Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Some interesting items about our genre

I recommend that everyone read this article at SFF Media by John Howell titled "Why science fiction authors just can't win." It's a good encapsulation of recent events that have drawn people out on the topic of whether sf can be "good" literature or if it's just a disreputable genre...unless Cormac McCarthy or Margaret Atwood write it...and then it's not sf after all. Also covered is the recent broadside fired at the Booker Award by Kim Stan Robinson for ignoring all the fine recent British sf.

Then, as a sort of follow-up to this, try to make time to listen to this installment of Wisconsin Public Radio's show To The Best of Our Knowledge, on the topic of "The Future of Science Fiction." The portion of the show with Ursula LeGuin covers much of the same territory as the article above, and there are also interesting interviews with George R.R. Martin and S.T. Joshi, who discusses Lovecraft's cosmic vision and legacy.

All this kind of makes me want to kick some ass. I think the idea that sf just plain isn't "literature" by definition is totally silly as is the notion that it's somehow going to go away as a genre. If you have time for another item, here's another installment of TTBOOK in which Michael Chabon (a lit dude, but one of the good ones) gives an excellent defense of genre fiction.

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Anonymous said...

Is the disconnect in the idea that the story-based fiction lacks significance compared to the work in which story may or may not play a significant role but the author delves deep into the workings of a characters or characters? The thing is, we see both types of works in the genre. And we see tales with carefully delineated characters and deep meditations on an character's singular experience that is also wrapped in an plot.

If a fiction speaks something valid to a person's experience, be it a short story about cancer vampires or a novel about the unrequited love of servants in WWII England, then there is a place for that work. I've read both. Which is better? Ishiguro or Simmons? I don't know. But if I had to come down on one side of that question or the other, that one was a genre work and the other not has little bearing for me.

We are all crazy and irrational on a certain level. That's why fiction of the 'can't really happen' sort has existed since we dance around fires and hunted mammoth.

Christopher Fletcher said...

Yeah, it seems that there has come to be a real wall between the more plot-driven genres and the naturalistic/psychological kind of character-focused fiction with very small-scale stories that has come to define "literary" fiction. Chabon, in that radio show, makes the very good point that many decades ago, writers and publishers did not look at it this way, and it was no big deal for a "good" author to move from one genre to another. I think the categories are useful from a reference standpoint (I would NOT want to go into Borders and have to slog through all the mainstream stuff to find authors and books that I want) and I don't think they are a problem in themselves, but the kneejerk bias against the genres by the lit snobs is just silly.

Christopher Fletcher said...

Testing new comment settings.

Ed Robertson said...

The very thing that draws me to sci-fi is there's nothing to stop you from combining the psychological depth of literary fiction with those "rockets, chemicals, and talking squids in outer space." I love literary fiction, too, but if I can find the same emotional resonance in a novel about forty-foot robots as in a book about a kid watching his parents divorce, I'll take the robots eight times out of ten.

Trying to write resonant SFF short stories is kind of tricky, actually. Between giving the characters some complexity and establishing the details of a different world, I have an awful time keeping my stuff under 6500-7500 words, which rules out a ton of markets right off the bat. And if you drop the ball on either the emotional or the speculative side, here's one more rejection for the drawer.

That's the really disingenuous thing about Atwood's statements. If she's able to write books that function as both literary and science fiction, then she knows just how hard it is to pull that off. Dismissing and disassociating herself from the sci-fi side not only insults the entire genre, it diminishes the value of her own work.

Unknown said...

The article touches on it a bit with Battlestar Galactica, but I think it is strange that SF books get little credit, but then SF TV Shows and Movies can be hugely popular and no one bats an eyes while they pull in the bucks.


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