Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What Kind of Fiction Do You Like?

I was skimming a blog post this morning about Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan, when I was surprised to find it bringing up recent criticisms of Steampunk from Michael Moorcock and Charlie Stross. I've already commented on Stross's concerns, so I won't belabor that point here, but Moorcock's points gave me some pause.

Moorcock wrote an essay in the Steampunk-focused issue of Locus Magazine where he said the following (quoted text via
I said recently, in a review, that steampunk seemed so full of lords and ladies these days that it ought fairly to be called Steam Opera. To be honest I found most of the sub-genre boring almost as soon as it began to appear, just as I find most non-confrontational fiction boring.

I hadn’t anticipated that so many readers would become enthusiasts for the romantic imagery of giant airships and so on and rather miss the point of the story which was, I hope, using science fiction to do what it does best and help us examine ourselves and our world in fresh ways. To see this method becoming again no more than another exercise in nostalgic escapism (my criticism of so much SF of the 1940s on) is a bit depressing and might help explain why I’m always trying to come up with new methods—with forms which will carry my ideas without the burden of nostalgia or escapism, allowing instrospection without being mere dreaming of some lost ‘golden age.’
That Moorcock dislikes fiction intended to entertain without having a deep underlying message doesn't really surprise me all that much. His Bastable stories have a pretty darn clear message underneath them -- paternalism is a bad thing to have in the world, and those stories are how he shows the horrors that can result from it. His personal dislike of "escapist" fiction doesn't really bother me; after all, the man's entitled to his opinion. What more concerns me is that he says there's no worth in stories whose only goal is to be entertaining for the 10 or so hours we spend with them.

I've seen this same criticism come up a lot though, from all corners of the literary sphere. When Lord of the Rings was voted one of the most influential stories of the 20th Century, I recall reading that literary critics the world over actually cringed in pain. According to many people in the literary world, literature that doesn't have a big old message isn't worthwhile.

Well guess what? I don't always want to have a message in the novels I read. Escapism has its value, particularly when you've had a horrid day and just want to ignore the world for a few hours. At that point, I don't want to read a novel that fictionalizes the struggle against communist apartheid in third world Eastern Europe; I just want one where the good guy beats the bad guy and gets the girl at the end.

That's my view at least, and of course you're all entitled to your own. Which of course leads me to wonder: Which fiction do read more of? Escapism or Message?


fairyhedgehog said...

I'm with you on this. There's enough crap in life without reading about it too.

I'm currently rereading a Tanya Huff military space fiction book. I know the good people win in the end and that's the way it should be!

Bookewyrme said...

I'm very much with you. If someone wants to read fiction with some underlying message, that's fine and dandy. Everyone is entitled to their own tastes. But I object strenuously to anyone sneering at "mere escapist" fiction because they don't think it's serious enough. I *like* silliness and hijinks, and knowing the couple ends up together in the end after performing improbably feats against the bad guys. And a lot of good comes from escapist fiction. For one thing, it makes people happy, and that's a very noble thing indeed, thankyouverymuch.

Rrgh. I knew there was a reason I didn't read Michael Moorcock. That sort of attitude just infuriates me.


Valerie Geary said...

Hmmm...I'm not sure how to answer this...because I find a lot "message" books very entertaining...also I'm not really sure I know the difference. I am blind to all that gobbilty-gook. :) If it's a good story, it's a good story whether it was intended to send a message or simply entertain.

Nicole said...

Meh I read to enjoy myself the same with TV and movies. I have little interest for anything too 'deep and meaning full' ;p

BirthRight The Arrival, on Amazon 1.1.11

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I very much enjoy both escapism and "message" books, but I can't stand with a passion books that are pretentious with their message. If someone sneers at other people's work, I'm a lot less likely to think they can do "message" without "pretentiousness."

L. T. Host said...

I tend to read escapism, and therefore write toward that, but I won't deny that most of my books have some kind of message, even if only a very small one. Still, I read for fun, and that generally means that if a book has a heavy message I won't be reading it. I got enough of that in school.

dolorah said...

I think I'm more of the message type; as long as it isn't preachy. I like novels with a slight moral/societal philosophy. Terry Goodkin's SWORD OF TRUTH series was very good for that. (The last two books went way overboard on the subject and were extremely difficult for me to finish reading)

But I do like to read just to escape sometimes. Those airships you mentioned are mighty pretty for that :)