Thursday, August 11, 2011

Evaporating Genres

Gary K. Wolfe
Evaporating Genres

Wesleyan University Press, 2011

"Evaporating genres", this is the title of this book, a collection of essays on fantastic literature. In there in the introduction to Part I Wolfe writes that ««genre» is used largely as a term of convenience», thus there is meant that the genre as such does not exist, these are labels that are glued, but the literature has no clear boundaries. However, the book's title has the word "genre", and therefore, as if we did not want to abandon the genre, and simply divide the literature on good and bad (for example), we can’t do that. To show and prove that the genres evaporate and diffuse, we first need to recognize that the genres exist, otherwise there would be nothing to prove. And therefore this book should not have to exist.

Speaking of genres, you'll notice another feature of the book. In his essays, Gary Wolfe often lists those authors who are now working between genres, Michael Swanwick, Kelly Link, China Mieville, Jeff Ford, etc etc. But as it is easily to see that these authors tentatively are referred to as “genre authors”, they are published by genre imprints and publishing houses, their works are criticized in the genre magazines and blogs, all of these authors are on this side, that is clear. Wolfe, would he wanted or not, pulled his favorite authors on his side - the side of science fiction (fantastic literature). But in the book there are almost no references to other authors, those who are commonly regarded as "mainstream".

To understand the book, it is necessary to understand the author. Wolf is a critic who is between a reviewer and an academic. In his essays, he often uses a historical approach, noting the evolution of the author, genre, subgenre. Wolf is the critic-cartographer and critic-historian. He is one of that breed of critics that can determine the location of the author in literary history, to find parallels between one author and others, to trace the roots of a given work. He sometimes digs in breadth, not depth, but the width of his scope is staggering. Wolfe knows how to lay out literature on the shelves, but can see the depth in novel as well.

His essays are exactly like the maps, extensive, where sometimes there are too many objects to focus on one particular.

Wolfe has his favorite writers (it's all the same Ford, Rickert, Link). Like any critic, he tends to exaggerate some of figures. Thus, in his essay «Evaporating Genres» in part «The Construction and Deconstruction of Horror», the author writes about the development of the horror genre, placing for Stephen King half-paragraph, and for Peter Straub several pages (in the book there is also a whole essay on Straub’s books), while to me Straub seems a phony figure.

Genres are evaporating, and Wolfe with this book helps to their evaporation.

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