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.
So he worked.
He lost weight; he walked light on the earth. Lack of physical labor, lack of variety of occupation, lack of social and sexual intercourse, none of these appeared to him as lacks, but as freedom. He was the free man: he could do what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it for as long as he wanted to do it. And he did it. He worked. He work/played.
Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dispossessed
I saw a piece of a TV show today, in which a talk show host was asked by someone in the audience how to explain to her 10 year old son what sex was like. Oh, my! What a show he put on, rhapsodizing over how it was literally the most wonderful thing in the world. I have to admit I was kind of surprised. Here was an man in his late forties, apparently successful, who seemed not to know anything at all.
I’m a married man. I have four children. I’m not exactly unfamiliar with the experience. Sex has been a lurking bogey for most of my life, either the act or the niggling desire. I have to say it has not fulfilled as advertised. And I don’t meant that I’ve had some sort of disappointing experience. But my love for my wife is wider than just the right sort of caress. Our kids are small: a long walk alone in a quiet park is a far grander experience together (and far more rare and costly!) than an evening alone in the bedroom.
But moving beyond interpersonal relations, sex is just too narrow to be the final all-consuming joy. John Stuart Mill was right when he broke with Jeremy Bentham and said that there were different tiers of pleasure, and that the pleasures of the mind and the spirit were to be valued on a qualitatively higher level than the pleasures of the body. As Paul said, physical (er…) exercise is of some value, but godliness…!
I shouldn’t be surprised. I know. But honestly, it saddens me to think that so many people are manacled to the idea that desire, especially sexual desire, is identity. I suppose that most people go through a phase around puberty where that feels like it’s true. But they used to learn differently, by culture and experience, so that an adult who talked that way was an obvious embarrassment to himself. Not so any longer.