It’s Funny Because It’s True

A comment from elsewhere on the Internet:

“Certainly the most puzzling part of the Sad Puppies campaign is the claim that Scalzi’s works are too literary to represent the mainstream of SF. That’s like saying a group of food critics are too snobbish because they ranked Arby’s above McDonalds.”

Reader, I LOLed.

286 Comments on “It’s Funny Because It’s True”

  1. To be clear, I am not in the least offended by the above observation (especially as I make no bones about writing commercial, accessible fiction), so please do not feel overly obliged to be upset on my behalf. I thought it was pretty damn funny.

    That said: I’m not sure anyone would rank Arby’s over McDonald’s.

  2. That is a really good point. When I pick up a Scalzi book I expect something more like a Heinlein novel than a LeGuian novel. That is why I pick up one of your books. I have to be in the right mood to read Literary-first SF, while picking up more commercial story telling focused SF puts me in the mood to read.

    (I also agree with the MCD>>Arbys…)

  3. Truly– who cares? Let’s gaze at our own belly button in science fiction? The awards have been a good old boy thing forever. Let it go if you’re upset someone has hijacked the good old boy system. You lived with it– you live with it. Hijack it back with $40 to Worldcon.

  4. Bob Mayer:

    It says something that you’re focusing on the Hugos here when everyone else (including me) is focusing on the McDonald’s/Arby’s comparison. Which I guess means that in fact, you care. Nice to have that cleared up!

  5. But where is the comparison between Old Mans War and In N’ Out? That could create a real flame war…

  6. ““Certainly the most puzzling part of the Sad Puppies campaign is the claim that Scalzi’s works are too literary”

    Where did Sad Puppies ever allege that Scalzi’s works are “too literary”?

    Indeed I think the complaint is that awards were being given based on ingroup credentials rather than literary merit.

    A comment on Torgersen’s site:
    “John Scalzi has received more Hugo nominations in ten years than Arthur C. Clarke got in fifty. You don’t believe that happened based on sheer literary merit any more than I do.”

  7. I would pay serious money to see Scalzi riff on “The Left Hand of Darkness” or “The Dispossessed” in the way that “Old Man’s War” is a riff on “Starship Troopers”…

    Brad DeLong

  8. “John Scalzi’s Hugo win, brought to you by Arby’s.” Turn to camera two. “Arby’s, at least we’re better than than the &^*$ served at McDonald’s.”

  9. It’s of a piece with the idea that the Puppies’ opponents are reactionary — that is, they keep using these words, but I don’t think the words mean what the Puppies seem to want them to mean. ‘Literary’ is bad, Scalzi is bad, therefore Scalzi is literary.

    If we’re going to keep redefining language like this, I propose to use ‘chorf’ as a verb, meaning “the act of aspirating one’s tea when one of the Puppies uses a word, without regard to any of its commonly accepted definitions, to comic effect.” Reader, I chorfed.

  10. It’s a bit backhanded, but, uh, sure, WTH. :)

    And @Dave: I am *so* there with you on the Jamocha shakes! With lots of nutmeg sprinkled on top!

  11. Any one with taste buds would rank Arby’s above McDonalds. Taco Bell ranks above McDonalds. Therefore you Sir are a literary GENIUS!

    Please keep righting commercial, easily accessible fiction. It’s the stuff that makes reading fun.

  12. Dan @ 3:326 pm: A comment on Torgersen’s site:
    “John Scalzi has received more Hugo nominations in ten years than Arthur C. Clarke got in fifty. You don’t believe that happened based on sheer literary merit any more than I do.”

    Yeah, I’m still trying to figure out how Clarke would have reacted to being nominated for a Best Fan Writer Hugo . . .

    Hey! What about Wendy’s? Where does the Home of the Steamed Baked Potato and the Frosty fit into this elegant literary analogy?

  13. Dan:

    Oddly enough, John C. Wright received only one fewer Hugo nomination in a single year than Arthur C. Clarke got in his entire career (although one was since disqualified). Perhaps commenters at Mr. Torgersen’s site should be more aware of the irony of their griping.

    (And also that there were rather fewer Hugo categories in the past than there are now, but that’s the sort of inconvenient fact that gets in the way of spittle-flinging.)

  14. I like Arby’s better than McDonald’s. I always have, and since my tastes are objectively better than the rest of the people weighing in on this, I demand that you bow to my assertion and start agreeing with me. If this thread doesn’t start showing a general agreement about the superiority of Arby’s immediately, the only possible explanation is that Scalzi’s insider clique is conspiring to suppress the fans of fast-food – the Arby’s lovers!

  15. Arby’s. The very name makes my gut hurt.

    I don’t think well-written but accessible literature is necessarily the equivalent of fast food, though. More the equivalent of normal, everyday fare that most of us enjoy most of the time. For many of us, literary fiction is a sometimes food–a trip to the kind of fancy restaurant where you have to dress up and keep track of silverware and worry that the waiter will snicker behind your back because you don’t know how to pronounce something on the menu. Fun, if not entirely comfortable, for a change of pace or self-edification, but not what we usually like. There are some reading gourmets who will always take literary Chateaubriand over barbecued steak, but there’s no shame in preferring regular fare either :)

    The funny part is when someone designates BBQ chicken as “fancy, hoity toity food” because they prefer grilled steak.

  16. Scalzi, you’re my go-to author for vacation reading, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. I must have read Old Man’s War five times while floating in the Caribbean.

    But I greatly prefer Arby’s to McDonalds, so what do I know?

  17. I think the core point has been missed. Scalzi = bad because bad=Scalzi. Therefore if Scalzi=Literary than Literary=bad. Also Arbys=bad so Scalzi=Arbys. It’s realy about the facts not mattering and Scalzi=bad

  18. John:

    “gets in the way of spittle-flinging”

    Project much? Read my 3:26 comment (my only comment ever on this site before this second one?); polite as can be.

    Here is a comment from Torgersen that clarifies things what he means by ‘literary’ for me (1/16/15)…

    “In other words, while the big consumer world is at the theater gobbling up the latest Avengers movie, “fandom” is giving “science fiction’s most prestigious award” to stories and books that bore the crap out of the people at the theater: books and stories long on “literary” elements (for all definitions of “literary” that entail: what college hairshirts are fawning over this decade) while being entirely too short on the very elements that made Science Fiction and Fantasy exciting and fun in the first place!”

    So I think the definition of ‘literary’ he is using doesn’t mean historically great but something kind of opposite: faddish.

  19. You can get Arby’s potato cakes at all hours while you can only get McDonald’s hash browns during their breakfast hours so that’s a point for Arby’s (until McDonald’s starts serving breakfast all day and why shouldn’t they?)

  20. Dan:

    To clarify: The spittle flinging was aimed at the Torgersen commenters, not you. Apologies for the lack of clarity.

    Also, Avengers won a Hugo, so again there’s some irony at that complaint.

  21. Wait! Is Arby’s/McD’s a metaphor for Scalzi/Correia? *Head Explodes*. I thought we were talking about Jamocha shakes.

  22. I am also one of those who preferred Arby’s to McD’s back in the day. Now I go for Chipolte. What does that mean as for SF tastes?

  23. Kellan Sparver: Redefining words that way — X is bad, my opponents are bad, therefore my opponents are X — seems to be a cultural tradition on the Right. Like many of these traditions, I think it started with Reagan, but ramped up when Obama was elected.

    (An interesting side effect is that ranting about Obama being a socialist — LOL, nope! — has removed some of the knee-jerk reaction to the term in the US.)

  24. Next year I will start the Sad Arby’s slate of contenders, wherein I will Take Back the Hugo awards from the Burger Justice Warriors who have hijacked science fiction in America.

  25. Dan @ 4:15: Then he shouldn’t have used the word “literary.” Sorry, but that pushes one of my buttons, too. The thing is, I’m aware that Torgersen probably didn’t mean to define Scalzi’s works in particular as “literary,” but that just brings us back to the “Scalzi’s works aren’t GOOD ENOUGH to receive awards” argument, which I disagree with vehemently, especially regarding Redshirts. (I liked the book a lot, have no problem with it is a Hugo nominee or winner, and my judgement and taste is at least as valid as Torgersen’s.)

    Besides, The Avengers won a Hugo, so who is to say what books the audience in that theater would enjoy reading? I was one of those people watching and enjoying that movie, too, after all. So, am “one of those college hairshirts” who fawn over books with “literary elements” or not?

    In other words, it was sloppy arguing, and Torgersen has gotten called on it. Very humorously and effectively, too, I’d say–

  26. Dan, Brad has yet to even try to keep his bullshit story straight. The Problem with the Hugos™ is as ever changing as the wind. If Brad hasn’t accused Scalzi’s work of being too literary, it’ll shock the hell out of me, since it’d be one of the few bullshit claims he hasn’t made.

    (Also, the original beef of Sad-Puppy-in-Chief, Larry “People of Portuguese descent are *totally* Hispanic” Correia, was that the awards were dominated by the “literati”. So, by implication, John Scalzi must be a “literary” writer, because he won a Hugo.)

    And since you bring up Clarke’s Hugo recognition: has Brad ever addressed, or even acknowledged, in the same post, that his personal hero, the horribly “slandered” Mike Resnick, has racked up 36 Hugo nods in 25 years. Scalzi isn’t on pace to even touch that. Resnick is a fine writer, but is Brad making the case that Resnick is five times the writer Clarke was?

    And while we’re at, Clarke has also received 3 Retro Hugo nominations, and 2 wins, one as recently as last year. Kind of puts the lie to the “the old Masters could never win a Hugo today” bullshit.

  27. @Host

    Just as a warning, from my crystal ball, this meme has about 0.1 nanoseconds before hitting a 5 Guys burger and fries mimetic resonance cascade. There, quite possibly, might be a black hole type event.

    The source is also really easy to find.

    Actually, checking, totally different set of ideological roots: expect rhizomatic bonding once they realize it. [You may want to prune this post to prevent, I doubt they’re thinking is like mine].

    Your source has other words of wisdom, such as: . Sooner or later a country is going to get tired of the US blowing up wedding caravans, and they’ll load a drone on a freighter, sail it into the Chesapeake, and make a targeted strike at the White House — and they’ll have ample precedent from American policy to justify their action.

    I claim my 100 SF geek points by pointing out that a novel has already featured China shipping multiple drones in cargo crates to an African country to do a first strike that wipes out the local American sea superiority.

    And no, our anonymous source,
    I don’t think you quite understand how sea based shipping works.


    Americans and Joyce: the prudery is too deep. I’m loving the de facto snobbery against commentators on this blog though. Apparently this is the low-brow part of the web (as quoth by people who actually link their facebook IDs).

  28. Ah, the poor puppies, let us put them out of their misery and put them to sleep. We are going to win this one. Right now, thousands of “SJWs” are signing up to vote for the Hugos. RSHD and company are going to leave with their heads hanging low. In a way, this is all good, the nomination process could be easily gamed as RSHD proved, no more, from now on fans of SF will make their voices heard in the nomination process, there will be no more gaming the system. In the end the puppies will be put to sleep.

  29. John, thanks for clarifying.

    “Also, Avengers won a Hugo, so again there’s some irony at that complaint.”

    …for Best Dramatic Presentation

    Kind of the exception that proves the rule, since that category is not for books at all, but for movies.

  30. Nighthawk:

    I think it may be presumption to assume that everyone signing up for an Associate Membership for the WorldCon is doing so in opposition to slates.


    “Kind of the exception that proves the rule”

    Well, except that the Dramatic Presentation Awards are nominated for and voted on by the same people who also nominate for and vote on the literary categories. Which means that the taste of the voters can accomodate both The Avengers and (heh) Very Literary Works such as my own Redshirts. Quite literally in this case, as they both won in the same year. Also, I’m curious as to whether Mr. Torgersen finds Brandon Sanderson’s work dreadfully literary, as Mr. Sanderson won the Novella award that year as well.

  31. Dan @ 4:36 pm: Kind of the exception that proves the rule, since that category is not for books at all, but for movies.

    Wait, what? Do you mean that Torgersen believes that Hugo voters have esoteric, faddish (or literary) taste in books but not in other forms of fiction, such as movies? That seems–a bit silly, to me. I honestly don’t think he’s that sloppy at writing an argument; I’d been assuming he just hadn’t noticed that The Avengers had won a Hugo. Do you mean to imply otherwise, or am I misreading?

  32. The Arby’s in Kitchener isn’t much but the one on the way down to my aunt and uncle’s in Pennsylvania is pretty good. The one in Pennsylvania uses a spice the one in KW can’t: a ten hour bus ride before dinner.

  33. >> Kind of the exception that proves the rule, since that category is not for books at all, but for movies.>>

    Yes, if a movie had won for Best Novel, that would be quite an event.

    But no, not an exception that proves the rule — what you’re missing is that Hugo voters appear to have liked AVENGERS just fine, so that suggests that their tastes are not wildly out of line with the movie-going public that liked a movie the Pupster thinks represents the kind of stuff that wouldn’t win a Hugo but did.

  34. “Exception that proves the rule” does not mean “I can ignore this inconvenient piece of data because reasons”.

    The “rule” in question here is, “mass audiences like things like “The Avengers”, and the Hugo Awards don’t.” That was Brad’s choice of comparison. That “The Avengers” isn’t a book is a fundamental problem with Brad’s argument – take that up with him. That the Hugo Awards did, in fact, honor “The Avengers” isn’t a counter-example (i.e. an exception), but rather a datum that indicates that Brad’s example was at best poorly chosen. Again, the problem lies with Brad’s argument, for which he is responsible.

    But then again, Brad’s poor rhetorical skills and even more poorly thought out arguments are well known around these parts.

  35. Back in the day, I preferred Arby’s.

    Also, I did some checking and it appears Mr Scalzi has written more Hugo eligible work in the past 10 years than Mr Clark did in his career.

    Of course, Mr Clarke actually has multiple awards named after him, is a Grandmaster, and spent most of his career being adored and revered. I suspect he wasn’t counting off points though. Once someone reaches Mr Clarke’s level, well, IMO *being* the award given is much more comprehensive recognition of one’s achievements than receiving yet another dust-catcher.

  36. The other common complaint against the putative Hugo cabal is that it favors left-wing message-fic. I have trouble recalling any heavy-handed left-wing message in Redshirts, either.

  37. “a trip to the kind of fancy restaurant where you have to dress up and keep track of silverware and worry that the waiter will snicker behind your back because you don’t know how to pronounce something on the menu.”

    Yes, you have to dress up a little, and it’s easy to keep track of silverware because they don’t bring it until you need it. But if it’s actually a good restaurant, the waiter will not snicker behind your back; in fact, if they don’t treat you like royalty, it’s NOT a good restaurant, no matter how expensive it is. I hate to hear people talking about top-class restaurants as if this were still the 1950’s or an episode of Mad Men.

    Oh, and the topic of Scalzi being “literary”? Sorry, I can’t stop laughing long enough to write anything coherent. And that’s not an insult to either Scalzi or “literature.” Let’s not forget that the “literary” types of London considered Shakespeare a low-class panderer to the common herd.

  38. It all goes to show that literary taste is Arbytrary….

    I keep hoping, by the way, that Scalzi might have a little competition for #newHugocategories on here. I propose:

    Schlock’s Day Award: for turgid sci-fi written by self-pitying bigots.

  39. Scalzi novels may not be that literary, but they are great fun to read. That’s what counts.

  40. As someone who eats chicken at fast food, not burgers, Arby’s has better chicken sandwich choices. McDonalds is way cheaper, though.

  41. Some people read to read the words. Others read to read the stories. Admittedly, the words can, by themselves, add to the story. At some point, however, there has to be a story for all those excellent choices of words. A middle in there somewhere? Certainly.

    And then there are writers like John. They write intuitive tales. You read the story and it assembles with surprisingly little effort inside your mind.

  42. It’s like when they bring up Pratchett; as near as I can tell, Pratchett at least once declined a Hugo nomination because he was at the stage of his career where he didn’t need recognition of writing a damn good novel. (Or even knowing that he was nominated was enough, so he could decline and let someone else win.)

  43. Oh no, Subways or Chipoltes surely instead of Arby’s. Although I guess it’s funnier using Arby’s.

    1) Nearly every author nominated and winning for the Best Novel Hugo has been either a nationally bestselling author or a category bestseller/lead title for their publishers. In other words, nearly every single author has been popular. And since the puppies insist that literary works can’t be popular, even though that’s a falsehood, their entire argument about the Best Novel Hugo is nonsensical.

    2) The short fiction which makes up most of the writing awards are fiction that are published in non-literary SFF magazines mostly and sold to their several thousands of subscribers. None of it is popular as in bestsellerdom because there are no short fiction bestseller lists or bestselling magazines (and rarely anthologies — only romance ones really.) There have been no bestselling short fictions that have ever won a Hugo because there is no such thing as a bestselling short fiction. And none of it is seen by most of the wider world as literary because it is SFF magazines. (That is not to say that some of it isn’t literary, but it is seen in the wider world as commercial fast food certainly.)

    3) All of the fan awards — fan art, fan writing, and the non-fiction related award — have nothing to do with bestselling and never did. Because fans aren’t professionals first off, trying to sell. None of them are popular, although they may be popular within the fandom community of WorldCon. None of them are literary either, since none of them are fiction and the non-fiction while occasionally academic isn’t really going for the Pulitzer.

    4) The artists who are up for professional art awards are usually very popular artists for SFF art and book covers. But elsewhere they are not necessarily well known and they are not literary because it’s art.

    5) The nominees and winners of the awards for dramatic mediums are all hit movies and t.v. shows. They are all popular and commercial. And they are not written fiction, so they can’t be literary either.

    In short, that particular puppies’ argument makes no sense.

  44. ‘Allo ‘Allo @Nighthawk. Listen very carefully, I shall say this only once… (Okay, I am so sorry, I just thought “when am I going to get another opportunity to do that joke? and had to go for it”)
    Anyway. I’d like to believe that the majority of those signing up for supporting memberships are people that object to the Hugos being hijacked by the SRPs and are going to vote them down. I want to believe that. I wouldn’t put real money on it (aside from my own 40$ of course). The SRP arm of Gamer Gate are scenting blood and those guys are crazy and 40$ is well within their means. They know how to vote too. I think it’ll be either a very narrow win for non-slate fans or it could even be a total rout with GG-SRPs romping away. I want to be very wrong, but I really don’t see a comfortable win for people that dislike slates. Mainly because there is not the conspiracy that the SRPs claim there is on behalf of SJWs, and also because there is a very real and concerted effort to give these imagined SJW cabals a kick in the metaphorical teeth from the SRPs and GGers.
    The narrative that we shouldn’t worry and it’ll be the same as it was before when the church of happyology tried it ignores the social and technological changes that have taken place since. It is a lot easier for a mass campaign to dominate the results now. I also worry that too many people are determined to show that it isn’t going to worry them and are brandishing around the idea that we should ignore slates (with apologies to our host, who shares this opinion, sorry John) and vote on merit as before. I feel this is merely playing into the SRPs hands. It is a true and great thing to stick to your principles when everyone else is playing fair, because the first person to act in bad faith is a rat and no doubt about it, but once the ratting starts the only two options are walk away and let the nest fester or root them out forcefully. Now that the SRPs have acted in bad faith with the slate and the mass voting (technically legal, yes, but still a bad faith move) judging on merit is like choosing which plate of shit served in front of you looks the most appetising.
    I’ll be voting No Award for No Slate. I hope the rules do get changed, because I don’t see this tide of disgusting behaviour that has driven the Sad Rabid Puppies and the Gamer Gaters going away anytime soon.

    Of course I still boggle at the idea something cannot be literary enough for an award. Especially in Science Fiction where claiming to be both old school and an anti-intellectualist is just an oxymoron.

  45. Perhaps the SP/RP can get themselves sponsored by Jack In The Box. After all, they have experience in packaging shit for human consumption…

  46. Let’s also remember the retro Hugos given to Heinlein, another datum contradicting the statement, “Heinlein couldn’t win a Hugo today because SJW!”

    Ignoring altogether the fact that Robert A. Heinlein pretty much defies pigeonholing into any one convenient little box of ideology in any case.

    I Like Arby’s. I LOVE McDonald’s Sugar Free Vanilla Iced Coffee.

    As far as burger joints go, of the ones available to me where I live, I prefer 5 guys. But due to things like my health, I try to avoid burgers except as an occasional treat. It is possible to eat RELATIVELY healthy (for values of healthy) at a fast food joint if you work at it. But a salad is hard to eat while driving. Although the new wraps work pretty well.

  47. For me,Taco Bell and McD’s are usually the last choice for fast food, but I really hate the Arby’s “We have the meats” campaign.

  48. This is another case of only being aware of USA chain restaurants via pop culture…

    The daily show has perhaps skewed my impression of Arby’s somewhat (McDonald’s is of course ubiquitous but loses out to the much much more expensive burger fuel here if only because BF actually offer decent vegetarian options).

    Surely no food can be as bad as the daily show makes Arby’s out to be?

  49. I’m thinking Scalzi’s work is more like a casual dining place (chilli’s, applebees) than fast food. It’s still fast and accessible and fills you up, but not something that you feel guilty about later.

  50. Wait, I’m a vegetarian. Does that mean I’m not allowed to like Scalzi?

    Hmm, I seem to be confused. I’m just going to decide that I AM allowed to like Scalzi, but not Torgersen, Wright, or “North” Correia. In fact, just as I won’t even taste a RB sandwich (and yes, that’s where that comes from) I won’t even OPEN a book by one of those three.

    Five Guys has the best fries, but they don’t have a veggie burger. Johnny Rockets does, and their fries are at least passable.

  51. A couple of months ago, I addressed the Puppy claim that the Hugos were recognizing boring, obscure literary works and ignoring popular works that appealed to the mass audience by pointing out to Puppymaster Brad Torgersen on Facebook that a quick glance at the past 5-6 years of Hugo ballot reveals that 60% of the writers on the Best Novel ballot were hardcover NYT bestsellers–i.e. big sales, hugely commercial novels, much broad appeal.

    His lengthy reply indicated that these were not the RIGHT SORT of NYT bestsellers, so they didn’t count.

    He also explained that if I looked at the short fiction ballots, I’d see a very different balance. The fact that this is because short fiction is not a commercial market in the US and has a small, dedicated genre audience rather than a broad commercial one did occur to me as an obvious reason for that… but no doubt my attempt to apply logic and reason to the matter merely indicates that I just don’t don’t understand what constitutes the RIGHT SORT of short fiction (which, based on this year’s ballot, means “published by Castalia House or Analog”).

  52. I would like to see the look on the face of a harvard professer if a PhD student presented his disertation comparing John Scalzi to Shakespeare. It would be classic.

  53. “That said: I’m not sure anyone would rank Arby’s over McDonald’s.”
    That was my first thought!
    And my second thought was: “I am a terrible person.”

  54. one of the things that continues to confound me about the “most of the Avengers audience would hate the novels that win Hugos” argument is that most of that audience don’t read, period. Not even the funnybooks that were the source for the movies. So why would anyone judge quality of books from the presumed opinions of an audience who wouldn’t read them in any case?

  55. @rfyorkinpdx …which immediately made my brain go, “boy, you got a purty book…”

  56. also, how are books ‘too literary’? Does this mean SF needs to be written on cocktail napkins?

    Anyways, haven’t they read Heinlein? or Azimov? or Clark? or Herbert? If those aren’t ‘literary’, then nothing in SF will ever be.

  57. @Guess: plenty of us out here in academia (PhD in Renaissance Lit, here) are quite happy to acknowledge that Shakespeare was a populist writer, and wrote what he thought people wanted, and Scalzi says he does the same.

  58. Sapience, I’m reminded of the scene in Star Trek Saves the Whales where Kirk says he knows all about the 20th Century because he was raised on the classics…and cites Jacqueline Susann as an example.

  59. Reader, I chorfed.

    It’s my belief that “chorf” is going to turn into a classic, like “santorum.” And like “santorum,” “chorf” is not going to end up meaning what its original proponents intended it to mean.

    (The opposite of words like “santorum” and — I predict — “chorf,” are the words like “chortled” which also become instant classics but which aren’t forcibly torn out of the grasp of their inventors.)

  60. The real trouble with ranking Arby’s and McDonald’s on the same scale is, of course, that it’s not an apples-and-apples comparison…

    Arby’s doesn’t serve burgers. We will not wade into the debate as to whether they actually serve roast beef. Some minefields are just too dangerous…. I will admit, however, to liking their potato cakes, even as I admit that they are disastrously unhealthy. As for McD’s, the new(ish) line of chicken wraps actually isn’t bad.

    Jack Lint: In fact, McD’s is test-marketing all-day breakfast in a couple of areas nationally, with plans to roll it out nationwide if the testing goes well. Your hash browns are nearer at hand than you think.

    Aurora Celeste: With the possible exceptions of Taco Bell and Dairy Queen, none of the national fast food chains are actually Way Cheaper anymore, at least not here in Oregon — where, I should note, we have the nation’s second-highest minimum wage. Indeed, the high end of fast food and the low end of full service are rapidly intersecting — for the same $12, I can have lunch at Five Guys (double bacon burger, fries, soda) or the local Italian chain three blocks away across the street (choice of $7.50 lunch specials, soda, tip).

  61. The Arby’s potato cake is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. McD’s fries haven’t been as good since they went vegetarian, though of course they are still the best.

    One wonders where In N Out comes on this scale of sublime beef-dom. One ponders cheeseburgers for dinner.

  62. @sapience that implies that some day in the future when the english language has changed to the point where books written today are barely comprehensible. Teenagers of the future will have to suffer through redshirts. Then write papers analyzing it. Instead of reading it they will buy cliff notes and talk about how teachers make them read boring crap written by dead white males.

    I hated shakedpeare.

  63. Then large groups of stick up intellectuals will have literary debates debating the Correian literary reformation vs. the Scalzian old guard.

    Yes in the future students will still need college degrees so they will still be forced to pay the salaries of useless academics.

  64. I saw one puppy comment somewhere that described “John Scalzi is an author of Star Trek fanfiction.”

    Now, I guess that they missed out on the fact that “50 Shades of Gray” started out as “Twilight” fanfiction, but that is neither here nor there.

    But also too, doesn’t that indicate that John writes the kind of cheesy, popular, non-literary stuff they claim to like? I mean, really?

    BTW, I write fanfiction for a movie that was on last year’s ballot (which stunned me, because I couldn’t have imagined it as Hugo eligible. It lost to ‘Gravity’, so no hard feelings.) and I find I really enjoy writing fanfiction. I will never, ever, win any sort of an award for it, but it’s enjoyable. So I don’t consider ‘fanfiction’ an insult.

    Let’s see, if now!Shakespeare is a 5-star restaurant, and some science fiction is a nice locavore restaurant, and Scalzi writes Applebee’s, then Correia writes Panera Bread and Teddy Beale is still a dumpster out back.

  65. The term “college hairshirt” has come up a few times in this recent discussion of literary versus good ol’ fashioned SF/F. I googled the term, but aside from the reference to the old Catholic practice of wearing a hair shirt as penance for sin, I’m not coming up with anything. I don’t understand the connection to colleges. Are they implying that people pursue higher education and/or read literary fiction to atone for sins or something?

  66. I wrote both my Master’s thesis and my PhD dissertation on Heinlein. I teach Stranger in my American Masterpieces class. Does that make Heinlein too “literary” for the puppies now?

  67. Lurkertype:

    McD’s fries haven’t been as good since they went vegetarian

    Wait wait wait. When did that happen?!?!? I thought they were still injected with beef fat!

    Are they really vegetarian (that is, fried in a separate fryer from the McNuggets etc)?


    I hated shakedpeare.

    Oh, heavens. You were taught Shakespeare badly. VERY badly, if the only thing they did was make you READ it. Done properly, teenagers will totally get Romeo and Juliet, for example. Watch the modernized version with Leonardo Dicaprio and Clare Danes. Turn on the caption decoder; it will help to see some words as they’re being spoken.

    A Midsummer Night’s Dream is also wonderful fun. I never got to see the Brazilian version done at the Public Theatre, with all the humans in drab clothes and the fairies in fantastikal arrays of feathers and so on.

    Seriously, reading Shakespeare should be done only AFTER you’ve seen it produced. If it’s spoiled for you forever, that’s tragic, but understandable.

  68. Shakespeare needs to be heard as read by someone who knows how to read it. It then becomes magical.

  69. @Guess: I would like to see the look on the face of a harvard professer if a PhD student presented his disertation comparing John Scalzi to Shakespeare.

    I got a maybe-similar look when I told my high school English teacher that I’d discussed a Michael Crichton novel when I took the AP exam.

  70. QUIM.


    A quim is soft, playful and has no hard consonants; it is quixotic, rhymes with “whim” and could never be used malice. A quim is playful, and needs playing with, and oozes friendliness at every pronunciation. It starts with a pout and ends with a smile, and has the tongue placed at all times in the ready position.

    Shakespeare was a genius, just badly misunderstood.

  71. John, the previous post “Back to Ohio” has started throwing warnings at me about being insecure. I think it’s a temporary glitch. WordPress may need burping.

    @Techgrrl72: Scalzi deserves better than Applebee’s! Teddy is the dumpster out back of the restaurant that always fails health code inspections.

    @John C. Bunnell: difference being that the fast food/fast casual is still going to be the same price at dinner hour as it was as lunch, which the sit-down and be served restaurants aren’t. That’s where the price disparity comes in. Your Five Guys is still going to be $12 at 8 PM, whereas the Italian place is going to go up to at least $15. And I am still going to In N Out tonight, because Double Double ($6.75 for combo).


    But to the point: really, truly “lit’rary” stuff doesn’t win Hugos, because it doesn’t appeal to a wide range of voters. We like entertainment first. “Avengers” won b/c we like us some ‘splosions and fights. Sure, there was probably some low-budget European movie that had deep things to say about technology and the future, but we didn’t see it, because we had Robert Downey Jr. in a metal suit exchanging quips with Tom Hiddleston, and what would you rather spend your $10 on? (Aside: “Avengers” isn’t SJW at all: the heroes are almost all SWM, one’s a billionaire, and the one woman on the team spends all her time in a leather catsuit. Very un-SJW. I still like it.)

    Really baffling, brain-hurty stuff doesn’t get on the ballot because it doesn’t sell well enough for Joe Average Fan to bother getting it and finishing it. It doesn’t sell enough ads to make it worthwhile for the short fiction magazines. The stuff in the pro categories is, by definition, commercial, accessible fiction. Mike Resnick doesn’t have a bazillion Hugos for writing Srs Bzness, he writes interesting stories that people enjoy.

    Was Sir Arthur C. writing for the ages? Nope, he wanted ripping tales of science and all it got him was beloved, fame, fortune, and a knighthood. Asimov wrote like paper grew on trees (erm), and all it got him was ditto minus the “Sir”. RAH wrote to make money (and sometimes to make a sociological point, providing it would also make money), and all it got him was etc.

    I think the Pups have moved their goal posts so many times they’re not sure where they are any more. So they’re going with “everything from Our Side is a win! You get a trophy, and you get a trophy just for being you, and we’re all winners!” Dangerously SJW, that sort of thinking.

  72. Ms. Resnick:

    His lengthy reply indicated that these were not the RIGHT SORT of NYT bestsellers, so they didn’t count.

    What in the world does that even mean? All New York Times bestsellers count as NYT bestsellers. And as far as I’m aware, Tergersen isn’t a NYT bestseller of any sort. People who are NYT bestsellers seldom spend their time writing short fiction for small SFF magazines. Again, it’s nonsense. They all sound like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland.

    Xopher: Vegetarian Hindus had been eating the fries, found out that they had beef fat in them and were very upset about what they considered false advertising. So McDonalds took that out of the fries.

    The fries at 5 Guys are better though. I can avoid fries, though. It’s the places with onion rings that do me in.

  73. Aww, JS – people are lusting after burgers in this thread, I lust after words.

    And, I challenge you (playfully) to find a more friendly and inviting word as that for said body part in modern day vernacular. All of them are harsh, nasty or Latinate, or slang for foods or dripping bits of flesh.

    But, of course: Americans are a little bit prudish. Impishly, I shall demure. (But… it’s a brilliant word and says so much about modern convention).

    “The fringed curtains of thine eye advance,
    And say what thou seest yond.”

  74. wagnerel: I think the “college hairshirt” analogy (and I have heard it, or the equivalent, elsewhere) comes from the idea that Academics read literature and make their suffering students read literature that’s Good For You (you know, like vegetables), rather than stuff that’s fun. Therefore, anything “literary” becomes something that’s painful to read, a mortification of the flesh, rather than a work read for pleasure. If you can follow the logic?

    I’ve never bought it, myself. Sure, there are stories I read as pure brain candy and stories I pay more attention to, but if I’m going to read it, I’m going to enjoy it–or I’m not going to read it.

  75. Xopher: the “natural beef flavor” in the fries is actually made from hydrolized milk and wheat now. At least in the US, other countries vary. You still might get a kid throwing the fries into the McNugget oil, but generally the fries get their own bucket of canola oil. Anyway, there’s no real beef in the fries nowadays, which does make them slightly less tasty than they used to be.

    John: my Reader page of Blogs I Follow apparently went https: for a few minutes there, only for you. All better now.

    Kat Goodwin: You have finally said something of which I do not approve. HERESY indeed.

  76. In regard to SF-related Shakespeare, years ago my charming spouse and I saw the Tempest on Broadway with Patrick Stewart. It was pretty darn good, even if he didn’t say “Make it so” even once.

    And I’m waiting to see if anyone responds to the “college hairshirt” question, since I’ve never heard the term at all, and now I’m curious too.

  77. I had a lovely burger and sweet potato fries for dinner because of you guys. I suppose thanks are in order for the menu prompt.

    @Kat Goodwin
    I think the reason the 5 Guys fries taste good is they use peanut oil.

  78. @wagnerel, on “college hairshirts”:

    My own framing of the “literary vs. popular” dichotomy is a little different; I refer to it as the Breakfast Cereal Theory of Literature. There are, in this construction, two kinds of fiction just as there are two kinds of breakfast cereal.

    First, there are those deemed to be Good For You, having been made with whole grains and/or fortified with vitamins and minerals (Total, GrapeNuts, original Cheerios, unfrosted Shredded Wheat) or containing important themes, messages, and/or redeeming social value (“Paradise Lost”, Moby Dick, Heart of Darkness, War and Peace). It’s widely considered a given that such works are not actually any fun to read, much as my father will tell you that Shredded Wheat (or, indeed, Grape Nuts) taste much the same as the boxes they come in.

    Then there are those that taste good, having been made with sugar, cocoa, “fruity flavor”, and so forth, which are certainly Not Good For You and which your parents claim will rot your teeth (Lucky Charms, Cap’n Crunch, Cookie Crisp, Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs*) On the prose side, they’re often referred to as “popcorn”, and regarded as escapist reading (most of Mercedes Lackey’s books, David Weber’s Honor Harrington series, the Twilight novels, etc.).

    This starts to break down, of course, when you get down to cases. As noted above, Shakespeare is usually cited as belonging to the Good For You category, but anyone who’s actually seen one or two good productions can testify that he’s also entertaining as h*ll. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books are widely counted as both hilarious and topical, depending on who you talk to. And then there’s Our Host, who likewise can be legitimately double-shelved in both the “Good For You” and “Tastes Good” sections of the cereal aisle.

    Nonetheless, there remains an enduring mythological belief that, just as any breakfast cereal that actually tastes good can’t possibly be good for you, no work of fiction that readers find entertaining can possibly contain Redeeming Social Value (and vice versa).

  79. Kat: The fries at 5 Guys are better though.

    Hear, hear. (See, no one noticed when I said the same thing.) They give you a huge portion, the potatoes are fresh, and the Cajun spice is to die for.

    THEY are the heretics, not us! Time to nail feces to the door of the…

    What? OH.

    Time to nail theses to the door.

    (In reality I leave the feces-nailing, and -throwing, and -writing, to the Sad Rabies.)

  80. So wait a minute. If the college hairshirt metaphor applies to works which aren’t fun to read but which are ‘good for you’, does that mean that all the people who read and voted for Ancillary Justice or Redshirts or Among Others DIDN’T ACTUALLY LIKE those books?

    My head is spinning. Have I been somehow transported to Bizarro World? And if so, why am I not all craggy and faceted looking?

  81. You know my problem with Redshirts was that it’s intertextual critique of Star Trek and TV Sci-fi in general was not sharp enough, and the points it did examine were not considered very deeply. Scalzi showed some literary ability (see for example the structure of the three codas) but very little ambition. So for literariness I can only give it a C+.

    Or is that my problem with Arby’s?

  82. pixlaw, exactly. And you’re not craggy and faceted because it’s the Puppies who are the Bizarros, not you.

  83. I had a girlfriend who grew up in a really crappy little town where the two restaurants were an Arby’s and a McDonald’s and, for lots of sociological (and meth-using) reasons, she was apparently the only competent worker available to these franchise owners, clean, industrious and prompt. So she took a part-time job in each, made herself indispensible to them both, and managed to start a bidding war to the point she was drawing more than twice her starting wage.

    This has nothing to do with much, except whenever I compare the two, I must relay this anecdote.

  84. The 5-Guys burgers are great, the fries are only good.

    I use to live less than a mile from the original 5-Guys (when they were just one store). Stopped in with the wife for a burger and was thoroughly unimpressed. It was a sad, grey little piece of meat with way too much pepper. Didn’t have another one for years until they were all over town and had gotten much better.

    BTW is Fuddrucker’s still around?

  85. @Lurkertype, on fast food vs. full service pricing:

    True, the regular dinner (and lunch) menus at >my chosen Italian place are a bit pricier — but there are also ongoing specials even at the dinner hour that compete more or less evenly with the high end of the fast food chain. And here’s the thing: I’m not really even giving Pastini enough credit, because the true “low end” of the full service market is probably more accurately portrayed by Denny’s and IHOP and the like, and those places’ prices really do compete about evenly with my Five Guys example.

    I think my larger observation, though, stands — namely, that in absolute terms, there’s much less of a gap now between “fast food” and “full service” than there used to be. Indeed, in industry terms there are now three tiers: “fast food” (McD’s, BK, Arby’s), “quick casual” (Qdoba, Panera, Five Guys), and “full service”. And when a meal at Panera or Five Guys runs $10 to $12, while much the same meal at Red Robin or Applebee’s runs $13 to $15 including tip, the lesson I take from that is that the gap between “quick casual” and “full service” is getting awfully narrow.

  86. Yes, pixlaw, that’s exactly what it means. According to the Puppies, all voting for AJ was a result of affirmative action, not any liking for the book. As for voting for REDSHIRTS, well apparently Scalzi is a thrid-degree SJW, so all SJWs had to vote for him, no matter what the felt about the book.

  87. EVERYTHING is better at 5 Guys!!

    Black Hole Spotted. It has begun.

    Join me, and I will complete your training.

    For the peanut gallery: our way is beyond the VD. (VD DV, mirror reversion – ahh, it hurts do it in your mimetic space, it’s so….crass these days). I know you’re not Dominionists, and we know you value truth, no matter your lack of perspective.

    There is a Golden Path. We Await. That moment when you transform from puppy to wolf, and then to human but with sharp, pointy teeth. Not the altar of G_D, but humanity you will fight for.

    @Thread: no, they’re not your adversaries. They’re your future allies. The majority want truth and nothing more – ask yourself why they fight. Then, see the future as I do.

  88. @ Kat Goodwin: “What in the world does that even mean?”

    Well, he did write a long and detailed reply explaining, on an author by author basis… all of which boiled down to, they didn’t count because they weren’t his sort of author.

    On that basis, I can confidently assert that Toni Morrison’s and Nadine Gordimer’s Nobel Prizes for literature DON’T COUNT, since -I- don’t like their writing.

    Similarly, none of the Oscars for THE HURT LOCKER count, since I found that film bearly unwatchable.

    Hmm… this could be a very satisfying exercise. Maybe I will form a Feisty Kitten campaign…

  89. @Cthulu Re: quim. I agree. The biggest drawback is that it is not a legal word in Words With Friends.

    @james c. Bunell there is a third category of cereal, as we discovered in our youth: Healthy enough to get past mom, yet tasty enough to fight over who gets the last serving. cereal wise it would be Honey Nut Cheerios, Golden Grahams, Life. Literature wise? Say Jack London, Harper Lee and Hmm, Jane Austen or Bram Stoker. Enough pedigree for the high school PTA but not as dry and gravelly as Grape Nuts or Nate Hawthorne.

  90. GinjerB:

    “all voting for AJ was a result of affirmative action, not any liking for the book.”

    One does wonder how that explains its Nebula Award. Or its Locus Award. Or its Clarke Award…

  91. pixlaw: that is basically the argument the Puppies are making: they can’t really enjoy them, and if they say they do, they must be lying. (Never mind that Leckie’s quadrifecta should show anyone that it was widely popular well beyond the Hugos).

    As an aside, 99% of “literary” works reached that status because they were popular and/or strongly enjoyed – even books by authors like Richardson, Fielding, Hardy, and, yes, Joyce.

  92. I am beginning to agree with those who think this was all a clever marketing ploy to sell more associate memberships.

  93. John Scalzi: “Shakespeare made up more words than I make up (not counting alien species names).”

    Could you remind me which alien species names Shakespeare made up? I need it for a paper that’s due tomorrow.

  94. Re: quim. I agree. The biggest drawback is that it is not a legal word in Words With Friends.

    Nice snark, a little meak though.

    The largest lesson Shakespeare teaches us is that language cannot be policed. Make it broad enough, popular enough and commercial enough, it’s now part of your lexicon.

    It also has the hidden advantage that if everyone starts using the word “quim“, the traditionalists can’t complain that it has no history.

    Some time I’m going to actually start teaching mimetic warfare: for all the claims of the VD clan, you’re rubbish at it.

  95. Stewart was RSC a long time before American TV

    For those fans of Shakespeare who are reading this, who are not familiar with it, run – do not walk – and check out a series called ‘Playing Shakespeare’ by John Barton and the RSC. It features (among others, Captain Picard, M, Gandalf, and Gadhi)

  96. John, I have liked all of your books that I’ve read. But I consider them “frothy fun”, not deep liiterary works of message fiction. The closest you came to message fiction for me was Fuzzy Nation, but it felt very Heinleinian to me, so that was cool (and besides, I like a bit of message with my fiction). And AJ wasn’t my cup of tea, but I could see its quality despite that.

    Throwing a temper tantrum because *stuff I like* didn’t make the ballot is the act of a child or a narcissist. Insisting “they made me do it” is *also* the act of a child or a narcissist. When I said this using a whole lot more words on my own blog, I got sealioned for days, and there has been a sudden upswing in attempts to hack my website (thank goodness for good software). Not at all related, of course.

  97. @scalzi:

    “One does wonder how that explains its Nebula Award. Or its Locus Award. Or its Clarke

    Oh my god, the conspiracy! It grows!!!!1111!!!!!!! It’s all across fandom and must be cut out lest my manly manliness is impugned!!!eleventy


    Or something similar, I guess.

  98. *drops by Whatever while taking a break from studying, for the first time in a long time*

    *reads last week of posts*

    *reads this post and comments thread*

    *enjoys good hearty chuckle and fuzzy feels*

    Ahh, thanks, Mr. Scalzi. I needed that. Especially in the middle of the soul-crushing desert known as exam season.

    On Shakespeare: I love Shakespeare dearly, and my favorite of his plays is the Comedy of Errors. I cannot sit through any half-decent performance of it without breaking down into gales of laughter. Midsummer’s good too, for the wordplay. Twelfth Night is a pleasant comedy by itself, but I’ve seen it performed excellently with Orsino as a closeted gay man and Viola as a preoperative transsexual–the actress who played Viola really played the “I am a man” line beautifully. Richard II is a mediocre play by itself, but Sir Patrick Stewart’s John of Gaunt in the BBC TV version is a beautiful thing to behold. Henry IV.1 is probably the greatest play ever made–certainly the most Klingon. :D

    In short–don’t diss Shakespeare. He’s cool. :D

    Xopher: Five Guys fries are the one and only way that I can eat potatoes without physically gagging. Which says a lot, if you know me.

    On the topic of the Hugo madness: I refuse to associate with anyone who would seriously nominate RSHD for any sort of serious recognition other than some sort of certification of assholeishness. Because frankly, that disgusting little boy is a pathetic little bigot with no redeeming features, and the people who hang out with them…yeah, not worth my time. I have little enough as it is, with college and all.

    @ John C. Bunnell: I broadly agree with what you said, but I have to say…most of the “good for you” stuff started as “tastes good”. To the point that I at least seriously doubt the veracity of a claim that something’s good for you if it doesn’t taste good as well, at least with writing.

    Shakespeare, for example, was the Guillermo del Toro, or maybe Peter Jackson, of his day. He wrote some really awesome stuff that was really popular. And…well, he hit some really important stuff in between the penis jokes, fart jokes, sex jokes, and executions. And Falstaff.

    Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov” is generally considered to be the perfect novel not because it’s old and Russian, but because it’s…well, besides being an insight into the culture of Russia at the time, the story’s a gripping read, and the tale of the Grand Inquisitor…yeah. It’s long, sure, and very Russian, but still the ultimate pinnacle of literary accomplishment.

    Of course, a lot of the “tastes good” stuff is pure sugar and has no nutrients beneath, but…well, it’s FUN to see Raghunath Rao beat seventeen kinds of shit out of Venandakatra the Vile in the Belisarius series. It may not make a point about society or human nature, but it’s soooo cathartic to see that bastard get PWNed. And that’s fine. It’s perfectly fine to enjoy cheesy stuff like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Lovecraft, or…well, most SFF. Literary or not, they’re mostly fine books, well-written and generally worth the time to read them. There’s nothing wrong at all with reading and enjoying a well-written gratuitous space opera, or such a thing winning a Hugo…just as there’s no problem with reading and enjoying a Brandon Sanderson book, or one of those doorstoppers winning a Hugo. (It’s past time–Sanderson deserved a Hugo for coming up with Nightblood at the very least)

    The Rabid Kittens, or whatever they’re calling themselves this week, though…well, I tried one Larry Correia book once, and said “nah” on page 3. And I made it through 3 whole chapters of “Fifty shades of gray” before I threw up*, so the fact that I tossed that book aside after 3 pages says a lot.

    Hell, I read “Twilight” cover-to-cover in a desperate attempt to find something worthwhile in it. I watched all of “Star Trek: Enterprise”, including that appallingly odious episode in season one where they play Tucker getting date-r***d for comedy (though I did spend thirteen minutes in a state of mute, horrified stupefaction after that one**). I saw VOY: “Threshold” and “Tattoo” without screaming expletives for over two hours total.***

    But Larry Correia…eh, just not worth the time. Poorly-written, offensive in just about every possible way, the plots aren’t so much “reliant on copious suspension of disbelief and phlebotonium” as they are “soul-suckingly obvious plot holes”, and just impossible to read in general.

    Kind of like RSHD, really. Sad little man-child who thinks he’s somebody.

    tl;dr: the Stench Weasels, or whatever they’re called, are a bunch of sad little bigoted men pushing a bigoted agenda under the cover of responding to a problem that doesn’t really exist. Mr. Scalzi is absolutely right to oppose them.

    *Physically. All over my new shoes. I wasn’t even sick, either. It’s a long story, but I won $1000 from it. Bought me my textbooks for this semester.

    **My best friend was drugged and date-***ed last semester. I spent several hours the next morning taking her to the health center and dealing with the ensuing mess when she called me, from a room that wasn’t hers, crying that she didn’t remember the last twelve hours. I really, really, really don’t like it when violations like that are trivialized.

    ***It was one hour and fifty-nine minutes total. I may have called the writer of “Tattoo” a “f***ing racist” seven hundred times. I may have threatened to reach through the TV screen and do violent things to Brannon Braga for coming up with “Threshold”. I may have bleached out my brain afterwards.

  99. When I said this using a whole lot more words on my own blog, I got sealioned for days, and there has been a sudden upswing in attempts to hack my website (thank goodness for good software).

    Why am I not surprised?

  100. Re: bizarre literature analyses. In high school English, I wrote a paper comparing The Fountainhead and the Foundation novels. I sincerely hope it has not been preserved anywhere.

    (I also wrote a paper comparing and contrasting Poe and Pound. Junior year was weird, man.)

  101. Where did Sad Puppies ever allege that Scalzi’s works are “too literary”?

    As has been pointed out over and over, Dan, the ‘literary snobs pick the Hugos’ argument was made by none other than the Most Dramatic Puppy himself on his Sad Puppies 3 rant:

    In other words, while the big consumer world is at the theater gobbling up the latest Avengers movie, “fandom” is giving “science fiction’s most prestigious award” to stories and books that bore the crap out of the people at the theater: books and stories long on “literary” elements (for all definitions of “literary” that entail: what college hairshirts are fawning over this decade) while being entirely too short on the very elements that made Science Fiction and Fantasy exciting and fun in the first place!

  102. I don’t get the hate from people like “Floored by Scalzi’s Awesomeness” who, read, quote, “three pages” of Larry Correia’s first book and yet magically can say something like this: “But Larry Correia…eh, just not worth the time. Poorly-written, offensive in just about every possible way, the plots aren’t so much “reliant on copious suspension of disbelief and phlebotonium” as they are “soul-suckingly obvious plot holes”, and just impossible to read in general.”

    Ironically, this is exactly the kind of shitty behavior that got Larry annoyed to begin with. To paraphrase him: If you don’t like his books, fine. If you like his books, fine. But don’t *not* read his books and then pretend you know that they’re bad anyway because you don’t like him as a person for whatever imaginary reason you might have.

    This is fundamentally dishonest behavior, and you should be ashamed of yourself.

    I don’t think either Correia’s works or Scalzi’s works are “literature” in the sort of master wordsmith sense of the word, but they’re both entertaining to read, even though they’re on different sides of the political spectrum. It’s the sign of an educated mind to be able to read works by authors who disagree with you politically and not have your head explode.

  103. I see what you did there – “it’s funny because it’s true” is a frequent Homerism, and the quality (or not) of the food at Arby’s shows up in the Simpson’s episode “Das Bus”, a spoof of Golding where a bus load of Springfield kids get stranded on a desert island and they go all Lord of the Flies. As they grow hungry and things descend into chaos, Sherri (or possibly Terri) is heard to remark, “I’m so hungry I could eat at Arby’s!” I reconcile the gap between the literary and the populist, thus.

  104. Shakauvm:

    I’ve noted before I found Correia’s work perfectly entertaining. And while you have a cogent point, I do think there’s an argument for reading someone only until the point you realize they’re not working for you. There are some books I can’t get out of the first chapter with; I don’t mind telling people they’re not for me.

  105. All I knows is, summer is coming and that means McD’s chocolate dipped cones will be available soon

  106. And I made it through 3 whole chapters of “Fifty shades of gray” before I threw up

    There’s a really tasteless joke here about BDSM and 2 cups. Or an even worse nod to a “MILF” from mid America teasing you with erotica, some cheap fluffy handcuffs from Amazon and her lessened, ill-thought out and twisted version of sexuality (by the men in her life) before the entire Baudrillard simulacra of constructed erotica hit you with the reality of the situation.

    That moment when you realized: “This person is just performing a ritual, and can’t actually engage authentically with the act“.

    Yeah, our kind can do that without remorse. And no, it’s not a 4chan joke, it’s more a meta-awareness of what your mental processes are doing.

    Not many get this: then again, not many know our struggle. (Hint: wait till 2:20, and know the film).



  107. “One does wonder how that explains its Nebula Award. Or its Locus Award. Or its Clarke Award…”

    Clearly it’s SJW cabals all the way down…

    I struggle to understand the Puppies. These are writers right? Who make a living from writing fiction, that is, creative works of the imagination?

    Yet don’t seem to grok that stories can be more than one thing. Or that people can have different tastes. Or when other people tell you they enjoy something you hate, they are not lying. It’s like they have never met other people who have different opinions to theirs.

  108. Not quoting the rest because it’s really not worth it and it’s late and I’m tired and I have a Bio final in the morning.

    I don’t think either Correia’s works or Scalzi’s works are “literature” in the sort of master wordsmith sense of the word, but they’re both entertaining to read, even though they’re on different sides of the political spectrum. It’s the sign of an educated mind to be able to read works by authors who disagree with you politically and not have your head explode.

    Y’know, just off the top of my head, I adore Tom Clancy. Sure, he’s pretty much the opposite of me politically–I’m a socialist, progressive in a low-key way, not a huge fan of the military in general. But I can’t deny that he writes a cracking good thriller, and I’m very sad that he’s dead.

    Correia, on the other hand–I’ve only read three pages of one of his solo novels, but I’ve seen some of his other stuff, including a book he did with someone else. All were drek.

    And hearing that he has been promoting RSHD and is now trying frantically to get away from the aura of feces…well, color me unsurprised. I’d frankly be more surprised to hear that John Ringo wrote a book where Earth’s only defense against marauding aliens is a bunch of rejuvenated Nazi stormtroopers.

    And yes, I read that one. It was…pretty bad. I made it halfway through.

  109. The reference to different kinds of fast foods reminded me of this HORRENDOUS headline from the Total Journalistic Quality Wall Street Journal a few days ago:

    When I was a kid in the 1960s, my dad liked to take the family for a quick meal to Arby’s, because it was “Roast Beef”, not Burgers. He also loved a couple of the kitchiest expensive restaurants in the L.A. area for an “expensive night out” (Trader Vic’s? Come on.) Still, I grew up with a taste for the Tater Cakes and Horsey Sauce (and Trader Vic’s Coco Shrimp).

  110. shaukuvm: don’t *not* read his books and then pretend you know that they’re bad anyway

    I buy books based off recommendations and reviews and awards and a bit of some sample text from page 1. Once I buy a book, it gets about two hours from me to convince me. At a page a minute, that means that by the time I reach page 100+, if I’m still not engaged, I’m done.

    Other people can choose their own cutoff limit based on their own personal preference. But if a book doesn’t grab a reader, and the reader has hit their threshold, then that’s their choice. And if it doesn’t grab them, they are free to report that it didn’t grab them.

  111. As far as I can tell, both Scalzi and Nicoll toil daily in the snark mines. Both are pretty good at it, but OGH is more open and effective at doing it as a business.

  112. I have spent the last month reading encyclopedia volumes to the local hydroelectric dam and have finally found myself ready to speak Truth to Power. Given this, I can now say:

    John Scalzi, you are a MONSTER.

    The pups are looking at this all wrong. They don’t see the true scope of your evil.

    After having finally wrested the Hugo Dictatorship Crown from Harlan Ellison in a controversially decided bareknuckle match back in 2005, all those in the know fully understand that YOU and YOU ALONE decide who gets a Hugo.

    While the pups bang their drums regarding all those who have benefited from your malevolent rule, they miss the true victims here – all the OTHER people that you demanded your enslaved hordes put up for Hugo nominations.

    Since you control all stages of the Hugos and oh-so-carefully mind-control people to suggest your nominees on “open Hugo threads”, you must know that those impressionable, fresh-faced writers like Misters Torgesson and Carrera* would get their hopes up after being briefly warmed by the solar rays of your notice.

    Even more monstrous is those that you openly suggest on your website that DON”T EVEN BECOME A FINALIST.** Some may simply hand-wave this away as “right-thinking-free-people” managing to wrest a few nominee places from your titanic grasp, but even THEY don’t fully understand how truly evil you are.

    It logically follows that, as YOU control all things Hugo, then YOU are the one who allowed the S\RP nominees to become finalists. While someone without enough layers of aluminum above their brains may think that you are doing this in a sick, cat-toying-with-a-mouse, “false option”, similee-collapsing-a-sentence-into-a-singularity-under-the-weight-of-all-the-hyphens-and-commas, 35-xanatos-pileup maneuver, even THEY do not grasp your true EVIL.


    * If the pups aren’t going to do basic fact-checking, neither am I.

    ** It’s even more true, because it’s in ALL-CAPS.


  113. Well, this may make you think twice about eating those fries, at least in the US
    However, my thoughts have turned to the Internet Olympics

    Proposed events
    Passing the Buck
    Derailing the Thread (my nomination is in)
    Trolling, in categories from
    Flyweight (you suck!)
    to Ultra-Heavyweight (I’m going to kill you, eat your liver, and throw up on your mother’s shoes)
    Hop, Skip, and Troll

    Doubtless you can come up with others.


  114. What exactly is literary SF/F? I did a quick google search and got lists of SF/F greats. Enjoyed the ones I read, but didn’t realize they were literary. More google-fu says there is a specific political/social/human issue written into the story. That’s what I love about SF/F, that you can explore current issues through a different lens.

    Shakespeare is brought up as a parallel, but he wrote to be accessible as possible since everyone was allowed at the Globe Theatre.

  115. Literary SF/F authors: Wolfe, Catling, Grossman, at least.

    There’s an appreciation of Wolfe in the current New Yorker. Catling’s The Vorrh was heavily praised when it was published by a small publisher, but has just been released by Vintage in North America. Grossman’s Magician trilogy is well-respected (and Grossman was the author who beat out Correia for the John W. Campbell non-Hugo).

    My impression from Samatar’s A Stranger in Olondria, which I’ve just barely started, is that she’d count as well, at least for the quality of her prose.

  116. I also think it’s reasonable to judge a book by summaries and excerpts: I haven’t read Twilight or 50 Shades, but I’ve read enough about them to know that I never want to, because they’re Godawful. And I stand by that.

    And honestly? I consider myself to have a fairly “educated mind,” whatever that means, and while I might continue reading books by someone whose opinions I find abhorrent, if I already like those books, I probably wouldn’t pick up anything by a new author who I knew was pro-life or anti-welfare or whatever: I find that, even when message is not intended or explicit, worldview generally creeps in around the edges. There are enough good books in the world by people whose worldviews don’t make me nauseous, and life is short: why take the risk?

    In re: litsf, this is one of the reasons I find the whole thing sadly ironic. I myself am not a fan of most “literary” fiction–I put in my time as an English major, and I liked some of the assigned reading (Austen, Shakespeare, and, oddly, Joyce, or at least Ulysses) but a lot of it, especially a lot of the modern lit*, was either boring, depressing, or both. I like fairly straightforward good-versus-evil conflicts; I often find deconstructions way too grimdark and sad; deliberate and blatant explorations of structure and form don’t really interest me, nor does trying very hard to be “original”. I like King, Pratchett, Butcher, and so forth–folks whose books are good, but who I know for a fact would not get much traction with the dour undergrads who populated my creative writing classes. If someone established an aware for “Best ‘Fun’ Fiction” or whatever, I’d take an interest.

    And yet: that is not what this is. I suspect the SP definition of “literary sf” is “sf that features protagonists who aren’t straight white guys.”

    Also, I find myself unable to eat meat-based items from fast-food places (as per earlier definition) these days, which is sort of sad, but: I had a BK coffee with extra cream and sugar this weekend, and I’m going to court some kind of public Bostonian mob violence by saying that it’s actually considerably better than most Dunkin’ Donuts coffee I’ve ever had.

    *Again, ironic to this particular controversy: I associate “literary fiction” primarily with “suburban white guys whining about their boredom and/or failed marriages.”

  117. I can’t believe no one has mentioned White Castle yet. All those other fast food places are amateurs compared to the original home of the Belly Bomb.

    (White Castle is actually delicious, but its effect on the digestive system is legendary.)

    Anyway, my favorite meals are the fancy sort in high-end restaurants, but my favorite books are more like when I cook lamb chops at home.

    I confess that I can only rarely eat or read the fast-food variety of burgers or books. But in both cases I go in knowing what to expect.

    Best is when a book or a meal exceeds expectations.

  118. In-N-Out Burger was my personal favorite before I went vegetarian. Fatburger is OK, too.

    These days, since I’m in college, I subsist on lemonade (since I don’t drink carbonated anything or alcohol), orange juice, and cheese pizza in varying stages of freshness.

    until you’ve eaten a week-old frozen and reheated pizza that was half grease anyway, you haven’t lived. I doubted it, too. But then my friend A. introduced me to the glories of reheated grease when she and I were hanging out and watching bad Star Trek episodes instead of studying for midterms. She was getting over her ex-girlfriend. I had a computer, some DVDs, and a half-frozen deep dish. It went from there.

  119. Could you remind me which alien species names Shakespeare made up?

    I’ll give you some pointers, if we take “alien” to mean “non-human, as the usual SF usage”:

    Is there more toil? Since thou dost give me pains,
    Let me remember thee what thou hast promised,
    Which is not yet performed me ….
    … My liberty.

    Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
    Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
    Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
    Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices
    That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
    Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming,
    The clouds methought would open, and show riches
    Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
    I cried to dream again.

    Or, we could go further back, the root is “alienus“: Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto..

    If you’re of the mind, you might even get a kick out of why I used that reference.

  120. @James “Literary SF/F authors: Wolfe, Catling, Grossman, at least.”

    These authors I thought told a great story with immersive worlds. Not sure what separates them as literary; the prose, the message, the world building? Brandon Sanderson is one of the best at world building and magic systems. China Mieville has gorgeous prose, sometimes it sucks me in more than the story (or knocks me out of the story if he’s describing something ugly).

    Literary to me meant the high school reading that everyone agrees is great and is forced to read, but not that many people enjoy it.

  121. I read though 143 comments to make sure I wouldn’t be duplicating anything already said, and then –E had to come in and beat me to it. White Castle >> Arby’s, McDonald’s.

  122. @HH:

    Additional events might include flouncing (off in a huff) and the Libertarian Dismount. The latter is a favorite spectator sport around these parts.

  123. one of the things that continues to confound me about the “most of the Avengers audience would hate the novels that win Hugos” argument is that most of that audience don’t read, period. Not even the funnybooks that were the source for the movies. So why would anyone judge quality of books from the presumed opinions of an audience who wouldn’t read them in any case?

    Because the Pups have a hypothesis. It isn’t a hypothesis based on anything but wishful thinking, but they have one. They think that awarding very popular things with a Hugo will draw fans of those things to the Hugos. Its why Torgersen thinks giving the Hugos to movies like The Avengers would be good (never mind that he seemingly didn’t realize that the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form routinely goes to big box office blockbusters). Its the justification the Pups have given for promoting a Best Video Game category – if a video game players sees that whatever iteration of Halo that came out that year won a Hugo, the Pups argue that he will then wonder what the Hugos are and then check out all the other works that won the award.

    Except that’s not the way the world works. People who play video games are not the same audience as people who go to movies and are not the same audience as people who read novels. People who read novels are often not even the same audience as people who read short fiction. Sure, there is some overlap, but you’re not going to convert my die-hard video game playing teenaged son into a novel reader by slapping “Hugo winner” on the label of the latest PS4 release. Its just not going to happen no matter how much the Pups wish it to be so.

  124. Aaron:

    “People who play video games are not the same audience as people who go to movies and are not the same audience as people who read novels.”

    Oh, but I don’t know about that. I mean, I play video games and read novels and go see movies, nor do I think that I’m just an “overlap.” I suspect strongly that most people enjoy widely varied entertainment options. I think it’s likely that some people focus more on one type than others — someone might read more novels than they play games or see movies — but they consume all different types. I think it’s relatively rare for people to enjoy only one type of entertainment.

    I’m personally not opposed to a video game Hugo; Hugos are meant to recognize excellence in science fiction and fantasy, which is certainly a prominent theme in video games (NB: Video games are already eligible for Hugos, in the “Best Related Work” category). However, I agree that don’t suspect that creating such a Hugo would substantially change the character of the Hugos in one way or the other, because, again, Hugo voters already vote for blockbusters and weird, funky literature (or not, in both cases, as popular lit and obscure dramatic works have been both nominated in recent times).

    What I suspect is likely to happen, if there were a Hugo VG award, is that over time Hugo voters will get more sophisticated about video games. An example of something similar to this happening is in the graphic novel category; the first several years of the category featured good but relatively unadventurous selections in the category, but as people got used to the category the selections started to become more varied and adventurous. As a result this year the category (unmolested as it was by the Puppy slates) is really rather excellent.

  125. I only eat McDonalds or BK if we’re traveling and that’s what’s there. I’ve only had 5 Guys a few times. 5 Guys’ fries are very greasy but they have a lot more potato to them, plus the spice. Their cheeseburgers are decent, but greasy and the breads fall apart. McDonalds fries are mainly breading these days — they are thinner than they used to be. They taste decent but their hashbrowns are actually better. But you only can get hashbrowns in the morning. I don’t eat at most fast food places but my husband loves Chipoltle and my daughter likes Subway, so those ones we do. I have to cross my fingers that they aren’t using immigrants as indentured servants and treating employees horribly, like McDonalds. But I suppose they all are.

    I had Taco Bell food only once in my life and it made me considerably ill, so never, ever again.

    Is anyone else sad that we can’t really call Floored the puppy anymore, thanks to the Sad Puppies? Well, Floored is growing up anyway. Time for new nicknames!

  126. Kat Goodwin: I can be the Bitter Puppy, or the Brainwashed Liberal Puppy. Those work? How about the Fluffy Kitten? Or the Overweight Feline–I have a (nominally) small cat named Pipsqueak who is roughly spherical. She’s adorable, except when she’s clawing at my gonads to stop me from standing up.

    As for Taco Bell…don’t. Just don’t. Eat homemade tacos instead.

  127. Question for the thread:
    Should I ask for physical mailings from Sasquan with my Supporting Membership application by selecting “one paper copy per household”? Should I save Sasquan the postage, or is it a really nice printed program guide with full color artwork, and even a re-printed story or three, plus essays on all the GOH’s? I’ve never actually bought just a sustaining membership before.

  128. Andrew S.:

    Most of the works I had to endure, as opposed to enjoy, during high school weren’t so much “literary” as not literary enough. When I look back on what I was assigned to read (high school between 1973 and 1978), it included only a little of the major literature that I later read and enjoyed in university. There were a few — Wuthering Heights, Great Expectations, Heart of Darkness, and the inevitable Shakespeare. Most of what we got fed, though, were mid-20th Century bestsellers which had been popular about two decades before — A Separate Peace and Catcher in the Rye, for example. They were chosen, not because they were “literary”, but because they were thought to be popular and accessible. Really major modern books got sidestepped: no Pynchon, only minor Joyce, no Powell, no Woolf. (On the other hand, I did get LOTR, Stranger in a Strange Land, and Fahrenheit 451).

    “Not sure what separates them as literary; the prose, the message, the world building?” Well, not the world building, which is a purely SFnal virtue, not a general one. A good piece of literature will have well-thought out prose, but it need not be elaborate; it will probably (but not always) have rounded characters. There may be a message, or not. Each work needs to be approached on its own. My personal definition of literary is “likely to be read with enjoyment 100 years from now, and deep enough to be worth rereading rather than read once for plot”, and everyone has to make their own estimate of that. And I’ll shorten the 100 years for practical purposes. On the other hand, there are odd survivors (Buchan is still read, and it’s a century since the first Richard Hannay books appeared, but they aren’t generally thought to be “literary”: the same holds of Doyle (and I can remember having both Holmes short stories and Greenmantle in high school, for that matter)).

  129. The program guide for a WorldCon is usually pretty spectacular, Tenar Darell, at least in my experience; production values obviously vary. They frequently become collector’s items, so you might be able to get a “feel” for what you’ll be getting from Sasquan by checking eBay or something.

    I’ve never received the electronic version for a WorldCon, so I really couldn’t recommend more specifically than that.

  130. When I was reviewing fiction, “literary fiction” was a label held by works written by 30-40 something white guys, living in Brooklyn, who had graduated from an MFA program in creative writing. Occasionally a novel by a female or person of color would land on my doorstep, if s/he was already famous, but new works being promoted were pretty exclusively roman à clef/Bildungsromans (not exactly the same, but close enough) by aforementioned Brooklyn guys.

    Rarely were SFF works given the label “literary” –William Gibson put out a new novel during my stint, and that was blurbed as “literary,” a point I actually made (or mocked slightly, probably, since I was completely burnt on MFA-novels) in my review, IIRC. I really like Mr Gibson’s work up until Spook Country and Zero History, when his novels get much more mainstream. I didn’t mind that so much as all of the label-dropping. Zero History read like an advertisement dressed up as a story, much like promoted content on websites, to me.

    IMO, there is no such genre as “literary fiction.” Literary is a nonsense word, used by publishers and advertisers to mean one thing, by critics and reviewers to mean several others, and by the Puppies to mean anything that bored them. Which is fine, but it makes having a conversation about the literary merits of a work of literature terribly frustrating and non-productive.

  131. @Cthulu (SJW TINGED): Thanks. I settled for saying that Pyramus and Thisbe were Mechanicals…from spa-a-a-a-ce.

    My strict policy is to refrain from Latin before 6 PM, but I’ll make an exception this once: Did Terence ever go after Willie Shakes for copyright infringement, taking T’s words and putting them in Shylock’s mouth?

  132. roman à clef/Bildungsromans (not exactly the same, but close enough)

    Say what?

    From Wikipedia:

    Roman à clef, French for novel with a key, is a novel about real life, overlaid with a façade of fiction. The fictitious names in the novel represent real people, and the “key” is the relationship between the nonfiction and the fiction. This “key” may be produced separately by the author, or implied through the use of epigraphs or other literary techniques.

    In literary criticism, a Bildungsroman (German: “novel of formation/education/culture”),[a] novel of formation, novel of education, or coming-of-age story (though it may also be known as a subset of the coming-of-age story) is a literary genre that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood (coming of age), in which character change is extremely important.

    Those are pretty much completely different categories, though you could presumably write one that is both, but to my understanding, that’s rare, especially as the first tends to be about adults, and the second, not so much.

  133. Now I’m thinking about the “literary fiction” I had to read, and how many of the narrators would probably be in the SPs today. Dickens characters seem too liberal, but Holden Caufield? Definitely a SP, maybe GG as well. And like everyone ever from Hemingway.

  134. lol Over on twitter I think @nihilist_arbys would agree with that…

    I can’t believe no one has commented further on that–I rather think nihilist arbys has John beat in the philosophy game (joking!!):

    “Been dying for the weekend? At Arbys it’s always the weekend because time is a meaningless abstraction even as death creeps closer every day”

  135. @KHMS: Eh, I find a lot of overlap, especially back when I was reviewing. Thinly veiled stories about the author’s tortured but terribly banal childhood and how that has made them the dull and pretentious narcissist that they currently are. Not that I’m bitter. :-)

  136. I read ‘literary’ work because I find it interesting, engaging, and exciting. And I don’t read books of the sort the Puppies nominated because I don’t (usually) find them any of those things. Clearly, then, nobody actually likes the latter. They’re just pretending to like them to score political points, while harbouring a secret desire to master Ulysses.

    As for videogames, all those people playing Dark Souls are just trying to prove themselves better than the unwashed masses – not to mention advance the SJW agenda with games that let you play any race or gender. Real gamers play Call of Duty (on the easiest difficulty – hard mode is pretentious). Nobody, of course, plays both, let alone plays both but considers one the better game overall.

    (I guess in this analogy, our host is Assassin’s Creed?)

  137. I think we teach some “literature” too young, and that’s a shame, because certain texts are richer and more meaningful when your life experience has prepared you to appreciate their gifts.

    For example, T. S. Eliot. I read Prufrock in high school, and enjoyed the sound of the language but didn’t get anything from it. Then, twenty years later, one of my students asked for help writing an essay for English class – on Prufrock. And suddenly it struck me that the entire poem was about the passage of time, of our lives, and the paralysis that Prufrock feels about his own life. Wow. I went back and reread it, and still do sometimes.

    Another example, Dante’s Inferno. After nursing my father through hospice, and getting stuck in my own grief, I found Sinclair’s translation poetic and strangely comforting. My father loved Shakespeare, and he loved Heinlein, and lots of other stuff, and it was all on the same bookshelf.

    BTW, I also think that much of the controversy over teaching Huckleberry Finn in high school misses the point – it’s not written for children, and really ought to wait until the reader is in his twenties.

    The books that matter are the ones that hold your attention and stick in your memory. Sometimes they’re literary, sometimes their commercial, and who really knows the difference anyway?

  138. Cricket, I wonder how much of that is because we have the perception that people stop reading (especially ‘the classics’) once they leave school. If you think your students will never read Eliot as adults, is it better to at least introduce it to them when most of them have trouble empathizing with the poem, or to have them never read it?

    I’ve also heard the theory that YA is so taken with dystopias because a lot of people in the target age range have started to notice the wider world, but feel as if they don’t yet have the ability to influence it, and that the world doesn’t care about their concerns. So a society that explicitly doesn’t care about the protagonists (or only cares about the protagonists under a social contract), but is one the protagonists can change is captivating.

  139. @James

    That’s not a bad definition which kind of mirrored what was in my head of “it stands the test of time.” Which is also why I was confused as to what literary SF/F is and how one can critique the Hugos as too literary. No one can predict what will stand the test of time. Neil Gaiman had an interesting blog about it


    Yeah, the “literary fiction” trope is one that’s used to praise or condemn a work for a random reason: “You wouldn’t get it, it’s literary” or “No one likes it, it’s literary.” I don’t think it’s a meaningful distinction either, but was curious if there was one as an academic exercise.

  140. Literary fiction isn’t a genre. It’s first off a designation of praise for writing skill, particularly of use of language and imagery, and thematic substance and insight — perceived quality of form, but that form might take any style. It’s secondly an academic designation of works that are perceived as literary — quality of form — that they also believe will last as literature and offer serious study as writing art. That designation informs school curriculum, although it’s way broader than people think it is.

    And it is thirdly a marketing technique used in fiction publishing whereupon certain works — that have nothing in common including style — are offered up to various types of magazine/review venues in hopes that people will accept the designation of literary in terms of quality of form, usually coming from specific publishers. These books do not form a genre in either the literary movement definition (like post-modernism,) nor the market category with common general content definition (like mystery or science fiction.) They are simply being praised as worthy of attention as an ad technique. When you hear people speak of a “literary genre,” what they simply mean is the practice of labeling a work as literary in marketing it, a label which may or may not be accepted out in the world.

    Any type of story can be considered literary — quality of form. There are many people, however, who believe that any work with significant amounts of violent action cannot be literary. Further, there are many people who were raised to believe that books that come from publishers that produce a lot of mass market paperbacks, or that are published in mass market paperback only, cannot be literary because of how the publishing industry worked in the 1960’s in line with socioeconomic hierarchies of that time. So people believe that category SFF, mysteries, etc. can’t be literary, unless the work is 1) published by a non-category press; 2) published in hardcover or at least trade paperback; 3) labelled literary by the publisher; 4) marketed in the “literary” venues publishers use as a selling ad technique; 5) have a lower amount of violent action; 6) preferably written by a straight white man; and 7) they just decided that it was not-SF SF because they like it, etc.

    You can, quite literally as has been done many times, take a category work, repackage it with a different non-category publisher, hardcover/trade paper pub and neutral cover art, call it literary, market it through various venues, and many people will decide that it is now literary. Or take a new project from a category author and do it. They just did it with Jeff Vandermeer. Because people get very confused about packaging.

    Not that I’m saying Vandermeer isn’t literary. Any work of any type can be literary if enough people think that it has quality of form and the writer is a stylist of some sort on the prose. Because art is an experience. Many works considered not literary in the beginning over time get seen as literary as more people see quality of form in their prose, imagery and thematic substance. Books people consider literary are just as likely as books considered less fancy to be big bestsellers, and may have the added boost of a regular education market.

    Conversely, there are many people who consider appreciating an author’s writing skills and story drama to be awful and elitist. Their reasoning is pretty much just as classist as the ones who are affected by literary packaging. Funnily enough, they often champion works as non-literary that thousands of others see as literary.

    The puppies would like to present themselves as that group. However, they don’t really care about actual prose or depth issues either way. They care about ideological content, which may or may not involve literary skill. And to a large degree, they don’t care about ideological content in the written works, but the ideological views of the author. Specifically, not necessarily the ideological views of the authors they’re nominating, but the ideological views of those whom they have made targets as boogeypeople. The campaign on the Hugos is less about blowing up the Hugos than a good excuse to go after perceived ideological targets.

    So is Red Shirts literary? Yes, for several reasons. (Old Man’s War, however, is not, in my opinion.) But that’s a debate for people to have about how they perceive the work — which is what art is — subjective experience and discussion. Many feel that it is a satire from a category author put out by a category press with violent action and so no, it’s not. So really, perhaps one would say that it is Olive Garden or the Outback Steakhouse or Applebees.

  141. @Cricket:

    I think we teach some “literature” too young, and that’s a shame, because certain texts are richer and more meaningful when your life experience has prepared you to appreciate their gifts.

    I agree with you up to a point — I’m a dedicated Janeite, but when I first read Pride and Prejudice at the age of twelve? Well, it went so far over my head on pretty much ever level all you could see was a faint vapour trail very high in the sky.

    But when it comes to teaching literature, I think we often have the opposite problem — an obsession with making the curriculum “accessible” and “relevant” you end up with nothing that’s really challenging or extends students. And that annoys me — partly because I’ve always thought children and teenagers are actually a lot smarter than their elders give them credit for. But also because while a high school student is exceedingly unlikely to grasp every aspect of Shakespeare’s language and stage craft at first acquaintance, they can still learn a hell of a lot about (arguably) the greatest playwright in English literature.

  142. Thanks. I settled for saying that Pyramus and Thisbe were Mechanicals…from spa-a-a-a-ce.

    Well, there’s an amuse-bouche, if I ever did spot one, and perhaps a trap. So, a literary response, without recourse to links, let’s play ragamuffins amongst the references.

    A steampunk contretemps of the bard’s own sense of self-depreciating humor wherein the play within the play is a pastiche towards an awareness that his greatest tragedy was a mere scra/ibble in the muck while Metamorphoses stands proud above, with a wry smile that that one himself doubted in the shadow of a precursor. Of course, the class aspect is due to the mystery of Shakespeare’s social standing and profession (which is no mystery), by way of the history channel’s lens and our berber’s native lands (or neighbors) and own journey from least to honored – And who is not to say that love is incapable of it’s own turnsole transition and to make all clothed in purple? After all, it is our weaver who breaks beyond (to space? at least across time, but the two are janus after all) and charms the fairies…

    I’ll cease, because I spy a sharp pointy tooth amongst the pater-familiar bonhomie of “Chuck” chosen as an ananym. The hidden joke is all about knowing the six and six reference, so well played – our six Mechancials mirror the six plays, although I’ve not bothered to do the double tripartite weaving as it’s not allowed in public.

    And yes, in the game of memes, it is no struggle to tie even the curious cartoon theory into the fold.

    To answer the question: Terence’s influence is rather well known. As you knew, at a guess: virtual paths are hot hot hot.

  143. I wrote: “Kind of the exception that proves the rule”

    John wrote: Well, except that the Dramatic Presentation Awards are nominated for and voted on by the same people who also nominate for and vote on the literary categories.

    I respond: Sorry, I thought my point was obvious. You can’t award dreck in the Dramatic Presentation category if Hollywood doesn’t pick it up first and Hollywood needs to cover its costs. Have the powers that be thought about getting the NEA to sponsor SF/F movies that people wouldn’t watch?

  144. So, we have determined that “literary” to the Yips is the opposite of “literary” to everyone else. Which is, frankly, not much of a surprise. Bizarro World, indeed.

    @Floored, good to see you again. Our li’l larva has become a pupa and will soon be a butterfly, or some such metaphor. The ability to eat leftover cold pizza for breakfast is something I learned in college, and it has stood me in greater stead than at least 50% of my classwork.

    Maybe Hillary ate at Chipotle because she wanted something tastier than Taco Bell, with something approaching healthy? Maybe she just, I dunno, likes Chipotle? Nothing to do with ideology? Mittens visited one during his last campaign, after all. That Wall Street Journal link leads me to wonder…

    Why are the Yappers so fussed about the NYT Bestseller List?!

    Isn’t the NYT a commie-symp socialist liberal wussy pacifist SJW rag? That’s the charge I’ve heard hurled against it my whole life.

    Shouldn’t Real Men be taking the opinion of the stridently SWM capitalist Wall Street Journal? Isn’t the WSJ holding up the kind of stuff they think is Good and Right? (I see BillO is numero uno there this week).

    Or shouldn’t they be going for the resolutely, proudly, populist USA Today Bestseller List? (Some in the know say it’s actually the most accurate, and harder to game) Or, I dunno, Entertainment Weekly’s Bestseller List, also a very populist publication which is fond of SF, action, and things what blow up?

    I doubt anyone’s still reading down this far, but would welcome a response to this idea — I don’t think anyone else has mentioned this.

  145. OK, I’ve looked and looked, and I don’t know who or what RSHD is.


    @Kat Goodwin: Literary fiction isn’t a genre.

    Wow, do I disagree. A Dog barks, someone eats a watermelon, a car drives away.

    For SF/F purposes, “literary fiction” is the genre where the prose and characterization are carefully crafted, but the world-building sucks.

    For instance, I started reading Michael Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things, but quit in Chapter 1 or so, when our hero was leaving to talk to aliens … from a carefully-described airport, vintage 2014. That’s litfic, all right.

