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Fantastic (?)

Prodded by an observation from chilperic, I make the following provisional and contentious list of Hugo winning fiction which is clearly fantasy rather than sf:

1959: "That Hell-Bound Train", Robert Bloch (short story)
1964: "The Dragon Masters", Jack Vance (short story)
1967: "The Last Castle" by Jack Vance (novelette)
1971: "Ill Met in Lankhmar" by Fritz Leiber (novella)
1974: "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas", Ursula K. Le Guin (short story)
1978: "Jeffty Is Five", Harlan Ellison (short story)
1981: "Grotto of the Dancing Deer", Clifford D Simak (short story)
1982: "Unicorn Variations" by Roger Zelazny (novelette)
1987: "Gilgamesh in the Outback" by Robert Silverberg (novella)
1990: "Boobs" by Suzy McKee Charnas (short story)
1991: "Bears Discover Fire" by Terry Bisson (short story)
1994: "Death on the Nile" by Connie Willis (short story)
1997: "Blood of the Dragon" by George R. R. Martin (novella)
2001: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (novel)
2002: "Hell Is the Absence of God" by Ted Chiang (novelette)
2002: American Gods by Neil Gaiman (novel)
2003: Coraline by Neil Gaiman (novella)
2004: "A Study in Emerald" by Neil Gaiman (short story)
2004: Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold (novel)
2005: "The Faery Handbag" by Kelly Link (novelette)
2005: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (novel)

So chilperic is right to say that four of the last five Hugos for Best Novel - and none previously - have gone to fantasy novels; and taking all the categories into account, more Hugo awards have gone to works of fantasy rather than sf in the last six years than in the previous twenty.

Does it matter?



( 25 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 14th, 2006 10:13 am (UTC)
"The Dragon Masters" isn't fantasy. It's a lost colony tale with genetic engineering of invading reptiloid aliens. I'm also pretty sure that "The Grotto Of The Dancing Deer" is a time travel story (though it's been many years since I last read it).
(no subject) - gummitch - Aug. 14th, 2006 12:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 14th, 2006 10:14 am (UTC)
Yup, I have to agree with that too. Chiang is very much SF in his rigorous approach to the fantastical.
Aug. 14th, 2006 11:30 am (UTC)
If logical rigor in fantasy transforms it into SF, then lots of other fantasy is suddenly redefined as SF as well.

Mind you, I'm not all that interested in discerning a perfect, hard-edged boundary between fantasy and SF, but this seems like an odd approach to take.
Aug. 14th, 2006 10:39 am (UTC)
While I agree that the Chiang feels like hard sf, if you're discriminating by content, it's pretty clearly fantasy, in that it has a supernatural premise. But I think this is fairly tangential to nwhyte's basic point.
Aug. 14th, 2006 10:15 am (UTC)
Yes, I think so. The two genres have always been blurred a little, but this hurts the attempts to 'rehabilitate' SF as 'acceptable'. Atwood doesn't do SF she does 'speculative' fiction which gets filed in literature or modern fiction in stores. While I love crossover stuff I'd also like to see more quality escape the ghetto without losing the label. S&N great, but not SF.
Aug. 14th, 2006 10:23 am (UTC)
Would a Hugo award help get science fiction out of the ghetto, given that it's awarded by fandom? Is there any relationship between the decline of science fiction sales compared to fantasy, the change in the pattern of Hugo awards, and the level of mainstream acceptance? I don't see it, to be honest.

nhw, does the absence of bold mean you haven't read the Chiang or Le Guin stories? (Or the Zelazny, which would be more surprising for you) Or am I missing something obvious?
Aug. 14th, 2006 10:36 am (UTC)
I was assuming bold meant 'published in book form' (cf Coraline vs. "Ill Met in Lankhmar").
Aug. 14th, 2006 11:43 am (UTC)
Good catch.
Aug. 14th, 2006 10:40 am (UTC)
The two genres have always been blurred a little, but this hurts the attempts to 'rehabilitate' SF as 'acceptable'.

Aug. 14th, 2006 11:35 am (UTC)
What is this attempt to rehabilitate SF, and what does the Hugo Award have to do with it?

Also, why would being associated with bestselling popular fiction like Harry Potter or American Gods harm the reputation of SF?

Also, if there's an ongoing project to rehabilitate SF, why are the words "rehabilitate" and "acceptable" in quotes? Are they slang? Jargon? Terms from a foreign language?
Aug. 14th, 2006 06:22 pm (UTC)
Hi Patrick, no, no foreign jargon, just the limits of a cellphone browser and trying to amuse myself while sat looking after kids at an airport (they were due to fly yesterday...)

Not sure what it's like your side of the pond, but over here, there remains a very snobbish approach to genre fiction from a lot of reviewers and commentators.

