News

Genre authors attack "sneering" WBN coverage

Authors including Iain M Banks and Michael Moorcock have written to the BBC's director general Mark Thompson, attacking the treatment of genre fiction in its recent World Book Night coverage.

In total 85 authors, across the science fiction, fantasy and horror genres, signed the letter to the BBC, which said the evening of programming ignored the three genres. The letter also claimed the tone of "The Books We Really Read" Culture Show special, which examined commercial fiction, was "sneering".

Fantasy author Stephen Hunt, who organised the protest, said: "The weight that was given to the single sub-genre of literary fiction in the remaining programmes was unbalanced and unrepresentative of all but a small fraction of the country’s reading tastes."

Hunt said given the success of the Harry Potter and Twilight series, the evening of programming should have devoted more time to the horror, fantasy and science fiction genres. He said: "The sweeping under the carpet of the very genres of the imagination which engage and fire readers’ minds shows a lot more about the BBC production team’s taste in fiction than it does about what the general public is actually reading."

The BBC was unavailable for comment.

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SNEERING IS GOOD . You must sneer if you an intellectual like what they are at the BBC .

If you want to know about sneering, try being a Romantic Novelist - or write for women. In the 'most sneered at' competition, we win!

Very true Katie but, trite thought it was, the culture show special devoted a lot of attentions to women's writing.

BBC pundits mistake gimp psychology for literature. SF isn't that. Their attitude just reveals the philosophical illiteracy and aesthetic parochialism of much of the English literary 'elite'. They have nothing to sneer about.

If anyone's interesting in reading Hunt's original blog post and the petition (and it is worth a read) here's the link: http://www.sfcrowsnest.com/articles/news/2011/One-Genre-to-bring-them-al...

I feel like sneering too. I sneer at the people who read books that they think they should read because its 'literature' and because people say you should have read it, even though they find reading it a chore. Reading shouldn't be a chore. That's why God invented Fantasy, Horror and Sf.

Go,go,go. When I was overseas my sci- fi fantasy novels helped keep me on the go.
Robert R. McCammon (Horror), Anne McCaffrey (Sci- fi fantasy), lots of others.
Imagination needs the fuel provided.

That is only one reason why WBN was a patronising, top-down event. Whereas the Save Our Libraries campaign is a from-the-down-up grassroots movement started by people who read what they enjoy, including SF, Horror, Crime, Romance - oh, and Man Booker winners and Dickens too.

The list of 85 signatories is largely a list of fantasy writers I've never heard of who, presumably, adding their name to the list in the vague hope of getting some publicity for their unbought series of epic novels. If they really cared, they'd not be so selfish and trumpet other genres much bigger than their own - like food & drink, kids picture books, travel, celebrity memoirs, and business. So here's to Nigella Express, the Lonely Planet Guide to New York City and Richard Branson's autobiography appearing on the World Book Night 2011 list.

Yeah, a bunch of nobodies like Michael Moorcock, Ian McDonald, Joe Haldeman, Ramsey Campbell, David Brin, Greg Bear, Larry Niven, Tamora Pierce, Lucius Shephard, Michael Marshall Smith, Charlie Stross, Michael Swanwick, Elizabeth Moon, and Jane Yolen. Oh, and Iain Banks, Greg Benford, Debi Gliori, James Lovegrove, Adam Roberts, Mike Resnick, SM Stirling, Harry Turtledove, Ian Watson and Walter Jon Williams.

Next you'll be championing Katie Price's autobiography . . . It probably sold more than the last three books you cited. But then again, its got the same literary merit as Nigella Express and Jamie Oliver's bestselling contribution to the cook book library.

