There’s been a lot of discussion about respectability and the ‘literati’ etc., and my concern isn’t with that.
Given all this desire we have to protect ourselves against this mysterious, spurious force of authority that slaps down genre fiction, this “us and them” mentality, do we stop ourselves from being properly critical within the genre itself?
We’re very quick at attacking those who criticise the SFF genre, and quite right too. But we’re painfully self-conscious and full of existential angst about being geeks. We throw words around like ‘snobbery’ and ‘respect’. But perhaps all this does is steer the focus away from actually getting to grips with the quality of genre fiction itself. It’s a smokescreen against us looking for literary themes and slick style and impressive content within SFF books.
Why aren’t people (particularly bloggers) rising to the challenge and actually digging deeper into the books themselves and sorting out the good books from the poor, so that we can wave the best in front of the faces of these mysterious non-existence authority forces and say, ‘See, this is literature too.’
Let the mainstream accept us as they are doing already, and relax a little. We’re already living in the age of post-genre.
“Why aren’t people (particularly bloggers) rising to the challenge and actually digging deeper into the books themselves and sorting out the good books from the poor…”
Some do, of course. Such digging is not always well received by SF as a whole, though.
Which is an interesting point also. Why is that? Is it that “us and them” mentality?
Hey, how are those space orc books comin’ along?
Touché, Mr Mamatas. Just fine actually – nothing like a bit of hot space orc action of an evening.
I read a blog about this subject a while back, and the guy pointed out that it is only the SFF community that does this. You will find that mystery writers have no such angst about lack of respect. They don’t bicker and snarl at each other about who is ‘bringing down the field,’ and he wondered why that was.
My take on it was, that because SF writers thinks of their genre as the literature of big, important ideas about society, then they should be regarded as big and important – and they get mad at those among their own who don’t give a damn about being serious. Mystery writers as a whole have no such illusions and are just happy to entertain, and therefore have nothing to bicker about.
The problem for the SFF folks is that Importance isn’t something one can write into a book. You try to write the best book you can, but importance is decided by history. All this flailing and demanding of respect isn’t going to change that one little bit.
Hey, Nathan. I’ve heard similar sentiments about such things before.
I think there’s a definite division between those who see SFF as fun and those who think it should be more serious. One can quite easily frustrating the other.
Spot on in that last paragraph!
Amen. It’s hard work walking around with a chip that big on my shoulder. Write because you like to and write what you like. Not everyone likes SFF. It’s okay.
A lot of it seems to boil down to the company that books keep. As long as the ‘good’ SF sits next to several shelves of tat, it will suffer from association. And yet… how come chicklit gets to sit with general fiction? I demand a recategorisation! 😉
I read a blog about this subject a while back, and the guy pointed out that it is only the SFF community that does this.
Completely wrong. The crime fiction community behaves in exactly the same way.
Mystery writers as a whole have no such illusions and are just happy to entertain, and therefore have nothing to bicker about.
Sure. When I read Goodis, McCoy, Jim Thompson, Crumley, Willeford, David Peace, Derek Raymond, I’m only looking for honest entertainment. It’s not like they offer deep ideas about society with the nuance of a David Weber or a Terry Goodkind.
The problem is not the quality of genre fiction, the problem is judging books on their own terms. A very good “genre” novel will still be of interest only to fans of the genre, while a genre novel which uses the genre scaffolding in order to approach universal themes may interest everyone, but this does not necessarily mean that the latter is always objectively better written or executed or qualitatively superior in some way. Nora Roberts is probably a better writer than Asimov, and I know that if I did read Asimov and not Nora Roberts I did it because aspects of the sci-fi genre resonate with me in a way that romance or chick-lit do not. I also know that are works in the sff genre whose reading should/could offer reward to anyone; and sure as heck the same goes for the crime/mystery genre.
I don’t know if among the practitioners of romance or chick-lit hides the new Jane Austen because these are genres I’m not personally invested in AND because popular fiction is NEVER seriously reviewed or discussed OUTSIDE genre cliques – unless it is written by authors with already established literary credentials.
The problem is not that more sci-fi fans should condemn Scalzi for failing to write M John Harrison’s “Light” – the problem is that everything that is published inside a genre remains there, and innovative or ambitious works are largely invisible for mainstream public and critics, and even for those who, being already fans of one particular genre , should really know better than dismiss everything else published in the others as conventional and unchallenging.