Trash or Lit?

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Trash or Lit?

Post by Bigfoot isn't the pr »

Partially inspired by some of the discussion in the topic regarding the fairness of Trash questions....

Would one consider certain Science Fiction/Horror novels while others consider them trash (specifically from a question catagory perspective, not whether they like them or not)?

Examples....
The Fountains of Paradise/Ringworld, Starship Troopers, and Dune
Are these trash or literature? Certaintly there are arguments on both sides regarding the literary merit of these novels. They are some of the founding novels of modern Sci-Fi and they should be given credit just for that, but do they deserve the title of literature when compared to other works in the "scholastically significant" cannon? (This inquiry is about questions regarding the novels, not movies)

In a similar vein...

What about works of horror? Sure many will agree that Poe is more significant than Stephen King but what about HP Lovecraft? Do his works rank among those of Poe in literary significance or are they considered Trash?

Discuss
Last edited by Bigfoot isn't the pr on Mon Apr 23, 2007 3:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Matt Weiner »

These are the links to the previous discussion on this topic, for reference:

http://www.hsquizbowl.org/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=2110
http://www.hsquizbowl.org/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=2930

I'll note that the 2001 novel was based on the movie, not the other way around, and thus the book is definitely out.

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Post by Matthew D »

Personally,
I would consider them literature but I am a science guy and when you have books that have good science in them that also speak to people on a personal level, I would say that they are literature. As for Lovecraft, I am a bit on the fence with him.

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Post by Bigfoot isn't the pr »

Matt Weiner wrote:These are the links to the previous discussion on this topic, for reference:

http://www.hsquizbowl.org/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=2110
http://www.hsquizbowl.org/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=2930

I'll note that the 2001 novel was based on the movie, not the other way around, and thus the book is definitely out.
Ah, you are correct. Well, for the sake of validating the example, replace 2001 with The Fountains of Paradise, or Ringworld, your pick
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Post by Tegan »

Matt Weiner wrote:These are the links to the previous discussion on this topic, for reference:

http://www.hsquizbowl.org/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=2110
http://www.hsquizbowl.org/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=2930

I'll note that the 2001 novel was based on the movie, not the other way around, and thus the book is definitely out.

According to Clarke's The Lost Worlds of 2001 this is not entirely true. It is true that he did not start writing it until he was asked to pen the screenplay by Kubrick, but as he wrote, and Kubrick decided to make changes, Clarke kept the parts that he wanted in the book, which is why the book is so different from the film. The film is not derived from the book, nor the book from the film. Rather, they developed parallel to each other at the same time. Clarke insisted that the book was not bsaed on the movie, and if anything it was more the other way around (I'm not sure Lost Worlds is still in print, but I picked up a copy at a used book store years ago.


I think most of this would fall under literature, though I could see that if one were made into a semi-recent film that its status could temporarily change.

I remember reading (who knows if it is true) that Starship Troopers was on the reading list at the service academies .... which in my opinion would add some legitimacy to it being literature. On the other hand, if this discussion were taking place back in the years right after the movie came out, and every question could easily be answered from the film, I would say it is more pop culturish.

edit: lousy pronouns

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Post by Bigfoot isn't the pr »

You are correct, it is on the reading list for four of the five military acadamies (not entirely sure which four, though I assume Navy, Army, Air Force, and the Merchant Marines).

[the rest was mistakenly deleted; I accidentally edited when I should have just posted - laszlow]

Edit: Changed for accuracy
Last edited by Bigfoot isn't the pr on Mon Apr 23, 2007 10:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by No Sollositing On Premise »

You are correct, it is on the reading list for four of the five military acadamies (not entirely sure which four, though I assume Navy, Army, Air Force, and the Marines).
Umm... I might be misunderstanding you, but the Marine Corps is not one of the five service academies. The two other than the three you mentioned first are the Coast Guard and Merchant Marine academies, and Merchant Marine is very different from the Marine Corps.

Now back on topic: to be honest, I think it's a bit of a stretch calling science fiction or fantasy novels literature, but certain among them (the Dune, Foundation, and the Lord of the Rings books come to mind) have been around long enough and are certainly widely-read and influential enough to qualify as literature. It's a bit of a fuzzy line.

What I say is this: if you insist on calling these topics literature instead of pop culture, then don't inundate your literature distributions with questionable genres like science fiction, fantasy, and recent mystery. Maybe two tossups in an entire tournament maximum could breach that line, but no more. If you make liberal use of passing those topics off as "real literature" questions, then all you're telling teams is that you don't have a good grasp of the canon.
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Post by theMoMA »

Personally nothing makes me angrier than having a scifi, fantasy, or horror books in the lit distribution.

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Post by Auks Ran Ova »

theMoMA wrote:Personally nothing makes me angrier than having a scifi, fantasy, or horror books in the lit distribution.
That's a lie and you know it.

