Tour de Force

by wjw on March 17, 2007

I just reread Roger Zelazny’s Creatures of Light and Darkness for the first time in maybe thirty years. I’m not sure how I missed it during that time, since I regularly reread Roger’s work. Perhaps I failed to go back to the book because my personal copy seems to have gone missing, so when I decided to reread it I found the book’s out of print, and I couldn’t find a copy in a local bookstore, so I had to borrow a copy from a friend.

Be that as it may, my reaction to the novel this time was different than it had been on previous readings.

My reaction this time was something like, Holy fucking shit! What a fucking tour de force!

I’ve been known to attempt tour de force myself. Sometimes a writer just wants to show off his skill before his audience, like a Renaissance artist producing one of those canvases that has armor, lace, flowers, porcelain, fruit, and a dead bunny, all worked beautifully into the composition.

And so, sometimes I write passages just because I can. Gabriel entering the Escher-like oneirochronon in Aristoi, Maria manipulating the Now in Angel Station, the first appearance of the Burning Woman in Metropolitan . . . while these scenes carry the plot forward, they’re also intended to showcase my skill. I want you to read them and go waaaaaaaaah.

Sometimes you find an entire novel that’s a tour de force. Gravity’s Rainbow, say, or Lolita. Those are two successes: most often a novel-length tour de force fails.

Creatures of Light and Darkness is one damned tour de force after another. There’s a part written in verse; there’s another part written as a stage play. There are gods onstage. There’s the amazing scene of Temporal Fugue. There’s the Agnostic’s Prayer. There are about a dozen point-of-view characters, not all of which are named, and one of which is the shadow of a horse.

As a novel, the book is less successful than its individual scenes. I think this is what I responded to as a young reader— I had thought of it as dealing with some of the same themes as Lord of Light, but less successfully.

But now that I write for a living, I know how hard all of this was to pull off, and I am agog. Picture me with a tattered paperback in my hand, and my mouth hanging open. (No, on second thought, don’t picture me that way at all.)

Having read CoLaD again, I wanted to know more about the book, and because Roger is no longer available to ask, I contacted his biographer, Jane Lindskold. She told me that the book was written in the mid-1960s, as an experiment, with no intent to publish. (Roger was working for the government in those days, and didn’t need to publish in order to eat. He wrote a number of things without intending to publish them, though only one of them was a novel, so far as I know.)

Chronologically, this is around the time Roger began working with the Amber books. (Roger’s books were not always published in the order in which he wrote them.)

We may thank Samuel R Delany for the fact the book was published at all. Roger was describing the book to him, and Chip was urging him to publish it. “But I can’t publish it,” said Roger, in effect. “Part of it’s written in verse! Part of it’s a stage play! Part of it is written from the point of view of the shadow of a horse!”

“That’s exactly what the field needs!” Chip said, or words to that effect.

And he was right.

And he’s more right now than ever.

Can we manage to get this book back in print, so everyone can read it and go Waaaaaaaaah?

HaloJonesFan March 18, 2007 at 6:47 am

Isn’t that what Nightshade is doing?

Tarl Neustaedter March 18, 2007 at 7:19 pm

[ Zelazny’s Critters of Light and Darkness ]

As a novel, the book is less successful than its individual scenes.

Yah. Keep that in mind for your own work. I, like probably most of your audience, read your works for the stories. Most cases I’ve seen of authors wanting to showcase skills simply produces unreadable dreck, where their cuteness gets in the way of the story.

Remember Caesar’s literate innovation, which keeps his stuff readable two millenia later – he simply wrote his accounts to get the information across, not to be elaborately fancy about it.

I can’t count the numbers of pieces of “great literature” that various teachers have pointed me at saying “look at the fantastic writing”. All I ended up seeing was a minimal story layered behind miserable gunk which made it all so hard to read there was no enjoyment in getting through it.

It’s not for me to tell you how to do your job, but I can tell you that Zelazny is one of the authors I gave up on for having too little story to be worth the effort of navigating his writing.

dubjay March 18, 2007 at 8:46 pm

Tarl, I agree with your assessment of overly precious writing, but I think you overrate the value of story.

There are a limited number of stories out there— Heinlein said there were only three— and by now I’ve read them all about half a million times, and I find most plots perfectly predictable, so what I respond to in a writer is how the stories are told. Style, in other words, though insight and knowledge certainly help.

Even writers who seem to have no style— Dashiell Hammett, say, or Isaac Asimov— made very careful stylistic choices. Gene Wolfe is another good example— his deliberately cultivated naive style proves to be full of diabolical complexity once you start analyzing it.

