Tuesday, August 18, 2015

What do we puppies have against “Literary”?

            I’ve seen some confusion and ambivalence about just what it is the Sad Puppies have against “literary” in Sci-Fi and I don’t think what this has to do with the political correctness issues has been fully explicated. So I wanted to go ahead and lay out what I see as the connection.

At it’s root “literally” means a style of writing were the langue at the level of phrases and sentences is itself beautiful and interesting, a common part of this is allusions to cultural classic and references to previous literature. In some ways this style goes with science fiction about as well as beautiful stained glass goes with a telescope. But in other ways whether you want beautiful language as an additional distraction in your sci-fi story is very much as case of de gustibus non destbutontem est.

           But there is an additional quirk to the way literary has actually been practiced. Because the literary style has the quality that you need a certain level of education higher than for other styles in order to appreciate it. You have to have a large vocabulary and a complex awareness of grammar in order to enjoy the prose, and you need a broad knowledge of culture in order to enjoy the literary allusions. And back when literacy was developing as a style only fairly upper class people possessed this level of education.
           Thus one thing talking about literary works did was to effectively signal high social status. This became part of the self image of the literary set, that they had this quality that signaled eliteness. Of course no one articulated it this quality as “this style requires education and is therefore a good status signal” people thought of this quality as being this it’s the style the “best” people read. So it was easy for fans and members of literary circles to start thinking of literary as the “best” type of fiction.
The edition I read did not
explicitly mention the Odyssey

This was reinforced by academia because it was easy to see why you needed a college class to understand something like James Joyce’s Ulysses. It’s not like David Drake’s Cross the Stars where you can just kick back after a long hard day and enjoy a good read. Joyce’s work requires concentrated intellectual effort and either encyclopedic cultural knowledge or a reference guide. Half the fun is sharing connections made and cultural insights and with others. (I haven’t read Ulysses but listening to a course about it convinced me that had been much more amusing than actually reading the book would have been.) The praise I’ve heard of Bloom and his day revolve around the irony of him being portrayed as if he was the iconic greek hero and of this slightly unprepossessing man being celebrated in the literary canon. When I first read Don “Mad Dog” Slade’s story I simply enjoyed it as a rip-roaring good adventure about a veteran soldier returning home and having to re-make a place for himself there. It’s a smooth read with language that doesn’t distract from suspension of disbelief. 
There are no three headed dogs in this book,
 only is the poem this book is referring to.
When I read it later, after coming to know to the
Odyssey, seeing the parallels added an extra layer of amusement, but that wasn’t at all necessary to my basic enjoyment of the story. A college course couldn’t really improve appreciation of Drake’s that work because Drake already provided everything the reader really needs.
           In recent times showing off your IQ, much less your snooty education, has become less the done thing. As the shine of “upper class” began to tarnish literary devotees in both social and academic circles had natural motivation to hold on to the cachet of liking the “best” literature. There was a market demand for a way literary could be “best” in a overarching, perhaps moral way. This made the Social Justice drive to make everything political and to treat pushing the correct politics the ultimate moral good the perfect supply for the literary culture demand. So now those proclaiming themselves as arbiters of the “best” kind of literature are using a standard that combines literary style with SJW propaganda and Ultra political correctness.  
Both Puppy groups object to political litmus test that the literary arbiters have appropriated. In addition the Sad puppies, despite being labeled conservative, are more united around ideas like freedom from authoritarian censorship, presumption of innocence until proven guilty, not discriminating on the basis of background, and seeing everyone as basically equal, that were liberal ideas a generation ago. They are fundamentally allergic to the elitism of any kind and so dislike the classism associated with literary culture from early in its development. Whereas Vox Day has no objection to elitism per se. He likes the intellectual stretch of literary style as long as it doesn’t come with other baggage and other aspects of the work aren’t neglected.
This shows up in the fact that the Rabid Puppies slate was very John C. Wright heavy while the Sad Puppy slate had only a couple of his works. Wright is often literary using somewhat ornate language and sprinkling in references to both the literary canon and classical culture. (I can see some justification for entangling hollywood stars with renowned beauties of the ancient world to enhancement of the time travel theme, but drawing Queequeg into it was just over the top. There was no excuses for that. That might have caused a DNF if I hadn’t been reading for my Hugo voting. Which would have been a real shame because once I completed the whole thing, I found the story really cool.) So Vox saw more excellence in Wright’s writing than Brad did. Wright is also a Tor author and it’s interesting to speculate that his literary excellence might be part of what attracted the social climbing would be arbiters of taste to his writing.

             So while part of the Puppy issue with literary is the leftist political baggage  it has recently picked up, there is also an objection in part of Puppy movement to the fundamental snobbishness of literary society and the exclusiveness the is intrinsic to the nature of literary style. Personally I think using literary style  in a science fiction story is a little like taking a Bedazzler to an Armani sheath, but I do see that as a matter of taste. There’s a place for literary style is Sci-Fi as long as it doesn't becomes a requirement for something being considered the best of Science Fiction.