A science fiction writer who, like me, grew up in the Fifties was lamenting the other day that science fiction would never be respectable to the literary establishment (i.e., people who don't eat with their hands at awards banquets). I disagreed, reminding him of what it was like when we were teenagers and had to hide many of the magazine covers because of the semi-naked girls and the ridiculous monsters.
He said, yes, that was the obvious kind of snobbery. Who wouldn't make fun of reading material like that I( even though the reading material was downright sophisticated compared to the covers)? He mentioned that sf writers and producers and publishers today simply worked around the nature of their material. The way Heinlien had early on in his career. I wasn't sure what he meant by the H reference and he had to hang up before I could ask him to elaborate.
Then today I logged on to the WIRED website and-- (copyright 2007 WIRED)
Cormac McCarthy's The Road is set during a nuclear winter. Two survivors walk south, breathing toxic air, seeking out the continent's last canned food while ducking bands of flesh-eaters.
Describe it as "post-apocalyptic," as most critics did, or as a masterpiece of dystopian literature. Just don't call McCarthy's novel "science fiction."
Even when clearly appropriate, film studios and publishers avoid the phrase "science fiction." So do the novelists, film directors and editors in their employ. McCarthy's book, which is about to become a blockbuster -- Oprah Winfrey will tout it on an upcoming TV show as part of her book club -- is just another example of how the powers that be dodge the term, especially when it applies to "serious" fiction or cinema.
You won't find the words "science fiction" in Random House's bio of Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning author China Miéville. Instead, he's called the "edgiest mythmaker of the day." Michel Gondry's The Science of Sleep? It's classified as comedy, drama, romance and fantasy, but not sci-fi, at Amazon.com...
The nose-thumbing is nothing new. In the '50s, Robert Heinlein dismissed the term, opting for "speculative fiction." (What fiction isn't?)
Ed here: So I guess the nose-thumbing continues, eh? Mystery writers and readers shouldn't feel much better about their own genre. No matter how well mysteries sell a good share of reviewers, teachers and people who daub their lips with cocktail napkins at awards baquets still look at us as second- or maybe third-class citizens.
And I think that's probably good for us. A number of notable careers in sf and mystery alike have suffered when the writers began to take their reviews and/or sales too seriously. They get those cocktail napkins in their fingers and they don't stop daubing until they draw blood.