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Sci-Fi Ghetto

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The real reason behind this stigma.
Image by Tom Gauld. Used with permission.

"[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.'"

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 torturous 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 for the Lowest Common Denominator of nerds who only indulge in escapism and not facing their own awful lives. On the other end of the spectrum, science fiction is often seen as boring, emotionally distant, dreary, and worst of all pretentious Doorstoppers, with impenetrable jargon, and use of a number of tropes that cater only to those who are familiar with the genre, rarely attracting casual readers and instead attracting equally pretentious idiots. 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. While plenty of examples from the genre that reflect these criticisms do of course exist, to dismiss the entire genre based on them ignores the fact that Sturgeon's Law applies to science-fiction no less than any other genre. While it's true that even accepted classics of the genre can take time getting used to read, owing to its arcane content, the same is true for classical literature and poetry, which is impenetrable without some basic knowledge of Greek and Roman myth. Like any work that is ghettoized, its initial admirers form a subculture, who in many cases do in fact live up to the unfortunate stereotypes of science fiction fans as a bunch of weird dorky obsessives with no social skills. These fans, and especially fans who become writers, don't do favors when a work manages to be successful by appealing to a broader audience, who can often be painted as Category Traitor.

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 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, television as well), but you'll rarely see 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 gorn and exploitation stand in for plot and characters. Then there's the romance genre. In general, many critics view romance novels as nothing but the Extruded Book Product of companies like Harlequin and the worst depths of YA fiction, pandering to a Lowest Common Denominator of housewives and teenage girls who want to dream of an exciting new man. Romantic films get treated with a bit more respect, especially older ones (see: Casablanca, Annie Hall, much of Audrey Hepburn's filmography), but the very existence of the term Chick Flick shows that the stereotype exists there, too. In this case, it typically overlaps heavily with the Girl-Show Ghetto, the implication being that no self-respecting man would ever read a romance novel.

In the case of movies, the ghetto especially affects actors in genre movies. The perception in cinema is that science-fiction, horror, and fantasy, depend far more on special effects, costumes, writing, and direction than acting. Actors who appear in these works rarely get notice for their good performances, being rarely nominated, and almost never winning. Boris Karloff for instance was considered by his peers, by directors, and critics, as an excellent actor but since he often appeared in parts where he had to wear heavy makeup, and often played monsters, his work never really won the acknowledgement it deserved. The situation is inverted in recent years, especially in the superhero genre, where directors and producers cast critically-acclaimed actors who normally appear in independent and offbeat films to play major blockbuster roles, precisely to give them additional depth, but these are treated as "paycheck films" i.e. roles that give them financial security to later do films they really care about, and few consider their performances in these films as excellent in their own right. There's also the Comedy Ghetto which has the same issues but is something entirely separate, since even in the science fiction genre, a comic take on the genre rarely gets respect.

Keep in mind the ghetto may actually be American-centric. In Europe and Japan, talented authors in a variety of genres are critically respected and acclaimed. The most known among them are H. G. Wells and Jules Verne. Verne is to this day the second most translated author in the world behind Agatha Christie. Yet given how America dominates the global market in culture and influence, it's still widely known and enforced.

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 or Fantastic Ghetto.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • A variation of this is discussed in the second episode of the Lucky Star anime, when the main character and Otaku Surrogate Konata brings up a poll to determine how many books the average Japanese citizen reads in a year - the poll specifically excludes manga, though no such restriction is placed on the comparable media of light novels and children's picture books. She goes on to wonder how people can say that illiteracy is increasingly common among young people, pointing out that blogs and web pages in general take up a major part of the average teen's free time, and they are as wordy, if not more.

