Friday, October 03, 2008

Past and Present

The new Locus, the news magazine of science fiction and fantasy, has a piece about how prominent sf writer Elizabeth Bear recently noted that The Greatest Generation (Robert Silverberg etc) doesn't read the Baby Boomers Generation and neither of them read the Generation X Generation. She says "There's a generation gap (in science fiction and fantasy)." Silverberg, my favorite sf writer, responds with his usual eloquence and irony (he also read stories by a few of the writers Bears suggested and liked them).

My sense of Bear's statement is that she seems to think that each generation reads only its its own. (She says that she means no disrespect, that the older writers are fine etc.)

If that's true it doesn't hold for the genres I know pretty well--mystery and crime, horror and westerns. Patti Abbott alone runs a Forgotten Books Friday on her blog where anywhere from six to twelve writers review mystery and suspense writers from decades past.

And some of today's hottest young crime writers including Allan Guthrie, Duane Swierczynski, Dave Zelsterman and Tom Piccirlli spend a good deal of their blogging time discussing writers of the forties, fifties and sixties.

Not understanding the past is all right for readers. Every once in awhile I run into somebody who seems to be under the impression that hardboiled fiction first appeared sometime around 2002.

But not understanding and drawing on the past seems deadly for writers. Fiction of every kind is a continuum. And a marathon. One generation after another handing on the baton.

We are blessed that so many of our writers and readers honor the past as a way of enriching the present.


Bob Randisi said...

I'm not sure I agree with you here, Ed. At a lot of the recent conventions I've been to the young writers are obviosuly paying no attention to the history of the genre. I'm finding some arrogance present, and an air of entitlement. Or maybe I'm just old and crotchety.


Todd Mason said...

The bloggers Ed cites, and the contributors to Patti's lists, are often the ones who do respect and explore the past...the Kool Kids at Kons Bob refers to may be more ignorant. Certainly some of the new work seems wildly overpraised, not that excessive nostagia is any more attractive.

Judi Rohrig said...

Reminds me of WHC2001 in Seattle. Rich Chizmar had me give away some very nice books including several copies of a Richard Laymon title. The last day of the con, this group of young attendees stumbled over to me at breakfast, asking if the books in the HWA suite were indeed free for the taking. I said yes. Then one guy shoved a copy of Dick's book at me. "Is this author still here?" he asked. When I informed him that sadly Laymon had just passed away in February, he hit me with a line that still niggles me deeply. "Oh, well," he said, "I don't read horror; I just write it."

Ray said...

Richard Laymon is one of my favourite horror writers and it's a shame that he was dismissed in that way.
I think that a lot of young writers today are mostly engrossed in their own 'celebrity' - but then that is the modern culture.
I agree with Ed about the baton changing hands - but it seems that the modern writers are dropping it.
A while back I was talking to a so-called Sci-Fi nerd and I mentioned 'Damnation Alley' by Roger Zelazny - he thought it was rubbish but, it turned out, he had not read the book but had seen the film. Therein lies a problem - there are those who would rather see the film than read the book.
Come to that how many award winners but up their hands and admit that a writer influenced them? They thank their mum and dad, the director, the producer etc but never mention the writer by name. Without the writer - whether of book or screenplay - there would be no part to play.
When I'm asked about the writers who influenced me over the years then I come forward and say Frank C Robertson, Louis L'Amour, Alan Sillitoe, Erskine Caldwell, Willard Motley, Agatha Christie, Robert Heinlein, Jack Kerouac and the list goes on. It is very rare for a modern author to get space in my bookcases - in fact, the latest titles in there are from the 1970s. Exceptions are Andy McNab,two Martina Cole books, a couple of Rain novels by Barry Eisler and all Richard Laymon's books. Otherwise, titles past the 1970s are all westerns and run from George G Gillman and the other Piccadilly Cowboys, through to Black Horse Westerns rubbing shoulders with the likes of James Reasoner, Robert Vaughan and D.B.Newton.
Mention of most of those names usually draw a blank among the younger generations with a hanker to write.