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When Genre Zombies Attack!
July 20, 2007 3:58 PM   Subscribe

"Something woke her in the night." Genre fiction is rising from the dead to terrorize serious literature! In response to Michael Chabon’s (previously) new book, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, Ruth Franklin wrote a review in Slate beginning with the line “Michael Chabon has spent considerable energy trying to drag the decaying corpse of genre fiction out of the shallow grave where writers of serious literature abandoned it.” Well, that didn’t go over too well with Ursula K. Le Guin, who bent her considerable imagination and skill to the task of envisioning the zombie corpse of genre fiction and wrote an entertaining response, which was then given a suitable cover. The whole thing is also available as a pdf linked to from Le Guin’s website. via
posted by gingerbeer (65 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Previous Le Guin on mefi.
posted by gingerbeer at 4:01 PM on July 20, 2007


Odd how a so-called literary critic can in fact have no idea whats actually going on in the world of literature.
posted by Aversion Therapy at 4:08 PM on July 20, 2007


Ha! That's great. I've gotten into many arguments with people who seem to think that once something's good it's no longer SF.
posted by brundlefly at 4:11 PM on July 20, 2007


yeah Ruth was a bit drunk or something when she wrote that.
I'm not really a big fan of them but looking at all the sci fic conventions that happen and the large numbers that attend them, every big-ish city has at least one, I'd say shallow grave is a bit dismissive and asinine. And holding up Chabon as a champion? eeew
posted by edgeways at 4:14 PM on July 20, 2007


Well, yes, of course Chabon has been trying to drag genre fiction out of the grave. That's what good writers do: you learn from the past and keep the old tricks around. You don't abandon entire swaths of literature just because they've become unfathomable.

And let me call your attention to this gem of a sentence in Franklin's diatribe: "...Chabon has lavished an unfathomable amount of love on his creation..." Anybody who would call a writer's attention to detail unfathomable clearly has absolutely no understanding of how and why writers write, and absolutely no business passing herself off as a literary critic.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:16 PM on July 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


Yeesh. "Genre fiction" is such a terrible descriptor. I can just hear it coming out of the mouth of a 90-year-old failed lit professor. Or in this case, a hack book reviewer. Good on Le Guin.
posted by bardic at 4:16 PM on July 20, 2007


Am I the only one who tends to like genre fiction qua genre fiction? I tend to think of the question of "literature" as orthagonal to enjoyment of genre fiction (and generally find Le Guin overrated).
posted by klangklangston at 4:18 PM on July 20, 2007


IMO, the problem is that once you start to ghetto-ize literature though a phrase like "genre fiction," you've pretty much proven yourself to know very little about literature. Along the lines of what FoB says, a good writer is going to use the techniques and tools that are available, either for or against type.

Arguably, Shakespeare's The Tempest has some pretty heavy-duty sci-fi elements. And when Edgar Allan Poe wrote "The Purloined Letter," arguably the first detective story, was he engaging in "genre fiction"?

It's just such a useless phrase.
posted by bardic at 4:26 PM on July 20, 2007


"I have been a soreheaded occupant of a file drawer labeled 'science fiction' ever since, and I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a urinal."
posted by nihlton at 4:27 PM on July 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


Uh, 'diatribe'? 'a bit drunk'? Did anyone actually read the review?

"With The Yiddish Policemen's Union, Chabon has finally made the only use of genre fiction that a talented writer should: Rather than forcing his own extraordinarily capacious imagination into its stuffy confines, he makes the genre—more precisely, genres—expand to take him in."

Granted, 'genre fiction'=bad categorization, and not a great review either. Regardless, Franklin isn't really critical towards Chabon and his book, and Ursula K. Le Guin's 'response' isn't really a one but more of a playful reaction, as she says so herself.
posted by suedehead at 4:29 PM on July 20, 2007


klang: not at all, no. I tend honestly to view books described generally as "literature" in much the same way I view films described as "melodrama," as something likely to give me hives.
posted by Aversion Therapy at 4:30 PM on July 20, 2007


Defending genre fiction as literature is like defending barbecue as fine cuisine. On the one hand, of course it can be and sometimes is, and, on the other hand, how completely besides the point. Far better to love it and praise for its lick-smacking goodness...

