What Orhan Pamuk doesn’t understand about genre fiction

How by privileging his reading experiences and preferences, Pamuk shows in The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist that he doesn’t actually understand genre fiction.

The cover of Orhan Pamuk's The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist, featuring a woman in a black dress lounging on a green couch holding a closed bookOrhan Pamuk’s The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist* is similar to Stephen King’s On Writing in that it presents itself as a distillation of a famous author’s thoughts on fiction (although Pamuk talks as much or even more about the reading of fiction as the writing of it) but what is presented as universally obvious and true ends up actually being about the particular experiences, biases and preoccupations of the famous author. Whether or not one finds value from the book depends largely on how much one’s own experiences, biases and preoccupations match up with the famous author.

For all that he uses as primary examples a lot of 19th and early 20th century novels that I really like, Pamuk and I were not a great match. But this post is not about that personal argument, rather it’s a look at how in trying to privilege the novels that have spoken to him, Pamuk shows that he doesn’t actually understand genre fiction, especially science fiction.

Things start well enough. Early on he writes:

Historical novels, fantastic novels, science fiction novels, philosophical novels, romances, and many other books that blend these various types are actually, just like so-called realist novels, based on everyday observations of life in the period in which they were written. (47-48)

This is good. This acknowledges that authors of genre fiction use one of the same key tactics as those of works of literary realism (and he even uses “so-called”!): observation. Details get taken from life and then worked into the fiction that the author is written. Those details are often transmuted. But not necessarily as radically or as often in literary realism as in genre fiction, especially science fiction (he doesn’t say what the difference between “fantastic novels” and “science fiction novels” is).

Later in the book, though, things go off the rails, especially in the last chapter where Pamuk introduces his concept of “the center”, which he says every great novel has — that, in fact, determines whether a novel is literary or not. I can’t really explain what Pamuk means by the center because he doesn’t really explain it himself — doesn’t seem to really even know what it is. It’s more of a “I know it when I see it” kind of thing. The most succinct explanation he provides is:

The center of a novel is a profound opinion or insight about life, a deeply embedded point of mystery, whether real or imagined. Novelist write in order to investigate this locus, to discover its implications, and we are aware that novels are read in the same spirit. When we first imagine a novel, we may consciously think of this secret center and know that we are writing for its sake—but sometimes we may be unaware of it. (153)

I have no problem if Pamuk wants to describe novels in this way. My issue is that he then uses this construct — one which is entirely idiosyncratic to him and isn’t well-defined — as a bludgeon against genre fiction.

For example:

Let us try to describe the insufficiency we feel when we read a novel, when we think via the medium of a novel. As we get further and further into story, as we joyfully lose our way in the forest of details and incidents, its world seem far more substantial than real life. One reason for this is the relationship between the secret center of the novel and the most basic aspects of life—a relationship that empowers novels to provide a greater feeling of authenticity than life itself. Another reason is that novels are built with everyday, universal, human sensations. Yet another reason is that in novels—and this is generally also true of genre novels, such as crime fiction, romances, science fiction, and erotic novels—we find the sensations and experiences that are missing in our own life. (123-124)

Pamuk ties this “secret center” to authenticity — in fact, an authenticity that is so authentic it’s more authentic than real life — and then claims that genre fiction lacks this type of center. That they are about the inauthentic experience of heightened sensation and exceptional experience. Or to put it in the way it more often is in these tired literary vs. genre debates: genre fiction’s only use is escapism from everyday life.

