Labels, Labels, Labels

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2022-09-25 08:00:00-04:00 No comments

You've probably seen this one floating around:

I’m seeing a lot of discourse on the difference between science fiction and fantasy today and as a professional sff book editor I want to clear this up: science fictions grow down from the ceiling and fantasies grow up from the floor. Easy. Next!

There's a reason I use the term "SF&F" now. As a lot of the old-school gatekeeping around these things recedes or flat-out dies off, newer generations of creators and consumers have come to the fore with far, far fewer pretensions about what all these labels amount to. I don't particularly care if my SF is hard, soft, or mushy; I care whether or not I give a darn about who's in it and am curious about what happens to them.

Literary SF&F is parsecs more rigid about this stuff than filmed SF&F. Event Horizon was basically Hellraiser In Space, but nobody got all that worked up about the transgression of the boundaries there. Its main problem was that someone at the studio chopped a ton of stuff out of it. We've long since accepted that Star Wars is basically fantasy with FTL and moved on with our lives.

I get that there is a need to maintain some categorization and labeling for the sake of marketing, although most of that now centers around demographics first rather than genres — who's buying and how much, not what is being bought by whom. But when it comes to the thing itself, whether to call something SF or F seems a really distant concern now.

And again, a big part of this is a changing of the guard in front of and behind the scenes. Twenty years ago, I remember hardcore SF fans bellyached nonstop about anime fans encroaching on their turf, just when they were most in need of having new people come into the scene. (Exactly as they had done before with, say, women, and nonwhites, and so on.) Now literary SF is getting rejuvenated by the same kinds of people that were originally rebuffed from it, and I say good for everyone involved. The last thing we should be doing is repeating ourselves, in every sense of that term.

I've mentioned before that when I sit down to work on a new project, I'm not thinking about labels. I can find labels for all of it later, after the fact. That's an act of marketing, not creation. Create first, market later.

Tags: Science Fiction Repair Shop criticism fantasy science fiction