genre

LeGuin calls out Slate

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Reader J. Newton Wilcox writes us:

I ran across this on Boing Boing (originally here), and it struck me as an interesting comment on the ghettoizing of genre fiction. Instead of the filing cabinet, it is a decaying corpse in a shallow grave. Go Get 'em, Ursula!

Kelly Link Responds to The Future of the Fantastic

I contacted Kelly Link both about my various articles about her work and the first Future of the Fantastic article. Here is the correspondence that followed.

John Kessel Responds to the Future of the Fantastic

After I published the first Future of the Fantastic article about the relationship between SF and Literary Fiction, I sent an email to John Kessel, co-editor of Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology and longtime SF writer, telling him about it. What followed was an in depth exchange on the subject of the article, reprinted here.

The Future of the Fantastic: New Wave Slipstream Fabulism

It isn't so surprising that I didn't know what was going on in Science Fiction, as I'm the type of guy who generally reads "Literary Fiction," and like many readers of a particular type of writing, I didn't stray outside my aisles in the bookstore much. Sure I used to pick up a Philip K. Dick book now and again, maybe a Neil Gaimen novel, but hell, those guys are cool. And reading them made me feel like I was open minded and hip to what's going on, even if I wasn't.

Kelly Link, Pynchon, Moorcock and Genre

In a recent interview with Bat Segundo, Kelly Link offers some interesting comments about genre labels. She says that she feels like the term "Literary Fiction" turns off lots of people, and she prefers to call what she writes "Science Fiction:" "People who are turned off by the term 'Science Fiction' probably aren't the people I want reading my work, anyway." Which struck me as strange, since so much of what Link does is exactly what I think of as "Literary Fiction." Then again, a friend of mine once pointed out that Literary Fiction is a redundant term, and one wonders if it really means anything at all. Longtime Science Fiction and Fantasy author Michael Moorcock recently wrote a fascinating review of Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day, where, in a blistering litany of names and terms, he puts Pynchon in a linage that includes Brian Aldiss, William S. Burroughs, J.G. Ballard and Kurt Vonnegut. And perhaps Moorcock is right, and my own analysis that science fiction started growing up in the eighties is off by at least 20 years. If Neal Stephenson can call The Baroque Cycle Science Fiction then maybe there is no reason that we can't call Pynchon that too, and indeed his work may share more in common with Moorcock's own then it does with "Literary Fiction" stalwarts from Hemingway to Updike to Joyce Carol Oates.

However, if Link is right that it's the term "Literary Fiction" that turns people off, then someone like Pynchon would sell more as a Science Fiction writer, and I'm not sure that's the case. A lot of the Science Fiction fans I've met seem put off by anything remotely difficult, and I recall J.F. Quackenbush telling me about the time he went to a Science Fiction convention and a group of authors on a panel all agreed that writers shouldn't use big words. This kind of thing, and the Star Trek-type imprimatur I talked about in my earlier article, are what turns people off Science Fiction, and I can't help but feel like Link's own defensiveness about the value of her chosen genre (and, more importantly, I think, of the community she identifies with) results in a kind of reverse snobbery. Yes, Moorcock and Link are right; there are many works labeled Science Fiction that are really great, and besides, there's nothing wrong with a rip roaring good story (I am, in fact, in favor of those). Further, I really like lots of work that's labeled "Science Fiction." Further still, I respect the decision of people like Link, Stephenson and China Mieville who could declare themselves "Literary Fiction" writers and get out of the perceived "ghetto" of Sci Fi and Fantasy but don't on principle. The fact remains that I get very turned off by so much "genre" writing that reads like rapidly produced hack-work, and am reassured that even the least of the "Literary Fiction" crowd spend a good deal of time refining their craft and style in a way that just can't be said by the run-of-the-mill "genre" author, whose writing is often laughably bad. Which leaves me torn, because on the one hand I want to believe that's it's great to say "Yeah, stick it to those uppity snobs, Science Fiction and proud of it," and on the other hand I have trouble accepting the idea that labeling your work Science Fiction is in any way an improvement over labeling it Literary Fiction.

