Message Fic, and the Irregular Conjugation of the Adjective

In a discussion of Naomi Kritzer’s Hugo-winning “Cat Pictures, Please!”, a commentator made this argument, in reference to Kritzer including the following line:

The legitimate studies all have the same conclusions. (1) Gay men stay gay. (2) Out gay men are much happier.

Their comment:

“Nonetheless, this is the message fic. that our host and Correia have pointed out: Where fiction is used not to elucidate greater truths, but perpetuate a falsehood. So while FTL has a lot of evidence against it, FTL is not a “social” topic: It is a conceit. And the homosexual lifestyle is definitely not healthy — physically nor mentally.

To which I can only say, “message fic” then has no objective meaning, and is only useful as a flag that “this fiction contains assumptions about the world that the reader disagrees with.”

 In itself, retrofitting isn’t bad. Christian authors do this all the time, but at least you know it is Christian fic. going in. This was kidnapping science fiction to make it pure fiction. Science fiction readers get blindsided into message fic. and nominations and awards are granted for the message not how the story was crafted.

I do not know if the original author of this comment (who has been invited here) meant to divide “Christian Fiction”, “Science Fiction”, and “Pure Fiction”. I can only imagine that the “pure fiction” is meant in the sense of “falsehood” rather than a category of fiction itself.

However, I don’t think an author like John C. Wright (upon whose blog this discussion happened) would agree that he wasn’t writing “science fiction” or “fantasy”, but was, instead, writing Christian fiction.  And if having any kind of discernable “message” — where a message appears to be, again, a statement about a social position that the reader does not agree with — removes you from SF, then SF as a genre is a much poorer, much smaller place, and lacks any coherent definition to an outside observer.

The statement “Out gay men are much happier” is only a falsehood to some, just as the statement “women shouldn’t serve in combat roles” is only a falsehood to some; yet the latter is somehow not called out as “message fic” when it is implicit in a given work.  Or, indeed, explicitly done so.

Why is that? Bertrand Russell’s “irregular verb” (I call it adjective, because, frankly, Russell used the same verb in his examples, and changed his adjective. :)): “I am firm; you are obstinate; he is a pig-headed fool.”

“My favorite writer tells deep and eternal truths in their work; your favorite writer has a strong viewpoint, their favorite writer writes message fic.”

It is my contention (which I shall revisit in this space in the near future) that the value of SF, no matter where you come from on the political spectrum, is its ability to examine spaces that are *not* allegorically or directly factually tied to the real world. Calling something out as “message-fic”, and therefore less valuable (or, indeed, not SF at all), when you do not agree with a premise is damaging your own ability to read and appreciate SF, and restricting and damaging the genre.

There is room in SF for “Cat Pictures, Please” and Narnia (speaking of kidnapping a genre ;)), as there is room for Stand on Zanzibar and Starship Troopers — dismissing any one provides ample grounds for dismissing the others out of hand.

Address them, disagree with them, argue with them; but slapping “message fic” on any of them says much more about you, as a reader, than about them, as works.


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