Genre VS Literary and the Cult of Twitter

Hey readers! Got an interesting one for you today. Sort of a call-back, almost, to last week’s post on “pulp” not being a stand-in for “fun.” Once again, brought up by an online discussion I saw in a reading sphere.

Oh, and the cover image there will make sense. Just bear with me for a bit.

This is a discussion that I suspect many of you have heard repeatedly if you’ve hung out in certain reading spheres, but a poster had dropped in to ask what the difference was between “genre” and “literary” as he’d seen both used often. They also pointed out that genre seemed to be used as a derogatory term, while literary was used as a form of praise, and wanted to know what they could do as a new reader to identify these “literary” books so they could get the best experience.

That poor soul, right? Okay look, I’ll level with all of you readers here: The division between them is largely nothing. Nothing but pretentiousness on the part of the reader or, in some cases, the author. We’ll get more into this here in a little bit, and along with a really neat example that just kind of shows exactly how foolish the whole debate is, but up front, and in reality … “Literary” is 99.9% hindsight. Those books that are written up-front as “literary works” tend to be overblown masses of text because the author went in with the goal of producing some overblown level of “literary prose.”

Wow, listen to those lighters being held up to torches. I call it like it is folks. Also, I know who’s lighting those torches: The same people that get uppity and snooty about “literary” versus “genre.” Because they hold what some of the people in the resultant discussion did, that only “literary” is worth reading, and that it’s “different” from everything else in a way that makes it superior.

How? Well, let’s start with the definition that was offered by these defenders of “literary” virtue. They explained to this poor poster that “genre” was a story that was just focused on cookie-cutter elements. As they put it, it was fiction that was heavily dependent specific narrative devices, had a niche market, and would not be of interest outside that market because of those narrative devices. It was further declared that genre boiled down to driven by plot and formula according to stereotype.

Meanwhile, they explained that “literary” works were those that ascended beyond cliche and genre to tackle interesting topics, explore new things, and be enticing to those readers outside of genre.

Bleh.

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No, Pulp Doesn’t Mean “Fun”

So, I ran across this interesting discussion the other day on a book forum. I’ll give you the cliffnotes version, but essentially, a few people were discussing their reading habits and all started talking about reading for fun versus reading to be … a literary snob? Okay, let’s be honest here, it was kind of a conceited discussion, but there were some assertions made there that really rubbed me wrong, the focal point (and, naturally, the one heading this post) being the idea that “pulp” meant “fun.” And only fun.

No joke, sadly. This was a whole discussion about how occasionally they would read these “pulp” novels that were fun, and ‘Oh, by the way did you read X novel? I thought it would be literary, but it was pretty fun, so definitely pulp.’

Yeah, if your brain skipped a beat on that last line, join the club. But, in truth, there are whole swaths of readers who think this way. A book that is fun, a book that is enjoyed … is “pulp.” Cheap. Disposable. With no redeeming value aside from the “fun” to be had when the pages are turned.

Meanwhile, anything not “pulp,” ie not fun to read is “literary” and of value. Because pain is good, I guess. You’re not really learning if you’re not suffering.

Look, I’ll be blunt. Just because the US education system seems to believe that doesn’t mean that it’s true. And pulp? Pulp does not mean “fun.” If you really think that, you might need to reexamine what you’re reading. But you should definitely reexamine how you think of books.

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Operation Overlord

Before I get started on today’s post, I do want to issue a little reminder. Today is June 6th, 2019.

Seventy-five years ago, in the early hours of the morning, the world’s largest seabourne assault ever attempted hit the beaches of Normandy. Over 160,000 men crossed the channel aboard transports and landing craft of all kind. 24,000 men deployed in airborne assaults under the cover of night. What followed was one of the most brutal beachheads in all of human history as Allied forces attempted to breach Adolf Hitler’s “Fortress Europe” and begin the process of liberating the dozens of nations and millions of people Hitler’s regime had ground under its heel.

LandscapeOver the next few hours, over 4,000 Allied soldiers would lose their lives attempting to take the beaches of Utah, Omaha, Juno, Gold, and Sword. Casualties after the battle numbered over ten thousand.

Operation Overlord was a brutal success, a hammer-blow that broke through the Atlantic Wall and gave the allies the beachhead they needed to push further into the territory occupied by the Third Reich. Over the course of the next year, Allied forces would push all the way the Germany, part of a two-pronged campaign that would finally crush the Nazi war machine for good.

If you’re not familiar with D-day, AKA Operation Overlord, than before continuing with this post I would really encourage you to brush up on it. Start with something like the wikipedia page. Maybe find a book or two on the subject. Watch The Longest Day.

Just don’t forget about it. If you don’t understand what happened, please read up on it. If you don’t understand why it happened, read some more. Honor the sacrifice and bravery of those hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers by understanding why they did what they did and what that means for your life today.

Remember D-Day.

The Wandering Earth

So the biggest, most successful film ever in China hit Netflix earlier this month. To … little fanfare. Which some people online immediately took issue with, as The Wandering Earth is based (very, very loosely) on Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem which, even if I wasn’t a huge fan of, did win a bunch of awards and was a huge deal in the Sci-Fi world.

So for The Wandering Earth to release without much fanfare on Netflix, there were a number of cries I recall reading in the news that it was an attempt to “downplay” China’s triumphant entry into the Sci-Fi film world. Or recurrent contributions to, depending on where you were reading. Opinions varied. China being a political hot-topic however, as you can imagine there was a lot of internet flame being built up around this film.

