The OF Blog: Should SF be Dying from Eating Bologna and Cheese while Drinking Wine?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Should SF be Dying from Eating Bologna and Cheese while Drinking Wine?

I guess with the final month of 2009 CE closing down, there are going to be more and more introspective looks at the SF narrative mode (genre being reserved more for the commodity sold in stores and for people to shill X and/or Y products).  A favorite over the past generation or so is the one called "Is SF a Dying Genre?"  The latest round in this navel-gazing exercise I suppose started over at Mark Newton's blog (where I pretty much asked the question of "Does it really matter?") a few weeks ago and has metastasized into arguments springing from it.

Jetse de Vries crossposted "Should SF Die?" on the Shine Anthology website.  There, he examines possible problems areas for this nebulous "SF" concept (as far as I know, there is even less of a consensus of what constitutes "science fiction" or "speculative fiction" as there is for that hotly-contested entity known as "fantasy"), touching upon a few of this past year's most heated arguments.  Of particular interest to me is his discussion of international/global SF, especially considering my involvement in that field (which doubtless will continue to expand in the coming years).  But the central element of de Vries' post is the argument that SF ought to go away from trying to self-label itself as being "the literature of ideas" and move toward being "the literature of change."  This is going to spark quite a bit of controversy, and based on the recent post by Shaun Duke, I would imagine that there will be others who will claim that de Vries' argument is "bologna."

Change is not a bad thing, nor is it always a good thing.  It just happens, sometimes by design, often by accident.  Change in a literary field generally comes from demographic pressures and concerns.  Over 150 years ago, the French novelist Stendhal used the analogy of the novelist and his/her writings being akin to a mirror on the back of a wagon that reflects the muddy road back for people to see.  What writers compose often is related to what they see and/or experience around them.  Even in speculative stories, there often is a concern about reflecting social mores or perhaps critiquing them.  Yet there is always going to be some controversy whenever an author or critic moves these elements into the realm of advocacy.  Readers who may enjoy reading challenging fictions may not want to be challenged in regards to their consideration (or lack there of) of the person behind the writing desk (or computer) creating these tales.

Personally, I am sympathetic to de Vries' stance here.  Sometimes, there is a sense that there is too much stagnancy going on in Anglo-American SF.  But there is more to it, though.  In bringing up just how few non-Anglophone SF fictions are translated, de Vries barely touches upon (perhaps due to language barriers, as despite his being Dutch, there are certainly several SF global movements being done in other languages) what is transpiring elsewhere in the global SF communities.

One article that I'm still considering is "Having it All," by Nuno Fonseca, that was posted this past Wednesday on the World SF News Blog.  If I had to summarize his argument in a single sentence (and risk distorting it), it would be "In a land of plenty, people will invent their own shortages."  It is a sobering reflection of just how differently concerns can be when languages and literary traditions are different from the often-hegemonic Anglo-American SF model.   Another Portuguese writer/critic, Luis Filipe Silva, has penned a response in English that touches upon several of Fonseca's points.  Silva I believe sums up quite a few of the concerns and arguments succinctly in his closing, when he says " The sad truth is that a genre will not always grow at the same speed as its readers..."

Perhaps this is what lays at the root of these arguments - how fast should SF (of whatever national or international form it might take) "change" or "grow"?  Is the heart of the matter perhaps that readers, individually and/or collectively, change faster than the markets for stories?  Are some people wanting the tail (literature) to wag the dog (societal changes/pressures)?  Or is it something else?  Are these arguments actually a sign of fusty, somewhat prudish personage that might not be at the point of "great health" and thus from those who view themselves as being part of the vanguard of change, such an entity must either die or be altered radically? 

Something to consider, I suppose, as 2009 changes over to 2010 and the arguments begin anew with some slight alterations to form and content...


S.M.D. said...

Now I feel inclined to write a blog post answering all those questions (or trying to, anyway).

Thanks for the link. This was very interesting and I now have two other articles to read about all this World SF stuff.

/end most-simpleminded-comment-ever

Larry said...

Ha! Well, write it! I'll read it and perhaps comment on it. Conversations are fun, no? :D

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