The Hidebound Mainstream

When people ask me Why do you write science fiction?, there is often another question lurking underneath: Why would you Want to?

I’m going to trot out this answer from now on: Mainstream is too restrictive for me.

Read Dave Wolverton’s terrific article in Tangent , celebrating fantasists and arguing that  mainstream fiction is snobbishly restrictive in permissible subject matter. He shows that there are unspoken restrictions in literary fiction: 1) tales must lack form ; 2) only certain types of characters must be portrayed; 3) certain conflicts and settings are forbidden; 4) political correctness is mandatory; 5) tale must lean toward existentialism rather than a more affirmative world view; 6) it must be hard to understand;  7) heightened language in the service of these vapid qualities is a must.

Favorite quote: “Unable to explore setting, conflict, characters or themes in their fiction, the mainstreamers wrote more and more eloquently about nothing at all.”

Don’t get me wrong. I still read and love literary fiction. The best of mainstream authors do a superb job in their sometimes narrow field of vision. They can drop the snobbishness anytime now, though.

5 Responses

  1. bluetyson says:

    If you carried an mp3 player around, it might be funny to hear the replies to your ‘mainstream is too restrictive.’

    Very interesting bit by Wolverton there, never realised some of the silliness was mandated.

    On 1) I read an issue of GUD magazine recently, which proclaims ‘Literary’ on the cover, despite having a fair bit of SF etc. in it. A ton of problems with story endings it seemed to me – this is possibly deliberate this suggests, then?

  2. bdkellmer says:

    While I certainly agree with the sentiments, I think care should be taken to differentiate “literary” from “mainstream.” The literary types might try to imply that they are mainstream, but at this point in time, they’re not — they’ve ghetto-ized themselves. They are simply a genre unto themselves, albeit a very powerful one. But “mainstream” implies that most of the works out there are in that vein. Literary folks call the vast majority of published works (even those that aren’t in a specific genre) “popular fiction” and decry it, but I’d posit that it’s the “popular fiction” (although not the specifically genre stuff) that actually warrants the name “mainstream.” To call the literary folks “mainstream” or even “mainstream literary” feeds their ego and power.

    Besides, it’d give them conniption fits to realize that “Valley of the Dolls” is mainstream.

  3. dsgood says:

    I was just about to say that….

  4. Kay says:

    Yes, good endings often provide some resolution, and since life is meaningless . . . Furthermore, since stories shouldn’t have form, the tale must dribble off the page at the end.

  5. Kay says:

    Excellent point. I agree that Wolverton’s points seem to apply to literary fiction, not mainstream, as the term is usually applied. It’s also interesting that you mention the ego of the lit folks… that may be the engine behind All snobbishness.

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