So what you’re actually saying, I think, is that you respond to one particular literary style more than you respond to others.

I appreciate a good minimalist as much as I enjoy the more elaborate style of Joseph Conrad or Jack Vance.

What discourages me isn’t elaborate writing, or even bad writing— what I find really wastes my time is mediocrity. I can put a bad book down without a qualm. But with a book that’s just good enough to keep me hoping it will get better, I can turn a lot of pages before I get to the (totally predictable) end, or finally give up.

(The problem with Caesar as an example is that he was writing journalism, not fiction. I suspect he’s read nowadays less for his compelling rendition of all those battles than because his journalistic style, with its limited vocabulary, makes him highly suitable for second-year Latin students.)

Tarl Neustaedter March 19, 2007 at 8:39 pm

Dubjay wrote:

[…] I think you overrate the value of story. There are a limited number of stories out there […]

That’s equivalent to saying there is only one disaster story: “People die”. If it were that simple, I’d stop reading.

Most mainstream fiction readers look at stories for interactions between characters and insight into how other people’s minds work.

As an S-F reader, I’m primarily interested in backgrounds, the environments and societies which surround the POV characters. The characters have to be vivid enough to grip me, but what brings me back is the imagination of the backstory.

You could describe the Dread Empire series as yet another in an interminable series of stories of unrequited love between boy and girl caused by external societal pressures. Romeo et Juliet redux.

Instead, I’m interested in a multi-species interstellar nation, which a society in some ways resembles ancient Roman society with computers. Do I feel it works, what are the parts that don’t fit, what unexpected things did the author uncover that I wouldn’t have thought of? I gather particular humor at how Sulla’s shady early background is brought into specific light as the replacement Sula.

Reading Stirling’s DtF series brings forward how much of current technology we depend on for our day-to-day lives, and how badly we’d fall apart without it – and how some people might survive.

As evidence that at least in S-F readers think there are more than three stories, in any gathering of S-F readers, you can probably briefly describe some novel you read 20 years ago with a couple of sentences on the background, and someone will be able to identify the work.


Foxessa March 20, 2007 at 12:36 am

I’m astonished this book is out of print.

Ahhhh, the things writers will do to amuse themselves …. 🙂

Love, C.

Maureen McHugh March 20, 2007 at 1:51 am

It’s funny, talking about tour de force and Chip Delany. Dhalgren is, for me, another tour de force book. I stalled twice on Dhalgren and then the third time, I couldn’t put it down. Usually if I stall on a book, I’m done. But images from Dhalgren kept coming back to me.

I, like you Walter, have my greatest difficulty with the kind of book that is relatively competent, but full of the kind of second level cliche that drives me nuts. First level cliche is the obvious, you know, ‘fresh as a daisy.’ ‘White as snow.’ But the second level of cliche is sneakier and people don’t notice it. A book or a tv show where a kid comes to live with a loner, or a womanizer, or a driven ambitious person, by the end of the show, that person will have gained an appreciation for the deeper values. Show a character with a big library, or who’s learning to play piano or otherwise into self-improvement, and they are always the good guy. More and more, those kind of narrative shorthands drive me nuts.

Someone once told me that Chip Delany likes really dense prose when h e reads because of his dyslexia. It takes him a comparatively long time to read a page because it takes him a long time to decode letters into language. But he thinks as fast as the rest of us, so he likes a good dense paragraph so he has something to think about while he’s churning through the reading process. Which made me realize that we all read in profoundly different ways.

S.M. Stirling March 20, 2007 at 7:15 am

Delany is, I think, a tragic case of a man wrecked by his theories. His early books are very good; the more he got into the litcrit theory stuff, the worse he got.

As the saying goes, those who can, to; those who can’t, teach; those who can’t do either do critical literary theory.

I think Delany once said that he considers the sentence to be the primary unit you have to pay attention to in writing. ’nuff said.

Of course, it’s a professional deformation of writing to pay more and more attention to technique and less and less to the drive, the ooomph, that makes for a compelling story.

You start _seeing_ the plot, in a way non-writers usually don’t.

As I said, the ooomph is the gas, and the technique only the car. No gas, no forward motion.

Whenever I find myself doing this sort of thing, I go back to basics — I go read some Burroughs, or (at a much higher level of craft, incidentally) some Sabatini, or Hanson Davis or Doyle or Mundy.

(It also keeps you from taking the crotchets of the early 21st century too seriously, which is all to the good.)

