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Hierarchy Among Genres; Speculative Fiction

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Raffaella Baccolini opens her paper "Gender and Genre in Feminist Critical Utopias" (Future Females, The Next Generation: New Voices and Velocities in Feminist Science Fiction Criticism ed. Marleen S. Barr) with the observation that in trying to define the genre of science fiction, there has been a debate about whether scifi is an autonomous, independent genre or a derivative subgenre of utopia writing, with utopia writing as being high literature and scifi being 'just' popular culture. And in the introduction to the book, Barr described how Toni Morrison distanced her novel Paradise from the genre of feminist science ficiton - unfeministsciencefictioned to use Barr's word (there's nothing like feminist, gay and lesbian, queer, transgender etc. criticism for doing exciting new things with language - well, maybe race-based studies, but I've hardly read any of that). Generic writing (that is, writing that is classified according to a genre rather than being, simply and aristocratically, literature) is marginalized. Like all places of marginalization, generic writing is a place of subversion, exploration, and possibility, much as the lesbian pulps* of the 1950s and 1960s depicted explicit (if obnoxiously stereotyped and overdramatized and unrealistic) lesbian relationships long before The L Word; these books were written for men, but there was a large unintended lesbian readership as well.

Still, it's never any fun to be left out ... 

I'd like to introduce the term 'speculative fiction', that is, fiction which asks 'what if' ... more specifically, 'what if there were a society, perhaps of human beings, perhaps not, which had this difference - what kind of society would that produce? If society were like that, what kind of people would it produce?' Science fiction provides a frame for speculative story-telling: if you're going to have a society where 60% of individuals are biologically hermaphroditic, there has to be some sort of explanation - another planet, scientific experimentation, magic (fantasy can also provide a frame).

I think that it could be useful to make a distinction between speculative!science fiction and adventure/character!science fiction. The two genres almost always exist in the same book at once (symbiosis),  but different stories are weighted differently. Lois McMaster Bujold's work is driven much more by the adventures of her characters rather than by the speculative 'what if' question, asked on a society-wide basis. For example, the ramifications of uterine replicators are present in the story and to some extent drive the plot, but investigating the possibilities of uterine replicators is not the primary focus, the primary focus is following the life of a character who was born from a uterine replicator. Bujold has much the same proportion of adventure/character development to speculation in her fantasy series, incidentally - insofar as genre studies go, I think fantasy and science fiction may be closely allied, though I've read far less fantasy than scifi, so I'm not in a good position to judge. 

*For a selection of lesbian pulp covers, complete with is-it-ok-for-a-guy-to-say-that? humor  -  he got banned from more or less for these kinds of jokes. Ok, it's more complicated, and it was personal. And as for me, I'm not sure what my position is on his sense of humor. But this is another post entirely. So, as I was saying, for a selection of lesbian pulp covers: