There are many styles and types of science fiction out there. While I’m not too interested in specific genre and false boundaries, I was looking over what I’ve read this year and it does appear my tastes have changed within various areas of science fiction. When I was young, I would read Arthur C Clarke and John Wyndham. The latter being one of my all time favourite authors. Something about The Chrysalids in particular really pushed my buttons. When I got a little older, I moved onto William Gibson and Tricia Sullivan, Greg Bear and Philip K Dick. Of course, I read all the classics such as Orwell, Huxley, Shelley and others. This is a list of science fiction I’ve read and enjoyed (although not all of them are great – I’d only put 5 of this list in a category labelled classic) in the last 18 months or so (not including fantasy, horror, etc):
- The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
- The Adjacent by Christopher Priest
- Strange Bodies by Marcel Theroux
- Intrusion by Ken MacLeod
- Dark Eden by Chris Beckett
- Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow
- Vurt by Jeff Noon
- The Rapture of the Nerds by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross
- The Method by Juli Zeh
- Trust by David Moody
- Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
- Rule 34 by Charles Stross
What’s generally missing? Space opera. Space ships, time travel, aliens, other planets, optimism. Only Trust and Dark Eden have traditional science fiction tropes; an alien invasion and living on another planet respectively. Maybe The Dog Stars could be called classic apocalyptic. (And by the way, I have a problem with much so-called post-apocalyptic fiction and movies. Most of them aren’t post- at all, just apocalyptic. The clue is the word post, or ‘after’. The aforementioned The Chrysalids is post, whereas The Day of the Triffids is apocalyptic.) Anyway. Back to the issue at hand. What we have instead is near future, odd science, mystery, dystopian society, drugs, technological singularity and computer games.
Let’s pick 12 of my favourite books from my twenties and early thirties:
- The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
- Blood Music by Greg Bear
- The Time Ships by Stephen Baxter
- To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip Jose Farmer
- Ammonite by Nicola Griffith
- Jem by Frederik Pohl
- Spares by Michael Marshall Smith
- Timescape by Gregory Benford
- This Alien Shore by C.S. Friedman
- The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
- Someone to Watch Over Me by Tricia Sullivan
- Kiln People by David Brin
- The Alien Years by Robert Silverberg
What we have here is aliens, distant planets, spaceships time travel, post-humans and far future.
What I am interested in, when I read science fiction, is what the problems and challenges are in modern society and how humanity might evolve, both physically, emotionally and intellectually. Although after reading Twitter for half an hour, I wonder if it even can evolve. I want to read about characters I can relate to and be interested in. I want to find new ways of telling stories that I’ve not come across before.
It would appear that mind kind of science fiction had shifted from classic to more left-field. From far-future to near-future. From generally more optimistic where space exploration was the hope for humanity to more pessimistic where we’re all going to upload our consciousness into the cloud. Maybe its symptomatic of our times. Maybe in the 1990s there was hope in the future, while there’s not so much these days. Maybe I’m becoming a grumpy old man?
The question is this. Are there stories out there featuring aliens and space ships, time travel and far future that I’m missing? Or is it that my tastes have changed and I don’t find inspiration in this type of science fiction any more. Who is writing Blood Music today? Where is this year’s Alfred Bester or Mary Doria Russell. Ok, I know Greg Bear wrote City at the End of Time which was dreadful and Hull Zero Three which was just dull. I know people like Eric Brown and Paul McAuley are getting good reviews (I started reading The Quiet War but I found it tedious and uninspiring). I’m guessing that someone out there is writing good old-fashioned yet modern and relevant science fiction but I’ve not come across them. People talk about Adam Christopher and Lauren Beukes, Adam Roberts and Madeline Ashby, but they’re the kind of people I’m inclined to read anyway. So, my challenge to myself is to find a few new authors that rekindle the old magic I felt when reading Jem and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and even Neuromancer and Frankenstein.
…I think I’ll add Proxima by Stephen Baxter to my Goodreads ‘to read’ list…