Even with the success of Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Game of Thrones and so many other genre books over the last years the genre wars are apparently still raging. The latest salvo has come from Kazuo Ishiguro. With the release of his book The Buried Giant (one of my favorite books last year), the criticism the book received for its fantasy elements came up in a recent interview.
It seems what is getting folks up in arms is Ishiguro’s comments that educational systems have been for a long time focused on conformity and turning people into productive citizens to grow the economy:
Education’s task was to get pupils to abandon the fantasy that comes naturally to children and prepare them for the demands of the workforce.
Ishiguro suggests there is a reason why geeks, who as a group tend to read science fiction and fantasy, are in demand by big companies. The big companies are looking for creative thinkers and the geeks, not beholden to mimesis, are sought after people.
And perhaps that is true but I don’t think it is the whole story. I am inclined to agree with Charlie Anders’ thinking that Ishiguro has oversimplified just a bit because there is also the matter of math and coding skills to consider. I read SFF and have no problem thinking up all sorts of imaginative worlds and creatures, but Google is not going to hire me based on that and my mediocre html skills.
Still, the author of the Independent article gets a bit grouchy by declaring that while fantasy may be good to read, “life is more like bullshitty literary fiction” and he’ll put his trust in people who “think inside the box” to make decisions about how we live our lives.
Ishiguro doesn’t just talk about fantasy but all genre fiction and how it is not taken seriously, how it is just as valid a means of exploring human lives, feelings and relationships as “literary fiction” is. With that I am completely on board. That we even still argue over genre seems ridiculous to me. Good literature is good literature whether it is realist or fantastic, involves a murder mystery or a romance. It is convenient to use genre as a means to discuss books that partake of certain tropes and plot elements, but as a way to categorize readers or assess literary value? We really need to get over it.