Books Film Genre

Yet another NY Times “it’s good, so it must not be genre” winner

I’m going to have to create a tag just for New York Times reviews that use some variation on the concept of “transcending genre” when discussing works with fantastical, science fictional, or speculative content.

This time, Caryn James lauds P. D. James’s Children of Men in the following terms:

“The Children of Men” is not another of Ms. James’s famed detective novels, and it is not, as it has sometimes sloppily been described, science fiction. It is a trenchant analysis of politics and power that speaks urgently to this social moment, a 14-year-old work that remains surprisingly pertinent. Mr. Cuarón and Mr. Owen have made a film that works superbly apart from the book, but Ms. James’s extraordinary novel deserves to be rediscovered on its own.

In both forms “Children of Men,” which opened Monday, is a story of redemption, set in England just decades in the future (the film takes place in 2027), when women have inexplicably lost the ability to become pregnant. Utterly cynical, Theo (Mr. Owen) is drawn into a group trying to protect a woman who has, just as inexplicably, become pregnant and whose child is likely to be used for the despotic government’s own purposes.

Er, which elements of the book are not recognizably science fictional? The dystopian future setting? The fact that the dystopia takes place “just decades” from now? The “inexplicably” lost fertility of the human race, or the “just as inexplicably” regained fertility of one woman? It must be the fact that the book is “a trenchant analysis of politics and power that speaks urgently to this social moment.” Surely no SF could claim that kind of insight. GAG.

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