Thursday, December 4, 2008

The mainstream hungers for speculative fiction

I've just read through the NYT Book Review's Top 100 list for 2008. I didn't expect to find any science fiction or fantasy there, of course, especially since William Gibson has evidently stopped writing it. But--lo and behold--there's an odd Russian novel there called The Sacred Book of the Werewolf. This book has to be considered, by any measure, speculative fiction:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/28/books/review/Schillinger-t.html

So you don't have to actually follow the link, I'll give you the gist: A girl who appears to be a sex worker is actually a werewolf with a sort of magical foxtail who hunts investment bankers by night . . .

My theory, having also read The Time Traveler's Wife and The Historian, is that mainstream readers secretly long for the fantastic, but are too embarrassed to admit it. So the industry sneaks a few spec fic books into its mainstream lists, and hopes no one will really notice! It's kind of like snitching your kid's french fries when no one's looking.

2 comments:

John Lambshead said...

It's odd that a fantasy book ceases to be described as fantasy as soon as it is considered high literature - 1984, Brave New World, Lord of the Rings, Alice in Wonderland etc.
John

Dave Freer said...

Superiority basically requires someone to look down on. Hence 'Literary'- even if it is science fiction or fantasy is obliged to sneer at genre fiction. People Margaret Atwood and Jeanette Winterson rely on doing so to keep their crebility in the 'lterary' world. Unfortunaely this does have an un-intented (I hope) effect on the public perception of sf/fantasy, limiting the general public from experimenting with reading it. I have had a number of people tell me 'well, I don't read sf/fantasy but I thought I better give it a go as you wrote it. It's a good read. Not SF (or fantasy) at all.' Of course, they're wrong. I would guess that good sf/fantasy is being 'shut out' from 50% of the market it ought to enjoy, simply on a false perception that it's star trek or (to quote Atwood) squids in space. (Actually I only know two squids in space stories - one, MOTHER OF DEMONS, quite brilliant.