Discussion Board

Topic: Insinuation of Science Fiction/Fantasy into mainstream Literature

From: kingsley yin
Location: Cherry Hill, NJ
Date: 01/17/2007

Dear Mr. bear,

Been a while since I emailed. I have read in the last few years 3 books - The Time-Travelers wife, The Stolen Child and Jonathan Strange and Mister Norell. These three books appear to have insinuated themselves rather well into mainstream, serious Literature. I enjoyed all 3 of them. I have never been a huge Science Fantasy reader so I cannot comment that much on the latter 2 books, but with The Time Traveler's Wife I enjoyed the book immensely despite the ridiculous notion that laws of physics (in this case time travel) were closely dependent on biological genes. So my question is - do you think this integration (if you will) of Science Fiction/Fantasy into serious mainstream Literature is detrimental to hard science fiction authors like yourself? Especially as you take great pains in coming up with believable and possible scenarios/hypotheses. I know from reading your blogs (and being a scientist myself) that it is often a painstaking and careful process of reading and thinking. One last point, is that although certainly mainstream, I do not consider the books of Michael Crighton - serious literature. Actually I consider them good door jams for my lab doors.
Have enjoyed all your books especially Slan, Darwin series and Moving Mars. Absolutely loved Blood music, the short story.

Kingsley

Re: Insinuation of Science Fiction/Fantasy into mainstream Literature

From: Greg Bear
Date: 01/17/2007

Hello, Kingsley! The "integration" is nothing new--it's been going on for many decades now, and seems just fine by me--all are welcome, and as you say, the results can often be excellent.

Re: Insinuation of Science Fiction/Fantasy into mainstream Literature

From: John Holtom
Location: Luton, England, UK, Earth, Milky Way etc etc
Date: 01/18/2007

Dear Greg Bear

At least in the UK there is a radical divide between SF/Fantasy and so called serious fiction. I think that most serious fiction writers and critics sneer at SF as low brow. Indeed, when I mention to friends that I read both SF and serious fiction there is usually a silence before a comment follows. The best SF is simply a genre of the best writing - just as the best crime writing is. On my bedside table at this moment is Vanity Fair and William Gibson's most recent works. Is William Gibson mainstream? I think not! But I defy anyone not to acknowledge both the sharpness of his language and the ingenuity and seriousness of his thought. I would love to debate this at length but work calls!!

I look forward to the next serious SF from Mr G Bear having exhausted most of your output to date!! And where is that film of Anvil and Forge? Again with so much SF dross on the big screen surely there is a director who can turn them into a new 2001 or Alien?!

Regards

John Holtom

Re: Insinuation of Science Fiction/Fantasy into mainstream Literature

From: Greg Bear
Date: 01/18/2007

Hello, John! Actually, back in the 1950s, UK writers like Kingsley Amis, Robert Conquest, Brian Aldiss, and Anthony Burgess regularly moved back and forth between sf/fantasy and more mainstream literature. Iain Banks does so now. For critics at newspapers and in literary journals in the UK, there might still exist a divide--but look at how much they're being paid! They have reason to be mean and grumpy. I fondly remember in 1987 being wined and dined by Anthony Cheatham, one of the big, bad boys of British publishing--sitting at table in Brighton with the likes of Orson Scott Card and Doris Lessing.

In the U.S., the publishing industry is still pretty fusty and hardline about this divide, and rarely do SF writers get invited to the "serious" party. William Gibson is one exception, Neal Stephenson is becoming another. Philip K. Dick would have been astonished at how mainstream he's become! The sf community and sf publishing was the only haven for Dick, the only community that would support his wonderful, painful, peculiar mix.

I've quoted John Barth before, perhaps not precisely--"Science fiction writers, they are not like you and I. They have more fun." And maybe we care just a bit more, not about being cool or fashionable, but about doing interesting things.

Re: Insinuation of Science Fiction/Fantasy into mainstream Literature

From: David Markwick
Location: United Kingdom
Date: 01/18/2007

I've noticed that any literature that makes it into the mainstream eye that has any kind of fantasy/SF setting is usually only concerned with more fanciful than sensible notions. There still seems to be a resistance for any well thought out and logically consistent SF content.

I guess there's a snobbery going on, that if SF is to make it into mainstream markets then it had better be of an artistically vague nature, that somehow good literature cannot come from a more "hard core" approach. (Hard core is not perhaps the term I wanted but I already used the term logically consistent in the previous paragraph ;))

As an aside, do you have any intentions of ever trying to break the mainstream, either by softening the SF element or writing non SF fiction? (Yes I know - two "fictions" there :))

Re: Insinuation of Science Fiction/Fantasy into mainstream Literature

From: Greg Bear
Date: 01/18/2007

Part of the "Two Cultures" separation that C.P. Snow noted more than fifty years ago... And which I discuss in my intro to H.G. Wells's THE LAST WAR, a University of Nebraska reprint of THE WORLD SET FREE, from several years back. Might have to post that article on this site soon... I think it explains a lot.



