Sci Fi Ghetto

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The real reason behind this trope.[1]

"[My agent] said 'You have a murder mystery up there, you have a horror book up there, you have all kinds of genres on the bestseller shelf, why not Terry Pratchett's book?' And the response was 'We don't let them out of the science fiction section'"

So, you're watching television and come across a show that's set on another planet and has aliens, spaceships and time travel in it. Clearly a work of science fiction, you would assume. However, you also happen to come across an interview with the creator, who is taking pains to stress that his or her work is absolutely not science fiction and anyone who thinks it can be described as such is misguided or just plain wrong. But it has aliens, spaceships and Time Travel in it; how can it not be science fiction?

Because of the Sci Fi Ghetto. The Sci-Fi Ghetto reflects a long-lasting stigma which has been applied towards the science fiction genre, which frequently leads creators and marketers to shun "Sci-Fi", "Science Fiction" or "Fantasy" labels as much as possible, even on shows that have clear science fiction or fantastical elements. It also reflects the tendency for critics, academics and other creators to near-automatically dismiss or disdain works which cannot escape this label being applied, regardless of relative quality or merit. Conversely, if these critics, creators and academics do feel that the work possesses merit by their standards, expect them to strenuously insist that the work is not science fiction or fantasy, regardless of how many tortuous hoops they might have to jump through in order to do so.

A lot of this has to do with snobbery. A (somewhat contradictory) perception about science fiction in general is that it is somehow both too complex for mainstream audiences with 'simple' tastes and yet simultaneously not literary and sophisticated enough for critics and academics.

This perception tends to be drawn from two extremes. In the first place, science fiction is often dismissed as lightweight, formulaic and poorly-written rubbish churned out by talentless hacks who never met a cliche they didn't enthusiastically regurgitate. On the other end of the spectrum, science fiction is often seen as aloof, dreary Doorstoppers which essentially take the form of tedious and over-complicated scientific essays poorly disguised as stories, apparently written by people who have multiple doctorates in the hard sciences yet have somehow never managed to interact with another human being before. In either case, the result is considered the same; material which is poorly written with lame plots and characterization, almost entirely lacking in literary merit.

This, of course, unfairly prejudges a massive and wide-spanning genre by its worst extremes, and ultimately takes a fairly narrow and limited view of the genre. However, it should be noted that there is plenty of evidence at both extremes to support these views—lots of works of science fiction have fallen in the trap of focusing so much on the Big Idea that the other elements of storytelling can suffer. Even accepted classics of the genre can get so caught up in the hypothesis they're developing that they can be lacking in other literary merits. It's not just the works, either -- unfortunate stereotypes of science fiction fans as a bunch of weird dorky obsessives with no social skills hasn't helped the overall impression of science fiction as a weird, off-putting and aloof body of work.

This mindset can even affect different subsets of science fiction. Those who are Hard on Soft Science tend to criticize the softer entries on Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness...when they acknowledge the softer entries as science fiction at all.

Fantasy fiction suffers from this as well to a similar extent due to the difficulty of defining the line between science fiction and fantasy. In fact, fantasy fiction often has it even worse, as it is speculative in a completely implausible way (science fiction is just mostly implausible). This possibly resulted from the craving for and excitement over science in the 1950s: science fiction, for its 'faults', was seen as at least a babysteps way to teach kids actual science so they could grow up and become scientists or engineers, whilst fantasy was associated more with the fairy tales of youth, and therefore was thought to be child-like (the supposed "childishness" of fairy tales themselves is another issue entirely). This is probably why a section in a bookstore containing science fiction, fantasy, and other speculative fiction genres will almost always be referred to as the science fiction section. The reverse of this also crops up, but it's somewhat rarer.

Some embrace the Ghetto eagerly. Some writers have few pretensions to attaining the True Art status their peers yearn for, and gleefully embrace the whole pulp pot-boiler aspect of the genre, or the chance to expand on a complex idea to a smaller audience they know will get it. Similarly, some fans eagerly embrace the ghetto and will prefer or, in extreme cases, only engage with media from within it, often dismissing those who engage with media outside of it as morons lacking imagination. This attitude, of course, tends to overlook the fact that it also takes energy, creativity and imagination to construct a fine non-Science Fiction work, and can be indicative of a similar kind of snobbery to that which creates the idea of this Ghetto in the first place. It's important to remember that the Ghetto isn't bad because 'quality' literature is bad; it's bad because it assumes science fiction and fantasy cannot be quality literature.

This is slowly changing, however; more and more creators and critics who aren't ashamed to acknowledge an interest and inspiration from science fiction and fantasy are producing and discussing more works of science fiction and fantasy which are gaining both mainstream accessibility and critical acclaim. The fact that the most popular and best-selling children's book series and a large number of the highest-grossing and/or critically-acclaimed films in recent history have been either science fiction and/or fantasy has also helped—although of course, this then leads some fans, creators and critics to focus on how popular these entities are when criticizing them instead.

For the sake of overall cohesion, terms like "Magic Realism" and "Speculative Fiction" have cropped to help distinguish the extent and degree of science fiction or fantasy influence in a work. Though some will complain that these are simply arbitrary distinctions having to do with stuffy ivory tower academics looking for excuses not to pay attention to "science fiction", a brief gander at those pages should indicate them as being clear subgenres. The terms themselves, however, can be misused for this purpose, usually by people who don't fully understand the distinctions between them. On a related note, detractors have often been heard to refer to science fiction, fantasy and horror disparagingly as "genre" fiction (crime, romance, detective novels, Westerns and the like are often lumped in as well) - as though proper novels don't belong in their own respective genres.

