readercon catchup #2: Novels of Advocacy v. Novels of Recognition

Novels of Advocacy v. Novels of Recognition

apparently this is a conversation/discussion with some history to it, of which i was (unsurprisingly) unaware. anyway, Graham Sleight summed up the basic premise: advocacy meant sf books that presented a view of the future that was clearly supported by the author, while recognition referred to books that presented a view of the future that wasn’t necessarily supported by the author but rather deemed unavoidable. the text identified with advocacy was Robert Heinlein’s “The Roads Must Roll”*, while William Gibson’s “Neuromancer” was identified with recognition. John Clute expanded on this, explaining that in Neuromancer, the protagonist is unaware of the engine of the plot or the larger sphere of the ‘world’ in which he exists; he isn’t going to change the world . Graham later referred to this differentiation as identifying whether protagonists were ‘effective agents’ of change or not. if so, then advocacy; if not, then recognition.

Barry Longyear said any novel represents some level of advocacy, regardless of its inflection, adding that Neuromancer was not the massive pardigmatic shift it’s often held up as. there followed a conversation that around semantics for a bit, but Ken Howe** clarified that the Roads and Neuromancer were mainly chosen because of their presumed popularity, that most everyone (except me, obviously) would be familiar with them.

Paolo Bacigalupi pointed out that the separation between authors’ and characters’ intents. for Heinlein, he said the two were the same, but not so for himself in his fiction, where his characters struggle merely to survive their worlds. John went even further, saying that in Paolo’s excellent Pump Six collection***, that the least effective story (and i think it was ‘The Calorie Man’ but i’m probably wrong) was one where the protagonist was, in fact, out to change the world. Graham added that dystopias can be  advocacies, too, using Cory Doctorow’s “Little Brother” as an example.

Robert Sawyer took it a step further, saying that while his sf books look like novels of recognition, that is only the structure he builds, which is intended to be brougth crashing down or stripped away, revealing a core discussion/theme/plot of advocacy about the present day. Paolo then asked what is meant when we talk about ‘the future’ or if we’re really talking about the present, where Heinlein was explicitly talking about the future. an unexpected discussion of the Canadian v. American experience followed this, with 3 panelists (John, Robert, and Ken) being Canadian (either born or living the majority of their lives in like William Gibson) and the rest American, and there seemed to be a fairly clear line grouping Canadians with advocacy and Americans with recognition. nothing wholesale or polarizing came out of this, but it was a very interesting sideline.

* one more thing for my list of to-reads

** i believe he’s a book critic or something like this, but i couldn’t find a proper link for him.

*** to-reads. *sigh*