Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Sheep at the price

Not the promised blog post on spaceflight, but some scenery instead.

Wales, Brecon Beacons, October 27th 2012. Not quite the view from my office, but not far off.

Monday, 29 October 2012


The debate sparked by Paul Kincaid's essay on SF's state of exhaustion rolls on. Here, for instance, is PK's latest statement - it's well worth reading, and also includes a handy set of links to some of the other contributions to the dialogue.

It's always hard to know how to engage with this sort of thing. As writers, we are strongly discouraged from responding to our critics, advice which I think is eminently sensible and which I have tried to abide by. Even the simple act of linking to or mentioning a negative review can be seen as a kind of attack by proxy, since many writers have extremely loyal readerships who will not hesitate to take up the sword on the writer's tacit behalf. I don't approve of that sort of thing, but I have seen it happen many times and I can easily think of some serial offenders. With a few excusable exceptions brought on by moments of moral weakness, I have tried not to do it and I have very little time for writers who indulge in it as a matter of course. It's gang politics, the crude tactics of the playground. Critics should feel free to speak up without fear of personal attacks. That is an obvious truism in literature as a whole, but it applies even more stringently within the extremely clubby, collegiate world of science fiction.

A piece like PK's original article invites, I think, a different kind of response. It's a not a review, and it doesn't mention my writing. In the sense that I have a view of PK's opinion of my SF, I sense that he is more inclined to see my work as part of the problem than the solution. Looked at another way, the class of SF that I am often associated with - call it heartland SF, whatever - seems, broadly, to be the kind that PK is now finding to be in a state of exhaustion. The writers he has been most recently impressed by are, generally, those operating on the margins of the form, far from the heartland. None of them are writers whose work sits squarely in the crosshairs of what we think of as genre science fiction. They are pushing against the boundaries of the form, interrogating it from one or other side of the border. As it happens, they are all writers I either already admire intensely or look forward to investigating. Christopher Priest's work, for instance, couldn't be more fascinating to me as a reader, even though it's not remotely the sort of thing I create. Similarly, I can't read a page of M John Harrison without questioning my entire commitment to writing. But there's no escaping the fact that I operate in a fundamentally different mode to these writers and that, eleven or twelve novels into my career, I obviously choose to do so. The question for me now is two-fold. Firstly, is it possible to engage with PK's discussion in a way that is neither defensive, nor a form of attack by proxy? Secondly, given the obvious and sincere substance of PK's opinions, what can I do to improve not only my own craft, but (and if it isn't too arrogant) in some small way the state of SF?

To take the first point - I hope that it is possible to respond, and to do so in a civil and constructive way. As I hope was clear from my earlier posts, much of what PK says makes perfect and depressing sense. In fact I would have welcomed engagement from many more writers than those who have already responded. Agree or disagree, I'm sure we all have something interesting to add.

The second point is obviously much harder to address. But here I want to mention something that my colleague Paul McAuley wrote on his blog back on the 5th of October - - which was to say "... let's face it, twenty years on, it's possible that I've become part of the problem." Now, I don't think PM is part of the problem at all but those are nonetheless excellent words to live by. As writers I think we ought to ask ourselves that question on a pretty regular basis. Am I good for science fiction, or is science fiction good for me? If I had not written a word, would the field be better or worse or indeed no different? I can't be alone in sometimes feeling as I've lucked into my SF career - as if, rather than bringing anything new to the field, I've just somehow managed to slip into the party and find myself a corner. On my better days, I tell myself that I'm doing useful work, adding to the conversation, treating the form with the seriouness it deserves. On my less good days, I feel like a complete fraud, and I expect the knock on the door at any moment. But it seems to me that, whether you are an imposter or not - and posterity's going to have the word on that one, not the blogosphere - it is a pretty good thing to remain in a state of questioning self-doubt, striving constantly to step back from your own work and examine the easy assumptions and platitudes underpinning it. A discussion like that sparked by PK's essay can only be healthy.

With that off my chest, in my next blog post I want to talk a bit about space travel, why it is not just about moving tropes around, and why I think there is intellectual value in the theme.

