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June, 2004 : Essay:

Science Fiction and the Paradox of "Genre"

1.

Like a sewer, science fiction has the quality of whatever is dumped down its drains. To call a sewer a genre of pipe is as useful as calling science fiction a genre of literature, and yet people frequently call themselves "genre writers", and critics speak of "genre fiction"—as if either term disguised the stink in the air.

Taxonomically, science fiction may be a sub-genre of the broad literary genre of "fiction", just as "detective fiction" and "romance fiction" are sub-genres, but the label allows too much of what is happening underneath the problematic words science fiction to slip away unnoticed, unblamed, unscathed. Meanwhile writers, readers, and critics merrily miss an array of points and possibilities.

There was a time when calling science fiction a genre made good sense. Stories, novels, television shows, and movies which were so labeled had a variety of elements in common. The usefulness of science-fiction-as-a-genre ended (at the latest) by the time of the New Wave in the 1960s, and I expect it had stopped being useful somewhere around the first issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1949, which brought a very different sort of esthetic to readers who had previously been reading Astounding, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Planet Stories, and other pulps. Audiences began to split away from each other, and with them went any infallible definition of "science fiction".

To be a genre, something must have clear and identifiable elements that carry across different circumstances and tastes. An old edition of A Handbook to Literature has a usefully conservative definition: "Genre classification implies that there are groups of formal or technical characteristics existing among works of the same 'kind' regardless of time or place of composition, author, or subject matter; and that these characteristics, when they define a particular group of works, are of basic significance in talking about literary art." (200)

Science fiction no longer has enough common characteristics to be any sort of genre other than fiction. Yet, simply to call science fiction "fiction" would be to lose some obvious and important distinctions between science fiction and everything else in the world. Though it's difficult to come up with a satisfying and comprehensive definition of the form, most readers have an intuitive sense of what is or isn't science fiction, and this intuition suggests something separates SF from other forms of writing, even if it may be indefinable.

For the moment, let's call science fiction a "style", a certain way of approaching a narrative. The style itself has broadened over the past half century or so, and the use of SF tropes and techniques in films, TV, comic books, etc. creates a separate audience of its own, while within literary SF, the audience is more varied than it ever has been. Within the main genres of fiction, poetry, and drama, such fragmentation is common and accepted. However, SF editors and critics have often seemed to work hard to define the One True Science Fiction, which, paradoxically, may be the only thing that could kill SF as a distinct style of writing, because it limits possibilities rather than adding to them, forcing science fiction to remain a form the way a sonnet is a form of poetry. The critic who says, "Jonathan Lethem is not an SF writer" has put a nail in the coffin of SF, however it is defined.

2.

In "The Semiology of Silence", the first of his Silent Interviews, Samuel R. Delany proposes that science fiction is a way of reading with a codic system distinct from that of other types of writing, but that analyzing or defining SF based on subject matter is at best an illusion:

Poems often have different subject matter from mundane fiction. Dramas frequently have different subject matter from poems. And films frequently have different subject matter from dramas. But no sophisticated analysis of poetry, fiction, drama, or film would try to present an exhaustive analysis of each field, or its differences from the others, purely in terms of appropriate and inappropriate subject matter—purely in terms of traditional category themes. (28)

Delany's statement is important and insightful, but it is not an exact analogy, because science fiction is, itself, a type of fiction, as well as a type of film, a type of video game, a type of comic book, a type of poem, and even, perhaps, a type of drama, though few plays have ever been labeled as SF. Delany is not fundamentally wrong: with science fiction, subject matter is (or at least should be) secondary to the systems of codes that determine how any given text is interpreted by a reader or viewer.

Hence, the paradox: science fiction functions like a major genre of literature along with fiction, poetry, and drama, but it also functions like a sub-genre of any one of those, and no strict definition of either genre or sub-genre is comprehensive enough to cover what all science fiction is and does.

3.

Describing science fiction's existing subject matter, and labeling existing works as science fiction based on subject matter, is an essentially harmless activity, but defining science fiction by subject matter will lead at best to the ossification of the field, at worst to its destruction as a viable and maturing type of writing.

