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Saturday, August 04, 2007

A Non-SF Novel Every SF Writer Should Read

People trolling in the genre mines of Science Fiction and Fantasy often harbor some resentment towards "mainstream" authors who manage to write books with heavy genre elements and get them to be taken seriously by people whose job it is to take books seriously. (The Road being one recent high-profile example.)

There is a sense that such examples of "not science fiction" (to borrow a phrase from Maureen McHugh) are simply appropriating our toys and not giving us the credit. Leave aside the simple-mindedness of defending a commercially defined genre as if it was some walled garden being despoiled by outsiders. . . There's an assumption in the above that the "mainstream" is all take and no give.

To this, I say, not so. I have just finished (on my trip to Europe) what I believe is the best fictional portrayal of an alien mind that I have seen in print. It isn't SF. It isn't even arguably SF. It isn't slipstream, or magic realism, or anything that could potentially fit in the ever-widening tent of speculative fiction. If you really wanted to shove it into a genre, you might convince someone it is a murder mystery. Maybe.

The book is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. It is told exclusively from the POV of an autistic boy named Christopher, and his autism informs everything in the book from the narrative voice, the details he relates (and more importantly, and sometimes shockingly, he doesn't relate) and how he reacts emotionally to his surroundings. If you ever want to write about an alien, especially from an alien POV, you would do very well to study this book.


RobRoy said...

I've heard good things about this book, but as an aforementioned SF/Fantasy reader, I sorta shrugged it off. However, I did read "The Road". Since you mentioned it, have you read it? What were your thoughts on this novel?