On a recent BBC radio show, a question was asked of the panel "is a bookstore a good place to meet a potential partner" (or words to that effect). One of the panellists answered that yes, it would be, but he would avoid the fantasy/SF section because that sort of thing "must be offputting to women". Yes, horribly out of touch, but indicative of an attitude.

I'm not sure an association would harm SF per se, but neither book is SF, I'm not even sure either really classifies as fantasy either (Gaiman is normally filed under horror in my local store). But the HP association does reinforce the "kids stuff" snobbishness.

As for rehabilitating? I doubt anyone would really consider it as such, but it is slowly seeping into mainstream consciousness that SF and genre fiction generally has grown up. Iain Banks still has the M on his SF stuff, but they're packaged in the same way as his more literary work these days, which his publishers blocked until very recently IIRC. OTOH, Grimwood still had his Ashraf Bey novels filed under Crime for awhile (in a manner that only made tangential sense).

Personally, I'd rather dump genre labels completely (see above re Gaimen, and what does Miéville write, exactly?), and instead file under low/middle/high brow; I know when I want something challenging, and I know when I want some Pratchett, but I doubt that would ever happen.

Anyway, in a rush, still catching up from all the cancellations of flights over the weekend. Does that make coherent sense?
Aug. 14th, 2006 07:36 pm (UTC)
Immediate question that comes to mind - which is more chick/lit-crit friendly? Johnathan Strange and Mr Norrell or Hominids?
Aug. 14th, 2006 07:39 pm (UTC)
'Jonathan', even
Aug. 14th, 2006 12:55 pm (UTC)
What is this "rehabilitate" you speak of? SF is more acceptable today than it has EVER been.
Aug. 14th, 2006 06:27 pm (UTC)
Re: Huh?
Which means it's working. But "more acceptable" doesn't mean "accepted generally as of equal merit" to whatever the Booker judges are frothing over this month...
Aug. 16th, 2006 12:13 am (UTC)
Re: Huh?
Indeed. They're clearly of superior merit in the categories that REALLY count: popular appeal. Who sells better: Tom Wolfe or J.K. Rowling? Who has the larger audience? Who will influence more people? The answer in all popular media is SF/Fantasy.

We have already won. Let the "Booker" judges, whoever they are, comfort themselves with their aura of superiority. They have nothing else.
Aug. 14th, 2006 11:06 am (UTC)
Re: Jeffty Is Five... if Ellison had tacked a paragraph in saying there was a space/time warp, it would'be been science fiction; as it is, I'd call it magical realism rather than fantasy! :P
Aug. 14th, 2006 03:53 pm (UTC)
Agreed. It's not fantasy.
Aug. 14th, 2006 07:41 pm (UTC)
But couldn't magical realism be called a subset of fantasy?

(I'd put "The Faery Handbag" into that subset, or at the very least into the "slipstream" subset. It's not Fantasy, but it certainly is fantasy of a sort.)
Aug. 15th, 2006 08:30 am (UTC)
> But couldn't magical realism be called a subset of fantasy?

Cynically, from a marketing point of view, no. You don't get Gabriel Garcia Marquez novels piled up in bookstores alongside the Joanne Rowlings and David Eddings, do you? ;) -- they're targeted at very different demographics....
Aug. 14th, 2006 12:03 pm (UTC)
I don't think it matters-- I tend to lump it all these days into "speculative fiction".
Aug. 14th, 2006 12:52 pm (UTC)
I think...
... the answers you started getting indicate the answer is of necessity "it doesn't matter, because (A) Fantasy has always been subsumed under the Hugo categories, so whether a fantasy novel won or not was a matter of time, and (B) There's very little chance of agreement on what *IS* fantasy anyway."

Aug. 14th, 2006 10:51 pm (UTC)
I'm wondering whether I'd class The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas as Fantasy. It's Utopia, and it's allegory (as most good Utopias are), which are two things I associate with SF more than Fantasy. It's estrangement techniques are arbitrary rather than either mystical or cognitive (this is the premise: accept it, it won't be explained by magic or science). It seems to me to be mostly an allegorical story as told on one of her SF worlds. In 'The Wind's Twelve Quarters' she describes Odo (from The Dispossessed) as being "One of the ones who walked away from Omelas", though I'm sure she doesn't mean it literally. Interestingly though, I think it's one of those things we tend to lump into SF/Fantasy without it really being either, because we're not sure what it is, only that it sure as hell isn't mainstream.
Aug. 15th, 2006 07:35 am (UTC)
Hell is the Absence of God seems to straddle between SF and fantasy. I mean--Chiang's rules for heaven and hell are so mechanical that they resemble the theories of science (plus, they dramatize a very strange metaphysics, and dramatizing theories is a lot of what science fiction is about).
( 25 comments — Leave a comment )

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