Over at Over the Effing Rainbow, Aliette de Bodard notes that she is beginning to have yen to try something a little different with her fiction:
I used to be quite rigid about genre separation: in particular, though I read both fantasy and science fiction, I wasn’t very keen on “merging” them together. In recent years, I’ve found myself being more and more elastic with my definition of genre, and in particular with my definition of “science fiction”.
For Appendix N junkies, this is hilarious, really. I mean… it’s almost like she’s never really read Jack Vance or something.
(Wait… that sounds so crazy, I should probably check that.)
I gotta say, it’s almost like many contemporary fantasy and science fiction authors are not only ignorant of the history of their own field, but they’re also surrounded by people that are actively campaigning against them ever getting a clue. What are you going to do, though? I mean… lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas, sure. But man, someone really ought to write a primer on this stuff so they can get up to speed here…!
Check out this bit, though:
You’re going to ask me why we need to deal with these works at all–why we can’t stick with “proper”, “hard”, Golden Age Science Fiction as it was historically done. Well, first off, because it’s rather impolite and hurtful to exclude people (to say the least!). But the second thing… It’s because genres, for me, are a living thing. And any living thing must breathe and grow and take in new things, new modes of thoughts–or else ossify and decline.
You know… if anything’s ossified right now, it’s sff genre conventions since sometime around 1977 or so. But this really is yet another example of someone taking contemporary notions of genre and projecting them onto the past. (This is the same error that File770’s “Aaron” commits.) There’s a reason why so many people do this. It’s because they have no idea what they are talking about.
Consider the following:
- Is H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness” fantasy, science fiction, or horror?
- What about Robert E. Howard’s “The Tower of the Elephant” and “The Pool of the Black One”?
- Is Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan and Manly Wade Wellman’s Hok the Mighty fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, or something else…?
- What about L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt’s The Carnellian Cube? Michael Moorcock’s Hawkmoon stories? Fred Saberhagen’s Changeling Earth…? Margaret St. Clair’s Sign of the Labrys…?
- Is Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions fantasy or science fiction…?
- What about the entirety of the Planetary Romance genre…? Seriously, is that fantasy or science fiction…?
This didn’t have to happen. All Aliette de Bodard needed to do was be surrounded by the sort of people that knew well enough to insist that she read Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth as soon as she brought his name up. Instead, her posse alerts her to the fact that this grandmaster of science fantasy is not only a conservative, but also a sexist Western-centric homophobe whose only saving grace is that he was born in California. (Jack Vance…? Conservative…? Really?! Compared to who?)
But the fact is, whole swaths of fantasy and science fiction from about 1912 to 1977 or so blurred the lines between the genres. Things were so wild, it’s safe to say that what we tend to think of as fantasy did not even exist yet during the bulk of that period! Truth be told, the lines that Aliette de Bodard is so keen on crossing were laid down in shortly before she was born in 1982. Not during the Golden Age. Not even during the New Wave era!
This is of course more evidence that the Appendix N Generation gap is real. People on both sides of it have often no idea how significant it is or what the implications of it are. And many people don’t even know that they aren’t even aware of it. You don’t have to read very much to be confronted with the extent of your own ignorance, though. That makes me think that Aliette de Bodard far less well read than I would have suspected before.
I like the way the guy on The Tome Show put it:
One of the things that I’m learning as we go through Appendix N is just how little I actually know about 20th century science fiction. It’s a little bit like trying to get across the Untied States with a map that just has Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Dallas on it.
You see, people keep telling me that contemporary sff authors are in conversation with the classics, but based on what she says, I really have to wonder if Aliette de Bodard’s “map” even has the major cities on it.