Log in

No account? Create an account
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

[ website | My Website ]
[ userinfo | livejournal userinfo ]
[ archive | journal archive ]

What Is Wrong With SF Again Or Why I Endorse Ms. Tepper's Talking Horse [Mar. 29th, 2012|08:01 am]
Marissa Lingen
[Tags|, , ]

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.

[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.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: cathshaffer
2012-03-29 05:16 pm (UTC)
I remember really enjoying a series by her from a long time ago. Possibly the 80's? In what way has she gone off the rails. (Other than talking horses.) I have her on my mental list as "writer I remember enjoying should catch up with."
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-03-29 05:21 pm (UTC)
I think her True Game series is what I liked, clear back. The more recent stuff is much darker.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: cathshaffer
2012-03-29 05:24 pm (UTC)
Yes, that was the series I liked, too. (memory fuzzy) And for me darker is usually not better, either.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: desperance
2012-03-29 06:55 pm (UTC)
Yup, True Game for me too. I haven't much liked anything since*, and I go with darker more often than not.

*Actually, to be honest, I didn't much like anything I read after those series, so I stopped reading her some time ago. Now I have to read her talking horse, partly to see if I can find what the judges must like so much about it, and partly, y'know. Talking horse. It's suddenly an obligation.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: merriehaskell
2012-04-01 01:18 am (UTC)
Beauty was where it went off the rails for me, in terms of darkness; and to be clear, I like darkness fine when it's there as contrast, but when it's there because darkness goes with emptiness and despair and the abyss, that's when I don't do darkness. Beauty is ostensibly about the saving of magic, so I even re-read it recently-ish to make sure I hadn't read it wrong the first time, but no, it was still too dark, and maybe I'm a wuss--well. I am.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: cathshaffer
2012-04-01 01:29 am (UTC)
Ach. Too bad. I was reviewing her body of work, and apparently I am a huge Sherri S. Tepper fan. I read and enjoyed the True Game series, the Jinian series, Mavin Manyshaped, Gate to Women's Country, and Grass. Oh, Sherri, what happened to turn you into the queen of darkness?
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)