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What Is Wrong With SF Again Or Why I Endorse Ms. Tepper's Talking Horse - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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What Is Wrong With SF Again Or Why I Endorse Ms. Tepper's Talking Horse [Mar. 29th, 2012|08:01 am]
Marissa Lingen
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There is a thing I say when people are being snobs from one part of fandom towards another, and that is: "If the Klingons were good enough for Mike Ford, they're good enough for you, buddy."

Occasionally I even mean this literally. I don't know anybody in serious Klingon fandom very well, but the Klingons I have met briefly and casually have seemed like awfully, awfully nice people, and...look. How different do we really look, from the outside? I don't have a prosthetic forehead that I wear on my real head. But at least half of you knew exactly what I was quoting with that last sentence, and friends, that is plenty nerd enough. If I go to my high school classmates on Facebook and say, "I am going to spend my Easter weekend at a science fiction convention," all the defensiveness in the world about how I write the stuff, and serious thoughtful stuff at that, how I R Srs Arthur, how I am not like the Klingons and the Slave Leias and the Sailors Moon will not stop them from thinking that I am like them.

Because I am like them. Because we are nerds who fixate on blue-sky ideas without regard to how crazy and silly they are, or sometimes because they are crazy and silly. And hey. Go that. Srs Arthur hat or prosthetic forehead, whichever. You have to know who you are, and I am, in fact, a nerd who stopped making stuff up about a teenage spy girl from Atlantis for awhile this morning in order to make stuff up about a family who lives on a space station in the Oort Cloud. I could posture about how I have had stories about quantum mechanics and yearning published in Nature, Nature!, and it would mean nothing to anybody who wants to sneer in the first place, unless they are anxious about their own place in the nerd hierarchy. Why bother. I have also written steampunk about an intelligent monkey. I get by better without clutching to myself a firm sense of my own dignity. People are messy, ideas are messy, and science fiction is about both. Better to wear something that washes easily.

But more importantly, I would rather dress up like a Slave Leia Klingon Sailor Moon* than neglect a brilliant idea related to it because I was afraid of looking stupid. You can't be afraid of the trappings that come with your crazy brilliant ideas. I don't want sparkly vampires, I don't want an adventuring party chance-met in an out of the way tavern, I don't want any of a number of silly-looking tropes--but even more than that, I don't want to talk myself out of writing things I actually believe are interesting because I'm afraid of looking stupid in front of the cool kids.

And so we get to Christopher Priest judging Sheri Tepper for her book having a talking horse in it. Seriously? Seriously? Of all the reasons to get judgy of a Sheri Tepper novel? The woman writes with substance. She writes things you can argue with. She writes things you can dislike with a vengeance--I know, because I have. But not Christopher Priest! No, he has to dislike the presence of a talking horse, not anything anybody might say or think in the context of this book except for one single pun. (God forbid we should pun. Piers Anthony punned once. Enough said.)

What is the problem with SF today? Is it that we don't spend enough time making sure not to embarrass each other in front of our cool brilliant genius friends? Bullshit it is. I have cool brilliant genius friends. You know what cool brilliant genius friends have in common? They are more interested in cool stuff than in making sure they never look mildly stupid or embarrassed. They will always ruin their metaphorical shoes wading in to see the slimy interesting thing. (Have you ever seen jonsinger wearing Manolo Blahniks? I rest my case.) They are more interested in whether the horse has anything interesting to say than in whether someone sees them reading a book with, oh noes, a talking horse.

Problem with SF today, if in fact there is one other than people fussing too much about problems with SF instead of getting on with it, is not insufficient time spent making sure not to embarrass each other in front of the Srs Ppl, but insufficient exuberance. Solution to this is not whining about somebody else liking a book with a talking horse. timprov has been listening to an online philosophy course, and the fellow who is teaching it was trying to do a gedankenexperiment, and he was mentally transplanting Napoleon's personality to modern-day Michigan. Fine, he said, and then made it New York instead. Fine, he said, and then tried to make it one of each, and then he said, no no that's too ridiculous. And we said, "What? What? This is your line, this?" And that's where I am now with Christopher Priest. You were willing to write the novelization of Short Circuit--SHORT bloody CIRCUIT with the Indian guy who is NOT EVEN INDIAN and the robot who sings the who's Johnny song--and you cavil at talking horses? This, this is where you feel we have Gone Too Far? Napoleon in one place was all right but two is just too many, and if it was Napoleon in the body of a talking horse, well, not for the Clarke Award? Particularly not if he then had any kind of quest to achieve?

If he draws the line at talking horses, he has almost certainly not gloried in Digger. And then there's Beasts of New York and a dozen other things, not to mention the quests that have something interesting to seek. And that is not the way to a thriving and exuberant science fiction genre. If we can't articulate any problems with Twilight beyond the fact that there are vampires and they sparkle, we need to hang it up, because the fact that there are sparkly vampires is a mild matter of individual taste compared to the things that have gone wrong in that book. Is the talking horse an idiot? Is the talking horse a fascist, a nihilist, badly plotted? Is the talking horse boring? That's criticism worth talking about. Pointing out that it is, in fact, a talking horse is being a child at the zoo: yes, Christopher, horsey, well done, next week we'll teach you what a puppy looks like, since you seem to still be having trouble with that one.

*Those of you now picturing me as a Slave Leia Klingon Sailor Moon: you had better not be enjoying it, or you're now fired.
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[User Picture]From: supergee
2012-03-29 01:10 pm (UTC)
I prefer the Internet puppy, but I too will stand up for the talking horse.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-03-29 01:17 pm (UTC)
Oh yes, I prefer the internet puppy too--the last Charlie Stross book I liked was last year (coincidentally the last Charlie Stross book I read was last year), whereas the last Sheri Tepper book I liked was...well, there is one. There is. I would just have to poke greykev to figure out which one and when he lent it to me. I was not yet married, and I got married in 1999.

