n the world of literature, fantasy, science fiction, and horror do not rate. Those of us in sf tend to bemoan this fact. Why are we not taken seriously? Why does the establishment not give us our due? Here’s a strange thought. Maybe, in a lot of cases, we deserve it.
Of the three speculative fiction types, science fiction certainly has the most possibility for respect. Soft sociological sf is generally seen as "serious". Fantasy and horror are more difficult, though not impossible. There is the increasingly "serious" magical realism group. And Joyce Carol Oates seems to enjoy her associations with horror, providing an introduction to an H.P. Lovecraft anthology and certainly never seeming to mind being included in the horror category sometimes, as Margaret Atwood does so idiotically with sf. So it is possible to be taken seriously, however, on the whole, if you mention any of the speculative genres to the average person (not the 5% of us who are regular readers) they will assume it is not art. Not Literature. Not worthy. Because in a lot of cases they are right.
It isn’t. Look at around the local mega-bookstore and see what
speculative fiction sticks out. It isn’t the cream of the crop. It is
Robert Jordan’s umpteenth Wheel of Time book. It is the same names you
always see in horror, not that Koontz and King are bad, I enjoy them,
and maybe I am missing something, but mostly I don’t see a lot of depth
to their work. That is just it. For every one carefully executed and
beautifully written novel, there are ten Lord of the Rings knockoffs,
four vampire clichés, two ghost stories, 3 boyhood adventures–one set
in space and the other two in a generic fantasy land, a couple of
genetic monstrosities that wreak havoc on their maker, one psychopathic
killer and a few aliens thrown into the mix.
Of course there is bad to every category in the bookstore. Maybe it
is because I don’t run in those circles much, but I haven’t seen many
writers of thrillers or romance complaining about lack of respect.
There must be some beautifully written, deep, meaningful romance
stories out there. But I haven’t heard of them. They have their own
awards and recognition. And seem to let it go most of the time.
We in speculative fiction, however, seem to want it both ways. Our
crappy trilogies and our respect. It isn’t going to happen. Not until
we make best sellers of books with depth and meaning. Not until the
culture that is reading and discussing these books is the first thing
people see when they look at speculative fiction. It isn’t that we have
more crap. It’s that the crap is the first thing people see.
People will pigeonhole a genre based on what they see the most of. I
don’t mind that no speculative fiction novel is going to make the New York Times
best books of the last fifty years list, in spite of many deserving
candidates. If we want to be shown respect, we need to elevate the
genre. And that is done by the readers, not the writers. The writers
are coming up with good stuff. It’s out there. We need to make it
visible or stop complaining.
Court your inner literary snob. Go buy a good book. Then tell a
friend. Discuss the characters, symbolism, language, and themes. We
have fans. Maybe what we need are a few elitists.