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 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.