When describing becomes a form of marketing, it can be harmful or helpful. Harmful to the writer who could have a larger audience without the mixed blessing of being labeled a "science fiction writer", helpful to the writer who would be unpublished, ignored, or condemned without the science fiction community.

Regardless of marketing, defining abstract qualities and using those qualities to prescribe what is or isn't science fiction is a dangerous activity because it attempts to set subject-based boundaries on imagination.

I am, once again, skirting the realm of paradox here.

Let's consider the differences between defining and describing. Aristotle's Poetics is a good place to start. Aristotle described elements of tragedy based on, it seems, a few plays he was familiar with. His proclamations are useful as descriptions of some Greek tragedies, but when Rennaissance and Neoclassical scholars turned Aristotle's descriptions into definitions from which all writers had to work, they restricted authors, blinded audiences to the possibilities of alternative dramatic forms, and sent many myths about what drama and tragedy "should be" seeping down through the ages to corrode the perspectives of generations of writers, critics, and audience members.

Plays survived because writers like Shakespeare were willing to laugh at the rules and definitions created by legislators of taste and decorum.

Poetry is another example. While lacking any single influence as great as Aristotle's influence on drama, poetry has a similar history of rebellion against definition. By the second half of the twentieth century (at the latest) it was impossible to create any single definition of poetry that would encompass everything poets were publishing. The insults hurled between the New Formalists and the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Poets in the late 1970s and early '80s were a showy variation on disagreements that had been sprouting up between poets, critics, and general readers of different stripes for decades—disagreements that stemmed from contradictory answers to the question, "What is poetry?"

What has happened to the world of poetry at the end of the twentieth century and beginning of the twenty-first, though, could stand as a sign of optimism for the increasingly fractured world of science fiction. While certainly there remain conservative and liberal readers and writers of poetry, and arguments of course still occur, many younger poets have seized on the freedom to write however they want, without paying much attention to labels and commandments, and without feeling compelled to circulate manifestos. They plunder whatever influences interest them at the moment.

4.

Science fiction began as an interesting cross-breed of the Victorian realistic novel and what could be called "philosophical romance"—stories which used the techniques of realism to convey nonrealistic adventures and ideas. This is the form that almost all SF, from the early days of Amazing until now, has taken. It works, and it was, at least at the beginning, a radical mode of writing for its time, because unlike many fabulist tales of the past, it shunned even the most subtle metafictional tendencies.

The challenge science fiction faces is that its mode of storytelling is one that new technologies have steadily made less and less effective. When such stories are driven by plot, film is a more appealing form for narrative, easily mixing elements of character and image that are more difficult to manipulate through words alone. The veneer of reality that such stories strive to create is the hallmark of popular SF films, which dazzle by making the fantastic look real. The effect of such films is, for many people, more compelling than any written text.

For SF to do what movies can't, critics and readers need to see realism as a choice, one which is appropriate at times, but not the default mode of all storytelling. We need to discover new ways of presenting SF ideas, and we need to understand why we want to present those ideas in the first place. The New Wave was all about this, but the New Wave was killed by Star Wars—suddenly the basic cargo of SF stories had lots of attention, everybody wanted a piece of it, and the formulas that had kept the audience for written SF happy for fifty years lost their luster. The short fiction markets quickly began the decline they are still suffering through, and a true opportunity was lost: short fiction can be extremely experimental with much less risk than novels. Most writers don't spend the same amount of time on a short story that they do on a novel, publishers certainly don't invest the same amount of resources, and neither do readers.

Short fiction in the 1980s got distracted by the inane and meretricious supposed-rivalry between the "cyberpunk" and the "humanist" writers, neither of which had much of anything original to say about the esthetics of stories. The 1990s continued the decline, with magazine circulations reaching all-time lows and the only noticeable discussion of form being yet another definitional one of what is or isn't "hard science fiction".

The only force preventing science fiction from becoming a nostalgic, petrified, and anomalous type of writing was the rise in the late 1990s of various writers who had some sense of a literary world beyond the science fictional and who wanted more freedom of imagination in the stories they wrote and published. Consigned mostly to the smallest of the small presses, these writers formed a community that blossomed as the popularity of the internet rose, allowing easy communication between people of similar tastes and easier access to small press writings via publisher's websites and sites such as Amazon.com and Booksense.

