I’d like to start a discussion here. I’m not writing this with the aim of starting a big controversy, but lately I’ve been wondering something:
Does SF take itself too seriously?
Is SF a ghetto where we’re the ones building the walls? Why do we get so damn pissed when someone dares to publish an SF book outside the ghetto, and doesn’t want to be labeled an SF author? Wouldn’t it be better to have the SFnal concepts introduced to a wider audience in order to un-ghettoize the ghetto?
Let’s look at romance. The romance book market comprises approximately 60% of all book sales. They know they’re in the romance ghetto, but they don’t seem to get all bent out of shape if someone happens to publish a “mainstream” book that has romantic elements. The easy answer to that is because there are a zillion stories with romantic elements. But I’m not so sure that we can say that SF/F is any different, because there are a zillion stories/movies/TV shows/[insert media of choice] with SFnal elements too. Yes, I understand the need for segregated sections of the bookstore. There are many books that are absolutely and unquestionably SF/F, and the writers and publishers of those books want to be sure that the readers can easily find them and others like them. And, we as readers like to be able to go to one section of the bookstore and know that we’ll find a certain kind of book that appeals to our tastes. Same goes for romance. But, how about this? How about, instead of getting all bent out of shape when someone publishes an SFnal book outside of the genre, we instead embrace it and point to it as a great example of SF reaching out and branching out into the mainstream? How about understanding that there are many people who have no intention of ever going into the SF section of the bookstore, but are more than willing to pick up a copy of Twilight/Harry Potter/[insert other very popular book of your choice]. And, guess what? After they read that book and like it, they want more like it, and yes, there may even wander over to the ghetto and see something they like.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with a writer who could be easily described as a grandmaster of the field. We got into a discussion of the above, and I was surprised to discover that he had repeatedly tried to keep himself from being labeled as a fantasy or science fiction author. When I asked him why, he explained that he wrote other books besides science fiction and fantasy, and it was frustrating to have everything he wrote to automatically be labeled as SF/F. But it made me wonder: If we in the SF/F field were to stop working so hard to keep writers “behind the ghetto wall,” would these writers who do write books that reach into the mainstream feel the need to try so hard to distance themselves from the genre?
I once asked a SF/F writer with significant writing chops and several awards and norms under his belt, why the “upper echelon” of SF gets so annoyed when a writer outside of the genre writes a “genre-ish” novel and gets recognition for that novel. His response was on the order of, “We’ve been doing the same thing for years, and yet they call his stuff groundbreaking.”
So…. what? It’s all about sour grapes?
How about instead of yelling at these writers and saying, “Hey, get back into this ghetto with the rest of us who are suffering over here,” we instead just kill ’em with love and kindness and yell to the world, “Hey! Look! He’s one of ours! That’s what we do! We’re ridiculously proud that he’s a popular author who’s managed to make this great inroad into the general populace with themes that we nurtured and cared for and set free into the world. And hey, if you liked him, then you’ll love [name] as well!”