Isn’t that what they’re saying, all those people who insist that science fiction doesn’t have to be literature? They don’t understand anything more complex than the graceless idiot-prose of, say, Asimov, so they insist that’s what sf should be. Because it’s not their fault, of course; it’s everybody else that’s wrong. Other people may look down on science fiction, but they don’t care – in fact, they’re glad people look down on the genre. They take it as validation. Those other people, they claim, only sneer at sf because they don’t know anything, they think they’re better than us sf fans.
Bollocks. You’re the one practising snobbery – reverse snobbery. And it makes you look very, very foolish.
A lot of science fiction is rubbish. But that’s okay, it’s a wide genre, with room for many things in it. What you should not do is claim that the rubbish is the good stuff. You should not redefine sf so it privileges the bad over the good. And you certainly shouldn’t use that upside-down measure of quality to sneer at other genres of fiction.
That may be your science fiction, but it’s not mine.
My science fiction is the literature of ideas. It’s the one that has the widest remit of any mode of literature, the one that’s capable of so much more than any other… I don’t want it to be kept in the gutter by talentless hacks and moronic fans. I don’t want its highest ambition to be that it is “entertaining”. All fiction should have ambition; it should strive to better itself. It should struggle to document the human condition as closely as possible. It should provoke thought, discussion, commentary. It should redefine. Science fiction is no exception. I want it to change the way I think about the world, about myself, about the future. My science fiction includes people like the late Joanna Russ, who used the genre to fight for equality. It includes writers like JG Ballard who made us question the world around us. It includes writers who use science fiction as commentary, as a tool to examine life and the world.
That is science fiction.
And all those people who prefer the term “speculative fiction” – in effect, you’re saying it’s okay to limit science fiction to ham-fisted space adventure stories. That’s just as wrong. Renaming the genre is not the way to gain respectability. What you have to do is acknowledge the genre’s variety – the good and the bad – and then you have to up your game. What you’re practising is just another form of snobbery. Between the two of you, you’re doing the genre no favours, and yourselves even less.
So, please, if you’re happy in this “gutter” you’ve created, don’t call it “science fiction”. Be honest. Call it “space pulp fiction” or something, give it a name that sounds stupid so we know who you are. And if you call it “speculative fiction”, then you’re just as guilty of keeping sf in that so-called gutter. Acknowledge that real science fiction has breadth and variety. The fact that you’re only capable of paddling in the shallows doesn’t invalidate the rest of the genre pool.
Defend your own tastes, by all means; but never think to tell me or anyone else what is and what is not science fiction.