Escape Artists
November 18, 2017, 03:03:46 AM *
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.

Login with username, password and session length
News: The FINAL ROUND of the PseudoPod Flash Fiction Contest has begun!
 
   Home   Help Search Login Register  
Pages: [1]
  Print  
Author Topic: Literary Sci-Fi/Fantasy  (Read 1167 times)
Not-a-Robot
Hipparch
******
Posts: 995


Now 100% biological and 3 x more optimism!


« on: August 26, 2016, 04:17:50 AM »

Hey everyone,

This is a question that I have been struggling with for years as a reader and a writer. What, exactly, is the definition of literary fiction, and what is literary science fiction and fantasy. I have my own definition, but I think that my definition is different from the standard definition.

So I am asking you. Some examples of novels or stories here would help.
Logged
Fenrix
Curmudgeonly Co-Editor of PseudoPod
Editor
*****
Posts: 3604


Have you found the Yellow Sign?


« Reply #1 on: August 26, 2016, 08:57:08 AM »

Zone One by Colson Whitehead. Literary Zombie fiction. It's all deconstruction and navel gazing while deliberately tampering with pacing and plot as would be expected from zombie fiction. He also was making passing waves at other horror fiction, particularly films, but I'm not sure effective that was. I never made it to any thesis statement because I quit after the first "day" set in the book. It is the most intensely dull zombie fiction I have ever read. Interesting sociological exploration of the development patterns and gentrification of specific parts of New York City. However, as I have no frame of reference and little interest in that subject, it could not distract me from the lack of character and plot.

Logged

I always lock the door when I creep by daylight.
Sgarre1
Editor
*****
Posts: 1161


"Let There Be Fright!"


« Reply #2 on: August 26, 2016, 09:11:37 AM »

I could probably write reams on this topic - and probably alienate a large number of board members as well - as defining the permeable boundaries between lit and genre (now and historically) is a very, very interesting topic for me and something I've put a LOT of thought into. I'll think on it and see if I can do some basic formula boil-downs (I tend to think visually so I have a car metaphor I've used quite often in my own head, and then there's the objective/subjective approach as well, or the "what do readers want?" approach, or the "historically shifting expectations" approach) and come back to the thread. I will say this to start, though - there IS a difference but what that difference is depends on what angle you're looking at the question from.
Logged
dagny
Hipparch
******
Posts: 718



« Reply #3 on: August 27, 2016, 02:45:28 PM »

I've put a lot of thought into this, too, as my stories, for the most part, can't decide which camp they'd like to be in. I adore literary fiction (I'm an English teacher), but I recognize that much of it is pretty stuffy and defined by an ever-changing set of rules established by people I've never heard of and don't care to know (and never will--I live in the South). A lot of the time, these rules seem to require that a novel or story has no satisfying ending; judging by the pieces I've read recently in The New Yorker, this is a trend that is, sadly, gaining steam instead of dying quietly and with dignity under the house like it's supposed to.

Much of literary style is characterized by an author's willingness to "experiment," although often this experimentation seems less novel and more incestuous, since literary authors tend to "experiment" in exactly the same ways. Usually, there is a focus on character over plot and an irritating propensity to use words learned in grad school that may or may not be the best choice, but are always the most esoteric. Done well, this can be beautiful and intriguing. Done poorly (and it often is), it's insufferable.

The great thing about speculative fiction is that, for the most part, nobody's following a trend. Sci-fi, fantasy, and horror editors are looking for great writing and great stories, and they're not paying attention to rules set by two or three insular publications. There's fantastic writing in genre fiction, but it's fantastic writing because, well, it's fantastic. It's not (usually) pretentious, and it's not a chore to read.

To me, it's like New Orleans jazz vs. experimental jazz. Louie Armstrong didn't torture his audience, but he definitely tortured his art form: he messed with it, did things that other people didn't, took chances. Experimental jazz is technically good, I guess, but it's hell to listen to. And all of it pretty much sounds the same.

Like I said, I do like literary fiction, but I have my limits. I'm a huge fan of Donna Tartt's--I loved The Secret History and The Goldfinch--but The Little Friend, her second novel...well, I almost burned it in the yard. (At the risk of spoiling it for you, it's a mystery--and it's never solved. That's not "the point," apparently. Still angry, and it's been months.)

