Two things of scientiphilological note

First, Michael Swanwick (who hath a blog) wrote a good piece about some of the current movements/subgenres in imaginative fiction, namely new weird, interstitial fiction, and mundane sf. It’s not quite “A User’s Guide to the Postmoderns” but then the SF dialog isn’t quite so fraught right now as it was back in the days of cyberpunk, and it’s as good a summation of these movements as I’ve seen. For whatever reason, we seem to be at a movement-y place in the genre, right now. From a lexicographic standpoint (he says with his eyes cast hopefully toward a 2nd edition of BNW), new weird seems to have the most traction, but I haven’t looked into this deeply yet.

The other thing is an interview with John Clute, regarding his recent book Darkening Garden, which is billed as a lexicon of horror. I haven’t seen it yet, but based on the interview I think I’m going to have to check it out. (Not that I’m not already generally interested in his writing as a matter of course, mind you.) The vocabulary of horror and fantasy criticism seems to be just coming into its own now. (Besides Mr. Clute, Farah Mendlesohn has also done work in this area, although I only know her work second-hand.) Apart from some terms created by J.R.R. Tolkien (subcreation, primary and secondary world), there doesn’t seem to have been much interest in this. I don’t know whether it’s because critics were content with using the standard lit. crit. terminology of myth and romance (a la Northrop Frye) or whether it’s taken this long for fantasy and horror to get any respect in the academy. In the late 60’s – early 70’s, there was a fair amount of interest in pinning down SF (as distinct from fantasy — and often with an air of superiority), and we got some very nice terminology out of it. My favorite might be novum, which was coined by Darko Suvin and which refers to what he calls a “strange newness” — that thing in a story which is different from the reader’s world and which indicates to the reader that the story is science fiction and not mimetic realism. I have my fingers crossed that Mr. Clute’s use of “polder” will catch on — it’s a beautiful term for a central idea in fantasy.

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