Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

On Not Being A Fan

with 4 comments

Lots of people who take an interest in science fiction self-identify as fans and consider themselves members of a communal fandom. This is a bit problematic if you are the sort of person who thinks you should have outgrown fan clubs in your pre-teens.

Dan Hartland has a post about this and the fact that being a fan means setting aside some critical faculties. It does so with some rather shaky analogies:

A Manchester United fan may gripe about team selection, but he will probably never abandon his team. If you’re going to talk seriously about books, you need to be able to abandon the ones that are bad.

I’m guessing that about half way through his analogy Hartland knew it was broken but decided to press on anyway. The objects of the fandom in the two cases are science fiction and Manchester United so critising bad books is exactly like barracking bad players, both activites that I have never seen fans shirk from. Not to mention that if your club does fuck you about badly enough you do abandon it in favour of something closer your original love.

It is interesting that I am one of the people who has inspired this post because I am not a fan and I am not a fan for the same reasons Hartland isn’t a fan. I do agree that fandom produces an unhealthy Us versus Them division and an instictive rush to special pleading. The reason Hartland hangs it on me is that really what he is upset about is the response to his review of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz. He gives us a rule of thumb:

reaction to a review will always hone in on the point most applicable to the community that reads science fiction, rather than anything which might relate to science fiction itself.

Here is a slightly different rule of thumb:

reaction to a review will always hone in on slightly dubious generalisations rather than engage substantively with a text that most people won’t have read.

I understand his frustration – it is always instructive to compare the nuber of comments on the film and television reviews on Strange Horizons to the number on the book reviews – but it has only lead him to produce further slightly dubious generalisations.

Written by Martin

1 October 2008 at 10:53

Posted in sf

Tagged with , ,

4 Responses

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  1. I knew calling you a fan would get your goat up.

    On the football thing – you’re right that I cottoned on to the dubiousness of the analogy, but by the same token I think you’re far too optimistic about the impartiality of the football fan. You might rag on a player, but he’s still your player. It’s only when he has the temerity to become someone else’s (or even flirt with someone else) that you really hate him.


    1 October 2008 at 11:12

  2. It is a matter of degrees. When you talk of “putting aside some or all of one’s critical faculties” those seem like two very different propositions to me. There is a tribalism to both football and SF fandom that I can’t get on board with but at the same time the vast majority don’t abrogate all thought. They know when their team played badly (even if they won’t neccessarily thank you for pointing it out.)


    1 October 2008 at 12:09

  3. […] Lewis has already come close to articulating the first point I’d make in response to Dan, which is that while there are sf […]

  4. I found the most interesting claim made in the original piece was the claim that ‘science fiction [fandom]’ self-selects for ghetoization and that this has somehow been able to convince mainstream reviewers everywhere to avoid covering the genre.

    I also find it a bit problematic that you seem to state categorically that fandom, being an egalitarian collection of fans and authors are incapable of producing serious criticism.

    I believe that you are confusing fannish history, anecdotes and tall tales with reality.

    Kurt Vonnegut being shuffled off? Kurt publicly removed himself from an association with the genre, believing that it was hurting his sales. Fannish/industry reaction to that was obvious disappointment and outrage – but to suggest that this kind of thing gives fandom the power to include or exclude various authors from the genre is silly. Publishing houses, editors, agents and marketers make those decisions.

    There have been many fine reviews and academic level criticism of SF – Kingsley Amis produced some to name one. SFRA and various other organizations disect the genre regularly, using “mainstream” critical techniques, and quite a few papers in the US, including the NY Times, regularly review science fiction.

    In short, I think your position is way off.


    1 October 2008 at 14:37

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