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Scifi / Fantasy News > Is SF&F exhausted?

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message 1: by Dave (last edited Sep 19, 2012 06:42PM) (new)

Dave | 28 comments Some food for thought in this article about the state of SF&F stories:
http://lareviewofbooks.org/article.ph...

"The overwhelming sense one gets, working through so many stories that are presented as the very best that science fiction and fantasy have to offer, is exhaustion. Not so much physical exhaustion (though it is more tiring than reading a bunch of short stories really has any right to be); it is more as though the genres of the fantastic themselves have reached a state of exhaustion.

In the main, there is no sense that the writers have any real conviction about what they are doing. Rather, the genre has become a set of tropes to be repeated and repeated until all meaning has been drained from them. For example, “Dolly” by Elizabeth Bear (in the Gardner Dozois collection), is a story of police investigating a murder that may have been committed by a robot. It is not a bad story, in the sense that it is efficiently told, with enough detail of character and setting to reward the reader, but the story itself deliberately harks back to the robot stories that Isaac Asimov was writing in the 1940s. Bear has brought the trope up to date, but she has not extended the idea or found anything radically new in it. Asimov’s stories can still entertain, and Bear’s story is much the same, but to find that one of what we are told are the best stories of 2011 is ploughing a furrow that is more than seventy years old is somehow dispiriting."



message 2: by Derek (new)

Derek | 28 comments I don't agree that that is mutually exclusive to SF and fantasy. You could find examples of this phenomenon in any genre and any entertainment medium. What's old is new again. There's nothing wrong with it really. It's human nature to continue passing core myths. There's a great i09 article about it through the lens of reboots.


message 3: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Terrington (thewritestuff) I think that to comment on this, one of the issues is the concern many people have with 'originality' over story or plot. I feel that if you focus on writing a quality story, your work will have that hint of being unique and different to others books. That is of course just a theory.

Another thought is that we notice this exhaustion more now because of the influx of availability for self-publishing via e-books. Traditional publishing has become harder to make a living from therefore self-publishing allows for more material that exhausts these concepts. Just another theory...


message 4: by Kevin (new)

Kevin | 701 comments This argument is so tiresome. To expect every piece of speculative fiction written to be something new and original is just absurd.

Just the shear volume of stories produced guarantees that a lot of the same ideas will be reused. Or are we saying that once an idea is used it should be scrapped from 'the list' of available concepts for authors to write about. The genres would bleed to death quite quickly ...

Apart from the argument being absurd, I also disagree with it. The past years have seen an influx of authors trying out new ideas or different takes on old ones.

Add to that, I'd rather have a well written rehashed story than something that's original just for the sake of being original, which often results in it barely making sense.


message 5: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Marvello (drmarvello) It seems to me that the article excerpt quoted above says more about the author's attitude toward SF&F than it does about the genres. My response to him would be, "If you are tired of reading SF&F, then go read something else."

I've been reading almost nothing but self-published works for the past year or so, and the originality I've seen has been phenomenal. Authors are stretching the traditions of SF&F like never before, since they have no publisher marketing departments keeping them in line.

That isn't to say an original approach always works. Traditions and rules exist for a reason: they represent what *has* been shown to work over time. Still, you can't know when you've gone far enough until you go too far. ;-)

It's all about the story. If the story entertains readers and gives them a satisfying experience, it was successful, regardless of whether or not it was original.


message 6: by Tamahome (new)

Tamahome | 6255 comments Yep, marketing is killing sf&f. Probably not in short stories though.


message 7: by Tamahome (new)

Tamahome | 6255 comments The author of that article, Paul Kincaid, was just on the Coode Street podcast down under: http://www.jonathanstrahan.com.au/wp/...


message 8: by Sandi (new)

Sandi (sandikal) | 1212 comments What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9

Even ancient people knew that there were only so many stories out there. I think Aristotle even quantified the number of plots there were.

The author of this article just sounds bored with SF and I can appreciate that. He's also erroneously basing his assumptions on one edition of an anthology of short stories. He admits that some of the stories are well-written, but dismisses quality because of lack of originality. That's absolutely ridiculous. He's also upset that modern authors don't see the bright shiny future that the golden age authors did. Tough. It's kind of hard to get good drama out of bright and shiny. He's also upset about the blurring of SF and Fantasy. Again, tough. All SF, even the hard kind, is essentially fantasy with cool technology.

