My problem with science fiction, if it can rightfully be called a problem, is that I got spoiled too quickly on it.
I was introduced to SF by way of a few authors that I somehow took to be representative of all of SF: Philip K. Dick, Stanisław Lem, Kurt Vonnegut, James Tiptree, Jr. In Vonnegut's case, he was surprised to find he was being lumped in with SF, but I was too young to know about this controversy, and so I ended up lumping his works in that category whether or not he would have wanted me to. (Most likely not.)
By the time I got to the more familiar names — Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Alfred Bester, Harry Harrison — something odd had happened. I enjoyed many of those works, but at the same time was acutely conscious of all that was not in them. They were entertaining, visionary, sly — but almost always there seemed to be lacking the qualities in the first set of authors that I had come to associate most with what SF needed to be. Dick talked about the perpetual existential fear of discovering that one's world, and one's self, was a lie. Lem had more in common with Rabelais and Montaigne than he did E.E. "Doc" Smith. Tiptree (and later, Joanna Russ) understood that SF's power to hypothesize could be extended beyond technology or science into questions of gender and sociology. And Vonnegut was, well, Vonnegut, the crazy uncle of late 20th century American letters, always torn between making his readers laugh or weep and often settling for both at once.
Eventually, other folks entered my field of vision that seemed to have a little of the magic I was looking for: Clifford Simak, Theodore Sturgeon, maybe some of Bester after all (you see a different author in your thirties than you do in your late teens). What I was looking for, it seemed, was something that SF could only give me coincidentally, if at all, and it took me a while to stop holding that against SF or SF authors in general. It was, and is, entirely my own failing.
That's the short version of one of the reasons why I started writing — to create things that I wanted to see with that label that felt like the reason I had started reading it in the first place.
It's also why I ended up labeling most of it as SF: because if there was any one label that seemed open-ended and flexible enough to encompass my aims, that was it. "Fiction" alone is too baggy and open-ended, not detailed enough. SF hasn't really been a dirty word for decades, even if it has become casually associated with a host of things that I think are actually the least interesting things about it. And then there's all those sublabels that seem to do little more than make people shrug: "slipstream", for instance. That one's been banging around for decades and even I still don't know what the hell it's supposed to mean.
So, SF it is. You could do worse, I suppose. Labels: can't live with 'em, can't scrape 'em off.
Other Lives Of The Mind