Jason you make a fair point, but there needs to be a better balance on the universal. Sci-fi, horror and fantasy are huge money spinners, and really there should of been something in WBN to represent this. Of course more genres would of been better, but I can't see the general public going nutty over a copy of Branson, as well written as it may be. The masses in our shop atleast have shown sci-fi to be a hugely commercial property, and although I haven't myself heard of about half the list, it can't be argued the rest of the list, and the big sellign titles this year have been some very class acts. I see Larry Niven there for instance, and I think something like the Ringwolrd would of made a great addition to the whole WBN farce. It's very much seen at times the way the graphic novel/manga sections are looked at. How can something so "silly" in presentation be anything with an inch of deapth. WBN was meant to celebrate books, but as all comments here have pointed out, it's more a celebration of someones personal taste over the medium in general. So I say a hell yes to Mr Hunt and his motley crew of authors, and certainly a nod of approval to Mr Bloom to, for no celebration of a medium is complete without diversity. Maybe next year will be different, he said with almost mocking cynicism.

For a full list of authors protesting, crime and children's authors as well as fantasy, SF and horror, there's also a news story on this over at http://www.sfx.co.uk/2011/04/16/85-authors-protest-at-the-bbc%e2%80%99s-...

Just spotted the articles on this in the Guardian newspaper, as well as the Telegraph.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/8458277/BBC-attacked-b...

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/apr/18/genre-authors-protest-bbc

True enough there are other genres "sneered" at but the Beeb missed that Cloud Atlas very much falls in the Sci-Fi camp too - if they had bothered to read it. Jason, the list of writers here brings quite a few genre bestsellers together - doesn't matter if you haven't heard of them, there are plenty who read this genre who do, and most are well respected. Personally I'm not arsed with the sneering at all - most "literary" pieces make bugger all money for their publishers anyway, and it's the likes of horror, crime, romance and sf-fantasy that keep publishers going. Without these writers they would be screwed...

quality not quantity, which is why your two posts are worth less than the responses given to it i guess...

just because you've never heard of those authors doesn't mean you can just dismiss them out of hand. Many people, even if their numbers total less than Ms Price's who for all her faults has got many people reading, have had the pleasure of reading these author's books and perhaps felt that they're reading tastes were left out of the first WBN celebrations. This only shows that some fine tuning is needed and a greater diversity of books should be included next year as it seems this wont be going away. personally, i find many classics a chore for they do not interest me, but i respect after working in the trade, people's reading tastes range from the intensely literary to the chick-lit genres and we have to cater for that.

Sneering only means you are incapable of appreciating other people's points of view. which you are, clearly...

Hi there

I work for the BBC we aim to give the broadest range of books coverage possible, for instance there will be a Culture Show on Science Fiction in May and a Book Review Show starting later in the year which will offer a further opportunity to discuss all manner books.

There is an attitude in the UK towards "genre" fiction, no doubt about it. I write historicals and shorts, and while historicals are a "genre", the literary crowd seem to have deemed it acceptable, and we don't have to play with the grubby children in the corner.

This attitude is not exclusive to the BBC, as evidenced by this thread. Sue Pollard is an idiot. The whole literary/genre divide is a load of rubbish, and I would suspect it has its roots in one of those very British class things that I have always puzzled me.

you have a mind-bogglingly narrow definition of reading and an astonishing inability to read other readers' minds.

you wanna get out more love.

Sue Pollard may or may not be an idiot, but the presenter in question was Sue Perkins, who is not an idiot. She came across as a bit of a snob, it's true, but then the tone of the show was all wrong, just like almost everything on TV about books. Everything has to be a "journey", so they seem to think that means that you have to have hire people to talk about books they don't actually like.

SNEERING IS GOOD . You must sneer if you an intellectual like what they are at the BBC .

If you want to know about sneering, try being a Romantic Novelist - or write for women. In the 'most sneered at' competition, we win!

Feel double sorry for Lois McMaster Bujold, then - probably the only person to win the Nebula *and* be awarded by the Romantic Times, and also probably one of the best authors of the last fifty years or so. You need the Large Hadron Collider to see the respect she gets from most of the press...

