The Underrated, Universal Appeal of Science Fiction

by Rachel Baker on April 17, 2014

This is a really great article by Chris Beckett, who is a university lecturer based in Cambridge. His short stories have appeared in Interzone and Asimov’s, and he is the author of Dark Eden and the short-story collection the Turing Test.

The assumption seems to be that a book that comes with a genre label like “science fiction” must necessarily be lightweight stuff—not really comparable with “non-genre” works.

This may partly be due to the fact that the word “genre” has two different meanings which are often muddled up. The basic meaning of “genre” is simply kind or category or form of fiction, and in that sense, any work of fiction can be assigned to some genre or another. But “genre” is also used in a different way to make a distinction between “genre” and “non-genre” fiction. “Non-genre” fiction is the stuff that is placed on the “general fiction” or “fiction and literature” shelves in Barnes and Noble. “Genre” fiction is the stuff that is placed in its own designated corners: Crime, Fantasy, Romance, Horror, Science Fiction.

And now, a qualitative distinction creeps in. The assumption is made that the stuff on the “general fiction” shelves is the serious stuff—after all, it includes the literary greats—while the stuff cordoned off in those corners is, by definition, light, inconsequential, or even trashy. In fact, generalizations are made about the whole of “genre fiction” as if it were all one thing. “Genre fiction,” says Wikipedia, “also known as popular fiction, is plot-driven fictional works written with the intent of fitting into a specific literary genre, in order to appeal to readers and fans already familiar with that genre.” (Notice how, in a single sentence, the word “genre” is used in both of the two different ways I’ve described.)

Here is the article:
http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/04/the-underrated-universal-appeal-of-science-fiction/360627/

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