Thursday, February 3, 2011

Speculative Fiction Readers for Libertarianism

Damien G. Walter at the Guardian has an article about the present state of science fiction and fantasy about how, despite some of the incredible work in these fields over the past decade, works of science fiction and fantasy are still overlooked by Man Booker prize judges. As Walter sees it, this does not mean that speculative fiction is being ignored just that it is still not acceptable to openly write as one. 

Over the same period, the fashion of literary fiction writers borrowing ideas from SF has continued. Putting aside concerns that novels such as Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, and Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go lag more than two decades behind in their treatment of cloning and genetics, for the Booker judges to consider SF ideas when recycled by literary authors, but to ignore the source of those ideas, only highlights the narrowness of the award's perspective.

Now one can ask why readers of science fiction and fantasy should care if they are not respected by the literary establishment to see the books they cherish receive prizes. (Yes it would be nice to see a favorite author receive some extra money beyond what you can give by buying his book.) I see this as another example of how government empowered special interests comes to affect all sorts of unexpected aspects of life. In the non-libertarian world we live in, we must all pay for government funded schools which teach literature. This of course raises the question of what counts as literature. Not an innocent question as whoever receives the legitimacy of being titled an author or expert on "literature" will receive public funds and a platform to define and shape public values. Now we have a literary establishment ranging from literature teachers to authors as well as the judges for prizes in literature. People in this establishment react like all other groups of people when faced with government involvement in their field; they form special interest groups and attempt to manipulate government to suit their own private ends.

As long as literature prizes are a path to government money, the literary establishment will act to protect their interests at the expense of people like us in the science fiction and fantasy community, who are not part of this establishment, in order that we remain outside the establishment and therefore at a disadvantage when it comes to public funds and influence. On the flip side, as long as government money is in play, I, as a science fiction and fantasy reader will insist that the literary establishment acknowledge the literature that I love and place it in school curricula. Not just because I want to read such books in class, but because I want my sort of authors to rewarded and their values to set the tone for the rest of society. 



no one said...

Issac Asimov was the king of literature in the 20th century.
Yet the truth is most science fiction is just not very good,

Izgad said...

I have no intention of defending every piece of science fiction ever written. Flash Gordon, for example, is crap. See the posts I have done on Asimov. Even Asimov wrote a lot of junk. That being said his original Foundation trilogy is a masterpiece, one that I regular refer to in my history classes to explain why the field of history as it exists today is not a science.

Larry Lennhoff said...

s Along as literature prizes are a path to government money, the literary establishment will act to protect their interests

I confess to not seeing your point. First of all, the Booker Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, the Newbery Medal, and the Nobel Prize are all privately funded. Secondly, science fiction and fantasy novels have been well represented in American public school classrooms since at least the 1970s, based on personal experience.

Could you please explain again what you see as the problem, and what you see as the solution?

Lauren said...

Agreed with Larry. In my public high school, I had an entire class just on science fiction and fantasy. I would also argue that many works of sci-fi are considered literature within (30,000 Leagues Under the Sea, War of the Worlds, and A Wrinkle in Time, for example). And if we lump in horror with sci-fi and fanstasy (the fandoms do overlap), then we can also include greats like Edgar Allan Poe.

Izgad said...

Larry and Lauren

Yes literary awards are put out by more or less private organizations (the Nobel situation is a bit complex). Since literary awards are going to be used to place books on assigned reading lists they become part of the political sphere. This is part of the problem with expanding the role of government into the social sphere even just a little. If government is there at all it becomes relevant for everything.

Yes we are seeing more and more science fiction entering school curricula. For example I ended up being introduced to and reading one of my favorite science fiction novels Enders Game, because my younger brother was assigned it and had me read it so he would not have to. The real issue here is being “well represented.” In the world of government coerced tax dollar funds, anything less than complete control is not “well represented.” Every modernist literary novel that I don’t like and whose values I do not care for is money taken out of my pocket at gunpoint by the government at the behest of my opponents for the express purpose of waging a social war against me. As such I need for all novels taught to be “my” sort of books.

Clarissa said...

As a literary critic, I agree with Izgad completely. All such awards and contests are aimed at creating a canon by illegitimate means and substitute somebody else's judgment for our own.

I have served on judging boards of a few literary prizes. After seeing the amount of corruption, brown-nosing and nepotism that goes into every prize, I now refuse all offers of participating in this kind of travesty any more.

As for the Nobel, everybody knows that people who win are the ones who are best at organizing their PR campaigns.