I get tired of hearing some science-fiction fans saying that characterization isn’t important in SF. In point of fact, I think it’s probably more important in SF than in mainstream fiction. After all, if the author can’t characterize humans well, he or she probably can’t characterize aliens well either.
Oh, don't get me started! I love fantasy, I read it for pleasure, even after all these years. Pat McKillip, Ursula Le Guin and John Crowley are probably my favorite writers in the field, in addition to all the writers in the Endicott Studio group - but there are many others I also admire. In children's fantasy, I'm particularly keen on Philip Pullman, Donna Jo Napoli, David Almond and Jane Yolen - though my favorite novels recently were Midori Snyder's Hannah's Garden, Holly Black's Tithe, and Neil Gaiman's Coraline.I read a lot of mainstream fiction as well - I particularly love Alice Hoffman, A.S. Byatt, Sara Maitland, Sarah Waters, Sebastian Faulks, and Elizabeth Knox. There's also a great deal of magical fiction by Native American authors being published these days - Louise Erdrich's Antelope Wife, Alfredo Vea Jr.'s Maravilla, Linda Hogan's Power, and Susan Power's Grass Dancer are a few recent favorites.I'm a big fan of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, and Anthony Trollope - I re-read Jane Austen's novels in particular every year.Other fantasists say they read Tolkien every year, but for me it's Austen. I adore biographies, particularly biographies of artists and writers (and particularly those written by Michael Holroyd). And I love books that explore the philosophical side of art, such as Lewis Hyde's The Gift, Carolyn Heilbrun's Writing a Woman's Life, or David Abram's Spell of the Sensuous.(from a 2002 interview)
There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children's book.The reason for that is that in adult literary fiction, stories are there on sufferance. Other things are felt to be more important: technique, style, literary knowingness. Adult writers who deal in straightforward stories find themselves sidelined into a genre such as crime or science fiction, where no one expects literary craftsmanship.But stories are vital. Stories never fail us because, as Isaac Bashevis Singer says, "events never grow stale." There's more wisdom in a story than in volumes of philosophy. And by a story I mean not only Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk but also the great novels of the nineteenth century, Jane Eyre, Middlemarch, Bleak House and many others: novels where the story is at the center of the writer's attention, where the plot actually matters. The present-day would-be George Eliots take up their stories as if with a pair of tongs. They're embarrassed by them. If they could write novels without stories in them, they would. Sometimes they do.But what characterizes the best of children's authors is that they're not embarrassed to tell stories. They know how important stories are, and they know, too, that if you start telling a story you've got to carry on till you get to the end. And you can't provide two ends, either, and invite the reader to choose between them. Or as in a highly praised recent adult novel I'm about to stop reading, three different beginnings. In a book for children you can't put the plot on hold while you cut artistic capers for the amusement of your sophisticated readers, because, thank God, your readers are not sophisticated. They've got more important things in mind than your dazzling skill with wordplay. They want to know what happens next.
Science Fiction properly conceived, like all serious fiction, however funny, is a way of trying to describe what is going on, what people actually do and feel, how people relate to everything else in this vast sack, this belly of the universe, this womb of things to be and tomb of things that were, this unending story. In it, as in all fiction, there is room enough to keep even Man where he belongs, in his place in the scheme of things, there is time enough to gather plenty of wild oats and sow them, too, and sing to little Oom, and listen to Ool's joke, and watch newts, and still the story isn't over. Still there are seeds to be gathered and room in the bag of stars.
I think Dr. Willis McNelly at the California State University at Fullerton put it best when he said that the true protagonist of an sf story or novel is an idea and not a person. If it is *good* sf the idea is new, it is stimulating, and, probably most important of all, it sets off a chain-reaction of ramification-ideas in the mind of the reader; it so-to-speak unlocks the reader’s mind so that the mind, like the author’s, begins to create. Thus sf is creative and itinspires creativity, which mainstream fiction by-and-large does not do. We who read sf (I am speaking as a reader now, not a writer) read it because we love to experience this chain-reaction of ideas being set off in our minds by something we read, something with a new idea in it; hence the very best since fiction ultimately winds up being a collaboration between author and reader, in which both create and enjoy doing it: joy is the essential and final ingredient of science fiction, the joy of discovery of newness.
...[T]he only means I have to stop ignorant snobs from behaving towards genre fiction with snobbish ignorance is to not reinforce their ignorance and snobbery by lying and saying that when I write SF it isn't SF, but to tell them more or less patiently for forty or fifty years that they are wrong to exclude SF and fantasy from literature, and proving my arguments by writing well.
I'm rightly tired of the pain I hear and feel, boss. I'm tired of bein on the road, lonely as a robin in the rain. Not never havin no buddy to go on with or tell me where we's comin from or goin to or why. I'm tired of people bein ugly to each other. It feels like pieces of glass in my head. I'm tired of all the times I've wanted to help and couldn't. I'm tired of bein in the dark. Mostly it's the pain. There's too much. If I could end it, I would. But I can't.
