Science Fiction

Scientifiction Makes Good; Gernsback Smiles

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Interesting piece from yesterday's LA Times on the creeping canonization of science fiction, via a history and profile of the University of California at Riverside's "Eaton Collection" of SF and fantasy literature. The piece stars the collection's redoubtable warrior-prince George Slusser, who fought for decades to earn the genre, and the collection, a respectable place in academia.

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  1. In my opinion, the massive popularity of science fiction is simply one more sign of the collapse of western culture.

  2. massive popularity?

    That’s news to me. But maybe you’re right.

  3. quo,

    You are absolutely correct. Just look at what the penn dreadfuls did to western culture. It’s been all downhill since then!

  4. Fuck. Penny dreadfuls.

  5. Fuck. Penny dreadfuls.

    Although Penn Dreadful would be a good name for an Ivy League literary magazine.

  6. quo,

    I know- where the hell do guys like Dan Simmons get off thinking they can write?

    What’s fiction supposed to be about, as far as you’re concerned? I’m curious. What exactly is it about science fiction that makes it impossible for the genre to have any value as literature?

  7. “What exactly is it about science fiction that makes it impossible for the genre to have any value as literature?”

    You’re just reading the wrong science fiction.

    Also, I have noticed, as soon as something is good enough to be called literature, any science fiction-ness it has is ignored and it genre hops in people’s minds.

    So given your elitist stance on the issue, what counts, in your mind, as having “value as literature?”

  8. Cane ethanol demand has done to a Caribbean staple what corn ethanol did to tortillas in Mexico.

    There is no over Sunset Rum or Jack Iron left on the Grenadine out-islands famed as the backdrop to Pirates of The Caribbean, because the gasoholics have bid the overproof distillery on St.Vincent out of the molasses market.
    backgrounder at
    http://adamant.typepad.com/seitz/2007/06/pyrites_of_the_.html

    op-ed to follow

  9. I’m pretty sure Jim Bob was being sarcastic, just like I was.

  10. I’ve always wondered whether there’s an inverse corellation between religiosity and a taste for science fiction. (I know, I know that many here would call former a species of the latter.)

  11. M,

    Based on one observation point (myself), no. I am drinking a Mojito and reading Vernor Vinge right now (Well, Im taking a break from reading, nead to make another mojito too). On Sunday, I will be at an SBC church (they dont really like the whole drinking thing, but thats their problem, not mine).

    Hmmm, number of evangelical christian, libertarian, sci-fi fans in the world? Maybe higher than you think.

  12. robc – So that’s one, thanks.

    Now, what deviation from science-fiction orthodoxy corresponds to drinking by a Southern Baptist?

  13. Although I read a wide variety of literature (and I include Sci-Fi as literature), Sci-Fi has always been my chosen genre to relax with while sipping a tasty Black Russian or Gin and Tonic. It is also most often my choice to re-read as I grow older. I find that thinking about the ‘what if’ exercises the mind more than most other choices.

  14. M,

    what deviation from science-fiction orthodoxy corresponds to drinking by a Southern Baptist?

    Im not much of a Heinlein fan.

  15. Jim Bob,

    It’s weird you mention Dan Simmons, as I just finished Hyperion, an SF novel that is so obviously trying very hard to be “literature,” what with the pervasive Keats references, the homages to hard-boiled detective novels, “Romeo and Juliet” and Chaucer, the anti-colonial themes, the embarassing tribute to the film version of “The Wizard of Oz,” etc. Simmons was rewarded for his efforts with popular and critical success, but I wasn’t that impressed. My nominee for exemplar of SF as literature is Gene Wolfe’s story, “The Doctor of Death Island.”

  16. So Heinlein = the orthodox science-fictionian’s sobriety.

    I don’t think I’m cut out for contemplating this.

  17. ..probably because if I had a sip I’d instantly become a lush. Libertarianism’s gonna have to remain my “what if”.

