Thursday, October 16, 2008

Getting all literary-like

As I have mentioned elsewhere a very good friend of mine is the writer Roger Ellory, who writes Literary Crime Fiction, bit of a niche you might think but his "A Quiet Belief In Angels" has been one of Richard and Judy's book club books. And an excellent book it is too.

Honestly I find Roger's writing breathtaking, that's the best description I can manage.

I have also commented on the fact that I don't read much nowadays due to lack of time.

Actually Roger has every right to be annoyed at me. My 5oth birthday yielded book tokens so I popped to Waterstones a couple of weeks ago and bought myself the Heroes graphic "deleted scenes" book - and another literary writer. Trouble is I tend to gravitate to the SF/F and among all the other writers I have never heard of (okay I should live dangerously) I found Iain M Banks and bought his "Use of Weapons".

Which I finished this evening. Very clever. That's all I'll say. No, I'll add "brilliant".

Now Iain Banks is a renowned literary writer, who condescends to write SF from time to time.

I jest. Iain M Banks is a completely different writer. You can tell because he's got the initial "M" in the middle of his name. Must be someone else completely.

As far as the print trade is concerned, and literary snobs, he is. That fact that the two Iains inhabit the same body is irrelevant.

I know I've said this before but how can some so-called literary writer claim that she doesn't write SF when she's written a novel set in the future where the planet Earth is suffering from the after-effects of extreme pollution? This is a true story, dear reader. Silly bint.

The problem is in the nature of mis-definitions. And I've said this several times before and I'm going to go on saying it: SF is not a genre, nor is Fantasy. They are settings. But things like Horror and Crime Mystery are genres because you can put them in any setting. For example, you can have Fantasy Police procedural (the Lord D'Arcy stories by Randall Garrett). "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell" is historical fantasy ... political? (Why political? Well if you sum up what it's ultimately about it's either politics or a love story, I think political wins out.)

Then there's "Period": Past, Contemporary or Future. Steam-punk is historical SF. The conceptually brilliant "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" is 1930s SF.

Arguably the concept of "Fantasy" is irrelevant since if the story is made up then it's fantasy. While the degree of fantasy is dependent on how far it departs from what is considered "real". SF is a fantasy which extrapolates physical or science. Magical fantasy adds features (and creatures) to the universe that are not generally considered possible or likely.

You could say that amount of "fantasy" is merely the "degree of unlikelihood".

Literary is just a style which can be applied to any setting/genre combination.

If you were feeling really enthusiastic you could draw a five dimensional chart with Period, Setting, Genre, Style, and Published date as the axes, plot all the books released in the last 150 years using the size of the dot to represent sales (which effectively makes it six dimensional) and discover fascinating things about how tastes have altered. Also spotting those areas of minimum density where one could place a book with content no one has ever done before.

(Though one caveat if you choose to do so: Sherlock Holmes was contemporary when his stories were printed and steadily retreated into historical. It's crucial to keep that in mind when plotting.)

This is left as an exercise for the reader.

What's on the turntable? "Headlong" by Queen from "Greatest Hits III"

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