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Dec 11

I’m bored by this as well…

Nick Mamatas’ is spot on when he categorises the whole “Why Won’t Literary Fiction love us” debate as an infantile disorder.  He specifically refers to this “letter” from Daniel Abraham, which featured on SF Signal and has a vague stalkerish vibe.*

But if you ever wondered about my opinion on this issue, and I’m sure you haven’t, it’s that I don’t see why anyone writing genre should care.  Yes, I know that Literary Awards like the Booker Prize have snubbed genre fiction in the past.  And yes, I know that when it suits the academics they will ignore the genre elements of a great novel just so it can be included in the cannon.**  But so what?  Why do we – the fans and the genre writers – need the validation?  Why do we crave it?

Don’t get me wrong, it rankles when some literary critic takes a genre novel and pretends it’s not that at all.  But if anyone actually thinks that literary critics and academics are actually going to change their mind about genre fiction, then they’re playing with themselves.

* It’s been noted that the letter might be a piss-take.  If it is, it’s not a particularly good one.

** And I’m not even going to mention Margaret Atwood.  If she doesn’t want to see herself as a genre writer than that’s her bloody perogative.  It’s also our perogative to define her as such if we care too.

7 comments

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  1. Sean the Bookonaut

    Don’t read literary critics or academic commentary, so largely they are irrelevant to me as a reader. The money’s with genre writing isn’t it ? 🙂

    1. Mondyboy

      The money ia definitely with genre. But it’s all about the desperate need to be recognised by people outside of the genre ghetto. Which I see as pointless.

  2. Cheryl Morgan

    The money’s with genre? Well if you are JK Rowling, or Terry Pratchett, sure. There is, apparently, plenty of money in media tie-ins as well. But that’s not comparing like with like. But once you get beyond things that are massively popular then the money for genre dries up. So I’m not surprised that people who try hard to write top quality literature get annoyed at lack of recognition. And it goes deeper than that.

    I don’t know what things are like in Australia these days, but in the UK there are still plenty of people who don’t want their names listed in online membership lists for SF conventions because they are worried that it will damage their careers if they are know to have such an embarrassing hobby.

    The best example I have is the recent list of prominent LGBT people published by The Independent. They didn’t say much about the people, so one of the prominent trans activists here wrote a blog post explaining what the trans people on the list were famous for. Roz Kaveney was described as an expert in “popular culture”, because in the UK even trans people are ashamed of being known as science fiction fans.

    This, I’m afraid, is one of the problems of living in a class-obsessed society. One is supposed to observe correct behavior, or be shunned. You may laugh at the Poms now.

  3. Mondyboy

    Fair point on the money side of things. Relative to Lit Fiction the Genre guys are making a fortune. But it’s not a fortune that most people can live off. So yeah, I was sloppy with my words.

    Maybe my post was being naive, ignoring the “class-obsessed” nature of the divide between genre and literary fiction. And I accept that it’s sad that authors either are afraid to admit that what they write is SF or, even when they do, are not categorised as such.

    But I don’t think the answer is trying (a) to crave Literary acceptance or (b) forcing academics who are entrenched in their position to see worth in what we write.

    Like I say, maybe I’m being naive, but I think genre authors would be far better off focusing on producing good work and being proud of what they produce, rather than hope that the elite throw them a few scraps of recognition.

  4. SK

    And I’m not even going to mention Margaret Atwood. If she doesn’t want to see herself as a genre writer than that’s her bloody perogative. It’s also our perogative to define her as such if we care too.

    No, it’s not. She’s written sci-fi if she’s in that sci-fi chain of influences, which is the only sensible way to think about genre, and if she isn’t she hasn’t, and that has nothing to so with what either she or you has to say on the matter.

    Well, except that she knows better than you what her influences were, and apparently they do definitely place her within sci-fi: anyone who ‘devoured’ Ray Bradbury as a teenager is clearly steeped in sci-fi influences:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/may/14/science-fiction-authors-choice

    (Before discovering that I would have argued — I have argued — that Atwood’s books were not sci-fi; now I know facts I did not know before, I see I was wrong.)

    (Atwood herself draws an, I think, spurious distinction between ‘science fiction’ and ‘speculative fiction’: spurious, I think, because the two streams she claims to be able to separate are actually so closely intertwined in terms of literary influence (as can be seen by her acknowledged debt to Bradbury) that it is silly to draw a line between them based on a mere matter of plausibility of subject matter, which is frankly irrelevant to questions of genre. What puts a work in the genre of sci-fi is not what it’s about, but how it approaches what it is about; thus there are books set in the future, or about time travellers or spaceships or whatnot that are not sci-fi, while Neil Stephenson write books which are in terms of their subject matter entirely historical, but are sci-fi and not historical novels because their approach is informed by and clearly proceeds from the influences of the sci-fi tradition.)

    1. Mondyboy

      I agree that Atwood writes Sci-Fi, even under a conservative defintion of the genre. Oryx and Crake is all abour the world building and the Sfnal idea – to name one example.

      But if Margaret Atwood doesn’t want to define herself as an SF writer, then that’s her choice. And it is a choice. Even if it’s completely wrong headed and shows a total lack of understanding of what SF is.

      The point I’m trying to make is that it doesn’t really matter whether Atwood admits to her SFnal work and pedigree or not. SF fans have every right to make her part of the canon, while she has every right – even if we think she’s totally wrong – to pretend that she’s writing something else.

      This point of yours though:

      What puts a work in the genre of sci-fi is not what it’s about, but how it approaches what it is about; thus there are books set in the future, or about time travellers or spaceships or whatnot that are not sci-fi, while Neil Stephenson write books which are in terms of their subject matter entirely historical, but are sci-fi and not historical novels because their approach is informed by and clearly proceeds from the influences of the sci-fi tradition

      Is highly contentious… and I’m not sure where I stand in regard to it.

  5. SK

    Oh, forgot to refer to the piece where Atwood makes the distinction I deny:

    http://onpoint.wbur.org/2011/10/12/margaret-atwood

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