On the Alleged Marginalization of Science Fiction

September 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

One of the enduring traits of science fiction fandom is its perception that its favored genre is treated unfairly. English departments sneer at it, the mainstream segments of the film and literature industries dismiss it, and people who enjoy it are denigrated as “nerds”; so the popular opinion goes. Is this perception accurate, though?

I would characterize myself as a science fiction fan. After all, a fair amount of my childhood was spent reading novels by Isaac Asimov, Orson Scott Card, and other noteworthy science fiction authors, and many of my favorite television shows, like The Twilight Zone, The X-Files, and Firefly, fall squarely within the genre. Yet I have never experienced or witnessed the marginalization that the mainstream supposedly inflicts upon science fiction. Many of my close friends in high school were even more into the genre than me; I have yet to attempt to make my way through the many iterations of the classic British show Doctor Who, but I had friends who had seen every episode. My grandmother watched most of the iterations of that other classic science fiction show, Star Trek, when they first aired. Hollywood hasn’t dismissed science fiction since the phenomenal success of Star Wars 34 years ago. Finally, lest the charge that English departments sneer at science fiction is allowed to stand unchallenged, one of the first classes I took at Vanderbilt was an English class. Its assigned reading list included William Gibson’s Neuromancer.

I don’t doubt that science fiction was relegated to the margins of film and literature in the past. An interviewer once asked The Twilight Zone‘s creator, Rod Serling, if the amount of work he was putting into the show meant that he had given up on writing anything “important” for television. Other incidents like this one pepper the history of science fiction, and they have left an impression on writers and readers alike. That said, in the past three decades or so, it seems to me that science fiction has moved much more into the mainstream; it may very well be that the perceived marginalization of science fiction is, in 2011, little more than the shadow of a phenomenon that has long since vanished.

Richard W.

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