These writers, who have little in common except a desire to write what they want and how they want, have suffered under various labels, but labeling their work as "slipstream" or "New Weird" or "interstitial" is a fundamental contradiction of their purpose, which is essentially anti-definitional. The beauty and brilliance of writers such as Jeffrey Ford, Nalo Hopkinson, Kelly Link, Jeff VanderMeer, and numerous others is that their work has a range of both subject matter and form that transcends any one genre, but that clearly and unequivocally gains energy from certain tropes and motifs of traditional science fiction, fantasy, and horror fiction.

There has been fear from some critics that writers who write anti-definitional stories will destroy science fiction as a form of writing and as a community of writers and readers. Such an opinion stems from a false dichotomy. New art forms do not destroy old art forms, though they may make them less appealing. Narrative poetry became less and less common as the novel gained popularity, because the freer form of the novel allowed more writers to create a wider variety of material which appealed to a wider audience. (Of course, various socio-economic factors, from advances in public education to advances in printing technology, also affected the growth of the novel, just as the social and technological changes of the twentieth century affected the growth of cinema.) The novel is now a less popular art form than film, but that doesn't mean the specific virtues of a novel are no longer desired or relevant. Similarly, we have seen many changes in the popularity of the short story and in the presence of the short story in popular markets.

The question we should ask, then, is what is the place of written science fiction in a culture which has more artistic technologies and forms available to it than did the culture which created and popularized SF? There is no point in saying writers should do this and shouldn't do that—what we need to do, if the genre is to survive as something other than a subset of the main genre of fiction (and whether it should is an entirely different subject), is look at what the possibilities of a certain form are, what the relationship of that form to others is, and what methods are used to bring writers to audiences that will appreciate their work.

5.

Readers and writers have a choice: they can read and encourage writing that adds some of prose's values to primarily traditional narratives, which are better and more appealingly utilized by film; or they can try to read and write works that exploit written prose's strengths: the sensory values of language, intimacy of detail, movement between thought and action, the ability to convey information (history, etc.) easily through exposition, and the ability to use language and narrative structures to suggest patterns that could not be suggested through purely visual or dramatic structures.

Emphasizing such qualities will both threaten and strengthen science fiction, particularly science fiction that seeks the purity of being a genre. Attention to fiction's inherent strengths will make the traditional "literature of ideas" more appealing, because text remains the most effective way of communicating ideas, but such attention will also increase the urge to break boundaries and scuttle conventions. It's easy enough to write a traditional SF story that's not as interesting as a film; it's much harder to write one that tries to do only what prose can do. Such aspirations have had a home in mainstream fiction since its beginning (no science fiction novel has ever played with the perception of time the way Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy does), despite the stranglehold realism has held on popular mainstream literature for the past century.

The novel of today should not be the novel of 1865, and science fiction of today should not be science fiction of 1926.

Works Referenced

Holman, C. Hugh. A Handbook to Literature, 4th ed. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Educational Publishing, 1980.

Delany, Samuel R. Silent Interviews: On Language, Race, Sex, Science Fiction, and Some Comics. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1994.


Copyright © 2004, Matthew Cheney. All Rights Reserved.

About Matthew Cheney

Matthew Cheney has published fiction and nonfiction with Locus, SF Site, Rain Taxi, One Story, LCRW, Electric Velocipede, and elsewhere. He is a columnist for Strange Horizons and writes regularly about all sorts of things at his weblog, The Mumpsimus.

COMMENTS!

Jun 21, 18:32 by John Frost
Comments on Genre... come on, this is always flameworthy!
Jun 22, 04:23 by Philip Lees
Very interesting, but where do Harry Potter and the Discworld novels fit into thise scheme?

Philip
Jun 22, 15:13 by Niall Harrison
To be a genre, something must have clear and identifiable elements that carry across different circumstances and tastes


Well, yes, exactly. I suspect most people, though, if they think about it, realise this. I think most people will readily accept that sf is not a genre in the sense that, say, crime or romance is a genre. The word is used not because it's accurate but because it's the tradition to do so.

