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Interstitial Arts.

in the years that i've been hanging around with the speculative fiction people there has been a constant shift in just what to call themselves.

is it sci fi? science fiction? fantasy? horror? the list gets longer as you start looking at the sub-genres like southern gothic, sword and sorcery, cyberpunk, and so on and so forth until you're saying things like, gothic romance spliced with hard science fiction and a touch of the new weird. speculative fiction, generally, is the term that gets pushed out to mean science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

but over the years, i've noticed in them (and indeed, in me) a constant switching when people ask what you write. some genre titles have been hijacked through the years, and they've become titles that signify things that many people don't want to get involved in. say science fiction, and what comes immediately into your head is big spaceships, intergalactic travel, and, if you're like me, william shatner's head. when margaret atwood released her last novel, she had a big thing about saying that it wasn't science fiction, because she viewed science fiction in the way i mentioned, and this, naturally, caused a backlash. never mind that the term 'science fiction' had slipped out of general usage and was replaced with a rigorous, specified set of terms like hard science fiction. i don't want to get into a similarly placed argument like atwood created, but i do agree with her: the science fiction i grew up with was and is characterised by mostly thoughtless big space epics that have shatner's head tumbling through the big dark, screaming as an endless series of monster and cowboy flicks and novels follow it. i know enough to be able to say that this isn't true, of course, but i can't change the kind of science fiction i grew up with.

(this, perhaps, is why i pay attention to the other genre terms like cyberpunk and hard science fiction.)

the same thing is happening in fantasy right now. a whole generation is growing up thinking that fantasy is knights, elves, quests, and ian mckellen standing on a narrow bridge, facing a big flaming demon. harry potter is the other side of the fantasy, but it's really the same in it's genre specifics: wizards, wands, quests, and young boys and girls who show the promise of something. in ten years, fantasy won't mean jonathan carroll or john crowley, and the debate that appears focused in science fiction will be happening in fantasy. someone just like atwood will show up, and say that his or her novel isn't fantasy because fantasy has knights and quests and clearly that's not what is going on here.

personally, when that debate comes up, i'm going to care about as much as i did about the whole science fiction one, or any of the other countless genre specific debates i've heard and been part of: and that's not at all.

genre, no matter what genre you write from, comes with a history, and a weight, and that's a constantly changing thing, but writers are always going to have to be aware of it. if i went out to write a romance novel tomorrow, i'd do my research in the genre first. it's been my opinion, mostly, that people need to stop trying to define boundaries, to stop playing up the importance of genres, and rather the importance of writers.

it's always struck me as odd that people have read genres, and not writers. just as its struck me that after a writer has written a couple of novels in a specific genre, there are certain genre specific tools that he or she will us in their novels, which works to both distinguish their work from other writes, but also create a, well, sameness i guess. that might not be the word i'm looking for, i'll admit, but at the same time it is. here's an example: jonathan carroll, a novelist that i admire greatly, and who i think has written some excellent fantasy novels (the wooden sea and outside the dog museum are my favourites) has about twelve books, in which their is an air of something that is entirely jonathan carroll, and entirely, somewhat, the same. a similarity to all of his novels, even though they are each filled with different characters, plots, and so forth. this similarity, i think, is cause by the fantasy genre that carroll writes in. now note, i'm not saying this is a bad thing, but how different might a jonathan carroll novel be if he wrote a hard boiled detective novel? what might he have to change, and stretch, and alter? i don't know, but wouldn't that be interesting? (and i'm not saying carroll would like to do this. i have no idea. i'm just throwing up the example.) but rather than having this world where we expect our writers to write varied genre novels, we have a world that supports writers so long as they are in a specific genre, and that indeed, the genre has become more important.

somewhere, i think, i lost the thread of that paragraph. it probably doesn't make much sense, but that's okay, i guess, because i didn't really intend to write so much on the topic. (which may or may not make an absolute moment of sense, and may just have people pulling out their voodoo dolls of me to stab in frustration.) the intent of this post was to direct you to the interstitial arts website, where another movement for a genre name has arisen.

it might sound odd that i began this post to point you there, but i did. they have taken the idea of the writer jumping across literary genres and mixing and matching at will, but of course, they're coming at it from a different point of view. (or a different starting place.)

anyway, this was a nice diversion from doing work...

Comments

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norda
Sep. 5th, 2003 03:22 pm (UTC)
I've tried describing Ray Bradbury, John Collier and Theodore Sturgeon to people who think of science fiction as rockets and fantasy as sowrdplay.

It gives me headaches, especially since all three gents play with horror as well.
ashamel
Sep. 5th, 2003 04:13 pm (UTC)
Interesting stuff, though I think fantasy has been stuck in the Tolkien mode -- and people like Jonathan Carroll and maybe Michael Moorcock relegated to the sidelines for people who can seek them out -- for longer than you acknowledge here. Having a big bloated core to a genre doesn't preclude good things happening. That's as extreme as saying Star Trek novels automatically mean more people read Greg Egan -- roughly true, but not really significant.

I also think your comments about authors branching out are a good idea, but I'm not sure how realistic it will happen. Authors write because they have particular ideas, and they are good if they happen to convey those ideas in a way that is effective. I think the technique is tied enough to the idea that if you change one, they're just not going to stick out from the pack like they did before (there are, after all, hundrds of thousands of people all trying to push their views on the world. If Jonathan C were to write hard-boiled crime, he would have the advantage of already being published -- but publishers probably ghetto-ise(?) people more than readers, so even that is going to cause problems).

It seems the closest we have to a literary doppelganger is Dan Simmons, and I haven't heard all that much good stuff about his crime books. Richard Donner is an interesting (if oldish) case from the film world.

(I must read more Carroll -- various obvious comments notwithstanding.)

David C
benpeek
Sep. 5th, 2003 09:35 pm (UTC)
yeah, things could be relegated to difference in fantasy longer than i said. i wasn't being too specific with dates, just the idea of a genre changing meaning.

you're right about it being realistic. it's probably not, but it should be. in fact, half of what i was skirting around or talking about in a roundabout way, was that people are stuck in the idea of defining their genre more than promoting the idea that genre is a tool, and that the *writer* should be more important and the idea that he or she should shift and move is something that should be promoted, argued, and pushed out. probably a writer like carroll doesn't have much interest in hard boiled crime writing (though KISSING THE BEEHIVE was more of a crime/thriller novel than anything else, and probably not his most successful book) and it is publishers who like to ghettoise, but the idea of writers should be worried about, from my point of view, is that idea of being able to change. that genre doesn't become your holding place.

anyhow, livejournal has a sleek new interface now. hmm. i kinda like it.
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