The Secret History of Science Fiction
The one ongoing war that Obama hasn’t been asked to fix, the Great Genre Conflict of the 20th and 21st centuries is still being fought in pedantic literary corners and the Internet’s great anonymous battlefield. Kelly and Kessel have positioned themselves as its greatest peacemakers, sifting through obscurities to unite the fringe “genres” with more mainstream literary culture.
To that end, we have this collection of short stories from science-fiction authors writing in a more literary vein (Ursula K. Le Guin) and established literary icons playing with sci-fi (T.C. Boyle). Generally, the argument comes from the literary middle ground, which pushes science fiction to the fringes. But Kelly and Kessel see an equal pushback from the so-called geek culture, who view mainstream writers tilling their fields as carpetbaggers.
So this is what we are left with: an exciting and divergent collection that looks nothing like laser-and-robot sci-fi even when that’s what it is. Lethem contributes the best of the bunch, “The Hardened Criminals,” in which lifelong prisoners are squashed and hardened into living prison walls. And Steven Millhauser’s “The Wizard of West Orange” is a steampunk fantasy that does what sci-fi and “mainstream” fiction should do: take us to new territory that looks strikingly like our own.