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From: "ArchD'Ikon Zibethicus" 
Subject: (urth) Re: Generic Considerations
Date: Wed, 23 Apr 2003 10:51:03 +0000


Thank you for taking the time and trouble to respond so comprehensively.  My 
understanding is enriched as a consequence of your effort.

At the risk of staying off-list-topic - tho' not wholly - I feel compelled 
to make some response, tho' I will try to keep it short...

(I also echo your fair warning regarding topicality and length.)

I understand your initial working definition of SF to be, effectively, 
bounded by Gernsback and the didactic urge, and to have evolved into a 
'genre' where it is possible to take linguistic and thematic ventures not 
usually found in MF - to adopt your term.

Thank you for clarifying this.

The example of the deliquescing/dilating door is a useful one for 
understanding how the language and concepts of SF differ from those of MF.  
It would appear, from what I understand you to be saying, that the casual 
assumption that the door dilates without the necessity for invoking the 
Expository Lump is, in itself, one of the major achievements of SF as you 
have defined it.  Do I understand you rightly?

I do remain confused, however, regarding the dichotomy between MF's 
subjectivity and SF's objectivity...I am currently leafing randomly through 
'Nova Express' in pursuit of an understanding of the distinction...

And, in hopefully concise direct response:

>Bierce is often cited as a generic ancestor of SF

Ah, well, that would explain it, then...

>This implies a limitation to the possible/potential value of SF per se 
>which I categorically reject.

I'm sorry; that was not at all what I was trying to suggest.  Personally, I 
incline more to Ballard's view that SF is actually "the main literary 
tradition of the 20th century" (intro. to 'Crash' again), not to mention the 
21st century...but, again, this is a question of just how the 'tradition' is 
to be defined.

Mr. Wolfe's work is a shining instance of the strength and power of 
SF...provided one concedes its membership of the category...

>However, I certainly agree that a work can be both SF and something other 
>than SF.

Now, you see, I would have to suggest that BotNS, for instance, is in this 
category - one reason being the 'subjectivity' of Severian's examination of 
his inner being, and its depicted development and growth, throughout the 

>To be influenced by ERB, then, is not to be influenced by SF at all.


>The sentence discussed in detail above is one example.

Yes, but could one not, perhaps, equally say that a sentence such as: "It 
was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen[,]" 
was achieving a similar effect of displacement through a similar device?

>Something like 3/4 of the way through the book, he briefly mentions, >in 
>passing, the dark color of his skin.

Interesting...I missed that the first time around...

>That was precisely _not_ my point; the contrast between the worlds of Le 
>Guin's novel is very much her own. It is the way in which the societies of 
>the world are made real that she borrows from the SF 

Ah, I understand you now!  Thank you!  But am I to further understand that 
(in saying that Le Guin "borrows from the SF tradition-and-dialogue") the 
implication is that 'The Dispossessed' is _not_ an SF novel in your opinion? 
  Or am I merely being obtuse again?

>the subjective as such disappears in Ballard's rhetoric. This, I >suggest, 
>represents in essence an intensification and repurposeing of the techniques 
>of Campbell-Heinlein STFnal rhetoric.

I _did_ quote Ballard's assertion that the task of the author has become "to 
invent the reality".  To me, this really summarises one of the reasons why I 
feel vaguely uncomfortable with the concept of SF as a 'genre' or 'school' 
or 'style' or other category of literature.  It would seem to me that 
Ballard was both extremely astute and highly prophetic in making this 
statement over thirty years ago.  We are now surrounded in our daily lives 
by the effective impedimenta of what was once 'SF'; computers, spaceflight, 
invasive monitoring for the dystopian-inclined...

Speaking with my professed lack of expertise on the subject, might this not 
possibly mean that the present day has become science-fictional in its 
nature?  (I mean in the terms of the dilating door, so to speak...)

And cannot all contemporary MF literature be considered at least partly 
science-fictional insofar as it deals with these developments?