Friday, 12 October 2012


You might not think it, and some of my critics will be laughing into their cornflakes at this point, but I spend quite a bit of time thinking about prose. It's fair to say that a sizable proportion of science fiction readers don't much care, or at least don't think that they care. Read a sample of amazon reviews of science fiction novels - in fact, a more general sample of web reviews will do just as nicely - and you'll find a lot of stuff about the plot being interesting, the characters likable, the story fast paced, the world-building good and so on. Or, indeed, quite the opposite - they didn't care for the plot, they couldn't relate to the characters ("I didn't want to spend any time with these people"), the story dragged, the world-building was insufficiently thought-through, and so on. Quite often you'll see a statement to the effect that the book was "well written", but as often as not there's no deeper qualification as to what it meant by this. Usually, I would contend, it simply means that the pages slipped by effortlessly enough, that the story was adequately engaging, that there were some good bits and an ending that was both comprehensible and satisfying.

A reviewer of mainstream or literary fiction, though, probably has something slightly different on their mind. Whereas a genre reviewer might take "well written" to mean a quality of transparency -  functional, efficient, prose that doesn't occlude the narrative - the mainstream reviewer is probably applying a somewhat different set of criteria. What they mean, generally, is that the prose aspires to be more than merely a painless delivery mechanism for the story; that it can and should do more than that. Not being clumsily written doesn't get you bonus points: that's the absolute least that should be expected. Nor is it enough to avoid cliches; that's only half the job. We can all omit cliches, find prosaic workarounds that convey the same sentiment - but that's like taking out a dead lightbulb and screwing a dimmer one in its place.

There are, I think, at least three schools of thinking when it comes to science fiction prose. Let's be unkind and say that the first school is the Analog approach. This is the notion that the prose, above a certain basic level of competence, has no obligation to be anything other than workmanlike. Cliches, hackneyed turns of phrase, worn-out descriptions, all are sanctioned provided nothing gets in the way of the ideas. The problem, in my view, is that the very dullness of this sort of thing actually works against its intended transparency; it's like a window that hasn't been cleaned. You can sort of see the view through it, but there are lots of cobwebs and smears in the way. In other words, it doesn't do what it thinks it's doing.

I've aspired - and on occasion have no doubt failed - to mostly occupy a middle ground where the prose is aiming for a quality of maximum transparency, a sort of defect-free optical glass. The primary function of the prose is still a delivery system for the story, but it is trying, really trying, to do this with genuine elegance, an economy of expression, some wit and originality, and an avoidance of ugly constructions. CS Forester, for instance, generally wrote this sort of prose, as did HRF Keating. Indeed, throughout the twentieth century it was the default mode for many writers of what we might call the "quality" end of genre writing. It is not trying to do anything really inventive with the language, but at the same time there is an effortlessness to the writing which demands a certain control and authority on behalf of the author. Just as an expert bricklayer can lay a wall with no kinks in it, this is the prose of an expert troweller of words.

The question is, is that the best we can hope for? A few years ago, I was broadly of the opinion that this was not only a good sort of prose for science fiction purposes, but actually the optimum sort. That's not to say that there aren't aesthetic choices to be made at this level - attentive readers of mine, for instance, might note that the prose in Revelation Space generally avoids contractions, something that was important to me at the time. Later, I decided that the avoidance of contractions actually led to an awkwardness which is in itself a bad thing, and so I allowed them back in. Now I am again trying to avoid contractions, but this time at (I hope) a higher level of craft. You live and learn.

Back in 2009, I had the pleasure of sitting on a discussion panel hosted in London by the British Science Fiction Association, in advance of that year's BSFA awards. I can't remember whether we were meant to be discussing the novel or short fiction shortlists, or indeed both, but I do remember that my fellow panelist was Adam Roberts. The first thing to understand about Adam is that he is, and was, astonishingly well-read, to a degree that certainly puts me to shame. I seem to remember, in fact, that Adam stated that he made a point of reading the entire Booker longlist each year. He also keeps up with the major SF longlists. So when Adam makes some remark about the relative merits of science fiction versus the mainstream or literary novel, he absolutely does have the data to back up his statements, and his opinion is worth thinking about.

During that discussion, Adam made a point - I think - that, as good and admirable as lots of SF novels are, as richly as their ideas are explored, it's rare to encounter writing at the same level as the best writing encountered in the modern non-genre novel. The prose, in other words, is often serviceable but it's not doing anything more. The best writing in the non-genre novel is often actively non-transparent; it is quite happy to get between you and the story. When David Mitchell writes of a bat, "chased by its own furry turbulence", he's not shooting for workmanlike. But is that the right mode for SF?