I think if he looked at SF more for literary quality than "originality", he might be happier. I've read SF from all eras and I think the literary quality of the genre has improved immensely. It's not just pulp fiction anymore.


message 9: by Tamahome (new)

Tamahome | 6255 comments He talks on the podcast about how 'the singularity' ruined sf, kind of like how grunge music ruined music. :p


message 10: by Kevin (new)

Kevin | 701 comments That comparison just goes to show that he is as out of touch with this generation than he was with the one from the nineties.
The past is gone, adapt or become obsolete.


message 11: by Neil (new)

Neil | 165 comments "the story itself deliberately harks back to the robot stories that Isaac Asimov was writing in the 1940s. Bear has brought the trope up to date, but she has not extended the idea or found anything radically new in it."

If we are only just repeating ideas after 70 years SF&F is significantly less exhausted than most other genres out there. I don't see any particularly bad thing with repeating ideas. If it is done too frequently it can get tiresome but you cant dismiss every work that uses an old idea as having no worth.

With some of the criticisms of Foundation this month being that some of the futuristic ideas are actually dated now giving the themes of some classic sci-fi stories a bit of an update may not be a bad thing. If it is done well it can let new audiences that may get put off by old ideas and language enjoy the story. Re-imaging or updating classic stories can be done badly but if it is being done well as it seems to be in the book that is being reviewed here then it should be praised rather than condemned for being unoriginal.


message 12: by Tamahome (new)

Tamahome | 6255 comments Tamahome wrote: "He talks on the podcast about how 'the singularity' ruined sf, kind of like how grunge music ruined music. :p"

Err, the comparison is mine.


message 13: by Kevin (new)

Kevin | 701 comments Ok, doesn't change my point though. :p


message 14: by Rick (last edited Sep 23, 2012 03:04PM) (new)

Rick | 2790 comments SF is in a rut right now (generally) - it has tended to the pessimistic and dystopian and that's ultimately boring and a dead end. But things will change as they do. We'll again have people writing about the world as it is 500, 1000 years from now instead of he boring zombie and steampunk we have now (some of that is fine, but people are bandwagoning something fierce at this point). Hopefully, those new stories won't be a Golden Age rehash but a new take on "What if we survive and thrive for several more centuries?"


message 15: by Paul (new)

Paul | 100 comments Painting is dead, long live painting.

The argument itself has been made of many art forms over many years. yet someone will come along and prove it wrong.

There is the matter of the sheer amount of writing (in all genres of literature) as greater amounts of work are produced with easier means of publishing, there is bound to be repetition of themes. The democratisation of publishing doesn't guarantee quality nor originality.
The story machines had six (?) basic themes in 1984.
Small wonder tropes get rehashed.


message 16: by Bob (new)

Bob Chadwick | 37 comments When I first started reading, some eighteen (wow that's depressing) years ago the majority of what I could find was SciFi even though I was looking for fantasy. Now that has swung around, fantasy is King and Admiral, I'm sure after people burn themselves out with George Martin, Robert Jordan, and the countless others who have shown up they'll start sniffing after some SciFi. Or all it will take is one good author to blow the brain circuits off some of us to spur the SciFi revolution. That's how things work. If I read a good fantasy I have awesome ideas for fantasy books. If I read a SciFi I want to put a character inside a divine rocket.


message 17: by Kamil (new)

Kamil | 372 comments I believe both SciFi and Fantasy are in a state of hybernation. We might get some original stories but mostly we are served the same health potion or proteine bar ( enough to sustain our vital forces) while we wait for something original. it's not like the authors drained from the whel all the nutrition, it's simply that some of the situations at the core of scifi/fantasy novels are outdated (clonation and robots is becoming a reality) but soon humanity will be faced whith new issues and problems and at this point the genres we all love (resistance is futile, any form of denial will be dismissed as self-mockery) will have new topics to explore. the best way to sum it up is this quote:

Pippin: I didn't think it would end this way.
Gandalf: End? No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path... One that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass... And then you see it.
Pippin: What? Gandalf?... See what?
Gandalf: White shores... and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.
Pippin: [smiling] Well, that isn't so bad.
Gandalf: [softly] No... No it isn't.


message 18: by Nathan (new)

Nathan (tenebrous) | 377 comments Would he criticize scientists or engineers for innovating and improving existing technology instead of producing new stuff?

Plus I would quibble that reading a short story anthology or two is a good basis for criticizing whole genres. Would not a critical look at the editors and their proclivities be more to the point? Oh wait, that would be boring (probably). Well then, badly drawn generalizations to the rescue!


message 19: by Michael (new)

Michael Sommers Nathan wrote: "Would he criticize scientists or engineers for innovating and improving existing technology instead of producing new stuff?"

Probably; it would be a fair criticism. If all you are doing is "improving existing technology", you aren't really innovating.

"Plus I would quibble that reading a short story anthology or two is a good basis for criticizing whole genres."