Of course, Delany has also had the drawback of an academic job. This is, with some exceptions, death to a writer or to creativity of any sort.

He remains a pretty good critic, though.

S.M. Stirling March 20, 2007 at 7:17 am

And of course we have to avoid the artist-as-lonely-prophet-on-the-mountaintop thing. The Romantics have a lot to answer for.

If your work isn’t accessible to the median reader, this isn’t his fault for not working hard enough, it’s yours, as a writer.

One of the reasons I like the SF/F field is that the commercial pressures keep us honest.

S.M. Stirling March 20, 2007 at 7:21 am

Personally, I feel that if someone stops to notice my style(*) I’ve failed. The “oooh, good bit of business there” is how a critic or other writer reacts, and I’m not writing for them.

Certainly I want the style to produce certain -effects- on the reader, but this should happen below the conscious level.

_Ideally_ the reader should no longer be conscious that they’re looking at words on a page at all.

(*) except in a sense somewhat like a movie’s sound-track.

dubjay March 20, 2007 at 9:27 pm

Apropos Dhalgren: at a con I once participated in a Summarize Proust contest, in which contestants were asked to summarize one or another weighty tome of literature in 15 seconds or less.

I was handed =Moby Dick=, and my summary went something like this: “Call me Ishmael. Step-thump, step-thump, step-thump. ‘To the last I grapple with thee!’ Step-thump, step-thump, AIEEEE! Another orphan. the end.”

Another contestant was given =Dhalgren.” His summary was: “In the first part of the book, the protagonist goes to the city. In the end, he leaves. Nothing happens in the middle.”

He won by acclamation.

dubjay March 20, 2007 at 9:35 pm

More seriously, I never managed to get through =Dhalgren.= Its lack of narrative drive and general opacity didn’t bother me— I just thought the actual sentence-by-sentence writing was poor.

I don’t think Delany has been spoiled by theory, I think he has just become more Delany-like as he aged. “Become more like himself,” as Scott Card would say.

It wasn’t literary theory that required Delany to devote pages upon pages to the joys of coprophilia. That was Delany himself. He can’t stop telling us about his obsessions.

I feel sad about it, because the 1960s Delany was a big influence on my own writing, particularly those terrific short stories.

Tarl Neustaedter March 20, 2007 at 10:35 pm

I was biting my tongue to avoid commenting on Dhalgren. It was one of the books I was thinking of when I wrote my earlier comment about minimal story layered behind miserable gunk.

S.M. Stirling March 21, 2007 at 3:29 am

Walter: I agree it wasn’t _just_ theory, but unfortunately the theory told Delany exactly what he wanted to hear.

Spending too much time on one’s obsessions is a standing risk — after all, everyone finds their own interests to be interesting.

You’ve just got to keep in mind that other people don’t and make a conscious effort to control it.

Otherwise you end up writing the same book over and over.

Of course, some elements _will_ be common to all your books; you can’t help it, and it’s functionally necessary — you have to have conflict, for example.

It doesn’t have to be _overt_ conflict, head-bashing and so forth, but that’s easier. Some people can make a trip to the market to buy a fish tensely interesting, but that is _hard_.

jw johnson March 21, 2007 at 4:16 am

Zelazny always had the power to make me go waaaaaaagh. Personally I always felt the author had the right to write something every now and then just to showoff, “to showcase the skills”, however you want to put it. Just because they wanted to. After all shouldn’t you write because you like to and you have fun at it? Isn’t it fun to shoot for the heights sometimes? Now whether or not you succeed will be up for debate, but I sure don’t think it hurts to try.

yabonn March 22, 2007 at 10:14 am

Nice to see I’m not alone fascinated by this book.

I submit to your attention a Farberian Grumpy Oneliner, posted on CT after i mentioned the book :

Tried to get the Sphinx to elaborate, but no luck. If anyone knows…

yabonn March 22, 2007 at 10:23 am

Ah i correct that. A late commenter explained the whole thing – Farber’s remark was about “sci-fi” usage, not the book.

Nevermind then.

dubjay March 22, 2007 at 9:23 pm

After all shouldn’t you write because you like to and you have fun at it? Isn’t it fun to shoot for the heights sometimes?

Yep, I’m with you. In fact I’m willing to go further.

The sole purpose of writing, both the kind that I do and the kind that everyone else does, is to provide fun for me!

And I’m bored with stuff that’s merely competent. I want to see books that display frenzied, drooling, megalomaniac ambition! I want to read stuff that makes my hair stand on end and my eyes leap out of my head like a Tex Avery character! I want to read something that will inspire me to write something brilliant myself!

