Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Will the SF community notice?

Strange remark here from some guy writing about Jennifer Egan's new tour de force, a story-cycle the last two pieces of which are set in the near future:
What I am frankly most curious about is how the novel will be received by the science fiction community. Indeed, it's quite uncertain whether it will be noticed. And Egan certainly did not take the typical approach to science fiction with regards to the creation of those portions of the novel set in the future.

Readers could easily argue the other side of the fence, that the portions of the novel set in the future are not science fiction, because they focus primarily on character. But Egan is quite adept at writing speculative fiction. Her instincts are fine.
Three thoughts:
1) The science fiction community noticed: the interview is right up there in the "Blinks" section of Locus Online. Plus it's no secret that Egan fan Chip Delany is on the NBA jury, and he has some connection with the science fiction community.
2) Litfic that uses SF tropes is not an Exciting New Thing. Gravity's Rainbow was thirty-seven years ago. Egan herself is a fan of The Road, and was not one of those reviewers who thought its use of an old SF convention was a Daring Innovation. Philip Roth, not one of our great experimentalists, has written an alternate-history novel.
3) The chapters in question are well done, with effective extrapolations about society and technology (I think--they're very sentimental, so I was reading them through a flood of tears, which makes my judgment suspect). To my mind, that's not enough to justify classifying them as SF. But it's hard not to ask, Who Cares? All this Tutankhamun was black, Spinoza was gay, Egan writes SF sort of thing strikes me as a very iffy legitimation game. How does saying, "This person who is revered by the Establishment was part of my very own stigmatized group" help you?

Here's an informative Egan interview in which interviewer Alec Michod keeps trying to ask her about genre and she finally says, wtf, it's just a marketing category, dude. She talks (and presents: the interview concludes with eighteen PowerPoint slides, which start to be really interesting around number eleven) analytically about her strategies for writing A Visit from the Goon Squad and the struggle to address changes in everyday life without falling into a nostalgia trap. And she cuts through a lot of recently-fashionable crap about "experimental fiction" and the style/story dichotomy.


Nancy Jane Moore said...

Or as Chip says, "Literary is a genre."

hhw said...

Where was this "strange remark" from?

Josh said...

Thanks for catching the omission, hhw; I've fixed it. The interview is okay, but that particular observation on the interviewer's part irked me.