But wait—there’s more! Pamuk double down on his claim that works of genre fiction have no center, although he does do the inevitable carving out of exceptions for the (Lem and Dick for SF; plus a bonus of Patricia Highsmith and John Le Carre; although, what? No Le Guin?):

Both writing and reading a novel require us to integrate all the material that comes from life and from our imagination—the subject, the story, the protagonists, and the details of our personal world-with this light and this center. The ambiguity of their location is never a bad thing; on the contrary, it is a quality we readers demand, for if the center is too obvious and the light too strong, the meaning of the novel is immediately revealed and the act of reading feel repetitive. Reading genre novels—science fiction, crime novels, period fantasies, romance novels—we never ask ourselves the questions Borges asked while reading Moby-Dick: What is the real subject? Where is the center? The center of these novels is precisely where we found it before, while reading novels of the same type. Only the adventures, the scenery, the main characters, and the murderers are different. In the genre novel, the profound theme that the narrative must structurally imply remains the same from one book to the next. Apart from the works of a few creative writers like Stanislaw Lem and Philip K. Dick in science fiction, Patricia Highsmith in thrillers and murder mysteries, and John Le Carre in espionage fiction, genre novels do not inspire us with any urge to seek the center at all. It is for this reason that writers of such novels add a new element of suspense and intrigue to their story every few pages. On the other hand, because we are not drained by the constant effort of asking basic question about the meaning of life, we feel comfortable and safe when reading genre novels.

In fact, the reason we read such novels is to feel the peace and security of being at home, where everything is familiar and in its accustomed place. The reason we turn to literary novels, great novels, where we search for guidance and wisdom that might confer meaning on life, is that we fail to feel at home in the world. (159-160)

Notice the equivalent of literary with great and “such novels” with familiar. Notice the assigning of genre novels to the tidy domestic sphere and of literary novels to travel—to the seeker, the wanderer—to the wisdom that creates meaning out of failing to feel at home in the world. Notice how the achievements of entire fields are boiled down to one or two supposed outliers. Most of all, notice how the work of reading and the byproduct of such reading—the conversations, arguments, fan fictions, fan art, original fictional works written in dialogue with—are brushed aside because Pamuk claims we feel “comfortable and safe when reading genre novels.” I suppose here is where I should insert all sorts of caveats: “well, yes, let us acknowledge there are, indeed, works that are derivative” or “it’s true that many genre readers only seek the familiar”. But even if that’s true, turning the number of exceptions from one or two into ten or twenty or five hundred is to accept Pamuk’s terms of definition.

No, what Pamuk gets wrong—what many critics of genre fiction get wrong—is to mistake what they learned to read for in literary novels (where they find “the center”) for all there is to be found in fiction. “What is the real subject?” asks Pamuk. Well, in genre fiction it may or may not be found in theme or characterization or prose. It instead may be found in world building and setting. Or reconfiguration of standard tropes. Or character relationships. Or across novels in a series. Or on a level of variation of plot, character, setting, etc. that is unique or fresh or particularly effective but only to readers who know the standard tropes well enough. It’s not just that reading tastes differ—there’s also the fact that both the pleasures and the thing that challenges and the journey that’s dangerous sometimes (maybe even often) happens on a level that only the connoisseur can appreciate. This is not a defect on their part (although it could be in some instances). Rather it’s a mode of reading. I suppose one could argue that it shouldn’t take a connoisseur to find the pleasures, virtues, meanings, wisdom in a work. But all the works that Pamuk points to in his book also require learning how to read them. Just because a certain type of reading work has been codified by education and the family practices of the middle class, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Reading literary fiction for light and center requires become an active reader, a connoisseur. It’s just that such connoisseurship is respectable (because the 19th-21st literary novel is [was?] respectable to the bourgeoisie).

Now, it may seem hypocritical for me to champion genre fiction when what I tend to most write and talk about is non-core genre fiction. But what makes novels that combine literary elements with genre elements great is not that they achieve more than solidly genre novels (although some might do just that). What makes such novels great is that they activate tropes and wrestle with concerns and deploy prose and characterization in ways that feel more abundant and complete to those of us who grew up reading both literary and genre fiction. But those heady delights shouldn’t lead us (me) to proclaim that as the superior way just as the way Pamuk being steeped in late 19th century/early 19th century novels shouldn’t lead him to mistake their particular delights and strengths for the entirety of the value to be gained from fiction. What’s more: the reader we currently are doesn’t have to be the reader we always are. The best way to experience the delights of other modes of reading is to sample from wide array of fiction that is available. And the best way to identify the flavors you might be missing is to talk to other connoisseurs about what the like and why the like it. There’s a vast array of delights on offer. Wisdom is great, but can be found in so many types of fiction. Who needs the center?