I want to put the book down and say out loud, Holy fucking shit! What a fucking tour de force!

S.M. Stirling March 23, 2007 at 4:47 am

Trouble is, there’s a limited number of ways to write fiction; that is, a limited number of ways that work.

Everyone makes wheels round because that’s the only way that works.

Granted, there are changes at the margins — witness the difference between an ‘ordinary’ novel in, say, 1900 and now — but they’re limited, mostly, to reflecting changes in society.

So as time goes by, the amount of genuine innovation possible in style and form continually decreases as all the workable alternatives are explored.

Take Joyce, for example. Brilliant formal innovation, and a complete dead-end.

This drives people who consider “novel” and “good” synonymous crazy.

Tim Kyger March 23, 2007 at 2:50 pm

I’m a lurker in total agreement with W J W on Zelazny’s CoLaD.

Out of print, and out of library around here (the D.C. area). Also out of used bookstores, too, for some damn reason. I’ve been looking for a few years, since I want to reread it again. (My copy is in storage in San Jose along with lots of other stuff.)

I so mourn the loss of Zelazny. I can still remember when I found out about it — standing on a corner at Pentagon City waiting for my wife to pick me up, reading the Washington Post — and there it was, his obituary.

Damn damn damn.

dubjay March 23, 2007 at 9:11 pm

Since my original post I have been contacted by a publisher, who will remain nameless here until he requests otherwise, who is trying to bring CoLaD back into print. On completion of some minor bureaucratic details, this should be done in a straightforward and timely manner. =Jack of Shadows= is also a part of the deal.

So— huzzay!

Steve— I totally disagree with your premise that there are only a limited number of ways to successfully write fiction. After all, the work under discussion here successfully tells its story as a stage play, in verse, and from the point of view of the shadow of a horse. And was a commercial success in its time.

My current liesure reading, =My Name is Red= by Orhan Pamuk, starts its narration in the first person, by a murdered corpse lying at the bottom of a well. Later on, it’s narrated by a picture of a dog stuck up on the wall of a coffee house.

(“Because you humans,” says the dog, “are less rational creatures than I, you’re telling yourselves, ‘Dogs don’t talk.’ Nevertheless, you seem to believe a story in which corpses speak . . . “)

Both the corpse and the dog carry the story perfectly well, from what I can see. And the book is also a commercial success and has been reprinted around the world.

And this is only point of view. We haven’t even got into matters of style.

It seems to me there are more ways to successfully write fiction than there are to successfully make a painting, and that’s saying a lot.

SpeakerToManagers March 24, 2007 at 1:33 pm

Steve, as you know from past discussions you and I agree about a lot of aspects of writing and art, but I’ve got to go with Walter on this one. Sure, everyone uses the wheel, until someone invents the tractor tread, or the constant-width non-circular cam, or the air-cushion. We know of the ways we know, until we find new ones.

RAH talked about there being only 3 stories. I think he was using hyperbole for effect there, but even if you make the number larger I can think of one or two stories that won’t fit into the normal set of popular fiction templates. The story of Gilgamesh is easy to deal with, but where do you put Prometheus, for instance?

And the number of stories isn’t constant, it’s not a law of nature. “Cordwainer Smith”‘s popularity was due in part to the fact that he brought new stories and new forms from other cultures. How would you have characterized a story like “When The People Fell” before you actually saw it?

It’s clear that there are new things in art all the time; unless we are unlucky enough to live in the end times, after all things have been discovered. Before the first story about alternate time-lines there weren’t any; the idea wasn’t there. Yes, you can’t re-invent that particular idea, but what else has not yet been invented?

Art is rarely as alive and vibrant as when an infusion of new ideas and new forms shows up from some other culture. Sure, some of the resultant hybrid works just won’t, but some will, and they’ll allow the audience some new experiences, not just novelty but new pleasures that will also allow writers the pleasure of exploring new areas.

This is not the same thing as the navel-gazing self-gratification that Chip Delany has been perpetrating in the last 30 years or so.* There’s a difference between writing that’s obsessed with the writer’s internal states, and writing that’s examining a way of writing new to the writer and the audience.

* Always excepting “Stars in my Pocket Like Grains of Sand” and probably”The Splendor and Misery of Bodies, of Cities” if it ever sees the light of day.

S.M. Stirling March 25, 2007 at 10:50 pm

Give you odds that stories told from the viewpoint of a corpse or a picture of a dog never catch on big.

