One Of Those Questions I Wish SF Geeks Would Simply Get Over
Posted on November 2, 2009 Posted by John Scalzi 153 Comments
It’s the one where SF geeks wring their hands over mainstream acceptance of their favorite genre. Please, please, please: Stop.
1. When the goddamned President of the United States makes Vulcan salutes and is photographed quite unselfconsciously whipping a lightsaber about on the White House lawn, you have won.
2. The POTUS being a geek aside, a genre that features hit television shows, movies with $150 million budgets and half a billion dollar worldwide grosses, endless videogame iterations and even — yes — bestselling books has mainstream acceptance, for Christ’s sake, and saying otherwise makes one look stupid. When science fiction types mew and barf about “mainstream acceptance,” they’re not usually not mewling and barfing about acceptance from the actual mainstream, but from other literature geeks, whom they feel have excluded them from their sekkrit lit geek clubs. These two things are not the same.
3. And as for these other lit geeks, come, now: We give a shit? Really? Because speaking as an actual science fiction writer, I don’t. Honestly, like I care that some other type of nerd doesn’t feel what I or others in my genre write is geeky enough in their preferred direction to count. When their general or specific disapprobation has a material effect on my ability to write or read as I please, you all let me know. Short of this: So what.
Every time I see the question of “mainstream acceptance” pop up, it reminds me that SF geeks, despite the many manifest signs and indications that we are living in a world they have spawned from their mighty intellectual loins, are yet still emotionally trapped in the high school cafeteria and the social dynamics thereof. SF geeks, I say to unto you: What’s the point of remaking the world in your image if you’ve not the wit to enjoy it? You’ve taken over huge tracts of the cultural map, and you get your underwear bunched up over the lit geeks? That’s a little OCD, don’t you think?
Please, red-shift yourself just a single step on the neurosis spectrum, learn not to care, and remember this phrase when someone declares your favorite reading/viewing/game-playing material not quite respectable enough: Oh, well. Nothing will annoy them more than the knowledge you can’t be bothered to worry about what they think.
And the next time the question of science fiction and “mainstream acceptance” comes up, remember this answer: Who gives a shit? Because, really. Who does. Like what you like, already.
I’m old enough to remember when sci-fi was referred to as pulp sort of generically. It was commonly held to be all trash, though 1984 was a classic, always found that a bit odd. Science fiction, fantasy, etc are now widely accepted, you really don’t have anything to complain about. The fact that there is so much other material out there with other gifted authors is not a detraction from what is done in this genre. There really are some outstanding authors in other genres and it does not hurt to try some of that material as well as your favorite. You might find you like some of this other stuff. Personally, I was never much for mystery but in recent years have come to find there are some excellent authors in that field as well. This was a very pleasant surprise.
I don’t understand why lit geeks are given so much credence. Nine times out of ten, they’re irrelevant.
The same could be said about any type of writing, but not only do lit geeks demand credibility they don’t deserve, people keep giving it to them.
And there’s nothing worse you can tell one than “You know? Harry Bloom really is nothing more than a narcissistic gas bag.”
That one really pisses them off. That and pointing out the Philip Roth has written noir and SF. Their tears of despair sustain me.
Be careful John, you could start a Geek War.
I, obviously, love Science Fiction and its warped, loony cousin Fantasy. But then, I’m no critic. There will always be those who consider the only valid form of literature to be books about gay cowboys eating pudding (that is an obscure South Park reference about indy films), ignore them. Here is a rule to live by; try writing books/stories YOU would enjoy reading. Doing anything else will be a disaster that makes you look like a pretentious phony.
Oh lit geeks, and their fancy, five-dollar words. Thank zombie jesus that Science Fiction isn’t written like James Freaking Joyce.
Just listening to a friend of mine describe Ulysses during dinner was enough to bore me into a catatonic mashed-potato nap.
But maybe you can’t blame Joyce. After all, we didn’t come up with “light-sabers” until much later.
I’m missing something here. Can some one give me an example of a lit geek so I know who I need to ignore.
Generally I agree. Being a geek is finally cool. (The rise of the personal computer and the internet may have been what did it…though I am sure the cause could be infinitely debated.)
But I wonder why some authors of books which are unarguably science fiction (such as Margaret Atwood and Stephenie Meyer) still feel the need to insist that what they write *isn’t* science fiction.
They, their publicists, or both feel that once a book is labeled “Science Fiction” it will lose X% of their readers. And they also assume that the genre fans will still read the books, despite how pissed they are at the marketing.
Are these authors/publicists living in the past…or are they still correct…despite mainstream acceptance of geekdom.
I took a science fiction literature course during my junior year of high school. (1974 Beavercreek HS (OH) graduate). We covered ‘1984’, ‘On The Beach’, and such authors as Verne, Bradbury, Clarke & Heinlein. I hear colleges teach such courses now-a-days.
You *KNOW* Science Fiction is mainstream when a trailer for the new comedy “Men Who Stare At Goats” features George Clooney’s character stating he wanted to be a Jedi – to Ewan McGregor’s character. I laughed out loud when I saw that the first time, and it still makes me smile. I want to see the movie based just on that exchange alone, and I bet I’m not the only one, either.
I’m not aware of Meyer denying The Host is science fiction. As for Atwood, her position on the matter is pretty much simply the stuff of comedy at this point.
When someone maintains that what they write isn’t science fiction because [insert rationale here] what they’re actually saying is “I don’t read science fiction so I don’t know that [insert famous SF book here] addresses [insert rationale here] as well as my book does.”
I took a science fiction literature course during my junior year of high school. (1974 Beavercreek HS (OH) graduate). We covered ‘1984′, ‘On The Beach’, and such authors as Verne, Bradbury, Clarke & Heinlein.
I got my HS SF lit teacher (Class ‘o ’72) to include Dune on the reading list, and from what I gathered, she put on the reading list for the next year too.
@5: Pick almost any teacher of Creative Writing (and mind those capital letters).
And Scalzi, heh, heh, you said “huge tracts.” Heh, heh…
Just to set the record straight on lit geeks: we’re not all pretentious. I consider myself a lit geek as well as a science fiction / fantasy geek, and I’d like to think that I’m really not pretentious at all. Then again, don’t ask me to read Dan Brown. I’ve tried, and it makes me feel like I’m dying inside.
In fact, I’d say that the majority of lit geeks out there are just like most Sci Fi geeks. They just like a different style of writing. Unfortunately, they’re not the vocal ones. It’s the vocal lit geeks that give the rest of us a bad nam
Also, as a side not, most lit geeks I’ve ever met HATE Joyce’s Ulysses. I mean, I’ll admit that, technically speaking, Joyce was talented with the written word and had a vocabulary that probably surpassed most dictionaries, but that thing is totally unreadable.
I also wish that the SF geeks who bitch about not being accepted by the lit geeks would not then turn around and bash some other genre or subgenre as strenuously as they perceive themselves being bashed by the lit geeks.
Indeed, this column should not be construed as implying all lit geeks hate science fiction, if for no other reason than SF certainly has its share of lit geeks, too. That said, there are a number of lit geeks who appear to be dismissive of the genre in a general sense without having read much of the particular works that express the current state of the genre. SF is not alone in this regard either; certainly other genres are swacked with the same literary bat.
SF geeks do often have it in for romance and fantasy, it’s true (which is silly).
Then you have the burning question about what precisely constitutes science fiction, because its boundaries have blurred into other genres and (dare i say it) even the mainstream. Ender’s Game has shown up on our local HS AP English reading list for the last 3 years, as has Heinlein and Atwood. How do you categorize the blooming Steampunk movement, with its cousin Dieselpunk? it’s machines, so it surely ain’t fantasy, even if it is historical. And on that note, we also have alternate history and pastiches where people go to the past with current-time artifacts and knowledge; even if you don’t care for Harry Turtledove and John Ringo, they sell. Last time I checked, time travel is a definite sci-fi trope. Warning: (the generic) you might claim to hate science fiction, but you have probably read and enjoyed it at some point, even if you didn’t know it.
But we have to know if it’s the peanut-butter or chocolate that makes the Reese’s Pieces so good.
Sometimes I think it’s an instilled inferiority complex. Or it could just be the human tendency to form clans that see the rest of the world as persecutor. This then drives a need to be the best clan (evar!) and all those other clans are blowing smoke and harshing our mellow.
And yeah, SF geeks bagging on Romance just seems silly, especially when you look at the sales numbers. (And really, the RWA is full of wonderful people, some of whom give awards to excellent SF/F)
I consider myself a book snob, but I don’t care what the genre is as long as it’s well written.
My tattered old copy of that literary treasure “Pride and Prejudice” (romance (yes it is too!)) is on the next shelf to “Agent to the Stars” (sf/satire), “The Grand Sophy” (regency romance), “Flora Segunda” (YA fantasy), “Titan” (sf), etc.
I too tried and could not read Joyce. Too much work.
But Scalzi, if people stop whinging about this, we’ll miss out on the pure comedy gold that is Terry Goodkind freaking out about people calling his work fantasy. Popcorn makers the world over will see a drop in sales like unto Anne Rice’s Amazon comment thread breaking, and the economy will come once more to a screeching halt. Obama will have to take sides in the age-old “Best Starship Captain Ever” debate to get the internet popcorn flowing again. And really, no one wants that.
So I say unto the easily offended SFers of the world: whinge on. We who are about to mock salute you.
Congrats. One of your better rants.
After avoiding it for over half a century, I finally broke down and read that acknowledged piece of Great Literature, Catcher in the Rye. What a piece of crap. Two stupid boring days in the life of a stupid boring boy. After that experience, I am sticking to what appeals to me, no matter what is declared to be Great Literature or who declares it.
Jeff Hentosz @10: I wouldn’t know — my Creative Writing teacher was Joe Haldeman (and my friends’ Creative Writing teacher was Shariann Lewitt). ;-)
I consider myself a lit geek and an SF geek. Most of the lit geeks I know do as well. Possibly we’re all weird (it is MIT, after all), but then, who isn’t?
Discussion question: Now that we’ve taken over the world, what do we do with it?
Oh, also — didn’t we just have a Professor of Literature by who was also writing (presumably good, to be featured here) SF?
Slightly off topic, but is it just me or is the “Romance” genre performing a hostile take over of the “Fantasy” genre? It just seems to me that an aweful lot of books that are being classified as “Fantasy” are, in reality, Romance novels with vampires/vampire hunters as the protagonists.
Maybe I’m too old fashioned, but I miss the days when monsters fought each other. You know, the vampire versus werewolf showdown was always fun. Now days the “showdown” often ends up with heavy panting followed by post-coital angst.
