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Old 06-10-2024, 10:38 PM   #31
Dalillama
 
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Default Re: The essence and mechanisms of genre?

1) I am aware of the origins of the term speculative fiction, but the normative current usage is as an umbrella term encompassing sci fi, fantasy, alternate history, utopian/dystopian fiction and sometimes horror, notably that with nonmundane elements.
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Indeed, "speculative fiction" in that sense could be taken as meaning anything that could be called "fantasy" in the broad sense of "fiction about the fantastic
That is indeed the general sense of the term today.

2) Islandia is most absolutely speculative fiction, and it's hard for me to imagine it being classified elsewise. It is also definitely alternate history, in a way that Winnemac, Ruritania, and Cabot Cove are distinctly not. Winnemac (a portmanteau of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan) came to be after the residents of an actual town in Minnesota complained about their depiction in one of Lewis' stories, and serves an a generic part of the Midwestern US without potentially angering or alienating residents of any actual place. Although Lewis eventually created a coherent map and to some extent history of the state for reasons of keeping his stories consistent with one another, he was writing stories that took place in small towns and cities in the Midwest, not stories about how the US map came to have a state with a different name. As I noted earlier, if the stories were set in Minnesota still, nothing would change about them at all.

3)I think this is the crux of our disagreement. The fundamental distinction I'm making is between fiction that takes place in our real world or a world distinguishable from it only by the existence of a community with a particular name and fiction that is premised on something about the setting being fundamentally different to the real world in which we live. "What if the Molotov-Von Ribbentrop pact had held?," "What if aliens invaded mid-WWII?" and "What if the death camps were a massive necromantic ritual that summoned/created gods?"* are all the same category of question because they all result in a world that looks totally different to the one we live in. Conversely, the world of Sinclair Lewis' Winnemac stories looks exactly like the world in which Lewis lived, in every significant particular.

*Indeed, "The Life Eaters" was originally written for an alternate history anthology about Germany winning WWII and Brin said the only thing he could picture allowing that was divine intervention

4)The premise is fantastic in the sense that it contradicts what is written in history books, in the same way that magic or ultra-tech contradict what is written in science texts. It generates a setting which is in some way alien to the reader and requires some type of explanation for how it came to be that way and what the world looks like now, which the reader cannot get externally. If a book mentions a battle in WWII, you can go look up what happened, the lead up and aftermath, etc. If it mentioned a battle in the Morisco Wars where French forces drove the Caliph's men back into the Pyrenees, the reader only knows that something is different, and the writer has to clarify in some manner whether the reconquista failed because a plague decimated the Castilian-Aragonese forces, because the Caliphate got and improved gunpowder weapons from China, or because of an outbreak of vampirism
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Old Yesterday, 06:31 AM   #32
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Default Re: The essence and mechanisms of genre?

I feel classifying mundane Alternate Histories as Fantasy dilutes the meaning of the latter overly much, just as classifying stories that take place within a fictional community on Earth as Alternate Histories dilutes the meaning of the latter overly much (I can sorta understand the "nano-AH" classification, but then any fictional story would fall under that, with the possible exception of those that take place in the future... but then those also diverge from our timeline within a few days of the final draft going to the printers, if not earlier). I would also be inclined to classify Secret History stories as their own thing distinct from Alternate History - while technically it is Alternate (the secret events of the story never happened, or at least didn't happen that way, in our timeline, but the ultimate result was the same as what happened for us), its modern day is, by definition, functionally identical to our own.

That said, you could have a purely-mundane story that nonetheless would count as Fantasy, or a Secret History story that actually is Alternate History. For the former, consider something like Sword Art Online. The real world is just the same as ours, but a bit more advanced (I believe it explicitly takes place at some point in the future, but I could be mistaken) - and while the VR tech may potentially be in excess of what's possible, it's within the realm of speculation (and certainly within the realm of what's possible in a techno-thriller or the like). But the bulk of the plot takes place within virtual worlds, most if not all of which have strong elements of Fantasy (the titular Sword Art Online was filled with fantastical monsters, ALfheim Online had characters able to sprout wings and fly as well as cast spells, and Gun Gale Online had superscience tech like force fields and force swords and gave characters limited precognition - they could see the path a bullet was going to take just before the enemy fired, making it easier to dodge... or in Kirito's case, making it possible to parry bullets outright; that's the limit to what I saw of it, no idea if there were other games in later seasons), so I wouldn't object to classifying it as Fantasy. You might also have a story focusing on drug-induced hallucinations counting largely as Fantasy, despite it being purely mundane (all the fantastical elements are just in the character's mind, thanks to those drugs). And for Secret History to count as Alternate History, this would call for the Secret to have major modern consequences that are simply concealed in some way - say, a large portion of the population were replaced by bodysnatchers of some flavor, and those are still preying upon and replacing people to this day. For another example, the Assassin's Creed series probably counts as both Secret History and Alternate History.
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Old Yesterday, 07:15 AM   #33
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Default Re: The essence and mechanisms of genre?

