John Clute: In Response

Coming late to the Roundtable, I find there’s not a lot immediately to suggest about lists and canons, the former presumably being thought of as epiphytes of the latter: canon candy. I share most everyone here’s deep reluctance to generate best-of lists, and in fact usually fail to contribute to assemblages of same. Unlike some of us, I do relatively few books a year (maybe 20, and if the scifi.wire site continues to insist that navigation is yesterday, and that the definition of “book” is “to arrange a meet with film dosh”, I may be doing even fewer); and 20 books out of a milliard ain’t a good base to generate a best-of list, even if the project made better sense than any of us seem to credit it with…

Do demur at the thought that certain titles need less attention because they already have a lot: that seem to surrender too much of the critic’s longitudinal (I quote Letson) function for my sense of things.

To go on to revolution or what: Russell says everything I would have if I’d thought it sooner about Kuhn and the false analogy between normal science and the conversation of SF, both of which are loosely thought to suffer substantially similar paradigm shifts. As Russell says, normal science works with propositional models subject to falsification (which is to say they are models which must be iterated within a testable frame); which does not describe the “riff-trading” (I’d long ago forgotten William Tenn’s formulation, good to see it back again) that generates the ongoing session of a live genre. In SF, a paradigm shift is usually a function of memory rather than discovery: that a dominant writer/work remembers/rebalances the riff, and the session accretes suddenly around the new tune. Which is not to say that there is nothing new under the sun: but that the real jolt of the new is to our memory cache. Which shakes, rattles, rolls, and out pops Dhalgren doing riverrun.

Each iteration of canon is a fossil, a motor humunculus of the whole. More later, if I’m not stopped.

— John Clute

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