Monday, November 2, 2015

What Are "Classics", And Why Does It Matter?

I have seen the following comment made it what appeared to be complete earnestness.  It may have been an example of that internet law, where no statement is too outrageous or satirical that it can't be mistaken for the real thing.  But this struck me as the Real Thing:
None of these new writers are any damn good.  I haven't read anything written since 1975."
Now it may be said commentator was eliding a key point; they may have meant they haven't read anything worth reading, for example.  But the underlying point is still just as absurd: that nothing new is good, and the reader hadn't bothered really exploring it.  
There's is a school of thought among the SFF fans that the classics are all that's worth a damn, and if you don't read those you aren't a real fan.  This is true, especially, when you look at this idea the simmered under all the Hugo controversy, where some were essentially saying, "The old Hugo winners were these timeless classics, and in recent years it's new stuff I haven't heard of."   It's an aversion to not only new work but new people in the field, which also has elements of racism and sexism tied to it.  
I've been seeing this for a long time, so while I don't know what specifically sparked this rant by Jason Sanford, I'm utterly unshocked by the idea that he came across something which did.
That said, I'm not all in with Sanford.  He talks about SFF Lit being thriving and vibrant-- which is totally true.  We've "won", in the sense that we've gone fully mainstream.  The SFF section of the bookstore is no longer so dusty corner in the back with one shelf's worth of the same set of books.  We've got a generation of writers who grew up with that shelf and were so hungry for more stuff that they've made banquets of it.  
But then he takes a left turn, saying, "Indie publishing is one of the few reasons SF/F literature still has a slight heartbeat."  
So, first off, is it thriving ("Science fiction & fantasy has conquered the world."), or does it only have a "slight heartbeat"?   It feels like this comment runs contrary to everything else he said.  
More to the point, how is he defining "indie publishing"?  Is he talking about self-publishing, or small presses, or what?  
But even past that, this strikes me as yet-another-backhanded swipe at traditional publishing, like it's one of those dinosaurs he complains about arguing about which classics are best.  That traditional publishing isn't interested in new voices, ideas or work.  
Even a cursory glance at the output of the traditionally published SFF of the past year shows that isn't the case.  Just this far-from-complete list at The Qwillery shows over 60 new authors from this year alone.  That's a lot of new work from new voices from a genre that only has a "slight heartbeat".  And, yes, for full disclosure, I'm included in that list. 
Now, I won't knock on the "classics" themselves.  I read them, if asked I'll recommend them, especially if I'm explicitly talking about SFF Lit from a historical perspective.  But at the same time, they aren't what I'm reading right now, and they are not on my go-to list of what I will recommend to people interested in the genre.  If someone wants a foothold into the genre, I'm far more likely to push Lies of Locke Lamora at them over The Lord of the Rings, and Old Man's War over Starship Troopers. And I, for one, am dying to know who among my peers is going to be the Next Classic.

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