Sun Yung Shin gives SF the unheimlich maneuver

That’s the unpublished title for this review I wrote for Strange Horizons that came out last week. This review is long overdue, because the SF community’s neglect of Unbearable Splendor, to me, represents that weird, nonsensical disconnect and closed-mindedness that’s so prevalent among SF readers, reviewers, and publishers. That closed-mindedness is a phenomenon I and others had been commenting on throughout last year’s Shadow Clarke proceedings, and long before that, in decades of SF conversation and controversy.

Unbearable Splendor is a work that’s brilliant, exciting, very SF-y, but because it’s so unusual and does not conform to the language style and publishing format SF readers are used to reading, it bypassed all SF discussion last year. Thankfully, non-genre readers weren’t so biased, and it eventually caught my attention.

I’m not arguing that it should be a Hugo winner or anything like that (oh, but I am! and it should!), but dammit, how can it even be ignored? It’s a work that excites me and I hope SF writers will take note and recognize the value of electric prose, radical thought, literary fusion, and nonconformist style in SF publishing. I haven’t read or watched nearly as much SF as most of you, but I’m bored already. (And I just spent the past few months reading a big girl literary shortlist and, nope, that’s not where I want to be either.)

C’mon, SF. Getcha head outta ya ass.




8 thoughts on “Sun Yung Shin gives SF the unheimlich maneuver

  1. Widdershins says:

    Not my cuppa tea, but I’ll defend it to the last because without ‘outliers’ a genre, or anything else for that matter, will not evolve. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. antyphayes says:

    I’m almost completely oblivious to literary machinations, genre or otherwise, post the 1980s – and I work in a bookstore, so this level of ignorance is quite a project. This book sounds intriguing. I am definitely interested in the way some of the outlying regions of sf replicate, in their own way, the disintegration of the novel. I sometimes wonder why, after the high point of such experimentation in anglo-american sf in the “new wave” of the 60s and 70s, it’s fallen out of favour. No doubt many readers, more interested in escaping the daily fragmentations of everyday life are happy at this. But, i imagine it’s because this type of work simply doesn’t sell, so it’s not pushed by either mainstream publishers or fans.


    • I guess I just expected SF fans to not be so mainstream, given their predilection for strangeness, but nope, it’s really just the hero fiction that keeps a lot of people reading and buying.

      Impressed by your ability to remain ignorant of it all while working in a bookstore.


      • antyphayes says:

        It’s not easy! And despite my best efforts, some knowledge about contemporary literature seems to stick… 😦
        On the good side, I’ve ordered a copy of Unbearable Splendor for the store. Indeed, I’ll probably be it’s first purchaser – so thanks for recommendation.
        And yeah, welcome back. It’s good to be reading your words again.


  3. Jesse says:

    Welcome back. I don’t think it’s only sf readers… Until higher cultural and educational standards are possible (not possible in our current consumer-based society that forces people to compete even for higher education), most readers will continue to take the low road and ignore books like this. I don’t like it either, but it’s human nature operating as it does within the current American paradigm. I have not read the book you reviewed, but it looks like a higher form of art, something which our society/culture is not equipped or pushed to appreciate en masse, unfortunately. Call me cynical, but that’s how I see it. What do you think?


    • Unbearable Splendor is a higher form of art, and but I guess I expect SF writers to strive for something higher than what’s been done before. I also agree that consumer-based culture is the root of the problem, although that would suggest SF is driven by commercialism, which people don’t like to hear.

      My angst and whininess about the current state of things means I share your cynicism about the world at large, but my optimism still expects SF to the be driving force for change and tolerance for pushing the envelope.


  4. […] AM (aka couch to moon) said in a recent blog post that we (the SF community) should get off our arse and read Unbearable Splendor by Sun Yung Shin.  […]


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