Vector #103

So now ‘Towards A Critical Standard’ is complete, and forms a good bedrock basis for criticism. I must say that for me it had the effect of crystallising (and expanding) the method I try to employ in my own reviews. Any standard should be able to evaluate such diversities as, say, Dostoievsky, Le Guin, Iris Murdoch, John Norman and Barbara Cartland; and I think Muir’s categories might just cope. Still it is only a basis: I would like to see a standard that takes into account certain novels that break all the rules and still end up as good books. Criticism is to some degree a branch of pathology; the whole of a book is often greater than the sum of its autopsied parts.

And that, of course, while analysing the divisions of literature, leaves untouched the whole question of what books are ‘for’; and why anyone in their right mind should want to read 200-odd pages of total falsehood. A fiction is a lie: there is the paradox that a writer is a person who can only tell the truth by telling lies.

As a subpoint: does this mean that in future Vector might be reviewing books other than those published with the labels of SF and fantasy?

Still on criticism, and David Shotton’s point about slating any kind of serial or series: I think the main requirement is that (however many volumes it runs to) the sequence should have been conceived as a whole. There are obviously books that grow organically from the author’s previous works, like Eddison’s Zimiamvian fantasies and Donaldson’s new Covenant trilogy, but this is still legitimate. The objection is to interminable commercial follow-ups cashing in on the success of a first work — the Dune books, or the McCaffrey dragons, for example which were quite tolerable on their first appearance, but have since been diluted down to total bullshit. Commercialism isn’t a bad touchstone for hackwork.

Speaking of hackwork, I note that a certain Mr T Wogan has got his fangs into Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and the repeats of Blake’s 7. Is nothing sacred?

Mary Gentle

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