So we’re losing Emerald City (and, sadly, the blog), but we have gained a new ‘zine this week: Heliotrope, from the people behind Fantasy Book Spot. For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, you can download a pdf of the whole first issue, or smaller pdfs of each individual article and story, but there’s no easy way to actually view the content online (i.e., no HTML version).
As you might expect for a first issue, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Heidi Kneale’s essay “Where’s the Sci-Fi: the relationship between trends in science fiction and modern history,” for instance, seems perfunctory, to put it kindly; Edward Morris’s story “On The Air” is an intermittently entertaining but clunky alternate history, largely cast in the form of an radio broadcast by Hugo Gernsback. (Others may like it more. It’s in a similar vein to “Imagine“, from Interzone last year, which I also wasn’t bowled over by, but which made the most recent BSFA Short Fiction Award shortlist.) But there are some good reviews by Victoria Hoyle, and an interesting poem by Catherynne M. Valente. (Which may sound like faint praise, but I’m a tough sell when it comes to poetry.)
There’s also “The Skeptical Fantasist: in defense of an oxymoron,” an essay by R. Scott Bakker which, from the title, I was hoping was going to be an antidote to Charles Stross’ odd assertion that “fantasy is, almost by definition, consolatory and escapist literature. Pure fantasy doesn’t really tell us anything about the world we live in”. (Further discussion, although mostly of the other bits of Stross’ post. And while we’re in the neighbourhood of the subject, see this discussion of what’s ‘cutting edge’ in sf.) And it is, in a way, once you get past the equally odd assertion that “Where science fiction, one might say, constructs pseudo-knowledge of the future, fantasy fiction reconstructs the pseudo-knowledge of the past” by realising that Bakker is talking almost exclusively about genre fantasy.
His argument, I think, is that (1) to go along with the general fall in scientific literacy, there has been an equally damaging but less recognised fall in “interpretive literacy”, the ability to recognise the fluidity of texts; and that (2) genre fantasies, typically based on anthropomorphic (“familial”) worldviews, look familiar and comforting to those who lack facility of interpretation, but can be used to “speak out, to use the frequency of shared interests to communicate different values, different perspectives, to people engaged in their own ingrown conversation.” Fair enough. But along the way, this argument almost gets lost in the noise of an entirely separate argument about the stagnation of the literary establishment. I’m also not entirely convinced that he understands molecular genetics enough to be drawing on it for similes:
Within the literary establishment itself, the consensus seems to be that the culture industry is largely to blame, that in the interests of reaping the efficiencies that follow from standardization, the media corporations have literally trained the capacity for critical interpretation out of consumers. […] No one, they might say, laments interpretive illiteracy more than they do, but so long as the system continues unchecked, there is precious little they can do.
Of course this story is an oversimplification. Nor is it the case that all the literati buy into even its most sophisticated versions. But nonetheless reproductions of this tale float around university literature departments like bits of messenger RNA, ready to undo any damage to the master code that not only determines the form and content of all things literary, but also secures the authority of those with the proper institutional credentials.
A shame. But the ‘zine is worth a look anyway, and it pays good rates, so long may it survive.
On an entirely different note: John Clute’s new website has a page of notes and things, including a collection of “aphorisms and thoughts, mostly swollen, out of which is it sometimes possible to say something”, of which my favourite is probably this:
Genres: Stud farms for McGuffins that lasted the course.