I think it’s because many of us were exposed to lit geeks as authorities: English teachers and professors in high school and college presented themselves (sometimes consciously, sometimes not) as authorities and arbiters of all that is good to young students… and then stopped interacting with those students long before reality and self-confidence settled in.
It’s a lot like the way I still think of my dad as a brilliant chess player. The key is that we haven’t played since I was 10, so my last impression is what stands.
@19: I SAID “ALMOST!” :P
I say we start by replacing war with relay races on the planet’s longest Jell-O Slip-n-Slide. 20,000 contestants per nation on a 500-mile course somewhere oughta be good.
In the 1960s when mass-market paperbacks became a big factor, Ray Bradbury was not separated out from the other well-known SF writers as “fantasy,” even though there’s very little in his stories that’s distinguishable as non-fantasy. When my older daughter was in fifth grade a few years ago, her class spent a week not only reading his “All Summer in a Day” but trying their hand at writing sequels to it. I don’t think she and her classmates worried about its supposed genre, although it was part of a “science fiction” unit.
I heard Atwood last week on a local radio show trying to explain (ridiculously) why her two most recent books aren’t science fiction. Her concern is presumably with how her books are presented in brick-and-mortar bookstores, not with her potential audience, many of whom will find her in other ways. (Our local library system doesn’t separate out sf/fantasy from general fiction on the shelves.)
nisleib@21: Sex sells. The Anita Blake Vampire Orgy novels sell more than the Anita Blake Actually Hunting Vampires do. The market demands what it demands.
@nisleib: I dunno, I thought Ulysses was kinda fun if you just go along for the ride and don’t overanalyze it, and the ending was really worth it.
Erm, actually that was supposed to be @ben, not @nisleib. You can stop trying to figure out what I’m talking about, nisleib; you’re not crazy, I am.
Also: I hope that picture becomes the main image of the 2012 election, ’cause I’m sick to the teeth of Shepard Fairey.
OK, John, OK, I gotcha.
But if I see Entertainment Tonight broadcasting live from Worldcon, well, that’s where I draw the line. :-)
The only real exception I can think of is when the ‘lit snobs’ become teachers, which they’re somewhat inclined towards, and give students a hard time for reading or writing science fiction. And since they actually briefly have power over other people, it can be obnoxious. I don’t care so much, as long as they are clear, about their effects on science fiction fans – we’re quite capable of reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being for a class – as the effect on more mainstream readers who might pick up a sci-fi work otherwise, but gain a shame about it. That’s a disservice. To be fair, though, I encountered more teachers who enjoyed science fiction than considered it to all be pulp nonsense.
For me personally, what do I care? There’s far more quality genre works available than I can consume in my lifetime, and more every day, and nobody in my life complains if I consume it. (Quite the opposite, in fact, since as an adult I’ve been able to surround myself with geeks.)
I’m Mary Hart (and these are my Legs) – broadcasting Live From Worldcon.
I *can’t* wait!
Ha! SF geek telling other SF geeks not to care that Lit geeks don’t care. Can you be geek if what you geek about is mainstream? Reminds me of my punkrock days. It lost it’s apeal when it went mainstream. That and when I decided I just wasn’t that angry anymore.
Welcome to America where you get to think what ever you want and then spend all of your free time and energy trying to convince everyone who disagrees with you that you are in fact right.
It’s always surprising to run across someone you never expected to be a science fiction geek, only to find out they are. I had the pleasant surprise to find out that my doctor of six years is one, and I never got any indication of that until she told me. You just never know who is and isn’t a geek. In our own, individual ways, I guess we all are geekish about one thing or another.
I got nothin’ to add, I just massively, massively enjoyed this post.
nisleib @ 21:
Vampirism has almost always had romantic overtones, though it’s often a pretty twisted sort of romance. Shapeshifter stories have often centered around romances, generally tragic ones.
Hell, the story of “Beauty and The Beast” dates from the 1700s.
The monsters-fighting-each-other thing doesn’t pre-date B-movies, unless I’m mistaken.
I wonder how often it is that the “re-invention” of a classic story is actually a re-telling that’s arguably closer to the original than versions that are more recent and/or more ingrained in pop culture.
You know, I never understood why Vonnegut complained about being labeled science fiction. If you listened to him it’s like he never wrote a book where time traveling aliens kidnapped people, made them “unstuck in time” and put them in an intergalactic zoo. It really was a sore point with him, but from his writing I never would have pegged him for the kind of guy who would care. He should have just taken his own advice and anyone who dismissed him as science fiction to “go take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut. Go take a flying fuck at the mooooooon!”
Everyone is somewhat snobbish about their personal passions; writing genres are no different. That said, SF has a right to be snobbish, because those of us who read it are often doing so to learn about science and find yet another version of the future. It’s the only genre where the full insane majesty of the Universe is ever really contemplated and explored. (I don’t count religious fantasy). Besides, some really smart people read and write SF, so there is a basis for intellectual snobbery. Where would the world be without the visionaries that spark many a young person towards the occult? Oh, wait, that’s Fantasy. Never mind
You haven’t won, until the other side’s capitulated.
I would argue that the geek reaction is not about “mainstream acceptance,” it’s actually about the fact that the people who slammed them/us into the lockers in high school now have to find a new excuse to grunt to their friends as they walk away.
The lit geeks slammed the SF geeks into lockers? I missed that part of high school.
I apologize for miscategorizing Stephenie Meyer. Her words are that “The Host” is:
“Science Fiction for people who don’t like Science Fiction”
And from the August 2008 edition of The Ansible: http://news.ansible.co.uk/a253.html
Stephenie Meyer on her latest: ‘It’s science fiction because it’s about aliens, so there’s no other way to categorize it. And I like science fiction. But this doesn’t feel to me like science fiction; once you get past the basic premise, it’s just about being human.’ (Kansas City Star, 1 Aug)
So she is trying to straddle the markets, saying it is both SF and not SF at the same time. Perhaps she is a fan of Erwin Schrodinger. Perhaps not.
The regular “As Others See Us” quotes from The Ansible are also a monthly reminder of the authors and critics who don’t understand the SF genre.
Ahhh, welcome to the world of Supernatural Romance! Angsty ‘vegetarian’ vampires and any other kind of mythological beasties you want to humanize, and all the psychic and magical influences you can eat!
Seriously, though, genres don’t always pigeonhole neatly. Science fiction, fantasy and horror make a nice breeding triad, althistory is a sci-fi/history hybrid (unless it’s a history/fantasy hybrid), there are examples of sci-fi/mystery fusions…romance x supernatural fantasy is just one more cross-breeding. The question is, does it have legs? (And how many?) Myself, I think the market will reach saturation point shortly. But I could be wrong.
The big sticking point is that a) both fans and non-fans think there’s a huge difference between SFF books published in the category market and in general fiction (there’s not,) and b) the major literary awards have not yet been given to an author who publishes in the category SFF market. It doesn’t matter that SFF literature is widely taught in universities and high schools, that fantasy rules elementary schools, that a decent percentage of SFF category authors are also college professors in their day jobs, etc. It’s because someone like Neal Stephenson, China Mieville or Dan Simmons hasn’t won the Booker Mann or the National Book Award. Never mind that Michael Chabon won, or Doris Lessing, both of whom think the SFF genres are as cool as cream cheese. It has to be someone who only writes SFF and gets sold in that SFF section of the bookstore, (the one that exists only because publishers and booksellers say it does, because it’s convenient for them, not because it means anything.)
And because of that yet last remaining lack, the media can continue to write stories about geeks taking over, while at the same time claiming that SFF geeks are a weird niche audience who everyone else doesn’t understand (i.e. not mainstream — can’t quite figure out how they manage that thinking, but they do.) And lit purists can claim that category SFF (and therefore the genres of SFF, with which they confuse them,) are not really art. And SFF fans can continue to moan that they aren’t taken seriously.
Eventually, it’s going to happen and an author who started in the category market and does not renounce it will win one of the big prestigious lit awards. There will still be arguments after that, but the “big barrier” will be seen as having been “broken.”
But there will always be people — sometimes in positions of what some would consider power — who relish their idea of barbarian hordes too much to view the easily identifiable genres as anything but that. Mystery is still dealing with it, and you’d think that would have been given up by now. Children’s literature is given immense prestige while at the same time faces immense disdain.
But certainly one of the big awards could be useful for quelling for a bit SFF fans who are whining about the imaginary wall.
Okay, this week’s betting pool: What year do you think it’ll be — if ever — when the POTUS dons leather-and-brass goggles or makes some other steampunk reference?
“b) the major literary awards have not yet been given to an author who publishes in the category SFF market.”
Ray Bradbury won the Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters of the National Book Award in 2000; also the National Book Award gave a genre-oriented award to Frederik Pohl in 1980, so I don’t know that this is an entirely true statement.
But even if it were my argument would be: so what? What’s the advantage of wining the major literary awards for a science fiction author? Not necessarily sales or enduring notoriety. The 1962 Hugo winner (Starship Troopers) sold significantly more books this last year than the 1962 Pulitzer Prize winner (The Edge of Sadness), for example. And so has the 1987 Hugo winner over the Pulitzer winner of its year, and the 2002 Hugo winner over the Pulitzer winner of its year, etc. And certainly any major award winner would love to have the sales and likely enduring cultural impact of the 2001 Hugo winner.
Mind you, I wouldn’t turn down winning a Pulitzer, or a National Book Award. But I’m not sure there’s an argument to be made that winning one will matter in terms of reaching an audience, or having one’s work matter to them.
Honestly, the impression I have is that this roots in the Star Wars Cultural Shift [tm].
The impression I get from the prior generations of readers of the stuff (I was born, like, a month after the first Star Wars movie) is that their choice of reading material was both a focal point for social abuse and a sort of badge of membership in a community. I hear from a lot of older fans things about how fandom was their home-away-from-home, how they found People Like Them, and so on.
Whereas for people my age and younger, liking science fiction and fantasy is … normal. The idea of being hassled for one’s choice of book genre is completely alien to me; I have a little acquaintance with being hassled for reading, but the genre? Irrelevant. (Of course, I was in my teens before I figured out that most people considered some of the books I read not SF, because they were all “Strange people in alien environments” to me. Including The Catcher in the Rye.)
Kevin@36: I never understood why Vonnegut complained about being labeled science fiction. If you listened to him it’s like he never wrote a book where time traveling aliens kidnapped people, made them “unstuck in time” and put them in an intergalactic zoo. It really was a sore point with him,
It was? I didn’t know that.
I’m not entirely sure why it’d bother him.