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Originally Posted by Varyon View Post
I feel classifying mundane Alternate Histories as Fantasy dilutes the meaning of the latter overly much, just as classifying stories that take place within a fictional community on Earth as Alternate Histories dilutes the meaning of the latter overly much (I can sorta understand the "nano-AH" classification, but then any fictional story would fall under that, with the possible exception of those that take place in the future... but then those also diverge from our timeline within a few days of the final draft going to the printers, if not earlier). I would also be inclined to classify Secret History stories as their own thing distinct from Alternate History - while technically it is Alternate (the secret events of the story never happened, or at least didn't happen that way, in our timeline, but the ultimate result was the same as what happened for us), its modern day is, by definition, functionally identical to our own.
I certainly agree about Secret History. One of the four timelines in my original GURPS Steampunk was secret history rather than alternate history.

I don't think it's quite true that all fiction is nano-AH. There are novelists who tell stories based on actual historical or biographical documents, in which they "preserve the appearances" by changing none of the recorded facts; they invent things that might have happened, and that, if they had happened, would have resulted in exactly the recorded facts we have. Both Robert Graves and Mary Renault did this kind of writing. Yes, they do make things up, but then so do the ancient historians who put speeches into the mouths of historical figures that don't purport to be their exact words.

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That said, you could have a purely-mundane story that nonetheless would count as Fantasy, or a Secret History story that actually is Alternate History. For the former, consider something like Sword Art Online. The real world is just the same as ours, but a bit more advanced (I believe it explicitly takes place at some point in the future, but I could be mistaken) - and while the VR tech may potentially be in excess of what's possible, it's within the realm of speculation (and certainly within the realm of what's possible in a techno-thriller or the like). But the bulk of the plot takes place within virtual worlds, most if not all of which have strong elements of Fantasy (the titular Sword Art Online was filled with fantastical monsters, ALfheim Online had characters able to sprout wings and fly as well as cast spells, and Gun Gale Online had superscience tech like force fields and force swords and gave characters limited precognition - they could see the path a bullet was going to take just before the enemy fired, making it easier to dodge... or in Kirito's case, making it possible to parry bullets outright; that's the limit to what I saw of it, no idea if there were other games in later seasons), so I wouldn't object to classifying it as Fantasy. You might also have a story focusing on drug-induced hallucinations counting largely as Fantasy, despite it being purely mundane (all the fantastical elements are just in the character's mind, thanks to those drugs). And for Secret History to count as Alternate History, this would call for the Secret to have major modern consequences that are simply concealed in some way - say, a large portion of the population were replaced by bodysnatchers of some flavor, and those are still preying upon and replacing people to this day. For another example, the Assassin's Creed series probably counts as both Secret History and Alternate History.
I myself would not call your "Fantasy" story a proper example of fantasy. The fact that the alternate worlds have magic and the like doesn't affect the ontology of the setting, because those alternate worlds are fiction in that setting. (It's different if we're shown that the alternate worlds are in some sense real.) And the means of giving them the semblance of reality is technological, at least based on what you say, which makes the primary story science fiction. I would call Vernor Vinge's "True Names" science fiction, for example (and in fact cyberpunk), not fantasy. I would not therefore call it mundane; the existence of technology that allows fantastic virtual experiences that carry that much conviction is itself a fantastic element in the broader sense (but not a genre fantasy element).

As for "Secret History," if the hidden realities don't change the overt historical record in any way, I don't think you have AH. Though you can certainly have secret history that is also fantasy. Tim Powers has written a lot of that sort of thing. See for example The Stress of Her Regard or Declare (which has the convenient excuse that all the weird stuff takes place in the course of espionage and covert operations and thus would be expected to be concealed).
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Old Yesterday, 07:26 AM   #34
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Default Re: The essence and mechanisms of genre?

