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From: "Alice Turner" <akt@attglobal.net>
Subject: (urth) genre fiction
Date: Mon, 25 Oct 1999 13:45:50 

Daniel Fusch brings up--re the inconsistent or unreliable narrator (Sev)
that we've been discussing--the modernist novel. Well, actually, that's not
quite accurate, as he brings up -Moby-Dick- and -Paradise Lost- too. But I
think that M-D can stand as a modernist novel ahead of its time, and Milton
was certainly striving to do something different with PL. The point, and the
Faulkner novel is included here, is the effort toward originality.

Wolfe's three series (I'm leaving out the Soldier series, but you can easily
make the analogy there too) fall into three tired genre cliches (what
Hollywood calls "high concept," which means that even a studio clone can
"get" them): In order, the sword-and-sorcery quest, the generation starship
sequence and the planetary adventure. You might not like the simplification,
but it's recognizable construction. What he has been doing is to bring real
originality to very established (over-established) forms, and in order to do
that one of his techniques is to rely on our familiarity with the form and
then to pull some surprises. And I am not talking about sensa wundah, though
that may be a side-effect.

People who read science fiction, like people who read any other of the
accepted "genre" forms, are used to, in fact are looking for (to a large
degree), predictability. We (I'm mostly talking about myself) kind of read
with one half of our brain listening to the radio, another quarter playing
with the cats and the rest lazily attempting to remember which character is
named what. And that's just about all that's required. But Wolfe has taken
these very standard forms and demanded attention. In only one book (IMO) has
he attempted something entirely new, and that is -Fifth Head-, a truly
original work. But to take a standard form and work magic--magic that
necessarily involves effort from the audience, as Alex points out--with it
is masterful as well.

It seems to me that very few books of 20th century science fiction are going
to last, except as children's books. (The 19th c. will last longer as
historical relics.) But Wolfe's may, simply because they soak up, present,
and then transcend the sub-genres. The huge majority of sci-fi readers today
don't read them, wouldn't like them, but they're not who's going to
determine the future. We are. Very likely. Think about that.

-alga (who apologizes for pomposity)

*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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