    Comic Books 
  • Charley's War: It's probably the most underestimated British graphic novel/magazine comic series sold in the States, made worse by bookstores stacking them along with Judge Dredd and other 2000 AD titles — because Pat Mills wrote it. It's an extremely realistic series of WWI war stories.
  • Kieron Gillen admitted that for some time he believed in the fantasy sub-ghetto (mostly because of being critical towards the Standard Fantasy Setting and related tropes) and would prefer to call himself a "speculative fiction writer" until his ex-girlfriend pointed out to him that if the 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).
  • Parodied in Grant Morrison's JLA:Classified, in which, faced with an apparently alien invasion, Batman is forced to resort to the contents of his literal "sci-fi closet".
  • Bill Maher wrote that the number of people mourning the death of Stan Lee was pitiful, and that the fact that so many adults cared about comic books was contemptuous. Neil Gaiman fired back, saying more people cared that Lee died than did so about Maher being alive.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Notably averted by American Film Institute's 10 Top 10: classic films not commonly thought of as sci-fi (e.g. A Clockwork Orange) or fantasy (e.g. It's a Wonderful Life, King Kong, Miracle on 34th Street) are still listed as such, since they technically do qualify. Alongside them are conventional genre staples like The Lord of the Rings and Aliens.
  • Even compliments can do this at times. Roger Ebert's review of The Dark Knight starts off by declaring:
    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."
    • It should be noted that Ebert was a vehement supporter of science fiction and fantasy, blasting the idea that they couldn't be as powerful as grounded dramas (he often brought up Dark City as one of his favorite movies of all time) and several superhero films he placed in his annual best-films lists, including Superman: The Movie, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2, and Iron Man, even when the Academy failed to recognize them in its Best Picture fields.
  • Donnie Darko is almost always interpreted as an allegorical Mind Screw rather than a fantasy film about an unstable time loop that Donnie has to fix. Richard Kelly has repeatedly said it is a comic book movie, and Donnie is a superhero, and the Director's Cut drives this home.
  • 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".note  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.
  • Fritz Lang's seminal science fiction epic Metropolis, after many decades of re-edits and presumably lost footage, has now been almost fully restored. Film historian Martin Koerber, who oversaw the two most recent restoration projects, had this to say:
    “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.”
  • Pandorum was hardly a critical success at the box office. It was marketed as a horror film, but in the end explained everything, probably annoying the hell out of people who like their horror left mysterious and unexplained. However as a sci-fi film, it's pretty good.
  • Star Wars is arguably the biggest victim of this ghetto:
    • Some of the weirder arguments against Star Wars is that its fantasy and not science-fiction because it does not attempt to explain its technobabble with pseudo-science that could easily be undone in a couple of decades of real world advancement. Star Wars is inspired by a wider range of references, i.e. the classic heroic tropes of mythological fantasy (as described in Joseph Campbell's "Hero of a Thousand Faces") but then this is also true for many other literary and filmic science-fiction before and after. Star Wars is no softer than most early sci-fi and the fact that something can be both. David Brin wrote an essay and followed it up with an entire book called Star Wars on Trial with him on "prosecution." Matt Stover headed up the "defense." Charges leveled against Star Wars is that it was "mere" fantasy masquerading for SF, that it "dumbed down the genre," which only works if you accept science-fiction over fantasy, and ghettoize the latter in favor of the former. 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, when the point of Lucas' films is to break down both categories so as to bring people from multiple fandoms together.
    • Some fans and critics go the other way and argue that use of classic heroic tropes raises Star Wars to mythological fantasy like the works of J. R. R. Tolkien or William Shakespeare rather than mere "sci-fi". 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."
    • The ghetto probably contributed to the belief by everyone involved in the production (even George Lucas) that the original film would flop; in the midst of the New Hollywood era, it was assumed audiences wanted to see mature films about mature subjects, not some silly Space Opera fluff. The film's success made many people write off its artistic merits for its popularity, and many people see Lucas as a Sell-Out for betraying what the movement stood for.
    • Toshiro Mifune was actually the first choice to play Obi-Wan and he turned it down for a similar reason, along with the fact he was self-conscious about his English language skills. The only name actor in A New Hope was Alec Guinness, two-time Oscar winner and British thespian. Guinness was skeptical of the material but actually liked Lucas personally, and got on board with the film. Contrary to popular belief, Guinness actually liked playing Obi-Wan and was disappointed when Lucas killed him off mid-production to give the film stakes. In later years, however, Guinness resented younger fans who kept asking him about Obi-Wan rather than his other work on stage and film. Amusingly his performance snagged him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor; he's the only actor to get an Oscar nomination for a Star Wars role to date.
  • 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 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 the coolness of the fights those robots get into?
    • Take it or leave it, but the filmmakers said that the "Tech Noir" club was named as such because they thought that they were more or less creating a new genre (sci-fi fused with noir) and were hoping the term would catch on. Which was strange, because Film Noir used to be pretty disreputable in and of itself. Unfortunately there already is an established name for that genre: Cyberpunk. A term Newer Than They Think: Bruce Bethke coined the name in a short story from 1980, but it wouldn't be published in 1983 and not receive widespread use until the release of Neuromancer that came out in the same year as The Terminator.
  • This is why Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer insisted on changing the ending of The Wizard of Oz to establish Oz as a Dream Land in Dorothy's imagination. In the original Land of Oz series, L. Frank Baum clearly established Oz as a genuine Magical Land, but MGM's executives didn't think the audience could take that seriously. Sure enough, The Wizard of Oz is still recognised as one of the most popular and iconic films ever made, but many people still argue that it "doesn't count" as fantasy because it turned out to be All Just a Dream.
