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John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
Aaron Bady
Adam Roberts
Amardeep Singh
Andrew Seal
Bill Benzon
Daniel Green
Jonathan Goodwin
Joseph Kugelmass
Lawrence LaRiviere White
Marc Bousquet
Matt Greenfield
Miriam Burstein
Ray Davis
Rohan Maitzen
Sean McCann
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Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

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cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

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cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

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cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

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cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

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The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Two Meditations on Cross Pollination and Such

Posted by John Holbo on 03/30/06 at 07:55 PM

In comments, Ray points us to Adam Robert’s nice Infinityplus piece on the Clarke shortlist. It so happens I haven’t read any of them. That means I’ve been spending too much time blogging. Let me comment briefly on his Kazuo Ishiguro review (since I have read three Ishiguro novels, just not this one.) Adam says it’s not so impressive - minor and slight and not really new. The thought pops into my head that when ‘literary’ novelists try their hand at SF, this frequently happens: they produce something lukewarm and a bit disappointing ... especially with the ‘not new’. There may be reasons for this, but I won’t bother speculating before we take a survey. Let’s make a list of ‘literary’ authors - that is, authors well-known for non-SF - who have tried their hand at SF. What one would hope for, of course, would be that this lot would come in and show up the weaknesses of the genre, which Adam ticks off nicely: “we all know how much of the SF backlist is worryingly conventional, unadventurous: written in functional grey prose (or worse, in Thoggish cliché); structured according to a frankly 19th-century model of set-up, linear or interleaved plotline development and climax; populated by cookie-cut ‘characters’ that barely deserve the name, feeble types from Joseph Campbell’s cardboard supply.” But it seems to me that SF is perhaps ‘made new’ from the inside, rather than by authors who clearly know how to avoid these problems moving in and showing how it’s done. (This is an incredibly vague thesis, to which I am not strongly attached.)

Next, Tim Burke has a pungently-titled response to Mark’s Comp Studies piece: but, typical Burke, “Your Assignment: Turd in the Punchbowl" turns out to be about fairness for all - as it should be. I don’t want this post to be about that (though please feel free to be fair) so I will say no more. But I will draw attention to Tim’s sole commenter, one Nicole, who writes: “As a philosopher I am always perplexed when attending talks in other disciplines precisely because there seems to be so little engagement with what was said. However, I have been told by others that philosophers are rude, and that they can’t believe how mean we are to one another. I agree with your final statement, but I suspect that my disciplinary standards for being professional and generous in intent are liable to conflict substantively with those of other disciplines.” This is a very interesting sociological observation. Perhaps I will take it up later.


Comments

P.S.  I wrote up a little thing on one of the nominees, Spin.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 03/30/06 at 10:44 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sorry, Scott. I should have linked to that too. That’s a damn funny post.

By John Holbo on 03/30/06 at 10:57 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Wait, now I know why I didn’t link. Different awards. Spin is Hugo nominated.

By John Holbo on 03/30/06 at 10:59 PM | Permanent link to this comment

That’s alright.  I don’t get the hit bumps I once did from Valve links.  Everyone here either already reads me or knows they don’t want to.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 03/30/06 at 10:59 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Yes, it is.  Does anyone have a corner I can cower in?

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 03/30/06 at 11:00 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I officially declare this the John and Scott comment thread.  Let the Higher Eclecticism-bashing and rumor-mongering begin!

“You know, I heard that Derrida fellow slept with Cindy and Beulah.”

“No.  Way.  I heard that Kant guy like tied himself to his bed so he wouldn’t, you know, whack it.”

“Can you believe what Zizek said the other day?  Like, really.”

“OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD!  YOU WILL NEVER BELIEVE WHAT JUST HAPPENED!  JUDY BUTLER ASKED ME TO PROM!”

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 03/30/06 at 11:06 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Hush, child. You are distraught. Getting back to the subject of the thread - examples?

John Updike, “Toward the End of Time”
Don DeLillo, “Ratner’s Star”

I didn’t read Atwood, “Oryx and Crake”, but I read several lukewarm reviews that would fit with my thesis.

Well, Scott will never go for the DeLillo any . But Updike’s novel seems to me like a classic case of a good novelist really not finding his feet in the genre, in any interesting way. Obviously I don’t know whether Adam is right about Ishiguro - whom I like. Other examples?

By John Holbo on 03/30/06 at 11:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sorry, didn’t mean to derail it with silliness.  Yes, the Updike was terrifically atrocious.  I read it in a single disgusted sitting, and now only remember something about a moose, er, an inauthentically, unconvincingly sci-fi moose.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 03/30/06 at 11:28 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m not sure that Ratner’s Star would qualify as science fiction, exactly.

By Jonathan Goodwin on 03/30/06 at 11:32 PM | Permanent link to this comment

It’s on the border at best, I grant.

By John Holbo on 03/30/06 at 11:38 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I know it’s not possible that you’ve read Ratner’s Star without having read His Master’s Voice, is it?

By Jonathan Goodwin on 03/30/06 at 11:39 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Actually, it is, since I haven’t. (But I know it’s Lem.)

By John Holbo on 03/30/06 at 11:45 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Same premise, treatment as different as is imaginable.

By Jonathan Goodwin on 03/30/06 at 11:46 PM | Permanent link to this comment

It’s funny. When I read Adam’s piece I immediately thought - LOTS of famous authors have that one unmemorable SF piece in their body of work. And then, oddly, I could only remember a few. But I don’t regard this as a proof that I am right.

By John Holbo on 03/30/06 at 11:52 PM | Permanent link to this comment

E. P. Thompson.

By Jonathan Goodwin on 03/30/06 at 11:53 PM | Permanent link to this comment

We can try for the obverse too.  What’s the best non-sci-fi novel by a sci-fi author?  Hands down, I think, it’s Dick’s Confessions of a Crap Artist.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 03/31/06 at 12:03 AM | Permanent link to this comment

_Gravity’s Rainbow_ (according to Lethem, anyway).

By on 03/31/06 at 12:21 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Oh. Well.  I respect Adam and gave his review of Never Let Me Go a hearing, but all I can agree with him about is that it’s probably not really an SF novel, whatever an SF novel is.  I think Ishiguro’s novel is an amazing achievement.  I can’t remember the last time a book moved me so deeply.  Some quibbles: the chords Adam seems to be thinking of when he talks about emotional thwartedness and ‘service’, also go into building a narrator who is the subject of the most convincing portrait of a really good person I have ever encountered in fiction.  I also think it’s just wrong to say that the book doesn’t go into what the world outside the focal group thinks about cloning.  I can’t possibly agree that the book is somehow bloodless or stintingly crafted.  I have concerns with some of the possible implications of Adam’s review too, such as the idea that the integrity of an invented setting depends on its being ‘applicable’ in a certain way to features of the real world.

By on 03/31/06 at 12:31 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Does C.S. Lewis count?

By on 03/31/06 at 02:26 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Don’t prejudge the Ishiguro just on Roberts’s view.  It’s a book that certainly gets very divided reactions, often regardless of whether somebody considers it SF or not.  (There are lots of problems within the entire idea of it not being a good novel because it’s somehow not good SF according to whatever your definition of SF is, anyway, but I’ll leave those for y’all to upack on your own.) I thought it was not Ishiguro’s best, but nonetheless a fascinating, complex, and powerful book.

By Matt Cheney on 03/31/06 at 03:03 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Burroughs?

By on 03/31/06 at 03:51 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Please, by all that’s holy and J Jurms and his Po, don’t prejudge any of the books on the list just on my view ...  no review should work that way.  I certainly make no pretences to be writing ex cathedra.  All criticism should be properly dialectical, and a considered disagreement is almost always a more valuable response than an agreement.  Not that I don’t stand by what I say, of course; and flattered though I be by Laura’s respect I don’t agree with her on Never Let It Get Going.  It is beyond argument, I think, that Ishiguro is certainly capable of playing his instrument to properly moving effect.  Remains of the Day is touching, is eloquent in its reticence; but Never Let Me Giggle Or The Ponderous Mood Might Get Punctured did seem to me (a) to be retreading the same ground, and (b) with much less success; the reticence has become a kind of strangulation.  It’s not (pace Matt) that the novel isn’t sufficiently SF, at least not in my opinion.  And I can’t argue with readers who have been moved by the book: it would be brattish to dismiss such a response.  It just didn’t get me that way.  I read it with an open mind (an open heart I should say), if anything with a predisposition to like Ishiguro’s writing; but I closed the final cover feeling cold, not moved.  I could ask Laura to try this thought-experiment: how would you react to the book if it left you emotionally blank (just for the sake of argument)?  How much other stuff is there in there if the heart strings remain unsounded?