The anthologies purport to include the best stories of the year. Should he have considered the worst stories instead?


message 20: by Otto (new)

Otto (andrewlinke) | 110 comments All literature is dead.
There are no new stories.
Going to burn my library now.


message 21: by Nathan (new)

Nathan (tenebrous) | 377 comments The anthologies purport to include the best stories of the year. Should he have considered the worst stories instead?

Tell me, what function does "best" have in the title of the anthologies other than a way to sell the anthologies? Is there some objective standard of "best" in the anthology? In the end anthologies reflect the proclivities of the editors.

Perhaps the editor's and the author of the review's taste do not overlap much (which is, I suspect, the real problem here), but then again, that would be a pretty boring thing to cover in a review. Perhaps questioning the genre will get him more mileage from the New Yorker and its audience.


message 22: by Michael (new)

Michael Sommers Nathan wrote: "... Tell me, what function does "best" have in the title of the anthologies other than a way to sell the anthologies? Is there some objective standard of "best" in the anthology? ..."

Obviously there are no truly objective standards, in a scientific sense, and no two people will agree on every story, but I think there is still broad agreement on what is good and bad. It's more than just personal taste.

If you think that these editors missed some stories that have brilliant new ideas in them, what are they?


message 23: by Rick (last edited Oct 05, 2012 11:57AM) (new)

Rick | 2790 comments Best is also usually qualified by the kind of fiction (best SF about Big Dumb Objects, Best SF about first contact, etc). However, you can't read a couple of collections and judge the state of an entire genre. You CAN read them and say "You know, those are good, but they feel like they are going over well-trodden ground... are we just retelling the same old stories?"

The pithy comeback to that is that most stories are, at a basic level, retellings of one of a handful of themes. That doesn't mean the stories can't be original though. Look at, for example, The Quantum Thief or The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi. For short fiction look at most of Ted Chiang's stuff. Heck, look at E. Lily Yu's great story The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees.


message 24: by Michael (new)

Michael Sommers Rick wrote: "Best is also usually qualified by the kind of fiction (best SF about Big Dumb Objects, Best SF about first contact, etc)."

Really? I've never seen such.

"However, you can't read a couple of collections and judge the state of an entire genre.

Why not, if the collections are representative of the current state of the genre? (Although one could certainly argue about whether these editors really chose the best stories, I doubt that they chose nothing but the dregs.) Is it necessary to read every single story before drawing a conclusion? And if you can't judge based on a sample, then you can't say the genre is in good shape, either.

I don't know whether the reviewer's conclusions are right or wrong; I don't know enough about the current state of SF to say. My objection to the critiques of the review here are that they mostly sound defensive and even Panglossian, as if posters are offended that anyone would not think that we now enjoy the best of all possible SF.

"The pithy comeback to that is that most stories are, at a basic level, retellings of one of a handful of themes."

SF is a bit different from other literature: it is supposed to be a literature of ideas, particularly of scientific and engineering ideas. It isn't enough to come up with a new way of telling an old story, you need to come up with new science and technology. Without that, what's the point of SF?

But coming up with new science and engineering is a lot harder today than it was 60 or 70 years ago. Look at Foundation. In that book, Asimov had an iPad-like device that did symbolic math, a fingerprint scanner, and nuclear-powered wristwatches and whatnot. We have, or could have, the first two already, and the third is just silly. (I'm ignoring staples of the genre such as FTL travel, which is physically impossible, and interplanetary commerce, which makes no economic sense.)

Just try to come up with something new today. Assuming it's physically possible, it will probably be on store shelves in a few years. In the realm of pure science, just try and come up with something more bizarre than string theory.

So SF, instead of looking to the future as it used to do, is now reduced to looking back and reworking earlier SF. At least that is how I understand the reviewer's thesis. (To clarify, the previous few paragraphs are me, and this paragraph is what I think the reviewer meant by exhaustion.)


message 25: by Rick (last edited Oct 05, 2012 02:00PM) (new)

Rick | 2790 comments I'm not going to quote because multiquoting here sucks but:

1) Just because you've not seen such collections doesn't mean they dont exist. They do.

2) few collections are representative of the entire genre. They're ALWAYS selections filtered through an editor's tastes. Even ignoring that collections are collections of short fiction and not novels, it's absurd to assume that any 10 or 20 stories accurately represent everything done in a genre in a year.

3) SF isn't mostly about the tech or the science any more than westerns are really about the cactus and the desert. SF explores themes by asking questions about reality and the human condition in situations that exist because of new conditions in the universe - contact with alien life, FTL, cheap nanotech, easy immortality, etc. SF that's about science ends up sterile - read Greg Egan if you like that stuff.