That sort of thing is a one-off; as the man said, it’s like a dog walking on its hind legs — the wonder is that it can be done at all.

Until the Romantics, stylistic novelty usually wasn’t considered a part of art at all; what distinguished good artists from bad was their command of technique and the power with which they used it, not their innovation.

Since then, we’ve worshipped at the altar of novelty, and the results haven’t been very pretty, either literally or metaphorically.

The main result has been to destroy poetry and the common vocabulary which made the visual arts meaningful to people in general, in favor of a whirling circle of ever-more-hermetic movements which are now disappearing up their own assholes with a wet plopping sound.

Innovation as a good in itself (as opposed to innovation which solves a problem or does something that couldn’t be done before) encourages self-referential sterility and mannerism.

It’s based on a false analogy between the sciences (where progress actually exists) and the rest of human life, where “progress” is at best a metaphor and more commonly a confusion of change with improvement.

The approach to the visual arts, for example, changed drastically in Western Civ. between the 1890’s and the 1920’s, but I defy anyone to show that it was an improvement — which is why Victorian academic painters like Leighton and Alma-Tadema are now outselling anything new.

Innovation in the arts shouldn’t be impossible, but it should be slow, difficult and regarded with suspicion.

SpeakerToManagers March 26, 2007 at 4:51 pm

And the approach to the visual arts changed drastically during the 15th Century; I think the outcome was very positive for the arts.

I won’t disagree with the statement that much of what’s been called “art” in the last century or so has been uninteresting to repulsive; I’m not convinced this period was unique in that respect. Whether it was or not is irrelevant, though, since the passage of time, the mechanism that weeds out the crap, is still working.

dubjay March 27, 2007 at 12:38 am

Give you odds that stories told from the viewpoint of a corpse or a picture of a dog never catch on big.

That sort of thing is a one-off; as the man said, it’s like a dog walking on its hind legs — the wonder is that it can be done at all.

It =is= a wonder, and that’s why it’s good.

I don’t =care= if Orhan Pamuk’s success produces a School of Corpse Narratives, or if =Creatures of Light and Darkness= inspires an Animal Shadow Literary Movement. I only care that my brain got buzzed from reading them =once.=

Many great works are essentially unrepeatable. There is no Moby Dick School, or Gargantua and Pantagruel Movement (thank God!),
or Remembrance of Things Past fan fiction (though =that= might be interesting).

Come to think of it, it’s the not-quite-first-rate stuff that often generates imitations: “The Waste Land,” say, or =Starship Troopers,= or the works of Robert E Howard. (Hmm . . . can we generate a thesis here? I wonder.)

Fantastic fiction is by its very nature a taboo-breaking literature, the very mission of which is to fuck with reality, often in seriously transgressive ways.

I don’t see why a literature that prides itself on challenging conventional wisdom and conventional ideas should confine itself to conventional narrative.

Myles Lobdell March 30, 2007 at 3:31 am

Isn’t that what Burgess Meredith used to say on the old Batman TV show?

S.M. Stirling April 3, 2007 at 3:49 am

“Fantastic fiction is by its very nature a taboo-breaking literature, the very mission of which is to fuck with reality, often in seriously transgressive ways.”

— well, no.

The fantastic is a very old form of literature, far older than the ‘realistic’ prose novel that developed in the 18th century. That’s the departure; we are the source. We’re the oldest form of all.

The mission is to be fun and re-create the culture-myths in appealing forms with updated flourishes.

SF/F is simply the modern form of the age-old adventure/fantasy story, of the type of Homer wrote, down through Beowulf and the medieval Chanson and the ‘romances’ like “Amadis of Gaul”, and on into the penny dreadfuls and Stevenson and Doyle and Haggard and then Kipling and Sabatini and ERB and the pulps and so down the line through Jack Williamson to our own day.

It’s an unbroken tradition. They had giants and enchanters and werewolves; we have space-ships and planets and aliens(or we have giants and enchanters and werewolves).

Same-same. Far-away places with exciting adventures and strange creatures and outrageous happenings.

“And over the mountains, the hero came on a race of men with faces in their chests!” sang the bard by the hearth.

It’s the ‘mimetic’ novel that’s the odd wart-like bump on the tradition, and probably a transient one.

Furthermore, the the art-form exists for the audience, not for itself and not for the artists. They hand us gold rings and eternal fame… err, royalties and good buzz… and thus we are validated.

dubjay April 3, 2007 at 9:42 pm

The mission is to be fun and re-create the culture-myths in appealing forms with updated flourishes.

