I had a really interesting—if somewhat upsetting—conversation with my wife the other day. FYI, my wife loves books more than anyone I know. She has an English degree, positively drools over literary criticism, and is never more happy than when she's reading or organizing our bookshelves. That being said, imagine how I felt when she mentioned the other day that, if she had her way, she'd rather not have my science fiction and fantasy books on the shelves in our living room (our front door opens right into the living room of our apartment). Apparently she's embarrassed to have mass-market paperback sci-fi and fantasy novels out there for the world to see.
Needless to say, I was mortified! It felt like she had literally slapped me across the face. However, this whole debacle led to a really good discussion. What my wife has a problem with is the stigma that still manages to cling to the science fiction and fantasy genres: she perceives the genres to be mostly filled with second-rate writing; far-fetched or overly-contrived ideas; and flat, cliched characters—the sort of stuff you expect to find on unsanctioned fan-fic websites and things like that. (I have to admit that her opinion isn't entirely baseless, even if she is casting her net a bit too wide; given the sheer volume of science fiction literature, there is an awful lot of sub-par writing out there.) Anyways, throughout the course of our discussion, I managed (I think) to help her understand that science fiction and fantasy are just like any other genre: there is some serious literature and there's a lot of brain-candy. The problem is that our brain-candy is much more conspicuous than other genres'.
So, as science fiction and fantasy writers, I think it's clear that we have a responsibility to disabuse the world of its stereotyped preconception of our genre by producing quality literature. And by quality literature, I mean good writing, well thought-out ideas, well-developed sympathetic characters, and strong underlying values. SOAPBOX: a story written for the story's own sake, no matter how well planned and executed, is nothing but brain-candy; good literature provides an opportunity for the reader to learn and evaluate either life, the world, or his or her self. My friend Shallee McArthur (who is a wonderful writer, by the way) talked about one way to do this in a recent blog post. Besides, a story won't be exciting or engaging if it doesn't have some sort of moral foundation anyway.