At this point in the discussion Adam and I had a bit of a friendly disagreement. My point, made as well as I could, was that to apply the same set or sets of aesthetic criteria to the SF novel as to the literary novel was in fact a mistake, a category error based on a profound misapprehension of what SF is trying to do. My argument was that it would be equally wrongheaded to apply the aesthetic norms of classical music to, say, punk, because in doing so you would not only misunderstand the terms under which punk operates, but in forcing it to be more like classical music you would rob it of much of its intrinsic vitality.

I think I was wrong, though, and that the category error was mine. Punk is a genre; classical music is unquestionably another. Their boundaries are not especially porous. SF's relationship to literary fiction is more complex than that, more like an embedding or an intersection, and while much of SF does indeed run along genre tramlines, the interesting stuff generally doesn't. The question for me now is to what degree the second kind of prose is still the correct tool for the task, and to what degree I should be pushing beyond it, into what might one call intentional non-transparency.

[Edited - the BSFA event was in 2009, not 2008]

Monday, 8 October 2012

On Mediocrity

It's been said, with some truth, that SF writers have given up thinking seriously about the near future. The problem, so the commonplace wisdom goes, is that so many elements of the real world are now changing so rapidly, and so unpredictably, that there's no sense of a clear path before us. By contrast, writers used to have it a lot easier in the past. They could see the way things were going, they could sense the winds of change. The pace of technological and social change was quickening, but it had yet to turn into a blizzard of endless innovation and rapid obsolescence. The foundations of the present seemed surer.

I'm not sure about this. I agree that serious speculation about the near future has, with some honorable exceptions, been generally neglected - and I've scarcely got good form in this regard - but I'm not convinced that there is anything particularly difficult about writing about the future now, as opposed to twenty or fifty or a hundred years ago. That, it seems to me, would be making a claim that there is something exceptional about our own time, and I'm not sure that this is the case. There is a very powerful interpretive principle in science which says that it is unwise to make any exceptional statements about one's own viewpoint. In cosmology, for instance, insisting that the Earth is at the center of things leads to a cockeyed view of the universe in which the celestial clockwork has to be jigged to make the Sun go around the Earth. It is much simpler, and more elegant, to assume that the Earth occupies no special position within the solar system. Just as powerfully, demoting the Sun to the status of being merely another star leads to a richer appreciation of our own unexceptional place within the Milky Way galaxy. And assuming that the Milky Way is itself an unexceptional spiral galaxy leads to the staggering appreciation that the Big Bang was the creation not just of matter, but of the very fabric of reality, spacetime. Heady stuff, indeed - and what does it have to do with SF? Not much, perhaps, but I'd suggest that that same Principle of Mediocrity - the rejection that our viewpoint is priveleged - ought to apply just as squarely to history as it does to observations of planets and galaxies.

Whether or not SF is the literature of the Enlightenment, or the Industrial Revolution, it has existed in the form that we currently recognise it for only a couple of centuries, and perhaps rather less than that. I would argue, in fact, that there has been almost no point in the last 150 - 200 years in which the future has been any easier or harder to prognosticate than is now the case. 2012 is an astonishingly difficult thing to get a handle on - but then again, 1912 must have seemed much the same. HG Wells, who was born a century before me, lived to see electricity, mechanization, powered flight, two world wars, atomic weapons, radio, television and the dawn of the jet age. That's an astonishing number of things to cram into one life - but I don't think Wells' life was exceptional in that regard. Much the same could be said of almost any writer born since the start of the nineteenth century. The future has always been arriving faster than we might wish, and it certainly has no requirement to make life easier for SF writers.

