Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Duck Soup

If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it must be a duck!

Pardon if I get this wrong but this is what I've picked up after so many years of surfing the message boards: the thing about the 'genres of the fantastic'-- e.g. fantasy, science-fiction and horror-- is that the terms are mostly used for categorization.

The irony here is that for genres dealing with the 'unfettered imagination', the idea of categorization certainly comes across as limiting the same. That's why I'm much prefer the term 'speculative fiction'-- despite its hoity-toityness-- because of its catch-all characteristic.

(I do admit that my usage of this term also has a veneer of yearning for respectability in response to the unspoken sneers by non-SFFH readers to the genres. )

I'm sure everyone has more or less encountered a science-fiction or fantasy or horror book in their lives. But where do we put those in between, like non-genre novels that have the trappings of speculative fiction? Like say, Oryx and Crake and The Handmaid's Tale by the well-known Margaret Atwood? Or the literary pedigree'd Martin Amis with his Time's Arrow?

Other contemporary popular novels abound, like Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones and Yan Martel's The Life of Pi, that have a mainstream fiction tag but can easily lie in the speculative fiction category.

On the other hand, there are novels that are genre but still refuse to be fenced in by categories.

For example, there is the grotesquely fantastical work of China Mieville's Perdido Street Station, a city tale that can be read with equal validity as fantasy, science fiction, horror, or slipstream.

On the other hand, there is Matt Ruff's Set This House In Order, a "psychological" tale that's part suspense, part literary coming-of-age story, and part love story about a man with a multiple personality disorder.

So what is my point? I have no idea. Just explaining why I rather use the term 'speculative fiction' rather than say 'science-fiction and fantasy' (which is a bit long on the tongue when you say it).

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