The Literary Ghetto of Science Fiction

Following up his recent “Beer-Money SF vs. Literary SF” post – and Velcro City’s thoughtful response – Andrew Wheeler has posted “Beer-Money SF Redux“. In it, he tries to pin down why science fiction is in, and will most likely remain in, a literary ghetto.

My general theory here is that most readers are primarily interested in books that are described in words they already understand. There will be exceptions, but, for most people, being told that a book is about something incomprehensible (in a more convoluted way than that) will not be a point in its favor. If someone tells me that some great novel is about the inevitability of frammis, and that it distims the doshes in a way no gostak can, I’m probably not going to be interested. If the same person tells me it’s a great new First Contact book with a neat new idea about picotech and a different take on “The Cold Equations,” then I’ll probably look for that book. You have to have some handle on why you might like a book before you can even decide you want it.

In a similar vein comes thos article from the satirical site The Toque, “Science Fiction and Fantasy Don’t Mix“.

Those science fiction fans were one weird crowd. Everything needed an explanation. Space ships had to have a logical means of propulsion, and there always needed to be schematic drawings. Strange new worlds had to be described in great detail, right down to the composition of the atmosphere. And the physics of time travel always had to be explained. Nothing was ever accepted as is. There was certainly no room for staff-carrying magicians with long flowing robes.

Brian, on the other hand, read fantasy fiction–sensible magical stories about dungeons & dragons, swords & sorcery, elves, goblins, and trolls. With fantasy the impossible was plausible, and worlds could be saved with the wave of a crystal-wearing hand. Science never interfered.

Brian didn’t need rational explanations for unexplained phenomena; he read for pleasure and a simple “it’s magic” was just fine by him. Anyways, it was all about the “quest”. But for some reason, the sci-fi reader had some obsessive need to rationalize. He needed to know how hyperspace works, and why a pulse rifle is able to both stun and kill.

2 thoughts on “The Literary Ghetto of Science Fiction”

  1. Everything needed an explanation. Space ships had to have a logical means of propulsion, and there always needed to be schematic drawings. Strange new worlds had to be described in great detail, right down to the composition of the atmosphere. And the physics of time travel always had to be explained.

    i guess “the toque” has never read any Gene Wolfe.

  2. I think it’s a valid point. I quite enjoy being exposed to new ideas, but I do prefer to have them surrounded by more familiar material so I have something to grab a hold of while my simple little brain processes the new concepts.

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