Cold Iron & Rowan-Wood

March 3, 2011

Literary SF – some examples

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Sam @ 10:20 am

Further to my previous post, I’m getting curious about what “literary SF” actually is.

There are two basic ways of defining a (sub)genre in literary criticism. One is to argue about themes, styles, motifs, sensibilities, modalities, et al; another is to choose some examples, wave your hands around a bit, and say “things like that”. We’ve been trying the first, so let’s have a collective go at the second.

Disclaimer the first: this is not implying that non-literary SF has less merit or is less interesting.

Disclaimer the second: this is not implying that “literary SF” is a globally useful term. You do not need to pay attention to it.

Guidelines

  • No more than six examples of core literary SF; others may be noted as “penumbra”, if they’re less literary, or less SF, but still worth talking about.
  • Only things you’ve personally read in their entirety.
  • If in doubt, leave it off.
  • Must have been published as SF (ie. science fiction in this context): SF imprint, author’s assertion, spaceships on the cover, whatever.
  • No explanations or justifications of your choice, unless someone asks for them. If you don’t like someone else’s list, suggest your own.

Core
Karel Čapek, War with the Newts
John M Ford, The Dragon Waiting
Molly Gloss, The Dazzle of Day
Maureen F McHugh, China Mountain Zhang
Catherynne M Valente, The Habitation of the Blessed

15 Comments »

  1. Some literary sf that I’ve read:

    Core
    Keith Brooke, Genetopia
    Mary Gentle, Ash
    Christopher Priest, The Separation
    Adam Roberts, New Model Army
    Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

    Penumbra
    Colin Greenland, Take Back Plenty
    Liz Jensen, The Rapture
    Marcel Theroux, Far North

    Comment by David H — March 3, 2011 @ 10:54 am

  2. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

    A Canticle for Leibowitz (Bantam Spectra Book) by Walter M. Miller Jr.

    Time by Stephen Baxter

    Comment by Jim Mcleod — March 3, 2011 @ 11:40 am

  3. Interesting exercise. I haven’t read any of the books in the original post and only Ash from David H’s comment (although some of the others are on my to-read list).

    Core
    CJ Cherryh, Cyteen
    John Clute, Appleseed
    Philip K Dick, A Scanner Darkly
    William Gibson, Neuromancer
    Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon
    Gene Wolfe, The Fifth Head of Cerberus

    Comment by Matt Hilliard — March 3, 2011 @ 11:51 am

  4. M John Harrison, Light
    Thomas M. Disch On Wings of Song
    Samuel Delany Dhalgren
    Karen Joy Fowler, Sarah Canary
    John Crowley Engine Summer
    David R. Bunch Moderan

    Comment by marco — March 3, 2011 @ 12:04 pm

  5. I’m taking SF to mean SF not Fantasy here. Also that I could list many more short fiction works than novels.

    Core
    Lisa Goldstein — The Dream Years
    Josephine Saxton – Queen Of The States
    Lewis Shiner – Glimpses
    Samuel R Delany – Nova
    Andrea Hairston – Mindscape
    Geoff Ryman – Air

    Penumbra
    M John Harrison – Signs of Life
    Gwyneth Jones – Life

    Comment by kev mcveigh — March 3, 2011 @ 3:52 pm

  6. Kev – Air, of course! That was on my initial list; I don’t know how it fell off between making it & actually typing it. Cheers for the reminder.

    Comment by Sam — March 3, 2011 @ 4:05 pm

  7. To much of what’s already been mentioned, I’d add:

    most everything Connie Willis has written, particularly Passage
    Gary Shteyngart – Super Sad True Love Story

    Comment by Kate — March 3, 2011 @ 5:16 pm

  8. Core

    Mary Gentle, Ash
    Adam Roberts, Yellow Blue Tibia
    Chris Beckett, The Turing Test*
    Samuel Delaney, Dhalgren
    Kit Whitfield, In Great Waters
    China Mieville, The City and the City

    *(The whole collection, not just that short story)

    Comment by Aishwarya — March 3, 2011 @ 5:23 pm

  9. Ursula Leguin: The left hand of darkness.
    Roger Zelazny: Lord of light.
    Stanislaw Lem: Solaris.
    Ursula Leguin: The Dispossessed.
    Gwyneth Jones: Bold as love.

    Comment by Matthew W — March 3, 2011 @ 9:51 pm

  10. Marco, I’ve argued for 20 years that Sarah Canary isn’t SF. It is a brilliant novel but not fantastical at all.
    And it certainly wasn’t marketed as SF.

    Comment by kev mcveigh — March 3, 2011 @ 10:20 pm

  11. It is a brilliant novel but not fantastical at all.
    And it certainly wasn’t marketed as SF.

    Must have been published as SF (ie. science fiction in this context): SF imprint, author’s assertion , spaceships on the cover, whatever.

    Karen has said that in her mind there’s no doubt that Sarah was an alien; even if we don’t take this as a normative reading it remains as a possibility that enriches the text. Do you also consider Standing Room Only a straight historical piece? Or The Pelican Bar a purely realist one?
    I’m also curious as to why you choose to put Life and Signs of Life in the penumbra. Do you consider them less literary than the Ryman and the Shiner?
    And isn’t the Goldstein a fantasy?

    Comment by marco — March 4, 2011 @ 1:03 pm

  12. Marco, if we accept authorial assertion regarding genre then Karen Fowler saying Sarah Canary is SF is as valid as Margaret Atwood denying her books are SF.
    ‘What I Didn’t See’ becomes penumbral SF because of its title engaging with Tiptree.

    My reason for listing Harrison & Jones as penumbra not because they aren’t literary, far from it, but because they’re more borderline SF.

    And the Goldstein is a time travel story.

    K

    Comment by kev mcveigh — March 5, 2011 @ 9:47 am

  13. Marco, if we accept authorial assertion regarding genre then Karen Fowler saying Sarah Canary is SF is as valid as Margaret Atwood denying her books are SF.

    While I surely consider her three post-apocalyptic/dystopian novels core science-fiction, including them here would go against the purpose of the post, since Atwood is already considered a literary author.
    Besides, on her part it’s a more a question of terminology than an outright refusal of the genre. What she calls Speculative Fiction is essentially Mundane Sf; she has explained that for her Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 would be Speculative Fiction, while the Martian Chronicles would be Science-Fiction.
    I’m not entirely convinced by your argument, but I can see it’s a limit case, so I’ll demote Sarah Canary to the penumbra and raise a couple of new names in her place.

    Raphael Carter The Fortunate Fall
    Ian MacDonald River of Gods

    Comment by marco — March 5, 2011 @ 6:15 pm

  14. Marco, I’m not advocating Atwood’s inclusion or exclusion, but it is relevant to note that a discussion of what is literary or SF has to apply consistent standards or fall into the same trap as the mainstream critics.

    I dont know Carter but McDonald is a good choice.

    Comment by kev mcveigh — March 6, 2011 @ 12:37 am

  15. [...] Literary SF – some examples [...]

    Pingback by Cold Iron & Rowan-Wood » Blog Archive » Literary SF examples, redux — March 12, 2011 @ 4:41 pm

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