  • 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 (The Terminator, The Abyss, Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Avatar, Alita: Battle Angel, Terminator: Dark Fate) 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, even during its heyday in the '40s and '50s. This is 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. It's notable too that only three Westerns have ever won the Oscar for Best Picture.note  Even Spaghetti Westerns were Vindicated by History, both for their enduring popularity and influence on pop culture. Roger Ebert reviewed The Good, the Bad and the Ugly as one of his first films and gave it three stars and admitted when he put it on his Great Movies list that the movie was a four-star film and that the only reason he had given it 3 stars back in his original review was that a four-star review would have been too unexpected at the time.
    • Westerns made outside of the United States Of America and Italy still get this a lot though. One of the previews of the Franco-Belgian film "Les Cowboys" notes that it is thankfully not a French Western. As it is a place where people such as Mœbius came from, you would expect more respect from critics.
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is usually referred to as a romantic drama film or a psychological drama, despite being based around a premise that wouldn't seem the least bit out of place in a Philip K. Dick novel (a fictional technology that allows one to selectively erase a person's memories). Nevertheless, it's one of the most critically acclaimed films of the 2000s and won an Oscar for its screenplay.
  • Prior to the 1930s, almost all American horror films were careful to provide plausible explanations for any seemingly supernatural story elements, as seen in London After Midnight, The Phantom of the Opera, The Cat and the Canary, etc. It was generally believed that audiences considered the supernatural silly and wouldn't take such a film seriously. Dracula was considered a major risk for Universal specifically because it contained no cop-outs: the vampire really was a vampire, and the film's (now lost) coda went out of its way to make absolutely certain audiences knew it.
  • The Skeleton Key is a horror movie and was marketed as such. Critics trashed it, especially the performance of Kate Hudson. However audiences were more favourable and the general reaction to Hudson's performance from viewers is She Really Can Act. The film did gross over $90 million at the Box Office, so it seems as though it fell into the ghetto with critics but not audiences.
  • Much like The Silence of the Lambs, The Hateful Eight is very rarely called a horror movie, even though Quentin Tarantino and Ennio Morricone have outright said that it's horror and that the score was composed with this in mind.
  • Discussed in Clouds of Sils Maria, where Maria and her assistant Valentine go out to see Jo-Ann's latest film, an incredibly campy mess of superhero, sci-fi, and YA dystopian cliches. While having dinner afterwards, Maria tells Valentine that she could literally feel her brain cells dying as she watched it, while Valentine tries to defend its merits and those of Jo-Ann as an actress, arguing that Maria probably would've loved the film if it'd been set in a factory or on a farm — which Maria happily admits to, saying that she can't take a film set on a spaceship seriously and frequently bursting into laughter as Valentine lists off numerous fantastical plot elements in the course of defending the film.
  • Get Shorty: In-Universe, as Karen regards doing genre movies as being beneath her talents, which Chili argues against.
  • The Innocents was met with scratched heads when it was first released. Ghost stories at the time were seen as pulpy B-movies, so the film's aversion of those tropes turned off a lot of horror fans (some Hammer Horror buffs complained that it wasn't gory enough). On the flipside, critics didn't know how to take a horror film that in their mind had "too much thunder and lightning" to appeal to the art crowd. However it has since been Vindicated by History and is considered one of the best horror films ever made. Even at the time, its star Deborah Kerr - who had five Oscar nominations and starred in the likes of From Here to Eternity, The King and I and An Affair to Remember - called this her best performance.
  • David Edelstein's Rolling Stone piece on David Cronenberg's The Fly (1986) (published about a month after its initial release) argued that it too was caught between the expectations of both "traditional" horror fans and critics. The former, used to Slasher Movies at that point, weren't happy that this film's Body Horror and violence were upsetting rather than thrilling; the latter objected to how far those elements were taken, seeing it as nigh-obscene. Edelstein and several other critics, however, recognized the artistic point of the gruesomeness — a metaphorical examination of life and love in the face of disease and death — and championed the film as what horror should be and had been before the slasher wave cheapened things. It ended up doing well at the box office, provided Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis with Star Making Roles, became a (surprisingly!) rare case of a horror movie winning a Best Makeup Oscar, and is now regarded as one of the best films of its decade.
  • Back in the 1940s, the musical Yolanda & the Thief was a Box Office Bomb, and film historians theorise that it was because audiences were turned off by its overt fantasy elements.
  • The Craft was considered a very risky gamble in the mid-90s - because it was a teen film that dealt with witchcraft in a fantastical way. The filmmakers have stressed that it was even before the Young Adult demographic was a thing (its release pre-dated Harry Potter by two years) - so they had no clue who they were even marketing the film to. They realised who their audience was when hundreds of goths and punks showed up to the trailer release party. It became a Sleeper Hit that grossed $55 million.
  • Get Out (2017) was written and filmed as a horror movie, but once it became popular, was labelled as a Psychological Thriller, mirroring what happened with Silence of the Lambs. Jordan Peele was so annoyed by this, he personally labelled his next film Us as a horror movie.
  • The VVitch experienced similar treatment, with some people claiming it doesn't count as a horror movie due to its lack of Jump Scares, Gorn or gratuitous nudity.
  • Jennifer's Body suffered from the studio marketing it as a trashy Megan Fox Fanservice vehicle (the writer Diablo Cody recalls the original marketing campaign literally being "Megan Fox hot") that led to audiences either ignoring it or being disappointed with the end product (one reviewer complained the film wasn't sexy enough). As the years went by, the film's statements about rape culture, girl on girl crime and victim blaming have been seen in a better light.
  • Cary Elwes tried to insist that Bram Stoker's Dracula was really "a thriller" rather than a horror - even though it was an adaptation of one of the best known horror novels of all time and, aside from the addition of a romance between Dracula and Mina, is 100% true to the book's horror content.
  • In-universe in Scream (2022), where Tara is a horror fan but insists that she prefers "elevated horror" like The Babadook. Ghostface then mocks her for being pretentious.

