gbsteve (gbsteve) wrote,

Is it genre?

To me, and seemingly to my friend Patrick, the difference between genre fiction and literary fiction is a question of focus. Literary fiction is about the human condition. It's something we can all, a few psychopaths aside, relate to. And for those of us who are gamers, it's how you can play a Black American slave one day and an imperialist Space Marine the next. Underneath all the trappings, and despite the differences in situation, the human condition unites them all (cue pithy Sartre quote, preferably in French. God I'm erudite!).

Of course, you can play these games at face value, 3:16 is a glorious excuse to just kill make-believe aliens, much in the same way as you'd pretend machine gun your eight year old buddies. But the game really comes into its own when the military hierarchy clashes with the personalities and choices have to be made between people and purpose. Are you a Kantian or a Nazi? It's an interesting dynamic to explore, especially when nobody around the table has quite the same answer as you. It's also a metric spaceload of fun, and not just in the juxtaposition, the irony or the (space)-clichés (everything is better when prefixed with space-). There's an almost physical joy to blowing away another 37 space whales. They were probably Commies anyway.

So it's a bit strange that when you read genre fiction, it hardly ever approaches this level of analysis. The distance between the now and the genre almost always makes the fiction be about something other than the human condition. And even if it is about the future human condition, it hardly ever seems to fully inhabit that space. It's like an ill-fitting suit or one of those cheap (sexy-) halloween costumes (the best ones are prefixed with sexy, just check out Amazon for sexy rabbits and pre-teen princesses). And look at William Gibson's oeuvre, for example, the more he writes, the closer he gets to the present, and the better his books become at analysing the human.

So I guess my question is, is the human condition a proper subject for genre fiction? And if it is, who has done it really, really well?

And I do mean really well.

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