Yeah, I’m Not Always Right

If you’re an avid reader of my blog (if there is such a thing) then you might remember a later paragraph in one of my posts in which I talked about a program I was embarking on called “decades of science fiction” in which I was going to read older science fiction novels. I had planned on reading one or two published each decade since 1950, and read the first of these books, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation, in just a few days. The second book, Hal Clement’s Mission of Gravity, has been at the top of my Kindle’s “most recently read” list for a long time, and once I finish it I’m going
to put this program on hiatus.

Of the two reasons behind this decision, the first is the most important: I really should be reading so that I can learn how to write, and older books aren’t doing that for me. One thing that I’ve learned even from these two books is that writing has changed dramatically even over the last 60 years, and what might have been an acceptable form or method in 1955 would be considered hopelessly hackneyed or cliche now. This is true in the macro sense – characters are plots didn’t require the same verisimilitude in the 1950s that they do now – and in the micro sense – the use of language has changed in 1960 years, and I don’t want to learn archaic forms.

If I want to get published, then I should write the type of book that will sell today, and what will sell today is way different than what would sell in the ’50s. Simply put, I should read what would be sold today, and learn from it.  There are things that can be learned from older books; that’s the reason I started on this project in the first place. In  the end, though, there’s a lot more immediate stuff to be learned from 2010’s Nebula winner than from 1960’s.

The second reason that I’m putting the project to bed for now is that both Foundation and Mission of Gravity are interesting in the large scale, and they sound cool if you try to describe them to someone, but chapter by chapter they don’t really hold up so well. For instance, both Clement and Asimov wrote characters so two-dimensional that they’d never sell today, and even though their plots are intellectually interesting – fascinating even – they can be kind of a drag to read for someone used to the more modern notion of “character first.”

So there you have it. I’ll finish Mission of Gravity, but after that I’m going to read something more modern: Echoes of Avalon, by local Portland writer Adam Copeland. Hello Adam! In other news, there’s a total lunar eclipse right now, and I’m missing it for the clouds. Lovely.

6 responses to “Yeah, I’m Not Always Right

  1. Sadly, another footnote in the epic list of reasons that the golden age of sci fi is dead and gone. Not that I’m against character/plot driven books mind you, but the medium of fiction as a tool to explore those intellectual curiosities you’ve mentioned, that’s going away.

    On the other hand, Ring World is still sitting on your book shelf, waiting to be re-read…

    • I’m not sure I agree with you – do you ever read Analog, or those yearly short story compilations? There’s some surprisingly deep stuff there, and some of it is going to be remembered long after, say, John Ringo has passed into obscurity.

  2. You can always go back to it when you’re done writing. 🙂

  3. You should just skip ahead to the 80s and re-read Rocheworld. Some good science in that one. Yup, some mighty good science.

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