One day, when they inevitably get around to creating the Mount Rushmore of sci-fi authors, the first three slots would almost doubtlessly go to Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein. There would be room for discussion, of course, especially for that third slot. And then the debate would rage about who Honoree #4 would be. My choice? Ursula K. LeGuin. She represents the leading edge of the enormous wave of female authors who would follow her in the field, to begin with. She's brilliant, eminently readable, prolific. Her Earthsea series is great reading. The Left Hand of Darkness is a mind-blowing piece of science fiction. And she's a tireless advocate for sci-fi and fantasy as literature.

Recently, she published this piece in The New Statesman.

In it, she coins a terrific new word - maturismo, "for the anxious savagery of the intellectual who thinks his adulthood has been impugned." There is a class of snobbish intellectual out there who assumes that nothing can be simultaneously fantastic and meaningful to adults. They write off genre fiction, most especially science fiction and fantasy, as trash, the intellectual equivalent of cotton candy. They then find excuses to include fantasy on their Lists of Important Books and write off the fantastic elements as incidental - The Iliad and the Oddyssey are important in the historical development of Western literature, and the ancient Greeks were all primitive and such and didn't know any better. Gulliver's Travels is important as satire, and the fantasy parts are an annoying necessity of the allegory.

Yeah, right.

There can be depth and meaning in genre fiction, just as mainstream literary fiction can be shallow, boring and pretentious. Today, Em's mom noted that she finds new layers of meaning in Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game every time she teaches it to her middle schoolers. In my opinion his sequel, Speaker for the Dead, is even better.

Science fiction and fantasy are uniquely equipped over any other literary style, genre or technique to deal with how humans respond to The Unknown and to The Other. They can speak to our history as well as our future. They can deal with big ideas like God, Death and Fate. I love these genres because they are limitless. Where else in the literary world is there such breadth and depth? Where else can an author explore literally any idea in any way? Harold Bloom would deny it, but the meaning and profundity are there whether he likes it or not.

All that, plus Conan of Cimmerria halving his foes with his mighty blade...what's not to love?