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Scifi / Fantasy News > Good article asks "Is science fiction dying?"

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message 1: by Bill (last edited Jan 06, 2011 01:44PM) (new)

Bill | 116 comments Discovered this article in another Goodreads group (SciFi and Fantasy Book Club). Was really interesting.

http://www.salon.com/books/feature/20...

An excerpt:

"Of course, as we all now realize, the 21st century is proving both more and less science-fictional than the literature imagined, in strange and perhaps essentially unpredictable ways. This condition bedevils SF to some extent, as both its continuing credibility and utility come under question. Some authors and critics have recently even gone so far as to pronounce the mode deceased. Such statements regarding the death of SF are eternal. In 1960, for instance, a famous seminar was conducted under the heading "Who Killed Science Fiction?" "

The article also mentioned some works that piqued my curiosity:

Shine: An Anthology of Optimistic SF
Spring-Heeled Jack
What Entropy Means to Me
The Wolves Of Memory
The Space Merchants
Grey
Hull Zero Three


message 2: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments The death of science fiction is like cold fusion -- it's ten years in the future, always has and always will.


message 3: by Lee (new)

Lee | 3 comments Some years back a friend and I, avid science fiction readers, were cajoled into joining a book discussion group populated by people who consider themselves "serious" readers. At one meeting, the discussion rolled around to science fiction. The general consensus among the serious readers seemed to be there is no good literature in the science fiction genre. We mentioned books such as Brave New World, 1984, Slaughterhouse-Five and even Frankenstein as "serious" science fiction books, only to be informed these are not science fiction because their authors' intent was social commentary rather than technological speculation.

I no longer attend the group.

My friend married a member of the group and still attends in order to maintain domestic tranquility.


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 2898 comments Lee wrote: "I no longer attend the group..."

I left my only in-person book club this past year after there was controversy over my pick - Oryx and Crake. Margaret Atwood clearly falls into this same combination of literary speculative fiction (she doesn't like for it to be called science fiction but Oryx is clearly post-apocalyptic! and with video games! and clones! so whatever). One of the founders of the book club (as in, she's been there since the 1960s, not even kidding) boycotted and most people didn't come. The five who did talked about the book for three hours, but I decided to politely remove myself. You know, when you're the only square peg, life is just too short to try to force it!

Plus I have you guys.....


message 5: by Patrick (new)

Patrick (halfadd3r) I've invited people who've told me that the genera is out of ideas to read ANYTHING by Charles Stross or Cory Doctorow.

Tell them to try Stross's Accelerando for an "idea" style book or Doctorow's Little Brother for "social commentary".

I'm grinning now thinking about Accelerando. "We are Lobsters!"


message 6: by Al (new)

Al | 159 comments Lee wrote: "The general consensus among the serious readers seemed to be there is no good literature in the science fiction genre. We mentioned books such as Brave New World, 1984, Slaughterhouse-Five and even Frankenstein as "serious" science fiction books, only to be informed these are not science fiction because their authors' intent was social commentary rather than technological speculation."

Exactly, if it's good it can't be sf and if it's sf it can't be good. What BS! By what other standard is Vonnegut not science fiction, for example?


message 7: by Jlawrence, S&L Moderator (new)

Jlawrence | 964 comments Mod
Yeah, to claim science fiction contains no social commentary is sheer ignorance. Practically every science fiction book we've read in this group as had strong social commentary, with the exception of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, which would nonetheless get a 'literary' pass for all its meta-narrative experimental doodling.

Now, whether the social commentary in a particular work is subtle, has depth, etc, is always up for debate. But social commentary itself has been a strong element of the genre for quite a while now.

Al wrote: "Exactly, if it's good it can't be sf and if it's sf it can't be good. What BS! By what other standard is Vonnegut not science fiction, for example? "

Well, Vonnegut himself didn't seem comfortable with the label, precisely because of the bias against the genre. See this quote:

"I have been a soreheaded occupant of a file drawer labeled 'science fiction' ever since, and I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a urinal."


message 8: by Matthew (last edited Jan 15, 2011 07:34PM) (new)

Matthew Laberge (Matthew_LaBerge) | 16 comments In my experience science fiction and fantasy don't get much respect. Everyone in my family keeps asking me when I'm going to start reading some "real books". I usually don't know how to respond and just end up laughing.


message 9: by Bill (last edited Jan 16, 2011 06:42AM) (new)

Bill | 116 comments It depends on what people mean by "real books." If they mean heavy, serious, classic, long-lasting literature, then obviously most of sci-fi and fantasy are not "real books." But then neither are 90%-95% of today's bestsellers.

In my mind, there is serious literature and everything else. And most sci-fi and fantasy is everything else. But so is mystery, western, horror, romance, thrillers, and other such pot-boilers.

I'm okay with lumping sci-fi and fantasy with the Da Vinci Code, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Cold Mountain, and The Bourne Identity. Such books are mostly meant to entertain. And some people like to be entertained by swords and lasers, while others prefer guns and horses.

