Not To Be Missed

Yes, there is a world outside the Sad Puppies controversy — and here are a pair of  good posts to remind you.

(1) In “Business Musings: Hidden Treasures”, Kristine Kathryn Rusch takes as her starting point the declining awareness of Andre Norton’s work, and spins it into a historical analysis of the changing availability of books to readers over the past four decades, with implications for bookstores, publishers, and libraries.

What happened with Andre Norton happened in a variety of ways to other older writers or writers’ estates. Copyright issues, draconian contracts, inept families running once-valuable estates, the impossibility of selling a book (for some of these writers) in the last two decades of the century caused a lot of beloved works to simply vanish.

If a writer’s work is impossible to get, then it’s impossible to become loved by a new generation.

That black hole, caused by the changes in bookselling and libraries from about 1979-2000 caused two generations to miss out on classic works of the genre. Not old moldy stuff that no one cares about, but really really good fiction that the readers would love if they only could get their hands on it.

It’s now up to us, the readers who grew up with some of this fiction, to revive it for a new generation. We need to ask for it. We need to get libraries to order it or make it available. We need to make websites devoted to older works. We need to give copies to younger readers.

The new world of publishing makes it possible for readers to find these works again. Readers just have to know these works exist and have to ask for them.

Then, when a publisher actually reprints some of these older works, we need to buy those works and give them to friends and family, and recommend those works on all of the reader sites.

We went through a few business cycles which caused an actual Dark Ages in literature. If we’re not careful, we will lose a part of our heritage that shouldn’t have gotten lost.

(2) On nerds of a feather, flock together, check out this two-part “Cyberpunks on the State of Science Fiction, Then and Now” with Rudy Rucker, Paul Di Filippo, Bruce Sterling and Pat Cadigan.

Part 1

Rudy Rucker

Another angle for changing SF from within is to start writing about a set of ideas that haven’t really been touched upon yet. That’s a true and hardcore kind of SF endeavor. It’s not easy. You have to get yourself to look at the present day world with new eyes—as if you’re a Martian. You pretty much want to forget about all the SF plots and futurist-type prognostications. In the same sense that your characters shouldn’t mirror characters in existing works, your ideas shouldn’t mirror futurist ideas that you might read in magazines.

A good rule of thumb here is that if most people believe something—then it’s wrong. Consider: a hundred years ago, the human race pretty much didn’t know jack shit about science or modern technology. A hundred years from now, just about every single bit of tech that we’re using today is going to be gone.What’s going to replace it? Anything you want. Make up the weirdest shit you can think of. Be optimistic. Why not a new force of nature? Why not aliens from the subdimensions? Why not telepathy with every single object that you see?

Pile on the bullshit and keep a straight face. As the immortal David Lee Roth said, “It’s not who wins or loses—it’s how good you look.” If you and your friends can make your books fun and quirky, then maybe the soggy, stodgy SF ship of state will change its course.

Paul Di Filippo

Rudy does a magnificent job of addressing this viewpoint. He speaks of self-publishing, slipping under the radar of mainstream, creating ezines, etc. I would also mention the great resource of the internet allowing writers to research and communicate beyond anything that has gone before. Imagine how the cyberpunk movement was conducted with paper fanzines! But he does not mention a few of the factors that are making the life of the SF writer so difficult. How to tackle these trends and issues is not something I have an easy answer to.

First is the very lack of gatekeepers and healthy elitist attitudes. The internet has “disintermediated” the hell out of a system that worked, in however flawed and biased a way, to produce the incredible canon of SF that we all cherish. It took Frank Herbert over twenty rejections to get Dune published. Would Herbert’s career have taken off better if he had self-pubbed it with no hassle? Maybe, maybe not (see below). The self-publishing movement, however valid and worthy in some cases, has also opened up the floodgates to a tsunami of crap. Amateurs ruin everything, I’m sorry. When asked if writing workshops discouraged fledgling writers, Flannery O’Connor said, “Not enough.” It’s just Gresham’s Law as applied to SF: bad fiction drives out the good. When presented by Amazon with a hundred new ebooks, 90% of which are shit, and one of which is Rudy’s and nine others of which are good stuff too, guess what the odds are of a random reader buying Rudy’s book, or one of the other nine?

