“The Hierarchy of Contempt”
After watching his excellent Bloggingheads dialogue, I stumbled across the website of Canadian science fiction author Peter Watts, which also happens to include free digital copies of his novels (so far, I’ve only gotten through Blindsight, but if hard science fiction is your thing, I think you’ll enjoy him). For the League’s scifi and fantasy aficionados, here’s a blistering essay from Watts on genre fiction’s respectability problem. An excerpt:
Start with a metaphor for literary respectability: a spectrum, ranging from sullen infrared up to high-strung ultraviolet. Literature with a capital L (all characters, no plot) sits enthroned at the top. Genre fiction, including science fiction (all plot, no characters) is relegated to the basement. Certain types of fantasy hover in between, depending on subspecies: the Magic Realists get loads of respect, for example. Tolkein gets respect. (His myriad imitators, thank God, do not.) Down in the red-light district, science fiction’s own subspectrum runs from “soft” to “hard”, and it’s generally acknowledged that the soft stuff at least leaves the door open for something approaching Art—Lessing, Le Guin, the New Wave stylists of the late sixties—while the hardcore types are too caught up in chrome and circuitry to bother with character development or actual literary technique.
I call it The Hierarchy of Contempt, and although you might point to exceptions at any wavelength, it seems a reasonable approximation of the literary “credscape”—according to the current regime at least, who hold the realist novel to be the benchmarkagainst which all else is judged.