However unnecessary that exercise may be, it pales in comparison to the outrage of writing genre fiction as conscious "literature." Chabon is actually a great case in point: Kavalier & Clay was marvelous literature, animated throughout by a true and sincere love of genre writing. Compare that to the unfinishable shabbiness of Summerland and you see what happens when that love got perverted into imitation.
posted by MattD at 4:31 PM on July 20, 2007


As Kurt Vonnegut said, "I have been a soreheaded occupant of a file drawer labeled..." - wha? Damn your fast fingers, Nihlton!
posted by Iridic at 4:31 PM on July 20, 2007


But as genre, in this case alternate history and detective fiction, The Yiddish Policemen's Union is not all that good. In fact, I think it's a rather disappointing. If people are interested and don't mind spoilers to a book that's been out for a while now, I could go into what I think is wrong with the book in mind-numbing detail.
posted by Kattullus at 4:34 PM on July 20, 2007


Franklin: "Chabon has finally made the only use of genre fiction that a talented writer should: Rather than forcing his own extraordinarily capacious imagination into its stuffy confines, he makes the genre—more precisely, genres—expand to take him in."

Stuffy confines?

I'd like to know what "genre" books she's been reading lately. The last three or four "literary" books I've picked up have been about angsty middle class Americans doing....nothing, I think. The language was lovely, but if it's so dull I can't finish it, who cares if the language is good?

Franklin should get out more. Like maybe out of reviewing.
posted by rtha at 4:36 PM on July 20, 2007


Bardic— No, but when Ray Bradbury wrote The Martian Chronicals or when Jim Thompson wrote Hell of a Woman, or when Hemmingway wrote The Killers, they certainly were. And those are all good works that exist on their own merits, but are very much informed by the conventions of the genre they belong to. Purloined Letter, not so much (firsts and outliers aren't the best things to mention when discussing genre fiction). But I like those books the same way that I like Animal Man, or The Untold Tales of Spiderman, or hell, even regular ol' Stan Lee Spiderman.
posted by klangklangston at 4:38 PM on July 20, 2007


“Michael Chabon has spent considerable energy trying to drag the decaying corpse of genre fiction out of the shallow grave where writers of serious literature abandoned it.”

It may be news to Franklin, but plenty of serious writers have been messing about with genre fiction. Detective fiction, in particular, has been playfully manipulated by Frenchies like Queneau, Pennac & Perec - hardly literary lightweights, in anybody's book.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:43 PM on July 20, 2007


That "stuffy confines" galls me too. Franklin seems to be someone whose only experience with modern "genre fiction" is the neo-pulp Tolkien fantasy occasionally cycled to the front tables at Borders. The Assassins Guild of Dimetrodon, Book IV of XIV in the Aspartame Chronicles, that sort of thing, as well as its equivalents in the Horror and Sci-fi sections.

You could excuse a casual reader for thinking that sort of formula fodder was the apogee of fantastic/speculative/magical realistic/whatever lit, but a literary critic, even one that prefers books on the realism end of the gradient, should at least have some knowledge of Borges and his heirs, Cabell and his heirs, Dunsany and his heirs, David Lindsay and his heirs. If she had the faintest inkling of the existence of R.A. Lafferty, Gene Wolfe, Kelly Link, Avram Davidson, Philip Dick, Connie Willis, Robert Aickman, Karen Joy Fowler, John Crowley, et cetera, ad infinitum...well, she'd at least realize that "genre stuff" doesn't have to be stuffy or confining. Franklin doesn't have to like it, but she could at least take the minimal intellectual effort to respect it.
posted by Iridic at 4:58 PM on July 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


1. In my opinion, some of the best writing overall is being done in 'Literary Mysteries' (literary not as a description of superior writing, but the structure of the story balancing the genre element of mystery with the pace and characterization of literary fiction.

