Is there a future for science fiction?

Discussion in 'General Book Discussion' started by chrispenycate, Apr 2, 2008.

  1.  
    chrispenycate

    chrispenycate resident pedantissimo

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    Is there a future for science fiction?

    The passing of Arthur C Clarke has left many of science fiction's devotees in funereal mode: Asimov's gone, Heinlein's gone, Vonnegut too. With other titans such as Ray Bradbury and Ursula LeGuin not getting any younger, a collective sigh for giants passed has heaved through the blogosphere: who, now, can take the helm of Starship SF?

    Well, lots of people actually - though in keeping with the genre's traditions, it is undergoing some unexpected mutations, and there are at least two very different horizons ahead.

    Look in one direction and you can see writers splintering the genre into ever more specific niches, with correspondingly smaller readerships. Wikipedia lists 43 sub-genres of science fiction (for reasons as obscure as the mechanics of time travel, you must never call it sci-fi if you're talking to a fan), and there will probably be more by next week.

    For those who like stories about underground groups doing battle with sinister megacorporations, there's biopunk. This is not to be confused with clockpunk, which considers the impact modern technologies would have had if they had been invented earlier. Bronzepunk and stonepunk have some similarities, but don't whatever you do give a clockpunk fan a space opera or a sword'n'planet as an Easter present.

    Swing your scope around towards the mass market, however, and something like the Invasion of the Mainstream is under way. Where previously SF existed in its own universe, little visited by general readers, it is now taking over large stretches of Waterstone's shelves.

    Until recently, a science fiction novel would never have made the Booker shortlist. These days the literati are forever zooming back and forth in time (Will Self and David Mitchell two recent adventurers) and fiddling around in the laboratory (Margaret Atwood and Kazuo Ishiguro).

    "I don't pretend we have all the answers," Arthur C Clarke once wrote. "But the questions are certainly worth thinking about." These days, it seems, all of us are doing so.

    Lindesay Irvine (The Guardian)
  2.  
    Nesacat

    Nesacat The Cat

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    Meowrr ... am using Chris's masheen and of course it auto logged in to his account. And since my masheens auto log in to my account it didn't occur to me to wonder how I could just get right in here. So the above post is mine really and I am now logged in myself. :eek:
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    Rane Longfox

    Rane Longfox Red Rane

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    Bah. I don't see it. All genres evolve. Sure, it's a shame that some really great authors are no longer with us, but that doesn't mean the genre is dying. Is the article implying that "Where previously SF existed in its own universe, little visited by general readers, it is now taking over large stretches of Waterstone's shelves." is a bad thing? I don't see it.
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    Ursa major

    Ursa major Bearly Believable Staff Member

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    I have been led to understand that a certain Mr W. Shakespeare is no longer with us; other people still seem to want to write plays, including tragedies, comedies and even histories. (And hasn't that clever Sr da Vinci also passed his best and yet painting - and even inventing - go on in the hands of others.)
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    Steve Jordan

    Steve Jordan I like SF. SF is cool.

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    I agree with Rane. SF is simply evolving... and at the moment, with the "apparent" splintering of genres (hey, when was SF ever all the same-type stories by different artists?), the evolution of delivery mediums (the web, e-books, CD and DVD), and the changes of society that are catching up with many of the older SF concepts, it's hard to see where SF is going right now.

    SF has gone through phases before, and re-invented itself each time. Metropolis begat the Buck Rodgers serials, begat Forbidden Planet, begat Star Trek, begat The Andromeda Strain, begat The Prisoner, begat Soylent Green, begat The Matrix, begat Firefly... each as different as the last. I think we're at the tail-end of a declining phase right now, so we just have to wait for the next phase (or create it ourselves).
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    Urien

    Urien New Member

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    All genres have subgenres, you'll find the same in mystery, romance and literary.

    The above is a simplistic assessment drawn from an insufficent understanding of a journalist, who because of recent novels in sff from "literary" authors is forced to try and understand. So in a half-assed way to make a story, or a point, she says SF is either internally ghettoised, or (and don't worry) it'll be saved by literary authors.

    She doesn't know the works of current sf authors, hence they don't get mentioned. Clearly her editor gave her an assignment that was either beyond her, or she couldn't be bothered doing any research. (Hence the half-read, half-digested gunk from Wiki).
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    Connavar

    Connavar New Member

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    I dont believe its dying at all. There are too many skilled authors writing the genre today.


    I do sometimes wish though there were more writers that could make you feel for a SF book like you do with a good RAH,PKD etc

    I havent read a modern writer that comes near that. Thats only natural it doesnt mean the genre is dying, it means the genre has more greats in its history than in many other genres.
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    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    Ummm, guys... did anyone actually read the post?

    That sounds more like a recognition that, while one era is passing, another (possibly even more exciting and certainly more diverse) is emerging... hardly anything indicating the death of sf. The title is meant to grab the attention, but the body of this bit seems aimed at debunking the idea that science fiction is dying... or even on the critical list!:p

    Yes, it points out the bewildering number of categories within the genre, and that some of these have very narrow audiences... but this is at most handled as a point of mild concern. The thrust of the whole, on the other hand, shows me an awareness that sf is becoming more viable as literature outside fandom as well as in. Look at the thing again, especially the line from Clarke and the closing by the reporter. That by itself should tell you that sf is being seen here as, if anything, a more vital genre than ever....
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    Allegra

    Allegra New Member

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    I thought the same while reading that dumb article. Unfortunately our media is littered with such journalists. Sure, if there is a future for mankind then there is a future for science fiction, and any fiction.
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    the smiling weirwood

    the smiling weirwood Axes and Saws Prohibited

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    My question is of a more mundane nature. How is it that Nesa is able to appropriate Chris' computer all the way from Malaysia while Chris resides in Switzerland? Perhaps this is simply one more example of the awesome power of the felines.