Name me one great SF story (consensus great, not just one you like) that isn't about more than the science. And coming up with new science isn't harder. Again, read the Rajaniemi listed above. For lazy, unimaginative authors it might be harder, but who cares about them?

SF isn't reduced to looking back - that's a defeatist, limited point of view. Do you really think we know everything there is in the universe or that all kinds of technology have been envisioned? Again, silly.


message 26: by Kevin (last edited Oct 06, 2012 05:22AM) (new)

Kevin | 701 comments I have to agree with Rick and NMC. Sci-fi isn't about the technology, it's about the effects of those developments on humanity and the questions it poses.

The Forever War, for instance, isn't just about interstellar war and relativistic passing of time. It uses those elements to demonstrate that war has a profound effect on the people participating in it and that they'll often fine themselves alienated from civilian society once they try to return to it.

And sometimes it's just about telling a good pulpy fun space adventure, and there's nothing wrong with that either.


message 27: by Joseph (new)

Joseph Simple answer, no. The good sci-fi and fantasy is original, brilliantly written and entertaining as well as important.

However a lot is crap, and are rip-off's of previous works without much creative imagination going into it, or its just badly written as well.

But there's always lots of crap in all forms of literature; unfortunately sci-fi and fantasy have a bad image problem, more so than any other genre, and that's what annoys me more than if the writing itself is tired, which it isn't. :)


message 28: by Michael (last edited Oct 08, 2012 01:21PM) (new)

Michael Sommers Rick wrote: "2) few collections are representative of the entire genre. They're ALWAYS selections filtered through an editor's tastes. Even ignoring that collections are collections of short fiction and not novels, it's absurd to assume that any 10 or 20 stories accurately represent everything done in a genre in a year."

The reviewer said the collections he reviewed contained 57 (I think) different stories, not just 10 or 20. How large a sample do you think is required to get a representative sample?

As for novels versus stories, do you claim that SF novels and stories address radically different themes?

"3) SF isn't mostly about the tech or the science any more than westerns are really about the cactus and the desert."

Not really a good analogy, but even if it were, the point is not true. Science (and engineering) are the reasons for the existence of SF; they are SF's essential elements, without which a story is not really SF. That does not mean that it is necessarily a bad story, but if you can change all the death ray blasters to six guns, and all the spaceships to horses without changing the essence of the story, then you might as well set the story in Tombstone in 1880 instead of Epsilon Eridani IV in 3254.

"SF explores themes by asking questions about reality and the human condition in situations that exist because of new conditions in the universe - contact with alien life, FTL, cheap nanotech, easy immortality, etc. SF that's about science ends up sterile ..."

Why don't FTL travel, cheap nanotech, etc., qualify as scientific (or engineering)? (Other than FTL travel being physically impossible, that is.)

"Name me one great SF story (consensus great, not just one you like) that isn't about more than the science."

No one said a good SF story is merely science. Science (or engineering) is, however, an essential element of SF. That's why it's called science fiction, not just fiction.

"And coming up with new science isn't harder."

I said 'harder', not 'impossible', and of course it's harder, simply because all the easy ideas have been done already, many of them in real life as well as in fiction. It is harder also because science and engineering have advanced so much since then. In 1950 you could write a serious story about lost civilizations on Mars or Venus without being subjected to ridicule. Try that today; too much disbelief has to be suspended. It is also harder to astonish readers with a new device or physical theory; we have seen too many astonishing devices and theories in real life. For instance, back in the 60s the communicators Spock and Kirk used were amazing; today everybody has one, phone companies give them away to get you to sign up or you can get one for a few dollars in convenience stores.

"SF isn't reduced to looking back - that's a defeatist, limited point of view."

Even if that view is defeatist, that doesn't mean it isn't true.

"Do you really think we know everything there is in the universe or that all kinds of technology have been envisioned?"

I never said anything remotely like that. What I said was that it is harder now than in the past to do that envisioning. Let me give a concrete example: only a few years ago, I forget exactly how many, 5 or 6 or so, the Neandertal mitochondrial DNA was sequenced. At the time, workers in the field thought that that was the limit of what could be recovered, and that Neandertal nuclear DNA would never be sequenced. Well, the complete (~95%) Neandertal genome was published 2 years ago. If workers in the field can't see 3 or 4 years in the future, who can?


message 29: by Michael (last edited Oct 08, 2012 02:33PM) (new)

Michael Sommers NMC wrote: "From your comments above, I'm guessing I'll be correct in saying you don't read a lot of SF?"

Not lately, but I have in the past. You know, back when men were real men, women were real women, and little green creatures from Alpha Centauri were real little greem creatures from Alpha Centauri.

"SF is much more than about ideas."