He did grow up on a different kind of science fiction than kids today have. He was a POW in Dresden when the Allies firebombed it into a charred stump, killing tens of thousands of civilians. So, maybe he didn’t think the kind of science fiction he grew up on fit what he was trying to say in his book.
Also, holy crap! I thought that was a photoshopped picture of Obama with a lightsaber. It’s a real picture???
I think there are only a few SF writers that use a literary style that is more closely related to your typical modern prose style. Contemporary modern literature, such as written by Iain Banks is stylistically very similar to those styles he uses within his sf novels (Iain M. Banks.) But you wouldn’t think a Culture Novel would win a Pulitzer, because it’s too difficult for most humans to wrap their heads around those big ideas. Greg Bear took some literary leaps in Queen of Angels and Slant. I think those more literary efforts were under-rated. Stephenson’s last one, Anathem is a “literary” work, but once again, the science is beyond most.
Scalzi @45: Minor nitpick: Heinlein took home the rocket in 1962 for Stranger in a Strange Land, not Starship Troopers. ST took the Hugo two years earlier, in 1960.
It doesn’t change your point, of course; I’m sure SiaSL is handily out-selling The Edge of Sadness as well.
Whoops. You are correct, Hugh, on both points.
Obama really was playing around with a plastic lightsaber, yes. This particular picture has been ‘shopped for extra glowiness.
The 1962 Hugo winner (Starship Troopers) sold significantly more books this last year than the 1962 Pulitzer Prize winner (The Edge of Sadness), for example.
Huh! Where would one find the sales numbers for that? I’d love to graph out the relative sales of Hugo vs. Pulitzer (vs. Nebula vs. Booker, etc) over time to see how well that bears up over the years.
#46 said, “The idea of being hassled for one’s choice of book genre is completely alien to me.”
I was a nerd and no one picked on me because I read SF. I’ve been out of high school since 81 and I don’t think anyone ever got picked on for much of anything. It was pretty civilized.
All I can say to this is… well said!
Then you, sir, went to a very different school then I did. I grew up in a small town and was picked on constantly about the books I read, the cloths I wore (no matter what types of close I wore), and many other things.
Eventually I told my entire class to f off. I think the final straw that gave me respect was when the jocks realized that because I was the TA in the library, that I could check books out in their names. The school had a rule that if you had a late library book, you wouldn’t get your report card. No grades and you couldn’t play sports XD
I made a lot of “friends” that year… Most of them “jocks”… When they were on your side, no one messed with you…
I still don’t like most the people who were in my class. But I do have man friends from the classes ahead and behind mine.
here’s some xtra fuel for the fire:
How does one define Sci-Fi or Fantasy (in opposotion to ‘real literature’) ?
by any definition I’ve heard:
Mark Twain’s “Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”,
The Capra film “It’s a Wonderful Life”,
Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”
all would count as Sci-fi or Fantasy depending on you definition
Heck – “MacBeth” by Shakespeare has more “sword and sorcery” elements than some of the stuff in the “fastasy” aisle at the bookstore!
Hmmm. I was never treated poorly for reading SFF. In fact I was sucked into the genre by a teacher reading us “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” (for a religion class!). I was definitely made to understand that “those books you read” were weird and should be recognized as such. One friend ascribed everything that ever troubled, worried me, or gave me a nightmare to “those books you read,” and another friend of mine’s younger sister dismissed them all as “those Green Mist books.” However, I kept giving them Guy Gavriel Kay doorstoppers as Christmas presents and hearing “oh…uh, you know, that was pretty good!” To which my answer was generally along the lines of, “Well you know I’m not an idiot, why would I give you an idiot book to read?” (That’s actually not a bitchy comment, in context. I swear. It’s all in the tone.)
(Also interestingly, my friend with the anti-Green-Mist sister is the one who got me into “Star Trek,” which I had a sort of ignorant contempt for while being a devotee of written SFF — I had never actually WATCHED it. I, uh, wound up far surpassing her devotion, let’s say. Patrick Stewart will do that to one.)
I feel that there is a subgroup of geek who go out of their way to make sure they are not accepted by the population at large just so they can whine about it and blame the rejection by the mainstream on their love of SF.
See my big issue is that I’ve never really gotten this antagonism between fantasy lovers and scifi fans. I like both. My father, on the other hand, refuses to read any fantasy books I give him, though he loves Phillip Jose Farmer’s “Riverworld” series, Dune, etc… When I tell him you might as well replace so called futuristic technology with magic, or aliens with trolls and the like, he still doesn’t budge. @nisleib called Fantasy, Scifi’s “warped, loony cousin” but I ask you what is the difference between them, in truth. Yes, sometimes future technology is so advanced that it appears to be magical. Sometimes, though, desert messiahs with magical powers ride on top of space worms and then give birth to children who become magical worms themselves and sometimes people battle giant (or little) space bugs on distant planets. So please, PLEASE don’t tell me that Scifi is oh so superior because it doesn’t have people who talk to animals or fairies or demons and the like. Now my rant is done.
Going back to POTUS, he also seems to have absorbed some of the better ideas from Heinlein’s novels, the ones about consensus building and thinking things through being better for civilization than blindly lashing out. Score another for sci-fi geekery.
“And as for these other lit geeks, come, now: We give a shit? Really?”
I have the same reaction regarding science fiction illustration. Why would anyone care about acceptance by the “art world” when they hype ridiculous nonsense as brilliance? I’d be happy to put the best of Donato’s paintings up against those of anyone in history.
to elaborate/ belabor my point at 55
Frankenstein – perhaps one of the earliest definitive Sci-fi works
“The Lost World” – Arthur Conan Doyle
3 works by Edgar Rice Burroughs
the 4 works I mentioned @ comment 55
L. Frank Baum’s Oz books
pretty close to HALF the content could be classified as sci-fi and/or fantasy
I wish your main point about “Hey, having mainstream acceptance means that we WON, guys” would also be taken to heart by video-gamers.
Again, to use the POTUS as an example… he’s said he loved playing Bowling on Wii Sports with his daughters. Heck, Joe Biden was going to get the President a Wii for his 48th birthday until someone reminded him the household already had one!
I remember when us videogaming geeks used to pine for mainstream acceptance, wishing when the hobby wasn’t looked on as loserish or weird. And now that that day has pretty much arrived, what do some of them do?
Make stupid, unnecessary distinctions between “hardcore” and casual” videogame players.
Joanne @ 58
Thank you. It gets old seeing people fire rayguns in their special high-density carbon-fibre glass houses.
Good books are good books, and both sci-fi and fantasy can broaden our understanding of the human condition and inspire us to greater heights through imagination and ingenuity.
Post: I wish people would get over this thing.
Comments: OMG this thing, I’ll never get over it!!!!
It’s true though. I mean, some people like James Joyce or JD Salinger or non-representational paintings. Clearly, their presence on this planet is oppressive.
SF is popular and commercially successful but generally speaking lacks formal respectability. But formal respectability matters less today than ever. Charles Paul Freund had some interesting things to say about that, on the subject of movies:
I really couldn’t give a monkey’s mother’s brother about whether or not anyone approves of my genre choice in reading material or tv show, but scifi doesn’t have mainstream acceptance regardless of what some dude with his finger on the nucular button says or does. Obama can afford to come out as a geek because if anyone disses him he’s got the power to have them shot. The rest of us have to put up with the snidey comments from ‘mainstream’ people.
I only know one person I could describe as a lit geek and she’s more into scifi than I am so it’s not that, at least on a day-to-day basis. (Unless I’m unusual in only knowing one lit geek and everyone else is surrounded by them.) It’s the regular folks – family, friends and co-workers, who, for whatever reason, don’t ‘get’ scifi. They don’t watch Battlestar Galactica, Stargate, Star Trek or even Star Wars – in fact, anything with ‘star’ in the title is a big no-no for them. They don’t read Asimov, Bradbury, Banks or Scalzi. Quite often, they don’t read at all, in my experience. I don’t pretend to understand what their problem is with my choice of entertainment, but it exists and it will continue to exist until the media stops denigrating the genre. Which won’t happen while geeks keep dressing like Klingons.
Mainstream acceptance will only come once the critics accept it. Oscars, Emmys, Baftas, Booker Prizes, whatever. Once people see scifi being lauded by the mainstream folks who they believe know what they’re talking about, they’ll accept it too. And I will never believe that it was anything other than prejudice against the genre that stopped David Hewlett getting so much as a Gemini nomination for Atlantis, let alone an Emmy. Sure, we get token nominations (usually technical categories), even on rare occasions a win, but can anyone look me in the eye and tell me that they don’t dismiss a book/film/tv show’s chances in mainstream competition based on genre? That we’re surprised to even get nods from the high-ups says it all. And bollocks to anyone who tries to say that it’s not the winning but the taking part that counts.
Who am I kidding? I do care. I care that I couldn’t eat lunch in peace at work while reading a scifi book. I care that I got teased at school because liking scifi wasn’t cool. It’s still not. We’re largely surrounded by people with the same interests as us, so it’s less obvious, until we go out into the world.
But I remember as a teenager, waiting in line outside the old ABC cinema in Glasgow to see one of the re-released original Star Wars movies, and a bunch of people wearing Starfleet uniforms, followed by a guy in full Klingon make-up and regalia, cut across the queue in front of me to get into Burger King. That was so cool… To me.
About the only thing I’m agreeing with you on, John, is that it pisses people off when you just shrug when they try to wind you up. Bet you don’t have to put up with it as much as I do, though. It’s damn difficult to concentrate on intergalactic domination when six people are all asking you what the Hell you want to read that rubbish for.
I feel better for that. Was quite cathartic.
“It’s damn difficult to concentrate on intergalactic domination when six people are all asking you what the Hell you want to read that rubbish for.”
The answer: Because you like it. If they don’t like it, too bad. If they continue to give you shit about it after that point, ask them if they are intentionally going out of their way to be a complete asshole. That should solve the problem fairly quickly.
The point is not to give a damn if anyone else likes what you like. You’re not them, they’re not you. And yes, it’s easy for me to say that. But — and this is an important thing to note — it’s no more difficult for you to say it than it is for me.
With all due respect (really), I do get pissed when I make a pretty unexceptional observation like The Road — or The Children of Men or The Plot Against America or a pretty hefty chunk of Margaret Atwood’s recent work — is science fiction, and get a reaction as if I blacked out and suggested that the authors concerned moonlight writing kiddie porn.
That’s not because I’ve still got high school trauma issues, but because… well, I get pissed off by people who think being obtuse and snobbish is a proper posture for adults.