2. I can sort of see where literary types get off on dissing "Hard/Deep genre" but not the lighter stuff. I think the recent respectability of Phillip K. Dick illustrates this. When it comes to dealing with political and sociological issues (instead of social atomism or the psychological) genre fiction seems to accomplish it more often that literary fiction. Let's be honest, much, NOT ALL, contemporary literary fiction is masturbatory, confined to writing about academics, singles, and the middle to upper-middle classes. For all the elitism of the literary types, lit-fic is failing big time.
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 5:00 PM on July 20, 2007


Kick the critic is fun. More please.
posted by srboisvert at 5:02 PM on July 20, 2007


An apt quote from game designer Dan Schmidt (regarding Kirsten Bakis' Lives of the Monster Dogs):

...there's this whole science fiction genre, some of which is pretty darn good, but when an SF novel ends up in the literature section due to the way the publisher is marketing it, the reviewers all get excited about how groundbreaking and weird it is, and compare it to other science fiction masquerading as "real literature", like, I dunno, Frankenstein, rather than its true peers over in the SF section. "This book is so audacious! Sentient dogs with human hands! What a groundbreaking work!" Well, if you ever bother to move over one aisle, buddy, you'll find plenty of other books with interesting premises.
posted by Iridic at 5:17 PM on July 20, 2007


game designer?

can't we call him a literary critic? then i can respect his opinion.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:22 PM on July 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Genre fiction" is used by critics, but to booksellers, they're just "mass markets" i.e., paperbacks of a certain dimension to fit on the mass-market shelves. Sometimes literary paperbacks fit those dimensions (like Penguins) sometimes they're some weird size between mass market and trade paperback (the large paperbacks). And that is what keeps the divisions going in your average bookstore...size of shelving.

Of course, the popularity of hardcovers/special editions/boxed sets of genre titles plus the rise of graphic novels means that this division isn't holding all that well anymore either.

I like genre fiction because it's so upfront about what you're getting...vampires, bodice ripping, etc. Whereas literary fiction doesn't have a similar shorthand for "overwrought meditations on being a 40-something academic with a thing for coeds", and it definitely should. (Jonathan Franzen, I'm looking at you...)
posted by emjaybee at 5:36 PM on July 20, 2007 [2 favorites]


Jonathan Franzen? Sounds like Cees Nooteboom to me...
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:37 PM on July 20, 2007


What I like about genre fiction is that it can be really sneaky about what you're getting. Sure, that George Pelecanos book seems like it's about a drug killing and who did what to whom - and if they're going to get caught - but what it's really about is the shifting of class and race lines in Washington DC, and what it might mean to be a middle-aged black man in a culture like that, and how doing the right thing might mean doing the wrong thing. As a bonus, there's stuff that, you know, happens.
posted by rtha at 6:11 PM on July 20, 2007


(Pelecanos is teh awesome.)
posted by bardic at 6:52 PM on July 20, 2007


I just now noticed that I typed "You don't abandon entire swaths of literature just because they've become unfathomable." I did not mean to type "unfathomable" in that sentence; I meant to type "unfashionable." I thought this called for a correction.

Back on topic, I think we need new vocabulary. The phrase "literary fiction" doesn't have any meaning for me, and "genre fiction" is almost as vague. I like the term "speculative fiction," but speaking strictly, isn't all fiction by its nature speculative? Anyway, I propose that from now on, any fiction that does not contain magic, spaceships, vampires, alternate histories or similar counter-reality notions be referred to as "mundane fiction."
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:05 PM on July 20, 2007


I still can't figure out just what the hell is wrong with genre ficiton. I was an English major in the early 2000's and genre fiction wasn't a dirty word within department. In class I read Neal Stephenson, James Ellroy, Raymond Chandler. Granted, these authors have crossed over into serious literature, but it was pretty much accepted that a contemporary ghost story could have just as much literary merit as a meditation on the modern upper-middle class suburban family.

