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September 02, 2003



Oh, sure, now that I've actually read it you warn me...

Mitch Mills

After that earlier link to the Brunching Shuttlecocks (H.O.L.B.O.) I was almost sure you'd get around to posting The Geek Hierarchy sometime soon. Well done, although I prefer the unabridged version:


And yep, Scholes is the type of writer so incredibly annoying that you just can't stop reading him because, while excruciating, it's somehow also sickly fascinating to witness such a sustained exhibition of badness. On a related (albeit lesser) note I watched "Anger Management" on a recent plane trip.


Minor nitpick: Nabokov could appreciate the lowbrow in a surprisingly modern^W recent manner. "Do you think Dennis the Menace is illegitimate? He looks nothing like his father." Like I haven't had conversations _exactly like that_, but probably much longer in duration.

Nabokov researched 'pulp' SF for his (failed) Arthurian SFnal short story, "Lance", holding it in typical contempt, but he was amused by the loincloth on a centauroid he dug up from an illustration somewhere in the first year or two of Galaxy's run.

He missed a lot of good stuff.



Thanks, Carlos, I never heard about any such Nabokov short story - or that he researched Galaxy. That's quite interesting and does change my impression of the man somewhat. (I knew about "Ada" being sci-fi, in its weird way) It's true, of course, that Nabokov missed a lot of good stuff. But I think I'm right that a lot of the stuff we consider really good - well, he just never would have. It isn't just that he is part of an era that was biased against the stuff. Nabokov is just a guy who never would have liked it.

To pick one of my stock examples: my favorite hard SF writer is Greg Bear. When one considers how much more imaginatively ambitious Bear is than Stevenson - well, it's almost embarrassing. And this fact shows that Nabokov is quite confused in some of his statements about Stevenson. Specifically, he praises Stevenson for the ability to concoct a pseudo-scientific account of how his chemical concoction has the effects it does. In fact, this bit of "Jekyll and Hyde" could be exceeded by any third-rate SF hack today. The greatness of Stevenson's story lies anywhere else but in the degree to which the pseudo-science approximates to real science, thereby pulling the reader in. Rather, Stevenson has a sort of constant low-level poetry to his prose that Bear, for example, does not usually match. Example: "Even on Sunday, when it veiled its more florid charms and lay comparatively empty of passage, the street shone out in contrast to its dingy neighborhood, like a fire in a forest." That is a rather ambitious poetic figure in its small way. It's worth a pause. The city is a forest? I think Nabokov is just bored by anything that isn't at least this poetic. His taste is determinedly narrow in that way.

Which is not to say that Bear can't do what Stevenson does. it wouldn't surprise me a bit if he could replicate it perfectly. It's just not his style to poetize constantly. There is a plain style to good SF writing, especially hard SF, that is now instinctively felt by its practitioners to be ... appropriate. It's not that they don't appreciate other stuff. (Cf. my recent posts on Clute's "Appleseed", which Nabokov might well have liked very much.) They just tend to prefer prose without obtrusively buzzing, whirring parts - the better to show off buzzing whirring worlds of machines. Nabokov is the opposite.

Not that I'm lecturing you, Carlos (although I suppose I am; oops, sorry). I've just got a lot of Nabokov-related, SF-related thoughts I'm trying to get off my chest some way or other.

Good bit about the Centauroid. It's funny, but if memory serves the Centaurs in John Varley's "Titan", "Wizard", "Demon" series have two sets of genitals - fore and aft; so that they have highly complex (foursquare) mating habits. Don't remember whether they wear loincloths or let it all hang out.


Well, Nabokov had big blind spots, all of music for instance. But some of his aversion appears to be learned. (Would it surprise you that he was a Holmes and Verne fan in his youth?) I blame Bunny Wilson's bad influence.

Stylistically, N. liked metaphors whose structure implied another symbolic universe, but there was the occasional flatter writer he admired: Chekhov, Robbe-Grillet, even some of Hemingway's output, go figure.

I've often thought that hard SF's plain prose was less a matter of appropriate style than a lack of linguistic charge the technical terms had for many of the subgenre's writers, especially in its early years. To bring up another writer somewhat affiliated with hard SF, I get the impression Kipling loved the _names_ of the parts of machines he described as much as he loved the machines themselves. Bear has some of that.

Finally, Varley's multi-genitaled centaurs seem to me self-referential SF. You needed the centaur in the loincloth to get there.

Jill Barker

Do you suppose Scholes is writing pastiche on purpose? Nobody writes in this vein, surely, without tongue-in-cheek?

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