It's a measure of progress that journalists and other pundits often have to apologise when they hideously insult people for their race, religion, sexual whatsits, or weird lifestyle choices like dwelling in Liverpool. Speaking as a science fiction fan born in Wales, I can't help noticing that it's still OK to slag off both SF fans and the Welsh..
Patrick Stewart dared to hit back when Nicki Gostin of Newsweek recently offered some patronising remarks. Stewart was being interviewed as a straight actor starring in a Broadway production of Macbeth. After just three questions about the play, Gostin moved to Star Trek. "When you're onstage, aren't you worried about weird Trekkie fans in the audience?" Stewart: "Oh, come on, that's just a silly thing to say." Gostin: "But they are weird." Stewart: "How many do you know personally? You couldn't be more wrong. Here's the thing: if you say the fans are weird, that means there is something essentially weird about the show, and there is nothing weird about it. I'm very passionate when people like you snigger." Then the interview suddenly stopped.
Stewart deserves applause from fandom. What he got from Newsweek (and remember this Q&A is supposedly about Macbeth) was the headline "Mr. Stewart Loves His Trekkies." Plus a carefully chosen photo caption: "Is that a Klingon I See?" If Stewart is a Method actor, he probably worked himself up to Macbeth's necessary murderous frenzy by imagining that King Duncan was a Newsweek hack.
When I rule the galaxy – I understand I'm 5,271,009th in the direct line of succession after Palpatine – people who pontificate about genre fiction and also get their facts wrong will be bundled off to the scorpion pit. Oh, there will be leniency for chaps whose hearts are in the right place, like the city editor of a small-town US newspaper who declared his lifelong devotion to H G Wells: "You know, he's the guy who penned such classics as The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine and my personal favorite, 1984." (Mohave Valley Daily News.)
Arthur C Clarke's death brought some strange creatures out of the woodwork, including a newish writer called Simon Drake who said on the Times website, "I see his death as a good thing" (because Drake doesn't like established authors taking up bookshop shelf space that could be his own) but kindly added a little homage: "I give credit to ACC, I even put his Three Laws of Robotics into the preface of my book Love Data ..."
Philip K Dick, an unashamed author of far-out SF, has become so academically and cinematically respectable these days that the pundits are constantly applying whitewash. Here's Paul M Sammon in Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner, revised edition: "But Dick himself really wasn't a 'sci-fi author'. He was essentially a serious writer, who used the genre of science fiction as a disguised delivery system ... for a complex, self-generated philosophy Dick very much believed in." Of course.
Indeed, according to the Times Literary Supplement, SF writers are strange and alien not just in literature but in any fiction: "Fiction generally moves through a retrospective landscape, solid with the detail of personal and social memory. The future is not its natural territory." This, to be fair, was in a positive review of an anthology by deep-dyed SF man Brian Aldiss.
Even fans of next-door genres can try to distance themselves from SF. A US radio host found that someone in his audience was in town for the World Fantasy Convention, and (quite sympathetically) asked: "Do you dress up funny there?" Audience member, horrified: "No, no, that's science fiction, not fantasy and horror." Host: "Do you go to those conventions too?" Audience member: "As little as possible." Oh, thanks a bunch.
The phenomenon of slash fiction, in which (usually male) characters from sf and fantasy creations do naughty things together, has been going strong since a fanfiction author first paired off Captain Kirk and Mr Spock in 1974. Kirk/Spocking, or K/S, became an enduringly popular subgenre. So it was mildly unexpected when in April 2008, at a panel on the future of the short story, UK mainstream author Toby Litt declared that: "Nobody has ever written a story about Kirk and Spock having sex." Poor dear, he's obviously never looked at this new-fangled Internet thingy.
David Langford knows that no matter what bizarrely implausible slash-fiction pairing you imagine, someone will already have written it.