And while your mileage may vary, anyone who wants their literary opinions taken seriously shouldn’t make statements like “I never read science fiction, because I just know that it’s bullshit for emotionally-retarded men-children.” Yeah, and I don’t read novel written by women because I just know they’re all about hysterics bitching about their periods and how they can’t get laid. Right?
Or I guess the Reader’s Digest of that would be: “I don’t need you acceptance, but I would really like it if you didn’t leak stupid all over my book.”
“I do get pissed when I make a pretty unexceptional observation like The Road — or The Children of Men or The Plot Against America or a pretty hefty chunk of Margaret Atwood’s recent work — is science fiction, and get a reaction as if I blacked out and suggested that the authors concerned moonlight writing kiddie porn.”
Why get pissed? I think it’s funny to point out to the self-righteous the extent to which science fiction has embedded itself in the common culture, and how amusing it is to watch them contort themselves mentally to avoid admitting they like the same stuff I write and read. That’s a whole night’s entertainment right there.
In a larger sense, in a lot of these comments I’m sensing a whole lot of “waaaaaaaaah.” Seriously, people, is it really that hard to say “fuck you, I don’t care what you think” to a bunch of people who you don’t actually care what they think? And if you do care what they think, why?
‘If they continue to give you shit about it after that point, ask them if they are intentionally going out of their way to be a complete asshole. That should solve the problem fairly quickly.’
Except, in the Real World, it doesn’t. It gets me an even worse reputation as as an aggressive weirdo which isn’t a good look for a girl in a male dominated working environment. But that’s a whole different kettle of fish because, damn those small minded morons, they just won’t stick to one prejudice at a time!
It’s less that I care what they think of me, I’ve been ignoring arseholes my whole life, but that I care that they can dismiss so much of other people’s love and hard work based on ignorance. And also that the buggers won’t leave me in peace to my intergalactic domination. If scifi had mainstream acceptance, they would. I don’t remember getting any grief on days when I read books with normal looking covers and famous normal authors. Of course, it would all have been much easier for me both in school and at work if I hadn’t been reading during my breaks at all, but do those people sound like folks I’d want to talk to?
“Except, in the Real World, it doesn’t.”
Well, it might, and I do know women who in the Real World who would be perfectly content to say so. However, if you prefer not asking them if they’re intentionally being assholes when they continue needling you about it, well, you know your situation better than I do, so do what you think is best. But in the general sense, I suspect you’re better off letting them know you don’t give a damn what they think, one way or another, when it comes to your reading choices. People who give other people hard times about things generally taper off when they realize that being a dick isn’t working.
“I care that they can dismiss so much of other people’s love and hard work based on ignorance.”
Try pitying them instead. It’s healthier. And, of course, if they happen to mock you while you’re reading one of my books, you can tell them that I told them to fuck off, you brain-dead ignorant wankers, and if they have a problem with that they can e-mail me. I’d enjoy grading their e-mails.
#45: “Ray Bradbury won the Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters of the National Book Award in 2000; also the National Book Award gave a genre-oriented award to Frederik Pohl in 1980, so I don’t know that this is an entirely true statement.”
Yes, I know, and they aren’t the only ones. Stephen King also got the Medal recently, etc. And Stephenson was reportedly on the long list for the National Book Award for Cryptonomicon, but he didn’t make the short list. It’s ridiculous. But to many people, that’s not the same as the main show — being nominated and winning for the actual National Book Award, the Booker Mann, the Pulitzer, etc. It means absolutely nothing in the real world, or even in the university world; we’re just talking about people’s wacky perceptions here. But when one of those big perceptions gets punctured, then it steadily fades, as it is doing.
The big problem is that people are mightily confused by packaging. For instance, there’s some little group that on Nov. 18 is going to reshelve general fiction SFF into the SFF section of bookstores on Nov. 18, Atwood’s birthday. Because they don’t understand that books are shelved according to publisher, not literaryness, apparently. I recently saw Atwood’s new novel in a display in the SFF section of a chain bookstore — the point is rather moot.
#65: Larson: “SF is popular and commercially successful but generally speaking lacks formal respectability.”
Except that it actually doesn’t lack formal respectability. That’s just the perception of people too lazy to ever investigate it. People believe first off that SF means only category SF and that category SF is commercial but ignored by academia and so on. But it isn’t. “Category” SFF is taught widely in universities and this has been going on for three decades now. Some of its authors are professors of literature — Tim Powers, Maureen McHugh, Adam Roberts, etc.
As was Kurt Vonnegut Jr., as well as a contributor for respected publications. He didn’t renounce SF, he still went to conventions, hung out. What he renounced was that SF was labeled as trash, and that if others were going to insist that the imaginary wall was there, he was going to change his packaging so he was camouflaged on the other side of it (primarily again by changing his publisher.)
If you run into someone who thinks The Road isn’t SF and you are sacrilegious to say so, you just have to remember that you know more than they do. You are the academic expert here, the better read person in literature, not them. Start talking about the similarity in metaphors and theme between Margaret Atwood’s Oryx & Crake and Larry Niven’s Riverworld, or how her female characters stack up to Ursula LeGuin’s, who recently had complementary things to say about Atwood’s female characters in the review for the Guardian of Atwood’s sequel, Year of the Flood, but maybe you don’t agree. Talk about how Michael Chabon abandoned the warmer poetry of Ray Bradbury, an influence of his, for the noir edginess of William Gibson and Bruce Sterling in The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. Talk about Jonathan Lethem and Kelly Link, who blow the notion of the imaginary wall out of the water because they dance where they like.
Talk about category SFF authors and legends as exactly the same as SFF in general fiction — which they are — and the person who swears they must be different is left sputtering because they simply don’t know enough about what they are talking about. They are the clueless outsider, and you, as Scalzi noted, are the hip insider who understands the narrative connections between Junot Diaz and his influence Stephen King, between Dan Simmons and Salman Rushdie. Whereas they are just, well, ignorant. I think it’s kinder to be nice to them about it than Scalzi’s screw off approach, but you can choose as you like.
There’s only one thing about the lit world that bugs me and that is when they discover something new and groundbreaking and in doing so ignore a long standing science fictional trope. Case in point Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
One thing to remember is that many of these LitFic snobs often don’t give a rat’s ass what you read or watch — they just like to push people’s buttons. When they tell you that they don’t like SF because it’s “juvenile” or “escapist” or whatnot, they’re hoping to get an angry “Fuck you!” reaction. I find a simple pitying “Your loss” more effective, perhaps accompanied by a comment about “pretentiousness” or their “Ivory Tower detachment from reality.” (My late father was a Literature Professor, a Joycean, no less. I, on the other hand, could never get past the first page of Finnegan’s Wake. I do find his copy of FW an excellent source of internet passwords, though.)
The “your loss” approach generally works for me, though I do get some odd looks from people my age or older (I’m 52) when I tell them I’m flying from Cincinnati to Seattle or LA (or driving to Detroit. In January.) to attend an SF con. I find that younger people can often relate more to my eccentricity, given that many of them attend Anime cons, which, though perhaps a little more media driven, are quite similar to SF cons.
I haven’t cared about what other people think of what I read since I was in grade school, and I’m of that generation where sf and fantasy were supposed to be the stuff you wrapped in the cover of a more ‘serious’ book. I’ve never understood the fandom as ‘a community of outcasts’ thing, which is probably why my attempt at involvement in fandom failed miserably (despite three terms as President of LASFS). I say you’re not really an outcast until the outcasts have cast you out.
In other words, I’m with you 100%, John. Scroom if they can’t deal with the genre.
In middle/high school… yeah, I cared what people saw me reading. I never brought my obviously sci-fi/fantasy books to school with me, the ones with ambiguous covers went to school.
But at some point I realized that I am a lot happier when I “let my geek flag fly” and at this point I just don’t care. I will read/watch what I like because that is what I like!
I do tend to have a bit of an issue with all the romance in a lot of urban fantasy. But that is more because the concept of physical attraction kind of confuses me and I have a really hard time connecting to characters that get all insane over someone else’s looks. I have a feeling I’m in an incredibly small minority on that particular issue though!
As a lit geek and college lit prof, I just want to point out that my students just finished Haldeman’s Forever War (paired with Going After Cacciato) and are about to read Ender’s Game (with the memoir A Long Way Gone). We started the semester with the Iliad and Sheri Tepper’s Gate to Women’s Country.
Last term we did Ghost Brigade, Frankenstein, Mary Modern… basically a whole SF semester.
I’ve found the students engage the “classic” literature from new perspectives when it’s next to SF, and often a number who hadn’t read SF before discover they love it.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to encourage some new SF fans along…
One of the taglines for my blog is “Living in the Science Fiction Present.” We ARE in a science fiction world, and as Mr. Scalzi says, we indeed have won.
We’re in a science fiction world, and its the SF readers and lovers (such as POTUS) who get that.
Why get pissed?
Fair question — stupidity (especially from people who are smart enough to know a lot better) irritates me, though there’s a sliding scale where genre snobbery seldom pushes me above Pissed Con 4. For comparative purposes, homophobic politicians equating my long term partnership to child abuse, necrophilia or bestiality is a definite Pissed Con One trigger.
And reality-based mockery is most definitely a more useful response than stomping off to my parents’ basement to play with my Star Wars action figures and sulk. :)
All the same, I do actually like people like Michael Dirda who will review the likes of John Crowley and Gene Wolfe with the same serious attention and intelligence he brings to any other book. That’s not about pouting for “mainstream acceptance” as much as holding to Sturgeon’s Law — if 90% of everything is crap, then it doesn’t add much to any culture worth having if you’re letting snobs and arseholes run the show.
OTOH, if Doris Lessing is crying all the way to the bank with her Nobel Prize cheque (despite besmirching her ‘mainstream’ cred with, by my count, a dozen of her novels being SF, fantasy or flat out gothic horror), who am I to kvetch? That fabulous old battleaxe doesn’t give a damn what labels people put on her work.
Craig @ 68:
With all due respect (really), I do get pissed when I make a pretty unexceptional observation like The Road — or The Children of Men or The Plot Against America or a pretty hefty chunk of Margaret Atwood’s recent work — is science fiction, and get a reaction as if I blacked out and suggested that the authors concerned moonlight writing kiddie porn.
It mostly just makes me sad. Imagine how much better these authors could be if they accepted themselves as writers of science fiction and explored that aspect of their work a little more fully instead of pretending it wasn’t there?
So the POTUS is a geek. Huh.
Hey, I need a 4th for my DnD group, s’pose he’d be interested?
Anne Rice had an Amazon comment that messed thigns up? Prey tell, where would I find such inananity with which to while away a few moments?
