NYTBR Odds and Ends
I've never been a big fan of Robert Heinlein (I think I hit the limit with Stranger in a Strange Land), but it's nearly impossible to read SF without becoming aware of Heinlein's influence. He's a controversial figure. Over the years, folks have accused him of being sexist, racist, fascist, you name it. In this week's New York Times Book Review back page essay, author M.G. Lord argues that Heinlein's earlier work qualifies him as a feminist (Heinlein's Female Troubles, NYTBR 10/2/05). It's an interesting (and well written) essay, and I encourage you folks to take a look at it, even if you are not SF fans. Elsewhere in the NYTBR: Eric Weinberger reviews George Saunders' The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil without ever using the words science and fiction in close proximity of one another. The plot is plainly SF (um . . . all the action takes place on another planet, and concerns a variety of weird aliens), so what's up? Weinberger chooses to call it satire. I don't know if I have a problem with this. I asked Karen yesterday, "When are you going to blog again?" Since we're an old married couple, she heard me when I telepathically added, "You know, you'll never build your readership if you only blog once a week." "I'm not blogging to get more readers," she said. "I do it to help organize my thoughts." I suppose that's what I'm doing right now -- trying to figure out how I feel about this. As SF writers, should we cheer when one of our own gets reviewed in the NYTBR, even if the SF-word isn't used? Should we give Margaret Atwood a big stage wink when she slams science fiction? Okay, Romance lovers: do you have a Margaret Atwood in your ranks, i.e., an author who aspires towards the literary and shuns the Romance label, even though that's exactly what she is writing? How do you feel about her? (Or him. As Stephen has taught me, there's a few blokes out there.) Here's what I think. Although some science fiction novels are written purely for escapism, many authors are writing social commentary. Hell, a good novel can do both. Just because the author has something to say -- as Atwood did in The Handmaid's Tale -- the novel should not automatically pass Go, collect $200, and rate as satire (don't nobody say SF). If "genre" has any utility at all, it's to help the reader know what to expect. To me, "serious literary fiction" is, as I mentioned to Pat recently, "boring pointless stories about characters with boring pointless lives who, in their inevitable epiphanies, find meaning in said lives." The last thing I want is for a bunch of truly excellent SF writers to worm their way into the ranks of those literary doofuses. Because, you know something? If they do, I'm not reading them any more. Thank heavens Jonathan Lethem's Gun, with Occasional Music was filed in SF. That's all I'm saying. D.