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July 30, 2009

What you have to give up to write

What You Have to Give Up to Write -- Whatever Some advice from Scalzi.
Worst. Children's Books. Ever. | Culture | The American Scene It's comforting to know I'm not alone. Other people--lots of people--also seem to hate this evil guilt trip book.
- The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. I guess that this is a pretty common target in these kinds of discussions, but damn is it ever deserved. Tree loves boy. Boy loves tree. Boy grows up. Boy exploits tree. Tree takes it all silently, growing less happy with each lonely year. Boy gets old, tree is a stump, boy sits on tree, no apologies. I mean, I get the point: the tree loves the boy. But heck, even Jesus was able to rise triumphant when all was said and done; couldn’t Silverstein have made the love at least a little more, you know, mutual? (Other questions: Why didn’t the tree’s apples grow back? And how did the boy build himself and his family a house out of branches?)

July 21, 2009

"Science fiction fans, we need better shortlists"

PUNKADIDDLE: Hugos 2009 I largely agree with this person, except I really enjoyed Anathem.
Fandom, look at the 2009 Clarke novel shortlist. Do you know why that list is better than yours? It’s not that its every novel is a masterpiece—far from it (although it seems to me regretable that you couldn’t you vote books as good as The Quiet War, House of Sons or Song of Time onto your shortlist.) But some of the books on that list fail, no question. Martin Martin's on the Other Side, for instance, is a mediocre novel. But (and this is the crucial thing) it’s a mediocre novel trying to do something a little new with the form of the novel. It’s an experiment in voice and tone, and ambitious in its way. The novels on the Hugo shortlist—except Anathem, as I mentioned—try nothing new: they are all old-fashioned: formally, stylistically and conceptually unadventurous. Let me put it this way: Fandom, when you voted Scalzi’s mediocre Zoe’s Tale onto the shortlist, did you really do so because you thought it one of the six best genre novels published in 2008? I mean—honestly? Or did you, on the contrary, think: ‘I like Scalzi; I like Scalzi’s blog; and although maybe his novel’s not, you know, Tolstoy or anything, I enjoyed it plenty, and I reckon Scalzi deserves the egoboo.’ Because I can believe the latter explanation much more readily than the former, and the problem with it is that none of those things are reasons to vote Zoe’s Tale onto a best novel shortlist. Those are corrupting reasons, because every time you vote a mediocre book onto a shortlist that exists to celebrate the very best in our genre you devalue not only the award but the genre too. Please don’t devalue my genre, fandom. I love my genre. Don’t vote mediocre books onto the Hugo novel shortlist; vote good books; and excellent books. There’s plenty of them about, you know. Of course, there’s always the possibility, of course, that you genuinely feel Zoe’s Tale is one of the best novels published last year. If that’s what you believe—if you actually think Zoe’s Tale is the best the novel can aspire to—then you really, really, really, really, really need to broaden your aesthetic horizons. You need to read more widely, to look at a greater selection of writers and modes of writing; to stretch yourself; to venture out of your comfort zone. Not just for the health of this award, and SF; but for the sanity of your soul. Because if you can actually read the excellent The Quiet War and then read the pleasant but mediocre Zoe’s Tale, and not see that the former is a much much better novel than the latter, there must be something wrong with you.