I’m particularly interested by Laura’s argument that one of the strengths of the book is “the most convincing portrait of a really good person I have ever encountered in fiction”.  Again, I’m happy to agree to disagree.  But I do wonder whether Kathy actually is ‘really good’?  In what does her virtue inhere, other than being helpful, kind to others, easy to get on with and so on?  I don’t mean to sound snotty, and I really genuinely don’t mean to underestimate the importance of kindness, which seems to me one of the great human qualities.  But mightn’t there be a reading of Kathy’s character that sees her as fatally morally flawed?  In the sense that she is so passive, such a doormat, that she in effect collaborates in wickedness?  I only suggest this, mind.

By Adam Roberts on 03/31/06 at 05:06 AM | Permanent link to this comment

John H: “LOTS of famous authors have that one unmemorable SF piece in their body of work. And then, oddly, I could only remember a few”

I think ‘lots’ is right.  Nobody has mentioned Roth’s Plot for instance; a very great writer, a very poor book.  Or Martin Amis’s PKD ripoff Time’s Arrow; or Nabokov’s worst novel (you can’t imagine how much it pains me to put the phrase ‘worst novel’ next to Nabokov’s name; but, in all honesty, what other judgment is possible?).  I could go on and on.

I don’t tend to think that ‘mainstream novelists’ are to blame in this respect, except for not knowing the SF backlist, and given the enormity of that backlist (and the dubious quality of a lot of the books it contains) that’s understandable.  What I mean is that Martin Amis would never say ‘I’ve got this brilliant idea for a novel, about a guy who get’s TB, you see, and has to go to this sanatorium in the Alps where he meets a number of people each of whom represents a different worldview ...’ He wouldn’t think this was a good idea because he knows enough to know that this novel has already been written.  But he hasn’t read Counter Clock World; so when the idea pops into his head ‘hey, what if time ran backwards?’ he congratulates himself on his originality instead of recognising how belated he is being

By Adam Roberts on 03/31/06 at 05:24 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Never Let It Get Going

Never Let Me Giggle Or The Ponderous Mood Might Get Punctured

Adam…

This, though:

the reticence has become a kind of strangulation

Yes, I agree.  But I’d expand that remark rather differently.  The reticence in both books (The Remains of the Day and the present one) isn’t the implied author’s, it isn’t an overarching attribute of either novel, it’s an effect produced in the fiction, a trope, a part of the stories the novels elaborate, a characteristic of the narrating voices and a conditioning force on the stories they tell.  In the earlier novel, Stevens has internalised repressed butlerdom but I think because he’s so aware of how constructed his sense of self is it’s always theoretically possible, right up to the end, that he might evade his training, somewhere underneath.  It’s like one of Cavell’s melodramas of the Unknown Woman: one believes there *is* something behind the facade & the question is (how) can it get out?

Kathy is not like that.  Her reticence dramatises what it is to be a person who hasn’t been taught to know she’s a person, and who moreover has only the most minimal, restricted models of personhood available for her use.  Her language is as basic and stilted as Stevens’ but unlike him she has, as a child, very little idea that her existence isn’t the only kind of existence possible.  The children are raised up inside a system that’s designed to deny them full human status - actually it’s more complicated than that, they live in an enclave of ambivalence within that system, which makes it worse for them in all kinds of ways.

What changes things for her is discovering (inventing?) imaginative sympathy, or empathy I guess.  The adventures around the cassette tape are part of that: she places herself inside the song, which means imagining what it must be like to be something she knows she never can be, a mother.  But it’s dawning right at the earliest moment she narrates, when she looks at Tommy having a tantrum on the sports field and thinks how sad he will be if he tears his shirt, and she goes out and calms him down. 

Then there’s that institutionalised group voice she uses - always talking about what ‘everyone’ thought or said or things ‘people’ did, and about this or that thing ‘you’ always used to do or places ‘you’ used to go.  It’s the voice of the school but she is still unselfconsciously using it as an adult looking back, and using it, I’d argue, to describe difficult and complex situations and relationships. 

That’s one of many manifestations of the central quality of the novel, the one that really got to me: its conveyance of so much powerful feeling with such restricted materials.  The same kind of thing could be said about the scope of Kathy’s memories or about the smallness of all their lives.  The repertoire of timbres is small, starved even, but it’s a dramatic starvation, never a thinness or shrillness of the fiction itself.

By on 03/31/06 at 07:49 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I enjoyed both Time’s Arrow and Counter-Clock World.  I imagine Martin Amis has thought more than most novelists about the general issue of belatedness - not necessarily in relation to Dick, maybe - and probably not ultimately drawing the kind of modest, humble conclusions he ought to have arrived at.

By on 03/31/06 at 07:55 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I generally enjoy PKD quite a bit, but I thought that _Counter-Clock World_ was one of his worst SF novels.  First, the concept is gimmicky and occludes the believable characters that exist in his best books.  Second, it wasn’t even a new gimmick when he wrote it.  Fritz Leiber, to take one example, wrote a world-going-backwards-in-time short story (_The Man Who Never Grew Young_) in 1949.  By the time _Counter-Clock World_ was published in 1967, the concept had already joined SF’s group of stock settings, as far as I know.  Lastly, it’s such an overbearing concept—in the better PKD books, there’s a certain fluidity going on and anything that strikes you as overly “pulp"y will be guaranteed to disappear in short order.  As Lem wrote, PKD built his books largely out of trash, but (in my characterization) it’s trash being tossed into the air.  In _Counter-Clock World_ you have to plod through it.

By on 03/31/06 at 11:58 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Another example of a sci-fi novel by a literary novelist might be The Calcutta Chromosome, by Amitav Ghosh. A conspiracy surrounding the cure for malaria, computer programmers, genetics, history, colonialism…

It is in fact ‘new’, in the sense that there aren’t any other books quite like it. But it might be trying to do too much… so it probably fits the pattern suggested above.

By Amardeep on 03/31/06 at 12:24 PM | Permanent link to this comment

That’s a very eloquent and fascinating defence of the novel, Laura.  I’m certainly very open to the ‘less is more’ defence, the effectiveness of reticence as a mode of aticulating powerful emotions: yes there’s more and more effective affect in one short Emily Dickinson lyric than in all the rainy, windy melodrama of Aurora Leigh.  But I didn’t get that from the Ishiguro.  Either that’s because my heart is callused, or my reading sensibilities blunted, or else maybe it’s because the novel requires the reader to import a quantity of emotional resonance to make its machinery work, and I didn’t or couldn’t play along.  It reminds me of a conversation I had years ago with a friend about the effectiveness of Tori Amos’s Under the Pink album.  I found those songs very moving; my friend shook her head.  ‘I just didn’t believe it,’ she said: not in an exapserated Dylan-at-the-Free-Trade-Hall sort of way, but ruefully.  Tori is singing about how sad and down she was, how deep are her negative emotions; and my friend doesn’t believe her.  We’re not, I think, obligated to believe somebody who says (in whatever way) ‘how sad I am!’ That’s how I felt about the emotional content of this novel; I just didn’t believe in it.

More specificially: the song-tape stuff and the let’s-go-on-a-day-trip-to-look-for-Ruth’s-double episodes seemed to me too long drawn out and meandering to bring any affect into focus.  Of course, if the emotional significance of the song, and Kathy’s childlessness, moves a reader then I can’t argue with that, but it didn’t me.  It seemed indulgently written.  I found myself thinking that, for all its reticence, there is a kind of melodrama at the core of the novel ... that adolescent melodrama that casts Poor Me (affluent, middle-class, coddled, with every kind of prospect) as the Tragic Hero or Heroine, as the one who suffers, Nobody Understands My Pain, all that.  Those mopy middle-class teens (I was one myself, of course) are able to mope precisely because they live in affluent enclaves; there are reservoirs of actual suffering in the world that wouldn’t be so forgiven or their gloomy self-satisfaction.

