Q: Do genre books play a more central role than others?
A: Actually, I’m going to be irritating and answer your question with a question. What do you mean by genre books?
As time goes on I grow increasingly irritated at the term “Genre Fiction.” It seems to imply that one type of fiction, “Literary” fiction, is the only real fiction, and everything else is its ugly bastard cousin-in-law.
I say unto you. Literary fiction is a genre just like everything else. It has its rules and its foibles just like every other genre. And, like all other genres, 85% of literary fiction is pure shite. Pretentious, self-involved, artsy bullshit that neglects the things that make stories worthwhile. I’m talking about good language, good plot, good characters, and, hopefully, some sort of worthwhile content mingled throughout.
Now, lest people accuse me of being prejudiced, I’d like to say that the same is generally true of the fantasy genre. The difference is that literary fiction tends toward boring, empty stories that are either preachy or vapid. Fantasy, on the other hand, tends towards cliché stories about evil sorcerers trying to destroy the world. About young princes whose coming was foretold by prophecy. Elves with bows, magic swords, broody vampires, unicorns….
Q: Hold on. Unicorns are cliché crap? I thought I read somewhere that The Last Unicorn was your favorite novel.
A: It is, or at least one of my favorites. In fact, that novel is probably the reason unicorn stories have become a little cliché. When someone writes something as dazzlingly brilliant as that novel, people want to imitate it. The result is a lot of less-than-brilliant knock-offs.
Elves, Dwarves, Goblin army, cursed ring, evil sorcerer. Tolkien did it. It rocked. Let’s move on. Let’s do something new.
[via FantasyBookspot forum]
I’m not sure I agree with the automatically-inferred negative connotation of the term “genre fiction”. I suppose it all depends on the speaker’s impression of it. I frequently use that term because it’s a more user-friendly label than “non-mainstream fiction”. Any regular reader here knows my reading preferences stand solidly in the genre camp; I don’t see sf/f as the ugly stepchild of all fiction. In the end, it’s just a convenient handle to put on the thing.
As to the “Tolkien did it…Let’s do something new” comment, well, I’m in full agreement there.