Very true Katie but, trite thought it was, the culture show special devoted a lot of attentions to women's writing.

BBC pundits mistake gimp psychology for literature. SF isn't that. Their attitude just reveals the philosophical illiteracy and aesthetic parochialism of much of the English literary 'elite'. They have nothing to sneer about.

If anyone's interesting in reading Hunt's original blog post and the petition (and it is worth a read) here's the link: http://www.sfcrowsnest.com/articles/news/2011/One-Genre-to-bring-them-al...

I feel like sneering too. I sneer at the people who read books that they think they should read because its 'literature' and because people say you should have read it, even though they find reading it a chore. Reading shouldn't be a chore. That's why God invented Fantasy, Horror and Sf.

you have a mind-bogglingly narrow definition of reading and an astonishing inability to read other readers' minds.

you wanna get out more love.

I honestly cannot see anything objectionable about what they said. Reading should be a joy. From the lightest, fluffiest of beach reading to the densest academic treatises on some obscure subject, if you're not enjoying it on some level, why are you doing it? (yes, I realize we all are sometimes forced to read things we'd rather not, but come on. I've always found it torture, and the only benefit has been when it was for a paycheck.)

a couple of futher replies have gone missing from here (both mine and the original poster's) since last week. they may have answered your comment @seisachtheia, but now i can't remember what they were. more ot the point, how come two replies got deleted?

Go,go,go. When I was overseas my sci- fi fantasy novels helped keep me on the go.
Robert R. McCammon (Horror), Anne McCaffrey (Sci- fi fantasy), lots of others.
Imagination needs the fuel provided.

That is only one reason why WBN was a patronising, top-down event. Whereas the Save Our Libraries campaign is a from-the-down-up grassroots movement started by people who read what they enjoy, including SF, Horror, Crime, Romance - oh, and Man Booker winners and Dickens too.

The list of 85 signatories is largely a list of fantasy writers I've never heard of who, presumably, adding their name to the list in the vague hope of getting some publicity for their unbought series of epic novels. If they really cared, they'd not be so selfish and trumpet other genres much bigger than their own - like food & drink, kids picture books, travel, celebrity memoirs, and business. So here's to Nigella Express, the Lonely Planet Guide to New York City and Richard Branson's autobiography appearing on the World Book Night 2011 list.

Yeah, a bunch of nobodies like Michael Moorcock, Ian McDonald, Joe Haldeman, Ramsey Campbell, David Brin, Greg Bear, Larry Niven, Tamora Pierce, Lucius Shephard, Michael Marshall Smith, Charlie Stross, Michael Swanwick, Elizabeth Moon, and Jane Yolen. Oh, and Iain Banks, Greg Benford, Debi Gliori, James Lovegrove, Adam Roberts, Mike Resnick, SM Stirling, Harry Turtledove, Ian Watson and Walter Jon Williams.

Well I've heard of 2 of those.

Then you have a lot of good new reading available to you.

Next you'll be championing Katie Price's autobiography . . . It probably sold more than the last three books you cited. But then again, its got the same literary merit as Nigella Express and Jamie Oliver's bestselling contribution to the cook book library.

quality not quantity, which is why your two posts are worth less than the responses given to it i guess...

just because you've never heard of those authors doesn't mean you can just dismiss them out of hand. Many people, even if their numbers total less than Ms Price's who for all her faults has got many people reading, have had the pleasure of reading these author's books and perhaps felt that they're reading tastes were left out of the first WBN celebrations. This only shows that some fine tuning is needed and a greater diversity of books should be included next year as it seems this wont be going away. personally, i find many classics a chore for they do not interest me, but i respect after working in the trade, people's reading tastes range from the intensely literary to the chick-lit genres and we have to cater for that.

Sneering only means you are incapable of appreciating other people's points of view. which you are, clearly...

a) I was referring to Mr Bloom's comments (and flippantly so)
b) I've read many of the authors on that list and the ones mentioned by Mr Bloom
c) Stop sneering at me. You're not appreciating my point of view.
d) Thank you for sharing your point of view. I agree with you on Ms Price's contribution in getting many people to read, incidently who may not read another book again. Unless Ms Price continues to churn out a book to go with every series of her vapish tv show.
e) I hope you enjoy the rest of your Easter holiday.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Larry Niven? David Brin? Greg Bear? Really you have never heard of them? Larry Niven is probably one of the most read Science Fiction authors of our time. His book Ringworld is considered a classic since it was published in 1970. He has lectured at MIT as well as other technical schools. Bigger generes better than Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror? There are none. Here is a list list of some works from the genere.
The Lord of the RIngs.
The Hobbit.
Chronicles of Narnia.
Harry Potter.
Brave New World.
1984.
Star Trek.
Star Wars.
Frankenstein.
2001
I Robot "the book not the movie"
The Foundation Series.
Stranger in a Strange Land.
The Martian Chronicles.
Hitch Hickers Guide to the Galaxy.
and on and on. Not only that but the authors of those books have actually contributed several inovations to the planet. Author C. Clarke invented the communications satellite. Isaac Asimov contributed the world Robotics.
It is the genere that every scientist and technical expert reads you know the people that create the modern world you live in including this website and the vast network of computers called the Internet.
I can not help it if you are just not well read or educated enough to know these famous authors. I bet Steven Hawkins knows a few of them personally and their books are probably on his shelf at home.

*facepalm* Talk about missing the point. How can you not have heard of Michael Moorcock? Do you even read science fiction, fantasy, or horror?

Jason you make a fair point, but there needs to be a better balance on the universal. Sci-fi, horror and fantasy are huge money spinners, and really there should of been something in WBN to represent this. Of course more genres would of been better, but I can't see the general public going nutty over a copy of Branson, as well written as it may be. The masses in our shop atleast have shown sci-fi to be a hugely commercial property, and although I haven't myself heard of about half the list, it can't be argued the rest of the list, and the big sellign titles this year have been some very class acts. I see Larry Niven there for instance, and I think something like the Ringwolrd would of made a great addition to the whole WBN farce. It's very much seen at times the way the graphic novel/manga sections are looked at. How can something so "silly" in presentation be anything with an inch of deapth. WBN was meant to celebrate books, but as all comments here have pointed out, it's more a celebration of someones personal taste over the medium in general. So I say a hell yes to Mr Hunt and his motley crew of authors, and certainly a nod of approval to Mr Bloom to, for no celebration of a medium is complete without diversity. Maybe next year will be different, he said with almost mocking cynicism.

For a full list of authors protesting, crime and children's authors as well as fantasy, SF and horror, there's also a news story on this over at http://www.sfx.co.uk/2011/04/16/85-authors-protest-at-the-bbc%e2%80%99s-...

Just spotted the articles on this in the Guardian newspaper, as well as the Telegraph.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/8458277/BBC-attacked-b...

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/apr/18/genre-authors-protest-bbc

True enough there are other genres "sneered" at but the Beeb missed that Cloud Atlas very much falls in the Sci-Fi camp too - if they had bothered to read it. Jason, the list of writers here brings quite a few genre bestsellers together - doesn't matter if you haven't heard of them, there are plenty who read this genre who do, and most are well respected. Personally I'm not arsed with the sneering at all - most "literary" pieces make bugger all money for their publishers anyway, and it's the likes of horror, crime, romance and sf-fantasy that keep publishers going. Without these writers they would be screwed...

Hi there

I work for the BBC we aim to give the broadest range of books coverage possible, for instance there will be a Culture Show on Science Fiction in May and a Book Review Show starting later in the year which will offer a further opportunity to discuss all manner books.

Oh, wonderful: "Separate but equal".