Part 2

Bruce Sterling

I don’t think it’s “transgressive thinking” that solves your alleged problem there. Actually science fiction doesn’t have “inertia” now. It’s not stuck in place, it’s crumbling, disintegrating, like print media and book retail in general in most parts of the world.

Rigorous speculation isn’t in fashion now because science isn’t in fashion. You’re not gonna get a lot of “science” fiction when science is on the back foot in mass culture. People like product-development now, they don’t much like science — they like “technology,” by which they mostly mean commercialized digital technology.

Pat Cadigan


I’ve been transgressive my whole life, not because I wanted to get in someone’s face but because there was always someone objecting to my being who I was in whatever context: e.g., a cyberpunk; a woman in a male-dominated field. Hell, in high school, I was the only girl in my physics class. That was 1970. I spent the first half of the school year just defending myself–and the teacher was the biggest jerk of all.

15 thoughts on “Not To Be Missed

  1. You’ve seen half of the stuff I do on twitter is to try and link and connect people with stuff. And even for everything I find and share, tons more float by on the great river.

    There IS a big genre world outside of the whole Puppy Imbroglio.

  2. May be an appropriate place to mention that Pat Cadigan reports excellent news in her cancer battle:

    Well, it’s not gone. But it’s a shadow of its former self. I start on hormone tablets today, which, the oncologist explained, could shrink the remaining cancer cells further or at least keep them at bay…for years. I can’t have any more chemo at the moment and the oncologist thought I might need another unit or two of blood as well. But we’ll see.

  3. @Ann-Many thanks for the welcome update on Pat Cadigan. Good news indeed.

  4. Ann and Mike:

    Thank you! We have lost a mighty figure on this side of the pond, in the shape of Christopher Lee, but we’ve got good news on an absolutely amazing one; Pat has the knack of dropping a small point into your brain, and then 5 or 10 years later it enfolds into thought. A truly terrifying gift from a wonderful woman!

  5. Cora

    I’m so sorry that it took so long to see your note; he was obviously a remarkable man. I’m even sorrier that my language skills are so awful since I would greatly wish to read his obituary.

    And I entirely agree that we desperately need to understand his legacy and face up to the fact that his way is probably the only way we can extricate ourselves from this debacle…

  6. Thanks for breaking this out from the Hugo Wars Mike. It’s a good change of pace.

  7. I love that Pat Cadigan can give a health update that is as articulate and nicely stated as the rest of her writing. She’s just fantastic in every facet.

  8. Wow. I remember going to the library many years ago and repeatedly hitting my check-out limit with Andre Norton books. They had more of her books than any of the other prolific and well known science fiction authors. I can see how many of her stories would seem very dated now, but it is still surprising to see how her work has faded from public perception.

  9. Thanks, Stevie. It’s a pity the obituary is only in German, since it’s a really lovely one, written by Dietmar Dath, himself an occasional SF writer as well as one of the few German critics who get genre. Basically he writes that Wolfgang Jeschke makes German language SF possible. I’m also glad to see him remembered here at File 770.

    I’m also very glad to hear that Pat Cadigan’s health is improving. After so many bad news in the past few days, we need some good ones.

  10. I should return at some future point to the words of the cyberpunk authors on changing SF and their estimate of the state of the current field because right now everything is getting filtered through the Puppy brawl in my brain.

    But it’s resonating in a particular way that I think is worth talking about. Because I don’t see the current state of SF as stodgy or stagnant at all. I’ve wandered off from the field at different points over the years but I’ve been drawn back in in recent years precisely because new voices and new concerns have come to the forefront. There is a ton of pushback, because the concerns have to do with foregrounding concerns and experiences of characters not seen so much in older SF — a whole range of other-than-straight-white-cis-males.

