Aug 272014

ozymandiasYesterday’s post was a sort of prelude to today. At our last book club meeting we read The Left Hand of Darkness. This is considered a classic of SF. It won both the Hugo and Nebula. People still speak of it with admiration. It broke new ground and pushed the genre forward. And when I read it, 45 years later, I didn’t find much to interest me. Which is good in a way, it means that it won. The view it had been pushing has become so mainstream that it’s no longer “speculative.”

I had a similar experience with Dune.

I guess this is a consequence of being a foundational work. Others will build on what you’ve done until it reaches memetic fixation. This is probably exactly what one would WANT to happen – this is what having a large and permanent effect on the world looks like .One could argue that every act of creation is an attempt to imperfectly propagate yourself into the future.

But it also makes me sad. If two multiple-award winning foundational books can be read by someone just a couple generations removed, less than a half century later, and elicit a reaction of “Eh, not bad”…. what chance do any of us have for doing anything meaningful? Shit keeps getting better, which is great, but it also means all things fade away. A few centuries from now nothing I’ve done will matter.

I want to say that the way to stay relevant is to stay alive and keep active. Keep producing new things. But almost every major innovator has only made one great contribution, and everything else after that has been encores. How many people can you name that just keep putting out better and better work? Probably less than a dozen.

Still, it’s been done, so it’s not impossible. And the alternative is guaranteed defeat anyway. At least as long as you’re alive you can keep trying, and sometimes gain a level or two.

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