Tales from the Before Time: No Respect

Believe it or not, there was a time not so long ago when science fiction/fantasy was a pariah genre — a scant half a step above Harlequin/Mills and Boone category romances and nurse novels, and at least a full rung below westerns.  (Mystery novels were at the top of the genre heap, since the intellectuals of the day would sometimes admit to reading them  for relaxation in between thinking important thoughts.)  I have my own memory from those days, of once being asked, by the instructor of an undergraduate creative writing course I was taking, why I was wasting my talent on writing science fiction.  He clearly thought that “because I like to read it” wasn’t sufficient reason or explanation.

For writers, and even for readers, whose formative literary experiences come from that era, it’s hard to forget having been on the receiving end of all that reflexive critical sneering, and hard to unlearn the resentment and disdain for the literary establishment that rose up in response.  We have to keep reminding ourselves to do periodic reality checks, and to try to appreciate on a gut level that the world is different now:  fantasy and science fiction are major storytelling modes for the visual media, and no longer just the stuff of kids’ television and cheesy drive-in movies; mainstream fiction feels no compunction about borrowing genre tropes for its own purposes; and serious grownups with serious jobs can admit to enjoying sf and fantasy (and even comics!) without fear of losing all their adult credibility.

And if sometimes we feel like the long-time patrons of a little neighborhood bistro that’s suddenly gotten a rave review in some foodie blog and is now full of all sorts of outsiders who don’t really appreciate the original funkiness of the joint . . . well, it’s ungracious to begrudge the old familiar place its newfound good fortune, just because it isn’t exactly the way it was when we found it all those years ago.

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