A round-up of the interesting links I’ve been reading recently.
On science fiction, fantasy and genre boundaries:
Rachel Swirsky on “Genres of Fiction and Why They Aren’t Discrete Entities”
““Literary fiction” is what I’d call a super-genre that pretends, a la Derrida and Foucault, to not be a genre at all. It calls other things genres to subordinate them, and to deny its own genre elements. Which is what the ruling power usually does: it calls itself nothing (other than normal or correct), and calls everything else something.”
This is the author quoting someone else, and while comparing literary fiction to an oppressive “ruling class” is a little overdramatic for my tastes, I like the approach here that “literary fiction” itself, supposedly free from genre, is itself a genre with its own tropes and idioms, just like anything else.
Jo Walton on “Science fiction reading protocols”
“SF is like a mystery where the world and the history of the world is what’s mysterious, and putting that all together in your mind is as interesting as the characters and the plot, if not more interesting. We talk about worldbuilding as something the writer does, but it’s also something the reader does, building the world from the clues. When you read that the clocks were striking thirteen, you think at first that something is terribly wrong before you work out that this is a world with twenty-four hour time—and something terribly wrong. Orwell economically sends a double signal with that.”
I love this description of worldbuilding as a process that the author and reader participate in collaboratively. I feel like reading SF&F for most of my life has made me better able to analyze and absorb myself in literary fiction, as well as classic fiction where I have to relate to the time period in addition to the story. I guess you could read this as an argument for genre labels, while the first article is an argument against them, but really they aren’t in opposition at all. This article is just pointing out differences in the way they train themselves to analyze (or not to analyze) what they read, and how genre provides a framework for analysis. This is why I love subversion and parody so much, incidentally.
In this interview, Ryan points out that there are no genre distinctions in young adult fiction. You get paranormal, mystery, romance, realistic fiction, and historical fiction all shelved together, and even mixed together in the same titles. I know that’s how I originally began reading genre fiction, and I think that’s why a lot of great work in SF&F is still being done specifically for adolescent readers. The boundaries between genres allow plots and ideas to be much more fluid and inventive. Something to think about, definitely.
For more of what I’ve been reading, visit my links on delicious, or see the sidebar to your right.
Meanwhile, I’m still making extremely slow progress with Asimov, and I’ve just finished Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold. I don’t know if I’ll review it here or not, but it’s worth picking up if you like military SF at all.