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Monday, December 14, 2009

On Science Fiction & Whether Or Not It's "Dying"

I was going to save this for my weekend discussion, but decided to post it here early in light of the great conversation I got started on a LiveJournal community. If you're interested, you should see what some people are saying!

As many of you know, I love SF and F, but I've had a longer relationship with SF and so, really don't quite know how to feel about the two articles I found last night.

According to Newton, I'm in the minority: a female reader that picks up "hard" SF (really, didn't we do away with that arcane distinction a long time ago?) and enjoys it. I think the time when SF could be defined as a 12 year old male is over and done with. The sensawonder is still thriving in books like the recent Paolo Bacigalupi title, The Windup Girl, and Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood (I am currently trying to finish Oryx & Crake so I can get to this before the year is over). I don't think the genre is dying, but I do think different genres, specifically Fantasy, and YA Fantasy in particular, are having a heyday in the marketplace right now because of the success of books like Harry Potter and Twilight. Cringe all you want, but Meyer and Rowling introduced a new batch of readers to the Fantasy genre--not SF. They've become popular and publishers go where the trends are.

I don't think this is necessarily at the expense of SF. Nor do I think readers appreciate any implication that they have to be talked down to, in one sense of the phrase. If the quality of SF is part of what's in question, why blame the readers? Clearly Bacigalupi and Atwood (while she remains symptomatic of the problem at large by denying her books are SF; my using her as an example is probably defeating my point), Ursula K. Le Guin, or even China MiƩville don't hold back for the sake of their readership when it comes to their writing.

I want to go point by point with Newton's examples, but that would make this post really long. I'd rather hear what other people had to say on the matter and get as much attention on this issue as possible.

Is Science Fiction dying?

Mark Charan Newton seems to think so!

In his blog article, "Why Science Fiction is Dying & Fantasy Fiction Is The Future" on December 3rd, he explained his stance on the issue with the following four points:

1. More women than men read books. (you'd have to read the explanation of this one to see his point)

2. Culture has caught up with our imagination.

3. Literary fiction is eating up SF.

4. Modern Fantasy readers have grown up on the films of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.

Of course, with such a bold stance, the article incensed a lot of people, although to their credit, were quite civil in voicing their disagreement. Many also agreed.

In response, Newton wrote a second article last week expanding on his earlier statement. One quote from reader (and author) Richard Morgan struck me as something to note:

The big zeitgeist shift that’s really coming into play here, as far as I can see, is the infantilisation of consumer society, and the death of challenge. There’s not enough space here to get into the many and massive ways in which modern consumer culture goes about this infantilisation, but suffice it to say that where the SF/F genre is concerned,the message has gone out, loud and clear, that in order to make successful artefacts of mass entertainment, you must not challenge your audience with anything that a 14 year old American mid-western teenager can’t instantly relate to. Exhibit A – the last Star Trek movie: the future and all it has to offer, crushed down in conceptual terms to fit inside the comprehension gap of a teenage boy from Iowa. What are the challenges facing this vast multi-species star-faring culture? Well, bullying from your class-mates, getting caught cheating on tests, sassy girls who won’t give it up, adults who doooooon’t understaaaaaand your teen pain, and big, stroppy guys with tattoos.

What are your thoughts on Newton's argument? Do you agree or disagree? Why? What about Richard Morgan's comment?

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