“The body is our general medium for having a world.”
— Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception
From Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (published in 1818) to Nalo Hopkinson’s novels exploring race, gender, sexuality, and aging, speculative fiction has always pondered the meaning, use, and power of the body, human and alien.
Throughout the history of SF/F, authors have wondered about the differences between human and alien bodies. What clue does the biology offer to the mind and emotions? If an alien has a thinking brain and a feeling heart, how important is the number of arms or eyes? Are alien bodies automatically monsters? And do monsters have to be repulsive?
The great space-exploration stories of the Golden Age considered the effect on human bodies of braving the dangers of the universe. The rise of writers who were women, people of color, queer, transgendered—people whose bodies and minds had historically been othered—brought exciting new points of view in novels like The Left Hand of Darkness, The Female Man, Kindred, Triton. These works stand among the greatest of their century, not just in speculative fiction but as purely literary creations.
Recent novels of zombies, vampires, and werecreatures continue the theme. This year’s FOGcon will look at it all. Bring your body and mind here to join in the conversation.
Friends of the Genre (FOGcon) is a literary-themed San Francisco SF/F con in the tradition of Wiscon and Readercon. Each year we’ll focus on a new theme in speculative fiction and invite Honored Guests ranging from writers to scientists to artists. We will build community, exchange ideas, and share our love for the literature of imagination.
FOGcon is a project done jointly by Friends of Genre and the Speculative Literature Foundation.
The definition is “genre” in fiction is as loose and baggy as the form of the novel. It can refer to setting (Western), intended audience (children’s or young adult fiction), subject (murder mystery), writing style (literary fiction), time period (historical fiction), or emotion evoked (horror, romance). Every genre has its own rules, traditions, ideas, and stock characters that the reader will expect to find. The reader enjoys the author’s skill in combining the familiar elements of the form with fresh ideas, unexpected twists, unusual insights, and evocative language.
All these and many more genres of modern prose fiction fall into two basic categories:
Realistic fiction, which places (usually) imaginary characters in recognizably true-to-life settings.
Speculative fiction, which places its characters in settings that are in some way counterfactual, and that difference from what we usually call “real life” is the driving engine of the plot. Perhaps all but one of a world’s unicorns have disappeared. Perhaps there’s a planet where human beings are almost all hermaphrodites. Perhaps the Roman empire is still going strong in the fifteenth century. What happens then?
Speculative fiction, what we are calling the Literature of the Imagination, answers that question, and in exploring small differences illuminates our common humanity.
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