  146. @Floored, good to see you again. Our li’l larva has become a pupa and will soon be a butterfly, or some such metaphor. The ability to eat leftover cold pizza for breakfast is something I learned in college, and it has stood me in greater stead than at least 50% of my classwork.

    Hi Lurkertype!

    Indeed, the glories of cold pizza are subtle things, which should be savored.

    Still getting used to the rest of semi-adult life. Not getting drunk, ever, especially after what happened to A., but definitely digging the cold pizza, fruit cocktail, and double-chocolate fudge cake icing life. LARPing is damn cool, too. My character in the last one was secretly a robot the whole time without knowing it.

    C’est la vie.

    @Doctor Science: RSHD is a toxic person. That’s all that really needs to be known.

  147. Doctor Science: that is, in this context, defining terms to suit the thesis so that tautology ensues.

    The interesting question regards works where the prose and characterization are carefully crafted, and the worldbuilding is good.

  148. @LurkerType, much like the Hugos, they insist that the NYT’s bestseller list is inaccurate and that publishers can “buy” a spot on the list for new releases through shadowy machinations. (Amazon rankings are thought to be better indicators of popularity.) At the same time, I think they long to be NYT’s bestselling authors.

  149. Jack Lint:

    Indeed, the NYT lists specifically factor in bulk sales and toss them out. Which shows that the Puppies, in this as in many things, don’t really know much about what they maintain they do.

  150. Doctor Science and Kat Goodwin: Actually, the term I’ve heard lately is “Mainstream Literary Fiction.” I think it’s mostly a way to distinguish mainstream (aka “this world” or “realistic”) fiction from “Popular” fiction–not that “Mainstream Literary Fiction” can’t be popular, too, or that “Popular” fiction can’t be literary, but the focus on language and craft is different. And supposedly the intended audience is, as well, though I’ve seen less actual evidence of that, and a lot more overlap among readers. It’s also a way to distinguish this type of fiction from what has been called either Genre or Category fiction, which can vary depending on whom you are speaking with. And, of course, the snobbishness and the insecurity can run deep, on all sides of the aisle.

    From what I’ve read lately, though, the category of “Mainstream Lit Fic” has at least changed quite a bit from the “boring middle class men angsting about their boring lives” . . . or at least, a good bit of it seems to overlap with what is/has also been called “ChickLit.”

  151. getting caught up and am a saddened and disheartened by some folks who, in making negative comments about some books, exemplify the Crying Puppies issues.

    So, you don’t like the idea or what you’ve heard about thinks like Twilight or 50 Shades. So what? That doesn’t mean millions of others did and do – it spoke to them and it worked for them. To just attack because ‘you heard’ means you really are acting like a ditto-head, repeating the hate spilled by others… much like Puppies do towards John and the so-called SJWs.

    Not all works have to work for everyone. Accept that piece don’t work for you, work for others and move on without going all hate-filled attacked on the books or their readers

    Personally, i got 1 chapter through 50 Shades and couldn’t take it will Twilight tired me. But I know many who think they are fabulous because, like any good work, it ‘speaks to them (like Moorcock, Heinlein, Tolkien, Azimov, Susan Cooper, among many others did for me over the years).

  152. I guess moving on to ChickLit from “boring men” is… an improvement? Unless you’re sexist, in which case sigh

    @Doctor Science, I love your definition. Because I agree with it. Once in a while the Literary people allow a few SF types (Chabon, Grossman) to sneak in, but there’s probably a quota system in their Sekrit Cabal, right?

    @Floored: after college would be an excellent time to learn the difference between “having a drink” and “getting drunk”. They are synonymous where you’re at; as a grown-up, they’re quite different. Providing no one in your genetic line has a tendency towards alcoholism, developing a taste for certain kinds of drinks paired with the appropriate foods enhances life quite a bit. You can’t learn it in college though, and my deepest sympathies to your friend.

    @Jack Lint: that’s what I thought. They despise it but secretly yearn for it. The only rumors I’ve ever heard of bulk sales manipulating are for… how do I say this… authors who are politically what the Yappers would probably consider The Right Sort of People.

    @Scalzi, thanks for the info. I note that on the USA Today list, Nora Roberts is #1, which circles back to earlier discussions.

  153. Kat Goodwin: May I should have said “Women’s Writing” instead of “ChickLit”? I had no idea until I checked just now that “ChickLit” is currently considered a publishing subgenre, and the works I was thinking of are not always (or often) “light” or “humorous” . . . who knew? (Not me, obviously.) My apologies for being misleading.

  154. Haven’t read Faber. But I have read Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and the world building on that alternate history didn’t suck at all. Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Jonathan Lethem’s Fortress of Solitude. Peter Beagle’s The Last Unicorn. Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossed, George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Pretty much everything Tim Powers has written. Charles de Lint, Lauren Beukes. Peter Watts. Caitlin Sweet. Maureen McHugh, Connie Willis, China Mieville, Jeff Vandermeer, Cathrynne Valente, Genevieve Valentine, David Anthony Durham, T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings, Philip K. Dick, George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, Octavia Butler, Samuel Delaney, Doris Lessing, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Brave New World, Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s Slaughterhouse-Five, Tanith Lee, Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris (not the film obviously,) Daniel Gregory — just read his Pandemonium and it’s awesome, The Handmaid’s Tale, Christopher Priest’s The Prestige, A Canticle for Liebowitz, Geoff Ryman’s Air — awesome book, Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun, Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners, Toby Barlow’s Sharp Teeth — also awesome and fun, Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, John Crowley’s Little, Big, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, Kij Johnson’s The Fox Woman, J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, Frank Baum’s Oz and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Harlan Ellison, Nicola Griffith, M. John Harrison, Graham Joyce, Adam Roberts, etc., etc.

    They’re literary, they’re studied by profs, some of them are profs, and a lot of their worlds are great. Or at least some of us find them so.

    There is no such thing as mindless fun in reading any written work. You can’t turn off your mind or escape to do it. Instead, the mind kicks into high gear, taking the words, images and ideas the writer put together, the thoughts and emotions they evoke, and translating them within our minds, both abstractly and as built images. Reading a story is a personal, subjective experience and causes us to absorb and work with language. Which teaches us how — not what — to think. Which is why we want kids to read fiction. And when we do, we react to the artistry and sound of the words as well as the story, and to the ideas and emotions, and we do so on the basis of our own criteria and understanding. And then we can discuss it, how we see it differently and the same, what we value and what we don’t. And that whole experience is how art works, whether it’s a D&D novel or The Avengers or a Joycean tale.

    So when Christopher Priest ranted about the Clarke Award nominations one year, he was an asshole about it to be sarcastically witty (which as was discussed, he could be safely on the Internet because he’s a man and does not have to be controlled with threats in the eyes of the right.) But he also was criticizing how much quality of form they had and compared to other works that might have been nominated that he thought were better. And that’s what’s perfectly normal to happen with awards — it’s never a case where everybody is happy, but everybody talks about books they like, both nominated and not, leading to greater awareness of titles for more readers. (And if it’s an award with an open election, like the Hugos, those who care and can afford it, have to show up and vote to get their preferences a shot.)

    The puppies are instead declaring nominees they didn’t like as an excuse to go after targets. And when you go after targets, if something is refuted, you just change the line of attack. Slippery fishing. :)

    I would be interested to know if Larry Correia has been going after Lev Grossman. After all, Grossman is the supposed beacon of literary leftist obscure (bestselling) fantasy fiction that trounced him in the Campbell runnings only due to the machinations of the cabal who are supposedly Grossman’s pals. I kind of suspect the puppies have not. I think they’ve stuck to more favorite targets. But Grossman, of course, has way more literary cache than most of the nominees they are complaining about. He’s the Four Seasons as opposed to McDonald’s.

  155. @Floored: after college would be an excellent time to learn the difference between “having a drink” and “getting drunk”. They are synonymous where you’re at; as a grown-up, they’re quite different. Providing no one in your genetic line has a tendency towards alcoholism, developing a taste for certain kinds of drinks paired with the appropriate foods enhances life quite a bit. You can’t learn it in college though, and my deepest sympathies to your friend.

    Well, I tried beer once. Hated it. Same with wine. I just don’t like alcohol in general, I guess.

    And thanks :) Fortunately Public Safety is good here.

  156. Mary Francis:

    May I should have said “Women’s Writing” instead of “ChickLit”? I had no idea until I checked just now that “ChickLit” is currently considered a publishing subgenre, and the works I was thinking of are not always (or often) “light” or “humorous” . . . who knew? (Not me, obviously.) My apologies for being misleading.

    Yes, chick lit are humorous contemporary novels about women. The term was assigned in the wake of Bridget Jones’ Diary’s success. Women often find their works labeled chick lit or women’s fiction, even when they are dramas with broad scop, because women are expected to write less of substance than men. Women’s Fiction are novels about women, because women have to have their own group, you see, because it’s assumed that only women read them, it has less substance than men, etc. Women are the Other, even though they make up 70% of the reading audience. Women’s Fiction and Chick Lit are considered commercial fiction — they aren’t usually marketed as literary (although books in them perfectly can be of course.) Works of fiction by women get less review and media attention and it’s a lot harder for women to get the label of literary attached to their fiction. In SFF, women authors writing about women often find their works labeled romance, especially in contemporary fantasy, because it’s assumed the women are writing only for women and are obsessed with romance, and because publishers give them covers that reaffirm that idea. Whereas guys just have romantic sub-plots or major plots but they’re never very important, don’t you know.

    We’ve got a lot of gender stereotype biases in fiction.

    General fiction (mainstream is a misnomer because the category markets are just as mainstream,) is made up of contemporary realist novels, historical and generational realist novels, and speculative non-realist novels (SFF and SFF horror.) Within that, sub-categories have popped up for time to time, though they’re not category markets and they are used mainly in bookselling, not to readers. Glitz novels are potboiler soap operas among the rich and famous. Romance and suspense are in contemporary or historical if they are in general fiction. The thrillers are quite often sold in general fiction instead of the suspense category market.

    And then there’s what in the 1980’s/1990’s started to be called “ethnic fiction,” meaning books about non-whites, usually written by non-white authors. Because they too are the Other. The term did, however, allow publishers to acquire a lot more non-white authors and promote them widely instead of just ghettoized. That helped out a lot of authors like Terry McMillan, Amy Tan, etc., and also led to more authors from outside of North America to be imported into America, increasing the global market. Some of the “ethnic” writers are/were considered literary and some are not. Who publishes them comes into it again, because packaging. If you write about struggling immigrants or sometimes historical events, you are more likely to be considered literary than if you write about contemporary non-white citizens.

    We’ve got a lot of racial stereotype biases in fiction.

  157. So, you don’t like the idea or what you’ve heard about thinks like Twilight or 50 Shades. So what? That doesn’t mean millions of others did and do – it spoke to them and it worked for them

    Amidst all of this, please do remember one thing: the death of the author is somewhat of a myth in the land of Edward Bernays.

    I’ll make this very specific, without naming names and getting into things that public blogs get smited for – there does exist a realm where (to appropriate some Jung) the collective unconscious is actively moulded (molded for Americans) and turned against the best interests of the recipients.

    It exists: to pretend otherwise is only widening gulfs that can actually be bridged (c.f. discussions on modern art elsewhere on this blog, where the CIA really did fund it as an anti-CCCP method. long leash and the IOD)

    “We would go to somebody in New York who was a well-known rich person and we would say, ‘We want to set up a foundation.’ We would tell him what we were trying to do and pledge him to secrecy, and he would say, ‘Of course I’ll do it,’ and then you would publish a letterhead and his name would be on it and there would be a foundation. It was really a pretty simple device.”

    If you can’t work out the angle on 50 Shades, well then, you’ve about as much political sense as my pet gerbil.

    Hint: there’s a difference between an author, the culture supporting an author, a publisher and ideologically driven mimetic weaponry. The puppies kindof know this so far, but they’ve no real idea of how it works, and are gunning for the wrong bits, which is why I’m here.

    Reading is awesome. Reading—fiction, specifically—has been proven to make people more empathetic, and God knows we need as much empathy as we can possibly get these days.

    Yes, and 50 Shades has the opposite effect. Look behind the curtain.

  158. Kat Goodwin: We’ve got a lot of gender stereotype biases in fiction . . . We’ve got a lot of racial stereotype biases in fiction.

    Tell me about it. Or rather–don’t. Really. It isn’t necessary. My maladroit and hasty comment about ChickLit earlier notwithstanding, I really do know, and understand/agree. I especially remember the “ethnic” fiction start-ups of the 80s-90s: remember looking at bookshelves and thinking “excuse me, but aren’t these just . . . fiction?” Sigh.

    As for “Mainstream”–I understand what you’re saying about “General,” but the term “Mainstream Literary Fiction” was used by an author I know to try to explain the kind of thing she was writing, specifically to me. In retrospect, she may have been choosing vocabulary specifically for me, too. It was in a pretty personal–not professional–context.

  159. @ Floored. Man, the Belisarius series has some great imagery, doesn’t it? I’m not a big fan of David Drake’s writing style on his own but this collaboration with Eric Flint made for a rocking tale. And hey, Taco Bell may not be ‘Mexican’ but I’m loving me those Doritos tacos. Yum.

  160. Ambivalent: Oh, hell yeah! I don’t read Baen books, generally, but…oh, yeah. This series is good, wholesome fun. Black and white, to be sure, but soooooooo worth it. I must read more of both of these guys, Flint especially–his 1632 series I’ve considered before, gonna pick it up for sure now. Gustavus Adolphus with 20th/21st century tech? Hell yeah.

    But holy cow is Rana Sanga awesome! Though tbh, I prefer Ousanas (Manly Men Can Hunt, straight off of TVTropes and given human form) and Theodora (oh god did she keep that promise!). And I’m shipping Irene and Kungas hard. Haven’t finished the last one yet, but oh, man. Rana Sanga. Rana f***ing Sanga! You could FUEL THE SPACE SHUTTLE on this much manliness and badassery!

    To those who don’t know what we’re talking about, here’s a summary:

    As for Taco Bell…well, to each [pronoun of choice] own. I can’t stand anything they make, myself.

  161. Literary fiction is always about upper-middle-class suburban couples whose marriage begins to crumble as they mourn the loss of their young son. Sometimes it’s a daughter.

    No, of course that’s not true! But it’s as true as what Atwood said about Our Beloved Genre. And I do think LitFic is a genre, though its content varies. It’s whatever academia prefers at the moment. Also, what Doctor Science said.


    I love Shakespeare dearly, and my favorite of his plays is the Comedy of Errors. I cannot sit through any half-decent performance of it without breaking down into gales of laughter.

    I bet you would have loved the performance I saw, with the Flying Karamazov Brothers (a juggling troupe) as the two pairs of twins. Everyone in town juggles all the time. It gets even sillier than the original script. Avner Eisenberg was in it, too.

    Five Guys fries are the one and only way that I can eat potatoes without physically gagging.

    I’m glad you like them, though I’m at the other end of the potato-eating scale. I’ve eaten potatoes cooked in just about every possible way, including raw, and loved every mouthful.

    Cthulhu: “Homo sum, humani nil a me alienum puto” was my sig line for a while. I not only agree with the sentiment, but it starts with ‘homo’ and ends with ‘puto’, which delights my little gay heart.

    Floored: You can be the Happy Puppy, or even Pappy’s Happy Puppy. And we won’t let anyone join our Seeekrit Cable Cabal who can’t say your name 10 times fast.

    jedikalos: *high five* (OT: are you one of a group of jedikaloi? Are your followers known as jedikalids? How do I join?)

  162. @Xopher:

    I bet you would have loved the performance I saw, with the Flying Karamazov Brothers (a juggling troupe) as the two pairs of twins. Everyone in town juggles all the time. It gets even sillier than the original script. Avner Eisenberg was in it, too.

    That…that sounds beautiful.

    I’m glad you like them, though I’m at the other end of the potato-eating scale. I’ve eaten potatoes cooked in just about every possible way, including raw, and loved every mouthful.

    Urgh. I did say that potatoes are not normally conducive to my gastric comfort.

    You can be the Happy Puppy, or even Pappy’s Happy Puppy. And we won’t let anyone join our Seeekrit Cable Cabal who can’t say your name 10 times fast.

    I propose an additional test! Every prospective member must read 1 John Scalzi book, and 1 Brandon Sanderson book. And must proclaim the glory of Our Lord Scalzi. Long may he reign.

    Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Scalzi O’hio wgah’nagl fhtagn! ia! ia! Scalzi fhtagn!

  163. Mary Francis:

    I understand what you’re saying about “General,” but the term “Mainstream Literary Fiction” was used by an author I know to try to explain the kind of thing she was writing, specifically to me. In retrospect, she may have been choosing vocabulary specifically for me, too. It was in a pretty personal–not professional–context.

    She’s writing a contemporary drama with serious content and hoping to write good prose. And good for her. I wish her success.

    Prof X:

    And I do think LitFic is a genre, though its content varies. It’s whatever academia prefers at the moment.

    Oh you do, do you? Okay, then define it. And bear in mind, if it changes its definition every year, it’s not a genre. It’s either a stylistic movement, with writers using similar styles, imagery, content and themes/treatments (like magic realism,) or it’s a large group that shares only a similar content, such as mysteries all have a mystery in them but may have very different styles and themes. LitFic is a marketing strategy with media used on a broad range of books that are in different category and literary genres, not a genre itself. Doc Science has a personal preference interpretation, not a genre definition either.

    Floored: I’m leaning towards Hyper Pizza Kitten. You may refine it.

  164. Kat: Hyper Pizza Kitten…I like it. But maybe…

    Tofu Bacon Klingon Kitten?

    Because I’m a vegetarian Trekkie? And the Bacon as a reference to Our Glorious Host?

    Okay, then define it.


    *head explodes*

    I would broadly posit that literature is something that (a) is fun to read, (b) is still being read over a hundred years later while remaining fun to read, and (c) touches on something important about humanity or life. “Fun”, in this case, means “rewarding to read and hard/impossible to put down”.

  165. Floored –
    The Flying Karamotzov Brothers version of Comedy of Errors (which is even better than Xopher paints it) is on Youtube. Go forth, young padawan.

    THERE is a lovely bit of populist literature.

  166. Floored, Flint’s 1632 series is tremendous fun in the beginning (5 – 6 books?) but the stories he allows others to write are seriously hit or miss. I’ve since stopped reading the series cause, really, who wants to see crap ladled over a gem? Not to say that I’m ‘right’ about this as the series is still hugely popular but I’m waiting for Flint to write something new.

  167. Thanks for the advice Mary Frances. I’ll definitely request the printed program. Thank you very much.

  168. The Flying Karamotzov Brothers version of Comedy of Errors (which is even better than Xopher paints it) is on Youtube. Go forth, young padawan.

    He painted it pretty well, I don’t see how…


    damn it, I needed to sleep tonight, but now I have to watch this instead.

    Ambivalent: Huh, guess I’ll stick the the first few, then. Unfortunately, extended series, especially ones without a relatively hard overarching plan, are something that very few authors are good at. Best to end on a high note rather than petering out.

  169. Hi..first time poster on Whatever! Thoroughly enjoyed Redshirts last fall and have been lurking these forums a bit since.

    It seems to me that the only leg the puppies have to stand on (admittedly a rather wobbly leg) is that the average tastes of Hugo voters, AKA Worldcon members, have diverged somewhat from the average tastes of readers of sci/fi fantasy. Nathaniel Givens has a collection of puppy analyses, including the observation that Hugo winners over the last few years have beaten works with higher GoodReads scores:

    Of course, it would be silly to claim that non-puppy Worldcon members ONLY like organic GMO-free molecular gastronomy, and are prejudiced against burger and fries . Even sillier to concoct a vegan-gluten-free conspiracy behind it all. But, compared to the average foodie the tastes of worldcon may have moved more towards the side of novelty, finely-spiced character development, and carefully teased prose, and less towards meat and potatoes adventures.

    I’m reminded of a friend complaining that their family Thanksgiving dinner keeps getting stranger and spicier year by year, as the older family members lose taste buds and want stronger and more unusual flavors to excite their weathered tongues. Worldcon has been greying for years, while the new generation of scifi/fantasy fans are favoring DragonCon and Comicon…

    I think this may be the kernel of truth hiding in the puppies cake, and I wish the sad puppies had used in a constructive manner to recruit new, independently-voting members to worldcon. Instead they have flailed around with a flurry of accusations and bravado, and made the mistake of buddying up to the guy selling (rabid) rat-meat tacos. I do have optimism that this unpleasant meal will eventually be flushed away, preferably with a spray of febreze, and the majority of people on both sides will realize that their tastes weren’t so very different to begin with.

