Is SF in a state of exhaustion?

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

  1. Crystalline Entity

    Crystalline Entity Lieutenant Red Shirt

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    I would agree with that, but be even more precise; all fiction is alternate history; there is only one History, but infinitely many Stories!

    Someone earlier made the point better than I, but to use my own example: a story where people travel faster than light is a science fiction story. If the story could be told without the characters being able to travel faster than light, that's a bad sci-fi story. If the story not only required that the characters be able to travel faster than light, but also showed how the characters were altered by this fact, and their actions, words and thoughts provoked an interesting comment about people today, that would be a good sci-fi story; perhaps today, a great one.
     
  2. sojourner

    sojourner Admiral Admiral

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    Not really. No matter how far back in time you go and branch off the timeline, you'll never get Lord of the Rings, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland....
     
  3. Ian Keldon

    Ian Keldon Fleet Captain

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    Fair point. I may have been a bit snappy...we got in a furball over the idea that anything that wasn't "hard" sci-fi was full-on fantasy not too long ago over here, and I'm still a bit touchy.

    Didn't mean to take it out on you.
     
  4. Ian Keldon

    Ian Keldon Fleet Captain

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    Actually, "alternate universe" might be a better term for all fictions.
     
  5. Crystalline Entity

    Crystalline Entity Lieutenant Red Shirt

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    A better way of saying it; let me also acknowledge here that sojourner's point above is persuasive.

    Having read almost none of the works cited in Kincaid's article, I am in no position to comment on whether current works support his thesis or not. But it might be a symptom of a larger issue, which was mentioned in some of the responses to it: that popular culture in general is stagnating under the weight of duplication. 'All music sounds the same, all movies/games/TV looks the same, it's all remakes, sequels, etc.' In another forum discussing this phenomenon, someone suggested it was the Internet itself that was stifling creativity, due to the ease of copying, downloading and remixing. Perhaps it's infected books as well, even though it would seem most resistant to this trend.
     
  6. Kegg

    Kegg Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    These are just all different ways of trying to say 'all fiction is fiction', you know.
     
  7. Admiral Buzzkill

    Admiral Buzzkill Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Exactly so. Much popular fiction is mimetic of reality to a greater degree than science fiction.

    That said, science fiction is simply a subgenre of fantasy employing certain tropes and themes. What most people are aware of as sf evolved as popular fantasy in the first half of the twentieth century.

    Indeed, Thomas M. Disch went further and was more specific in consigning most commercial science fiction to the realm of children's literature. When you understand his point it's hard to argue with him.

    The notion that stories about other planets, nonexistent machines that do miraculous things, time travel, etc are something other than fantasy - with a few storytelling "rules" sometimes applied, sometimes honored in the breach - is silly and a nonstarter.

    The only respect in which science fiction is distinct from fantasy is for purposes of consumer labeling - this one's got a spaceship on the cover; vampires and dragons over there.
     
  8. sojourner

    sojourner Admiral Admiral

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    I like the covers with all 3.
     
  9. Ian Keldon

    Ian Keldon Fleet Captain

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    Oh lord, not this horsecrap again!

    The only semblences between SF and fantasy are the structural ones ALL stories share. They are philosophically VERY different genres with different underpinnings, assumptions and methodologies.

    I'm not going to bother repeating (again) the textbook definitions that show this to be the case.
     
  10. Harvey

    Harvey Admiral Admiral

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    Textbook definitions aren't that helpful when it comes to genre. There's a reason academics like to argue about these sorts of things all the time: they're not exactly clear.

    Dennis' point that sf emerged from the fantasy genre is well taken. I'm not sure, however, that this origin in itself precludes sf from being considered as a genre in its own right.

    In cinema, for example, what we know as the "musical" has its origins in the broader genre of comedy. At first it was "musical comedy" -- in other words, a subgenre of comedy. Today, I think most people would point to the "musical" as a distinct genre without a second thought.
     
  11. stj

    stj Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    SF hasn't had anything innovative and interesting since cyberpunk.

    And fantasy hasn't had anything innovative and interesting since Tolkien.

    And literary mainstream fiction hasn't had anything innovative and interesting since Faulkner.

