Monday, April 13, 2009


My story "Act One," in the March ASIMOV'S, has been out long enough to be reviewed in those places that review short fiction. Since the reviews are positive, I'm pleased -- but I've noticed something about the reviews.

A major character, Jane Snow, is a movie actress who has not made a picture in ten years and is now trying for a come-back. She is 54. The reviews variously refer to her as "slightly ageing," "over the hill," "older," "washed up," and "elderly." As someone the same age as Jane (well, in the same decade, anyway), I am fascinated by these various views of 54. The data I don't have is the age of the reviewers, with one exception: Gardner Dozois in LOCUS refers to Jane as "once-famous," an age-neutral statement. Gardner is 62.

Does the age of a reviewer - or reader -- influence how he or she views a literary character, and thus whether the story is of interest or not? I raised this question with regard to my Hugo-nominated story "The Erdmann Nexus" (now, incidentally, available both at the ASIMOV'S and Anticipation websites), which takes place in an assisted-living facility. But I still don't have an answer.

I wish I knew the age of the reviewer who thinks 54 is "elderly."


Unknown said...

having just deleted one well thought out comment to this post and coming up with a number of arguments that disproved my hypothesis let me try again :)

As with all literature the answer to this question comes down to that place where story and reader meet.

A reader brings their own perceptions to every story. Just as in real life when you meet a new group of people, those who seem most familiar are the ones you are the most comfortable with initially. For a younger generation a character over 50 is something they are not used to reading and maybe not used to being around in real life either.

However, the way a writer handles that character can change the reader's perceptions of that character, though probably not of the stereotype. So your reviewer that see's your character as "elderly" may still have liked the story but just has this perception of people over 50.

Were these "age-biased" reviews positive or negative?

(Now off to see if I can find the March ASIMOV so I can read the story.)

Daniel said...

Go give them what-for! these days... :)

dolphintornsea said...

I happen to be exactly 54, and for at least the last 25 years I've been irritated by the endemic ageism in Western society. Are other cultures different, I wonder?

It seems that the only age you're "supposed" to be is around 20 - 25. The rest of your life, you have to suffer a catalog of supposedly good-natured put-downs of the age you're at.

I'm so sensitive about this that I remember random, offhand remarks for years, even decades ... from the woman in her early 30s who spoke with world-weary concern about her husband who is "37 already, you know", to the colleague who looked to a future when the both of us would be "55, and in our rocking chairs". The evidence of their own eyes means nothing to these people.


bluesman miike Lindner said...

How could a reviewer's age =not= influence how he or she views a character or a story, Nancy? Let's take Joe Haldeman's THE FOREVER WAR as an example. To a smart new young'un, the Viet Nam War is ancient history. To those of us who lived in the 60s, the memories and the issues are still real. (I honor Joe for his service in the 'Nam. As we all remember, Joe served as a Combat Engineer, and was =very= badly wounded. Didn't keep him down, though.) Can anyone not of the, uh, "Woodstock Generation" understand what the SDS and the Black Panthers and "One--two--three--what are we fighting for?" meant, on a personal, visceral level? I don't think so.

So, sure, a smartass of 18 and a wise old man of 127 look at life--and fiction--differently. How could it be otherwise? (I do believe men and women look at fiction differently, but that's another issue.)

And oh, yeah--I'm 55. Better-looking and smarter than ever!

Ken Schneyer said...

John Irving, when he was a young man, wrote a story featuring a 50-year-old woman who was practically fossilized in her intertia and lethargy. When he put the same story into an anthology (at about the age of 50 himself), he noted sourly that, were he writing the story again, he'd make the character at least 100.