Wednesday, September 05, 2007
Despite New Wave fantasies about reinsertition of science fiction into the so-called mainstream of literary fiction after the collapse of the Gernsbackian hegemony, or attempts by postmodernists to erase the hierarchy of high/low culture, the distinction between genre and mainstream is ineradicable. Science fiction, like crime, horror, or romance fiction, is distinguished by an internalised dialogue based on development and variation of unique tropes. This genre gestalt implies a border: an inside and an outside. Writers working inside a genre border must always be aware of their relationship with their chosen genre and with the mainstream outside the border. But mainstream writers are untroubled by this Janus-like duality unless they find it necessary to make use of genre tropes. Even then, if they are secure in their reputation, mainstream writers don’t need to excuse this borrowing. They might even admit an admiration for the genre to which they’re indebted. But because reputation is an important part of their self-worth, and because they’re hyperaware of status, most mainstream writers, like Jeanette Winterson (for instance), feel that they must deny that they writing science fiction when they are writing science fiction. They feel that they must neutralise the ant-pong of genre with disinfecting hyperbole. They must declare that they ‘hate science fiction.’ It’s ridiculous, of course. Hypocritical. But it usually works because journalists are usually too lazy to question it. When Jeanette Winterson declared to Liz Else and Eleanor Harris of the New Scientist that ‘I hate science fiction’, the two intrepid interviewers accepted it without demur. Would they have remained silent if Winterson had said ‘I hate scientists’, or ‘I hate Ian McEwan’?