It has, of late, (and of early and of ‘tween times) been fashionable for the SF literary community to bemoan its fate as a ghetto. Misery loves company and this shared viewpoint has no doubt provided thousands of hours of panel and hall fandom discussion, numerous fanzine articles and umpteen blog entries.
I have become aware over the past year or two that there seems to be an attempt at an engineered cultural shift, captained by several (here unnamed) editorial giants of the field. This may be nothing more than impression, or the imprimatur of personal taste, or may actually be a deliberate attempt on the part of those EICs to usher in the ERA OF THE LITERARY SF NOVEL.
In an earlier post I offered my opinion as to why I think this is a misguided effort.
(Note to EICs to whom I may someday submit stories for consideration: I disagree with what may be your strategy, but I think YOU are all fine, upstanding, wonderful, huggable, lovely, salt-of-the-earth folk who I will gladly entrust my authorial future to…)
Today I was pointed to an NPR quickie interview of Michael Chabon, recent Hugo Winner for Best Novel (The Yiddish Policeman’s Union).
Michael is a Pulitzer Prize winner as well, an absolute dahling of the literary world. Here’s what he had to say about genre fiction in general and science fiction in particular:
All Things Considered 8/10/08
At 2:15 in to the interview -
NPR: Do you read science fiction?
MC: Yes I do. I still read science fiction, and I see all kinds of diversity. I think, I find a very intense, ongoing kind of intellectual and esthetic debate in the world of science fiction. The people who are reading it and the people who are writing seem to me to be engaged in an on-going conversation about the fiction that they love on a level that I think is enviable, that would be a credit to the world of mainstream fiction.“
Michael is going to be the first example of a highly-respected ‘literary’ author who’s deliberate association with science fiction is NOT going to hurt his sales. In fact, we’ll probably be able to use TYPU as a demonstration of how an association with genre fiction helps sales.
I suspect that some of his peers are re-examining their story files for titles that can be tweaked to fit into the SF category. I’ll bet that some of them have already called their agents and said something like “You know that Chabon guy that won the Pulitzer? I’ve got something like what he did in the works…”
Michael is certainly one of the first mainstreamers to be associated with SF who hasn’t run screaming away in horror over the impending (and presumed) destruction of their career. There he is above, actually admitting that he reads the stuff and crediting it with an awareness and engagement that is enviable.
As this kind of thing evolves, it is going to be important for the SF genre to make sure that it retains its unique identity. Genre fiction that can be just as good and literate and thought-provoking as mainstream fiction, only different.
The genre doesn’t need to do anything to gain ‘acceptance’ – the hoity-toity literati are going to come to us – there isn’t an author out there who doesn’t want ‘engaged readers’ and they’ve just been told where they can find them. (I’ll mangle Machiavelli here by presuming he said something like ‘when they come to you, you’ve already won the negotiation’, or some such.)
All we need do is exhibit a little patience, embrace the (coming) efforts of our non-ghetto literary brethren and remember our roots.
PS: Michael – you need to find someone to work on your website