So, there’s a utopian little article over at Vice with the headline you see above. I’m not commenting on it because it’s bad. You should read it. It opens in a new tab or window, so after you’re done (it won’t take long, it’s short) you can come right back here.
So, what did you think?
Mm-hmm. Me being the opinionated sort, I’ll tell you what I think now.
It’s a nice thought. Science fiction and fantasy (and speculative fiction, for those of you who like that term (it has its uses)) have been long regarded as the goofy cousin of the literary world. Writers of serious fiction and creative nonfiction acknowledge his existence, but wince a bit while admitting it.
SciFi and Fantasy? He’s… special if you know what I mean. But you gotta love him. He has such… enthusiasm. If only he could get his act together. Why don’t we leave him to play with his toy rocketships and go somewhere adult so he’s not horning in on the conversation.
That’s how it has been for several decades now, pretty much since heyday of the pulps and Hugo Gernsback.
It hasn’t always been like that. Frankenstein went over pretty well as a literary work, and it is clearly both science fiction and literary. And somehow it never really got caught up in the Genre Wars. I think because, before science fiction was really seen as a separate thing, it was firmly pigeonholed as literary.
People LOVE pigeonholing things, defining categories and subcategories, putting the things they love and enjoy in those pigeonholes, and guarding them fiercely. Don’t look innocent. You do it. So do I. You may not, and I hope I don’t, rise to vehement levels of assholish gatekeeping in defining what belongs in what category. But many do.
That is why there will always be Genre Wars. Perhaps the lines between literary and SFF have become blurred. But a DMZ doesn’t mean there’s no conflict over what belongs on what side of which line. Just ask the Koreas. If the conflict stops being about whether SFF themes and settings make something innately not literary (and I think, as the article’s writer seems to think, that this is coming to pass), the people invested in the argument will move on to a new point of categorization. They’ll still argue over which side of what border multigenre stories properly lie on. They’ll argue over what defines literary and what defines science fiction and what defines fantasy (people still argue over whether Star Wars should be considered science fiction or fantasy, for example. Yes, they do.). They’ll argue about whether “cli-fi” (climate fiction, dealing with the potential repercussions of climate change — look up Paolo Bacigalupi’s work if you’re curious) is also sci-fi, or if it’s something distinct.
There are always things to argue about, and humans will find them. That’s a big part of what we do with these big primate brains of ours. Or have you not been watching the news?