America is kind of a science fiction novel in a way. Very weak on character and backstory, but very strong in concept and dynamism and cool ideas.
I find it very interesting that Lethem points this out – not the part about America, but the part about science fiction (and probably fantasy) being weak on character and backstory. I’m guessing he’s making this as a comparison with other forms of literature – mainstream fiction, the classics, whatever.
I’ve noticed this from forum reviews about certain titles, mine included – there seems to be a negative reaction to backstory. And character development combined with it – well, that just gets in the way of the concepts and cool ideas.
Do readers of SFF generally have this reaction, then? Is this one of the reasons that genre snobbery exists – because mainstream readers can’t connect with the fiction in the way that they’re used to?