Genre Anxiety

I live a life of intrigue and adventure, but occasionally I like to pretend to be boring and just sit around my house drinking booze and watching TV – you know, so I don’t lose touch with the common man. You can’t write noir-SF novels if you’re Indiana Jones all the time. Sometimes you gotta stay home, have a few belts, and watch a couple of episodes of Project Runway, because that’s what the common folk watch. And also too my wife, The Duchess, totally makes me.

Anyway, while working on my fourth bourbon (Project Runway is a four-drink show; America’s Got Talent, which my wife also insists I watch, is a whole-bottle show, and I frequently have to be carried to bed after an episode) I saw a car commercial which involved people debating whether to buy a new car, and then being visited by themselves from the future and told that buying the car would be the best decision of their lives. Then the salesman says something along the lines of, “You should buy it! But not that one from the future. It’s a time/space continuum thing.”

Now, on the one hand this commercial and I are totally Fail together because I can’t recall what frickin’ car it’s supposed to be selling. My brother once told me that they’ve done studies and found that interesting, creative commercials didn’t work because people remembered the interesting, but not the product, whereas bad, annoying commercials worked because people totally remembered the product. I’m not sure where I was going with that, since this commercial was annoying and I couldn’t remember the product, but let that drift. The other hand I was working towards is the fact that this pretty much proves Science Fiction is no longer really a genre. For god’s sake, we have time travel and temporal paradoxes in car commercials.

Consider also: Inglorious Basterds, the new Tarantino movie. It is ultimately an alternate history story, as I’m sure it’s no spoiler to mention that Hitler gets machine-gunned in the face at the end of the movie. Granted, no effort is made to explore the possible timeline such an action would have resulted in, but there you have it: alternate history right there on the big screen. Science Fiction is the new Western: It will be everywhere for a while as mainstream audiences who sneered at Star Trek and Doctor Who lap up this exotic new flavor (watered down by mainstreaminess) and then it will be forgotten for a bit until its eventual discovery by post-post modernists.

But, believe it or not, I digress.

It’s fascinating how  many authors despise genre and don’t like to be painted with its coarse brush; IO9 just did a little piece about this phenomenon and I think the title says it all: “It Causes Me Pain To Classify My Post-Apocalyptic YA Romance As Science Fiction” Uh, really? Of course, maybe this is cold hard business sense, because YA Romance is a better-selling category, but there is, I think, a real wish by a lot of authors to be considered “magical realism” or some other ‘literary’ category, anything but SF or Fantasy or Horror.  And while some of it may have to do with the nuts and bolts of marketing and promotion and advances, all of which are a bit healthier on the ‘literary’ side of the yard, some of it certainly has to do with the lingering stench of geekdom and cat-piss that envelopes the words science fiction and fantasy for many.

Even as SF/F leeches into the mainstream (eventually becoming the mainstream as it devours healthy cells and replaces them) it remains, for the moment, the comic-relief. Mainstream movies now have characters that are geeks, who quote Star Wars and speak Klingon – heck, there’s a situation comedy on CBS that centers on a group of adorable genius nerds – but the geekiness is there for amusement, and the characters are always sort of embarrassed and self-deprecating about their nerddom. The point being, even as geekery eats the universe it remains sort of disreputable, and thus the genre anxiety of writers who wish to be taken “seriously” instead of lumped into the category of SF/F or Horror or what have you.

The term “magical realism” was invented for these folks. It basically means: Fantastic fiction that ought to be taken seriously. Unlike that fantastic fiction over there.

Oh well. I’m hungover this morning, and thus cranky. I have to get back to my fourth cup of coffee and listening to one of my cats howl every three seconds for no good reason that I can determine, as he runs away from me every time I go to demand an explanation. This is a game we play sometimes. I hate this game.


  1. Dan Krokos

    I hate this.

    If the masses want my SF/F, at least treat it with respect.

    Don’t dress it up in funny clothes and take pictures.

  2. DK

    In all fairness to the hesitant literary types, it doesn’t help the SF/F cause when so many authors nerd their work up to the point where it’s unreadable. I mean, does the world need any more fucking books about zombies or vampires? Or for that matter, books that throw subgenres together to disguise the fact that they don’t really have characters or a plot?

    Wow. I guess I’m cranky too.

  3. Frank

    I agree with one of the commentators there, just write your book and don’t worry about it. If I’m an author i don’t care if my book is called SF/F as long as it doesn’t get a shitty SF/F cover.

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