Sunday, 23 April 2017

Good As SF?

I am not going to cite many authors' names here but occasionally I have gone from reading an sf novel to reading a contemporary thriller and have found the quality of writing better in the latter. Once, an sf novel and a thriller each had a scene set in the Soviet Union and I found the former "tinny" by comparison.

There used to be a debate about whether sf should be judged by the same literary criteria as any other fiction or whether it could be good as sf provided that its ideas were original and were developed logically. I think that the issue still exists. Obviously we want sf that combines literary qualities with imaginative concepts.

I say this for three reasons:

first, we find, perhaps to our surprise, that, despite his pulp action-adventure origins, Poul Anderson's prose is of high quality as I have tried to demonstrate;

secondly, SM Stirling is a worthy successor of Anderson by both sets of criteria;

thirdly, having been drawn into rereading Stieg Larsson's thrillers, I might be with them for some time and might therefore find less to say here.

9 comments:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I wondered if the "tinny" scenes set in the former USSR you found unsatisfactory were the Soviet sections of Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's FOOTFALL. I read that book twice and did not find the Soviet parts "jarring." I do recall the Soveiet premier or General Secretary in FOOTFALL hope he could be the first leader of the USSR to retire with honest, instead of being ousted in a Kremlin coup.

But I do agree with what you said about science fiction needing to be written with both literary skill and attention to possible futuristic developments in science. And the same applies to fantasy, making the necessary adjustments due a different genre. For mid-20th century SF the two editors most responsible for insisting on higher literary standards of writing in SF/F were John Campbell and Anthony Boucher.

IMO, one of the dangers SF has been facing since the death of Poul Anderson is succumbing to Political Correctness. That is, of SF writers censoring themselves, tailoring their works to fit in with the dominant, preferred views of society, sexual activities, politics, religion, etc. It was protest against this smothering kind of self censorship which led to the rise of the Sad/Rabid Puppies movement within SF.

Among other things, that has led to the creation of a new award for honoring excellence in SF/F: the Dragon Awards. In opposition to both the Hugo and Nebula awards. Because the Sad/Rabid puppies believed them to have been corrupted by Political Correctness and rendered dishonest and worthless.

And I certainly agree with your comments about the high quality of writing shown by Poul Anderson and S.M. Stirling. Along with other writers mentioned from time to time.

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
I wasn't going to name Niven and Pournelle but you have an idea for detail! I was contrasting FOOTFALL with Frederik Forsyth's THE FOURTH PROTOCOL.
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Oops! (Smiles)

But since I've not read THE FOURTH PROTOCOL I am unable to comment on how accurate that book depictions of the USSR were compared to what we see in FOOTFALL.

I truly did think FOOTFALL's depictions both of how some Soviet leaders hope that a more civilized political system was evolving in the USSR clashed with its grimmer, more brutal elements were plausible. Fitting in with the failed policy of "glasnost" we saw in the 1980's after Brezhnev's death.

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
I was thinking more of the physical descriptions of the urban environment - and I can't remember details after all this time. You might read the relevant passages sometime for comparison.
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I don't recall much attention paid to the Soviet urban landscape in FOOTFALL. So, I assume you meant THE FOURTH PROTOCOL.

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
Yes. And maybe I noticed that Forsyth addressed this aspect whereas the sf novel didn't.
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I would argue that for the purposes of their book, Niven and Pournelle did not NEED to give us much detail about Soviet urban life. The action in FOOTFALL took place largely in the US and space, after all (with some glimpses of the aliens invasion of Africa).

Sean

S.M. Stirling said...

I like those books too.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

Meaning the Niven/Pournelle collaborations? So do I! If you included THE FOURTH PROTOCOL, I can't comment, not having read that book.

Sean