Just a swift one, I promise.
I’ve watched and read a couple of interviews with people recently decrying genre boundaries. ‘Why do we need to label things?’ they say, ‘Why must we mark things with the smoking brand of sci-fi, fantasy, litfic or crime? All it does is divide us and lead to squabbling, and I just want everyone to get along and CAN EVERYBODY PLEASE STOP YELLING!’
I understand this point of view, I’m sympathetic, I really am. Sometimes I feel like the kid in the backseat of the car who’s parents are shouting, but I still think the idea of abolishing genre boundaries is tragically misguided.
People who hold this view tend to point to the huge numbers of books that don’t fit cleanly into a genre, or perhaps fall into several: Cloud Atlas, say, or IQ84 or Perdido St. Station. But so what? The fact that a heuristic doesn’t carve the world into precise segments doesn’t make it vacuous.
Genre labels, if nothing else, are a ranging shot, a beginning. A way to have a stab at describing a story in world strapped for time. Even if that was all they were, then they’d be useful, but they also bring people together, they form communities and help people find friends (as anyone who went to the excellent Steampunk night at Blackwells on thursday will be able to attest). The correlary of this seems to be that those communities become atomized and then snipe at each other, but is this a neccessary product of the genre taxonomy? I don’t think so.
The problem isn’t the division, it’s the hierarchy. It’s the patently invalid inference that because say, litfic and SF are different, that one must therefore be better.
The problem, isn’t the division between ‘SF’ and ‘Fantasy’, or even ‘genre’ and ‘mainstream’ Those categories are fuzzy, cross-cutting and subjective, true but not nearly so much as ‘good’ and ‘bad’.