    * Sigh *

  18. Neu Mejican,

    My question was an honest one directed at quo. I enjoy science fiction and I don’t have any problems assigning any work, regardless of genre, “literature” status in my mind. I enjoy any writing which honestly explores original ideas, and if the author is a true man of the pen, so much the better. Sometimes I’ll give mediocre writing a pass because I find the ideas being addressed engaging enough to ignore what I perceive as stylistic flaws.

    I don’t use science fiction (or any fiction) as a tool of escapist fantasy. That’s a waste of time to me. I’m looking for truths, large and small. If I happen to find them in a novel set in the year 10191 CE, so be it.

    mitch,
    Hyperion and its sequels are not what I consider Simmons’s best work, though I do find them brilliant and engaging, if a bit wearisome at times. He seems to me to be the kind of writer that has a million ideas at once and likes to try to juggle them. Illium and Olympos are more focused and were more enjoyable to me; I also learned some ancient Greek history in a way that I found bit more engaging that my college classes. I am no intellectual but I appreciate Simmons’s ability to write compelling stories in a way that is, or at least tries to be, artful.

  19. Sometimes I’ll give mediocre writing a pass because I find the ideas being addressed engaging enough to ignore what I perceive as stylistic flaws.

    Watch it!

  20. What’s fiction supposed to be about, as far as you’re concerned? I’m curious. What exactly is it about science fiction that makes it impossible for the genre to have any value as literature?

    As that’s a serious question, I’d say the answer is that, while obviously not impossible, the nature of the market makes literary quality unlikely in the majority of cases. Rather like the case Chandler (ironically) made against mysteries as literature in “The Simple Art of Murder,” the typical science fiction genre novel is constrained by its conventions and its likely readership. Moreover, whenever a novel that could easily be characterized as science fiction does transcend those limitations, it gets moved over into the Fiction / Literature bookshelves and thus excluded from the genre. It’s a self-fulfilling process, in other words. I suspect the same case could be made for any genre. Is Lonesome Dove a “western”? Does 1984 count as science fiction? And so it goes forth.

  21. D.A. Ridgely,

    That’s a good point, and it made me think about the so-called “hard sci-fi” I’ve read over the years. Some of them read like physics textbooks. Even Simmons’s novels tone down the science portion of the fiction, and I think it makes them more accessible.

    Modal Libertarian,
    Well, at least I didn’t say “the close proximity of my future potential.”

  22. Jim Bob, before you think of doing so, reassure us that it’s not the ideas in your previous post that are doing the ignoring.

  23. Howziss? Art (eg, literature) vs. entertainment or decoration = whether it can effect a lasting transformation in its consumer.

  24. I apologize for any syntactic ambiguity present in any of my earlier posts.

    /kicks pebble

  25. Awwww.

  26. robc:

    My point was that if you’d suggested to any English teacher 25 years ago that 1984 was a sci-fi novel, you’d have gotten the sort of look usually reserved for brain damaged puppies in response.

  27. As that’s a serious question, I’d say the answer is that, while obviously not impossible, the nature of the market makes literary quality unlikely in the majority of cases. Rather like the case Chandler (ironically) made against mysteries as literature in “The Simple Art of Murder,” the typical science fiction genre novel is constrained by its conventions and its likely readership. Moreover, whenever a novel that could easily be characterized as science fiction does transcend those limitations, it gets moved over into the Fiction / Literature bookshelves and thus excluded from the genre. It’s a self-fulfilling process, in other words. I suspect the same case could be made for any genre. Is Lonesome Dove a “western”? Does 1984 count as science fiction? And so it goes forth.
    1984 doesn’t count as science fiction because does not have the same roots as the science fiction movement. I think there are plenty examples out there of books that people consider to be both science fiction and litature; Hitchhicker’s Guide, the Illuminatus! Trillogy, Enders Game, Lord of the Rings, Phillip K. Dick, Terry Pratchet’s works and on and on and on. Obviously, there is a glut of bad sciencifition out there, but there is a glut of bad Western movies out there, that doesn’t mean that “The Searchers” and “The Good, Bad, and Ugly” aren’t Westerns.