  • Aniara is a glorious aversion; it was well-received by critics, literati and the general public alike, and instrumental in winning its author a Nobel Prize.
  • Atlanta Nights itself is not a work of science fiction (ostensibly, it is a murder mystery), but it merits special mention as its creation lies in the invocation of the Sci-Fi Ghetto. Publish America is a vanity press whose website claims that it only accepts high-quality manuscripts from authors, but in actual fact, they will publish anything at the cost of the author. It owns a website called Authors Market, where it stated in two separate articles that science fiction and fantasy, by their very nature, are bad and do not meet the standards of credible literature. A set of sci-fi and fantasy authors retaliated and produced a stupendously rubbish manuscript that was accepted by Publish America. Here's a quote from one of the articles, Only trust your eyes, which inspired this retaliation:
    "But, alas, the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres have also attracted some of the lesser gods, writers who erroneously believe that Sci-Fi, because it is set in a distant future, does not require believable storylines, or that Fantasy, because it is set in conditions that have never existed, does not need believable every-day characters. Obviously, and fortunately, there are not too many of them, but the ones who are indeed not ashamed to be seen as literary parasites and plagiarists, are usually the loudest, just like the proverbial wheel that needs the most grease."
  • Canopus in Argos: Chronicles by Nobel Prize winner Doris Lessing is a series of five books spanning thousands of years and thousands of light years. The author herself seemed to have nothing against science-fiction (as the foreword to book 1 Shikasta shows), but would you find it on sci-fi shelves in bookstores and libraries? No way. The same author also wrote Memoirs of a Survivor, which is future dystopia.
  • 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.
  • Orson Scott Card wrote a foreword to Ender's Game, railing against the Sci-Fi Ghetto. Well, that and the fact he was accused of failing psychology forever by people working with talented kids and less so by actual talented kids.
  • 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's near-future (at the time of writing) The Handmaid's Tale was obviously social/cultural science-fiction note  (and even won a prestigious scifi award), but she refused to admit that. Another Atwood novel, Oryx and Crake, is even more blatantly science fiction: genetic engineering has run amok and destroyed everybody except the protagonist.
    • 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.
      • The genre confusion surrounding Atwood's books seem to stem from the fact that she uses the term "speculative fiction" rather than "dystopia", but given the settings of The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake, her work undeniably falls under that heading. All dystopian novels (Brave New World, Nineteen Eighty-Four and so on) make heavy use of sci-fi elements, but their main focus is on society, which appears to be the point she's making by refusing to refer to her work as sci-fi.
  • 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."
  • In-universe example in The Jane Austen Book Club. The One Guy is a sci-fi nerd and keeps recommending his sci-fi books to his love interest Jocelyn. She refuses to read them at first because she looks down on them, stating she prefers things about "real people" — comparing them unfavorably to the works of Jane Austen that they're reading. She decides to read them anyway, gets through them all in one night and is then found at a news stand trying to buy another.
  • 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. The sci-fi ghetto is why some fans think the series has not won many notable awards, but this is not (entirely) the case.note 
    • 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 (2008) on Amazon have described the novel as sci-fi for people who don't like sci-fi.
  • How to Survive a Horror Movie lampoons the horror ghetto. 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.
  • L. Ron Hubbard spent much of his introduction to Battlefield Earth lambasting Fantasy as inferior to what he calls "pure Science Fiction'' which, so he argues, makes an attempt to meaningfully advance the cause of science, while fantasy is all made up.
  • Inversion: The science-fiction trappings of I Am Legend often get exaggerated to the point of drowning out 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.
  • An early Soviet edition of The Lord of the Rings which was heavily revamped to look like Sci-Fi (obvious cause: publication of some "suspicious" "fantasy" was unthinkable, whereas Sci-Fi had some respect). Just one quote: "It's not a Ring, it's some kind of gadget".
  • 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.
  • The Strugatsky Brothers may, in fact, be partly credited for the sci-fi ghetto taking less drastic shapes in the Soviet and post-Soviet literature and literary criticism. Because hard science fiction was seen by the censors as generally "in line" with Socialist Realism and later similarly politically appropriate genres, this flavor of the fantastic has never been marginalized to the same degree as in Western criticism (fun fact: the genre label "fantastica" still means "science fiction" in vernacular Russian, while "fantasy" is a newer loanword). The Strugatskys, however, used that mandate to explore very close-to-home social and philosophical issues in their very science fiction novels, irritating the censors to no end with their subversiveness, but also going a long way to teach several generations of Russian readers that the fantastic and "literary merit" are not mutually exclusive concepts.
  • Kurt Vonnegut would sometimes state he didn't write science fiction, and spent his life fighting the label; despite writing novels such as Mother Night, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Hocus Pocus, Deadeye Dick, Jailbird, and Breakfast of Champions (all of which contain no Sci-fi), his time-travelling alien-abducted protagonist of Slaughterhouse-Five made critics constantly label him otherwise, at least until people started naming it as an example of "postmodernism".
    • It's notable, however, that Vonnegut often alluded to the Sci-fi Ghetto via metafiction, such as with Kilgore Troutnote  and Eliot Rosewater.note 
    • It's worth mentioning, too, that two of Vonnegut's earliest novels are quite clearly science fiction: Player Piano (about a mechanized future society) and The Sirens of Titan (about, among other things, an interplanetary war). Cat's Cradle, Galápagos, and Slapstick also contain genre elements.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • From the same author, London Fields, which at the time of writing (1989) was set in the near future (1999) and which contained some then futuristic elements (like DNA profiling of small-time thieves). But it's described as "murder mystery" and "dark comedy", not sci-fi.
  • 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 the behavior of Science-Fiction fans looking down on fantasy to the hare from La Fontaine's The Hare and the Frogs — having their favorite genre being picked on by the mainstream, they pick on fantasy just like the 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.
  • C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien several times (in polite English fashion of course) wrote lengthy passages saying effectively, "Darn right I'm a fantasy writer and if you're such a shallow, robotic-minded goon as to look down on fantasy, so much the worse for you."
  • 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 (he's even attributed with coining the term), 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.
    • A lot of science fiction writers (and fans) hate the term "sci-fi". They much prefer the abbreviation "SF".
      • According to Mr. Ellison, the term sci-fi "sounds like crickets fucking".
  • H. P. Lovecraft is usually remembered as a horror writer (which is fair enough, given he popularized an entire subgenre). However, a lot of his later stories tended to lean more towards a sci-fi bent, with the monsters, still horrific and inhuman as ever, clearly shown to be aliens (some examples include At the Mountains of Madness, "The Whisperer in Darkness", "The Shadow Out of Time", and "The Colour Out of Space") and even suggesting many of the other mythos deities (such as Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, etc.) to be such. Despite this you will still find people who refuse to call a story like At the Mountains of Madness science fiction even though it's about scientists discovering aliens and it was first published in a science fiction magazine (the same magazine that only two years later would publish a certain other novella that would be adapted into a certain horror film). 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's 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 Nineteen Eighty-Four 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 one being in a sci-fi-setting and the other a fable).
  • Marjorie B. Kellogg wrote a foreword to an omnibus edition of her The Dragon Quartet series utterly blasting the ghetto. She points out that tales of the fantastic are one of humanity's oldest forms of storytelling, and the power of allegory that "genre" fiction holds make them not only more easy to appeal to a wide audience, but make the audience more willing to listen to important messages.
  • 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.
  • Nnedi Okorafor writes fantasy stories for children and teenagers that use African settings and mythology as their basis rather than Medieval European Fantasy, while still using many popular YA tropes. She's often the target of praise and panegyric for bucking the trend and bringing more diversity to literature, and many of her books feature quotes about her contributions to world literature and her timeless qualities. They often gloss over the fact that she ultimately writes fantasy (and Science Fantasy) stories for teenagers. (However, Akata Witch does mention that the late Diana Wynne Jones was a fan... on the inside jacket.)
  • Philip Pullman apparently buys into this:
    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.
  • Stanisław Lem, the greatest of the greats of Eastern European Science Fiction, 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", and considered Philip K. Dick the only author in science fiction worth his attention, a sentiment Dick didn't reciprocatenote . After the interview with the "talking dogs" phrase was published, some younger Polish authors expressed disappointment that their guru and source of inspiration endorsed 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 subversive ideas past the censors. 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.
  • 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 fewer 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.
    • King himself once had a conversation with a woman who said she didn't read horror fiction, she liked heartfelt stories like The Shawshank Redemption. When King told her he had written that story, she simply said "No you didn't.'"
  • Terry Goodkind will tell anyone who asks that he doesn't write fantasy, no sir. He writes deep novels of philosophical reach. Which, of course, no fantasy novel can be. He has gone on record as saying that fantasy is a "tired, empty genre" that he and he alone, apparently, has "inject[ed] thought into." Goodkind has repeatedly stated his opinion that fantasy, as a genre, cannot be about anything more than magic, dragons, wizards, and the like. He, on the other hand, only uses those elements to communicate important human themes, which makes him a serious novelist.
  • Terry Pratchett:
    • As a fantasy writer, Pratchett had several opinions on the ghetto. He's quoted as saying 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 also commented that all of his books are considered fantasy and nothing else, regardless of the other genres he dabbles in.
    • Pratchett has shared that people from his publishers told him they went into bookshops and asked why his hugely successful books weren't being displayed in more prominent places. The answers amounted to "We don't like the fantasy to get out." note 
  • A quote from the New York Times obituary of J.G. Ballard: "His fabulistic style led people to review his work as science fiction... But that's like calling Brave New World science fiction, or 1984."
  • Isaac Asimov:
    • Given the breadth of his writing, Dr Asimov frequently encountered a problem where, because he's a known Science Fiction author, his works would be shelved as science fiction even when they're not. Dr Asimov wrote copious amounts of non-fiction, which you would think would be exempt from this problem by its very nature. An Easy Introduction to the Slide Rule was in a local bookstore's science fiction section.
    • In the introduction to Tales of the Black Widowers, Dr Asimov talks about readers who write him questions about why a Science Fiction writer thinks he can write about Shakespeare, why a chemist thinks he can write about history, why a Shakespeare scholar would bother with Science Fiction, why a historian would bother writing chemistry essays, and so on, ad nauseum it would seem.
  • 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).
  • The Time Traveler's Wife: Both the book and the film are usually listed as romances, even though the title sums up everything that makes it science fiction — it's about a woman who is married to a man who time travels. Not only that but the way he time-travels is given a scientific (if somewhat unusual) explanation without resorting to the supernatural, but best-case scenario is for it to occasionally be labelled as fantasy.
  • 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."
    • Despite Jurassic Park (1990) and The Lost World (1995) featuring dinosaurs being brought back from extinction with advanced genetics, they are often listed as "techno-thrillers", a super-genre term typically reserved for hyper-realistic stories such as those of Tom Clancy featuring only the most plausibly realistic technology possible.
  • 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).
  • In J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, author Tom Shippey noted that "fantasy and the fantastic" had become the dominant literary mode of the twentieth century — that outside the academic world, the ghetto had taken over:
    "It is not long since I heard the commissioning editor of a major publishing house say 'Only fantasy is mass-market. Everything else is cult-fiction.' (Reflective pause.) 'That includes mainstream.'"
  • George Eliot expressed a more nuanced variation of this with its basis in what was lacking in the more fantastical "respectable" stories of her day, rather than a dislike of non-realistic fiction itself. She wrote in an era when it was not considered entirely proper to write about anyone other than good-looking royalty and nobility in settings with clear Black-and-White Morality and a focus on courtly love/intrigue and epic conflicts. In contrast, she wrote and encouraged the reading of stories dealing with the everyday life of less attractive peasants exhibiting Grey-and-Grey Morality because that was truer to real life. She also maintained that being too immersed in those idealized stories would lead their readers to become unnecessarily disdainful of the much more imperfect people they actually interacted with. Eliot has an Author Filibuster in Adam Bede where she delves into this argument while also saying that she doesn't want people to stop reading/writing those idealized, fantastical stories, just so long as there are also more socially realistic stories to balance them out. Of course, thanks to the changes in speculative fiction genres in the years since Eliot was alive, this isn't quite the issue it was for her, since speculative fiction stories nowadays are just as likely to have at least some of the verisimilitude that she sought.
  • For reasons which would be difficult to explain without alluding to SF ghetto, Barbara Hambly's Historical Detective Fiction 1997 novel A Free Man of Color was hailed by at least two reviewers as a thrilling "debut" novel... from an author who'd been publishing fantasy and horror novels for fifteen years.
  • The novels of Kazuo Ishiguro get this pretty hard. The New York Times book reviewer who tackled Never Let Me Go expressed distaste that Ishiguro would write anything remotely resembling a "pop genre — sci-fi thriller" novel, then claimed that it "quietly upends [the genre's] banal conventions." (One wonders how the critic knows the conventions if they don't read "pop" genres.) When The Buried Giant was being published, Ursula K. Le Guin herself tore into Ishiguro for endorsing the ghetto, leading Ishiguro to write a rebuttal. Ironically, Ishiguro has been criticised from both directions - some genre-friendly critics have criticised him for not committing to the genre elements enough, leaving his work feeling rather lightweight as SF or fantasy.
  • Helene Wecker admits that she fell into the ghetto herself before eventually defying it with her historical fantasy The Golem and the Jinni. She originally started off writing a straightforward story of immigrants in the early 20th century that was pretty bad. She had no idea what was wrong until a friend asked her why she was writing that way when she was a dyed-in-the-wool nerd who cut her teeth writing Doctor Who fanfiction. Wecker agreed and changed the story to be a fantasy about supernatural beings, and the book was much better for it.
  • John Wyndham's The Chrysalids has a Penguin edition with an editor's note, to paraphrase — sadly this was released into the genre known as science fiction, which isn't the case here.
  • Several critics have argued against the idea that Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning Beloved is a horror book, despite it having a very Silent Hill 2-like plot of a person being haunted by the vengeful ghost of a loved one they murdered. This article goes into more detail about how Beloved is the most critically-acclaimed book the horror genre has never claimed.
  • Iain M. Banks' career may serve as a inversion of the idea that one writes genre to support one's "serious" work. In fact, he said several times that sales of the mainstream novels of Iain Banks (his mainstream nom de plume) supported the science fiction of Iain M. Banks. "Until the last few years or so, when the SF novels started to achieve something approaching parity in sales, the mainstream always out-sold the SF – on average, if my memory isn’t letting me down, by a ratio of about three or four to one. I think a lot of people have assumed that the SF was the trashy but high-selling stuff I had to churn out in order to keep a roof over my head while I wrote the important, serious, non-genre literary novels. Never been the case,[..]"
  • Ursula K. Le Guin wrote a number of essays, talks, and a few satirical short stories about the idea that realistic fiction was the only "true" literature with genre being mere entertainment for the masses. In particular she noted the hypocrisy of it, as science fiction books like The Time Machine, Frankenstein, and Brave New World were included in the literary canon before the ghetto truly set in, as well as an ever shifting idea of what counted as "genre".

