If a fiction book is labelled chicklit, or Science Fiction, does it put you off? – Possibly … Sci-Fi was one of the most spurned, if not the most derided genre of novels until chicklit came along. Personally, I can’t see anything wrong with either genre – in principle …
Now I have to defend myself:
Chicklit – I admit I use this as a reward. When I’ve read a series of heavy novels, for light relief I might read something I’d call chicklit. I include any lighter women’s novels such as those by Anita Shreve in this category. That may have already soured my pitch, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy them – for I do hugely. I read Elegance by Kathleen Tessaro recently, and it was sweet, predictable and utterly forgettable, yet fun in that ugly duckling becomes a swan way that good chicklit does so well.
Sci-Fi: Now I grew up on Sci-Fi – I read virtually nothing else, unless I had to, from the age of 16 until about 20 when fantasy novels started to become mainstream, and I got hooked on them too. It was that first encounter with Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham, at school ironically, that got me started though. As a result I think I overdosed and from the age of about 25 until 40, I read but a handful of proper Sci-Fi novels and had dropped reading fantasy completely. Nowadays I’m adding them back in as an occasional treat too, but fantasy remains a complete no-no – I got burned with Piers Anthony’s over-punning in his Xanth series, (I am tempted to revisit some Terry Pratchett though).
But if a previously literary author writes a Science Fiction novel – Where should one put it? The answer is – if it’s someone like Margaret Atwood with The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake, or Kazuo Ishiguru with Never let me go you can get away with it – they’re established, hence a wander off-piste is tolerated and applauded for being experimental. Note that these novels tend to get called ‘dystopian’ or ‘futuristic’ rather than Science Fiction!
However, what about those authors who start off writing Sci-Fi and then migrate back to literary fiction … will their debuts ever be appreciated? I’m thinking about chaps like Jonathem Lethem who wrote a couple of Sci-Fi-noir novels before hitting his groove in contemporary American fare. His earlier novels will probably be neglected – but I enjoyed them.
Then there are those who continue to straddle genres such as Michael Marshall Smith – who sans the Smith writes psychological and serial killer chillers; and of course the master of two hats, is Iain (M) Banks – who maintains parallel career strands, effortlessly so it seems, but his books are still characterised as literary or Sci-Fi.
Conclusions – Well I love all of them. We should try not to pigeonhole novels or get pigeonholed ourselves in our reading – something the book group I belong to believes strongly.
So sod genrification!
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Sources: Own copies. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Eleganceby Kathleen Tessaro
The Day of the Triffids (Penguin Modern Classics)by John Wyndham
Gun, with Occasional Musicby Jonathan Lethem