This can also link to Horror as well; especially when it overlaps with Sci-Fi and Fantasy. It's been a little more accepted than Sci-Fi and Fantasy, but you'll rarely seen awards given to horror works.

A Sub-Trope of Public Medium Ignorance. Can overlap with Animation Age Ghetto, as animated works have a strong tendency to be genre fiction. See also Not Wearing Tights, Not Using the Z Word, and Dead Horse Music Genre.

Not to be confused with Industrial Ghetto.

Examples of Sci Fi Ghetto include:

Comic Books[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Sci-fi comics form their own little sub-ghetto, often being treated as being less 'worthy' than literary science fiction and movie / TV science fiction (which are themselves often considered lesser than literary science fiction).
    • Watchmen won a Hugo Award and was declared one of the 100 best English-language novels by Time. When people read it, they are often stunned by its depth...when they read it. When they don't, they say, "Oh, if it's so good, why isn't it as popular as Batman and Superman comics?"
      • Which, of course, ignores the fact that Watchmen is one of the best selling comic books of all time.
      • ...suggesting that the answer is "because it's only one volume."
    • The Hugo Awards added a one-time category "Other Forms", which is the award that Watchmen won. Some thought that this was an attempt to avoid having to give the "best novel" award to a comic book. In 2009 though, they added a separate category for Best Graphic Story (won by the then-current print volume of Girl Genius).
    • Although the claim that comics are artistically "inferior" to prose is just ignorant snobbery, it is legitimate to argue that comics should not be judged in the same category as prose, because comics are a fundamentally different medium. Judging a graphic novel alongside a prose novel is like comparing the prose novel to a play, or to a poem, or to a movie, or even to a painting. They are self-evidently different types of storytelling. Calling them the same thing probably does aid comics in gaining the prestige that prose is afforded in our society, but it makes it difficult for a contest's judges to objectively compare the merits of two such different things.
      • This is the argument that led the World Fantasy Awards to change the rules regarding qualification for the award after an issue of The Sandman (specifically Sandman #19, entitled A Midsummer Night's Dream) won in 1991. According to the revamped rules, comic books cannot even be entered for the award, much less actually win it again. Comic books can now only be considered for the Special Award Professional category. The World Fantasy Awards claims that this is not a change in the rules; however, that Sandman issue won as a short story, not as a special award.
    • Played for laughs (via Comic Book movies) in this Dork Tower strip.
  • As mentioned in passing above, there's now a bit of a ghetto where the only "serious" or "artistic" comics are ones that have no science fictional or fantastical elements to them.
    • This is mainly because few fantasy or sci-fi comics are trying to be serious or artistic, and often actually hide behind this fact as an excuse for including troubling content. For example, to comments about the problematic nature of Spider-Man torturing a villain in one book, the editor's response was "these are fantasy stories to entertain". Those superhero, fantasy, and sci-fi comics that do rise above the fold in terms of content and presentation usually are recognized for it, with awards going to series such as Hellboy, Scott Pilgrim, and Orc Stain throughout the years. If there is a problem, the fault lies less with the critics or crowds and more with the actual content and its producers.
  • Fantasy and sci-fi comics, particularly superhero comics, are an example of how science fiction and related genres help to perpetuate their ghettoization by becoming increasingly insular and alienating all but a few diehard fans due to problems like needless complexity, excessive jargon, and an unwillingness to reach out to new audiences.

Film[edit | hide]

