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SF author's rant on the current state of science fiction

Discussion in 'After Hours Lounge (Off Topic)' started by Max Leung, Sep 8, 2003.

  1. Max Leung

    Max Leung Well-Known Member

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    Forward, into the past:
    Why are our imaginations retreating from science and space, and into fantasy?
    asks SPIDER ROBINSON.

     
  2. David Baranyi

    David Baranyi Well-Known Member

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    I do notice that some fans refuse to use "Sci Fi," but use SF as an abbreviation of science fiction. How come?
     
  3. Max Leung

    Max Leung Well-Known Member

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    Sci Fi is to SF as Japanimation is to Anime. [​IMG]

    SciFi, in my mind, is associated with those pulpy B-movies that Mystery Science Theater loves to spoof.

    How would you feel if someone looked at your HT equipment and called it a "hi-fi stereo"? [​IMG]

    Oh, the discussion on Slashdot about this article is very interesting...and has introduced me to a local author (in Calgary) who just one a Hugo award for one of his books in the "Neanderthal Parallax" series. Anthropological SF! I gotta check that out...it has gotten extremely positive reviews on Amazon.com.
     
  4. Jason Seaver

    Jason Seaver Well-Known Member

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    It's not just the media-inspired franchises, though - damn near every book on the shelf at the local sci-fi bookstore (and the meager sci-fi/fantasy section at the other stores) is part of a series. They're usually labeled as such, but not always; I nearly threw Tony Daniel's Metaplanetary across the room when I got to the last page and there was no ending.

    It's depressing. I get most of my SF from Analog, Asimov's and Fantasy & Science Fiction nowadays, and none of them are perfect - Analog often seems to have reverted to Campbell-era stories with cardboard characters, Asimov's uses far more pages for fantasy and alternate history than I'd like, and F&SF barely publishes SF at all.

    I think the big problem is that somewhere along the line, every sci-fi tale that made it to the mainstream or mass media became a cautionary tale. The advanced technology was always in the hands of the villains, or there was a nasty twist ending, or the very setting implied some sort of monstrous war or catalcysm. Star Wars ended with Luke having to turn his back on technology to trust in something mystical; Star Trek adopted a Prime Directive which basically says "trying to make a people's life better will just screw them up, so stand back." Print authors feel the need to temper triumphant endings with set-ups for the next bloody sequel.

    All too often, it seems science fiction isn't offering hope for a better, more exciting tomorrow.
     
  5. Max Leung

    Max Leung Well-Known Member

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    Yeah, I get that feeling too. You hear about how simple household chemicals can be used to murder several hundred people; reading that in a work of fiction just makes the pessimism even worse!

    Far too much SF paints science as the bad guy - have we already forgotten that vaccines have saved millions of lives? And remember...science doesn't kill people. People kill people!

    But then again, the negativity in SF can be attributed to a certain inevitability about human nature: Science is the best way we have of understanding the universe, but people (not the scientists) just end up using it to harm others to gain an advantage over them.

    Authors have proposed genetic manipulation to tame our baser intincts, but somebody will always cry "You support eugenics - you're a Nazi!" Oh well - they'll just have to introduce an alien race with the desired traits as contrast instead! [EDIT: Oops actually meant to say that SF authors have always done that]
     
  6. Kevin Farley

    Kevin Farley Well-Known Member

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    "He never saw Molly again."

    I think it will come back; Possibly with the internet now, the future is actually happening at the moment; The space program is in ruins, and there's a general nihilism concerning the future. I do think it's a phase, and it will go back.
     
  7. Peter Apruzzese

    Peter Apruzzese Well-Known Member

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    Real Name:
    Peter Apruzzese
     
  8. Lew Crippen

    Lew Crippen Well-Known Member

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  9. Tommy Ceez

    Tommy Ceez Well-Known Member

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    I still think Kilgore Trout is a SF genius
     
  10. Dome Vongvises

    Dome Vongvises Well-Known Member

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  11. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Well-Known Member

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    Though SF luminary, fan, and agent Forrest J. Ackerman coined the slang phrase "sci-fi" in the 1950s as an SF equivalent phrase to "hi-fi," it was disparaged from the get-go within "organized fandom."

    I have yet to read Spider's essay, but "real" SF has been increasingly marginalized by the media "sci-fi" (or "SF lite") prevailing these days. "Fan types" are getting off on this non-SF (X-Files, post-TOS Star Trek, Star Wars, the superhero fantasies, and other pubescent trivia) "sci-fi" instead of more demanding material that has literary merit as well as scientific plausibility (remember some of the wild rescue-scenario suggestions posted here immediately after the STS-107/Columbia tragedy? Some of those implausible suggestions were an outgrowth of people allowing Hollywood to inform them as opposed to science).

    People read less today (at least here in the U.S.). So it's not surprising there are fewer SF magazines in existence than at any time since the genre got its start when Hugo Gernsback started Amazing Stories in 1926. When I first started reading SF seriously, you could go to a newsstand and select from Analog/Astounding, Galaxy, If, F&SF, Amazing, Fantastic, and a number of reprint-only magazines.

    Too, given the proliferation of pseudoscientific nonsense today (UFOs, the supernatural, near-death experiences, etc., etc.), people clearly prefer fantasy to science-based speculation.

    New talent, in this media-saturated age, has trouble breaking into such a desolate print-SF landscape.
     
