Taking Notes: 'Introduction: Transpotting' (2005) by Gary K. Wolfe

繼 John Clute 的 Scores: Reviews 1993-2003 之後,英國的小出版社 Beccon 將大評論家 Gary K. Wolfe 在 Locus 的書評專欄文章結集成這本 Soundings: Reviews 1992-1996,日前才剛入圍 2006 年雨果獎的最佳相關書籍(Best Related Book)項目。

Gary K. Wolfe 的專欄是我每月必讀的功課,而他也是我最崇拜的行內評論家之一。他的評論風格四平八穩,又能切中關鍵要點,算是走正攻路線的寫法。Locus On-line 特別將這本文集的序篇貼在站上,以饗讀者。本文就他純‧行內評論家(也就是不寫小說)的立場,清楚闡述「行內評論」的功能、意義和價值,以及和學術論文的 相異之處。



paragraph 1:
...... Mentioning in a public venue that a particular SF novel is problematical is no longer necessarily taken to imply that SF itself is a bad idea, nor does praising a particular novel imply that SF is somehow therefore a superior breed of fiction. For SF — or more properly, the reading of SF — to mature, it isn't necessary to adopt Theodore Sturgeon's overquoted dictum that ninety percent of everything is "crud," but it might be necessary to accept that mediocrity will always far outweigh either the crud or the diamonds.
paragraph 2:
The problem, for both the reviewer and the academic critic, is that mediocrity is not very interesting to write about. ...... Usually, though, if favorable or mixed reviews outnumber bad reviews, it's because many of the bad reviews never get written because the book never gets completely read. Far more interesting to me are the books that set out honorably to express or shape a particular vision, and which at times succeed astonishingly well, but more often generate mixed results, or raise more questions than they answer. For such books, context may often be as important as content, and even a book which isn't quite firing on all cylinders may nevertheless move the vehicle forward into interesting new territory.
paragraph 3:
This, I think, is where that lack of a particular fiction-writing gene might almost become an asset. It helps to retain a certain measure of awe at the entire enterprise of fiction, to remain free of the temptation to think one might have done it better oneself, and to recognize that even the most undistinguished book will have its appreciative readers. This last point is a significant one, since another temptation the reviewer sometimes faces is the temptation to review a book's readership rather than the book itself, especially when that readership seems singularly undemanding. ......
paragraph 5:
...... The failure to regard the central reviewers of the last few decades — Damon Knight, James Blish, Algis Budrys, John Clute, and many others — as legitimate scholarly resources is in many cases a simple failure of scholarship, particularly when these reviewers have assembled selections of their reviews in book form.
paragraph 6:
Furthermore, I'd long admired the stylistic freedom of reviewers both in and out of the field, ranging from Pauline Kael and Edmund Wilson to Budrys and Clute. Not only were such writers simply enjoyable to read, but they demonstrated a fierce engagement with their subjects in a manner that frankly is hard to bring off in the constrained formalities of academic writing. And a constantly churning field such as SF seemed to invite such engagement. ......
paragraph 7:
...... One doesn't take up reviewing with the expectation to be lionized, and one ought not to take up reviewing out of an illusory sense of power or influence. One writes reviews because reviews are what one writes: they are essays about literature, and literature is worth writing essays about. They are generally essays written for a somewhat wider audience than academic and theoretical pieces, and under far more oppressive deadlines, but they may collectively provide a kind of chronicle of an evolving literature in a way that the academic pieces are never intended to. Put in more crudely metaphorical terms, the academic critic considers a passing train, often long after it's passed; the reviewer must try to leap on. Sometimes we miss the train entirely, but that risk is part of the exhilaration. Sometimes, if we're lucky, we make sense.
paragraph 8:
......, but the intent here is not to provide "best" or "recommended reading" lists (......) so much as to offer a chronicle of fairly consistent reading in SF and related fields over a half-decade during which the field began to shape itself into something like what it is today. Context seems to me to be a crucial feature of any act of criticism, and the extent to which these pieces are worth revisiting today largely derives from their possible value in suggesting a history of emerging contexts, of exploring issues not yet fully resolved, questions not yet answered, books not yet written.

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