We were blessed, Larry Correia, Dave Freer, Brad Torgersen and John C. Wright and I to be the object of an attack by Damien Walter, Teh Grauniad’s village idiot.
I’m not going to fisk his idiotic eructation, (mostly because I don’t want to give him the satisfaction of reading it) save for saying that that portion which applied to me was just what left wing blogs report about my writing, to whit that I “mangle” sentences. Which is by and large true… on this blog. Because it’s written spur of the moment and I don’t have much time to spend on proofreading it, etc, since this is not my paying work. (Should I actually fix the patreon account and start doing a serial for it, I will then spellcheck that, because, well… it will be paid. The thing is I don’t want to commit to that, as awful as I’ve been with my subscription space, until I know my health and living conditions (or at least place) are stable. So not before a year or so. Because my inability to keep the subscribers’ space going is one part health and two parts “moving four times in a year and a half.” Mind you, we think we’re fixed for a decade, maybe for the rest of our lives, but the unpacking still goes on.) It never seems to occur to these geniuses that even if my turned-in manuscripts were as bad as the blog (they’re on. In fact, except for the one written during/while recovering from surgery, they’re cleaner than other people’s raw manuscripts), the editors would catch it. So, of course, they assume my books are the same.
There were several other egregious errors, like assuming we’re all small press or indie published, which would be trivially easy for him to check on. In fact, to date, I have ONE book that came out exclusively indie, and one that came out indie after being published by a small press. All my other work is for major presses and most of it for presses-not-Baen. (And yeah, I know I need to get pumping on the indie. Interesting note, btw, all historical mystery writers seem to be doing one or more indie series parallel to their traditional one. It’s just the same health issues, etc. that stopped traditional writing also stopped indie.)
So, again, not going to fisk him. Partly because Larry Correia has already said he’s going to do it. When he does, I’ll link it here. Also, Dave Freer fisked it at MGC.
Instead I’m going to strike at the heart of his conceit, that what we write is by definition sub-par and not worthy of the august Hugo. This is also partly in response to a comment on my echoing Brag Torgersen’s post on Dragoncon, in which the commenter said something about how he hadn’t read anything on that list, and to call him back in fifty years and tell him which of those books had survived. His implication, of course, was that the novels winning the Hugos will have longer longevity or speak to readers more, or whatever. (He also said he hadn’t read any of them and to that I call bullshit, given that I know the gentleman’s reading habits and most of the books are from Baen.)
Sighs. Does sinal salute.
Yes, indeedy, the mark of “true quality” such as schools used to give it, in writing at least, is to have survived … well, I’d set it at a 100 years, but I come from a place with much deeper history, where an “antique” takes 400 years or so to gel.
Part of the reason colleges and universities used to consider books that had survived that long “true quality” is that they assumed these books had the votes of uncountable readers throughout the centuries, so there must be some quality in them that made them popular. An enduring quality that defied time and space.
To a large extent that is true. My own fascination with Shakespeare speaks to that. Not just his wonderful use of the English Language (which I could appreciate as JUST music, long before I learned what it mean) but the way he captured something essentially human transcends the limits of where and when he wrote and overcome even his egregious errors in geography and — at least initially — how royal courts worked and a million other details.
But this is only “to a large extent.” There are other works that survive mostly because they are the only surviving works of the era, and because they have been reverently taught from a couple of centuries after their time. A lot of medieval literature falls under this heading, and I’m not giving anyone my head on a pike by specifying WHICH parts of medieval literature because they’ll regurgitate what they heard in college. I’ll just say not having learned the same things in college, I could never get into large portions of what are in the English Speaking World considered pre-Shakespearean masterpieces.
And then came the twentieth century. Ah, the twentieth century. When western civilization decided it was really important to process most of its youth through colleges in which they were taught what “well bred people should know.” (At least outside STEM disciplines.)
This and a sort of ridiculous civilization-wide adolescent rebellion, in which we decided that because we now have electricity and photographs all past art is irrelevant, led to the anointing of contemporary “literary” masterpieces and the establishment of “literature” as a genre.
