I love literature. I also love genres like fantasy and science fiction, which seem to suffer from the stigma of being considered “paraliterature”, as if no true artistic relevance could be found outside the closed borders of realistic fiction.
This prejudice against genre literature, which also includes mystery and crime novels, is pretty much absurd if we consider that throughout the ages recognized works of literature were full of fantastical elements: from the Iliad to Shakespeare to Kafka to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, illustrious writers have refused to limit their pen to everyday realism. One could argue that the entire difference between a simple text and literature is the ability to transcend mundane reality and expose something universal, through the language of imagination and fantasy if necessary.
Why would the “magical realism” of Marquez or Murakami be more respectable and literary than Tolkien’s or Asimov’s extreme world-building efforts? And despite the stigma, why are these genres so popular with the younger generations?
I believe I found an answer watching the video of a TED Talk by moral philosopher James Flynn, “Why our IQs are greater than our grandparents’” (you can watch the whole video here). His answer is very simple: abstract thought.
Philosophy, science and the arts have helped the human mind and culture evolve by creating hypothetical playing grounds through the simple question: what if? The ability to play around with the parameters of reality has consistently revealed new truths about the world we live in.
So, returning to fantasy and science fiction, could it be that the bias is caused by an old mindset, too anchored to reality and less inclined to speculation? Could it be that these genres reflect in literature the same kind of abstraction researched by figurative arts in the last century?
I confess, I do write science fiction (you can find my first novel, Julia Dream, here). And I don’t identify my work as “paraliterature”.