  • Some fans of The Matrix refused to call it sci-fi, as apparently "It's not sci-fi unless it's in space/the future". Even though it was explicitly set in the aftermath of a Robot War. Not to mention that it was set in the future; the sequences apparently taking place in The Present Day are illusionary, a virtual reality transmitted directly to the brains of artificially-grown humans.
  • Some people will insist that Star Wars is fantasy masquerading as sci-fi due to the fact that it does not attempt to explain its Techno Babble (which, of course, all true sci-fi must do). While Star Wars does follow many of the classic heroic tropes of mythological fantasy (as described in Joseph Campbell's "Hero of a Thousand Faces"), claiming that it is "only" fantasy ignores the fact that Star Wars is no softer than most early sci-fi and the fact that something can be both.
    • Hell, David Brin had a full-blown, foaming-at-the-mouth essay or rant, depending on your point of view and followed it up with an entire book called Star Wars on Trial with him on "prosecution." Matt Stover headed up the "defense." Charges levelled against the GFFA were that it was "mere" fantasy masquerading for SF, that it "dumbed down the genre," that GFFA was inherently sexist, feudal, and promoted ubermenchen and "midichlorine mutants" over the values that sci-fi was "supposed" to champion.
    • Some fans and critics go the other way and argue that use of classic heroic tropes raises Star Wars to mythological fantasy like the works of JRR Tolkien or Shakespeare rather than mere "sci-fi".
    • Note that a lot of the people saying Star Wars is "future fantasy" aren't saying one is better than the other, they're just trying to nail down its genre.
    • Liam Neeson said in a Radio 4 interview "Science fiction is set in the future, and this is set a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away".
      • It's amazing though, how many people think Star Wars does take place in the future, even though it tells you it's set in the past at the beginning of each movie. The fact that it has humans in it seems to make some people think it has to be in our future.
  • Complaints about the latest Indiana Jones film often revolve around people being unable to accept aliens in Indy, despite them not being any less plausible than the radioactive Ark of the Covenant or the frigging Holy Grail in the previous films. This is because religion-induced magic and SF-induced magic are worlds apart by fandom and by shelving. It could also be about the inconsistency. For many people, the presence of the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail are definitive proof that the Abrahamic God actually exists in Indy's universe. It is therefore presumed that interdimensional aliens would not be allowed to turn up and start teaching primitive humans advanced knowledge, less still to induce said primitives to worship them. (If Jesus, Then Not Aliens.) Of course, you could equally argue that a) advanced aliens are a means to an end for God, or b) the Ark and the Grail are in fact technological artifacts crafted by said aliens], not divine artifacts.
    • Indeed, Frank Darabont's original script for Crystal Skull alluded to the idea that aliens were responsible for human religions.
    • Also consider that the second movie validates Hinduism. So it's really more of a Fantasy Kitchen Sink.
  • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was nominated for several Academy Awards and Golden Globes, including Best Drama and Best Actor. It's about a man who is born old and ages in reverse. That sound like Magic Realism to you?
  • Godzilla movies tend to be forked straight into the Sci-Fi ghetto, for reasons that are very well deserved, though the original film is a scary and serious movie compared to its sequels, as well as a not-remotely-subtle commentary on the morality of nuclear weapons.
  • Donnie Darko is almost always interpreted as an allegorical Mind Screw rather than a fantasy film about a unstable time loop that Donnie has to fix. Richard Kelly has repeatedly said it is a comic book movie, and Donnie is a super hero, and the Directors Cut drives this home.
  • For some reason, action movies seem particularly prone to ignoring the ghetto. The Matrix, above, is a partial example, but a more illustrative one would be The Terminator, which is referred to as action far more often than sci-fi, and certainly called both more than action sci-fi. Then again, which is more important to the series: the fact that it has time-travelling robots, or the coolness of the fights those robots get into?
    • Take it or leave it, but the makers of the film said that they made the club be called "Tech Noir" because they thought that they were more or less creating a new genre (sci-fi fused with noir, I guess) and were hoping the term would catch on.
      • Unfortunately there already is an established name for that genre: Cyberpunk.
  • Even compliments can do this at times. Roger Ebert's review of The Dark Knight starts off by declaring

Batman isn't a comic book anymore. Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight is a haunted film that leaps beyond its origins and becomes an engrossing tragedy.[..]This film, and to a lesser degree Iron Man, redefine the possibilities of the "comic-book movie."

“It’s no longer a science-fiction film. The balance of the story has been given back. It’s now a film that encompasses many genres, an epic about conflicts that are ages old. The science-fiction disguise is now very, very thin.”


Literature[edit | hide]

