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Momento Mori
01-22-2007, 10:42 PM
Apologies if there's already a Thread dealing with this (I've searched but couldn't find one).

I've been mulling an issue over during the last few days and would be interested in knowing what other people thing.

The Literary Establishment (for want of a better term) seem to have a somewhat snotty view to genre fiction, and particularly to fantasy and science fiction. However, several literary writers (notably Margaret Atwood, Ian Banks and Kazuo Ishiguru) have used strong science fiction elements within their literary fiction and the Literary Establishment hail them for it - in fact both Atwood and Ishiguru have seen their SF themed work nominated for prestigious literary prizes, including the Man Booker.

So what I'm wondering is the following:

Is there any difference between so called 'literary science fiction' and 'bog standard genre science fiction' that merits the distinction?
Do you think that an established 'literary' writer automatically carries more respect/cache from the Literary Establishment when they venture into the genre and if so, do you think that such respect/cache is merited?
Is it possible for a genre-based writer to make the move into literary fiction to great acclaim or do you think that the move is one-way?I haven't come to any conclusions one way or the other, but I am interested in seeing what people have to say (and I'm not knocking literary writers any more than I'm favouring SF and fantasy writers).

MM

rugcat
01-22-2007, 11:15 PM
Is there any difference between so called 'literary science fiction' and 'bog standard genre science fiction' that merits the distinction?
Yes. In simplistic terms, literary writers sometimes use F/SF themes to drive the story - although the story itself may be more about the universal themes of love, loss, etc. For genre writers, the fantastical elements are the story - those same literary themes may be present, but are secondary. Of course there are writers who blur the lines.

Do you think that an established 'literary' writer automatically carries more respect/cache from the Literary Establishment when they venture into the genre and if so, do you think that such respect/cache is merited? Yes. A literary writer who writes a boring book in "genre" will be cut a lot of slack and taken seriously. A genre writer who writes a boring book will get slammed. But anyone who has demonstrated novelistic skills deserves a certain amount of respect.

Is it possible for a genre-based writer to make the move into literary fiction to great acclaim or do you think that the move is one-way? Possible, but much, much harder. It would be like a serious jazz critic acknowledging that a rock musician who ventures into jazz could be great.

veinglory
01-22-2007, 11:48 PM
I think it has a lot to do with marketing, publisher, surrounding canon etc. Ursula le Guin wrote work I would consider more literary than much of Atwood's -- it just wasn't marketed that way.

victoriastrauss
01-22-2007, 11:57 PM
Do you think that an established 'literary' writer automatically carries more respect/cache from the Literary Establishment when they venture into the genreMore likely the opposite. Margaret Atwood was lambasted by many people in the spec fic community for "poaching" on their turf when her latest SF venture, Oryx and Crake, was published, and many manstream critics were very patronizing. In my opinion, The Handmaid's Tale escaped that fate because it was viewed primarily as a feminist allegory (and published at a time when people cared about feminist allegories).

My impression is that Kazuo Ishiguru's book didn't make much impact in SF circles. Another Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami, has always written fabulist fiction, but he's regarded as a literary writer; when he won this year's World Fantasy Award, some people in the SF/fantasy community were upset by the "intrusion" of a literary writer into a genre award.

Is it possible for a genre-based writer to make the move into literary fiction to great acclaim or do you think that the move is one-way?I think it's far easier for non-genre writers to move into genre fiction as themselves--i.e., carrying with them their already-established literary identity--than it is to go the other way. Someone like Margaret Atwood will bring her audience with her no matter what the genre of her book, while a fantasy author won't, necessarily. It would almost be like starting from scratch. Also, a literary author who decides to do something spec fic-ish doesn't have to move from her current publisher, while the genre writer seeking to transition into mainstream has to approach entirely different editors, imprints, and possibly even agents. Plus, the genre writer would have to live down her roots in a part of the fiction market that's regarded by many readers of literary fiction as crass commercial pulp.

She's not a literary writer, but when Barbara Hambly transitioned from fantasy to mystery with A Free Man of Color, the book was presented as if it were a first novel.

- Victoria

alaskamatt17
01-23-2007, 12:37 AM
Is it possible for a genre-based writer to make the move into literary fiction to great acclaim or do you think that the move is one-way?

