The Dream Café

Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

7 August 2020
by skzb
41 Comments

On the SF “Canon” and the Development of Art

John Scalzi has, as is his wont, produced a thought-provoking post.  This one is about the SF “Canon” (I’m finding it difficult to type that without quotation marks, which may tell us something).  You can find his remarks here.  He was kind enough to mention me as an influence, for which I am duly flattered.

I’m writing about this for two reasons, neither of which have to do with the question, “Is there actually a science fiction canon, and, if so, should new writers study it?”  The reasons are, first, with all that is going on in the world right now, with all the difficulties and challenges in both understanding it, and in communicating that understanding, it struck me as a relief to pull my brain away from that for a few minutes, and talk about art as if it existed apart from everything else—which, although clearly nonsense, can be treated as true for a short time.  The second reason is that it struck a chord with some things I’ve been thinking about, and I want to see if my thoughts will come together coherently (the answer is either that they will, or you’ll never see this post).

Strictly speaking, I disagree with John to some extent (did I qualify that enough?), but for all practical purposes, my disagreements are trivial.  I’m going to immediately move away from that, and talk about what all of this made me think of, and then pull it back.

Every form of art (art, in this case, being given the broadest possible definition), every sub-form, every genre and sub-genre, develops by contradiction, that is, in dialog with and (to a greater or lesser degree) in opposition to earlier forms.  The breathtaking changes in the world around us (ha.  I should have known I couldn’t stay away from that) strike artists as well as everyone else, because, you know, artists live here too. Our familiarity, whether deep or shallow, intense or casual, with the earlier works that made us want to create this stuff, is a huge part of what drives us, what gives us, consciously or unconsciously, our sense of, “this is good, this is bad, this is what I want to accomplish, this is what I want to stay away from.”

This means that every time something significantly new comes along—in painting, in music, or in science fiction—it involves a rejection of what went before.  One can almost hear the earliest punk artists, or the realist painters, or the “new-wave” science fiction writers, screaming at the past, “How come you didn’t do this?”  The rejection of what went before, of its assumptions, aesthetic, ways of addressing the viewer, are exactly what gives the new form or approach its dynamics, its energy.  I think this is a good thing, but that’s beside the point too, because it is also inevitable.

But here’s where it gets interesting: As we reject the old in order to bring in the new, some will carry it deeper.  The most serious and dedicated will inevitably, at a certain point in their development, find themselves going backward, looking to those who came before, studying them, learning, and sometimes rejecting them at a deeper level, and sometimes finding important elements that they can incorporate in their work.  As before, that I consider this a good thing doesn’t matter, because it will happen in any case.   As for what should and should not be considered “canon” within our sub-field, I think time spent arguing about it is time wasted.  Those writers who, in their drive to create what is new and exciting, will find themselves exploring what is old, will determine that on their own, find what is valuable, reject what is not, and move forward.

27 July 2020
by jenphalian
94 Comments

Baron of Magister Valley Chapter 16 Support Group

There are going to be SPOILERS for MAGISTER VALLEY here, but I’ll keep them in the comments.

So, you’ve read chapter sixteen, and you’re ready to yell at Steven about it?

Readers of Dragaeran historical romances will be familiar with wishing to yell at Paarfi and Steven. But this one is really going to cause some wailing and gnashing of teeth. Comments here for us to commiserate together.

13 July 2020
by skzb
9 Comments

A Song Whose Time is Now

I open the door and wave to the man
Just getting out of his UPS van
A box in his hands and a mask on his face
He comes up the stairs and my steps I retrace

And it’s
Step two three, back two three
Maintain the spread
Don’t get too close or you might become dead
Friend, lover, and neighbor, each one exalts
The social distancing waltz

The grocery store is a dancehall now
Two carts’ distance is what they’ll allow
Mind your feet well, listen for the refrain
As you notch your way up to the checkout lane

And it’s…

It’s a part of me now, and all of my group:
An invisible twelve-foot diameter hoop
Perhaps you’d survive, but why take the chance
You can join complete strangers enjoying the dance

And it’s…

28 June 2020
by skzb
3 Comments

My Opponent’s Tweet

(Posting this here so I can find it again)

A time there was when life was good
I’d greet each day with verve
I’d meet each challenge to come my way
No less than I deserved
Though adversity might slow me down
I knew that soon or late
I would triumph over life’s cruelty
I thought it was my fate.
I feel naught but bitter mockery now
In the smiles of those I meet
The light has gone from out my eyes
Someone “liked” my opponent’s tweet.

I’d thought that I had crushed him sure
With logic none could refute
That all I would receive was praise:
“You’re so brilliant, sharp, astute.”
I welcomed his so vain discourse
(So cruel is irony)
For I felt my argument so strong
All would, perforce, agree
I knew that all who saw the thread
Would know that he’d been beat
Pride goeth sure before a fall
Someone “liked” my opponent’s tweet.

That a virtual heart could be so cruel
Surpasses comprehension
Yet the evidence lies before my eyes
Trapped within my mentions
Now I tread on life’s harsh road
Each day by weary day
With bleak horizon greeting me
The sky unbroke slate gray.
Where once the wind was at my back
I trudge through gale and sleet
All Mudville shines compared to me
Someone “liked” my opponent’s tweet.