Norman Spinrad and the victimisation of genre fiction

In between giving some awards to a whole bunch of stuff I’ve never read, the SFWA held some discussion panels over the weekend of the Nebula ceremonies. GalleyCat has a run-down of one that featured science fiction editors and other notables discussing the ‘market problem’. As I wasn’t there (I guess my complimentary tickets got lost in the mail or something), I have no idea how balanced the report is, but taken at face value it suggests that Norman Spinrad has a serious case of victim syndrome on behalf of the genre:

“After some of the other panelists spoke, Nielsen Hayden rexplored the notion that the hardcore SF fan who had long constituted the genre’s target audience was gradually being replaced by a young reader who delves into all sorts of popular culture, only some of which is science fiction and fantasy. Bantam senior editor Anne Groell ran with that ball, talking about her own experience seeing fantasy titles cross over to romance audiences. “There’s a lot of freedom in how you can cross genres today in ways you couldn’t before,” she said, to which Spinrad countered that he believed it was harder for established SF/fantasy writers to make that crossing than writers from other fields who added fantastic elements to their writing. “Science fiction creates a floor,” he insisted, “but it also creates a ceiling.””

So, any thoughts? Is the genre a box? If it is, have genre authors created that box for themselves, or are they being picked upon by the cruel and merciless chain book stores and amalgamated publishers who care only for quick profits?

4 thoughts on “Norman Spinrad and the victimisation of genre fiction”

  1. I don’t feel particularly boxed in. Then again, I’m happy writing what I write. If I decide to cross genres, eh. Hopefully I will set myself up early on in my career to be a bit of a more flexible writer, not sticking to any one thing too particularly hard. I like to keep my options open.

  2. Here is a conundrum: Which of these statements relates to which genre?

    Wow, that could happen? or look what might if I don’t pay attention. What have I forgotten about my true potential? What don’t I want to face that might bite me on the backside, or perhaps swallow me whole?

    When I wrote them I was thinking, SF, fantasy and Horror. But you could mix and match them easily, and in general the sensibilities of genre are becoming increasingly familiar to readers, particularly those growing up in a popular culture sphere that bleeds so many ideas and past forms from one to the next depending on mood and present philosophical inclination.

    I can easily see traditionalists in any field of literature crying out purity. I guess SF in particular might seem a sure and cosy bet for remaining distinct and muscular, with a long pedigree and the appeal of a genre that has the advantage of a world that does change so rapidly, and seems like it might be accelerating towards more and more way out ideas of the future that become real experience. Arthur C Clarke, what are you going to predict for us next?

    Yet, more than anything, the core appeal for readers, and I am guessing the core potential for writers is going to be the ability to be fluid in your approach, to recognise that greater scientific knowledge has not slain our thirst for magic and mythology, or indeed our fears, and our fascination with the world we left behind.

    I feel strongly that the writer’s who want to use their imagination to project what they feel inside and think about the world, into a landscape that brings the impossible to life with echoes of familiar internal questions for readers, are going to have to have a fluid notion of genre. Having a loyalty to a way of using your imagination for the sake of keeping form and staving off the illogical and the fanciful, is just going to end up being a case of living in the past, and mourning the good old days of yesteryear.

    It is a recipe for becoming at best a legend, but at worst a myth.

  3. Spinrad countered that he believed it was harder for established SF/fantasy writers to make that crossing than writers from other fields who added fantastic elements to their writing.

  4. Spinrad is not my bag of oats, and as I state above, I don’t see this as the future (no pun intended), far from it, but SCG, I could not help feeling your comment might be just a slither leaning towards the over harsh with poor old Spinrad. And while Spinrad is perhaps not comprehensive in his response, it is not illogical, or ill considered.

    I am guessing Spinrad means ‘traditional’ SF writing/writers have created a foundation that is recognised, has a history and forms a stable bedrock for intelligent interrogative speculative fiction. And no doubt writers with a passion for building up SF have achieved a lot in a century or so.

    By a ceiling I supposed him to mean that same foundation, and respect love and familiarity for it, and what it represents implies certain limitations. Wanting to stay true to the values and vision of the SF they have worked so hard to build as a literature and a vision, they cannot so easily just drift between genres because that is where the party is going. Writers, from other genres or literatures, without that respect for the work that has come before, do not have this ceiling.

    It is, in all truth a bit of a conservative approach, well actually it is amazingly conservative for a literature that is supposed to be about new ideas and future possibilities. On the other hand, perhaps it has a lot to do with what you value in a literature, and tradition can be as important as innovation.

    I am sure you know all this, but I could not help feeling like I had watched someone getting nuked for being human:)

    At the end of the day, I do agree with you, that it is a fear of change. Order and choas, tradition and innovation, familiar tensions that never quite loose their appeal. Isn’t it great that something like SF, so new at one time has become venerable enough to have its fuddy duddies and gatekeepers of the canon and its principals?

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