Re: Insinuation of Science Fiction/Fantasy into mainstream Literature

From: John Holtom
Location: Luton, England
Date: 01/19/2007

Dear Greg and other bloggers

So it is not the writers of SF and other forms of fiction, including so called "serious" fiction, who are making the divide, but the readers and the critics! I have to say that does make sense.

I have to say I don't think that good SF is in any way fanciful any more than any other good literature is. It is all about creating a coherent alternate world to act as a mirror for our own. Clockwork Orange is not fanciful it is a metaphor. As is much of the greatest literature across the world. Rubbish SF is vague and fanciful!

I fully accept the HG Wells point (Kipps and Invisible Man seem worlds apart from the same author). Likewise Philip K Dick - now printed in Penguin Modern Classics (or some similar imprint) and thus readable by the mainstream without embarrassment that he is indeed pure SF (genius).

Anthony Burgess is interesting. Clockwork Orange - where does this fit in literary genres? My feeling is that he was always thought of as a wild genius not really a writer of literature. A bit of the pop music classical music divide. A bit too capable of accessing the current consciousness to be regarded as a writer of literature.

Ian Banks erhm! Sorry only read one, can't remember the title but I thought it was laboured and dull - frankly I could not believe it was the same person who wrote the Wasp Factory.

I wish I could spend more time on this but again the demands of the toad work (as Philip Larkin calls it) are tapping me on the shoulder.

We are in an era when I suspect genres will become blended together as with everything else in our world - indeed, as you predict in Queen of Angels and Slant - the old differentiation between literature/writing and other forms of art is being challenged as the world of IT is encroaching into our heads.

And what about the film stuff - there must be a top Greg Bear film someone will make.

Good wishes

John Holtom

Re: Insinuation of Science Fiction/Fantasy into mainstream Literature

From: Greg Bear
Date: 01/19/2007

Anthony Burgess is one of my favorites, and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is a modern classic--a cacotopia, as Burgess liked to refer to this variety of SF, a noisy or unpleasant place--like 1984, to which he wrote a thematic sequel, 1985. And THE WANTING SEED also qualifies. Burgess was very fond of the GORMENGHAST trilogy by Mervyn Peake, a social fantasy distinctly different from Tolkien's work. His appreciation for James Joyce is no doubt reflected in Nadsat--the Russian-Brit Creole (if that's the proper term) he created for A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.

Right now, a number of very good folks are working on a possible film project based on one of my novels. More news as it develops.

Re: Insinuation of Science Fiction/Fantasy into mainstream Literature

From: John Holtom
Location: Luton, England
Date: 01/19/2007

Dear Greg Bear and others

Interesting about Burgess and Gormenghast. As you say this is fantasy but in truth very had to categorize. There was a TV attempt at Gormenghast a few years ago that was feeble.

Strangely Mervyn Peake is pure mainstream despite being fantasy. Published in the UK as Penguin Modern Classics. He did his own illustrations too.

Glad to hear there is work on film projects. May it mature soon.

Regards

Re: Insinuation of Science Fiction/Fantasy into mainstream Literature

From: Greg Bear
Date: 01/19/2007

Actually, I quite enjoyed the GORMENGHAST tv production. Impressive acting, and caught much of the mood and feel of the novels.

Re: Insinuation of Science Fiction/Fantasy into mainstream Literature

From: Andrew Johnston
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Date: 01/20/2007

Dear Mr Bear,

Your mentioning of Kingsley Amis and Robert Conquest reminded me of some of the first science fiction I ever read back in the late sixties, early seventies. Amis and Conquest edited a series of anthologies called Spectrum (1 - 5) and discussed in a number of their introductions the perceived differences between mainstream and science fiction. They also included, in one volume, the transcript of a discussion on this subject between Conquest, Brian Aldiss and C. S. Lewis.

Best wishes,

Andrew Johnston

Re: Insinuation of Science Fiction/Fantasy into mainstream Literature

From: John Holtom
Location: Luton, England
Date: 01/21/2007

Dear Greg Bear and others

Still on this topic I read a review in The Guardian yesterday - broadsheet for the UK liberterian intelligensia (so it thinks) which started: "How frustrating to be a writer who happens to work in sci-fi". The same review ends: "Be Brave. Step into the sci-fi section. You can wear a floppy hat".

The review is about a new book by Tricia Sullivan (never heard of her but sounds interesting). A quick bit of web research shows that he is an academic and regular reviewer for The Guardian.