To be fair, some of it is justified. China is … not a great place. Their surveillance and their “social programs” aren’t exactly out of 1984 only because they’re honestly better at it, something that many have attributed to the success of The Wandering Earth in China (so I hear, if you went to see the movie, you got a few extra points put on your social score, which was one of the reasons the film was so big A reader from China has let me know that thankfully this was not the case here. PHEW!). China is headed by a now life-long dictator. People disappear. So when that government backs a big film, well … some people get cagey.

Anyway, I don’t want to dive any further into that side of things because it just flat-out gets messy, and re-education camps don’t have much to do with The Wandering Earth, which yes, I sat down and watched. Because it was the biggest film in China’s history, I’ve enjoy a number of other Chinese films, I do love Sci-Fi, and well, it was right there on Netflix. So … how was this film adaptation of The Three-Body Problem?

EDIT: Another reader let me know in the comments below that despite what I’d read and been told, this film is an adaptation of a short story by Cixin, and not Three-Body. Which makes a bit more sense. However, upon checking, not even the credits of the film point this out (in fact, they continue to refer to the material it is based on as a novel rather than a short) so the confusion may have some root in that.

Clearly, this changes the theory in the next paragraph. END EDIT.

Well, it has nothing to do with Three-Body. And I do mean nothing. I’m fairly certain that the only reason the book is mentioned at all in conjunction with this movie was marketing. I’d even venture to say that the script for Wandering Earth was probably already written, and the writers/producers saw it as a way to get their project green-lit. So they snapped up the rights to Three-Body, started work on their film, and put “Based on” in the credits.

But it’s not. To put it another way, Wandering Earth is as similar to Three-Body as Terminator is to Star Wars. They’re the same overall genre yes … but they’re pretty much unlike one another in every other respect.

Which was fine by me. I found the characters and plotting of Three-Body bland and predictable through most of its length, the only redeeming bit being the alien sequence at the very end. It was a novel written to explore ideas, rather than have character or plot. So I was alright discovering that Wandering Earth didn’t have any of it.

Again, none. I cannot stress this enough: If you are planning on watching The Wandering Earth because you loved The Three-Body Problem, you will be extremely disappointed with it. Because if it is similar to any Sci-Fi at all, Wandering Earth is much closer to Independence Day than anything else.

But that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Not at all. You just have to have the right expectations.

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The Captain Marvel Kerfluffle

Or, How Captain Marvel‘s Writing Team Showed They Really Don’t Know Their Craft.

There wasn’t supposed to be a post today. In fact, I am slamming this out in-between a work shift, a very important errand, work on book projects (my email box is FULL of comments, fixes, and changes from the awesome Alpha and Beta Readers I have), and then a big social event tonight. But this warranted a post.

Okay, backstory: This last weekend, with Marvel’s Captain Marvel about to come out on Blu-Ray, the marketing team released an extended version of a scene from the film.

Okay, fine, not worth commenting on so far, right? Well, this came with an additional caveat. It was marketed as “see a hero taking on toxic masculinity.”

Oh. Oh no.

As I pointed out in my thoughts on Captain Marvel, the largest weakness of the film by far was the writing. And … that’s come back to bite folks again. Badly.

As you can imagine, the internet exploded.

Hang on though. We’re still in backstory. The scene in question is an extended version of the scene in the film where—minor spoilers—Vers steals a guy’s bike and some clothes. In this new version, rather than her simply eyeing the bike and stealing it (which is justifiable in character at the moment), we instead get a scene where the biker hits on Vers in a pretty sleazy manner, only to get his conceptions crushed by Vers. She shakes his hand, then crushes it (you can hear bones crack and pop) and tells him to give her his bike and jacket or she’ll remove the hand.

Again … a bit more sinister, sure. Except … then the writers had to step in and explain that this was Captain Marvel being a hero and striking a blow against toxic masculinity. And … well, you can imagine how the internet has taken it. Both sides have, as you can predictably guessed, gone up in arms. Both make some good points, and both make some bad points.

However, the reason I chose to take some time out of my crunched day to post about this was because at its core, the argument Disney’s marketing team and the writers of Captain Marvel have claimed is … well, wrong.

Vers isn’t a hero in that scene. Not by any definition of the term. And to see people so aggressively defending Vers actions as “heroic,” even the writing team? Well … I think that’s in part why the Captain Marvel had the problems it had.

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One More Orbit

So … tomorrow is my birthday.

I don’t have much in the way of plans. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that I have no plans. I’m considering just taking a nice long bike ride, and maybe making a stirfry afterwards. Nothing fancy. But maybe relaxing.

I hope so, because it’s been a really up and down sort of week. Month.

I won’t trouble you with all the ills of my life. Let’s face it, that’d be a pretty unfriendly post. Life has just been … rough. Lately. I’ll leave it at that.

So … happy birthday to me, I guess. I really don’t feel like celebrating.

Yeah, I know there’s not much to this post, and it’s a little down. But on the positive side, there isn’t much direction to go but up, so …

Here’s hoping it does.

In the meantime, the work goes on.

Duel of the Marvels

So, in this past week I have seen both Captain Marvel and Shazam! Hence the title there. If you know your comic history, you know that the heroic protagonist of Shazam! takes on the name Captain Marvel, a deliberate choice by his creator’s to stick it to Marvel comics at the time. There’s a lot more history with that which went bouncing back and forth, but there are comic historians who’ve delved into that particular legal and trademark battle and produced write-ups for you to read with a little Google-fu, so I won’t go into that here.

No, instead, I’m going to drop my thoughts about both Marvel movies. One film #21 in Marvel’s massive and magnificent Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, the other the newest entry in DC’s own attempts to mimic Marvel with a DC Cinematic Universe. Which was good? Were either? Were both great? Well … let’s talk about. And I’ll start with the more controversial Captain Marvel first.

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