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

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Trent Walters

I've done a lot of experimenting with form in the genre. It generally isn't accepted well, I'm afraid. In fact, even when I think what I'm doing isn't that strange, I pull people up short. I've spent the last several years correcting my experimental habits because it isn't currently friendly to experiment. A few small magazine exceptions:

Full Unit Hookup

There are probably others that I'm not yet aware of.

I was going to do an anthology of genre experiment--which I solicited you for, years back--but I've been wavering. I'm not even sure if my brain is built for the genre. I put a lot of effort into a manuscript and get dismissed with something like "I quit reading because it was in 2nd person."

Not to discourage your forays into the field, however. Just warning you if you are seeking experiment.


Oh, and what genre is good for--or WAS good for--are experimental philosophies. Weird shit. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land is wild because it helped instigate ideas for the sixties counter-culture. Otherwise, it's a lousy story. But it used to be more open to different philosophies. Now it's more codified than, retroactively at least, it seemed once to be.

So I would praise Heinlein for his politics--only because he introduced some weird ideas I hadn't thought of before.


Scalzi's own response to Itzkoff's review is here

With a roundup of links to other responses here

including this one by Sarah Monette

on some common problems with "mainstream" reviewing of sf, Itzkoff included.

Zinnia Hope

Haven't read that book either. I have a large stack of to-be-read books and only so much actual reading time right now.

Ellen Datlow

Samuel Delany's Dhalgren was experimental for its time, both sociologically and in its style.

Dan Green

Dhalgren is the Delaney novel I read. I can't say I found it very experimental.


Well, a lot of the outrage Dhalgren inspired among some SF types had to do with its lack of "Traditional plotting" and the like; but that might only reflect just how reactionary certain elements in the field are. For a gloss on Delany's novels, I'd recommend Brian McHale's books on postmodern fiction.

Joanna Russ was an adept innovator in style and structure, whose skills are sometimes ignored by a too-exclusive focus on her "message." Avram Davidson's short fiction is stylistically vigorous; Theodore Sturgeon's "The Perfect Host" is an early example of SF that attempts to exploit metafictional tools.


Dan: I don't think I agree with your framing of science fiction as "experimental" (and I am increasingly finding distinctions between "traditional" and "experimental" literature not to matter so much; these taxonomies a bit like genre ghettoization, don't you think?) or the idea that conventional narrative framed through an imaginative or phantasmagorical prism is a bad thing.

Nevertheless, I believe you might want to try Norman Spinrad's THE IRON DREAM or Jeff VanderMeer's SHRIEK (particularly the former) for sf books in which metafictional elements are employed. I don't know if these two books represent the kind of satisfactory "experimentalism" you appear to be looking for, but they are both worth a shot.

Dan Green

"these taxonomies a bit like genre ghettoization, don't you think?"

Actually I don't. They're imprecise, certainly, but ultimatety still useful, nevertheless. I don't see "experimental fiction" as a genre but as a name for the attempt--which I know when I see it--to expand fiction's formal possibilities.

melEAH rebeccah

In lieu of it being "DELURKING" week (or so I've heard, over in blog land) You are supposed to comment on blogs you read all the time but never say anything.

I have commented maybe ONCE, but I wanted to take the time and let you know even though I don't comment, I READ you all the time, and LOVE THIS BLOG! so, um, thanks.

Dan Green

MELEAH: Wow. Thanks.

Steven Augustine

I was a Speculative-Fiction-mad college kid, without a doubt, but the limitations in the form (as it's often practised), now strike me as chiefly being in the fact that the 'best' literature is all about what the writer leaves out...the allusive core the writer carves the form down to. Literary Fiction can get away with this carving-down because so much of the setting, for example, can be taken for granted...we all know what a car, a street, a house look like. We all know what people look like, and so on.

Science Fiction, imagining alternative settings/eras/creatures/lexicons, etc., enjoys no such license, generally, to pare back. In Science Fiction, the writer is often forced to load up on setting and stuff details in...nothing can be taken for granted if you set your tale 500 years in the future, or 500 light years away and so forth. This severely impedes the claims the genre can make, in general, on Art, I think. It ends up being closer to Tom Wolfe.

It's a rare writer (J.G. Ballard? Kurt Vonnegut definitely, but he's a special case, being a black- humorist) who can (almost) overcome this drawback in the genre. (with apologies to Harlan Ellison)

Dan Green

"In Science Fiction, the writer is often forced to load up on setting and stuff details in...nothing can be taken for granted if you set your tale 500 years in the future, or 500 light years away and so forth."

Steven: You make a very good point. In my opinion, too many writes of literary fiction forget they can take such things for granted.

Steven Augustine

Too true!

Rocco DiStreitlmahn

Didn't Ray Bradbury say once that SF was just another way of doing philosophy?

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