I spend a good chunk of my day reading sci fi/fantasy lit blogs. SF Signal and Fantasy Faction being the primary ones, but I enjoy some John Scalzi and the Book Smugglers on occasion. I get around you know. I’m always on the lookout for new ones and today this came across my feed. The post for the most part talks about geeks spreading the geek word. Sharing their love of scifi/fantasy media with others at the drop of a hat. Especially sharing what they define as good stuff. For the most part I agree their opinions. If you love something, tell everyone about it! I talk about Doctor Who every chance I get. Casual Friday’s you will usually find me at my office rocking a kick ass shirt I found on a shirt of the day sight or at a convention. I get more comments on my awesome Batman purse than anything I’ve ever worn from people who you would never suspect as being fans of the Bat.
I liked a lot of what the post had to say, but I kept running into sentences like this,
The genre’s inability to shed it’s pulp roots and ongoing pulpishness, the relative obscurity of SF to the book reading public and the enduring legacy of brainless Hollywood Science Fiction films have all contributed to the critical non-acceptance of our beloved SF.
Shedding our ‘pulpishness’? Relative obscurity? What the hell are these people talking about? Obscurity would be people who don’t read or consume science fiction not knowing what Sci-Fi even IS. And that is just not the case. If you read books and go to a bookstore, I find it incredibly unlikely that you haven’t seen the sci fi section. Sure some people might not know its out there, but they would be few and far between. Sci fi is a known thing, and to say otherwise is to make a problem where none exists.
Now for the pulp issue. This is entirely a personal opinion of course, pulp is how scifi books began out of necessity. Due to actual obscurity of the genre, there was no other way to get published then. Those who are now called the Grand Old Men got their start writing what they now call pulp. It is the beginning and to divorce sci fi from that is both impossible and unnecessary. There is a lot of what the fiance and I affectionately call ‘beach reads’ (our shorthand for pulp-style novels easy to pick up and put down) being published now, and that’s a great thing! If you want to start reading sci fi, have never read it before for the love of cheese start with something easy and fun. Don’t start with say…China Mieville or Paolo Bacigaluppi. Fantastic authors but for those who aren’t used to wrapping their heads around difficult, strange or uncomfortable concepts it may be too much to keep on with and then you have lost a reader. Give them something fun! Something easy to enjoy that will leave ’em wanting more.
As for critical acceptance…if you are waiting for general lit critics to accept anything that isn’t what they classify as literature you will be waiting a LOOOOOOOOOONG time. Critics survive on two things, number one writing well about their opinions regarding what is good and what is not, and here is the really important bit, making other people care about that opinion. Critics can be and often are in someone else’s opinion wrong. Besides, when critics find something that is sci fi and they like it enough, they simply reclassify it as literature. Eventually a new generation of critics will come along and it’s far more likely that those who grew up going to Batman movies and watching SF on TV as children will be far more accepting of ‘genre fare’ than the current generation.
More better work needs to be produced and promoted.
I am always hesitant to support these kind of statements. Better than what exactly? There is a lot of amazing fiction being produced right now, and it is coming from sources that were completely silenced in previous times. From people of color, from those with disabilities, from women. These groups are slowly gaining the recognition they always deserved and hot damn is it awesome. When you talk about better, lets give a definition instead of a blanket that seems to casually infer insults to what’s coming out today.
Tangent Alert – In my personal opinion, let’s have wider diversity among authors so we can get some stories that aren’t produced from white men. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Brandon Sanderson, Roger Zelazny, Terry Pratchet, Stephen King, China Mieville, Neal Stephenson and several other white dudes who write great books. But if I pick up a book, find the blurb on the back interesting and it’s written by someone other than a white dude, I’m far more likely to pick it up. Because it’s going to come from a different perspective then most of what is presented in popular culture and I personally crave variety in my reading material. Tangent Over.
“SF and genre fans have the means, motive and opportunity to vault SF into respectability.
It’s quotes like this that continue to push the idea that SF isn’t respectable now. Who says it isn’t? Who gets to decide things like this? Those who say it isn’t respectable are never going to be won over because for them it’s all about exclusion. It’s all about their reading choices feeling more valid and ‘better’ than other people’s. That kind of attitude is perpetuated on the idea that if you read New Yorker you are just a better in some way than a person who reads Asimov’s and that’s a game that I don’t want to play because there is no way to win. I don’t need my Goodreads list given a stamp of approval in order to like books or to share my love of stories with other people.
Here is where it went seriously off the rails for me,
For every Star Trek book two Anathems need to be purchased. For every The Dark Knight Rises, two Gattacas
And here is where they are playing the game of respectability that I was just talking about. I’ve read Star Trek books and more than half of Anathem (I will get back to it I swear!) and I loved Anathem. The ideas in it are challenging and beautiful and it’s a book to be savored and shared with everyone who would be interested. But here’s the thing…I know about 2 people who would be interested in reading that book. It’s a book of lofty ideas and philosophy, and takes time and dedication to read and it’s a tome! Star Trek books can be picked up and read in a few days or weeks depending on your reading speed. They are fun stories that take you on an experience outside of your life. And sometimes that’s all you want.
I understand the point they are trying to make though. Anathem is in their opinion an arguably better book than a Star Trek novelization and that can be extrapolated out beyond the titles in question. But so can my point, if someone isn’t interested in a book, don’t push it on them. And here’s the fun bit, if YOU are’t interested in a book don’t read it. Challenging stories with difficult ideas are NEVER going to sell as well as easy to consume ideas. Hence why there are ten different superhero comic book movies coming out every year, whereas we have yet to see a Sandman movie.
The full title of the article I linked to that got me started on this little rant is “I Like Science Fiction, It’s got like giant robots and stuff, right? Science Fiction’s Self Esteem Problem part IV: To Boldly Go Where No Fan Has Gone Before”. Having had bad self esteem, I gotta say, the best way to fix it is NOT to say, all this stuff you are doing now? Not good enough, you will never be respectable unless you try harder! Produce better! It’s to enjoy what you have and be happy with it and through that enjoyment see that you can reach bigger heights. Continue to write blogs that highlight great authors, advertise for publishing companies that sign new authors who write great fiction. Support digests, and cons and scream loudly about everything sci fi that you can. Welcome people in who come from reading Twilight and Harry Potter, arguably easy to get into SF/F stuff, and use that as a springboard to say, You like that? Then you will enjoy this too!
I don’t have anything against Amazing Stories, I like what I’ve read so far from them in other posts. But I for one am entirely sick of seeing this idea perpetuated that what SF (as though SF fans are a monolith) really needs is to become ‘respectable’. What SF really needs is to for those who write articles about the genre as a whole to see how it not being the same as literature isn’t a liability. It’s a strength.