As I said elsewhere, of course it is, but the scientific and engineering ideas are still essential elements, without which a story isn't really SF.

"SF is about the human condition, life in general, possibilities, and the what-if paradigm. "

So is all literature. What makes SF different is the S.

"For example, The Hunger Games is SF. It's set in the future where technology has evolved, and in many ways, advanced from our current state. However, it's not about the technology or an one idea. It's about the effect of war on children."

Then all that evolved technology is just window dressing, and the author could just as well have set the story in Kosovo in the 90s or in London during the blitz or in any war at any time in any place.


message 30: by Paul R (new)

Paul R | 43 comments i think the issue is mainstream (big pub) and small pub view. if i go to the bookstore and look at titles I could very well say the genre is exhausted. but when you look at the greater e-pub view with the new writers- ones who do not really get a chance at paper pub- you do not have that push to hit the industry demographic.

the genre is fine- it's the publishers that are stale


message 31: by Michael (new)

Michael Sommers Paul R wrote: "i think the issue is mainstream (big pub) and small pub view. if i go to the bookstore and look at titles I could very well say the genre is exhausted. but when you look at the greater e-pub view w..."

That raises the question of why that is. Either all the commercial publishers are stupid, refusing to publish books that would make scads of money, or not many people want to buy the books they don't actually publish. If the latter, that implies that the unpublished stuff is not that good.

No matter how much the economics of publishing has changed over the past few decades, I find it hard to believe that really good writing can't get published, at least for long.


message 32: by Charlie (new)

Charlie | 46 comments Daemon doesn't read as exhausted. It has a foot in realism and SciFi.


message 33: by Nathan (new)

Nathan (tenebrous) | 377 comments Michael wrote: " I think there is still broad agreement on what is good and bad. It's more than just personal taste.

Show me where there is broad agreement on these being the best. Where is the broad agreement here? Was there a voting system used to complile these books?

I am mealy pointing out that taking a curated set of short stories (not to include novels, film, or any other medium) as representative of the genre as a whole is problematic. If you do not think so, then go ahead and agree with the (deeply flawed) reasoning in the review.

You really want to know why this has people's hackles up? It is merely another shot from the LitFic (LA review of books anyone?) crowd at genre writing, that somehow has to stick its nose into other people's business and tell them the things they enjoy are crap.

Instead of taking the most obvious choice and saying, I did not like these anthologies, the author takes it a few steps further and makes a conclusion much larger than the material under consideration will support.


message 34: by Ieshadover (new)

Ieshadover | 13 comments To say sf/f is exhausted is to say the human imagination is exhausted. If that is the case we are in big trouble, and should all just give up and die because as a species we will never be able so solve our problems without a little imagination and creativity.


message 35: by Warren (new)

Warren | 1556 comments I don't think its exhausted but it's trailing reality quite badly.
What use to be science fiction is now in Walmart.


message 36: by Rick (last edited Oct 13, 2012 03:27PM) (new)

Rick | 2790 comments Michael wrote: "NMC wrote: "From your comments above, I'm guessing I'll be correct in saying you don't read a lot of SF?"

Not lately, but I have in the past."



Yeah, well that's your problem. You're judging a genre that you no longer read. It also tells me not to pay attention to your opinion on this one. You simply can't have an informed opinion if you're not reading the genre.

As for the but there were 57 stories read the posts. I addressed this above by noting that not all SF is short fiction. Hell, I gave examples. I;m reading Iain Banks' new novel right now. Doesn't feel exhausted to me. But hey, it's not short fiction.

TLDR? Read widely in what's currently and recently being published, then opine. That goes for the linked article too.


message 37: by Jeff (new)

Jeff Shanley (Mavonduri) | 9 comments Very interesting food for thought indeed, and it crossed my own mind as I began writing my first fantasy novel. I kept thinking, "I have a fantastic idea, but will it seem that way to those who read it?" The conundrum is that fantasy specifically has a common recurring set of motifs that have defined it as a genre, and in a way it CAN seem as though it's been exhausted of substance and innovation. The fact is that these common tropes (secondary world, maps, quests, invented languages and so on) can be used in ways that those of us who truly appreciate the genre can look at and find the uniqueness in it.


message 38: by Ben (new)

Ben Rowe (benwickens) Like it or not many people wanting to dip their toes into either SF in general or SF shorter fiction often go for best of year anthologies such as the ones covered in the review that sparked this discussion. I have done this myself from time to time when my SF reading has been focused on stuff from the 60s and 70s and I have gone through periods of being a little out of touch which more contemporary works.

I have always picked the Gardner Dozois series as my "best of" anthology and whilst I have always thought it represented superb value for money I have sometimes felt similar feelings to the reviewer ie.

