This topic is getting to be a couple weeks old and has probably run its course already, but I thought maybe some readers of this page might be unaware of it and would like to check it out. Perhaps you are aware of the Recent Unpleasantness incited by novelist and professor Adam Roberts on his Punkadiddle blog. I won't rehash the whole thing since you can go there and read it for yourself, but to summarize, he asserts that the slate of novels from which Hugo voters will choose a winner this year is a rather mediocre lot, perhaps somewhat wanting in literary merit. Someone will always have a problem with any group of nominees for any award, but what has gotten folks particularly wound up in the case Roberts' broadside is that he implies that the readership of sf and fantasy novels is too undiscriminating, too unaware of what qualities a truly "great" novel ought to have.
You are Here: Home > An online kerfuffle over the Hugo slate in which lines are drawn and people get all wound up
Thursday, August 6, 2009
This drew lengthy replies from The Crotchety Old Fan (Steve Davidson, also of the Classic Science Fiction Channel site) and novelist John Scalzi , among others. The former focuses more on the Literary vs. Popular theme, while Scalzi spends more time on the Insulting the Readership matter.
It appears that Roberts doesn't like the system of selecting the Hugos--popular vote by the convention members, and would rather it be a juried award. Well, it's not. Don't get me wrong: I can work up an Elitist Bad Humor in no time and spend an hour ranting and raving about all the mistakes the Dumb Masses can make when they have the vote on something. But in the case of the Hugos, the voters are hardly the common rabble. There is only a thin wedge of people who even read books, much less fiction at all, much less sf/f. The audience for great, even "literary," genre fiction is there, and I think there a lot of other reasons aside from the voters just going for what's popular that explain why a lot of these other great books go un-nominated. A lot of great books get tiny print runs or they don't show up at all in North America (where a majority of the voters are) or their authors or publishers don't do enough to promote themselves.
I think the Crotchety Old Fan's reply makes an interesting case, but I'm not sure that I quite buy all the assumptions inherent in the Traditional SF vs. Literary SF comparison. Also, I find it regrettable that he uses movies to make the argument. SF films have frak-all to do with sf as a written form. Also, I would argue that if one must use Forbidden Planet and Star Wars in a comparison/contrast, then the COF has it somewhat in reverse. I'd argue that Forbidden Planet, while maybe "traditional" in the COF's view of it, is also the more "literary" of the two by far. I understand that he is saying that Star Wars shows everything and keeps nothing hidden in the way that literary fiction can get (too) deeply into detail of character and emotion. But I don't think that's always true of "Literature" either, and I don't see the line being so sharply drawn. A lot of writers that I would consider to have written "traditional" sf are also fantastic literary stylists (such as LeGuin, Sturgeon, Delany, Ballard). I think a more apt comparison that would perhaps make the COF's point better would be between a writer like Asimov or Heinlein or Haldeman or Niven and one of those High Literature writers who use genre devices but still get counted as Serious Artists, such as Cormac McCarthy or Michael Chabon.
[The image is of Adam Roberts from his Wikipedia page. Aside from being a prof and a lit crit, he is the author a number of well-regarded sf novels such as Salt and Gradisil; he has also penned a number of those goofy parody novels (Star Warped, The Soddit, etc.) that I think one needs to be either English or a super-dork to want to spend time with. But, ya know, whatever turns your crank...]
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