Every Day Is Wednesday If We Clap Our Hands Loud Enough!

1. Wednesday has drifted away into the Pacific and I can’t even pretend to myself that I’m on time… but nonetheless, this week’s Blog Gate gate post by the oversigned is now up. It’s a longish and incoherent review of the first two volumes of The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny.

2. Synchronicity can happen at any time, so the NYT Magazine is featuring a long puff-piece on Jack Vance this week. I especially liked the photo of an agreeably piratical Vance. I didn’t like some xenophobic balderdash in the text (from Dan Simmons–and Michael Chabon, of all people–not Vance himself) that Vance’s literary reputation has been hampered by the fact that he’s a gringo. Vance’s literary reputation has been hampered by the fact that he writes genre fiction almost exclusively, mostly science fiction and fantasy. (It’s also benefited from that, at least among people who like sf/f, so jeet your seat, be cool and discrete.) But apart from that bit of superfluous whining on behalf of his ostensibly neglected subject, the writer of the piece, Carlo Rotella, has some shrewd things to say about Vance and his fiction.

3. Raymond Chandler, actor. Well, cameonast (which is a word I think I just made up, and sort of wish I hadn’t).

4. Charles Tan interviews intrepid Editorial Director Lou Anders. My favorite part, even more than Lou’s flattering praise of Blood of Ambrose, was this exchange.

What do you think is the biggest advantage of science fiction that the other genres can’t quite emulate?

The ability to slip in and out of literal versus metaphoric truth.

This strikes me as profoundly true. In an imaginary world, everything is there for a reason. The reason may be sheer inertia–the ground is made of soil, because it didn’t occur to the writer to make it anything else. But a shrewd writer doesn’t make those choices via inertia. He makes the ground into an angry vegetable that devours random people at the dark of the twelfth moon. She makes it into a vast expanse of shining incorruptible metal. They make it into something on purpose, to make an impact on the reader. Stuff that in realistic fiction would be corny–instances of the pathetic fallacy–are part of the basic toolkit for shrewd writers of sf/f. The whole world can be a metaphor in imaginative fiction.

Or not. Part of the impact of the metaphor requires the writer to take the material in the imaginary world at face value, as real for the purposes of the story–like a comedian keeping a straight face while telling a joke. I’ll sleep on this and try to figure out if it makes any sense.

About JE

James Enge is the author of the World-Fantasy-Award-nominated novel Blood of Ambrose (Pyr, April 2009). His latest book is The Wide World's End. His short fiction has appeared in Swords and Dark Magic (Harper Collins, 2010), Black Gate, the Stabby-Award-winning anthology Blackguards and elsewhere.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Every Day Is Wednesday If We Clap Our Hands Loud Enough!

  1. peadarog says:

    This post was all over the place, but I liked it. Lots of good links and a comedian analogy. I’d say, “keep it up”, but you’d only ask, “keep what up?”

    • JE says:

      Glad you liked it! They’re big books with oddly assorted contents, so it would have been hard to stay focused (even if I were the stay-focused type).

  2. gabeguerrero says:

    I tend to think that sci-fi writers do a better job on the metaphor thing. Though, honestly, I’m only thinking of two films: 2001 and Tarkovsky’s Solaris. I guess throw in Stalker to the mix. I think in Latin America there’s been a mix of so-called fantasy and literary fiction (i.e. magical realism).

    • JE says:

      “I tend to think that sci-fi writers do a better job on the metaphor thing.”

      Better than fantasy writers? If so, I don’t think we can agree on that. It’s a case-by-case thing, not a genre thing: some writers tend strongly toward the metaphorical, others incline towards Tolkein’s “history, true or feigned.” But even in Tolkien, the Hill is the Hill because it is somehow all hills, the archetypal hill, and the Rings of Power have obvious metaphorical shadows (etc).

      “I think in Latin America there’s been a mix of so-called fantasy and literary fiction (i.e. magical realism).”

      Absolutely. Genre boundaries are definitely more porous in other literary traditions–Borges, whatever else he is, is obviously a great fantasy writer. But you can’t generally find him in the sf/f sections of bookstores.

  3. But that’s a whine for another dark sea.

    That aside made me especially happy. Is it a common classicist joke, or do I have you to thank?

    • JE says:

      Glad you liked it! Whenever “whine” comes up, I think of “wine” (and vice versa) and for classicists (or Patrick O’Brian fans) the Homeric simile is never too far away, so I wouldn’t swear that no one’s used it before.

Comments are closed.