Ultimately though, it's a bad situation all around. I've certainly met people from the Literary crowd with an irrational dislike of Science Fiction, and vice versa with people from the Science Fiction crowd (as well as those of various other genres). There are, in fact, lots and lots of readers who will only voluntarily read one genre, voluntarily pigeon-holing themselves. So the whole thing becomes silly, a situation which I suspect is the product of the way bookstores started shelving things in the last hundred years or so that's taken on an unfortunate life of its own. Thus turning one's nose up at Literary Fiction makes as little sense as turning it up at Science Fiction, and I can't help but wish that Link's attitude towards Literary Fiction was a little more forgiving.

Reading Versus Watching: Take Out

Why do I love Raina Telgemeier's Take Out mini-comics so much? Could it be that there's more to life than guns, explosions and/or androids?

Reading Versus Watching: Toward a New Aesthetic

What I really question is whole division between art and entertainment; fundamentally, I wonder why it has to be this way at all. Why can't literary novels be just as entertaining as genre novels? Why can't genre fiction have the depth and psychological sensitivity of literary fiction? Who made this division in the first place and why do so many people take its existence as gospel truth?

Ideas vs. feelings vs. genres vs. science vs. America vs. Britain vs. the world

No Reading Versus Watching today because I've been swamped and now I'm off to see Manu Chao kick ass in Prospect Park. But I have plenty for you folks to read instead.

Right now on the Internet there are two dramatically different discussions happening. On the one hand, we have an article in the Globe and Mail that argues (absurdly) that men don't read books because books are about feelings and men like ideas. In response we have an (even more absurd) response from Bookslut's Michael Schaub saying that men do too like books with feelings and further, books about ideas are lame and only read by graduate students who get stoned and read Pynchon. (Suddenly my respect for Bookslut as a critical organ plummets.)

On the other hand, SF writer Charles Stross recently said that British SF is better than American SF and further, SF/Fantasy/Horror have all gotten too trashy (this is a new development?) and his daddy can beat up your daddy or something like that. To which Chad Orzel responded with "an oh-so-scholarly 'Well, fuck you, too.'" Stross isn't entirely clear on what he thinks more SF should be like, but if his own novels are any judge, I'd hazard that he wants more pages and pages of boring, essayistic explanations of possible scientific advances espoused by two-dimensional characters.

And as for Michael Schaub? Well, if he wants to read Amy Tan, more power to him. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the best novels have ideas AND feelings (among other things), and I'll bring up the Wet Asphalt Favorite Example™ Moby Dick as my case and point. Further, again and again I'm disapointed at the level of discourse going on among people who should be smarter than this. I mean, seriously, everyone, grow up already.

Reading Versus Watching: Science Fiction Picture Show

The problem is that the very things that appeal to the core of this subculture are the selfsame things that turn off those outside of it. Consider, for example, that staple of Sci Fi, Star Trek.

Reading Versus Watching: Whither Superman?

What a joyless, uninspired, heavy-handed and dead thing this new movie turned out to be. What we wanted was something that returned the franchise to its solid foundations, both corollary and flip-side to the excellent Batman Begins. What we got instead was one scene after another lifted directly from the original movies in what seems intended to be an homage, but instead comes off wearyingly unoriginal. Scene after scene of Superman bearing things cross-like on his shoulders, overdubs of Marlon Brando from the first movie ("And so I gave my first born son..." et al), Superman getting stabbed in the side, falling through space in a crucified posture, dying and being reborn, the whole Jesus analogy so unsubtle it's almost surprising the movie isn't in Aramaic. Scene after scene of long, drawn-out shots of characters on the verge of tears. We get Superman as a creepy guy who loiters outside Lois Lane's house, spying on her and listening in on her conversations. We get a "mad genius" scheme from Lex Luthor that doesn't even pretend to make sense. We get at least a dozen tiny plot-holes. About half-way through I just wanted god-like Superman villain Darkseid to show up out of nowhere, laugh at this annoying pussy calling himself super and lay waste to the Earth.