Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

The Accessibility or Lack Thereof of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Also: TV Non-Update!

I love this Locus roundtable about the accessibility or lack thereof of fantasy and science fiction. I love much of what is said in it, but I also love the mere fact that it exists. It’s amazing how much more self-aware and just interested-in-the-state-of-their-genre science fiction and fantasy writers are than literary writers.

It’s hard for me to imagine a similar public conversation nosubhealth.com happening among literary writers. There is a dearth of frank talk in the literary world.

A dearth, I say.

The roundtable as a whole is, like, a cascading concatenation of interesting remarks, but I’ll pull out this exchange (massively butchered for length), which is about why more SF doesn’t break out into the mainstream.

Quoth James Patrick Kelly:

“I think that at least part of the sag in popular acceptance of sf and thus its failure to break out has to do with our perception of the future. It doesn’t look like an adventure anymore, or at least not the shiny adventure that we were hoping for…a literature that purports to live in the future is bound to have some falling-off because of this.”

Whereat N.K. Jemisin said:

“Jim: Only if that literature fails to keep pace with the realism that readers seem to want from it. Again, I point to YA — the dystopian subgenre in YA is selling like hotcakes because it’s harsh and depressing, and because it doesn’t pull any punches with respect to workable economics and the un-shinyness of the future if we don’t change things. Something in that grimness speaks to the teenagers and young people who are growing up in the increasingly craptastic society we’re creating for them. Is it surprising that they need some kind of literary catharsis to deal with this mess? They need a space in which to imagine revolutions and solutions and coping mechanisms. They do not need “welp, no biggie, it’ll all get fixed somehow and in five hundred years we’ll be in spaaace!” handwaving. That’s not sensawunda, that’s naivete and denial, and if SF has nothing more to offer its readers than that then it deserves to fail.”

Which dovetails interestingly with some of the comments on last week’s “What is Fantasy About” post. Is it possible that the zeitgeist is looking at fantasy right now simply because fantasy is the genre that is offering hope?

That’s a bit glib, but you see what I’m saying.

In any case, I think this stuff is important. Fantasy and SF should break out into the mainstream. We shouldn’t just talk to each other. We can’t sit around and blame the mainstream if it doesn’t read us, it is incumbent upon us to talk to the mainstream in a language it can understand. And I truly believe that we can say what needs to be said in that language.


Now a non-update about the Magicians TV show: it’s going really well. I can’t say much of anything about it, but I had a conference call with the writers yesterday and, you know, wow. It’s going really well. TV moves fast — it’s not like movies where things stay in turnaround for years and years. If things keep on going well, there will be more updates, even better than this one, in the months to come.

p.s. Some me links. Me talking to Peter Orullian on Tor.com. Me talking about P.G. Wodehouse. Vanity Fair talking about me. Me missing Anne McCaffrey.

3 comments on “The Accessibility or Lack Thereof of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Also: TV Non-Update!

  1. First: So what they were saying at the roundtable was that everyone should be watching Star Trek: Deep Space 9.

    Second: As both a bookseller and a reader, the “mainstream” consists of serial authors who publish 2+ books a month. I’ve noticed many modern thrillers be sci-fi in nature, but in such a small way that they don’t get filed in that section. Hell, “World War Z” is filed under “Fiction & Literature,” not “Science Fiction.” Your novels have been selling VERY well, and not to who I’d expect.

    I think mainstream is dead. Everything has an audience, no matter how small, and they will defend the media they love to death (see: Community).

  2. Jefferson says:

    A very intriguing post, helped out immensely by the Pigs in Space! picture. One of the things that came to mind immediately after reading your post was a sense of community. I’m going off on a tangent, so bear with me.

    I came of age in what I call the “Golden Age of Alternative Music.” R.E.M., The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Smiths, The Cure, etc. When the only place you could find that music was on low-watt little college radio stations or MTV’s 120 Minutes it felt as if you were in a very exclusive club. When the lunkheads started liking R.E.M. it was horrible.

    Now, I’ve grown up a bit since then and I realize that R.E.M. signing a major label contract did great things for them; it gave them exposure and allowed them further creativity. Sci-Fi and fantasy are similar to me. When we were the ones who knew about the Mines of Moria and The Martian Chronicles, not to mention Philip K. Dick, it felt as if we were the ones who “got it.” Part of me still feels that way, but I realize it is very limiting to the authors. Perhaps the reason that Sci-Fi and Fantasy aren’t as mainstream as other genres may have to do to the fact that some still feel as if they are niche quantities. The fact that properties such as The Lord of the Rings have become so universal seems to decry that, but I still see it in some bookstores.

    As for the dystopian future, it seems that it is what’s left in Sci-Fi. It is true, we can’t say that the future will fix everything and we’ll be in space, it’s an easy cop-out. It also seems as if it’s a reflection of what came before; turning back to music as someone who’s on one side of 40 that we were always told that music was better in the sixties, and in some way that’s bled over into Sci-Fi and Fantasy as well. What’s left to explore? I think that’s one of the reasons that zombie themes are so prevalent, it is a destruction of everything that came before. As for Fantasy, specifically Harry Potter and The Magicians, we’re provided alternate realities that give us hope. Hope that within us that magic exists, hope that despite everything going to hell that a magical world exists.

    Maybe that’s why Sci-Fi and Fantasy are doing as well as they are, we all need a little hope these days. Especially in the YA arena; those kids definitely need some hope.

  3. Little My says:

    Oops, posted this comment to the wrong blog entry: Why is she allowed to call Julia a “gal pal”? Both words seem just wrong for Julia, and together they’re even worse. Something should be done.

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