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From: Mike Sakasegawa 
Subject: Re: (urth) Generic Considerations
Date: Thu, 24 Apr 2003 14:05:40 -0700

Blattid wrote:
> This looks like an interesting post. Alas, the lines are truncated
> sufficiently to make it unreadible. I believe this is a "feature"
> of the list reflector. Can you repost with carriage returns breaking
> the lines?

Many apologies!  I'm still getting used to the quirks of this place.

Unfortunately, I didn't save a local copy, but here is an attempt:

Previously, Blattid wrote:
> This reverts to the subect/object orientation of SF/MF. SF expends
> much of it discursive energy on the level of the object, creating
> and analyzing things that do not exist in the "consensus" world. MF
> need not do this and uses more of its discursive energy creating
> and analyzing the subjectivity of characters. But the subjects of
> attention and analysis in MF are no more (or less) "real" than the
> objects of attention and analysis in SF; though one could reasonably
> claim, I suppose, that they represent a kind of thing that exists
> in the consensus world, where deliquescing doors and transporters
> do not ...

You talked about how an SF reader tends to decode the language used
in different ways from an MF reader, and here you talk about the
focus of the writer's discursive energy.  I'm still not sure I 
completely agree with your characterization of SF.

I'm not an expert on genre criticism, especially in book form, but
in film criticism, some critics define genres by the semantic and
syntactic elements of the films which comprise it's body.  The 
semantic elements are the individual story items whereas the 
syntactic elements are the structure and themes of the story.  To
use Westerns as an example, some semantic elements are the Western
landscape, cowboy hats, six-shooters and horses.  Some syntactic 
elements are the struggle between law and chaos and the journey
of a solitary hero.  It's important to note, of course, that not
every work representative of the genre will include all of the
elements, merely that they will draw from the pool of elements
typical to the genre.

A lot of "soft" SF is mainly focused on the subjective experience
and emotional state of the characters.  For example, most of the
works of Orson Scott Card.  True, he does spend some portion of 
each story explaining the SFnal semantic elements it includes, but
the vast majority of the text is concerned with the subjective
experience of the characters and the ways in which their situations
affect them.  How different, then, is an SF writer like Card from,
say, John Irving?  Card spends a certain amount of energy explaining
the futuristic technologies and exotic settings in his stories, but
no more so than Irving spends discussing the history of certain
small New England towns in his.  But that exposition is not the 
point or main thrust of either narrative, rather, it is merely the
setting or external actions that influence the characters.  Both
writers are far more concerned with the actions and emotions of the
characters than anything else.  Syntactically, "soft" SF has a lot 
in common with a lot of the more plot-driven MF out there.  I think
that your characterization seems very appropriate for the more 
"high-brow" parts of MF and for "hard" SF, but I'm not sure that 
it includes "lighter" works into each genre that should be included.

Unfortunately, it seems that what constitutes a genre depends
highly on who is asked, and should that be the case?  To me,
Vonnegut _has_ written SF, even if he doesn't think so, because he
uses certain semantic elements that are a part of the SF genre.
Marketing differences and the disdain of certain critics for
genre fiction should not be the defining characteristics of the
genre.  Thus I consider people like Vonnegut and Crichton to be
SF writers.



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