I don't mind the pigeonholing effect of genre fiction because genre fiction, or respect for genre fiction, is stronger than ever. Yeah, I know campuses aren't exactly a litmus test for the outside world, but I still think Franklin was way off on that one. I'm a literary snob and damn if I don't also love Ian Rankin and John LeCarre. And I'm not ashamed to say it, either.
posted by Kronoss at 7:38 PM on July 20, 2007


If I was a writer, I hope my years of labor would have lasting permanence, unlike 99% of everything published which simply disappears and is no longer read. Kind of like the zoo of YouTube. To achieve lasting immortality in the arts, which is very competitive, means originality. By definition, a truly original work would not fit within a genre. In fact even entire genres rise and fall over time, the sci-fi genre as we know it today may no longer be read in 100 years (very likely). Writing a "mystery" or a "sci fi" work presupposes orthodox practices ie. un-original in the big picture (although within a genre there can be new linear innovations).

For example, "The Woman in White" (1859) was a creative new work that basically created the mystery thriller novel today (Agathe Christi for example). "The Woman in White" reads like a genre book today (it was called a "sensation" novel), but it's often included in the canon of western literature because it was a new and original form of art at the time.
posted by stbalbach at 7:44 PM on July 20, 2007


let me say that I had a big crush on Ruth Franklin when we were in high school, so out of loyalty let me take her side for the moment... oh never mind.

"serious" literature is very much a 'genre' and as full of self-referential tropes as any sub-genre of something as diverse as science fiction

see:

"overwrought meditations on being a 40-something academic with a thing for coeds"

"angsty middle class Americans doing....nothing"

it serves a niche market and within the boundaries of acceptable style the quality of writing is quite variable.

on the other hand, the economics of production make "serious lit" less likely to closely approximate copy for late eighties kid's cereal commercials translated into and then back from high Norse, as much "Fantasy" writing can seem.

and philip k. dick is only appreciable as writing because the writing itself is so incredibly damaged... alot of the appeal comes down to the spambot/schizophrenic run on sentence.
i happen to think PkD had some genuine ideas in there, but lets not pretend the writing doesn't smell...

to me this just sounds like any other usenet flame-war between different genre fans. it's seems like Chabon is just pushing the pomo 'high" low culture thing past it's 90's expiration date.

the only false note for me in her review is really this:

But one need not be unreservedly pro-Israel politically to ache at the idea of a world with no Jewish homeland—a uniquely Jewish ache.

this really inverts the (Jewish) Diaspora for me in a way I can't really fathom. the "great literature" of Judaism has as it's root the wandering jew: a chosen people forsaken by their all powerful god. from the perspective of literature and culture (aside from politics), I ache for the days of Judaism bereft of Judea, trying to make what when it comes down to it is a rather parochial tale (one bad ass god and his posse, the jews) into something universal and deep.
posted by geos at 8:27 PM on July 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


I though Kavalier and Klay was boring.

There, I said it.
posted by empath at 8:42 PM on July 20, 2007


Well, yes, of course Chabon has been trying to drag genre fiction out of the grave.

And if it were in the grave or anywhere near it Chabon would have a point. 90% of fiction sold these days is genre according to publishers. What needs to be dragged out of the grave is general fiction. Sales of general fiction are dominated by books by "popular" writers who have a huge marketing machine behind them.

Unfortunately, in the critical world genre fiction is automatically considered crap and its writers marginalized as "hacks". Even some genre readers who are happy to call their own genre literature won't extend the same to other genres. As mentioned numerous times above, any genre writer who critics are forced to admit is good suddenly "transcends his genre" or is deemed to not be actually writing genre fiction, because the average critic can't condescend to ever say that genre is good.

It all comes down to "what I read is art, what you read is commercial, what people who are nothing like me read is dreck written by useless hacks". Read what you like, not what other people say is acceptable.
posted by watsondog at 8:44 PM on July 20, 2007


That should say, "Sales of general fiction are dominated by a handful of books by "popular" writers who have a huge marketing machine behind them."
posted by watsondog at 8:45 PM on July 20, 2007


When I was 12, I wanted to marry Ursula Le Guin.

