Thursday, February 10, 2011

Kim Stanley Robinson Wants Me Off His Lawn

Ran across this quote posted by Niall Harrison over at Strange Horizons and I think it is an interesting response to one of the claims that I was trying to make about Cory Doctorow's For the Win here. Kim Stanley Robinson was asked by Terry Bisson to respond to the allegation that his Mars trilogy was an infodump "tunneled by narrative moles." His response is published in the Outspoken Authors book The Lucky Strike:

I reject the word "infodump" categorically -- that's a smartass word out of the cyberpunks' workshop culture, them thinking that they knew how fiction works, as if it were a tinker toy they could disassemble and label superciliously, as if they knew what they were doing. Not true in any way. I reject "expository lump" also, which is another way of saying it. All these are attacks on the idea that fiction can have any kind of writing included in it. It's an attempt to say "fiction can only be stage business" which is a stupid position I abhor and find all too common in responses on and the like. All these people who think they know what fiction is, where do they come from? I've been writing it for thirty years and I don't know what it is, but what I do know is that the novel in particular is a very big and flexible form, and I say, or sing: Don't fence me in!

I say, what's interesting is whatever you can make interesting. And the world is interesting beyond our silly stage business. So "exposition" creeps in. What is it anyway? It's just another kind of narrative. One thing I believe: it's all narrative. Once you get out of the phone book anyway, it's all narrative.

And in science fiction, you need some science sometimes; and science is expository; and so science fiction without exposition is like science fiction without science, and we have a lot of that, but it's not good. So the word "infodump" is like a red flag to me, it's a Thought Police command saying "Dumb it down, quit talking about the world, people don't have attention spans, blah blah blah." No. I say, go read
Moby Dick, Dostoevsky Garcia Marquez, Jameson, Bakhtin, Joyce, Sterne -- learn a little bit about what fiction can do and come back to me when you're done. That would be never and I could go about my work in peace.

Robinson's response is blustery, but makes a good point. The genre is particularly suitable for more expository discussion of, in his case, science, or in Doctorow's case, economics and sociology. And I did find For the Win interesting. That said, I am not sure that there is not still a valid critique to be made regarding substituting exposition for more traditional narrative. But I will consider my wrists slapped by Mr. Robinson anyway.

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