As far as I’m concerned, she started us down the road to sparkling vampires, and for this (among other things) she should be punished.
To be fair, it’s more the critics I’ve got a problem with. Though I agree with you that writer’s are sometimes their own worse enemies when they go into a self-defensive crouch. It particularly amused me coming from P.D. James whose hackles raised every time The Children of Men was described as science fiction, but whose other novels are all pretty traditional murder mysteries. And bloody good novels to boot, IMNSHO.
And it’s not only publishing this kind of nonsense goes on in. Don’t think I was the only person whose eyebrows went up when Sci Fi sent out screeners to Emmy voters for Battlestar Galactica with the show’s name conspicuous by its absence from the discs and accompanying PR bumf. The reason, according to Sci FI VP/general manager Dave Howe was. “As soon as you tell me the name is Battlestar Galactica, a red flag goes up. As soon as you tell me the show comes from the same cheesy ’70s network program, a red flag goes up.”
Yeah, and acting like your flagship show’s name is only marginally more savoury than Shaving Ryan’s Privates or Edward Penishands is going to help…
Try pitying them instead. It’s healthier. And, of course, if they happen to mock you while you’re reading one of my books, you can tell them that I told them to fuck off, you brain-dead ignorant wankers, and if they have a problem with that they can e-mail me. I’d enjoy grading their e-mails.
Alisha says – “Nice to know that John’s feeling better.”
I think it’s worth reading, especially as it’s related to John’s original post, what Vonnegut actually said in 1965 about being labeled a “science-fiction writer”.
Oh, and in my high school in 1977, we did an elective quarter on Vonnegut. It might have helped that this was Bloomington, Indiana, so selling a Hoosier writer to the administration might have been easier than otherwise.
The Anne Rice Amazon thing was brought up as an example of popcorn-worthy internet shitstorm.
She wrote a review for her own book on Amazon, which wasn’t so much a review as it was an angry screed at people who gave it poor reviews.
You should write a Geek Pride Manifesto or something. :P
Seriously though, I totally agree. I really couldn’t care less what other people think of the genres I like.
It’s why I don’t let people give me shit over fantasy (which I find tends to get a lot more ire from silly “normal” wackos than sci-fi)
Chris – I went and found the screed posted by someone else. I should really go read the original and see what she was so het up about. But, frankly, I left her and her work behind about 18 years ago, so… meh.
Whoa whoa…I need these experts to tell me what is hip. If they don’t do it for me, how do I know what books are in, what products to buy, and how I’m supposed to look and dress. I can’t be expected to know all these different things on my own. I need professionals to do it for me. Please don’t take that away from me. Give me my mainstream whatever. Its how I know how to be me.
Yes, well, that was in 1965, when the “lodge” was the older, Campbellian ideal and a bunch of writers — who embraced Vonnegut — were styling themselves the New Wave and leading the call for change, including more “mainstream” writing. Vonnegut was frustrated, as so many of the writers were back then, with the notion of SFF as a separate island circled by the imaginary wall, labeled as cheap by the paperbacks in drugstores and comics. And so he voted himself off the island, but would often visit because he respected the people on it.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s, that notion of a walled island abated a great deal, but in the 1990’s, when the entire fiction market sank under economic pressures, there was a backlash which was tied to how certain types of contemporary fiction were marketed. The big awards became more important and had a bigger impact on sales. And the more SFF succeeded in the culture, the bigger a threat it was seen in some quarters, and the more confused the media became about it.
So you could say that right now we’re in transition. The island lodge has basically dissolved, but some people think it and the wall are still there against all evidence. And the affectionate community has remained and gone online as well, but now it’s gianormous. And the publishers who publish the litgeek and the scifigeek are the same publishers and shuffle titles around however is convenient.
I look to Supertroopers to dictate all my responses in socially awkward or offensive environments. By this I mean I mostly just call people Bearfucker alot. Anyway, Farva on what should happen the next time a sci fi great loses or has
to turn over the award to a litsnob writer:
“Let me tell you another story new jack. Back in ’74 the great Charlie Rich was named country musician of the year. Then, in ’75, he had to hand that award off to the new winner. And do you know who that was? Mister Sunshine on my god damn shoulders John Denver. Can you beleive it? Replaced by John fucking Denver. Well I’ll be damned if Mr. Rich didn’t pull out his cigarette lighter right there and light that award on fire in front of everyone.”*
*This quote provided for entertainment purposes only. Setting fire to real world objects in protest not recommended.
Bearpaw @35 – well, I wouldn’t call them “romantic undertones” except in the most euphemistic way. Setting aside the obvious sublimation of vampirism for sex in Dracula, vampires are from a long tradition of the unquiet dead returning from the grave with the intent of having sex with the living. Often, in essence, screwing them to death.
(Sometimes I do get to drag my college degree out of storage and dust it off!)
Re people sneering at your reading, you could also try giving them a vaguely cheerful, blank look and asking “Really. Well, do you have anything you can recommend that would be better?” straight up. At worst, they will suggest embarassingly stupid books from other genres that you can then sneer at in return.
AFH: “Terry Goodkind freaking out about people calling his work fantasy…”
Oh, do you have linksies? Please share. I wanna see Terry Goodkind freak out over people calling his work fantasy. (I stopped reading the Wizard’s First Rule series about the time I ran into a thinly-disguised diatribe against Bill Clinton that even I, then a College Republican, rolled my eyes over. I’ve heard TG tries to channel Rand all over the place, and once saw a cover that parodied WFT as Conan the Libertarian.)
genre book turned into a movie = director said it was a romance not sci-fi even though the guy in it time traveled…why did he feel the need to distance himself from genre?
book=time traveler’s wife
Nice to see the proprietor up and about enough to ignore primate group dynamics.
But this is not a rational thing in the way you’d would like it to be. To roughly analogize, http://xkcd.com/592/
@70: John, I agree wholeheartedly with pretty much everything you say, except to comment that there are times when saying ‘fuck you, I don’t care what you think’ might actively cause problems in, say, the workplace. I understand or at least get the impression you’re referring primarily to encounters with ‘lit geeks’ that might occur in one’s social life, but I must say I find myself emphasizing with Laz (@71) in particular because I’m from Glasgow too, and I can pretty much guess what kind of thing she has to deal with at work.
I remember one woman (a friend of a friend) who worked for either a large legal or financial company, informing me that she never told anyone at her work about her interest in sf or her involvement in fandom. At first this seriously annoyed me, but in retrospect I think it likely the specific culture of her workplace could have caused her real problems if her taste in literature had become known.
Similarly, a good friend of mine works in the field of medicine and physics, and now runs a major research department at a hospital; when he was much lower down in the food chain, he wrote and sold sf stories under a pseudonym because he had reason to believe his workplace advancement might be adversely affected if his tastes in reading and writing had become known to the people he worked for.
You’re absolutely right that some people within the sf/f field need to get over the opinions of a minority of lit geeks, and certainly the prejudice against sf/f does come from a minority. But that minority – particularly in the case of the lit geeks (I love that term) – sometimes wield a disproportionate level of cultural power. I now write pro sf, and if anyone has a problem with that I tell them to go fuck themselves. But I can remember times in the distant past when I had to bite my tongue depending on circumstances, and there are others like Laz whose social or workplace circumstances mean they have to put up and shut up for the crime of reading a particular type of book. I feel for them.
Re people making snotty comments when they see one reading science fiction or fantasy: Etiquette Hell recommends these responses, depending on the content and tone:
1. Complete silence.
2. “What an interesting assumption.”
3. “Why would I want to do that?”
4. “Have you tried the bean dip?” (Change the subject.)
5. “So kind of you to take an interest.” (If you will be able to ignore them thereafter.)
I haven’t read any of the other comments, because I wanted to point out:
“That’s a little OCD, don’t you think?”
I always thought that most geeks were OCD. It’s what makes us geeks. (Reminds me for some reason of Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge.)
But overall, spot on. Geeks really should do their thing and just not care what other people think. Life is happier that way.
Craig @ # 80 has a good point. It’s not so much the average lit geek schlub off the street I care about, it’s the gatekeepers at institutional review houses sneering at F/SF that irritate me.
People like China Mieville who’re writing really groundbreaking books like The City & the City which is the Slaughterhouse Fives of today are not getting recognition unless they join the Atwoodian movement of renouncing (and insulting) the genre. And of course, major lit magazines like The NY Times Review of Books support this attitude, because they don’t want serious readers befouling themselves with genre literature.
At some point, this actually affects sales of a book labeled with the genre tag. Why? Because non-genre books are getting plugged in places where readers go to get recommendations, and genre books are being deliberately excluded because the gatekeepers think genre literature is shit without ever having read it. There really is a concerted effort by major publications to keep genre out, and deride it when possible.
John, I don’t care about annoying Sam Tennenhaus. I want him to either change, or go away.
As an SF/F fan and as an English professor, lemme tellya, it is definitely canonical literature/ “literary” fiction that lacks mainstream acceptance. My students either do not read at all, or they read genre-y stuff. That’s acceptance to me — is there a chance an average college kid would read it? (A few mutant misfits can be found enjoying novels of all types, and we put them in a special program called the English major).
A lit geek once said that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. Yes, SF/F geeks should look around and feel good about having created the weird present.
Please, red-shift yourself just a single step on the neurosis spectrum
Brilliant, on so many levels.
Scalzi: The point is not to give a damn if anyone else likes what you like.
I think we’re hardwired, at least in part, to want to be part of the “in” crowd, to be accepted, to be part of the team, part of the tribe. Maybe that’s how we survived the stone age, because people were programmed in part to not split up the group.
Obviously, what kind of art you like now doesn’t affect your odds of survival in today’s world. But I think it may trigger some of that “pack” or “tribe” mentality.
There seems to be some kind of hardwiring involved in the “defense of my genre” response. It doesn’t appear to be completely rational as in the “what other people like doesn’t affect me” sense.
But then the kind of art you like is non-logical. You like what you like because you like it. So, maybe it’s going to be difficult to get people to think rationally about something that is inherently irrational at some level. Art is not rational. It’s emotional.
And I wonder if people who can say “it doesn’t matter if anyone else likes what you like” arrived there rationally, or happened to be hardwired differently than people to whom it does matter.
There is a literary review of sf which is nicely demonstrated in the New York Review of Science Fiction. http://www.nyrsf.com/2004/07/nyrsf-editorial-192-blooming-on-negative-reviwing-as-performance.html
If links are frowned on, sorry. Just thought this might be a could source for some of the best literary critiquing that I’ve ever read. I want to assume this journal is common knowledge, but if not, I hope you find interesting.
