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Mieville et al

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  • SusanPal@aol.com
    In a message dated 10/4/2002 11:44:41 AM Pacific Daylight Time, ... Hmmmm . . . one might classify it as clumsy synecdoche, combined with poor verb choice:
    Message 1 of 11 , Oct 4, 2002
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      In a message dated 10/4/2002 11:44:41 AM Pacific Daylight Time,
      dbratman@... writes:


      > Thog's Masterclass is full of examples of people's eyeballs doing strange
      > things: "Her eyes dropped suddenly to the floor," "His eyes rolled down her
      > body," "Her eyes looked thoughtfully inward," that sort of thing. How
      > would you analyze this problem? I'd say it's not a grammar problem in the
      > usual part-of-speech sense, so much as an inadvertent referent problem (a
      > different sort of grammar problem), combined with another problem not
      > grammatical in nature: a bad or clumsy choice of perspective and
      > point-of-view.

      Hmmmm . . . one might classify it as clumsy synecdoche, combined with poor
      verb choice: however you describe it, it's a case of the writer not
      *thinking* about what the words actually SAY. (And yes, I get annoyed by the
      "leave your brain at the door" approach too, especially in college classes!)

      > >On one level, it
      > >really bothers me that a novel containing even one sentence like that has
      > won
      > >awards . . .
      >
      > Don't forget that Tolkien wrote this classic: "'Yrch!' said Legolas,
      > falling into his own tongue."
      >
      LOL! That occurred to me soon after I'd sent my original e-mail. <g>


      > >but on the other hand, I truly am enjoying the book, even when
      > >it makes me wince. I just hope that Mieville's craft improves with time,
      > as
      > >it's already done, and that he doesn't fall into the
      > >I-don't-have-to-work-at-this-because-I'm-famous syndrome.
      >
      > Unfortunately, he may be well on the way there, because his Locus interview
      > showed him an arrogant, pretentious bastard even before he had enough fame
      > to preen himself about.

      Having finished _Perdido Street Station_ this morning, I have to say that the
      plotting and characterization are quite brilliant, so if he has a swelled
      head, it's not entirely without cause. One wants one's favorite writers to
      be nice people, of course, but it doesn't always (or even often) work that
      way. Unfortunately, I think arrogance and pretention are occupational
      hazards. Very few of the writers I've met -- and even fewer of the
      successful ones! -- are entirely free of these traits. Writing is a
      tremendous amount of work, most of it spent in isolation, and if you don't
      have an extremely high opinion of what you're doing, you won't have the
      energy to finish it. Add to that the psychological krenks a lot of us had
      before we even started (at least some writers write because it's their best
      way of talking to other people), and, well, let's just say that the authors
      I've met whose writing I most enjoy aren't necessarily people I'd invite over
      for dinner. I recently read an interview with Ursula K. Le Guin where she
      was asked what kind of science fiction she enjoyed reading and she said,
      "Mine." Talk about arrogant! But of course, her books are wonderful.

      Granted, not all authors have marginal social skills or swelled heads. Some
      are delightful: Karen Joy Fowler and Michael Bishop and Gene Wolfe come to
      mind immediately. But ultimately, the writer's personality doesn't matter.
      The work matters. If the personality interferes with the writer doing the
      best possible work (as in, "I don't need to care about grammar because I'm
      famous") then yes, it's a problem. Otherwise, the real test of the writing
      is whether people are still reading the author's books in a hundred years or
      so, when the author isn't around any more to display his or her social skills
      at cocktail parties.


      >My husband has been
      >
      > >referring to the next one as SWORDSPOINTIER.
      >
      > Ooh, I want to steal that.
      >

      Go right ahead!

      Susan


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    • David S. Bratman
      Susan - Some authors are less agreeable folks than others, to be sure; but I ve met a good number of professional authors, including many of the greats of the
      Message 2 of 11 , Oct 4, 2002
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        Susan -

        Some authors are less agreeable folks than others, to be sure; but I've met
        a good number of professional authors, including many of the greats of the
        SF and fantasy fields, and _most_ of them, not just some, are courteous and
        pleasant folk in both public and private. So I know what I'm talking
        about, and don't need to have the tribulations of the writer's life
        explained. I think others here will agree: we've had maybe two bad apples
        in the entire history of Mythcon Author Guests of Honor. All the rest have
        been utter gems, including Connie Willis this year. (And she recognized me
        when she saw me again at Worldcon! Now that's social talent.)

