The OF Blog: Elements of the British media (and their SF authors) bemuse and confound me sometimes

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Elements of the British media (and their SF authors) bemuse and confound me sometimes

When I read screeds such as this past week's comments by Stephen Hunt (and the commentary by The Guardian), I cannot help but to think to myself that I am so thankful that I am a Southerner (and I guess, an American), because time and time again in recent months especially it seems there is one dissatisfied UK literary element taking umbrage at what another faction has said which might be viewed as being negative in tone (provided the outrage isn't over omission, intentional or unintentional alike). 

Perhaps it's just a cultural difference; after all, there are so few American cultural institutions that permeate American society to the degree that apparently the BBC, some national/local newspapers, and a few literary prizes do.  Maybe the university systems there do not possess the MFA/Creative Writing subset which champion a growing variety of narrative modes.  Possibly, there is less admixture of writers who value experimenting with their texts; it is hard to say being more than 3,000 miles removed from the UK scene. 

What does seem clear is that the debate there seems to be centered over who "drives the car" of fiction production.  While there is the occasional outburst here in the US (I am thinking of the ridiculous io9 complaint about last year's "20 under 40" list produced by The New Yorker; read the 20's profiles and their authorial influences/favorites and then read some of their fiction and see why I view the io9 article so disparagingly), there also appears to be a greater willingness among the publishers and authors to write and publish works that reside equally comfortable in literary journals or genre magazines.  This is not to say there isn't a perceived divide here, but rather that any such perceptions are generally fuzzier, likely due to a growing number of "cross-genre" works which are either finalists or winners of major awards. 

If anything, the "purists" in most of these debates, or at least based on the American voices I've heard speak on this issue, would be those who are so committed to writing SF that they cannot accept a broader range of narratives that might fall within that category (or, for some, stories that contain SFnal elements that might be championed as also being part of other literary traditions).  More and more lit journals in the US have published stories that are certainly speculative in nature and which utilize several tropes commonly associated with speculative genre fiction.  I do not know if the same is occurring in the UK and is just being drowned out by the droning whines on either side of that silly perceived literary divide or if the literary climate there discourages such "cross-talk" within narratives.

All I know is that what I'm seeing linked to these days from the UK is rather baffling.  Maybe I'm supposed to choose a side or something, hell if I know.

3 comments:

David H said...

I think we do have a similar fuzziness to the genre/mainstream divide here in the UK; but it also seems to me that there's a greater reluctance to explore both sides of that divide and to talk to one another over the fence.

Larry said...

Hopefully, that reluctance will fade and that in years to come, there will a greater willingness, in both countries, to mix and mingle in both conversations and in the narratives they choose to write.

David H said...

It would be great if the UK had its own equivalent of McSweeney's or Tin House.

Thinking about all this further, it strikes me that most of the new authors I can think of who occupy that fuzzy middle ground are published in the UK as mainstream. Most of the genre-published authors I'd put on the list are well established, with only a few new ones. So I wonder if the UK genre might be losing some of its sense of being able to occupy that middle space.

 
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