Speculative Fiction Revisited

Christmas break is now over and I’m back at school. My main accomplishment over the break was to get six pages, single-spaced, into a new short story I’m writing. I’ll post it when I’m done. But since I’m not done, my break has really produced little I can actually show people. I did manage to finish editing the Epic of Vaniyera (an Orbivm campaign) and upload it, but since I didn’t write that myself, it’s not quite the same.

I’m not huge on linkage, but this article seems relevant. Specifically, it seems quite similar to the argument I made in this post several months ago. But his claim is broader – he wants to say that speculative fiction (which is what he really means by “sci-fi” in the title – sci-fi is a type of speculative fiction, as is fantasy) is the only source of literature of philosophical merit.

I don’t know if I’m willing to make that claim. After all, there are plenty of great works of literature that aren’t speculative fiction. But I do agree with his claim that

there are, at the risk of sounding superweird, only so many ways to describe reality. After I’d read my 189th novel about someone living in a city, working in a basically realistic job and having a realistic relationship and a realistically fraught family, I was like, “OK. Cool. I see how today’s world works.” I also started to feel like I’d been reading the same book over and over again.

Great works of literature, while they don’t have to be speculative fiction in the sense of dealing with what cannot happen – dragons destroying villages, or interstellar travel, or One Ring to Rule them All – do, I think, have to do with something out of the ordinary. Take what are considered the greatest works of literature. Shakespeare’s plays, even the ones that didn’t have magicians or witches or ghosts (the Tempest, Macbeth, Hamlet), were not about ordinary people doing ordinary things. The historical plays (all of the Henrys) were about nobility – not exactly ordinary people – doing extraordinary things. About the great struggles of the people, not about the day to day doings of them. War and Peace, Crime and Punishment; war and crime are not something people do every day. So on and so forth.

What great literature does not deal with most of the time, I think, is “a basically realistic job and … a realistic relationship and a realistically fraught family”. So to the extent that modern “literary” fiction deals with those things, yes, modern “literary” fiction has failed to be literary.

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