X is Dead: After a Post by Cat Valente
The novel is dead.
Science Fiction is dead.
In a post dated 6 August 2010, Catherynne M. Valente blogged about several new Horror novels that were supposed to bring about a golden age. After taking that argument down, she then proceeded to name her belief in the “X is dead” argument, case, and belief. Her explanation is that genres are reputed to die when women, people of color, and gays write those genres. I could not agree with her more.
One of my favorite things about Gardner Dozois’s Year’s Best Science Fiction series is his summation of the preceeding year. In it, he always reports on the health of Science Fiction and if Science Fiction is dead yet. And every year he comes and says that no Science Fiction is not dead yet. And he (and Cat Valente) are right.
To Dozois’s point, yes the short fiction print market is drying up for Science Fiction (and Fantasy) short stories, novellettes, and novellas, but that ignores the plethora of online markets that offer sometimes the best new short fiction out there. That also does not include the explosion of novel publishing (althogh I am not sure given the economy whether that is still true).
Now the publishing industry has been moribund for years, and to a certain extent it is clear why. People are turning more towards television, film, or video games. The market for novels is changing and not a lot of writers are changing with it. But, there is hope in e-readers (although I don’t have one- unless you count my computer and its e-book PDF collection).
I’m not going to go into a rant about publishing and e-readers and stuff like that. I just want to focus on what this bullshit is about the “death of a genre.” Now, some claim that it deals with originality, and others that it deals with bias.
Those who claim that a lack of originality, a lack of vigor is to blame for the death of SF clearly does not know what they are talking about. Have they read China Mieville? Have they read Iain M. Banks? Have they read Jonathan L. Howard? Have they read N.K. Jemisn? Have they read Cat Valene? I can go on and on. The point is that originality or vigor is not the problem (particularly if you are eschewing them for yet another derivative Tolkeinsian epic series). With this in mind, I think that I am only left with Valente’s answer.
It’s because women are writing, it’s because people of color are writing, it’s because gays are writing. And, as Cat Valente says, it’s because in many cases they are writing better novels than the old white dudes are . This is as true in Speculative Fiction as it is in the realm of the literary novel, the academic realism that so dominates what is acceptable literature. This is why Harold Bloom tried to appoint himself as the last gatekeeper, the one impotently raging against the storms of change that makes the case that King and Rowling, Gaiman and Martin, Valente and Mieville are as worthy of a place in his pantheon, his canon, as Joyce and Hemingway and Hawthorne and Dickens and Faulkner.
In the end, it has more to do with power- who writes and who controls how those writings are appreciated – than anthying else. Speculative Fiction is not dead. Long live Speculative Fiction!