Is this really the "best" of last years SF - although few stories are badly written there are some that left me cold, either unoriginal or just unremarkable stories. True short fiction is very much about taste and how you connect with the tale but still there is definately a case of combing through the collections for the stories that I really connect with and love.

Few of the stories are "hard" sf or credible SF as opposed to SF stories based on very dubious if not fantastical science. I have no problem with this - most crime fiction is barely more credible than your average space opera but this does not make it bad. Still I do go through periods where I want to read "realistic" SF and it can take a bit of finding.


I have very much diversified my short SF reading and the combination of ebooks, online magazines and greater familiarity with contempory SF writers have made this much easier. I would argue that his critique says more about the stories that get nominated for nebullas and get into Dozois' anthologies than anything else.

The short SF market is hugely diverse and there have been significant inroads in recent years to be more inclusive of voices that are not white men from UK or USA. Although Dozois' collections do give space for new and emerging authors it is also very predictable that authors such as Ian Macdonald, Nancy Kress, Elizabeth Bear etc, etc will probably get at least one story represented.

I have only dipped into Lauriat: A Filipino-Chinese Speculative Fiction Anthology but already I have seen at least one story that to me deserved a place on this list (although it may be seen as fantasy rather than SF) for the 2013 "best ofs" but I know it is not on the Horton anthology. There is a wide variety of SF and Fantasy that did not originate in UK/USA but the only examples of this that are included in the anthology are with very western publications (Clarkesworld, The Future is Japanese etc). What about something from AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers, Philippine Speculative Fiction collections/issues or other non anglo-american offerings? The last Dozois collection did not feature any stories ticking these boxes, despite the high quality stories concerned.

I have only dipped into some of the issues of Electric Velocipede, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed etc. but as often as not the quality of what I read is as least as high as those selected by Dozois on stories that have not been selected for his anthologies, so I do feel his collection says more about his own tastes than what the particular best of current short SF is, a few stand out stories aside. In fact with pressures or preferences to repeat authors in year to year collections are less likely to pick up some of the more inventive and innovative stories that are out there.

It is very difficult to seperate what is a story that one person loves with a more general acceptance of greatness and this is something that these anthologies and collections always will struggle with either in creatively selecting stories or credibly living up to the "best of" title.

For myself the reviews of short fiction in Locus Magazine are probably the best indication of which stories I should check out or move to the top of my reading list.

What to me this article highlights is that SF has a bit of a marketing problem as few people outside the genre either understand what it is or the delights it offers and the bigger the readership the more scope for quality SF to be published, promoted and enjoyed by all.


message 39: by Forbes (new)

Forbes West (forbes_west) | 36 comments I think in some respects that sci-fi is a bit played out and its tropes exhausted due to one main problem: characterization. There can interesting worlds showcased, new ways of thought, fantastic adventures, but for the most part the characters are usually stuck in a sort of one-dimensional, paint by numbers scheme. Characters (speaking in VERY general terms, mind you) are mostly cut outs. Little to no shades of gray, only a few insecurities, and usually based on a simplistic archetypes seen again and again. Scifi can have a brand new lease on life in the mainstream but breaking the mold on how the characters are more so than any change in setting or technobabble.


message 40: by Rick (new)

Rick | 2790 comments Forbes - way to overgeneralize.


message 41: by Forbes (new)

Forbes West (forbes_west) | 36 comments Rick wrote: "Forbes - way to overgeneralize."

Probably why I wrote "speaking in VERY general terms."
Again, if you look at what's filling up the shelves in Barnes and Nobles and other book stores, I think that's the issue. I'm not talking about the indies or the classics or a few mainstream ones. Same thing with a lot of popular scifi movies nowadays, come to think of it.


message 42: by Rick (last edited Jul 06, 2013 12:51PM) (new)

Rick | 2790 comments My point is that massive generalizations like that don't mean anything. You could take your statements and apply them to almost any genre including literary fiction. All you're really saying is echoing Sturgeon's "90% of everything is crap" statement. However, that's not exclusive to SFF, so...

To really take the pulse of a genre you first you have to eliminate the trend followers who are churning out whatever is hot (zombie novels, steampunk, etc) just to get published. Then you need to just eliminate the bottom half or even two-thirds of books. In Goodreads terms, chuck anything under 3.5 stars.

Then you can talk about what's happening in a genre.


message 43: by Baelor (new)

Baelor | 169 comments The author should take a break from Sci-Fi.

I believe that the author is in a way correct, but this criticism extends to any genre and medium -- TV, music, film, etc. I would say that the current art industry is bloated and that on all fronts more is being created than should be created. The sheer volume ensures a redundancy and repetition, not to mention an unfortunate mass of mediocrity.

