Spitting on genre fiction

You know, sometimes it just doesn’t pay to piss people off.

Back on 5 Mar, there was a rather large event in London known as World Book Night.  Thousands of books were given away, with the intent of encouraging more people to pick up books and get reading.  On that evening, the BBC hosted a show called, "The Books We Really Read."  The intent was to talk about the books that get other folks reading.

Well, that’s where the fun begins.  Sci-fi author Stephen Hunt took umbrage with the show, due to the shortage (i.e., zero) of speculative fiction books on the list – the implication being, that people who are serious about reading don’t read sci-fi, horror, or fantasy.  Things might have died there had not Hunt gathered  a who’s who of genre writers (an impressive list, to be sure) to call out the BBC.  Mass drama ensued and as of today, the last word is that the BBC issued an apology, stating that they fully support genre fiction.

You can read more about the differing opinions at Hunt’s website and at the UK Guardian.  The World Book Night website is here.

Since I didn’t see the BBC special, I don’t have an opinion on what exactly happened.  But it is the bigger issue that gets me.

Why do people look down on genre fiction?

It’s something I never understood or never will.  There are plenty of folks who call it formulaic, uninspired, juvenile, etc.  I’ve read multiple versions of people blaming genre fiction for leaving young people unprepared for "serious" literary fiction, with all it’s symbolism and deep meaning.  Before anyone says I am over-blowing the issue, Google the words "genre fiction is crap," and see how many responses pop up.  It’s not pretty.

First of all, anything that gets people reading is a good thing.  Simpler books are gateway drugs for more meaningful texts.  I grew up reading comic books and attribute my love of reading to that.  So if youngsters want to read flights of fancy, what does that mean for later life?  Nothing, other increasing their chances of continuing to read.

Second, snobbery is one of mankind’s least attractive characteristics.  Acting like you’re better than someone because of what you read doesn’t make you look smarter.  It makes you a dick. 

Finally, I have to say that plenty of so-called "great" literary fiction is atrocious.  Catcher in the Rye is the #1 offender on my list.  I didn’t see a journey of awakening by a tortured soul; I saw a half-educated adolescent jerkass figuring out what every adult learns by growing up, and treating those truths as a discovery on par with the advent of the wheel.  Bah.  Give me Brave New World, 1984, LOTR, the works of Michael Moorcock or Isaac Asimov ANY DAY over that pretentious, self-serving sack of monkey anus.  And as I pointed out recently, Hemingway gives me a case of the shits.

I’m not calling out literary fiction as worthless but I do invoke Sturgeon’s Law:  90% of everything is crap.  There’s a lot of bad spec fiction, but no more so than any other genre.  Can’t we just accept the fact that spec fiction is legitimate reading, with it’s own highs and lows?

And if you disagree with me, feel free to get bent.


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