    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.
  • In the late 90s there were three supernatural-themed television shows that were reluctantly greenlit by producers who didn't think the sci-fi and fantasy elements were a good sell. The shows? Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Charmed (1998). Buffy was seen as too expensive to produce and not expected to have more than a cult fan base - and the first season was only granted thirteen episodes. Sabrina was only produced because Melissa Joan Hart had a pre-existing fan base from Clarissa Explains It All and the network hoped it would appeal to adults nostalgic for the likes of Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. Charmed was only greenlit when the three protagonists were made sisters rather than best friends - because the network felt witchcraft wasn't a good sell. All three of the shows lasted at least seven seasons (eight in the case of Charmed!) and broke out of the ghetto.
  • Following on from the above, Charmed is often attacked by fans for the latter seasons being more supernaturally based than the first couple - which had more Slice of Life storylines involving magic. The show was often accused of going from "three sisters who happened to be witches to demon-hunters that live under the same roof". Seasons 5 and 6 introduced more overt fantasy elements, which did not please hardcore fans of the first seasons.
  • Despite Doctor Who being 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 — it didn't prevent the producers from giving 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, leading to Honest Trailers snarking about "enough pulp to choke a telenovela") 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 internationally famous 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 Big Three networks. 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 it's easily 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 it's not only British, but a science fiction show, probably has something to do with it.
      • The Sci-Fi Ghetto is part of why Doctor Who got cancelled in the first place back in the 80's: BBC controller Michael Grade not only loathed the science fiction genre but also its fans, and did everything in his power to get Doctor Who cancelled so the BBC could focus more on dramas. This included slashing the budget and episode count, putting the show on hiatus for 18 months, firing Colin Baker, and scheduling Doctor Who against Coronation Street so it would get crushed in the ratings. Unfortunately for him, the Queen was a massive Doctor Who fan, so he remains the only BBC controller who's never been knighted.
    • Meanwhile, 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 the BBC cheques.
  • One of the multiple showrunners of FlashForward (2009) 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
  • In-universe example: In one episode of Frasier, Frasier and Niles discover that one of their favorite Shakespearean actors is now making a living playing an android on a Star Trek Expy. They attempt to get him back into "real" acting by producing a one-man stage show.
  • Some early reviews of Game of Thrones placed it squarely in the ghetto, with critics (the New York Times review in particular) comparing it with The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and Dungeons & Dragons (naturally), with some doomsayers even going so far as to claim HBO was heading straight for Network Decay because, as the NY Times author put it, HBO 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 cited 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. Ultimately, Game of Thrones would get the last laugh on every single one of them. Depending on who you ask, it's either broken Out of the Ghetto, or invited the casual viewer in. It's seen as a fantasy series, no mistake, but it has been generally accepted into mainstream pop culture and a number of of fantasy geeks have pointed to the series' reception as a sign of changing attitudes about the genre.
    • On the other hand, particularly towards the later seasons, the showrunners are on record for purposefully downplaying fantastical elements, and even removing characters and plotlines that feature them heavily. They may have been able to take the series out of the ghetto, but not the ghetto out of the series.
  • 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").
    • Lost fits pretty much all the requirements for Magical Realism.
    • After its time-travel-heavy Seasons 4 and 5, the creators were 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, Lost is 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 didn't always square with what they'd said before or with the show's marketing (where it was usually described as a straightforward drama).
    • This trope is raised In-Universe during the opening scene of "A Tale of Two Cities". A guest at Juliet's book club dismisses her choice of Carrie for being science-fiction and "not even literature". Juliet and one of the other guests strongly disagree with his opnion, with Juliet calling it her favorite book.
  • Neil Gaiman has said that while he thinks Neverwhere is fantasy, he sold it to The BBC as "Magical Realism", because that was the only way to get it made.
  • Northern Exposure is a fantasy. It has precognitive dreams, ghosts, aliens, a man who can fly under his own power, and a large number of single-episode supernatural events that aren't so easy to categorise. 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.
  • Person of Interest has been described (even by its showrunners) as hard science fiction disguised as a Police Procedural.
  • Star Trek gets this particularly badly, with its reputation for Rubber-Forehead Aliens and the most obsessive of geek fans. Patrick Stewart, for instance, one of the best actors working, has gotten several Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for his TV work... but only for "respectable" fare like Hamlet and Moby-Dick, never for his seven years on The Next Generation. 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 was 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.
  • Critical darling prestige television program Twin Peaks is also described as Magic Realism despite its heavy supernatural elements.
  • 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 (1987) 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 X-Files "takes place in the realm of extreme possibility".
  • The makers of Space: Above and Beyond insisted it wasn't science fiction, it was a war series. Which just happened to take place in the future and involve humans fighting aliens. In spaceships.
  • 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 take 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 downplaying it.
  • It's hard to say whether Joss Whedon and his works suffer from this stigma or not. Whilst on the one hand he receives a fair amount of academic and critical praise and support, on the other his works are also prone to Executive Meddling — such as irregular scheduling and abrupt cancellation or being kept in development hell — and are repeatedly and notably overlooked for awards.
  • Throughout his professional and working career, Nigel Kneale 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 Quatermass series, which is widely credited with pretty much spearheading British television science fiction.
  • Orphan Black received stellar reviews (with much of the praise going to the acting) during its first season, but was ignored by the Emmy Awards for major award consideration. It finally managed to escape this somewhat with a nomination for Tatiana Maslany in its third season, and more officially escaped it when Maslany won an Emmy for the fourth season.
  • Sci-fi comedies have their own ghetto-within-a-ghetto: despite the success of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1981) and Red Dwarf, The BBC remain very cagey about sci-fi comedy — taking years to commission a new one in Hyperdrive, which then failed to draw in enough viewers, giving them an excuse to stop doing sci-fi comedies at all.
    • Another interpretation is that Red Dwarf is an inversion. During the 1990s, the BBC made hardly any SF or fantasy due to executive hostility to the genre, and there's some reason to suspect that Red Dwarf got made because the executives thought that it was laughing at the genre and its pathetic fans, none of whom could possibly have a sense of humour. And this show was expected to only attract male nerds. It's not as if about half the fans are female, is it?
  • In-Universe example: In Mad Men, SCDP account man Ken Cosgrove is shown to be writing adventure/science fiction/fantasy short stories on the side. By Season 6, he's published over 20 stories under a pseudonym (in addition to the one realistic literary story he had published under his own name in Season 1), and in Season 7, his wife is encouraging him to quit Corporate America and work on a novel. However, he's embarrased about the genre nature of his writing, and when one of his colleagues discovers his ouvre, he sheepishly dismisses it as silly noodling.

