Paul Graham Raven
Genre labels emerge from a genuine need: taxonomy and subsubsubdivision lets critics and fans (and yes, marketers and authors too) reach terms of mutual convenience. The slippage and fuzziness of the labels has always been a problem when graphed against an axis of time (as x increases, so fuzziness trends toward infinity), but the rate of rate of change has been accelerated by a) faster and wider communication between fans, critics, publishers and marketers; and b) the ubiquity of the post-modern condition (no text exists in a vacuum, and there are an exponentially increasing number of texts in the cloud to draw comparisons with, meaning that the potential interlinkages between texts are expanding at whatever mathematicians call the exponential of an exponential).
End result: genre labels are now a folksonomy. The thing with folksonomies is that they’re useful when the group contributing and referring to said folksonomy is fairly small, because the points of reference are shared and hence easily debated (I’m reminded of the old and apparently true lament that back in the New Wave era it was easily possible to buy and read the bulk of the genre’s output in the year it was published). However, once anyone can wander in and apply a new/trendy/retro/hybrid folksonomical tag to something (witness the blanket steampunkization of, well, pretty much everything), meaning becomes so fuzzy as to be reduced to the most superficial aesthetic considerations… and the more widely the tag is applied, the more the fuzziness accelerates.
All of which is to say: as much as we all have a pretty good grasp of what sf (or specfic or skiffy or fantastika or or or) means to us, the more people we try to explain that definition to, the more it slips out of our grip, picks up germs from the taxonomies of others. The only way to keep a label pure is to guard it like an underfed junkyard dog.
Or, to put it another way: no matter how many new terms of encompassment we come up with, disagreement over the texts encompassed will emerge almost instantly. The advantage, to my mind, of the simple ‘sf’ abbreviation is that it can stand for science fiction, scifi and specfic (as required), and it’s old enough that everyone recognises it (even if they don’t necessarily agree on what it means); not everyone will agree, naturally, but the point I’m trying to make is that a universal consensus is impossible, and probably not worth chasing.
Trying to define or constrain ‘sf’ it will always be as easy as nailing jelly to the surface of the ocean… but that’s probably why arguing one’s own particular corner is such fun.