Monday, July 13, 2015

On the "Classics"

Been thinking about Renay's excellent column in Strange Horizons, as well as Nina Allan's equally good follow-up, and the questions they raise about the alleged centrality of science fiction "classics" to the genre as it stands today. I'm still feeling the post-SDCC buzz, so I'll keep this brief--and limited to the question of whether it's "necessary" to read the "classics." But here goes...

  • Anyone who tells you that you need to read Heinlein to appreciate, understand or have a valid opinion on, say, Old Man's War is not worth listening to. However...
  • Having read Heinlein's juveniles, and Starship Troopers in particular, does add context to Old Man's War, because the latter book is in direct conversation with the former. This can lead readers to draw what I think are important and interesting conclusions about Old Man's War. At the same time, it should also be noted that...
  • The act of having read Starship Troopers may also funnel the reader toward certain conclusions and interpretations of Old Man's War--a process that may, as a secondary effect, lead readers away from making other, equally important connections. 

Note: I'm not trying to devalue the act of reading older SF--in fact, I do see value in it. Literature is a conversation, and one enacted over time. Stuff comes about, in part, because older stuff exists. Sometimes that older stuff is the source of inspiration; sometimes it's a sclerotic status quo in need of a good shattering. At others it forms a cultural moment or zeitgeist with causal properties beyond its constituent parts. I think this meaningful and interesting because, as fellow nerd of a feather Jemmy once said (on a very different topic), I have a historian's soul.

But it's arrogance itself to suggest that this is the only path to understanding.  

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