Is SF in a state of exhaustion?

Discussion in 'Science Fiction & Fantasy' started by Yminale, Oct 23, 2012.

  1. sojourner

    sojourner Admiral Admiral

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    This one passed me by. When did we become capable of this?
     
  2. USS Mariner

    USS Mariner Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Considering the nature of the article in the OP, I think that's a valid prerequisite to ask of participants here. It really helps a discussion when opinions can be taken in their intended, or at least "native"(personal) context.

    Edited for readability, which should clarify your last point for people like me and sojourner who aren't well versed in deciphering Brontean tomes.

    I'm not trying to be a bully (despite how often I tell you how full of shit you are on a given point) but it's something that I've noticed about your posting style, and I sincerely suggest taking a few extra seconds to break up or rework your paragraphs before posting (or during edits, like I often do.) That last run-on sentence, for example, needed it's own paragraph worth of space because it's damn near impossible to understand next to everything else, despite it being a relatively simple thought.
     
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2012
  3. Kegg

    Kegg Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Re: Okorafor.
    I also read a review of Who Fears Death? where the reviewer seemed somewhat unclear whether or not the Nuru were literally aliens... when to me they seem obviously Sudanese Arabs with a creation myth.

    I'm not saying either McCalmont or de Fillippio don't have interesting points to make about the novel, but slips like that just seem a little big for me.

    I think that was Kincaid's point though. When sci-fi writers invest in the Singularity and thus the idea that the future is unknowable, they're left with sci-fi that isn't really engaging with the future.

    I'm talking to you via cyberspace.

    And before that, the Moon Landing.

    And before that, Sputnik.

    And before that, the Atom Bomb.

    And before that, the Wright Brothers.

    That today's science fiction can have elements that we'll actually see in the future is something that we've lived with almost as long as it's been recognized as a genre. But which elements, and how, and why, those are trickier questions. It's frankly interesting to read sci-fi novel from say as recent as the mid-1990s and then see the bits where a character is searching for commonly known data - it almost always seems like they'd be better served with google.
     
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2012
  4. Ian Keldon

    Ian Keldon Fleet Captain

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    There are only so many plots to go around. Any "innovation" is in the window dressing. Man has been telling variations on the same double-handful of stories since storytelling began.
     
  5. { Emilia }

    { Emilia } { Beyond } Moderator

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    If it's demonstrable, why don't you go ahead and demonstrate that trend.
    There are many areas that have seen accelerating progress, there are others where we've seen genuinely new things, and there are many areas where we've just learned to do things better and faster but not fundamentally differently.

    We don't even remotely understand how memory or (even worse) character is "stored" in the brain, much less how to upload and download things. We don't even know how that data is structured and how it could be read or written.

    Anyway, I'm off to fill my pocket fusion power plant with new unobtainium.
     
  6. Mistral

    Mistral Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Agreed. However, Scifi is acting "exhausted" in that 90% of what's out there is :

    a.-a sequel
    b.-some video game/D&D/tv show based franchise story
    c.-something written by Kevin J Anderson

    While a bit of whimsy is inherent in "c", I point my finger at him as one of the most successful "hack" writers who I see as degrading the genre in recent times. he's got very little original thought(if any) and rides the coattails of any successful author he can. (Frank Herbert comes to mind). When new caught fish come to science fiction, they see his crap and think that's what its about. Its like a new wine drinker thinking screw top caps are "acceptable".
    I worked at Borders from 2003-2006 and I watched the scifi section get taken over by his books, books about Halo, books about Drow Elves and a crap load of "magic in the modern world" books. The longer I was there, the harder it was to find the next Cory Doctorow or Alastair Reynolds...
     
  7. Klaus

    Klaus Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Sturgeon's Law!
     
  8. Brendan Moody

    Brendan Moody Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Since it's all too easy to bloviate in generalities about the state of the genre and not back up one's opinions with fact (a point made in this response to Kincaid), I've decided to read the three anthologies that drove Kincaid's original essay* and see what I think of them. Since we're talking about 1500 pages in large trade paperback format (somewhat less, actually, since six stories appear in both year's-best volumes), this thread will be long dead by the time I finish, but if I have anything vaguely interesting to say I'll revive it.

    *I may also read Jonathan Strahan's SFF year's-best, since it overlaps a lot with the other two and a few of the unique stories are by authors I've enjoyed.
     
  9. Ian Keldon

    Ian Keldon Fleet Captain

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    So the store was one of those who mis-shelved the fantasy in with the sci-fi...
     
  10. Mistral

    Mistral Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Nah. It was a neighborhood store-about 4000 sq ft, maybe 5000, so we had Mystery/thriller, Romance, and Scifi/Fantasy with a tiny Western section. Everything else was in "Fiction". Just wasn't a large enough inventory to justify separate scif and fantasy areas-although I kept pushing for it.
     
  11. Admiral Buzzkill

    Admiral Buzzkill Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    No one has any idea how to do this. No one has demonstrated how it might be done even as a pilot experiment. So-called "tech evangelists" simply assert that it's so and their followers uncritically lap it up.
     
  12. Kegg

    Kegg Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    There's such a thing as a Science Fiction And Fantasy section, which is true of basically all bookstores I've regularly frequented. Grouping them together isn't exactly uncommon (and given the ambiguously genrebending works that many of these articles talk about, it's also a little conveinent).

