Convention season is upon us and, on the eve of his birthday, Gary K. Wolfe has ventured out into aligator-infested Florida in search of conversation, con-buddies and, above all else, boat drinks!  In the first of what might just be a series of one podcasts, Gary invited Locus Publications editor-in-chief Liza Groen Trombi, editor and critic Karen Burnham, and award winning author Jeffrey Ford (visiting from the wilds of New Jersey) to sit down and join us in a fairly impromptu and rambling podcast.

Starting without an agenda (or in truth and kind of plan at all) we discuss science fiction criticism and the search for the modern essay, the digital age, Locus online, awards seasons, Reza Negarestani's Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials, The Secret Life of Laird Barron, and the forthcoming Key West Literary Seminar (it's about the literature of the future this time out).

As always, we hope you enjoy the podcast!

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  • John Stevens

    This was a very enjoyable and engrossing podcast. I think the question of the fantastic literary essay’s place in the field is hard to find because it occupies an odd location. Online, most people want to read fiction or reviews, and blogs generally cater to that. People also want fantastically-themed distractions, from movie trailers to funny memes to interviews with authors. These are the things that the majority of people look for on the internet.

    The academic literature not only takes a lot of time to percolate, it is often not easy to obtain, and it is also couched in specialized language that can perplex the average reader. I think there is a real need for the return of the literary essay, and I agree that the web is a good place for it. The question is, who will write them, and will more people read them? It often takes more time and thought to write a good literary essay than to write a review, and reviews and interviews and fun essays (like top ten lists, etc.) draw more hits to a site. The peculiar economics of the internet don’t often reward the thoughtful essay.

    For more serious writers, it is more efficacious (and validating)to focus on fiction because fiction sells (even for a pittance) and fiction gets more notice. I love writing literary essays, but as someone trying to break into the field, I have to balance my time between writing short essays, which feeds my need to write something critical and observant, and writing the fiction that will hopefully get me more notice and possibly paid. I am not sure what rewards, from attention and engagement to remuneration, await the serious literary essayist. I would like to think that there is an audience for the literary essay, but my experience so far is that such works don’t garner the consideration or rewards (social or financial) that fiction or purer entertainment do.

    I’ve been writing short essays on fantastika over at SF Signal for the past few months, and while a few essays have gotten some attention and discussion, I think that more frequently people see a longish essay and move on once it is clear that it is not just a review or distraction. I really wonder what the “market” is for this type of essay. Personally, I think they have great potential for generating discussion and excitement about the field, but we may need to think more creatively about what to talk about, how to get them in front of people, and how they can be used to enrich the field and even draw more people to the literature.

    The archive for my column is at SF Signal:

    Mar 19, 2011 at 12:24 am