Yesterday, on Salon Futura, Cheryl Morgan published an essay called What is Genre Anyway? Personally, I disagree what a lot of what was written and hold a slightly different view on what genre is. I feel the argument presented was a work of apologetics rather than definition. But perhaps this is symptomatic of my age, upbringing and increasing feelings of alienation from “The Conversation.”
Those feelings aren’t going to be discussed here. What I want to counter is an idea presented four paragraphs into the essay. I don’t think that the wrongness of what was written invalidates Cheryl’s entire argument. Although it did reduce my sympathy for what followed.
The paragraph I disagree with is:
Another common complaint leveled at science fiction and fantasy is that they are “not real”. Apparently far more skill is required to set a story in the real world than in an imaginary one. This is a bit odd, because the job of a writer is making things up. Making up imaginary worlds is hard, at least if you want to impress discerning science fiction fans. Then again, I know people who complain that the likes of Picasso and Dalì are bad painters because their works don’t look like anything real. “Why can’t they paint like Constable,” such people ask. It is an opinion, but it is not one you’d find expressed by serious art critics, so why do serious literary critics cleave so to the real?
I disagree. I disagree with every fibre of my being. Everyone has an imagination. Everyone day dreams. Every night thousands of people spend their free time inventing stories in groups playing table-top role-playing games or writing stories of their own. Making things up is the most natural thing in the world for humans to do. It is an important component of what makes us all intelligent creatures. Even if a person is not creative with their imagination they still dream. To say otherwise is to demean others from a position of insipid and false superiority. The art of impressing “discerning science fiction fans” I believe is less about inventing fantastic imaginary worlds, but instead finding how far the real world can be pushed until it becomes not credible to the “discerning science fiction fan”.
When an author is attempting to write about the real world, that author has to look at the world and their position in it. For an author to produce a work of fiction which carries some measure of truth involves looking very hard at themselves as an individual and considering how exactly to represent their place in the the world. It involves a level of introspection that I believe is missing from most science fiction even so long after the transrealist manifesto. In some societies when the work is actually about real life this has a tendency to get the work banned or even the writer imprisoned.
So yes, I think the act of writing about the real world ungarnished by the fantastic is harder because it forces the writer to confront who they are with nothing to hide behind. Writing about the real world is at the very centre of every good story written, fantastic or not.
Where the hell is science fiction’s Raymond Carver?