Campbell

Some days the universe decides I need to be surprised. Apparently it’s Sci-Fi award season, and now Vox has me on his list of people to vote for in the John W Campbell award for “Best New Writer.”

I asked him if he was sure. I mean, I’m flattered, but really? His reply:
Rolf, there is literally no new writer who better illustrates the importance of story over style than you do. What so many people fail to understand is that while technical skill is nice, it’s a secondary, if not tertiary aspect of good writing.

We don’t still read Asimov due to the beauty of his prose. We read him for the stories. And while technical skill can be developed and improved, you’ve either got stories to tell or you don’t.

Great. Even my publisher thinks my style sucks. šŸ™‚ . On the other hand, if the story is good enough to do well in spite of such a great handicap, maybe it’s something. We will see. Be a bizarre twist of fate if it happened. Looking at the winners of long ago, there are some impressive names there. Looking at more recent years…. not so much.

6 thoughts on “Campbell

  1. He’s right, though. If you want elegantly crafted language, don’t read novels. That’s true in general (with a few rare exceptions). Lovely language can be found in some poetry (while a lot of other poetry is just narcissistic junk).
    But seriously, can you think of any novelist that you would point to for beautiful language? Mark Twain? Agatha Christie? Robert Heinlein? James Hogan? I don’t think so.
    All are examples of good craftsmen — they tell a good story clearly, without getting you lost in confusing wording. But their language is just a vehicle, the real substance is the story. And I think that’s what Vox is talking about.
    I’d apply the same to your work. The language is fine — straightforward and to the point, with a few rough edges that are perfectly reasonable given your “new writer” status. We both know that I could point at details to pick on, if I were wearing my editor hat. But that’s not really the question any longer once the book is published — the question then becomes “is it a great story, and does the language picked by the writer carry the story?” And yes, it is, and it does.

    1. “But seriously, can you think of any novelist that you would point to for beautiful language? ”

      * Gene Wolfe
      * Michael Flynn
      * Michael Malone
      * R. A. Lafferty (admittedly an acquired taste)
      * Nabokov
      * Richard Adams

  2. Rolf, I interpreted Vox as saying that Stars exemplifies story over style because, as a screenplay, it basically has no style. You told a compelling story with compelling characters using dialogue and stage descriptions.

    1. That’s sort of how I interpreted it, too, hence the smiley face. But I thought his comeback focusing on that aspect of a book was too good to not poke fun at in a self-deprecating way. Even getting on the final slate of nominees will surely generate a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth in response, and perhaps even a good, deep, critical examination of what makes a story worth nominating. If we’re lucky. But more likely it will generate a lot of heat about disqualifying from the SJWs, without much light, and more than a few new comments.
      *Shrug* either way, it would be fun to watch.

  3. What authors would I point to for beautiful language?

    A freaking TON. Besides the already great names, off the top of my head:

    . Dickens (at his best)

    . John C. Wright

    . Markus Zusak

    . J.R.R. Tolkien

    …Without thinking hard.

    You are very off base on this one.

    1. Perhaps. But I read novels for the story. The beauty of the language is entirely secondary, beyond being clear enough to be easy to read. Other than that, I don’t really notice.
      I remember when someone raved about Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The Windup Girl,” said it was wonderful with really great style and language. I found it utterly unreadable. I got about three or four pages in and had to it give up as a total waste of time and energy. I couldn’t tell you if the story was good or not, because the language / style was so amazingly off-putting.

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