Genre and Fake-Lit

I’m very tired of reading submission guidelines to journals that say “serious” or “literary” fiction only. And “no genre fiction unless a story is good enough to transcend genre…or uses genre conventions for literary purposes.”

 Aren’t we past all that? Are we still having this eternal argument between popular and literary? There is certainly a wave (going on 2-3 decades now) of genre conventions being “used” by literary writers. And that whole concept is sickening. The terms genre and literary are cop-outs, hiding places, short-cuts for professional reviewers who don’t want to think too much and use categories to perform critical triage on the mass of books out there. They pigeon-hole writers and books so they don’t actually have to read them.

That said, I do find some similar traits in this group of writers, blessed by the establishment as serious, who go slumming in the post-apocalyptic or zombie or science fiction realms: a dearth of plot, bland character-less characters given to endless self-reflection, prose that eschews clear syntax for no discernible reason. Ultimately these works come off as precious and arty. The claim is often made that these writers are re-imagining or breathing new life into genres, but they often abandon the best attributes of these genres and keep only the superficial. They lose the energy, the conflict, and the definitive cultural and mythological references that underpin the best works in these fields. And since they hold the genre itself in contempt, they are ignorant of its history and tropes and end up writing tired old plots and themes. They don’t get called to task for hackneyed writing because the literary critics and editors are equally ignorant.

Oryx and Crake, The Road, and The Dog Stars, to name a few, have all these problems. Looking at the last, it meanders in search of a plot or any motivation, and then gives up. Its main character is bland as paste, and its secondary character has nothing to do. But it has enough sentence fragments to make Maureen Corrigan-types decide it’s literature. Do yourself a favor. If you have a hunger for the post-apocalyptic, try Matheson’s I Am Legend, McCammon’s Swan Song, Keene’s Earthworm Gods, Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids. You’ll be in the hands of masters.

 

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