  28. both science fiction and litature

    And what am I, chopped liver?

  29. So who’s gonna be the Republican nominee for president? On the Democratic side I see a Hillary victory and can easily picture her in the national election. But on the Republican side? Who can you possibly see winning the nomination out of Guilliani, Romney, Thompson and McCain? I really can’t see the party rallying around any of those guys and any one winning seems unlikely. Yet, of course, somebody has to win. So who will it be? The only one I can picture as an actual candidate in the real world is Romney, but I have to stretch my imagination.

  30. And what am I, chopped liver?
    You, and Ayn Rand and others would go in the 1984 category. You use fantasy (and the later use technology) as an allegory, not projections on how people and the world would behave in realities that are diffrent from our own.

  31. Tell Harlan Ellison he’s not creating “literature” and he’ll probably kick your ass.

  32. Harlan Ellison ain’t kicking no body’s ass…he’s a vertically challenged pussy

  33. Jonathan Swift…youre not chopped liver, you’re a pussy…btw how tall are you?

  34. the sort of look usually reserved for brain damaged puppies

    Oh, what I wouldn’t give to have your catalog of looks!

    To have one reserved for such a specific purpose (have you ever even used it?) while I have to share a look for BD puppies, fundies, cattle rustlers, divorced lesbians, patrons of Hooters and sex-mad pump jockeys. The humanity!

  35. ‘Bout yea tall, on a good day.

  36. DAR,

    “the typical science fiction genre novel is constrained by its conventions and its likely readership. Moreover, whenever a novel that could easily be characterized as science fiction does transcend those limitations, it gets moved over into the Fiction / Literature bookshelves and thus excluded from the genre.”

    While I obviously agree with this to an extent given that I said the same thing up thread, I think your point about the genre being constrained by its conventions is misleading. Any genre is constrained by its conventions. That is how the genre is recognized. That is what makes it a genre. I think Samuel Delany has done the best writing on the topic of what defines the science fiction genre. (read The Jewel Hinged Jaw)

  37. Hmmm, number of evangelical christian, libertarian, sci-fi fans in the world? Maybe higher than you think.

    If there is two it’s higher than I’ve thought.
    Libertarianism and science fiction correlation, no problem.

    Evangelical christianity and libertarian philosphy correlation, big problem.. Since this first forbids critical thinking and the second (usually) requires it, excepting bi-polar disorder sufferers, they seem pretty incompatible to me. I’d be happy to be proven wrong.

  38. Evangelical christianity and libertarian philosphy correlation, big problem.. Since this first forbids critical thinking

    I would argue with that if I weren’t forbidden from doing so. Sorry.

  39. Just to be contary:

    lit?er?a?ture[lit-er-uh-cher, -choor, li-truh-]
    1. writings in which expression and form, in connection with ideas of permanent and universal interest, are characteristic or essential features, as poetry, novels, history, biography, and essays.

    2. the entire body of writings of a specific language, period, people, etc.: the literature of England.
    3. the writings dealing with a particular subject: the literature of ornithology.

    4. the profession of a writer or author.

    5. literary work or production.

    6. any kind of printed material, as circulars, leaflets, or handbills: literature describing company products.

    7. Archaic. polite learning; literary culture; appreciation of letters and books.

    Seems like even Jacqueline Susann wriings are literally literature. Ooh, literally literature, I like the way that sounds.

  40. jonathan Hohensee:

    1984 doesn’t count as science fiction because does not have the same roots as the science fiction movement.

    I’m not a big fan of prescriptivism, yours or anyone else’s. Of course 1984 is science fiction by almost any possible account or criteria other than such stipulative dogma.