MM

I think Dan Simmons, author of Hyperion and numerous other science fiction novels, made some successful forays into literary fiction. He started off with fantasy/horror, then SF, and now seems to write in just about every genre, though in my understanding he leans more toward SF/F/H.

Higgins
01-23-2007, 12:46 AM
So what I'm wondering is the following:

Is there any difference between so called 'literary science fiction' and 'bog standard genre science fiction' that merits the distinctionMM

There may be some distinctions, but what has always interested me is the amont of Sci Fi elements that have gotten loose in literary fiction over the years. For example Cold Comfort Farm happens in an alternative reality as does Ada and there are many more examples.

Some writers have done well sitting on the fence between Sci Fi and literature (for example Kurt Vonegut and Iain Banks, though I have only read the Sci Fi in Banks' case)...

So I have no idea.

Jamesaritchie
01-23-2007, 01:05 AM
I think Dan Simmons, author of Hyperion and numerous other science fiction novels, made some successful forays into literary fiction. He started of with fantasy/horror, then SF, and now seems to write in just about every genre, though in my understanding he leans more toward SF/F/H.

Simmons also writes a mean mystery/thriller.

JBI
01-23-2007, 03:05 AM
Those authors that you mentioned (I personally have only read Atwood myself) were well established before they started dishing out science fiction (as far as I know). Generally the public like to give a "label" to all sci-fi and fantasy authors, and say "This is alright for an adolescent boy, but isn't brilliant writing."

The "literary" type generally are just authors who realized that Sci-Fi has some merit to it, and that using supernatural and hypothetical elements in a story, you can actually portray a powerful image.

Authors like Umberto Eco, and Salmon Rushdie, are recognized as excellent authors. Yet both of them have written books with fantastical elements. This being said, we can draw two connections.

1)"Literary" science fiction and fantasy generally has a deeper plot, with a message at the end.

2) The magical or scientific elements in the books seem to be lower than your standard sci-fi or fantasy.

3) Established authors seem to get away with it, since most "educated" readers won't touch sci-fi or fantasy, but if it is written by established authors, they must take a look at it.

4) None of these rules are definite. They all are just random observations.

Honestly though, think about all the old classics. Those all are fantasy, no matter how you look at them. It's just the crummy authors (not going to name names) who are incredibly popular, that bring down the genres.

Aeryn
01-23-2007, 04:55 AM
I may be completely naive about the true definition of literary (is there one? lol.) - but I've always thought *some* of Stanislav Lem's work, seemed quite literary...and when I think of hard to define stuff, with a touch of magic or the fantastical...and maybe a little SF in nature, Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borge spring to mind. Though maybe I'm only showing my own fetishes. ;)

Some work is hard to define, and seems to be marketed mostly on the reputation of the author, rather than the contents per se.... a quote written on the back of one of my Calvino translations:
"Of all tasks, describing the contents of a book is the most difficult and in the case of a marvelous invention like Invisible Cities, perfectly irrelevant." - Gore Vidal.
Another, on another book mentions "...surreal random fiction."

Playing with ideas that cross genre boundaries and mix up the fantastical with the real is a magnificent thing. I hope we see more, not less of it, happening. :) Perhaps if more is sent out, publishers will eventually capitulate and there will be more of it out there to read...and people will be inspired to write more....etc :D

A few years ago, there weren't so-called 'New Weird' writers (though personally I just see China Mievilles books as fantasy - rather than some fantastic new catch-all hybrid genre) - but at least there has been stimulating talk about it...the idea being not to be tied to a particular genre, but be free to cross boundaries and mix it up...which is to be applauded I think - even if its only mostly a theory. :)

All of this then makes me think of speculative fiction - and its definition....
Argh! :flag: ;)

Insert Name
01-23-2007, 05:24 AM
Literary sci-fi tends to just "rob" elements identified with sci-fi (space, dystopias), but the story is mostly character driven. There is a danger in this in that hardcore sci-fi fans tend to pan it as something other than what it is. The reviews for Kevin Brokmeier's The Brief History of the Dead kind of show this (http://www.amazon.com/Brief-History-Dead-novel/dp/0375423699). A bad book is a bad book, but approaching literary sci-fi as one would regular sci-fi might lead some readers to misjudge a work.

