This is a thing I wrote in response to some SFF fandom bullshit going on. If you’re reading this and don’t know what the Sad/Rabid Puppies are, well, I envy you. Stay unaware. Don’t google it. Google prehistoric squirrels or Steven Universe conspiracy theories instead. It’ll be time better spent. For the rest of us poor bastards who have eaten of the Fruit of Bullshit from the Tree of Train Wreck, this post is for us.
When someone says, “Well, at least I care!” all they’re saying is, “Well, at least I have an opinion!” I’ve read this from one of the Sad Pup ringleaders, and couldn’t help but read the bit about “caring” as the foot-stomp of the petulant, self-righteous child. Caring is meaningless. Caring can be split so many ways and made to mean anything. You can carry it down into all kinds of Godwin Law absurdity. Mussolini cared about train schedules. Custer cared about the Sioux. You can’t say they didn’t. They certainly cared enough to have opinions about them. To state so sternly that you’re justified in your actions, because “you cared” is simply a sleight of hand attempt to raise feelings up to the level of values, because you’re not wise or self-aware enough to process your feelings without making noises.
Intestinal Parasite Bildungsroman
The Epic Mundane
Grimdark Judy Blume
Fan Fiction for Famous Mathematical Equations
“-gasm”: wherever you see the suffix “-punk” now, you’ll see “-gasm” in the future: Mythgasm, Cybergasm, Steamgasm, etc.
Lord of the Sweet Valley Highs
The Genre Adjacent
TV Trope Twister
Noirnoir, Neo-noirnoir, and Revisionist Neo-noirnoir
Real Estate Agents of Dune
The Future Needs Grandpa
Wait For the Cable TV Series
Pooh Corner Slash
Mod, Mod-Mod, Ultra Mod, and Incomprehensible Gibberish
Two-Fisted Tales of Engineering in Space
I read a thing online.
I didn’t agree 100% with it.
I was okay with that and went on with my life.
Why is this hard for people?
In my last post I talked slight crap about fan fiction. And after a few moment’s reflection I thought, “Well, shit, have I really even read much fan fiction?”
So I sought some out.
I did a Google search for Firefly fan fiction and came up with gold. That’s been my reading material for the past two days. And beside the Craiglist personal ad aspects of some of it (erotic pairings of Book & Wash, Mal & River, and Jane & everybody), I think I’m getting a better handle on what it is in fan fiction that grates on me. But before I tell you that, let me say that reading these stories has made me realize that the thing I don’t like about fan fiction is also the thing I need to learn how to do.
Back to what bothers me about it – it’s the immersion level of the work. And this is where I think it overlaps with a genre hang-up I have. I don’t enjoy being so deeply immersed in a story. Sure, I love when I’m immersed in the act of reading, but extreme moment to moment story immersion feels confining. I feel drowned by a writer that describes everything, every moment, every thought of a character’s life. Yeah, that’s hyperbole, but with some books it feels that way. It feels that the writer is holding my hand and directing what I can or can’t pay attention to while they monologue about the movie going on in their head.
But the thing is for fans of shows, fans that would want to write about their favorite show, and a good number of genre fans that level of immersion is what they’re after. They want to be deep in the paracosm on the moment to moment level. It’s not a bug, it’s a design feature. And that’s something I need to learn.
So today’s piece of writer enlightenment:
The thing you dislike in other books is the thing you need to learn for yours.
In most genre books I skip the sex scenes and the fight scenes.
All the fight scenes tell me is you the author have watched The Matrix (or MMA matches or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) enough times to describe it.
All the sex scenes tell me is you have an internet connection.
Having just finished a Western (Valdez is Coming* by Elmore Leonard; I recommend it) I saw it wasn’t these two things but the lead up and repercussions from them that made things interesting. It’s only that people are obvious and put pages of dueling MMA wizard anal elf sex in their books for some reason. If you love it, then hey, that’s great. But for me, it feels like I’m reading the fan fiction for the RPG supplement you wrote in novel form.
Every now and then the debate over reading genre classics pops up and rears its ugly head. On the one hand you have folks who feel we’re losing a literary heritage and forgetting too many old great books as new great books get published. Mike Swanwick had a recent blog post to that effect. The genre was once smaller, you could read everything in it, and stay on top of it. It was easier not only to find the firsts in a genre, but also the outliers. Having a hungry curiosity for this stuff is good.
On the other hand you have the opposite position of just knowing what’s current, which in its extreme form might resemble this five year old blog post from Karen Traviss about not needing to read to be a writer. (I don’t know if Traviss still agrees with that blog post, but I’ll keep it until I learn otherwise because it’s useful.) In its milder form, it’s not needing to read every alien invasion story ever, but just those in recent years in order to see how alien invasion stories are being told now in this era.
There’s also a third hand, which shows up in the comments of Swanwick’s post, stating that the “classics” might not be so classic and why navigate through books dripping with the prejudices of their eras. This too is a valuable point, but my reading of Swanwick’s post is one not so much telling writers to know their history and cling to it, but to sift that history and find the gems in it, the outliers as he dubs them, or the books lost in genre’s shadow like the ones I mention here and here.
However there are ways to reconcile these three arguments when you keep these guidelines in mind:
1. Read only what you enjoy, but cultivate a curious and complex palette that enjoys challenges.
2. Make your own genre history. Lots of stuff gets lost in the margins or ignored because it doesn’t tidily fit in with someone’s imposed narrative. Bring these works to light.
3. The early work in a genre has more immediacy than subsequent iterations. It can sometimes be as fresh as more recent works.
4. As far as knowing your genre goes, once you’ve read the initial spark, focus on what’s been done with it in the past decade. But…
5. Always remember there are likely more amazing books that you haven’t heard of than ones you have.