    Insofar as any of these are true, they are equally true. But the last is apparently even more relevant than I said. The SF/fantasy/horror literati writing reviews and giving interviews and awarding prizes and holding panels and blogging, blogging, blogging are equally pursuing literary mainstream ideals, which long ago drowned and rotted in a postmodernist morass. Trying to struggle for air in that muck certainly wore out poor Disch.

    On the other hand, much as you pity his plight, it hardly seems very perceptive, or even very adult, to believe that book marketers have correctly seen through the pretenses of the readers and seen the truth: That Sf and fantasy and horror are all really just the same juvenile tripe. Thinking so may be hoped to be profitable but it's cheap cynicism.

    There is a place for whimsy and froth, for metafictional games, camp and simple twee humor. But by and large most desires to merely ignore genre implies a desire to play games with the reader. Hiding the genre keeps the author's goal a secret. If the genre is a secret, then the restrictions (aka critical standards) for that genre can be blithely ignored. Unfortunately it fails to fulfil the implicit promise to fulfil genre expectation while simultaneously refusing either to recreate the genre or to subvert it. The only one who wins by this game is the author who gets to declare every shot hits the mark.

    Eclecticism and obsession with superficialities of style historically have been hallmarks of decadent art.
     
  12. sojourner

    sojourner Admiral Admiral

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    Yep, considering My Name is Legion has been a professional fiction editor for many years, you're probably better off not repeating definitions to him.
     
  13. Klaus

    Klaus Vice Admiral Admiral

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    As long as your definition of the two genres [or two halves of one genre] works for you, that's good enough. I have one that makes sense to me and works pretty much all the time, so I'm cool with it... if people agree with me it might give me a warm fuzzy but it doesn't change my definition.
     
  14. Kelthaz

    Kelthaz Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    The only point of genres is to serve as a label so that other people know what the hell you're talking about. That's it. If I tell someone that I'm reading a science fiction book, watching a sword 'n sorcery movie, or playing a run 'n gun game on the Genesis that conjures up certain common (with slight differences) images in everyone. It helps facilitate conversation. Genre definitions aren't created by academics or writers, but by popular use until they become a de facto standard. This mean that genre definitions will change over time as new fans and subgenres enter the equation.

    In short, genres don't mean a damn thing.
     
  15. Admiral Buzzkill

    Admiral Buzzkill Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Go ahead and repeat anything you like from a "textbook" - won't make it true or relevant.

    Well, one can call it a genre or a subgenre or whatever suits the purpose. It's true, though, both that science fiction is a form of fantasy literature and that there are other kinds of fantasy that don't fit any reasonable definition of science fiction - but all fit within the overall definition of fantasy.
     
  16. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

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    You know, once in awhile, I stumble onto some independent bookstore that tries to have separate sf and fantasy sections. It's always a mess, full of inconsistently applied standards and arbitrary filing. It just makes it trickier to find the book or author you're looking for.

    This isn't a matter of academic, ivory-tower definitions, but simple practicality. There is too much overlap between the genres, authors, and publishers to expect the average bookstore clerk (or consumer) to figure out where any particular LeGuin, or Poul Anderson, or Gene Wolfe, or Orson Scott Card, or Moorcock title is supposed to go.

    Sure, at one end you have the books with the spaceships on the cover and at the other end you have the dragons and elves, but in the middle things get messy. Where does Pern go again? How about Edgar Rice Burroughs? Does The Martian Chronicles go in one section and The October Country go in another? Do you put Niven's hard-sf in one section and The Magic Goes Away in another? Do you put the Dorsai books in sf and The Dragon Knight books in fantasy, even though they're both by Dickson. And what about Dan Simmons or George R. R. Martin or Fritz Leiber or Theodore Sturgeon or any number of other authors who aren't easily pigeon-holed?

    That way madness lies. Pretty soon you're splitting the sf section into alternate history, hard-sf, steampunk, space opera, space fantasy, psychedelia . . . because God forbid everything isn't neatly filed away in its own little category. And nobody knows what's supposed to be where.

    It's just not practical, not to mention vaguely anal-retentive.
     
