Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Jonathan Adler asks:

A well-crafted sci-fi book can be a fun read, but are there many modern science fiction works that would qualify as "literature"? Any science fiction books that would qualify as literary masterpieces?

The usual discussions ensure in comments (what's literature? who's to judge? how dare you? Of course Stranger in a Strange Land is literature! Of course it's not! Lem! Wells! Verne! Shelley! Canticle!) But the question made me think about something else.

I take it that the question would by now have a different flavor when asked about fantasy, both because of the recognized status of Tolkien and because of the advent of magical realism. There's no meaningful way to draw the boundaries of the category "fantasy" that excludes Rushdie, Garcia Marquez, Murakami, etc., unless it's purely arbitrarily limited to sword-and-sorcery. SF has an occasional Margaret Atwood novel, plus, for example, Never Let Me Go. But, notwithstanding all the technological excitement and anxiety of the past quarter-century, there hasn't been a genre that is to SF as magical realism is to fantasy-- a clearly literary style that makes use of the genre's resources while so completely transcending the genre's boundaries as to have their primary readership far outside the genre's audience. We've had SF married to the political-suspense-thriller genre, and to historical fiction (steampunk, the Baroque Trilogy), but not to high literary fiction to create science-fictional realism (or whatever). I wonder why?

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