I get tired of hearing some science-fiction fans saying that characterization isn't important in SF. In point of fact, I think it's probably more important in SF than in mainstream fiction. After all, if the author can't characterize humans well, he or she probably can't characterize aliens well either.
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I get tired of hearing some science-fiction fans saying that characterization isn’t important in SF. In point of fact, I think it’s probably more important in SF than in mainstream fiction. After all, if the author can’t characterize humans well, he or she probably can’t characterize aliens well either.

-Robert J.

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Oh, don't get me started! I love fantasy, I read it for pleasure, even after all these years. Pat McKillip, Ursula Le Guin and John Crowley are probably my favorite writers in the field, in addition to all the writers in the Endicott Studio group - but there are many others I also admire. In children's fantasy, I'm particularly keen on Philip Pullman, Donna Jo Napoli, David Almond and Jane Yolen - though my favorite novels recently were Midori Snyder's Hannah's Garden, Holly Black's Tithe, and Neil Gaiman's Coraline.I read a lot of mainstream fiction as well - I particularly love Alice Hoffman, A.S. Byatt, Sara Maitland, Sarah Waters, Sebastian Faulks, and Elizabeth Knox. There's also a great deal of magical fiction by Native American authors being published these days - Louise Erdrich's Antelope Wife, Alfredo Vea Jr.'s Maravilla, Linda Hogan's Power, and Susan Power's Grass Dancer are a few recent favorites.I'm a big fan of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, and Anthony Trollope - I re-read Jane Austen's novels in particular every year.Other fantasists say they read Tolkien every year, but for me it's Austen. I adore biographies, particularly biographies of artists and writers (and particularly those written by Michael Holroyd). And I love books that explore the philosophical side of art, such as Lewis Hyde's The Gift, Carolyn Heilbrun's Writing a Woman's Life, or David Abram's Spell of the Sensuous.(from a 2002 interview)

-Terri Windling

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There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children's book.The reason for that is that in adult literary fiction, stories are there on sufferance. Other things are felt to be more important: technique, style, literary knowingness. Adult writers who deal in straightforward stories find themselves sidelined into a genre such as crime or science fiction, where no one expects literary craftsmanship.But stories are vital. Stories never fail us because, as Isaac Bashevis Singer says, "events never grow stale." There's more wisdom in a story than in volumes of philosophy. And by a story I mean not only Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk but also the great novels of the nineteenth century, Jane Eyre, Middlemarch, Bleak House and many others: novels where the story is at the center of the writer's attention, where the plot actually matters. The present-day would-be George Eliots take up their stories as if with a pair of tongs. They're embarrassed by them. If they could write novels without stories in them, they would. Sometimes they do.But what characterizes the best of children's authors is that they're not embarrassed to tell stories. They know how important stories are, and they know, too, that if you start telling a story you've got to carry on till you get to the end. And you can't provide two ends, either, and invite the reader to choose between them. Or as in a highly praised recent adult novel I'm about to stop reading, three different beginnings. In a book for children you can't put the plot on hold while you cut artistic capers for the amusement of your sophisticated readers, because, thank God, your readers are not sophisticated. They've got more important things in mind than your dazzling skill with wordplay. They want to know what happens next.

-Philip Pullman

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When people dis fantasy—mainstream readers and SF readers alike—they are almost always talking about one sub-genre of fantastic literature. They are talking about Tolkien, and Tolkien's innumerable heirs. Call it 'epic', or 'high', or 'genre' fantasy, this is what fantasy has come to mean. Which is misleading as well as unfortunate.Tolkien is the wen on the arse of fantasy literature. His oeuvre is massive and contagious—you can't ignore it, so don't even try. The best you can do is consciously try to lance the boil. And there's a lot to dislike—his cod-Wagnerian pomposity, his boys-own-adventure glorying in war, his small-minded and reactionary love for hierarchical status-quos, his belief in absolute morality that blurs moral and political complexity. Tolkien's clichés—elves 'n' dwarfs 'n' magic rings—have spread like viruses. He wrote that the function of fantasy was 'consolation', thereby making it an article of policy that a fantasy writer should mollycoddle the reader.That is a revolting idea, and one, thankfully, that plenty of fantasists have ignored. From the Surrealists through the pulps—via Mervyn Peake and Mikhael Bulgakov and Stefan Grabiński and Bruno Schulz and Michael Moorcock and M. John Harrison and I could go on—the best writers have used the fantastic aesthetic precisely to challenge, to alienate, to subvert and undermine expectations.Of course I'm not saying that any fan of Tolkien is no friend of mine—that would cut my social circle considerably. Nor would I claim that it's impossible to write a good fantasy book with elves and dwarfs in it—Michael Swanwick's superb Iron Dragon's Daughter gives the lie to that. But given that the pleasure of fantasy is supposed to be in its limitless creativity, why not try to come up with some different themes, as well as unconventional monsters? Why not use fantasy to challenge social and aesthetic lies?Thankfully, the alternative tradition of fantasy has never died. And it's getting stronger. Chris Wooding, Michael Swanwick, Mary Gentle, Paul di Filippo, Jeff VanderMeer, and many others, are all producing works based on fantasy's radicalism. Where traditional fantasy has been rural and bucolic, this is often urban, and frequently brutal. Characters are more than cardboard cutouts, and they're not defined by race or sex. Things are gritty and tricky, just as in real life. This is fantasy not as comfort-food, but as challenge.The critic Gabe Chouinard has said that we're entering a new period, a renaissance in the creative radicalism of fantasy that hasn't been seen since the New Wave of the sixties and seventies, and in echo of which he has christened the Next Wave. I don't know if he's right, but I'm excited. This is a radical literature. It's the literature we most deserve.

-Tolkien

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