The poet Lesley Wheeler has a growing career as a poet and academic. She wrote a book of speculative fiction, in terza rima (let’s all bow our heads in respect) and, in spite of all that, she is afraid of what the Serious Poets will say.
The other risk has to do with genre. I’ve been making progress as a Serious Poet. Plenty of Serious Novelists and Critics look down their noses at genre fiction; they might admit to the guilty pleasure of mystery-reading but fantasy and science fiction are just too stinky. Serious Poets have even longer, more sensitive schnozzes.
I have no patience for writers who look down on an entire genre. How many people who claim to hate country music bought the “O Brother Where Art Thou?” a few years back? Sure, a lot of sci fi (and country) is total schlock. A lot of your fancy award-winning books suck too.
But what about the masters? There’s Ursula LeGuin, Neil Gaiman, Diana Wynne Jones, and Mary Doria Russell, who are big names. But Margaret Ronald, Emma Bull, Lynn Flewelling, Patricia McKillip, and Stephen Brust also know their way around a well-constructed sentence and character development as well. And those are only the books I can see from my desk right now.
Hating science fiction/fantasy is often a series of knee-jerk reactions and intellectual snobbery. The reactions go something like this.
1. There are dragons in this book.
2. Last time I heard the word “dragon” was in high school, when my lab partner went on and on about Dungeons and Dragons.
3. He wasn’t cool.
4. I don’t like books with dragons in them.
5. I’m cool now, right?
Good sci fi engages us with the big ideas. How do we negotiate cultures radically different than our own? What makes us human? How do we do the right thing? How do we write about and imagine things that are out of our range of experience?
Maybe spaceships aren’t your thing, you just don’t enjoy them. That’s fine. Just try not to regard it as a moral and intellectual failing if some of the rest of us do.