I am a huge speculative fiction fan, and in the past I have sometimes felt the need to hide it.
It is not exactly that I'm ashamed of liking speculative or science fiction. It is just something that is a little unfashionable to admit to, especially because the genre has always been heavily slanted towards men.
Genre prejudice exists in all forms. Not just against science fiction and fantasy, probably two of the most vilified genres in the reading world, but against any genus of fiction you can think of - romance, historical, crime, thriller, horror.
I'm not immune to genre prejudice myself. For example, I can't stand crime fiction. I don't have any way of explaining the strong emotions I feel against whodunits and detective novels, except that I find myself mentally switching off somewhere between the muddy footprint outside the bedroom window and the mysterious woman in red disappearing down the alleyway.
See what I did there? Classic genre snobbery. I just reduced an entire category of fiction, with many talented authors and more than a few admirers, down to a basic palette and condemned it based on a few bad experiences. In real life, it would be like giving up on relationships because it didn't work out with the first person you ever dated, who just happened to be the boy next door.
I think genre prejudice is actually a curse. I have a suspicion that I have passed up on many fine, multi-layered, complex pieces of writing, or just plain old rip roaring good yarns, because of my dislike of crime fiction. And yes, that extends to Raymond Chandler. Beat me over the head with a vase now!
In wrestling with genre prejudice, the main question that arises is whether there is a real difference between genre and literary fiction and, if so, what makes the difference. In earlier posts, I have covered books that readers consider worthy, and secret reading shames.
I think genre fiction can also double as literary fiction. You only have to look at the Margaret Atwoods of the world - at stories like The Handmaid's Tale (literary speculative fiction), to know that it's possible to say something meaningful about the world and use succinct, beautiful and vivid language and imagery even within the confines of genre.
The main difference between genre and literary fiction is that genre offers a true escape. By that, I don't mean that they are necessarily predictable, because many genre books are known to break out of convention in new, interesting and unusual ways. I meant more that they offer storylines which transport you into another reality altogether, be that an alternative history, a world overrun by the zombie apocalypse, another planet, or Westeros.
Aside from that, the lines between genre and literary fiction are blurry. Many authors who write genre fiction are also considered literary. Atwood is one; Cormac McCarthy writes post-apocalyptic fiction; Neil Gaiman is all about fantasy and magical realism, but no one can deny that his writing also has shades of the literary about it, mainly good writing, the use of allusion and various other techniques.
Life is too short to read bad books. That is true most of the time. But life is also too short not to be open to new experiences.
So today, I am starting a new chapter. Crime fans - what would you recommend that I read?
Do you have any genre prejudices? Why?
Thrones will survive shocking scene (spoiler)