Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Estrangement in a Strange Land

"I was up in Cheltenham this weekend at the Literature festival, where I chaired several events – including one with SF legend Brian Aldiss, still going strong at 86, and calling to mind in voice and appearance a benign, left-wing John Cleese. When asked by an audience member why he'd tackled the subject of state-endorsed torture in his 2007 novel, Harm, he explained the novel's political charge on the grounds that 'I really do believe that the people in charge at the minute are - well, shits.' Amen to that.
     Anyway, my final event on Saturday was with SF-legend-in-the-making China Miéville, to discuss his latest novel, Embassytown. We talked about the novel for about half an hour (read it: it's excellent) before the conversation veered onto the evergreen territory of the Booker prize's wilful neglect of science fiction. It's a well-rehearsed argument (I went to an event at Cheltenham last year in which Miéville and John Mullan squared off entertainingly over it), but we ran down the familiar points: SF novels are generally sold not on their literary credentials but on the ideas they explore; the Booker is a genre (litfic) award itself, but just doesn't admit it; SF novels DO make it onto Booker shortlists (Never Let Me Go, Oryx and Crake) but once shortlisted they're not called science fiction any more (cf Kingsley Amis's oft-quoted distich: ' "SF's no good!" they bellow till we're deaf./ "But this looks good … Well, then, it's not SF!" ')."
— Sarah Crown, Guardian

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