Genre literature

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at
Sat Jan 22 16:24:42 EST 2000

On Sat, 22 Jan 2000 13:42:29 -0500, alexandra.bolintineanu at

>I seem to recall (rather mistily) that a while ago Melissa posted
>something about an essay on the flaws of the ghetto-izing of  "genre
>literature". I would be delighted to read a copy of that; it sounds like a
>really sensible way of looking at things.

I recently got a copy from Dave Wolverton, along with permission to reprint
it, so I'm going to go ahead and post it (separately from this).  It's sort
of long, but I do think it's worth reading.  The first part is about the
beginnings of modern "literary fiction" and examines how the man who first
set out the guidelines, William Dean Howells, was really laying down the
basis for a new genre of fiction rather than establishing what "real"
fiction should be like.  The rest expands upon this idea and its
implications, and how that relates specifically to fantasy and science

What is interesting is that I just read a very long article from Publisher's
Weekly about recent publishing house mergers that affect some very well
known SF lines.  Instead of combining those imprints and reducing the number
of books published, the publishers are actually expanding their efforts to
get fantasy and science fiction read by people who do not normally read in
those genres.  (For example, HarperCollins has decided that 2000 will be The
Year America Discovers Terry Pratchett--I'm not joking even a little bit;
this is what they wrote, minus the caps.  They've got two of his new titles
coming out in (ugly) hardcover editions this year, are reissuing earlier
novels in (ugly) covers, and are reprinting the first three Discworld novels
in inexpensive mass-market editions.  I say it's about time.)  

I mention this because this article is almost a companion piece to Dave
Wolverton's.  Wolverton wrote about how speculative fiction had been treated
in the past (and was being viewed at the time he wrote the essay, 1995) and
the PW article shows how things are changing--the growing mainstream
acceptance of SF as legitimate fiction.  The URL for the PW article, if you
want to read it, is:

Some of the other things they're doing are giving these new books a more
"upscale" feel--take a look at the US cover for _The Fifth Elephant_ and
Laurell K. Hamilton's new book, _Obsidian Butterfly_, both shown in the
article.  If you know what these authors' earlier books looked like, you'll
see immediately the difference--especially Hamilton's; this is her first
hardcover publication and her earlier books were *obviously* aimed at a much
more specific audience.  _Butterfly_ looks like it could have been written
by Joyce Carol Oates or Stephen King or someone like that.  No more Darrell
K. Sweet covers...well, almost.  Modesitt and Jordan are probably still
stuck with him.

This is relevant to DWJ because HarperCollins is her publisher, although a
few steps removed (the US Greenwillow imprint is a subsidiary of William
Morrow, which is a subsidiary of HarperCollins, which is probably why all
those titles are listed as being published by HC).  The recent
trade editions of the Chrestomanci books are a case in point:  For the first
time, the books have been issued with NUMBERING on the covers, as in "The
Chrestomanci Series Book 1".  This is a definite tactic to get people to
read the rest of the series, and a smart one (if you ignore the implication
that you should read them in a particular order) because otherwise DWJ does
not title her books in any way that you could identify them as part of a
series or in related universes.  The same thing happened with the Dalemark
Quartet.  I had never in my life heard of _Drowned Ammet_ until I saw the
new paperback, nor had I realized that _Cart and Cwidder_ and _Spellcoats_
were in the same series.  While a reader might be likely to read only one
book by an author and never try another (right Fen? :)  it's much less
likely that a person will love a book that's in a series and not give the
rest of the series a try.

Wow, I didn't know I had this much in me today.  Now I'm definitely posting
the article separately....

Melissa Proffitt
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