Generosity

Working my way through Sheri Tepper’s The True Game. It’s a big novel, and for a week or so I was bogged down in the middle, but then I thought, okay, I’ll try reading one or two more chapters. It started to pick up.

Tepper is one of the SF writers whose work I genuinely enjoy. Sometimes it’s a bit slack, a bit goofy, but most of her books are very rewarding if you stick with them.

What I like about The True Game is its generosity of invention. To be a bit more specific, one could say “generosity of image and incident.” Maybe the best fiction of all kinds has this, but in SF and fantasy it seems almost a sine qua non.

Terry Pratchett has it, in spades. I recently read Jingo. Even if you’ve read a lot of his Discworld books, you may be startled to find Lord Vetinari riding around in a small submarine with Corporal Nobbs and Sergeant Colon. I certainly was. And then Nobby Nobbs in harem drag … Pratchett keeps the kettle boiling.

My own fiction is hobbled, I think, by a craving for plausibility. I want things to happen in the story in a way that they could really happen. This leaves me, all too often, chained to the humdrum.

Maybe the goofiness of Doctor Who is helping unchain me. That would be nice. Meditating on Tepper’s gifts helps too. The first half of The True Game reads like straight fantasy — we’ve got shapeshifters, necromancers, telepaths, witches, and a thoroughly Medieval social system. But Tepper writes SF, not fantasy. Halfway through the story, it becomes clear that there’s an SF underpinning for this seemingly fantasy world.

It isn’t a very firm underpinning. A writer who insisted on plausibility would tear it apart and try to build something more structurally sound out of the same materials. And almost certainly end up with something far less interesting.

A crabbed and stingy writer is no writer at all. Generosity is the storyteller’s gold standard.

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