That is all.
posted by nasreddin at 9:06 PM on July 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


You mean there are people who don't want to marry Ursula Le Guin when they're 12?
posted by Kattullus at 10:22 PM on July 20, 2007


I have always felt guilty that I haven't read more of Le Guin, for the shameless reason that the sound of her name used to fill me with terror at an early age, reminescent, as it was, of gigantic french bears with a taste for childflesh. Still, not being catholic, I have to take my guilt where I can get it.

(Though let me go on record as saying I don't think PKDs writing 'smell's - he's not the greatest wordsmith ever, but some of his mannerisms of style were at least pardonable - the structure of replicant speech patterns in 'Electric Sheep' was nicely askew from the norm, and carried over almost as well in 'BladeRunner')
posted by Sparx at 12:12 AM on July 21, 2007


I would be less inclined to look down on genre fiction if it weren't so horrible.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 12:51 AM on July 21, 2007


I would be less inclined to look down on Dr. Steve Elvis America if he weren't so horrible.
posted by Justinian at 2:46 AM on July 21, 2007 [2 favorites]


But seriously, as Sturgeon said; 90% of everything is crud.

Cormac McCarthy's _The Road_ just won the Pulitzer. It is science fiction by any reasonable definition; post-apocalyptic travelogues have a long history in the genre.

Kazuo Ishiguro's _Never Let Me Go_ came -this- close to winning the Booker Prize and is science fiction by any reasonable definition. Michael Marshall Smith's _Spares_ covered this ground earlier if not with nearly the panache.

Those are just two well regarded (by litra'chur types) books of the past year or two. And it is without considering people like Gene Wolfe who are unabashedly withiin the genre.
posted by Justinian at 2:51 AM on July 21, 2007


Cormac McCarthy's _The Road_ just won the Pulitzer. It is science fiction by any reasonable definition

Cormac McCarthy? I thought his books were western novels? A modern Zane Grey, so to speak?

Personally, if I could find lit fic as good as anything by Elmore Leonard (westerns and crime fiction) or George Pelecanos (crime fiction), I might read it more often.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:05 AM on July 21, 2007


Chabon has finally made the only use of genre fiction that a talented writer should: Rather than forcing his own extraordinarily capacious imagination into its stuffy confines, he makes the genre—more precisely, genres—expand to take him in.

Franklin's review of Pierre Menard's latest book was better.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:21 AM on July 21, 2007


I should really read more novels.
posted by delmoi at 9:57 AM on July 21, 2007


Btw, TNR's editor in chief is a LGF-class arab-hater. It's basically a magazine for "liberal" neo-cons who want to bomb Iran. Who cares what they think of genera fiction.
posted by delmoi at 10:15 AM on July 21, 2007


Cormac McCarthy? I thought his books were western novels? A modern Zane Grey, so to speak?"

Cormac McCarthy's work is divided in two by most scholars: "The Appalachian Works" and "The Western Novels." His last two (No Country for Old Men and The Road) Haven't fit neatly into that dichotomy. In the end, Cormac has never written a traditional western that its enthusiasts (a la Louis Lamour or Zane Grey fans) have readily embraced, unlike, say, Larry McMurty.

One think I've always admired about McCarthy is his mastering of the 3rd. person objective voice (The Road not withstanding). Suttree is by far the greatest novel of the 20th century, in my opinion.
posted by Gnostic Novelist at 10:28 AM on July 21, 2007


delmoi said: Btw, TNR's editor in chief is a LGF-class arab-hater. It's basically a magazine for "liberal" neo-cons who want to bomb Iran. Who cares what they think of genera fiction.