  • If you look at the praise of Songs of Fire and Ice in the Feast of Crows you will see the ghetto is very much alive, at least to many critics.
  • The Dune series is Sci-fi, of the best kind, but you'll still find people complaining about it being shelved in the Sci-fi/fantasy section.
  • Terry Goodkind will tell anyone who asks that he doesn't write fantasy, no sir. He writes deep novels of philosophical reach. Which, of course, no fantasy novel can be.
  • Terry Pratchett, however, is a fantasy writer and also has stuff to say. He's quoted as saying, however, that he doesn't like the term "Magic Realism", because it basically means "a polite way of saying you write fantasy and is more acceptable to certain people." He has also commented that all of his books are considered fantasy and nothing else, regardless of the other genres he dabbles in.
    • He's also said that people from his publishers have told him that they've gone into bookshops and asked why his hugely successful books aren't being displayed in more prominent places. The answers amounted to "We don't like the fantasy to get out." [2]
  • Margaret Atwood's near-future (at the time of writing) The Handmaid's Tale was obviously social/cultural science-fiction (and even won a prestigious scifi award), but she refused to admit that. Another Atwood novel, Oryx and Crake, is even more blatantly science fiction: genetic engineering has run amok and destroyed everybody except the protagonist. Yet, in creative writing departments of some universities, Atwood is a hero and Arthur C. Clarke is a hack, despite the fact that most likely none of the people dumping on him have even read his work. Go figure.
    • Margaret Atwood also made the infamous comment that Oryx and Crake wasn't science fiction because SF is about "talking squid in space", which went memetic in the SF community. Later, her benchmark became "talking cabbages" and "Planet X".
      • There are signs that Atwood has mellowed; she even participated in an online article for The Guardian titled Why We Need Science-Fiction It seems she's seen the error of her ways.
    • By the same token, there's a display in the window of King's College, London of graduates who have gone on to greater things. Susan Hill, Hanif Kureishi and Thomas Hardy are all "writers" or "novelists." Sir Arthur C. Clarke is specifically identified as a "sci-fi writer."
  • Kurt Vonnegut would sometimes state he didn't write science fiction. The time-travelling alien-abducted protagonist of Slaughterhouse-Five would probably disagree. That being said, his reasoning is right there in the Quotes section.
    • At the same time it should be mentioned that Vonnegut alluded the Sci-fi Ghetto repeatedly through his recurring character Kilgore Trout, the reported author of over 73 different novels (all published by different, now defunct publishers). In one book, a drunk Eliot Rosewater crashed a convention of Science Fiction writers to tell them that while they couldn't write, they were the only ones talking about the issues that matter.
      • Arguably Vonnegut got more annoyed that many of his works weren't SF, yet he was still considered a SF writer regardless. Mother Night, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Hocus Pocus and Jailbird have no Sci Fi. Nor does Breakfast Of Champions, one of his best works in the opinion of many, though features many discussions of SF stories by a SF writer character, and it does descend into Meta Fiction. This is before we get into Timequake, which admits freely in the prologue and throughout the text that it's the remains of a novel ("Timequake One") he couldn't make work mixed in with his thoughts, experiences and recollections of the previous months, and a large dose of metafiction. "Timequake One" is as SF, or slightly less, than Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. His genre situation is possibly best summed up by the fact that in Foyle's, the famous bookshop in London, about half of his books are filed under Science Fiction and half under Fiction.
      • It should also be noted that, as the text of the article itself makes plain, science fiction was at that time still not universally known or accepted as a genre in the first place. Had Vonnegut been writing today then he no doubt would have found his doubts about the validity of the very idea of there being such a thing as sci-fi (which he thought was a stupid and generic term applied to anything that happens to "notice technology") too much of a minority or obsolete view to try to get any readers to take seriously. At that time, though, he was not the only person uncertain that the classification had any justification for existing in the first place. It was still a relatively young and less widespread label that was perhaps not yet fully defined.
  • According to an article in the Sunday Times Online, Salman Rushdie's first novel, Grimus, was about to win an award for best SF novel of the year, but the publishers withdrew at the last minute. They didn't want Rushdie painted as an SF writer. If it happens to H. G. Wells, you'll know it's time to start the revolution.
    • It must've worked, because almost all of his books have sci-fi or fantasy elements yet are considered Lit Fic.
  • Works of science fiction are often not considered to be science fiction if the writer is already well-known and respected for mainstream fiction. All too often, these writers don't themselves read SF, and thus don't understand the basic conventions of the genre and rarely have a sense for what's been done to death; while they may end up writing good literary fiction—er, li-fi—they usually commit bad science fiction.
    • This even applies to writers who work on obviously science-fictional projects. It's a common criticism levelled against Russell T. Davies, for instance—though Your Mileage May Vary on that.
    • The Time Travellers Wife- both the book and the film are usually listed as a romance, even though the title sums up everything that makes it science fiction- it's about a woman who is married to a man who time travels.
    • Never Let Me Go is another novel that has at least been accused of this.
      • This is made hilarious when you realize it has the same plot as Clonus
    • Interestingly, while Michael Crichton's works are usually under general fiction (despite all of them being somewhat sci-fi), his novel Timeline, for some reason, has been seen on the Fantasy shelf all alone. Maybe because it involves modern-day people traveling back in time to what's actually a very real and meticulously-researched Middle Ages past. Apparently, if it has a knight in it, it must be fantasy.
      • Historical Fiction is in general put in the fantasy section.
      • Orson Scott Card has commented on this phenomenon. His explanation boiled down to, at least in publisher's minds, "If it has rivets, it's Sci-Fi. If it has trees, it's Fantasy."
  • Works by known science fiction authors tend to be classified as science fiction even when they're not. Isaac Asimov was particularly subject to that, given the breadth of his writing. An Easy Introduction to the Slide Rule was in a local bookstore's science fiction section.
    • Likewise, Andre Norton has written historical novels, spy stories, and gothic romances. Guess where you'll find them (if you find them) in a bookstore or library (granted, at least two of the romances have fantasy elements).
    • Inverted by a local public library, which had Harry Turtledove's Guns of the South (a novel about time travellers changing the outcome of the US Civil War) classed as "Historical Fiction". The cover shows Robert E. Lee holding an AK-47.
  • Apparently, when you get your Literature License you get a coupon entitling you to one free SF novel - preferably a Dystopia or post-apocalypse tale. Once the coupon is used, you're in danger of becoming a "genre writer" if you produce another one.
  • Inverted by Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon. In spite of it being a mixture of historical and contemporary fiction, he insisted it be published as science fiction, on the grounds that science fiction is not so much a genre as an attitude. Then William Gibson followed suit with Pattern Recognition, dubbing it "A tale of Future Present" and possibly giving a name to the movement, if it ever catches on. Which is ironic, given that William Gibson hates naming subgenres.
    • The attitude is important, but the fact that almost half the book is set in fictional cultures or countries might also be important. The modern plot wouldn't have happened without the Sultan of Kinakuta's e-business policies, and the island of Qwghlm was too perfect a setting for the WWII cryptology plot to actually exist in the real world. This said, fictional cultures or countries are not themselves exclusive to science fiction or fantasy.
  • The author Jonathan Lethem wrote four books that were usually put in the science fiction section of bookstores. Then he wrote a realistic fiction work called Motherless Brooklyn that met with great critical acclaim and won several awards. His books from before are now in the literature section. Nothing changed, besides the fact he wrote something that certainly wasn't SF.
  • The Time Traveler's Wife. Don't even get us started on how you won't find the book in the Science Fiction section; it's lost and alone in the amongst the mainstream literature. Never mind that the Science Fiction aspect of the storyline is right in the blasted title. It is also often stuffed in the "Romance" section, essentially trading one ghetto for another.
  • John Ringo's works, in contrast, usually celebrate the fact they are in a SF Ghetto. He developed a good enough rapport with his publisher that, when he started writing special forces novels less Sci-Fi than Tom Clancy's, his spy novels are still found in that section.
  • A number of recent authors, including Cory Doctorow, have commented on the advantages of targeting science fiction toward the Young Adult market. It's a rather broader ghetto: adult science fiction gets hidden away in the "Sci-Fi/Fantasy" section of the bookstore. Write a story about aliens and zombies aimed at teenagers, and it'll get shelved in "Young Adult Fiction", right next to The Outsiders and Gossip Girl. If you don't see why this is a big deal, ask J. K. Rowling.
  • Inversion: The science-fiction trappings of I Am Legend often get exaggerated to the point of drowning its horror nature - two out of three movie adaptations calling the monsters mutants instead of vampires, and some copies of the book list it as science fiction rather than horror.
  • An early Soviet edition of the Lord of the Rings which was heavily revamped to look like Sci Fi (obvious cause: publication of some "suspicious" "fantasy" was unthinkable, whereas Sci Fi had some respect). Just one quote: "It's not a Ring, it's some kind of gadget".
  • An essay in a book called British Comedy Greats in which the author stubbornly and repeatedly insists that The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is not really science fiction. Because it's satirical, apparently. It is likely that the author was trying to make the distinction between genre as driving force of plot and genre as setting.
  • Stephen King writes books involving magic, godlike beings, and aliens. He is best known as a "horror writer". While this is true (these elements are usually presented to maximize their 'horror' potential), as these elements suggest it is not the only genre he operates in, but it's notable that his most openly fantasy works, The Eyes of the Dragon and The Dark Tower, are also his least known by the general public. (Which doubles as a case of Magnum Opus Dissonance, incidentally.)
    • Not only that, in most bookshops all of King's works will be in the horror section, even the ones which have no elements of horror, sci-fi or fantasy (such as Different Seasons). Due in part to this, many people who are fans of completely "normal" movies like The Shawshank Redemption or Stand by Me aren't even aware that Stephen King wrote the stories they're based on.
  • J. K. Rowling is infamous for saying that she "didn't realize that she was writing a fantasy story" until she finished the first Harry Potter book. This trope is presumably why the series has not won many notable awards[3]
    • That was a reponse to an interview question about whether she intended to write fantasy:

