12 Jul 2007
I was listening to episode 20 of Adventures in Scifi Publishing the other day, featuring an interview with author Kay Kenyon, and I need to comment on some of the things that she said. Just to be clear this isn’t about the podcast itself, which I love, but about the opinions of the guest. Enough of that, on with my thoughts.
In the interview, Kenyon expressed the opinion that Science Fiction sales are dropping relative to Fantasy sales because Science Fiction, as a genre, inherently challenges the readers world-view whereas Fantasy inherently comforts it. She went on to say that Fantasy can rise above, as has been done by authors such as Justina Robson (Keeping it Real- a fantastic book, read it if you have not already). Basically, she is saying that Fantasy is escapist (it is also worth noting that the examples that she gives for the Genre being “as engaging” as Science Fiction are authors whose books have Science Fiction elements in them).
As someone who enjoys reading and writing both Science Fiction and Fantasy, I find this, for lack of a better word, offensive. Both genres are capable of being either comforting or challenging. The genre has more to do with the setting of a story than anything, and I would argue that how challenging a book is has more to do with the author than the genre. Another way of looking at it is that the point of view which Kenyon is expressing sounds a lot like the stereotypical Literary Fiction vs. Science Fiction snobbery, which basically argues that almost all Scifi is escapist. In addition, anyone who thinks that Fantasy is incapable of challenging the reader should read L.E. Modesitt, Jr..
Escapism is an interesting concept in and of itself. All fiction (including other mediums such as TV and cinema) is inherently escapist, after all the readers are immersing themselves in what amounts to an imaginary world, all that differs between stories is the degree of escapism. This brings up the question about what is so bad about escapism anyway (I have to credit Michael Stackpole with this, as I had never considered it until he mentioned it on one of his podcasts, probably The Secrets)? Everyone needs to escape at some point, and as far as escapes go, few would argue that fiction is worse than alcohol and drugs (which isn’t to say that there isn’t a limit to its usefulness).
Finally, I’d like to say that the different elements, whether they are from Fantasy or Science Fiction are just tools to help tell a story, thats it. Cory Doctorow has said that Science fiction is more about the present than it will ever be about the future, and I think that the same can be said about all fiction. That is not to say that it might be easier for different genres to deal with different issues (they are different tools, after all), but I don’t see any benefit to trying to figure out which one is the best. Just write the story, using whatever elements make sense for you, what the reader gets out of it is up to the reader. Every word that is spent dismissing another form of fiction or medium is a word wasted.