Zombie Contingency Plans and Other Coode Street Notes

Some thoughts raised by the recent episode of The Coode Street Podcast, featuring Locus editor/debut novelist Amelia Beamer:

Amelia’s first zomromcom novel The Loving Dead sounds all kinds of awesome and if I hadn’t already pre-ordered it, I would be doing so on the strength of this podcast! The discussion of Kelly Link’s influence on how zombie stories can be told was also really interesting. Also the most recent zombie contingency plan I read was in a Glee fanfic. They get around!

The gang discuss the growing divide in the scene between short and long fiction as one is increasingly published by small/independent presses and the other by mass market. While I agree with this discussion in the main, I do think it should be pointed out that the one area this seems to not be true (and is becoming less true if that makes sense) is YA. I’ve been saying for the last couple of years that some of the most interesting work in spec fic seems to be coming out of the YA field. I’ve also noticed more and more mass market short fiction collections emerging from that field – they might have trashy titles and seem to be mostly about vampires, zombies, boyfriends and prom dates, but they are also featuring some of the most respected writers in the field, such as Holly Black, Libba Bray, the Larbalesterfelds, and so on. I see these books popping up in places like the local Big W (the closest thing Australia has to a Wal-Mart, I think) and can never resist picking them up, because even though sometimes they will have a bunch of cheeseball Buffy wannabe tales in them, there is almost certain to be a couple of real gems, and even the average stories are a lot more readable to me than the contents of an average issue of F&SF.

This is particularly noteworthy, I think, considering the massmarket paperback release of Kelly Link’s YA collection, Pretty Monsters. I’ve seen it a few places and didn’t buy it because I knew I had all the stories, but since then the very existence of that book has (quite appropriately) been eating my brain, to the point that I know next time I go into town I am going to pick it up. It’s a freaking Kelly Link book, and seeing it on bookshelves in my home town instead of having to order a pretty hardback from Small Beer Press is all kinds of awesome. I regularly lend out her first two collections, and I know that this is a book I will regularly press into people’s hands. So yes, I’m going to be buying it.

I’m actually completely in the mood to reread Kelly Link’s body of work, and not just because of Gary Wolfe reminding me how awesome Magic For Beginners was.

Another point of interest was the discussion stemming from the MindMeld, and Jonathan’s question as to how to discuss the accepted history of the SF field without being horribly sexist by definition (my paraphrase). I always find it odd when default white males such as the quoted Mike Resnick use the ‘history was just like that, I don’t have to think beyond it’ argument in defence of why some books are classics.

No book/story is a classic just because. It’s a classic because people loved it and talked about it and it was published and reprinted and talked about… and that’s fine. But the thing about history is, it isn’t a stagnant thing. History changes. If you want to talk about what books you loved when you were 15 or what books everyone thought were the most significant contributors to the field fifty years ago, that’s awesome, but be aware that this is what you are doing.

We don’t teach Australian history the same way we did ten years ago, or twenty years ago, or a hundred years ago. History doesn’t stay the same. It changes to adapt to new perspectives, to a broadening of priorities, and it is never ever ever a case of right vs. wrong. History is what we remember, and a huge part of that is choice. This is particularly the case in the history of literature, when the question of what is good or bad, important or indifferent, is shaped by personal taste. In the case of the history of science fiction, it was shaped by a number of choices, and many of those choices were shaped by ingrained and systematic forms of sexism and racism, and trying to ignore that in the same way it has been ignored in previous decades is becoming more and more problematic.

For a long time, there was one mainstream history of science fiction (the Gernsback continuum) which was quite rigidly defended, and a few more specific sub-histories that took on ‘special’ themes or interests (the Tiptree Award continuum being one of these, probably several others named after Shirley Jackson and Carl Brandon, and you get the general idea…) and now we’re at a time when a younger generation is pretty much demanding that all of the histories be pushed together and possibly reinvented to catch up to the 21st century literary priorities, and it is understandably challenging to some people who are used to never looking beyond the goggles of their comfy Gernsback continuum.

I’m sure at this point Jonathan is expecting me to shout at him! But I’d actually like to say how pleased I am that he is talking about how complicated this dialogue is, as the parameters and expectations change and the ground shifts from under our feet. The dialogue has fractured, and it is changing, and that’s okay, we can all be here to hold each other’s hands through the bumpy parts of the ride. It’s good to acknowledge how problematic and difficult the dialogue can be at times, as long as that isn’t used as an excuse to halt the conversation, or to steer the conversation back to the parameters. I’d much rather hear someone say “I don’t know how to talk about this now” than “let’s keep having the same dialogue we’ve been having for the last 30 years in exactly the same way.”

I really enjoyed the part of the discussion where Amelia talked about how words like ‘must read’ and ‘important’ are so very off-putting, and I also enjoyed that that the group delved into a pretty good definition of ‘important’ as far as SF books/canon is concerned – that is, how much influence those works have on works currently being written. It certainly sparks all sorts of thoughts about what classic books are more and indeed less relevant now than they were twenty of thirty years ago!

All in all I am finding the discussions “from the back deck” rather crunchy and thought provoking!

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Alisa Krasnostein, Tansy Rayner Roberts. Tansy Rayner Roberts said: zombies, coode street notes, gender, the history of SF, canon-busting, the awesomeness of YA, etc. http://bit.ly/ao2Y2p […]

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