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Wrestling with Genres and the Communities Inside Them
Also: Psychological Ownership in NFTs, Parking Lot Reform Maps, and GPT Getting Worse
Lincoln Michel tackles the struggles that sometimes occurs when we discuss genres in writing. It comes from the discussions surrounding prose-forward vs plot-forward writing in SFF. There’s a belief that when SFF novels venture more into prose-forward writing, it seems to attain a higher level of notoriety by being billed as “literary fiction”, and not, just SFF. Why do some SFF novels become literary fiction and when do they stay alongside the rest of the SFF section in bookstores?
I particularly enjoy Lincoln’s conclusion:
My preferred metaphor for genres (and I include literary fiction here), is that they are conversations. Great long-running conversations between authors alive and dead, and also between readers and critics. They stretch through time and overlap. Sometimes a conversation dwindles and dies. Other times they get so large they form smaller groups of side conversations called styles or sub-genres.
This is very true. Genres are conversations around categorization. But, it’s more than that too: when you have conversations, you have communities. Thus, they act as fluid boundaries, growing and shrinking over time. It’s also why genre discussions can sometimes become heated: a genre can become a home, and threats to that home can be treated with violence. Music is rife with this: gatekeeping excessively over what music is, and what music isn’t, a specific genre. This particularly happens when sub-genres can outgrow their parents genres. Psy-trance, for example, is often just called ‘trance’ music, and that is “threatening” to musicians that make more classic ‘trance’ music (before the genre split into finer subcategorization). Or, when Skrillex changed dubstep, it irked the original UK garage inspired dubstep musicians.
There’s also a desire to retain genre conventions when they require commitment to attain. It might seem that getting the label of being a respected literary writer can be harder than being a plot-forward SFF writer. Thus, a writer who straddles these ‘genres’, might find it demoralising when they attempt to be respected for one definition, but get defined by another.
At the end of the day, like Lincoln so rightfully puts: genres are conversations and you can only more easily talk to others if there’s some shared consensus on what the definitions are. Like any attempt at naming something, it’s an attempt to enclose an idea with a boundary. Whatever is inside it will change over time and might even attempt to wrestle itself out of its walls. It won’t ever be 100% and that is a part of the point Lincoln makes: that’s part of the fun.
The only way—as either a reader or a writer—to be fluid in your conversations is, well, to listen. That is to say, to read. The more you read in a given genre, the more you will understand it’s interests and concerns. And the more you will appreciate the infinite possibilities of literature.
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PS: There’s another great article from Lincoln that talks about the use of high fantasy language in writing. It all comes down to expectations.
Psychological Ownership in NFTs
Ownership too can be a conversation. Like most objects, they also become encapsulations of ideas and feelings. NFTs are no different. Whether you feel they are imbued as scams, or whether they represent a connection to a feeling or a community.
This is a great post/article by Li Jin on psychological ownership in NFTs. I’ve been busy working on a new, longer article about how the NFT space should re-contextualize itself. One “sin” is that for many, if not most of the projects, it tries to kickstart the feeling of “psychological ownership”, when in practice, it’s always the other way around. People feel something and THEN they want to cement their own feeling and connection by increasing their sense of ownership (eg, going from only watching Star Wars, to buying the lightsaber).
JPG.SPACE & Social Contracts
A week ago, I was on a Twitter Space talking about social contracts + NFTs. I’ve been harping on about the need for more projects that surface the native provenance of the blockchain and it was nice to talk to the team and Burak Arikan!
One project that I wanted to mention that is still a firm favourite, is Takens Theorem, the Mesh. A cornerstone collection that demonstrates how the pieces change based on what other holders of the collection own.
Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom Trailer #3
I’ve got nothing to add here, except that I’m sharing the immense hype I have for this game. Breath of the Wild is still one of my favourite games, ever. This looks so immensely joyful and fun!
Style Transferring Fictional City Designs
Andrew Kudless has been one of the more interesting explorers of AI-driven design: using AI to imagine new architecture, and with a new series, style transferring sketches to imaginative city design. Big fan!
Parking Lot Reform Maps
If you like maps, like cities, and dislike car-brained societies, this is a very fun tool to play, highlighting how much of downtowns comprise of parking spaces
On Place: Home vs Destination
I really enjoyed this article on seeing a place as a home vs destination, especially in the context of tourism. I don’t think there’s a “right way” to experience a place. The pursuit of “authenticity” is sometimes a bit more complicated: for example, living in an “authentic” AirBNB displaces locals, and sometimes “authentic” food are made for the tourists, not actually where locals eat. It’s also okay to just go to a different country and be the full tourist. Do the touristy things. Even eat at a McDonald’s. Also find new things. Over time, as I’ve travelled, I’ve run the gamut: from being the ultra tourist, to trying to find the “authentic” things in a city, to now, just mostly enjoying wandering around. I find that the most interesting parts of cities is actually when you wander off (safely) into new areas. But, that’s me. Do what you like. Don’t let authenticity purists ruin the simply joy of just travelling to see something new the way you want to.
Rick James’s LA Home in August 1979
There’s something really self-indulgent about extravagant 70s design. What I dislike a lot about modern home design, is that it’s often so minimalist and clean, it says nothing. This says, *everything*.
GPT is Getting Worse
Frank Lantz explores how GPT 4 is worse than GPT 3.5. Particularly, he showcases how GPT 4 attempts to be more satisfying with its answer, by trying to close it out asap.
In reference to GPT 4’s answer to a creative prompt:
I mean, in some ways it’s “better”. It’s a more “proper” combination of the two ideas in the prompt. It’s a more reasonable, useful execution of the implied task. It doesn’t spiral into weirdness. It gets wrapped up neatly. It is pleasant, respectful, upbeat, and utterly boring. This is what you would want if you were actually making corporate content with a light Borgesian flavor. But, you know, I’m not.
Inevitably, as with AI art too, fitness functions improve to the point where it can be too specific, and thus, listless and eventually meaningless. Another example of this, is Google search results. I honestly don’t know to whom it caters to anymore. It notoriously overfits search queries lately: giving you the most basic answer to more complicated queries. You have to either go search Twitter, Reddit, or YouTube to get a more precise answer.
GPT over-fitting will probably increase, especially with centralised services providing these tools.
It was bound to happen.
Kosmos Sound - Ototoxic
This week’s song is a very interesting mix of sounds (should I say, that it defies genres?! 😅). Starts off as an instrumental reggae/dub song, but layered with unique chiptune-esque synths and elevating pads throughout. A vibe.
That’s it for this week, friends! I’m heading back home next week after some travel in Europe. Looking forward to getting back into more writing.
Enjoy a sunset!