Friday, 5 October 2012

It was twenty years ago today

Well, not quite. But we are now in the autumn of 2012 and in the autumn of 1992 - rather astonishingly, twenty years ago - I started writing Revelation Space. Not some remote ancestor of that book, either, but the thing itself. I had made a number of false starts on a book with similar themes and (in some cases) exactly similar characters and situations, but all of these had come to naught. By 1992, though, I had achieved enough domestic stability that I was finally able to carve out the necessary number of hours a week to make tangible and continuing progress on a novel. I had moved to the Netherlands at the tail-end of 1991, quite an upheaval in itself (I arrived with everything I could cram into a rucksack and not much more) but even when I had begun to settle down to living outside the UK, there remained many demands on my time. I had a serious new job - my first job, in fact, of any kind. I had to take the bus to and from work, which ate into my time even more. I had quickly enrolled in Dutch classes, two a week, which necessitated homework and yet more travel. Keen to meet people, I had also signed up for the local mountaineering/rock climbing society and also the local horse riding club, eating into yet more spare time. I also needed to learn to drive - I had begun taking lessons in the UK in the eighties, but had only got as far as failing my test once before putting all that aside in order to complete my PhD studies. However, now that I was an adult with a proper job, I really could not avoid that one any longer. Learning to drive in the Netherlands, with a unique set of road rules, in one of the most cycle-conscious countries in the world, was certainly a learning experience. But things gradually feel into place, some order and stability entered my life, and by the latter months of 1992 I had developed a pattern of work which was to serve me well over the next year and a half. After dinner, I would clear away my meal and set up a small folding table in my tiny living room. I would put some music on, roll a sheet of paper into my manual typewriter, and set to work. This was total liberation, as far as I was concerned. When I had been a student, living in dormitories with thin walls, I never felt happy about using the typewriter when other people might be trying to sleep or concentrate. So I confined my efforts mostly to saturday and sunday afternoons, and as a consequence didn't get very much done.

Now, though, I could write as often and for as long as I liked. But in fact I quickly fell into a fairly predictable routine - maybe 3 or 4 typed sheets a night, say an hour or two's work. I have never been anything than a hamfisted, two-finger typist but I eventually reached the point where I could type as quickly as I could generate prose, and could sometimes get through an entire sheet without making an error. Two or three were more the norm, but that was what Tipp-Ex was for.

I learned that if I was going to finish a draft of a novel, I had to keep pushing forward. So, no cheeky going back and fiddling with what I had already written. I just kept adding sheets to the pile, and over the weeks and months it grew, and grew. I punched the sheets and inserted them into a ring binder. Eventually it began to turn into quite an impressive stack of paper. That's something you'll never get with an electronic document - that sense of a growing body of work, something with tangible mass and heft - unless you print it out, of course. Not that I'd willingly return to using a typewriter, but still...

I continued work on Revelation Space throughout 1993, with the odd setback, but always moving forward. I learned that it was important to maintain momentum on a big writing project. A lengthy holiday was all very well, but it could be hard to return to the writing mindset afterwards. Instead, I carried my typewriter with me. I took it on a rowing boat, to a small island in the Phillipines. I worked by day, since there was no electricity at night. However, as romantic as that sounds, none of the stuff I wrote on holiday made it into the final draft.

Deadlines are good, for me at least. They focus the mind. In the absence of a contract, I chose to impose my own delivery date. Early in 1994, my work was going to take me back to Australia, for a short telescope project. My wife-to-be was coming with me. It seemed the ideal opportunity to get the book finished, so she could read it on the trip. I worked right up until the day before we flew, hammering down the pages in a blind passion, but I did finish it, and from that point on Revelation Space existed.

But the road from finished typewritten draft - a first draft, in the rawest possible sense - to publication - was an exceedingly lengthy one. I began entering the text into a Mackintosh SE personal computer, my first real experience with word processing. I could not resist the urge to tinker and polish, as I went. The redraft stalled, and stalled again. I complicated things by creating separate documents for each chapter of the book - nowadays I work on a single seamless document, and only insert chapter breaks relatively late in the day. A new job, between 1994 and 1996, nearly scuppered my writing for two years due to a daily commute lasting nearly four hours. I got a lot of reading done in that interval, but far less writing than I would have liked.

The book sat around as a work in progress until early in 1997. Then, fortuitously, I had a period of unemployment between science contracts. It was only a few weeks, but enough of a window for me to pull out the RS files and make a concerted effort to produce a consistent draft. Not long after, I was able to submit three sample chapters and a synopsis. But the rest of the book was finished. In the summer of 1997 I wrote another novel - Chasm City.

And there things sat with RS, for another two years, until things began to move again early in 1999, with an offer of publication. Originally, the book was going to come out in 2001. Later, it was moved ahead to 2000. I spent the rest of that year redrafting RS, while alternating with work on the redraft of Chasm City, which had already been scheduled as my second novel.

I mention all this because people are, to my immense gratitude, still picking up Revelation Space for the first time. And, of course, it's not a new book by any means - 12 years is a long time by any measure. But I've been living with it a lot longer than that...

