Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Classics of SFF

So, I mouthed off on Facebook....

Quelle surprise....

When DragonCon announced that they'd have a panel on looking back at classic SFF with regards to today's ideologies, I laughed at them. They would have to get reasonable panelists, a sane moderator, and an audience who wouldn't need to be handled with a whip and a chair.

But then again, I forgot who DragonCon could put on such a panel.

So, DragonCon did the only reasonable thing ... and put me on the panel.

This led to me to share a table with the Queen of SFF short stories, the editor of about half of the bestselling SFF in the business, and a living legend of the genre.

Which led me to overthinking things. Again.

Classics become classics because they survive the generation that spawned them. Edgar Rice Burroughs is a classic of SF. As are all of the pulps that have survived to this generation. Just ask Jeffro Johnson. He's got a book and a blog dedicated to that.

When I got this panel, one of my first reactions was "Funny. Most of the Classics of SF have outlived most of the "isms" around them. And let's face it, most isms are just ideologies -- and ideologies twist the facts to fit the framework. As opposed to a philosophy, that SHOULD adapt the framework to fit the available facts.

Classics are classics because they have a timeless quality to them. While John Carter of Mars was originally written as a response to Commies (I hear that ERB originally wanted to right a story about the Reds .... since he couldn't get away with that, he was allowed to write about red and green Martians), The Martian Chronicles will survive long after Communism is seen by ALL as the pile of crap it is. Because while it is rooted in events of the day, it will not die if removed from the circumstance. Because it's a good story, with timeless elements to it that make it accessible to everyone.

Let's face it, The Odyssey is a classic, and if published today, would end up in Fantasy. And it's not one of those books that are still around because of academics. I read it when I was ten years old. It's an adventure novel. And it was also a product of its day. Think of it as a fantasy version of Mission: Impossible, as Odysseus spends half his time outwitting creatures 1000 times more powerful than he is.

Today, Dante would be considered a classic of Fantasy. And while it is firmly rooted in the historical context, it's still timeless, if only because of sin. Right now, you can update Dante and have a level of Hell where two groups of politicians pushing against a Sysiphian rock (each side pushing against each other) because, while they voted with their party, they voted against their conscience. It's still a timeless concept, because traitors to conscience are forever, as are politicians.

... And I use that highly specific example because Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle wrote that exact book in 1976, when they did their own version of the Inferno.

So, yeah, when I looked at the panel, all I could think was "this is going to be an odd series of questions, ain't it?"

Then again, the panel was fun. And we probably barely scratched the surface.

Read the next Dragon Award nominated book for best Horror, Hell Spawn.

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