GIVE SCIENCE FICTION A CHANCE!
Light Across Time is a sexy love story about a boeremeisie from the Free State and an ex-Rhodie. It’s an African tale involving a spook. It has trips to Tudor England, Ancient Egypt and the Stone Age — plus some very private emails and a few love poems. And Light Across Time is also Science Fiction!
SF: a term that terrifies publishers and readers — who think it’s the same as “Sci-Fi”, pronounced “skiffy”. Skiffy means bug-eyed monsters, inaccurate science, predictable plots and laughable dialogue. Mostly Hollywood and TV product, but it also comes in paperbacks for 14-year-old nerds.
But what is SF? Here’s one definition: “…fiction that offers us a world clearly and radically discontinuous from the one we know, yet returns to confront that known world in some cognitive way.” (Robert Scholes).
What fits the definition? The Tempest, Gulliver’s Travels, Frankenstein and scientific romances by HG Wells. Let’s rule out the skiffy of the Twenties and Thirties and include the two following decades: the Golden Age of SF in the US. Topics were psychological and sociological – with plenty of hard science. Then came the experimental New Wave of the Sixties in the UK. Today, SF is a broad church with many subgenres: Space Opera, Steampunk, New Weird… Fearless South African pioneer Lauren Beukes is blazing a trail somewhere to the north of New Weird.
When SF sells well, it migrates surreptitiously to the Literary Fiction shelf, where there is no skiffy taint to engender second thoughts in potential customers and sleepless nights for publishers. And SF means “Speculative Fiction” when established Litfic authors dabble in it. They snatch long-outworn themes from Thirties skiffy – which are invariably hailed as highly original by young crits who have never studied SF. Big names who did this include Margaret Atwood, Jeanette Winterson and Cormac McCarthy.
Their efforts are are condemned as “slipstream” by writers who remain entrenched in the SF ghetto, forever damned by public prejudice. One majestic exception, who has kept her SF colours nailed to the mast, is the wonderful Ursula K. Le Guin.