Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Acknowledging Debts

As writers, we have debts to those who went before us. As a form of fiction, the novel did not really flower until the 19th century. Back then, people really did do things 'for the first time'. (Or rather, for the first time in print and in that form).

Most novels, at the time, were serialized. It was not uncommon for newspapers to print serials, the forerunner of the literary magazine. (Analog continues the tradition of printing novels in serial to this day).

However, most focused on what the author knew. In the 18th century, Jane Austen brilliantly described the world in which she lived, making of the sheltered lifestyle she led something of interest to many readers (Personally, I consider her to be the mother of 'chick lit'). Charles Dickens brought Victorian cities to life. Additionally, novels tended to be slower paced, in part because they were serialized, necessitating a certain amount of repetition. One of the biggest complaints often made about early novels is 'nothing happens' or 'you can tell the author was paid by the word'.

Today, we tend to think of most of the important literature being written in English, but I owe a personal debt to the first science fiction novel I ever read - 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne. Who, of course, was French.

Much earlier, a Frenchman of mixed race wrote several novels:

First of all, they were historical fiction, describing not the world in which the writer lived, but the world of two centuries previous. (Although the authors own time is, of course, echoed within them, as is unavoidable.

Second of all, by the standards of the time, they were remarkably fast paced, focusing not on intricacies of character or deep themes, but on high adventure. They were not written to educate, but to entertain.

I'm going to stick my neck out here and say that this may well have marked the birth of pulp. From this, of course, came much of the early science fiction and certainly, one can see elements of the plot of these books in much modern fantasy. (Even though many writers have never, in fact, read them, but only see the movies).

And, of course, thanks to the movies and at least one wonderful cartoon, everyone will recognize the names of his startling protagonists:

Athos, Aramis, Porthos and, of course, d'Artagnan.

Thank you, Alexandre Dumas, for handing down to the ages The Three Musketeers - and laying part of the foundation of modern genre fiction.