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dinosaurs and Dracula

My head is everywhere this morning, all at once. I spent too much of yesterday being angry about Bush's $3 billion cut to the NASA budget, but the anger's still here with me today. Numerous space science programmes have been delayed, so that he can a) continue to fund his hostile take-over of Iraq and b) ape Kennedy by funneling money into...questionable...efforts to land men on the moon and Mars. To date, the war has cost U.S. taxpayers in excess of $244 billion (click here for a more precise number based on congressional appropriations), and now many of NASA's most vital projects will be indefinitely delayed. To quote the New York Times:

Among the casualties in the budget, released last month, are efforts to look for habitable planets and perhaps life elsewhere in the galaxy, an investigation of the dark energy that seems to be ripping the universe apart, bringing a sample of Mars back to Earth and exploring for life under the ice of Jupiter's moon Europa — as well as numerous smaller programs and individual research projects that astronomers say are the wellsprings of new science and new scientists.

But, hey, it's only science.

These are only some of the most important questions humans will ever ask, after all. Nothing we can't do without.

So, yeah, that, and I've begun to reconsider moving more towards science fiction, away from dark fantasy, because, near as I can tell, much of sf today has its head buried head between its buttocks, more concerned with attempts at predicting the future, being socially relevant, and looking academically respectable than simply producing good sf. I don't give a rat's fanny about the frelling Singularity, the one that, likely as not, is about as much a part of our future as flying cars and world peace. I want to write what Poppy calls "ripping good space yarns" and the technofetishists be damned if they think what I'm doing isn't "serious" sf. On top of this, I've got some screed hammering about inside my crowded skull about readers who want writers to hold their hands through a story, readers who cannot tolerate mystery and wonder, but prefer exposition and "satisfaction." What the hell is all this satisfaction crap, anyway? "I did not find this story satisfying." So the hell what? It's not my job as an author to satisfy anyone but myself. That's why art and masturbation have so much in common. I know this is a sore spot with a lot of readers these days (thank you again, reader-response theory), and a lot of writers trip all over themselves trying to keep readers happy. I just can't do it. Even if I believed it was advisable or Right, I wouldn't know where to begin. Here's a good example:

Consider "Bradbury Weather," which I personally take to be my best sf story thus far. In it, Mars is populated by women and only a very small number of sterile men. The story is told in first person (a voice I've only recently become acquainted with). Now, I see someone complaining that they weren't "satisfied" by the story, and one reason is that the reader never learns precisely why there are no men on Mars. Now, thing is, odd though it may strike you that Mars doesn't need women after all, it's fairly irrelevant to the story. It's history, and not history that directly pertains to the story. Since I've chosen a first-person narrative for "Bradbury Weather," I've also chosen to create an epistolary narrative, sensu lato. I do understand that there are readers and writers who don't quite grasp this is what all fpn's amount to, and therein, I think, lies part of our problem. A woman named Dorry has chosen, for reasons which we do not know, to write down an account of her search for her lover, who has become part of an alien cult. That there are no men on Mars (except the sterile few in the cult) is not something that pertains to the story she's telling. Therefore, it would be unnatural, intrusive, and entirely artificial for me to force her to cough up this bit of data for the satisfaction of my readers. I believe (and this seems obvious to me) that when one chooses to write a fpn one has chosen to give the whole story over to characterization. "Bradbury Weather" is the monologue of the central character, and to her, the absence of men is a day-to-day reality, as is parthenogenic human reproduction and a thousand other things which no doubt seem damn peculiar to the reader. But she's telling her story, the story about her search for Sailor Li, her story about the Fenrir cult, and the absence of men is not a part of the story. So, I can't tell it, and I can't make her tell, because she wouldn't frelling do that. I don't do infodumps.

Isn't the general provenance of science fiction to elicit wonder and cause the readers to think and question? Aren't these things more important and desirable than tying up all the loose ends for imagination-challenged readers who have no apparent interest in coming away from a story with a sense of mystery and problems their minds can freely work at for some time to come?

I wish I could discuss these things without getting angry. No, that's a lie. I wish I didn't have to discuss these things at all.

