Sadly, and despite that the genre is far more mainstream today than it has ever been, crossing age and gender and social class divides, people still misunderstand and misrepresent what it is. I am in a book reading group on Facebook. Most of the members are middle aged women and most of the books discussed are what most would consider books targeted exactly at that demographic – romance, strained relationships, misery lit (books about overcoming abuse etc).
I have written about this before in a now deleted article, but back then my target was the producers of a BBC scifi series that bombed while getting lost in its own pretentiousness. The creators were so keen to stress that their show about humans colonising another planet in the wake of environmental disaster was not scifi because it didn’t have “lots of spaceships or metal suits” and it was “very character led… a human story”. The pretentiousness carried on (please read the original article I linked to) and their hubris turned out to be the undoing of Outcasts in insulting their core audience.
Sadly, this attitude is common and persistent. I won’t name the group or the individuals in the group, because they are a largely friendly bunch. But there are some of the comments I have read in the last few weeks regarding perception of sci-fi.
The Hunger Games is not science fiction or fantasy. Science fiction is about space and aliens and such.
Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is not science fiction because it would never have a protagonist worrying about losing his towel or invent something like the Pan Galactica Gargle Blaster.
Science fiction is not engaging.
You can’t relate to characters in science fiction.
That’s pretty mild compared to what we usually hear as genre readers. I’ve laughably heard that Red Dwarf is not science fiction, it’s a sit-com that just happens to be set on a mining space ship three millions years in the future.
We can all be rude about others’ reading habits and some people are. Let me give an example, romance is awful isn’t it? All of them without exception. They’re so dull. Change the writer and the cover as much as you like, but they’re all the same. They’re all about love and mush and stuff and not much else. The male love interest is always 6′ tall and successful. They’re also nearly always broken (by a cheating partner, by parental neglect, childhood trauma or an accident) which the often insipid and personality-free female lead must fix (and only she can fix it) in order for them both to skip off into the sunset. Boy meets girl, boy and girl have a misunderstanding and split up, the person who was in the wrong tries to make it up (usually the male because the female lead generally has no flaws except her own perfection), they argue, separate but realise they can’t live apart and finally skip off into the sunset together.
Sometimes somebody gets in the way, like an abusive partner (if it’s the partner of the female lead) or a callous gold-digger who sleeps with all his friends (if it’s the male lead’s partner) – because we need to feel that their illicit affair is justified under these circumstances.
Though that is a fairly generic description of a romance novel, I’m sure they don’t all follow that formula but we do know that romance has its common tropes. I don’t believe that all romance is awful or that they all follow those tropes, and I’m sure they don’t, but I have no interest because generally books purely about a relationship do not interest me. I’m sure there are exceptions though. It’s unhelpful to dismiss an entire genre based on tropes or what you think you know based on very limited reading. It’s also frustrating to dismiss a book’s genre because you like the book and have decided you don’t like the genre based purely on snobbery.
For the record:
- If it is set in the future, including utopian and dystopian settings, it is speculative and therefore science fiction
- If it is set on another planet, it is science fiction – even if it doesn’t have aliens
- If it is set on a spaceship, it is science fiction – even if it doesn’t have battles
- If it contains speculative science (that is, science that does not presently exist) it is science fiction
- Calling something science fiction says nothing about the quality or tone of the writing
- Calling something science fiction says nothing about the depth of characterisation
- Calling something science fiction does not mean it cannot be funny, engaging, entertaining or gripping