    NM:

    Yeah, all narrative prose (including even experimental fiction) is bound by some sorts of conventions, as far as that goes. However, just as mystery / suspense novels tend to follow certain formulaic conventions (the cozy, the police procedural, etc.) to the detriment of whatever literary aspirations their authors may have, so also do science fiction novels inasmuch as they typically sacrifice character and character development to setting.

    Again, that is emphatically not to say there isn’t good and serious literature that also qualifies as science fiction or a mystery or a western, etc. It’s only to say that those constraints and conventions pose further obstacles. Finally, let’s face it, few such novels aspire to anything more than ripping-good yarns in the first place. There’s nothing wrong with that. For that matter, the overwhelming majority of “serious” fiction is dreck, so why hold genre fiction to a higher standard?

  41. Scientifiction? As a Varley fan, you should know better… Varley came up with scientifiction as the opposite of science fiction – it’s fiction that looks backward to life on Earth before the Invaders wiped out human life on Earth.

  42. I enjoy SciFi because it let’s me experience new universes. Although I enjoy books set in the present and past most seems to travel well worn paths.

    Exploring the human condition during a singularity like event, humanity’s possible paths over megayears or using technology to actually change what we are
    is exciting and awe inspiring.

    For example many of Jack L. Chalker’s books examine how our identities are tied to our appearance and limitations in surprising ways. Or Charles Stross’s Accelerando brings the singularity into the realm of the possible and makes me look at the next few decades with trepidation and a sense of urgency.

    SciFi makes me constantly re-evaluate the past, present and future as well as myself. I’d equate it to looking at voyager’s Pale Blue Dot picture for the first time over and over. Is SciFi literature? I’d say so.

  43. You, and Ayn Rand and others would go in the 1984 category. You use fantasy (and the later use technology) as an allegory, not projections on how people and the world would behave in realities that are diffrent from our own.

    Hmm. Projection can be literary, can it not? Provided one were using it to illustrate some point about human nature, would that not satisfy to-a-tee the requirement of definition #1 that it concern something “permanent” and “universal”?

  44. My point was that if you’d suggested to any English teacher 25 years ago that 1984 was a sci-fi novel, you’d have gotten the sort of look usually reserved for brain damaged puppies in response.

    Had an English teacher c 1964 who wouldn’t let me do a book report on a SciFi novel, and said she would never permit one in her class.

    I pointed out Gulliver’s Travels on her assigned reading list. After a “Well, that’s different.” “How?” discussion she approved my book.

  45. # D.A. Ridgely | June 22, 2007, 11:35pm | #
    # robc:

    # My point was that if you’d suggested to any
    # English teacher 25 years ago that 1984 was a
    # sci-fi novel, you’d have gotten the sort of
    # look usually reserved for brain damaged
    # puppies in response.

    Well, I studied English in high school and college over 30 years ago, and I remember reading mainstream appreciations of both 1984 and Brave New World that clearly classified them as science fiction, albeit without relegating them to the “sci-fi ghetto.” I also wrote many book reports on science fiction titles, but then again, I went to California schools. 😉

    I think the ghetto and the sci-fi genre classification itself are more for the convenience of media people and marketeers — people whose livings depend upon finding the right pigeonhole for something so they can sell it to the most receptive flock of pigeons. It may be more useful to think of “sci fi” as an audience or as a market segment, rather than as a literary form. “Sci fi” is what those people have bought and likely will buy. The bad rap that Sci Fi has received reflects the strong industry pressure to encourage “product,” which can be sold to that audience, rather than “art,” which finds its own audience. This is, I think, also why Star Trek movies and TV shows are so haughtily snubbed by the motion picture and television academies when awards time comes around. Over the years, the various incarnations of ST have given us some of the big- and small-screens’ best moments, in my opinion — I am thinking especially of Wrath of Khan at the movies and Deep Space Nine on TV — but have received little or no respect from Oscar or Emmy, because Paramount so clearly treats ST as a product (“franchise”), and the ST audience as slobbering hordes who will snatch up any dreck that is in any way associated with Trek. Paramount spinmeisters blamed the cancellation of “Enterprise” on alleged “franchise fatigue,” even though 24’s Manny Coto had turned the show around in a big way in its last couple of seasons. Had the entire series been as stellar as the Coto-era episodes, I think “franchise fatigue” would never have entered anyone’s mind. Indeed, there is so LITTLE “fatigue,” that amateur filmmakers have filled the ST vacuum with productions of their own — of great sincerity and sometimes astonishing quality — which can be downloaded over the internet. But the fact that the studio thinks in terms of “franchises,” to be exploited to the point of “fatigue,” illustrates the reason why ST and SF are met with so much disdain by the literary types. I think the latter are right to condemn schlock “product” — I’m right in there with them — but I do wish they would give SF and ST their proper due, AS science fiction, when the creators manage to imbue the product with genuine artistic merit. In my experience, you find quality in SF far more often than the snubbers will admit. Remember also that Shakespeare wrote plays for the general public of his day, as “product.” Commerce and art are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