    Upon further reflection there is most likely some extremely interesting sci-fi explanation for that which will no doubt be revealed shortly.
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2008
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    pyan

    pyan Fortiter et recte! Staff Member

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    As I understand it, Nesa went to a TravelAgent booth, bought a "tikket" which entitled her to a place in a giant aluminium flying machine, called, probably, a "BOE'ING", which whisked her half way around the world in less than a day to the Fabled City Of Lon-Don (in a sub-Orbital flight)to attend the Grand Conclave of Fandom known to the wise as "Eastercon"...on the return, she broke her journey at the Neutral Zone of Swit-Zer-Land to confer with the Most Puissant Overlord of Pedantism himself!:D
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    the smiling weirwood

    the smiling weirwood Axes and Saws Prohibited

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    No need to be snide about, I had no idea Nesa was up to such exciting hijinks. I have been out of the loop for an extremely long time.
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    pyan

    pyan Fortiter et recte! Staff Member

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    Sorry, SW, no intention whatsoever to be snide...I was responding in what I thought was an appropriately "Sci-fi" way to your post...including a :D smiley.
    No offence at all intended. My apologies.
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    the smiling weirwood

    the smiling weirwood Axes and Saws Prohibited

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    Sorry, I have a tendency to, um, take offense.
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    steve12553

    steve12553 The Enigma of Steel

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    Yes, please put away the katana... and the phasor. Let's keep it civil.



    Seriously, two quick points: First the world tends to overclassify nowadays, hence the many sub-genre and second, some form of Science Fiction will exist as long as humankind has any sort of curiosity about its future or surroundings.
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    Connavar

    Connavar New Member

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    SF is getting more respect and readers from mainstream thats clear and promising.

    But i dont like how the journalist put it at the end that we should be glad literary famous authors writing SF. Like they are doing us a favor.

    I couldnt careless if you are halied by snob lit critics. that diss genre fiction anyway.

    If you cant write a good SF, i dont care how famous you are outside genre.

    Right now im reading Michael Chabon. Dont care at all he has won Pultizer, how the crtitics of "lit fiction " loves him. If his SF book suck, i will forget he exist as an author ;)
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    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    My point -- and the way I read what the journalist was saying -- on that one is that the "ghettoization" is on its way out, according to such trends; it isn't seen as "low-brow" fluff any longer, rather it is seen to be as worthy a field of literary endeavor as any other. I'm none too sanguine about that, as we've seen this before, in the 1960s and early 1970s, with writers such as Thomas Pyncheon and Saul Bellow (among others), and that didn't last too long... albeit we did have occasional forays into the field by other recognized literary figures.

    On the other... again, what I see the reporter saying is that SF is proliferating, a burgeoning field of possibilities. She took the view so often expressed by sf enthusiasts that the best are dying off and spent the rest of the article showing how that was not necessarily the case; that the Grand Old Masters may be, but new young masters may well be emerging....\

    EDIT: Oh, and Pyan... for a moment there, I thought we had the reincarnation of Nelson S. Bond among us....:p
  18.  
    pyan

    pyan Fortiter et recte! Staff Member

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    I still think we should be watching a televisor, working hard all day as a computer, and drinking CaffoStim....:p
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    Rane Longfox

    Rane Longfox Red Rane

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    I was wondering really, especially after reading this thread too: http://www.sffchronicles.co.uk/forum/44639-i-miss-the-good-old-days.html - what is with the whole looking backwards trend? Personally, 95% iof the sci-fi I read is new stuff, and I absolutely love it. Now, does this mean, because I rarely read older sci-fi, that I'm not really a proper sci-fi fan (and yes, I even call it "sci-fi" :eek: )? Am I contributing to the downfall of the genre by not living in the past?


    Hope not!!
  20.  
    j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator Staff Member

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    Frankly, my view on the matter has been summed up by others elsewhere (and sometimes contributed to by myself). I do think we're seeing a time when books are often spun out to inordinate length, and I expect that's going to eventually have a deleterious effect, much like it did with the Gothic tale in the early 19th century. I also think that many readers fasten onto the sorts of sf (or whatever other branch of literature) they read growing up and in their earlier adult years, as those are frequently colored by special associations that make them have a slightly more golden shine than they might have otherwise. Add to this the facts that we are losing (or have lost) a lot of our Grand Old Masters, and no one of quite the same legendary stature has arisen yet (or at least, it isn't apparent that they have); and that sf is undergoing a lot of mutation at the moment, and it can seem that the genre is on the downhill side, as it were.

    However, I'd say that each of these (save the last) is a temporary situation, subject to change; while on the last, this is hardly the first time sf has gone through such changes. Even a glance at the table of contents page of Lester Del Rey's The World of Science Fiction, 1926-1976: The History of a Sub-Culture (1979) will tell you that much.

    So, no, I don't think the genre is due to a downfall. It may be going through a slump right now, but this wouldn't be the first time for that, either. In the meantime, the title of this piece would seem to be something of a rhetorical ploy of posing the question and answering, in the end, with a resounding "YES!", though it may not be quite the same science fiction we've become accustomed to... yet again....

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