I’m supposed to start editing the first draft of my new YA novel today, therefore I’m writing this unnecessary post in reaction to an article in the Guardian’s Culture section this past week. Freelance columnist Sarah Ditum askswhy are authors still sniffy about sci-fi?
The catalyst for the piece seems to be Ian McEwan’s refusal to accept that his new novel, Machines Like Me, is science fiction. It’s an alternate history story with androids (ie: it’s science fiction). Ditum politely calls McEwan’s arrogance “a whiff of genre snobbery”.
I haven’t read a lot of science fiction, at least not of the “spaceships and laser beams” variety. It is only recently that I decided to start reading more science-fictiony science fiction, because I’ve come to view it as an extremely flexible and boundless platform in which to tell a story.
When it came to classifying some of my stories, I was hesitant to label them science fiction, but not because I felt “above” the term. Quite the opposite. I was afraid I wouldn’t live up to it, that it would be misleading. Maybe the spaceships and laser beam crowd would shoot me down.
So far, I haven’t had any complaints. People know how to read blurbs and descriptions. They can tell the difference between climate change and an alien invasion.
“There could be an opening of a mental space for novelists to explore this future,” McEwan said in a recent interview, “not in terms of travelling at 10 times the speed of light in anti-gravity boots, but in actually looking at the human dilemmas.”
Funny, I thought that’s precisely what a lot science fiction did. Ian McEwan wants to use the genre while denying and disparaging it at the same time. He’s like one of those religious conservatives staunchly preaching anti-gay rhetoric during the day, while at night he’s sitting in a toilet stall, covertly tapping toes on the men’s room floor.
Ditum points out that masterful wordsmith Margaret Atwood has softened her position on her work being classified as science fiction. Considering Frankenstein turned 200 last year, and Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451 are required reading in classrooms throughout the world, it’s about time.
Maybe it’s even time to view science fiction as a respectable literary genre.