the future of SF…

Here is a subject that gets me all hot under the collar. Yes, I’ve written about this before, but earlier this week, Jetse de Vries posted an entry on his blog (and various others) Should SF Die?

To which my answer would be: do you think people will ever stop writing novels about people travelling to other worlds by means other than magic, or about what happens when people colonise space, or when they encounter other intelligent life, either on Earth or elsewhere? Do you think people will stop writing about getting lost in the cyberworld, or about what happens during/after a nuclear war/environmental disaster, or some other calamity as yet unthought-of? Do you think people will no longer be interested in reading what happens when companies own DNA, and governments start creating people for their own purposes, when mind and body become separated and when human-developed technology puts us before dilemmas that are new and challenging?

Do you believe that? OK, then you do believe SF will die. However, I’d think you’d agree with me in saying that people will never stop writing and reading about these subjects in various forms.

What I can see changing, is the way we label various types of fiction. Not that anyone cares, because the bookshop/publisher category is Science Fiction AND Fantasy and no one gives two hoots about the division between the two. But the writers, and genre buffs….

I’ve heard people compare SF with westerns. No one publishes westerns very much anymore. That said, westerns cover a very narrow concept in a very narrow geographic area and a very narrow period of time. SF is not like westerns AT ALL, at least not the full gamut of it. Think of it – hard SF, cyberpunk, space opera, military SF, first contact stories, Earth-based mystery/crime SF, sociological SF, and lots of subgenres I’m forgetting. Is there any other genre with a scope as wide as all that? But no, say some. Star Wars is really fantasy, and anything that’s Earth-based is mainstream, and the one true SF is the genre of ideas. Well, I’m sorry, but where does that leave Miles Vorkorsigan? Or, gasp, romantic SF? And what is more, who freaking cares?

And this is the bit I really don’t get. In fantasy, there isn’t a similar bitchfight going on about what is fantasy and what isn’t. No writer who writes traditional, long-winded epic fantasy would suggest that urban fantasy, magic realism or fantasy/romance is *not fantasy*.

So go on. If the term Science Fiction is so cringe-worthy, and evokes images of the 1950’s, find another term for it. A genre must keep evolving after all. Just don’t forget that an increasing majority of readers are too young to have read the SF classics, and many enjoy at least one or two of the plethora of SF subgenres, and are not going to stop enjoying it ‘because SF is dying’, however you want to define the genre.

/end rant

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By pattyjansen Posted in SF

7 comments on “the future of SF…

  1. I think the market for SF is dying. That’s not the same as the genre dying.
    The line between SF and F was never that clear. What it really should be is Fantasy and Science Fantasy (or Tech Fantasy since SF is more focused on imaginary tech than new science).

    I think one of the issues with SF is that 30-50 years ago, we thought it would be a hop-step-and-jump to new worlds and space stations. We were going to colonize the galaxy. Where are our floating cars? Jet packs? Video phones?? (I’m not counting Skype)
    The biggest promises of SF are still unfulfilled. And so far, many of it’s greatest nightmares are unrealized as well. So people are seeing SF more as fantasy nowadays.

    • I don’t think an audience for stories that take place in the future, on other worlds, will ever cease to exist. SF as defined by the 1950’s is disapearing, but plenty of subgenres will take its place.

      I’d be more than happy with the label Sceince Fantasy or Futuristic Fantasy, or even just Speculative Fiction.

      I think the problem with the Science Fiction label is that people are trying to restrict it to their narrow vision of the genre, i.e., the 1950’s kind. THAT is dying (thank goodness)

  2. The novel I’m trying to sell is hard science fiction about early space travel between Earth and Mars. I don’t know if I’ll ever sell my book, but it’s all about achievements that will be proven true. Where does this type of fiction fit into this suggested change to fantasy?

  3. Perhaps the market for narrowly defined real-science-focused SF is shrinking. But I’m not certain of that–SF was not a genre that got anywhere near bestseller status in those much glorified bygone days.

    SF was read by the few, the proud–well, often it was read behind a slipcover that wouldn’t give away how weird the reader was to the casual observer. So maybe not so proud.

    I suspect that instead the market for fantasy (and less rigorous SF) has simply grown in leaps and bounds since Star Wars, and that science-driven hard SF has not gained readers at the same speed, if at all.

    • I think you’re probably right about this, and the fact that those old white, male, anglosaxon, science/ideas based writers are trying to claim the genre to the exclusion of other types, and that’s not healthy. Hard SF is part of the SF spectrum, and can’t dictate what else is Science Fiction. Star Wars is SF, Flash Forward is SF and *gasp* Avatar is SF

  4. To me, fantasy and SF are similar in that they explore ethical and moral dilemmas when presented with a new dimension of possibilities.

    When someone is rude to you, do you cast a fireball at them? When intelligent micro-organisms colonise your kitchen counter, do you reach for the Domestos or reach for a workable compromise?

    The difference is that one can never happen, the other might…

    I think that interest in, knowledge of and enthusiasm for the hard sciences has declined over the years, hence the declining market for hard science fiction. Contrastingly, wooliness and wishful thinking has increased, hence the rise in fantasy.

    Every genre has to adapt to please its available audience, but the genre that always starts with ‘Instead of that, what if…?’ can never die.

    And that’s SF.

    • I agree with you that both genres explore human dilemmas in new worlds. I don’t think there is as much difference between SF and fantasy as people would believe there to be. All of it deals with settings that are made up. Whether the parameter of the world are governed by science or by magic, it doesn’t matter. What matters is what people do with the information.

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