Literary Corner (Genre-Crossed Edition)


• Henry Jenkins explores the art that falls between genres.

• Paul McAuley ponders two hidden histories of science fiction, one that highlights sf's intersection with respectable literature and one that plunges deep into the trash.

• The best alternate history story I've read this year. It is also one of the best pieces of rock writing I've read this year. It also contains Muppets.

NEXT: How to Get Ahead in Law

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  1. The last link is even more awesome due to its brokenness.

  2. Is it on the fritz again?

    OK, you can look at the Google cache here.

  3. Muppets, eh? Do these Muppets raise money for valuable non-profits and do the muppeteers eschew the wealth of their parents in order to leech of the system? Those sir, are the only muppets worth my precious time.

  4. The best alternate history story I’ve read this year

    I made it all the way to November 5, 1977. Kudos to anyone who finishes it.

  5. I finished it. The ending is worth it.

    1. Yes it is

  6. I think that a number of trends are lining up to create what may be a golden age of “genre crossing”: the collapse of a distinction between elite taste and trash taste, the rise of the internet, the massive growth of fan fiction in “slash” categories, etc.

    I think an important moment for “genre crossing” in general was the success of the first Matrix film. The Wachowski brothers somewhat infamously claimed that the movie came about because they really liked Kung Fu movies and also really liked philosophy and also really liked computers, and they decided to come up with a way to combine all three into one story. About 100,000 would-be writers and screenwriters heard that story and said, “Hey, that Peanut Butter Cup method actually sounds like a pretty easy way to write a story,” and so now we have creatures like the Urban Fantasy Romance novel and the like.

  7. One of the commenters on the McAuley post refers to something I’ve been seeing a lot of: If you go to the Science Fiction section in a bookstore these days, every book has a sword, a dragon, a vampire, or all three. There are, like, three books of actual science fiction for every 100 fantasies.

    I guess that reflects demand for fantasy, but I always though science fiction would make a better match with historical fiction than with fantasy.

    1. Just because stores lump scifi in with fantasy doesn’t mean they have jack shit to do with one another. A serious chunk of fantasy–the part that isn’t a direct clone of LOTR–is mostly romance/blouse-ripper/you’re-actually-a-prince-with-a-prophecy-about-you shit. It really is “fantasy” in the truest sense, and is merely a vehicle for daydreams about being a hero, whereas scifi is about speculation. Most fantasy is very derivative. And I say this as someone who has read a lot of it and enjoyed it.

      1. Those are pretty big generalizations you’re making there, Epi. Sci Fi has plenty of Bat Durston stories, and fantasy has a lot of clever, speculative work.

        1. Sure, they’re generalizations, but they are accurate for a lot of fantasy and scifi. And I disagree that there is a lot of good fantasy stuff; good is much more rare in fantasy than it is in scifi. I mean, name a bunch of good fantasy (NutraSweet is looking for a list anyway so he’ll appreciate it too).

          1. Well, SF’s already got Discworld and Song of Ice and Fire covered. I would recommend reading GRRM’s short fiction. He does a lot of genre-bending, so you might argue that some of the better stories (Bitterblooms, The Glass Flower and The Way of Cross and Dragon) are sci-fi, but what makes them good is their fantasy bits. Gaiman is another thoughtful fantasy author whose work is intelligent. Apart from the more famous novels such as American Gods and Neverwhere, I suggest reading his short story collection (they include, among other things a Lovecraft/werewolf/Baywatch crossover). Harry Turtledove occaisionally writes good fantasy when he’s not writing 11-volume epics about the CSA. After the Downfall is one of the better ones. What I have read of the Videssos cycle is good (and even features L. Vorenus and T. Pullo as characters), but post-Jordan I am leery of multibook series longer than trilogies.

          2. At the risk of you never taking me seriously again, I’d say that WoT started out as some good speculative fantasy. Then, of course, it got sidetracked into a 6-book digression into the tensile strength of the hair of Western Andoran women.