In my opinion, Cormac McCarthy's The Road is a great example of literary sci-fi. It has a dystopia, but is almost completely character driven (I've never read about people doing so much walking in a single novel). McCarthy also redefined the literary western, imo, with Blood Meridian. If only I had his talents.

JDCrayne
01-23-2007, 05:56 AM
I think it has a lot to do with who's writing it. Some noted mainstream writer just turned out a post-apocalypse distopian novel about a man and his son slogging through the destroyed landscape, beset by cannibals, etc.. It's old hat as far as genre goes, but since the author isn't an SF writer it's a literary achievement.

badducky
01-23-2007, 06:11 AM
Ursula K. won an NBA for a book that is still squarely placed in the SF/Fant section.

What we're really talking about is "audience" and "imprint". Literary Fiction is a genre, too, in its way.

First ask who the audience of literary fiction is. Then, compare that to the audience of SF/Fant. These two often merge like the center of a venn diagram, but they are still two separate places. Much blurs the lines, and much falls in the chunky middle of the diagram. Yet, they are two separate things.

AzBobby
01-29-2007, 04:28 AM
Is there any difference between so called 'literary science fiction' and 'bog standard genre science fiction' that merits the distinction?
Do you think that an established 'literary' writer automatically carries more respect/cache from the Literary Establishment when they venture into the genre and if so, do you think that such respect/cache is merited?
Is it possible for a genre-based writer to make the move into literary fiction to great acclaim or do you think that the move is one-way?

Nothing new to add to the above posts responding to the first question. As for the last two, I can't pretend expertise, but I wonder whether the answers require much focus on genre fiction. Any established "literary" writer who automatically carries respect into a new genre work must be the sort that automatically carries respect into any work. That is, it sounds like they're in a meritorious spot regardless. They're pretty rare. Consider the reverse case with Ray Bradbury, who is shelved with scifi at my bookstore and made his name in the genre, and the automatic respect he received in the release of Farewell Summer. Yeah, the respect must have been merited in either direction. I approach the last question similarly -- IMHO, of course it is possible to acquire "great acclaim" but any one of us should be so lucky as to get it within our genre choice with or without the shift. If such a thing would happen, it could only be earned.

WhetherOrNot
02-05-2007, 02:53 AM
Here's a publisher who's trying to bring some credibility to literary slipsteam and other cross-genre books. Check out http://www.omnidawn.com/paraspheres/#why. I'm hoping and praying that he'll publish my book, The Redeemers. I have a link to the sample first chapter at www.sheshere.net (http://sheshere.net). Maybe someone here can tell me what genre it actually is - Wilda Hughes

JDCrayne
02-05-2007, 05:46 AM
I think the literary establishment just uses more obscure words...

Alan Yee
02-05-2007, 06:13 AM
I personally found it amazing that Time Magazine actually named Kelly Link's second collection, Magic for Beginners, as one of the Top 5 books of the year. Surprisingly, Kelly Link seems to have good rep even among more "literary" writers.

Can you tell that I'm a big Kelly Link fan? Probably.

daoine
02-05-2007, 11:39 AM
The literary establishment also like to give literary cross-genre books different terminology to the traditional genres - for example someone mentioned Salman Rushdie, who is known for writing "Magical Realism" (rather than literary fantasy), while "Speculative Fiction" has been with us for a long time and seems both more high brow and less intimidating than calling it Literary Science Fiction.

Semantics, really :)

(In the end the marketing department will decide for you based on what's going on at the time of publication.)

Medievalist
02-05-2007, 12:02 PM
The literary establishment also like to give literary cross-genre books different terminology to the traditional genres - for example someone mentioned Salman Rushdie, who is known for writing "Magical Realism" (rather than literary fantasy), while "Speculative Fiction" has been with us for a long time and seems both more high brow and less intimidating than calling it Literary Science Fiction.

Semantics, really :)

Well, no, in this instance it's not. Magical realism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_realism) is really quite separate. It has a distinct literary history, one that really doesn't march along the path of spec fic.