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Out of the Ghetto


Raymond Coulombe

It's a rough neighborhood:  Blaster fights.  Alien plagues.  Collapsing interstellar empires.  The Force.  Mutants.  Clones.  Invasions.  Dystopic  landscapes.  Yes, it's the Science Fiction getto, and that's where some of our favorite literature lives.  Sure, it's frowned upon by the snotty classes, but it's where the action is.

What makes one novel S/F and another one something else?  For example, let's take S. M. Stirling's "Dies the Fire," and compare it to James T. Kunstler's "World Made by Hand."  

Both stories deal with a world that no longer runs the way it used to.  The petroleum age is over.  Both books feature major population die offs.  They deal with people who are making their way in a much lower tech world than the one they grew up in.  Stirling and Kunstler deliver  glimpses of powerful forces beyond understanding.

Even though the books have similar elements, Stirling's is relegated to the S/F "ghetto," and Kunstler's gets to sit in the mainstream novel racks.  Go figure.  "Dies the Fire," gets scoped out by hard core S/F geeks while "World Make by Hand," is perused by more "normal" readers.  (As if reading an actual book is normal these days.)

So . . . what's going on here?  Are there reasons for this state of affairs or is it arbitrary?  It's arbitrary.  There.  I'm done.  End of editorial.  Where did I set my beer?

Okay, maybe that was a bit glib.  There are actual reasons.  Sadly, if a writer establishes a career in S/F, it's darn difficult to get published writing anything else.  Publishers want to keep getting what they've always gotten.  I remember overhearing Alan Steel trying to pitch a mystery rather than his normal output of S/F and he was having real difficulty.  I never did learn how he made out.  Last I heard they wanted him to write mystery under a different name.  My guess is that's the boat that Stirling is in.

Kunstler, had a more varied background.  His background was in general fiction, newspapers,  followed by a much more successful career in nonfiction.  "World Made by Hand" is actually an outgrowth of his nonfiction work.  It extrapolates from certain trends dealt with in his nonfiction book, "The Long Emergency."  It's only reasonable to find his fiction book where we find it.

That's my reasoned analysis.  My gut reaction tells me more.  "Dies the Fire," has a completely different feel to it.  There's the influence of a long long line of S/F.  While Kunstler's book is a good read, Stirling's has that "sense of wonder," we've come to expect from S/F.  

I love that "sense of wonder."  It's the feeling that all things are possible and exciting.  I'm glad there's a S/F ghetto for people like me to lurk in.

2009-04-21 21:00:55
Kurt Vonnegut, back when he was chiefly known as a SF writer, once observed that he didn't mind being put in the SF drawer except that too many literary critics mistook that drawer for a urinal. Obviously he was able to make his escape to more "normal" genres.

2009-04-05 17:09:01
As in many a Ghetto brains fry either through self indulgences or the occasional phrap ray gun.

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