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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Science Fiction and Its Future -- To the Literary Den

It's been a few days since I posted my rant on the genre/literary divide.  One of the things that occurred to me after thinking about what I had written is that there does seem to be a rise in popularity for "literary" science fiction, and that there might be something to all this discussion of literary SF.  I still have huge issues with the way critics approach the form, but the popularity of certain SF titles which aren't categorized as SF makes one wonder if something is going on.

If I had to hazard a guess, which is how future history always operates, I would say that the increased popularity of SF outside of the publishing category, particularly in its "literary" strain, may be signalling the fracturing of SF.  Titles that are marketed as "literary" or some other non-SF category sell well enough and get plenty of attention, while category SF is declining only insofar as its non-tie-in industry is concerned.  Star Wars novels will probably sell well so long as Star Wars is on our TV screens, in our video games, and so on.  You could take the Star Wars section off the SF shelf and give it a whole new space and it would still sell quite well.  I get the feeling that people come to Star Wars books not for the SF tales, but for, well, Star Wars.

And, if we're being fair, SF as a genre can't survive on the backs of its "literary" takes, except where classic authors are still contributing to the field.  What will save SF from obscurity is adventure and suspense, which other genres are, sadly, doing quite well without needing the SF label (though many of them are SF stories).  It occurs to me that SF's possible fracture will see the "serious" forms move out into general fiction (or "literary" fiction, if you will), while SF will become a haven for the adventurous and suspenseful, encompassing the tie-in wonders like Star Wars and Warhammer 40K and bringing back a lot of what we used to call the "sense of wonder."  As for "literary" SF:  because it sells well enough outside of SF (or appears to sell well enough), I think we'll see it move away from category fiction in general, because "literary" writers within the SF category might see the intelligence in moving out into non-SF shelves.

But this is all conjecture.  I don't know if any of this is happening; it probably isn't.  All of the above is based on what I've observed in my tiny little world.  Which is why I'm bringing the question to you:

Do you think "serious" or "literary" science fiction will abandon category fiction for the general fiction pile?

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  1. I think this is exactly the future history of SF. It's at once sad and hopeful, because if there is one thing sorely lacking from SF right now, it's adventure.

  2. Do you want to add anything more extensive than that, sir?

  3. All I know is, I've never been a big fan of "srs" SF. I remember reading Kim Stanley Robinson's "Red Mars," and there was this scene where they were making bricks, and I was like... dubya-tee-eff. I mean, making bricks is pretty useful, but... but I just don't read books for the bricks, is all. Anyway, this scene was greatly made up for in the finale when they started shooting some kind of weapon from either Phobos or Deimos, which brought with it much destruction and attendant "DOOM" flashbacks.

    My point, I guess, is that science fiction in the highly speculative sense can be really great and impressive - I certainly don't disrespect people who take the time to stop and think about this stuff, and then make cool stories from it - but, personally, I just like deathrays and alien babes. Perhaps I am a cynical half-wit; or perhaps I am a highly discerning consumer. Either way, I think the "S" is best when it stands for "Spaaaaaaace!"

  4. as long as bloggers and fans love to have their little subculture-fetish which sets them apart, and as along as a writer you make more money on one shelf than on the other,and as long as people like to divide complex things in small digestible parts there will be divisions between so called "literary" fiction and "genre" fiction.
    maybe the labels change, but i think people just like create boundaries, however random they are.
    so i dont think one thing is moving to another thing in all, but there will always be shifts. how that is good for readers or writers, that is a different question...

  5. Ben: And you've every right to love that stuff. I love it too, as much as I love "serious" SF. There's nothing wrong with an action-packed scifi romp. Hell, sometimes such stories can also be "serious" works of literature. You're a segment of the SF community who prefers the action-packed romps, and I think SF proper has fallen short of pushing such things into the public eye. We get attention for our "serious" SF, which is great too, but we don't push what brings people to the genre (and what has always brought people there): good old fashioned sensawunda.

    Yona: What do you mean by a subculture-fetish? People who love SF are drawn to it because, well, that's what they like. They don't much care for works that don't fit into that category. Sometimes, anyway. (I don't mind a mixture, but I certainly find books about "real life" dull and uninspiring). The divisions, though, are created not by genre readers so much as by publishers and non-genre critics. The division between "literary" and "genre" were always ideological selections by the literary elite, and then publishing categories which made it easier for people to find what they were looking for. The categories are problematic, but they serve a purpose which has been very useful in the past.

    But you do raise a question: if there is a shift, as you say, is this a good thing for readers or writers?