Does good SFF require age and experience?

I just finished listening to the latest Geek Gab podcast, with guest Jon Mollison of Seagull Rising. Another good episode – congrats to all involved!

Something Jon said got me thinking. He observed that there are some talented young writers in SFF who are getting caught up in gimmicks and writing tricks and as a result are losing the plot, literally.

I think it’s true that for many contemporary writers, good storytelling is losing out to political and cultural commentary. Strong male heroes are so last century. Good and evil without nuanced, middling gradations are played out, man.

[He asks about the guy he just beat up, who is literally a sworn enemy who wants to kill him]
This is certainly a problem. I’m with you! This is a big reason why I’ve retreated down the Appendix N/ Grant List hole and haven’t had any strong desire to come back up for air.

Jon went on to say that these pre-30 authors don’t have the necessary experience to really sell us on what they’re writing. They don’t have the same juice to put into their works. And to some degree I think he’s right. Age and experience flavor and influence a writer’s stories. Look at Tolkien (as we always seem to). His part in World War I is directly observable in the Lord of the Rings. Mordor pretty much is Verdun.


I haven’t had the pleasure of reading Jon’s stuff yet, but it seems clear from what I’ve heard that Jon’s own experience as a father has greatly colored some of his work. And I dig that.

Still, I think we need to be cautious about writing off younger, more life-inexperienced writers, especially those in the vanguard of the pulp revival/revolution. I’m not saying here that Jon is doing so, as it sounds like he’s certainly giving the youngsters a reading and a fair shake. But just as something to chew on for all of us, let’s remember that SFF grandmaster Robert E Howard died at 30. Manly Wade Wellman was in his twenties when he put out his first novel. HP Lovecraft wrote “Dagon” when he was 27 years old.

Now those are some pretty big shoes, and it could very well be that Howard and Lovecraft and Wellman were exceptions to the rule. Still. I’m not entirely convinced that age is nearly as important as talent and imagination.




16 thoughts on “Does good SFF require age and experience?

  1. Well, if you look at the examples you noted, what was their life experience to that point? Were they spoiled brats who hadn’t done an ounce of work and were coddled from the moment they were born and told that they were perfect and got awards for just showing up? I don’t think so.

    I don’t “write off” younger writers, but they’re a bunch of adolescents these days. They need to grow up and sadly, they haven’t had any reason to. So maybe when those guys grow up, I’ll take them a bit more seriously. Until then, they’re just posers who occasionally get it right and entertain me for a book.

    Ok, ok. So I DO write them off :-)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. True, I do think in general kids are more spoiled/entitled/soft these days. The way we treat college kids like, well…kids is emblematic of that. College students used to be adults and treated as such!

      Still, everyone’s different. Just as with anything else, we should judge them by their fruits.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m below thirty, and I don’t see people my age being able to write (or create) anything truly good. As you said, some of our favorite writers penned their best stuff when they were quite young, but that also happened in other genres or even artistic mediums (some of the best Rennaissance artworks were done by 18-year-olds.) I think the archetype of the young genius has disappeared, at least concerning the art of writing, but you still can see it in some plastic arts -mostly painting and drawing- and perhaps also music.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah word! I was wondering why Jeffro was giving this so much attention on his G+! Makes sense now that I know there’s been a larger conversation over there with you involved!


  3. Olllllld post but relevant nonetheless.

    As a 30-year-old, people of my generation do lack experience and grit. I have wondered if I don’t have enough experience to write, or if my writing is naive. Does grit make a good story? Not necessarily, as I think culture are involved too.

    I think understanding good and evil, or some sense of objective morality, is key to writing a story with conviction. My peers have a very blended grey spectrum on good vs evil and that is why you get that dude in the screenshot asking about if his sworn enemy that he just beat up is okay.

    Liked by 1 person

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