Why do lit-ah-rary types look down on SF

So what is it about science fiction that causes “literary” types to look down upon it? Like any genre, SF has its bad and good. No scratch that, like any writing, there is both bad and good. I’ve read plenty of unreadable “literary” fiction. But SF seems to get more derision than other forms of genre writing, perhaps unfairly. Many important books are SF.

Scantily clad woman riding a snake Yet, try to get Margaret Atwood to admit she writes it; yes, she writes SF (though anti-technological, like Michael Crichton) and some of it’s pretty good: The Handmaid’s Tale, for example. But no, she won’t cop to it. And I understand, because then she’d be lumping herself in with …. the pulps.

I’m not trying to say that there wasn’t any merit to them, but the covers … whoa, Betty … the covers … the covers … [sound of Mark pouring water over his massive, shaved scull, coursing down the rolls of fat on his neck]

What I love about the covers is the uninhibited yearning, for example, this scantily clad woman riding a giant snake. Yes, sometimes a giant snake is just a giant snake, but in this case, a Freudian interpretation is in order.

The real variation seems to be in HOW the women are scantily clad. Fantastic Adventures seems to go for the low-cut strapless dress, while Science Fiction clearly starts there and quickly jumps to the bikini-skirt combo. Of course, neither of them had anything on Spicy Adventure Stories (though these are not really science fiction), and none of these can hold a candle to Saucy Movie. (My guess is they had some kind of requirement that the artists show at least one nipple, or make up for the lack of nipple some other way. (For example, she’s being held by a fireman, or Satan, or even worse, a pirate! Arrrr!!))

Here are a few of my favourites:

Science Fiction Quarterly

Transparent helmet dude carries scantily clad woman, laughing his ass off If you’re not showing some nipple, then the woman/victim/love interest could be in the arms of a psychotic space-dude! This guy has some kind of transparent helmet on, but it sure isn’t because he has to haul away his woman-prize through the vacuum of space. His nipples are exposed. I’m not sure if this picture is as villainous as it seems: if her arms were bound, I’m sure they would be dangling like her legs. As it stands, they disappear behind his buttocks. I’ll let you draw whatever inference you may.

Science Fiction

Planet of the Knob HeadsHoly crap that chick is flexible! Her back is arched enough that she can see that her toe is almost dragging on the ground. Good thing she wasn’t wearing her tight jeans that morning. Good thing she’s hardly wearing anything at all. She’s probably thinking, “why couldn’t I get kidnapped by something good, like a buff sexy fireman or a nice-smelling pirate, for God’s sake. Instead, I’ve been abducted by some chicken-legged robot with a knob-head and these six bizarre little arms that look like baby’s arms with apples instead of fists. Hey, wait a minute ….”

Fantastic Adventures

Suspiciously shaped robot threatens woman in skin-tight dressOkay, this is getting too easy. A suspiciously shaped robot threatens a woman in a skin-tight flesh-toned dress. (And a little fashion tip for all you girls who plan on being accosted by perverted automatons on the cover of a pulp magazine — pink dress and red hair — no. Go for something white and wispy, which will be more alluring and let your hair pop.)

I will say this for her, unlike the other women, she looks genuinely horrified. Of course, you would be too if you had a six-foot condom-shaped robot shaking its business at you.

Future

Proto-Princess LeiaOne look at this and I thought, “It’s Princess Leia! So that’s where George Lucas got the bronze bikini idea.”

Seriously, that is the Proto-Princess Leia bronze boob beguiler. No doubt this suppurated in George’s imagination for a couple of decades until he got a chance to unleash it (pun intended) in Return of the Jedi. Thus, George paid it forward, and fucked up at least two generations of impressionable young gentlemen with this evil, suggestive image.

Damn you Future magazine!

Now to counteract all that cheese, here’s a selection of ground-breaking SF, culled from Time’s “top 100 books” and the BBC’s top 100:

  • Brave New World
  • 1984
  • Animal Farm
  • Fahrenheit 451
  • Slaughterhouse-Five
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • Naked Lunch
  • Dune
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • The Stand
  • The Clan Of The Cave Bear
  • Neuromancer
  • Watchmen
  • Snow Crash.

Still not sure what SF is? This handy chart may help. (Thanks to Robert Runte for pointing me towards making it.)

So, your turn — what SF book rocked your world?

Alltop thinks SF stands for San Francisco. Originally published, October 2009.