I read the Guardian online obsessively (my life these days is pretty much divided into things I do obsessively and things I don’t do at all) and I’ve noticed occasional coverage of fantasy and science fiction in their book pages. Recently they had a great article about Martina Cole, discussing the double standard of the literary world and how they tend to sneer at crime authors, even (especially) those as successful as she is. Spotting an article entitled Let’s Stop Sneering at Fantasy Readers I clicked on it with interest. Spotting speculative references in mainstream news coverage is always awesome!
Only, I discovered as I read on with a quiet kind of horror, the article was about as pro-fantasy as those ‘hey isn’t it cool women can do anything these days as long as they look hot in heels’ articles are pro-feminist.
Possibly the subtitle of the piece, They might be the zit-ridden little brothers of science fiction geeks, but fantasy readers still deserve our respect should have tipped me off.
The worst part is that I’m pretty sure the writer was trying to be positive. The article seems to be trying to present fantasy as something worthwhile and interesting, but sadly it gets bogged down in its own mythology, spending far too much time regurgitating worthless (and old-fashioned) cliches about mainstream culture’s perception of fantasy readers and fantasy books, so that its message becomes entirely lost.
Surely the writer didn’t need to spend such a large proportion of the article’s opening three paragraphs drilling in the idea that “everyone thinks” fantasy readers are “the people Red Dwarf fans sneer at for being too nerdy,” and that fantasy itself is “the genre of eternal greasy adolescence.”
Finally, having thoroughly introduced fantasy to his readers (who if they didn’t think fantasy was for unsocialised geeks before, most certainly do NOW), the author of the article comes up with the idea that fantasy, being such a “new” genre (a mere 50 years old) might be worth taking a bit more seriously – now that some famous people who wrote in the genre have passed on.
Yes, I boggled too.
For every positive bit of reporting – such as about the David Gemmell Legend Award for fantasy – the article’s writer cannot help but add another sneer. He approves of Joe Abercrombie being shortlisted because that suggests fantasy readers might (shock!) have a sense of humour about themselves, but suggests that the appearance of assassins, elves etc. means that the publishers are lacking in imagination (and links to an article written by someone who has actually read the relevant books, not just their titles).
Finally, after surfing a sea of snide put-downs, I came to the final paragraph, in which the writer finally came up with one unqualified positive quality of the genre – its openness to translated works, particularly from countries such as Poland, from where the winner of the inaugural Gemmel hails. Ah, translated works, a concept that book people can understand without getting elf cooties all over them.
Really, is it too much to ask that the mainstream media report on our genre without wrinkling their nose in distaste the entire time? Didn’t their mothers teach them that if they can’t discuss a subject without making a face like they are sucking a lemon, it might be better not to say anything at all?