George Orwell

In Defence of Genre

I promised myself that I wouldn’t do this, but I’m somewhat annoyed at the moment, so I don’t care.

Genre fiction is, amongst writing and reading communities, generally considered to be of a lower quality than so-called “literary” fiction. By genre here I mean crime, romance, fantasy, science-fiction and horror,  but I’m going to confine my belligerent ranting to science-fiction since that’s where more of my personal experience is to be found. Now, I can understand, to a degree, why someone who hadn’t read much might think that, but should someone who hasn’t much knowledge of it be making sweeping (and rather insulting) generalisations?

Now, this isn’t to knock personal opinions. Everyone is at liberty to like and dislike whatever they want. But that doesn’t mean that because you don’t like something, it is of less value from an objective standpoint. I like to state that I don’t generally like literary fiction. I find it boring, introspective, and pretentious. But I accept that there are a lot of works of literary fiction that are nothing short of brilliant, even if I don’t like the genre, or even that specific piece.

The perception that science-fiction (and the same applies to horror, believe me) is for less intelligent people than literary fiction, is absolute rubbish, but a widely held belief. And not just on the internet, but in the real world too. China Miéville spoke about this (far more eloquently and effectively than I am) in his acceptance speech for the Arthur C. Clarke award just months ago:

He has a point. Science-fiction is incredibly relevant to modern life, and has a lot more to it than just spaceships, lightsabers, and bloody Vulcans. Good sci-fi (and there is a lot of bad, which is possibly why the misconception exists) works by analogy. It looks forward, in order to examine the world now. Look at the recent film District 9 for example. In my opinion it was one of the best films of last year, and it did exactly what science-fiction should do. It created an analogy, between the treatment of the Prawns, South Africa’s apartheid history, and the inherent xenophobia in humanity. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a hell of a lot better than the weepy, whiny pontificating that literary fiction is so proud of.

But I think the problem that most literary fiction buffs have with genre fiction, is what I count as the inherent difference between the two. Genre is fun. It doesn’t sacrifice entertainment for the sake of making a point. It recognises that as much as people read to be challenged, to learn, to see things a different way, they read to be entertained. Yes, genre fiction isn’t exempt from the curse of boring twaddle, but it strives a lot harder to keep the reader entertained, that the introspective moping of some of the literary novels that are being churned out at present.

And I know this is going to piss people off, but I chalk that down to being because the truth hurts. Science-fiction entertains, and science-fiction has a point to make. That’s not always the case, but the great works do, the good works do, and if you’re only reading the shit at the bottom, then you’re doing it wrong. Novels such as 1984 (George Orwell), The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (Robert A. Heinlein), Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (Phillip K. Dick), Children of Men (P.D. James), and a thousand others, are prime examples of this. And I know people are going to turn around to be and say that 1984 and Children of Men aren’t science-fiction, but they are. If you’re going to argue that science-fiction isn’t worth a damn, after excluding the best works as not conforming to your definition of science-fiction, then I’m not interested in what you have to say.

So to finish this ranty little interlude, genre fiction is every bit as relevant and of high general quality as literary fiction. I’m tempted to say that it’s more relevant and of higher quality, but in deference to my own personal bias, I’m going to stick with equality here. My own opinion is that genre fiction does for the everyman, what literary fiction does for the pretentious git. It opens up new windows on the world, suggests new ideas, takes the reader to places they never imagined could exist before.

And it does it without boring the pants off them