There may be a number of reasons why this is the case. It might be because my novels are shit. I don't say so flippantly, because the last person well-placed to judge the aesthetic merit of a novel is the person who wrote it. But obviously I hope that's not the reason, and (that twang noise you can hear is hope springing) I'll consider some other explanations. A couple are aired by Di Filippo at the other end of the link above. Here are two more possibles.
One takes its cue from Martin Lewis, a fan and critic whose judgement I respect a great deal, not despite but because he doesn't rate my writing particularly (he was, for instance, part of the Clarke panel that judged By Light Alone a shittier novel than either The End Specialist or The Waters Rising). I was, therefore, very struck, not to say startled, when he tweeted this:
Increasingly starting to think that By Light Alone is going to become one of the most referenced texts of the next decade of SF.His reasoning was along these lines: 'I suspect we will see an increase in what you might call Resource SF and that two obvious reference points will emerge. One pole is The Wind-Up Girl, which is complicit with genre SF. The other is By Light Alone, which isn't.' I can't speak to the likelihood of his assessment coming true, of course; but I'd say that his characterisation is spot-on as far as BLA goes. It is indeed a book that worked to resist complicity with the tropes of genre. Not to reject them wholesale, of course. I love SF; I would hardly write it otherwise. But, as the estimable Paul Kincaid recently noted, the challenge any writer of SF faces today is addressing a state of affairs in which 'the genres of the fantastic themselves have reached a state of exhaustion'. In such a state, resistance is surely the proper business of new writing.
Following on from that, and related to that, is the question of irony. This is another reason why I love SF so much: because it is the ironic mode of art par excellence -- its the closest I'm prepared to come to a definition of my beloved mode to say that its relationship with reality is ironic rather than mimetic. Irony fascinates me, both in its 'serious' and in its laughable modes, and irony informs everything I write. And whilst I'm aware of the danger of projecting my own individual crotchets onto the world at large, I also tend to think that irony in the broadest sense is one of the great achievements of the best 20th- and 21st-century fiction. James Wood, a critic of no small insight, howsoever blinkered his larger perspective, says something along these lines in The Irresponsible Self, although his nomenclature doesn't precisely map onto mine: 'the comedy of what I want to call "irresponsibility" or unreliability is a kind of subset of the comedy of forgiveness; and although it has its roots in Shakespearian comedy (especially the soliloquy) it seems to me the wonderful creation of the late 19th and early 20th-century novel. This comedy, or tragi-comedy, of the modern novel replaces the knowable with the unknowable, transparency with unreliability' . A little later he says 'this kind of comedy seems to me the creation of modern fiction because it exchanges typology for the examination of the individual, and the religious dream of complete knowledge or stable knowledge for the uncertainty of incomplete knowledge' . But many scientists and engineers are closely attached to ideas of typology and complete certainty of knowledge (typology underlies algebra and Linnean categorising, I'd say); and many of them like their SF to cleave closely to the typological and a kind of rectitude of knowing. This isn't the SF I write, any more than it was the SF Lem, or Dick, wrote.
Or so it seems to me: Kincaid called me not an ironist but rather a satirist (a Menippean satirist, no less) and he may be right; and Maureen Kincaid Speller once wrote a fascinating post in which she argued that my writing is an 'anatomy'. More flattering to my personal sensibilities, although not without his own bite, was Rich Puchalsky's sense that I write 'experimental novels' ('they would be avant-garde if there was now any literary garde to be in the avant of'.) And there's the rub: irony is not in. Indeed I'm not sure I'd realised, in my general myopia and self-absorption, how actively hostile many people are to irony today, a reaction, perhaps, to the dog-days of Postmodernism, now decades behind us.
A couple of things have, recently, reminded me of this: one was the recent and, by all accounts, very successful China Miéville conference in London. I couldn't get to it, but I followed proceedings on Twitter and was very interested by Miéville's comments in his plenary to the effect that he disliked irony, or as he put it 'whimsy', in art. Personally I'd see 'irony' and a very different quality to whimsy, but I don't doubt it's a connection, and an animadversion, shared by lots of people.
Then the other day I was reading Nick Mamatas livejournal as I do regularly. Now Mamatas himself strikes me, from the stuff of his I've read (such as the excellent Move Under Ground, which uses intertextual mash-up to brilliantly destabilising effect without diluting its emotional punch) to be exactly the sort of writer Kincaid was calling for in his LARB piece. That is to say, somebody setting out energetically to resist complicity with the conventions of genre, somebody interested in making it new. But it wasn't Mamatas's own work that caught my eye on this occasion, it was his account of the new David Foster Wallace biography. Like all right-thinking 21st-century writers I admire Wallace's work a lot. I haven't seen D T Max's Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story yet; not sure it's even available this side of the Atlantic yet. But Mamatas is characteristically snappy and entertaining in his demolition-job upon it. And this is the bit that resulted in a medium-sized 'oh!' moment for me:
What is missing is a sense of contradiction. [DFW] wrote pomo but didn't like irony is about as much as we get. That he was the nice guy who flew into rages and seriously planned to kill someone, that his two gifts were the magazine feature and the epic novel, that he quite transparently craved fame as well as being suspicious of it hardly comes up at all. Of course, if Max examined Wallace's contradictions, we might conclude that nobody can escape irony, and as Wallace was an anti-ironist and Max his Biggest Fan EVAR, well...we just can't have that.'He didn't like irony' is, when you think about it, evident in everything Foster Wallace wrote. He craved authenticity, especially emotional authenticity, with an almost painful intensity. But Mamatas is of course right: there's no outside to irony, no place from where we can stand with a perfect Embassytown-style access to true, genuine, authentic, winsomeness-purged Real Thing. There are real things, and they matter very much; but the Real Thing is both Coca Cola and being present at the birth of your children, and the two things can no longer be neatly separated out from one another.
This is straying into special pleading, I suppose; and I will wind-up this ramble now. But I'll just say this: one of the reasons irony and whimsy aren't the same thing is that irony is more than just a mode for saying serious things, its, actually, the only mode left to use nowadays. One of my personal gods of writing is Nabokov, an ironist to his marrow whose attachment to 'bliss' was both genuine and playful at the same time (because of course those two things are not opposites). The end of Lolita is extraordinarily moving -- I don't mean Lolita herself dying, sad though that is, so much as the scene in which Humbert's realises belatedly that he has fallen properly in love with her at exactly the moment he understands both how much he has damaged her and that he will never see her again -- it's moving because the preceding 300 pages are so complexly ironic in their unmimetic European-poetic intensity of apprehension of 1950s America. It wouldn't work otherwise. Its the real thing, emotionally, that is also complexly compromised. There may still be people (I certainly knew a few people like this when I was younger) who treat On The Road as a kind of developing-artist-young-person holy writ, taking it all very seriously and very literally; but a better way of taking the novel is through a mash-up with Lovecraft, not because the Lovecraftian horror dissolves away the earnestness of Kerouac's Beat odyssey but because it, ironically enough, intensifies it. Some people will prefer to read the Bible literally; I find it makes a larger and, I would argue, nobler claim to truth when read ironically. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche are greater philosophers than Kant and Hegel. Jane Austen is a better writer of love stories than Stephanie Myers. Earnestness is a greater danger to art than whimsy.