Thursday, August 28, 2008

science fiction rambles

A few years ago, my sister was in college and in her strange Humanities class, she had to read a bunch of books including Watchmen and Neuromancer. She was fine with Watchmen, but Neuromancer was not so easy. We made an agreement, we'd read it together. Why together? Because I'm a bit more well-versed in the ways of science fiction and furthermore, I understood (and still understand) the trust factor.

If you know science fiction, you probably read Neuromancer or have heard of it. (It's biggest claim to fame in recent pop culture is that the first line inspired the writing of The Matrix movies...I like to believe there was only one of those movies.) If you aren't an SF person/reader, there's an aspect of our literature that will likely scare you off, it kept my sister from getting more than a few pages in Neuromancer: world creation. Science fiction (or speculative fiction) readers, and probably fantasy readers, are able to ignore the unfamiliarity. It's not that we'll never figure it out, it's that we know that we'll catch on, we'll understand, we trust the author. Readers of non-genre fiction sadly don't seem to have the same sense of trust, which is why they tend not to stray too far from books found in that ambiguous category called "fiction and literature." Things found in that category are based in a world everyone knows, which eliminates needing to trust the author, unless an author sneaks into that section based on other books (e.g., Cormac McCarthy, Karen Joy Fowler) or based on the age of the book (e.g., Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, William Shakespeare [who should really be in poetry and plays]).

Now, I forgot all of that until yesterday, when I read an interview with Neal Stephenson. He's actually the reason I could read Neuromancer without freaking out over the things I didn't immediately understand. In fact, after reading The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, Neuromancer was pansy stuff. But anyway, he said exactly what I've been saying to my sister for years now: the reader needs to trust the author. He even wrote a foreword to his book to help out the uninitiated. If only the uninitiated would pick up one of his books and trust him.

Or maybe it's an issue of imagination, but I'd rather think that it's trusting an author that's the problem. Too many people have read Harry Potter for it to be an imagination issue, right?

Also: Finished The Road, which I liked so much more than a person probably should. Started a Clapotis and am having difficulty with wanting to do all of the purl rows. And I'm loving Good Omens, but Neil Gaiman and I have a connection.


Kim said...

I'm very much looking forward to Anathem. Also, hoping I'll somehow find a way to lock myself in quiet solitude for a week with nothing but the book, as I have a feeling all systems will have to be GO to get the most out of it.

I wonder if there have been books that have let me down because I trusted the author and *shouldn't have*. Can't think of any, but I'm sure they exist.

The Road is hard to *enjoy*, eh?

Marikka said...

The Road is super hard to admit that I like and loved reading it. For all of the grotesque, all of the weariness, all of the sadness, it's a beautiful book. And now, I sit here wondering what happened to the boy, what happened to humanity.

It always makes me think of Children of Men too (the movie, not the book) because Cuaron said once that he saw The Road as what happened in the US and Children of Men what happened to Britain (which I think is just plain silly of him if I'm honest). But I want to know what comes next, which is probably why they are so good. If I don't give a rat's ass about what happens next or don't worry about characters, there's likely something missing.

Anyway, back to work.