*Quotes are from Orhan Pamuk, The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist, trans. by Nazim Dikbas. Harvard University Press, 2010.

Two brief excerpts from Quentin Anderson’s The Imperial Self

“Is there a greater imaginable human power than the power to control the way others apprehend the world?” –QA

Detail from the front cover of The Imperial Self showing a stylized Q and A.
Detail from the front cover of Quentin Anderson’s The Imperial Self

Quentin Anderson’s The Imperial Self is the kind of idiosyncratic literary criticism by white men trying to say something about America that flourished in the post-WWII period. I had never heard of it until I read Jonathan Sturgeon’s Baffler salvo Divine Indigestion: the endlessly fabulized American self. The overview Sturgeon provides in that piece interested me enough to seek out the book. I’m not sure it’s worth seeking out even if I found it thought-provoking.

It did have the salutary effect of curing me of whatever vestiges of intellectual goodwill I had left for Emerson (and the vestiges were already small).

I also have to admit that I have been sitting on these quotes since I finished the book back in late summer. Now seems like an even less good time to post them than back then was. Or maybe it’s an even better time. I don’t know. On the one hand, these seem like an indictment of the entire fictional enterprise of modern western SF&F. On the other hand: look who is doing the indicting. And: when I think of the works that have spoken to me most over the past few years, they’re works which circumvent or, more often, short-circuit what Anderson describes below. Which grasp the cultural tools at hand but use them in strange, beautiful, angry, hope-generating ways.    

Please note that Anderson was an idiosyncratic curmudgeon who took many of his cues from Lionel Trilling, which means his political stance is, for lack of a better term, complicated. Moderate but cranky? Classically liberal? Neoconservative? Maybe somewhere in between those three. It’s hard to say and that’s just as much a function of the platforms and tactics of the two U.S. political parties over the past half century as it is slipperiness on the part of Trilling (and Anderson–but Trilling was the larger figure so there have been more attempts by others to claim him/pin him down). I mean, Anderson was a Columbia professor during the 1960s, which led to this wonderfully euphemistic sentence from his official CU obit: “He chaired the Joint Committee of Disciplinary Affairs, following campus disturbances in the spring of 1968.” 

It’s also not fair to present these quotes without the context of the book, especially Anderson’s argument about Emerson’s effect on the American imagination, and specifically the way communities and their social ties were redefined and weakened by the elevation of the individual self and the self constituting the world itself aka the imperializing the world (the extreme logical extension of which can be found in modern techno-libertarian fantasies where the self extends it ability to be an imperial self through technological augmentation).

Also: the world has changed a lot since these words were written.

So with all those caveats:    

Excerpt 1

A part of the rather grim comedy of the period of the 1940’s and 1950’s is that we were in the habit of asking ourselves anxiously why we no longer had political imaginations, political concerns. If we had seen the meaning of our subscription to an iconography of imagination, we need not have asked these questions. In such art the world has been moved into the self, as in Blake, and the plurality, the inconsequence, the muddiness of existence have been replaced by internalized antinomies. These playlands of the imagination were great fun to explore, but they altogether lacked what a form such as tragedy provides, a recognition that life is actually open-ended. When we came to understand how this cultural shift came about, we will have to admit that while our theory of art ruled out art as a cause, or art as having cognitive value, the theory served simply to protect us from a knowledge of what was happening to our imaginations. As usual in historical matters, we can’t tell whether our responsiveness to certain kinds of art was a primary cause, but it is plain that our art and our cultural disposition were after all bound up with one another.

