"[My agent] said 'You have a murder mystery up there, you have a horror book up there, you have all kinds of genres on the bestseller shelf, why not Terry Pratchett's book?' And the response was 'We don't let them out of the science fiction section'"
So, you're watching television and come across a show that's set on another planet and has aliens, spaceships and time travel in it. Clearly a work of science fiction, you would assume. However, you also happen to come across an interview with the creator, who is taking pains to stress that his or her work is absolutely not science fiction and anyone who thinks it can be described as such is misguided or just plain wrong. But it has aliens, spaceships and Time Travel in it;how can itnotbe science fiction?
Because of the Sci Fi Ghetto. The Sci-Fi Ghetto reflects a long-lasting stigma which has been applied towards the science fiction genre, which frequently leads creators and marketers to shun "Sci-Fi", "Science Fiction" or "Fantasy" labels as much as possible, even on shows that have clear science fiction or fantastical elements. It also reflects the tendency for critics, academics and other creators to near-automatically dismiss or disdain works which cannot escape this label being applied, regardless of relative quality or merit. Conversely, if these critics, creators and academics do feel that the work possesses merit by their standards, expect them to strenuously insist that the work is not science fiction or fantasy (How could it be? It's good), regardless of how many tortuous hoops they might have to jump through in order to do so.
A lot of this has to do with snobbery. A (somewhat contradictory) perception about science fiction in general is that it is somehow both too complex for mainstream audiences with 'simple' tastes and yet simultaneously not literary and sophisticated enough for critics and academics.
This perception tends to be drawn from two extremes. In the first place, science fiction is often dismissed as lightweight, formulaic and poorly-written rubbish churned out by talentless hacks who never met a cliche they didn't enthusiastically regurgitate. On the other end of the spectrum, science fiction is often seen as aloof, dreary Doorstoppers which essentially take the form of tedious and over-complicated scientific essays poorly disguised as stories, apparently written by people who have multiple doctorates in the hard sciences yet have somehow never managed to interact with another human being before. In either case, the result is considered the same; material which is poorly written with lame plots and characterization, almost entirely lacking in literary merit.
This, of course, unfairly prejudges a massive and wide-spanning genre by its worst extremes, and ultimately takes a fairly narrow and limited view of the genre. However, it should be noted that there is plenty of evidence at both extremes to support these views — lots of works of science fiction have fallen in the trap of focusing so much on the Big Idea that the other elements of storytelling can suffer. Even accepted classics of the genre can get so caught up in the hypothesis they're developing that they can be lacking in other literary merits. It's not just the works, either — unfortunatestereotypes of science fiction fans as a bunch of weird dorky obsessives with no social skills hasn't helped the overall impression of science fiction as a weird, off-putting and aloof body of work.
This mindset can even affect different subsets of science fiction. Those who are Hard On Soft Science tend to criticize the softer entries on Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness...when they acknowledge the softer entries as science fiction at all.
Fantasy fiction suffers from this as well to a similar extent due to the difficulty of defining the line between science fiction and fantasy. In fact, fantasy fiction often has it even worse, as it is speculative in a completely implausible way (science fiction is just mostly implausible). This possibly resulted from the craving for and excitement over science in the 1950s: science fiction, for its 'faults', was seen as at least a baby-steps way to teach kids actual science so they could grow up and become scientists or engineers, whilst fantasy was associated more with the fairy tales of youth, and therefore was thought to be child-like (the supposed "childishness" of fairy tales themselves is another issue entirely). This is probably why a section in a bookstore containing science fiction, fantasy, and other speculative fiction genres will almost always be referred to as the science fiction section. The reverse of this also crops up, but it's somewhat rarer.
This happens to horror as well, especially when it overlaps with Sci-Fi and Fantasy. It's been a little more accepted than those two genres, at least on the literary front (and, lately, televisionas well), but you'll rarely seen awards given to horror works. With cinematic horror in particular, with the exception of Hays Code-era classics (like Universal's monster movies or the works of Alfred Hitchcock) and a selection of other indisputably great films (most of them dating to no later than the '70s), you'd be hard-pressed to find professional film critics who don't view horror as a land where grisly violence and exploitation stand in for plot and characters. And while there is a degree of snobbery involved, much like with the disdain for sci-fi and fantasy, there are also a very large number of films that bear out the worst stereotypes of the genre (also much like the aforementioned genres). Much like sci-fi and fantasy fans, horror fans also have their own (arguably more insulting) stereotypes attached to them, often portrayed as people who get off on violence, sex and the juxtaposition thereof, and may be using such films as a way to vicariously live out their own sick fantasies. None other than famed horror director John Carpenter once remarked that horror is viewed by the mainstream as being just a notch above pornography.
Some embrace the Ghetto eagerly. Some writers have few pretensions to attaining the True Art status their peers yearn for, and gleefully embrace the whole pulp pot-boiler or B-Movie aspect of the genre, or the chance to expand on a complex idea to a smaller audience they know will get it. Similarly, some fans eagerly embrace the ghetto and will prefer or, in extreme cases, only engage with media from within it, often dismissing those who engage with media outside of it as morons lacking imagination. This attitude, of course, tends to overlook the fact that it also takes energy, creativity and imagination to construct a fine non-Science Fiction work, and can be indicative of a similar kind of snobbery to that which creates the idea of this Ghetto in the first place. It's important to remember that the Ghetto isn't bad because "quality" literature or cinema is bad; it's bad because it assumes science fiction, fantasy and horror cannot be quality literature or cinema.