    A first contact story is a hoary old chestnut but when it is done from the perspective of one alien non-human race having first contact with another alien non-human race, it can go in a gazillion new directions. Similarly, foregrounding characters who are not the usual can make even the most clichéd plots into something different, new, and exciting. And something that speaks directly to many thousands of fans who love SF and have read it for years while identifying with the stuff they have in common with characters who otherwise look and act and have experiences nothing like theirs.

    Getting to experience the “sense of wonder” through the eyes of characters who are more like them is a whole new energizing thing for a lot of fans, and it’s one of the things that, while I’ve read more or less SF (and F) over the years, sidetracking into mystery, suspense and romance genres for times, right now has me really excited about not just consuming but thinking about, engaging with, and talking about SFF books with others.

    Science fiction in particular has always been about extrapolating this or that into the future — what if this technology happens or this disaster or this discovery? Bringing concerns of less typical characters to the front allows for extrapolation too, sometimes more sociological than technological but that’s always been a part of SFF too. And put a non-typical character front and center in a story and even a type of tale done thousands of times becomes something exciting and energizing to read (one of the reasons I think The Goblin Emperor works so well).

    I loved (and love) cyberpunk as a subgenre, that was one of the eras when I was reading a lot more SF. Snow Crash in particular blew my mind and is one of the books I love to revisit (I keep trying to read other Neal Stephenson but nothing has ever grabbed me like that one, though Reamde got me more fired up with his stuff than I had been in a long time). I think that cyberpunk style is a long way from used up. But I also love the voices coming into the field now and am really happy and excited to see so much diversity in both the writers and the fans.

  11. The cyberpunk authors discussion is dense man, with things brought up in passing that could be entire conversations of their own. I like the area-rock metaphor because some of the discussion sounds like members of an older punk rock band talking about the current state of the music industry (we were cutting edge, everything sounds corporately produced now, etc). It gets close to talking about how maybe cyberpunk isn’t punk rock anymore, it’s culturally accepted and tales of men and machines are in our TV shows and movies and on backpacks, and that whatever counter culture underground revolution happens it’ll be completely different than the ones that have gone on before because now they’re part of the culture younger writers will be rebelling against.

    Also it’s completely possible to learn how to format PDF files and style templates for eBook formatting in less than 8 months and without using InDesign, Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Sigil or Calibre. That’s a whole side discussion though, not to make it sound easier to self publish then he implied since there’s also a whole boatload of editing and PR work you have to figure out as well.

    Also The other day I was looking at the SF rack in an airport shop. Yeecchh. It really is like the late 70s.

    I think I found out the problem. You’re not going to find a lot of subversive or counter culture sci-fi at the airport bookstore.

    Paul Di Filippo talks of gatekeepers being needed, but with ease of self publishing those gates are open and aren’t going to close anytime soon. Since they can’t still the flood and it doesn’t look like Amazon, Nook, Apple or other eBook stores can or will do much curating of their own (which it may not be even in their interests to do). I’d suggest if he wanted something like that he try to get a community going to try and focus attention towards quality works. The gates aren’t going to close, so instead of gatekeeping it’d be better to build something to sift through the results.

    This line hit home to me with the Hugo controversy: My 1980 malaise about SF mirrored the fact that, in the wider world, the system was bent on grinding me into dust. I’d barely escaped being sent off to die in Viet Nam. I was unable to get a secure academic job. Our nation’s leaders hated me. I’d fled reality for SF, and I wasn’t welcome in SF—so then what? Then I was lucky enough to meet some people who were writing like me.

    Mr. Rucker and his colleagues used that energy as inspiration to fuel their vision. I wonder what some of the folks who feel not welcome in Sci-Fi today could make if they spent their energy doing the same instead of writing blogs about how unfair life is or hijacking awards. Maybe the ease of finding an audience online to gripe to is what’s holding back a new punk movement.

  12. To be frank, Mike, every time I see the word ‘sad’ or ‘puppy’ these days, my eyes begin to glaze over. I no longer care, and I’m not sure I ever did.

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