That said, there have been several literary sci-fi and horror works I've truly enjoyed. Joyce Carol Oates's writing, I believe, falls into that category, and it's excellent. And one of the best books I've read in the past several years is Gold Fame Citrus, by Claire Vaye Watkins, the current darling of the literary scene. (For good reason; she's fantastic.) Gold Fame Citrus is post-apocalyptic, firmly in the spec fic camp, but its rambling, often philosophical narrative keeps it within the realm of literary fiction, too.
« Last Edit: August 27, 2016, 03:23:27 PM by dagny » Logged

"Wolfman's got nards!"
dagny
Hipparch
******
Posts: 718



« Reply #4 on: August 27, 2016, 10:17:21 PM »

Also, T.C. Boyle, though classified as a literary writer, uses a lot of speculative elements in his work ("You Don't Miss Your Water ('til the Well Runs Dry)" is a great example). The New Yorker has occasionally published great literary spec fic; "The Empties" by Jess Row (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/11/03/empties) and "This Is an Alert" by Thomas Pierce (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/03/30/this-is-an-alert) are both fantastic.
Logged

"Wolfman's got nards!"
Fenrix
Curmudgeonly Co-Editor of PseudoPod
Editor
*****
Posts: 3604


Have you found the Yellow Sign?


« Reply #5 on: August 28, 2016, 12:34:16 AM »


Like I said, I do like literary fiction, but I have my limits. I'm a huge fan of Donna Tartt's--I loved The Secret History and The Goldfinch--but The Little Friend, her second novel...well, I almost burned it in the yard. (At the risk of spoiling it for you, it's a mystery--and it's never solved. That's not "the point," apparently. Still angry, and it's been months.)


Stephen King's The Colorado Kid does not have a conclusion as well. However, he lets the audience know well in advance of this and reminds them with signposts along the way. That said, the audiobook is great, and the narration makes the lack of a satisfying conclusion a worthwhile expenditure of time.
Logged

I always lock the door when I creep by daylight.
dagny
Hipparch
******
Posts: 718



« Reply #6 on: August 28, 2016, 06:39:04 AM »


Like I said, I do like literary fiction, but I have my limits. I'm a huge fan of Donna Tartt's--I loved The Secret History and The Goldfinch--but The Little Friend, her second novel...well, I almost burned it in the yard. (At the risk of spoiling it for you, it's a mystery--and it's never solved. That's not "the point," apparently. Still angry, and it's been months.)


Stephen King's The Colorado Kid does not have a conclusion as well. However, he lets the audience know well in advance of this and reminds them with signposts along the way. That said, the audiobook is great, and the narration makes the lack of a satisfying conclusion a worthwhile expenditure of time.

This gave no hints. No signposts. Right up until the end, I thought I would be given enough clues to figure it out or the protagonist would. Not so. And the author has said (and I'm paraphrasing) that that isn't the point of the story--you're supposed to be focusing on the characters, etc.

Harrumph, I say.
Logged

"Wolfman's got nards!"
Not-a-Robot
Hipparch
******
Posts: 995


Now 100% biological and 3 x more optimism!


« Reply #7 on: August 28, 2016, 06:39:24 AM »

Okay, first of all, I'd like to note that my tastes in most things could only be described as eclectic. I have Chopin, The Black Keys, Bob Dylan, The Eagles, Macklemoore and Leonard Cohen all in one playlist... I listen to all 4 podcasts here and also The Author's Voice from The New Yorker.

I agree with much of what Dagny wrote, especially with The New Yorker publishing some great speculative fiction and character orientation of literary fiction as opposed to plot orientation. Nevertheless, that doesn't mean that literary fiction is inherently boring:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/12/20/escape-from-spiderhead
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/05/30/fable-by-charles-yu

(P.S. Both stories have satisfying endings. Real conclusions)

But I disagree with the lack of satisfying endings in lit fic.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/05/09/three-short-moments-in-a-long-life-by-john-lheureux

(Non-speculative lit fic with a very definite conclusion, but extremely character oriented)

Maybe the 'rule' should be that satisfying endings are optional in lit fiction?