            1. The first book of the series was pretty good, which is why I read on. But any enjoyment I had from that first book or two was annihilated by the later stuff, much like The Matrix was with its sequels.

              1. The really pernicious thing about WoT is that even in the later novels, there is enough good to keep you hooked to the story. Plus I have the feeling that inspite of the digressions and profligacy of subplots, Jordan did know where he was going to end things (unlike, say, the plot of Lost).

    2. I had this discussion on a sci-fi board the other day, and I think one reason for this is changing popular attitudes towards the future itself.

      I think that sci-fi was a broad popular entertainment when the genre was essentially synonymous with space opera. You could have a lot of competing titles out there in the marketplace back when there was a bottomless appetite for stories about space travel and giant robots and shit.

      Now that the Space Age has essentially ended and everyone “knows” that we aren’t going there any time soon, there’s less of an audience appetite for space opera. And the other kinds of sci fi just can’t pick up that slack.

      People look at the future and see a whole lot of boring shit they don’t want to read about. Maybe they’re completely wrong about that, but it is what it is. And so now they want to read about fantasy worlds and vampires and the like instead.

      1. I think a better way to look at is what happened with comic books. They have got to the point that most comics are, any many ways, comic books about comic books. That is very daunting to a beginning reader.

        But SF has had a more basic division.

        There are three dominant tracks of SF. There is literary SF, adult novels that would be very difficult for someone under-16 to read (and often because of self-referentiality), young adult novels, which have supplanted the “light” SF market, and media tie-ins, which are massive. This makes literary SF look like it’s dying, when really it’s fans are just getting older.

        Ultimately, it’s not that SF themes are unpopular, it’s that if you are interested in SF you can consume it in comics, novel, video games, TV, and movies. And, frankly, boys don’t read that much.

        The explosion of fantasy is a direct result of the feminization of the speculative fiction publishing marketplace.

        1. Wait, so Twilight isn’t for guys?

            1. You know that if I read that, my head will explode, so I can only conclude that you are trying to kill me in your own pussy beta male way.

              1. You’re wrong about SF, Epi. He’s not a beta-male. He reads beta-male stories for their aspirational value.

                1. I used to fuck guys in prison tougher than both of you.

                  1. Fag.

      2. I had this discussion on a sci-fi board the other day

        And you publicize this fact?

        1. You’re an Orson Scott Card fan, aren’t you?

          1. Them’s fightin’ words

        2. Not only that, but it was, so it was a MOTHERFUCKING STAR TREK message board.

  8. The alt-history was awesome. Loved the arbit hit on Hannity. The ending, as others have said, was brilliant.

  9. McAuley is talking about SciFi, but what he says can apply to other genres like horror too. The fact is, it’s fucking hard to make a living writing, and even Stephen King had to bang out some fast crap to make a buck at first.

    Good writing is good writing, and all genres share the same basic writing concepts. You could become a better blouse-ripper writer through the practice of banging out soft porn too. Well, that’s just practicing within the same genre anyway.

    So I’m not seeing why the focus on SciFi. SciFi is often distinguished by the creativity of its writers in coming up with very speculative ideas for future worlds/societies/etc., and being a good writer is merely a companion to that.

  10. I prefer book stores that have separate science fiction and fantasy sections. Alas, it is rare.

    1. But then where would you put all of the science fantasy?


      1. Why, does anyone apart from ProL even read Dune?

        (I keed, I keed)

        1. No, not far future SF with feudal setting… I’m talking science fantasy… think elf with a laser pistol.

          A genre best made fun of in this brutal Penny Arcade.

          1. When I hear “science fantasy” I think “Anne McCaffrey.” Which is excuse enough to link to this.

            1. Yes. That made my gag the first time I read it. Not putting myself through that again. Too frighteningly realistic. 🙂

              1. You really identified with the main character from Crystal Singer, I see.

        2. I dunno, maybe it’s like A Brief History of Time–many people buy it, few read it. Come to think of it, I read that one, too.