Yesterday...what about yesterday. I tried to begin the vignette. I kept my date with the fairy, and, as always, she was fickle. She let my mind wander in terrible and wondrous places, but she didn't lead me to The Beginning. Hopefully, she'll take me there today. But, in truth, she has as little regard for my desires and needs as I seem to have for the "satisfaction" of people who think my fiction is written for them. I reread a considerable portion of McNally and Florescu's In Search of Dracula and studied maps of the Carpathians. Finally, about 5 p.m., I set it all aside, meaning to write a Wikipedia entry on the basal tyrannosauroid Guanlong wucaii, only to discover someone had beat me to it. So, I resolved that I would write an entry on the first new dinosaur taxon I came across in whichever issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology I happened to first select. That turned out to be Hungarosaurus tormai, an ankylosaur from the Transdanubian Range in Hungary, and there I was back in "the land beyond the forest." I shall call it synchronicity, or perhaps the merest sort of meaningful coincidence, for lack of some other word. Later, after dinner, Spooky read me the first two chapters of Dracula, and I fell asleep fairly early, by two o'clock, I think, and, surprisingly, there wasn't a single dream of vampires or boyars or imperiled English solicitors. Go figure.

Comments

( 31 comments — Have your say! )
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tactileson
Mar. 3rd, 2006 05:01 pm (UTC)
I haven't read "Bradbury Weather" yet, but I do consider The Dry Salvages to be your finest work (next to Low Red Moon, which holds a special place in my heart for various reasons). I'd love to see you delve into sci-fi more, the world is sorely lacking in ripping good space yarns.
nykolus
Mar. 3rd, 2006 05:02 pm (UTC)
as i've commented on before, i'm totally diggin your sf work; specifically BRADBURY WEATHER and THE DRY SALVAGES. the doc knows what he's talkin about.

it would be a totally selfish plus on my end should you choose to go this route. i, for one, would definitely welcome it.

good luck with that!
sclerotic_rings
Mar. 3rd, 2006 05:03 pm (UTC)
Thank you for reminding me about Hungarosaurus: I feel a powerful need to put together some material on the island dinosaurs described by Baron Nopsca. Please do not ask me why, although I suspect it involves sculpting them over the weekend.
thingunderthest
Mar. 3rd, 2006 05:09 pm (UTC)
I think it would be great for you to do more science fiction, although I love every genre you have written in.

It really annoys me the contrived nature in much of science fiction of exposition where a character has to explain history or technology to another character, but mainly for the readers benefit. I don't mind a bit of mystery, and if something actually becomes a long lived series I love the slow reveal as you can work in details more naturally.
z0mb1e
Mar. 3rd, 2006 05:47 pm (UTC)
Why does it frustrste you so much when obviously less-than-intelligent people write bad reviews? Many of said reviews don't even have a real point (well, many of the ones you have discussed here) and can't give real examples as to why your work is "dissatisfying."
Also, would you recommend -In Search of Dracula-?
greygirlbeast
Mar. 3rd, 2006 05:54 pm (UTC)
Why does it frustrste you so much when obviously less-than-intelligent people write bad reviews?

Well, on the one hand, stupidity irks me on general principle, and, on the other hand, there's this part of my brain that cannot but worry that someone will read these reviews and decide not to read me because on them. It happens.

Also, would you recommend -In Search of Dracula-?

Yep. It's very good. I think it's still in print. Houghton Mifflin Co., 1994.
cucumberseed
Mar. 3rd, 2006 05:48 pm (UTC)
It's become clear to me that our nation's sole interest in science is in its ability to help rich white folks take petroleum from poor brown folks.

much of sf today has its head buried head between its buttocks, more concerned with attempts at predicting the future, being socially relevant, and looking academically respectable than simply producing good sf.

... and thus the reason why I rarely read it. It seems to be the only place in fiction where writing a good story is the last thing on most of their minds.
sovay
Mar. 3rd, 2006 05:54 pm (UTC)
Among the casualties in the budget, released last month, are efforts to look for habitable planets and perhaps life elsewhere in the galaxy, an investigation of the dark energy that seems to be ripping the universe apart, bringing a sample of Mars back to Earth and exploring for life under the ice of Jupiter's moon Europa — as well as numerous smaller programs and individual research projects that astronomers say are the wellsprings of new science and new scientists.

Gah. I need to live on another planet.

But she's telling her story, the story about her search for Sailor Li, her story about the Fenrir cult, and the absence of men is not a part of the story.

On the other hand, I probably couldn't read "Bradbury Weather" if I were somewhere else, and I would very much like to. (Is it likely that you will, ever or in the near future, publish a collection of your short science fiction?)
greygirlbeast
Mar. 3rd, 2006 05:57 pm (UTC)
Is it likely that you will, ever or in the near future, publish a collection of your short science fiction?