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3)I think this is the crux of our disagreement. The fundamental distinction I'm making is between fiction that takes place in our real world or a world distinguishable from it only by the existence of a community with a particular name and fiction that is premised on something about the setting being fundamentally different to the real world in which we live. "What if the Molotov-Von Ribbentrop pact had held?," "What if aliens invaded mid-WWII?" and "What if the death camps were a massive necromantic ritual that summoned/created gods?"* are all the same category of question because they all result in a world that looks totally different to the one we live in. Conversely, the world of Sinclair Lewis' Winnemac stories looks exactly like the world in which Lewis lived, in every significant particular.
I think that's fundamentally irrelevant.

Have you ever read Steven Jay Gould's Wonderful Life? He talks about the Burgess Shale organisms, and about the contingency of evolution, and suggests that different events in prehistory could have changed the course of evolution and produced entirely different plants and animals (or perhaps even entirely different kingdoms than plants and animals?). That would have been an "alternative history" in a sense greater than merely human history. But it would still have had evolution take place by the same processes of mutation and differential reproduction and kin selection and so on; the laws of nature, the nature of nature, would be no different. On the other hand, if we imagine a world that had "hopeful monster" mutations, or Lamarckian inheritance of acquired characteristics, or nanotech devices that made ongoing adjustments to the genomes of living organisms, or magical correspondences as a factor in developmental biology, any of those would yield a history of life different not merely in detail but in kind: one that was fantastic in a way that the result of rerunning the history of life on Earth would not be.

(I mean, by the way, different small events. Rerunning the history of Earth without the K-T extinction would produce major enough changes to count as "fantastic," in an sfnal sense. Or it seems so to me.)
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Old Yesterday, 08:43 AM   #35
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Default Re: The essence and mechanisms of genre?

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I don't think it's quite true that all fiction is nano-AH. There are novelists who tell stories based on actual historical or biographical documents, in which they "preserve the appearances" by changing none of the recorded facts; they invent things that might have happened, and that, if they had happened, would have resulted in exactly the recorded facts we have. Both Robert Graves and Mary Renault did this kind of writing. Yes, they do make things up, but then so do the ancient historians who put speeches into the mouths of historical figures that don't purport to be their exact words.
That seems like a rather narrow band of stories that wouldn't count as nano-AH, meaning the vast majority would still count as that, making it too wide of a category to be useful (that narrow band could certainly be a category - maybe call it Hard Historical Fiction?).

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I myself would not call your "Fantasy" story a proper example of fantasy. The fact that the alternate worlds have magic and the like doesn't affect the ontology of the setting, because those alternate worlds are fiction in that setting. (It's different if we're shown that the alternate worlds are in some sense real.) And the means of giving them the semblance of reality is technological, at least based on what you say, which makes the primary story science fiction.
There are some strong indications that the bulk of the original Total Recall takes place entirely in Douglas Quaid's mind as he has a bad reaction to the "Rekall" treatment. If, after the fade-to-white scene at the end (which some interpret as him dying), the movie didn't immediately end but instead cut to a short scene of him dead on the table, a sheet being draped over his face, and the doctors discussing what happened to investigators, would the movie cease to be Action because none of what happened after he laid down to get the treatment was real in-universe? Does the fact the post-tornado events in The Wizard of Oz movie were all just a dream mean that movie wasn't actually Fantasy? Personally, I would consider Total Recall to be Action (and Science Fiction) and The Wizard of Oz to be Fantasy, and would similarly treat Sword Art Online as both Fantasy and Science Fiction. Genre labels are useful for giving the audience an idea of what to expect from the book/game/movie/whatever. Including the Action label for Total Recall, and the Fantasy label for The Wizard of Oz and Sword Art Online, gives the audience a much better idea of what to expect from them, I think.
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Old Yesterday, 09:27 AM   #36
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That seems like a rather narrow band of stories that wouldn't count as nano-AH, meaning the vast majority would still count as that, making it too wide of a category to be useful (that narrow band could certainly be a category - maybe call it Hard Historical Fiction?).
Well, yes. I don't propose "nano-AH" as a genre category at all. I'm simply making the point that the presence of alternative historical events, as such, doesn't set a story apart from mundane fiction, because the overwhelming majority of mundane fiction includes such events.