Um, what?

a) TNR has what to do with this?
b) the editorial policy of a publication has what to do with its arts section? I mean, I think the editorial policies of the NYT and WaPo are often wrongheaded, but I don't read their book reviews with more than the grain(s) of salt usually called for when reading reviews of any kind.
posted by rtha at 10:38 AM on July 21, 2007


Earthsea is my favorite fictional place. It wasn't when I read the original Earthsea novels when I was a kid, but the later novels and her short stories have won me over. The setting from some of Peter Beagle's short stories and his novel The Innkeeper's Song is a close second.

Ursula LeGuin's essays on scifi and fantasy writing are fantastic. This one's no exception. She has sharp insight and often crafts her responses to other people's writings with a good measure of humor. Thanks for the FPP.
posted by Tehanu at 3:27 PM on July 21, 2007


Cormac McCarthy's _The Road_ just won the Pulitzer. It is science fiction by any reasonable definition; post-apocalyptic travelogues have a long history in the genre.

Kazuo Ishiguro's _Never Let Me Go_ came -this- close to winning the Booker Prize and is science fiction by any reasonable definition. Michael Marshall Smith's _Spares_ covered this ground earlier if not with nearly the panache.

None of those are genre fiction! Genre fiction is fiction that lacks serious literary merit but appeals to fans of the genre, often because they merely regurgitate the popular elements and aspects of the genre.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 3:45 PM on July 21, 2007


You're welcome, Tehanu. I never would've guessed you're a Le Guin fan!
posted by gingerbeer at 3:47 PM on July 21, 2007


None of those are genre fiction! Genre fiction is fiction that lacks serious literary merit but appeals to fans of the genre, often because they merely regurgitate the popular elements and aspects of the genre.

Wha??!?

If a book has "serious literary merit" but conforms in all other ways (plot, character type, how it ends, even) to the conventions of its particular genre - romance, horror, mystery, sf/f - then it can't be genre fiction?

Who decides what has Serious Literary Merit? Can we get a literary Thunderdome going? Two critics enter...
posted by rtha at 6:17 PM on July 21, 2007


[reads about a fifth of the thread]

*blinks*

[reads about two fifths down]

*blinks*

[scans a bit]

*blinks*

WHAT THE HELL IS 'GENRE' FICTION?

[hops over to wikipedia and reads that]

ooookay...

WHAT THE HELL ISN'T 'GENRE' FICTION?
posted by ZachsMind at 6:23 PM on July 21, 2007


[drinks a fifth of bourbon]

never mind. I don't give a poopie. =)
posted by ZachsMind at 6:24 PM on July 21, 2007


(Kinsey Millhone rocks)
posted by ZachsMind at 6:25 PM on July 21, 2007


Genre fiction is fiction that lacks serious literary merit but appeals to fans of the genre, often because they merely regurgitate the popular elements and aspects of the genre.

Hahahah, good one! Until this post I thought you were serious.
posted by Justinian at 6:30 PM on July 21, 2007


thank you, zachsmind! I just read the same wikipedia article, cuz I thought maybe I was confused about "genre fiction". Nope, not confused.

Maybe Serious Literary Fiction is what happens to genre fiction if genre fiction is...oh! Boring. They have to get people to read it somehow, so they tell them that it's, you know, serious and important.
posted by rtha at 6:40 PM on July 21, 2007


Why does no one talk about 'genre music'?

If an artist intends to make work that's comprehensible to critics in the public, it will be in a genre of some kind.
posted by empath at 7:34 PM on July 21, 2007


Defending genre fiction as literature is like defending barbecue as fine cuisine. On the one hand, of course it can be and sometimes is, and, on the other hand, how completely besides the point. Far better to love it and praise for its lick-smacking goodness...

This analogy falls apart like a pork shoulder that's been smoked all day, even as you type it.
posted by mek at 9:47 PM on July 21, 2007


Hahahah, good one! Until this post I thought you were serious.

I am serious. I think you're misunderstanding what I'm saying. "Genre fiction" is fiction written specifically to appeal to fans of a genre.

Merely being in a genre won't make a book "genre fiction." The question is the degree to which the dictates of the genre shape the work and whether the work is primarily appreciated on its own merits or merely as an example of a genre.