"Do you have any sort of target audience when you write these books?
Me. I truly never sat down and thought, What do I think kids will like? I really, really was so inflamed by the idea when it came to me because I thought it would be so much fun to write. In fact, I don't really like fantasy. It's not so much that I don't like it, I really haven't read a lot of it. [...] It didn't occur to me for quite a while that I was writing fantasy when I'd started "Harry Potter," because I'm a bit slow on the uptake about those things. I was so caught up in it. And I was about two thirds of the way through, and I suddenly thought, This has got unicorns in it. I'm writing fantasy!" (source)

  • Harlan Ellison is willing to admit that he writes speculative fiction, but hates the term "sci-fi" to the point that he's walked out of interviews on live TV. In Ellison's defense, he has no problem with the phrases "Science Fiction" or "Fantasy", he just hates the specific term "sci fi", because (as he has explained in a couple of rants) "it's dismissive".
    • He once told a young writer Paolo Bacigalupi to get out of the genre while he could. Take that as you will.
    • A lot of science fiction writers (and fans) hate the term "sci-fi". they much prefer the abbreviation "SF".
      • According to Mr. Ellison, the term sci-fi "sounds like crickets fucking".
  • This quote from the New York Times obituary of J.G. Ballard: "His fabulistic style led people to review his work as science fiction.... But that's like calling 'Brave New World' science fiction, or '1984'."
  • Orson Scott Card wrote a foreword to Ender's Game, railing against the Sci Fi Ghetto. Well, that and the fact he was accused of failing psychology forever by people working with talented kids and less so by actual talented kids.
  • The Wuxia genre was also ghetto-ized, considered to be poorly-written pulpy escapist fantasy. Then Jin Yong came along and smashed that ghetto to bits (though anybody coming after him will have to contend with the tremendous shadow he cast).
  • John Connolly is a well-known mystery writer, who also wrote The Book of Lost Things, wherein a boy travels through a Fractured Fairy Tale world to rescue his baby brother from a monster; The Gates, wherein cultists open a portal to hell in Central Park; and Nocturnes, a short-story collection heavy on the Nightmare Fuel. Guess what section Barnes & Noble puts them in? And it's worth noting, these aren't even fantasy-mysteries. Straight-up horror-fantasy all the way.
  • Stationery Voyagers is described, even on this wiki; as an allegorical (usually meaning that names are changed as needed but ideas remain the same), melodramatic, dry Pastiche Science Fiction serial Space Opera. In other words, when denial doesn't work, try padding. The end result is an admitted Fantasy Kitchen Sink.
  • CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien several times(in polite English fashion of course) wrote lengthy passages saying effectively,"Darn right I'm a fantasy writer and if you're such a shallow, robotic-minded goon as to look down on fantasy, so much the worse for you."
  • Stanislaw Lem, the greatest of the greats of Eastern European Science Fiction, has towards the end of his life displayed active hostility towards the genre, dismissing it as being about "talking dogs in flying saucers". While this might have been due to his general bitterness and disillusionment with the human race, earlier in his career he also preferred to label himself a "futurologist". After the interview with the "talking dogs" phrase was published, some younger Polish authors expressed disappointment that their guru and source of inspiration endorses the ghettoization of the genre. On the other hand, one of those younger authors, Rafal Ziemkiewicz, has on many occasions spoken against labelling science fiction - and popular literature as a whole - as "worse" than high literature, arguing that popular literature is the field where many popular literary conventions are born before being picked up and embraced by the mainstream.
    • On the other hand, both of them also praised the ghetto for the opportunity to hide safely from the government, and get crap past the radar. Ziemkiewicz himself devotes himself almost entirely to politics now, he also mentions a professor interested in the dynamics of a power struggle in Party facing the fall of communist system, who unable to write a scientific paper, would write a sci-fi novel on these themes.
    • Lem also despised generic pulp and in A Visionary Among the Charlatans castigated most of American SF (except Philip K. Dick) as "ill thought out, poorly written, and interested more in adventure that ideas or new literary forms". The trend "hey, look, we also can do Our Pulp!" that overran former Warsaw Pact lands [4] couldn't possibly improve his mood.
  • Larry Niven wrote an essay titled Ghetto? But I thought... which begins by exploring the concept of Science Fiction as a literary ghetto, briefly describes a REAL Ghetto, concludes that Science Fiction is actually a country club, and then proceeds to segue into telling a series of quite funny stories about science fiction conventions.
  • Andrzej Sapkowski spoke out against the sub-ghetto of fantasy within the broader Sci Fi Ghetto. As he said:

