Recently Amazon has updated their genre list for fiction, most noticeably in the Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Romance categories.
You can specify what sorts of characters, what type of setting, what cross-genres, in pretty exhaustive detail. I mean, if you want gay erotic romance about firefighters, you can search for that. (Oh, go ahead and click on the link, you know you want to.)
For someone like me, who makes a concerted effort to color outside the lines, it’s starting to feel a little like I’m standing up against the wall of the gym, watching everyone else get picked to be on a dodgeball team. I’m the odd man out again, the one who doesn’t fit in, the guy who gets picked last.
Something happened to Science Fiction while I was busy being a responsible adult and raising three children. It got safe. Maybe there was never a lot of room for guys like George Alec Effinger and Robert Anson Wilson and Kilgore Trout, but there was some room. People who wanted to kick down the walls of the world and spit in the face of the howling void could slap one of those rocket ships on the spine of their books and say, “See–it’s Science Fiction! You don’t have to take me seriously!”
Not any more. I blame Yoda. Yoda nerfed science fiction. All of a sudden those anti-social geeks in the back corner of the store were making millions on action figures based on Fozzy Bear spray-painted green and talking Yiddish.
Almost overnight the publishers started taking Science Fiction seriously, and that killed it. Kick Samuel Delany and Tannith Lee to the curb–they write about weird sex and break the forth wall, and there ain’t nobody gonna buy a Azhrarn action figure. Forget Kate Wilhelm and Ursula K LeGuin, we need boys with rayguns and rocket ships. Phillip Dick? No way… he’s all kinds of crazy weird. Wait, someone made another damned movie based on one of his books? Okay, we’ll release that one with a new cover and hope people buy it without noticing it’s nothing like the movie.
In Hell’s Angels, A Strange A Terrible Saga Hunter Thompson posits a future in which the Angels have gone respectable and middle aged, middle class men with tasteful winged skulls embroidered on their polo shirts fret about the lawlessness of the new generation. Having seen the biker culture change over the past few decades, I applaud his prophecy, but more to the point, that’s how I feel about Science Fiction.
We used to be warriors, damnit! Once upon a time we were epistemological guerrillas. Sure, there were always your Space Operas, your Galaxy Rangers and Lensmen, but that was for kids. Adult Science Fiction was all about violating boundaries and making people think. Even Star Trek, as lame as it was, gave a platform to the likes of David Gerrold, Harlan Ellison, and James Blish.
Sigh. Long drawn out heavy sigh. This post totally didn’t go the way I’d planned it. But sometimes you say the things that need to be said when you give up on trying to find a less boring way to say all the things that don’t matter.
I’m an outsider. That’s my nature. Show me a wall, and I’ll climb it, just to see what’s on the other side. I don’t claim that gives me some kind of moral high ground. If you ever catch me saying that something that is popular must be banal because it is popular I would appreciate it if you would take a moment to bitchslap the smug grin off my face.
I’m more like Kafka’s Hunger Artist, I’ve just never found anything that satisfies me as much as wanting. Maybe it’s because I’m such a boring guy in real life, I thrive on habit and routine, a place for everything and everything in its place. You need to borrow a 9mm deepwell socket, you’ll find it in my toolbox, nestled between the 8mm and the 10mm.
Fiction, for me, is a way to break every rule there is and get away with it.
Damn… I’m gonna have to find some way to end this, or I’m just going to keep writing forever, and future archaeologists will find my desiccated corpse hunched over my keyboard and put me in a museum, labeled “21st Century Man Alphabetizing His Vacuum Cleaner Collection”, because, seriously, what the Hell do archaeologists know?
How about this: He woke up, and it had all been a dream.
Yeah, I can go with that. It’s really 1973, and I’m a character in a Norman Spinrad short story who had a vision of a world in which Science Fiction became harmless and profitable.
Yeah, right. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go write Red Hot Firehouse Studs.