‘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.

0 thoughts on “‘If You Write SF, Deny Your Genre’”

  1. I couldn’t care less about the literary world at large. I don’t read the books they adore, so why should they read the ones I like? The world is too big to please everyone. The future in publishing is all about the niche, with a few bestsellers to the side.

  2. It has always bothered me that there are authors who disguise their non-mainstream works as something other than speculative fiction. Most notable in recent times is Cormac McCarthy. These people have an opportunity to elevate speculative fiction to something more acceptable to general public and to the literary world merely by the fact that they are award-winning authors who happen to write in the genre. They have an opportunity, and they disregard it because, for their own arrogance and ego, they don’t want to be put alongside such “lower-class authors” as HG Wells or Isaac Asimov or – Heaven-forbid – Edgar Allen Poe.

    I have no problem being a writer in the niche market. I agree with Mr. Chunn that that is where the market seems to be heading, but that doesn’t mean that authors with that kind of clout can’t be mindful of the fact that we’re all part of the same literary field.

  3. It may not always be down to the authors though, JB. Marketing departments wield a mighty stick when they’re trying to decide where they can garner big sales – genre or mainstream markets. Maybe they exert pressure on those authors?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.