/* new */

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Fascinating and Depressing

Here is a great blog post about science fiction and fantasy's continuing struggle for literary recognition:


John Howell on sffmedia

As anyone who's ever heard me rant, this is a pet peeve of mine. I groan every time someone says, "Oh, you're published! What do you write?"


And I say, "I write epic fantasy."

And the face blanks out. "Oh, my kids read that."

Or, "Oh, I don't read that sort of thing. I like to read about real people."

And, of course, it doesn't help that fantasy is dissed by many hard sf writers in exactly the same terms as Atwood disses sf. "Oh, fantasy is nothing but elves, dragons, and unicorns. That soft and fluffy crap. Where's the tension, when any problem can be solved with magic?"

But, of course, such criticisms have to keep us honest. Bottle up those elves and unicorns. And don't let magic solve every problem!!


17 comments:

Alyssa said...

Margaret Atwood disses SF/F? I like how the article points out that the Handmaid's Tale is exactly that. I imagine she'd be appalled to hear that The Handmaid's Tale was taught in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature class I took in college along side such works as Watership Down, Ender's Game, and Fellowship of the Rings. ;)

On the other hand, I love it when Ursula LeGuin scolds people. ;)

spiralknot said...

It really is sad that there's such pervasive ignorance about the quality of a LOT of SF/F. No one has ever been able to explain in a convincing manner how a character in a novel set on planet Earth in the past or present is somehow more "real" than one set in a place other than (or a future) Earth. If it's Fiction, they're still an invented character (or a fictional version of a Real Person). And if the story is well-crafted and well-told, why should anyone care what genre it belongs to?

~Anna

siebendach said...

This reminds me of some old buddies of mine who used to love my writing, but always finish up their kudos like this: "I think you should write real stuff", by which they generally meant fiction about professional sports.

carolwriter said...

The first time I ever read in an editor's critique circle at a writers' conference, one of the other participants commented to me afterward, "Your prose is beautiful! But why do you waste it on fantasy?"

Kristine said...

As an aspiring author, I have a hard time telling people the novel I am drafting is in the fantasy genre, deciding to confuse, rather than lose their respect, by telling them I am 'writing a speculative fiction novel'. Generally, this seems to impress them more than saying mere fiction until they ask for an explanation...

teriegarrison said...

Then there's those of us fantasy writers who get the double-whammy: 'When are you going to write for adults?'

Can I just say 'Harry Potter' and 'Twilight'? Which books are turning more kids into lifetime readers these days, eh?

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I wrote a lengthy response to this on my blog (I'm afraid I went on a bit). This drives me crazy! But I loved LeGuin's "committing science fiction" comment. She's so smart!

Sara ♥ said...

I get the SAME response from almost every person who's asked what type of novel I'm writing... It actually offends me as a writer and a reader. As a writer - for obvious reasons. As a reader because I really feel sorry for people who don't see the benefit to reading fantasy and allowing themselves to really escape from the world for a bit...

Anja said...

What I don't get is that people can't respect that different people have different tastes. It's the oldest piece of wisdom in the world. De gustibus non est disputandum. Anyone who claims that his tastes are more, err, tasteful than other people's is very very wrong.

If you read science fiction, you're considered a techno-freak, if you read fantasy, you're considered techno-phobe. (Gee, what about people who like both?) It's all very silly. Categorizing fiction is problematic enough: categorizing people according to what genres they enjoy -- much more so.

To say Battlestar Galactica isn't science fiction is beyond ridiculous. As is claiming that thrillers and detective novels have a literary quality other genres do not.

Besides, it's always best to comment on what you know and to refrain from commenting on what you don't know anything about.


Anecdote:

My sister likes romance novels. I don't. Back in our teenage days, I did look down on her taste a bit, preferring a little more substance (say, novels like Buddenbrooks ;o) When I started writing, my sister was the first person critiquing my work, and she was an expert at spotting purple prose and modifierrhoea and any sort of over-descriptiveness. She used to mark it B.C. in the margin (meaning: watch out, you sound like *well-known romance writer* here.) She was also right about how I shouldn't use all those big Latinate words. (That one took me two years to admit.) Plus, she taught me how to handle critique and get the most out of it.

So, hm, it's really stupid (and a very "teenage" thing to do) to look down on someone just because you prefer a different genre / different clothes / music / etc. You never know in what areas these people might be cleverer than you are and what you could learn from them (assuming you want to learn; not everyone does.)

Fabulist said...

Unfortunately I usually respond with "are you trying to offensive or are you just that stupid?"

fpdorchak said...

It is sad that so many feel the need to bully, which, in fact, all this really is. I've posted my feelings to this at my blog, if anyone's interested....

Kas said...

Hm, I can get why Atwood has such a low opinion of SF since when she was growing up SF more often fell under the stereotype she puts on it, the era when so much SF was pulp fiction. That she hasn't explored the world of more recent sci fi pretty much invalidates her comments and views of the genre, though. This particular blogger neglects to mention that most of her books are not SF. Three, maybe four, could be considered so. The rest generally only differ slightly from your standard lit fic, maybe with a few magical realism elements, which is what she was known for prior to writing The Handmaid's Tale.

What amuses me is that genre fiction tends to sell better on average than lit fic unless the literary author is extremely well known or for some reason a buzz about the book starts up, so other than this desire to remain in the literary category I don't think this abhorrence of genre labels helps a writer get paid or be recognized.

As I've always said, though, I think the value of a book is only what you ascribe to it, and to me the most valuable books are those I either greatly enjoy or which get me think about the world in a different way. So many "literary" books I've picked up are just depressing, don't really tell me anything new, and have very unlikeable characters. I much prefer fantasy or nonfiction, thank you very much!

carolwriter said...

Beautifully said, Kas!

carolwriter said...

Mostly what I hear is patronizing, which is, of course, FAR more grating than bullying. I love Le Guin's essay On Despising Genres in which she points out that "realistic writing" is just another genre, at which we've been working for a very short time.

j-cheney said...

I get theblank look when I say that my work can be found in magazines...because there's a pervasive perception that if I don't have a novel out, I'm not a 'real' writer...

j-cheney said...

Just to be clear, I meant that being a spec-fic short story writer is evidently even one step lower than a spec-fic novel writer ;o)

LouiseD said...

The only genre more shunned than fantasy/sci-fi = romance. My first book will come out at the end of the year and the expressions on people's faces when they find out the genre....