Kitschie shortlists reflect the “mainstreaming” of spec.fic

The Kitschies have become a fixture of the speculative award season,  joining the Hugo and Nebula’s, BSFA and Clarkes as among the most interesting awards in SF.

This year The Kitschies reflect the new emerging reality of speculative fiction – the most interesting and creative work in speculative fiction isn’t coming from within the field, but from outside it. The mainstream of literature and publishing have embraced spec.fic in all its forms. And they are now creating significantly more interesting work than the “genre fiction” community where spec.fic is most popular.

In contrast, genre fiction is retreating ever further in to what is generally called “core genre”. Books that please a shrinking coterie of hyper-specialised fans, while being somewhere between confusing and unreadable for general readers. Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice is the favoured “core genre” novel of the year, and likely to feature widely on award shortlists. As I discussed in my recent column for The Guardian, it’s a book of big ideas marred by a problematic writing style. And as Nina Allen commented in her review for Arc magazine, even those ideas are far from cutting edge.

Does this “mainstreaming” of speculative fiction matter? In absolute terms, it is only a good thing. Better books, with better writing, that delve deeper in to the themes that speculative fiction opens,  are simply a sign that the field is continuing to develop. But in relative terms for the genre community where spec.fic is most popular, it poses a challenge. Hang on to a “core genre” becoming increasingly irrelevant, or open up to the new horizons the field is advancing toward. To me, there’s only one possible answer.

The Kitschie Award Shortlists

The Red Tentacle (Novel), selected by Kate Griffin, Nick Harkaway, Will Hill, Anab Jain and Annabel Wright:

Red Doc by Anne Carson (Jonathan Cape)
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (Canongate)
Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon (Jonathan Cape)
More Than This by Patrick Ness (Walker)
The Machine by James Smythe (HarperCollins / Blue Door)

The Golden Tentacle (Debut), also selected by the above panel:

Stray by Monica Hesse (Hot Key)
A Calculated Life by Anne Charnock (49 North)
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Orbit)
Nexus by Ramez Naam (Angry Robot)
Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (Atlantic)

Read the full shortlists here.

Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

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