Why don't we love science fiction?

"The British are sniffy about sci-fi, but there is nothing artificial in its ability to convey apprehension about the universe and ourselves."


Folks are always going on about Science Fiction in these parts. And that's fun. Figured I'd add a link to this essay, "Why don't we love science fiction?," from the UK's Times Online. It refers to two works about SF: A Science Fiction Omnibus edited by Brian Aldiss and Different Engines: How Science Drives Fiction and Fiction Drives Science by Mark L Brake and Neil Hook.

A few excerpts. This one:

The big problem with being sniffy about SF is that it's just too important to ignore. After all, what kind of fool would refuse to be seen reading Borges's Labyrinths, Stanislaw Lem's Fiasco, Orwell's 1984, Huxley's Brave New World or Wells's War of the Worlds just because they were SF? These are just good books, irrespective of genre. But they are also books that embody the big ideas of the time - both Wells and Lem were obsessed with human insignificance in the face of the immense otherness of the universe, Huxley with technology as a seductive destroyer and Orwell with our capacity for authoritarian evil. Borges, like Lem, suspects we know nothing of ourselves. Interested in these things? Of course you are. Read SF.

And this one:

The literary snobs will say [SF's] badly written, which most of it is. So is most "literary" fiction. Badly written literary fiction is, however, wholly unnecessary. There's a lot of badly written SF that is driven by an urgent journalistic desire to communicate. That is necessary.

And the rest is for you, here.

More like this

I think he's wrong about one thing--the British are actually a little less sniffy about skiffy than the American literary world is, and their market is more accepting of sf that isn't complete dreck.

I used to read a lot of science fiction, and thought there was a lot of good in it. I even worked in the publishing of it for a while, though I have been away from it for a few years now. I can't read it any more. SF, at least in a commercial genre sense, is a zombie field now, literarily and imaginitavely dead, but still shambling on. The commercial pressures in publishing basically work to force anyone with any talent away from the field, because if they stay they become one of the zombies.

There was a time for a while when a small fraction of the published sf was interesting, but now it's hardly worth the effort of looking.

Wow. I think the excerpts from the text make points that are both necessary and excellent.

In response Moopheus: for one, I agree that there are some major problems with the publishing industry; for two, there is some excellent science fiction being published to this day (for a few examples refer to the 'The Best of Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year' series, started in 2006 by Night Shade Books); and for three, I personally believe that as technology plays an increasingly significant role in our lives, we will start seeing more and more authors incorporate science into their fiction.

To quote this year's Nobel laureate in fiction, Doris Lessing, from the introduction to her 1978 novel, Shikasta:

"What a phenomenon it has been--science fiction, space fiction--exploding out of nowhere, unexpectedly of course, as always happens when the human mind is being forced to expand: this time star wards, galaxy-wise, and who knows where next. These dazzlers have mapped our world, or worlds, for us, have told us what is going on and in ways no one else has done, have described our nasty present long ago, when it was still the future and the official scientific spokesmen were saying that all manner of things now happening were impossible... They have also explored the sacred literatures of the world in the same bold way they take scientific and social possibilities to their logical conclusions so that we may examine them. How very much we do all owe them!"

Science fiction is ready to and capable of answering some profound and necessary questions that science and society are not prepared to tackle. This was as true in a 1957 pulp issue of If: Worlds of Science Fiction, as it is in the contemporary works of Samuel Delaney and Neil Gaiman, or even Cory Doctrow and Neil Stephenson.

Moopheus, if you oculd go into more detail before I decide how much to disagree with you and agree with you, it would help. I have read some pretty good SF written this century, but I would agree that the industry has the usual major issues with over commercialisation.
Are you USA'ian? Here in the UK we have a clutch of writers using SF to address big issues, Charles Stross and Ken Macleod being two.

Jonathan- if you know any nice intelligent women in glasses, I'd make passes at them.