I remember (to continue the pop music theme) watching Sting play a concert in Argentina, in front of survivors of military imprisonment and the mothers of the disappeared.  He sang ‘King of Pain’; and I thought to myself, ‘you know, Sting, you’re right ... you’re the king of Pain, in your rock star mansion.  Not those miserable gits in the audience there ... you’re the one who understands what suffering is ...’

It’s in the nature of teenage mopiness that one does not do anything to attack the root reasons why one is mopy.  It’s also in the nature of teenage mopiness to blame the previous generation in a ‘I didn’t ask to be born, you never taught me what it is to be a person’ sort of way.  The flaccidly collaborationist manner in which Kathy goes about her life as nurse in the novel did infuriate me; surely a ‘good’ person would do a little more to kick against the pricks?  Mightn’t there be any Punk component to the teenage experience at all?  Or, not in Ishiguro’s universe; it’s too carefully poised.  It does require a sort of readerly politeness to maintain the tone of the novel; a reader too well bred to (for instance) make fun of the title of the book.  Fun?  That’s hardly the point here.

By Adam Roberts on 03/31/06 at 12:46 PM | Permanent link to this comment

in mine: “wouldn’t be so forgiven or their gloomy self-satisfaction...”

“...forgiving of their ...”

Very sloppy.

Rich: you’re right.  Amardeep: didn’t Ghosh write any more SF then?  I’m not as well read in his stuff as I ought to be.

By Adam Roberts on 03/31/06 at 01:46 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Doris Lessing has a whole series of SF novels (unread by me).  Julian Barnes’s Staring at the Sun continues its story until 2021 or something, so partial credit there.

His Master’s Voice is excellent, if not as out there as some Lem.  Lem’s first book, Hospital of the Transfiguration, is non-SF, and worth reading (after all of the other things, that is).  I’m a huge Lem fan and look forward to your Lem tribute.  It’s a shame he was never Nobelized.

By Dave Maier on 03/31/06 at 02:14 PM | Permanent link to this comment

A thread that’s in part about literary cred and SF is probably a good place for me to ask Adam this question—could you recommend a good history or survey of literary criticism / literary theory about SF?  My scattershot opinion is that most of it that’s been written by non-SF-writers has been pretty clueless in one way or another, and the essays off the top of my head that are memorable are by people like Lem or Russ or Delany or Lethem or Sterling or Mieville or LeGuin or Aldiss who are SF writers themselves.  I particularly remember the early fascination, as academics “discovered” SF, with Heinlein, which I could never figure out other than the “Stranger in a Strange Land” 60s thing which apparently made him momentarily cool.

By on 03/31/06 at 02:35 PM | Permanent link to this comment

One more: Jonathan Lethem’s As She Crawled Across the Table.  (Initially, he seemed somewhat SF.  Now that he’s clearly “literary,” well, time to revise the initial assessment.)

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 03/31/06 at 06:12 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I am in a hurry and can’t write something long and thoughtful--I thought Adam’s piece was very smart--but like Laura I completely disagreed with his assessment of “Never Let Me Go.” Which I found unbelievably moving, and sentence by sentence absolutely and heartbreakingly perfectly written.  He is definitely a novelist who’s a hedgehog rather than a fox, but I thought this was his best novel yet--I think in “Remains” it still wasn’t entirely clear what he was up to, i.e. non-realist project (it came clearer to me once he published “The Unconsoled,” the book with which I think he took a huge technical leap forward), “When We Were Orphans” very stimulating but ultimately not as satisfactory as “The Unconsoled,” and “Never Let Me Go” pretty much unbeatably the best novel of 2005 and one that is on the short list of best novels ever!  (All right, that’s my effusion.)

There’s a separate question that has to do with literary vs. sf writers, & I think it’s a valid one--as science fiction per se, I don’t know why you’d have Ishiguro’s as opposed to any one of many others; it’s not interesting because it’s about cloning, it’s interesting because it’s about the human condition & there’s something a bit muddled about putting it onto a list like this.  I can see why some avid science-fiction writers find it frustrating, in other words; there’s sometimes an air of condescension towards sf proper.  (NB I thought “Oryx and Crake” was excellent.  I don’t think Lethem’s SF-style fiction is as successful as his more recent books, but I like it that he dabbles cross-genre.)