The notion of the impersonality of art became the refuge of the infantile demand to rule the whole world. And with reason. Here after all was a human power one could actually exercise, actually experience. Is there a greater imaginable human power than the power to control the way others apprehend the world? (202-203)

Excerpt 2

Without pretending to explore the significance of the most recent impulses of youthful disaffiliation, we may find in the groundswell of enthusiasms over the last ten years a number of particular instances. The need for the young to feel for a total translation of experience, a fresh ground for experience or a new umwelt for their sensations, has led to the immersion in Tolkien, science fiction, or the substitute world of Blake’s prophetic books. (204)

Both excerpts are from The Imperial Self by Quentin Anderson, 1971, Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

P.S. Perhaps the best recommendation for the book is Harold Bloom’s condescending misreading of it in a July 1971 review for Commentary Magazine.

How Sofia Samatar complicates the Bildungsroman in A Stranger in Olondria

WHM uses his feeble photoshop skills to illustrate how Sofia Samatar’s A Strange in Olondria complicates the standard plot structure of the bildungsroman.

Cover of A Stranger in OlondriaSofia Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria overflows with storytelling, textual and oral. Jevick is always remembering a bit of text or playing audience for another character’s urge to share with him a story. The plot is simple: Jevick leaves his island home, travels to and across Olondria and returns home. And yet because it’s so full of stories and because of how those stories interact with the main narrative arc, it feels like something very different. The narrative shape of A Strange in Olondria haunts and befuddles me. I want to understand it. No. Understand is not the right word: I want to appreciate it more fully.     

A Stranger in Olondria as Bildungsroman

Most of the reviews of the novel, swept up perhaps, in all that it has to say about literacy, reading, identity, travel and storytelling (and it has a lot to say about those things), didn’t invoke the term. Out of the reviews I’ve tracked down so far only Craig L. Gidney brings it up by noting that: “The form the novel takes is the bildungsroman: a novel about the initiation of a youth into the wider world.”

I agree with him (although, of course, Samatar beautifully and harrowingly complicates those words initiation and wider). I don’t know if it’s because I experienced it that way as I read it or if it’s actually important to understanding the novel, but I want to explore the notion further.

The classic Bildungsroman has many elements, and I’m sure there’s a whole line of academic argument over which are crucial and which are not, but for me specifically—and I have in mind two examples that I’m most familiar with here, Sir Walter Scott’s Waverly and Stendahl’s The Red and the Black—a Bildungsroman often features:

  1. A semi-educated young adult main character
  2. Who is not content with his boring, often lower-middle class lot in life
  3. Breaks with his (it’s almost always his) father and/or family
  4. Travels to an exotic location or locations (either urban or rural — but in either case one that is foreign and more dangerous than that of the main character’s upbringing)
  5. Quickly develops an awareness of his naiveté
  6. Meets other young people (and, more often than not, also an older, more experienced woman) who educate him in the ways of the world
  7. Through those friends and acquaintances gets caught up in a wider political, social and/or cultural conflict
  8. Survives and escapes the political, social and/or cultural entanglements and
  9. Returns home a wiser, sobered, more complete individual.

I may be cherry picking these attributes so that they obviously fit A Stranger in Olondria. But they also fit Waverly and The Red and the Black.

Because the point of the Bildungsroman is the education of the main character and because it involves leaving from and returning to the same place, the plot (to be sure like other plot models) is a circle. Like so:

A gray circle to represent the standard plot of a bildungsroman; the bottom is labeled home, the top is labeled abroad

That’s laughably simple, right? But two things:

1. While the leaving home and traveling abroad is an element of many types of novels, in the Bildungsroman the home and abroad are more fraught, more to the point, than, say, in the quest structure. Abroad exists to complete the character’s education—not because it needs the main character to accomplish a certain task (like defeat the evil wizard or restore the monarchy or whatever—in fact, the main character in a Bildungsroman typically in the end avoids that plot). This is why a Bildungsroman is often more wandering in its plot—more of a travelogue. So it’s actually not a crisp circle. More a meandering, ovalish one.

