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Archive for July 29th, 2014

After The Boom

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In advance of Loncon 3, Strange Horizons have published ‘The State of British SF and Fantasy: A Symposium’ which includes an article by me on the boom in non-genre science fiction over the last decade:

This is because the last decade or so has seen an acceleration of what can uglily but accurately be described as non-genre SF. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that this trend has occurred in parallel with the emergence of the New Weird since it points to a generation shift. Just as contemporary genre authors are writing in the context of several mature subgenres and so are influenced by all of them, so too contemporary literary authors have increasingly been immersed in science fiction through their formative years. (Equally, you could probably say the same about non-genre fantasy but that has always been a less rigidly demarcated and fractious boundary.)

Genre fantasy is probably a bit overlooked by the symposium too. This is understandable since it takes place in the context of comparing the current state to that in the boom year’s of British science fiction in the previous two decades. However, as Andrew M Butler notes ‘Thirteen Ways Of Looking At The British Boom’, the essay that provided the springboard for this symposium:

“It is asserted that there is currently a boom within British science fiction… The Boom is thought of mostly as a British Science Fiction Boom, and to limit it to this genre is clearly within the parameters of a journal named Science Fiction Studies. But there is also a parallel boom within fantasy and horror, as well as within children’s fiction.”

It strikes me that we have seen a British fantasy boom over the last decade but we lack the critical infrastructure to discuss this in the same way as we discussed the earlier British science fiction boom. So perhaps this symposium will act as a bit of a challenge in this respect. And I wonder if this boom will have a similar effect in shifting non-genre fantasy further from its comfort zone (say the magical realist, lightly supernatural end of the spectrum) in the same way non-genre SF has gradually expanded from dystopias and post-apocalyptic scenarios. After all, literary historical fiction is extremely popular and it is only short hop over the fence into epic fantasy. Yet a book like The Kingdom Of Fanes by Amanda Prantera (1995) which does this is extremely rare (the author notes, “Ignored by critics and readers alike, I stubbornly maintain this is the best thing I have ever done.”)

The other ommission I acknowledge in my piece is the lack of coverage of children’s SF. I simply ran out of time and space but reading Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner (2013) immediate afterwards made me regret this more than usual. It is a brilliant novel, sharing something of the tone and setting of Jed Mercurio’s Ascent and making equally few consessions to the reader. It was also eligible but not submitted for the Arthur C Clarke Award the year it had an all male shortlist. The problems with the genre science fiction market for women over the last decade have been much remarked upon but what is interesting is that over the same period the literary and children’s markets offer a counterfactual in which high quality science fiction is regularly published by women. The pendulum is starting to swing back but it is an important reminder of th eneed to look beyond our doorstep.

Written by Martin

29 July 2014 at 07:05

Posted in criticism, sf