But I had things to say about the taste hierarchy thing and what it's doing here and beyond, whereas "internet puppy" made me go, "srsly whut" and then "how tacky" and then move on with my life.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-03-29 01:19 pm (UTC)
I am picking and poking away at a massive volume of Polish history, too, so it's doubly of interest. Thanks!
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[User Picture]From: jenett
2012-03-29 01:48 pm (UTC)
This post? Full of all the reasons you are awesome, starting with the first paragraph and going on from there. So very very yes.

Also, the part about how there is a lot of awesome stuff out there, and if you do not like the stuff you are looking at, go do something else you like better.

(And in the context of awards-done-by-committee: dude. They are people. They get to have opinions which are Not Yours. It's okay. Talk up the stuff you think is awesome instead, and why it rocks, and I'm sure you'll find people who agree with you, because the World Is Like That.)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-03-29 01:57 pm (UTC)
And I don't think everybody can go do something they like better, but someone in Christopher Priest's shoes certainly can. I found myself agape and agog at Neal Stephenson when he was doing the Damn Kids Get Off My Lawn rant about how we as a culture were not dreaming big enough SFnal dreams...when he is an SF writer who has seriously not been doing the Big SF Dreams kind of novel at all, and certainly not recently.

So for writers, be the change you want to see is reasonable advice, but be the award nominee you want to promote relentlessly is...kind of tacky.
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[User Picture]From: lake_effected
2012-03-29 02:09 pm (UTC)
I love this post!
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[User Picture]From: sartorias
2012-03-29 02:13 pm (UTC)
They are more interested in whether the horse has anything interesting to say than in whether someone sees them reading a book with, oh noes, a talking horse.

Bingo.
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[User Picture]From: dancinghorse
2012-03-29 02:35 pm (UTC)
He. Wrote. The novelization. Of "Short Circuit"?

Pot. Kettle. Fuligin, baby. Fuligin.

(Ever noticed that when people get all snobby and righteous and start writing horrible reviews and making horrible laws, you can always look at what they're pointing and shrieking at and find that it's a big shiny mirror?)
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[User Picture]From: von_krag
2012-03-29 02:34 pm (UTC)
Have decided want tee w/talking horse & internet puppy & ink stained weasel round table playing poker. Need to find good tag line, please help?
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[User Picture]From: reveritas
2012-03-29 02:53 pm (UTC)
Okay this is hilarious. My favorite part was "Sailors Moon."
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-03-29 02:54 pm (UTC)
It is nice to be appreciated for small things sometimes.
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[User Picture]From: sksperry
2012-03-29 03:46 pm (UTC)
I find in general that genre people are a better group of people. However, they're still people, and prone to talking about one another behind their backs and being catty when it comes to each other's work. Sometimes it's jealousy; sometimes its going along with the flow just because everyone else is.

No matter how cool and creative I find genre people to be, in the end they're still people.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-03-29 03:48 pm (UTC)
Yep, sometimes people need a whap to the side of the head.
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From: arkessian
2012-03-29 04:03 pm (UTC)
yes, Christopher, horsey, well done, next week we'll teach you what a puppy looks like, since you seem to still be having trouble with that one.

Thank you for the coffee of my keyboard and screen and desk and shirt.

Also, yes. This.
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[User Picture]From: roadnotes
2012-03-29 04:11 pm (UTC)
Yes! Nicely phrased. (I'm now reading all the links this morning, and goggling.)
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[User Picture]From: wshaffer
2012-03-29 04:50 pm (UTC)
In general, I find Christopher Priest very entertaining in his snobbery (even if it is basically just annoying snobbery), but dissing Tepper for the talking horse was just lazy snobbery. Maybe he was tired after having that epic go at China Mieville.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-03-29 04:54 pm (UTC)
Yah, it was just not high-quality snobbery there.
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[User Picture]From: tiger_spot
2012-03-29 04:54 pm (UTC)
You know, in terms of skimpy costumes I'd be much happier in Slave Leia Klingon Sailor Moon than in straight-up Slave Leia, because the crossover version would be terrifyingly well-armed and equipped with magical powers. Also there would probably be a really interesting hairstyle involved.

He seems so dismissive of... fun. I mean, that's his problem with Rule 34, is that it was entertaining? I just don't know how to respond to that. Clearly he has different goals in his reading material than I do.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-03-29 04:57 pm (UTC)
Also the cape for warmth!
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From: gwynnega
2012-03-29 08:17 pm (UTC)
Well said!
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From: dsgood
2012-03-29 10:06 pm (UTC)
It seems to me people read science fiction for very, very different things. It's as if religious fiction, sex novels, vegetarian cookbooks, and _Hannibal Lecter's Vegetarian Cookbook_ were all in the same category.

I want to read fiction about the future. I'm annoyed by people who proclaim that sf should be about Today's Important Problems. But I don't fan that annoyance into anger, let alone denounce them in print.

The costume: I'm picturing you in it. I'm also picturing Jerry Pournelle in that costume.
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[User Picture]From: rosefox
2012-03-29 11:29 pm (UTC)
Those of you now picturing me as a Slave Leia Klingon Sailor Moon: you had better not be enjoying it, or you're now fired.

*hastily cancels Kickstarter project to fund costume purchases*

*whistles innocently*
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[User Picture]From: katallen
2012-03-30 01:43 am (UTC)
But... but... I neeeeeeeeed this job!
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