Everything Is Nice

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

After The Boom

with 4 comments

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.

Advertisements

Written by Martin

29 July 2014 at 07:05

Posted in criticism, sf

4 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. We lack the critical infrastructure to do lots of things…

    Children’s SF? Substantial YA SF? Short fiction? There really aren’t that many critics out there writing from the critical perspective you’re talking about and those who do are regularly forced to contend with a combination of dead-eyed indifference and uncomprehending anger from the network of disparate communities making up genre culture.

    There’s an absurd amount of stuff out there and few people doing honest, non-corrupt sifting and when people do try to sift through the stuff and talk about the stuff they like they get shouted at for being rude, for liking the wrong stuff or not reflecting the moral viewpoint of communities to which they don’t really belong.

    I don’t see that critical infrastructure getting fixed any time soon.

    Jonathan McCalmont

    29 July 2014 at 07:24

  2. […] now at the Los Angeles Review Of Books. It is mostly about the Hugos (with a little bit about the British bust) so if you want a proper con report to give you a flavour of the event, I’d recommend this […]

  3. […] straight after I talked about David Mitchell’s key position as a non-genre writer, he writes his most genre work ever. So this is what his SF novel looks like to […]

  4. More discussion of this in the latest Coode Street Podcast (Episode 202) with Nina Allan and Paul Kincaid.

    Martin

    28 September 2014 at 13:34


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: