Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

Invasion Earth

with 6 comments

The New Yorker published another SF story this week: ‘The Invasion From Outer Space’ by Steven Millhauser. It is a nice, short, slight story.

Nancy Kress doesn’t like it though. Despite (not entirely convincingly) claiming she is not one of those who “automatically hate any SF written by authors not in our little club” she ends by saying:

I don’t expect NEW YORKER readers to appreciate Charles Stross, but a little imagination does seem called for when you’re considering invasions from space. What was the fiction editor thinking?

The reaction in the comments section is mixed (and Jeff Vandermeer teases us by deleting his no doubt intemperate response.) There is more discussion of the story and Kress’s reaction on MetaFilter. As unfortunately so often happens it shakes out into Us and Them and, as usual, those in the SF camp come off worst. As one of the commenters in the original thread notes:

I think you’d be amazed at how many New Yorker readers appreciate Charles Stross. I’m one of them. From my perspective, it’s the Charles Stross readers who usually fail to appreciate The New Yorker.

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Written by Martin

11 February 2009 at 13:42

Posted in sf, short stories

Tagged with ,

6 Responses

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  1. It’s also a peculiar reaction to have given how horrific some of Stross’ short stories have been of late,

    If I were David Remnick and someone brought me the one included in The Jennifer Morgue or the Jeeves and Wooster pastiche I’d be quick to commission genre work from outside the ghetto too.

    Jonathan M

    11 February 2009 at 13:50

  2. and, as usual, those in the SF camp come off worst.

    Which comments are you thinking of? Certainly James Ritchie, whose comment you quote there, strikes me as having preconceptions at least as silly as, if not more so than, any those who dislike the story are displaying. “An SF writer would most likely choose a scientist, even if it had to be an amateur living in the town. But a problem solver of some sort. A survivor.” Really? Not in this day and age, I think.

    That said, Stross — not exactly known for his apocalypses — seems like an odd choice of comparator.

    Niall

    11 February 2009 at 15:55

  3. Good to see I’m not the only one who thought of Trillions, too. (Though I haven’t actually read Millhauser’s story.)

    Niall

    11 February 2009 at 16:12

  4. You are probably right; it is six of one, half dozen of the other. There is plenty of LOLSCIFI in the MetaFilter comments but I think I just read a clutch of stupid pro-”real” SF ones in a row right before writing that. That said I don’t particularly disagree with that Ritchie quote, particularly in the context that SF fans are criticising the story for being passive.

    That said, Stross — not exactly known for his apocalypses — seems like an odd choice of comparator.

    I think the idea was to pick a writer who was unambiguously an SF writer, no mucking around with metaphor, in dialogue with the genre, One Of Us.

    Martin

    11 February 2009 at 16:18

  5. That said I don’t particularly disagree with that Ritchie quote, particularly in the context that SF fans are criticising the story for being passive.

    “Most likely” sinks it for me. Are there sf writers who would default to that sort of protagonist? Certainly, because there’s a long (if not always honorable) tradition of that sort of protagonist in sf. But I don’t think those writers are representative of the contemporary field; I don’t think either the most popular or the most critically acclaimed writers would make that sort of default choice, nor do I think writers who would make that choice are any longer a majority.

    On Stross: yes, though more than that I think she wanted an example of a writer whose work is imaginatively dense (and, by implication, demanding). But “I don’t expect NEW YORKER readers to appreciate Charles Stross, but a little imagination does seem called for when you’re considering invasions from space” still sounds odd to me, as though there’s a canonical contemporary Stross alien invasion story to which she is implicitly comparing this Millhauser piece.

    Niall

    11 February 2009 at 16:39

  6. My response was simply that Kress sets up a false opposition. And essentially also sets it up as the New Yorker has published a bad SF story, while going on to say it’s not really an SF story anyway. I thought her response was ridiculous and whiny. I withdrew the comment because she used to be an instructor of mine, but also in that context didn’t want to get embroiled in an endless and pointless argument about the issue.

    With all due respect to Stross, he’s not exactly Millhauser. I.e., why would he be respected in literary circles? His style is entirely at the service of story, with no subtext or subtlety that I can see. This isn’t a cut–it’s just not all writers write in a way that’s going to appeal to all audiences, but Kress sets that up in a kind of straw-man way: “They’d never recognize this guy that’s not even the guy I should really be using as an example of someone who might represent the same subtlety and complexity from genre that we find in a lot of mainstream writers.”

    Paugh.

    Jeff

    Jeff VanderMeer

    12 February 2009 at 13:44


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