; I don’t know if the big shots still use this word.  (I hope they do – many punning possibilities.)

  99. Marco

      The fact that a story is “science fiction” and not science fact means that there’s a point (in the presentation of the “extrapolat[ed]” scientific understanding and/or technology) beyond which the “extrapolation” must be inexplicable as current understanding/technology.

      Pedantically, science-fiction is fiction about science:  either our current understanding of the world or proposed and not yet disproven scientific theories.
      Therefore science-fiction may describe technical advancements beyond our current understanding but not scientifical advancements that contradict fundamental physical laws – unless it advances a coherent scientifical theory which argues that these laws are incorrect.
      Made-up science (I need instant teleportation, so the physics of my universe accomodate for jaunting) is indistinguishable from magic.

      A ring that confers invisibility in an unreproducible way–that’s not “scientific”. 

      Unreproducible by whom?  Magic in fantasy is often fairly consistent, and subject to its own rules. You only have to posit a parallel universe in which physical laws are slightly different and/or hyperevolved, transhuman beings called “Gods” interact with lesser beings and you’re back on “sciencefictional” terms. Countless writers have actively explored this boundary b/w sf and fantasy, for example writing in a fantasy mode and revealing only afterwards the (pseudo-) scientific logic underneath, or starting with scientific explanations which then unravel and are disposed of.

      Arthur C. Clarke: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

      Larry Niven, that hardest of hard science-fiction writers: “Any sufficiently analyzed magic is indistinguishable from technology.”

  100. Marco

      quoting myself : unless you are a virtual particle

  101. deadgod

      I’ll answer below.  /

  102. deadgod

      There’s surely an overlap between sci-fi and fantasy:  a world in which the inhabitants manipulate magic in consistent ways, relying on predictability of results, is a world where magic ‘looks’ like scientific understanding and scientifically understood technology ‘look’ to a scientist.

      The difference between magic and science is this:  science seeks, and its hypotheses depend on, intelligible principles–not first principles, but tested – interrogated – principles.  Science is about explanation where magic is about authority; a magical explanation doesn’t explain.

      In fantasy, one accepts the magic in lieu of intelligibility; we see it work–never mind the mechanics.  For example, a spell spoken properly changes things physically, even though sound waves have that kind of effect in no other way in that world.  The premise with Star-Dreck beaming and jaunting (as I remember it) is that there’s no supernatural appeal:  we would understand the event in terms of physics – and not faith – if our physics were more accurate.

      That distinction is what Niven is talking about, I think:  the ‘sufficiency’ of ‘analysis’ consists of its refusal of authority–though, of course, that refusal is not absolute, except in the case that the intelligence is.  The line between LOTR and TSMD, in this case, isn’t blurred in the way you suggest.

  103. Marco

      “One” does accept magic if his/her/its mindset is pre-rationalistic. Everyone else tries to study it and decipher its rules – rules that are self-consistent and world-consistent, even if not consistent with the worldview of the reader. For example, a spell may work because it is an invocation to a being of power, which grants its power in ways complex but ultimately understandable. Whether the characters in a book ever arrive at a rational explanation of magic is immaterial – you only have to posit worlds/universes/physical constants different enough that peculiar ways of influencing matter or thought work. I believe Heinlein was the first to have a science-fictional novel in which multiversal travellers arrive in a universe in which magic is real. Many followed – in Diana Wynne Jones, for example, utterly magic-less universes like our own are an exception in the Multiverse.

      Both LOTR and TSMD have at their core physical impossibilities that are not explained in any meaningful way (though the rings’s powers are this side of possible according to our current understanding of physics, while jaunting is definitely impossible). TSMD is more interested in space adventure and therefore the language of science fiction, while LOTR is more interested in mythical narration set in a mostly science-less world.
      But that’s just presentation. Bottomline, both are set in im-possible worlds, while Fahrenheit 451 or even Ringworld (notwithstanding the scope of its technology and probably lots of errors) aren’t.

  104. deadgod

      “Everyone else” than pre-rationalistic people tries to posit a metallurgical explanation – plausible to a chemist as well as a jeweler – of the Ring’s power??  I haven’t been to that website.

      It is “pre-rationalistic” to accept that, say, the Ring renders invisible (and not by periflecting light ‘around’ an object, as with an Invisibility Cloak) and biologically undecadent–to accept with only the tests that Gandalf subjects the Ring to (fire, hammer, potion). 

      An “invocation to a being of power”:  yes, it’s ‘rational’ to yield to the pragmatism of such an explanation, if that’s how that world works (‘entities here can do this, never mind how‘).  –but that is not a rational explanation!

