Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Rain Taxi Interviews James Patrick Kelly & John Kessel

Matthew Cheney at Rain Taxi Review of Books has just posted his interview with Tachyon editors James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel.

The focus is on the editing duo's series of anthologies, which spotlight the blurred line between science fiction and literature, particularly The Secret History of Science Fiction. The result is a fascinating interview that examines alternative viewpoints on genre and gives insight into Kelly and Kessel's editing process. Here's a preview:

MC: In some responses to the book from within the SF community, I've seen people working very hard to try to support what seems to me a fairly rigid interpretation of Samuel Delany's idea that science fiction is a language of its own that requires different reading protocols from other types of fiction. There seems to be an idea that people who are not regular SF readers cannot understand SF stories because there is something so inherently different in SF that you have to be a special breed to be able to make sense of it, and that stories such as those of Gene Wolfe can only be understood by people who are members of the sci-fi cult. But plenty of SF readers can't make any sense of Gene Wolfe stories and plenty of people who don't read SF regularly actually really love Gene Wolfe and have done wonderful close readings of his work. Have your ideas about readers and texts changed from putting the books together and seeing the reaction to them out in the world?

Kessel: I don't think Delany and others who have followed his reasoning are wrong about the different reading protocols of science fiction. But that definition of SF applies primarily to SF that takes the future for granted. The kind of immersive SF that Heinlein wrote and others followed.

But the argument we make is that 1) lots of SF isn't that sort, and 2), as you say, these protocols are learnable, and too much can be made of them. Historical, fiction, for instance, also involves immersion in a strange background whose understanding comes from picking up cues set by the author. Any fiction set in a culture alien to the reader (a novel set in Heian Japan, for instance, as read by someone from 21st-century Iowa) also presents difficulties of reading. Yet we don't hear many claims that historical fiction cannot be understood by non-historical fiction readers.

Read the rest of the interview here


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