2. That simplistic model is what was in my head as I read the novel and how the novel breaks that structure turned out to be one of the keys to how I experienced it.

The gap and the ghost

There’s a lot going on structurally in A Strange of Olondria in regards to textuality and storytelling—Jevick is always quoting texts or being told stories—that I haven’t yet been able to figure out in relation to the overall structure of the novel (see the “more reading” section below for some excellent reviews that talk more about those aspects). But going back to my simplistic plot model above, there are two ways in which Samatar breaks the model in a profound, jarring way which complicates the novel as a Bildungsroman: the gap and the ghost.

The gap occurs during the festival of the. After the death of his father, Jevick travels to Bain, the capital city of Olondria, on a trading trip. Up to this point, all the elements of bildungsroman are there: the book education, the journey to a more cosmopolitan place, the initial overwhelmingness of that place, the struggle to find friends and a place. But then something happens to Jevick during the Feast of Birds that throws the pattern of the bildungsroman off: after falling in with some of the young celebrants of the feast, Jevick takes something (not specified in the text) from a young women in what appears to be a brothel. “Cousin, this is what the gods eat” (69) she tells him. He awakens later, in pain and missing his waistcoat, his purse, and even the pearl button from this shirt collar. The city alight with the fever of a festival now echoes back to him his hangover. A gap has opened up. He has lost time. The city has disenchanted itself.

But what happens after that gap—or perhaps because because of that gap—is even more important. On the sea voyage to Olondria, Jevick meets Jissavet, a young woman with a wasting disease who is traveling with her mother in the hopes of finding a miracle cure. Jissavet has not found the miracle she was hoping for. She is now a ghost. And she steps into the gap that has opened up and haunts Jevick. This fact, once it becomes known to the Olondrians, makes Jevick interesting to them. He becomes a pawn in a fight between religious cults that is spilling over into the political sphere. Much of the subsequent plot movement of the book is similar to a bildungsroman, more people who try to influence him, more travel, more witnessing of scenes that strip away his illusions. But as all of this is happening (and all this is happening because of this) Jissavet continues to haunt Jevick. She does so until, in desperate straits, Jevick agrees to write her story in return for the ghost’s help. He gives his story (and the novel) over to her:

I sat at the desk in my jacket, dipped the pen in the ink, and steeled myself against the coming light. “I’m ready,” I said. (212)

He stops fighting the haunting and the ghost—Jissavet—is able to tell her story through his pen. And so, the circle gets disrupted. There’s no longer this miasdventurish but ultimately tidy, male protagonist-centered movement from home to abroad and back. In addition to those things, there’s a gap and a ghost and, finally, the ghost taking over the narrative. Like so:

A round orange circle with a gap in it and a light blue line curving around from the gap and then diving into the orange circle

More reading on A Strange of Olondria

Craig L. Gidney review  (Quoted above.)

Amal El-Mohtar, review for Tor.com (Has a lot to say about literacy and identity.)

Sessily Watt, review for Bookslut (Makes some great points about books and power.)

Abigail Nussbaum, review at Asking the Wrong Questions (Nussbaum does an excellent job of showing how Samatar’s world building is different from a standard fantasy novel; she also explains much better and in more detail than I have above how Jissavet’s role in the novel complicates Jevick’s bibliophilia and privilege. It’s my favorite of the group.)

Gary K. Wolfe, review for Locus (Wolfe has high praise for Samatar’s prose; I agree.)

Nic Clarke, Strange Horizons review  (Among other things situates the novel as epic fantasy.)

