When you’re way way way way down at the bottom of the writing world, it seems every time you look up, there’s a luminary (or at least someone with better connections than you) making a success with one of your ideas.
It happened to me in the Nineties, when I was working on a comic series called the “Faerie Police,” about a division in the police department that handled supernatural offenders. Granted, it had its predecessors, namely The X-Files, but once I got a few stories cranked out, I started seeing that conceit everywhere – Men in Black, G vs. E, and countless indie comics.
Now, more recently, Margaret Atwood has published The Year of the Flood, a work of “speculative fiction” where a future world is beset by viruses, genetically engineered animal hybrids, and groups of religious zealots. Gee, I could almost cut that description, whole cloth, and used it for my Highway Virus series. It’s always a bit depressing, mixed with a sense of impotence, to see the upward trajectory of someone else’s work, while you are stuck with a small, unvisited Website carrying stories with similar themes, which came to you independently (from the Noosphere) and now look completely unoriginal.
I will say this, though – in her interview with the NewsHour, Margaret Atwood sounded a bit supercilious toward the sci-fi genre, glomming onto the phrase “speculative fiction” as if it were dipping in gold and glazed with cherub tears, whereas something with the label “science fiction” is low art, with stories about talking hamburgers and lizard men.
I haven’t read her book, although I am sure it is entertaining, if not outright good. But I find this attitude toward “genre fiction” to be a bit tiresome, especially with more and more great authors (for example, Cormac McCarthy with The Road) dipping into traditionally sci-fi themes.
What else would be worthy of this rarefied label of “speculative fiction”? Red Dawn, of course. Granted, there are people who think it is a documentary, sent as a warning from the future, but (for now) it lives in the speculative fiction camp – it is post-apocalyptic, and there are no robots or multi-limbed aliens. Atwood must have seen this gun-loving, right-wing stroke fest and thought – Gee, I’d much rather be associated with that as opposed to trifles such as Foundation or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
I may be at the bottom of the literary world, but at least I readily embrace the true nature of my work.