World Book Night was on Saturday 5 March. The BBC had a special program on the Culture Show called ‘The Books We Really Read’, where presenter Sue Perkins surveyed the UK’s literary landscape to see what sort of books have managed to pry Brits away from their HDTVs, interwebs, videogames and MP3s. There’s the usual suspects: contemporary fiction, crime, thriller, romance, chick-lit. But strangely enough, not a single hat tip to the sci-fi, fantasy or horror genre.
This can’t be right. Sci-fi/fantasy/horror may be niche, but to totally omit any mention of the more outlandish members of the literary family – in a national reading survey no less – looks positively conspiratorial.
Sci-fi/fantasy author Stephen Hunt is pretty pissed off about the BBC’s snub. He’s got a petition going to bring this grievance to the attention of those 19th century Russian literature-reading elitists in London. There's also a Guardian article on this cultural fail.
I haven’t read much fiction of any genre, BBC worthy or otherwise, for a few years now (yes, I’ve turned into a philistine). Nowadays non-fiction is more my cup of cognitive kick. But I do sympathise with Hunt and his fellow genre writers. When you belong to a grand tradition that gave the world such indelible otherworlds like Arrakis, Middle-earth and Transylvania, you can be understandably irate when your literary ethnicity is disavowed by your own country’s top broadcaster (and the world's largest, by the way).
Actually, the BBC’s boo-boo does affect me to some extent, since the only fiction I still read is fantasy. Specifically, I’m following George R R Martin’s excellent series of byzantine intrigue, gasp-out-loud twists, complex characters, stirring action and rich world-building, A Song of Ice and Fire. For me, ASOIAF is to modern fantasy what Neon Genesis Evangelion is to modern anime: a game-changer, stereotype-breaker, innovative, revolutionary. After a six-year wait, the latest installment in the series is finally out in July. Plus Martin’s books are being made into a HBO TV series, which looks very promising.
Sci-fi, fantasy and horror novels may be beneath the BBC's notice, but their memes have spread far and wide in the general culture. Writers like Frank Herbert, J R R Tolkien, Bram Stoker and George R R Martin have been tremendously successful, mainly because their imaginative creations are so compelling. Which is why it’s gobsmackingly odd that their work got the silent treatment on the World Book Night program.
HT: Russell Blackford