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Re: [mythsoc] Mieville et al

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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 1 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 2 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 3 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 4 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 5 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 6 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 7 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 8 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 9 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 10 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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