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The Mainstream That Through the Ghetto Flows / An Interview with Philip K. Dick Interviewer: Why science fiction out of all the forms of literature you could have chosen? Was it a conscious decision? Dick: Yes, because there's more likelihood in science fiction for the expression of pure ideas than you find in other genres. Interviewer: People say science fiction is "a ghetto." And then on the other hand they say it's a "literature of ideas." But all literature is supposed to be a literature of ideas, right? So why is it that science fiction gets tagged with that label and in the same breath gets tagged as a "ghetto"? In other words, why can people get away with paying a lot less money for it? Dick: In the first place, science fiction has changed a lot in the last few years. It's coming out of the ghetto, but all that's done is make it worse. The writing is worse now that it's coming out of the ghetto because it's losing its identity. It's losing its shape. It's becoming like silly putty. Nowadays, you can call anything you want "science fiction" or you can decide nof to call it "science fiction." For example, I have a book coming out. If you buy the Doubleday hard-cover, you're reading a "mainstream " novel; if you buy the Ballantine paperback, you're reading a "science fiction" novel. So if I were to talk to you about my new novel, Td have to ask you whether you read the Doubleday hardback or the Ballantine paperback. We'd be talking about packaging and marketing a book; we wouldn't be talking about content at all. Some guy at Doubleday read the first eighty pages, and he said, "Why, there are no rocketships in this book! That's not science fiction. Tm going to throw it down the hall to the trade editors and let them market it." And a guy at Ballantine looked at the manuscript, and he said, "Hot dog! This is wonderful science fiction! We're going to make millions!" And I said, "You guys better get together." In other words, it came out of the ghetto in the hard-cover edition and went right back into the ghetto in the paperback edition. Interviewer: Which do you hope sells more? 264 ยท The Missouri Review Dick: That's a very evil question to ask. I can't answer it without offending somebody. That is, I have to sit on two stools at once. I have to hype the science fiction one, and then I have to turn around and hype the mainstream one. I can't fault either one without immediately becoming the victim of my own hype. Interviewer: Okay, well let's see if we can rephrase it so it won't offend quite as many people. Dick: I don't want to offend anybody. Tm not an offensive novelist, and I will not offend any reader anywhere. Actually, the book could not be published as "science fiction" by Doubleday because it had four-letter words in it, and their science fiction list doesn't allow too many four-letter words in a book. If there had only been a few, like in Day of Fury, that would have been different. They just inked the four-letter words out and marketed the book as science fiction. Now, I never knew this before: I didn't know that the distinction between "science fiction" and "mainstream" was the number of four-letter words. But on this new one of mine, Larry Ashby, the editor-in-chief at Doubleday, said, "You can't take them out. They're necessary to the book. Therefore, we can't market it as science fiction." So now we're down to basics. If you want your book marketed as a "mainstream" novel, you can say "Bleep, Bleep" all the way through, but if you happen to have enough "Bleep, Bleeps" in the book, they can't market it as science fiction because most of the science fiction market is kids. Now, this is their theory, not mine. They also envision an audience...


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pp. 164-185
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