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There are some strong indications that the bulk of the original Total Recall takes place entirely in Douglas Quaid's mind as he has a bad reaction to the "Rekall" treatment. If, after the fade-to-white scene at the end (which some interpret as him dying), the movie didn't immediately end but instead cut to a short scene of him dead on the table, a sheet being draped over his face, and the doctors discussing what happened to investigators, would the movie cease to be Action because none of what happened after he laid down to get the treatment was real in-universe? Does the fact the post-tornado events in The Wizard of Oz movie were all just a dream mean that movie wasn't actually Fantasy? Personally, I would consider Total Recall to be Action (and Science Fiction) and The Wizard of Oz to be Fantasy, and would similarly treat Sword Art Online as both Fantasy and Science Fiction. Genre labels are useful for giving the audience an idea of what to expect from the book/game/movie/whatever. Including the Action label for Total Recall, and the Fantasy label for The Wizard of Oz and Sword Art Online, gives the audience a much better idea of what to expect from them, I think.
I have never seen Total Recall, so my comments on it may not be well informed. But it seems to me that

* Action is not, properly, a genre; it's too large a category, which can include such genres as war stories, crime stories, police dramas (when they go beyond investigative stories such as episodes of Columbo), or apocalyptic stories.

* Being "action" and being "fantastic" are not mutually exclusive in any case.

* Action seems to be about the kind of activity the characters engage in: fighting, intense physical effort, and facing peril. It's not about the ontological status of the activity. That's important for the fantastic genres (in my opinion), because we really want to know that the fantastic elements are real enough to challenge our assumptions about reality, and we want to know why we should believe they are real. But the scene of the hero and their foe at swords' points (or swinging sledgehammers at each other, as in the climax of Streets of Fire) engages our emotions just by our seeing it, at a sensory level—it's self-certifying.

* For comparison, a work of erotica might be erotic even if it took place in a dream realm or something.

As for The Wizard of Oz, I've always felt that it was a cheat, and disliked it, precisely because it ends by at least strongly suggesting that the events in Oz were never real, but were purely a dream, fantasy, or delusion in Dorothy's mind. I had read the books before I saw the movie (some of them, anyway), and the books were clear that Oz was an actual place; that is, they WERE fantasy. There is, to be sure, a genre of dream fantasy, but what makes it fantasy is the assertion that dreams (or some dreams) have more actual substance than we suppose, as at the end of "The Brushwood Boy" where Georgie and Miriam discover that they have been in each other's dreams for nearly twenty years. So as part of the audience for fantasy, I don't think calling The Wizard of Oz fantasy is helpful labelling: It sets me up with expectations that are then disappointed. (I would note that science fiction writers, from Robert Heinlein to Philip José Farmer, who tell stories about Oz set them in a real Oz that one can visit in one's actual body, not in a dream world. So I don't think I'm the only reader who cares about this.)

Imagine, for comparison, that at the end of the first Harry Potter movie, we were shown that Harry's time at Hogwarts and his triumph on the quidditch field and against Voldemort were simply wish fulfillment dreams (it would be easy to do that for the quidditch part, which has the egocentricity of many dreams!). Do you think that the audience would have been happy, and felt that it was a perfectly satisfactory fantasy story?

But even leaving audience expectations aside, I think genre is not just a matter of impressions; I think that for the fantastic genres, at least, it's a question of ontology—of the reality of the fantastic events and the reasons we are given for accepting it within the story.
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Old Yesterday, 09:59 AM   #37
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Default Re: The essence and mechanisms of genre?

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Well, yes. I don't propose "nano-AH" as a genre category at all. I'm simply making the point that the presence of alternative historical events, as such, doesn't set a story apart from mundane fiction, because the overwhelming majority of mundane fiction includes such events.
Oh, I see what you're getting at, then. And I agree that having some historical events unfold a bit differently doesn't make a story fantastical.

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I have never seen Total Recall, so my comments on it may not be well informed.
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But it seems to me that

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Originally Posted by whswhs View Post
* Action is not, properly, a genre; it's too large a category, which can include such genres as war stories, crime stories, police dramas (when they go beyond investigative stories such as episodes of Columbo), or apocalyptic stories.

* Being "action" and being "fantastic" are not mutually exclusive in any case.
Genres are rarely exclusive. You can have a single thing be both Science Fiction and Fantasy, for example, and The 5th Element is clearly a Science Fiction Action-Comedy.

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* Action seems to be about the kind of activity the characters engage in: fighting, intense physical effort, and facing peril. It's not about the ontological status of the activity. That's important for the fantastic genres (in my opinion), because we really want to know that the fantastic elements are real enough to challenge our assumptions about reality, and we want to know why we should believe they are real. But the scene of the hero and their foe at swords' points (or swinging sledgehammers at each other, as in the climax of Streets of Fire) engages our emotions just by our seeing it, at a sensory level—it's self-certifying.

* For comparison, a work of erotica might be erotic even if it took place in a dream realm or something.
I agree here, but it seems we're coming to different conclusions as a result - I feel that genre labels are about how the audience experiences the story rather than necessarily what's actually going on within the story itself.

