David Barnett has posted and excellent piece at the Guardian book blog on the way mainstream literature denies the existence of science fictional stories in its midst. But I wonder, is science fiction really the genre that dare not speak its name? Or does that plaudit really go to literary fiction?
Whilst a walk through Waterstones or a perusal of the Times Literary Supplement might make science fiction seem a down trodden and ignored genre, a surf through the modern day internet tells quite a different story. On sites like Amazon and Fictionwise science fiction is a consistent and popular bestseller. On the internet authors like Cory Doctorow, Charles Stross, Neil Gaiman and Neal Stephenson have a massively higher profile than any mainstream literary author. Bittorrent sites are jammed with ebooks and audiobooks from the SF genre, whilst literary fiction barely even registers. And whilst they may be guilty of piracy, they are increasingly the major distributors of media in our society. If you aren’t there, you aren’t anywhere.
At heart, the seperation between speculative fiction and literary fiction is a clash of cultures. Speculative fiction is geek culture. I don’t mean that at all pejoratively. Geeks run the world, they bought it in the mid-80’s with the profits of the information technology revolution. Literary fiction belongs to the old elites, the ones the geeks bought out. They used to run everything but these days they’ve been beaten back to a few academic institutions, snooty bookstores and the book review pages of national newspapers. And the geeks are even infiltrating there. Speculative fiction doesn’t need to be acknowledged by literary fiction, it _is_ the new literary fiction.