steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Science Fiction as a Machine

A long-ish while ago, I posted on the nature of genre and SF. Last night I came across this passage, which is probably well known to all my science-fictionally minded friends, but which I'd forgotten some time between now and 1978, which is the last time I read it. I found it interesting, coming as it does from a sometime practitioner (but was this person, in Fred Lerner's terms, ever part of the SF "community"?). The date is 1962, the identity of the writer probably easy to guess, but I'll leave it open for the moment...

I noticed that whenever critics said anything about [science fiction], they betrayed great ignorance. They talked as if it were a homogeneous genre. But it is not, in the literary sense, a genre at all. There is nothing common to all who write it except the use of a particular 'machine'. Some of the writers are of the family of Jules Verne and are primarily interested in technology. Some use the machine simply for literary fantasy and produce what is essentially Märchen or myth. A great many use it for satire; nearly all the most pungent American criticism of the American way of life takes this form, and would at once be denounced as un-American if it ventured into any other. And finally, there is the great mass of hacks who merely 'cashed in' on the boom in science-fiction and used remote planets or even galaxies as the backcloth for spy-stories or love-stories which might as well or better have been located in Whitechapel or the Bronx. And as the stories differ in kind, so of course do their readers. You can, if you wish, class all science-fiction together; but it is about as perceptive as classing the works of Ballantyne, Conrad and W. W. Jacobs together as 'the sea-story' and then criticising that.
Tags: books
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