Thursday, April 28, 2011


The term Adam Roberts uses, apparently, as a catch-all for both fantasy and science fiction and probably for a lot of slipstream and magical realism and etc as well. Seems to sidestep the issue of whether "literary fiction" is the default norm rather than the specialized sub-genre most privileged by The Establishment. Seems a useful distinction for putting some disagreements in context, especially some matters of taste and temperament.

Nagging questions remain. What do you call people who are on the other side of this issue, Literonormative? And how would you pigeonhole a novel in which both the supernatural and recognizable (realistic) human behavior are depicted -- arguably the only breed of realism that really matters?


Christian Lindke said...

I can really find no better argument against the majority of modern literary fiction than Michael Chabon's piece "Trickster in a Suit of Lights." In it, he states:

"Imagine that sometime about 1950, it had been decided, collectively, informally, a little at a time, but with finality, to proscribe every kind of novel but the nurse romance from the canon of the future...

Now go ahead and try it with 'short fiction' and 'the contemporary, quotidian, plotless, moment-of-truth revelatory story.

Suddenly, you find yourself sitting right back in your very own universe...

As late as about 1950, if you referred to 'short fiction,' you might have been talking about any one of the following kinds of stories: the ghost story; the horror story; the detective story; the story of suspense, terror, fantasy, science fiction, or the macabre; the sea, adventure, spy, war, or the historical story; the romance story. All of these genres and others have rich traditions in America, reaching straight back to Poe and Hawthorne, our first great practitioners of the form...'Genre' short stories were published not only by the unabashed entertaining pulps...but also in the great 'slick' magazines of the time ...even THE NEW YORKER..." Michael Chabon from MAPS and LEGENDS

There is a lot more to the essay, but it essentially argues that by ghettoizing genre fiction and standardizing literary fiction, the industry has made literary fiction predictable and dull. Thankfully, according to Chabon, there are some "tricksters" who manage to fool the establishment and get their genre fiction published as literary fiction.

He argues other places that genre fiction is filled with talented artists, and I agree.

One thing that really makes me laugh is that Iain Banks' literary fiction books and his Science Fiction books are sold under variations of his name. His litfic books are sold under Iain Banks and his SF under Iain M. Banks -- we wouldn't want all those litfic readers to accidentally stumble into the ghetto of SF after all.

Anyone who believes litfic isn't an enforced genre of esteem isn't paying attention. If it weren't, we wouldn't need Tricksters at all.

David Chute said...

I like realism more as a mode or method -- which allows realism to be a factore in any kind of story, including fantasy. It's a cliche, even, isn't it, that fantastic elements have more impact if set against a realistic backdrop? So how much sense does "non-realist" actually make as a genre label?

Tulkinghorn said...

Making the case for Stephen King as the late-twentieth century Willa Cather?

The distinction is often pretty clear in practice, but not always.

Just ask your friends who hate SF about Alasdair Reynolds or your geek buddies who can't stand 'mainstream' fiction about John Updike.

And then ask them about Murakami or Garcia Marquez.... My guess is that mainstream readers are more likely to warm up to them than geeks. Which probably makes your point.

David Chute said...

On the other hand, BSG worked well for a lot of people who don't ordinarly embrace SF -- in part, I'm betting,because the characters, and their conflicts and realtionships, seemed authentic. (Authenticity being right up there with efficiency as a a root principle.) If Kingsly Amis had read one of the scenes in which Adamda pers et fils interacted, IOW, he wouldn't have been inclined very often to scribble "no he didn't" in the marginn.

Christian Lindke said...

I won't touch the claim that BSG relationships seemed "authentic" with a 100ft pole...

"worked well for a lot of people who don't normally embrace SF?" I don't even know where to begin...who are these masses who don't like SF that liked BSG. According to the NYT, they were women. If you believe that, then there is a whole universe I'd like to introduce you to called the internet. You can find no small number of women SF fans...some of them like Lois McMaster Bujold...are also among the best authors in the field.

A world without Bujold and Banks...the mere thought makes me weep.