In college, I had a renowned creative writing professor try to convince me to stop writing “genre” fiction and put my talents to better use. My answer to him was to ask why I would give up writing something I loved for something I had no interest in? I would be like me saying to this professor, “Stop trying to be Raymond Carver and start trying to be more like Robert Heinlein.” I could be wrong here, but based on my experience with non-genre fiction writers, writing is supposed to be a painful, soul-wrenching process that turns a mirror inward to reveal viscera and entrails. And when these non-genre fiction writers see genre writers actually enjoying the process of storytelling, when they see them turning out stories with smiles on their faces, they look upon it as something beneath contempt, something rude that you’d find in the gutter.
And so what if they do? People who write science fiction have different motivations for doing so, but in most all that I know and in most all that I read, there is one common thread: you can tell that the person creating the fiction loves what he or she is doing. I love to read science fiction. I consider myself a fan first and a writer second. But when I am writing science fiction, I love it, every minute of it, and it isn’t a painful and soul-searching process for me, it is pure joy and fun, rolling around in the gutter with a story in your teeth and your clothes filthy and in tatters and seeing just how things will come out.
It begs the question, why does science fiction have to be high literature…?
…Why can’t it be, at its most basic form, entertaining? Even from within the genre, there are those who seem to want to dress up science fiction in fine suits. They want to call it something else, “speculative fiction,” to make it sound more acceptable to the masses. “Genre” is sometimes a bad word because some people don’t want to be boxed into any kind of formula but want to be unique unto themselves.
Hmph! When someone asks what I do, I say proudly that I am a science fiction writer. They usually follow up by telling me that there husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend is a huge “sci-fi” fan, and do I watch Fringe? Some people tell me that they don’t read science fiction (but they do watch Game of Thrones). Some people tell me that they don’t particularly like science fiction and to that I respond with a question that I’ve heard Robert J. Sawyer ask: “What is it that you’ve read that has turned you off to science fiction?”
The point is that for me, I love science fiction and I couldn’t imagine writing anything else. I grew up on science fiction, it fed me, nourished me with vivid examples that clarified and illustrated points of science that science teacher and textbooks couldn’t make clear. Science fiction kept me company when I was lonely, its giants walked with me to and from school. Being a science fiction writer for me is like being a major league baseball player. And frankly, I don’t care if people like my old professor come away with the impression that I am wasting my talents spending time in this gutter genre.
Isaac Asimov‘s Foundation series centers around two cities. The planet-city of Trantor, and that of Terminus. And I’ll take Foundation over Dickens’ lousy Tale of Two Cities any day. Maybe I couldn’t say this in high school out of simple lack of experience. But having read lots of classic and literary fiction, and lots more science fiction, the choice between the two is a no-brainer for me. There is some good literary fiction out there; even some of the classics are worthwhile. But the classics are rarely fun for me, while science fiction is rarely a drag.
It’s funny how acceptable science fiction is on the big screen, how most sci-fi films are hits at the box office, but to a large extent, science fiction as a literature is still written off as genre-fiction, a phrase usually dripping with derision. Truth be told, I love that science fiction is an underdog and I can’t understand anyone who wants to break away from the genre label for the sake of the label itself. (Certainly, there are those who want to break away because they think they can earn more money without the label, and if you are trying to make a living as a writer, then this is a more practical reason for which I can’t really blame them.)
“Speculative fiction” is a term I scorn; it is the emperor’s new clothes of science fiction and fantasy, a sycophant to literary fiction. No, I don’t write speculative fiction; I don’t read speculative fiction. I read and write science fiction down here in the gutter and I wouldn’t want it any other way.