  46. Mr. Merritt:

    California schools, eh? Well, um, that is, I mean, um, what can one say? Wouldn’t have happened Back East, I dare say, but there you have it.

    Anyway, yes, Shakespeare and the masses, and all that. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a ST episode or movie from any of the series with the possible exception of the Ellison written episode on the original series (and I’m not a big Ellison fan) that I thought was award-worthy, but I do think you’re right about the ST fatigue false diagnosis.

    LarryA:

    What was the book?

  47. English professors often rate the works of Joyce as some of the greatest works of literature. I’ve read portions of his Ulysses, and find it pointless and rather dull. Blazes Boylen (sp? — it’s been a while) was the best character and he’s mostly ignored by the literati.
    I personally think Heinlein’s Citizen of the Galaxy is one of the greatest books ever written, but alas, I have only an MS in Physics; I’m not as educated as a PhD in English Lit.
    The professional intelligentsia don’t seem to rate the art of Andrew Wyeth very highly, but yet somehow Warhol’s soup cans are brilliant. I guess I don’t get it, nor care to.

  48. How about this:

    Everyone read what they like, and not worry about what anyone else is reading.

    There’s only two reason’s to have any care about another person’s tastes in books.

    1. You have an interest in that person beyond the casual.

    2. You’re looking to be an elitist prick.

  49. Lit-er-a-choor: anything an English teacher wants to beat you over the head with claiming Unless You Know This You Are Doomed To Being An Unwashed Heathen And Totally Uncultured.

    Science Fiction: ranges from the total dreck of bad fantasy and bad space opera to works like A Canticle For Liebowitz, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, The Left Hand of Darkness, and Rendevous with Rama.

    Note that a lot of so-called “literature” has been picked out by English teachers not so much for its intrinsic appeal to the audience or how influential it was in history, but because the teacher can draw all sorts of “explanations” out of the details. These are then presented to the students as the Hidden Truths to which the teacher, as High Initiate of the Mysteries, can introduce them to. Which is why they love Joyce.

    Most so-called “English teaching” is nothing more than secular hermeneutics.

    By contrast, any science fiction worth its salt is investigating the question of “what if…?” and damn well wants to communicate to its reader as quickly as possible, even if it is nothing more than the description of the BEMs.

  50. go do yourself a favor and pick up ted chiang’s collection of shorts

  51. [obligatory defense of joyce here cause it gets old in every single friggin’ literature thread to have to explain why a book that destroyed the boundries and conventions of the novel is treated like it’s made out of diamonds]

    i know it’s hard liking stuff no one else does (especially when a lot of people do) but after a while you get over it. how many grindcore or post-idm albums win grammys? etc. such are the ways of life!

    taste is taste. love what you love. who cares who respects it? crank the discordance axis and beat off to niche porn. every man and woman is a star. blah blah blah.

  52. Why does cultural disapproval so easily offend some people as much as political persecution or oppression? What would it take to reassure them that disapproval is compatible with libertarianism?