While I can place the equation mark between the ninth part of The Magic Shit and the ninth part of The Shit from Outer Space, I won't automatically assume superiority of the latter, even if it is shit positronic with titanium armour and fore- and aft-firing lasers.

    • He also mentioned it in his essay on fantasy Piróg, or, There Is No Gold In The Grey Mountains ( that turned into instant "classics" in some fandoms - not only in Poland, but in translation too).
  • An NPR interview with a book critic went down some strange roads. The critic passionately defended Philip K. Dick for his mind-bending ideas and thought-provoking books, and went on to claim that Dick did not write science fiction. Because SF is bad, and Dick was a good writer.
  • Time's Arrow by Martin Amis was hailed as a revolutionary novel because it portrayed a man who observed time in reverse. Of course it wasn't sci-fi because Mr Amis is a proper author.
  • Early modern writers did not even bother to apologize for this especially the romantic or semi-romantic ones. Scott, Stevenson, Longfellow, Irving, and even Kipling had stories that could at least be interpreted as fantasy and were sometimes blatantly so. Pope, Morris, Tennyson and others did remakes of ancient legends. Yeats not only wrote poems about fairies but actually believed in them. And oh yes, Wagner did not write, "Twilight of the Emotionally Hag-ridden and Self-absorbed People in Rich Social Settings." Well Ok he did but it's not the same thing.
    • It's interesting to observe the differences in relation of SF trends - because some of these writers were in SF before the "ghetto" was formed: Rudyard Kipling, for example wrote With the Night Mail and As Easy as ABC that weren't burdened by idiosyncrasies pulp took from Verne and Wells.
  • Ironically the "Novel of Manners" was for a long time in a ghetto of it's own. Who wants to read about feelings when they can read about knights killing dragons?

