The Artist as Hypocrite

Forgive me, but I’m going to rant.

If you live in the U.K. and you read SF, you probably know what, or should I say who, has got me so worked up.  If not, then as I don’t  want to get in trouble, I’ll just refer to Ms X. Ms X is a ‘literary’ writer whose latest novel is SF, despite her protestations that she hates the genre. (And, no,  the ‘X’ does not stand for Lessing, as Doris Lessing’s talent crosses genres, and her Nobel prize was well deserved.)

I chose to write stories not limited to this world or to known human history. The term for this kind of stuff is ‘Science Fiction’, or ‘Speculative Fiction’ or, to avoid hair-splitting, SF. It annoys me no end that by rejecting the constraints of ‘the real world’, I become somehow less worthy as a writer. You see, according to ‘popular opinion’ (as delivered by our dear media) SF is for blokes in anoraks with poor personal hygiene and no social skills. 

If a ‘literary’ writer finds the imagination to pull free of ‘the real world’, they often seem to feel the need to strenuously disassociate themselves with this thing called SF (a process known as ‘doing an Atwood’). Heavens no, this isn’t SF, this is Literature that just happens to be set in the future/on another world. The hell it is. If you’re going to stick people who make you uncomfortable in a ghetto you have no right to nip in and nick their stuff then call them lowlifes.    

A few days ago I listened to an interview with the currently ubiquitous Ms X. The novel in question is set on another world (that’ll be SF then), and deals with a culture whose failure to live sustainably causes their ultimate downfall. The interview did not touch on matters of genre, (probably for the best, as otherwise I’d have ended up shouting at the radio again), but the interviewer did ask Ms X whether she took green issues seriously. Her reply: ‘Oh no, not really. After all, I do drive a Porsche!’

So then, let me get this straight. For ‘literary’ writers, it’s just fine to plunder a genre, then insult it, all in the cause of jumping on a bandwagon for a currently trendy movement you don’t actually believe in.

I beg to differ.


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