An educated, thinking person could spend quite a lot of personal energy maintaining the fiction that he or she is a wholly democratic being. In the United States, to consider one person inherently inferior to another has been more or less illegal since the civil war, and socially anathema in most of the country ever since the civil rights movement.
But what about ideas? We love our debates: politics, religion, sports. The opposition isn't just misguided, they're dead wrong. They're wooly headed buffoons. Frothing-at-the-mouth extremists.
Debates of this sort surface in science fiction circles at regular intervals. Jay Lake reports on a recent example of this debate: media v. literary science fiction fans. Last month, Matt Cheney tackled some similar debates about the definition of genre.
There are few who claim to be elitists, but there are plenty who like to consider themselves purists. Unfortunately, even purists disagree about what is pure: must science fiction be about the future? Must it be about science? Must the science be plausible? Does science fiction benefit from (or fail in the presence of) well-rounded characters and/or a sense of style?
I, for one, don't consider myself a purist. I read fantasy and horror. I watch movies. I read comics. I've even been known to play a video game from time to time (although that has nothing to do with why this issue is late). But I think I'll have to confess to the sin of elitism.
Not only do I think some fiction is inherently better than other fiction, I think it's our duty as human beings to heap praise upon the good and scorn upon the awful. I believe that those who think are doing themselves and our culture a disservice by turning off their brains when it comes to the garbage that Hollywood, and publishers, and television studios, and marketers of every stripe try to feed us.
It's not that Science Fiction is better than Fantasy, or that books are better than movies: but rather that some creative projects are more important, more stimulating, more adventurous, more challenging, and more meaningful than others. This alone doesn't quite qualify me as an elitist (although it may give some insight into the attraction of editing); but given that, I have to ask why it is that the most popular products also seem to be the most mindless?
My reluctant answer: most people take no pleasure in using their brain. Most people are perfectly content to eat refuse from the trough of popular culture. Henry Miller saw our culture as The Air-Conditioned Nightmare. Harlan Ellison described television as The Glass Teat. Are these guys elitists? You bet they are.
We are trained to believe that 'good' means lots of flashy exploding things and sexy half-nekkid superbabes and really fast chase scenes involving insane robots or disappearing albino medusa-men. This, this is where I cross the line into elitism. I think that the poor suckers who pay $10 for a ticket to Spiderman 2 and come out anything less than appalled at the agony of all that stupidity are fools.
This doesn't mean I can't enjoy a good bad movie (certainly, I enjoy a good bad movie much more than I enjoy a bad good movie!), but marvelling at the explosion of the Death Star, or staring in slack-jawed awe at Laura Croft's bosom, or grooving on that scene where Magneto turns a man's iron-rich blood into a field of bullets doesn't make any of it interesting. It's just eye candy.
And the same goes for books, for comics, whatever. Are there people who love Dragonlance tie-in novels? I suppose there are. Are those novels actually better than I believe them to be? They could hardly be as bad as I believe them to be, so I guess I'll concede the point right now. But you simply cannot hold Riverwind the Plainsman in one hand and AEgypt in the other and tell me that these are much of a muchness. So when someone raves about the former, I put an evil little line through his name in my mind. And when someone raves about the latter, I put beer money on the table and sit down for a nice long chat.
Speaking of good things, I'd like to call your attention to a few daily resources for all things science fiction. You only get IROSF once a month, but if you need a daily dose, you might make sure you have these in your bookmarks: TruFen is a fandom-oriented slashdot-style news site, and pretty cool; Write Hemisphere is your best resource for interesting news about the industry; and Fantastica Daily provides daily doses of science fiction news and reviews with an unofficial emphasis on media. Moreover, I'm looking for someone to write a comprehensive introduction to the best blogs in science fiction, so if you're a sci-fi blog junky, or know someone who is, please get in touch.
Finally, it's been a hectic month, and this issue definitely wouldn't have happened without the very professional help of the new editors. Thanks, everyone!