Mind Meld Madness
I was honored to be asked to participate in SF Signal's feature, Mind Meld. The topic for this round was about literary science fiction and fantasy, and whether it had mainstream respect. Go read all the responses here (big names! bright lights!) but what my response is below:
I think we need to talk about what we mean by mainstream respect and approval, because I think the entire discussion hinges on that. I get the feeling that what you're asking is "does literary sf/f have literary respect?" The answer to that, of course, is no. We don't win those awards, we don't appear in those magazines, we don't get filed on those shelves. And that's okay, because we have our own awards and shelves and magazines. There are a lot of voices calling for sf/f to get the recognition it deserves, but I think that's wasted breath. We're trying harder and harder to get recognized and admitted to a club that just keeps getting smaller and duller and less important. What we need to understand is that sf/f is the seat of innovation, modern creativity and true cultural relevance. Of course the literary establishment is borrowing from our toolbox. It's the best toolbox there is, and they're welcome to borrow it. It's kind of amusing to watch them treat time travel, or the apocalypse, or whatever else as a shiny new plot device. They probably won't hurt themselves.
But that's the literary community. You asked if sf/f have mainstream respect.
Let's be absolutely clear here; I'm not sure *books* have mainstream approval. Increasingly though, science fiction and fantasy are the default languages of true mainstream media - videogames, movies, television and their continuously evolving, singularity inducing internet spawn. You can blame short attention span if you'd like, but only if you haven't played World of Warcraft. WoW has eleven million subscribers, and it is the opposite of a short attention span game. The best television shows expect a lot of their viewers, emotionally and intellectually. We can pretend that we're losing market share because we're crafting a higher product in a lower world, but that's just inane. If anything, we're losing market share because we're writing books for each other, and not for our audience. Or our potential audience, I should say.
The heart of the matter is that we seem to think we have to choose between beauty and excitement. We write ponderously important books that no one really wants to read, or we write vapidly exciting books that expect nothing of their readers and less of their writers. We can do both. We can write exciting books that are beautiful, and beautiful books that are exciting. We can make our readers think while they're on the edge of their seats, and literary respect be damned.