Google alerts brought to my attention this short, interesting, and annoyingly snobbish post about why 1984 shouldn’t be stuck in the science fiction category and, being the science fiction nut that I am, I couldn’t leave it well enough alone. The author certainly despises science fiction as a genre and I can’t help thinking that his problem isn’t with science fiction itself, but with what Harlan Ellison considers to be the difference between “science fiction” and “scifi,” which are, for better or for worst, pretty distinguishable variations of the same thing. Still, I feel it necessary to tear into this argument, because it’s just so wrong.
Let’s start with this:
It most certainly does not deserve to be degraded to the point of being a sub-genre of science fiction. Science fiction is just that, fictional. It carries no meaning, no message and usually, no words with more than five letters
All fiction is fictional, even literary fiction. There’s no such thing as fiction that is non-fictional. It’s not a possibility. Once something becomes true–to a certain degree–it ceases to be fiction. Historical fiction only gets away with it because it has to make up things during an even that actually happened, thus providing fictional dialogue and sometimes nonexistent characters to real scenery.
Furthermore, why exactly is it degrading to be placed in a sub-genre of science fiction? All science fiction is not devoid of meaning or message; some science fiction is even highly “literary,” whatever that means. In fact, most science fiction has some sort of meaning or message. Some of the best science fiction novels ask us to question our humanity, or consider the “what if” of a certain scenario. It’s a genre that speculates on what could be. True, there are entire sections of science fiction devoted entirely to adventures in space, with no discernible message beyond a simplistic “the hero wins” one. But what about the work of Octavia Butler, Samuel R. Delany, Philip K. Dick, etc.? Their work does not fit into the author’s lesser form of science fiction. They fit into a different category of SF that is still SF, no matter what you do or say.
But this continues with the author claiming that:
Science fiction has never produced a single thing that the ordinary person would not consider offensive, senseless drivel. And yet there are those who waste their time reading this nonsensical garbage
What exactly is an “ordinary person?” Ordinary implies discernible as part of the average, so, is the author ordinary? Am I? I don’t think either of us are particularly ordinary. In fact, if we want to be realistic, the ordinary person doesn’t even read (much). They’re the vast majority who rarely, if ever, reads a book or newspaper, or anything according to polls. They may still read, but they aren’t the ones who will have an opinion on literature that will matter in this context; the ordinary person watches more television than they do read a newspaper article or magazine.
So, in all fairness, I don’t think the ordinary person finds anything offensive or senseless in science fiction literature, because they don’t read much anyway.
The piece concludes with the following:
Nineteen Eighty Four achieved something few science fiction novels ever have, publication. Besides this, Nineteen Eighty Four was well written, meaningful and above a third grade level, all of which distinguishes it from science fiction. Call Nineteen Eighty Four what you will, dystopic, a cautionary tale, anything but a sub-genre of science fiction.
What exactly does the first sentence mean? A lot of science fiction novels have been published. That statement is absurd, because it applies to any genre. Pick a novel, any novel, and you can say that it achieved the same goal while most others in that genre did not. It’s not something that applies to only one genre. It’s universal. The same can be said of literary fiction.
I’m also not sure where this assumption came from that science fiction cannot be well written. Why not? Every genre has its weak spots, even literary fiction. Science fiction happens to be a popular form of literature, and therefore much of it is written in that more popular vein. But that doesn’t mean that all of it is, and it’s not always necessary for a piece to be written like it was meant to be analyzed for word use. Sometimes a piece can be about the ideas, about the characters and what is going on. Science fiction can be on the literary side, it’s just not nearly as common as the more popular side. Either side can have value though, and neither should be discounted or removed from the genre for the sake of personal dislike of one or the other.
This whole post seems like an attempt to make science fiction something it isn’t. If we remove all the examples to the contrary, then it becomes so. How many novels would this person suck out of the genre in order to make his vision of science fiction a reality? Is Fahrenheit 451 not science fiction because it happens to be really good? Seems absurd.
The point is, 1984 is a science fiction novel. You don’t have to like it, you just have to accept it. It’s set, at the time of its publication, in a theoretical future dystopia. As much as you might consider quality to be a judgment on the genre of a particular work, quality has absolutely nothing to do with it. A really good book can also be a romance, or a western, or whatever. That’s just the way it is. Get over it.
What do you all think?