For whatever it's worth, I agree with whoever said (I think in one of the older threads) that 1-2 questions per tournament set on, say, Lovecraft, Heinlein, Asimov, or Tolkien being placed in the lit distribution would not be the end of the world. However, once a writer starts getting carried away (as much as I love Terry Pratchett, his works are definitely trash lit) or getting lazy, it becomes a problem.
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Post by Matt Weiner »

I don't think Lovecraft or Asimov ever work as lit just based on the pattern of readership and the levels on which the books do/do not work. Tolkien might have, once, but it's impossible to write a good lit question on him that looks like other lit questions now--because of the popularity of LOTR you have to get into super-hard obscure geek stuff in order to make the question of comparable difficulty to everything else in a packet.

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Post by Matthew D »

Matt Weiner wrote:I don't think Lovecraft or Asimov ever work as lit just based on the pattern of readership and the levels on which the books do/do not work.
Just a little confused about your statement Matt or I am being really thick headed, which is more likely the case.
I guess that brings me back to the question, "what is literature then?" and I am honestly wondering, I have never really figured out how you rank a writer as being important or not.

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Post by Matt Weiner »

Matthew D wrote:Just a little confused about your statement Matt or I am being really thick headed, which is more likely the case.
I guess that brings me back to the question, "what is literature then?" and I am honestly wondering, I have never really figured out how you rank a writer as being important or not.
I don't think there's much under the surface in Lovecraft or Asimov like there is in a James Joyce or an Edith Wharton, nor do their books have huge historical impact, like certain really crappy writers who would not get asked about on pure literary merit such as Harriet Beecher Stowe. They're the printed equivalent of television, the Danielle Steeles of their day, and I don't see a place for them in an academic distribution at all.

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Post by Matthew D »

Okay that I can understand. I just wonder sometime if it happens to be scifi that it automatically gets lumped into the "questionable" category of literature even if it something that does have some substance to the story

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Post by Matt Weiner »

No, there's stuff like 1984, Brave New World, and We that is unquestionably academic lit and is also clearly science fiction.

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Post by Tegan »

theMoMA wrote:Personally nothing makes me angrier than having a scifi, fantasy, or horror books in the lit distribution.

Same, same, replacing "trashy romance novels" like "Wutherng Heights" for sci fi.

Seriously, any distribution that overemphasizes any one genre in a round or tournament is not good .... I don't care if it is Shakespeare or legit scifi or chicklit. This year, we were helped in a major tournament because Sherlock Holmes came up twice as an answer, and Dr. Watson also came up as an answer. I would tend to classify a few aspects of Holmes as lit, but for the most part, its pretty much pop culture. Irrelevent of such: three times in a tournament was unacceptable!

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Post by theMoMA »

This is certainly not a universal rule, but I think that in general, works within a genre that people who are not explicit fans of that genre have read or are familiar with are worth asking about. Yes to Doyle, no to Grafton. Yes to Huxley, no to Heinlein. Yes to Vonnegut, no to Jordan.

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Post by STPickrell »

I wonder if Mozart was considered 'trash' back 250 years ago.

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Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) »

I think an even worse problem than scifi-fantasy pulling at the lit distribution is when Danielle Steele and Sue Grafton and their ilk pull away lit questions.
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Post by Jeremy Gibbs Lemma »

Just to point out, definitely no to Jordan. Not having read his books, I was subjected to a long discussion on the Wheel of Time at our quiz bowl party (go figure) that was basically talking about how every book has a totally stereotypical plot and in one of them, he totally ripped off Lord of the Rings. I would not be happy if that came up multiple times in a tournament, but I see no problem with asking one question about Jordan, Heinlein, etc. just not too many of this genre, as has already been stated in the thread.

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Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) »

At least I have yet to hear a David Eddings question. He sucks more than Jordan.
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Post by e_steinhauser »

Long, possibly rambling thoughts:

SF's major "problem" compared to traditional literature is that it has a much higher barrier to entry for readers (and to some extent, authors). One can start reading Les Miserables without knowing anything about French history and get a pretty good sense of time and place in the book. It is a significantly more difficult task to get immersed into the world of something like Dune, set some 10+ millenia into the future. While this doesn't necessarily detract from the literary merit, it often limits itself to a niche audience. SF authors understandably like to work within and explore the worlds they've created, so that further constrains readership of newer works to fans of the older works.

Thinking about that in a quizbowl context, then, means that it's inherently tougher for most writers to craft good questions on SF works, and it's a much less likely that an average player will have read or been exposed to them. The science fiction that does get asked about doesn't have quite the same difficulties of world-building, and there's some question as to whether those works are truly sci-fi at all.*

Matt questions the depth of some genre authors compared to the traditional literary canon. While I readily agree that a lot of SF is schlocky pulp of varied entertainment value, there is a great deal bubbling under the surface of many SF works, particularly in terms of character development and the human quest for meaning. The biggest difference from traditional lit is in the approach -- SF is inherently speculative and often raises more philosophical questions than provides any answers, while standard lit is often an author's answer or comment to questions of contemporary life. IMO, the one area in which SF most excels as literature is through the short story format. Unfortunately and quite reasonably, short stories are also the least-represented literary format in quizbowl.

