A fair amount of flack is being directed towards a new sf review column in the New York Times at the moment, and not without some justification. From the review:

"As that lone subway traveler who still occasionally rides to work brandishing a dog-eared edition of "A Canticle for Leibowitz" or "The Illustrated Man," I realize I'll never enjoy even a fraction of the social standing afforded to the umpteenth passenger who is just now cracking open a mint-condition copy of "The Kite Runner" or a fresh paperback of "A Million Little Pieces" purchased after it was discredited, and I don't expect this to change any time soon."

Now, a lot has been said here, here and here about the review, and there's not a great deal I can add, but it did occur to me that the above quote says a lot more about the social context in which people exist within the literary/arts scene both in the States and here in the UK than it does about science fiction.

A while back, I posted this entry, about my experiences with a guy running a writer's group in Glasgow: to say he was dismissive of me once he realised I was a published science fiction writer is putting it mildly. When I think about that experience together with the social concerns of the NYT reviewer in question - to fear losing social standing by being seen reading sf on the subway (talk about a fragile ego!) - it makes you wonder what life is like in the mainstream publishing world.

Reading between the lines, it would be a forgiveable mistake (assuming you take this guy as representative in some way of the mainstream literary world) to end up thinking the mainstream literary community as a whole is as concerned with appearances as Itzkoff apparently is. I rather suspect this isn't the case at all: but I'm prepared to believe it means everything for a select few - a means, perhaps, to gain respect and standing within certain circles, to get invited to certain dinner parties.

Or so they might think. These are the kind of people, I'm prepared to bet, who get exactly as much respect from the wider literary community as they seem prepared to dish out to sf writers. And horror writers, and thriller writers ... and pretty much everyone, I guess, they'd be scared to be caught reading on the subway by someone perceived to be just a little higher up the social ladder.


Anonymous said...

It's really time for SF writers to have more of a f*ck you attitude about this sort of crap. SF is ridiculed by those who just don't get it. Why don't they get it? Because they lack imagination and a sufficient comprehension of science. They need to be pitied, not sucked up to.

btw I got a similar reaction in a local bookshop when my Tanjen stuff was being published: "Oh no, we don't sell that sort of thing."


Anonymous said...

Exactly! - if they get it they`ll go and seek it out; if they don`t get it, there aint no point in trying to describe the colour blue to a blind man!