View Full Version : On speculative fiction (in all forms) and "canon"
09-04-2011, 09:06 PM
It occured to me while watching a Star Trek, TNG episode (in this case, "Q Who", which is an early great episode, by the way) how poor some of the plotting/dialogue sometimes was (though I'm a big fan of the show)... and I recalled many discussions I've had in person and online about what must be considered "canon" (which seems to be especially important to Star Trek, in all its forms)... which made me think of plot holes/mistakes in other works I love (like "A Storm of Swords", by GRRM- how the hell do the wildlings assaulting the wall fire arrows that reach the top of the 700 foot Wall)... and I realized how I prefer to see such issues:
All stories, whether they be made into movies, books, comic books, tv shows, or whatever, exist somewhere out there in the "ether". An author snatches them out of that ether and puts them into book/tv show/whatever form. But sometimes this author makes mistakes, or makes changes for a variety of reasons. But the story is still "real"- the wildlings really did assault the Wall, but their arrows didn't reach the top; GRRM made a mistake. The borg really did beam over to engineering and started fumbling around with the Enterprise's systems, but Picard and Worf didn't just stand by and do nothing; the writers made a mistake.
This has allowed me to enjoy certain flawed works much more- I appreciate things like all the different origin stories for Superman and Batman, and I don't worry when a new adaptation doesn't match the "original" work exactly. Another way I imagine it as that all these stories have realy happened somewhere in the infinity of possible universes, and they've happened in every different way they've been portrayed- in one, Batman looked like Michael Keaton and fought a Jack Nicholson lookalike, in another, he looked like Christian Bale.
09-04-2011, 09:13 PM
As I have gotten older, I have given less fuck about canon and continuity. Tell me a good story and I can care less whether it agrees with an earlier story. Tell me a piss-poor story and I could not care less how well it fits into established continuity.
When I was younger I would play The Game, but I no longer have the time or interest.
09-04-2011, 10:32 PM
As I've remarked, the same thing occurs in Greek Mythology. There is a sort of "Canon" of mythology -- there are Generally Accepted versions of the myths (generally frozen in place by Great Works, like the Iliad and the Odyssey, or my people who gather the myths together, like Apollodorus in the ancient world, or Bulfinch and Edith Hamilton more recently. I've compared Apollodorus to a Comic Book Geek often enough.) as a result, I have things like Vanessa James' The Geneaology of Greek Mythology that plots out, on a 54-page fold-out chart exactly where everyone is related to everyone else.
Ecept that mythology isn't all that neat, not that cut-and-dried. Different versions of myths have Zeus killing a gorgon, or Athena. Or it's Perseus alone, or Perseus aided by Athena, or Perseus aided by Hermes. Or (I have argued), Perseus doesn't really kill the Gorgon -- he defeats the Graiae, and the Gorgon-killing is a regional variation that later gets bundled together with the Graiae-defeating. And so on. There are at least four different versions of the myth of Phaethon, and they differ in key, irreconcilable ways.
the truth is that stories have a lot of variation -- even if they're written by the same person. So, even if you have an Apollodorus trying to smooth over your inconsistencies, or a William Baring-Gould explaining how Sherlock Holmes could have two completely different Cases of the Second Stain, any unbiased observer is going to realize that different stories are inconsistent (because myths are thousands of years old, and lotsa people contributed to them. And because Arthur Conan Doyle didn't have a perfect memory, and didn't check his files to keep things consistent. And after a while he started to hate Sherlock, anyway.)
So it doesn't bother me overmuch when inconsistencies creep in. You have to try to avoid them if you're building a consistent universe, especially if you're writing stories where your reader might be taking things from the older stories as part of that universe, and especially if you're writing a mystery or something where those past elements might be crucial.
But variations are how myths evolve. So I'm not terribly upset that the most recent version of Clash of the Titans takes such enormous liberties with the source material -- I'm more annoyed with the re-use of the "Hades is Pissed at Zeus and Wants to Take Over" plot line that seem to have become the standard (It's in Disney's Hercules and in the Percy Jackson movie, too) -- which is not onlu over0used, but misrepresents Greek Myth and character relationships so completely, and is foreign to the basic philosophy of the myths. But I digress.