Yes, I just said that literature is a genre. It is in fact, all it is. Its markers: beautiful language, a tendency to introspective writing, (Unless the goal is minimalist camera-eye and the author sells it as artistic), and a concentration on “plausible, everyday problems” are no more a mark of quality than are “transparent language, fantastic, unbelievable events, active less introspective protagonist.”
That they’ve been sold as “quality” is because these are things “Literature professors like.”
Things literature professors don’t like — I know, my MA is language and literature — include science fiction, fantasy, mystery and in fact all the genres once defined as “pulp”. My own dad, an avid mystery reader, for a long time classed all sf/f as pulp. (I’m happy to report he seems to have suffered reverse-infection.)
In fact literature professors dislike it so much that they tend not to read it at all, and to assume that it’s all about bug eyed aliens and half naked women. For SF/F of course. Though it would make an interesting mystery.
One of my favorite pasttimes through college was take some professor rebuking me on my reading habits and give him a story or two by Bradbury. My favorite and — d*mned if I remember the title — for this the one of the people falling to Earth after a space disaster, who review their lives while dying. Professors were usually blown away and often ended up championing Bradbury to the school library.
BUT those of us in genre know Bradbury is literature. I think even most of the glitterati admit it. Harder for them is to admit that people like Heinlein or Terry Pratchett or whoever the latest bestseller in sf/f that they don’t approve of could be considered “literature.”
And to me the most important thing is “who knows?” “Who cares?” “Who actually gives a very tiny rat’s *ss?”
Look, “literature” label and all that crap about “surviving fifty/a hundred/a thousand” years is virtue signaling and bullcrap.
All of it. My realizing this was the moment at which I started writing and selling a whole lot more novels.
So, literature — let’s leave aside the beautiful language because tastes on what’s beautiful are more fashion than anything else — is supposed to be something that survives the centuries. And you’re sure you know what that is. And you want to give awards to that now.
How? Where do you hide the time machine? How do you know?
The “literature mavens” in science fiction and elsewhere, have staked their claim on “what survives will be socially relevant.”
This is because they are (it’s an habit) putting the cart before the horse.
To give them the history lesson they never got in school, what used to be considered literature were things anchored in the renaissance which was in turn anchored in the Greek-Roman tradition. Obligatory references to classical history figures was big (you still find that in some older, revered books.) And the more obscure the reference, the more “literary” the book.
This was hogwash, of course. Why? Because those books were not in fact likely to survive, or even be appreciated but by a tiny minority who was counting coup “Oooh. A reference to Sisyphus, this is deep.”and by a slightly larger minority who wanted to peacock as though they were exquisitely educated/high class.
Sometime after WWI this had become obvious to everyone, and so they cast about for literature markers that meant this book “spoke” to people.
Now remember, these were by and large intellectuals, whose acquaintance with “people” is either limited to growing up (I hear some of them are born of normal human parents. Yeah, I know, another d*mn thing for pregnant women to be afraid of) or not intensive. I.e. they meet with say their cleaning woman or their waiter, but only long enough to take care of business.
This is part of the reason Marxism is so appealing to them. It gives them all these big categories into which to classify those slippery, unclassifiable people. They might not know any plumbers, but by d*mn, they know the “Working Class.”
So what they decided would speak to people were books… about those people. Most literary books are books about college professors pretending to be plumbers or gamblers, or whatever. They appeal mostly to college professors. But college professors remain SURE they appeal to everyone, and are therefore “good.”
Yeah, I’m going on the evidence of what I studied in “literature” thirty years ago, but at least judging by a ten year younger friend who keeps getting given these “masterpieces” because he has a degree similar to mine (US variety) it has if anything gotten worse.
Which brings us to the infection of our field by glitteraty larvae too weak and stupid to actually make it in the literary genre, and who therefore have decided to make it in science fiction and call it newly literary or something.
