Time for Some Name-Calling

Literary movements come and go. “New Wave” was a little before my time, but I can remember Cyberpunk, Splatterpunk… I was associated briefly with “Crackerpunk” by virtue of 1) being a Southerner and 2) writing sf/f, but no one (including especially its proponents) took it very seriously and it went away quicker than most. Now we are within a period with a feast of Movements: Slipstream, New Weird, Interstitial, New Romantic Underground, New Space Opera, Mundane Science Fiction, Mannerpunk, and I’m sure I’m missing some. It is a time for Manifestos and Movements because, as China Mieville once pointed out, “Manifestos are fun.” Seems like the right attitude to me, from the pov of someone invariably on the outside looking in where these things are concerned.

Usually, when a writer is associated with one movement or another that presumes one or two things: that their writing fits a certain easily summarized and shared esthetic and/or has a conscious agenda related to same. The “New Weird” people were deliberately trying to recapture the flavor of writers of old-style pulp weird like Clark Ashton Smith and H.P. Lovevraft while adding a modern gloss, “Interstitial” either means art between the boundaries of genre or something else, since people are still arguing about it.

One thing that literary movements are good for from a practical, rather than esthetic, viewpoint, is that they, with enough momentum and buzz, can call attention to a group of writers’ work. Since one of the biggest if not the biggest challenges facing a working writer trying to grow a career is finding an audience, such an association can have great benefits. The downside, of course, is that being associated too strongly with a particular movement is perilous in the extreme when the wave you’re riding inevitably crashes against the rocks of time and attention and you don’t have any way off it that doesn’t involve crashing against said rocks. Just as the rise of a movement can launch a career, its inevitable passing can end one…or in some cases, several.

Not all movements, obviously, are created equal. “New Wave” still has partisans and opponents, more than thirty years after the fact, and no one questions that it’s had a lasting effect on the field. Cyberpunk also. Something was definitely happening on a fundamental level, foundations were shifting, and in cases like that it makes sense to have a name for it, otherwise discussion is difficult. I suppose the same is true for the new ones, though I’m having some trouble working up much passion either for or against any of them, and I’m even less convinced that they amount to much. From the perspective of my own little island they’re just ships passing by — interesting to consider now and then but otherwise irrelevant.

What do ya’ll think? Do any of the current movements or proto-movements and manifestos really have any relevance to what you’re doing?

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17 thoughts on “Time for Some Name-Calling

    • That adds a new element–reader usability. I suppose in that sense they’re a lot like genre itself, just finer grained.

  1. None of the new movements interest me in the least and they don’t impact what I write at all. Nowadays I see less focus on movements than themes. I am still waiting for the zombie theme to go away, tbh. Enough already.

    • Sub-genres always abound. At the moment, they’re just exploding. Like Zombies (I’m with you on zombies. Bo-ring). This, too, will pass.

  2. I remain committed to evangelizing the Well-Versed Skiffy movement (“good storytelling, good meter, good spec-fic”). Because, well, that’s exactly what I’m trying to write.

    —L.

  3. Pingback: SF Tidbits for 5/1/12 - SF Signal – A Speculative Fiction Blog

  4. Well, I know for sure that the “movement” sweeping millions of young women into bookstores over Fifty Shades of Grey is NOT anything I want to touch–BUT I don’t mind “hinting” at such submissive females in bedrooms (except out under the stars in the rocks and sands, in my case!) in my narrative poetry/allegorical sagas. Sometimes, I make these “females” to be aligning planets confusing travelers, or some such. tee,hee!

  5. For me, the principal point of Movements (other than bowel) is to market my work. Usually, by the time a movement has gotten a name, it’s already passe. Mind you, finding a movement you like may inspire one to write something you hadn’t thought of before, but is that joining a movement or just cribbing ideas? I don’t know.

    My work was recently described as Honor Harrington Meets John LeCarre, written by Iain M. Banks. I think that makes it part of the schitzophrenic movement, or the every popular, “I can’t possibly sell this” movement.

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