(I think there's more also an argument to be made that what are traditionally referred to as 'sub-genres' - cyberpunk, space opera and so on - are actually genres, contained within the wider mode of sf. But I'm by no means an expert in this sort of definitional matter.)

is a dangerous activity because it attempts to set subject-based boundaries on imagination.


Hmm. What would you say to the view that stories are defined by their limitations? That fiction is only interesting because it has boundaries, and as soon as it has no boundaries at all - as soon as anything is possible - then what you have left isn't really a story at all?

I'm not saying I agree completely with that position - in general I agree that saying 'sf must do this' is dangerous - but I think it has some merit. I also suspect this may become a semantic debate about the meaning of 'boundaries', but hey. :-)

The New Wave was all about this, but the New Wave was killed by Star Wars--suddenly the basic cargo of SF stories had lots of attention, everybody wanted a piece of it, and the formulas that had kept the audience for written SF happy for fifty years lost their luster.


I'm not certain what you mean here. Surely the formulas that had kept the audience for written SF happy for fifty years got *recycled*? They didn't lose their luster so much as get transferred wholesale to a new medium, leaving a vacuum behind them that was resolved by declining sales rather than innovation.

Although this may just be a rewording of what you were getting at.

New art forms do not destroy old art forms, though they may make them less appealing.


It seems to me that most of the objections to breaking down genre walls come not from a fear of destruction, but from a belief that genre walls are a positive thing - the application of constraints to imagination that I mentioned above. I think you're saying that both forms have their own merits, which I agree with; if you're arguing that breaking down genre walls is just plain *better*, then I'm sceptical.

I also don't think that 'breaking down genre walls' and 'works that exploit written prose's strengths' are synonymous. They *can* be - absolutely they can, and the authors you mention are a good example of such. I just think that works that exploit written prose's strengths are also present within traditional genre stories; look at Greg Egan, for instance, or Adam Roberts.

In summary: can't we all just get along? :-)
Jun 22, 16:41 by Michael-Xavier Maelstrom
Interesting Article and Well Writ.

My View: It's time we Shift the Definitional Axis - "Genre" ought no longer be about a conglomeration of finite literary networked sub-fields (traditionally Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, later expanded to include Speculative Fiction and Comic Books)

The problem with these definitions of "Genre" is that they are backward engineered; deconstruction dictates that what we've been *really* doing is: examining the interests of the Genre fan, in order to define what a Genre werk is.

Ergo, isn't it time we eliminated the middle-man?

I put it to you that Genre ought be a term (anti) Defined as: works which interest the Genre-Fan.

All Works that interest the Genre fan are then de facto "Genre".

And I do not mean cross-referencing and indicing majority Genre-fan interests, I mean to suggest that: All works that interest the Genre fan are de facto "Genre" werks.

This does observably leave a semantics argument concerning classic works and their original classifications vs a contemporary new-definition "Genre" re-classification..

id est. if a genre fan enjoys Shakespeare then by the new definition, Shakespeare becomes a "Genre" artist..

But I say semantics because imo we ought not concern ourselves with other peoples definitions as it belies the point and the analysis I'm trying to make.

that being that imo, the work does not define its category, people do.

Ergo, the new Axis point ought be that the genre-FAN defines what is genre by virtue of his or her interest in a given work.

The work itself is neither genre or not genre, but thinking makes it so.

As it were.

And That's My View.

regards,
Michael Xavier Maelstrom.
Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Earth, Sometimes.
Jun 23, 07:32 by Robert Hoge
That's a fair enough proposition, Michael. And there's some value in it. But I've got two points that I'd like some clarifiaction on.

A.) The chicken and the egg problem: How does one become a 'genre' fan without there being an existing set or type of defined (even broadly) writing for them to enjoy?

b.) The expansive blackhole problem: Wouldn't that definition see a rush to include almost every type of writing within the genre boundaries?