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Inverted with Caprica, which has experienced issues with attracting fans because it doesn't have enough spaceships or explosions. Apparently there's no room for science fiction on television that isn't an Action Adventure or a Space Opera (which, by the way, it is by some measures: it's a (good) Family Drama Soap Opera IN SPACE!).
    • Part of its trouble is that it had picked up after Battlestar Galactica Reimagined's finale and the large number of disgruntled fans that produced. Also a large portion of Battlestar 's fans would have watched it for the fantastical sci-fi premise - a fleet of rag-tag ships on the run from a genocidal race of robots with, yes, plenty of spaceships and explosions, as well as the political drama. A sci-fi Soap Opera, even one set in the same universe, has a very different premise and may as well be a totally separate show altogether.
    • Of course, calling a show that is better written than an average daytime soap a "soap opera" might not have been the best marketing strategy.
  • Interviews with people from The 4400 and Battlestar Galactica insisted that their shows are "so much more than just a sci-fi show". Because apparently, science fiction doesn't involve relationships, politics, or takes on current issues.
    • TV Guide justifed their admiration of Battlestar by insisting, "Oh, it isn't really science fiction!"
    • The New Battlestar and Caprica are described as dramas with sci fi elements by the writers, they at least are not trying to hide the science fiction, even if fans accuse them of down playing it.
  • Ditto with Lost, which is still more explicit in its combination of bizarre sci-fi elements (the present) with "realistic" drama (the "past" and "future").
    • Lost fits pretty much all the requirements for Magical Realism.
    • Since its time-travel heavy Seasons 4 and 5, the creators have been more vocal about categorising Lost as sci-fi, saying: "You can go, "Oh, it's not a genre show, because I don't like genre shows, but I like Lost. Therefore, Lost is not a genre show." That's the logic they apply. Well, we've been writing a genre show from the word go. We're sorry that it's getting more genre." Note though that this hasn't always squared with what they've said before or with the show's marketing (where it's usually described as a straightforward drama).
  • Sci-fi comedies have their own ghetto-within-a-ghetto: despite the success of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Red Dwarf, The BBC remain very cagey about sci-fi comedy - taking years to commission a new one in Hyperdrive... which then turned out to not be very good, giving them an excuse to stop doing sci-fi comedies at all.
  • Doctor Who, although it's one of those properties about which it is practically impossible to somehow claim that it isn't science fiction (or science fantasy or what-have-you) - at least, not without completely losing all credibility - this didn't mean that the producers didn't give it their best shot; notice how in the run-up to the relaunch of the show and subsequent marketing, the producers were and have been careful to stress that the show is now more about relationships (and romantic relationships especially) than it previously was, with the whole 'adventures in time and space' which was (and is, it just has relationships on top of it) primarily the central focus downplayed. Considering that the show prior to 2005 was regarded as a creaky, slightly irrelevant old relic and post-2005 is now a major media juggernaut seemingly beloved by all - most especially critics - something obviously worked.
    • In the US, Doctor Who is still in the Sci Fi Ghetto due to its checkered broadcast history. During the show's original run, PBS was its US distributor, which immediately meant that it was never going to attain a wide audience like shows on the Big Three networks. Worse, PBS stations generally aired it only at Otaku O'Clock. Getting Screwed by the Network had nothing to do with the show's content, and everything to do with the fact that it was a British show; on most PBS stations it was shown in blocks with things like Monty Python's Flying Circus and Are You Being Served, which always had comparatively smaller audiences in the States. The 2005 revival was even worse off in this regard, because until Syfy actually decided to run the show they had the US rights to, it was only broadcast in repeats on BBC America, a network that, until quite recently, huge chunks of the country didn't even get unless they had digital cable or satellite.
      • In a business decision that can only be regarded as insane, Syfy gave up the first run rights on Doctor Who to BBC America. BBC America, who unlike Syfy seem to genuinely love the show, have promoted it to death and the 2008-2010 specials (which Syfy refused to air) and the first Eleventh Doctor season gave BBC America its best ratings ever. Even though its easily the among the highest rated non-American shows on American television, it still isn't as ingrained in mainstream pop culture in the US as it is in Britain. The fact that its not only British, but a science fiction show, probably has something to with it.
    • Whilst the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation funded the show, promoted the hell out of their involvement before the first episode, then exiled the drama to obscure timeslots and then stopped sending BBC cheques.
  • It's hard to say whether Joss Whedon and his works suffer from this stigma or not. Whilst on the one hand he receives a fair amount of academic and critical praise and support, on the other his works are also prone to Executive Meddling—such as irregular scheduling and abrupt cancellation or being kept in development hell—and are repeatedly and notably overlooked for awards.
  • Many viewers of Charmed complain about the show's later seasons saying that it was meant to be a show about three sisters who happened to be witches and labelling the later seasons as "demon hunters who happen to live under the same roof". In something of hypocrisy, the same fans praise the third and fourth seasons despite them being more fantasy and action oriented.
    • Chances are any of the show's fantasy themed episodes will be frowned upon by fans regardless of the actual plot. "A Witch's Tail" has a lengthy and interesting plot about Phoebe trying to escape from how suffocating her life has become but nope it has a mermaid, how childish.
  • Northern Exposure is a fantasy. It has prescient dreams, ghosts, aliens and man who can fly under his own power. People tend to look at you funny if you actually point out that it was one of the most successful fantasy programs in network television history. Lacking elves and whatnot it gets pigeonholed as Magic Realism.
  • Twin Peaks, is also written off as Magic Realism despite its heavy supernatural elements.
  • Nigel Kneale is possibly the poster-boy for this trope. Throughout his professional and working career, he frequently and vocally expressed a disdain for science fiction; however, most of his works were either outright science fiction or heavily relied on science fiction elements and tropes. Of particular note is the Quatermass series, which is widely credited with pretty much spearheading British television science fiction.
  • In its early years, the Sci Fi Ghetto and the FOX Network actually became connected in a lot of people's minds, probably because its debut schedule included Werewolf and its first non-sitcom hit was The X-Files. People described X-Files as "a FOX-style suspense program", in such a way that "FOX" equated to "with scifi/fantasy elements".
    • Chris Carter has tried to distance his creation from sci-fi, stating the The X-Files "takes place in the realm of extreme possibility".
  • One of the multiple showrunners FlashForward has had described it as "not being science fiction" but instead just being a "drama". Not only does the show have a clear sci-fi premise, the entire first half of season 1 (likely the only season) focused on the investigation into the sci-fi event.
    • Not to mention it's based on a novel by Robert J. Sawyer, whose website is called sfwriter.com
  • Better Off Ted is an interesting example of a show that from an objective perspective is probably sci-fi, but that is almost never considered as such, and so escapes this problem entirely. To be fair, it's very, very soft sci-fi, but the octo-chicken certainly doesn't count as realistic fiction (we hope.)
  • Terra Nova - Creator Brannon Braga is reluctant to call his show science fiction, even though it involves future humans traveling back in time to the late Cretaceous period. For more see in this article.
  • Some early reviews of Game of Thrones place it squarely in the ghetto, comparing it with The Hobbit (naturally), even going so far as to claim Network Decay of HBO. SF / Fantasy blog io9 had a few things to say about that...
    • The New York Times review is particularly guilty of this, to the point where it at times practically reads as a checklist of pretentiousness; as well as many of the other hallmarks of this trope (sniffy assumption of fantasy being inherently inferior to real-world stories, presumption that fantasy is only 'for boys', endless comparison to The Lord of the Rings and Dungeons & Dragons because, of course, they must all be the same, and so forth), the author chides HBO for straying from its usual focus, arguing that the network is "a corporate auteur[5] committed, when it is at its most intelligent and dazzling, to examining the way that institutions are made and how they are upheld or fall apart" and citing The Sopranos, The Wire and Rome as examples of this. The kicker is, except for the fact that it's set in a fantasy world instead of the real one, "the way institutions are made and how they are upheld or fall apart" is exactly what Game of Thrones is about.
  • Neil Gaiman has said that while he thinks Neverwhere is fantasy, he sold it to The BBC as "Magical Realism", because that was the only way to get it made.
  • This sad fate was part of what befell The Tenth Kingdom. There were people who turned it on, spotted fairy tale elements (Never mind the Deconstructor Fleet) and immediately turned it off, thinking it was for kids.
  • Star Trek gets this particularly bad, with its reputation for Rubber Forehead Aliens and the loneliest of geek fans. Patrick Stewart, for instance, one of the best actors working, has gotten several Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for his TV work... but only for "respectable" fare like Hamlet and Moby Dick, never for his seven years on The Next Generation.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Video games in general tend not to suffer from this, and indeed most of the truly successful (non-sports based) games of the past decade have had at least faint hints of science fiction or fantasy, and many of them have been openly and unashamedly embracing of it. This may perhaps be to do with the fact that the medium is suffering from its own ghetto, and that it has until recently been primarily the preserve of the type of people who tend to also be interested in science-fiction and fantasy.
  • Might and Magic offers a strange example. Although the CRPG series were heavily into sci-fi (hand to hand with heroic fantasy), this was not obvious for the turn-based strategy titles, Heroes of Might and Magic. Thus, when the third instalment of the series attempted to insert a faction called "Forge", containing sci-fi elements of the interconnected RPG series, the fans were so unpleased that the developers even received death threats (!) which resulted in the faction been scrapped.
  • When learning the writing skill in The Sims 3, the sim in question will learn a different genre at each skill level (at level 0, they can only write fiction and non-fiction). At level 1, the sims learns to write science fiction. At level 2, they learn the "trashy" genre. That's right, according the The Sims 3, trashy novels are harder to write than science fiction.