The issue is what the work contributes, if anything. Genre fiction is generally dispensable because it regurgitates characters, themes, and plots according to an already well-defined pattern.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 10:13 PM on July 21, 2007


Genre fiction is generally dispensable because it regurgitates characters, themes, and plots according to an already well-defined pattern.

Of course. But non-genre fiction is also generally dispensible. That's what you're missing. It may not be dispensible for exactly the same reasons, but it is dispensible nonetheless.

Merely being in a genre won't make a book "genre fiction." Genre fiction is generally dispensable because it regurgitates characters, themes, and plots according to an already well-defined pattern.

This, on the other hand, is pure doublespeak. It's a retread of the old "if it is good, it's not SF" argument. You are defining any book which you consider good to not be Science Fiction, or Fantasy, or Mystery, or Horror, or Western, or whatever.

Believe me, I've been discussing whether books are "genre fantasy" online for longer than the web has existed (hello Usenet!) so I'm no stranger to the concept. But you're defining a genre book as bad -by definition- which is completely unworkable.

Does Gene Wolfe cease to be genre if his stuff passes a certain level of quality?
posted by Justinian at 12:33 AM on July 22, 2007


The issue is what the work contributes, if anything. Genre fiction is generally dispensable because it regurgitates characters, themes, and plots according to an already well-defined pattern.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 10:13 PM on July 21


I won't even agree to this admittedly constrained position. In my opinion genre fiction that matches this definition perfectly can easily still be subversive, critical, and entertaining, while remaining entirely a regurgitation of characters, themes, and plots according to an already well-defined pattern. A number of cartoons make an active habit of this, such as South Park, Futurama, and Family Guy. They are undoubtedly extremely formulaic "genre fiction" but manipulate the subject matter to create interesting works. Comic books are another example where material that is literally recycled will nonetheless be great literature. Watchmen, Sandman, just to scratch the surface.

Genre fiction is so easily reviled because it conforms so consistently and baldly to the 99% rule; as in, 99% shit, 1% good. There is just as many good works in genre fiction as "non-genre fiction"; it's just that there are many magnitudes more Star Wars/Star Trek/dragons/unicorns/Tolkien-ripoff pulps which drown them out.
posted by mek at 1:00 AM on July 22, 2007


In fact, now that I dwell on it, the entire possibility of satire hinges on actively participating in "genre fiction." If we weren't aware of the genre Stephen Colbert was actively situating himself in, much of the joke would be lost.
posted by mek at 1:05 AM on July 22, 2007


Good writing is often good in spite of the trappings of a genre. Bad writing is often sold merely on the merits of those trappings ("hey, it's pretty good for sci-fi"). So naturally your creative writing teacher or critic is going to want to distance a particular good author/work from "the usual ghost stories you may have seen around" or yet another interminable Tolkien ripoff.
posted by dreamsign at 2:19 AM on July 22, 2007


This, on the other hand, is pure doublespeak. It's a retread of the old "if it is good, it's not SF" argument. You are defining any book which you consider good to not be Science Fiction, or Fantasy, or Mystery, or Horror, or Western, or whatever.

No, I'm absolutely not. You're simply not reading what I'm writing.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 1:21 PM on July 22, 2007


In fact, now that I dwell on it, the entire possibility of satire hinges on actively participating in "genre fiction." If we weren't aware of the genre Stephen Colbert was actively situating himself in, much of the joke would be lost.

You're simply not reading what I'm writing. I didn't define "genre fiction" as fiction that intentionally uses common elements of a genre.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 1:23 PM on July 22, 2007


Genre fiction is fiction that lacks serious literary merit but appeals to fans of the genre

Haha, yes, well, I suppose if you include your conclusion in the premise, you become very difficult to argue with!
posted by mek at 3:45 PM on July 22, 2007


Don't listen to Steve; he masturbates to tautologies.
posted by klangklangston at 9:58 AM on July 23, 2007


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