Literary vs. Genre Fiction: The Line? (Part Four)

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[The second to last piece in the series.  You can read the previous pieces at the following links:  Part One; Part Two; Part Three.]

4.  What are some common myths that people have about genre fiction in general?

I probably should have stuck #3 and #4 together, since this post is going to seem slightly anticlimactic.  Regardless, Delmater makes both a false and a correct assertion about the myths about science fiction and its connection to television and film.  I’ll tackle the latter first.

Look, a giant smurf!

Delmater begins her 4th true point (since the 5th is actually a short, but hopeful explanation about Abyss & Apex‘s purpose and, thus, has nothing to do with this series of posts) by saying that “Hollywood tends to simplify good science fiction or fantasy stories and rely heavily on special effects.”  I’ve said as much before (oh, look, an Avatar link again), but what is most striking to me about this problem is that there seems to be very little reason for doing so, except, perhaps, to cut costs everywhere possible.  Not every high-brow science fiction film has flopped at the box office–quite the opposite, in fact.  In the last few years we’ve seen films like Inception and District 9 come out on top, both in the “serious” department and among science fiction viewers.  The same is also true of other genres, such as fantasy (hello Lord of the Rings) or horror (The Sixth Sense or The Exorcist–to name an oldie).  There simply isn’t a reason to produce garbage as far as I can see.  But maybe Hollywood has insight into things that I don’t, because it continues to produce a combination of both forms, with the less adequate form dominating the slots.

But Delmater also makes two rather interesting points:

  • Potential readers assume that SF and F literature is no different than its film equivalent AND
  • That the viewing public refuses to acknowledge that good genre TV or movies are actually genre to begin with (a kind of Atwood-ian reality denial, if you will).
Both are false for rather complicated reasons.  In the first case, I would argue that the reason SF/F viewers don’t read the literature has more to do with the fact that they know the literature is not like the film equivalent at all, except when it is made clear that a particular show or film is an adaptation of a book.  There are Star Wars novels, of course, but the vast body of SF novels are not high-adventure, popcorn monstrosities, but forays into the serious side of things, to varying degrees.  The sad reality is that most people do not read because they want deep messages or beautiful prose; they read because they want to be entertained.  Genre fiction largely gets a bad rap in this department (particularly in the case of SF) because it tries so hard to be “legit.”  There’s nothing wrong with high-brow genre fiction, but we shouldn’t be surprised that the general reading public is not necessarily interested in such things in book form, per se (why they are interested in the film versions is a different question).  Still, there is a clear disconnect between genre literature and genre film, and I would argue that another contributing factor is the same factor that has led to decreased reading numbers:  film is simply the desired mode of storytelling.  We don’t have to like it, but there it is.
Michael Bay kills this
 guy with a lens flare…

As for the second point, I think Delmater is trying to place genre film in the same category as SF literature a la Margaret Atwood’s comments about the genre.  Very few people are unwilling to admit that something like The Dresden Files (Delmater’s example) is fantasy, or that Battlestar Galactica is science fiction.  Some viewers might not know what SF or F are (or they might have odd definitions for both genres), but that is a separate issue from refusing to acknowledge that something is SF or F when obviously it is.  The film world is remarkably more open than the literature world.  Why?  Because without genre fiction, film would not be what it is today:  one of the most lucrative entertainment industries in human history.  Science fiction films have changed the game numerous times in film’s short history (2001:  A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, and even Avatar); it will continue to change the game as technology improves and filmmakers experiment.

But if we’re to take anything away from Delmater’s answers, it is that there are a lot of questions left to be answered.  The bimonthly obituary for science fiction has proven one thing to me:  that most of us have no idea what is causing the decline in SF readership.  Figuring out what is causing the various problems that plague genre fiction will be beneficial to the genre as a whole.  It’s time to stop guessing and start getting some answers.  Once and for all.

And that concludes my short series on the literary vs. genre fiction line.  I hope you enjoyed them!

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

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