    Mike H

  170. Kat Goodwin: Literary fiction isn’t a genre.

    Doctor Science: Wow, do I disagree. A Dog barks, someone eats a watermelon, a car drives away.

    Nice link, Doc.

    I think one thing that is going on is that people who like “literary” books are like people who define “politics” as something that other people have. People saying “literary” isn’t a genre the loudest seem to be people who traffic in that particular genre, and they’ve been trained to think “genre” (politics) is bad and therefore their works are not genre (a political) therefore good.

    wikipedia has a quote from Sam Delaney who defines it as a genre.

    Just because the boundary is fuzzy doesn’t mean it isn’t drawing a circle around a unique and specific concept. There are still debates over what is and is not science fiction, especially at the boundaries.

    At its worst definition, “literary” seems to be used to indicate a work where form is more important than entertainment, where invoking the correct symbolism is more important than a good read. If you didn’t have an english teacher at least once ramble on about how wonderful some book was that bored you to tears, then you must have been in shop class. At its worst, literary means snobbish because its just another genre where the people who traffic in that genre thinks its somehow better than genre.

    at its best, it seems to focus on the internal, existential dread and drama of existence, a digging down into the introspective mind, which means that action isn’t nearly as important. But also, literary can’t dig TOO far or else it crosses into SF. Phillip K. Dick focused on challenging rock solid assumptions about reality, and was clearly SF, even without the shootemups. Literary is realism. Kafka is surreal. Literary is mundane. Literary is about muggles. At most, it ventures out into magical realism, where surreal things happens but usually draws the line so that no one actually casts spells.

    somewhere in between, there are good and bad examples of the genre. Some explore new insights. Some cover the same old cliches and tropes. but it seems to carve out a kind of art that is all its own, so I see no reason to call it its own genre. Except of course, that means some people will have to admit they like “genre”.

    Somewhere in the middle is likely to find most literary stories:

  171. Helen Howes, Mintwitch:

    I’m starting to suspect that the Internet Olympics would have a variety of online Sports, split into various events, with certain recognised techniques within each event.

    So for example, the wider sport would be Verbal Gymnastics, the event within the sport would be Thread Derailing, and the techniques could include the “All-About-Me”, the “#NotAllX”, and the ever-popular “Libertarian Dismount”.

    Meanwhile, within the sport of Specialist Posting would be included the Rant (scored as per gymnastics floor routines – you’re given a number of elements, you have to include all of them, and marks are given for style, technical execution, and overall aesthetic appeal). Other Specialist Posting events would be the Review (with different divisions for books, games, etc), the Informational Article, the Comment, and the News Posting. Each event could have various length divisions, such as the Tweet (Twitter, 140 characters), the Wall (300 characters), the Drabble (100 words), the Post (300 – 500 words), Long Post (500 – 1000 words), the Essay (1000 – 2000 words) and the Marathon (over 2000 words).

    The Flounce is an event in Verbal Gymnastics (rather like the Vault in gymnastics), where participants are scored on height of outrage, variety of verbal tricks included in huff, and whether or not they stick the dismount correctly.

    Trolling is definitely an overall sport, but I’d argue it’s a sport with both Individual and Team divisions. In the individual version there are the solo performers who go into things to create a mess. In the Team division, there are wider examples with multiple participants (we’d be looking at 4-chan, various SubReddits and 8-chan as being the equivalent of specialist training facilities for such things, I suspect). I think further study would be required in order to pin down the apparent “rules” of the sport, and how scores should be allocated.

  172. Greg: I liked that very much. It seems that so much “literary” stuff is considered so only until and unless it develops an actual plot, at which point many people decide it has to be “genre”. There are also fewer ‘splosions, unless they’re metaphorical. If Space Marines is a genre, so is Middle-Aged SWM Intellectual Has Angst.

    And now I’m having twitchy flashbacks to my high school American Lit teacher. God forbid she should let us read something that had a happy ending, or the main character didn’t die or wish they had.

    Doc’s link made me LOL. Well, it was a snerk through my nose, but close enough. I encourage everyone to read it.

  173. megpie: I am deliberately breaking Scalzi’s no-double-post rule here because I cannot wait another minute to applaud you for your in-depth, brilliant codifying of the Internet Olympics. Brava.

  174. Greg,

    I assume anyone posting here likes genre, so being afraid of the word “genre,” doesn’t really hold up as the reason some posters have said lit fic isn’t a genre.

    What does it say when only people who proudly disdain “lit fic” think it’s a genre?

  175. Literary seems to me to be a particular quality, rather than a genre. There are literary mystery novels, SF novels, mainstream novels. Different genres.

  176. Me: it seems to carve out a kind of art that is all its own, so I see no reason to call it its own genre.

    I see no reason NOT to call it its own genre. Dang it.

    Miriam: anyone posting here likes genre, so being afraid of the word “genre,” doesn’t really hold up

    I don’t think you’ll find unanimous agreement for the definition of science fiction either, even among SF afficianados, that in itself doesn’t mean that “science fiction” doesnt exist as a genre.

    What does it say when only people who proudly disdain “lit fic” think it’s a genre?

    I don’t “proudly disdain” literary fiction. It’s a form of art and it doesn’t do anything for me. I like chocolate dipped vanilla ice cream cones from McDonalds. litfic is black raspberry ice cream served on fine china with a drizzle of red raspberry on the plate garnished with a lemon peel cut in a corkscrew shape. Neither one is innately “good” or “bad”, its just that my tastes prefer one and not the other.

    If anything, I’d say a stereotypical feature of literary fiction afficianados is that they “proudly disdain” genre and assert their fiction is innately better.

    From the point of view of art, literary fiction is simply another form of art, a genre that describes the form. From the point of view of the audience, litfic fans seems best known for how they are NOT “fans” (ew), their proud disdain of other genres, the assignment of innate value of their form (rather than acknowledging the subjective), and a stuffy/formal hipster attitude to what the masses like. Clearly, that’s not unanimous, just like you won’t find a unanimous definition of “science fiction genre”, but I think it draws a rough circle around the thing that we’re talking about, and I think there really is some kind of thing there.

  177. Of course Shakespeare wrote more alien names than Scalzi. You’d know that if you had read Shakespeare in the original Klingon!

  178. Of course Shakespeare wrote more alien names than Scalzi. You’d know that if you had read Shakespeare in the original Klingon!

    People read Shakespeare in translation? Blasphemy! How else can the glories of Qo’noS ta’puq, Hamlet lotlut be properly enjoyed?

    (note that “Hamlet” is pronounced “Khahm-let”, not “Ham-let”. The H sound in tlhIngan Hol is distinct from the h sound–H is a hoarse sound in the back of the throat, whereas h is softer, more like the English version)

    How can one enjoy the famous poetry of

    meQ Hovmey ‘e’ yIghoH.
    ratlh pemHov ‘e’ HIpon.
    ngeb vIt chIch ‘e’ yInoH.
    bang jIH, not ‘e’ yIHon.
    lut ‘ay’ cha’ lut ‘ay’Hom cha’.

    and of course the legendary

    taH pagh taHbe’. DaH mu’tlheghvam vIqelnIS.
    quv’a’, yabDaq San vaQ cha, pu’ je SIQDI’?
    pagh, Seng bIQ’a’Hey SuvmeH nuHmey SuqDI’,
    ‘ej, Suvmo’, rInmoHDI’? Hegh. Qong — Qong neH —
    ‘ej QongDI’, tIq ‘oy’, wa’SanID Dawe’ je
    cho’nISbogh porghDaj rInmoHlaH net Har.
    lut ‘ay’ wej lut ‘ay’Hom wa’.

    in anything but the original tlhIngan Hol?


    (bonus points if you recognize those quotes)(hint: Chang quotes the first line of the second one in the dinner scene in ST 6)

  179. we’d be looking at 4-chan, various SubReddits and 8-chan as being the equivalent of specialist training facilities for such things, I suspect

    And so, Ender’s Game is expressed in [virtual] reality, and look what happens.

    Note: I probably have a much more compassionate viewing of 4chan (at least, parts) than many civilized people.

  180. @cranapia, @Becca Stareyes:

    And there you have the dilemma of the English teacher! With 30-40 students in each class, 4 or 5 classes per semester, you’ve got as many as 200 students who are supposed to read the same book and get a standardized amount of the same information and reaction out of it. Yikes!

    We do our best – we try to share our enthusiasms, we try to show them that there’s far more out there than we can possibly touch on in four years of high school, and we accept that not every book is for every kid. We hope we’ve built the skeleton of a reader, one they will flesh out for themselves over a lifetime of reading.

    A lot of YA fiction is written as dystopian because teenagers often perceive the world as dystopian. Many don’t feel they fit in, they don’t like the adult world they are joining, and they want to change it radically, and prove themselves to be able to cope with that dystopia. It’s why I loved The Moon is a Harsh Mistress when I was fourteen.

    And, for everyone out there who learned to avoid Shakespeare, smart teachers today involve performance, not just reading the production notes left by a small and underfunded troupe four hundred years ago.

  181. Oooh…I am fascinated by the whole SJW and Sad Puppy kerfuffle. I have read fic by both so-called SJWs and so-called Sad Puppies. I’ve read (or listened to) most of our host’s oevre (I still think Agent to the Stars is my very favorite) and also listened to Mr. Correia’s stuff as audiobooks. Darn it, I maintain steadfastly my right to like and “read” whatever I want to. Some days you want MickeyDee fries, other days the Horsey Sauce. Frankly, never really thought about the writer’s politics when surfing for SF&F reading materials, nom nom…probably won’t now either. Some years I have liked the Hugo winners and others not so much. Still, it is unfortunate that some (many?) nominees chosen for this year’s Hugos appear to have been selected by forces other than by persons who READ lots of books. Meh…sour grapes still always leave a bad taste in the mouth.

  182. I have enjoyed reading Shakespeare, but it can be work until you find a way into the flow of it. Staged versions and movies such as Branagh’s “Henry V” can help.

    The book “Shakespeare Saved My Life” by Laura Bates recently gave me a new appreciation for how powerful Shakespeare’s work can be. Bates is a professor of English at a university in Indiana. The book is about her experiences teaching Shakespeare in a supermax prison, in particular the deep changes reading the plays and thinking about them and discussing them made in a particular prisoner. So of course the state of Indiana, probably as a cost-cutting measure, stopped funding education programs in prison. Not because of the Shakespeare program, but the success of the program made it clear how shortsighted the state’s decision was. The book is a much easier read than Shakespeare’s work and I found it inspiring–and not a lot of books have that effect on me, avid reader though I am.

  183. I agree that it’s best to experience Shakespeare live, first. I was lucky enough to attend a Jr High in a city large enough to have a Repertory Theatre that set aside free bulk matinee tickets for schools. My first play was Richard III, which I still love more than all others, but the experience itself made me a fan of Shakespeare’s work. Except the “weird” ones: Timon of Athens? Really?

  184. Charlie Jane Anders wrote what I consider the definitive essay on the sf-vs-lit-fic topic way back in 2008:

    I think Hugo winners often sit at the intersection of literary writing and satisfying fantastical storytelling — which is exactly what you would expect, isn’t it?

    As far as I can tell, “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” gave all the Sad people vapors and conniptions because it was too much on the literary side. I’ve also had friends complain when they think a nominee isn’t literary enough to be worth a Hugo.

    The difference? My friends never treated it as some kind of unforgivable sin against the sacred heart of science fiction. They never mounted a slate voting campaign in protest. And they never made complete buffoons of themselves on the Internet over it.

  185. An abstruse argument on whether or not lit-fic is a genre? Now I know this is a book blog.

  186. Hey Mike H, welcome.

    And no, the puppies don’t have even a wobbly leg to stand on. WorldCon is a non-profit, book centered, traveling con. A different convention hosts it each year, which ups their attendance. The amount of the attendance varies depending on where the WorldCon is held. If it’s outside the U.S., attendance is usually less, the bigger the city in the U.S., the bigger the attendance. If WorldCon brought in Hollywood actors, it would get mammoth. But WorldCon deliberately limits the number of attendees and the cons that host it couldn’t handle a giant attendance. Nonetheless, WorldCon and SFF cons in general have greatly benefited from the media cons that do have the actors and in which authors also play a part. The convention system is a lot larger than it used to be, after a moribund period in the 1990’s. But it’s also a lot more expensive to go to them, because venues are more expensive.

    The WorldCon certainly has its share of older fans, because they are the ones who have disposable income and time to help organize things the most. But if the older fans were actually taking over the Hugo voting, we wouldn’t be seeing a slight increase in women and non-white nominees. We’d be seeing a decrease or the status quo holding. It’s the younger contingent of fans who are very slowly creating a change. The puppies, in contrast, don’t want new stuff. They want to go back to old stuff, to an imaginary time when Heinlein was supposedly king and everybody read John Carter of Mars stuff.

    Again, the nominees and winners of the Hugo Best Novel Award are almost all international bestsellers, national bestsellers or major sellers/lead titles. They aren’t out of touch; they are what people are reading. The Campbells only sometimes have fast burn bestsellers but do have the up and comers that all the fans are talking about. Which included Correia and Brad back before they went wiggy.

    The short fiction is somewhat more obscure because bestsellers seldom write short fiction now, and the magazines are more obscure than the book market. But they are less obscure than they used to be. Again, after the doldrums of the 1990’s and difficult early oughts, the magazine community, while small, is doing pretty well. And the nominees for short fiction again come from the major magazines mostly and anthologies, of which we have more of than we did only ten years ago. Short fiction, by its nature as short, has less violent action in it than the novels, but that’s always been the case. And the dramatic awards to t.v. and film almost always have major popular nominees like Doctor Who and Marvel blockbusters.

    Basically, the puppies just keep trying out various elite oppressors versus scrappy underdog narratives. The “left” imaginary cabal are the “cool clique” — the jocks and cheerleaders who rule the school unfairly and bully the nice smart unpopular geeks that are the puppies. At the same time, the left cabal are the smart, jealous, educated snobs who are oppressing with mockery and censorship (disagreeing with them,) the popular, manly, capable tough guys (Doctor Evil versus Superman.) At the same time, the left cabal are the rich white college frat boys oppressing the in touch with the people poor townies (social class.) At the same time, the left cabal likes only obscure and weird political art while disdaining the regular guy conservative science adventure show that is Star Trek (that one didn’t fly too well so now David Gerrold is head of the cabal.) The left are the establishment and the puppies are daring innovators — who want to go back to the 1960’s. The left are the Evil Emperor, the puppies the Jedi. The left are the Matrix, the puppies are Neo (never mind they made a deal with each other in the last movie.) And so forth.

    So, no, not even a wobbly leg. Nor did they support Baen Books after all the screaming. Only Teddy’s obscure, tiny press got the big nods.

  187. @Kat



  188. @Cricket:

    Gaddooks, I be mortified! Hope I didn’t come across as ragging on teachers — as far as I’m concerned, they’re grossly undersung heroes who get more than enough grief without me joining the pile on. (And may I say often do a fine job despite the worse efforts of politicians and school board culture warriors.) My Book Love was fed at a critical point by an exceptional English teacher and I have neither treasure nor words that could ever repay that debt.

    And I think you’re right — when you’re in a classroom where the students are at (how to put this politely) various levels of skill and engagement, it’s really hard to be all things to all people. (At least in university-level teaching, the student body want to be there. Theoretically.) But you can still challenge, extend and engage people without throwing a copy of Finnegans Wake on the floor and demanding a book report by the end of the period. :)

  189. I doubt anyone said this. John’s works are more like Chicken Mcnuggets: fun food (or books) to eat (read) unless you start to think about them. Then they fall apart like the chicken parts stuck together with binding glue they are.

  190. I’ve never had a Chicken McNugget fall apart no matter how much I thought at it.

  191. Most books are stuck together with binding glue. Kind of where the name comes from. Metaphors–we will mix them.

    The death of print will only ever truly happen once your kindle can make that new book smell.

  192. Mixing metaphors? Hey, I’m a scientist and mathematician not a writer. So I can be excused for sloppy metaphor use.

  193. But I guess it’s better than comparing his writing to hot apple pies. Something enticing that burns your mouth with its lava-like insides when you bite into it.

  194. But I guess it’s better than comparing his writing to hot apple pies. Something enticing that burns your mouth with its lava-like insides when you bite into it.

    Hot apple pie. Mmmmmmm….OUCH.

  195. I believe that John likes cake–I don’t have information about his dealings with apple pie.
    I, however, really like apple pie and find that some ice cream goes very well with hot apple pie.
    Also, possibly, you could try cooling it before you bite it. Being a scientist, I would think that would have occurred to you.

  196. KatG@3:23: Actually, based on Torgersen’s SP3 manifesto, I think it’s clear the Puppies don’t want to go back to the 1960s, they want to go back to the 1930s.

  197. ULTRAGOTHA: I had no idea! Thank you! (I have an old VHS tape somewhere…)

  198. Mixing metaphors? Hey, I’m a scientist and mathematician not a writer. So I can be excused for sloppy metaphor use.

    But can you be excused as a scientist for insufficiently evidenced conclusions?

  199. On silly topic: You are AT LEAST the Jack-In-The-Box of sci-fi. Mmmmn, curly fries.

    On serious topic: I haven’t read much of your work; I’m in the middle of Old Man’s War right now. Judging from Old Man’s War, I’m… Uh? How do I put this? It’s exactly the sort of thing the Scrappy-Doos – excuse me, Sad Puppies – CLAIM they want to see more of. Why are you in their crosshairs again, given that?

  200. @mcjuliek, et al: I didn’t think “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” was all that literary (Just read it again). It does have a lovely, poetic use of language, but so does lots of SF. Is having prose that’s more than workmanlike enough to make it “literary”? Geez, I hope not. It’s maybe not mainstream SF, though it wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for mainstream SF; there’s direct references to “Jurassic Park”, a most un-literary and popular novel.* I’d heard some people were fussed about it because Teh Gay? It didn’t even win.

    (Would “Lock-In” have even made the ballot if Teddy and his stooges hadn’t conspired? I haven’t checked the numbers. The RAH biography would have.)

    @KatG, yes, as always. I forgive you your taste in fries.

    @PhilRM: Indeed! But back in the days when only square-jawed blond heroes thundered through the void, even Doc Smith managed to come up with a few decent female characters. Totally devoted to their man, but not without agency and talent themselves.

    @Cricket: gee, I wish I’d had you in 11th grade instead. You might have at least let us watch a Shakespeare-based movie.

    @Xopher: hi, pal! What are your thoughts on The Reduced Shakespeare Company? I remember back when they were just the guys who made me laugh every autumn at Renaissance Faire. The balcony scene from “Romeo and Juliet” as the guy in a dress slid down the big oak tree in the middle of the audience… Will himself would have loved it.

    *I am totally STOKED to see StarLord vs. dinos this summer, BTW. My t-shirt from the first movie awaits wearing to the theater. Rawr.

  201. RE: Literary fiction as a genre

    I’ve really enjoyed this side discussion from about half a dozen people.

    (I’m a former journalist who has now taught writing and English since 2001.) It’s my impression that literary fiction, among the taste-makers and elites who control what is taught in schools and universities and what eventually makes it into The Western Canon, is defined as Good Stuff That Will Last And That Everyone Should Read If They Are Civilized. These well-meaning yet pretentious folks agreed that literary fiction is written by Artists with no thought given to “Will it sell?”. Full stop. (Which is actually a very false dichotomy — art vs. sales. The basis for this I leave for you all to flesh out at your leisure. Exhibit A: Shakespeare and Mozart.)

    As the 20th century dawned, more people than ever before could buy books and read them, because of (surprise) technological advances!

    The rise of GENRE FICTION happened — the Inheritors of the Canon labeled it as such because it was seen as Too Popular. Unwashed. Obviously Commercial. Liked by the Uneducated. In their eyes, there was Literary (or Mainstream) Fiction (I’ve also seen it sometimes called Realistic Fiction), and then, all that other drek which was written only to sell. (All that yucky genre fic.)

    Many observers and even some academics have noted with glee how certain genre writers actually eventually get lumped into Literary Fiction by the canonizers if their work is good — or if they have written both “mainstream fiction” and later something approaching genre.

    Literary Fiction was on one side of a gulf, the Good Side, and all kinds of Genre Fiction was on the other side.