Webcomics[edit | hide]


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • Nyrath's Atomic Rockets pages are one of the best resources available on the web for the aspiring hard science fiction writer, detailing real-world spacecraft designs (both ones that have really flown and those on the drawing board), issues with extraterrestrial colonies, how a war in space might actually be fought, etc.. Yet even on these hallowed pages, a form of the Sci Fi Ghetto occasionally appears. Sometimes when a proposed technology simply could not work in the real universe—due to violating Einsteinian relativity or conservation of momentum or whatnot—the site labels it as "pure science fiction."


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • The "Sci-Fi Channel" changed its name to 'SyFy' because it "more clearly captures the mainstream appeal of the world's biggest entertainment category, and reflects the network's ongoing strategy to create programming that's more accessible and relatable to new audiences." The name SyFy can also be trademarked, in contrast to "Sci-Fi," which is a generic, pre-existing term. Many critics accused the channel of trying to distance themselves from negative stereotypes of science fiction.
  • Most collegiate creative fiction classes expressly deny the option to write anything other than literary fiction. You might hear a variety of reasons for this, ranging from the idea that genre fiction cares more about setting than plot or characterization, or simply that the class is designed specifically to focus on literary fiction and you should go and take the genre fiction class instead. Your Mileage May Vary as to how legitimate or these explanations feel. On a similar note many Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) programs, the terminal degree for creative writing, will not admit "genre writers."
    • Hilariously, the same classes will often say that, then teach Slaughterhouse-Five in the same session. Literary fiction was always a stodgy, artificial distinction anyways.
    • You can expect the same with horror, as well.
  • Many scifi fans are familiar with walking past row after row of mystery and romance novels in bookstores both new and used to find a single row or a tiny shelf of "Scifi/Fantasy". There is actually more scifi and fantasy in the store than on the shelf, the reader just has to manually search for it in the other stacks.
    • Likewise, fans of Horror novels have had to walk around the same section.
  • The "As Others See Us" column in David Langford's Ansible newsletter is filled with this stuff.
  • James Rolfe mentions a "horror ghetto" similar to the sci-fi ghetto in his Exorcist II the Heretic review, discussing how The Exorcist was one of those rare horror movies that managed to get nominated for (and actually win) awards. He mentions several movies such as The Hurt Locker who have been given awards, then says "put some zombies and vampires into those movies and see how many awards they get."
  1. source
  2. This is an author who has been compared to Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens and Mark Twain by serious critics.
  3. The series did win a few awards for Philosopher's Stone and Chamber of Secrets when they were first released in the UK, while the series was still gathering a following. After Prisoner of Azkaban was published, JKR publicly announced that she didn't want Harry Potter nominated for any book awards because she wanted to let other children's authors get exposure for their work.
  4. Sapkowski rather sarcastically wrote in his essay "Pirug" on this
  5. whatever that means