“I am drawn to borderlands and to the people who inhabit them…”

The io9 website, in an article called “4 Authors We Wish Would Return to Science Fiction,” has interesting statements from Nicola Griffith, Karen Joy Fowler, Mary Doria Russell, and Samuel R. Delany about the role of genre in their writing. (I am a big fan of all three women and their books, but I confess I have not yet read anything by Mr. Delany.)

Here are some of the quotes I found particularly interesting.

Mary Doria Russell:

SF and historical fiction make similar demands on an author. They both require you to imagine as fully as possible a time and place that are not your own. In all my novels, there is an ironic and distanced narrator who knows a lot more than the characters about their past and future. And there is always an awareness of the contemporary limitations of technology and ideology, and of how those limitations affects lives…

[I]ntellectually, I am drawn to borderlands and to the people who inhabit them: marginal natives, newcomers, travelers, people who don’t fit and who therefore have an interestingly slanted view of the cultures they inhabit. Remember: I was an anthropologist long before I was a novelist. We are trained to seek out marginal natives; no one can give you a better perspective on aspects of culture that statistically normal people simply accept as, well, normal.

Admittedly: I have turned out to be kind of a genre slut. I will stand on the literary street corner and get into any genre that drives by and offers to take me to a good par-tay. And sometimes I don’t go home with the one who brung me to the dance…

So I guess what this all adds up to is: who gives a shit about labels? I write about what fascinates me, and I use whatever tools seem best suited to do the job at hand. What happens after that is marketing.

Karen Joy Fowler:

1) I don’t set out to write in any genre; that’s just not my working method. I start with whatever I have, some tiny incoherent image that I hope to make into a story. And then I take what I need to make that story work. Maybe what I need comes from science fiction, but maybe not. I won’t know until I write it.

2) I’m really interested in genre and draw a lot of energy from it. So even if the things I write aren’t, strictly speaking, genre piece, they all seem to be in conversation with genre in some way. (I like mysteries as much as I like sf, by the way.)

3) What I love most about science fiction is the short fiction. Almost all my short fiction spins around a science fictional idea even if the resulting story isn’t quite sf. Charles Brown of Locus told me once that I’m a science fiction writer because I think like a science fiction writer and I was enormously flattered and hope that’s true.

4) But even if it is, mystery writing with its emphasis on plot and sf writing with its emphasis on tech don’t really play to my strengths…

…I’m always writing for sf readers. Science fiction readers enjoy figuring things out and don’t mind being puzzled for long stretches. They read in a very active way. And that’s the way I read and those are the readers I’m trying to please…

Stan Robinson says we all live in a science fiction novel now and it’s clearly true. So I truly believe that science fiction is realism now and literary realism is a nostalgic literature about a place where we once lived, but no longer do.

Nicola Griffith:

I’m a native of sf. You can’t leave that kind of thing behind. Just as everyone I meet in the US knows I’m English, everyone who reads my work knows I’m a skiffy geek. It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been away; my English sf upbringing colours my accent, my attitude, my vocabulary. It’s who I am…

*****

These writers, like many of my favorites (including my husband), write across different genres so they can tell the stories they want to tell, in the way they want to tell them.

I remember there was a bit of controversy when Matt won the 2003 James Tiptree Jr. award (for works that explore gender in science fiction or fantasy) for Set This House in Order, as some people questioned whether the book was science fiction. Matt addressed this in his acceptance speech, first with a joke (“Is Set This House in Order science fiction? Or as Margaret Atwood might say: ‘Hey! Where’s the spaceship?'”), then with a detailed explanation of what he was trying to do with the book and why he believed that “though it may not be SF in the strictest sense, it is at least SFnal in its methods and its goals…”:

[The premise of the novel] lit up all the same enthusiasm circuits that a good science-fiction premise would have… I decided early on to write the book as a  “what if” novel: to simply accept certain premises as true, and focus my creative energy on exploring the implications of those premises. My goal was to tell an entertaining story that was believable and internally consistent. I’d take accuracy if and where I could get it, but the point was to provide food for thought, not definitive answers…

Another strategy, which I learned from science-fiction writers, is to write the speculative parts of the story in such a way that they remain intriguing even if the premises on which they are based ultimately turn out to be fantasy. As Ray Bradbury demonstrated with The Martian Chronicles, and as Mary Shelley demonstrated way, way back in the day with Frankenstein, the logic of dreams can remain compelling even after we have awakened….

2 responses to ““I am drawn to borderlands and to the people who inhabit them…”

  1. Pingback: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell « Write Creative Network

  2. Pingback: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell | Write Creative

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