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Headscratchers: Turkey City Lexicon
  • "Rembrandt Comic Book"- doesn't this pretty much imply that comic books are inherently subliterary and trivial? Anyone else just a leeeeetle bit bothered by that?
    • Like any other form of luxury entertainment, comic books are trivial. Given that a lot of the story is told by pictures, an argument could be made that they are sub-literate, as well.
      • The point he was making is that the statement implies that comic books are more trivial than novels and therefore should be dismissed. Both of them are "luxury entertainment" and therefore by your definition trivial. And no; the fact that comics use pictures does not make them "sub-literate;" they also use words, thus requiring literacy.
      • For most of their history, they have been more trivial than novels. Comics as anything other than disposable literature are a fairly recent invention, and probably post-date the workshops the term came from.
    • No, it's implying that comic books have a different purpose than Rembrandt paintings. The art in comic books has to agree with, support and enhance the story (if the comic is any good). This list is about effective writing, and that good writing often means knowing you have the choice to do something and saying no to it. A comic which is filled with amazing Renaissance art would probably look pretty silly: simpler art gives the reader a chance to breathe and digest the emotional stuff.
  • What's with the rejection of Fantasy Kitchen Sink? They can be great fun. Look at Astro City - the fact that all this crazy fantasy and sci-fi stuff exists is part of the charm.
    • I like Fantasy Kitchen Sink too, but there can always be too much of a good thing. Such as if an author starts throwing in elements from every fantasy and science fiction series ever conceived.
    • Having a thoroughly developed world with cultures and languages and history and all that is good. Boring the reader with it is not.
    • As a great example of Fantasy Kitchen Sink which really, really shouldn't work but does, I present Thursday Next.
    • Might be a matter of opinion but there are definitely some bad reasons for using Fantasy Kitchen Sink. If you're throwing more and more bizarre phenomena into your story to make it interesting rather than focusing on characters, for example. Or if you're just copying bits you liked in other works, like adding vampires because you like Buffy, spaceships because you like Star Trek, mummies because you like The Mummy Trilogy...
  • Are these actually supposed to be universally harmful devices? The introduction suggests they are, and most of them are clearly being mocked, but does the author really have a problem with "Ontological Riffs"? Even the description seems favorable.
    • I come away with the impression that many of the items on the list are being condemned as bad and/or overused storytelling ideas and/or examples of egregiously bad prose that tend to be used by lazy or inexperienced writers (said-bookism, Adam and Eve story, the Jar of Tang), whereas others are listed as good storytelling ideas and good expository habits to be encouraged (ontological riff, eyeball kicks, Mrs. Brown, the edges of ideas).
    • I get the feeling like most writing 'rules', they operate on the basis that "it's not impossible to do this well, but they're so overused / worn-out / inherently flawed / inherently cheap that you have to be really, really good to successfully pull it off" written in a snarkier-than-usual fashion.
  • This whole thing strikes me as a fervent believer in the Sci-Fi Ghetto throwing a bone to the genre. It's full of such vitriol against common sf ideas that one wonders if the author actually appreciates the genre at all (see Space Western, The Tabloid Weird, Submyth, and "Intellectual Sexiness."
    • Authors, plural. The document has been growing by bits and pieces since the first Turkey City workshops in the 1970s. Contributors range from Harlan Ellison to Ursula K. Le Guin to Howard Waldrop to Bruce Sterling. I do not claim to speak for any of them. They speak well enough for themselves. But those puzzled by the sometimes caustic tone might wish to go look at what they have to say about the genre. Sterling and Ellison in particular are known to have strongly held opinions indeed. Try the old Cheap Truth mimeographed skiffy criticism zine that Bruce Sterling, William Gibson, and others published anonymously in the 1980s, as a sort of brick through the window of the skiffy publishing establishment with a note attached that said "please knock it off with the overused, worn-out, clichéd trash, we know you can do better than this." Read Bruce Sterling's "Catscan" columns from "SF Eye" Magazine in the 1990s. Read Unca Harlan's rant on the Heaven's Gate flying saucer doomsday cult and skiffy in pop culture. One comes away with the impression that at least these persons among the contributors, and possibly others, disdain what Ellison has called "brain-numbing escapist pulp-magazine crap" and worse, and say what they do with the perspective that science fiction is a Different Kind of Literature, and its justifying purpose is not entertainment—though it must be entertaining, and writers who have any pride in their craft put forth their best effort—but to cause the reader to ask uncomfortable questions about The Way Things Are and What Will Happen If This Goes On. If you've