My mothers favourite plaints about SFF are “it’s not real” and “anything can happen”. and my response is generally “Thats. The. Point.” When I get asked why I like “that rubbish” my response is “because I do and it’s none of your business”, and then 5 minutes later the same person will start talking about Lost or Heros or Spiderman, and I turn around to say “WTF do you think you are watching?”. But there is a bit of prejudice, towards SF in this country at least – the Scifi and Sky movies scifi/horror channels do not have listings in half the (printed) TV guide magazines here in England (there are 8 themed sky movie channels the 7 others get printed). It’s maybe a little thing but it is a symptom of the general disdain of the genre despite the fact that it is the most sucessful Movie genre. Despite the popularity of SFF most normal people will dissmiss it in an instant “nobody likes that” and when you say “Star Wars, Harry Potte etc” and the response is “but they were different and good” it’s like a brick wall sometimes to get people to admit that it is mainstream, despite the fact that it is. Elephant in the room most of the time.
“For me, the science fiction label belongs on books with things in them that we can’t yet do…. speculative fiction means a work that employs the means already to hand and that takes place on Planet Earth” –Margaret Atwood.
So yeah, speculative fiction, not science fiction. oh, the horror, oh the horror indeed.
(Note: guys, she was making a *joke* with the giant squid. A JOKE. I know! People make them! Who’d’ve thought?)
*gawps at Obama stylin’ a lightsaber*
Holy crap. The Geek have Inherited the Earth. That means we win!
So… uh… anyone wanna make a cool sci-fi movie? ;)
“And I wonder if people who can say ‘it doesn’t matter if anyone else likes what you like’ arrived there rationally, or happened to be hardwired differently than people to whom it does matter.”
No, they’re not generally hardwired differently; they’ve just made the conscious decision to tell other people criticizing what they like that they don’t care.
Certainly telling people that you don’t care what they think involves growing a thicker skin at one point or another. I am for that.
“John, I don’t care about annoying Sam Tennenhaus. I want him to either change, or go away.”
It’s unlikely he will do either anytime soon, but fortunately there’s a third option, which is to route around him. I’m not entirely sure why this isn’t a viable option. It simply takes more work.
Nothing will annoy them more than the knowledge you can’t be bothered to worry about what they think.
And nothing says “I can’t be bothered” like trying to annoy someone with your supposed indifference.
Who says it’s supposed? And if you are indifferent, then they will be annoyed. You don’t have to try.
John @ 109 – On one hand, I’m partial to the “roll your own” methodology. However, I’m working only in the genre end of things. For there to be a real strategy that makes the attitudes held by the NYTRB obsolete, we’d need serious non-genre voices as well. Just creating a better Locus isn’t going to cut it.
On the other hand, the NY Times and most other newspapers seem to be ending their own existence just fine without my help.
On the gripping hand, the Books section at the Huffington Post is not really something I see as a great replacement.
I can’t predict what’s going to come next, to be honest, but I do know that we can’t “route around” the NYTBR without something of the same size and authority to route into. I’m happy to participate in whatever that is, if you’ll just point me at it.
And if you do care what they think, why?
@ Scalzi — you know, this thing you’re suggesting here is actually pretty effing difficult. It’s one of the main reasons I keep reading you every day with this awe-filled expression in my eyes — I want to learn how to do that! :-) Out loud, I mean.
“I can’t predict what’s going to come next, to be honest, but I do know that we can’t ‘route around’ the NYTBR without something of the same size and authority to route into. I’m happy to participate in whatever that is, if you’ll just point me at it.”
1. This is suddenly my job? You know, in terms of helping writers with publicity, I think I’m pulling my own weight with “The Big Idea.” I’m not sure I need to devote to myself to a larger project, especially if I plan to write my own work.
2. I question the assumption that NYTBR (or the NYT generally) is some sort of essential gatekeeper, particularly as regards SF/F. I can tell you with some authority that being featured on Instapundit and Boing Boing was rather more important for me in terms of immediate sales and long-term fan base than having a full page devoted to me in the NYTBR. My experience is anecdotal, to be sure, but it’s a pretty good anecdote.
If I were a SF writer I think I’d be unhappy simply because in terms of reviews in the main UK newspapers Literary fiction gets 99% of the space wheras Genre fiction in general gets a couple of 3 line reviews a month if lucky.
From a sales perspective that surely must grate.
What’s strange is that the same newspapers have no problem giving long detailed reviews to SFF films or TV series.
John @ 114 – This is suddenly my job? You know, in terms of helping writers with publicity, I think I’m pulling my own weight with “The Big Idea.” I’m not sure I need to devote to myself to a larger project, especially if I plan to write my own work.
Um, no one is accusing you of not pulling your weight. I’m sorry if it sounded like that, but I’m really not sure where you’re getting the idea that I think you’re not. If I’m complaining about anything, it’s certainly not you, not Boing Boing, and not instapundit, or any number of places that are doing good work.
I question the assumption that NYTBR (or the NYT generally) is some sort of essential gatekeeper, particularly as regards SF/F. I can tell you with some authority that being featured on Instapundit and Boing Boing was rather more important for me in terms of immediate sales and long-term fan base than having a full page devoted to me in the NYTBR. My experience is anecdotal, to be sure, but it’s a pretty good anecdote.
What you’re describing in getting a better boost from blog sites is more of a distributed network of pre-existing genre fans, rather than a central location of general readers, which is probably a good thing in a lot of ways. But I don’t think it’s really the complete answer.
What I’m saying is that any central location that comes up in the future is probably going to have an institutional prejudice against F/SF, and I personally would rather work from the inside to change this a bit rather than just write it off and say it’s not relevant, because I think it is.
We all know Boing Boing’s readership is a bunch of genre fans. So, a genre book given attention there is going to do well. The NYTRB, the Oprah Book club, and other institutions are *not* chock full of genre fans, and won’t grow the number of genre unless they stop bagging on genre fiction as if it was weak crap that’s not worth reading.
As they relate to existing readers of F/SF, the NYT isn’t a gatekeeper. As they relate to people who like books, and might like F/SF if someone actually talked about it seriously, they are.
And of course, the NYT is only one example. Reviews publishing as a whole, and media outlets that talk about books (TV, radio, etc) have pretty much the same attitude with a few exceptions, like Michael Dirda or Lev Grossman. And they both say that getting attention for a groundbreaking genre book is like pulling teeth. And that’s the core of the problem. We’re marketing to pre-existing buyers, rather than growing the core audience.
John, I came across a rather liberating statement last year that I think echoes the core sentiment of your rant:
“What you think of me is none of my business.”
I’m still trying to absorb that statement and incorporate it into my interactions and responses. It can sometimes be difficult after a lifetime of habitually kowtowing to the opinions of others.
Not sure what triggered your rant, but its a good one. Love the discussion surrounding it.
Josh said, “the Oprah Book club, and other institutions are *not* chock full of genre fans,…”
At least not SFF fans. I would hope we’re too smart to waste our time on someone who promotes the likes of the The Secret. What infantile dribble.
There’s much here to ponder, debate, much with which to agree/disagree. That’s all to the good. I have two things to add to the thread.
1. The word geek, as of a few minutes ago, is defined as: a) “a peculiar or otherwise dislikable person, b) a computer expert or enthusiast c) a carnival performer who is physically grotesque or who performs sensationally morbid or disgusting acts.” I wonder which of these meanings everyone here is intending?
2. I have my own political views (and views on the genre fiction issue here, and other views). It doesn’t matter here if they are up, right, down or left or down (in clockwise order). I have fashioned these views from what I believe are reasoned conclusions. They work for me. If I come across some political pundit on television who is ranting in some other direction, I may listen to reasoned points, but most likely I’ll change the channel. That’s not a head-in-the-sand reaction, it simply makes sense to ignore what I consider opinionated silliness.
I generally keep my opinions to myself, but I don’t have to care what someone else thinks unless that someone is in a position to legislate away a personal freedom. So until someone tries to make a law against reading genre fiction, my policy is live and let live.
“What you’re describing in getting a better boost from blog sites is more of a distributed network of pre-existing genre fans”
Not really. Again, anecdotal, but a substantial number of my readers, particularly those I picked via Instapundit, were not regular SF readers. In Glenn’s case, the reason they picked up the book was not because they were inclined to read SF but because he recommended the book, which is another dynamic altogether. Not everyone who uses the Internet or reads a blog is an SF geek.
But even if it were true, how is this a bad thing? The universe of “pre-existing genre fans” is quite substantial, and there’s a reasonably good chance I could make a long and happy career out of only the people for whom liking science fiction was a pre-existing condition. I’m certainly happy to bring new readers into SF when possible, but I’m also happy to work my way through the audience which already exists. That’s millions of people right there.
Again, a lot of this comes down to resentment of the people who don’t feel the genre deserves consideration. I say: Fuck ’em. There are other ways to get the word out, both to the people inclined to read the genre in which I write, and to the people who aren’t. If the NYT doesn’t want to cover science fiction, we can still make it onto their bestseller lists without them.
Greg: And I wonder if people who can say ‘it doesn’t matter if anyone else likes what you like’ arrived there rationally, or happened to be hardwired differently than people to whom it does matter.
Scalzi@109: No, they’re not generally hardwired differently; they’ve just made the conscious decision to tell other people … they don’t care.
A ‘conscious decision’ can’t take place if the ‘hardwiring’ doesn’t allow it. It could be that a “conscious decision” only takes place because the hardwiring allows it.
It may feel like a conscious decision to you, but you may have been wired to allow it.
I think you’re implying the basic “rational actor” notion, that people are rational beings and can do anything they want to do. And yet, study after study shows that poeple don’t always act in their best personal interest, they’re not always “rational actors”. If people were purely rational, the only thing they’d need to know to lose weight is “eat right and exercise”. That doesn’t work with a lot of people. You tell them that, you tell them everything they need to know to lose weight, and they don’t do it.
Because people are partly irrational.
The rational thing to do about genre criticism is to not care what other people think about the genres you like. And yet, many people don’t do that. Many people get upset and get defensive and have other responses. They “know” everything they need to know, but they don’t do it. Just like some overweight people know to “eat less and exercise” but many don’t do it.
Saying “just make a conscious decision to not care” will basically get the first cut of people to stop worrying about it. After that, anyone left who still cares what other people think are people unmoved by your “rational actor” argument.
Tim: “What you think of me is none of my business.”
I’m picturing the scene from “Men Who Stare at Goats”. George Clooney is thinking some evil thought and a goat in another room keels over dead.
There was a nice article in Salon a few years back called “In Defense of Science Fiction”. I get what Mr. Scalzi is saying about not caring what lit geeks say, but still I sometimes feel the urge to proselytize lit geeks to the SF good news.
