The OF Blog: What is the state (or states) of SF/F writing today?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

What is the state (or states) of SF/F writing today?

I've slowly been catching up this weekend on certain online debate topics.  Plenty on women in SF, awards critiques, and other sundry items, most of which are reiterations of previous discussions on these points.  I then found myself thumbing through certain works that I was in the midst of reading or am considering reading in the next few days.  Thinking about forms and structures, contents and delivery methods.  Wondering why one particular fiction (which might be reviewed shortly) simultaneously was a slog to decipher and a joy to imagine.  Reflections on styles that innovate and those that stagnate the narrative pond.

As these disparate thoughts began to coalesce into something more than impressions if not also less than concrete lines of thinking, I began to wonder if some of the issues I was having with reading contemporary SF/F might be that in comparison to certain other literary genres, SF/F discussion seems to be oriented more toward delineating approaches and less toward the transgression of those approaches.  It is not as much a matter of individual writers (I can readily identify several writers whose works flow between the porous walls of interpretation and delineation) as it is a categorical one. 

What innovations, if any, are there occurring in SF/F these days?  Are they merely the expansion of the authorial pool to include non-Anglophones, non-Caucasians, non-straights, non-males?  Or is there something else taking place within those works most frequently categorized as "SF/F" that diversifies the writing/subject matter beyond those contributions made by women/GLBTQ/PoCs?  At times, I find myself wondering if the writing emerging today reflects a crisis of self-identification.  By that, I am looking beyond the author and toward the subjects that the authors treat.  Is there anything "new" being said in these pieces, or as an aggregate, is SF/F more engaged in looking back or looking inward than outwards toward the creation of new cultural/literary paradigms?

These are the sorts of questions that I ponder sometimes when I encounter SF/F debates online; I do not think of these as much when I'm reading discussions on recent fictions from other literary genres/countries.  Some of it likely is just due to personal tastes; a genre can only stretch and shift so much before its connective bonds snap and the works within become something else, something other than works of a common genre.  Perhaps my occasional sense of SF/F being in a state of stagnation is as much a personal preference as it is a condemnation of a perceived state of literary affairs, but maybe there are others who see this differently and see today's SF/F as being more vibrant than before.

What do you consider the state (or states) of SF/F writing today as being?


Unknown said...

Talking identity politics, especially in fantasy, is unavoidable. As much as many have criticized the so called "Grimdark" subgenre of fantasy, it was a legitimate attempt to respond to the toothless threats found in 80's to early 2000's fantasy. Most mainstream fantasy books from that period were trite and threatless. The hero was always on a quest, always a peasant waiting to become king, and never really in any danger. They became incredibly predictable, and as a consequence, boring. All that being said, due to the emphasis on violence, grimdark brought into focus the severe problems with race and gender to an extent that we haven't seen since the Lovecraft and Howard days.

I think this is a balancing period. How does fantasy keep a sense of danger without reveling in violence? What is the legacy of Tolkiens white elves? What are the roles of women in fantasy when using a medieval period, and more to the point, why do so many authors attempt to emulate Europe, let alone a Europe that didn't really exist? There have been some interesting fantasy novels, both structurally and stylistically, but those elements have been lost in the need to make fantasy actually fantastic.I think once a certain amount of baggage is shed from fantasy's past, we may finally see the genre as a whole reach the level it can and should.

Anonymous said...

Unknown: I think you missed the point Larry was trying to make.

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