Wednesday, September 08, 2004

SF From The Ashes: I like Robert J. Sawyer, but in this article about the demise of Science Fiction, I think he's way off.

. . . readers who do make it through science-fiction books appear to have their faith shaken when the predictions don't come true.

Take the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. When Stanley Kubrick's film was released in 1968, it had a vision of the future that included commercial space stations and widespread cryogenics. By the actual year 2001, however, the movie proved to be light-years ahead of available technology.

"Regrettably, with 2001 having a title that had a year in it, science fiction essentially set itself up in the public's imagination as saying: 'Here's what you get if you wait to that year.' Well, we all waited till that year and we didn't get anything at all like that . . .," said Sawyer. "So part of it is that the readership has bailed."

I hereby invite everyone, everywhere, who stopped reading Science Fiction because you felt let down when 2001 turned out to be a work of literary extrapolation instead of a work of prophesy to email me. I have some equally believable "prophecies" to sell you, and you can invest in the stock market based on them.

You want half-baked oversimplified versions of why the genre's sales are slipping?

Here's mine: The genre isn't doing as well, commercially, because it isn't being commercial enough.

They're trying so hard to be accepted by the literary establishment, who long ago proved they had their heads in the sand, that they aren't looking at where they actually succeeded and emulating that.

Ender's Game would sell as well if it was published today as it did when it came out. The kids who buy it today fall just as in love with it as kids did then.

If a book of Harry Potter's appeal and resonance came out that was science fiction instead of fantasy, people would buy it up just as fast.

The sad fact is, and I include myself in this, that we, as science fiction writers, have not done as good a job of drawing in our readers, of taking them to strange places that they want to go to again and again and again.

Is this film's fault? Have the movies, as special effects gotten wilder and wilder, filled the need our books used to fill?

Is this parents fault? Are they not sufficiently teaching their children to love books, by putting books in the kid's hands not to teach them morals, or preach to them, but, as Roald Dahl used to say, for no more reason than to make children fall madly in love with books, so passionately they cling to them through out their lives?

Is this your fault? Because you haven't heard of Vernor Vinge or Robert J Sawyer, so who knows if their stuff is good?

Maybe that's some of it. But I'm still getting books pushed into my hands by people who are so excited they just have to share. Kids are still devouring Harry Potter and plunging from Hogwarts off into Narnia and Meg and Charles Wallace's house and Redwall Abbey.

So don't buy it when you're told:

"I would not be encouraging a young person today to be entering science fiction as a profession. I do have a fear that the science-fiction novel is as much an artifact of the 20th century as Victorian literature was of the 19th," said Sawyer. "No matter how hard you yell 'clear' and go for the defibrillator paddle, you still can't get that spark of life going again."

People are still hungry for it, crazy for it, and if you can fill that hunger, they'll reward you for it.

Hence the real insane part of the article:

Sawyer hopes science fiction will continue as a form of sociological commentary, but worries that by 2030, the genre may be a thing of the past, even if its trademarks are gradually being co-opted into the mainstream: Witness Margaret Atwood's Booker Prize-nominated Oryx and Crake, for instance, which dealt with a future world suffering from genetic engineering gone virulently wrong.

What the heck?

Isn't this evidence that the public want science fiction so badly, that it's becoming less cubbyholed and more mainstream? Just because Michael Crichton isn't winning Hugos doesn't mean his career isn't proving how hungry the public is for science fiction.

But again, the sci-fi guys run to Atwood, the lit-fic writer, for validation of their mainstream potential, even though Crichton sells far more copies. Further proof that most of them, in their heart of hearts, would rather be accepted by the literati and the intelligencia than by Joe and Jane Public--what the heck do those two know?

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