You read that right. It doesn’t say genre fiction, it says genrefication. Kinda like when Hugo Gernsback started publishing fiction that had a large scientific or technology component and called it Scientifiction. Dumb name, right? He probably felt terribly witty when he first came up with it, kinda like whoever first said steampunk, or cyberpunk, or maybe like Hero Protagonist crashing through suburban yards, thinking he was going to beat the pizza delivery countdown only to go splashing straight into someone’s in-ground pool. It happens.
I have, probably to my ultimate emotional detriment, been doing some reading into the “history” of Science Fiction (SF). I finally know how the Hugo Award got its name (or at least from whom). I’ve read all about how witty Brian Aldiss is, and all those other white dudes–American and British–who liked to trash other writers, and SF itself for a while, for not conforming to one tradition or another. I read literary critics who traced various periods of SF and how it conformed to/participated in/influenced one SF period or other. And what I can say, without knowing the entire history, without having read all of–or indeed, really, any–of the Golden Age SF space operas and genre dialectics disguised as fiction, what has really defined SF is simple: the belief of one or another faction in their right to define or to be emblematic of a genre.
Various sources place Mary Shelley as the beginning of SF, but while many point to how Frankenstein included scientific speculation or aspects of gothic horror which led to explorations of the fantastic and so on and so on, few bother to talk about the fact that Shelley wanted to do something new. She was constrained by her life and wanted to tell a story that was different. Of course she drew on the Gothic, the Romantic, and other influences. She was living at the height of Romanticism. And the idea that 1960′s space opera was not part of the same Romantic continuum is just blind stupidity, if you ask me. How would we ever have got to Kvothe’s love affair with himself if not for the incredible self-regard of those writing in the 1970′s, dreaming of all the futures that would contain only themselves? It’s pretty much War of the Worlds all over again. The British colonizing themselves. Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov fellating themselves. Same thing.
Of course, these men were products of their generations, the worlds in which they lived. Heinlein is known for having included non-white characters in his stories–even going so far as to put great effort into making them likable and then revealing that they were black or latino–but would he ever have considered making space in his genre for a black or latino writer to create their own stories? Hugo thought he was doing great things for a genre, and is recognized for that, but plenty of critics assert that Hugo Gernsback ruined whatever chance American SF had for becoming a fully developed literary genre. That is, had Hugo not created Scientifiction, the SF revolution that has been taking place over the past 5-10 years (and which is, coincidentally, represented by the Hugo Awards crisis of every year from now to Earth-Death) might have happened in the 1920′s.
And I suppose there are those who will ask, hands to their breasts in expectation of imminent fainting, that if SF’s development in the early 20th century hadn’t happened, if maybe Heinlein et al hadn’t had such time and space to speculate, we might never have waterbeds or cell phones or geostationary satellites or Grok. Well, it’s true we might not have Grok. But the rest? Who’s to say a woman might not have invented those things? Who’s to say others who did not have the chance to write in a world full of Hugo and Heinlein, might not have created all the worlds we now know, and more, had they been given their own space?
Because this is the crux. Those who only want to see space opera SF written by and for white guys, only believe that white guys can come up with all those ideas. That allowing someone else who isn’t a white guy to write their (and our) stories, would be allowing the possibility for sub-par production to sneak in. People who only want white guy SF already believe everyone else is an alien. No wonder it was so easy for so many guys to write Africans and minorities as aliens (looking at you Resnick). However much Heinlein fought for racial equality, if he only ever saw himself as qualified to write minorities, he’s just a gatekeeper, not a visionary.
SF is a million worlds and billions and billions of words and is infinitely more rich when everyone has a chance to participate. What really defines SF is not trends and influences and tropes, it is the efforts of a few to draw a line around their playground and keep everyone out. And this great club to which we all belong in our own ways–as readers, writers, critics, media consumers–is so much weaker for it.