It’s alive. And it came to me yesterday via the post, one of three books. But when I set this one flat on my desk, I can watch from the side and see a little bubble between pages, flow from page to page, like a living thing … silently relaying to the next white line. Yes, the new Annotated Firebird, by Kathy Tyers and re-edited for Marcher Lord Press, is that thick.
So far I’ve only read the Firebird series once — and yes, it will be a series, starting next year, when Tyers expands beyond her original trilogy with Wind and Shadow (expected late 2011) and Daystar (2012). I look forward to delving into it again, with the new volume. Yet already I’ve begun reading through many of Tyers’ notes and details about her authorial thought processes. Early in the first novel, one of those notes entails the definition of space opera …
Here’s a footnote from my thesis paper regarding the term “space opera,” written in the exotic language of academia:
The term was coined by SF author Bob “Wilson” Tucker in 1941, who was comparing bigger-than-life, action-adventure science fiction with “horse opera,” the U.S. Western, and television “soap opera.” Bob Tucker, “Le Zombie” newsletter no. 36, January, 1941, 1. Photographic simile posted at http://www.midamericon.org/tucker/lez36i.htm (accessed May 5, 2008). The term has gained a measure of respectability; “SciFi” (pronounced “skiffy” by some SF publishing professionals) is now the more derogatory term.
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This reminded me of something Tyers said in preparation for last month’s interview, which she gave me permission to relay to our audience. It began when I referred to Firebird as “sci-fi,” and she explained something I hadn’t considered — and which you might not have either.
I avoid the term “sci-fi,” and let me tell you why, in case you might want to drop it too.
I was told years ago, by a secular editor at a science fiction convention (and this has been confirmed by my experience within SFWA), that among serious professional writers, “sci-fi” is often scornfully pronounced (or even written) “skiffy,” and that for these serious folks, the term refers to substandard fiction like some of the stories that were published during the 1950s, often featuring helpless but voluptuous female laboratory assistants, bug-eyed human-eating monsters, and really bad science.
It was suggested that if I wanted to be taken seriously as a new professional in this field, I wouldn’t use that term at all, ever, amen. Obviously, that advice stuck with me.
I don’t know whether the advice is absolutely current – certainly there’s a TV network that uses it now – and there are lots of enthusiastic fans who either don’t want to take the time to say “science fiction” or else use the term hoping to sound like insiders. Still, “SF” is the more professional term, meaning “speculative fiction” and referring to both science fiction and fantasy. I don’t think anyone will ever notice if you don’t write or say “sci-fi,” but there is that super-serious contingent who will notice (and drop your credibility) if you do.
So as a favor to my friends, I try to let them know quietly, when an opportunity arises (as in your first question below). I don’t think it does any harm to avoid the term. It seems sad that we have to be politically correct among our fellow fans. Then again, we’re communication professionals.
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So what have you seen in the industry so far?
Is sci-fi or skiffy viewed as a more-cornball pulp genre, whose covers feature men wearing biceps and spacesuits, women wearing little, and horrifying invader robots wearing women?
Or have perceptions of the sci-fi term been changing?