Jose Garcia, one of three bloggers behind the magnificent Meme Therapy responds to Paul Cornell's question "Where's Our Casablanca" in a blog post of the same name. Jose suggests that SF media and SF literature are apples and oranges and that far from being an asset that science fiction has colonized so much territory in the mainstream visual media, the reverse is now true:
"We all have a limited amount of time and money to spend on entertainment. If people are watching spending more and more time watching Science Fiction television and playing Science Fiction computer games they may be doing so at the expense of reading a Science Fiction novel. We may just have to resign ourselves to the fact that Science Fiction is now primarily about visual media and that such popularity won’t necessarily translate and possibly work against its popularity in dead tree media."
While I agree with the first half of that statement, what Jose fails to acknowledge is that Hollywood films attract readers in the scores of millions, so if we could attract even 1% of that audience, we're talking a significant increase in SF readership. So if 35 million people went and saw The Matrix, and even 1% of them had been persuaded to read SF as a result, that's 350,000 new readers. Hasty math, but suggestive that it's a target worth shooting for and simply writing it off as apples to oranges is a mistake. Yes, certain individuals whose time is monopolized by visual media will no longer read. But they may not have been readers to begin with. Whereas, there must be readers who, attracted by what they see in visual media, adjust their reading habits to include SF. Certainly, the number of people who respond to my frequent criticisms of Star Wars to tell me it was their entry to more sophisticated SF&F works suggest the flow between books and cinema is not exclusively one way. I am reminded of Gollancz editor Simon Spanton's advice that it is not the uninitiated whose attention we are after, but the "lapsed Catholics of science fiction," those individuals who read SF as a child, then put it aside. Some folks don't get it and never will, but let them who have ears to hear...
Meanwhile, Mr. Medieval himself, Paul McCauley, gets into the game with his post "Don't Fence Me In," in which he says:
"I became more and more enraged by Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s piece in Asimov's, mostly because it exemplifies the lamentably pious, holy-than-thou obsession with definitions that's becoming rife in the science-fiction community. If you really want to kill SF as a genre, go right ahead and tell people what is and what isn’t really SF, and don’t forget to exclude people whose work borrows from and expands on the central themes and tropes of the genre simply because they forgot to include a heroic narrative or some other tick mark that meets the approval of the Guardians of the True Quill."
He then goes on to make a strong case for diversity in science fiction, with the very sage advice that "SF should be a big, roomy mansion that welcomes all kinds of fantastic fiction."
Of particular interest to me is McAuley's observation:
"What’s this American obsession with the New Wave? Look, it happened thirty years ago. It shook things up a bit, it added some useful stuff to the common humus of the genre, but the people responsible have moved on. It isn’t around anymore. It’s as dead as a parrot. So why are people still acting as if filthy dirty New Wavers are about to ravish their precious little genre and piss on the furniture afterwards? Get over it, or get out of the way."
For my own part, I was born in the latter half of the sixties and started reading SF in the late 70s, post New Wave, and read Asimov and Delaney side by side without realizing they sat across philosophical and stylistic divides. I do remember realizing that Michael Moorcock's "Behold the Man" belonged to a different category of storytelling than his Elric work and having the good sense not to share it with my fundamentalist Christian parents. (Though I did give my father "A Boy and His Dog" to read, which he pronounced "disgusting.") However, it was only in retrospect that I learned what the New Wave was, or the importance of Moorcock the editor and the New Wave to our genre. I certainly enjoy being a reader on this side of the New Wave fence, where thesis and antithesis met, merged, and moved on. But ultimately, I think Kristine's prescription fails for the same reason the earlier Mundane Manifesto does, as McAuley points out - the Universe is a big place. What's sauce for the goose is not necessarily sauce for the gander. This is true for those who write it and for those who read it. I wasn't so fond of those "Fuck Authority" shirts of a few years ago, but "Fuck Authority, Sez Who?" was brilliant.
Meanwhile, I am continuing to be interested in Carol Pinchefsky's informal study, and the notion that introducing the uninitated to SF requires, as a friend of mine recently pointed out, "a solid understanding of your friends and their tastes, and (I think on some level) writing itself." The italics are mine, because that's the part of the statement I find so insightful. Although in the minds of the general population and (regrettably) a lot of people in the publishing industry, SF sits below mystery and just above romance on the ladder of "literary respectability, " the field of speculative fiction contains some of the most sophisticated writing and complex style as anything out there - certainly more than what is found anywhere else but in "literary" novels. While browsing together in a bookstore a while back, I showed a friend of mine - a lawyer who reads bestseller fiction and some historical - William Gibson's Pattern Recognition. He read the first page, then jumped as if it were a snake that might bite. He exclaimed "that's literary fiction!" and backed away in almost-fear. He explained that he hadn't read literature since college and was just looking for something to take to the beach. So I gave up and pointed him to the towering stacks of The Da Vinci Code.