Tuesday, August 03, 2010

A New Genre??????

 This is either hysterically funny, or excruciatingly wince-making.

A tweet from Terry of BabelClash fame (see Borders.com) sent me to have a look at the NPR site and Librarian Nancy Pearl talking about "under the radar reads".

Under HeavenOne of the books she talks about is Guy Gavriel Kay's Under Heaven and one of the things she says is:

It's a shame this book will be shelved in the fantasy and science-fiction section of bookstores and libraries, because that inevitably makes it highly unlikely that fans of historical fiction will find it on their own. (That's a good example of one of the many reasons that I dislike our reliance on genre divisions in describing fiction)... 

Which comment I might just shrug off, except that elsewhere in the same article she says she wants to name a new genre:

I only recently realized that many of the works of fiction that I most enjoy are those that push genre boundaries. I especially like fiction that is mostly realistic, but every once in a while zigs confidently into fantasy. We tend to call such works "magical realism" 
...
I'd love to come up with a one- or two- or possibly three-word label for such works that captures their essence (something other than "unclassifiable"), but so far I've drawn a blank. Anyone care to help? Have at it — I'll give you some examples of books that fit what I have in mind — Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker, Under Heaven or The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay, and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

Yeah. This is where I give a heavy sigh,  as I suspect she wants to rename the fantasy novels - the ones she likes, that is - because well, respectable mainstream readers don't want it known that they (gasp) read fantasy. Because we all know fantasy is trashy.

Ms Pearl, we have a name for these novels already. We call them fantasy. Or SF. Or, if you must, speculative fiction. We don't need another name to hide the fact that we write fantasy, ok? We aren't ashamed of writing it, why should you be ashamed of reading it? 

If that's not the reason you want a new genre, I still say forget it. It's fantasy. The moment you start dividing it up into sub-genres, you are going to hit a minefield, and I bet one of the first things you'll do is throw up your hands in horror when someone tells you that urban paranormals fit the definition of your new genre. 

You, as a reviewer/librarian, can point people in the right direction to get books you think they may like. Come to think of it, you don't have to call them anything except great reads.
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4 comments:

Satima Flavell said...

Good for you, Glenda. I hope you posted your opinion on Ms Pearl's blog, if she has one!

Imagine me said...

It comes back snobbery about genre writing - as if a something can only be well written if it is 'literary' which is patently rubbish.

Jo said...

It is a fact that for years I didn't touch fantasy writing because I was 'brung' up to believe it was trashy. I don't even remember now who's book was the first one I read in this genre, but obviously I enjoyed it as I am still devouring such stories. I know I started with sci fi reading Asimov and Ray Bradbury, I must have just drifted into fantasy I think.

glenda larke said...

Satima - no, I didn't leave anything on the NPR blog, but she had already copped it from several other irate SF/F readers!!

I was actually the opposite to you, Jo. Fantasy was fine, but SF was a no-no. "Everyone" agreed when I was growing up that SF was all about ideas but the writing was terrible. Schools wouldn't put it on the curriculum! And school librarians often shunned it like the plague.

Fantasy was more respectable, perhaps because of Tolkien and Lewis who were Oxford dons, don'tyouknow...(said in posh voice..., but there really wasn't much of it being written for adults as I was growing up in the 50s.

For SF:

They allowed Animal Farm (1945) because it was an allegory, and 1984 (1949) because it hit at totalitarian regimes; Huxley because he was from a respectable, famous family and was an intellectual, (Brave New World 1932)...

Apart from the above exceptions, and "historical" writers like Verne and Wells, perhaps the first really pure SF book to hit my generation that was also "respected" by the traditional educational establishment, was Fahrenheit 451 (1953).

The greats of the period - Asimov, Heinlein etc were all ignored and heaven help you if you wanted to do a book report on any of their writing...

As a consequence, I too bought into this and believed what I was told, and therefore came late to the genre.