This is slowly changing, however; more and more creators and critics who aren't ashamed to acknowledge an interest and inspiration from "niche" genres are producing and discussing more works in such genres which are gaining both mainstream accessibility and critical acclaim. The fact that the most popular and best-selling children's book seriesanda large number ofthe highest-grossing and/or critically-acclaimed films in recent history have been either science fiction and/or fantasy has also helped — although of course, this then leads some fans, creators and critics to focus on how popular these entities are when criticizing them instead.
For the sake of overall cohesion, terms like "speculative fiction", "magic realism" and "psychological thriller" have cropped up to help distinguish the extent and degree of science fiction, fantasy or horror influence in a work. Though some will complain that these are simply arbitrary distinctions having to do with stuffy ivory tower academics looking for excuses not to pay attention to "science fiction", a brief gander at those pages should indicate them as being clear subgenres. The terms themselves, however, can be misused for this purpose, usually by people who don't fully understand the distinctions between them. On a related note, detractors have often been heard to refer to science fiction, fantasy and horror disparagingly as "genre" fiction (crime, romance, detective novels, Westerns and the like are often lumped in as well) — as though proper novels don't belong in their own respective genres.
A Sub Trope of Public Medium Ignorance. Can overlap with Animation Age Ghetto, as animated works have a strong tendency to be genre fiction. See also Not Wearing Tights, Not Using the Z Word, and Dead Horse Genre.
Not to be confused with Industrial Ghetto.
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As mentioned in passing above, there's now a bit of a ghetto where the only "serious" or "artistic" comics are ones that have no science fictional or fantastical elements to them.
This is mainly because few fantasy or sci-fi comics are trying to be serious or artistic, and often actually hide behind this fact as an excuse for including troubling content. For example, to comments about the problematic nature of Spider-Man torturing a villain in one book, the editor's response was "these are fantasy stories to entertain". Those superhero, fantasy, and sci-fi comics that do rise above the fold in terms of content and presentation usually are recognized for it, with awards going to series such as Hellboy, Scott Pilgrim, and Orc Stain throughout the years. If there is a problem, the fault lies less with the critics or crowds and more with the actual content and its producers.
Fantasy and sci-fi comics, particularly superhero comics, are an example of how science fiction and related genres help to perpetuate their ghettoization by becoming increasingly insular and alienating all but a few diehard fans due to problems like needless complexity, excessive jargon, and an unwillingness to reach out to new audiences.
Kieron Gillen admitted, that for some time he believed in fantasy sub-ghetto (mostly because of being critical towards Standard Fantasy Setting and related tropes) and would prefer to call himself "speculative fiction writer" until ex-girlfriend pointed out to him that if speculative aspect of his works boils down to magic music then he is a fantasy writer.
Sci-fi comics form their own little sub-ghetto, often being treated as being less 'worthy' than literary science fiction and movie / TV science fiction (which are themselves often considered lesser than literary science fiction).
Watchmen won a Hugo Award and was declared one of the 100 best English-language novels by Time. When people read it, they are often stunned by its depth...when they read it. When they don't, they say, "Oh, if it's so good, why isn't it as popular as Batman and Superman comics?"
Which, of course, ignores the fact that Watchmen is one of the best selling comic books of all time.
...suggesting that the answer is "because it's only one volume."
The Hugo Awards added a one-time category "Other Forms", which is the award that Watchmen won. Some thought that this was an attempt to avoid having to give the "best novel" award to a comic book. In 2009 though, they added a separate category for Best Graphic Story (won by the then-current print volume of Girl Genius).
Although the claim that comics are artistically "inferior" to prose is just ignorant snobbery, it is legitimate to argue that comics should not be judged in the same category as prose, because comics are a fundamentally different medium. Judging a graphic novel alongside a prose novel is like comparing the prose novel to a play, or to a poem, or to a movie, or even to a painting. They are self-evidently different types of storytelling. Calling them the same thing probably does aid comics in gaining the prestige that prose is afforded in our society, but it makes it difficult for a contest's judges to objectively compare the merits of two such different things.
This is the argument that led the World Fantasy Awards to change the rules regarding qualification for the award after an issue of The Sandman (specifically Sandman #19, entitled A Midsummer Night's Dream) won in 1991. According to the revamped rules, comic books cannot even be entered for the award, much less actually win it again. Comic books can now only be considered for the Special Award Professional category. The World Fantasy Awards claims that this is not a change in the rules; however, that Sandman issue won as a short story, not as a special award.
Batman isn't a comic book anymore. Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight is a haunted film that leaps beyond its origins and becomes an engrossing tragedy.[..]This film, and to a lesser degree Iron Man, redefine the possibilities of the "comic-book movie."
Complaints about the latestIndiana Jones film often revolve around people being unable to accept aliens in Indy, despite them not being any less plausible than the radioactive Ark of the Covenant, Indian dark magic or the frigging Holy Grail in the previous films. This is because religion-induced magic and SF-induced magic are worlds apart by fandom and by shelving. It could also be about the inconsistency. For many people, the presence of the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail are definitive proof that the Abrahamic God actually exists in Indy's universe. It is therefore presumed that interdimensional aliens would not be allowed to turn up and start teaching primitive humans advanced knowledge, less still to induce said primitives to worship them. (If Jesus, Then Not Aliens.) Of course, you could equally argue that a) advanced aliens are a means to an end for God, or b) the Ark and the Grail are in fact technological artifacts crafted by said aliens, not divine artifacts.
Indeed, Frank Darabont's original script for Crystal Skull alluded to the idea that aliens were responsible for human religions.
There's also the fact that in real life, many people have pretended to be gods (many cult leaders, for example, but also many ancient rulers) or honestly believed themselves to be descended from gods (for example, Alexander the Great believed he was descended from Hercules and Zeus, while the Japanese royal family believe themselves to be the descendants of Amaterasu). God hasn't directly intervened to put a stop to that, so why would He be any more likely to step in and prevent aliens from claiming they're gods?
