30/5/17

owlectomy: A squashed panda sewing a squashed panda (Default)
I had a lot of Thoughts about the WisCon panel on the idea of the "canon," which I mostly did not air due to my desire not to do the "not a question, more of a comment" monologue, but that's what blogs are for.

There was a lot of resistance on the panel to the idea of the science fiction canon, for good reasons, among them being:

a) The canon is not very diverse and a lot of the books in it just have not held up over time - pre-1965-ish there's just not that much science fiction with solid characterization, for example.

b) Being influential is not the same thing as being worth reading now, whether that's because of the Suck Fairy or because book X did a certain idea first but book Y did it a lot better.

c) Reading books because you like them is better than reading books to prove your nerd cred to internet strangers.

d) Gatekeeping is silly, you are allowed to do fandom any way you want.

I agree with all of this!

I also have an unseemly and possibly insecurity-driven fondness for the idea of the canon. How much fondness? Well, I'm reading Ulysses and enjoying it very intermittently, and 100% of the reason is that I feel I ought to have read Ulysses.

It would be great if we all read the books we were going to like, but as we don't know what books we're going to like before we read them, it's all word-of-mouth and internet hype and "I really should have read that book by now."

And perhaps I worry that the sentiment of "Let's talk about and preserve the best of the old stuff" is in some ways a necessary defense against "Let's talk about these three frontlist books from major publishers that came out last month." Which is a conversation I can't keep up with and am not that interested in, because the correlation between publisher hype or book-blogger hype and a book I actually want to read is possibly even worse than the correlation between gatekeeping internet nerd books and the books I actually want to read.

In fact, though there was a year there when I thought I was a bad science fiction fan because I couldn't get through even 50 pages of Foundation, there are so many wonderful books that I would never have read without a dash of grim fannish obligation thrown in! Even though I don't love Dune or Neuromancer or Stranger in a Strange Land it is that sense of their Importance to the Canon that got me to read James Tiptree Jr. and Octavia Butler and Samuel Delany and even "It has a lot of problems but I'm glad I read it" stuff like Watchmen.

There are many good reasons to read books and "I am interested in the history of this conversation" is a good one. As long as it doesn't turn into not-a-true-fan nerd gatekeeping.

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