      Gandalf asserts that the Ring has been imbued with Sauron’s “will” – that this “will” has been “knit” into the substance of the Ring.  This “will” is a magical explanation.  Jaunting is a latent fact of our world–not just physically, but in our physics, waiting only for a paradigm shift to disclose the capability.

  105. deadgod

      I’m asserting that the never mind how of LOTR and TSMD are genuinely different; I think that’s where we disagree . . . here, anyway.  There’s no question – from me – that there are stories that are both “science fiction” and “fantasy”.  That distinction isn’t between whether a determined reader can verify consistency of the world – as consistent – , but rather, whether “explanation” itself proceeds magically, by authority (or ‘faith’), or by anticipatable, logically consistent, empirical verifiability/falsifiability.

  106. deadgod

      That is:  “renders its Bearer”.  And those are “tests” of destruction or decomposition; the tests of the Ring that compel Gandalf’s magical explanation are the disappearance of the wearer, the longevity of the wearer, and, especially, the change in character of the wearer.  –empirically compel, but of a magical substrate.  Unlike, say, the mercury in a hat-band, the Ring itself does not change (except to reveal an incantation), and, in turn, imbues its changelessness transformatively to its Bearer without any chemical transfer.  It’s a magic Ring, however consistent and predictable its effects are.  Jaunting violates current notions of a space/time continuum – namely, of the unity and coherence of distance – , but the premise of the book is that this violation is everywhere regular, that distance retains a unity and coherence that simply haven’t yet been mapped cognitively to the degree needed to jaunt or to understand jaunting with physics.

  107. Marco

      The “never mind how” is a feature of the narration. TSMD uses a trick of narration – a sleight of hand – to make something IMPOSSIBLE (magical) look plausible. It buries in the ground its physical impossibility depicting a world in which everything works like in our own, except for this wee little detail. LOTR is set in a world more markedly different from our own – its inhabitants are primitives by our own standard, haven’t evolved the scientific method, and we as readers cannot make inferences based on our world’s science, because that would be applied superstition, not the scientific method. LOTR does away with “scientific” explanation in the same manner that a historical novel set in the Middle Ages wouldn’t explain infection in terms of bacteria. I really don’t see for instance why there should be a “metallurgical” explanation of the ring. Maybe the will of Sauron acts like a semi-sentient quantum computer which works through the ether and can be imprinted into iron by some magnetic process. Or something even more preposterous, but similarly explained in pseudo-scientific language.
      Bottom-line is, if the world of the story doesn’t respect fundamental physical laws  then it is not a past, present, future iteration of the world-as-we-know-it, and it’s already impossible (or anyway, outside the scope of scientific speculation) and magical. Whether you dress it up in “rational-scientific” or “magical-mythical” terms doesn’t change this fact, nor the fact that the two sets can be switched very easily would one wish to do so.
      Or as Therry Pratchett (one who has written 30+ books of fantasy, but in which is jokingly implied that magic exists because there are a couple of quarks more than in our universe – peppermint and sex appeal in addition to truth beauty strangeness and charm, google reminds me) says, in science-fiction “it’s probably quantum”.

  108. deadgod

      Actually, it’s in LOTR that an attempt is made to understand the metal-working knowledge that went into making the Ring (in order, of course, to destroy it).  The magical answer – Sauron imbued the object with his “will” – is accepted in the story, because of the Ring’s own indestructibility and its effect on its Bearer:  both the Ring and any wearer of it (for the duration of the wearing) are removed from nature (or Nature), from the cycles of decay and regeneration that material things – especially living things – participate in and are constituted by.  That’s Sauron:  not opposing scientific method, but rather, attempting to dominate the (natural) world that science – the knowledge underpinning elvish metallurgy, for example – would know (at least enough to manipulate).  As far as my amateur understanding goes, there’s no quantum engineering that can make an object be removed from, and remove another object from, the processes of natural decomposition and disintegration.  –but were it written in those terms, the idea would be . . . “science fiction”.

      As I say, jaunting is physically impossible in accordance with the coherence of space and time (as they’re currently understood):  nothing (except for virtual particles, ha ha; nothing as large as an atom) can wink out of existence in one place and wink into existence somewhere else instantaneously.  Bester can’t produce a verification (by way of explanation) of jaunting; it’s to his credit, in a way, that he doesn’t bother with some quantum-foam-in-the-structure-of-a-wormhole waffle.  Despite there being no adequate scientification of jaunting, it’s still a science-fictional, rather than fantastical, narrative device, because it’s presented as inhering in the observer-independent fabric of things, rather than in a magical force like the metal-structuring “malice” of an existence-transcendent entity.

      Anyway, that’s why I’d call LOTR “fantasy” and TSMD “science fiction”.

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