Science fiction vs speculative fiction is probably the second* most boring literary debate I can think of, especially as the distinction tends often to be drawn by authors worried that their "highbrow" audience will run a fucking mile from the talking squids in space** because of the massive snobbery displayed by much of their audience and severely blinkered critics towards the geek ghetto in the dark corner of the bookshop, an attitude which, as any regular here will know, I have no fucking truck with in any sphere of endeavour (creative or otherwise). I couldn't give a flying fuck where the book gets filed, what matters is; is it any fucking good?
SF is the heavy metal of the literary world, in that it contains some of the most stunning, original creations you could wish for, but like metal, lots of people steer clear because of the sweaty-palmed loner image surrounding it. And that bugs the fuck out of me, because it's a crying shame that books like Samuel R. Delany's Dhalgren or John Brunner's Stand On Zanzibar*** are titles that most people haven't encountered, purely because they are consigned to the SF dunce's corner. Dhalgren has more in common with William Burroughs at his peak than Star Wars, and prose-wise, knocks El Hombre Invisible into a cocked hat, and Stand On Zanzibar should be mandatory reading in any English lit course as far as I'm concerned, an example of a genuinely successful experimental novel with a heart and a level of insight rarely encountered in the most feted "literary" masterpiece.
And it's not just the New Wave lot, SF has I think, contrary to what many seem to believe at the moment, entered another golden age. I can't remember a previous time where half of what I read comes from one single area, because there's so much fucking goodness out there at the moment to be devoured. Writers like Charles Stross, Peter Watts, Justina Robson, Ted Chiang, Tricia Sullivan, Ken McLeod, Liz Williams, John Clute, Alastair Reynolds and Philip Palmer (among others, I'll be writing about them and more in part two), all of whom can write rings around pretty much all of the authors on the Booker longlists of the past ten years, but don't get their due because of the sphere in which they choose to write.
More on Monday. I'm now a little inebriated and will become completely incoherent quite soon, plus I need to find my passport otherwise I'll have to do a fucking panic tomorrow, and I can't face that and a hangover.
*The first has to be genre fiction vs literary fiction. Witness this astoundingly one-sided piece of lit-crit wank (and some of the astonishingly misinformed comments from both sides that follow) for a typical example of the crap spouted by self-important arseholes in the ongoing and massively pointless debate. Docx's targeting of lowest common denominator genre fiction (crime/thriller in this case) speaks volumes I think. I don't deny that Dan Brown is an appalling writer, but using Steig Larsson as an example is unfair in this case as he's talking about writing in translation, as I very much doubt he's read the books in the original Swedish, because, judging by his tone in the article, there is no way he wouldn't have made a point of telling us all that he'd done that very thing. Raymond Chandler vs (one of Docx's favourites) Martin Amis? No contest, whether you compare them on the merits of their prose or psychological insight. I don't really need to tell you who I think wins that one do I?§
**Margaret Atwood has (somewhat) distanced herself from that particular standpoint now, I only use it because, as a phrase, it sums up the attitude of an awful lot of authors, critics and readers towards a genre which they probably have very little, if any, deep knowledge or experience of. Doris Lessing has never given a shit either way and just gets on with writing beautifully in whatever genre (or non-genre) she feels like.
***To name but two. See also Hothouse by Brian Aldiss, The Death Of Grass by John Christopher, The Heat Death Of The Universe & Other Stories by Pamela Zoline, anything by Octavia Butler or John Varley, A Canticle For Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller. I could go on. For hours.
§Just in case I do, I'd rather eat a bowl of my own fucking snot that read one more turgid fucking paragraph by Amis.