‘If You Write SF, Deny Your Genre’

Some people may have missed Brian Aldiss’ letter to The (London) Times on October 16 under this heading. He says:

Sir, At the Cheltenham Festival Margaret Atwood said that writers “are
likely to be compulsive wordsmiths” — presumably a way of saying that
writing is for some of us an expression of the life force.

Her life would have been more difficult had she not cleverly denied that
her early science fiction novels, such as A Handmaid’s Tale, were
science fiction. Had she neglected this strategy, there would have been
for her no more literary festivals, no more reviews, no more appearances
on BBC breakfast programmes.

It is a truth widely acknowledged that SF is not worth consideration by
sane minds. Kurt Vonnegut and J. G. Ballard have adopted Atwood’s
gambit. When Vonnegut grew tired of being a guru, he returned to SF and
wrote such brilliant novels as Galápagos. No reviewer spoke its name.
When — possibly because of my age — I was invited on Desert Island Discs
this year, I was told that SF readers were nerds who were poor and could
not “get a woman”.

(I was very tempted to use that last quote as the heading. Just for sport, of course.) Aldiss raises an issue that has plagued numerous genre writers down the years, from Stephen King to Terry Pratchett, who said that magical realism is fantasy for people whose friends went to Cambridge.

But to be honest, I enjoy that outsider status. One of the roles of genre fiction is to kick over the statues. We should celebrate that.