Lock, Stock, And Character Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-06-07 12:00:00 No comments

Literary fiction is borrowing the tools of the science fiction genre.

Supposedly, the advantage to having literary novelists take up stories once dismissed as the stuff of genre fiction is that readers can get exciting plots to go with the mainstays of literary work: nuanced characters and the kind of aestheticized writing conventionally referred to as beautiful. The latter is a dubious improvement. Beautifully written is a phrase often applied to any fiction that involves a lot of poetic landscape description. ...

... [T]he basic temperament of all the characters in Station Eleven [involves] a propensity toward melancholic, vaguely paralyzed reveries that invokes the type of personality you’d expect to find in someone who writes literary fiction. These people are, when you get right down to it, all pretty much the same person. So much for the promise that literary writers will bring something more than stock figures to their science-fiction scenarios; [Emily St. John] Mandel’s rueful musers are just a different kind of stock figure.

Science fiction writers and readers have long resented incursions like these into their territory, especially when they come, as such novels often do, with a disavowal of the genre itself. (Mandel insisted that she didn’t consider Station Eleven to be science fiction.)

Maybe that's the problem. The more you get hung up on what the thing is supposed to be called instead of what it is about and how it is about it, the easier it is to write SF-that-isn't-really-SF-for-people-who-wouldn't-be-caught-dead-reading-it.

The other point made, about the way many of the characters in this kind of work behave like navel-gazers imported from a kitchen-sink story, reminds me of another point made about much work that is self-consciously literary — that it's often about characters who are either themselves writers, or who see things in ways that only another writer would see.

It always seemed harder to me, and maybe more rewarding, to see things the way someone who is not a writer would see things, and find a way to make that vision rewarding and lovely and insightful. Swapping one kind of cliché for another isn't progress.

For something I hope is not too clichéd, check out my (new!) novel Welcome To The Fold, and showing your support for it by registering at Inkshares and adding the book to your "Follow" list! Failing that, you can always buy one of my existing books, available on Amazon Kindle and in dead-tree format.

Tags: literature science fiction writing