Keguro Macharia, “Reading Sofia Samatar: Indwelling” for The New Inquiry (Really interesting: Macharia links the main character’s dead brother to the rest of the novel and in so doing provides a reading that is unique and thought-provoking.)

27 Ways of Looking at Genre

WHM looks at genre by torturing metaphors, begging questions and conflating issues.

Image of David Bowie Blackstar Album Art Eyes
Image: Barnbrook. Licensed under the Creative Commons NonCommercial Share-Alike license.

1. We talk of genre boundaries as if they’re electric fences and not softened butter.

2. We talk of genre boundaries as if genres are nations with borders to cross (complete with guard shacks and passports and visa stamps) and not estuary marshlands alive with foul bogs, ancient trees, and all manner of creeping, crawling, buzzing, cooing, winging life.

3. We talk of genre boundaries as if they are glass cases and not a dilapidated house filled with cobwebs that stick to us as we tramp through the rooms.

4. Okay, yes, those stifling marketing categories. But marketing categories are insatiable squirrels that dart here and there and stuff their cheeks to bulging with whatever acorns seem fresh and tasty and bury things here and there to decay, sprout, petrify.   

5. We say that, of course, genres are fuzzy sets and family resemblances and marketing categories and bookshop shelves and reader expectations and then it all comes down to the illustration and name on the cover where what it should be is a diagrammed sentence or a list of metaphors or a graph of the plot structure.

5. Oh, the talk of process. The pride about writing speed or lack of writing speed. The shaking the head in wonder at the three books a year or the one book every seven years. The need to signify your camp by how you describe your process. The easiest way to authorial persona is by way of process.

6. Genre transgressions are always contingent.

7. Genre is almost all contingencies. That’s why it’s so fun.

8. One day a genre author decided they would remove all their influences. They would get back to pure story. They would intentionally forget everything they had ever read. It took years of concentrated, intentional mind work and quite a bit of substance abuse, but finally their mind was empty and when they began to write, they wrote with a freedom they had never previously known. Now, I bet you think I’m going to say that they wrote a masterpiece or a bestseller or a steaming pile of cliches. Nope. The freedom was a momentary illusion. Three chapters in it all came back, the weight of genre. The tightness in the shoulders and neck and right there at the base of the skull that the author is always trying to ignore, relax or alleviate.    

9. Genre authors are shameless magpies. Just don’t look too close at their shinies. Stand afar and jut your hand from your brow and admire the glittering glare, the sparkling play of light.

10. Hey genre authors are you playing games with me? Are you having a laugh? Are you trying to pull the wool over my eyes, lower the blast shield over my face? I think some of you are. Those who aren’t: why aren’t you?

11. Hey, SF&F I see what you’re doing with Romance and Mystery, and I gotta say this: do it better. I’m talking peanut butter and milk chocolate or dark chocolate and toffee almonds here—not stale bits of crisped rice in waxy chocolate product.

12. Hey, SF&F I see what you’re doing with Horror there, and I gotta say this: try peeling back a couple more layers. It’s not always necessary, but try it and see if in this or that particular case it is.

13. The genre readers know what they want. They want the familiar, they want the new. They want the comforting, they want the exciting. They want to be transported, they don’t want to leave the confines of their own worldview. They want you to explain more. They want you to stop explaining so they can fill the cracks with their own explanations. They want, they want, they want, they don’t want. Stupid readers.

14. Write fan fiction as if you’re writing original fiction (because you are); write original fiction as if you’re writing fan fiction (because you are). Yes, that’s a semicolon there. So am I suggesting some level of equality between the two? Am I saying that one is not parasitic on the other?

15. I am (I mean sure, there’s a difference between fiction that overtly uses another author’s characters and setting and fiction that comes up with new characters and settings, but it pretty much all comes down to stripping the car down for parts and rebuilding something else from it whether or not the serial numbers are filed off or proudly displayed).

