Friday, August 1, 2014

Different things do different things

Ted Gioia wrote a characteristically nincompoopish piece on Italo Calvino's Cosmicomics for The Millions, in which he makes some sweeping claims — based on his usual unexamined premises, misapprehensions, and philistinism — about that work as some kind of a "science fiction masterpiece" that is not recognized as such because, he insists, "almost no science fiction fan has read it, or even heard about it" on the one hand, and on the other the supposed snobbery of literary-types keeps them from recognizing it as being "in the sci-fi genre." This prompted a (characteristically) cranky comment from me. Since it will probably remain buried there and I think it's an important issue, I reproduce it here (where it will also remain buried):
1. Science fiction people talk endlessly about how Calvino “is” science fiction. To say that “sci-fi readers” haven’t read him is absurd, unless you specify what group of “sci-fi readers” you mean.

2. Unless you define what you mean by the term, to say this or that work “is” science fiction (even more so, to say that it is “in the sci-fi genre”!) is equally absurd. Though parallels can be drawn, and certain aspects of his writing will appeal to the same people to whom science fiction appeals, there is no reason to aggressively claim Calvino, and every other writer of whom the same can be said, for science fiction. To do so is to erase the very different things Calvino (and others) are doing. Even in your own extremely superficial description of Cosmicomics, let alone in the book itself, it’s clear that the reason Calvino doesn’t “show up anywhere near Heinlein and Asimov on a bookshelf” is not that he “is deemed” (by who exactly?) “too respectable” (science fiction has not been disreputable for decades now, and it’s time its more aggrieved partisans realized that), but rather that he is doing something entirely different.

That such basic, aggressively incurious pieces that refuse to ask even the most beginner-level questions of themselves continue to get published is a mystery, and a shame.

No comments: