Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Sci-Fi Ghetto

Visiting Barnes & Noble the other day, I once again noticed the "Sci-Fi Ghetto" syndrome. Here are the publisher's descriptions of two novels; try to guess in which section of the bookstore I found each title:
Robert Neville may well be the only survivor of an incurable plague that has mutated every other man, woman, and child into bloodthirsty, nocturnal creatures who are determined to destroy him.
By day, he scavenges for food and supplies, desperate to find any other survivors who might be out there. But all the while the infected lurk in the shadows, watching his every move, waiting for him to make a mistake...
How about this one...
In an Arizona desert a man wanders in a daze, speaking words that make no sense. Within twenty-four hours he is dead, his body swiftly cremated by his only known associates. Halfway around the world archaeologists make a shocking discovery at a medieval site. Suddenly they are swept off to the headquarters of a secretive multinational corporation that has developed an astounding technology. Now this group is about to get a chance not to study the past but to enter it. And with history opened to the present, the dead awakened to the living, these men and women will soon find themselves fighting for their very survival - six hundred years ago...
The first book is Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend while the second book is Michael Crichton's Timeline. Clearly, both novels fall into the category of science fiction. But both books, along with just about every work by these authors, are located in the Fiction and Literature section rather than in the Science Fiction and Fantasy section. The label under the publisher's logo on the spines of both books explicitly states that these books are "fiction". This is ironic when Tor, the publisher of the most recent printing of I Am Legend, made its mark by being a publisher of science fiction and fantasy. Nearly every other novel published by Tor is labeled "science fiction" or "fantasy". The novels of Stephen King, who made his reputation writing sci-fi with elements of horror, are also labeled as simple "fiction" and are rarely to be found in the "Science Fiction and Fantasy" section.

This article about the Sci-Fi Ghetto (which specifically refers to television but is equally applicable to literature), best describes the phenomenon:
The Sci-Fi Ghetto reflects a long-lasting stigma which has been applied towards the science fiction genre, which frequently leads creators and marketers to shun "Sci-Fi", "Science Fiction" or "Fantasy" labels as much as possible, even on shows that have clear science fiction or fantastical elements. It also reflects the tendency for critics, academics and other creators to near-automatically dismiss or disdain works which cannot escape this label being applied, regardless of relative quality or merit.
This explains why I didn't know that Lost is a science fiction show until recently. I would have watched it had I known that.

I suppose this attitude bothers me because it seems to imply that sci-fi and fantasy fans are a less-than-desirable group (even though we spend plenty of money on our interests). The article also suggests that the term "graphic novel" was invented "to make people feel less ridiculous" when talking about comic books.

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