H II Regions, 29 May 2012

Welcome to the H II Regions, a weekly compilation of SF, publishing and political news. Send thoughts and story tips to cosmicvinegar@gmail.com.

Privilege Bias and Media

Incredible response from Erin Hoffman to John Scalzi’s controversial “Lowest Difficulty Setting“. There is much happening within the piece and I encourage you to read through it–rather than just saying Scalzi’s argument is lackluster, Hoffman provides counter-metaphors and lots of evidence to encourage a rethink of the issue. She also discusses the idea of privilege from a game designer’s point of view, which brings a more sympathetic voice to the gamer’s side. Relevant to Cosmic Vinegar’s purposes, however, Hoffman also writes this:

The system is not designed to provide you the highest quality games. The system is designed to make money. By definition this means the system is designed to make the lowest quality game that you will pay for. It is highly incentivized and structured to give you exactly as much quality as you will demand and not one iota more. This system is not evil. It is not malicious. It is market physics.

This, then, explicates my problem with “AAA game” publishers, Hollywood, and the big 6 book publishers. Like all major business enterprises, they are designed to make money. Art is a secondary consideration. Whether or not “making money” is a good foundation for artistic creation is irrelevant–the fact that it is the dominant ideology behind artistic creation is critical. Virtually every aspect of creation is focused on marketability–and if you’re not focused on that, you’re considered unprofessional, impractical, forgettable.

SF and Literature

Another ongoing concern in the SF/genre world is the fact that literature looks down on us–a recent New Yorker article thinks about this relationship and generally supports the status quo, to which Lev Grossman responds.

This hearkens back to a post by Elizabeth Bear (and associated responses) where she pleaded with SF/F to be less gritty. But then we have Lev Grossman telling us that we compete with literature specifically because of our grittiness: his examples include war-torn Westeros and the totalitarian Panem. So either we’re escapist fluff or we’re overbearing gritty SF lit. Of course, neither side is wrong per se; both want moderation and respect for SF. But the duality can be difficult for writers, especially new writers. My general suggestion is write what you care about–that’ll come across best in the text.

Grossman, in defense of SF (and tacitly in defense of gritty SF), manages to provide a concise argument that aligns with why I write political science fiction:

When you read genre fiction, you leave behind the problems of reality — but only to re-encounter those problems in transfigured form, in an unfamiliar guise, one that helps you understand them more completely, and feel them more deeply. Genre fiction isn’t just generic pap. You don’t read it to escape your problems, you read it to find a new way to come to terms with them.

Unfortunately for Bear, I think most of us are concerned with the dark places of our world and fiction will continue to negotiate that terrain. While it can feel overbearing and repetitive at times, I take heart that many other writers acknowledge there’s so much wrong in the world. Hopefully that’s the first step towards improving our world. And then maybe we can back off the grit.

SF Mainstream

Related to the category above–this week’s issue of The New Yorker is all about science fiction. Suppose I’ll have to pick it up. (Genealogy: The New Yorker is owned by Condé Nast, a divison of Advance Publications, which puts out many other magazines including Wired, Vanity Fair, and GQ.)

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