1. My excuse for not posting anything recently is that I’ve been on holiday in Japan. I had a great time; there are some photos (ok, a lot of photos) here. And I did get plenty of reading done while out there, so have several posts waiting in the back of my head to be written.
2. One thing I read was an interesting little book called The Situation and the Story: the Art of Personal Narrative by Vivian Gornick. This was an impulse-buy, largely because we’re working on an issue of Vector with the loose theme of ‘storying lives’, and the many ways that can be interpreted, and it does have things to say about fiction, but it’s primarily concerned with the creation of narrative in non-fiction.
Gornick argues that non-fiction writing has a story (the emotional experience recreated by reading it), a situation (the context in which the story is placed), and, crucially, is written not so much by a person as a persona: a particular slice of the author, around which the experience being examined is organised. I was already starting to think about this idea in relation to reviewing and blogging, and then I came back and read Cory Doctorow’s Locus column, “Science fiction is the only literature people care enough about to steal on the internet.” It’s another iteration of Doctorow’s argument that we live in a conversation-driven age, and I think he’s got a point. You only have to look at the nominees and winners of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer over the past few years, and you’ll see that writers with prominent blogs tend to do well. I’m not suggesting that people nominate or vote for authors purely because they know the name from a blog—I think, perhaps naively, that most people have enough integrity to resist that—but I do think that, if they like a writer’s blog, people are more likely to pick up books by that writer.
In itself, this is neither a good thing nor a bad thing, just a thing; if it becomes the norm, certainly some writers will be more suited to this type of reader relationship than others, but some writers are more suited to the current literary environment than others, too. But I’m not as sure as Doctorow that it will become the norm. For one thing, in Gornick’s terms, these aren’t so much reader/writer relationships as reader/persona relationships, and I think that may have limitations Doctorow may have underestimated—not least that there’s no particular reason why liking the persona’s non-fiction writing will translate to liking the writer’s fiction writing.
3. Finn Dempster reviews Transcendent by Stephen Baxter at The Mumpsimus. One of the projects I have in the back of my mind for when I have significantly more free time than I do at the moment is to re-read and write about the Destiny’s Children sequence (Coalescent, Exultant, Transcendent), which I think might be the most coherent set of books Baxter has yet written. Transcendent, in particular, seems to me to be almost a sort of summing-up of Baxter’s writing to date. For one thing, it interweaves a lot of recurring themes, not just the series themes of evolution and religion; for another, it brings together near-future and far-future stories in a particularly elegant fashion, with each, in the end, redeeming the other. (Plus, “The girl from the future told me that the sky is full of dying worlds” has quickly become one of my favourite opening lines evar.)