    I mean I dunno. Yeah, my bookstore has some TV&M books, but they actually take up a small fraction of the shelf space given over to SF&F (and are seperated). There's a lot of fantasy, true, but there's still a lot of science fiction titles, and it's dependable in having the latest Sci-Fi Masterworks releases from Gollancz (a series that has served me dependably for almost a decade now).

    It can be frustrating if I'm looking for a specific author - the Le Guin selection, for example, feels waifishly thin - but given the space allocated and granted the popularity of fantasy fiction there's a lot of SF available (and the tomes that make up Mr. Reynold's Revelation Space series were quite nicely lined up when I last checked...)

    And besides, honestly, ebooks. It's a boon for getting anything less-than-pervasive, or possibly out of print.
     
  13. Admiral Buzzkill

    Admiral Buzzkill Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Science fiction and fantasy are marketing categories, and they're pretty much the same thing as far as booksellers are concerned.

    In point of fact, science fiction is simply a subgenre of fantasy.
     
  14. Klaus

    Klaus Vice Admiral Admiral

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    ^^Not to me lol... but I don't know if we want to start THAT discussion here.
     
  15. Distorted Humor

    Distorted Humor Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    as a reader or writer, Science fiction and fantasy are not the same.

    As a bookseller, they are both put together, and sell well.

    I think that if the Enders game movie is good, it might cause a upswing.
     
  16. Kelthaz

    Kelthaz Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Hard science fiction is quite distinct from fantasy, but hard science fiction is a niche subgenre of science fiction. It isn't and never has been the definition of science fiction. Outside of books from the likes of Asamov, science fiction is the exact same thing as fantasy.

    When you have stuff like Rocket Robin Hood, Star Wars, Power Rangers, Doctor Who, and Yor: Hunter from the Future how are you possibly supposed to separate those into either fantasy or science fiction? You can't, so clearly the two genres are one and the same.
     
  17. Ian Keldon

    Ian Keldon Fleet Captain

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    ^Those aren't the only non-"hard" SF out there.
     
  18. Kelthaz

    Kelthaz Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    ^ Of course not. Star Trek is the perfect example of soft science fiction that clearly falls within the category of science fiction, but most media doesn't fit so neatly in one of the two categories. Sure, you can always use the Science Fantasy label, but when that covers the majority of science fiction and fantasy it's just getting silly.
     
  19. Crystalline Entity

    Crystalline Entity Lieutenant Red Shirt

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    IMO fantasy and science fiction are similar in that they are literary genres in which the author alters the mechanics (or "physics") of the world in which the story unfolds and the characters interact. In fantasy, how the mechanics work is relatively unconstrained, with the exception that, usually, good fantasy makes sure these new 'fantastical' rules are consistent from beginning to end.

    With the advance of science, and the realization that the natural world worked according to a series of rules (i.e., physical laws) that were both objective and invariant, it became possible to write stories in which the mechanics of the world were altered, not fantastically, but by using different physical rules and laws. You could either disregard existing laws entirely and use new ones on the basis of being in a different time or location, or by speculating about what the laws would be like in an area where real science had not provided answers.

    A science fiction story is a story where the setting of the story unfolds not according to the established understanding of science at the time the author wrote it, but by altered scientific rules. For example, according to our understanding of physics since 1905, faster than light travel is impossible. Therefore, a story where the characters are traveling faster than light is science fiction. If the author is (relatively) lazy and does not explain the faux-science which allows this to happen, it's more like soft sci-fi, while a story that allows FTL travel by means of exotic ideas such as wormholes, or Alcubierre drives, and attempts to explain these FTL drives and how they work, is more a hard sci-fi story.

    When one writes a story that takes place in the future (or past) but uses the same physics, whether that story is sci-fi or not is a difficult question. If it's in the past, I would have to say no, but a future story I would say yes, because almost by definition one usually invents at minimum new technologies as part of the story, because it is a historical fact that technologies tend to evolve over time. Strictly speaking, I prefer to use sci-fi only if the scientific laws and understandings in the story are different from reality, not just technology, but it's not a hard and fast rule.

    How does this relate to the topic of whether the sci-fi genre is exhausted? I don't think it's a problem of being able to comprehend the future, because creating a distinct setting for a sci-fi story that takes place in the future is the easy part, one that any competent sci-fi author can do; all it requires is a basic knowledge of physics, being clear about what laws you're altering, and being rigorous and consistent about the consequences of those changes.

    The hypothesis that technological evolution is such that it is altering society at a pace beyond which writers can cope is better, but it's still beside the point: the point of a sci-fi story is not to be both a precise prediction of the future and a precise explanation of the present. The point is to create a plausible future which helps to illuminate the author's view of the present. There's nothing that says that either of these views have to be correct, just plausible.

    If authors are not careful about working within this fundamental constraint of sci-fi, then of course they risk creating mixed-genre stories that are neither science fiction nor fantasy. That doesn't mean the stories won't be good, but it does mean you can lose the strengths of each genre without compensating for their weaknesses. And stories which are based on fantastical technologies, that are not carefully thought out as to their consequences, can fall prey to what I call the Jetson Fallacy: the idea that you can have radical technological change without radical social change that impacts your characters.

    The observation that 'there's nothing new under the sun' is very old, so the burden is on current and future sci-fi authors to either recombine what's old to make it appear new, or to truly create the new. They should welcome the challenge; after all, successful science pushes the boundaries of actual knowledge. Compared to that, pushing the boundaries of fiction should be child's play! ;)
     
  20. sojourner

    sojourner Admiral Admiral

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    Technically, all fiction is fantasy, so every type of fiction is a subgenre.