From: "Dan'l Danehy-Oakes"
Subject: Re: (urth) Generic Considerations Date: Wed, 23 Apr 2003 10:42:32 -0700 Fair warnings as before. Pa.N. rephrases: >Let me rephrase the question: A difference between a fictive universe that >the author intends to correspond to the real world, and a fictive universe >that introduces things that are not at present in the real world -- as the >author understands the real world. Well, though I still wish to avoide the "real" question, I at least have some clue as to how to approach this. Further, I think I can mention Wolfe at least once in the process. Short answer: I regard the difference as one of degree but note that an accumulation of small quantitative differences can be qualitatively transformative. Long answer: I will, for the sake of argument, rephrase the question slightly more: instead of "things that are not in the real world," let us speak of "_types of_ things that are (or may not be) at present, or in the past, in the real world." The purpose here is to avoid excessive reduction; looking at GWTW again, Tara and Scarlett O'Hara are obviously "things that are not in the real world," but it can reasonably be claimed that they are _types_ of things that were, in the past, in the real world: the Southern Plantation and the Feisty Southern Belle With Serious Neurotic Twitches. Over against that we can put ... well ... THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN, which contains all sorts of types of things that don't exist and probably never will, from the analeptic alzabo to Baldanders. One's MF. One's SF (or "science fantasy," anyway). No argument, here. BOOK is a pretty extreme case, but it makes the point well. I suggest, though, that the difference, what makes one MF and one SF, is less in the "content" -- i.e., the words of the text -- than it is in the way the words are read, in a Borgesian Pierre-Menard-ish way. Let me borrow from Delany again. Suppose you're reading an anthology of "the modern short story" and you come across a text that begins: "One morning, Gregor Samsa awoke from troubled dreams to find that he had become a giant insect." [Note: I'm writing at work and don't have the text to hand. This is a (hopefully reasonable) paraphrase. And, yes, I know it's not a short story. This is for purposes of demonstration.] How do you, reading an MF text, decode this? Most likely, as a metaphor, a comment on alienation, disfiguring disease, etc. As a reader of MF, you will ask questions about the _subject-oriented_ aspects of Samsa's metamorphosis: what it _means_ to him, what in his situation this represents, how it feels, how others respond to him, etc. To do otherwise is to miss the point of the MF text. Your reasonable expectation is that the author will, in the course of the text, explore these subject-oriented questions. Now, suppose the next book you pick up is a collection of SF stories. Remarkably, in this anthology, you also come across a text that begins: "One morning, Gregor Samsa awoke from troubled dreams to find that he had become a giant insect." How do you, reading an SF text, decode this? Most likely, by inquiring into the causes and consequences of the transformation. As a reader of SF, you will ask questions about the _object-oriented_ aspects of Samsa's metamorphosis: how it came about, how he can survive under the circumstances (square-cube law and all that, y'know), the socioeconomic impact of a giant, sentient insect upon society, etc. To do otherwise is to miss the point of an SF text. Your reasonable expectation is that the author will, in the course of the text, answer at least _some_ of these object-oriented questions. Note that these are generalizations. The SF writer can in fact explore the subject-oriented questions as well. The MF writer might offer causal mechanisms or consider consequences. (Genre is after all a non-exclusive adjective, not an exclusive and pigeonholing noun). But in each case, that isn't the _expectation_: if they're neglected or passed over lightly, the reader does not feel cheated. "Passed over lightly": Consider Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s STFnal mechanisms as an example of object-oriented concerns in MF, and the millimeter-thin "characterization" efforts of Arthur C. Clarke as an example of subject-oriented concerns in SF. Neither writer is the worse for their shallow and silly answers to questions that are, finally, not the questions their texts are concerned with. But if a writer chooses to neglect the concerns that are proper to the genre in which she presents her text, woe, woe, nine times woe unto her! A writer who wrote an SF text that began with a transformation like Samsa's and did _not_ explore the question of how it happened -- mind you, she needn't answer the question*, but she _must_ attend to it -- will earn the just wrath of her readers. ----- * SF is full of unexplained wonders; perhaps the most blatant example would be RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA, a text which is firmly STFnal despite its ultimate failure to explain much of anything, because it's deeply concerned with the questions it fails to answer. At this point someone will bring up Michael Bishop's "Rogue Tomato." Pfui. That's a romp, and a grand one, but is _not_ SF. Stuff just happens. (I mean, for Pete's sake ... Birds flying in the vacuum of space ...) ----- Which brings us, by a commodious vicus of ricorulation, to Wolfe. Wolfe, I suggest, is not only firmly but fussily in the STFnal tradition in most of his work, and especially the SUN sequence. While the texts in question are rich in their coverage of the characters' subjective lives, they are ultimately object-oriented; they take place in a universe where the "meaning" of things and events is the events themselves, and not how they serve to reflect and comment on the characters' psyches. Further, when presenting what I, subjectively, regard as plainly miraculous, Wolfe seems to take a special glee in providing an out -- in giving or hinting at a "scientific," object-oriented explanation for the events. Then there's the question of narrative reliability. Of course this is a question of subject, but does not in itself make the text subject- oriented. The concerns of the text are still in the realm of the object: what happened, why, what are the (physical, socioeconomic) consequences. That Wolfe _also_ explores the realm of the subject (that is, the events _mean_ something to and about the characters) does not change or detract from this: it makes Wolfe a richer writer, one whose SF is also something else ... but still SF. (Here we get into theology, btw; I don't want to drag this out in detail, because this _isn't_ a religion list: but it can reasonably be taken that God is pure subject, and over against God we are all objects; the play of subject/object in Wolfe thus becomes very complex indeed.) H'mmm. One last attempt to clarify this subject/object thing and I'll quit. By saying a text is "oriented" toward one or other side of this (highly permeable) bar, I'm asking what it interrogates -- rather, what the reader interrogates, what questions the reader reasonably asks of the text to produce a rich and interesting reading. Asking about the mechanism by which Gregor Samsa is turned into a giant blattidaean is approximately as valid as asking why Typhon is such a bastard. You can ask, but the text won't respond. In both cases, the real concerns of the text are elsewhere. Kafka is concerned with Samsa as a subject, and the text repays questions on that level. Wolfe is concerned with Typhon as an objective presence in Severian's world, and the text repays questions on _that_ level. Which is, finally, why readers schooled in the classics of MF find some of SF's finest texts "impoverished": they ask the wrong questions of the text and are unhappy when the questions go unanswered. --Blattid _________________________________________________________________ Protect your PC - get McAfee.com VirusScan Online http://clinic.mcafee.com/clinic/ibuy/campaign.asp?cid=3963 --