Tag Archives: Elizabeth Hand

Genre needs to stop applauding crap, and respect its best writers

Sarah Crown has started a fascinating discussion on the resurgence of fabulism in literary fiction over on The Guardian book blog, brought on by Tea Obreht’s surprise win in the Orange prize.

I didn’t need to read the comments to know there would be at least half a dozen from irate members of fantasy fandom, complaining that we in the world of genre have been writing such novels for rather a long time. And of course it’s a valid point. There are writers within genre producing amazing examples of fabulism of exactly the kind highlighted as emerging within Lit.Fic by the article. One or two are tremendously famous, like Neil Gaiman. Many more are less known but equally good – John Crowley, Kelly Link, Nalo Hopkinson, Elizabeth Hand – to give just a few examples.

(I’m looking through my copy of Conjunction 39: The New Wave Fabulists as I write. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a starting point to understanding fantasy and fabulism.)

Sturgeons Law predicts that 70% (or 80% or 90%, depending on the version) of everything is crap. It’s a law that stands for all kinds of writing, Lit.Fic, SF or otherwise. And genre produces its measure of crap, no doubt. Some of that crap is just bad writing by bad writers. Some of it is writing that does one thing well – explores a niffty scientific concept or creates a cool new monster – but fails in most other ways as fiction.

And some of that crap is very popular. Some of the crappest books in genre are some of the most popular. They may well be fun crap, or effectively escapist crap, or crap branded with the latest sci-fi franchise, but they are still crap. Crap sells.

But if genre wants to gain the respect it deserves in the world at large, we need to get better at telling the world who our best and brightest are. We need our major awards like the Hugo’s and Nebula’s to really reflect the best writing, not just the most popular writers. We need more reviews and criticism that talk seriously about our best books. And most of all we need to vote with our feet. The next time you’re browsing the Sci-Fi section, skip volume 33 of whatever entertaining saga you happen to be reading and pick up something less crap instead.

Because genre is not a cohesive entity. It’s a few million fans of the weird and speculative and the writers we love. But if we want the best of those writers to get the respect they deserve then we, each of us as individuals, need to make that happen.