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Friday, April 3rd, 2009

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This is not a book review. This is me wondering if I have gotten too old or too over-read to read SF books any more. The last three SF books (or SF-flavored books) I read were very well written, the product of enormous craft and talent on the part of the authors (whom any honest judge will tell you are more talented than yours truly), and yet, by the time I reached the end, I felt either indifferent, disappointed, or cheated.

Honestly, I doubt that my disappointment is due to any defect on the part of the respective authors. If I am any judge, they did just what they set out to do. But in each case, my suspension of disbelief was snapped by the intrusion of a foreign element—or, to be specific, an element that should have been there, but was not.

This kind of thing, if it is egregious, is a criticism of the author. When it is egregious, it is because the author has no idea of what human nature is like, or no intention of portraying human nature in a realistic light. The first error is a product of bad craftsmanship, the second is a decision, deliberate or not, to use art artificially rather than realistically. Such authors end up with cardboard characters, usually creatures of unrelenting depravity (see, for example, BLINDSIGHT by Peter Watts) or creatures who serve merely a mechanical function, like marionettes, that move as the author means them to move, to make a point in a morality play (see, for example, ATLAS SHRUGGED by Ayn Rand). (Not that I object to depraved or mechanical characters per se: my favorite villain is Blackie DuQuesne, who is hardly an intricate character study: I have no objection to artifice in art.)

When it is not egregious, it is merely an observation that the writer and the reader have two different views of human nature, and so what seems natural to one seems awkward and artificial to the other. The author has the made-up characters, or, in a science fiction book, the made-up world, act in a way that the reader thinks the characters or world could not act. But this is a subjective judgment: the next reader who picks up the book will swallow whole what the first reader upchucked.

The reason why I suspect this is due to age or overreading is because my reaction to these three books is precisely the kind of reaction I notice in movie critics who express boredom for things still new and fresh to me. I don’t watch that many films, so old clichés are not old to me. Film critics watch films as their job, like slushpile readers at magazines, and see the same tired mistakes over and over again.

On to my non-review!


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