Substitute imagination for exhaustiveness, and inventiveness for research. As a reader I’m not interested in a “fully worked out” world. I’m not interested in “self consistency”. I don’t care what kind of underpants Iberian troops wore in 1812, or if I do I can find out about it for myself. I don’t want the facts about the Silk Road or the collapse of the Greenland Colony, sugared up & presented in three-volumes as an imaginary world. I don’t want to be talked through your enthusiasm for costume. I don’t want be talked through anything.
A good deal of my own frustration in reading science fiction comes precisely from a similar impatience with the "exhaustive" treatment of a "fully-worked out world" in which an obsessive focus on picayune detail is substituted for imagination. In such works, "realism" and "fantasy" seem separated by the thinnest line of mere plausibility. In one case the story might have "really" happened, in the other we know it couldn't, but the texture of the "worlds" created and the method of storytelling employed are essentially identical.
I have more trouble with this:
When I read fantasy, I read for the bizarre, the wrenched, the undertone of difference & weirdness that defamiliarises the world I know. I want the taste of the writer’s mind, I want to feel I’m walking about in the edges of the individual personality.
Not because I necessarily disagree with either of these sentences taken alone. Each advances a perfectly coherent expectation of a particular kind of writing. But the two statements aren't really coherent with one another.
I myself like fiction that emphasizes "the bizarre, the wrenched, the undertone of difference & weirdness that defamiliarises the world I know." I also like some realistic fiction that "defamiliarizes the world I know." In each case, however, I'm focused on the aesthetic particulars of the text in question, the strategies it uses in its "world-creation." I'm focused on the text: what it does, what it's like, how its aesthetic qualities are manifested.
I frankly don't really know what it means to get a "taste of the writer's mind" in a work of fiction. The writer's mind belongs to the writer, not the work. Maybe if I'm reading a memoir or other work of nonfiction I might want to think that, figuratively speaking at least, I'm "walking about in the edges of the individual personality," but for me "personality" has nothing to do with my experience of the words on the page in a novel or short story. Looked at long enough with a determination to find "personality" in a work of literature, perhaps the work will offer up such, but in my view this would ulimately be just as much an artifact of the text as any other material feature readers find there. The personality found, in, say, Samuel Beckett's work is not the personality of the actual Beckett but that which a close reading of the texts reveals is a consistent characteristic--when read in a certain way--of the "Beckett text."
If this is really all John Harrison himself is suggesting in his reference to "personality" and "the writer's mind," then we're not really substantively disagreeing. These are terms that denote a "sensibility" that seems to pervade an author's work and that provide it with a kind of unity of effect. One might also refer to this as a certain kind of "intelligence" that sets the work apart from other works in which the guiding principle does seem to be an "exhaustiveness" of presentation, a fabricated authenticity that comes from dissociated details rather than a more adventurous literary imagination.
Still, I've never really understood the common enough tendency to speak of literary texts as if they were emanations of "mind" to whose wavelength we might want to tune in. I've never really understood why we should want to have access to these wavelengths in the first place. Are writers' minds more special than everyone else's? More awe-inspiring? I'm interested in what writers as literary artists create, not in what we can perceive of their disembodied "minds."