Friday, March 04, 2011

My Hidden Shallows

Huan Tan put me onto a discussion about me over on this bulletin board. There are some nice things being said about my stuff there but also some of the usual ‘it’s not literature’ and ‘it’s not high-brow’ and ‘it’s a bit pulpy’. In a general sense I don’t particularly have a problem with these descriptions, since ‘literature’ and ‘high-brow’ are usually defined by literary snobs and ‘a bit pulpy’, from what I know about the pulps, is something of an accolade. However, I do get bugged by their condescension and that attitude of, ‘I enjoy reading them but don’t want to be seen reading them’.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to change any time soon. I don’t want one of you reading this to one day pick up one of my books, ready to relax into some sensawunda, weapons porn, weird monsters and high-tech violence, and end up scratching your head because I’ve decided to explore the deep social implications of cock-transplant technology – as seen by a miserable can’t-get-laid psychology student living in a garret.

But I do wonder if I’d started out claiming to write deeply meaningful socially relevant stuff about the effect of technology on identity, the meaning of death when its borders are blurred and the drawbacks of immortality, if the memes about me would have been different. Perhaps, for example, in interview and so forth, I should have focused on how with the Prador I was exploring the implications of a social structure based on utterly alien biology, rather than on their tendency to eat people and blow stuff up? Perhaps I should have pontificated about the subjective contraction of time in the mind of an immortal, rather than on how an old captain can rip off your head?

Now, removing my tongue from my cheek, I wonder if perhaps it is the case that if I fob people off with, ‘Nah, I’m just about the explosions, mate,’ many of them won’t explore my hidden shallows any further?

What do you think?


robann said...

Stephen King had similar comments in his book "On Writing" (really worth reading). He was actually an English teacher when he found fame and money from Carrie. He describes how other, incredibly jealous English teachers dismissed his writings as 'pulp'. He basically argues that if you can write something people want to read then your writing is, by definition, good.

'High-brow' literature is well described by reading the excellent "The Emperor's New Clothes" by Hans Christian Andersen ;-)

Lesley said...

I love your stuff. However, due to reading on an eReader, no one will ever know I'm reading apart. Apart from my friends at GoodReads, when I get round to shelving you, and any readers of my blog, when I get round to telling them how good you are and why haven't they read this yet.

Yup. They're just jealous.

vaudeviewgalor raandisisraisins said...

i find some of your characters more memorable than others. i don't give a shit who sees me reading what. i force stuff i like onto people with a rocket launcher into their eyes normally.

some early golem action:

Pip Green said...

Stick with what you do best. If the literary snobs don't like it, there's plenty of high-brow gumph for them to go read!

Fader209 said...

Why are they moaning about numbering the books too?
Could only be a problem if you don't have internet access to check the order but they blatantly have this access due to these postings.

And I just checked the inside few pages of Line War and as I suspected the order is quite plainly there to see lol

zoltan said...

I don't like being seen read anything. Maybe these guys are just as antisocial as I am.
I think you did explore "the implications of a social structure based on utterly alien biology", it was like reading an anthropology work on the Maya (big nasty multilimbed Maya).
And please don't write about cock-transplantation, I can learn about that kind of stuff if I watch the news. So I don't, instead I read about interesting Prador-crunching!!

So tell us more about those hidden shallows...

Neal Asher said...

robann, Stephen King's On Writing is a must read for those who enjoy my On Writing pieces. I enjoyed it immensely.

I guess I wasn't clear enough. What I wonder is that if I'd been a bit more pretentious and twee about my books, if I'd been a bit more 'series' and dour, would that meme have spread? I've seen other writers 'exploring this' and 'analysing that' and 'discussing the political, racial, psychological, sexist implications of so-and-so' yet, upon reading their books, note the explosions, gratuitous violence and techno porn. It seems that if, in your public persona, you're prepared to be a bit dishonest and stick a thin veneer of seriousness over your work, the critical response from some quarters will be more positive.

It all ties back to that deep snobbery of some in the SF world, that need to be accepted by the mainstream and that, 'I'm writing SF but I'm really doing a serious psycho-social exploration of blah blah blah.'

Wet Baron said...

I enjoy reading the Sunday Times. It's not too opionated and I like the factual base of most of the articles. What really pisses me off is that in the Books part of the Culture section you will never see a SF or Fantasy novels being reviewed. I believe most literary critics think it's below them to read that genre. If they could only read the last page of the section and see that SF and Fantasy books are quite often in the top 10 (well done Joe Abercrombie who was in in last week for the excellent 'The Heroes').

A 'good' book should be based on the amount of people who read it and not what some old git thinks. Mr Asher - maybe if you start writing about Cormacs spiritual journey through India and his unusual relationship with a gay vertically challanged tea picker, you might get a mention in there!

Don't stop what you are doing..

Jebel Krong said...

frasnkly the one thing the internet has done is give every idiot a voice for their opinions, i wouldn't listen to anyone but yourself and those you care about.

personally i'll be seen reading your stuff anywhere i damn well please and that includes in public. there's too much pretension in the world, especially in certain areas of the 'arts' most of the so-called 'experts' wouldn't know it if it fell on them...

btw philip sadly the times/sunday times have gone way downhill recently as the murdoch influence creeps them closer to "the sun" - level drivel.

