Michaele Jordan‘s novel, Blade Light, is a charming traditional fantasy that was serialized in Jim Baen’s Universe and is now available as an ebook at Amazon or at iBooks. Her newest novel, Mirror Maze, is available now.
The other day we were hanging out with some friends, and my husband (who-bless his heart-is insanely proud of me) boasted to the gang that since I was a member of SFWA now, I was eligible to nominate for the Nebulas.
“Ooh, that’s cool,” gushed one of my friends who (like me) is a great admirer of Neal Stephenson. “Are you going to nominate Reamde?”
“Don’t be silly,” snorted another. “She can’t nominate Reamde; it’s not SF.”
A minor argument ensued. No hard feelings resulted, but neither was the disagreement resolved. In fact, they are probably still at the coffee shop, arguing. (My husband and I went home).
Is Reamde SF?
While taking care to include no spoilers, I can tell you that much of the story focuses on a fictional on-line role playing game. The game is, as far as I can tell, slightly in advance of anything that currently exists (not because real world money changes hands through this game, since that is already possible) but other than that it is set in the real world. So most would probably argue that Reamde is not SF. It is a high-tech thriller. Certainly, it is not included in the SFWA recommended-reading-for-nebula-nomination list.
If high-tech thrillers qualified as SF, most James Bond movies would be SF. And they’re not. Are they? Perhaps they do not qualify because they are not perceived as being in advance of modern technology, especially with allowances made for secret research. But very few of us are so scientifically literate that we could invariably distinguish between state of the art, and very near future technology. And what if the science is, or turns out, to be wrong?
But if slight technical advances are not sufficient to qualify a work as SF, then just how far out in the future or far away from earth does the work have to go before it counts as SF? Surprise! That’s a rhetorical question. I don’t know. And I’m not going to speculate. I only asked to set up the next question: why do we care? Reamde is an excellent book. Nominations aside, that should be enough
And yet, somehow, it isn’t. My friend suggested I nominate it because they loved the book and wanted it included in the canon. One reviewer plaintively remarked that they wished Stephenson would go back to writing SF. Many fans view reading books that are not SF/F as disloyal. There are blogs that cruise the internet in search of slights against SF and then launch spectacular tantrums whenever they think they have found one. Outsiders don’t respect SF, I am assured. We are treated as inferior.
Really? Where? I have an extensive mundane life. I attend a synagogue where I am not looked down on for writing SF/F; I am looked down on for writing fiction. If I wanted respect, I should have become a rabbi. My Christian mother-in-law agrees in spirit; she reads nothing but biographies of brave women who found strength in their faith. I do business daily with people who are only borderline literate and have never read any book voluntarily.
I do know several serious literary snobs. They are all fans. I count on them to alert me to SF/F outside the normal channels. Yet every month there is another argument on Facebook about those mean literary types looking down on us. And if we have enemies, we must defend our borders.
We live in a very genre conscious culture. Everything has to have a label, a quick, easy marketing ID. I am not criticizing. We need labels because we live in a morass of information, which cannot be used, or even comfortably tolerated, without organization. But we do not like being labeled. Firstly, we always worry (rightly or wrongly) that the label is pejorative in the mouth of an outsider. Secondly, we invariably find the label too restrictive.
So we jump the boundaries. In publishing, it is now called genre crossing. Having reduced our literary world to vampire novels, romances, westerns and noir, we find that we cannot live within such narrow definitions, and we rebel with vampire westerns and noir romances. Urban fantasy started out as a cross genre of mainstream and fantasy (and romance). So can we say the SF/F boundary is sacred? Wherever it is?
I should be triumphantly assembling my conclusion now. But I am stumped. Instead I invite you, the readers of SF Signal-yourselves a major voice of fandom-to tell me: do we have boundaries? And if so, what are they?
Meanwhile, maybe I will nominate Reamde. Just to mess with you.