A Scattered Shower of Thoughts

I have been left home alone for a week.

OK, I am not quite alone, as my brother is still around, but we tend to avoid each other anyway. And there is a ginger and cream night murderer currently sleeping in a ball next to me.

Anyway, at least today I have been all alone.

Today I have been indulging and reading the copy of ‘Zero History’ by William Gibson that arrived earlier. So far so good. Some very interesting ideas in the book. The style is denser and much more opaque. Is this a reflection on the increased complexity and ambiguity that the world has finally been forced to accept because of the financial crisis? Maybe.

I am reminded, because of Gibson’s use of coincidence, of a recent blog post by Ken MacLeod about a discussion he had with Ian Rankin about Ian McEwan’s 2002 novel ‘Saturday’. The concluding remark made by Rankin had me thinking for some of the week about one of the differences between genre and literary fiction. (Yes, I know that you could consider literary fiction to be a genre, but it doesn’t operate in the same way as SF/F. Indulge me.)

‘If guys like us came up with contrivances like that,’ he concluded, ‘the critics would throw stones at us.’

— Ian Rankin

Now I think guys like Ken and Ian could get away with contrivances like the ones they describe in ‘Saturday’ if they wanted, and that the reason that McEwan gets away with them is he has the confidence to make these leaps and, maybe, the ability to pull them off. I have been thinking about this in relation to one of the problems I currently have with genre fiction is the lack of confidence. At the moment conversations around genre seem to always been defensive. Lots of justification of and reasoning about minutiae.

And literary writers have written good genre fiction, and they will continue to; the only difference is that they will likely not worry about how the internal logic and coincidences within their stories is received. They’ll write something and just let it happen without worrying about the precise details. Without having to worry about justifying them to anyone because they know they don’t have to.

This reminds me about the constant low-level debate about realism in table-top RPGs. In my experience a lot of gamers get hung up on realism, even in games with dragons and vampires, without spending time focusing on internal-consistency or necessary narrative simplicity. This is what leads to games having rules for almost every detail and campaigns being a bit kitchen sink. It is one of the reasons why I stopped playing table-top RPGs.

The confidence to make shit up and not bother justifying it. Is that an important part of telling a decent story? Or is it that an important part of being a reader is not being so hypersensitive that suspension of disbelief is broken by obvious contrivances?

Anyway I am alone and I need to cook myself some dinner.

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