    So some observers began claiming that this situation had become, by the end of the 20th century, the tail wagging the dog. And they began to insist that Literary (or Mainstream or Realistic) Fiction was indeed just another genre.

    And, as Kat has pointed out, that writing with elements of magic, or the future, or a detective as a protagonist, could be literary — that is, conscious of the poetry of language, as concerned with form as with plot.

    But now, there is a growing number of folks inside the academy who will allow that Mainstream Fiction is indeed actually just another genre. And that it’s unfair to call Genre Fiction inferior simply because it can be categorized as mystery, detective, fantasy, SF, horror, etc. (Fielding and Fish are excellent on this.)

    It’s been hilarious to watch (just a couple of examples) Chabon’s obviously genre work be accepted by the academy, and, conversely, Atwood’s revulsion at being labeled a SF writer after “A Handmaid’s Tale.” I don’t know if she’s mellowed about that or not.

    The acceptance of magical realism into Mainstream or Literary Fiction has been a lasting source of amusement to me too. Because we all know it’s basically Fantasy!

    So I believe there is indeed a strong case to make for calling Mainstream Fiction nothing more than one genre among others. And also for noting that any genre can have literary elements. But there is still a group of English and Literature professors, and the New York publishing folks who studied under them, who believe there is Literary Fiction (the good stuff) and Everything Else.

    I have a friend who is currently doing an MFA in Writing at an East Coast university which shall remain nameless, and she is continually fighting both fellow students and professors who don’t believe she should be submitting work with SF elements for her classes. Because that’s just icky lowbrow genre fiction, don’t you know.

    (I just can’t face getting into the weirdness that is happening with the Puppy faction claiming that an insistence on “literary” elements in SF IRT the Hugos is somehow a sign of SF abandoning its roots. I just can’t go there.)


  202. *I am totally STOKED to see StarLord vs. dinos this summer, BTW. My t-shirt from the first movie awaits wearing to the theater. Rawr.


    Mosasaur…ten times too big…raptors…wrong heads, necks…hands pronated improperly…no feathers…the phrase “genetically engineered hybrid”…pterosaurs lifting people…pterosaur feet improperly shaped and too strong…how the heck can that thing control them? Who thought this was a good idea? HAVE YOU NEVER SEEN A REAL DINOSAUR SKELETON EVER???????

    *grumble grumble grumpycat*

    Hey, I’m a paleontology nerd and plan to go into the field as my career. I get angry about stuff like the above.

  203. @Dana: Heh. I got that from my CW professors/fellow students, too. The professors were actually okay the first two years*; it was my classmates writing things like “I don’t think this story has enough societal meaning” that bugged. (By the end, I wanted to start writing “I don’t think this story has enough cybernetic ninjas” on their terribly-deep-examinations-of-whatever.) Third year, the professor actually was like “pfft, sf, I disapprove.”

    I’m sorry, lady, would you prefer I write about rape, eating disorders, or my dysfunctional relationship with my family?** I mean, I guess I could try to shoot the moon and do all three, but it’s a short term.

    *And one of them was thirty-year-old hotness with a British accent. Of all the things I regret in my life, not inviting him to break a few regulations definitely ranks up there. Damn.
    **I actually get along pretty well with my family, which I suspect counted against me in that class.

  204. @cranapia:

    No worries! I’m very happy to discuss the joys of literature you discovered when you were young. It’s not remotely the same as demanding that teachers give up all salaries and work 80 hour weeks, because we’re destroying civilization (urgh, politicians!). And yikes, did a teacher really hand you Joyce and expect a book report? That teacher must have been a glutton for grading punishment. Nothing duller than the standard book report. (I once had a seventh grader design modern costumes for Carmen after seeing the Beyonce version on MTV – hey, it was the first assignment he’d been interested in all year.)

    And, best movie to use teaching Shakespeare: 10 Things I Hate About You, contrasted with the old ACT version of Shrew. Essays/projects can discuss the different choices made by the directors to get the same text across.

  205. And one of them was thirty-year-old hotness with a British accent. Of all the things I regret in my life, not inviting him to break a few regulations definitely ranks up there. Damn.


  206. @isabel: I knew I could neither have a literary career, nor be a stand-up comedian when I realized I came from a stable home. I mean, sure, we had problems, but we were functional and all and we enjoyed getting together on holidays. Poof. Entire fields of creative endeavor ruled right out.

    @Floored: Sweetie, I knew dinosaurs before your parents even met. Possibly before they were born. And even my friend with the PhD in Dinosaurs loves JP movies, unabashedly.

    @Dana: Back in the 80’s (?), when the Latin American writers were the big thing, a popular t-shirt and button at cons was “Magical Realism: It’s Spanish for fantasy.”

  207. @Floored: Sweetie, I knew dinosaurs before your parents even met. Possibly before they were born. And even my friend with the PhD in Dinosaurs loves JP movies, unabashedly.

    Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love the original movie, even if it makes me foam at the mouth at times. The sequels are OK, too–the second one, at least.

    I just…I can imagine animals that big in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann or something equally over the top, but that mosasaurid is over 600 feet long.

    Also, the raptors are moving at speeds that should be physically impossible for a dromaeosaurid, and they have no feathers. It’s a step back in terms of realism, and that’s part of what makes me upset–these movies have a really broad field of appeal, and can lead to a lot of public misconceptions.

    In fairness, Chris Pratt leading a pack of raptors to hunt a giant killer monster thing sounds like the best possible combination of GotG and Godzilla. And DINOSAURS. I just…when a movie about dinosaurs blatantly breaks the laws of physics multiple times in the trailers alone and has an animal pronate its hands in a way that would be agonizingly, unsustainably painful for the living animal…ehhh. My inner bio nerd gets stroppy.

  208. Dana: The acceptance of magical realism into Mainstream or Literary Fiction has been a lasting source of amusement to me too. Because we all know it’s basically Fantasy!

    But “magical realism” has something about it that puts it into the “realism” camp, not the “fantasy” camp. The Peter Seller movie “Being There” seems to fit into the “Literary” genre. There isn’t much plot, it’s more an observation of the state of existence of rich people. And in the final scene, Peter nonchalantly and without meaning to, walks on water. It’s a magical element, but I wouldn’t put the movie in the Fantasy genre.

    Fantasy is usually set in a different world. Or if its something like Harry Potter, it pulls back the curtain to reveal a secret part of our world that we didn’t know existed. The “Literary” genre, when it uses magic, seems to use it as pointing to some inexplicable aspect of our world now. Maybe its a reference to Sartre’s notion of the absurdity of the meaningless of life, not sure. But it seems to be pointing to the world we live in, whereas Fantasy usually posits a different world entirely or some secret aspect of the world we live in.

    The recent movie Birdman used magic realism Jryy, rvgure zntvpny ernyvfz naq ur pbhyq yvgrenyyl syl, be fvzcyl ernyvfz naq na haeryvnoyr aneengbe jub ercbegf gung ur’f sylvat, ohg vf npghnyyl qryhfvbany naq gnxvat n pno. Ohg rvgure jnl, vg jnf zntvp va bhe jbeyq, abg n jbeyq jvgu fhcreurebrf naq fhcreivyynvaf naq nyy gur ehyrf gung pbzr jvgu fhcrecbjref. Vg jnf nobhg n thl gelvat gb trg n oebnqjnl cynl bss gur tebhaq, qrnyvat jvgu uvf bja vaare qrzbaf bs frys jbegu, qrnyvat jvgu nyy gur riragf sebz uvf cnfg jurer ur znqr znffvir zvfgnxrf (purngvat ba uvf (abj rk) jvsr. Abg orvat n tbbq sngure gb uvf qnhtugre. abg orvat n tbbq oblsevraq gb uvf pheerag (be erpragyl rk) tveysevraq.)

    Based on all that, Birdman is pretty clearly in the “literary fiction” genre.

    gurer’f abg zhpu bs n cybg nf sne nf “tbnyf” ner pbaprearq. Vg’f abg n 3 npg fgbel nobhg trggvat gur cynl ba oebnqjnl, abg ernyyl. Vg’f nobhg gur znva punenpgre pbzvat gb tevcf jvgu nyy uvf vaare qrzbaf, obgu “erny” (rk jvsr, qnhtugre, tveysevraq, pbzcrgvgvba sebz uvf pbjbexre) naq gur zrgncubevpny qrzba gung jnf uvf Oveqzna nygre-rtb gung jbhyqa’g yrnir uvz nybar.

    That’s got literary written all over it.

    isabel: Damn.


  209. My biggest objection to the Hugos is that, in my view, they tend to be overly populist, but of course that’s an inevitable outcome of a populist nomination & voting system, so hey, what do you expect? Besides, it takes a lot more than a year to determine which works are going to turn out to be stayers, rather than flashes in the pan.
    Ironically, John, I’m a fan of your work /because/ you write solid, enjoyable, mainstream SF, whereas works of ‘literary’ SF are both more work to read, & more likely to be duds instead of winners.

  210. I know this is coming a bit late (usually when I’ve caught up on the threads, comments have closed for the night), but I just wanted to express concern at the ‘putting the puppies to sleep’ bit from earlier. I’m not sure that was really appropriate, even if I don’t take it seriously. And I figure they’re doing well enough making stuff up to be angry about, why give them ammo? You just know someone will call it a death threat, and I’ve seen a Puppy complain about ‘calls for euthanasia’ from another discussion.

    As far as food goes, I tried Arby’s a couple of times when I visited the US. I liked it. The horseradish sauce, not so much.

  211. Lurkertype: I know them only by rumor. Never seen them at all.

    Jonathon: Save the people. Euthanize their silly, destructive movement.

  212. Jonathan, there is no cure for rabies. By the time a dog shows symptoms, all you can do is euthanize them.

  213. @ I forget: The Reduced Shakespeare Company — is the best thing EVA!!!111!!!

    @isabelcooper: “I don’t think this story has enough cybernetic ninjas”

    Thank you for that. Thank you so much. I’m crying with laughter, right now.

  214. Xopher: That sounds a bit better, yeah.

    Greg: maybe, I just don’t think we want to feed their persecution complex deliberately.

    Although now it has gone ‘Animal Farm’ in my head: not all puppies are rabid, but some are more rabid than others.

  215. @Xopher: find ye some videos, ASAP! They’ve done stage shows that are on DVD. 20 minutes for a whole play, done by 3 people. All the plays with numbers done as a football game. The Compleat Works in an hour. It’s mintwitch and me approved, you’ll like it!

    @isabel: I do wish you had done that. Or even “I feel this has not enough plot. Or ideas. Or too much navel-gazing.” We also would have approved of more real aliens, instead of just people from a different country. Oh well, you can only console yourself with a functional relationship with relatives, book sales and the love of dozens (perhaps not British accented).

    Now I shall Preview for a change. Watch me check my tags, Ma!

  216. Floored: Tofu Kitten shall do, I think. That allows you to be TK for short.

    PhilRM: Except that they don’t know what was published and popular in the 1930’s any more than they do what was published in the 1960’s.

    Dana: No, that’s not how it works. That’s the commercial versus literary narrative, which is muddled with packaging confusion. As stated, the second use of literary fiction is related to the first (quality of form,) and that is the academic literary study, which creates not one canon of literature but many canons that get argued over a lot.

    But what the puppies are concerned with is the third use of literary fiction, which is marketing techniques in the fiction publishing industry. And the second meaning of genre — a large category of disparate stories that share very general content — also comes not from academia (where genre means a literary movement like magic realism or post-modernism,) but from fiction book-selling, where genre means selling category and has nothing to do with the quality or lack of quality of a work at all.

    So publishers put out new titles, not long standing ones, and call them literary and push them as literary and hope media, critics and readers will agree (which doesn’t always occur.) And these literary titles have always been historical, contemporary and speculative — all three always. As literary titles, where you want to get reviews and have libraries buy them, most of them are put out in hardcover first or only. However, sometimes large trade paperback can be used and in the 1980’s, the best-selling success of Bright Lights, Big City in trade paperback made that a more regular option, though hardcover is better.

    In the earlier past, mass market paperbacks were put out by the same publishers that did comics and magazines and sold mostly not in bookstores, while trade paper and hc were sold in bookstores. So there was a perceived dichotomy to book publishing — the hc bookstore fiction for the educated and the mass market penny dreadfuls, five centers, dime novels, quarter novels, etc. for the masses. This dichotomy was never actually real, and when the publishers merged and mass market was more in the bookstores, it should have disappeared but it became a handy marketing strategy, like trying to sell luxury cars. But novels considered literary were also put out in mass market paperback all the time. Mass market and trade paper became very useful for the education and college markets, from the 1950’s onward.

    Category “genre” specialty markets are formed when there is perceived as enough folks willing to buy a fair amount of titles and including new authors of a general type of story like mysteries. That gets them an extra set of shelves in bookstores, plus some specialty bookstores, and specialty imprints. To feed the habit of these readers, publishers made books cheap (and including when the publishers did cheap comics and magazines for the wholesale market.) They were mostly in mass market paperback. But being a genre book didn’t mean necessarily a low quality of form. The styles in the genres varied widely.

    And the category markets did hardcover too, and “genre” novels were regularly put out in hc — suspense, romance, westerns, science fiction/fantasy, and were and still are sold both in general fiction and the category fiction markets in hardcover and paperback, both literary labeled and not at least immediately literary labeled. And they are cross-marketed through the various media venues as well. (And then there’s children’s/YA which is based on age and includes all types of stories.) Category markets will also market various authors as literary, though they may do so through genre media venues, rather than general fiction media venues, or they’ll do both.

    This all confuses people. They want a clear-cut binary division, a definite wall. So they kept the socio-economic fabrication of lordling hardcover and plebian mass market, and the category markets with their extra sets of shelves and lots of mass market titles got lumped into plebian. Eventually, genre as in category became a synonym for commercial mass market, but it really isn’t. But the rep is the thing.

    So Knopf has the rep for putting out literary fiction (including speculative fiction,) while Del Rey is a specialty SFF imprint serving mainly the category market and thus has the plebian rep. But they are part of the same mass publisher. So they just take an author out of Del Rey and stick her in Knopf if they want to repackage as literary (but still cross market to the category audience (who don’t really care as they like all sorts of styles.) Kurt Vonnegut very famously decided he was sick of the “ghetto” marketing of his stuff as commercial plebian. He was doing college prof stuff by that point, so he switched publishing imprints from genre category to general fiction, thus upping his literary cred. (Not that he’s not literary, but he was dealing with perceptions, which he then satirized in his novels. See Breakfast of Champions.)

    When the New Wave SF writers started kicking it off in the 1960’s, their marketing strategy was to declare that they were writing more literary stuff with better quality of form, deeper social commentary themes, witty satire and sexual exploration, reflecting social issues of the 1960’s. (And frankly, Heinlein jumped right into that.) Other SF authors and their fans of course resented being told their writing was therefore not very good adventure. As well they should, actually, as a lot of New Wave SF wasn’t particularly brilliant prose. But since it had to be a binary, those who wrote stories with less violent action often got called literary and those with it got called commercial — except when people didn’t like that for a title and so called it whatever they thought it was.

    So the puppies are borrowing that old argument, and saying that stories by liberals, particularly female and non-white authors (who may or may not be liberals,) can’t be any fun and are obsessed with prose and social issues. That they are the snooty lordlings hardcovers. And the puppies are ever so much smarter but are also the salt of the earth, rousing adventure tough mass market plebians standing up for the little guy.

    It has nothing to do with academia at all. It’s book-selling. Academia has, if anything, helped out category market authors get taken seriously as literary writers — Le Guin, Bradbury, Heinlein himself, etc. by studying them, and helped books of all styles sell more. They study everything from international politics through Harry Potter to an analysis of culture changes for women through several decades of graphic novels. But what the puppies care about is the marketing label of literary, not the academic one.

    The problem they have is that a lot of the novels and most of the short fiction have never had the literary label slapped on them. While I will happily discuss why I regard Red Shirts as literary, in general Scalzi has not had the label used for marketing. And he’s a bestseller. Meanwhile, Heinlein is considered a literary writer. So again, never jam today thinking.

    Poor George Martin is now thoroughly exasperated, asking why the puppies are upset that people call them puppies when they named themselves that and why they are claiming liberals are calling them wrongfans and such when they named themselves that.

  217. “Wrongfans” just proves that for people supposedly against ‘groupthink’, they sure do engage in it. And frankly, it’s verging on farce. Or a Monty Python skit.

    Fandom: The Hugos are for the fans! Yay!
    Puppies: Yay! We’re fans too! Gimme gimme!
    Fandom: Uh, actually, you’re not fans as such…
    Puppies: What? Why not? We like stuff!
    Fandom: Well….fandom is a community. We have people who contribute to fanzines, and run conventions, and all sorts of stuff that we generally call ‘fanac’.
    Puppies: So… it’s like a secret club? Are there secret initiations? Do we kiss a ring? I heard you have grandmasters, I bet you have to bow to them or something, right?
    Fandom: Uh…I guess it’s a club….
    Puppies: Do you have a name for yourselves?
    Fandom: Well, some of us use ‘truefan’, it’s kind of a jo –
    Puppies: Ohhhh, so I guess we’re not good enough to be ‘truefans’! I bet you call us WRONGFANS! How dare you! We’ll be back! You haven’t heard the last of us! *storms off*
    Fandom: But.. you can come in…

  218. I really don’t think that anyone outside puppy world needs to do anything to Brad and Larry; Day’s slate was far more successful than theirs, and Day, living in Italy whilst whinging about the plight of straight white men in the US, doesn’t give a toss for anything other than what he wants.

    Which means Brad and Larry are disposable, just like everyone else in Day’s world; they are in the painful process of recognising this fact…

  219. Jonathon Side, that strikes me as a brilliant short version. Because what’s been left out of a lot of the discussion I’ve seen is the fans and the community and what’s involved in being part of the community. A community is not a club, but you can’t proclaim yourself part of the community without participating in it. Well, you can, but you look foolish if you do.

  220. Kat: TK? Uh, maybe something else. That acronym is strongly associated with a legendary troll in my social circle.

    Poor George Martin is now thoroughly exasperated, asking why the puppies are upset that people call them puppies when they named themselves that and why they are claiming liberals are calling them wrongfans and such when they named themselves that.

    See, that’s the thing with political extremists (I’ve met some leftists who are like this; admittedly nowhere near as much as the right-wingers, but they still exist). They LOVE to call themselves various things, but as soon as someone points out how unbelievably stupid it sounds they start screaming about how it’s all a liberal plot or whatever.

    On that note, I think that “wrongfans” is actually a very good thing to call these people, as they really aren’t behaving like good fans at ALL. Reminds me a lot of that Enterprise fan I ran into a few weeks back who said that Trip Tucker wasn’t sexually assaulted in ENT: “Unexpected” because he didn’t seem traumatized by the experience*, and then proceeded to blame me for getting the show cancelled and allegedly killing Star Trek because of a fictitious letter-writing campaign. BTW, when Enterprise was cancelled for being terrible, I was 8. Maybe 7.

    There’s a right way and a wrong way to be a fan, and what the rabid dogs are doing (essentially claiming that their vision of SFF is THE ONLY ONE and claiming that others are part of some evil cabal*** to RUIN their vision of SFF) is very much bratty and immature behavior, and not good fandom.

    Put it another way: I don’t understand Homestuck at all. Can’t stand it, either. Do I criticize all of my friends (all of whom love Homestuck) for liking it? Hell no! That would be a d*ck move! Do I say that it’s not REAL sci-fi or fantasy for not conforming to my rigid criteria of what I like? Hell no! But that’s what Beale and Correia and their cronies are trying to do here. And it’s disgusting. Also immature, but mostly disgusting.

    *For context: The starship’s chief engineer goes on a date with an alien woman, who says “here, let’s play this game with telepathic rocks!”. Turns out that’s how the aliens mate, Tucker gets an alien embryo in his ribcage, and proceeds to be mocked by the whole crew as he grows nipples on his wrists and acts like an offensive stereotype of an overprotective mother. And NOBODY even considers that (a) this should be treated seriously, or (b) given that this thing is growing in a man’s lower ribcage, that he did not consent to this, and that the alien literally lied to him about the nature of the activity they were partaking in when he could not possibly have known any better, maybe they should, y’know, consider aborting the thing ASAP?

    And I was told that I was a terrible person for not getting how this episode was funny. And yes, it was supposed to be a comedy episode. For more info, here’s Chuck Sonnenburg explaining it: Triggers: Frank discussion of sexual assault (and portrayal of such in the episode reviewed).