>Somewhat akin, in my opinion, to giving up on Tolkien because of     
>"Yrch!" cried Legolas, falling into his own tongue.

>But as you say: Vita brevis. If you don't derive pleasure from RAH, don't 
>waste your time reading him.

No, no: you have convinced me that I may be doing him an injustice.  I will 
pencil something of his other than 'Stranger' into my 

>Not sure what it's "suggestive" of; even if Manson did in fact treat 
>STRANGER as an inspirational text, the only thing this suggests to me is 
>that a lunatic can find support for what he wants to do anyway in pretty 
>much anything.

What I meant was that it was suggestive, at least to me, that the book's 
pernicious passages regarding sexuality as cited were unusually prone to 
abuse - in the hands of, as you so rightly say, a lunatic or at least a 
psychopath.  I _did_ take care to stipulate that I was certain that Mr. 
Heinlein never intended that 'Stranger' should be used in that fashion.

In any case, I made the connection in an off-hand and facetious moment.  I'm 
sure that I may very well have been mistaken again, in any case.

>Lem clearly writes outside the dialog/tradition I'm speaking of, and in 
>fact criticizes it as-a-whole (excepting, for reasons he makes clear in a 
>few essays, Philip K. Dick).

Now I must confess my confusion again; are you saying that you consider Lem 
to not be a SF writer in your definition of the term?


General remarks in very short:  I think that, as Mike Sakasegawa said 
directly after your post, the question of whether Mr. Wolfe can be 
categorised as SF in these terms is a useful and intriguing one.  Looking at 
BotNS, as I've already said, I suspect that the work does not lend itself to 
easy categorisation; for instance, I would guess that the story could still 
be told if much if not all of the actual advanced technology was omitted 
therefrom.  Many of the concerns of the Book are philosophical and (pardon 
me) ontological and theological and ethical; moreover, in one sense, the 
Book could be argued to be founded on an illogical premise, inasmuch as 
according to what is known of the theory of evolution, humanity might 
reasonably be expected to have evolved into an entirely new species by the 
time the Urth reached the age given in the Book (as Olaf Stapledon suggested 
in his works).

Of course, Mr. Wolfe does take care to explain that the _animals_, at least, 
are very different to those of our day, even where they perform similar 
functions, and on considering this possibility in the light of your postings 
I can see no very compelling reason to rule out the possibility that the 
'humans' of Severian's day are actually intended to be a different species 
to ourselves...provided we accept your theory that the inhabitants of the 
Jungle Garden are actually contemporary residents of Nessus who have been 
reprogrammed...as a theory, this only leaves Pa. Silk's sighting of the 
original Palm Sunday during his enlightenment to be explained...but perhaps 
the physical changes are not profoundly obvious, especially from a distance.

At any rate, what I found when first reading BotNS was that I was 
experiencing a suspension of disbelief...the work was not necessarily 
scientifically convincing, but I was not reading it with those questions 
uppermost in my mind.  I find it interesting that the publicity for 'Shadow' 
attempts to liken it to the Gormenghast trilogy, among other works, which 
was written by a poet and artist who was not pursuing scientific 
authenticity as opposed to suspension of disbelief.


Forgive me for ranting.  Responding to your post has littered the diverse 
horizontal surfaces of my study/studio with even MORE books, and what passes 
for my mind with even MORE thoughts...as if I needed more clutter in either. 
  Thank you anyway, and my apologies to those whose bandwidth I am, in my 
turn, cluttering...

...back to normal programming...



HEAVEN, n.   A place where the wicked cease from troubling you with talk of 
their personal affairs, and the good listen with attention while you expound 
your own.

- Ambrose Bierce

The Hell Law says that Hell is reserved exclusively for them that believe in
it.  Further, the lowest Rung in Hell is reserved for them that believe in
it on the supposition that they'll go there if they don't.

- The Honest Book of Truth, The Gospel According to Fred, 3:1

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