After all, I tend to enjoy the Pulitzer Prize winners. Why shouldn’t the lit geeks enjoy the Hugo Award winners?
I admit, I was pleased the other day, when I sat on the bus next to what appeared to be a high school student. He had green hair, black fingernails, and was reading a YA horror novel. No one else on the (quite crowded) bus seemed to think he was worth a stare or comment.
Meh. Your Calvinist approach to neurology is not one I subscribe to for the general population. For the subset of people who literally cannot make a conscious decision to ignore other’s opinions of their reading material because of “hardwiring,” I suggest a consult, because it’s likely indicative of deeper-seated mental issues, which likely can and should be addressed medically.
As for the assumption I think people are inherently rational actors, clearly you need to re-read my blog. That said, neither do I think people are slaves to their “hardwiring,” as you appear to like to put it. Barring mental illness, people are perfectly capable of a) deciding consciously on a course of action, b) working toward that goal. I certainly agree the average person (much less average geek) is not capable of flicking a switch and saying “now I don’t care what you think.” But the average person (and geek) is capable of choosing that as a goal and working to that point, and I think the suggestion otherwise is defeating and possibly condescending.
Well the re-routing is happening over this last decade, Josh. It’s little things like Chabon taking up the cheer section for genre and then winning the Pulitizer for an SF novel, the Guardian asking Ursula LeGuin to review Margaret Atwood’s novel, and Dan Simmons getting reviewed in the New York Times. It’s Greg Bear appearing on the Daily Show as part of a government council and to hawk his new technothriller. It’s Lev Grossman, reviewer for Time, feeling compelled first off to write a fantasy novel, and then feeling compelled to do an article in the Wall Street Journal arguing SFF is the post-modernist literature movement, rather than trying to say he’s not really a fantasy writer. It’s the Washington Post Book World doing a whole spread on the genres and a feature piece on Mieville praising Perdido Street Station as a literary work, etc. It’s Gabriel Garcia Marquez claiming SF is the literature of the future.
The only reason people cling to the idea that such and such is not SFF and real SFF can’t be good is because they’re told that — by teachers, media, authors, people they know. Change the message and you change people’s perceptions. And that message is being changed, but it takes the work of many to change it. It takes them repeating again and again that category SFF is normal and worthwhile, and if you don’t know that, you’re behind the times and out of the loop (which you are.)
Which is why I don’t fully support Scalzi’s screw off approach, although I don’t disagree with it either. (There is also the legitimate difficulty with those who work in an environment where anything that still has a reputation as quirky or effecting a hostile reaction can effect their career, just like driving the wrong car.)
But when you are someone who reads SF writers you consider to be quite strong literary-wise, and you read non-category SF writers considered literary by many too, and you watch Lost, and you encounter a person who has only heard about the non-category SF writers and watches Lost — you have the leg up on that person. You have a wider literary experience, more knowledge — you are the litgeek. You are the one who defines what is normal, not him, because you know that being engaged in all those things are normal and culturally relevant, while the other person is behind the times. And if you convince and persuade that person that not only are all those things are normal but culturally lauded — which they are in many quarters — you change the message. And if that person is convinced or at least becomes doubtful about the old message, that person repeats the new message to others — who spread it.
It’s kind of like swine flu, further pushed by a change in generations who go to school and learn SFF there. It’s also a fact of life that the more commercially successful SFF is in all areas, the more aware people are of it and are likely to experience it, and the more literary our leading lights are seen as being. For “old media” such as the New York Times Review of Books, this can be threatening. But for new media, and old media desperately struggling to be seen as new, SFF is where literature is heading, as Marquez predicted.
I will not be surprised if in ten years or so, a category SFF author wins the National Book Award, and when that happens, the not-SFF concept may have taken so many body blows that those who still endorse it will be trotted out for controversy’s sake and then gently patted on the head.
All of which, as Scalzi points out, sort of means diddley squat. But for those for whom the perception is important, fighting the culture wars is a waste of time, whereas changing the message just takes over. Confidence, kindness, knowledge — these are better weapons than whining, defensiveness and declarations of tribal loyalty. The world is already engaged in what writers like Scalzi do and becoming more engaged every day.
The same principle applies to video game system fanboys. :-)
For the subset of people who literally cannot make a conscious decision to ignore other’s opinions of their reading material because of “hardwiring,” I suggest a consult, because it’s likely indicative of deeper-seated mental issues, which likely can and should be addressed medically.
Oh, right. I can make a conscious decision to ignore other people’s opinions of what I read, but funnily enough, it doesn’t help me a lot. Especially when the other people are, you know, family. Or even friends. And I suspect many SF and fantasy geeks have more or less the same experience, at least part of the time. But not many of us humans go consult a psychiatrist for things that make us humans. Strange, huh?
“I can make a conscious decision to ignore other people’s opinions of what I read, but funnily enough, it doesn’t help me a lot.”
Work at it some more, then.
Aside from that you’re misreading when I suggest a consult would be a good thing.
And aside from that, I think it’s fairly evident that I’m not notably sympathetic to the idea that geeks just can’t work toward getting a space where they don’t give a shit what other people think about their SF reading habits. I certainly understand some of us don’t want to have to, but it’s not that sort of world. I also understand apparently some of us want to look for reasons why we can’t, but again, I’m not finding those arguments wholly convincing.
Now, certainly, a lot of this attitude comes from the fact I don’t have a problem telling people that I don’t care what they think, and when it comes to it, telling people to fuck right off, either. However, I think a lot of people are under the assumption this comfort level is something natural, and which I didn’t have to work at. This assumption amuses me.
Please, red-shift yourself just a single step on the neurosis spectrum.
Lovely, lovely, turn of phrase, Mr. Scalzi. Yeah, I know, it’s what you get paid for, but still. Gotta point out the gems when they shine.
Regarding Book Awards in the SFF genres
British Book Awards: JK Rowling won Author of the Year in 2000, Book of the Year in 2006, and Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.
Of course, she became a member of the “Order of the British Empire” in 2001, which is a significant award in itself.
I’m occasionally inconsistent on this point, but I try not to let anyone call me a geek. I’m just someone who likes to read. I read science fiction–less lately than I used to, but still quite a bit–and pretty much anything else that comes to hand. I do cringe when romance or Christian novels end up in my hand, because they have little to surprise me with–the protagonist gets married or saved, the end.
And if I start them, I still read the damned things. I am, as I said, just someone who likes to read.
Scalzi: That said, neither do I think people are slaves to their “hardwiring,” as you appear to like to put it. Barring mental illness, people are perfectly capable of a) deciding consciously on a course of action, b) working toward that goal.
Like “diet and exercise”, with the same issues.
I certainly agree the average person (much less average geek) is not capable of flicking a switch and saying “now I don’t care what you think.”
Maybe the term “hardwire” wasn’t the most accurate. I certainly don’t think there is a “switch” somewhere that exists that can be “flicked” from “care” to “don’t care”.
I think the suggestion otherwise is defeating
If what I say affects what is possible for others, then it isn’t so much a “conscious” decision of the individual as it is a function of the cultural conversation. i.e. if everyone in SF says “I don’t care what other people think of SF” then that tends to reinforce “I don’t care what other people think of SF” for individuals when confronted with, for example, a condescending family member who thinks SF is stupid.
and possibly condescending.
Well, I was talking about all people, myself included. If I’m condescending, I’m also self deprecating, or something.
Irene: Oh, right. I can make a conscious decision to ignore other people’s opinions of what I read, but funnily enough, it doesn’t help me a lot. Especially when the other people are, you know, family. Or even friends.
Well, there’s how you feel about it and then there’s what the rest of the world does.
I was talking more about whether or not Alice can truly not care what other people (Bob, Charlie, and Eve) think about what she (Alice) likes.
If Alice doesn’t care what Bob thinks about her tastes in art, but Bob insists on pointing out his opinion every time Alice is reading a book, Alice might not care about Bob’s opinion, but the conversation might get annoying as far as Alice is concerned.
Put another way, if Alice doesn’t care that Bob has a negative opinion about what she likes, even if Bob never expresses it, then that’s the “not caring” piece. If Alice doesn’t care about Bob’s opinion, but Bob always makes a point of pontificating his negative opinion every time Alice has an SF book in her hand, then that’s just tedious for Alice.
Scalzi: However, I think a lot of people are under the assumption this comfort level is something natural, and which I didn’t have to work at. This assumption amuses me.
“Your Hate Mail will be Graded” indicates being pretty comfortable with extremely negative opinions about your own work.
If you didn’t “flick a switch” and if it wasn’t “natural” for you, I’d be curious what your journey looked like. Did someone just tell you “stop caring” and you suddenly stopped? Was the transition dependent on something external? (i.e. did you stop worrying after you hit a certain level of “success”?) Or did the externals remain the same and you had some sort of internal epiphany? (pondering Plato’s cave, or something)
“I was talking more about whether or not Alice can truly not care what other people (Bob, Charlie, and Eve) think about what she (Alice) likes.
If Alice doesn’t care what Bob thinks about her tastes in art, but Bob insists on pointing out his opinion every time Alice is reading a book, Alice might not care about Bob’s opinion, but the conversation might get annoying as far as Alice is concerned.”
I think in that analysis Alice is a lot less emotionally involved in the encounter. If Alice cares what others think, then when people comment negatively to her she isn’t just defending her time, she’s defending the value of her self image.
If she doesn’t care, she is genuinely indifferent. And, while it may become tedious to deal with the issue, it is just that: boring repetition of a mindless process. Mentally, she’s a lot less engaged in that environment than she would be with the snooze button on a work day. It’s just a defense of her time.
More than this, being generally indifferent to Bobs opinion she is free to engage or not as she elects. No need to defend herself leaves her more free to act, decreasing the impact of the interuption.
but Bob always makes a point of pontificating his negative opinion every time Alice has an SF book in her hand, then that’s just tedious for Alice.
I recommend bopping Bob with said SF book.
Pam @ 135 –
Or, Samuel Clemens style:
“If a person offends you, and you are in doubt as to whether it was intentional or not, do not resort to extreme measures; simply watch your chance and hit him with a brick.”
Yes, TransDutch, and Rowling also won the Whitbread Award. But as I recently discovered in a forum conversation, many people — including SFF fans — make the argument that the British Book Awards don’t count as “real” literary awards and neither does the Whitbread. Which is, again, silly. Which is why only the very biggest literary awards are going to probably make a change in this area. But said change will be caused by a combination of many factors — who the judges are, young authors, the media, the decisions of publishers as to who to submit, etc.