  12. Garrett Lundy

    Garrett Lundy Well-Known Member

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    If Spider Robinson thinks that the state of todays SF is so bad, why doesn't he write a good SF book to raise the national average?

    But I do believe he has a good point. What was the last good SF film that didn't involve laser guns, flying cars, giant robots, or superpowered humans? (I think Gattaca)
     
  13. JayV

    JayV Well-Known Member

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  14. Max Leung

    Max Leung Well-Known Member

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    Hmmm, Contact came out the same time as Gattaca. So I guess it is a draw as to which was the last good SF film. [​IMG]

    Pitch Black, although not the best SF film, does harken to the good old fashioned "Sci-fi" B-movie years. Well, at least it didn't have giant robots! Ditto can be said for Event Horizon - not the greatest, but hot damn, the whole movie gave me fond memories of playing Doom in a dark room. [​IMG]

    It looks like the only media that still has strong SF support would be in the area of computer games. Homeworld, Half-Life, Doom, Halo (the novels aren't bad, all things considered), Master of Orion, Total Annihilation, etc. are clearly SF-oriented and extremely popular.

    Well ok, they are tuned toward mega-violence - too bad there aren't more SF games like LucasArt's "The Dig", which is one of the few non-violent SF games out there.

    Anyways, as to print fiction: it still irks me that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix won the Hugo. Yes, it's a very good book, but where the hell is the SF? I don't know the history of the Hugo awards, but I always had the impression it was about SF. Sure, there is a more broad genre called "speculative" fiction, but anything with magic is still fantasy in my book.

    But not all is bleak: After attending a recent local Fantasy/SF convention, it seems that the male/female ratio is perfectly balanced now. There seem to be as many female writers as male writers, although a large majority of the female writers work in the fantasy genre. I'm thinking part of the decline may be that women just aren't interested in SF at all. But this isn't very surprising, considering that the situation isn't that great in academia either.

    Still, things may be improving, albeit slowly. I'm hoping that the surge in popularity of Babylon 5 will spur things along again...
     
  15. Holadem

    Holadem Well-Known Member

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  16. Jason Seaver

    Jason Seaver Well-Known Member

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  17. John Watson

    John Watson Well-Known Member

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    I believe the term Speculative Fiction may be current for the varieties of writing that could include Science Fiction and Fantasy.

    I've always felt that sci-fi movies were best when they were dystopic about the future. I once suggested that most sci-fi moves were picturing the future negatively, and someone advised me to watch Star Wars or some such fare. [​IMG]

    As to less of a readership or audience for SciFi, there is perhaps more awareness (justified) of the chaos science-fueled economic progress is leading us to - pollution. But even long-ago HG wells, as well as George Orwell, or Aldous Huxley, could see the tendencies of human nature and its use of technology. (Is Gattaca an update of Brave New world?)

    Scientific advance will always be misused - its just human nature, which will not go beyond Good and Evil. When the scientists serve the corporations with the money, they and their craft may well get lumped with Mr Businessman.

    All the schemes/fantasies of weeding out anti-social behaviour (whatever that is), by genetic or chemical, or "educational" means founder on the traditional issue of : Who calls the shots; Who prevents the ruling class from becoming corrupt; or ousts it when the inevitable happens. One Bladerunner can only do so much.

    But there are still millions who think better living will result from more powerful cars, huge stereo systems, and drugs or "genetic engineering" to make them live forever, disease-free, and that their children can become smarter by learning with computers from the lowest grades. Teenage boys will always fantasize what they could do with an invisibility formula. I just can't imagine I would enjoy the books or movies that endorsed or celebrated those points of view.

    The idea of the Matrix, or a thinking planet (Gaia?), has perhaps been spurred by Cyber-space books by Wm Gibson, and seems to have a much more prominent place in modern sci-fi books and movies than the themes of 50 or 100 years ago. This theme of course heads towards theology. [​IMG]

    I always thought Arthur C Clarke's monolith was just another version of the First Cause.
     
  18. Dome Vongvises

    Dome Vongvises Well-Known Member

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  19. david stark

    david stark Well-Known Member

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  20. Jeff Ulmer

    Jeff Ulmer Well-Known Member

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    As a pretty ardent SF fan in my younger days, there are a couple of pretty significant factors that have curbed my indulgence in reading. First and foremost is a lack of time. There are simply not enough hours in a day to take the time to delve into a good book, as much as I'd like to. Second is a lack of really intriguing work, or at least the appearance of a lack of such work. Publishers won't even look at a new writer unless they are producing serials, and much of the time these start off with a bang, but become diluted in the successive offerings as to ruin what could have been a great standalone piece. Third, and quite important;y is the cost of the media. When I'm expected to shell out $10 for a book I have no idea about, chances are unless I have heard raves about it, I'll pass - I've struggled through too many books to find a real value in the expense, especially if it doesn't have a proper conclusion.
    Part of me still wants to mine the second hand shops for the old books and classic authors, even though my collection already contains a good many of them. I don't mind blowing a buck on a dud, but at new prices, I'd be pissed, and put off buying more.
    If I had the time, I would probably revisit books I know are great before trying something new. I have longed for years to go back to Ringworld, or revisit the Riverworld or all of the Foundation series.
    What is needed is material that inspires me to want to read again, something that grips my imagination and takes me to uncharted territory, not simply lesser versions of classic SF, with a bit of modern technobabble thrown in for contemporary consideration.
     

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