I've noticed some interesting discussions in various blogs about 'gateway' science fiction: meaning, the kind of sf you loan to someone who's never read any, but has perhaps read reasonably widely in other genres and in mainstream. One thing I've noticed is the suggestion that there's a relative lack of work being published at the moment which fits into this category.

It's hard to define what might be a representative work of 'gateway' sf, since it really tends to vary from individual to individual: but if I were going to pick a particular author, I'd pick Kim Stanley Robinson straight off. In some respects the 'Mars' books strike me as the perfect 'gateway' works in that they deal realistically not only with the whole notion of terraforming, but more importantly with the complex nature of the characters Robinson has created. The Mars books are first and foremost the story of the people caught up in the (future) history of their times in the shape of the terraforming process, rather than the other way around; an approach some writers would do well to remember.

But the really important point that struck me is that there may well be a great deal of 'gateway' sf being published, that simply isn't being published as genre. I haven't read Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days, but I'd be interested to see if it fits the bill. Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake is another example, also possibly the books of David Mitchell and, I suspect, many others. I'd even suggest Chuck Palahniuk and 'Lullaby'. And lastly, let's not forget all those Kurt Vonnegut stories of alien races and time travel which are not, of course, science fiction.

Glancing at the above mainstream authors, I see we have stories of: New York in the 22nd Century occupied by alien refugees, two gene altered survivors of a technological apocalypse wandering a wildly altered Earth, a dystopian near-future (Mitchell's Cloud Atlas), nursery rhymes that make people drop dead as soon as they hear them and, yes, time-travelling aliens from Trafalmadore.

In fact, I realised, it is now entirely possible to line your shelves with stories of aliens, time travel and the fantastic while claiming to be not in the least bit interested in science fiction.

However, I don't think it's necessarily worth railing against the apparent injustice of a situation where a genre author fails to be taken seriously while someone more 'mainstream' gains applause for dealing with ideas long familiar to the readers of this blog. Yes, it does lead to an uneven situation, no doubt about it. But I do believe there is such a thing as genre and non-genre sf, both in and out of the field. My first couple of books are clearly genre sf, and so is the one I'm working on just now. But I do have ambitions to write non-genre sf one day (or non-sf sf, to be particularly confusing about it). To go into more detail about the reasoning behind this definition really needs a separate blog entry, and I'll leave that for another day.
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