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The 21st Century and Speculative Fiction

Recently, I found myself writing that the small world view of speculative fiction was the biggest challenge that the genre faced in the 21st Century.

It was a bit of a throw away comment when I made it, as often the comments made in posts often are, but the more I have given time to let the thought sit in my head, the more I have found that I agreed with it. The genre of speculative fiction, as we know it in bookstores and communities, has a decidedly small world view in the West. The debates that occur in it are, by and large, ones that are stupid for anyone with a vaguely progressive frame of thought. What kind of bad voodoo forties reality show are we all living in where the question of equality for female authors actually causes debate? The answer should be, don't be stupid, of course they're equal, and that should be reflected in all aspects of the genre, from book spines to editorial positions to characters in the work we love. Likewise, the debate of race is equally ridiculous. If you have even the vaguest sense of equality, a strong representation of non-white men and women, in the positions I mentioned before, should exist. That it is a debate reveals, to my mind, how far the progressive frame of thought that so defined speculative fiction thirty to forty years ago has fallen from the current genre.

The thought that struck me as I was turning the idea around in my head was just how, outside the genre, speculative fiction has become mainstream. Authors like Lydia Millet, Haruki Murakami, Dan Brown, and whatever YA super star of the moment there is, show just how readily and accepted the fantastic elements of the genre are easily digested by the reading community. The battle to have the elements of the genre accepted is over, at least in my mind. Perhaps it was never really a battle, but it does feel that the dominance of realist fiction has been removed, and that it can no longer be argued that just because it is 'genre' that it will not gain any respect. Which, in my mind, is what brings me back to the small world view. The books dominated by white characters. The lack of female leads and authors. The conservative politics. The complete lack of politics, in some cases. The sheer vanilla landscape that is presented, time and time again. Over coming these--and all the other parts of the Small World View--that dominate speculative fiction is, I think, the biggest challenge that the genre faces in the new century.

Food for thought, that, I thought.