        Nor am I merely classing Mieville with the large minority of authors who
        aren't pleasant. I wish to differentiate him from somebody like M--e
        R-----k, for instance, who is certainly an unpleasant, grumbly chap, and
        very boastful about the quality of his work. (One of his collections
        contains an afterword carefully enumerating the awards that each story was
        nominated for.) But he doesn't erect theories about why his work, and that
        of his coterie (he has one) are the superior form of literature, and
        anything contradictory to it in style is worthless trash.

        Mieville does.

        That's the difference.

        Similarly, in this case:

        >I recently read an interview with Ursula K. Le Guin where she
        >was asked what kind of science fiction she enjoyed reading and she said,
        >"Mine." Talk about arrogant!

        there's nothing arrogant about it. It's a statement of preference, and
        it's not even boastful the way the above case is. If it implies that she
        considers other work deficient, she doesn't go on about it, and certainly
        doesn't claim to have discovered the One True Right Way to write fantasy.

        Mieville does.

        That's the difference.

        - David Bratman
      • jamcconney@aol.com
        In a message dated 10/4/2002 7:30:45 PM Central Daylight Time, ... I ll weigh in here too, because Ursula s answer is exactly the same one I d give, and what
        Message 3 of 11 , Oct 4, 2002
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          In a message dated 10/4/2002 7:30:45 PM Central Daylight Time,
          dbratman@... writes:


          > she enjoyed reading and she said,
          > >"Mine." Talk about arrogant!
          >
          > there's nothing arrogant about it. It's a statement of preference, and
          > it's not even boastful the way the above case is

          I'll weigh in here too, because Ursula's answer is exactly the same one I'd
          give, and what it means is that I write the kind of story that I like to
          read--as, I suppose, we all do. Of course both Ursula and I might be quite
          arrogant--all I'm saying is that that particular answer doesn't prove it one
          way or the other.

          Anne


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        • SusanPal@aol.com
          In a message dated 10/4/2002 5:30:27 PM Pacific Daylight Time, ... I apologize if I offended you, or anyone else here. But I ve met a good number of
          Message 4 of 11 , Oct 4, 2002
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            In a message dated 10/4/2002 5:30:27 PM Pacific Daylight Time,
            dbratman@... writes:


            > but I've met
            > a good number of professional authors, including many of the greats of the
            > SF and fantasy fields, and _most_ of them, not just some, are courteous and
            > pleasant folk in both public and private. So I know what I'm talking
            > about, and don't need to have the tribulations of the writer's life
            > explained.


            I apologize if I offended you, or anyone else here. But I've met a good
            number of professional authors too -- in a wide variety of contexts,
            including social friendships that have spanned years -- and I also know what
            I'm talking about. Your mileage differs, obviously. (And I didn't mean to
            imply that writers have more tribulations than other people -- just different
            ones, and ones that are chosen, anyway.)


            >
            > Nor am I merely classing Mieville with the large minority of authors who
            > aren't pleasant. I wish to differentiate him from somebody like M--e
            > R-----k, for instance, who is certainly an unpleasant, grumbly chap, and
            > very boastful about the quality of his work. (One of his collections
            > contains an afterword carefully enumerating the awards that each story was
            > nominated for.) But he doesn't erect theories about why his work, and that
            > of his coterie (he has one) are the superior form of literature, and
            > anything contradictory to it in style is worthless trash.
            >
            > Mieville does.
            >
            > That's the difference.
            >
            Yes, the Bad Boy stance is tiresome, I agree. But I've seen other authors
            erect theories about their work; I can enjoy their work without buying into
            the theories. Have you seen Mieville at conventions? He might be as
            perfectly charming in a public-performance context as Willis or any of the
            others.

            > Similarly, in this case:
            >
            > >I recently read an interview with Ursula K. Le Guin where she
            > >was asked what kind of science fiction she enjoyed reading and she said,
            > >"Mine." Talk about arrogant!
            >
            > there's nothing arrogant about it. It's a statement of preference, and
            > it's not even boastful the way the above case is. If it implies that she
            > considers other work deficient, she doesn't go on about it, and certainly
            > doesn't claim to have discovered the One True Right Way to write fantasy.
            >
            > Mieville does.
            >
            > That's the difference.
            >

            Well, it sounded to me as if Le Guin was saying she's found the one true way
            to write SF, although I agree that she didn't then go ahead and compose a
            manifesto to that effect. But she didn't name *any* other writers she reads;
            Mieville, in the interviews I've read, has gone on at great and enthusiastic
            length about the people who've influenced him, which is a form of gratitude
            which Le Guin foreswore in that particular interview. If Mieville's annoying
            on the subject of writers he *doesn't* like, at least he can also name the
            writers he *does.* Nobody springs from a vacuum.

