At Long Last, Sci-Fi and Fantasy Have Infiltrated the Literary Mainstream
Science fiction and fantasy writing has long been disparaged within the literary world. While older works like Frankenstein and 1984 have gained classic status, many critics deride contemporary sci-fi and fantasy—typically without actually reading it. The prestigious anthology series The Best American Short Stories tends to eschew science fiction and fantasy, except at the behest of unusually sympathetic guest editors like Michael Chabon or Stephen King.
But things are changing fast. The genre took a major step toward respectability this year with the release of the first-ever Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by John Joseph Adams. Adams feels the book is long overdue.
“I and other science fiction fans believe that the best science fiction and fantasy is on par with or better than any other genre,” he says in Episode 177 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “My goal with The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy was to prove that.”
Horror author Joe Hill served as this year’s guest editor. His job was to select the final 20 stories—from the 80 chosen by Adams—to be included in the book. In recent years he’s seen a shift in the way that people view the genre.
“The instruments of science fiction and fantasy—the tools in that genre toolbox—have been out there in the literary world and being explored for at least a decade now, in work by people like Jonathan Lethem, Michael Chabon, Margaret Atwood, and Cormac McCarthy,” he says. “Science fiction and fantasy is part of the literary mainstream, and has been for a while now.”
Adams hopes The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy will prove that readers don’t have to choose between wild concepts and literary quality. Good sci-fi and fantasy deliver both, which is what makes them so hard to write.
“You have to create the compelling characters and have the beautiful prose and everything, but a science fiction story has to do all that and also build an entire world for you, or come up with some mind-blowing idea on top of all that,” he says.
Listen to our complete interview with Joe Hill and John Joseph Adams in Episode 177 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above), which also features appearances by Jess Row, Seanan McGuire, and Carmen Maria Machado. And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Carmen Maria Machado on her story “Help Me Follow My Sister Into the Land of the Dead”:
“I’m kind of a form vampire, so I’m really interested in forms of prose that cover non-traditional ways of storytelling. So whenever I see a new form, I get really excited and think, ‘How can I use this to my advantage? How can I write a story in the shape of whatever this new thing is?’ And when Kickstarter came about, I was like, ‘Hmm, I should write a [story in the form of a Kickstarter page].’ … I was super-shocked when I got the email that it was in the anthology. I love the story, I’m really proud of it. Even when I started I didn’t quite realize the emotions in it. It wasn’t really what I was going for. The emotional well that I tapped was surprising to me.”
Seanan McGuire on her story “Each to Each”:
“When Christie Yant, who was the guest editor of Women Destroy Science Fiction, which was published by Lightspeed magazine, solicited me to be one of her headline authors for the Kickstarter … she [suggested the idea] ‘Women do better on submarines,’ and I like mermaids, so I wrote about genetically engineered horror mermaids being put into indentured servitude by the US military. … [Women do better on submarines because] we’re trained to seek non-violent forms of problem resolution from a very young age—it’s a socialization thing that we don’t get to choose, we don’t opt in to this—but they have found that it means that Western women tend to do better on submarines than Western men, yet we keep giving the submarines to Western men.”
Jess Row on his story “The Empties”:
“I live in Vermont every summer, and I had this idea of, ‘What would Vermont be like after the apocalypse?’ Because there’s so much local food and agriculture. My idea was it would be an apocalypse where people sat around and talked about other apocalypses, so is it like Red Dawn, is it like this? I wanted it to be funny, and then the further and further I got with it, the more I felt it turning into an actual dystopian world, and not just a joke about kale chips and people going crazy because they didn’t have Pinterest anymore. … Because it ends just as the massive invasion is beginning, I think a lot of people were very unhappy with it. They wanted to know what happens to Vermont. But I don’t even want to contemplate what happens.”
Joe Hill on diversity in science fiction and fantasy:
“We pulled together the anthology against a background of the Hugo Awards being hijacked by some people who were angry, and they felt that the awards were being artificially skewed toward diversity because a couple of women had won some prizes once, somewhere, and they were offended. They really wanted to return science fiction and fantasy to being about dragons and rockets, and I just thought that was a bewildering thing to desire, and is a richer fantasy than probably any of the fantasies in the book, because it never existed. … I think this idea that there is some better past in science fiction and fantasy where we didn’t have to wrestle with big ideas is delusional, and no one should take it seriously.”
Originally posted here: