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Archive for November 5th, 2010

Let’s Push Things Forward

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Blogging is great. It is a tool with huge potential and, by handing over the means of production, it has opened up the world and given everyone a voice. It has been particularly revolutionary in certain fields which entry has traditionally relied on unpaid apprenticeships and the right connections. This includes politics, national journalism and the media and arts, culture and the creative industries. Now, anyone can succeed in these fields but it certainly helps if you are rich and privileged. For example, if you look at the writers of the Guardian – the UK’s premier progressive paper – you will see that a surprisingly large number of them went to public schools and then up to Oxbridge. These fields are all also extremely Londoncentric. Blogging has opened all this up. If you are single mother up in Cumbria writing on a subject you are passionate about in scant free time you have then you now have a platform and it has an audience that is potentially as big as the Guardian’s.

Science fiction isn’t like that though. Say what you want about fandom (and I’ve said plenty) but it is remarkably democratic. Since the birth of the modern genre early in the last century, the line between professionals and amateurs – not to mention writers, reviewers, critics and fans – has been very blurred. Take, for example, the Futurians, a bunch of fans that just happened to include Isaac Asimov, James Blish and Damon Knight. You’d be hard pressed to think of a field with lower barriers to participation than science fiction or one where it is easier to make the transition to “pro”. A large part of this is to do with the huge number of venues for both fiction and non-fiction that the genre has enjoyed. Where there haven’t been the venues people have simply created them and what are fanzines if not yesterday’s blogs? To talk of there being gatekeepers is just nonsense.

So the SF bloggers of today aren’t blazing any sort of trail, they are simply following in the footsteps of previous generations but in a different medium. Which is not to say that everything is business as usual. Blogs have far greater reach and permanence than fanzines ever had. Older fans sometimes complain about younger fans re-inventing the wheel but this is because all the old wheels are mouldering in a shed somewhere. It is regrettable that a great deal of the literature of previous fandom has fallen down the memory hole. The British Science Fiction Association has been publishing magazines for over fifty years but how many of them are accessible and to how many people? I will pause to acknowledge that well-archived physical documents printed on good quality paper remain the prefered long term storage solution. I don’t think this applies to most of the material I am refering to. There is a huge digitisation job to be done but there seems to be little appetite for this.

Therefore it should be a privilege to be writing in the age of the blog and it would be nice to see more people making the most of the gift they have been given. Obviously no one is obligated to do anything but a little self-reflection never hurt anyone. The most common reason given for eshewing such reflection is “I’m just writing for me.” That is a lie. If you really were just writing for yourself, you could keep a diary. People blog not just because they want to write but because they want to be read. This means they have to publish and, once you are publishing publically, what you write is fair game. Just because you can say something, doesn’t mean you should; similarly, just because you have a platform, doesn’t mean you should use it.

People really don’t want to hear that. Just as some people seem to believe that there are no good and bad books, only different readers, so they seem to think the same applies to blogs. But this is not true: some things are better than others. Perhaps a more honest way of stating the rejection of reflection would be “I’m just writing for me and other people exactly like me.” And that seems a bit sad to me; it surpresses the potential of the platform but it also surpresses the potential of the writer too.

At the moment there are a lot of enthusiastic SF book review blogs but very few good ones. I would hope (and expect, to be honest) that people would seek to transform their enthusiasm into into skill. This doesn’t seem to be the case and, in fact, people react angrily and defensively to the very suggestion. For me, the fact that the majority of SF blog book reviews are very weak is less of an issue than the refusal of people to address it. Sure, you can do it “for the love” but that is another way of saying you are happy to stay in your comfort zone, lazy and complacent and unwilling to hold yourself to the standards you believe the genre is worthy of. And if that is the case, why bother publishing?

To criticise someone’s writing is not to criticise that person and what I’m saying is “let’s raise our game”. Unfortunately the response is often “why are you putting us down?

Written by Martin

5 November 2010 at 15:45

Posted in criticism, genre wars, sf