Demolishing “Show Not Tell” and “What Is Science Fiction For?”

Two worthwhile additions to the Coode Street Podcast recently. They even manage to almost not mention any awards.

Episode 198 features science fiction critic and encyclopedist John Clute.

I could do without him evoking Herbert Marcuse’s notion of “repressive tolerance”. (What a convenient rhetorical device, completely unfalsifiable. You only think you’re free when really, you know, the Man has you all tied up.)

And science fiction itself has the start of an attack on idea of the world’s elite being engaged in a monolithic conspiracy in Michael Flynn’s In the Country of the Blind.

But Clute is interesting on how he thinks science fiction and other fantastic literature of dreams aid us, unlike mimetic literature, as we navigate the bewildering modern world.

I also realized that Clute isn’t being pretentious in the sometimes opaque vocabulary that he uses in reviews. (I confess I find Clute more useful in encyclopedia entries than reviews. They force him to be concise and trim the metaphors.) He really does, off the cuff, speak precisely. Sometimes the terms he coins are clunky. Other times they are useful. In this talk, I like his casual throwaway term “starter dystopia”. (I have no idea if it was unique to him.)

Episode 200 was recorded at the latest World Science Fiction Convention and has guest appearances by Kim Stanley Robinson, Jo Walton, and Robert Silverberg.

It’s always good to hear one of Silverberg’s appearances. I’m an admirer of him and, to a lesser extent, Kim Stanley Robinson despite being, I suspect, in opposition to almost every one of Robinson’s political notions. (And, no, I have not consumed the entire works of either one.)

Walton I’ve never read though I have heard her on the podcast before. She’s an interesting critic and reviewer even if I don’t always agree with her assessments of books I know. And I’m pretty suspicious of her claims that award nominations are a fairly reliable guide to quality and significance. Still, I’d like to see her Tor columns on the subject collected for a book.

Walton does confirm, from her own experience, my own snobbery for science fiction over fantasy. She says that, for her, fantasy is way easier to invent than science fiction set in the future.

Best of all, the three demolish that hoary critical notion, that admonition to writers to “show not tell”.

Finally, I feel ashamed, again, that I haven’t quite read all of Olaf Stapledon’s science fiction. I still have not read Star Maker and Nebula Maker. I do consider him one of the five greatest science fiction writers of all time.

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