Genre vs. Literary: The SFF Experience

This blog post has been in the formative stage for a few years, since I first began to learn the nuances of the genre vs. literary divide. Like a child stumbling into an unfamiliar situation, I had questions: Why don’t they like us? What’s the big difference? Can’t we all just get along?

For those unfamiliar with the debate, those in the industry would argue that literary fiction seeks to explore the human condition with a focus on character, while genre fiction seeks to appeal to a mass audience interested in escapism with a focus on plot. I won’t rehash all that’s been written on the subject, but you can read a pro-literary stance here: http://www.newyorker.com – Its Genre Fiction Not That Theres Aything Wrong With It and a pro-genre stance here: http://entertainment.time.com -Genre Fiction Is Disruptive Technology.

I have read several articles and engaged in a few discussions on the matter, but I am going to approach it from a different angle: the science fiction/fantasy (SFF) experience. Many fans have been reading or watching SFF since they were children (one of my earliest memories was watching Star Trek when I was three). They’ve experienced SFF across many different venues, countries, and languages—TV, movies, role-playing games (RPG), conventions, forums, volunteerism (Starship groups), jobs (especially Information Technology), Klingonese, Elvish, the list goes on.

SFF fans are some of the friendliest and smartest people I know. I’ve posted obscure questions on a Trek forum and received multiple answers within hours. I’ve read posts by people who have lost a family member to cancer or who are dealing with abuse, and the depth of sentiment and ability to relate reflected in the replies outstrips any literary story I’ve read. And they’ll also cut through any bullshit people try to post faster than a jaded gumshoe in a noir detective story.

If I see someone wearing a Red Dwarf t-shirt, boom, instant rapport. And when I see a “My Other Car is a TARDIS” bumper sticker, I smile…still. I had a conversation at work today with a woman who wrote and starred in a short film that won an award at a recent film festival. She mentioned she worked with a man who wrote for White Wolf. I told her I used to play White Wolf, and then discovered we were both Ventrue. Anyone outside the genre would have no clue what we were talking about, but if they were interested, we’d welcome them with open arms.

SFF fans will plan their costumes a year in advance for a convention. They’ll argue until the wee hours of the morning about what constitutes Trek canon or whether Han shot first. They’ll stay up until 3 a.m. to finish writing an RPG joint post with you. They’ll give you solid advice on how to get rid of corrupted registration files from a bad update. They’ll decide to become scientists after watching Star Trek and end up working for NASA. They’ll DO.

I don’t know how literary writers and fans interact across various platforms, but I don’t think the way they interact truly reflects the “depth” of the human condition they seek to portray. And to me, that’s the real difference.

Photo by Ryan LaRue

About dohlman

K. Ceres Wright is the author of Cog. Her short stories, articles, and poetry have appeared in Hazard Yet Forward; Genesis: An Anthology of Black Science Fiction; Many Genres, One Craft; 2008 Rhysling Anthology; Diner Stories: Off the Menu; and Far Worlds. Contact her on Twitter: @KCeresWright
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