Bottom line, then? I have a hard time justifying the inclusion of much or any science fiction in HS quizbowl.

*Of the works mentioned, only Brave New World really qualifies in my mind as true science fiction. Kurt Vonnegut's inclusion in the ranks of SF authors is somewhat puzzling at times and could be attributed to the desire of some critics to find more left-wing voices in a field largely dominated by libertarian philosophy.
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Post by grapesmoker »

As someone who used to love science fiction and has read quite a lot of it, I feel I am qualified to offer some opinions about the subject. Not that it would stop me if I hadn't, but, you know...

Anyway, the problem that science fiction has is not the high entry barrier or whatever, but just the fact that the majority of it is technological fantasies for teenage males. Very few science fiction authors actually probe below that surface, and even those who do don't always do it successfully. Harlan Ellison is hit-and-miss, although his best work I think qualifies as legitimate literature. Ray Bradbury is definitely in, especially his short stories (in my opinion, Fahrenheit 451 is one of the weakest things he's ever written), but any Bradbury fan will recognize that Bradbury is devoid of the sort of adolescent excess that abounds in so much of sci-fi. I think Stanislaw Lem is also in; I unashamedly used a tossup on him to complete the literature distribution in a packet some time ago. Margaret Atwood is considered by some to be literary, though I can't say as I haven't read anything by her; I understand she's well-regarded critically. Even Pynchon could conceivably be construed as a sci-fi writer in some respects, though of course I wouldn't characterize him like that. Some of Clarke's things may fly too, although I'm more dubious about that. There may be other writers who belong as well, but Asimov, Heinlein, Simmons, Card, Crichton should certainly be in the pop-culture distribution.

Yeah, sometimes a writer has the misfortune of being pigeonholed as sci-fi and misses out on a lot of the critical respect that he deserves. I think Bradbury and Vonnegut are two examples. But most sci-fi really is juvenile, which is why, along with children's lit, it belongs in the trash section rather than the literature section.
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Post by Captain Sinico »

e_steinhauser wrote:...One can start reading Les Miserables without knowing anything about French history and get a pretty good sense of time and place in the book. It is a significantly more difficult task to get immersed into the world of something like Dune, set some 10+ millenia into the future.
I vehemently reject that contention. "Serious" literature is full of allusive works that require you to know a ton of things to approach understanding them; in fact, I just had a discussion over lunch about how much poorer an experience reading Midnight's Children would be without knowledge of Indian history, a premise I really fail to see how anyone can deny. The analogous argument holds for Ulysses, Les Miserables and innumerable other books.
It seems to me rather that sci-fi is, as a matter of tendency, not so much allusive as self-referential, which makes it easier to get immersed in (since you can find all you need to know in the books themselves, as that's literally all there is...) I find this tendency unfortunate myself.

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Post by yoda4554 »

I'm curious as to what people mean by this "under the surface," and by what criteria someone like Bradbury is categorically working there while an Asimov is categorically not. Asimov, at his best (which, granted, he is frequently not at, if memory serves), plays out interesting literary thought experiments based on abstract philosophical and scientific principles. He tends not to develop things like subtleties of character--but neither do, say, a lot Augustan satirists or Restoration dramists or certain postmodern writers, who all share his interest in using fiction to illustrate theories rather than to develop "believable" plot and character. Even if these writers tend to do more with language than Asimov does, the difference tends to be a matter of scale rather than of a fundamental difference in what they attempt--that is, they do similar things but somewhat better. I would say this is even more so for Card (again, at his best), who wrote some wonderful passages in the first two and a half Ender books before the series got bogged down in nonsense.

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Post by theMoMA »

I would try to frame the argument not so much as what is worth writing on in some abstract sense, but as what is accessible and fair in the distribution.

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Post by Stained Diviner »

I think to some extent this depends on the level of the tournament. I can't imagine somebody at a junior high tournament getting upset because a literature question on Fahrenheit 451 isn't literary enough. Similarly, I don't think there would be any basis for complaining at a high school tournament as long as the science fiction made up 10% or less of the literature distribution. It generally is a good idea to write questions about novels that students have read, and if you are writing 40 literature tossups for a local high school tournament, a few science fiction tossups can help achieve that goal.

For a college-level academic tournament, you want as much academic literature as you can get and are less limited by the size of the canon, so it would make more sense to put science fiction in with pop culture or miscellaneous. You would do the same thing at the high school level if you wanted your tournament to be more academic than most, as would be appropriate for PACE NSC or other elite tournaments that bill themselves as more academic than normal.

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