A Matter of Taste: Asimov's Oct/Nov 2008 Special Double Issue


Okay. I have to hand it to the editors over at The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy—that’d be Gordon Van Gelder, John Joseph Adams, et al. They venture much closer to my tastes, both in story choices and editing, than Sheila Williams of Asimov’s.

Or at least, that’s what the double issues tell me.

This isn’t a proper review, because I typically don’t review things I don’t like. (And I also don’t review things I don’t read, so you never know, except when you do, as in this case.)

To put it shortly: if I hated Tim Sullivan’s Planetesimal Dawn in the 2008 double issue of F&SF, reading the Asimov’s version was like being slapped with Planetesimal Dawn every single step of the way.

I come to these conclusions:

  1. Planetesmial Dawn is not a bad story. This is not to say that the stories in Asimov’s were worse; just that they were more of the same. This gives me some good perspective.

  2. Hard science-fiction is not in my tastes either. Even if it’s Gene Wolfe.

  3. I think in order for me to like something, it needs to have a strong element of the surreal. Which other people would call “science-fiction fantasy,” I suppose.

  4. Of course, that doesn’t explain why I like John Scalzi or other Heinlein-like authors, who don’t really have a touch of whimsy.

    Perhaps my liking has to do with characterization; instead of a whimsical world, there are whimsical characters.

    Or something.

  5. Maybe it comes down to fairy tales, in either science-fiction or fantasy. To me, that fits both Scalzi and Heinlein. Although “fairy tale” is probably just a synonym for “whimsical.”

  6. Yet neither explain why I like Acacia or Song of Ice and Fire, which are very realistic fantasies, almost alternate history. Perhaps it’s the character work? It doesn’t seem fair to relegate realistic fiction to “lacks character” though.

I also pondered my preferences outside these magazines. For the Hugos, for instance—I really didn’t like Greg Egan’s stories, but I liked Ted Chiang’s and Elizabeth Bear’s. I love Zelazny and Wolfe when they aren’t trying to be terribly real, which is most of the time; whereas I have a very hard time dealing with Greg Bear. Gaiman is never quite real. Terry Bisson lights my fancies; but Robert Reed—from what I’ve seen in these magazines—stops them cold.

This seems to be the Great Divide in science fiction and fantasy: stuff that tries to be ultra-real, and stuff that is whimsical. By default fantasy falls on the side of whimsical, but not always—alternate history novels seem to put me to sleep. And sterotypical science fiction falls on the ultra-real side, but as you can see, not always.

Hard versus soft? I don’t think those are quite the right terms.

In genres other than science fiction: why do I like Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Psmith, and the Holmes stories, and Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe and Archie combo, and am indifferent to all the rest of the works by the same authors? Sounds like I have a strong preference for larger-than-life characters.

Fairy tales definitely have larger-than-life characters. But then again, it doesn’t seem fair to the other side….

Oh I don’t know, and I’m on some serious medication I’m really not used to right now.

At any rate, I canceled Asimov’s and will probably pick up the next issue of F&SF to see if the trend continues, or if I should just cut my losses due to a lack of temperament for magazines (is it the necessary plethora of stories that throw me off? Probably; and that seems necessary in a magazine).

So where do you fall in the spectrum? In any genre, be in mystery or SF/F or thriller or mainstream or whatnot? I’m pretty sure this divide, whatever it is, exists elsewhere, but again, I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what it is.

off to bed

Addendum: Really doesn’t explain Stross, Chabon, Stephenson, and others. Although I admit… even for Stross I like him better when he’s more… whimsical? It’s the difference between Accelerando and the Laundry series. For Chabon, it’s the difference between The Yiddish Policeman’s Union and… actually, Chabon is kind of squishy. If we’re talking soft. Stephenson I just kind of view as art, like the Mona Lisa. But I really am fonder of O’Keefe.


really off to bed now