Moira Peckham, BFR Editorial Staff

I often find myself wondering why I’ve come to enjoy the things that I do. The literature that I prefer to consume occasionally has acknowledgeable intellectual or literary merit, but more often than not, it is not “capital L” literature. It’s very lowercase L. It probably has elves in it. Or spaceships. And I’m not even a little bit sorry.

I don’t know which powers-that-be decided what writing is to be valued in the modern zeitgeist, but I doubt they would approve of my choices. In my experience, the science fiction tomes that I hold so dear seldom make their way onto the shelves of classic canonical literature. There’s a strange cultural stigma surrounding the genre, the likes of which I have yet to see affect other schools of writing and their consumers in the same way. Science fiction lovers, however, are hardly the only readers to get funny looks for enjoying what they do.

It seems that no matter what one likes to consume, there will always be someone else telling them that they are incorrect for doing so. People who like sci-fi are told that there is no literary merit in their favorite genre (sometimes this is true, I won’t lie). Those who prefer to read the classics or postmodernist works are called pretentious (I have done this and I am sorry; I see the error of my ways).

And yet, although there seems to be no escaping the scorn of others when being true to your own taste, I say ignore those people who scoff at your favorite book. Don’t let others make you feel guilty or unintelligent for following your literary heart. In the long run, it’s far more fun and satisfying to accept the styles of writing that you like and roll with them than it is to consistently force yourself to consume literature that doesn’t interest you.

This being said, there is, of course, an undeniable intellectual benefit in expanding your horizons and taking in the kind of writing that you would otherwise pass by. For me this meant making myself read Jane Austen, the Brontës, and, on a particularly dark day, some James Joyce. And it’s a good thing I did too because I now know that I definitely do not like Emma but that I did enjoy Wuthering Heights. I’m still mulling over the Joyce. Go figure.

There are absolutely times in which I can feel the weight of the literary world on my shoulders, letting me know that what I’m reading doesn’t “qualify” as great writing or as something worth consuming, regardless of the intelligence or creativity that went into creating it. I choose to ignore this in favor of a more optimistic sentiment: read what you like and like what you read, regardless of who tells you not to.

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Georgia Peppe, BFR Editorial Staff

Sci-Fi.

An abbreviation that has the power to invoke utter joy or disgust given the beholder of the topic.

I personally used to be one of the blind that discredited this genre as gimmicky and meritless. Though I appreciated the concepts and imagination, I never considered anything even faintly classified as science fiction to be “literary” or of “literary merit.”

That was until my mother put Pastoralia, a collection of short stories by George Saunders, in my lap. Tenth of December soon followed.

These anthologies had no boisterous, graphic design cover art or obsequious font, so I doubted that this was in fact science fiction.

What I like specifically about Saunders-esque science fiction is its subtlety; how the science fiction aspect of his writing does not come from blatant exhibitions of, or references to, subjects preordained as science-y.

His literary trick is best described as continuous discontinuities. For Saunders this manifests in some of his short stories in an extremely unnerving manner.

The difference is this:

In most science fiction, the reader is presented a fictional world where everything is different. It is garnished with flying cars, dinosaurs, etc. There are innumerable rules governing the world and not all of them are cohesive when put in place next to each other. How this world exactly works gets confusing because the ambiguity surrounding what is different about this world is not consistent. Too many extrapolations, additions, twists, and throw away, last minute explanations that shoddily fill in gaping plot holes. In other words what is different about the world from ours, the discontinuity, is not continuous.

In Saunders’ worlds, it is typically difficult to first perceive the slightest difference between his literary world and our own. He chooses and places perversions of the expected in a setting the reader is all too familiar and comfortable with: a world without flying cars or dinosaurs, a world that is otherwise their own. Except for the twist.

I personally prefer Saunders’ more subtle approach, but, subtlety aside, even mainstream action-centric science fiction could stand to observe his skill.

A Saunders’ twist is the discontinuity, and this discontinuity is continuously integrated into the world it inhabits, creating a new world for this fiction to take place in. It is an eerie alteration of what we know so well. Though it is not as outrageous a presentation as mainstream science fiction, it leaves much more room for metaphors and allegories, but most of all, a real fear of that world which is only a slight deviation away from our own.

Continuity is crucial to world building. But of course we all knew that.

What is even more crucial is the continuity of a discontinuity. Being meticulous about your representation and presentation of an aspect of your world that defines it and distinguishes it from “reality.”

You, as a writer, want this discontinuity so well integrated that your reader is taken aback when it surfaces, when they finish your story and are left with a discomfort,  an eeriness regarding how clear and permeating that world felt.