  • 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 Macbeth, the ghost in Hamlet, or the fairies and angels in A Midsummer Night's Dream don't qualify the plays as fantasy? A Midsummer Night's Dream is notable, because Puck gives a monologue at the end of the play 'apologising' to anyone who didn't like the subject matter — and there was minor outrage at the time for depicting fairies on the stage since they were fantasy creatures. People tried to 'justify' the depiction by saying it only depicted fantasy creatures that stemmed from popular belief. Your results may vary — there are some professors who do believe that Macbeth, Hamlet, 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.
  • Discussed in the bonus cast interviews on the Big Finish Doctor Who audio story Son of the Dragon. Guest actor Douglas Hodge, whose best-known work has been on the stage, notes that science fiction is a genre virtually untouched by theatre aside from the odd musical or comedy, even though the medium is often receptive to challenging intellectual/political material otherwise. He agrees with the interviewer that "snobbery" towards the genre is likely the issue, and that while readers and movie/TV viewers are willing to take sci-fi stories seriously, theatre audiences would be likely to snicker instead. (Hodge also ponders whether something like Nineteen Eighty-Four should be counted as science fiction — see Literature above.)

    Video Games 
  • 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 being 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 to The Sims 3, trashy novels are harder to write than 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.
    • However, the spaceship simulation genre has suffered since the 90s, with barely a new release per year. More recently, with the advent of Kickstarter, the genre is trying to have its revival with campaigns such as a new project by Chris Roberts of Wing Commander fame, a new Elite game, a Transforming Mecha space combat game and the already-released FTL. Steam's friendliness to indie developers has proven a boon to the genre.
    • Similar to the spaceship simulation genre, futuristic Racing Games such as F-Zero, Wipe Out and Jet Moto have also decreased in popularity somewhat ever since the 90s, and while there are a few indie projects that attempt to keep the genre alive, almost none have really broken into mainstream. Nowadays, the racing genre tends to be dominated by more realistic simulators like Forza and Need for Speed, or more party-like Mascot Racers such as Mario Kart (although the Mario series is a Fantastic Comedy itself). F-Zero and Wipe Out have continued to have sequels in the 21st century, so the genre still has fans, it's just more niche than before.
    • The fact that the vast majority of video games are speculative fiction is why developers started to make a larger number of realistic, down-to-earth games around The New '10s, in order to diversify the medium. While this isn't really itself a result of the ghetto (many of said developers are already famous for popular speculative fiction games), many of the reviews of these games have hints of the same snobbery that gets applied to speculative fiction in other mediums; from the way certain critics go on about Gone Home, for instance, you'd think it was the first game to have Emotional Torque.
  • A variant of this happened with Titanfall, a Mech Ghetto if you will. In a magazine interview, the staff infamously renounced the "mech" label for their Titans, insisting they were more like nimble mechanical soldiers and an extension of the pilot rather than clunky and slow machines, apparently unaware that there exists an entire genre with this sort of thing, not just Battletech.
  • When Digital Extremes were looking around for a publisher to support their new online looter-shooter action game in 2012, every single publisher they approached took one look at their proof-of-concept demo and immediately dismissed it, mostly because it was a sci-fi game, and sci-fi wasn't "in" at the moment. Even those who thought that it otherwise looked really good still told DE directly to their faces that the game would fail, and in the end they were forced to go ahead without a publisher, putting their entire studio on the line. That game was Warframe and today it's one of the most successful, most-played, most respected and most critically-acclaimed F2P games in the entire world.
  • Gone Home has the trope briefly touched upon In-Universe, when Terry Greenbriar, the main character's father, receives a letter from his father Richard about Terry's new time travel novel. In the letter, Richard writes that "readers of (Terry's) chosen genre will lap up copies hungrily," implying that sci-fi fans do not have discerning tastes.

