Friday, October 05, 2007

More on Not Science Fiction.

URSULA K. LE GUIN reviews Jeanette Winterson's _The Stone Gods_: 'It's odd to find characters in a science-fiction novel repeatedly announcing that they hate science fiction. I can only suppose that JeanetteWinterson is trying to keep her credits as a "literary" writer even as she openly commits genre. Surely she's noticed that everybody is writingscience fiction now? Formerly deep-dyed realists are producing novels sofull of the tropes and fixtures and plotlines of science fiction thatonly the snarling tricephalic dogs who guard the Canon of Literature cantell the difference. I certainly can't. Why bother? I am bothered, though, by the curious ingratitude of authors who exploit a common fund of imagery while pretending to have nothing to do with the fellow-authors who created it and left it open to all who want to use it. A littlereturn generosity would hardly come amiss.'

Jeanette Winterson has skirted fantasy in the past. The Passion had Venician gondola men who could walk on water, in a world that drew on the conventions of fairy tales.

Her latest novel, Tanglewreck is about time travel, time storms, and a young girl with a quest. It sounds as if it could be wonderful and I'm looking forward to reading it. The American Library Association's summery reads in part: "Time has become unpredictable; "time tornadoes" are picking up school buses and depositing wooly mammoths on the banks of the Thames. Eleven-year-old Silver lives in a sprawling manse, Tanglewreck, with her greedy guardian. One day evil Abel Darkwater visits Tanglewreck in search of a timekeeper that he insists belonged to Silver's father, who, with his wife and other daughter, has disappeared. Silver has no idea what he's talking about, but Darkwater isn't convinced. He imprisons her in his clock-filled London home, where he plans to keep her until she tells him what he wants to know. She's rescued by Gabriel, a strange boy from a clan that has made its home beneath London for more than a century."

Winterson is adamant that it's not science fiction. Of course, she's right. It's fantasy. I'd love to hear Jeanette Winterson enter the debate on the difference between fantasy and sf. I'm sick to death of the debate, but I'd be willing to entertain it again in this case.


Blogger David Moles said...

I wish Le Guin's take on what is or is not science fiction was a little more sophisticated than, say, Dave Langford's. :( But I suppose she's got her own personal collection of axes to be ground there.

October 08, 2007 7:16 AM  
Anonymous barth anderson said...

I like how you put this, Maureen, that the book is fantasy, not science fiction. I imagine JW might actually agree with that, though I think, in the end, she wouldn't care. :)

But here's Jeanette Winterson on STONE GODS and science fiction.

From inside the genre, it's easy to say, "You hate science fiction? Yet you want to write about traveling at the speed of light?? You're a hypocrite."

But it's worth taking that interview as a whole and her opinion on its own merits. I think she's speaking to a completely different audience holding a different sensibility from sf's (which I actually find delightful and fascinating). In a very non genre dialectic, she's discussing the difference between "literary" fiction and sf, the way we do ad nauseum. I think she's saying the tropes don't make a work science fiction. The synthesis of ideas matters more to her than the rigorous exploration of scientific speculation. I don't think anyone within the genre would argue that what she's writing is *not* science fiction.

So we're back to your comment. From a genre POV, she writes fantasy, not sf.

But if she doesn't want to write it the way sf readers want it written, and it's not really sf to begin with, why does it matter to territorial science fictionistas like Ursula if JW *likes* science fiction or not? Completely baffles me.

October 11, 2007 4:43 AM  

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