The Literary Hammer/Shield

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Posted on : 3/17/2016 09:42:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , ,

People aware of the Sad Puppies imbroglio within the SFF community should be aware that a large part of that issue centers around a diverse range of opinions as to what constitutes the "best" writing within the genre.  That such a range of opinion exists is a testament to the success of SFF authors in publishing a large volume of works that cover a broad spectrum of perspectives.


There are scientifically rigorous treatments that project current technological trends on the future.  There are less rigorous treatments that attempt to look at current social issues.  There are books from the fantasy end of the genre that toss science to the wind.  There are books from across the spectrum that are just plain fun to read.

The history of the SFF genre embraces (or should embrace) all of those various modes of expression.  What has developed within the genre is a condition where it is impossible for one person, or even a few people, to be sufficiently well read to be able to select the very best works and have that selection be meaningful for the entire genre.

The history of the written word includes a centuries long debate as to what is "literary".  That word has long become something between a cudgel and a shield used to exclude certain works/authors from serious consideration.

My first contact with the word "literary" goes way back to high school.  I had just discovered this new author; Stephen King.  When attempting to engage a teacher on the subject, I was met with the attitude that Mr. King's work would never be worthy of serious consideration.  His work simply wasn't literary.

It is my understanding that Mr. King has published a couple of successful books and had his work converted into a couple of decent movies/TV shows since that time.  I hear that he doesn't have to worry about starving.

I had similar experiences throughout my education.  In particular, my preference for SFF was routinely and nonchalantly dismissed as an interest in something that wasn't "literary".

Due to those experiences, I find it terribly difficult to take someone seriously when they attempt to use the word "literary" as a weapon-cum-shield to stave off the works of authors and/or publishing houses.  Instead of providing the critical reasoning in support of their position, they declare that a work isn't "literary" and move on.

There should not be a place in a genre that was born out of popular pulp novels and magazines for excluding popular works.  There is nothing wrong with valuing an enjoyable reading experience at least as much as other aspects of the genre.  At the very least, there is nothing wrong with readers supporting works that they have enjoyed reading for awards that are presented due to reader participation.  Being popular should not disqualify a work from consideration.


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