    Web Original 
  • Nyrath's Atomic Rockets 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' Berserk Buttons, he has sometimes ranted on SF stigma 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.

    Real Life 
  • The "As Others See Us" column in David Langford's Ansible newsletter is filled with this stuff.
  • In Cinemassacre's Monster Madness episode on Exorcist II: The Heretic, James Rolfe discusses the "horror ghetto" by pointing out 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 that have been given awards, then says "put some zombies and vampires into those movies and see how many awards they get." He restated this point with his review of The Omen (1976), with how only Religious Horror such as the former two and Rosemary's Baby seemed to get any sort of mainstream attention and critical acclaim among the horror genre. Also in his review of Silence of the Lambs he goes into a mild rant about how critics elitistly refer to it a "thriller" rather than a horror film.
  • 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.
    • Genres themselves can be quite subjective — for example, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is normally placed around "Literature", but it's a simultaneous Pastoral Fantasy and Cyberpunk.
    • 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, all collected in one corner of the store.
  • 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 (sci-fi, fantasy, horror, thriller) cares more about setting and mood than plot and 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. Hilariously, the same classes will often go on to teach Slaughterhouse-Five in the same session, which is considered by them to be "postmodern" and thus can not be genre writing by definition. 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.
    • Veronica Roth, the author of the popular young adult series Divergent, 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 avoid these — some professors believe that pulp magazines and 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 also written an essay saying that science fiction should be considered equal to literature because many of them include a rational discourse of scientific literature.
  • This was why the American Sci Fi Channel changed its name to Syfy, because Syfy as a name "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 importance of the female viewer demographic is usually noted due to the popularized notion of their low regard towards science fiction. 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.
    • The more practical reason for the name change is that "Sci-Fi" is too generic a term to be registered as a trademark. "Syfy" is not.
    • The Canadian equivalent channel, "Space", has also undergone a re-branding of its own. While it kept the name, the channel will now focus on "down-to-earth" shows, with its new slogan being "It's all around you" (i.e. a reminder to the audience that "Space" doesn't need to mean outer space with silly space-ships and such). One of the channel's marketing people has said: "This idea that sci-fi is people in polyester onesies running around with taser guns, that’s not what the genre is about anymore... It's a lot more mainstream now."
  • True art was not always angsty. Back in the 19th century, fantasy was quite common in romanticism. It used to attract big crowds because they were useful as a tool of escapism to forget the horror that was happening in real life. With that in mind it should not be surprising that the ghetto back in the day targeted a genre known as "naturalism". The fact that they accentuated the negative of the society back in the day (as opposed to "realism", which showed both the good and the bad), that all of them had downer endings, that they did not hide the fact that the society was full of misogyny, rape, murder etc. and that many of them were perhaps some of the most pretentious people around (Émile Zola, the codifier of naturalism, always said that he was in fact a scientist that examined human life) led them to have a big and extremely vocal hatedom. The very first Flemish naturalist novel to get some (as opposed to no) acclaim from critics was Het recht van de sterkste (which also employed a few fantasy elements) in 1893. By then the genre was around 30 years old. Nowadays, due to the belief that True Art Is Angsty the genre gets taught in French and Belgian literature classes, got acclaim and is also the genre of which the ghetto against it back in the day might get mentioned.
  • A reliable indicator of critical special pleading for genre works is to claim that they "transcend the genre" — which usually means instead that the critic in question has transcended their snobbery.
  • This article on the horror website Bloody-Disgusting discusses the ghetto, and how horror fans themselves often play into it, dismissing films like Se7en, The Cell, and Pan's Labyrinth as not belonging in the horror genre despite often having a heavy overlap in content and themes. The writer feels that horror fans are often too eager to embrace the Ghetto, shutting out films with genuine intelligence and artistic merit as "not true horror" in favor of more visceral and immediately scary films, which he thinks undercuts their complaints about how the genre panders to the Lowest Common Denominator.
  • This article by Jason Coffman draws much the same conclusion. He argues that, by narrowing the definition of "horror" strictly to violent, in-your-face grindhouse fare, they're essentially denying that it can be art, dismissing the vast artistic potential within the genre, and feeding the stereotypes that others have of horror films and their fans.
    "What makes this exceptionally frustrating is not the fact of dissent itself — anyone is entitled to their own opinion and feelings toward any film — but that these detractors have targeted three films [The Babadook, It Follows, and The VVitch] that work within the genre but are also examples of how genre cinema can explore concepts and themes in ways that less fantastic stories cannot. In short, the rejection of these films appears to people outside of horror fandom as a rejection of cinema as an art form. Critics and cinephiles in general tend to dismiss genre cinema wholesale, and genre fans as well, and seeing members of the community react to these films with such violent negativity only reinforces their image of the "horror fan" as a slack-jawed dullard whose only interests are sex and gore."
  • This video by Ryan Hollinger discussed the idea of "post-horror", a term coined by Steve Rose of The Guardian to describe 2010s horror films like It Comes at Night, A Ghost Story, and several of the aforementioned that "[replace] jump-scares with existential dread". Hollinger thinks that the term is rooted in the Ghetto and an attempt to rationalize one's enjoyment of certain films, saying that, while these films may be using horror tropes and iconography to explore heavier themes, at the end of the day they're still fundamentally horror films at heart, even if they don't adhere to the stereotypes of modern horror. He argues that, if one takes the argument to its logical conclusion, then The Exorcist, often held to be one of the scariest films ever made, could be considered "post-horror", as it uses its story primarily to explore Father Karras' crisis of faith while mining little of its horror from jump scares.
  • Sturgeon's Law was originally coined as a defense against this trope. While critics pointed to all the horrible Sci-fi novels as proof of the genre's inferiority, Sturgeon pointed out that, well, most of all literature sucks. It's just that critics were willing to focus on awful ninety percent of sci-fi (and eventually genre fiction as a whole) while happily ignoring the awful ninety percent of the rest of literature.
  • Drew McWeeny discussed this in the October 1984 episode of '80s All Over. Growing up in The '80s, he said that it was very hard to openly be a horror fan because, for all of the fun, clever, and intelligent films being made during that era, as soon as a critic or Moral Guardian got a whiff of a grisly, artless Exploitation Film like The New York Ripper, they would tar and feather the whole genre as intellectually and morally bankrupt.

Alternative Title(s): Fantasy Ghetto