Science Fiction (denial) is alive and well

I was sent a link to an interesting article about science fiction’s position with the literary mainstream:Why science fiction authors just can’t win.

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I’d never really thought about how to classify books like The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984, other than as “distopian” (which tends to acquire the suffix “fantasy” by default). (And after reading the article, the only thing I am sure of is that Margaret Atwood has become altogether too proficient in double-think …)

I’ve always loved reading fantasy and science fiction. Yes, like any other genre, there is a large amount of rubbish as well as superb writing. (To quote from the article: ‘90% of anything is crap.’) I really don’t understand why it’s considered “not quite nice”. It gives authors so much freedom to explore their subject, and that’s got to be a good thing, surely? When publishers churn out derivative versions of anything that sells even reasonably well, and wonder why people aren’t buying so many books these days?

Here’s a thought – is science fiction/fantasy the verse libre of literature?

4 Replies to “Science Fiction (denial) is alive and well”

  1. That’s an interesting article – particularly since my daughter, who loves science fiction and has been writing science fiction for almost twenty years, actually despises Margaret Atwood’s writing and doesn’t think it is science fiction. (I’ve sent her the link and asked what specifically leads her to classify it that way).

    Science fiction writing is not encouraged by high school English teachers. She was marked down at school for writing science fiction stories, purely because of the genre, not the quality of the writing.

  2. I can’t resist Terry Pratchett’s quote: “Recent Discworld novels have spun on such concerns as the nature of belief, politics and even journalistic freedom. But put in one lousy dragon and they call you a fantasy writer.”

  3. I’m not sure about the verse libre aspect – but over the years I’ve been reading, writing, and commenting on such matters, I have noticed a gradual tearing down of the wall that once divided speculative fiction from literary fiction. That said, it is still easier for an author of literary fiction to cross over into writing science fiction or fantasy, particularly if they deny doing so, than it is for an author of speculative fiction to have their work marketed as literary fiction: J G Ballard is a rare but notable exception to this rule.

    It’s no surprise to me that there are snooty British critics who still decry SF. as someone born in the UK, I can say that snootiness is a part of my birthright!

    This long-neglected novel of yours sounds intriguing …

  4. What about the Time Travellers Wife? – is it science fiction?
    I’d say Margaret Atwood writes speculative fiction, but I like my science fiction to have science in it. Just because a novel is set in the future, it may not have science in it – it may be about the breakdown of science. It’s a while since I read the Handmaid’s Tale, but I seem to recall it falls into that category, though from reviews of Oryx and Crake, I’d call it science fiction.
    I think the novels which claim not to be science fiction, even though they have strong science fiction elements, tend to have a lot more emphasis on characterization than most in the science fiction genre. The Time Traveller’s Wife is really about the romance, not about the science (which the author fudged, because she said the more she tried to explain it, the less believable it sounded).
    The Handmaid’s Tale I would probably call speculative fiction. Much of what is now called fantasy, and grouped with science fiction, is what in my youth I would have classed with fairy tales – which I also loved, but thought were the absolute antithesis of science fiction.

    On the other hand, why do we have to classify at all – other than just “good writing” and “bad writing”?

    (My daughter has changed her mind about Margaret Atwood, apparently)

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