I’m not certain that Jeanette Winterson’s flat disclaimer, ‘I hate science fiction,’ (see Without Prejudice
) was generated by real hatred and loathing of the genre. More likely, it was a reflexive blurt driven by anxiety. Winterson is an author with impeccable literary establishment qualifications. And part of belonging to the ‘literary’ establishment is the need to maintain a strong and impermeable barrier between ‘literary’ and genre fiction, between so-called high and low art, between ‘proper’ fiction and despised, degenerate pulp. So although Winterson has felt it necessary, for the purposes of her novel, to borrow from science-fiction’s toolbox of tropes, tricks, and imagery, she has to make it clear that she is in no way tainted by or sympathetic to science fiction. Saying ‘I hate science fiction’ is not only like displaying a properly stamped passport to a border cop, proof to the cultural critics that she belongs on what she perceives to be the right side of the barrier; it’s also a powerful disinfectant spray that cleanses the taint of genre from borrowings smuggled out of the forbidden zone.
It occurs to me that the champions of so-called mundane science fiction may be displaying the same anxiety about genre taint as Winterson and other literary novelists who have borrowed from science fiction. The mundane movement, rejecting ‘myths’ such as aliens, faster-than-light travel, parallel worlds, time travel, and so on, declares strict adherence to mimesis and realistic speculation about known scientific truths. They aren’t the first science-fiction writers to attempt to differentiate themselves from the rest of the genre - Heinlein, for instance, attempted to erect a wall between real science fiction and mere fantasy by declaring that fantasy is ‘any story based on violation of a scientific fact’ - and I doubt that they’ll be the last. But like all the rest they are doomed to failure not only because their internal borders are artificial and impossible to police, but also because they are attempting to argue a case for legitimacy before a court that cares not a jot for the differences they are attempting to define.