That's my intention. But it will likely be another year or two. I don't yet have quite enough of it for a good-sized collection.
(no subject) - sovay - Mar. 3rd, 2006 05:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - greygirlbeast - Mar. 3rd, 2006 06:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sovay - Mar. 3rd, 2006 06:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nykolus - Mar. 3rd, 2006 06:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - greygirlbeast - Mar. 3rd, 2006 06:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nykolus - Mar. 3rd, 2006 06:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
cucumberseed
Mar. 3rd, 2006 05:58 pm (UTC)
Satisfaction is what you make of it. It's an elusive (and often illusory) thing that is defined, really, only after the fact. Some people have no idea what satisfies them, at which point, I think they have only themselves to blame when they do not get what they want.
rwday
Mar. 3rd, 2006 06:18 pm (UTC)
I liked "Bradbury Weather" quite a lot, and it would have been awkward and wrong to have explained the lack of men. It was normal to Dorry, after all, and remarking on what's normal to the protagonist, I always thought, was considered info-dumping and bad practice.

I'm glad you don't ever dumb down - there are plenty of readers out here who appreciate it. I find your writing extremely accessible for any reader willing to put forth some effort and accept that there are mysteries in life. Which is what I always thought speculative fiction was supposed to be all about, really.
mlle_rouge
Mar. 3rd, 2006 06:55 pm (UTC)
The character explaining why there are no men on Mars would be as irrelevant as a character in a story set in our time and space suddenly explaining what is electricity and how the telephone works...
greygirlbeast
Mar. 3rd, 2006 07:10 pm (UTC)
The character explaining why there are no men on Mars would be as irrelevant as a character in a story set in our time and space suddenly explaining what is electricity and how the telephone works...

Bingo.
rysmiel
Mar. 3rd, 2006 06:57 pm (UTC)
So, I can't tell it, and I can't make her tell, because she wouldn't frelling do that. I don't do infodumps.

Infodumps aren't the only way to that particular sort of satisfaction, though. I mean, I pretty much can't stand infodumps with the exception of Neal Stephenson, but I do derive a great deal of satisfaction from picking up on little clues and hints in the background that fit together to explain something odd or different about it, and there's no reason for those little hints to be anything the viewpoint is doing on purpose or is even aware of.

By the way, I'm halfway through Murder of Angels at the moment and am enjoying it immensely.
greygirlbeast
Mar. 3rd, 2006 07:13 pm (UTC)
By the way, I'm halfway through Murder of Angels at the moment and am enjoying it immensely.

Glad to hear it. :)

I do derive a great deal of satisfaction from picking up on little clues and hints in the background that fit together to explain something odd or different about it, and there's no reason for those little hints to be anything the viewpoint is doing on purpose or is even aware of.

And the thing is, there are hints and clues as to the cause for the absence of men written into "Bardbury Weather." I didn't put them there as such. They were simply a part of the narrative that I allowed to grow as organically as possible from the character's POV. I can't now recall if they're are enough of these hints to form any sort of conclusion, but they do, I think, point the general way.
chris_walsh
Mar. 3rd, 2006 07:15 pm (UTC)
I don't do infodumps.

Infodumps are the scourge of biopics, too. At least Ali (which I didn't think was an entirely successful film) was amazingly light on infodumping; us young'uns could figure things out from context and historical knowledge.

But it's definitely an interesting ponderable in "Bradbury Weather"...for the reader to ponder, not for any "Now tell me, Professor..." speecifying that you'd've found boring to write, anyway. It didn't get in the way of my enjoyment of "Bradbury Weather."
jacobluest
Mar. 3rd, 2006 07:31 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the science budget cuts made me sad. Even more alarming, when grouped with that, are the unbelievable cuts in educational funding. My spleen is too great to 'splode all over your comment boards, but after reading the proposed budget, I will admit I felt the need for a gun. And all the Feds listening on the line will back me up on this one.

~Jacob
wishlish
Mar. 3rd, 2006 08:50 pm (UTC)
(personally, I'd like more comics)

(but then again, I'm a comics junkie and also thought you have a tremendous voice for comics)

(ever since Baby Bush took power, I've taken to religion over science)

(cause I can at least pray for him to stop, and science hasn't come up with a cure for Bushidity)
cillygirl
Mar. 3rd, 2006 08:59 pm (UTC)
Bush-i-d'oh!

couldn't resist it :)
cillygirl
Mar. 3rd, 2006 08:58 pm (UTC)
I think I need to read your stories... I've been lacking good reading material for far too long :)

Mind if I friend you?
greygirlbeast
Mar. 3rd, 2006 10:32 pm (UTC)
Mind if I friend you?

Please do.
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( 31 comments — Have your say! )