Regards,
Robert

Jun 23, 10:02 by Michael-Xavier Maelstrom
It does lack fine-tuning in the (Anti) definition details, you're correct Robert.

As you might suspect, that was deliberate.

I did introduce a perhaps larger-than-one-would-reasonably-expect canvas in an attempt to mind-shift to a new-definition of "genre"

I have to say though, I also _prefer_ the hyper-expansive definition instinctively though it seems logic-challenging.

We could argue (and if pressed, would) that the very point of changing the "Genre" definitional Axis over from the work to the reader, is best expressed by having -no- limitations whatsoever placed on what works are defined as "Genre".

Id est. The (contentious?) proposition that the Genre-Fan's interest de facto makes a work, "Genre".

..giving rise to, as you say, "The expansive blackhole" problem.

but I'm not sure it's a problem per se, except from the logistics end.

Maybe part of the point is that the definition sets the rules, ergo perhaps an anti-definition is necessary to un-set them.

That bit of intellectual masturbation on my part aside, although I resist the idea of defining the anti-definition (or at least anti-classic definition) I propose, I think the answer to your alpha and beta points are respectively.

A.) The chicken and the egg problem: How does one become a 'genre' fan without there being an existing set or type of defined (even broadly) writing for them to enjoy?

A. The new definition with the focus-shift to the Genre-Fan rises as an isotope built on the standard definition.

So you're correct it does not seek to entirely replace the original definition nor to define the traditional core elements of "Genre" work. It does however seek to say that those original core elements are no longer the sole elements.

That "Genre" is an evolutionary thing, rather than a stagnant one - that it begins with a set of basic criteria, as you say, but then, precisely because it is "Genre" it transmogrifies, evolves and becomes user-interactive - where its definition becomes both expansive and inter-active.

Issue B.

b.) The expansive blackhole problem: Wouldn't that definition see a rush to include almost every type of writing within the genre boundaries?

With any luck yes.

But if you mean to seriously discuss limiting the Genre-Fans capacity to (re)define the evolving definition of Genre work (under this user-driven model) then you probably have the answer that would be required in the latter part of your point.

id est. Works Within Genre Boundaries would likely be the required new definition caveat.

I'd resist it of course, I prefer less limitation, I prefer that as Genre-Fans we take control over our own definitions criteria and to blazes with traditional rules.

But, if pressed, I believe you have provided the answer, Robert.

The (submitted) New-Genre Definition: The Genre-Fan defines what werk is Genre by virtue of his or her interest in it.

Robert's Proviso the work must be "Within Genre Boundaries".

;)

Michael Xavier Maelstrom
Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Earth, Sometimes.
Jun 23, 10:24 by Matthew Cheney
A lot of your ideas, Michael, are close to what I was thinking when I wrote the article, the goal of which was to see how far I could push the boundaries before it all collapsed into nonsense.

At one point, I thought of using Delany's point that any sentence could appear in SF, which is not true in non-SF, to say, "All writing should be considered, by default, SF, with the burden of proof being on non-SF to prove why it isn't." But that just led into too many weird and thorny directions...

Magd0971 asks,
What would you say to the view that stories are defined by their limitations? That fiction is only interesting because it has boundaries, and as soon as it has no boundaries at all - as soon as anything is possible - then what you have left isn't really a story at all?
I'd say that's definitely one view, and one I agree with to an extent, but I don't like absolute statements of any sort about art, so I'd have to disagree with fiction only being interesting because of boundaries. Various sorts of fiction are interesting for various sorts of reasons. But the OULIPO writers, a French-originated group dedicated to finding "restraints" for writing (their membership included Italo Calvino, who wrote a lot of SF), started for exactly that reason -- they think the best artistic expression is the most "constrained". (See MadInkBeard for continuing discussion on this subject.)

Surely the formulas that had kept the audience for written SF happy for fifty years got *recycled*? They didn't lose their luster so much as get transferred wholesale to a new medium, leaving a vacuum behind them that was resolved by declining sales rather than innovation.

Although this may just be a rewording of what you were getting at.