That being said, there is plenty of original Sci-Fi. The genre is so broad that anything from a book set fifty years in the future to a book set in an alternate universe (q.v. The Gods Themselves) would qualify. If there is exhaustion, it is because authors are repeating concepts, not because there are no more concepts or ideas or styles to explore.


message 44: by Baelor (new)

Baelor | 169 comments Forbes wrote: "I think in some respects that sci-fi is a bit played out and its tropes exhausted due to one main problem: characterization. There can interesting worlds showcased, new ways of thought, fantastic a..."

I love characterization, but it is clearly subordinate to other elements of sci-fi in some corpora (e.g. Asimov's). I do not find that particularly problematic: one can go to Simmons or Matheson or any other number of authors for more character-heavy plots. It is a matter of what the author is trying to convey.

To take a video game example, the Mass Effect trilogy focused on plots, morality, and politics in the first game, and on characterization in the second game. Thence the fanbase is split on which game is better based i.a. on what the focus of the game was. It really just depends on what the readers and authors want.


message 45: by Forbes (new)

Forbes West (forbes_west) | 36 comments Baelor wrote: "Forbes wrote: "I think in some respects that sci-fi is a bit played out and its tropes exhausted due to one main problem: characterization. There can interesting worlds showcased, new ways of thoug..."

Good and valid point. Characterization can be a secondary concern depending on what the author is trying to get across. I buy that. High concept material can focus away from that and provide an entertaining little experience. "As for unfortunate mass of mediocrity", that's very true. Too much quantity, too little quality, and we're swimming through shit trying to grab a few bobbing bits of quality. We so much effort spent on pumping out whatever to make a quick buck the greater works are submerged.


message 46: by Trike (new)

Trike | 8471 comments Forbes wrote: "II think in some respects that sci-fi is a bit played out and its tropes exhausted due to one main problem: characterization. There can interesting worlds showcased, new ways of thought, fantastic adventures, but for the most part the characters are usually stuck in a sort of one-dimensional, paint by numbers scheme. Characters (speaking in VERY general terms, mind you) are mostly cut outs. Little to no shades of gray, only a few insecurities, and usually based on a simplistic archetypes seen again and again. Scifi can have a brand new lease on life in the mainstream but breaking the mold on how the characters are more so than any change in setting or technobabble. ..."

You're reading the wrong stuff, then. There are numerous SF/F books published every year which have amazingly deep characters who do more than merely fill plot requirements.


message 47: by Forbes (new)

Forbes West (forbes_west) | 36 comments Rick wrote: "My point is that massive generalizations like that don't mean anything. You could take your statements and apply them to almost any genre including literary fiction. All you're really saying is ech..."

Um, no Rick. I don't know if you've appointed yourself defender of the sci-fi faith or if you were court appointed but let me work it out for you so you needn't be so defensive over science fiction- characterization in the most popular sci-fi that the general public knows isn't really there and the lack of characterization is causing exhaustion amongst the mainstream stories that your average Joe Public is most likely to know about (and by exhaustion I mean that many of the most popular stories are sounding suspiciously the same.)

Most popular scifi books or well known movies have little characterization and become a success based on world building, action, theme, or extrapolating a current trend in society. Nothing wrong with that per se, but these books (and movies) start to run up and down the same worn paths. You and many other hardcore readers (like myself) can probably see where most popular scifi books and movies are going and end up predicting what will basically happen well before the ending- and now the general audiences are doing the same.

With some better characterization and better character driven plots, scifi can refresh itself and become something even better. By no means is it a genre that's in trouble (yet) but it doesn't take much to see that the well is going dry and we are taking the last scoops of water from it.

Is there hope for the future? Yes. There's good sci-fi out there, well characterized, well paced, etc. But nothing is coming along to really break through to the mainstream and to get out of the niche reading ghetto. And until there is, guess what? The general audience is going to feel that its the same old shit more and more and are going to feel a bit tired of it.

And please don't tell me that's the case for everything and that a lot of literature genres has that particular problem of characterization and lack of depth. Otherwise, that would be over-generalizing. And I know we wouldn't want to make that mortal sin.


message 48: by Kristen (last edited Jul 06, 2013 10:55PM) (new)

Kristen (TealBard) | 35 comments I read the comments here before I read the article, and I found it interesting to see the very different directions we went compared to Kincaid's concerns.