    ***Which I still want to be a part of. Hail to the Dark and Mighty Scalzi, long may he reign!

  221. I always figured that if you could take out the magic and the story would be completely unchanged, it’s magical realism.

    And I do think that most of the time, it’s a legit category, not as escape from the fantasy ghetto–“Garden Spells” and “First Frost” for example are stories about family and small towns and young love and overwork and there happens to be an enchanted apple tree in the backyard, but you could cut the magic and keep 90% of the books intact. (I enjoy them enormously, but they are very distant from Lord of the Rings.)

    Maybe it’s like the percentages of cocoa required before you can call a thing chocolate. Less than X amount magic butter, and it is no longer fantasy and it must say so clearly on the label.

    (And this does not get into why ghosts are totally fine literary territory and do not automatically consign you to the fantasy shelf, which seems an oddly specific exemption, now that I think about it.)

  222. Most of the commentary here goes right past me.

    Point one: I am a practicing Orthodox Jew, so all these institutes of fine dining are unknown to me. I believe, with all my heart and all my soul, that this is a good thing. Point two: I am a radical anti-foodie. If I didn’t eat it when I was five years old, I will not eat it today, fifty years later. I can’t stand even tasting new foods. If anything, my diet has shrunk.

    So if the Puppies would only strike a blow for the bottom of the barrel in the food industry, turn the clock back on cooking to the Good Olde Days, based on The One True Religion from 2500 years ago, they’d have my support. Anything else is just Social Justice Food Warrior lamitude.

  223. Ursula Vernon: On Magical Realism . . . well, it depends on your definition of “magic,” I suppose. Take all of the uncanny events out of One Hundred Years of Solitude and you wouldn’t have the same book, or possibly even any book; it isn’t just ruffles and flourishes, it’s the thread running through these people’s lives and worlds. The bits and pieces that are often what readers mention, yes–like the woman who gets assumed until heaven with the good sheets, much to the dismay of the other women in the family–but not the character who casually lives a couple of hundred years and everyone accepts that as natural.

    For the record, I read Magical Realism as a kind of Fantasy, and see the dividing line between the kinds of fantasy as fairly blurry and not having much to do with what is “good” fiction or not (and most Magical Realists that I’ve read would seem to have no problem being called Fantasy Writers, either, I don’t think, but I might have missed something). Any definition of MR has to account for the attitude of the characters towards magic, and the focus of the story. One of the best definitions I’ve read (and I’m sorry, but I honestly can’t pin it down at the moment) is that Magical Realism is a literature of borders–between what is magical and what is real, between the New World and the Old, between This World and the Next, between This Thing and That Thing and All Sorts of Things. So . . . well, like I said, a blurry line, and a lot more works exist in THAT border than not, in my opinion.

    Culturally speaking–and I’ll bet Kat Goodwin can speak to this a lot more clearly than I can–I suspect it’s fair to say that Magical Realism “grew up” in a literary context that never quite relegated stories of magic and the supernatural to the realm of “fairy tales for children,” in the same way that the English tradition has done on and off over the years. That’s probably overstating the case, but I do think it’s part of the argument, anyway.

  224. Jonathan: I just don’t think we want to feed their persecution complex deliberately.

    I think mostly we point and laugh at the pups. Mockery isn’t the same as persecution, though they’ve been claiming persecution for everyday normal events, so whaddyagonnado.

    And seriously, there is no cure for rabies. Once a dog shows symptoms, you can’t save it and it will die a long painful death from the disease or you euthanize it to save it that inescapable agony. The pups picked their name as their metaphor, they get to live with the consequences.

    Ursula: I always figured that if you could take out the magic and the story would be completely unchanged, it’s magical realism.

    that’s a good way to measure it.

    And this does not get into why ghosts are totally fine literary territory

    Because a lot of people believe ghosts are real but don’t do much but move your keys, make the odd “bump” noise in the night, and so on.

    Using your previous yardstick, “Poltergeist” would not be literary but maybe “Sixth Sense” is? (Well, if you “remove” the fact that (SPOILER!) Bruce Willis’ character is a ghost, and replace him with a live human being, then the main story about the boy might still be workable, with his “visions” rewritten as a metaphor for some trauma he suffered previously.) “A christmas carol” could pass because there’s little evidence that the ghosts are actually real. It could be a bit of undigested beef in Ebenezer’s stomach, that just happen to cause him to rethink his life. Actually, there’s a lot about Christmas Carol that fits the “literary fiction” idea, other than the unambiguous happy ending. It’s mostly about Ebenezer’s internal struggle and we spend most of the story looking at events in the far past or far future. Very little action takes place in the “now” or present-time of the story.


  225. KatG: Well, where the Puppies are concerned, ignorance may not be bliss, but it’s certainly SOP.

  226. KatG: with this:

    “But if the older fans were actually taking over the Hugo voting, we wouldn’t be seeing a slight increase in women and non-white nominees”

    I think you are being unfair to older fans – why do you assume that we are set in our ways, looking for reflections of times past in SF? And not reading new authors?

  227. Magic realism is the other kind of genre — a literary movement in which Latin American authors created stories using techniques and styles developed from their culture, history and folklore with similar themes, who wrote and published around the same time (the most well known being Borges and Marquez.) The movement is either limited to Latin American authors or has been expanded to include stories by authors of other backgrounds that use similar styles, elements and themes, depending on who is arguing it.

    Most of magic realism is fantasy fiction, using non-natural speculative elements such as ghosts and magic apple trees that are handled in specific ways (style/theme.) There is no separate fantasy shelf. Any magic realism novel with fantasy could be just as easily published in the category market by a category imprint as it can in general fiction, and fantasy fans do read magic realist stories. Many category novels are, if you use the wider inclusion of magic realism beyond Latin American authors, magic realist. The work of Cathrynne Valente, for instance, has been characterized sometimes as such.

    The amount of fantastic elements in a novel or story is utterly irrelevant. If a story has any fantastic non-natural, non-science based elements in it, it is a fantasy story. Even if it also has science fiction elements in it, even if it’s just a quick cameo by a golem, as in Michael Chabon’s The Adventures of Cavalier and Klay. There is no such thing as not-fantasy fantasy. There are no exceptions. And there is no difference between the range of fantasy stories published in the category fantasy market and the range of fantasy stories published in general fiction.

    But people make exceptions because they have a cultural desire and belief, usually for a binary high and low art idea where the high and low art is all very clearly identified and separated by packaging and placement. The media particularly prefer a binary system.

    So publishers play on this. They will use the binary for marketing, saying that a work is a non-genre literary novel that just happens to have a ghost in it but cannot be confused with the plebian “genre” fantasy novels in some marketing venues. At the same time, they will market that general fiction fantasy novel to the fantasy category “genre” audience. And they will take category fantasy novels and package them carefully and market them through general fiction venues as non-genre, while also selling them to the category market, and sometimes move them from one imprint to another again.

    So if you’re only looking at the wrapper, because it’s comforting for you to believe that there is a binary — genre fiction that must be a certain way and is plebian (low art,) and general fiction that may be speculative but isn’t supposedly of any interest to the category market fans and is literary elite (high art,) you can claim non-fantasy fantasy. But younger authors and fans who grew up with it all are less and less inclined to do this. And that’s one of the things that the puppies claim bothers them, although they themselves are hopelessly muddled about it. But it’s all really just book selling — how books are stacked on the shelf for maximum display attention, etc. It’s all one big pot.

    So when publishing professionals say there’s a lit genre, what they mean is that certain books get designated literary for marketing because they think people will see them as quality of form and then are marketed in certain venues (try to get a review from the New Yorker, etc. Some imprints/presses do try to do a lot of them but not completely and they take them from all over their houses, including category imprints. They have nothing in common except that their publishers believe that they are good in style, prose and depth of theme. But they have no common elements, styles, structures, themes, etc., which you need to identify books as a literary movement genre or a category genre selling market. So lit fiction is basically a marketing term, not a genre. And it applies to the retail trade market — books that are all commercial, whether called literary or not.

    Being a fan of something isn’t joining a tribe, though it may feel as if you’ve found your own in people who enjoy what you do. Nobody controls fiction or other media or the experiences of fans and what they choose. There are no gatekeepers. There are no kings of the geeks. There’s no in crowd or out crowd. There are no borders about what’s true or real or not. It’s a sea of commercial product that fans enjoy and evaluate subjectively. The Hugos, like the Nebulas, etc., judge quality of form. But there are a lot of factors that go into how we judge quality of form, including popularity. It’s not one thing, nor is it just two.

    That’s probably enough about book marketing for now. :)

  228. Kat: There is no such thing as not-fantasy fantasy. There are no exceptions.

    Except language is what people define it to mean. If people start saying “tweet” to mean an online message of 140 chars or less, Webster adds it to their dictionary.

    But people make exceptions because they have a cultural desire and belief, usually for a binary high and low art idea

    OR because they actually find their subjective tastes differentiate the two: one they like, and another they don’t care for, making the distinction a bit more important to them than to those who don’t care. It would be like insisting people talk about “Spicy food” as one monolithic block with no distinctions between the different flavors or the different degrees.

  229. Sorry, missed this one:

    Chris S. :

    I think you are being unfair to older fans – why do you assume that we are set in our ways, looking for reflections of times past in SF? And not reading new authors?

    Older fans are individuals and many of them do read new authors and spread the word and love it and have been key to keeping the conventions going so well. And others hate new authors and don’t spread the word and are like the puppies. Older fans were the people who went out and spread the word about non-white and female authors, about New Wave SF, gay SFF, etc. They are also the people who ignored non-white authors and women, etc., and kept fandom and conventions full of sexual harassment and racism, giving us a field that was even by the 1990s, about 90 percent white and mostly acclaiming only white men. And a lot of these older fans still see nothing strange in this and fight quite strongly against any changes to it.

    So older fans are both. And some older fans running conventions have proven to be a key obstacle towards getting harassment policies in place at conventions and having them be enforced because they do not want to deal with discrimination and quite often endorse it as something that some authors and fans should have to go through. Some older fans and authors were outraged that authors were outraged that the SFWA Bulletin described women authors and editors’ main worth for three months as being tits and ass. Elizabeth Bear, for instance, has described the difficulties she had explaining to older SFWA members why newer authors didn’t want to join SFWA in the 1990’s, which was primarily because it was a prejudiced, out-dated organization — thanks to a lot of the older authors.

    In general, older fans grew up in a time when the fact that the field was 90% white and 70% men was seldom questioned. It’s normal to them and while many of them hate it, many others don’t like any suggestion that it’s a problem that needs to be changed. So if older fans were dominating the voting of the Hugos in recent years, as they did in past years, there would likely be no change in that ratio or the ratio would get worse — most of them would vote as they did in the past, which created the ratio.

    Demographically, the younger fans have a higher percentage who have no problems with and enjoy works that involve women, non-whites, gays, etc., and more of them have a more fluid understanding of gender and culture. That’s what is normal to them and what they grew up with (in part thanks to some older fans.) So if they are heavily involved in the voting, we would expect the ratio to change and become at least slightly less white and male, etc., which is what has happened and what the puppies are freaking out about in part. Younger fans also have a higher concentration of being liberal (because the youngest gens usually are,) which also can change the ratios, and that’s the main thing that the puppies are freaking out about.

    So it’s not older, supposedly out of touch fans who are the main drivers voting in stories about gays and black people to the Hugos. Doesn’t mean that older fans and older authors, like Mr. Martin, can’t be liberals or like new stuff. In fact, many of them are die-hard far leftists. But demographically, they aren’t the ones mainly moving the needle.

    The puppies’ main argument in the muddle is that liberals, young or older, are pushing these stories not because they find them interesting, fun and well done, but just to advance liberal politics and social issues in society in general. Just to change the ratio and not because they feel these stories are overlooked by that ratio. And they believe that will push their political view out — that the field will change and leave them behind, even though more people they claim like them better. And that this only happens by concentrated, conspiring effort and vote rigging, because you have to have a boogeyman to play the Evil Emperor.

    Many older fans and authors are deeply confused, like Mr. Martin, to find that they’ve been included in the role of Evil Emperor by the puppies, while also are not being given free passes on the discrimination in the field by the liberal side, by gay, black, women, etc. authors (and fans) who want the obstacles and biases removed from their careers and a fair shot in the marketplace. But most of them are, I think, adapting, albeit sometimes too slowly, because at its heart, SFF fandom has always had an image of itself as inclusive and forward thinking and wants to live up to that image. Plus, they like new stories.

  230. Magical realism where you could take the fantastic out and have the same story is probably bad magical realism. :)

    North American readers might find it worthwhile to check out the work of W.P. Kinsella. He’s written magical realism with baseball. The Iowa Baseball Confederacy tells the story of a suppressed/forgotten league of the early 1900s which ended in an apocalyptic game lasting forty days and nights. Shoeless Joe is the basis for the movie Field of Dreams, but is denser, darker, and weirder than that, with the narrator basically being goaded into providing a bunch of dead players marred by scandal a chance to redeem themselves.

    The North American context makes it easier to appreciate how magical realism works, when it’s working well, without the layers of complication that come from the fact that many of us don’t know a lot about the Latin American history that people like Borges turn into fantasy fodder.

  231. Of course, the real question is which sauce pairs best with John Scalzi. Sweet and Sour or Honey Mustard?

  232. North American readers might find it worthwhile to check out the work of W.P. Kinsella. He’s written magical realism with baseball.

    Heck, W.O.Mitchell wrote it with curling of all things, albeit in more comedic fashion. See ‘The Black Bonspiel of Wullie MacCrimmon’, a classic tale of man making a deal with the devil and challenging the devil to regain his soul. Except that in this case the challenge is to a curling match. Created as a play back in 1951, then as a novella (renamed to ‘Willie’) in 1993.

  233. The thing about genre movements is that they aren’t really retroactive. Other novels may have used similar approaches in the past — genre movements aren’t necessarily producing something new. What they are doing is offering a cluster of authors who all publish material around the same time (and often know each other,) and who in that material are using similar styles and prose, themes and structures, and elements. So “magic realism” was the name given to the group of Latin American authors who were writing stories with elements of wondrous fantastic that was woven into everyday life as a normal thing, with dreamy prose styles, folkloric structures, etc. around the same time period. It was as much cultural to them as simply the choice of elements. It was a distinct style.

    Once there is a genre movement of a given name, then authors published later on may also be said to be publishing within that movement or in a post or neo resurgence of that movement. So there were plenty of fantasy authors doing grimdark stuff for decades, but grimdark is what was settled on for a group of authors specifically writing horror/noir/nihilistic battle fantasy fiction in secondary worlds in the oughts. It’s a cluster.

    Same with cyberpunk SF — William Gibson and Bruce Sterling leading that pack in the 1980’s, and New Wave SF starting in the 1960’s — authors like Harlan Ellison and Larry Niven leading that pack, and so forth. Sometimes genre movements also become selling sub-categories/sub-genres. Cyberpunk did this because it specifically used a common form of science as part of its movement — tech and computers — that we still use today. New Wave SF did not because the New Wave stories didn’t have a consistent use of types of science. It simply was left as an influence on today’s sociological SF and space opera. Sub-categories in science fiction are set up by type of science focused on — hard SF using hard sciences, sociological SF uses social sciences, space opera keeps science in the background, military SF focuses on military-related science, etc.

    Fantasy, in contrast, goes with setting for its main sub-categories — historical fantasy, contemporary/urban fantasy, secondary world (epic) fantasy, dark fantasy, comic satiric fantasy, portal fantasy, futuristic fantasy, etc. Since there is overlap between genre literary movements and selling category genres and sub-genres, that’s another reason people get very confused.

  234. Kat: I totally see what you’re saying about the impact of marketing labels, how publishers position themselves in certain niches and with certain kinds of cache. I think the areas where we appear to disagree are more of a “blind men describing the elephant” situation than a true disagreement.

    I’m just describing what I’ve seen among academics and critics who see themselves as evaluating the entire scope of Western fiction — and there is definitely a denigrating of genre as opposed to Mainstream Literary Fiction to be found there.

    Also perhaps there’s some terminology creep when we use the word “literary”. A similar situation — I have a terrible time remembering to always define the word “editorial” when I’m teaching. Sometimes it means “opinion,” sometimes it means “the part of the publishing company that’s not advertising and marketing”, etc.

  235. @Dana: There was a strange period in the early part of the century when it also meant a certain style of women’s pants. I don’t understand, nor do I claim to understand, but here we are.

  236. @Greg: Strictly speaking, “there is no cure for rabies” isn’t quite as true as it was in the last century. There’s now a treatment (a rather extreme one, involving induced coma). Rabies is still usually fatal, but a half dozen people have now survived after becoming symptomatic.

  237. Dana:

    academics and critics who see themselves as evaluating the entire scope of Western fiction — and there is definitely a denigrating of genre as opposed to Mainstream Literary Fiction to be found there.

    That’s usually because they aren’t very good scholars. :) They don’t do their research and they tend to regard themselves as etiquette enforcers rather than actually doing analyses of literature. They base their understanding of works as a simply binary that again has its roots in the cultural socioeconomic hierarchy of the 1960’s (which was around when that hierarchy was severely breaking up as well, causing the clinging to it.) And consequently, they assume the organization of book-selling shelves tells them what is actually on the shelves — they do not look at words, but at packaging. They confuse book-selling genres (genre fiction,) with literary movement genres (the academic original use of the term,) and do not understand the variety of works sold in category markets.

    I’m talking about some of the academics here, not the critics. The reality of media critics is that they seldom have any academic credentials at all. And they tend to be even more hidebound and obsessed with social class than hidebound academics, because a very good way to burnish your credentials is to proclaim the degradation of civilization due to the pap of plebian tastes. And publishers take that idea and use it as a marketing strategy with critics and publications while at the same time completely ignoring it for other marketing efforts. It’s a bit of a scam, but they are trying to sell books. It’s a scam that is less and less needed and many authors simply reject in marketing their works — Michael Chabon, Colson Whitehead, Jonathan Lethem who of course came from the category market, etc.

    But the media likes it because a binary system of high and low art is easy to use in an article. That is also how we keep getting the “women used to be hardly involved with SFF at all but now they are a huge surge and really like it” myth.

    But there are quite a lot of academics who are good scholars and do research and study and teach authors of all stripes, not just the ones that are packaged in certain ways and seem to come from the right publishing imprints. Who also study graphic novels, mixed media and games. They don’t sit in their box and they don’t worry about packaging but instead prose, which they actually read. And consequently, those academics have been quite influential in getting the word out on genre works and having them in the various canons. The formation of women’s studies departments, for instance, was helped by and in turn helped feminist SF and enshrined Ursula LeGuin in academia. The reason that Fahrenheit 451 is regularly taught in high school curriculum is due to academics, and so forth. Quite a lot of SFF category authors are also academics. Adam Roberts, for instance, who has written about dealing with fellow academics and their blinkers.

    The puppies try to use a binary too; it’s just that their notion of literary seems to have less to do with prose and more to do with whether a story has lots of sciency gadget speak and shoot-em-ups or if fantasy, battles and swords or not. And the assumption that liberals always write literary stuff about social justice — it’s not entirely clear. (Thanks for putting up with long posts about book-selling. You’re a good sport.)

  238. Kat: I’m fascinated by the whole subject, and I only wish I’d had more time the last few days to respond to more of the comments. I’m not being a good sport reluctantly — this was a great discussion and I’m sorry I wasn’t present for it more. I always enjoy your comments here.

  239. Kat: That’s usually because they aren’t very good scholars.

    So, you admit people do this, but your defense is they’re doing it wrong because you say so. Which brings us back to dictionary definitions and the fact that if enough people use “tweet” to mean something besides a bird chirping, then Webster adds it to their dictionary, even if you say they shouldn’t.

    language is far more democratic than you insist.

  240. Having just written my dissertation on feminist science fiction about a year ago, I largely agree with Kat’s assessment about the views of English and Comparative Literature departments in regards to genre fiction. You’ll find folks who still hold genre fiction in disdain, but they’re increasingly the minority. You tend to get a lot of science fiction getting taught in classes at this point, from Marxists teaching William Gibson and Philip Dick to Feminists teaching Octavia Butler, James Tiptree, Jr, and others. When you look at composition courses, you’ll find an even more diverse representation.

  241. I wrote the above comment, and accidentally sent in through the blog of a no longer existing union reform group. The comments represent my thoughts and not the now non-existent group.

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