Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Where is hope and wonder?

So, this week a book blog Guardian thing decided to make the point that Philip K Dick's prose was a little kldugy, from time to time. I wouldn't really argue with that, after all Dick wrote fast under heavy financial constraints and often the influence of drugs, so if there's the occasional flub we shouldn't be surprised, but even so it's a small-minded and stupid criticism to make.

By and large Dick's prose is pretty good, and often wonderful. Deckard's dialogue with Mercer in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? for example, of the creepy descriptions of the half-life clinic in Ubik are magnificently controlled. Also in Ubik, there's the hilarious opening scene where Joe Chip argues with his door over whether the 25 cent opening charge is a fee of a gratuity. These scenes - plucked from the top of my head - are brilliantly realised, and there are moments like this all around his books and stories.

You could go through any great writer, it seems to me, and isolate a few paragraphs where the prose doesn't quite measure up - even Homer nodded - but why would you?

Well, the answer is simple - web hits. This silly little piece has generated a lot of hits from flabbergasted commenters (yes, me included) spluttering refutations. That's what it's all about.

"Pink Floyd are over rated!"
"Martin Amis is an Arab-hating hack!"
"Dali was a sell out nutter!"
"Mozart is bourgeois toss!"

This kind of commentary infects the web as bloggers - both professional and amatuer - attempt to generate traffic. The blogosphere (sorry!) is alive with puffed-up little attention whores, wannabe giant killers flinging their vapid feaces in an attempt to attract attention without creating one damn thing of value of their own.

This is why I'm not linking to the article. You can find it easily enough on your own, if you like, but don't bother. It's dreary pretend controversy for its own sake that will only make you cross.

I suppose the rejoinder is to point at all the review blogs that give superficial, fawning reviews off the latest ARC to hit the blogger's doorstep. That's just part of the marketing machine, just hype that's easy to ignore. Even hype is a more defensible practice than generating attention through wilful ignorance and stupidity.

Well, here at Pointless Philosophical Asides you'll find none of either. On the one hand, I want to share the things I love, communicate what's special and brilliant about them. On the other, my reading log includes a honest appreciation of books and stories, acknowledging the good and the bad. I guess that's why I never get any traffic...


  1. I'm afraid I have to disagree here (good thing I'm anonymous!). Dick is not a stylist, whatever his other qualities (also, I doubt this generates enough controversy to make money off it).

    Now, as to the question of which science-fiction writer qualifies as a stylist, well...
    Wolfe? Bradbury?

  2. Hey anonymnous thanks for dropping by. Agree or disagree I'm unlikely to hunt you down and maim you, so feel free to disagree.

    On stylists, I don't really think it's a binary position. All writers aspire to some effect inherent in the prose they use, that's the way words work. If they're just aiming for the Orwellian clear pane of glass (or whatever his phrase was) that's just as much a sylistic decision that has to be worked at as that elevated dialect lots of people associate with "good writing".

    On controversy: hits are the currency of blogs. It's not even about money, it's about the debased coin of celebrity. In this particular instance surely the editors of the Guardian blogs pay attention of where the hits come: lots of hits = more gigs. Elsewhere, I am surely not the only one who obsessively checks their google analytics several times a day?

    As for myself, I'm not too good at controversy - my watery opinions are unlikely to outrage anyone.

  3. On reflection, I guess "stylist" refers to that sort of writer who aspires to a certain poetical effect in the prose, while "not a sylist" means a writer who tries to communicate their ideas as clearly as possible without fussing too much.

    In practice, I find it a difficult differentiation, as all writers choose their words with deliberation, and prose style can (and does) inform the ideas of a story just as much as plain speaking. Is one harder to achieve than the other? I don't know, I think it depends what sort of person you are.

    The article I'm referring to in my OP wasn't concerned about whether PKD was a stylist or not, it simply accused him of being a bit rubbish.


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