Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism. Published by Cow Eye Press

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I've had the same problem with many sf writers, but it's probably worth pointing out that, for example, Infinite Jest, is full of the same kind of "infodumps" (and if you're not allowing points for style) it's no more justifiable.

On the other hand, I don't mind infodumps so much when the info dumped isn't presented as common knowledge. That last line from the Dick excerpt, "it had been some time since mailmen had crept out in daylight hours," is particularly lame, whereas Borges can dump obscure info on me as long as he likes.

Rodney Welch

I agree that's pretty awkward writing on Dick's part. What gets me, though, is this same sort of infodump technique used in historical novels, especially first-person ones, where the narrator will stop to lecture his reader from the future on some fact of life that hasn't yet become archaic.

Dan Green

Rodney: Miriam comments on that in her post.

Don Napoli

You probably need to go to Dick's mainstream novels to get a sense of him as a stylist.

Mortimer Shy

In terms on establishing a point of view for his characters and maintaining it rigorously, even obsessively, Phillip Dick is a master. The fact that he isn't a stylist, and that his invented (prophetic) details are often absurd, and his characters trapped in unreasonable environments, show that maintains this point of view instinctively himself as an author. "Literary" authors are incapable of this innocence, and thus blocked from creating worlds so stunningly modern, or unheard of. Yet, with Dick the result is a picture of consciousness, that is recognizable to most readers. You have picked the wrong example--to me, he is the ONE science fiction writer who does maintain psychological point of view.

Dan Green

Actually, I think I emphasized that Dick does indeed "maintain a psychological point of view." This is part of the problem.

Mortimer Shy

No, you said he is an example of a genre too dependent on the "conventions psychological realism." That is completely different. Dick isn't in fact following conventions, but is inspired by images. Furthermore, he isn't a storyteller, either. All his books blend together, because they are all part of a description of a world, which is coherent, if crazy (like reality for many people). Point of view, as I said, is essential to an author like this, who is so original he clings to it like to his own vital consciousness, like his own religion. It is unreflected, even childishly so. Not at all an example of pyschological realism.

Dan Green

"Dick isn't in fact following conventions, but is inspired by images."

I have no idea what you're talking about. The passages I quoted are *extremely* conventional in their use of psychological realism. I take it that in the rest of your comment you're echoing the frequent descriptions of Dick as some kind of "visionary." Perhaps he is. I haven't been able to read as much of his work--because of the uninspired writing--as I would need to in order to reach a conclusion about this.


Here are two thoughts from this particular pipsqueak...

On historical fiction: if a writer considers the past as a 'place' where we can live via imagination, then most of these horrible problems of inserted fact and explanation will disappear. Many writers feel a great need to prove that they really are writing about the past. Many others are defeated by their need to use their research. Do the research, and don't over-research; then forget it.

On science fiction: Isn't this a similar issue? If one accepts that it is possible for a character to be as grounded in a fantastic landscape as in a realistic one, and then pursues that belief, don't many of these problems vanish? It then becomes a moving-through-space problem. A lot of fiction (and not just science fiction) attempts to move through story-space too quickly, to "set the stage" and "get things out of the way," instead of filtering "reality" through sensibility. We don't need to be clonked on the head by a bucket of information; we just need to enter a world and see what we can see, whether it's the other side of the mountain or the other side of time or the other side of the moon...

R. J. Thomson

Some writers have sent-up infodumps to great effect. Stewart Home, in 'Sixty Nine Things to Do with a Dead Princess':

We were filling in time until Alan could pick up his car from the garage. A side window had been smashed by a thief who'd stolen some booze that Alan had left on the back seat. I announced that I felt like the narrator in Tania Kindersley's novel 'Goodbye, Johnny Thunders'. Alan said he'd given up on the book at page 13 when the narrator described a man who'd shafted her as having politics to the left of Lenin. Alan thought that it was the job of novelists to deal with specifics not generalities. He'd wanted to know whether the shit in question was a Bordigist or a councilist, whether he favoured the politics of Rosa Luxemburg or Otto Rühle. Lenin had attacked the entire proletarian milieu in 'Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder' and Alan snorted that it simply wasn't good enough to say that someone's politics were to the left of a right-wing reactionary.

It goes on.

This, to my mind, is getting towards treating the novel itself as a psychological entity, rather than a character 'within' it. I don't know many other writers who go this far, but wouldn't mind being told of them.

Dan Green

There's no doubt that first-person narration alters our perception of both the infodump and of psychological realism. Information being provided directly by the subjective narrator has a different effect that information inserted by a third-person narrator. In some ways the third-person central consciousness approach, which is the strategy that produces what I'm calling psychological realism, is an attempt to split the difference between first-person and omniscient third-person narration. But the employment of a first-person narrator goes some way toward eliminating the kinds of problems I discuss in the post.

Jimmy Beck

Mama always said, "It ain't the heat, it's the Selkirks."

Helen DeWitt

The Man in the High Castle does do clever things with language. Dick imagines the West Coast after Japanese victory in WWII: Japanese has high prestige, so speakers of English alter their grammar to mimic the English usage of the victors.

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