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Exhaust gases

As I mentioned in the previous post, the critic Paul Kincaid has recently ignited a debate about the perceived state of exhaustion of science fiction. It's worth reading PK's original review, and the subsequent interview relating to it, and worth also taking a look at Jonathan McCalmont's lengthy (and broadly supportive) response. PK confines his focus to short fiction - indeed, he does not appear to regard novel length SF to be suffering from quite such a serious malaise - but JM's complaints are more wide ranging, and significantly more lacerating in tone. Both commentators, though, are in agreement on the main points. Literary SF has reached a state of creative crisis, due to a number of factors. I won't reiterate the main arguments since they are made clearly enough by both authors, and you can easily find some surrounding commentary from other parties.

As someone intimately involved in the production of written SF here in the second decade of the twenty first century, I obviously have some stake in the continued vitality of the form. PK is careful to note that he is not predicting the death of SF, but instead noting a sense that SF has become insular, self-referential, disengaged from the present. It has stopped saying anything useful about the world. It is ceasing to innovate from within itself, ceasing to explore the possibilities of what it could be, rather than what it already is. Tropes are being recycled, games of recognition and irony are being played against the knowing reader. People are writing SF about SF. Writers have stopped having confidence in their own creations. Everything feels a bit thin and under-imagined. Too much SF consists of moving around bits of science fictional furniture, with nothing deeper going on under the surface. There is an absence of intellectual rigour.

Clearly, I don't feel that SF is mined-out. Perhaps it isn't a terribly good idea to read lots of SF in one go, any more than you'd want to listen to lots and lots of blues or jazz in one continuous stream. I don't consume art that way, and in fact never have. I've hardly ever read an anthology cover to cover, much less three in one go. Sometimes it's good to get away from things. These days, in fact, SF constitutes only a very small element of my reading, and on the occasions when I do read it, I'm invariably excited and enthused by the experience. But there's more to PK's complaints than simple reader fatigue. As it happens, I have quite a bit of sympathy for some of his criticisms.

When I aspired to become a science fiction writer, that's all I wanted to be. I didn't want to be a hard SF writer or a new space opera writer, just an SF writer. My heroes were Clarke, Asimov, Philip K Dick, James Blish, James White, Harry Harrison. Later, I discovered Haldeman, Pohl, Niven, James Tipree Jr and others. Later still, Ballard, Harrison, Priest - and through Interzone, a whole slew of new writers such as William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Gwyneth Jones, Geoff Ryman and others. Gene Wolfe took the top of my head off in the Book of the New Sun. Kim Stanley Robinson blew what was left of my mind with Icehenge and the Memory of Whiteness. And yet, I'd very nearly turned away from SF completely. Shortly before leaving school for university, I'd written a mainstream short story which won a prize - the first payment I received for any piece of fiction, in fact, and the first story of mine to be reprinted in something resembling a professional publication. Later, via one of my teachers, I learned that someone had commented that the story reminded them of Malcolm Bradbury. Suitably encouraged, I went off and read Bradbury, and then David Lodge, and that was the gateway to a far wider world of literature which - I'll readily admit - I had not hitherto explored to any great degree. Around the same time, I also encountered an issue of Analog SF which seemed to me to contain some of the worst fiction I'd ever read. Interzone, at least, seemed to have been written for grown-ups by grown-ups - most of the time. With the benefit of hindsight, I'm sure that my assessment of Analog was overly harsh but at the time it seemed rather childish and frivolous, not really about anything except the recycling of tired old ideas.

That reaction, for me, encapsulates something fairly central to my subsequent relationship with SF. I don't care for a lot of it. Never have done, never will. But at the same time, I doubt that I'd feel much inclination to write it if it were not for that generative friction, that grit in the oyster. There are two impulses at work when I produce SF - a sense that no one else is doing it exactly the way it should be done, and an acute desire to write it as well as it is written by the writers I most admire, whoever they might be at the moment. Ask me now: David Mitchell, perhaps. If I was truly happy with the state of SF, in other words, I suspect I'd feel very little incentive to write it. When I wrote Revelation Space, for instance, I perceived a massive, book-shaped hole where one ought to be - a book that was true to Einstein, true to our view of the limits of life and intelligence in the universe, true to our understanding of our own evolution, and yet which was also faintly Medieval, and rather ornately gothic, a sort of dark mash-up of the Name of the Rose and Ringworld. I failed, obviously, but that was the impulse - and in the end it produced something quite different from the objective. I'd be delighted if Revelation Space proved sufficiently irritating and wrong to another writer that it served as their generative grit. Pushing Ice, a more recent novel of mine, was written out of a sense of annoyance with the way so much SF cooked the books when it came to speculation about alien intelligence and galactic evolutionary timescales. House of Suns, more recently still, was written out of a conviction that it was possible to create a novel that felt galactic in scope, and yet which was still strongly constrained by the real physics of causality. My most recent novel, Blue Remembered Earth, was written to full another book-shaped hole - a perception (rightly or wrongly) that nobody was doing a mid-term, spacefaring future in quite the way I wanted it to be done. I am very happy to be told that I failed at all of these things, but these were the impulses.

