What happened to science fiction?
February 3rd 2009 00:32
I'm a deep admirer of science fiction, even since I was a little kid, clutching copies of Ray Bradbury books and Star Wars comic books.
I've continued to read sci-fi as I've aged, but my tastes have gotten more selective, opting for the cream of the crop, not satisfied with the hundreds of mundane, churned out novels about strange aliens and starship gun battles.
For example, we've posted on Cormac McCarthy's novel "The Road", a look at a wasteland future. It's arguably sci-fi, but it doesn't sit on the shelf next to the Space Monkey Armada series at Barnes & Noble.
The Guardian has noticed the same thing, that books that are ostensibly in the science fiction genre are desperately ensuring that they don't get classified as such...
"Jeanette Winterson has leapt into the fray too, commenting: "People say to me, 'so is the Stone Gods science fiction?' Well, it is fiction, and it has science in it, and it is set (mostly) in the future, but the labels are meaningless. I can't see the point of labelling a book like a pre-packed supermarket meal. There are books worth reading and books not worth reading. That's all.""
While this is not an accurate image, it's popular enough to affect sales of the books, which is what we're really talking about. "The Road" is marketed as general fiction, or even as contemporary American literature since it was penned by Cormac McCarthy, who rose to even greater heights of fame when "No Country for Old Men" did big business in America.
When I read it, I quickly understood that it was an awesome addition to the science fiction collection. Less sci-fi oriented readers were probably enthralled by the idea - 'What? A book about a future where everything is burned out and wrecked? This is amazing! They should make movies, comic books and video games about this!'
Perhaps the point is that the classification of novels is really a futile exercise:
"Is it feasible, as Jeanette Winterson seems to be suggesting, to do away with all categories on novels, and simply file them all in an A-Z of general fiction? It might conceivably give every novel a fighting chance, but would the reader who visits a shop or library looking for the latest crime, war or, indeed, science fiction novel really be well served by such a move?"
*this image is from The Flea
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