The Golden Days

(This post is pulled from facebook and begins from a Jonathan Letham story in The New Yorker, which is based on the Robert Heinlein story “And He Built a Crooked House.” If you try the above link you will run into a paywall. Sorry about that. I will see if there is a way around it.)

I kind of miss the old days, when SFF was an enclave of not-well-respected readers and writers and when SFF would not appear in The New Yorker, unless it was by an established literary writer doing their own version of fantastic fiction.

Two things have happened since the golden days of my youth. SFF has overwhelmed popular culture, due in good part to CGI. (Once you have CGI, you have to use it, and what better, more spectacular way than SFF?) The other thing has been the blurring of the boundary between literary fiction and fantastic fiction. I’m not sure why this happened. Maybe a lot of artists of all kinds grew up on SFF and did not leave it entirely behind. The line between SFF and literature was never as strongly drawn outside America, so another element was writers like Calvino and Borges, clearly fantastic and clearly literary.

An important element in the US (I think) is McCarthyism. A lot of American writers retreated into psychological novels about the middle class as a way of avoiding trouble. (My old friend John Rezmerksi said I was wrong here, and the psychological novel goes back to Henry James. Could be, but a fear of attracting red baiters may have made the psychological novel suddenly attractive after WWII.) SFF became a safe place to write about more varied topics, because it was pulp fiction, kid fiction. No one paid much attention to it. To me as a kid it was far more realistic than realistic fiction, since it talked about nuclear holocaust and police states and the horrible pressure to conform…