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As for The Wizard of Oz, I've always felt that it was a cheat, and disliked it, precisely because it ends by at least strongly suggesting that the events in Oz were never real, but were purely a dream, fantasy, or delusion in Dorothy's mind.
To be clear, I personally also dislike the "It was all a dream" trope, as it removes the struggles and triumphs of the protagonist. Oz being a real place, Quaid actually being a double (triple?) agent and liberating the Martian colonists, and Harry being a real wizard (and Hogwarts being a real place, with the people he meets there being real people) are all much more satisfying than the alternatives. But if someone is told they're about to watch a Techno-thriller Science Fiction story with elements of Horror that later edges into Cyberpunk, and then wind up with 14 episodes of the characters in a pseudo-medieval fantasy setting, followed by another 11 episodes of them as magic-using flying elves in a similar setting, they may be rather upset on being sold the wrong thing. Yet that first arc is about cutting-edge technology (the NERV Gear VR interface) that will outright murder you under the right conditions (if someone dies in the game, or if someone from the outside tries to disconnect their NERV Gear, it sends out a powerful microwave pulse that fries their brain), and in the second arc you've got an evil corporation (well, really just a small section of said corporation) that has kept a number of players (including the main character's girlfriend) from escaping when the previous game was won, and which the characters need to break the rules to set them free.

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But even leaving audience expectations aside, I think genre is not just a matter of impressions; I think that for the fantastic genres, at least, it's a question of ontology—of the reality of the fantastic events and the reasons we are given for accepting it within the story.
I would disagree with that definition of genre, as I see it as a useful label for the sort of story the audience will be experiencing, but I can certainly appreciate your point. I'm not certain which (if either) of our interpretations would be "properly" correct, but ultimately I think this is a case where it's fine to disagree on this.
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Old Yesterday, 04:39 PM   #38
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I have my doubts about that way of drawing the distinction.

(1) I don't think "speculative fiction" means, literally, any fiction that contains an element of speculation, even a large element. Historically, it originated as a usage of science fiction writers, one that substituted for "science fiction." Narrowly, I think, it was a way of talking about science fiction that sounded more respectable than "that Buck Rogers stuff" or the horror movies on Saturday afternoon "science fiction theater."
Coming back to this, the people mentioned here definitely included alternate history in their definition of both science fiction and speculative fiction. The Man In the High Castle, for instance, is universally defined as science fiction, despite there being no magic nor any technology that didn't exist at the time of publication, but it takes place in a Nazi US. One key difference between that book and It Can't Happen Here is that Lewis was writing in the mid-30s about a fictional politician defeating FDR in the mid-30s and instituting a fascist regime, while Dick was writing in the 60s about a world which had fallen to the nazis 20 years previously, and thus takes place in a 1960s fundamentally different to that experienced by his readers.

The other key difference brings up another way in which genres are defined, which is by writers, readers, editors, and critics. Sinclair Lewis understood himself to be writing literary fiction, as did his editors, and his readers. Suggesting to any of these people that he was in the same category as Edgar Rice Burroughs would elicit laughter and possibly offence. Philip K Dick understood himself to be a science fiction writer, and people who read his books understand themselves to be reading science fiction. 100% of people describing Man in the High Castle call it sci fi and/or spec fic 0% of the people describing It Can't Happen Here would do so.
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Old Yesterday, 05:15 PM   #39
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The other key difference brings up another way in which genres are defined, which is by writers, readers, editors, and critics. Sinclair Lewis understood himself to be writing literary fiction, as did his editors, and his readers. Suggesting to any of these people that he was in the same category as Edgar Rice Burroughs would elicit laughter and possibly offence. Philip K Dick understood himself to be a science fiction writer, and people who read his books understand themselves to be reading science fiction. 100% of people describing Man in the High Castle call it sci fi and/or spec fic 0% of the people describing It Can't Happen Here would do so.
Well, not quite 0%. It won the Libertarian Futurist Society's Hall of Fame award a few years back.

I don't think that way of looking at things is valid. If you go by those categories, then neither 1984 nor Brave New World is science fiction. Both were published as literary fiction and both were by writers who were responded to as literary figures. I'm not even sure that Wells or Stapledon would be classed as science fiction; they were published in England, and Wells was published before science fiction even existed as a publishing category.

For that matter, Islandia, though it's set on a created continent, was never responded to as science fiction or genre fantasy. The blurbs on my copy come from the New York Times and the New York. If you're going to have a literary class system, Islandia belongs with the elite and not with the masses.
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