16. We talk about genre as if it’s this thing we can embrace, subdue, love, pull apart, shove aside or wear when really it’s a library of narratives, of individual works. You wouldn’t spend most of your time in the library talking about the lighting, carpeting and shelving would you? Maybe you would for awhile. It is important to feel at home in one’s surroundings. But at some point in that discussion one becomes very aware of all the eager individual stories crowded together on the shelves longing, aching for your attention.

17. Hey genre, I’m going to use a word to describe you that was given to me when I first began studying comparative literature to describe that field: anxiogenic. Look, I know geeks and nerds are cool now, but being cool doesn’t remove the anxiety does it? Yeah, didn’t think so. So how are you going to turn that anxiety into productive anxiety rather than crippling or lashing-out anxiety?

18. Hey genre, you have too many awards.

19. Hey genre, you don’t have enough awards.

20. Okay, look. It’s easy to make pithy statements and set up false equivalencies, but if the space suit, jeweled slipper, cracked leather boots fit… Because there are too many awards the field seems to always be in a state of anxiety about lists and eligibility and nominations and finalists and winners and who is voting and who isn’t and what’s being unduly lauded. Because there aren’t enough awards whole categories are ignored.

21. What if instead of lobbing stories into various pens and then wallowing only in the pens we feel comfortable in, we realize that all new things are an acquired taste. It may take several tries and the right preparation of the dish for you to realize that while it may never become a staple of your diet, there’s a deliciousness or at least a particular-ness to whatever ethnic background, political ideology, religious experience, genre/sub-genre form, sexuality, writing style, etc. belonging to the author and/or the characters that caused you to dismiss the work. And that while with some works you may never come to like the candied walnuts in the salad that doesn’t mean that all the other ingredients aren’t tasty and well prepared. We could all be better omnivores.

22. Who should be blamed for the fact that so much of genre seems to focus on the adolescent? Or that so many of the novels are the equivalent of reunion tours and cover bands? Is that the fans themselves remain in a state of arrested development? Or is that coming of age and quest stories have a universal appeal? And if the latter then maybe it’s because adulthood is so boring and complicated. And maybe it’s because youth is reckless enough to seek adventure and start revolutions. Maybe it’s because it’s so much harder to change when you get old. Would we want genre to also be about the mundane triumphs of life?

23. (Hell, yes.)

24. In the beginning there was myth. Or maybe epic. Okay, let’s go with epic. In the beginning there was epic. On the first day, there arose adventure and horror. On the second day, engineering constructed itself (golden age). On the third day, prose style and ambiguity made it’s incursion into the field. On the fourth day, characterization came in and rounded everything out. On the fifth day, representation skirted around the edges and then marched across the field. What will happen on the sixth day of genre? What rough slouching beast? What skittering horde? What lumbering golem?

25. So here’s the deal with the mingling of literary and SF&F: the New Wave borrowed from literary modernism and postmodernism. So the fact that over the past 20 years the literary has begun to import stuff from genre (vampires, zombies, post-apocalyptic landscapes, plot) means that we can’t complain. Because we borrowed from literary back in the day. This is especially important because there is a bigger thing to worry about: both literary and SF&F seem to be converging on something that ignores the lessons already learned from modernism and postmodernism. Even the pulp writers will claim to want to write complex characterization. Even the literary authors will claim to want to make attempts at plot. Everybody is messing about with form. And yet while there appears to be this wide range, it’s all pretty damn mimetic. You want to shake up genre? You want to transgress? Dive back into modernism and postmodernism and see what you can re-emerge with.

26. Is anybody else in genre bored with endings that are either revolutions or restorations? (I’m especially looking at you epic fantasy.) And maybe that boredom is because: what happens after the big event? Who are those heroes? The builders and defenders rather than the catalysts. Because I’m no catalyst. But I might be able to build and defend.

27. To restate in relation to our specific present: we hope, we fear that we’re on the verge of major events. But what if the near future is all aftermath? Don’t we need stories to get us through that?