Jamming With Clute and Gary

Yesterday I promised you some more words on the podcast that I did with John Clute, Gary K. Wolfe and Jonathan Strahan. Here they are.

As we were in the Clute apartment, John, Gary and I had been chatting about a bunch of issues beforehand (most interesting about Thomas More’s Utopia, but that’s another post entirely). As a consequence we got into our stride very quickly on the podcast. However, due to the technical difficulties at our end, much of what we said early on got lost. Also I know that not all of you like listening to podcasts, so here’s a few highlights.

We started out with discussion of genre definitions. I know that there are critics who are obsessed with such things, but I find them quite annoying and between us we came up with what I think is a much better way of looking at such things. When you apply a genre label (e.g. steampunk, epic fantasy or whatever) to a piece of fiction, what you are doing is not putting it in a box that defines its nature, but observing it through a particular colored lens. Some stories, of course, make no sense unless you look at them through the correct lens. But there are many stories that can be viewed through more than one lens, and which look like different stories each time you change lenses. There are some writers who enjoy creating stories like this, and those tend to be my favorite writers. Naturally such stories, and writers, infuriate those who want to use genre descriptions as rigid boxes, with a story only being allowed into one.

We also talked a bit about allegories, and how good fantastic fiction should not be written as, or read as, an allegory.

At one point I said something that I thought might have provoked debate, either during the podcast or in comments afterward. From memory it went like this:

There are only two possible endings for a story: “and then I woke up”, and “to be continued”.

I’m prepared to defend that, though I admit that the first is problematical if the story is not narrated. Hopefully you will see what I mean, though.

By the way, a lot of the discussion on the nature of genre is very relevant to the essays in Gary’s new book, Evaporating Genres, due out early next year.

The full podcast is available here.