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Winslow Compounce and Ideas

One of the ongoing eternal debates about SF - speculative fiction or science fiction, as you prefer - has to do with its supposed heritage as a literature of ideas. The historical Grand Masters of the genre, the argument goes, may not be the world's foremost exponents of beautiful prose but damn, can they ever blow your mind. One of the neatest summation of the positions involved that I've seen is to be found in Paul di Filippo's novella, 'A Year In The Linear City'. In this very alternate world, the protagonist, Diego Patchen, is a writer of 'Cosmogonic Fiction' - and in the scene excerpted below, he is debating with his conspicuously Campbellian editor Winslow Compounce whether or not one of his stories deserves inclusion in an upcoming collection...

Compounce deliberately took his time lighting up a cigarette, making Diego sweat the wait. Then the editor regarded his protege from behind his horn-rimmed glasses with a gaze like a drillbit. "Mature in what sense? The concepts behind 'The Ethical Ingeniators' are big and solid and revolutionary as anything we've ever published. Are you getting hung up on non-issues like style, Patchen? You're not turning quotidian on me, are you? The next thing I know you'll tell me you've been submitting vignettes about the love-affairs of your dentist to The Gritsavage Muse."

"No, no, of course not. But Winslow, really, you can't discount style entirely."

"Certainly not. I'm not some tone-deaf oaf like Mallika Prang over at Simulacra, am I? I let you express yourself as you see fit, and I recognise the more elegant turns of your prose. But when it comes down to style versus sense of estrangement, poetry versus ideas, then I have to plump for estrangement and ideas every time. And if a story posessess enough of those, the style just doesn't figure, one way or the other."

Diego thought he was going mad. Compounce had this effect on him at least once a month, but never before on this particular, sensitive topic. Approaching anger, Diego said, "You can't unyoke the two, Winslow! Each is the interlocking product of the other!"

Compounce cut short the argument with a familiar phrase. "I feel an editorial coming on regarding this topic, Patchen. Let's table the matter until then."

- From 'A Year In The Linear City' by Paul di Filippo, a novella originally published by the wonderful PS Publishing and now most easily obtainable as part of the compilation Cities. It was nominated for a Hugo in 2003; in my opinion, deservedly so.

The beauty of the above quote, in my mind, is the brevity with which it encapsulates the debate, and the irony of having the debate at all in a novella which is as rich in both style and ideas as you could hope. The truth, of course, is that there is a middle ground. It is the sense of wonder which gives SF its kick - but the kick is a hell of a lot more powerful if delivered by the appropriate footwear.

(I think that uses up my metaphor-abuse quotient for the month...)