Some fans of The Matrix refused to call it sci-fi, as apparently "It's not sci-fi unless it's in space/the future". Even though it was explicitly set in the aftermath of a Robot War. Not to mention that it was set in the future; the sequences apparently taking place in The Present Day are illusionary, a virtual reality transmitted directly to the brains of artificially-grown humans.
“It’s no longer a science-fiction film. The balance of the story has been given back. It’s now a film that encompasses many genres, an epic about conflicts that are ages old. The science-fiction disguise is now very, very thin.”
Some people will insist that Star Wars is fantasy masquerading as sci-fi due to the fact that it does not attempt to explain its technobabble (which, of course, all true sci-fi must do) and its use of The Force as A Wizard Did It. While Star Wars does follow many of the classic heroic tropes of mythological fantasy (as described in Joseph Campbell's "Hero of a Thousand Faces"), claiming that it is "only" fantasy ignores the fact that Star Wars is no softer than most early sci-fi and the fact that something can be both.
Hell, David Brin had a full-blown, foaming-at-the-mouth essay or rant, depending on your point of view and followed it up with an entire book called Star Wars on Trial with him on "prosecution." Matt Stover headed up the "defense." Charges levelled against the Galaxy Far Far Away were that it was "mere" fantasy masquerading for SF, that it "dumbed down the genre," that GFFA was inherently sexist, feudal, and promoted ubermenschen and "midichlorian mutants" over the values that sci-fi was "supposed" to champion.
Note that a lot of the people saying Star Wars is "future fantasy" or "space fantasy" aren't saying one is better than the other, they're just trying to nail down its genre.
Liam Neeson said in a Radio 4 interview "Science fiction is set in the future, and this is set a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away".
It's amazing though, how many people think Star Wars does take place in the future, even though it tells you it's set in the past at the beginning of each movie. The fact that it has humans in it seems to make some people think it has to be in our future.
It has been claimed that the reason the first Star Wars movie didn't win the Oscar for Best Picture is that the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences are a bunch of artsy snobs who would never give such a high award to a [turns up nose haughtily] science fiction film. The fact that Star Wars lost out to Annie Hall may be evidence of that. (Or it may be evidence that the Academy is absolutely in love with Woody Allen and gave the award to Annie Hall because they wanted Woody Allen to win Best Picture for something.)
Let's not forget that Annie Hall resides in a deeper ghetto: both the Comedy Ghetto and the subset Romantic Comedy Ghetto - the latter of which is even looked down on worse by science fiction fans and the male demographic.
For some reason, action movies seem particularly prone to ignoring the ghetto. The Matrix, above, is a partial example, but a more illustrative one would be The Terminator, which is referred to as action far more often than sci-fi or horror, and certainly more than action sci-fi. Then again, which is more important to the series: the fact that it has time-travelling robots, the fact that those robots are ruthlessly stalking a helpless protagonist (in the first movie, at least) like something out of her worst nightmaresnote Or, more specifically, James Cameron's nightmares — he got the idea for the film from a dream about a robot skeleton rising from flames., or the coolness of the fights those robots get into?
Unfortunately there already is an established name for that genre: Cyber Punk.
The Thing is a story about men going up against a shape-shifting extraterrestrial monster unlike anything on Earth. You'll almost always see it listed among the top horror films (and it is a great horror story), but you'll very rarely see it listed as the piece of incredible science fiction it also happens to be.
This is the reason that the executives at MGM insisted on changing the ending of The Wizard of Oz to make it clear that the Land of Oz only existed in Dorothy's imagination. In the book, it was a genuine fantasyland, but they didn't think the audience could ever take that seriously. Sure enough, The Wizard of Oz is still recognized as one of the most popular and iconic films ever made, but many people would still argue that it "doesn't count" as a fantasy film because of the ending.
James Cameron is an interesting case when it comes to this. He's regarded as one of the greatest directors in Hollywood by moviegoers and professional critics alike (even those whose tastes lean toward the highbrow). And all but two of his films are either sci-fi or horror. It's a different case when it comes to the Academy, however, with Titanic being his only film to be nominated for major Oscars and actually win.
The Western also long suffered from this kind of effect, as demonstrated by the way many critics wrote that High Noon was "more than a Western" or movie histories that proceeded from the belief that the Spaghetti Westerns of the mid-1960 were the first ones to revise and deconstruct the genre, apparently unaware that e. g. The Searchers (1956) even existed, quite possibly because it was directed by genre veteran John Ford.
John Connolly is a well-known mystery writer, who also wrote The Book Of Lost Things, wherein a boy travels through a Fractured Fairy Tale world to rescue his baby brother from a monster; The Gates, wherein cultists open a portal to hell in Central Park; and Nocturnes, a short-story collection heavy on the Nightmare Fuel. Guess what section Barnes & Noble puts them in? And it's worth noting, these aren't even fantasy-mysteries. Straight-up horror-fantasy all the way.
Inverted by Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. In spite of it being a mixture of historical and contemporary fiction, he insisted it be published as science fiction, on the grounds that science fiction is not so much a genre as an attitude. Then William Gibson followed suit with Pattern Recognition, dubbing it "A tale of Future Present" and possibly giving a name to the movement, if it ever catches on. Which is ironic, given that William Gibson hates naming subgenres.
The attitude is important, but the fact that almost half the book is set in fictional cultures or countries might also be important. The modern plot wouldn't have happened without the Sultan of Kinakuta's e-business policies, and the island of Qwghlm was too perfect a setting for the WWII cryptology plot to actually exist in the real world. This said, fictional cultures or countries are not themselves exclusive to science fiction or fantasy.
The Dune series is Sci-fi, of the best kind, but you'll still find people complaining about it being shelved in the Sci-fi/fantasy section.
According to an article in the Sunday Times Online, Salman Rushdie's first novel, Grimus, was about to win an award for best SF novel of the year, but the publishers withdrew at the last minute. They didn't want Rushdie painted as an SF writer. If it happens to H. G. Wells, you'll know it's time to start the revolution.
It must've worked, because almost all of his books have sci-fi or fantasy elements yet are considered Lit Fic.
Margaret Atwood also made the infamous comment that Oryx and Crake wasn't science fiction because SF is about "talking squid in space", which went memetic in the SF community. Later, her benchmark became "talking cabbages" and "Planet X".
There are signs that Atwood has mellowed; she even participated in an online article for The Guardian titled Why We Need Science-Fiction It seems she's seen the error of her ways.
By the same token, there's a display in the window of King's College, London of graduates who have gone on to greater things. Susan Hill, Hanif Kureishi and Thomas Hardy are all "writers" or "novelists." Sir Arthur C. Clarke is specifically identified as a "sci-fi writer."
J. K. Rowling is infamous for saying that she "didn't realize that she was writing a fantasy story" until she finished the first Harry Potter book. This trope is presumably why the series has not won many notable awardsnote The series did win a few awards for Philosopher's Stone and Chamber of Secrets when they were first released in the UK, while the series was still gathering a following. After Prisoner of Azkaban was published, JKR publicly announced that she didn't want Harry Potter nominated for any book awards because she wanted to let other children's authors get exposure for their work.
That was a response to an interview question about whether she intended to write fantasy:
"Do you have any sort of target audience when you write these books?
Me. I truly never sat down and thought, What do I think kids will like? I really, really was so inflamed by the idea when it came to me because I thought it would be so much fun to write. In fact, I don't really like fantasy. It's not so much that I don't like it, I really haven't read a lot of it. [...] It didn't occur to me for quite a while that I was writing fantasy when I'd started "Harry Potter," because I'm a bit slow on the uptake about those things. I was so caught up in it. And I was about two thirds of the way through, and I suddenly thought, This has got unicorns in it. I'm writing fantasy!" (source)
An essay in a book called British Comedy Greats in which the author stubbornly and repeatedly insists that The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is not really science fiction. Because it's satirical, apparently. It is likely that the author was trying to make the distinction between genre as driving force of plot and genre as setting.
Several reviews for The Host on Amazon, have described the novel as sci-fi for people who don't like sci-fi.
This trope is lampooned in How To Survive A Horror Movie with regards to the horror genre. If you find yourself in a big-budget, respectable-looking horror movie (really?), then odds are good that you're not actually in a horror movie, but rather, in a Psychological Thriller. In which case, the only advice the book can offer is that your missing child probably never existed, and that your husband is the bad guy.
Inversion: The science-fiction trappings of I Am Legend often get exaggerated to the point of drowning its horror nature - two out of three movie adaptations calling the monsters mutants instead of vampires, and some copies of the book list it as science fiction rather than horror.
Roadside Picnic languished in a neighborhood of the Ghetto for years. In the afterword of the 2012 translation, Boris Strugatsky explains that for eight years he and his brother battled the Soviet censorship bureau denying the novel publication. They Bowdlerised the text quickly enough and the only political concern was that the Russian character be identified as a Soviet. What held the novel up was the censor's refusal to accept a sci fi story that was gritty and realistic; the protagonist is a real man struggling with himself, civilization's ugliness, and sneaking into the weird landfill-like Zone as a literal thief. The censors expected a square-jawed hero boldly exploring the great unknown for the benefit of humanity, nothing but pure escapist fantasy.
At the same time it should be mentioned that Vonnegut alluded the Sci-fi Ghetto repeatedly through his recurring character Kilgore Trout, the reported author of over 73 different novels (all published by different, now defunct publishers). In one book, a drunk Eliot Rosewater crashed a convention of Science Fiction writers to tell them that while they couldn't write, they were the only ones talking about the issues that matter.
Arguably Vonnegut got more annoyed that many of his works weren't SF, yet he was still considered a SF writer regardless. Mother Night, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Hocus Pocus and Jailbird have no Sci Fi. Nor does Breakfast Of Champions, one of his best works in the opinion of many, though features many discussions of SF stories by a SF writer character, and it does descend into metafiction. This is before we get into Timequake, which admits freely in the prologue and throughout the text that it's the remains of a novel ("Timequake One") he couldn't make work mixed in with his thoughts, experiences and recollections of the previous months, and a large dose of metafiction. "Timequake One" is as SF, or slightly less, than Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. His genre situation is possibly best summed up by the fact that in Foyle's, the famous bookshop in London, about half of his books are filed under Science Fiction and half under Fiction.
It should also be noted that, as the text of the article itself makes plain, science fiction was at that time still not universally known or accepted as a genre in the first place. Had Vonnegut been writing today then he no doubt would have found his doubts about the validity of the very idea of there being such a thing as sci-fi (which he thought was a stupid and generic term applied to anything that happens to "notice technology") too much of a minority or obsolete view to try to get any readers to take seriously. At that time, though, he was not the only person uncertain that the classification had any justification for existing in the first place. It was still a relatively young and less widespread label that was perhaps not yet fully defined.
Time's Arrow by Martin Amis was hailed as a revolutionary novel because it portrayed a man who observed time in reverse. Of course it wasn't sci-fi because Mr Amis is a proper author.
Andrzej Sapkowski (who himself joked his Witcher stories achieved broad popularity because someone called them "post-modern", thus acceptable for mainstream) spoke out against the sub-ghetto of fantasy within the broader Sci Fi Ghetto. As he said:
While I can place the equation mark between the ninth part of The Magic Shit and the ninth part of The Shit from Outer Space, I won't automatically assume superiority of the latter, even if it is shit positronic with titanium armour and fore- and aft-firing lasers.
In the same essay he compared behavior of Science-Fiction fans looking down on fantasy to hare from La Fontaine's The Hare and the Frogs - having their favorite genre being picked on by mainstream, they pick on fantasy just like cowardly hare scares frogs.
An NPR interview with a book critic went down some strange roads. The critic passionately defended Philip K. Dick for his mind-bending ideas and thought-provoking books, and went on to claim that Dick did not write science fiction. Because SF is bad, and Dick was a good writer.
A number of recent authors, including Cory Doctorow, have commented on the advantages of targeting science fiction toward the Young Adult market. It's a rather broader ghetto: adult science fiction gets hidden away in the "Sci-Fi/Fantasy" section of the bookstore. Write a story about aliens and zombies aimed at teenagers, and it'll get shelved in "Young Adult Fiction", right next to The Outsiders and Gossip Girl. If you don't see why this is a big deal, ask J. K. Rowling.
Apparently, when you get your Literature License you get a coupon entitling you to one free SF novel - preferably a dystopia or post-apocalypse tale. Once the coupon is used, you're in danger of becoming a "genre writer" if you produce another one.
David Mitchell (no, not that one) often has sections in his books which are unambiguously science fiction. Two of his books, Cloud Atlas and Ghostwritten contain several linked stories, and in both books at least one of the sections is unambiguously science fiction. Mitchell, a kind of literary ventriloquist, exhibits in the same books he can write in every genre from espionage thriller to Amis-style farce, so it's no surprise that his science fiction is very, very good. You won't find his books in the science fiction section, however, or wearing their SF elements with any pride. Like Atwood, Vonnegut and Ballard, he seems to be one of those writers the publishing companies feel is too good to really be science fiction.
Harlan Ellison is willing to admit that he writes speculative fiction, but hates the term "sci-fi" to the point that he's walked out of interviews on live TV. In Ellison's defense, he has no problem with the phrases "Science Fiction" or "Fantasy", he just hates the specific term "sci fi", because (as he has explained in a couple of rants) "it's dismissive".
He once told a young writer Paolo Bacigalupi to get out of the genre while he could. Take that as you will.
The same can arguably also be said for some of Lovecraft's earlier stories such as From Beyond and Herbert West- Reanimator, both of which were centered around science experiments Gone Horribly Right.
It can be said that the best-known author of that kind of "ghetto literature" gave their work a bent that set it apart from others of the same category, often combining it with another, usually entirely different genre. J. R. R. Tolkien's body of work had actually more in common with ancient and medieval mythology (which scholars usually don't dismiss outright as frivolous or unworthy of attention) than modern fantasy , though he pretty much gave birth to that genre. H.P. Lovecraft gave his horror stories a strong scientific-fictional bent, often writing them in the form of letters, diaries or reports. J. K. Rowling wrote a story that at that times reads more as a boarding school/coming of age/mystery novel, where the fantasy only offers the framework. C. S. Lewis wrote children novels that also qualified as allegories. Frank Herbert's Dune is set so far in the future that it might as well take place in an entirely different universe, and has strong fantasy elements in it. Robert A. Heinlein included social criticism in his work. George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World are more comments on politics and ideology which might have been set in entirely different genres without altering the stories that much (in fact, Orwell pulled that off when writing Animal Farm which has a lot in common with 1984, despite being the one in a sci-fi-setting and the other a fable).
John Ringo's works, in contrast, usually celebrate the fact they are in a SF Ghetto. He developed a good enough rapport with his publisher that, when he started writing special forces novels less Sci-Fi than Tom Clancy's, his spy novels are still found in that section.
The author Jonathan Lethem wrote four books that were usually put in the science fiction section of bookstores. Then he wrote a realistic fiction work called Motherless Brooklyn that met with great critical acclaim and won several awards. His books from before are now in the literature section. Nothing changed, besides the fact he wrote something that certainly wasn't SF.
Larry Niven wrote an essay titled Ghetto? But I thought... which begins by exploring the concept of Science Fiction as a literary ghetto, briefly describes a REAL Ghetto, concludes that Science Fiction is actually a country club, and then proceeds to segue into telling a series of quite funny stories about science fiction conventions.
Pullman has been compared so many times with Tolkien and Lewis, it galls him. "Despite the armoured bears and the angels, I don't think I'm writing fantasy," he says. "I think I'm writing realism. My books are psychologically real. So I would be most flattered if I was compared to George Eliot, Jane Austen or Henry James." There's a pause, and the tinkle of a wine glass. "But I don't expect anybody will."
SF writer John C. Wright has devoted an essay to the subject, speculating that the ghettoization came about because mainstream literature, steeped in the post-war nihilism and pessimism, felt distrustful and critical towards any work which appealed to colorful imagination.
Stanislaw Lem, the greatest of the greats of Eastern European Science Fiction, has towards the end of his life displayed active hostility towards the genre, dismissing it as being about "talking dogs in flying saucers". While this might have been due to his general bitterness and disillusionment with the human race, earlier in his career he also preferred to label himself a "futurologist". After the interview with the "talking dogs" phrase was published, some younger Polish authors expressed disappointment that their guru and source of inspiration endorses the ghettoization of the genre. On the other hand, one of those younger authors, Rafal Ziemkiewicz, has on many occasions spoken against labelling science fiction - and popular literature as a whole - as "worse" than high literature, arguing that popular literature is the field where many popular literary conventions are born before being picked up and embraced by the mainstream.
On the other hand, both of them also praised the ghetto for the opportunity to hide safely from the government, and get crap past the radar. Ziemkiewicz himself devotes himself almost entirely to politics now, for one. Even better example: another writer — a professor of sociology — wrote a sci-fi trilogy about the dynamics of power struggle in a failing totalitarian system because he was, for obvious reasons, unable to publish it as a scientific paper.
When we're about subject of Poland, mainstream writer Katarzyna Grochola in one interview said she is toying with the idea of writing story set in a world with laws of physics working differently than in ours. Polish bigger speculative fiction magazine responded with short essay by it's editor-in-chief in which he pointed out that this is the definition of science-fiction and welcomed her into sf crowd, subtly mocking the tendency of mainstream writers acting like they're doing something new and innovative and refusing to admit their work are just pretty standard science-fiction or fantasy.
Stephen King writes books involving magic, godlike beings, and aliens. He is best known as a "horror writer". While this is true (these elements are usually presented to maximize their 'horror' potential), as these elements suggest it is not the only genre he operates in, but it's notable that his most openly fantasy works, The Eyes of the Dragon and The Dark Tower, are also his least known by the general public. (Which doubles as a case of Magnum Opus Dissonance, incidentally.)
Not only that, in most bookshops all of King's works will be in the horror section, even the ones which have no elements of horror, sci-fi or fantasy (such as Different Seasons). Due in part to this, many people who are fans of completely "normal" movies like The Shawshank Redemption or Stand by Me aren't even aware that Stephen King wrote the stories they're based on.
Terry Pratchett, however, is a fantasy writer and also has stuff to say. He's quoted as saying, however, that he doesn't like the term "Magic Realism", because it basically means "a polite way of saying you write fantasy and is more acceptable to certain people." He has also commented that all of his books are considered fantasy and nothing else, regardless of the other genres he dabbles in.
He's also said that people from his publishers have told him that they've gone into bookshops and asked why his hugely successful books aren't being displayed in more prominent places. The answers amounted to "We don't like the fantasy to get out." note This is an author who has been compared to Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens and Mark Twain by serious critics.
Works by known science fiction authors tend to be classified as science fiction even when they're not. Isaac Asimov was particularly subject to that, given the breadth of his writing. An Easy Introduction to the Slide Rule was in a local bookstore's science fiction section.
Likewise, Andre Norton has written historical novels, spy stories, and Gothic romances. Guess where you'll find them (if you find them) in a bookstore or library (granted, at least two of the romances have fantasy elements).
Inverted by a local public library, which had Harry Turtledove's Guns of the South (a novel about time travellers changing the outcome of the US Civil War) classed as "Historical Fiction". The cover shows Robert E. Lee holding an AK-47.
Works of science fiction are often not considered to be science fiction if the writer is already well-known and respected for mainstream fiction. All too often, these writers don't themselves read SF, and thus don't understand the basic conventions of the genre and rarely have a sense for what's been done to death; while they may end up writing good literary fiction—er, li-fi—they usually commit bad science fiction.
This even applies to writers who work on obviously science-fictional projects. It's a common criticism leveled against Russell T Davies, for instance.
Interestingly, while Michael Crichton's works are usually under general fiction (despite all of them being somewhat sci-fi), his novel Timeline, for some reason, has been seen on the Fantasy shelf all alone. Maybe because it involves modern-day people traveling back in time to what's actually a very real Middle Ages past. Apparently, if it has a knight in it, it must be fantasy.
Historical Fiction is in general put in the fantasy section.
Orson Scott Card has commented on this phenomenon. His explanation boiled down to, at least in publisher's minds, "If it has rivets, it's Sci-Fi. If it has trees, it's Fantasy."
This troper's local Waterstones has Stephen Hawking books in the Sci-Fi section. Apparently, if it involves science AT ALL, it's Sci-Fi.
The Wuxia genre was also ghetto-ized, considered to be poorly-written pulpy escapist fantasy. Then Jin Yong came along and smashed that ghetto to bits (though anybody coming after him will have to contend with the tremendous shadow he cast).
Live Action TV
Better Off Ted is an interesting example of a show that from an objective perspective is probably sci-fi, but that is almost never considered as such, and so escapes this problem entirely. To be fair, it's very, very soft sci-fi, but the octo-chicken certainly doesn't count as realistic fiction (we hope.)
Part of its trouble is that it had picked up afterBattlestar Galactica's finale and the large number of disgruntled fans that produced. Also a large portion of Battlestar 's fans would have watched it for the fantastical sci-fi premise - a fleet of rag-tag ships on the run from a genocidal race of robots with, yes, plenty of spaceships and explosions, as well as the political drama. A sci-fi Soap Opera, even one set in the same universe, has a very different premise and may as well be a totally separate show altogether.
Of course, calling a show that is better written than an average daytime soap a "soap opera" might not have been the best marketing strategy.
Many viewers of Charmed complain about the show's later seasons saying that it was meant to be a show about three sisters who happened to be witches and labelling the later seasons as "demon hunters who happen to live under the same roof". In something of hypocrisy, the same fans praise the third and fourth seasons despite them being more fantasy and action oriented.
Chances are any of the show's fantasy themed episodes will be frowned upon by fans regardless of the actual plot. "A Witch's Tail" has a lengthy and interesting plot about Phoebe trying to escape from how suffocating her life has become but nope it has a mermaid, how childish.
Doctor Who, although it's one of those properties about which it is practically impossible to somehow claim that it isn't science fiction (or science fantasy or what-have-you) - at least, not without completely losing all credibility - this didn't mean that the producers didn't give it their best shot; notice how in the run-up to the relaunch of the show and subsequent marketing, the producers were and have been careful to stress that the show is now more about relationships (and romantic relationships especially) than it previously was, with the whole 'adventures in time and space' which was (and is, it just has relationships on top of it) primarily the central focus downplayed. Considering that the show prior to 2005 was regarded as a creaky, slightly irrelevant old relic and post-2005 is now a major media juggernaut seemingly beloved by all - most especially critics - something obviously worked.
In the US, Doctor Who is still in the Sci Fi Ghetto due to its checkered broadcast history. During the show's original run, PBS was its US distributor, which immediately meant that it was never going to attain a wide audience like shows on the BigThreenetworks. Worse, PBS stations generally aired it only at Otaku O'Clock. Getting Screwed by the Network had nothing to do with the show's content, and everything to do with the fact that it was a British show; on most PBS stations it was shown in blocks with things like Monty Python's Flying Circus and Are You Being Served?, which always had comparatively smaller audiences in the States. The 2005 revival was even worse off in this regard, because until Sci Fi Channel actually decided to run the show they had the US rights to, it was only broadcast in repeats on BBC America, a network that, until quite recently, huge chunks of the country didn't even get unless they had digital cable or satellite.
In a business decision that can only be regarded as insane, SyFy gave up the first run rights on Doctor Who to BBC America. BBC America, who unlike SyFy seem to genuinely love the show, have promoted it to death and the 2008-2010 specials (which SyFy refused to air) and the first Eleventh Doctor season gave BBC America its best ratings ever. Even though its easily the among the highest rated non-American shows on American television, it still isn't as ingrained in mainstream pop culture in the US as it is in Britain. The fact that its not only British, but a science fiction show, probably has something to with it.
Whilst the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation funded the show, promoted the hell out of their involvement before the first episode, then exiled the drama to obscure timeslots and then stopped sending BBC cheques.
One of the multiple showrunners FlashForward has had described it as "not being science fiction" but instead just being a "drama". Not only does the show have a clear sci-fi premise, the entire first half of season 1 (likely the only season) focused on the investigation into the sci-fi event.
Not to mention it's based on a novel by Robert J. Sawyer, whose website is called sfwriter.com
The New York Times review is particularly guilty of this, to the point where it at times practically reads as a checklist of pretentiousness; as well as many of the other hallmarks of this trope (sniffy assumption of fantasy being inherently inferior to real-world stories, presumption that fantasy is only 'for boys', endless comparison to The Lord of the Rings and Dungeons & Dragons because, of course, they must all be the same, and so forth), the author chides HBO for straying from its usual focus, arguing that the network is "a corporate auteur committed, when it is at its most intelligent and dazzling, to examining the way that institutions are made and how they are upheld or fall apart" and citing The Sopranos, The Wire and Rome as examples of this. Leaving aside the fact that 'corporate auteur' is a fundamentally nonsensical contradiction-in-terms, the kicker is that except for the fact that it's set in a fantasy world instead of the real one, "the way institutions are made and how they are upheld or fall apart" is exactly what the show is about.
Ditto with LOST, which is still more explicit in its combination of bizarre sci-fi elements (the present) with "realistic" drama (the "past" and "future").
Since its time-travel heavy Seasons 4 and 5, the creators have been more vocal about categorizing LOST as sci-fi, saying: "You can go, "Oh, it's not a genre show, because I don't like genre shows, but I like Lost. Therefore, Lostis not a genre show." That's the logic they apply. Well, we've been writing a genre show from the word go. We're sorry that it's getting more genre." Note though that this hasn't always squared with what they've said before or with the show's marketing (where it's usually described as a straightforward drama).
Northern Exposure is a fantasy. It has prescient dreams, ghosts, aliens and man who can fly under his own power. People tend to look at you funny if you actually point out that it was one of the most successful fantasy programs in network television history. Lacking elves and whatnot it gets pigeonholed as Magic Realism.
Stewart himself defies the ghetto, stating that his years of classical training were "practice" for the role of Captain Picard.
This sad fate was part of what befell The 10th Kingdom. There were people who turned it on, spotted fairy tale elements (Never mind the Deconstructor Fleet) and immediately turned it off, thinking it was for kids.
Terra Nova - Creator Brannon Braga is reluctant to call his show science fiction, even though it involves future humans traveling back in time to the late Cretaceous period. For more see in this article.
In its early years, the Sci-Fi Ghetto and the FOX Network actually became connected in a lot of people's minds, probably because its debut schedule included Werewolf and its first non-sitcom hit was The X-Files. People described X-Files as "a FOX-style suspense program", in such a way that "FOX" equated to "with scifi/fantasy elements".
Chris Carter has tried to distance his creation from sci-fi, stating the The X-Files "takes place in the realm of extreme possibility".
Interviews with people from The 4400 and Battlestar Galactica insisted that their shows are "so much more than just a sci-fi show". Because apparently, science fiction doesn't involve relationships, politics, or takes on current issues.
TV Guide justified their admiration of Battlestar by insisting, "Oh, it isn't really science fiction!"
The New Battlestar and Caprica are described as dramas with sci fi elements by the writers, they at least are not trying to hide the science fiction, even if fans accuse them of down playing it.
Nigel Kneale is possibly the poster-boy for this trope. Throughout his professional and working career, he frequently and vocally expressed a disdain for science fiction; however, most of his works were either outright science fiction or heavily relied on science fiction elements and tropes. Of particular note is the Quartermass series, which is widely credited with pretty much spearheading British television science fiction.
Sci-fi comedies have their own ghetto-within-a-ghetto: despite the success of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Red Dwarf, The BBC remain very cagey about sci-fi comedy - taking years to commission a new one in Hyperdrive... which then turned out to not be very good, giving them an excuse to stop doing sci-fi comedies at all.
If you would like to see desperate literary snobbery coupled with hilarious pretentiousness, why not ask a professor of Shakespeare why the ghosts and witches in Mac Beth, or the fairies and angels in A Midsummer Night's Dream don't qualify the plays as fantasy?
Your results may vary - there are some professors who do believe that Mac Beth and A Midsummer Night's Dream are in fact fantasy and do hold them up as an example as to how fantasy can be literature as well.
Might And Magic offers a strange example. Although the CRPG series were heavily into sci-fi (hand to hand with heroic fantasy), this was not obvious for the turn-based strategy titles, Heroes of Might and Magic. Thus, when the third installment of the series attempted to insert a faction called "Forge", containing sci-fi elements of the interconnected RPG series, the fans were so displeased that the developers even received death threats (!) which resulted in the faction been scrapped.
When learning the writing skill in The Sims 3, the Sim in question will learn a different genre at each skill level (at level 0, they can only write fiction and non-fiction). At level 1, the Sims learns to write science fiction. At level 2, they learn the "trashy" genre. That's right, according the The Sims 3, trashy novels are harder to write than science fiction.
In 2011 Game Informer magazine did a poll on what readers thought was the best military First-Person Shooter released up to that point. They discounted the votes for Halo on grounds that Halo is a sci-fi shooter, not a military shooter. Apparently Game Informer has never heard of Military Science Fiction.
Video games in general tend not to suffer from this, and indeed most of the truly successful (non-sports based) games of the past decade have had at least faint hints of science fiction or fantasy, and many of them have been openly and unashamedly embracing of it. This may perhaps be to do with the fact that the medium is suffering from its own ghetto, and that it has until recently been primarily the preserve of the type of people who tend to also be interested in science-fiction and fantasy.
Alicorn's Earthfic is a short story that inverts this - society no longer takes seriously works that don't have speculative elements, to the consternation of the protagonist.
Nyrath's Atomic Rockets pages are one of the best resources available on the web for the aspiring hard science fiction writer, detailing real-world spacecraft designs (both ones that have really flown and those on the drawing board), issues with extraterrestrial colonies, how a war in space might actually be fought, etc.. Yet even on these hallowed pages, a form of the Sci Fi Ghetto occasionally appears. Sometimes when a proposed technology simply could not work in the real universe — due to violating Einsteinian relativity or conservation of momentum or whatnot — the site labels it as "pure science fiction."
Since the True Art attitude—more specifically, the sometimes arrogant and superior attitudes it may inspire—are one of SF Debris's Berserk Buttons, he has sometimes ranted on this trope in reviews of particular works that sometimes get this attitude. He also sometimes points out sometimes complex and subtle literary references, as well as great story writing in those works that often get dismissed as standard sci-fi shlock.
James Rolfe mentions a "horror ghetto" similar to the sci-fi ghetto in his Exorcist II The Heretic review, discussing how The Exorcist was one of those rare horror movies that managed to get nominated for (and actually win) awards. He mentions several movies such as The Hurt Locker who have been given awards, then says "put some zombies and vampires into those movies and see how many awards they get."
Many scifi fans are familiar with walking past row after row of mystery and romance novels in bookstores both new and used to find a single row or a tiny shelf of "Scifi/Fantasy". There is actually more scifi and fantasy in the store than on the shelf, the reader just has to manually search for it in the other stacks.
Likewise, fans of Horror novels have had to walk around the same section.
Many book stores have it set up so that there's a "nerd ghetto" with the science fiction, fantasy, manga, and comics, along with rulebooks and dice for various Tabletop Games.
Most collegiate creative fiction classes expressly deny the option to write anything other than literary fiction. You might hear a variety of reasons for this, ranging from the idea that genre fiction cares more about setting than plot or characterization, or simply that the class is designed specifically to focus on literary fiction and you should go and take the genre fiction class instead. On a similar note many Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) programs, the terminal degree for creative writing, will not admit "genre writers."
This has led critics of this attitude to say that the "creative" part of "creative writing" is a misnomer, since you're only allowed to be creative within a certain box.
Hilariously, the same classes will often say that, then teach Slaughterhouse Five in the same session. Literary fiction was always a stodgy, artificial distinction anyways.
You can expect the same with horror, as well.
Veronica Roth, the author of the popular Divergent YA series, once recalled in her blog about how a professor in her creative writing class had said that writing fantasy would be like an easy vacation compared to "real writing". She also recounted how surprised her fellow students were whenever she told them that she wanted to write commercial genre YA, with them asking if she was just trying to get her bills paid.
Believe it or not, there are actually movements in universities to try averting these - some professors believe that Pulp magazines or that popular and contemporary fiction should still be critically studied the same way other works are, especially since Mythology and fairy tales sometimes get a free pass.
China Miéville has written an essay saying that Science fiction should be considered equal to literature because many of them include a rational discourse of scientific literature.
The 'Sci Fi Channel' is apparently changing its name to 'SyFy' because it "more clearly captures the mainstream appeal of the world's biggest entertainment category, and reflects the network's ongoing strategy to create programming that's more accessible and relatable to new audiences." The name SyFy can also be trademarked, in contrast to "Sci-Fi," which is a generic, pre-existing term. Many critics accused the channel of trying to distance themselves from negative stereotypes of science fiction.