I have just finished watching the BBC’s World Book Night coverage, which was meant to be generally bigging up the world of fiction, but instead nearly resulted in me having a coronary.
The contemporary fiction – aka modern fiction, aka literary fiction – genre was represented by the bucket-load, as you’d expect. The TV producers then gently moved onto the genres that real grubby proles stubbornly insist on reading – romance, crime, thrillers, chick-lit, Jilly Cooper’s sex-N-shopping novels, some of the humorous stuff, with presenter Sue Perkins making it clear that she never normally reads any of that lowbrow tripe (although she might, you know, give it a whirl now, just for the sake of World Book Night). Fiction has to be painful, a little like school, she explained, before gushing all over some beauty salon clients that her favourite must-read was Dostoevsky, who is all, like, really dark and stuff.
As the hour went by, strangely absent from this detailed parade of what people actually like to read was “a certain” genre, you know… the unclean one, speculative fiction, as in fantasy/horror/science fiction… which together accounts for between 20/30 per cent of the fiction market, depending on what measure you choose to believe.
Well to paraphrase Sue Perkins’ favourite author, ‘If fantasy & scifi novels do not exist, then everything is permitted.’
Un-fucking-believeable. I can forgive the committee of World Book Night itself, whose selection of twenty five titles to give one millions free copies away was made by a board which clearly apes the views of the Booker panel – which is that fantasy, horror and sci-fi, much like hardcore porn, has no place in any respectable fiction list*, but the BBC?
If you want to encourage people to read, might I suggest that ignoring the likes of Terry Pratchett, Joe Abercrombie, Iain M. Banks, Sir Arthur C Clarke, China Miéville, Alastair Reynolds, Peter F. Hamilton, Michael Moorcock, JRR Tolkien, JK Rowling and CS Lewis isn’t a good place to start!
I get the feeling that having shunned anything to do with novels for so long, the Beeb have suddenly woken up, noticed the death of Borders and retail book selling along with the rise of Amazon and the Kindle, then thought to themselves, ‘Crikes, the old paper book isn’t going to be around much longer, time to give it a little coverage before that section of the art ups and croaks.
Well done, the BBC. Well done World Book Night.
The Thought Police in the 1930s were educated enough to burn quite a wide selection of books, HG Wells and Jules Verne and other scifi subversives crackling quite merrily next to Ernest Hemingway and Helen Keller, but you, you fuckers have managed to burn an entire genre tonight, Action against the Un-ContemporaryFiction Spirit indeed.
Well, the fight-back starts here! Firstly, in the spirit of the BBC and World Book Night’s goodthinkful ideology, I’ve set up the Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror is not a corrupting foreign influence page on FaceBook. Do please invite all fantasy, horror and SF fans you know to join.
Secondly, I’m putting together a petition together of every British fantasy, horror and science fiction author I can get my hands on to become signatories to an official letter of complaint of bias and unbalanced coverage by the BBC.
My hard-taxed revenue at work? I don’t think so.
If, as individual viewers based in the UK, you want to complain to the BBC about failing to cover a single fantasy, horror or science fiction novel during World Book Night, the online form to do this is located at… https://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/forms/ … the more complaints, the better.
The details for the form are: The Books We Really Read: a Culture Show Special. It went out on BBC2 on the 5th March 2011.
* Before I’m deluged by comments, yes, I do realize that Northern Lights is on the World Book Night list, but only, the BBC made clear, as an example of YA-crossover – heaven forbid it should be an actual example of fantasy. And I don’t think Cloud Atlas really counts either, and as for Margaret ‘Oryx-and-Crake-is-not-science-fiction:science-fiction-is-when-you-have-chemicals-and-rockets’ Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, don’t even go there.