I blame people like Bradbury and Heinlein who made our field more respectable. But the infection wouldn’t be complete without the editors who went to Very Good Colleges and learned the same clap trap literature I learned, but never saw through it and weren’t there to figure out new ways of bullshitting professors, while reading science fiction under the desk. They honestly either believe that the mark of quality science fiction is its mock appeal to some “class” or “minority” or they view it as a way to signal how much better than others they are at selecting rarefied “literature”. Actually the second would explain why the appeal they select for keeps getting more exclusive. They have long ago accepted this cr*p doesn’t sell, and are now on a mission to “appeal to minorities by having someone like them in the story.” (As a double — triple? — minority, I object. I can identify with green tentacled aliens as well as the pale skinned mostly Caucasian guy now working the office beneath mine. I can identify with him too at least enough to empathize. Otherwise, why marry him?)
Will this “literature” survive fifty years? Oh, for crying in bed. How can it? It’s not even particularly popular now. Hell, unless a nuking leaves some of these books as the only testimony of what our time and place was like, I doubt anyone even will remember their names any more than we remember the names of “praised” literature from the Victorian period.
Meanwhile Agatha Christie, a favorite “intellectual” punching bag is doing QUITE well fifty years on, despite lacking all those markers college professors think so important.
People like the village idiot of the Guardian are emotionally stunted morons who think “good” must be what his professors held up as such.
The rest of humanity finds it predictable and too boring for words. Except for those who are counting coup “Ah, one eyed, one legged Hatian Lesbian. This book is quality!” and those who want to be seen as reading “intellectual” stuff. Both of which are an ever-decreasing minority in an era of overworked, overstressed people with a lot of other books to read and a lot of other forms of entertainment at their fingertips.
Me? (And probably most of my colleagues mentioned and a few not mentioned.) We read and write what appeals to us. I have my own definition of good, which is something that either rivets me and won’t let go (I tend to re-read Jim Butcher by reading all books from first to latest over the course of a couple of days, because I miss them, like one misses friends) or does something emotional to me I wasn’t expecting (The Black Tide books kept me sane and reasonably emotionally together through the death-march of fixing the other house for sale, through MAJOR autoimmune attacks and fears of going bankrupt before the house sold. How? D*mned if I know. Perhaps the sheer uplifting of hope, of doing something, of rebuilding before an all-encompassing tragedy put my own issues in perspective and set an example. Or perhaps it just reached into my feelings and changed them. How am I to know?) or provides me with unexpected insights into things people do (Terry Pratchett, particularly Guards Guards for why people feel they need kings, and Tiffany Aching to understand why older son feels driven to become a doctor.)
The rest? I don’t care. If reading about the oppressed class makes you feel excited, all power to you. Just remember it’s not a popular taste, or a particularly “refined” one. It doesn’t make the books you like “good” and everyone else’s “bad.”
When I was three or so, my dad taught me de gustibus non est disputandum and most of us “get” it for matters of palate. For instance, my son adores biscuits and gravy. The fact gravy makes me shudder doesn’t make his preference “bad” or “wrong.” It just means we have different tastes. Why can people not accept that in books (except of course, for having learned in school there was a “good” book.)
If you can read a book and “enter” into it, and it holds your interest to the end, it is a good book for SOMEONE. Maybe not for you, but for someone. Live and let live. And stop acting like an idiot. Liking something or disliking something won’t make anyone believe you’re better than other people. Unless your peacocking is directed at the immature, the insecure and (but I repeat myself) most college literature professors.
Yeah, some of what we read now might make it to college classes in fifty years. Will it be good? will it suck?
Who knows? It depends on the state of civilization then, and what they pick as markers.
So I ask again, do you have a time machine, tovarish? No? Then shut up about surviving fifty years, and just read what you like. In the end that’s all that counts.
Which is why popular choice awards like the dragons make perfect sense. The “this is good literature” awards (which used to be the Nebulas) not so much.
Popular choice tells you “you might like this. A lot of people do.” All “good literature” awards say is “Some intellectuals will think you’re very smart for being seen with this book.”
As an author I’d prefer to get the first. As a reader I say “read whatever the heck you like. Your former literature professor will NEVER know.”