No Genre Purity Tests!

I want to make my position on genre and its blurring and all of that more clear.

I’ll refer to hard sci-fi and soft sci-fi and fantasy and science fiction and books and movies that blur genres. I’ll cheerfully refer to something as a fantasy with sci-fi trappings or something that acts like hard SF but is really squishy soft (*cough* Star Trek *cough*).

But maybe people get the wrong impression from this. This is all an interesting academic exercise to me, really. It’s not a value judgment. “Star Wars” is squishy soft sci-fi, yes. It’s so soft that many argue it’s a fantasy in sci-fi trappings, which I can get behind.

And “The Empire Strikes Back” is still a better movie than “The Martian”, and I am a huge fan of ¬†“The Martian”. “A Wrinkle in Time” is still a better book than “I, Robot” or “Starship Troopers”, and I love all three of those books.

Not being hard sci-fi really, really isn’t a mark of shame to me. It’s not anything. It’s just a classification into a category. It’s taxonomy. Some hard SF sucks. Some soft sci-fi sucks. Some fantasy sucks. And some of all of those things is awesome. It’s just the way it is.

So when people ask me “Why are you so concerned about genres, then?” my response is really “Well I’m not!”. But other people sure seem to be. In fact, you know who seems to be the most concerned about genre?

The pulp revolution guys.

(Shots fired!)

And I get it. I really do. In the old pulp days, genres were mixed in ways that people don’t really think about today, what with our split between sci-fi and fantasy. And it’s good to get back to that.

But where I disagree in this case is that I believe the way to do that is NOT to deny sub-genres exist. That does nothing. It causes pointless arguments and – frankly – makes you look kind of silly when you start to claim things that are obviously real don’t exist (*cough cough*).

Because I’m seeing this: On one hand, it’s “Write what you want! Write what you want!”

And on the other hand it’s “But also, this particular sub-genre is inherently worse than this one and if you write it you’re limiting yourself. But, hey, write what you want!”

No. My philosophy is this:

Write what you want. But remember the Josh Young principle:

A good science fiction story will look upward, towards the stars and away from the self.

A bad science fiction story will fixate downward, towards the ground and focus on the self.

If we keep that in mind, the bigger issues surrounding all of this will correct themselves.

  • Nathan Housley

    Man, these straw pulprev guys sound like jerks.

    • Bellomy

      If you have something to contribute, please do. I want discussion.

      But I will note that the first response to my post where I carefully delineated between Sherlock Holmes style mysteries and Agatha Christie style mysteries, and how Christie style mysteries were essentially just smart guys thinking out their issues, by a pulp rev guy was “Well the guy in this book is nothing like Sherlock Holmes”.

      Which isn’t the point I made.

      Why am I bringing this up? Because I’m not letting an oversimplification and misinterpretation of my point end all discussion.

      Neither should you. If you think I’m characterizing something wrong, by all means, say so. But if you have nothing to contribute but snark, your comment is hot air.

      • Nathan Housley

        1) I agree with 99% of what you wrote here. Much of the arguing to me comes across as odium theologium over the 1% difference. Shoot outward, not inward. And yes, there’s some in the Pulp Rev that could use that advice.
        2) Again, I don’t recognize these claims as to what the Pulp Rev position is.

        • Bellomy

          Well, just read lots of DW’s responses to me. Most are some variation of “We should recognize hard SF is worse”, and Jeffro talks of issues inherent to Campbellian sci-fi. I think it’s a fair cop.

        • Eris Discordia

          It sounds exactly like what the Pulp Rev position is to me, and that is 70% of what I find off putting about the lot of them. The Pulp Revolution was all new to me in the last three or four months, and I’ve been very slow to embrace something that spends so much time taking a dump on books I liked.

  • MishaBurnett

    I have no problem with people who say, “I consider these works to be Hard SF, and those works to be Soft SF, and the works over there to be Fantasy, and I classify them that way for my own enjoyment.”

    Where I object is when people claim that those distinctions are based on an objective standard of scientific plausibility. I object to that for the same reason that I object to people who claim that Science proves global warming or transgenderism. It’s a way of using Science as a magic word to silence philosophical dissent.

    Over on the Men With Screwdrivers post Foxfier wrote:

    “Flip a lightswitch: in Wonkaland, it turns on and then the plot progresses; in SciFi land it turns on because it completes the circuit which causes electrons to flow which…etc.”

    There are plenty of books out there in which the technology is limited to that which can be fully explained in such a way, but I wouldn’t call them Science Fiction, I would call them Realistic Fiction. Because if something makes sense in a physical real world sense then somebody would be doing it in the real world.

    Once you say that such and such a thing is not possible with current technology but might be possible with future technology you are making a philosophical judgement. And that’s fine–so long as you acknowledge that it is a philosophical judgment and a reflection of your personal outlook.

    It may seem that I am splitting hairs here, but I feel that is a serious issue. The believability of events in a story is a function of your philosophical outlook and the knowledge base that you bring to the story.

    One person may say that self-supporting orbital habitats that support thousands of human beings are “Hard SF” because they seem plausible to him–the engineering challenges seem trivial. Someone has a background in complex engineering systems might find such a habitat fantastic.

    Asimov’s”positronic brains” as much pure handwavium as Star Wars’ lightsabers or Dune’s spice. You can choose to believe some of these things and not others, but have the decency to acknowledge that it is a personal choice and not an objective standard.

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