Enough with all the whining about SF already!

So, what is an adventure in speculative fiction? Well, mostly it’s about an explanation of genre fiction. I don’t want to tie myself down to anything specific and I want to explore. That’s why, on this blog, you’ll find reviews of The Neon Court next to Hyperion next to The Invention of Morel. There’s also comment and analysis to be found on the stuff I read and what I do.

Now, I want to get something off my chest about science fiction in general, but I guess it applies to all genres, whether I read them or not.
There’s been a lot of fuss and nonsense written about SF lately. Has it run out of ideas? Is it predicting the future with enough accuracy? Is it sexist? Are genre awards worth it (although the SF genre did get noticed in the national press as a result). Geeks bullying geeks who don’t like their particular niche (that written bit wasn’t nonsense, the thought of anyone bullying is).

There’s been a lot said about SF writers slacking off after an article appeared on SF Signal. Lots of comment from bloggers and tweeters alike. As is everyone’s right. It follows an article by Neal Stephenson when he discussed one scientist in particular who ‘complained that SF writers are slacking off’. Not sure what the basis of that original comment was founded on, but something about authors not inspiring scientists with big ideas (follow the link on the SF Signal piece). Of course, everyone on the SF Signal panel and all the bloggers have voiced decent, often well founded arguments, some agreeing, others not so much. One of the contributors was Charles Stross who published his own related blog called ‘The death of genre’. In it he predicts that in about 20 years, SF as a genre will die. He blames film, and eBooks and other caused and this elicited more than 200 comments and a lot of squawking among the twittering classes. I myself commented on criticism of the genre in June last year following an unfriendly piece by Tom Colls for the BBC, suggesting that SF was all about predicting the future and had failed badly. It would appear that a lot of people think that SF has had its day.
Going slightly further than the written word, being a fan, or indeed a geek, is being called into question. A superb bit of writing (ranting) by Simon Brew on Den of Geek’s site talks about geeks bullying other geeks. I was bullied when I was young. Not because of my interests (although I’m sure a fondness of Star Trek and playing D&D didn’t help my cause), but for other reasons, so I know how awful it feels to be singled out. There’s also recently been a huge debate on Twitter and blogs about sexism and SF. Despite women winning the Arthur C Clarke award for the last couple of years, some people think that we’re not doing enough to support the female writers. There’s now a review site called SF Mistressworks to counter-balance the Gollancz SF Masterworks series (which contains only 4 titles authored by women). Joss Whedon was once asked why he writes such strong female characters. He relied that ‘Because you’re still asking me that question’. I believe it does exist but I’m generally against the idea of any positive discrimination. That’s all I have to say on sexism. And talking of awards, I lost a lot of interest in this year’s award due to all the fuss about Christopher Priest and the nominations (even though I put my thoughts down elsewhere in this blog). That was all a commotion about not much in particular. A bunch of people’s opinions about a bunch of books, at the end of the day. So what is it about being geeky or fannish?

Here’s my question…Aren’t we all getting above ourselves?
What is literature? What are books? Stories, entertainments. Sure, a lot of why I like SF is that it comments about what may happen if we take this path or that. What it says about our state of being. But we don’t know. My favourite books are often dystopias. Maybe I’m a glum person who can’t see the light? Or maybe I’m secretly glad things aren’t worse than they are? However, the main reason I read any book is to escape. Escape the 9-5 or the annoying person next to me on the train. I read to be entertained and to hopefully learn something about myself and the world we live in. That’s why people write too. Ask the vast majority of authors and they’ll say they don’t write for the money, they write to explain their opinions of the world to others, their readers. That was always the case and always will be. Just as the writers of the 40s and 50s were explaining war and the threat of nuclear bombs, the writers of the 1800s were writing about the perils of new scientific discoveries. What are people writing about now? Pretty much the same things.
Let’s take a look at a bunch of books I’ve read in the last few years (not including fantasy, horror or other genres):

  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  • Rule 34 by Charles Stross
  • Heroes and Villains by Angela Carter
  • Embassytown by China Mieville
  • The End Specialist by Drew Magary
  • The Islanders by Christopher Priest
  • Hyperion by Dan Simmons
  • The Testament of Jesse Lamb by Jane Rogers
  • Deadline by Mira Grant
  • Makers by Cory Doctorow
  • Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • Far North by Marcel Theroux…

I could go on. Spot a theme? No, me neither. Ok, so many are near future. Not so many space opera types. If you’re looking you might say not enough women (I’ve also recently read Kate Griffin, Margaret Atwood, Madeleine Roux, Poppy Z. Brite, Tricia Sullivan and others, but who’s counting).Let’s look at some of the themes…life and death, survival, environmental concerns, equality issues, how technology is taking over our lives…not so different from SF in the past and I think it’ll continue in the future.
So what’s my point? I think it is this: Give it a rest. Can’t we just enjoy what we read? Guess what, we’re all different. We all think different and like different things, but aren’t we all over-thinking this? I appreciate that this genre is a livelihood to many and a life to many more. For me there’s not a day goes by in my existence that I don’t read or watch something relating to SF and other speculative genres. I think that’s the key word. Speculative.
OED: ‘speculative, adj. and n. A. adj. Of the nature of, based upon, characterized by, speculation or theory in contrast to practical or positive knowledge… pertaining to vision…n. speculation; hypothetical reasoning; theory’.
I can’t imagine for a second SF or any genre will die. I think there will always be new ideas and even sub-genres. There will always be people who want to tell stories and people who want to read them. There will always be people who want to speculate. And that applies to any genre. As society evolves there will always be new stories to tell, new concerns to raise, new fears to address. Let us continue to enjoy what we have and what shall come. As someone once said, the future is an undiscovered country.


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