Stop covering your ass, stop the artificial division based upon content rather than quality, get your nose out of the air, and produce something that talks about all writing on an equal basis.

There is an attitude in the UK towards "genre" fiction, no doubt about it. I write historicals and shorts, and while historicals are a "genre", the literary crowd seem to have deemed it acceptable, and we don't have to play with the grubby children in the corner.

This attitude is not exclusive to the BBC, as evidenced by this thread. Sue Pollard is an idiot. The whole literary/genre divide is a load of rubbish, and I would suspect it has its roots in one of those very British class things that I have always puzzled me.

Sue Pollard may or may not be an idiot, but the presenter in question was Sue Perkins, who is not an idiot. She came across as a bit of a snob, it's true, but then the tone of the show was all wrong, just like almost everything on TV about books. Everything has to be a "journey", so they seem to think that means that you have to have hire people to talk about books they don't actually like.

Point taken, and accepted.

I wish there was a facility to edit something after you posted it. I retract the "idiot" comment, it was made in the heat of the moment.

And Perkins, yes, not Pollard, another reason why one should think twice before posting.

I am quite red-faced. Apologies all.

Please disregard my ill-advised "idiot" comment (and the confusion of the Sues - sorry to both of you!)

I remember a first-time writer being nominated for a Dagger and his absolute disgust that his book was being labelled as genre. He insulted a roomful of excellent writers, agents, publishers and readers by informing them that his writing was so much better than just a crime novel. And that's why I never read another book he wrote. Genre novels are popular for a reason, they're enjoyable reads. Sometimes thought-provoking but always (I hope) written with the reader, not the critic, in mind. That's why I read and publish them.

Incidentally, I don't publish horror because it scares me but that doesn't mean I'll ever sneer at it or those involved in reading or writing the books. They have a following for a reason.

I'm currently reading Jasper Fforde's One of Our Thursdays is Missing which highlights the differences between the genres and people's perception of them, makes for an enjoyable and timely read. As far as I am concerned, as long as books have readers and are well-written, they should all be celebrated.

According to the BBC website yesterday, sales for March were, overall, actually up on last tear by 1.3%. It was just books that were down. Nothing to do with World Book Night's special madness, of course. Why can't people just admit that WBN was a commercial disaster for the trade? Oh, and Susan Hill, spot on, thank you.

I had a letter published in the Radio Times in 1971 on the same issue: "Alternative Worlds" (Writers in Society, 11 November 1971, BBC1) a programme by Jonathan Miller.

There's a copy online:
http://purl.oclc.org/NET/sargents/Philip/matdat/sf-in-radio-times.html

Thank you for doing this! I was blogging this week in the Guardian about this very subject. It's a disgrace the way the trade treats more commercial authors! Link here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/edinburgh/2011/apr/21/writing-literary-commerc...

I generally agree with the genre authors' complaints, but worry that by continuing the high/low culture dichotomy in their defense of their work, they're hurting their own argument and devaluing their work. My full response is on my blog. http://maggiecakes.wordpress.com/2011/04/23/in-defense-of-genre-fiction/

Not being an author but being a reader, I don't understand a lot of your "articulate author jargon" but I was actually at the World Book Night and had only read one of the books represented and that was "Fingersmith" by Sarah Waters. I then went out and bought every other single book that was represented, as did many of my book minded friends and colleagues. This therefore meant that sales were generated because of the authors being there, albeit possibly for self promotion. Relating to no fantasy books being represented, I read the book by Philip Pullman and if that's not fantasy, some of you live in strange worlds.
I am wondering if it is a little jealousy on some parts for not having been asked. If you are not happy about WBN, why not all get together and put together something of a similar nature for your genre. I am sure there are enough fans out there to support it. Instead of just being re-active try and be more pro-active.

An article about some disgruntled writers upset that they aren't getting free advertising from the "sneering" BBC gathers some sneering comments about the BBC. It's good to see that irony is alive and well in fantasy land.