Tuesday, May 1, 2007


I'm posting a brief note to show that I am in fact here, and to mention two thoughts that came to me in Barnes and Noble on Sunday. Why was I in a B & N? Because that's mostly what we have left, though two fine SF bookstores do survive in Minneapolis. But I was in Bloomington at the Magamall, and the B & N was convenient.

One thought was that fiction categories seem to be blurring more and more. I was thinking this as I tried to find books that might be in SF or mystery or even romance. My friend Lyda Morehouse, writing as Tate Hallaway, is doing vampire chick lit that can be shelved as either romance or fantasy. Liz Williams' wonderful Inspector Chen fantasies are shelved as mysteries in the Minneapolis Public Library. They are mysteries -- with Chinese demons and ghosts and gods. Jennifer Stevenson told me that she is writing fiction for an SF line, which is going to be published with romance on the spine.

The other thought was -- for me, SF is like literary or fine art or whatever you want to call it poetry. (I thought this as I bought a collection of Adrienne Rich's poetry.) My friend Ruth Berman has been selling to literary magazines for years. She says she always has trouble with her stories, because they aren't realistic. But her poetry is easy to place, even though it is often SF or fantasy.

In the US, poetry is not popular, but SF is. I suspect they serve much the same purpose.

I suspect categories are important or were important. What does it say that they are breaking down and have been breaking down for years?

Traditionally, there was a class component to categories. There were kinds of fiction aimed at working people and other kinds aimed at educated middle class people.

Blog posts should be short. I will stop here.

I know this post is obvious. Maybe I will find something insightful to say on the topic later.

1 comment:

Timmi Duchamp said...

Brevity is difficult for me, Eleanor: in my fiction &, yes, in everything else I write. This might be due to a lack of discipline on my part, though it might also be due to the negative reinforcement that whaps me right smack in the kisser whenever I compress or eliminate contextualization.

In your brief post you raised several interesting points/questions. The difficulty marketing categories poses for writers has become increasingly acute because of changes in the industry at large. As you say, though, marketing categories have been breaking down for years, even though the market doesn’t accommodate cross- or inter-category writing very reliably or well. (Note that I’m not using the word “interstitial”; that now seems to refer only to the texts created by a small list of individuals & not generally to work that crosses borders, of which there is now an immense amount.) One could look for either an organic explanation for this or an external-to-the-texts explanation. (Or both.) Have the tropes used in the various categories become so worn out & cliché that to go on using them writers need to mix and match outside the principal category in which they write? Or have the public’s tastes changed as an aspect of postmodernism? (Certainly forging such hybrids & “poaching” is characteristic of the postmodern aesthetic. Though on the other hand, one would have to ask, which public, since tastes surely vary tremendously.) Or is it a matter of economics—of what publishers believe will sell big & thus choose to make space for? (I keep getting asked by people who used to read sf a lot but have never been part of sf fandom why so little “real” new sf—meaning not the “hard sf” that now seems to be the default at Tor, for instance, but work like Ring of Swords, Shadow Man, Outlaw School, White Queen,Slow River etc—seems to get published anymore. To the casual eye, most of the new stuff in the sf section these days seems to be mainly fantasy & hard sf.)

Moreover, you write, Eleanor, “Traditionally, there was a class component to categories. There were kinds of fiction aimed at working people and other kinds aimed at educated middle class people.” This point certainly merits extensive exploration, though it would be a brave person who’d undertake it. Just as in the sf blogosphere merely raising feminist issues opens one to charges of making or advocating “sex war,” so in the US at large (& especially in Washington, DC) raising questions about class opens one to charges of making “class war.” Since very few people in the US who are actually struggling to make a living working low-paying jobs (often more than one) would call themselves “working class” now, I suspect that most people who read sf consider themselves middle class. On the other hand, many people in the field continue to think of sf as a déclassé “ghetto” & relate to mainstream “literary” fiction with either the identification of aspiration (the writer’s version of the American Dream as achieved by, say, Jonathan Lethem, who has successfully shed his association with the genre) or ressentiment (such as that expressed by the people who get so enraged when Margaret Atwood says she doesn’t write sf). Does the desire to get out of the sf ghetto have something to do with the tendency of f/sf writers to create texts that no longer stay within the genre lines of traditional, canonical sf?

Or, to ask a more strictly feminist question: does the breakdown of barriers have something to do with the influx of women into the field, such that women writing f/sf are trying to use the tropes of other genres to give them greater room & flexibility to write about what particularly interests them?