    Personally, I am glad that people with no other interest in me cared enough about what I was reading to assert that some books more worth reading than other books, and to point out the differences as they saw them. Because they expressed these opinions, I was led to try new and inintially difficult things, which turned out to enhance my experience of the world and enriched what I could offer those around me. Who loses?

    This does not mean that my (formal and informal) teachers forbade me to read one thing and/or forced me to read something else; I was free to reject their guidance and free to revert to my prior tastes if I wished.

    For example, this very thread suggests that I have been missing something valuable by avoiding science-fiction. Why should I resent it if not everyone else is like me?

  53. dhex,

    It is possible for a work to destroy the boundaries and conventions of such and such and still suck.

  54. There’s only two reason’s to have any care about another person’s tastes in books

    Not so fast. Another one is to discover books you might not come across otherwise. I have casual friends with whom I share little more than books — I know their tastes, they know mine, and we swap books and personal reviews when we happen to meet.

  55. grumpy realist – You made me look up hermeneutics. Cool.

  56. # D.A. Ridgely | June 23, 2007, 6:46pm | #

    # California schools, eh? Well, um, that is,
    # I mean, um, what can one say?

    Interestingly enough, public educationists in this country, and especially in California, look back fondly at the years of my youth as some kind of “golden age.” Locally, we taxpayers are exhorted to open our wallets wider so that California schools can once again become “among the best in the nation, as they were in the 60s and 70s.” And yet, science fiction book reports could earn A’s back then. Go figure.

    # I can’t say I’ve ever seen a ST episode
    # or movie from any of the series with the
    # possible exception of the Ellison written
    # episode on the original series (and I’m
    # not a big Ellison fan) that I thought was
    # award-worthy …

    Then again, how many of the statues went to productions or performers that you judged worthy of awards? In an honest comparison, I think you will find many “winners” that were inferior to comparable counterparts from the Star Trek productions. But in most cases, the latter were not even NOMINATED for awards — all but locked out of consideration. Oh well, who needs awards? The emmy-snubbed episodes of the original ST series are indelibly a part of our popular culture, in a way that most emmy-winning productions never were and never will be. The work has sturdy enough legs to stand on its own. But I brought up the point to illustrate the almost reflexive snubbing suffered by Star Trek in particular and Science Fiction in general.

  57. Oh, and one other thing, D.A. Ridgely. I’m hoping you are familiar with Ellison’s original “City on the Edge of Forever” script and his voluminous criticism of Star Trek for the way that script was changed on its way to celluloid. I am impressed by Ellison’s original version, but I like Roddenberry’s rewrite, as well. I don’t think that was the only episode of all the Treks that was worthy of an Emmy, but I do think the fact that it never got one says much more about the awards process and the mindset of the nominators and judges, than it does about the quality of Star Trek or the worthiness of science fiction.

  58. Mr. Merritt:

    I was kidding about California schools, playing the Eastern elitist snob. Apparently it worked too well.

    Back to awards, sure, Emmys and Oscars and such often go to inferior products. I’ve blogged about the fact at my own little bloggie thingie. Hey, the important words in “show business” and “film industry” are business and industry. But I didn’t mean to suggest ST was, in general, worse than usual TV fare, only that very little of what I’ve actually seen of it (the entire first series, a good chunk of the second, little else) didn’t rise above that usual fare.

    As for Ellison, like I said, I’m not a fan. The guy is famous for (1) a brilliant job of editing a collection of short stories (2) a couple of genuinely fine short stories, himself, and (3) being a horse’s ass of epic magnitude.

    Whether “City on the Edge of Forever” worked because of Ellison’s original draft or Roddenbery’s rewrite or (more likely) a happy synthesis, I couldn’t say, but it was certainly the only episode of the original series that ever elicited a genuine emotional reaction in me or left me thinking “Geez, that was good!”

  59. BTW, the original Star Trek series was Emmy nominated twice for Best Dramatic Series. Nimoy was nominated three times.

  60. I’m pretty sure Jim Bob was being sarcastic, just like I was.

    yeah that is how i read it…

    i think the general rule is when something is attributed to the fall of western civilization that it is simply mocking fears in regards to that something.

  61. Tell Harlan Ellison he’s not creating “literature” and he’ll probably kick your ass.

    Kick his ass??

    More like inappropriately fondle the nearest breast.

  62. Mr. Ridgely-

    I took no umbrage at the CA schools remarks. I have been a vocal critic of them and have been since my days as a student. I was just commenting on the irony of the 60s and 70s being considered “the good old days.”

    Also, I know that, from time to time, ST has been nominated for various statues, and I think even won a few technical awards here and there. But nobody but the fans ever seem to expect it to win a big prize; I think that’s the issue, more than whether or not ST ever gets nominated, much less wins the gold figurine. Who takes seriously the nomination of a series featuring a guy with pointy ears (or a lobster forehead, for that matter) for “best dramatic series”? Even if it might just be true!? ST winning any major awards would be a newsworthy, “dog bites man” event.

    I think the latest incarnation of the Outer Limits gave us some exceptional TV drama. Battlestar Galactica is one of the best things I’ve ever seen on television in any era; it well deserved the Peabody award it won. But these shows are still in the “science fiction ghetto.” The good news seems to be that more and more people are happy to go slumming there.

  63. “It is possible for a work to destroy the boundaries and conventions of such and such and still suck.”

    ehhh, i don’t think so. it’s possible to not like such a work, or at least parts of it, but i can’t see it sucking in the sense that “it doesn’t bring game to the table” as it were. or it has aged badly, etc. or that it requests something of the reader, namely some kind of background in irish history and a cursory familiarity of catholic-protestant tensions and the like.

    as an example, i can see how someone who is not catholic or not familiar with catholicism would be lost on the humor found in ithica, the second to last chapter (it’s written entirely in the form of a catechism) etc. it is a tremendously funny bit of the book, and probably my favorite (the brothel is my least favorite, in comparison)

    but i find it very, very, very, very, very (etc) hard to believe someone can look at a work that is so vast, so multi-layered, and the best they can come up with is “sucks.”

    i can definitely see “not for me” or something along those lines, or even “totally insane.” but “sucks” – fuck no.

    on a semi-related note, one of the reasons i started reading pk dick’s work, specifically valis (the second book of his i read after time out of joint, which was ok in a young adult fiction sorta way) was because so many people said it was impossible to follow or just plain crazy. i found it an incredibly touching work about regret, so much that going through his back catalogue, i definitely felt like he had wasted so much of his life on books that, allegories or not, were shells of his true potential. i don’t think the fantastic settings or events really get to me so much as the lack of complex themes.

    i don’t think valis is very hard to get through, much less the lesser work the transmigration of timothy archer. the divine invasion is only interesting if you already know a bit about gnosticism, and i was definitely disappointed to see him slip from autobiographical (or haigographical) fiction back into a fantastical setting. it seemed more like a crutch than anything else, and as a fan of miller, burroughs and borges, it’s not like i can’t dig fucking crazy nonsense (with or without sodomy).

    but at the same time i never really had much patience for star wars, star trek or comic books, never read sci fi as a kid, no buffy or whatever, etc, so it’s entirely possible i lack the kind of vocabulary or familiarity with tropes and conventions and, most importantly, the kind of mental stance required.

  64. dhex: I liked Valis, too. It was one of those rare books that changed my point of view, thus changing my world. PK Dick will be appreciated for a long time, I think. Even those works that didn’t show off his literary abilities were based around provocative ideas. And he took interesting risks, too. “The Man In The High Castle” was, for me, ultimately unsatisfying, but I appreciated PKD’s experiment with the I Ching, anticipating today’s “role playing game storytelling” by decades.

  65. LarryA: What was the book?

    Heinlein’s Strranger in a Strange Land.

  66. how can colleges be good while public schools are bad?

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