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The SF/F Genre Will Eat Itself

..at least that’s the impression I get when I read a post from Matthew Sanborn Smith, who has had enough genre-bashing…he’s taking his books and going home:

This isn’t just about the blog comments, e-mails and forum posts of the last week. This is about the blog posts and comments, emails and forum posts, editorials and everything else from the last few years. The genre-bashing has reached felonious levels. I have read (and yes, partaken in) so much sub-genre and author clobbering that I’m starting to feel nauseous. And I can taste the blood and bile burning up my esophagus.

I’m not sure I feel as passionate about this as Matt does, but I do see his point. Having immersed myself in the community for a few years, I can definitely see cycles in the arguments, enough that it seems like someone somewhere is perennially unhappy. Look! Here comes another wave of “Short fiction is dead” posts! Or pro/anti-mundane sf arguments! Or gender equality rants! Or “sf is getting dumbed down” posts! Or…you get the picture.

Healthy discussion is always good, of course, and there are certainly plenty of good discussions going on in the blogosphere. I think there is more good discourse happening than genre slamming. But I wonder…is Matt’s impression more widespread than I think it is? Has the sf community turned into a bunch of drones whining about the genre they love? What do you think?

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

13 Comments on The SF/F Genre Will Eat Itself

  1. I think each sub-culture is the most critical about itself.

    I’ve seen such discussions occur in literature in general, in RPG forums, in anime/manga fandoms, etc.

  2. General X // June 2, 2008 at 1:54 am //

    Sound and fury, signifying nothing.

  3. Mr. Smith knows little of history. Take a look at “This Immortal Storm” by Sam Moskowitz. Flame wars, bashing, nasty comments…they’ve been with SF since the beginning.

  4. We criticize ,scold those with whom we feel close bondings -its a human nature .But at the core of heart we like them who we often criticize and expect a constant improvement .

    The trend is for genre’s own good. So far man’s emotions/imaginations are with him there seems no danger whatsoever to this most creative genre.

    😛

    arvind

  5. Jess Nevins // June 2, 2008 at 6:53 am //

    I think most fandoms are as bad as he describes, actually. And getting away from online fandom is usually a good thing, so he’s making the right decision.

  6. Pop psychology might suggest that the F/SF genre draws a lot of people classified as geeks or freaks in HS. That sort of insecurity doesn’t go away with adulthood. It infuses, informs, infects and influences the debate as adults.

  7. People who are passionate about something (a genre, a car type, a game, etc.) are sometimes going to be unhappy with something that happens to it. You see it with people unhpapy with the new Ford Mustang, the new Apple computer, the new patch to World of Warcraft, etc. It is the nature of feeling emotional about it that this can happen. The web has made it easier to see this in great quantity – forums, blog-posts, YouTube videos, and more. This doesn’t make it any different except perhaps it is self-feeding in many ways.

    But you need to keep some perspective. You are seeing perhaps 1% of the readers represented. Most people don’t post or comment or probably even read this on the web at all. Most are happy just to ignore the vitriol and move on to enjoying word of their favorite author’s new book or what’s being made into a movie.

  8. “The sci-fi is falling! The sci-fi is falling!”

  9. I’m someone who has frequented this site for about six months now as a way of finding new books that might interest me, but this is the first time I have felt the urge to ‘participate’. I find all the talk about genre and sub-genre a little humorous. I’ve always picked up books based on whether or not they interest me, and not based solely on it’s genre. Most of the books I read tend to be sci/fi-ish but by no means is my reading list exclusive. Anyone who limits themselves to one sub-genre has eliminated a lot of good reading.

    I’ve tried to follow all of the sub-genres, to learn about what authors I might enjoy. I’m still unclear about what mundane sci/fi is.

    I’m a photographer, by trade, and I sometimes see the same kind of arguments there. ‘Nature photography is crap’, ‘If I see another photo of your cat I might shoot myself’, ‘HDR isn’t photography’, etc. That doesn’t change the fact that people still like to take nature photos, or photograph their cat, or use HDR.

    It’s difficult for me to imagine any author changing what he likes to write based upon what the fandom of one single sub-genre says he should write. And if he does, I’m not sure I want to read it. Sci/fi isn’t going away. It will change. The sub-genres will come and go. Good writers will continue to write good books and bad writers will continue to produce trash. that’s all I care about.

    Sometimes the smallest minority has the loudest voice. I just tune it out and look for more good books.

  10. I, for one, can’t take my books and go home. I agree with the arguments and the underlying truths:

    Pessimists:

    -the documented loss of subscribers to the major SF print magazines

    -the relative strength of fantasy compared to true science fiction

    -the plummet of payment rates in inflation-adjusted dollars

    -traditional publishers printing fewer titles by fewer authors

    Optimists:

    -the growth of on-line ezines and resulting expanded sub-genres

    -the growth of speculative fiction in TV and movies

    -the mainstreaming of SF: mainstream authors writing SF, and SF crossing over into other genres (notably romance and thrillers)

    -cult followings. It seems to me that most books and TV series that have gained cult status belong to the speculative fiction genre.

    -the continuing (if slow) growth of print markets

    -the growth of alternate publishers (POD, vanity, self)

    -the growth of formats (print, ebook, audio podcasts, ezines)

    Certainly speculative fiction is in an state of flux. And I must agree with scottsh that people naturally resist any change to something they love.

    Unfortunately, I must agree (to a great extent) with Matthew Sanborn Smith that in many ways the trends we see are appalling.

    My opinion of the value of SF is in the vision, the wonder, the expansion of the mind. Good SF makes you think, and great SF inspires you to become a part of that future, to help make it a reality. Many of the classic SF authors (Clarke, Heinlein, even Asimov) and several modern ones (Vinge and too many others to mention) have succeeded in so inspiring us. This noble goal is lost in works of fantasy, even as they so wonderfully entertain us.

    As a hard SF writer myself, I rejoice in the growth of opportunities, yet I mourn the loss of recognition and potential income. Most of the new markets offer additional venues, and it’s easier than ever to get published, but more difficult than ever to get noticed.

    But what’s a writer to do, but write?

  11. Alright, so I’ll throw myself into the foray here: http://www.sheerspeculation.com/youre_dead_to_me_genre. Comments welcome.

  12. Well I think negativity tends to predominate online unfortunately. It’s easier to be negative and bash things than it is to actually say new and insightful.

    And in most cases “the story sucked donkey azz and the author should be castrated without medication” gets more responses than “the story was workmanlike but not very original.”

    Actually my dislike of the level of negativity online (this site is an honorable exception) was one of the reasons I started posting to Solar Flare again.

  13. I would like to point out that the decline in readership for SF print magazines mirrors the overall reduction in print magazine readership (and newspaper readership as well). SF is not unique in this.

    I can’t find a recent article to back this up quickly, but here is what I was able to find regarding magazine circulation rate declines from 2006.

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