To define science fiction as a purely commercial category of fiction, inherently trashy, having nothing to do with literature, is a tall order. It involves both denying that any work of science fiction can have literary merit, and maintaining that any book of literary merit that uses the tropes of science fiction (such as Brave New World, or 1984, or A Handmaid’s Tale, or most of the works of J.G. Ballard) is not science fiction. This definition-by-negation leads to remarkable mental gymnastics. For instance, one must insist that certain works of dubious literary merit that use familiar science-fictional devices such as alternate history, or well-worn science-fiction plots such as Men-Crossing-the-Continent-After-the Holocaust, and are in every way definable as science fiction, are not science fiction — because their authors are known to be literary authors, and literary authors are incapable by definition of committing science fiction.
It's long been my feeling that THE ROAD was so acclaimed among the Literati as fabulous only because they hadn't read any SF. I've never heard a SF reader claim s/he loved the book, and I've asked around. I can list my issues with it as threefold:
- Ordinary Plot. I see such things in my slush regularly, and any parent knows what they'll do to save their kid. Any non-parent can at least imagine it.
- The story largely disregarded women. If I recall, the mommy was portrayed as "too weak" to go on and killed herself or something. That shit don't hold up in SF.
- It failed to cover its bases with plausible back-story and plot. To me the most interesting part of the story was ignored - what world crisis could cause humankind to go to the lengths of regular cannibalism/zombieism?
To be clear, I don't love the books. But they're arguably a more thorough examination of a post-apocalyptic world than THE ROAD. The characters have to protect their children. People who have never fought must learn or die. They have to feed themselves when the cans of food run out. There are even cannibals. And there ain't no Promise Land at the end of the road.
SILVER SCAR is Science Fiction. I'm striving for some other features, like gender-bending, a thriller format, and religious themes that're sure to piss folks off, but at its heart, it's SF. I doubt I'd market it another way. I set out to write a futuristic thriller, and futuristic = SF.
And now I've further lowered myself into the shitpools of genre by tackling The Lowest: Erotic Romance.
I particularly likened this quote from the article to my new genre.
"When I was 18 it was a genre as accepted as other genres,” [John Mullan, a Booker judge and professor of English at University College London] said, but recently “it is in a special room in book shops, bought by a special kind of person who has special weird things they go to and meet each other.”Fun to think about that special room, if you insert Erotica as the genre instead of SF.
Fact is, Erotic Romance is selling like gangbusters. Some of it, like some SF, Fantasy, or Literature, is crap (coughcoughTHEROADcough). But a lot of it is intriguing and good. It answers some need in the marketplace, filling gaps that regular romance doesn't. My writing partner for QUENCHER, E. Cameron Stacy, regularly states (and I'll loosely quote him here) that women are well past ready for realistic terminology and story problems in their Romance books. Just like SF readers have long been expecting, and getting, plausibility-inspired stories. Too bad the Literati are too caught up in labels to realize that great stories are here and most of them are coming in on the genre train.
*and ohbytheway, since I'm partially reviewing said books, I bought all Stirling books and borrowed THE ROAD.