SFF Masterclass, Day One

So, today was the first day of the long-anticipated Science Fiction Foundation Masterclass in SF Criticism, 2008 edition, at which several denizens of these parts were present. (And a bunch of other people too.) The format was straightforward: a morning session led by Geoff Ryman, structured as a writer’s close reading of Stand on Zanzibar, and an afternoon session led by Wendy Pearson, in which we discussed postmodernism, queer theory, and “The Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation”. It would be fair to say I’m still digesting many of the issues the day raised, but it was all thoroughly stimulating. As a teaser, here are Geoff Ryman’s four tests for judging whether formal innovation in fiction is successful:

  1. It should not be confusing. The purpose of formal innovation is to provide greater insight into or access to either emotion or information; it should work without needing an instruction manual (or critics) to explain it.
  2. It should be fun. To take form seriously is to overvalue it; formal innovation is (or should be) driven by wit, freedom, and playfulness.
  3. It should be useful for something that couldn’t be achieved another way.
  4. It should do more than one thing at a time (as should most elements of prose fiction)

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