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Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2007-05-17 04:24
Subject: [writing] The politics of genre
Security: Public
Tags:links, process, publishing, writing
pauljessup asks about the politics of genre.

I’m not talking about the politics of clubs with elections, but the politics of social cliques, of circles within the actual landscape that pull and twist on one another. That, in my eyes, seem to be separated entirely by subgenres, whose line are drawn in the sand and then discussed to death the very rules of allowing people into these political parties.


I suspect he's being rhetorical for the sake of provoking discussion, because I don't see subgenres as divisions among us. At their best, they're descriptive devices. At their worst, they're arguing points. To my view, there's not vast amounts of us-and-them-ing going on around subgenres, and of what does go on, much is tongue in cheek.

We do have political faultlines, in the sense that he means "political" — more like lunchroom politics than academic politics or electoral politics; for example, the chestnut debates about what science fiction really is, the distinguishing features that separate SF from fantasy, and so forth. There's also the touchier and more consequential discussions about gender and minority representation in our field, which represent real and deeply-held faultlines in our community. The us-and-them-ing can start here.

My view of our genre, in part, is that we're like the original theme song to Gilligan's Island. "A movie star, and the rest..." We're "the rest" after you carve out all the other genres. Our name is legion, for we are many. In one sense, we can ill afford the divisions. We all have to stick together. In another sense, it is incumbent on us to explore the divisions. That's what our genre is all about.

Thoughts on the politics of genre?
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Brian Dolton
User: tchernabyelo
Date: 2007-05-17 11:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
If you got ten authors in a room and asked them for their definitions of genres (and subgenres), you'd get ten different answers, so I really can't see how subgenres can be divisions in any meaningful sense. Any community will, courtesy of human nature, develop a social/"political" structure of some sort, though without any defined roles and rules that structure will also be something that different people perceive very differently.

I certainly haven't got to a stage where I give a damn about who's on what side of any dispute, and which clique I should be looking to align with, or anything like that. As and when I find that my career "needs" me to consider such things, I guess I'll address the subject, but it's entirely likely I'll never get to that point (and frankly I hope that I can have "career" without any of that shit).

I suspect this means that I don't live in "fandom". Certainly, even from the fringes of the recent SFWA and PSTP faultlines, it seemed clear that there are some people to whom "fan" has a very speicif definition, with strict qualifying criteria. Me, I read sff (much less than I used to), I write sff, (as much as I can) and I talk about sff (intermittently, and as note from a limited knowledge base because I'm not a particularly voracious reader, in contrast to my childhood). Where that would put me "politically", I have no idea, and until and unless it interferes with me writing and selling work, I really, really don't care.
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User: david_de_beer
Date: 2007-05-17 22:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
>which clique I should be looking to align with, or anything like that.

well, as long as you align with whatever side I'm on that's fine...heh, I agree here, though, I "align" according to person/ individual insomuch as I do any kind of conscious aligning.

>frankly I hope that I can have "career" without any of that shit

amen.

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kara_gnome
User: kara_gnome
Date: 2007-05-17 12:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Jay, you always come up with such neat things to talk about :).

I think that any group will try to define its boundaries, though where it gets interesting for me is how sub-groups will take those boundaries and then switch them to be more useful for the sub-group's purposes.

For example, I belong to a writing club called Liberty Hall. Every week, we Flash, but it's confusing at first. Our idea of flashing is not the less-than-1000-words variety, but it's writing in less than an 1'30" worth of time. After a bit of time, new people go, "Oh, okay, I get it!"

So, I guess that communities will try to define things to reach a common ground of understanding and communication. Only if a person is thinking 'entire writing community,' well, I guess things get a little murkier. :)

This is where the politics comes in, I suppose, as these small belief systems (somewhat like dialects in language) shape early thinking on the subject. And anyway if there are so many divisions, it just makes more room for people to feel cutting edge, really out there, big ducks in small ponds, sort of thing. Which, may be necessary for some writers, and isn't such a bad thing. In the end, with so many divisions, we all just sort of blur together, perhaps?
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User: ex_paulskem
Date: 2007-05-17 12:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The division is quite pronounced (IMO) between tie-in and non-tie-in writers. But that's my personal bugaboo, so perhaps I'm overly sensitive to it.
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Brian Dolton
User: tchernabyelo
Date: 2007-05-17 13:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I can see why many writers might have an issue with that, though in part I suspect that any snobbish allegation of tie-in writers being little more than glorified fan-fic may be as much rooted in jealousy as in any notions of artistic integrity.

I grew up reading comics, so I've always been used to the idea of writers deaing with characters they didn't create (and if writers of the calibre of Gaiman, Moore, David, Whedon et al don't have a problem with it, who am I to say otherwise?). I will admit I've never known anything about the whole process of how tie-in writers get the work - there are very few whose names I've noticed elsewhere (though that's not to say they don't publish stuff of their own as well), and the most notable I can think of - Peter David - I know of only as a comics writer...

But I don't actually read much tie-in stuff, so it's not my field.
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User: ex_paulskem
Date: 2007-05-17 13:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I generally chalk it up to the same sentiment that causes non-genre "literary" writers to sniff at genre writers. I suppose it's human nature to want to elevate "my stuff" by deriding that which is "not my stuff."

By the by, tie-in/shared world does not necessarily imply that the author has not created the characters. In my case, the characters are my creation (and this is true in most of the cases with which I am familiar). The broad strokes of the overarching setting are not my creation, but there is room within those broad strokes for me to create some of the details that actually bring a setting alive for readers.
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juliabk
User: juliabk
Date: 2007-05-17 14:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I must admit I read this entry kinda scratching my head the whole time. Genre politics? Granted, I'm far from an insider, but I see less in the way of politics than I see in personality cults. There will always be 'big fish' (even if they're fairly self-proclaimed) and there will always be those who attach themselves to them. I guess I just don't really see the point. I certainly don't see any lines of demarkation along sub-genre lines or publishing house lines. Shoot, there's very little division between Big Names and Nobodies. Something I gather that is fairly rare in the arts.

