Sunday, February 25, 2007

On Writing # 1

I went to my prose writing group last night, and it was a neat meeting, even though I am way behind in reading submissions to the group and thus feel guilty. Several questions were raised:

What do people do to make production in writing?

How do people handle criticism?

And… where are the good SF writers now, the people like Gibson and Delany, who really open readers’ minds?

I’m going to discuss the third question first. When I think about people who are doing interesting work, three groupings occur to me.

(1) Iain M. Banks and Kim Stanley Robinson are writing big idea books. Banks is good on violence, war and what it would be like to live without scarcity. Robinson is doing good near-future novels about politics and environment. I would say all these issues – violence, war, scarcity, politics and the environment -- are of huge importance in contemporary society; and I find both these guys write real page turners. I really liked The Algebraist by Banks, which came out from a small press in the U.S.

(2) There are a number of African-American and African-Canadian writers I find interesting, because (a) they write well and (b) they are doing something about the unbearable whiteness of SF. Names that occur are Nalo Hopkinson, Andrea Hairston, Minister Faust, the writers in Sharee Thomas’s two anthologies.

(3) I also like a number of women writers, many of whom are associated with the Wisconsin science fiction convention: Suzy McKee Charnas, Anne Harris, Pat Murphy, Pamela Sargent. There is a long list.

(4) There are a growing number of small presses doing excellent work. Small Beer, run by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant comes to mind, also Aqueduct, Tachyon, Night Shade. I’m not doing a good enough job of tracking these presses, and this is a mistake. The center of SF -- its living heart – was in the pulp magazines in the 40s, 50s and 60s, then shifted to the New York publishing houses in the 1970s. (I think I have the timing right.) Now (I think) it has shifted from New York to small presses and small press magazines. There are still good books coming out of New York, but a lot of work published by the big houses is stereotyped: another generic fantasy, another generic space war novel.


Blogger Tallgeese said...

Hi Eleanor:

You are on a roll today. "Patrick's Dream" is a beautiful essay. On the subject of SF/F authors, I think Charles Stross and China Mieville are two SF/F authors that I think help carry on the Left tradition of social criticism.

I don't know if Alistair Reynolds considers himself part of the Left, but I also enjoy his novels. His protagonists deal in very personal but sometimes also "political" ways with the consequences of class hyperstratification (in both arrogant flavors: both economic-cultural and technological elites).

The fact that the precursors of some of these societies had enjoyed mass affluence under a singularity, which subsequently crashed due to unforseen circumstances (see "Chasm City" and "Century Rain" for examples) makes Reynolds something of counter to the technological determinist tradition in SF and Eurocentric world history.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Tim Susman said...

Hi, Eleanor,

Found your blog through Wyrdsmiths via Salon and recognized your name from your wonderful book "Ring of Swords." In the vein of small presses I wanted to point you to the one I run with a friend of mine, Sofawolf Press (, based out of the Twin Cities. We are striving to put out quality science fiction/fantasy with a focus on animal or anthropomorphic animal characters, and have been around for about eight years now. I recommend our stuff, and not just because some of it is mine. :)


3:03 PM  

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