Style and Substance

Stephanie S. on Science Fiction literary quality:

It also matters what the pretty words actually say.Style does not necessarily indicate substance. Style can, in fact, be used to cover up an author’s complete failure to imagine the Big Idea that is supposed to be one of science fiction’s hallmarks. I decided to jump in and become a Hugo voter around Sad Puppies I; since then, I have seen a number of stories – particularly in the short fiction categories – that use fantastic elements as superficial glosses over what, in truth, are extended ruminations over characters’ emotional states in which nothing of any consequence actually happens. In many of these cases, the emotion is very well-rendered, but digging deep reveals a foundation of sand. The textbook example of this phenomenon is “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,” in which the event that inspires the “content” of the story is based on an improbability and the point-of-view character is left powerless to do anything but rage at her plight.

I read science fiction for ideas.  I’m an ideas man.  Characters are nice, and I certainly wouldn’t want to read a story without characters, but a story that is “character” driven, in the traditional sense, is terrifically boring.  That’s because what often passes for “character” is really quirkiness, overlaid on top of a Myers- Briggs randomizer.  Then we just watch the emotions play.  That’s like fireworks: red, green, blue.  I need a reason to be there besides just to see the show.

For me, the most recent sweet spot was actually Ancillary Justice.  What a lot of interesting ideas to follow!  and yes, there was some work involved in verifying it all added up at the end.  The sequel, Ancillary Sword, just didn’t cut it. An older book that also knocked my socks off recently was The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin.  Again with the ideas, and not that much with the plot.

On the other hand, I just can’t read Kevin J. Anderson, so I guess style has to count for something.

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