I just took a stride through the SFF section of my local Waterstones. I do this regularly but I don’t tarry as long I used to, there are rarely enough new additions to hold my attention for more than a moment. For many reasons the books I really want to read often aren’t to be found there.
What I did find today were a group of late teen / early twenty something kids hanging around the stacks. Three boys all of the Trenchcoat Brigade (one sporting a very fancy leopard dyed three stripe mohican), and a girl who had obviously read more than a few Lenore comics. IE…standard issue emo-goth-indie-metal-geeks. No surprise finding them looking at the SFF books. The weird, speculative and fantastic has always attracted the kids who make a space for themselves outside the mainstream in one guise or another, the Alt. kids.
(Hence the mission of the upcoming Alt.Fiction festival ((Derby, June 2010)) to stage a literature festival that appeals to all those Alt. people outside the mainstream who love books.)
When I was an Alt. kid, I loved SFF because it was as weird as I was. It was written by nutty Oxbridge academics, or insane Californian hippies, or bearded kaos wizards. I had little if anything in common with these people save our shared passion for the fantastic. Which was really the point. The fantastic took me to places I could never go, through the minds of people I could never be. Those people weren’t writing for me, or even for people like me, they were writing for reasons all their own and I was just tagging along for the ride.
Thinking about the Alt. kids today I wonder if they are getting the same experience from that section of the bookshop as I did. It could well be that I’m turning into a grumpy old man who thinks the kids of today are missing the point. But to be honest, I don’t think so. Today it feels like the Alt. kids are a demographic that the genre is dedicated to attracting, rather than one it accidentally picked up on the way to a more interesting destination. If was an Alt. kid now I don’t think the SFF genre would be all that interesting to me, if only because anything trying that hard to suck up to the twenty something me would have instantly lost my trust.
Whatever the demographic for the fantastic is the last things we should do is cater to it, or we stop being fantastic at all.