— BBC News Ents Team (@BBCNewsEnts) May 28, 2015
You don’t build a convention panel around a softball question like “Are genre labels like ‘fantasy’ and ‘science fiction’ pejorative terms, or labels to be proud of?” unless your participants bring a built-in drama to the topic the way novelists Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro did when they appeared in a 10-minute segment for BBC Radio 4 Today on May 28.
Gaiman reviewed Ishiguro’s new novel, The Buried Giant, in the New York Times in February, concluding that despite the craftsmanship it is “a novel that’s easy to admire, to respect and to enjoy, but difficult to love.”
And a few days before that, Ishiguro was quoted in an NYT interview pondering, “Will readers follow me into this? Will they understand what I’m trying to do, or will they be prejudiced against the surface elements? Are they going to say this is fantasy?” – a line which made Ursula Le Guin livid. She made the news with her reply – “Well, yes, they probably will. Why not? It appears that the author takes the word for an insult. To me that is so insulting, it reflects such thoughtless prejudice, that I had to write this piece in response.”
Ishiguro subsequently explained, “[Le Guin]’s entitled to like my book or not like my book, but as far as I am concerned, she’s got the wrong person. I am on the side of the pixies and the dragons,” and Le Guin withdrew her criticism: “I am delighted to let Mr Ishiguro make his own case, and to say I am sorry for anything that was hurtful in my evidently over-hasty response to his question ‘Will they think this is fantasy?’”
However, the volatile history between Ishiguro and two fantasy standard-bearers doubtless inspired Radio 4 to match the writers on the air, although the show’s video feed establishes that while the discussion was good, neither combatant left his corner…