Over on “What are you reading,” Name1ess wrote,
If I had to give an over simplistic answer it would be that while Vinge has written at least two of my top 10 sf books (Marooned in Realtime and A Fire Upon the Deep) he never started one with a sentence like ‘The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel…’
On one hand, I have to say that I do care about style. I picked up S.M. Stirling’s Under the Yoke because I liked the variety of English his Draka characters spoke; on the other hand, I read the first page and a half of Yoon Ha Lee’s first novel online and hit the back arrow in disgust because of the ugly prose and the insensitivity to language it showed.
But on the other hand, I somewhat feel that a writer who has a prose style, and shows it off, ought to be stopped from writing till they have something to say with it. I can’t endure Ray Bradbury, for example, and it has long struck me as revealing that journalists who want a Big Three of science fiction refer (or used to) to Asimov, Bradbury, and Clarke, whereas actual science fiction readers would have said Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein. I don’t think Gibson is that bad, but if we’re going for opening sentences I’ll take the one by Heinlein that Samuel Delaney offers as quintessentially SFnal: The beginning of Beyond This Horizon, “The door dilated.”
I think what I really want in a writer is what Aristotle calls dianoia (usually translated as “theme”); I want lexis (“style”) to emerge organically from theme. The writers I really enjoy and come back to—Austen, Kipling, Tolkien, Rand, Heinlein, Sayers—are writers who have a strong focus on dianoia. Most of them also have style (I’m not going to put Rand forward as an exemplar of good prose!), but their style isn’t frosting on top of the cake; it’s baked into the cake. And that applies to the recent writers I both like reading and respect aesthetically, such as Kingsbury, Vinge, and Walton. Without that, I’m more likely to find “style” an irritant.