Are you sitting comfortably? Then let us begin. Once upon a time, there was a kindly old wizard whose only concerns were pipe weed, hobbits and a gold ring that caused all kinds of trouble. Gandalf (for so the wizard was named) lived happy in the knowledge that he was the greatest wizard of them all. Until, one day, an obscure conjurer who ekes out a living as headteacher of a remote public school found international stardom when a former pupil made it big in Hollywood. And so it came to pass that Albus Dumbledore was hailed by a new generation as the greatest wizard of them all. But which was truly the greatest? Time to put them to the test.
The long list for the Booker prize has been announced today, and has dashed my hopes that following the victory of Interzone’s Chris Beckett in the National Short Award, The Booker would foil its many critics (myself included) and include some of the great works of speculative fiction published this year.
In previous years I have compared the Booker judges to the organising committee of a village fete. This year I think it would be fairer to ditch the metaphors and out them as the ethnicaly pure, upper middle class cartel they are. The only praise I can think to heap upon The Booker is that it is at least open in its utter class snobbery and borderline bigotry.
And lets be clear, the reason names such as China Mieville, Ian McDonald, Iain Banks, M John Harrison, Neil Gaiman, Jon Courtney Grimwood or any of the other superlative British authors of speculative fiction are excluded without consideration from The Booker, is nothing to do with quality of writing and everything to do with social discrimination. The Booker Prize and the literary fiction it rewards are the province of a small minded and ignorant cultural elite who are desperate to cling onto status and power. Speculative fiction is not just popular, but also rich with thought and ideas in a way that most literary fiction is sadly lacking. No wonder it is so often the target of insult and discrimination from those in the literary world who feel threatened by it.
Of course there is an argument that the literary fiction clique should be protected. Few people buy the books, and fewer read them. Like an endangered species, the lit.fic crowd need the protected reservations of The Booker prize and newspaper review pages or they will go extinct. The irony is that if the ignorant and bigoted lovers of lit.fic would only open their eyes and educate themselves about the wider world of contemporary fiction – speculative fiction included – they might find a new energy and lease of life. Or they can continue to fade into absolute irrelevance.
I think we all know wwhich choice they will make.
Today I bought a table. Its the final piece of furniture for my new home. Which is the first real home I have had since I was eighteen. Thats my own damn fault, for taking thirteen years to realise that a home is made, not found. The table is important, because it is where I am writing this. Over the years I have written in cafes, libraries, train stations, shopping malls, airplanes, buses, offices and many more places, anywhere other then wherever I happened to be living. But now I have a home I am comfortable writing in, and a table to write at. Continue reading Why do we write this SF stuff?