Teahouse on the Tracks (Alastair Reynolds)
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Monday, 1 September 2008
Sci-Fi Lullabies
Now Playing: Suede

When I was growing up, the term "sci-fi" had almost universally positive connotations - to me, at least. There were "sci-fi" double-bills on BBC2. My dad would sometimes let me stay up late on fridays if there was a "sci-fi" film on. I liked drawing "sci-fi" pictures and writing "sci-fi" stories. I liked going to the "sci-fi" section of WH Smiths and buying "sci-fi" books (usually media tie-in novels by the likes of Alan Dean Foster, but that's another story).

Then it all changed. When I started reading into SF more seriously - reading about the genre as well as the genre itself - I quickly learned that calling things "sci-fi" was a bit of a no-no. The term, if it was used at all, was reserved for the schlocky, tacky, end-of-the-pier stuff: second-rate comics, bad films and TV shows, derivative tie-ins and so forth - all the stuff that proper, serious SF wanted to disassociate itself from as quickly as possible. To use the term "sci-fi" in polite society - well, what passes for polite society in SF circles - was to reveal yourself as a bit of an ingenue, not yet fully versed in the ways of grown-up SF discourse. Over time, I too learned not to talk about "sci-fi" unless I was explicitly talking about the bad stuff. And I quickly learned that many SF enthusiasts liked to talk in withering terms about something called "skiffy", a word I've never used and never will, because it speaks volumes to me about the smug insularity and in-jokiness of a certain strain of fandom. I think that's their clever way of saying "sci-fi", but in a manner that "mundanes" - for which read: most normal, well-adjusted people - won't get.

 It took me almost as long to realise that "soof-wah" was what people in fandom said when they meant the SFWA (itself rather an obscure, niche organisation, when you get down to it, as if it needed to be made even more obscure by pronouncing it in a funny way).

The thing is, I don't think we're going to win this one. To the average person in the street, sci-fi is what we do. It's what copy-editors will always insist on putting into newspaper articles, even if the original author used the terms SF or science fiction. And guess what, I'm a sci-fi writer. I write sci-fi books. They get shelved in the sci-fi section. It's not the worst thing in the world.

So here's a suggestion. We get over the sci-fi thing. We can still keep talking about SF and science fiction, but we should give up the knee-jerk sense of insult whenever the sci-fi label is applied to what we do. To the outside world, we're like music bores getting upset with the term "hi-fi". It should be "high-fidelity", doncha know.

If we still need a term to isolate the tacky end of the genre, I've got one right here. We can call it "crap sci-fi", like the rest of the world does.

 (Today's post has been brought to you by the letter Q and a sense of grumpy injustice that it's the first of September and we haven't had a summer).

Posted by voxish at 10:30 AM MEST
Updated: Monday, 1 September 2008 11:03 AM MEST

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