Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Monday, August 07, 2006


Accelerando! Chad Orzel writes:

Uncertain Principles: The Sorry State of Genre Fiction: I also think there's a problem here with changing audience expectations regarding the pace of a story. The effect is probably easier to see in movies, particularly if you do something like watching the original and the remake of The Italian Job in close proximinty-- the re-make moves a lot faster, and to modern eyes, the original is really, really slow. You couldn't make a caper movie that moved at the pace of the original Italian Job these days without getting blasted by critics and audiences-- look at The Score with Robert DeNiro, for example.

I think the same thing has happened with books, to a large degree. A lot of older SF seems really slow and clunky to modern readers coming upon it for the first time. Which is why I'm skeptical about people recommending tons of Heinlein juveniles as "the best way to hook new readers." They may have worked fifty years ago, but audience expectations have changed, and kids raised on modern storytelling conventions (in cartoons, tv, and videogames) may not find it as gripping.

This ties into the science thing because the expectation of faster pace makes it that much harder to sneak in explanations of "good science." If you expect the story to move at a fairly leisurely pace, you're less likely to be bothered by an "As you know, Bob,..." discussion of rocketry (or whatever) than someone who's expecting things to move along a little more briskly.

This is turning out to be even more rambling and incoherent than I expected, so I'll stop typing now. I do recommend reading all three of the linked pieces, though, and the associated comments. And I may come back to some of this later.

I have noticed this as well: we are demanding more information from all of our media than our predecessors did. As one friend says, watching old movies on TV has become painful--unless you can watch three at once, channel-surfing between them and puzzling out what happened in the parts of each that you missed. It's an interesting phenomenon, if it is a phenomenon.


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