When people dis fantasy—mainstream readers and SF readers alike—they are almost always talking about one sub-genre of fantastic literature. They are talking about Tolkien, and Tolkien's innumerable heirs. Call it 'epic', or 'high', or 'genre' fantasy, this is what fantasy has come to mean. Which is misleading as well as unfortunate.Tolkien is the wen on the arse of fantasy literature. His oeuvre is massive and contagious—you can't ignore it, so don't even try. The best you can do is consciously try to lance the boil. And there's a lot to dislike—his cod-Wagnerian pomposity, his boys-own-adventure glorying in war, his small-minded and reactionary love for hierarchical status-quos, his belief in absolute morality that blurs moral and political complexity. Tolkien's clichés—elves 'n' dwarfs 'n' magic rings—have spread like viruses. He wrote that the function of fantasy was 'consolation', thereby making it an article of policy that a fantasy writer should mollycoddle the reader.That is a revolting idea, and one, thankfully, that plenty of fantasists have ignored. From the Surrealists through the pulps—via Mervyn Peake and Mikhael Bulgakov and Stefan Grabiński and Bruno Schulz and Michael Moorcock and M. John Harrison and I could go on—the best writers have used the fantastic aesthetic precisely to challenge, to alienate, to subvert and undermine expectations.Of course I'm not saying that any fan of Tolkien is no friend of mine—that would cut my social circle considerably. Nor would I claim that it's impossible to write a good fantasy book with elves and dwarfs in it—Michael Swanwick's superb Iron Dragon's Daughter gives the lie to that. But given that the pleasure of fantasy is supposed to be in its limitless creativity, why not try to come up with some different themes, as well as unconventional monsters? Why not use fantasy to challenge social and aesthetic lies?Thankfully, the alternative tradition of fantasy has never died. And it's getting stronger. Chris Wooding, Michael Swanwick, Mary Gentle, Paul di Filippo, Jeff VanderMeer, and many others, are all producing works based on fantasy's radicalism. Where traditional fantasy has been rural and bucolic, this is often urban, and frequently brutal. Characters are more than cardboard cutouts, and they're not defined by race or sex. Things are gritty and tricky, just as in real life. This is fantasy not as comfort-food, but as challenge.The critic Gabe Chouinard has said that we're entering a new period, a renaissance in the creative radicalism of fantasy that hasn't been seen since the New Wave of the sixties and seventies, and in echo of which he has christened the Next Wave. I don't know if he's right, but I'm excited. This is a radical literature. It's the literature we most deserve.
Science fiction isn’t just thinking about the world out there. It’s also thinking about how that world might be—a particularly important exercise for those who are oppressed, because if they’re going to change the world we live in, they—and all of us—have to be able to think about a world that works differently.
Science fiction [is] the kind of writing that prepares us for the necessary mutations brought about in society from an ever changing technological world and as a result. The mainstream hasn’t excluded SF; the mainstream has excluded itself. No one told Jules Verne he was a science fiction writer, but he invented the 20th century.
Science fiction is the fiction of ideas. Ideas excite me, and as soon as I get excited, the adrenaline gets going and the next thing I know I’m borrowing energy from the ideas themselves. Science fiction is any idea that occurs in the head and doesn’t exist yet, but soon will, and will change everything for everybody, and nothing will ever be the same again. As soon as you have an idea that changes some small part of the world you are writing science fiction. It is always the art of the possible, never the impossible.
Science fiction is the most important literature in the history of the world, because it's the history of ideas, the history of our civilization birthing itself. ...Science fiction is central to everything we've ever done, and people who make fun of science fiction writers don't know what they're talking about.
I don't like you, Park. I think I live for you. I don't think I even breathe when we're not together. Which means when I see you on Monday morning, it's been like sixty hours since I've taken a breath. That's probably why I'm so crabby, and why I snap at you. All I do when we're apart is think about you, and all I do when we're together is panic. Because every second feels so important. And because I'm so out of control, I can't help myself. I'm not even mine anymore, I'm yours, and what if you decide that you don't want me? How could you want me like I want you?
So much American science fiction is parochial -- not as true now as it was years ago, but the assumption is one culture in the future, more or less like ours, and with the same ideals, the same notions of how to do things, just bigger and flashier technology. Well, you know darn well it doesn't work that way...
For so long considered a second-rate category to other writing genres, Science Fiction should be allotted its true place in literature. The reason Science Fiction is so important is because SF authors create the future. They bring through ideas, technology, and new thought, put it all down in written and spoken word, and then send it out into mass consciousness. When enough people (a critical mass) think about and truly consider the plausibility of a concept, it becomes reality. Think William Gibson, who in 1982's "Burning Chrome" coined "cyberspace". Few grasped the concept at the time, but as the internet took hold in the 1990's, we not only had a word to describe our experience, we had a definition and an understanding, as well. Coincidence?