Papers From the Past

2 10 2012

I was puttering around in the basement yesterday cleaning up the blood and sorting the towels when I happened upon something I hadn’t seen in a while. You mean that FBI agent? Isn’t he a little sticky by now? Haha, no. Of course not. It was a set of folders from college. And in those folders were several hundred pages of surveys. I was an English major which of course made me only the coolest sort of guy around campus. Yeah these are my bro’s, Hemingway and Chaucer. I call em War and Old English, yo. Anyway, these surveys were from my Linguistics course. It was one of my favorites. The professor loved Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and frequently used episodes of Bones to demonstrate linguistic principles.

So what were the surveys for?

A bloody research project of course!

At the end of the class we were all required to do something with surveys and stuff with people. Or something. There might have been dinosaurs or aliens involved somehow. I don’t remember. At any rate, I do remember we were supposed to try to answer some question we had about language. Holy open-ended course requirements Batman! I chose something near and dear to me of course. Allow me to explain. Some more…

Whenever you walk into a book store you immediately know where to go to find what you are looking for. So long as you have some general idea of what you’re after. For instance, if you’re looking for a book to tell you how to cook, you’re going to saunter on over to the shelves labeled, “Cooking” or maybe “Instructional”. If you want dramatic-sparkly-techno-steam-vampire-werewolf-teen pregnancy, well… Honestly I’m not sure about that one. Young Adult? You know what, at that point you should probably just ask an employee for a helping hand.

I’m concerned with Science Fiction and Fantasy. Go to a Barnes and Noble or a Borders and you will see the two mixed, typically. Those two genres are generally not separated. Why? That’s what I was trying to answer. Why are they mashed together? What are they? Can we define them? Can I eat this? Where did I put my car keys?

Needles to say the final two were the hardest to answer.

So I hammered out a pretty good survey, gave it to a bunch of people ranging from middle school students up to college seniors. The data was staggering!

Apparently no one has a clue.

Some of the answers were expected. You get that one kid in class that’s going to be the ‘clown’ that gives you incredibly informative answers in the same way an Irish-as-a-second-language Ichthyologist from Zimbabwe excels at translating Latin biblical text into Chinese. DID THAT CONFUSE YOU BECAUSE MY BRAIN JUST OOZED FROM MY EARS.

So what did I ask?

  • Write three things that come to mind when you think of Science Fiction
  • Write three things that come to mind when you think of Fantasy
  • What would you say is required to classify a novel as Science Fiction
  • What would you say is required to classify a novel as Fantasy
  • Name a Science Fiction author that you know
  • Name a Fantasy author that you know
  • Do you know what genre a Hugo is awarded to?

There was a massive amount of variety in responses. My goal was to identify patterns in the responses that could be used to create concrete definitions. That didn’t happen. So did I learn anything? Well, some kids don’t take things seriously. Some wouldn’t even be able to tell you what an author is if it hadn’t come up on TV once. Oh and the two genres sort of blur near the middle; each can freely cross over into and flutter about in the other’s business. 

Oh, and I’m going to keep writing both. There is such a wide variety of things that could be included in these two massive umbrellas that the very concept of ‘genre’ ends up being far to prohibitive to really talk about either.

And dealing with kids makes me hungry.

Or was it angry?






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