            I agree with you that manifestos are a problem. The people who write
            manifestos might be better off, and have a happier public, if they put that
            energy into their fiction. (Or maybe not, since some folks need to feel
            part of A Movement to get moving.) But it's only fair to *judge* fiction
            writers by their fiction, not by their political manifestos or by their
            social graces.

            Susan


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          • SusanPal@aol.com
            In a message dated 10/4/2002 6:10:56 PM Pacific Daylight Time, ... Yes, of course. But you presumably started writing in the first place because you read
            Message 5 of 11 , Oct 4, 2002
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              In a message dated 10/4/2002 6:10:56 PM Pacific Daylight Time,
              jamcconney@... writes:


              > what it means is that I write the kind of story that I like to
              > read--as, I suppose, we all do

              Yes, of course. But you presumably started writing in the first place
              because you read other people whose work you loved, and you presumably still
              read other authors now. She was being given an opportunity to acknowledge
              intellectual and creative debts -- to place herself in a community. And she
              claimed a community of one. Now, maybe if I'd heard the tone of her voice
              instead of merely reading the printed response, I'd have recognized it as a
              joke and laughed; impossible to say. But it came across very coldly on the
              printed page.

              Susan


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            • Carl F. Hostetter
              ... her response certainly doesn t seem cold to me. She was not asked _whose_ fiction she enjoyed reading, she was asked _what kind_ of fiction she enjoyed. It
              Message 6 of 11 , Oct 4, 2002
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                On Friday, October 4, 2002, at 09:19 PM, SusanPal@... wrote:

                > She was being given an opportunity to acknowledge
                > intellectual and creative debts -- to place herself in a community.
                > And she
                > claimed a community of one. Now, maybe if I'd heard the tone of her
                > voice
                > instead of merely reading the printed response, I'd have recognized it
                > as a
                > joke and laughed; impossible to say. But it came across very coldly
                > on the
                > printed page.

                If your reportage of what Le Guin was asked is accurate:

                >> I recently read an interview with Ursula K. Le Guin where she
                >> was asked what kind of science fiction she enjoyed reading and she
                >> said,
                >> "Mine."

                her response certainly doesn't seem cold to me. She was not asked
                _whose_ fiction she enjoyed reading, she was asked _what kind_ of
                fiction she enjoyed. It is hardly arrogant to point to her own work as
                exemplary of the _kind_ of fiction she likes.
              • jamcconney@aol.com
                In a message dated 10/4/2002 8:21:20 PM Central Daylight Time, ... Yes, I agree. I guess I m just trying to cut us all some slack.... Anne [Non-text portions
                Message 7 of 11 , Oct 4, 2002
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                  In a message dated 10/4/2002 8:21:20 PM Central Daylight Time,
                  SusanPal@... writes:


                  > But it came across very coldly on the
                  > printed page.
                  >

                  Yes, I agree. I guess I'm just trying to cut us all some slack....
                  Anne


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                • David S. Bratman
                  ... Of course you do, of course you have. You re an author yourself, and well experienced in this. What I meant, and said, was: don t lecture me with excuses
                  Message 8 of 11 , Oct 4, 2002
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                    At 06:14 PM 10/4/2002 , Susan wrote:

                    >I apologize if I offended you, or anyone else here. But I've met a good
                    >number of professional authors too -- in a wide variety of contexts,
                    >including social friendships that have spanned years -- and I also know what
                    >I'm talking about.

                    Of course you do, of course you have. You're an author yourself, and well
                    experienced in this. What I meant, and said, was: don't lecture me with
                    excuses for authorial misbehavior.

                    >Yes, the Bad Boy stance is tiresome, I agree. But I've seen other authors
                    >erect theories about their work; I can enjoy their work without buying into
                    >the theories.

