On an unrelated topic, here's one of the things about being me: I've read a lot. (I pause here for you to recover from the shock.) I've particularly -- no, keep sitting down, you're going to need to be -- read a lot of science fiction and fantasy. Some of you have read more than me, and there are places in the physical world and on the net where I assume many of the participants in a discussion have read more SF than me. But in general, I've read more than most people, even in my self-selected social circles. And generally if you start pulling things out of an orifice about what SF Is and what SF Is Not and what SF Does Now And Didn't Used To and what SF Doesn't Do Any More But Did In The Glory Days, I am going to have counterexamples readily in hand if you're making it all up. Further, I've read a fair bit of non-SF compared to the average person, so if you start making stuff up about how Things That Aren't SF Do This Or That, I will call you on that, too.
Something like 90% of the complaints I've heard about SF As A Genre comes from people who have not actually read very much of that genre. It may be their primary genre for reading choices -- they may have spent a lot of time reading it -- but that's not the same thing as having read a lot of it. It reminds me of two things from college. First it reminds me of a guy I knew my freshman year of college, who claimed that he was better read than I was because he had read everything TSR had ever put out and I couldn't say the same for Tor, Ace, DAW, or any other publisher. Therefore he knew more about fantasy novels than I did, and in any discussion, if he said all of them did one thing or none of them did something else, it was worth more.
It also reminds me of a guy in my fiction studio senior year, one of two people in the class besides me who claimed to have read any SF at all. "What you're doing here," he said in crit, knowledgably, "is you're really going back to the basics of what made sci-fi good. I really like that. A lot of the more moder people, they went off in a totally different direction, but you're returning it to the classics with a definitely modern feel to the idea and the characters. That's really cool." Heartened, I asked him which older writers he thought I was hearkening back to and which modern ones I was eschewing. "Well, the older ones I've read are Asimov and Clarke, and you're definitely more like that. The newer ones I've read are Eddings and, oh, the Shannara guy--" "Terry Brooks," I supplied, trying hard for a neutral tone. "Right. You're not taking things the direction they did, and I like that."
Sampling error is a hard one to get past, but it's important. You have to at least try to get a sense for whether you have a random sampling in the field you're surveying, or else you really can't start talking about what that field is and is not, does and does not do.
I don't like "pulling rank" on people; it's pretty obnoxious. But I also really, really dislike it when people talk out their asses when I know better -- particularly because it's almost always negative. I never find myself compelled to correct, "Actually, not all fantasy writers have excellent prose styles" or "If you dive into some of the worse parts of the genre, you'll see that uninteresting plot coupons are more alive and well than you think." No. It's always someone complaining, and I have my share of complaints, but dammit, they're informed complaints, and they're specific complaints, not universal to the Nature Of The Genre. I also recognize that there are intelligent complaints I don't share. I just wish I ran into more of them, compared to idiots forming whines where both premise and conclusion were entirely unsupported by this little thing we like to call reality. Sometimes I don't do well resisting the urge to SMACK.
And that is my grump for the night. Now I will go back to poking my book with a sharp stick.