What I am trying - and perhaps failing - to articulate here is that for me, I do not think I could write SF if I were not disenchanted with large areas of the field. Those areas of disenchantment are precisely the interesting interfaces where I can begin to feel my imagination doing useful work. So in that sense if I would be a bit worried if everything was all right with SF. I don't think it is - but then, I don't think it ever has been. Rather than perceiving a particular crisis affecting SF now, I see the field as being in a constant state of stagnation and renewal, constantly exhausting itself, constantly hitting new seams. This is not to disagree with much of what PK has to say. I find that far too much SF has nothing to say beyond its own echo-chamber of cleverness. I do find that a great deal of modern SF has totally abdicated any engagement with the present, and has more or less given up on the future completely.

I am not ready to surrender. The future still seems to me to be a profoundly interesting thing to think about. I am not intimidated by that at all, any more than I am intimidated by fears that the world is now changing too quickly to be modelled by SF. I am of the strong conviction that, contrary to perceived wisdom, science fiction really can say cogent things about the future, as well as the present, or at least speak to the human condition of living there. We're doing that already, how does it feel? Pretty weird, actually. How much weirder will it feel tomorrow, or the year after next? Sorry, but I can't stop thinking about this stuff - it's what gets me out of bed. SF can't predict the future, transparently, but there is nothing to prevent it from deploying interesting thought experiments. As I've said elsewhere, one way of thinking about SF is a tool for mapping the space of possible futures - probing the parameter space. That, to me, is intensely exciting. But SF is the ultimate literary Swiss Army knife, it doesn't have to do just one thing - nor should it.

And now I'm off to write some.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Breaking cover

A few brief things ... I'm deep in novel work at the moment, and will remain so for some while, so I'd like to apologise for my continued tardiness in responding to emails. I know I say this all the time, but (as I hope some of you will be aware) I do have a big catch-up every few months, and will strive to do so again.

Secondly, last week's Google event went very well, in my experience, and if nothing else it was terrific fun to hang out with Peter and Iain, albeit briefly. Even if you're not subscribed to Google Plus, you can review the experience on You Tube: this link should do the trick:

Thank you to all who contributed! In addition to the friendly staff at Google, I'd also like to thank Orion's publicist Jon Weir for making sure my trip to London went smoothly.

It seems that SF is in a state of permanent crisis and/or self-examination lately, and the last couple of weeks have been no exception. The latest round of introspection has been occasioned by the critic Paul Kincaid's review in the LA Review of books of some of the latest batch of "best of" anthologies, which he found symptomatic of an exhaustion within SF, a profound failure of confidence in SF's ability to engage with the present, let alone the future. That review is here:

Paul was later given the chance to amplify his thoughts over a question and answer session hosted on the Nerds of a Feather blog, and his responses are split across two lengthy posts:


These responses make fascinating reading.

In response to that, the critic Jonathan McCalmont has also posted a lengthy and thoughtful essay, which in essence takes Kincaid's position and dials it up to eleven. It doesn't make for comfortable reading, especially if you're one of the targets, but there's no doubt that some of his points hit close to home. SF has become massively self-congratulatory and inward looking, besotted with its own year round awards circus - something I've been known to complain about. Like Kincaid's piece, the McCalmont essay is clearly written from a position of enthusiasm for the possibilities of the genre, albeit coupled with obvious frustration around SF's frequent failure to measure up to its own oft-toted potential. Whether you agree with the specifics of the piece or not, it's worth a read.

I'd like to draft a more considered response to both pieces in due course, but for now I thought it was worth providing links to the articles in question.