Why is sci-fi frowned upon?
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how Sci-fi and fantasy works of fiction are viewed by UK and US society. The genre is often dismissed as geeky, nerdy, for anoraks, or more politely as: “Not for me.” Halcyon Rebirth took me a long time to write, during that time I’d often be asked “What’s it about then?” I’d give a brief synopsis of the plot and the stock reply was “Oh, that sounds a bit Sci-fi for me.” The bloody thing isn’t even Sci-Fi. If I had to pigeon hole it I’d probably go with Supernatural Contemporary Fantasy. It sure as hell ain’t Science Fiction. Similarly I was reading a mini-review of Battlestar Galactic in the Radio Times. I forget the exact wording but the argument made, and tone portrayed was basically “I know it’s nerdy sci-fi but it actually good in spite of that.”
So my question is simple. Why is sci-fi frowned upon? I’m going to focus on TV programs here. Look at US TV, with the exception of the newer Star Treks, most Sci-Fi lives on the brink of cancelation due to poor ratings. The program Firefly only lasted fourteen Episodes despite critical acclaim. Whereas NCIS is up to eleven seasons despite the fact that almost every episode has the same basic story construction, copy and pasted week in week out.. Sci-Fi simply does not get the ratings.
Is it reasonably and logical to discount a work of fiction based solely on its genre? I think it depends on the genre. With a romantic comedy, horror or murder mystery the genre is informed at least in part by the plot. So it’s reasonable to draw at least some conclusions based on your individual taste. However if the genre is Sci-Fi, Fantasy, period or western, etc. then only the setting is defined with no hard and fast rules as to the characters or story. A lot of fuss has been made over the years about how the newer Battlestar Galactic was ground-breaking because it focused on people with relatable problems. One article even claimed that “Sci-Fi had grown up.” The thing is that BSG didn’t really do anything special. Personally I didn’t like that show because I felt the characters simply had no depth or individuality. BSG did nothing that Babylon 5 didn’t do far better back in the mid 90s, it just made things a lot more depressing and got noticed as something different to the perceived paradigm.
Why is sci-fi frowned upon? Personally I think there’s no good reason. I think it’s an inverted version of the Emperor’s new clothes. The herd say it’s not the sort of thing “normal” people like so “normal” people don’t like it. My challenge to any of the Sci-Fi sceptics is to get hold of a copy of Firefly and give it a go, then branch out form there. Avoid Farscape though, at least at first, that is nerdy.
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