The boundaries between the very ill-defined genres of fiction have always been blurred and always will be. This is a good thing as the ground in those grey areas can be very fertile. It has brought us the hardboiled detective Brother Cadfael, Robert Graves’ wonderful family saga, that war/historical/romance Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, and many more besides. But why oh why this continual need to search for new labels?
In the genres of science fiction and fantasy this is especially noticeable, and often maddening. I was dumbfounded to discover that Jurassic Park was labelled in a fast-seller list as the genre ‘dinosaur’, and on principle it is highly unlikely I’ll ever read Oryx & Crake. SF&F have an image problem for some, and this is why they try to label parts of it differently. Forever in search of respectability they grope for new names for the fiction they write, read, criticise or publish. But where are they looking for this change in attitude? Who are they actually hoping will look upon them in a different light?
Many in the mainstream literati intelligensia sneer at these genres. This is in spite of the fact that they take up about twenty percent of the fiction market, have resulted in many of the most successful films in recent years, and, science fiction specifically, is hugely relevant to today’s culture with its rapid technological change. Where will anyone have first come across videophones, genetic manipulation, satellite lasers, and missiles that think for themselves? In SF, of course. And it is to those who sneer, that those in search of new labels are going cap in hand pleading, “Please, take me seriously. I’m not really involved in that awful science fiction or fantasy stuff!” This is not only insulting to some great past authors, it is bloody annoying for those who are writing SF&F right now. How dare these people grovel for acceptance from those who don’t have the imaginative capacity to grasp science fiction or fantasy? And how gutless they are to not claim these genres as their own.
But why seek the approval of the mainstream literati establishment, especially when those seeking that approval often style themselves as ‘radical’? More blurred lines. It is because SF&F have their own literati intelligensia who stand astride the line between SF&F and the mainstream: one group standing with their feet in both worlds. They enjoy the creativity and ideas of the first but loath its status. They like the status of the other but do not enjoy its pedestrian limitations.
Some would also have us believe that what they are labelling is something new. What conceit, what arrogance, or what pretension and ignorance. One can only suppose that they have not read widely enough. There’s also some misapprehension of how the English language works in this age when if you’re bad, man, you’re good, and if you’re cool you’re hot. Like the PC lobby they hope that changing labels changes attitude, when in fact current labels change in people’s perception. And the delusion that this rebranding (for that is what it is) will work, is misguided. It will not cause what has been rebranded to perform better. Perhaps they should call the new thing Consignia Fiction, or Corus Fiction – that should do as much good.