Saturday, May 22, 2004
What Mr. Maillet Really Meant to Tell Me
IROSF: "Because in science fiction, and more broadly speculative fiction, authorial intent is critical across far more axes of story telling than in most forms of literature. When John Updike tells us 'Rabbit is rich' (2), readers of naturalistic fiction don't have to wonder what species Rabbit is, whether rich applies to his suitability as a menu item or his fuel-air mixture. All the same assumptions and cultural experiences which propel us through our daily lives propel us through naturalistic fiction, literary fiction, historical fiction and most non-fiction. We read these for the differences they illustrate between our experience and what the author describes, or for the joy of learning. How many readers have attained a grasp of nineteenth century military history and combat tactics from George MacDonald Fraser's excellent Flashman (3) series, or Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin books? (4)

But in speculative fiction, everything is up for grabs. Certainly there are reading protocols, conventions of (sub)genre, other signposts that provide the experienced reader with their own grab bag of assumptions. But while Updike can assume that anyone who reads his books knows what a football hero is, no writer of speculative can assume that. The writer may decide to act as if the reader were fully informed, for story-telling or stylistic reasons, but that's a conscious decision.

All of which generates a potentially vast gap between authorial intent and reader experience."

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