I have a degree in English Literature. I've read a lot of classic literature. And I enjoyed most of them and appreciated what they taught me. But now, during my spare time, I'd rather get lost on a spaceship between worlds or crawling through a dungeon.

(And notice that I said most of sci-fi and fantasy, since there are plenty of these works that are clearly literature.)


message 10: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Classic literaure is what people continue to read a hundred years after it was published. It's difficult to identify which books that will be, especially if you look at what people consider serious literature -- no one in the 1920s and '30s would've thought Hammett, Chandler, Lovecraft and Howard would remain popular into the 21st Century while Pulitzer Prize winners like Now in November and The Able McLaughlins languish in obscurity.


message 11: by Lee (new)

Lee | 3 comments All to often the screen adaptations of good sf novels share little but the title with the original. I'm thinking of movies like I, Robot, Starship Troopers and (shudder) Nightfall.

I've always thought The Caves of Steel would make a marvelous film. Apparently there is a serious effort to do it. But, after seeing some other adaptations, I fear what they are doing to it. (Elijah Bailey as a Tom Cruise-like hunk? R. Daneel Olivaw as a redux of Gort? More shooting and less detective story?)


message 12: by Dan (new)

Dan (daniel-san) | 101 comments Bill wrote: "...And notice that I said most of sci-fi and fantasy, since there are plenty of these works that are clearly literature."

I certainly agree. The boundaries between genres are often fuzzy at best, and are really only there to help the bookstores sell books (and to find them) by presenting those books to the potential buyers that gravitate to a particular section.

Science fiction uses futuristic and technological settings mostly as plot devices, all the while having a discussion on social and personal matters that applies to the present day. The authors that are effective at this often get the community's notice, and then people like us read them as a group and talk about it. As to why literary critics do not generally take notice of these good books, I think they may not have the capacity to comprehend the science within the plot and therefore dismiss it as simply entertainment for technophiles. Granted, many books written today are entertaining page-turners designed to sell, as most authors need to make a living first and foremost.

Something fun to do would be to identify the science fiction and fantasy that *we* consider to be literature and why. We should make a list.


message 13: by Kris (last edited Jan 17, 2011 07:23PM) (new)

Kris (kvolk) All I know is if some one like Philip K. Dick is not a "serious" writer then the problem is the person who says such idiocy...as to the reported death of sci fi I think that it is just the opposite is true...bigger and better than ever!


message 14: by Jay (new)

Jay Oyster (JayOyster) | 3 comments I like Mark Twain's quote about literature: "A Classic is a book that everyone wants to have read, but no one wants to read." When it comes to those who follow 'serious' literature, I always have the urge to ask, "Serious, to whom?"

Yes, science fiction and fantasy do get short shrift from literary folks, but the root of the bias probably has a more fundamental source. In the minds of many of the 'serious' thinkers, any writing that is plot driven is basically pulp. And most of them don't know any better than to assume that all F&SF is plot driven.

I briefly flirted with the idea of pursuing graduate work in English Literature. You wouldn't believe the flack I got from a trusted advisor when I dared to mention a single fantasy novel in one of my application essays. The bias is self replicating. No one writes seriously about the literary merits of fantasy or science fiction because 'no one serious' writes about fantasy or science fiction. That's just the rule.

I decided against the grad work when my professor explained the current economic realities of English Ph.D's.

-jay

BTW, I'd argue against trying to compile a list of F&SF "literature", because my response to that question would be, 'almost all of it.'


message 15: by Paul (new)

Paul  Perry (pezski) | 493 comments Jlawrence wrote: "Yeah, to claim science fiction contains no social commentary is sheer ignorance. Practically every science fiction book we've read in this group as had strong social commentary, with the exception..."

as far as i'm concerned that's pretty much what science fiction does, while top-drawer fantasy tends to be about psychological and mythic themes (think Angela Carter, Ray Bradbury).

Sean wrote: "Classic literaure is what people continue to read a hundred years after it was published. It's difficult to identify which books that will be, especially if you look at what people consider serious..."

i've argued for years that nothing contemporary should be called 'literature', as that's a judgement for future generations. it is utterly impossible to predict what will stand the test of time, and it often seems to me that so much contemporary literary fiction is so narrow, bland and forgettable that i'd be amazed if it outlives the authors.

i highly recommend Ursula le Guin's collection of essays The Language of the Night, which i discovered at college while researching a presentation arguing for Ballard's statement that "science fiction is the true literature of the 20th century". it is a wonderful collection, dealing with amongst other things the ghettoisation of SF. she only partly blames this on the literary establishment, also pointing out that many writers are happy to live within the comfortable boundaries of the ghetto, especially when they can make livings churning out multi-volume formulaic epics rather than stretch themselves.

(just typing that i've remembered i leant my copy to a friend. i must get it back...)


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