So much of his article grappled with genre: where it's the line between fantasy and sci-fi and how heavy handed does an author have to be with the "fantastic" elements to rightfully be considered to be writing in either genre at all? It's understandable that he would fixate on this as a critic since dissection and categorization seem to go hand in hand, but this is not something that bothers me in the slightest. Even if I'm reading a SFF anthology, I'm much more concerned with whether I can derive something of worth from the story (entertainment, wonder, humor, interest, etc...) than I am worried about the specific classification of the story itself.

I've always considered genre classifications to be more useful to advertisers and possibly academics than to a person who reads for pleasure, but this has made me curious. How much does a author's ability to adhere to the perceived genre of their work affect your enjoyment of it? And perhaps more to the point, how strong do the fantastic (or futuristic?) elements have to be in a story before it should be considered SFF?


message 49: by Rick (last edited Jul 07, 2013 01:57AM) (new)

Rick | 2790 comments Forbes wrote: Um, no Rick. I don't know if you've appointed yourself defender of the sci-fi faith or if you were court appointed but let me work it out for you so you needn't be so defensive...

Ah, the ad hominem. You're off to a bad start here.

over science fiction- characterization in the most popular sci-fi that the general public knows isn't really there and the lack of characterization is causing exhaustion amongst the mainstream stories that your average Joe Public is most likely to know about (and by exhaustion I mean that many of the most popular stories are sounding suspiciously the same.)

I had to re-read that run on a couple of times but... why do we care about what Joe Public thinks or what he (or she) reads? Why is their opinion relevant to judging how the genre is doing? Even if we do care, what gives you the right to speak for the millions of people who comprise Joe? How about this - speak for yourself, not some fictional everyone who you think shares your opinion.

Oh and you again simply assert that characterization is the issue but don't bother to define what segment of SF we're talking about. The top, award-winning books? YA? SF or fantasy? Urban fantasy or epic? Are we discounting the stuff that's produced to get some of the money inherent in fads like zombie fiction? Tie-ins... in or out? I'll wait while you ask Joe.

Most popular scifi books or well known movies...
Wait, now we're bringing movies into this? Very different art form and much more hit driven. I'd agree with you here because for every District 9 there are several Transformers, but that's due to the hit driven nature of that business and the popularity of movies like that not only here but overseas.

Again, for books you just assert this. No examples, nothing. Yawn... saying something over and over isn't actually an argument nor is it evidence.

...have little characterization and become a success based on world building, action, theme, or extrapolating a current trend in society. Nothing wrong with that per se, but these books (and movies) start to run up and down the same worn paths.
Here we might agree though your lack of examples makes it hard to tell. If you mean the current clutter of zombie fiction combined with the action movies then yes, I'd agree. But that's a subset of SFF, not the entirety.

You and many other hardcore readers (like myself) can probably see where most popular scifi books and movies are going and end up predicting what will basically happen well before the ending- and now the general audiences are doing the same.
again with the movies! And why are we only talking about 'popular' works??

With some better characterization and better character driven plots, scifi can refresh itself and become something even better. By no means is it a genre that's in trouble (yet) but it doesn't take much to see that the well is going dry and we are taking the last scoops of water from it.

Is there hope for the future? Yes. There's good sci-fi out there, well characterized, well paced, etc. But nothing is coming along to really break through to the mainstream and to get out of the niche reading ghetto. And until there is, guess what? The general audience is going to feel that its the same old shit more and more and are going to feel a bit tired of it.

Again, I don't give a rat's ass about the mainstream audience. Most people will never read The Quantum Thief, The Wind-Up Girl, The Shining Girls, etc. Defining the health of a genre by how popular it is is a narrow, beancounting way of doing that.

And please don't tell me that's the case for everything and that a lot of literature genres has that particular problem of characterization and lack of depth. Otherwise, that would be over-generalizing. And I know we wouldn't want to make that mortal sin.

So you can generalize and I can't? Hmmm... no, sorry. Most fiction, both other genres and literary, is not that good. Many times poor characterization is a sin. But then you aren't really interested in a discussion. You want to be able to make sweeping assertions and broad generalization, fail to give any examples whatsoever, conflate books with movies, speak for everyone out there (in the guise of Joe Public) and claim that the popularity of a genre is equivalent to its quality. But if I want to do the opposite, that's a no no.

Oh and there are a TON of new SF movies since you brought those up. SFF has more movies out this year than in any other recent year in memory. Not bad for a failing genre.


message 50: by Tamahome (last edited Jul 07, 2013 07:44AM) (new)

Tamahome | 6255 comments M. John Harrison discussed this on the Coode St podcast #147 around 1h 15m http://www.jonathanstrahan.com.au/wp/... . He thought that commercial fiction is always going up or down, but writers who don't really stick to genres that hard (Karen Russell, Kelly Link, Christopher Priest) are still fresh.

Every notice you can't tweet 'M.'?


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