                    Never said anything about not enjoying the work. I read a few pages of
                    _Perdido Street Station_: it looked pretty good. I think R-----k is a
                    pretty good author too: he's justified in being proud of his work. This is
                    completely orthogonal to the fact that he's a jerk about it: other authors
                    are proud of their work without being jerks about it.

                    >Have you seen Mieville at conventions? He might be as
                    >perfectly charming in a public-performance context as Willis or any of the
                    >others.

                    I was very careful to say what my contact with Mieville's personality
                    was. And I've heard reports that he's charming in person. But I expect he
                    was charming to those fawning on him. And in his interview, he was a
                    reigning bastard. Of course I don't intend to walk up to him and say
                    so. For one thing, he's a hulking bruiser with a shaved head. But if he
                    trash-talks Tolkien the way he did in this interview, I'll walk out.

                    >Well, it sounded to me as if Le Guin was saying she's found the one true way
                    >to write SF,

                    You get that from her response to what she said she _enjoyed reading_????!?

                    >But she didn't name *any* other writers she reads;

                    If that indeed is all she said, it sounds to me like a very polite and
                    circumspect way of saying "I don't enjoy most current SF, thank you." She
                    must have been in a Delphic mood that day; she discusses authors she reads
                    and admires very frequently. Perhaps you know an essay of hers, titled
                    "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie": that essay has probably led more people to
                    Kenneth Morris than any other single source.

                    >Mieville, in the interviews I've read, has gone on at great and enthusiastic
                    >length about the people who've influenced him, which is a form of gratitude
                    >which Le Guin foreswore in that particular interview. If Mieville's annoying
                    >on the subject of writers he *doesn't* like, at least he can also name the
                    >writers he *does.* Nobody springs from a vacuum.

                    The problem is, he uses the authors he admires as a stick to beat the ones
                    he doesn't. It can be really ugly.

                    >I agree with you that manifestos are a problem. The people who write
                    >manifestos might be better off, and have a happier public, if they put that
                    >energy into their fiction.

                    It's not that he _has_ a manifesto. It's what it says, or more precisely
                    the way that it says it. What I wrote of Mieville is that he "erect[s]
                    theories about why his work, and that of his coterie (he has one) are the
                    superior form of literature, and anything contradictory to it in style is
                    worthless trash." That's a very different thing from merely explaining why
                    you write the way you do. There are people who do not care for Tolkien who
                    are very polite about it. He isn't one of them.

                    >But it's only fair to *judge* fiction writers by their fiction,
                    >not by their political manifestos or by their social graces.

                    Oh, come now. I have kept my opinion of the man strictly separate from
                    comments about his work. I agree that one should not judge the _work_ of
                    fiction writers by their manifestos or social behavior. But I reserve the
                    right to judge the _person_ of fiction writers that way.

                    - David Bratman
                  • SusanPal@aol.com
                    In a message dated 10/4/2002 9:40:29 PM Pacific Daylight Time, ... Ah, okay. I *don t* recall your saying that before, and now that you have, I understand
                    Message 9 of 11 , Oct 4, 2002
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                      In a message dated 10/4/2002 9:40:29 PM Pacific Daylight Time,
                      dbratman@... writes:


                      > What I meant, and said, was: don't lecture me with
                      > excuses for authorial misbehavior.
                      >

                      Ah, okay. I *don't* recall your saying that before, and now that you have, I
                      understand your position a good deal better. And I'm sorry if I sounded as
                      if I were lecturing: I didn't mean to (and my original post on the topic
                      still doesn't sound that way to me, but tone in cyberspace is notoriously
                      problematic).

                      I agree with you that misbehavior is misbehavior; I wasn't trying to condone
                      or excuse it, only to explain where -- in my experience -- certain forms of
                      it come from. I still think that trying to succeed as a writer (or in any
                      other creative field) requires a kind of self-faith that can become ugly and
                      egotistical quite quickly; one of the problems with this is that when people
                      *do* succeed, their friends and followers may be less likely to call them on
                      their bad behavior. (It's perhaps similar to the too-famous-to-be-edited
                      problem which allowed Stephen King's novels to reach the size of Rhode
                      Island.)

