That boundary between genre and mainstream is in fact an arbitrary one indeed. Most if not all of the blame can be laid at the door of the publishers and their marketing departments. Labels make for a simpler sales pitch. It's science fiction. Science fiction fans will buy it. . . . Unfortunately this is to the detriment of the authors who write fiction that might find more legitimate fans among the mainstream audience. And some authors have indeed escaped the ghettoization that has limited the exposure of so many writers. Kurt Vonnegut, for example, is not usually thought of as a science fiction writer, but his work is surely as science fictional as many books in the field. Some of Marge Piercy's work, notably He, She, and It, published by Knopf, is certainly science fictional, although it is rarely marketed as such. Shirley Jackson's post-apocalyptic-type fantasy The Lottery is included in high school English texts, but it is not described as science fiction. Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale--the popular novel-become-movie--was never described as science fiction despite the fact that it was set in a future dystopia. And the immensely popular Ray Bradbury published his short stories originally in Colliers magazine, a respected mainstream publication. His work is also on some high school English reading lists, and it is described as science fiction. Currently Octavia Butler's work is gaining a more mainstream exposure as it is re-released by White Wolf Press and Four Walls, Eight Windows.
Some recent fiction, such as J. G. Ballard's later works and Samuel Delany's Dahlgren, has been labeled postmodernism by some literary critics. As if it were something other than science fiction--or let us call it speculative fiction. Bruce Sterling describes this group within a group as slipstream. It is a literature where the illogical and fantastical coexist with the mundane. It is a literature where the unexpected forces us to view the usual with fresh eyes. It is worth a serious reader's time to cross that arbitrary ghetto boundary to investigate some of this literature on the other side.
|Mary (Freeman) Rosenblum '75 graduated from Reed with a B.S. in biology. During subsequent years she worked in fetal endocrine research in Massachusetts and at the Oregon Regional Primate Research Center. She also worked as a professional cheesemaker and raised dairy goats. In 1988 she attended the Clarion West Writers Workshop, where she sold her first story to Asimov's Magazine. Since then, she has published nearly 40 short stories, three science fiction novels, and a hardcover collection of her short fiction. She has won the Compton Cook Award for best first novel for The Drylands, published by Del Rey, and was a Hugo Award nominee in 1997 for her novella Gas Fish. Her work has been published internationally. She is currently at work on a mystery series set in Oregon for Berkeley Press, to be released in late 1998. She lives on a 21/2 acre farm in rural Clackamas County, Oregon, with her two sons and an eclectic assortment of livestock.|
The evolution of science fiction is worth a bit of attention here. In the 1950s, it was primarily a literature of ideas. Writers explored the possibilities of exciting new technological advances and offered theories in the form of vivid adventure stories, for the most part.Characteri-zation was thin. It wasn't the character that mattered, it was the idea. Writers such as Huxley extrapolated social trends to extremes in books like Brave New World, or later, Brunner's The Sheep Look Up.
In the 1960s, a movement dubbed the New Wave swelled as writers began to go beyond the conventions of fifties science fiction, stretch some stylistic boundaries, and to explore the literary flexibility of the art form. J.G. Ballard melded science and surrealism to explore the uneasy interface between technology and humanity. Harlan Ellison pushed well beyond the edge of SF with his Dangerous Visions anthology, featuring the cutting edge of the New Wave writers of the day. It is at this point that I think the label science fiction should be altered to speculative fiction. No longer is the Idea the quintessential heart of the story. More and more science as New Idea becomes secondarily important to its effects on the evolution of humanity and society. Questions of soul, the definition of human, and the origins of our most basic behavior become key themes. In the last decade Michael Moorcock, Bruce Sterling, Greg Bear with his darkly stylistic Queen of Angels, and a number of other writers have continued to push the envelope of science fiction into the territory of literary fiction. It is worth noting that none of the above-mentioned authors have truly managed to break that invisible boundary and escape the ghetto of science fiction on the bookstore shelves.