Literary SF&F

My reply on a different blog got eaten, so I’m going to try to reconstruct my rant.  One of the problems with SF&F in the past 30-odd years is its aspiration to be “Literary” and thus, “Respectable”.

The problem is that “Literary” has been captured by professors and who study literature in the universities. The problem with that is what these write is literary criticism. The problem with that, is that what so much of what passes as literature is turgid dreck. There is also a tendency of critics to despise the tropes and cliches of popular fiction, and to become enamored of whatever breaks the rules, literary or social, whether anyone else can read it or not.  And, since the critiques of literature that they write are written in scholarly jargon to other scholars and don’t have to go through the crucible of competition in the market place, all their study of literature means that they still can’t write worth spit.  Nor can they teach what they don’t know.  Adding to the problem is that literature professors are free to borrow whatever half-baked theories are cooked up in psychology or philosophy or social theory, and there is little if any empirical check on whether their theories are valid.  The result is that the “Literary” fiction esteemed by academics is entirely divorced from popular taste: The stories have been described as having not much happen to characters you don’t like anyway.  It also doesn’t sell, while the far better selling and popular genre fiction (Science fiction and fantasy, mysteries, romance, westerns, etc. is often despised.)

SF&F authors and fans have long lamented the graying and decline of literary science fiction, while that which is tied to popular media such as television (e,g, Star Trek), motion pictures, (e.g. Star Wars), comic books, and games has grown by leaps and bounds.   The recent fight over the Hugo awards has brought out fans by the dozens and hundreds who once considered the Hugo awards to be a mark excellence, and have said, upon encountering the recent nominees “I didn’t know anyone still wrote stuff this good”.


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