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2012
  17. Crystalline Entity

    Crystalline Entity Lieutenant Red Shirt

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    I guess the thread should be retitled, "Is Fiction in a state of exhaustion?" ;)

    Again having not read the works cited to support the thesis that SF is exhausted, I can only ask: is part of the problem that SF authors have not adhered to the dictates of the genre, thus creating works that do not live up to the standards of 'classic' science fiction works? If so, that leads to the question of what is required of a good sci-fi story.

    Leaving aside the general requirements for good fiction-writing, I suppose it's a truism to say that a good sci-fi story should embody, in some sense, the ethos of science itself. So to distinguish from fantasy, your cool new tech toys should be scientifically plausible, with your scientific extrapolations being plausible as well. Your fictional worlds have to have some basis in scientific reality; so no more Venusian jungles, or more to the point fewer convenient M-class worlds. If the characters of the story are faced with a problem, be it technical, social or political, we would expect them to use the tools of actual or plausible natural and/or social sciences, to deal with these problems.

    This doesn't mean that everyone or everything in the story has to revolve around science; clashes between different worldviews having different approaches and acceptances of the scientific method, are always compelling.

    My guess is, the declining state of American education notwithstanding, most serious sci-fi authors have at least some familiarity and understanding of multiple fields of science. Maybe new SF works are increasingly reflecting the fact that our culture is showing signs of moving away from accepting science. If so, I just hope the writing community does not water down the essentials of sci-fi in their future works.
     
  18. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

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    You say that like that's a bad thing . . . )
     
  19. Kegg

    Kegg Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    And pretty much Kincaid's problem here is the absence of a certain kind of science fiction, approaches to the genre he's bemoaning aren't as common as they used to be.

    Eh. Entire subgenres of science fiction can be largely written off if we require plausibility - space opera being perhaps the most obvious example.

    I mean we can argue that solid hard sci-fi stories or stories that ground themselves in understandings of science are frustratingly rare and/or should be encouraged, but I don't think it has to follow that they are what we call a 'good sci-fi story.'
     
  20. stj

    stj Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    For finding specific authors, anything other than alphabetization isn't practical either, and it's vaguely anal-retentive too. The hack editors, writers and publicists however know quite well that there is a real distinction between various genres and want to have their "genre" stuff separated. Despite the BS above the real impracticality is going through the alphabet by author. You still have to go to the general fiction and YA shelves looking for Ursula LeGuin books, even when you don't bother separating her SF and fantasy!

    On the other hand, the hack editors, writers and publicists who lump both SF and fantasy together have already made it difficult to find individual works by unknown authors. It's extremely difficult to find new SF because it's indiscriminately buried in with fantasy (and often horror as well.) It would be interesting that this point has been ignored, repeatedly, except that acceptance of the current system is personally profitable for some. Well, the current system isn't working for some of the rest of us. Trying to dismiss the criticisms with confused drivel displays contempt for the reader.

    Also, despite the BS above, it isn't too hard to separate SF and fantasy. There are very few real exceptions. The real cause of freakish misplacements is the usual difficulty that it is hard to categorize unread books. Then the hack editors, writers and publicists confuse booksellers with their self serving marketing.

    As to separating books by publisher, who but a hack or someone personally friends with someone at the publisher would even think of such a thing?

    The only truly useful categorization of books is between good and bad. Now that is an impractical goal, wonderful as it would be. This recurrence of the idiotic SF=fantasy comes up because the deliberate annihilation of critical standards is believed or hoped to be profitable. But writing that doesn't even attempt to meet standards, even such supposedly low standards as those of SF, can't achieve much. Hence, the exhaustion. We're really still on the same topic!

    PS Peeved as I am at the pissy attitude that it doesn't matter if people like me have trouble finding new books by unknowns, I must admit that the post cited above isn't the sole offender, or even the worst, just the clearest. As such it's just the handiest to take off from.

    Also, the SF mode in "technothrillers" blends in with general fiction and gets misfiled too. But there isn't the debilitating schizophrenia between opposites you get with the SF=fantasy nonsense. Hence that somewhat smallish field doesn't get "exhausted."
     
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2012