I wonder whether it is his view that you need a floppy hat or whether he thinks it is the view of the world that he needs a floppy hat. Either way I think that the divide remains depressingly real.

On Gormenghast TV - it is the divide between good acting and capturing the sense/mood of the text. The difference between Polanski's Macbeth and the RSC being respectful to the text. Gormenghast is a dark dense tale - I imagine filming your Songs of Earth and Power would be equally hard to capture and require a Kubrick-like attention to detail to build the world in which the stories happen. Like LA Confidential was a good film but couldn't begin to capture the depth, intensity, dialogue of the book.

Regards

John Holtom

Re: Insinuation of Science Fiction/Fantasy into mainstream Literature

From: Greg Bear
Date: 01/22/2007

Spectrum was a classic series of anthologies. Amis wrote one of the earliest and best examinations of sf as lit, "New Maps of Hell." Conquest wrote a science fiction novel, "A World of Difference," but is best known today for his extremely accurate evaluations of cruelty under Stalin in the former Soviet Union. Strangely, even in the 90's, (and I say this as a liberal), some leftist-socialist types were still denying the extreme nature of Stalin's purges and starvations. Conquest got it right, and was even cited by Russians when other sources were much less reliable.

Re: Insinuation of Science Fiction/Fantasy into mainstream Literature

From: Greg Bear
Date: 01/22/2007

In SONGS I alluded to a fictional film adaptation by David Lynch of James Blish's BLACK EASTER. Never happened, unfortunately--wonder how it would have been?

Re: Insinuation of Science Fiction/Fantasy into mainstream Literature

From: patrick
Location:
Date: 01/22/2007

Curious that this is being discussed here, right now. Over at Dan Simmons' forum, this has been a topic on an off, with it's latest incarnation stemming from this current post (and a matter of some import in the interview linked within):

http://forum.dansimmons.com/ubbthreads/showthreaded.php?Cat=0&Board=General&Number=14419&Searchpage=1&Main=14419&Words=&topic=1&Search=true#Post14419

Re: Insinuation of Science Fiction/Fantasy into mainstream Literature

From: Roy
Location: Japan
Date: 02/06/2007

The UK may have a sharp divide between SF/Fantasy and mainstream fiction, but the market seems to be a lot more receptive to SF/Fantasy than back home in the US! When I visited England a few years ago I think I filled half a suitcase with at least a couple of dozen newly printed paperbacks of novels that are long out of print and almost impossible to find across the Atlantic.

Re: Insinuation of Science Fiction/Fantasy into mainstream Literature

From: Mishra Arvind,Dr.
Location: Varanasi,India
Date: 02/27/2007

In India,science fiction is struggling hard to attract the attention of mainstream literati.Its often looked down with contempt and ridicule.But in all humility I must submit that a good sf is infact a mainstrem literature in itself having potential and capacity to allure large readership.So the demarcation/devide in sf and mainstrem literature is nothing but a kind of snobbery exhibited by so called literary gaints and alike.The devide is fast vanishing world over.The trend may be followed in India too.
arvind Mishra,India

Re: Insinuation of Science Fiction/Fantasy into mainstream Literature

From: Greg Bear
Date: 03/06/2007

I quite agree, Dr. Mishra. The more technically and scientifically trained people there are in India--and there are already a great many!--the more accepted science fiction will become.

Re: Insinuation of Science Fiction/Fantasy into mainstream Literature

From: John Holtom
Location: Luton, England
Date: 06/04/2007

Dear Greg Bear

War of The Worlds, the HG Wells original, first published according to my paperback, in 1898! Major flaws it may have but what superb writing and tremendous visualisation of the drama. If this isn't literature, I really don't know what is! But equally it is the mother of a whole genre of SF invasion stories, not to mention, I suspect, your excellent Forge and Anvil novels.

By contrast, having read Neuromancer by William Gibson just now, I completely understand why SF may seem a closed genre, because, frankly, it was hard work, unclear what it was really about (good narrative though it may have), so tied up into its own linguistic cleverness that I would suggest it was both not good SF nor good literature (by contrast to Pattern Recognition, which was literate, articulate and compellingly interesting).

The moral is: good writing is both good literature and good SF (if that is the genre).

By the way, Mr Greg Bear, any plans with the third part of the Forge, Anvil series?

Regards

John Holtom

Re: Insinuation of Science Fiction/Fantasy into mainstream Literature

From: Greg Bear
Date: 06/05/2007

WAR OF THE WORLDS was one of the books I read while writing THE FORGE OF GOD--and I've re-read it often since. Wells certainly qualifies as lit--but there are so many other authors of sf that also qualify, the list could go on for pages and pages! It's not really a serious dispute any more. Lovecraft and P.K. Dick have their own Library of America volumes. I suspect William Gibson will get his own volume in that collection soon enough!

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