Rick Novy has been addressing the question of “where is SF going” (more properly posed as ‘where can it go?’) over his past few blog posts.
In short he says “One small but vocal group clambers for what is known as “mundane” SF. This is an artificial subgenre, defined by restricting the speculative element to what is possible today. But mundane SF is nothing new, only the name is new. This is not our future.
As I mentioned the other day, pretty much all the boundaries have been pushed out so far there isn’t much chance of pushing them anymore. I don’t think so, but horizon-pushing is going to become more and more rare. If not mundane or dangerous, what then?”
Please note that Rick does not seem to be subscribing to the notion that there isn’t anywhere to go – he’s merely posing the question that others are apparently asking.
That others are asking the question seems to me to denote an extreme lack of imagination on the part of a group of writers and readers who, at least at one time in our history were nicknamed ‘imagineers’. The paucity of real imagination is revealed merely by voicing the question.
Likewise, the ‘mundane’ sf comment bespeaks such a deep negativity that it makes me wonder why its proponents don’t simply take the next logical step by declaring fiction to be a dead end. Nothing new under the sun, nowhere else to go but an ever-diminishing pedestrian experience as the human race winds itself down towards extinction. So why bother at all?
As I mentioned a day or so ago, I picked up a Winston Publishing Company anthology edited by Lester Del Rey (The Year After Tomorrow). Published in 1954, it includes an introduction by Lester that is appropriate to Novy’s questions.
Lester offers this in his opening paragraphs: “Science Fiction is both the oldest and the newest for of literature…Science Fiction will always be new, however. It is the only type of fiction which can never grow stale, because there are absolutely no limits to it. There are millions of years and probably billions of of worlds still waiting for us in the future. No matter how much we learn or accomplish, there will always be something left to discover or to do.”
“We are only in the kindergarten of science, and e haven’t yet begun to explore the universe around us.”
“The events and things predicted in the fiction of twenty-five years ago (which would have been 1929-1930: ed note) were supposed to happen in a hundred years or so–but many have already happened. We have television today; we have already cracked the atom, though not for the useful purpose most people had wanted; and rocket ships are flying, even though they haven’t yet reached the moon.”
Here’s the really interesting part. Remember, this is 1954: “Unfortunately, though, most of the magazines of today have grown too far away from their audience. They have lost the sense of wonder and enthusiasm which first captured the imagination of the readers of the older stories. They don’t have the happy mixture of real science and stirring adventure which science fiction should have. They speak of speeds faster than light and the workings of sociology and psychology, but they often neglect the romance behind the development of new things.”
“Some of the things in the stories are no longer imagination. We have ships that fly by rocket power and go faster than sound. But our civilization hasn’t adjusted itself to them…”
In the past twenty-five years, the world has changed a great deal, and will change even more in the next twenty. But good science fiction will always go on giving something just a little more than any other fiction can give.”
(From earlier): …it’s a genuine pleasure to turn back the clock and read again the stories that caught our imagination a decade or more ago in the science fiction magazines…”
It’s interesting to me that Lester found himself in the same boat Novy, Ellison and others are talking about now. Fifty-Four (54) years ago. Rather than tolling the death bell for the genre, he remains excited and positive about the future – both the real future and the fictional future portrayed by science fiction literature.
Perhaps those who are taking a negative slant are truly creatures of their time, writers who are failing to see past the immediate horizons of a world adrift. Maybe our current crop of authors failed to fully accept the mantle of their forebears by accepting the concept of the literature, but not the culture.
The culture of SF is supposed to be a positive view of the future. Even when that view is of the direst, darkest predictions, the sense of humanity triumphant is still supposed to be in there, waiting to assert itself. When a rogue robot did things seemingly in contravention of the three laws, Asimov’s conclusion was not ‘shut them all down’. Human ingeniuity discovered the programming error and a better, more reliable set of programming was set into the next generation of positronic brains.
In Eric Frank Russel’s tale ‘Hobbyist’, Steve, a space scout, encounters what may very well be god. The scout has been forced to land on a new world due to lack of fuel. When he encounters the being that seems to have created everything in the universe he is awestruck, fearful and overwhelmed.
And then he steals the fuel he needs from ‘god’ and makes a successful escape.
All artistic artforms are ‘products of their times’. The virtue of science fiction used to be that its practitioners could travel just a little bit beyond before casting their eye backwards.
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars.”
Maybe it is…
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