Michael Cummings said...

Whoa, wait, hold on - this $#!t isn't morally relevant or socially cognizant? The subtext is that there is no subtext?!? The allegory of the Prador is just that big crabs don't taste good with butter???

Yeah. Sometimes, a story's fun just to be fun, and not because you have a hidden agenda you're writing around. I for one would love for my stuff to be called pulpy, a classification that evokes some awesome memories and second hand recollections of the awesome days of the golden age.

So, Mr. Asher, yes, you're stuff is pulpy. Congratulations!! :)

Neal Asher said...

Philip, I've just finished Abercrombie's 'Before they are Hanged'. Excellent stuff.

Neal Asher said...

I've been watching this 'My Life in Books' on at 6.30 every evening, though I've only caught the last few. I do like hearing people talking about books (this probably goes back to me watching Paperback Writer all those years ago), but bloody hell there's a lot of 'chosen to enhance my image in this lefty liberal profession'. Ugh! And of course they use that silly phrase 'my guilty pleasure' and the selection, every time, is laughable.

Kirby Uber said...

i find when conversation turns to the 'value' of what one chooses to read, etc, i am best served by uttering "cock suck a monkey!!" slapping myself in the face, and tackling furniture, enraged.

i think that summarizes my position on the topic succinctly.

DrBMBridge said...

Hi Neal, Let me start off by saying that your books meet my own personal criteria of "literature" - very enjoyable, really interesting and well written. There's a lot of supposed literature out there that's the literary equivalent of trying to navigate a traditional Scottish golf course on a unicycle, painful and hard to keep up with for long. The thing that aggravates me about the "genre" vs. "literature" argument is the inherent either/or supposition. Your books are a good example of how both can be achieved at the same time. Pulse racing, edge of the seat action and adventure, top quality cooltech and lots of fun reading seamlessly combined (whether explicitly, implicitly, purposefully or accidentally) with consideration of the types of "socially relevant stuff" you mentioned in your original post.

Neal Asher said...

Kirby, lucky I wasn't drinking any coffee just then.

Thanks DrBMBridge.

zoltan said...

OK, Neal, here's my answer to your (now clarified) question: yes! If you're pretentious, the mass will appreciate you. That's how it works on this planet and every other you've ever written about.

But you don't need to be pretentious since (being a SF writer) your target group is niche, not the mass.

And a personal note: I read SF to see things that I don't see here every day, so I hate it when a SF story is used for social critique.

Neal Asher said...

Fucking hell, I despair of the SF 'community':

Mark T Croucher said...

Sci-fi is too difficult for the "up their own arse" critics to understand. They cannot spew out reams of four to five syllable words of pretentiousness to dazzle their moribund followers into submission. A bit like I’m attempting now.

I know you; you don’t give a shit anyway. Stuff them and keep writing for us.

Disco Stu said...

I concur with DrBM.

A few quotes from your first post...

"effect of technology on identity"

"meaning of death when its borders are blurred"

"drawbacks of immortality"

"implications of a social structure based on utterly alien biology" (Prador)

"subjective contraction of time in the mind of an immortal"

Your literature deals with all of the above. Therefore, all of the above are things I reflect upon and consider at some point or other when I read your books. I reflect upon them subjectively and would not appreciate a novel that made me feel "this is the lesson for today."

If I want that I'll read a text book on geology/philosophy or whatever floats my boat.

I see you as a story teller. And a damn good one at that. The "socially relevant stuff" is in there already and I feel cognizant enough to be able to cogitate upon any "deep social implications" as and when they arise.

Would the memes be different now if you'd projected your output differently at an initial stage? Only if people are convinced by blurb rather than their own intellects.

Who needs smoke and mirrors?

vaudeviewgalor raandisisraisins said...

would be great if someone addressed each person with their beef about your writing. would it make a better read? we may never know.

but here we are in the isolation booth of Asher comments.

Xanares said...

Fuck em. Sorry for the bluntness. They don't even deserve a thought. Onwards to the slaughter!

ps: but if Cormac was gay... and Mr. Crane had philosophical discussions with himself... ;-)

Unknown said...

Do you sell lots of books?

Yes = Who gives a fuck about literary merit and social narrative

No = Maybe you need to develop a dour self-analysis with your work to satisfy the chronic onanists studying undergrad English.

Realistically I think you'll never know. You have a market who want 'pulpy' weapon porn and bug splattering. Why worry about any other market unless you wish to expand into it?

Enna said...

You are right. Some writers sell their work like artists selling white canvases for six figures - the trick is convincing the buyer that loving the product means that the buyer is smart. (The late DFW, lauded as a brilliant "literary" writer, once said that the critical adoration of his book Infinite Jest did not mean much to him, because so many of the glowing reviews came out so fast that it was obvious the critics had not actually taken the time to read the entire 1500 page book.)

That said, I echo the poster above in saying that your books are smart. They are not exactly "HULK SMASH!" style sci fi. Most of why they are fun to read for me is not the weapons porn and whatnot. It's the brilliant, fast-paced plots, and the fun and creative out-of-the-box thinking. I mean, having humans ruled by AI who are NOT evil - that's really cool and smart, recognizing the advantages to computer-directed government.