On Science Fiction and the British

December 3rd, 2007 · 3 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

In the 1970s, Kingsley Amis, Arthur C Clarke and Brian Aldiss were judging a contest for the best science-fiction novel of the year. They were going to give the prize to Grimus, Salman Rushdie’s first novel. At the last minute, however, the publishers withdrew the book from the award. They didn’t want Grimus on the SF shelves. “Had it won,” Aldiss, the wry, 82-year-old godfather of British SF, observes, “he would have been labelled a science-fiction writer, and nobody would have heard of him again.”

File Under: Quote of the Week

3 responses so far ↓

  • Jim Murdoch // Dec 4, 2007 at 4:37 am

    The thing about writing these days is that we are far happier to accept work that straddles genres than ever before; in fact we don’t bat an eye at it. At the same time we are into reductionism, and for this I blame the internet and it’s obsession with tagging everything, boiling it down to a word or two. Tagging, classifying, whatever you want to call it, makes us pre-judge a book even before we get the chance to judge it by its cover. I know it makes the book buying public’s life a lot easier, Borders in particular these days feels more like a supermarket than a book store, but it also means there’s a danger on missing out on some good stuff simply because it’s been labelled wrong. Take The Caves of Steel by Asimov. I will guarantee you’ll always find it in the Science Fiction section but it’s also a detective novel so, if fairness there should also be copies in the Crime section along with his Black Widowers Mystery Stories.

    I live in the UK, in Glasgow actually, and all the bookshops sell science fiction, shelves and shelves of the stuff. It is nowhere near its sell-by date and it never will be. Fashions come and go, that’s all. Short stories in general are a bit out of favour at the moment and that’s a very popular format for science fiction. All we need is the right kind of publicity. If someone had told you fifty years ago that wizards and pirates would be the in things at the start of the 21st century they would have laughed at you. Ironic ain’t it? At least the tinfoil fashions didn’t happen as predicted.

  • Dominique Raccah // Dec 5, 2007 at 7:58 am

    Thanks for posting this. It’s a great story and also shows what I think is a fundamental problem in the way that we (publishers and the media) think about these books. It seems to me that scifi and fantasy are ghettoized. They go into this section (scifi/fantasy). They have a set of readers. They are reviewed in special columns and zines. And they are rarely heard from outside their specialty.

    One reason that Harry Potter could be as broadly successful as it has been is that it was categorized as a children’s book and in the children’s category, scifi/fantasy, mystery and literary fiction all live on the same fiction shelf.

    And yet look at The Time Traveler’s Wife. That’s commonly shelved in fiction. And there are others. But I remember having this conversation with Joe Haldeman’s agent years ago, that Joe should simply not be in the scifi section. That he should be published as war fiction instead. It seems to me that we limit the range of some remarkable authors by labeling speculative fiction as category fiction.

  • Clive Warner // Dec 5, 2007 at 3:32 pm

    Having just got my first SF novel out there; frankly, I am rather glad that SF has
    ” . . . a set of readers. They are reviewed in special columns and zines.”
    – Simply because the vast majority of reviewers are such elitist snobs that they won’t even open the cover of a book that’s not from one of the “Big Four” imprints. What a mess this business is in.