read Ellison's older stuff, from the 60s and 70s, you notice he's a very, VERY political author. Sterling and the other 80s "New Wave"/"Cyberpunk"/"Mirrorshades Movement" authors likewise wrote VERY political stuff. The impression I come away with is that for them it's not about entertainment, and they by all appearances view the popculture rockets-n-robots-n-rayguns stuff with disdain if not outright hatred, as a false idol that "merely" entertains, when science fiction authors (do NOT say "sci fi" to Harlan Ellison) have a moral duty to be Prophets of Doom and scare the hell out of their readers. I do not claim to agree with this perspective, but they appear to be both adamant and vehement on this point. Politicized literature is nothing new, of course, and political polemic wrapped in storytelling is an old, old, old tradition both in and out of the skiffy world. Get a copy of "Astounding" from around 1939, and two thirds of its content will be either unsubtle allegory about Nazism or stories set in the context of a bluntly stated imminent war between the US and Germany. I won't even say that these specific authors are the worst about it. I would also say—and I doubt they care for my opinion, and I don't know if it's even likely any of them will ever read this—that when I buy a paperback book, when I read, I read for entertainment. I do not seek out didactic tracts that seek to "educate" me about the mortal imminent danger of Pollution or The Godless Nazis or The Yellow Peril, ring-around-the-collar, or tooth decay. If I want agitprop I know where to find it, thank you very much. I don't read Jack Chick tracts either. If this makes me a Philistine, so be it.
    • Really? The message I get is "writing speculative fiction is no excuse for trying to use a make-your-own-story kit or not bothering to make an effort"; in other words, the exact opposite of the Sci-Fi Ghetto.
    • The way I see it, a lot of these tropes are probably responsible for the Sci-Fi Ghetto; note how one of the most common descriptive terms used to describe a lot of these tropes is 'cheap'. The way I interpreted it, these are the easy (and therefore overused and slightly lame) options available to writers, and tend to be the province of the hacks who traditionally thought and treated science fiction (and other looked-down-upon genre fiction) as a dumping ground for half-baked clichés and lazy crap written solely for the paycheck and which, in their minds, wasn't 'worth' putting anything special into. Like most tropes, you probably could pull these off, but they're so overused or inherently flawed that you'd have to do something really special with them to succeed.
      • What you get really depends on which parts of the page you're talking about. The basic writing sections (Part One and Part Two) certainly read that way, but the further down you go, the more it becomes about what a certain few people think The Way Science Fiction Ought To Be is. That is, it starts being not about how to write, but what subject matter is considered legitimate and what subject matter is not. Particularly the statement on the lack of "Mrs. Brown" in Sci-Fi, which is a character type that I personally want to see nothing of in any form of fiction. Personally, I don't mind a work that deals in politics or whatever (so long as the relevant sides are treated reasonably). Just so long as it doesn't hurt the story.
      • To be fair, though, The Way They Think Science Fiction Ought To Be, when you get down to it and get past the politics and such (and yeah, they might be annoyingly didactic at times), is essentially a Way which says "knock it off with the lazy, trite clichés and do something different. We can be better than this." It's arguably more of a Sci-Fi Ghetto mindset to say "science fiction should just be entertaining, and not worry about being political or deep or 'quality' literature", since that can essentially be another way of saying that science fiction should know it's place and not get ideas above it's station and not do anything except rely on the old clichés and lazy storytelling shorthands. And frankly, "it's just entertainment" is often just a way of excusing or justifying subpar rubbish (and let's face it — these tropes might not be bad by themselves, but you don't have to be a hardcore literary snob to see that most of them can very easily lead to very bad material). And they're probably so harsh with these old standards because they're so frequently done — and so frequently done poorly — that people assume that the entire genre is like this. Entertainment is a worthy goal, but so is literary excellence; the Sci-Fi Ghetto is not bad because Quality Literature Is Bad, it's bad because it assumes that science fiction and fantasy cannot also be quality literature.
      • Also, what's wrong with "Mrs. Brown"?
      • Also, what's wrong with "Just Entertainment?"
      • Absolutely nothing — provided, as mentioned above, it's not just being used as an excuse for lazy, subpar rubbish. So now we've gotten that out the way, what is wrong with Mrs. Brown?
      • Is it possible to include Mrs. Brown characters in science fiction without making them into ripoffs of Arthur Dent?
      • Since the term is attributed to Virginia Woolf, yes, as the idea obviously predates The Hitchikers Guide To The Galaxy. Also, not every sci fi story is about flying off in space ships.


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