SF/F is simply the modern form of the age-old adventure/fantasy story, of the type of Homer wrote, down through Beowulf and the medieval Chanson and the ‘romances’ like “Amadis of Gaul”, and on into the penny dreadfuls and Stevenson and Doyle and Haggard and then Kipling and Sabatini and ERB and the pulps and so down the line through Jack Williamson to our own day.

Christ, Steve, if I believed that, I’d blow my brains out. I have failed to follow in the sacred footsteps of Rider Haggard! I have no choice but to Eat My Pistol!

If you want to recreate contemporary versions of 19th century romances, feel free. That is clearly your mission. Godspeed.

My own belief is that the 19th century romance was killed dead in August 1914, and anyone working exclusively within its parameters is condemned to become a historical curiosity.

But that’s okay. Some of my favorite books are curiosities.

I was never particularly turned on by 19th century romances. I was turned on by Samuel R Delany and Roger Zelazny, who had entirely different ways of recapitulating culture-myths.

dubjay April 3, 2007 at 9:55 pm

I am finding this argument recapitulatedly nicely in my current reading, Orhan Pamuk’s =My Name is Red.= (The section of the novel with that title is written from the point of view of that color, by the way.)

Pamuk’s novel takes place in 17th Century Constantinople, and involves intrigues and murders within the closed society of manuscript illuminators. There are those who insist that the whole purpose of illustration is to duplicate the centuries-old techniques of the masters of Herat.

But other, more radical voices, are suggesting that new techniques, imported from Venice, be used, including shading and the use of perspective.

The innovators are, of course, denounced as egotists. Every painter in Venice strives to be unique! How dare they, when the proper course is to anonymously recapitulate that which came before.

This challenge to tradition is also viewed as a challenge to Islam, and resonates purposefully with contemporary controversies in Turkish society.

A pretty nifty book, so far, though not quite a tour de force.

S.M. Stirling April 5, 2007 at 2:41 am

“I have failed to follow in the sacred footsteps of Rider Haggard! I have no choice but to Eat My Pistol!”

— or the footsteps of Homer and Shakespeare. Same thing. I think it’s pretty good company, myself.

What are “Lord of Light” and “Nine Princes in Amber” if not adventure fiction in the tradition of Haggard and the others?

For that matter, so’s “Babel-17”.

Fact of the matter is, SF/F is NOT the “radical” branch of literature.

It’s the _old, conservative_ branch of literature.

It’s the “boy who lived”, the branch which, while adapting to change, changed least. It’s Bram Stoker, not Henry James. It’s the stuff which, until the 18th century, _was_ fiction.

Mainstream-literary prose fiction is the experimental and radical branch. In fact, it’s the _branch_; we are the ancient oak-tree.

dubjay April 6, 2007 at 9:54 pm

Forgive me, but I can’t but think that Homer and Shakespeare were playing in a different league from Rafael Sabatini, Rider Haggard, and Captain S.P. Meek, US Army, ret.

I just can’t picture Homer, if he were alive today, saying, “Man, you gotta check out that Meek dude. He’s so totally Me!”

Firstly, the Grand Tradition in literature is =poetry.= You can’t just reduce it all to Story and say, “Me and Shakespeare, we’re in the same glorious tradition because we write about kings and elves!”

Write about five hundred pages of pentameter, and we’ll talk.

SF and fantasy aren’t the old, conservative branch of literature, because one was invented around 1927 and the other around 1968. They’re descended from 19th century prose romance, but they’re modern commercial genres.

And they’re not even the =most= conservative modern commercial genres. Sometimes I think the most conservative is genre romance, sometimes I think it’s mystery.

But maybe it’s Westerns, because they’re so conservative and hidebound they’ve practically ceased to exist.

One of the reasons that SF is losing its audience is that it’s failed to evolve. Young readers aren’t interested in all that stuff about spaceships and other planets, it’s all so quaint and 1970s.

Steve, I’ve read a number of reviews of your recent work, and though the reviews of the =Dies the Fire= were favorable, I didn’t see any that mentioned you’d pinched three of your characters from Conan Doyle’s historical novels. Nor did any of the reviews of “Peshawar Lancers” mention that you’d nicked several characters from the works of Talbot Mundy.

=I= recognized them, but nobody else did that I know of. Your source material is so far off everyone’s map that it isn’t even recognized by the people in charge of cartography.

I don’t know that it’s in anyone’s tradition any longer, except your own.

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