Now that I’ve moved from LJ to WordPress I will, from time to time, reprint old essays of mine that appeared earlier so new readers can sample them. This was posted in my old LJ on July 28, 2010. I think it’s still relevant today. Then again, as far as I am concerned, anything that pisses off the literary dinosaurs is relevant.
My friend bondo_ba (and if you’re not reading his blog you should be) has a post about SF in the noughties and commented on the pretentiousness of SF, specifically the kinds of stories Dozois tends to select for his “Best of” anthology. I tend to agree with most of what bondo_ba said even though I am an unabashed fan of New Wave SF. Anyway, I posted a reply at the blog, but wanted to reprint it here because A.) I believe SF is in trouble, (I know, you’ve heard that one before) and B.) Something needs to be done about it, and C.) Maybe we’re here because SF is too successful?
Anyway, here is what bondo_ba said:
“He (Dozois) has a tendency towards selecting overly pretentious work, and has been one of the driving forces behind the fact that SF literature is growing ever more literary – and ever more distant from the fans.”
“Bingo. SF writers keep wondering why SF is “graying” and not finding new fans. This is the reason. When you write down to a person they might get the idea you think they are a POS. So it’s natural they will turn away from the genre altogether.
“The New Wave was necessary, imo, in that it brought SF out of its cartoonish “rockets and bug-eyed monsters” phase that dominated in the 30s, 40s and 50s. It also demanded a much higher literary quality. Unfortunately, with that higher expectation came too much hubris and pretentiousness on the part of some writers — which in effect, and over time, drove away fans who remembered SF for what it used to be: Fun.
“The SF writers themselves also forgot what SF was supposed to be about, and only concentrated on the literary aspects of the story. The results of which you have pointed out here.
“It’s a real shame. I believe SF can continue to grow, but it’s got to get over this “We have to make the literati like us so our work will be validated” phase. The literati and those who toil in the Ivory Towers will NEVER like or appreciate SF in any form it takes. That’s not how they roll. And the sooner SF writers understand that then they can get back to writing stories that will bring in fans, rather than push them away.”
Now that I’ve had time to think about this some more (mmerriam hinted on Facebook he might have something to say about this topic as well, and I await his comments with eagerness, and, yeah, he’s another writer whose blog you should be reading) I am wondering if SF hasn’t become a victim of its own success? I mean, let’s face it, we won the genre wars. We won. SF is prevalent in everything from commercials to movies to books to, well, you just about name it and our influence is there.
We won. No other genre can claim as big a turf in the public consciousness as we do. Plus, SF was never about prognostication, it was all about getting the public ready for the future.
And we have arrived. We’re there. The trip is over. The future is here, folks. So maybe all that’s left is the genre’s own momentum? Dunno. I hope not. I hope there are new literary frontiers waiting to be opened. SF sets itself up perfectly to do that, but we haven’t seen much evidence of that work going on lately. There has been window dressing. Steampunk leaps to mind. But I maintain that’s not a movement but a literary ornament. Don’t get me wrong. I actually like Steampunk (up to a point) but it hasn’t shifted the terrain the way New Wave and Cyberpunk have.
Meh. I’m probably way off base about all of this. It wouldn’t be the first time. But I am damn certain of one thing. You cannot walk down the SF aisle of a bookstore nowadays without experiencing an overwhelming sense of WTF?
Science fiction used to be fun. It did. I know this is true because I remember it.* It’s not fun anymore and maybe that’s because, like I said, we are victims of our own successes.
But we don’t have to give up. We can still be successful. And you can do that by bringing in new readers (along with readers who dropped out a long time ago) by making SF fun again.
Fun. Not opaque and stultifying in some vain attempt to impress people who will never be impressed with us under any circumstances you can name.**
*Please, don’t give me the “Science fiction is twelve” argument. I’ve been reading and writing this crap long enough to know good SF when I see it whether I was twelve, or fifty.
**Remember, these are the same people who think Brave New World is the speculative fiction giant of the literary world. And they only do that because they refuse to believe BNW is science fiction. That’s how out of touch they are.