It was what I was trying to get at, but whether I actually got at it or not is definitely up for question... Although I would say that the transfer changed the subjects transferred, because the media were different, and presented them in a form that is more palatable to a larger group of people -- watching a movie (that isn't avant-garde) is easier than reading a book, and takes less time, so people can get their "fix" easier, if all they want is the subject matter.

I think you're saying that both forms have their own merits, which I agree with; if you're arguing that breaking down genre walls is just plain *better*, then I'm sceptical.
"Better" depends on who's doing the looking. We all like different things. I think that the SF community can have both, because we like different things. But we're never going to know what is possible until people feel free to try it and talk about it.

I also don't think that 'breaking down genre walls' and 'works that exploit written prose's strengths' are synonymous. They *can* be - absolutely they can, and the authors you mention are a good example of such. I just think that works that exploit written prose's strengths are also present within traditional genre stories; look at Greg Egan, for instance, or Adam Roberts.
I agree completely. The form a work of art takes does not determine its value, though it can contribute to it (positively or negatively).
Jun 23, 13:11 by Michael-Xavier Maelstrom
A lot of your ideas, Michael, are close to what I was thinking when I wrote the article, the goal of which was to see how far I could push the boundaries before it all collapsed into nonsense.


Greets Matthew, I enjoy your Mumpsimus blog and essay / article / writings btw.

To the potentially-collapsing-into-nonsense blackhole metaphor, I think it can indeed appear an illogical half-nelson of an "Genre" re-definition..

..in that it requires some tradition-throttling and shifts in logic or at least common practices.

Id est. "How can a Genre-Fan (re)define what is Genre? that is preposterous, that's the Professional Literati's mandate and job!"

But the bottom line is precisely that, my contention is that it ISN'T the professionals job, it's ours, as Genre-Fans.

It's not so much that we're turning logic on its head, it's that we're turning the "accepted conventional norm" on its ear.

But accepted conventional norms are not de facto anything more than accepted as such.

If "acceptance" defines the norm, then the Genre
"definition" has -always- been in our hands, has it not?

We just haven't accepted that role and responsability.

I'm proposing we do.

I say, Forget traditional rules of definitional etiquette engagement.

They are not absolute.

The bottom line is that I think where you and I agree 100% for example, is in that: The definition of Genre work is far too limiting.

There is 'owever a substantial difference between stating something is too limiting and proposing that it be re-defined "as" unlimited - if you see my point.

In more detail, where I stand is here: "Genre" above all other categories, to be reflective of the people that read it, must incorporate: that which is open to change, that which continually evolves.

We differ from all other literary categories in that we demand that the categorization of our Genre must be _user driven_ not author driven, not critic driven, and not professional literati driven.

I don't think it "collapses into nonsense" though the danger is certainly there, if we're not clear and focussed (or are enjoying ourselves a bit too much :)

I do think however that what you touched on, and what I'm proposing here as outlined is undeniably "radical" - in that it defies tradition.

But to defy tradition is not necessarily to defy common sense.

I think what we instinctively recognize as Genre fans is that both our field of interest and we, represent the social forward, with emphasis on forward thought, and I believe it's time a conscious recognition that the driving power of SF actually comes from the _SF-Fan_ and his/her interests and that that was incorporated and reflected in the definition itself.

When your articles raises the question "What is SF?" I am meaning to say that in my view, the answer doesn't so much lay in models of SF literature itself, as much as the answer actually lay in the SF_Reader's personal aesthetic.

Hence, the Genre-Fan defines what is Genre, by virtue of his interest in it.

Power to the People.

No Manifesto required.

Just a little bastille shit-kicking.

Regards,
Michael Xavier Maelstrom
Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Earth, Sometimes.
Jun 23, 21:42 by Michael-Xavier Maelstrom
I think I might 'ave been a bit fractal in my approach, allow me to bring my
intended point into a more cohesive structured whole.

The Mark of a good writer is in that they make you think
which is what Mr. Cheney is adept at.

My purpose is to provide the conclusion(s) that I came to.

If the question is "What defines SF?"

My answer is "it isn't so much a set of literary criteria or a conglomerate
of finite elements - my analysis is: "What really defines SF is at its
core the SF _reader_, the individual SF reader's sensibility"


That: The Genre-Fan defines what constitutes a Genre work.