I guess my definition of literary fiction would be that the sum meaning/moral/motive of the work is greater than plot and entertainment value? And also, there has to be something with use of language. But that doesn't mean that the vocabulary must be difficult does it?  The three examples that I posted have almost no difficult vocabulary in them, but they each use language in non-standard ways. I think that this is the only way we can justify putting fiction like Faulkner and Tolstoy in the same category as Vonnegut and George Saunders?

Or what about authors like Ursula K. LeGuin? I've only read The Dispossessed, but its a rather long discourse on social justice. Is that literary? or is LeGuin considered literary by non-speculative folk?
« Last Edit: August 28, 2016, 06:48:44 AM by Not-a-Robot » Logged
Not-a-Robot
Hipparch
******
Posts: 995


Now 100% biological and 3 x more optimism!


« Reply #8 on: August 28, 2016, 06:41:24 AM »

Also, T.C. Boyle, though classified as a literary writer, uses a lot of speculative elements in his work ("You Don't Miss Your Water ('til the Well Runs Dry)" is a great example). The New Yorker has occasionally published great literary spec fic; "The Empties" by Jess Row (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/11/03/empties) and "This Is an Alert" by Thomas Pierce (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/03/30/this-is-an-alert) are both fantastic.

My favorite T.C. Boyle short story:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2004/03/01/chicxulub
Logged
dagny
Hipparch
******
Posts: 718



« Reply #9 on: August 28, 2016, 07:09:38 AM »

Nevertheless, that doesn't mean that literary fiction is inherently boring:

I certainly didn't mean to imply that--I just think that, when done poorly, that's the result.

But I disagree with the lack of satisfying endings in lit fic.

As do I! Like I said, it seems to be a trend (code: easy way for mediocre authors to avoid endings while still appearing "avant-garde").

Maybe the 'rule' should be that satisfying endings are optional in lit fiction?

I think that's absolutely so!

I guess my definition of literary fiction would be that the sum meaning/moral/motive of the work is greater than plot and entertainment value? And also, there has to be something with use of language. But that doesn't mean that the vocabulary must be difficult does it?  The three examples that I posted have almost no difficult vocabulary in them, but they each use language in non-standard ways. I think that this is the only way we can justify putting fiction like Faulkner and Tolstoy in the same category as Vonnegut and George Saunders?

I think this is a very good definition. Above all, the language in literary fiction is important--it must be well-used and it must be beautiful. You're right about this not always leading to ridiculous, arcane vocabulary; I meant that to apply only to mediocre literary writers (see above). I think, also, that you're spot-on in pointing out that language in literary fiction is generally non-standard. The point is to use language in a way that makes the reader feel, not necessarily the plot itself. And I think you're right about being able to put all those great authors together, not because of the similarities in the way they use language, but because of their ability to use it well.

Take Raymond Carver, for instance. His stories aren't hard to read because the words are difficult to understand; they're hard to read because each word is like a little knife, breaking the reader's heart a sentence at a time.
Logged

"Wolfman's got nards!"
Fenrix
Curmudgeonly Co-Editor of PseudoPod
Editor
*****
Posts: 3604


Have you found the Yellow Sign?


« Reply #10 on: August 28, 2016, 10:21:57 PM »

Here's a couple examples of great speculative lit fic:

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Logged

I always lock the door when I creep by daylight.
Michael W. Cho
Extern
*
Posts: 7


« Reply #11 on: October 26, 2017, 01:33:47 PM »

Check out John Joseph Adams' Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy--there are two years out, I think. There are three things I noticed about these volumes, one, not too many spaceships, two, lots of non-binary gender topicality, three, New Yorker.
Logged
Chicken Ghost
Matross
****
Posts: 270



« Reply #12 on: November 02, 2017, 08:50:33 AM »

The best definition I ever heard of pornography is "anything in which you abruptly lose interest after masturbating." 

I'm not sure how to reframe that as a definition for genre fiction, but that seems to be a likely approach to a universal-but-still-subjective way to differentiate it from literature. 
Logged
Pages: [1]
  Print  
 
Jump to:  

Powered by MySQL Powered by PHP Powered by SMF 1.1.21 | SMF © 2015, Simple Machines Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!