Friday, March 11, 2011

Kazuo Ishiguro on Science Fiction (Oops... Sci-Fi)

Less than 3 hours after publishing my previous blog post on Earl Kemp's Who Killed Science Fiction? -- Christopher Barzak1 posted a quote on his Facebook page from Booker Prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro. The quote specifically mentioned the ghettoization of science fiction, which I had touched upon in the Kemp piece. I was so taken with the quote that I queried Christopher on the source, and he pointed me to a February 4 article in Scotland's Herald online, entitled "When 21st-century sci-fi meets human emotion."2

For those unfamiliar with Kazuo Ishiguro: According to Wikipedia, he "is one of the most celebrated contemporary fiction authors in the English-speaking world, having received four Man Booker Prize nominations, including winning the 1989 prize for his novel The Remains of the Day." By chance does that 1993 film title ring a bell?

Ishiguro is also the author of the 2005 novel Never Let Me Go. The film adaptation was released in the UK on February 11, which explains why he was in the news -- and being interviewed for this Herald article -- a week earlier. Last year I had read Never Let Me Go (courtesy of my local San Jose library system) after learning that the novel was being adapted into a movie.

Here's the quote:

It's almost like they've given us older writers licence to use it [science fiction]. Before, it was ghettoised and stigmatised. For years there has been a prejudice towards sci-fi writing, which I think has been to the loss of the literary world, and not vice versa. But with things like graphic novels now, people are taking it seriously.
—Kazuo Ishiguro

Though the quote speaks positively about SF, I would suggest that were you to ask authors Alex Garland and David Mitchell, whose work is specifically acknowledged in this article as examples of this "science fiction in lit" trend, both would vehemently deny that their stories have anything to do with "sci-fi." Rather, they would argue that their stories are about people, and real emotions, and the human condition in a setting that is different from our own reality. Heaven forbid these authors -- and their publishers -- should be associated with science fiction.

My point is made two paragraphs later when Ishiguro goes on to dis SF readers and moviegoers. The article reads: "In truth, the sci-fi label is misleading, says Ishiguro. 'I'm just wary like everybody else that it'll bring in the wrong audience with the wrong expectations.'"

I guess Ishiguro is worried the theatre attendees will be nothing but freaks and geeks -- Spock-eared, light-sabre-wielding, loin-cloth attired -- expecting onscreen space ships and/or dinosaurs.

Never Let Me Go, the film, stars Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and The Social Network's Andrew Garfield. The film was adapted by Alex Garland, an old friend of Ishiguro's, and directed by Mark Romanek. It opened last year in the US.

If you did, in fact, see this film last year, I do hope you dressed appropriately, and viewed the film with the proper respect, sophistication, and expectations.

As to my take on the novel itself. This blog is not a "reviews" blog, per se, but I will say that, though I enjoyed the novel (it was indeed well written), it left a lot of questionable holes, sort of what I would expect from a writer, writing SF, but with no experience in the genre.


1. Christopher Barzak wrote the foreword to M. Rickert's first collection (and first book) Map of Dreams, which won the World Fantasy Award for best collection. I acquired and edited this collection for Golden Gryphon Press.

2. Gawd, I absolutely detest the use of the word "sci-fi" -- one can always tell when an outsider (read: mainstream) attempts to discuss "science fiction." Am I a snob? Well, yes, I guess I am. So be it. A snob proud of my involvement in the genre.

[Post to Twitter]Tweet This


  1. Jack SkillingsteadMarch 12, 2011 at 2:53 AM

    He's afraid of the "wrong" sort of audience. Trust me, I understand a writer's insecurity. But this guy, and other literary types who have lately indulged in science fiction writing -- whether they acknowledge it or not -- take insecurity to a new level.

  2. Hi, Jack,

    Thanks for your comment. Intriguing thought as well... I think the SF genre reader would truly appreciate Ishiguro's (and others') writing more for what it really is, but because the individual is an SF reader, s/he would be more critical of the work at the same time. (I'm an example of that.) I think it's this on-the-fence attitude -- I want to write SF but I don't want to be thought of as writing SF -- is what causes said insecurity, more so than for a typical writer.

    - marty