April 28th, 2008

ozarque figure

Writing science fiction; the "current fashion"...

In my UnReview of Simak's City, I said that "the current fashion in sf is to make the reader struggle to figure out what's happening."

archangelbeth commented:
"I wonder how much of that is a combination of expecting that the reader will want 'new,' and thus probably more complicated stories (working on defining the tale as 'not just another cliched telling of Universal Plot #1'), and the current crackdown (at least, I've heard there's one) on word-counts to keep hardcovers from going so expensive that no one buys them... Basically, something's got to give. Either the plot simplifies or the description suffers."

not_your_real commented:
"That is one of my favorite things about reading SF. (I also madly love the movies Memento and Primer...)"

starcat_jewel commented:
"I disagree very strongly with this. I'm reading a lot of current SF that has very clear plots with beginnings, middles, and ends."

ahistoricality commented:
"This has been driving me nuts for a decade or so: it's very pronounced in short fiction, at least the pieces published in F&SF."

I think the reason I perceive the current fashion in sf as an effort to make the reader struggle is a generational phenomenon; I suspect, in fact, that I'm entirely in the wrong about it. That is, my statement presupposes that the writers/screenwriters are deliberately trying to make the reader/viewer struggle to understand the narrative, and that's probably false. I don't think they're aware that they're doing it. I couldn't do it myself without making a deliberate effort, and I'm not at all sure I could do it successfully, but it's wrong for me to call it a "fashion"; I think it just reflects the natural evolution of storytelling.

You young people have grown up with media where narratives are presented in bits and pieces, flipping back and forth from one character and setting and time to another, in a way that is baffling to an elderly reader/viewer like me. Battlestar Galactica is a perfect example; the novels of William Gibson are good examples. You're used to doing half a dozen things at the same time ... you're used to flipping back and forth among a batch of different IM conversations at the same time ... you're used to constructing a narrative from fragments. It seems to me that your entire concept of "narrative" is quite different from mine. I can imagine it, by analogy with the way I construct narrative when I'm writing poetry; but when I read prose fiction (or watch films) constructed by that method I really do have to work very hard as I read, or I just get lost.

I owe you an apology for making so broad a claim with no explanation or qualification. I can only say that my mind was focused on the problem of making it clear why I had enjoyed City so much, without at the same time strewing spoilers around. And unlike you [youall], I'm no good at processing multiple threads of information simultaneously.

Now -- deliberately -- so that I don't get deeper in trouble, I'll make my final yodel across the Generation Gap an acknowledgment that there are surely many elders who aren't narratively-challenged like me and can skip as nimbly from fragment to fragment as any teenager. Good for them; long may they wave!