Rich: Roger Luckhurst has a new book about science fiction that I haven’t seen but that sounds interesting and useful; and Justine Larbalestier has a recent book about women and science fiction that I also haven’t read but that surely has very useful bibliography stuff if you’re pursuing the question.  I recently read Delany’s collection of essays on writing & consider it fairly essential & amazingly mind-opening from a fiction-writer’s point of view, though it may bear only indirectly on the criticism-of-science-fiction question.

By Jenny D on 03/31/06 at 06:30 PM | Permanent link to this comment

It does seem to be a book that divides people all right.

Adam, you almost seem to be criticising Never Let Me Go for not being a comic novel.  That’s interesting.  Comic vs. tragic is another one of those formulas like literary vs. SF where it’s meant to be obvious which side is serious and worthwhile, but in practice almost nobody goes along with it, except when it seems useful for construing one side as the rhetorical underdog.

By on 03/31/06 at 07:36 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Well clearly it is incumbent on me to go get “Never Let Me Go” and read it. It was a bit ungracious of me to springboard off a suspicion of him into a general discussion. Inevitably, it made me seem to be endorsing a judgment I couldn’t possibly be.

By John Holbo on 03/31/06 at 09:15 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I seem to be between Adam, on the one hand, and Laura and Jenny on “Never Let Me Go.” I definitely think that the novel’s reticence is the result of deliberate craft, not of some failure to connect with something. For me there was an emotionally powerful moment near the end when it all made emotional sense, though I don’t, off hand, recall just what was happening at the time. I believe it was when they were visiting that (familiar visiting) woman—the one who collected their expressive work—in her home.

By Bill Benzon on 03/31/06 at 11:20 PM | Permanent link to this comment

But I do think the SF element is beside the point. It’s a mere device, not an excursion into the world of Dick, Heinlein, Delaney, Lem, and so forth.

I tried to read one of Doris Lessing’s SF efforts and gave up; I’ve gotten more pleasure visiting the dentist.

By Bill Benzon on 03/31/06 at 11:25 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Finally, someone mentions Doris Lessing.  As a big SF buff, I actually liked the Lessing effort, particularly The Sirian Experiments.  The last one left something to be desired, though. Oryx and Crake was good, but not spectacular.

By Mandos on 04/01/06 at 03:08 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Logically, one of novels had to be the worst, unless two of them were tied for worst, or indeed, if they were all the same, in which case all of them were worst.

You’re welcome.

By John Emerson on 04/01/06 at 04:12 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Like Laura, I disagreed with Adam’s assessment of Never Let Me Go, but I thought it was a thoughtful critique. But his Mar. 31, 12:46 P.M. comment loses me completely. Kathy doesn’t live in an “affluent enclave,” nor is she “coddled” or “with every kind of prospect” (!). Nor does she “mope,” or go on and on about how sad she is, or claim that nobody understands her pain: in fact, she’s writing for her fellow clones, and sees herself, if anything, as fortunate compared to most of her readers. And I simply don’t understand how Adam can find it unbelievable that someone in Kathy’s position would be sad. Possibly what Adam means is that Ishiguro is the one who is moping, and has invented Kathy and her plight as a devious means of justifying his moping. But this seems far-fetched, too, given the lack of surface similarities between Ishiguro and Kathy.

Adam’s “flaccid collaborationist” accusation has more basis in the text, but here too I think he’s overly harsh. Most systems of oppression depend upon the compliance of the oppressed, through “hegemony” or coercion (and both are surely applicable in Kathy’s case). If you’re going to refuse to sympathize with those who so comply, you won’t be left with many people to sympathize with, either in fiction or in real life.

(Nor do I see what Adam finds so risible about the novel’s title, which seems perfectly ordinary to me--more so, if anything than those Ishiguro’s earlier novels.)

By Adam Stephanides on 04/03/06 at 11:03 AM | Permanent link to this comment

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