Kathleen Ann Goonan
Here is a new consideration, on which I touched earlier, which is the fact that the majority of readers who consider themselves to be “literary” and literate readers avoid science fiction. The do not see themselves as science fiction readers. I think that it is fair to say that few of them have ever encountered what they believe to be “good” “literate” works of science fiction, and that they believe consumption of this genre is chiefly the domain of, surprise,teenage boys via films, television, and games.
These readers run away, hard and fast, with frightened backward glance to make sure you are not in pursuit if I say “I write science fiction.” This actually happened to me at a Key West Literary Seminar. Annie Dillard is a board member, and seeing her in the lobby, I talked about how much I enjoyed A Tinker On Pilgrim Creek, seeing as how it took place contemporaneously with five years I spent near Tinker Creek, in Blacksburg. I then told her that I used a quote from TC to preface Queen City Jazz, having paid Harper the requisite fee for such use. She beamed. Being inhabited by an imp, and knowing full well what I was doing, I added, “QCJ is science fiction.”
Her eyes widened. She looked at her watch. She looked around for help. She said, “I have to meet someone” and fled, linen jacket flaring out behind her.
I am presently, and pointedly, not a speaker or workshop teacher at the present Key West Literary Seminar. I have attended these meetings for about fifteen years, missing only a few, and they always leave me feeling enriched. This year’s theme is Yet Another World–the Literature of the Future, and is ostensibly about sf. I spoke with the organizer at previous about an sf themed seminar, and it seemed early on that I might be included, but in the end, I was not. The participants are Gibson, Lethem, Atwood, Yu, Mieville, and a few other writers who do not overlap with sf at all. The Seminar is, of course, about “Speculative Fiction;” goes down much easier than Science Fiction.
We are missing readers who might enjoy what we write.
I’m getting confused. Nisi was talking about intersections of identity. These identities, race, gender, sexual orientation, educational level, socioeconomic class, etc., are part of who we are, and they are so inescapably. We write and read out of them. We can read with an obliviousness to them, or with a realization of our situatedness. But we can’t simply escape them. When I’m reading Sula, I’m still reading Sula as a white woman who will probably never experience that level of poverty. And Morrison couldn’t have created a convincing Sula without being aware of social context.
Theoretical lenses such as feminism, Marxism, etc. can make us more aware of those identities, but they are simply lenses. The intersections are there whether we choose to see them or not.
I wrote a blog post recently about being human and being a woman, and times in my life when I was treated as the latter instead of, rather than in addition to, the former. I gave fairly minor examples, but these identities are where we live. It’s just that if you’re part of a privileged group, you don’t have to be aware of it in the same way. (Men aren’t asked if they’re going to college to get a Mr. degree, whereas I was actually asked if I was going to college to get an Mrs. degree.) I don’t often have to think about being white. I more often have to think about being a woman.
I’m not in favor of telling writers to write in any particular way. But I do believe that not being aware results in not very good writing. Great writers write with an awareness of intersecting identities and social construction. Someone mentioned Bronte: Wuthering Heights is all about that, about the relationships between social insiders and outsiders, and where the margins are.
But I do believe that not being aware results in not very good writing.
Amen to that.