Monday, January 17, 2011

It should be called "Science Literature"

In a post about 2011 reading goals, Space Station Mir mentioned something worth noting:
...I would like to dedicate most of it to fantasy and science fiction. I feel that I haven't been reading enough of the two genres that have often brought me the most pleasure and I am also on a mission to discover more high quality writing in the genres. [...] I hope to be able to pinpoint 10-20 science fiction/fantasy books that I would also consider literature. 
When I think about it, this sentiment ties into everything that's sad about these two (albeit different, but inexplicably tied) genres. For many readers, these are genres that bring us pleasure. At some point, though, there seems to be this feeling that sci-fi and fantasy are genres that aren't serious and are not "literature". I don't want to get into the definition of literature, though. It's a subject that crops up often in my posts and book thoughts, but every time I try to define it, I find myself failing to do it justice. Still, I can try, perhaps, to explain why I get so frustrated when I encounter things like this. Ultimately, literature is made up of good books and who's to say you don't have books of this kind that happen to take place in outer space, or have magic in them?

Like every genre, sci-fi and fantasy have a lot of crappy pulp and some awesome literature. That's how it works. Not everything is amazing, the vast majority sucks and we need to do the dirty work of finding what we like, what we can call good, and we ought to give to others. So I'd like to be able to give Space Station Mir (and all other readers out there) a hand.

The goal is simple: to name (and justify) 20 powerhouse science fiction or fantasy or bizarre or non-standard-"literature" books that I feel definitely fall into the literature category ("Science and Fantasy Literature" - or SAFL). Maybe I'll even discover some good books along the way.


  1. Sounds fun! Are you going to read A Canticle for Leibowitz? It's wonderful!

  2. Thanks for the shout out! I've also had a lot of trouble defining literature, but I would tie it to what I perceive as excellence in language, plot, character and internal consistency, regardless of subject/genre. I look forward to seeing what books you come up with! So far, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, has definitely made the cut.

  3. That sounds like a very interesting challenge. I'm going to have to think about what would be on my list of 20.

    The ol' science fiction/fantasy isn't "literature" is a tired old saw that I can barely muster an energy for when I see it because it is a battle that, with the "elite" you cannot win...mostly because they won't listen. And there is the other side of that coin that I think is perhaps more interesting, which is why many fans of science fiction and fantasy seem to want to be legitimized in those arguments. Personally I just want to read good books. And I truly feel sorry for those people who don't, won't, or no longer read sf/f because they are missing out on classic and contemporary novels that are absolutely fantastic.

    I look forward to seeing your list.


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