April 30th, 2008

ozarque figure

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

raqs commented:

"I don't know, I'm not that old and I'm an avid multi-tasker and fan of lots of complicated stories, but I still agree with you that current SF seems to be oftentimes too hard to figure out. Personally I think it's laziness on the part of the writer, or (probably more accurately) on the part of editors who so want something new that they're willing to overlook lack of craftsmanship to get it. If I as a lifelong SF fan and professional reader can't figure out what's going on, I suspect there is a problem in the supply chain somewhere."

This comment got me thinking. [I have been thinking about this discussion -- not in a very organized fashion, I'm afraid, because I'm dealing with a batch of interacting deadlines that distract me mightily, but it's been perking on my cognitive back burner.] And the comment brought to my mind a depressing possibility that hadn't occurred to me previously: What if it's not laziness on the part of the writer? What if the explanation is that the sf writers who lean toward this "make the reader struggle" style of writing are trying to prove that their fiction qualifies as Real Modern Literature?

Because I write fiction, it's easy for me to imagine how this would go. First you'd write an ordinary well-crafted "any-literate-reader-can-follow-this" narrative. Then you'd look at what you'd written, smack your forehead, and say, "Oh, cottonpick! Any literate reader could understand that!" And then you'd go back through your draft and deliberately take out the parts that make things clear, and you'd throw in new hifalutin stuff that would make things obscure, and you'd fool around with the order of presentation so that the beginning was near the end and the middle was scattered through the work in pieces. And when you got through doing all of that you'd look at your new draft with a warm feeling that readers were now going to have to work just as hard to follow it as they'd have to work to follow James Joyce's Ulysses.

I hope to goodness this isn't happening. It's bad enough that so many writers of nonfiction are terrified that if they write with decent clarity they'll be accused of "popularization" and "dumbing down"; it would be awful if that leaked into the writing of science fiction.