                      At any rate, I hope Mieville grows out of the Bad Boy stance and works
                      through his various Oedipal problems with Tolkien; his trash-talking is
                      classic Anxiety of Influence Killing-the-Father stuff. (Why don't these
                      self-proclaimed literary revolutionaries ever realize how old hat they are?)
                      I've now read the first few chapters of THE SCAR and it seems better written
                      to me than PERDIDO STREET STATION, so that bodes well for stylistic growth,
                      anyway. And he's, what, thirty? He has plenty of time to mellow out. If he
                      doesn't, well, we can lock him in a room with other Bad Boys and have a
                      Writers' Wrestling Foundation match. Pay per view. Raise money for Clarion
                      scholarships or something.

                      But as for being a hulking bruiser with a shaved head (and you didn't even
                      mention the multiple earrings!) -- hey, some of the nicest people I know fit
                      that description! And it WOULD work well for the WWF! ;-)

                      Have a good weekend,
                      Susan


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                    • David S. Bratman
                      ... I don t think that s quite it. Mieville says he s not influenced by Tolkien, and I believe him. He is quite ready to acknowledge a literary parent in
                      Message 10 of 11 , Oct 5, 2002
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                        At 10:36 PM 10/4/2002 , Susan wrote:

                        >At any rate, I hope Mieville grows out of the Bad Boy stance and works
                        >through his various Oedipal problems with Tolkien; his trash-talking is
                        >classic Anxiety of Influence Killing-the-Father stuff.

                        I don't think that's quite it. Mieville says he's not influenced by
                        Tolkien, and I believe him. He is quite ready to acknowledge a literary
                        parent in Mervyn Peake, and shows no anxiety about it. But he seems to
                        believe in some kind of commutative relationship between upholding Peakean
                        standards and downgrading Tolkienian ones, which does not in any way follow.

                        What Mieville really feels oppressed by is not anything oedipal, but the
                        Marching Morons: the procession of bad Tolclones. And he's right: they
                        make it harder for other types of fantasies to find room to breathe in the
                        marketplace, and they're a generally bad influence that poisons the
                        soil. His mistake is in blaming Tolkien for them, and thinking that
                        Tolkien is like them. This is the same error that Elizabeth Anne Hull made
                        in the Worldcon panel, when she blamed Tolkien for characteristically
                        Tolclonian flaws in the Tolclone Jackson film, flaws which do not occur in
                        the book, which she's never read. I tend to doubt Mieville has either.

                        That he thinks the problem is all Tolkien's fault, and not the fault of the
                        clones, is shown by his taking as a compliment the comment that _Perdido
                        Street Station_ is like a fantasy from a world where Peake, not Tolkien,
                        became the father of the field. It did not occur to him that being called
                        a Peake-clone in that world would be as big an insult as being called a
                        Tolclone is in this one.

                        - David Bratman
                      • SusanPal@aol.com
                        In a message dated 10/5/2002 3:29:02 PM Pacific Daylight Time, ... I m curious about that. In some interview I read -- I don t remember which -- he criticizes
                        Message 11 of 11 , Oct 5, 2002
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                          In a message dated 10/5/2002 3:29:02 PM Pacific Daylight Time,
                          dbratman@... writes:


                          > This is the same error that Elizabeth Anne Hull made
                          > in the Worldcon panel, when she blamed Tolkien for characteristically
                          > Tolclonian flaws in the Tolclone Jackson film, flaws which do not occur in
                          > the book, which she's never read. I tend to doubt Mieville has either.
                          >

                          I'm curious about that. In some interview I read -- I don't remember which
                          -- he criticizes Tolkien's stance on the importance of consolation in
                          fantasy, which indicates at least a passing acquaintance with "On
                          Fairy-stories." That's a fairly sophisticated critique for someone who's
                          never read JRRT, and from Mieville's Marxist perspective, I can see where
                          it's coming from: consolation as opiate of the masses, or whatever. I'm not
                          at all sure that Mieville understands what Tolkien actually *means* by
                          consolation, or understands how inextricably entangled it is with loss and
                          sorrow (which are the necessary preconditions for consolation!), but people
                          who HAVE read Tolkien have gotten those points wrong too.

                          > That he thinks the problem is all Tolkien's fault, and not the fault of the
                          > clones, is shown by his taking as a compliment the comment that _Perdido
                          > Street Station_ is like a fantasy from a world where Peake, not Tolkien,
                          > became the father of the field. It did not occur to him that being called
                          > a Peake-clone in that world would be as big an insult as being called a
                          > Tolclone is in this one.
                          >
                          Ha! Well put, David!

                          Susan


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