I have to say this: I really, really liked Scott Edelman's recent SciFi Weekly editorial, "Erasing the Smell of Sci-Fi." Scott tracks all the recent tv personalities, producers and actors, who have been bending over backwards in interviews to SciFi.com to distance their obviously science fiction-themed shows from science fiction, on the basis that it's not SF because it's good. Or about characters. Or what have you.
He quotes Carlton Cuse, show runner and executive prodcer of Lost, who understands that genre does not inherently dictate quality or lack thereof, but is a form, into which quality writing can fit, as well as it can fit anywhere:
"No matter what genre you write in, ultimately the stories are reducible to stories about the human condition. And I think people forgot that you could do that in the science-fiction genre. Stephen King is a great example of someone who writes books, for instance, that are very high-concept, and maybe they're horror or fantasy, but when you get right down to it, it's really about the people that populate those books. That's what's engaging about him as a writer. ... You could do that in a hospital show. You could do it in a law show. You could do it in a cop show. But hey, you could also do that in a science-fiction show. And they seem to think that you couldn’t until this show came along."
Format-prejudice is ugly. There are moments of real beauty and insight on Sesame Street. And I have seen some terrible Shakespeare in my time. The muse can strike anywhere, and most of any genre (including the "genre" of mainstream literature) is bad, with only a tip at the top of the iceberg that is truly something to behold.
I don't like the move right now to make "science fiction" a dirty word, to repackage science fiction books to look bland and nongenre, and I don't think people should be embarrassed about liking SF. Oddly, it seems similar to the way people (especially in the media) are embarrassed by the tag "liberal" these days. I want to scream that it was liberals that freed the slaves, emancipated women, enacted child labor laws, ended segregation.... Just as it was the vision of science fiction writers that built the world we live in today, because you have to imagine something before you can begin figuring out how to put it together. We are embarrassed by its most forward-looking thinkers, when we should be celebrating them.
Update: Can I just add how much I am starting to like the blog Meme Therapy? It's mix of science and science fiction is spot-on important. Here, a quote from geologist Robert Peckyno, supports what I'm trying to say above:
" I think that science fiction is critical to progress in science. Visionaries who radically change the world are often thought of as crackpots and fiction has been the inspiration for many great ideas. Tsoilkovsky, Goddard, Oberth, Von Braun and Korolev are collectively the foundation of rocketry today - every one mentioned being inspired by the Jules Verne story 'From the Earth to the Moon.' Arthur C. Clarke suggested orbiting relay satellites allowing world wide communication in 1945 - decades later it arrived. Go to any NASA facility and you will find desks with model 'Enterprises' and 'Starfuries.' Science fiction helps to provide the dreams and puzzles that todays engineers and scientists try to bring to life."
Second Update: The wonderful Louise Marley has posted some thoughts on her journal that dovetail nicely with what Scott Edelman is saying. Louise points out that perception does matter because:
"...our genre only gets seven per cent of the market. That's why fine books like The Time Traveler's Wife and Wicked aren't marketed as science fiction at all, but as mainstream. It's a matter of perception by the reader. But how do we address this, and why is it this way? All of us who publish in our little ghetto of genre have had the experience of someone who doesn't normally read sf/f picking up one of our own works because of friendship, and being surprised at how much they like it. You know, that familiar sentence that begins, 'Well, I don't normally read science fiction . . . ' My thesis is that, actually, they do, but they don't know it. "