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    bruce sterling on genre fiction and reality

    Looking closer at that old "slipstream" article makes me think that Bruce Sterling and I are kind of talking about the same thing. Where I complain that science-fiction isn't "making actual claims about the real world," Sterling says the following:

    "At one time, in its clumsy way, Science Fiction offered some kind of coherent social vision. SF may have been gaudy and naive, and possessed by half-baked fantasies of power and wish-fulfillment, but at least SF spoke a contemporary language. Science Fiction did the job of describing, in some eldritch way, what was actually *happening*, at least in the popular imagination. Maybe it wasn't for everybody, but if you were a bright, unfastidious sort, you could read SF and feel, in some satisfying and deeply unconscious way, that you'd been given a real grip on the chrome-plated handles of the Atomic Age."

    That was then, this is now:

    "Consider the repulsive ghastliness of the SF category's Lovecraftian inbreeding. ... Shared-world anthologies. Braided meganovels. Role-playing tie-ins. Sharecropping books written by pip-squeaks under the blazoned name of established authors. Sequels of sequels, trilogy sequels of yet-earlier trilogies, themselves cut-and-pasted from yet-earlier trilogies. What's the common thread here? The belittlement of individual creativity, and the triumph of anonymous product."

    Where I complain that science-fiction "[seems] content to exist only within the confines of [its] own market-driven boundaries," Sterling writes:

    "SF has become a self-perpetuating commercial power-structure, which happens to be in possession of a traditional national territory: a portion of bookstore rackspace ... It is protected by the Iron Curtain of category marketing. It does not even have to improve 'on its own terms,' because its own terms no longer mean anything; they are rarely even seriously discussed. It is enough merely to point at the rackspace and say 'SF.'"

    Sterling complicates the discussion, however, by making a distinction that I didn't make,one between "genre" and "category," and this distinction may be worth quoting in full:

    "'Category' is a marketing term, denoting rackspace. 'Genre' is a spectrum of work united by an inner identity, a coherent esthetic, a set of conceptual guidelines, an ideology if you will. 'Category' is commercially useful, but can be ultimately deadening. 'Genre,' however, is powerful."

    So possibly I mean "category" when I say "genre?" Possibly? Maybe?


    Saturday, March 04, 2006
    9:26 PM


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