What is more workable are 1) the media, especially through online conduits; and 2) your friends, acquaintances and family. Educate others; let them be skeptical but keep explaining that they are out of touch with the literary world. Because they are. They are basically laboring under the delusion that it is still 1982. Be gentle, but be firm. Accidental ignorance is understandable, but deliberate ignorance requires illumination and pity.
Which first means that you have to understand that you not only like SFF, but that SFF — category SFF — is valued. It is valued in universities, it is valued by many media critics, authors, teachers, internationally. And if you, a fan, don’t understand that yet, then you can’t expect the non-fans to do so. The root of discrimination and prejudice is ignorance. Combat the ignorance, and the discrimination fades, except for a few wacky diehards.
All this time I was unaware of the un-declared war between different literary genre fans. I guess I better reshelve my (currently alphabetical by author) books before my Proust volumes start smacking up the Piserchia paperbacks.
If I am seperating by genre now, where do I put Dan Simmons? Illium and Olympos have spaceships AND ancient gods. Do gods outweigh spaceships in the fantasy vs. scifi conflict?
John, I both agree and disagree with you.
Agree, because you’re absolutely right; SF concepts and themes have gone mainstream in a big way.
Disagree, because even as they’ve done so, they have been systematically labeled “not SF” — and not just by lit-geeks, but by the mainstream readers and viewers who enjoy them, but who do NOT want to be lumped in with those losers who still live in their parents’ basements and have no lives outside of the computer.
IOW, the stereotype of the “sci-fi fan” is still very much alive and well, and the mainstream which so enthusiastically embraces science-fictional tropes and ideas nonetheless simultaneously insists on leaving the term “science fiction” itself outside the pale.
It’s annoying as hell.
On the other hand, nobody tried to label Lord of the Rings as anything but fantasy, and the movies were blockbuster hits, not merely movies that pulled in a lot of geeks a la Serenity. And you don’t get much more “nerd who lives in his parents’ basement and carries around a pocket of d20s” than Tolkien, fercrissakes.
For those of you with condesending family members – I have 5/6 of my family disdaining my choice of genre, that’s my father, mother (despite the John Wyndham and Clark Ashton Smith in her book collection and Back to the Future being her faourite film she still holds a negative attitude towards SFF), 2 older brothers and younger sister. I do not know how or why I like SFF, with my parents not liking it i’m fairly sure I shouldn’t. But every time they say negative things about it I just sighed or said ‘riiiiight’. I have managed to amass a collection of over 2,000 SFF despite them. I have taken SFF to work and there have been the ususal things said there, but the less I cared about what they said, and the more I stared at them with a puzzled frown and said ‘so?’ then went right back to reading, the more it was just accepted fact. And by then they were asking me about the books I was reading and I was explaining concepts like predeterminism, fate, Time Travel and self awareness. I got people reading SFF just through nonchalance.
Huge breakthrough a few years ago, my dad suddenly had the desire to watch Star Wars, and he likes Pirates of the Carribean.
Funny story, me and my dad were watching the new Indiana Jones and he said to me “at least it’s not like the rubbish you watch, there aren’t any aliens in it” Had me in stiches and he was a bit abashed by the end.
I care because I am both an SFF geek and a lit geek.
he said to me “at least it’s not like the rubbish you watch, there aren’t any aliens in it”
Well, except in that particular case, the aliens were a really dumb addition to the story. I mean, that one was really, really, baaaaaad.
So, if “aliens in Indiana Jones” is what people think of when they think “SF”, then I could see why it puts a bad taste in their mouths.
I don’t think I’ve ever been criticised for my choice of reading material — well, except for that one time, when I was reading a book about poisonous spiders and a colleague couldn’t understand why I’d read such a thing, meaning a pop science book as far as I could gather, not necessarily anything to do with the subject matter. “Because I’m interested in the subject,” was all I could say. (If I’d admitted to being an arachnophobe, I think that might have confused him even more.)
But anyway, I don’t think I’ve ever got, or at any rate, noticed getting any hassle for reading F&SF. Maybe I’ve been lucky, or maybe I’ve never cared overly much what other people thought about it.
Margaret Atwood is right about her book the Handmaid’s Tale not being science fiction, even if that claim is more debatable where her last couple of novels.
THT details the inner emotional life of its character in a way that the best literary fiction always does, and the best science fiction rarely does (though crime fiction is better at this one, I have to concede).
THT is about a woman whose daughter has been kidnapped, and whose husband might be interned without trial but who is probably dead, and who herself has been subject to gross violations of her person and her human rights.
It bears comparison with other political satires (like 1984, for example, which is not a sci-fi novel either, despite being set in what was then Orwell’s future), not with whatever vaguely comparable science fiction novels you might be able to dredge up.
D. J. P. O’Kane – THT details the inner emotional life of its character in a way that the best literary fiction always does, and the best science fiction rarely does
Care to provide examples of what this “best” science fiction is, and explain why you’re qualified to judge it? Or are you pulling from other people’s “best” lists?
Sigh. It’s not science fiction if has actual characterization and is, like, good? Are we bored this morning?
Klytus, I’m bored. What play thing can you offer me today?
An obscure body in the S-K System, your majesty. The inhabitants refer to it as The Whatever.
You know, I’d be more inclined to think we’d won the culture war if the SciFi channel didn’t think it needed to look outside the genre to drum up viewership. I mean, seriously, the rebranded SyFy has talked about doing *cooking* shows, for Pete’s sake, and not the fun ‘To Serve Man’ or even ‘Semi-Historic Foods and Recipes from Genre Literature for the Fun of It’ kind of shows.
In the individual sense, what other people think doesn’t really matter to me, but in the greater scheme of things, it can have a huge impact on what is available to me in the mindless and not-so-mindless entertainment categories.
Then again, I’m female and not in their target demographic, so what I think is entirely immaterial to TPTB at Syfy.
“Then again, I’m female and not in their target demographic, so what I think is entirely immaterial to TPTB at Syfy.”
Au contraire, Lynette, they specifically want female viewers, who have increased for the network and who they have expressed in the media they are specifically chasing. That’s what the rebranding is in part about — they want to make the network seem more female friendly. That’s why they want to have cooking shows — for us ladies. Less icky spaceships, more romances! Or something. I don’t think they have it entirely worked out.
And this female welcoming attitude has a lot of male SF fans annoyed at Siffy. (See the he-man blog entry.)
Hell, if they can give me a couple of good sauce recipes, I’d watch a cooking show.
The thing I try to get across is good SF is a thought experiment.
When someone starts talking down SF, to the point I feel the need to respond, I point out geosync satellites came from Arther C Clark in 1945. The whole cyberspace/virtual reality from Neuromancer and Snow Crash.
[suckup] Take Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War”: what if we get out there && there are lots of bad-ass alien races && we need an army? The new bodies, the mind transfer, the built-in communication, what to do with the “excess” bodies, etc. Most of these are basic SF tropes, but the combination makes for a good tale && thought experiment. The new part seems to be using pissed-off old farts. I do like Scalzi avoided the trope “we record the memories and just pour them into a new body when the old one gets killed”. You get one shot in a kick-ass body. Although the retirement body is pretty wimpy in comparison. [/suckup]
Cloning is just becoming technologically viable. This topic has a great number of thought experiments in the consequences – politically, morally, on society, etc. CJ Cherry has a very interesting take on this, to name just one of many.
Jim Funaro, an anthropologist, has been using SF since the early 1960’s when Planet Of The Apes came out – a primate society with some correct and many incorrect details. This has evolved to the Contact conference, which is an Anthro conference that uses SF as a framework. (http://www.ccon.org/). This format allows a number of real-time, thought experiments.
Sturgeon’s Law applies to RealLit and SFLit equally – story elements like plot, character, craft are critical to good stories. Knowing how to write is genre independent.
If the RealLit folks want to be snobs – let them. How many English Majors do that for a living? if this is such a Good Thing, why are so many of them waiting on tables?
Part is also cultural – my father, who was a Systems Engineer at GE Computers in the 60’s, then continued in the computer field for decades, could not see the value of SF. Even when I brought up geosync satellites: “We did that in physics class in 1955”. Yes dad, but it took an SF writer to think of the idea. He read a lot of fiction – Travis McGee, Guns of Navarone, etc. But – even though he was a nerd, it was an Old School 60’s type – the white shirt (long-sleeve for managers, short sleeve for engineers) and skinny black tie. I know that a fair amount of early and 60’s fandom matches that description, but fandom has been a small minority, even among nerds/geeks.
In short, I read SF for the Big Ideas that come along. I prefer the hard stuff, because it makes the story “more real”. I also read a lot of page turners, military SF, and when possible, Weird Alien Sex. If I restricted my reading to the Good 10%, I would not have that much to read.
Will RealLit ever accept SFLit? Probably not – unless you start throwing in Zombies. Does it really matter? Only to a tiny minority. There are some environments, such as law firms, where SF will never be accepted – sad but true. Fortunately, I make a living as a nerd, and am expected to be a bit weird. But I just got a retired Air Force officer hooked on Starship Troopers.
BTW – the term is not OCD – it’s CDO – get the alphabetical order correct!!
I think the problem lies less in “mainstream acceptance” of the sci-fi and fantasy genres in general and more in the “mainstream acceptance” of the fans of said genres.
We’re geeks, and usually none of us have a problem admitting it. But then there are those who are Geeks, and the regular geeks are even not accepting of them.
Consider Trekkies–there are those, like myself, who have been raised on the various TV shows and movies and books from Star Trek, and would consider themselves to be a Trekkie. But then there are those who own Starfleet uniforms and wear Vulcan ears outside of conventions and speak Klingon or Romulan. And when you start to discuss Star Trek with someone who has never been interested in the show, these are the people they think of first, and they assume that everyone who watches the show or likes the show partakes in what they would consider to be major social faux pas.
Just like in anything, be it religion or politics or sports or literature, it’s the extremists who give the regular people a bad name. (Note, I’m not trying to say those who go to Star Trek conventions and are hard core fans are bad people, but they are extreme; if they enjoy it and it’s not hurting anyone though, then who am I to say it’s wrong?)
Think about most of the major movie blockbusters from the summer; most of them would be considered sci-fi or fantasy. Things like Star Wars and Star Trek are household names, even if no one in the household is interested in sci-fi. The genre itself is socially accepted.
And even if you don’t care whether or not someone else accepts your views, there’s still the desire to be accepted.
Anyway, at the end of the day, how many of the things we take for granted now as everyday conveniences came out of sci-fi books, movies, or TV shows? Think on that when you consider just how much the geeks have “won”.