Eric’s Writing Blog

The writing blog of Eric Rosenfield

SF is the Other

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To lit fic, sf is the Other: the weird jungle tribe regarded as primitive, suspected of cannibalism and in some cases exploited. (When Margaret Atwood takes the tropes of SF and claims she doesn’t write science fiction, SF people feel exploited– ie that they’ve had something taken from them without just compensation, in this case, credit.)

Which isn’t to say every literary fiction author is conventional and every genre fiction author is radical–far from it–but it is to say that the whole concept of a “literary” fiction vs. a non-“literary” fiction is wound up tightly and inescapably in concepts of bourgeois status, and maybe it’s just better to be in the jungle with the wild ones.

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August 8, 2010 at 7:42 pm

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Literature with a capital-L

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Most definitions of Literature vs. non-Literature are necessarily vague and unsatisfying. The desire to draw a line between Literature and non-Literature is a bourgeois desire for status rather than any legitimate aesthetic analysis. Which isn’t to say that all fiction is equal or that aesthetic judgements can’t be made, only that the concept of Literature with a capital-L is not a useful or meaningful term.

EDIT: Or as Sartre put it: “Aesthetic purism was a brilliant maneuver of the bourgeois of the last century who preferred to see themselves denounced as philistines rather than as exploiters.” — from “What is Literature?”

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August 6, 2010 at 6:33 pm

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Thinking about Marx

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Marx talks about how the culture of the bourgeois is a culture designed to transform you into a machine — that is, a production machine. A revolutionary culture would then challenge bourgeois social norms.

John Clute remarked at ReaderCon that great literature should be dangerous (not original to him, I realize, but it got me thinking about it). Obviously one of the ways to be dangerous is to challenge social norms (and this observation is not original to me, I also realize). Marxism gives you a way to look at stories and ask if they are reinforcing social norms (be they capitalist, bourgeois, conservative or otherwise) or challenging them, and then ask if they are challenging them, are they doing it in an interesting way. In other words, what is this narrative saying in respect to social norms, in respect to societal values. Marxists dissected the Byronic hero of the 19th century as a symbol of bourguois decadence (and with good reason), but I think an equally interesting analysis could be made of the typical “underdog” style hero of today’s action-adventure-comedy-whathaveyou stories.

Just thinking out loud…

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August 4, 2010 at 2:19 am

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The moment I realized he was doing it on purpose

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He wore a conical hat with hexagonal rim, both decorated with emerald-green owls. His cloak had a turned-up collar in back and epaulets in the shape of lions couchant. The fabric was a green shimmering stuff with a pattern of trefoils pierced with a bleeding lance. His shirt was electric-blue and piped with white skulls. A great belt of leather was bossed with gold and set with diamonds, emeralds, and topazes. His baggy pants were white-and-black striped and calf-length. The boots were of some pale soft red leather.

–Philip Jose Farmer, The Gates of Creation, book two of the World of Tiers

This is where I realized that Farmer was deliberately playing with all the cheesey pulp stuff that he’d grown up on, the figure from Flash Gordon of Ming the Merciless in flowing cape with giant collar and flowing gown. This is Farmer as proto-Grant Morrison.

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July 23, 2010 at 5:30 pm

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Ideal Word Processor for iPad

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Working on an article about the problems I’ve been having writing on my iPad, but for now here’s a list of what my ideal word processor would be able to do, for my reference as much as anything else:
Key: features currently on the following apps: D2G = Documents to Go, QO = QuickOffice, P = Pages

  • Arrow keys work on external keyboard (a surprising oversight on Docs2Go and QuickOffice) – P
  • Command keys work on external keyboard (Cmd-I for italic, Cmd-B for bold, etc.) – None (though P has some cmd key implementation, not those most obvious ones)
  • Dropbox sync – D2G QO (documents can be imported into P, but not exported or synchronized)
  • Split screen mode for viewing multiple documents, multiple parts of single document – none
  • OpenOffice ODT compatibility – none
  • Full selection of fonts – P D2G

Those are the main things I can think of.

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June 25, 2010 at 1:53 pm

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Chabon’s Parade of Similes

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Reading The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon. One of his great skills as a writer is the ability to turn a good simile or metaphor, and he clearly enjoys creating them, however sometimes he can get a little carried away. Consider the following passage from page 172:

He rides down in the elevator feeling as if he has stepped out from under the onrushing shadow of a plummeting piano, some kind of jazzy clangor in his ear. The knot of his gold-and-green rep necktie presses its thumb against his larynx like a scruple pressing against a guilty conscience, a reminder that he is alive. His hat is as glossy as a seal.

The sentences, three similes, all in a row. And they’re wonderful similes (though I’m not sure what his hat being glossy has to do with much), and the first has a wonderful subordinate clause that makes the comparison much more vivid (“some kind of jazzy clangor in his ear”). But I can’t help but feel a little simile fatigue when I read so many in a row, and think perhaps the second two sentences could have been simply struck out.

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June 25, 2010 at 12:09 pm

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Toward a Time Travel Taxonomy

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There are several different ways time travel is used in fiction. For example, time travel to the future is often used to make a political commentary on the present via comparison, ala The Time Machine and many other works. This can also be accomplished through stories of the future without any time travel at all, eg. 1984, but time travel allows an easy way to make a explicit contrast between two periods.

Time travel stories also travel to the past can also be used to comment on the present (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court), and/or travel to the past to comment on our own misguided ideas of the past (also A Connecticut Yankee, as well as a number of the Time Patrol stories by Poul Anderson). One could also time travel to the past to reexamine it through the lens of present ideas.

Just as often, of course, time travel to the past or future is simply used to provide an exciting milieu for an adventure story (the “exotic location” being a standard trope in that genre), though even then the author’s representation of the past or future can speak of that author or period’s specific hopes and fears (the anxiety over the “other” in Armageddon 2419AD).

Which is all to say that the point of time travel, as a trope, is to deliberately juxtapose and contrast two different time periods, and there can be many different reasons for doing this. Also similar effects can be created by travel between worlds, dimensions, even realist narratives of travel to foreign countries.

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April 25, 2010 at 5:58 pm

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