In any event, Nero Wolfe fans don't seem to get upset with the inconsistencies in their Canon the way Sherlockians do. I'm amazed that the 20 year plus Simpsons has stayed so true to form, or the way DC and Marvel kept everything going for four decades before their reboots. Heck, Varney the Vampire couldn't do that through a run of only a few years.
09-05-2011, 12:37 AM
When I was a kid, we talked about 'continuity.' And there are different kinds of continuity: continuity of style may be more important to some readers, and continuity of character history more important to others.
But yeah, I'm familiar with the OP's idea. I think that's how Earth-2 (and all the comic book worlds) were supposed to work according to Roy Thomas. We get the story, or the report, but the real Crimson Avenger or Liberty Belle may be slightly different from what our editor tells us.
I'm a big fan of the 'imperfect reporter' approach, though I also like other approaches that may seem inconsistent with it.
09-05-2011, 12:48 AM
Does this hold true with other art forms? Did da Vinci make a mistake when painting the Mona Lisa, and she really should have a shit-eating grin?
09-05-2011, 04:52 AM
The first rule of "canon" for me is that things that are shit aren't canon. I'm not going to treat some moron's fanfiction with any more respect just because Lucas/GW think it's good enough.
09-05-2011, 05:05 AM
'Canon' for pop culture started out as a joke of middling weakness, that has since been taken a mite seriously by folks who've forgotten the context.
09-05-2011, 11:39 AM
Eh, really all it means is an official list. You can have an official list of which stories count as Superman stories just as well as you can have an official list of books of the Bible or of saints.
09-05-2011, 02:35 PM
Continuity and canon are the cherry on the icing on the cake. A show can't contradict what's been established as a major point of the characters' history, but it's silly to worry about some offhanded comment two years ago that contradicts what's being used in a new episode. The important thing is the story.
John Varley faced this years ago. He started out with several short stories and novels in his "Eight Worlds" universe, then moved on to other things. When he returned to it a decade later with Steel Beach, he wrote an introduction saying, basically, "I don't want to go back and reread all the other stories, so if you see any contradictions in this book, ignore them."
The entire concept of canon is just what future artists in a series can't get away with retconning.
09-08-2011, 02:17 AM
I was a big Star Trek fan as a kid. Everyone knows that between the original series and the first movie, Klingons somehow grew ridges on their foreheads. (And for the live of Kirk, don't tell me how! The rest of this post notwithstanding, that's not in my canon!) In the first episode of TNG, the Romulans suddenly had eyebrow ridges and big hulking shoulders despite being visually identical to Vulcans in the original series. (Interesting trivia: My browser's spellchecker recognizes Klingons but not Romulans.) Also in TNG the Trill were alien and highly secretive, had forehead ridges, the symbionts took over the host's personality completely, and they couldn't transport without harming the symbiont. In DS9 the Trill were fully integrated into the Federation and had longstanding, open friendships with Starfleet officers, they had spots instead of ridges, the symbiont's personality merged with that of the host, and they could use the transporter freely. Oh, and they went from seeking to continue romantic relationships despite changes in host to having an incest-level taboo against associating with romantic partners of previous hosts.
I decided at some point that all this was a sign that each Star Trek series took place in a slightly alternate universe, and that this was always signalled by one species being slightly different. (I didn't find which species was different in Voyager. I gave up because figuring it out would mean watching more episodes of Voyager.) From there, it was a short jump to realizing that each episode could take place in a slightly different universe, and, in extreme cases, parts of the same episode.
From there, it was an even shorter jump to realizing that which series or episodes sucked and which were awesome had absolutely no correlation whatsoever with how much they did or didn't contradict previous series or episodes, and from there to realizing that canon doesn't matter at all and continuity only matters when it affects the story. It's a lesson that has served me well in all my fiction consumption.
09-08-2011, 02:21 AM
Ok, I just realized which species was different in Voyager, thereby maintaining the pattern. In Voyager the Borg were lame. In all the other series they were awesome. (The same, arguably, could be said of humans. And . . . every other species. Oh well.)
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