This possibly explosively and probably discombobulatingly does mean to
imply that:

If an SF fan decides that a particular work is SF, then it defacto is.

Raising the question "but doesn't that create a dichotomy? wouldn't that
mean that an SF fan could co-opt and redefine a work that clearly
fits and went under another literary classification, such as say `Drama'?"


The "Expansive Black hole" as Robert so apty put it.

That's an interesting question, but it does pre-suppose that pan-Genre
universal absolutes ought reign. I'm saying they shouldn't.

I'm saying the Genre rules & definitions ought be secular, local, and genre community
specific.

Let me put it this way then: That a particular work has -another-
classification amongst other literati/critics/Genre groups ought
not be a concern and should not effect the SF or Genre-Fans classification.

We should think of Genre's, of ourselves, as societies with our own
laws
.

Just as laws within differing societies do not apply to eachother
around the globe (though they seem absolute from -within- those societies)
the Laws within another Genre or literary community ought not infringe
upon the Laws of the SF community. or vice versa.

So I submit it is perfectly fine that our SF society define a work as SF
when an SF fan perceives it to be SF.

Just as it is perfectly fine that other literary society
classifications remain just as valid within -their- own communities.

The basis of my analysis is deconstruction.

If we look at the issue of "a Genre fan" within the SF community
where we co-opted the category within our own community to mean
`a fan of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror' (and later expanded
it to additionally include a fan of Comic books and Speculative fiction)
- we can see the root dynamic at play. What has *really* been going on?

We see that what we have been doing all along is examining the interests of the
Genre fan, to expansively define and re-define what constitutes a "Genre work".

Similarly, there is no absolute finite "SF" literary definitional criteria in our community
there is a core that was built upon and continually evolves.

"SF" in our commmunity has transmogrified over the years, is a an outlook
a way of seeing the world, a way of presenting ideas, a way of causing people
to think about issues, a conglomerate of shared ideals, in essence SF has become
reflective of a user-end _reader_ driven sensibility.

Today, it is all these things in addition to the core literary definition.

As new literary works are released, however other communities define
the work, if a Genre fan perceives it to fulfill the criteria of
being a Genre work, then I submit it _is_, and immediately so.

It is only a function of time, and formal social committee construct
that we wait for certain individuals (critics, literati, high profile
members of our community) to _recognize_ and enshrine what the SF fan
knew and embraced immediately. That work X was indeed SF, because
the SF_fan perceived it to be so.

What I'm proposing is that we don't need the formal committee structure
to read, analyze, filter, accept, and (c)officially enshrine a work that
our sensibility dictates is simpatico with how we define "SF"; that
we ought incorporate the reality of what transpires in our community
into the definition of SF itself.

And what transpires is: The when an SF Fan recognizes/perceives a given
work to be SF then it is.

Hence my conclusion is, when you raise the question: Today, what defines
a work as SF?

my analysis dictates the answer to be: it's not a finite set of elements
in the work, (as it indeed used to be) it is rather the _SF-Fan_ that
defines what is SF
, today.

Ergo, the conclusion that: The SF fan defines what is SF, if s/he perceives
it so, it is so.

The point being:

When we look to defining "SF" we tend to look at the work
I'm proposing the shift is: we need to look at the Reader.

Regards,
Michael Xavier Maelstrom
Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Earth, Sometimes.
Jun 29, 07:11 by Robert Brown
In my view, science fiction is a specific form of modern fantasy. I dig definition by discernment of the proletariat proposed by Mr Maelstrom, and I appreciate Mr Cheney's cosmopolitan view of inclusion. As they concern fantasy, I'm on board.

But science fiction is a special case: it is our conversation with modernity. Cheney dismisses the "hard" sf debate, but it is relevant. Science fiction is more interesting and relevant as a set of texts when restricted by adherence to accepted physical law and continuity to our experience. I agree with Cheney that formal constraints are limiting, and I wish fervently that science fiction wasn't so timid stylistically, but science fiction makes sense only in the context of rigid proscription of the imagination.

Best,
Bert

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