          To make things worse for you, I’m listening to the Dune series during my commute. I usually listen to nonfiction (e.g., The Teaching Company’s courses), but I had a yen for something different.

  11. I think that a number of trends are lining up to create what may be a golden age of “genre crossing”

    That already happened. The Matrix, The Tetherballs of Bougainville, “[whatever]punk” and Limp Bizkit were some of the degenerate ends of it. Now is the boingboingeois kitsch revival.

    1. boingboingeois

      Remind me to steal that.

      1. I would steal it if I knew what it meant.

        Sadly, it appears I am not cool enough to be in the know.

        1. Boing-boing + bourgeois = Boingboingeois.

          1. OK, I still don’t know what that means. I know what bourgeois means, but what the hell does boing-boing mean? And what is boing-boingeois kitsch?

  12. The literary and science fiction genres blur faster and faster. So-called slipstream fiction (literary fiction that plays with SF tropes) is growing. I think it’s a great trend, but if mainstream critics are going to have any credibility they will have learn something about the science fiction genre.

    Look at the love fest for The Road. While a very fine novel, many critics seemed to act like it didn’t rest on a thousand book stack of ghettoized science fiction that covered the same material.

    The seldom mentioned early SF novels of Jonathan Letham are another example.

  13. The seldom mentioned early SF novels of Jonathan Letham are another example.

    Lethem’s first book is an especially interesting case, since it’s not just a literary sf story but also a literary hard-boiled detective novel. (For that matter, his later, more famous books have genre roots even when they aren’t sf. Motherless Brooklyn is a detective story and Fortress of Solitude draws on the superhero genre.)

    Incidentally, a lot of slipstream qualifies as fantasy as much as or more than it could be called science fiction. (But contra various commenters above, I think sf is a subset of fantasy anyway.)

    1. Please… gah… how about just using the less offense “speculative fiction” umbrella term? My constitution is very delicate.

      1. By the way, Jesse. Did you read Amnesia Moon, his PKD pastiche?

        And I love the little trifle novel As She Climbed Across the Table. The central conceit is hilarious and beta male protagonists are a favorite of mine.

        1. beta male protagonists are a favorite of mine


          (Well, someone had to say it.)

        2. beta male protagonists are a favorite of mine

          What a surprise.

          (kicks sand in NutraSweet’s face)

        3. hurr hurr

        4. Did you read Amnesia Moon, his PKD pastiche?

          Several of his early efforts are Dick pastiches, really. But yes, I did read it. And I read As She Climbed Across the Table as well — I gather it’s a Don Delillo tribute, though I can’t attest to that personally, as I made the mistake of picking the mediocre Mao 2 when I decided to try a Delillo novel and I haven’t ventured back into his neck of the literary universe since, even though several people have told me I’d like him if I’d try White Noise or Libra instead.

          1. I’ll chime again for White Noise. C’mon, the main character is a professor of Hitler Studies. Hilarious.

          2. As She Climbed always seemed to fit into that brief flurry of SF novels in the mid-90s that were novels about scientist culture with a little speculation thrown in: Galetea 2.2 by Richard Powers, Bellweather by Connie Willis, Particles and Luck by Louis B. Jones, that one about the smart dog (no, not Watchers). There are a few more I’m blanking on.

            The realistic modern scientist SF novel has been best done, for me at least, by Robert J. Sawyer. (Who is a wonderfully nice man if you ever get the chance to meet him.)

            1. Beta male novels? Did you read “The Eye” by Nabokov?

  14. I am the worst literary critic ever. It took me halfway through the comments section on the third link before I even figured out what the hell happened. I would have enjoyed a hint from the contents of the letter left in the car.

    1. But it was brilliant. Don’t you get it? Infidel.

  15. I liked the Beatles story.

    Another good closed time-like loop story is Kaleidoscope Century by John Barnes. In some ways, a libertarian nightmare novel. And a Heinlein demi-homage.

  16. But then where would you put all of the science fantasy?

    You probably already know this, but don’t watch Bender’s Game.

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