You've said it yourself, you write what you write and leave it to the marketing 'droids to slap a lable on it. I go into a story with a broad category in mind (SF, F or H) just because I like knowing which toolset I'm planning to use. Beyond that, it's whatever comes. I can't imagine why anyone could *possibly* have an issue with that, nor can I imagine caring if someone did. Looks to me like a very small tempest in a tiny little teapot.
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User: swan_tower
Date: 2007-05-17 15:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:*writing
I don't see this happening on a subgenre level, except perhaps (as juliabk mentioned) in the sense of cults of personality. I mean, so many of the writers I know wander across the blurry boundaries between subgenres anyway; how could an us-and-them mentality get a foothold? The only place I see that close to being true is between fantasy and sf (with maybe horror thrown in, too). Some authors do write both, or write works that muddy the line in the first place, but you're more likely to get die-hard "I don't write that thing over there" attitudes than you ever are with subgenres.

But that's the furthest I can go in agreeing with him -- to say that maybe, with some people, you see it on the broad genre divisions. Beyond that? Not really.
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juliabk
User: juliabk
Date: 2007-05-17 16:06 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
And even the folks who don't *write* it, often *read* it, which breaks down theoretical barriers again.
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User: swan_tower
Date: 2007-05-17 16:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:*writing
Good point; I'm in writer-brain at the moment, so looking at it from the production end, but yeah. I know people who read sf but no f, or vice versa (plus lots of people who read both); I don't know anybody who reads just urban fantasy and nothing else. They probably exist, but not in large enough numbers to create significant social divisions.
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juliabk
User: juliabk
Date: 2007-05-17 16:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Exactly. But then by our very nature, writers tend to be voracious readers. The ones not reading heroic fantasy might still relate to those who write it because of a shared interest in history, or the military, or religon, or the sociology of magic. I think the kind of professional politics being discussed here lie more in professions where you find people who *are* their jobs. If writers tended to be that way, none of us would be writing; we'd all be too busy *being* our day jobs. ;-)
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User: swan_tower
Date: 2007-05-17 16:37 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:*writing
Again, well-said. I mean, I've ended up at a convention dinner table with somebody I'd met half an hour ago, gabbling excitedly about King Mongkut of Siam offering war elephants to Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. As a group, we do indeed tend to have diverse interests, and writers even more than readers (in my experience) read all kinds of nonfiction as well as fiction. And then you get media; because there are fewer TV shows than there are novels, they're often loci where people of widely varying tastes end up finding common ground. (I mean, the Buffy fans I've run across have ranged from romance novel readers to the professor who taught me Old Norse.)
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juliabk
User: juliabk
Date: 2007-05-17 18:27 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Exactly. Any writer who claims they're not also a fan is likely lying to someone. Possibly him/herself. I think we're more likely to see lines of demarkation forming over what computer or word processing software writers use than what they produce on it.
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Chris McKitterick: City-of-Tomorrow
User: mckitterick
Date: 2007-05-17 17:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:City-of-Tomorrow
I get a lot of pleasure out of the theoretical discussions, even the occasional slap-fights *g* Definitions are important tools for such things as awards and placement in bookstores, and readers appreciate them if they're looking for more work that is similar to what they liked before. Granted, many readers - myself included - like to read all over the map, and subgenre definitions get in the way there, but definitions and labels are not inherently evil.

My definition of core SF is very close to Jim Gunn's. Here's his essay on "The World View of SF." The definition of SF that Jim usually uses, one that I've pretty much adopted:

"Science Fiction is the branch of literature that deals with the effects of change on people in the real world as it can be projected into the past, the future, or to distant places. It often concerns itself with scientific or technological change, and it usually involves matters whose importance is greater than the individual or the community; often civilization or the race itself is in danger."

I think the first sentence of that definition and this clause, "involves matters whose importance is greater than the individual or the community," are the core of this definition. Fiction needs to address these two aspects to be core SF, in my opinion. If it doesn't, it can be speculative fiction or other kinds of fiction, but - for example - if we are giving an award for a work of "science fiction," we need a working definition.

Carry on!
Chris
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User: david_de_beer
Date: 2007-05-17 22:41 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I loathe politics. Anyways, you asked two questions here, different kinds of "politics":

1) because I don't see subgenres as divisions among us

agreed on this point. Diversity, and sub-branches to the main parent are good and vital. SF cannot survive indefinitely, nor grow, if it had never given birth to cyberpunk, space opera, etc.
Fantasy have tons of different branches, and each one caters to different readers, and different tastes.
For the most part, I suspect a lot of people read cross-branch anyways; but inevitably there will be preferences for some, and dissatisfaction at others. So - in this sense subgenres are a good thing, and I can't see why this should be a dividing point at all.
(although, it would be interesting/ funny to make a dozen horror writers and a dozen fantasy writers and a dozen science fiction writers line up alone on an island and battle to the death. Who will win? who will claim it all? my vite is for the one romance writer who accidentally washed up on shore)

2) There's also the touchier and more consequential discussions about gender and minority representation in our field, which represent real and deeply-held faultlines in our community. The us-and-them-ing can start here

yeah, if there is something that could lead to serious, and definite, divisions, these areas are where it will come from.

Someone mentioned cults/ groups of personality - I think that may be so. Good? Bad? Depends on whether they're willing to accomodate each other or not.

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