Is SF in a state of exhaustion?

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

  1. Ometiklan

    Ometiklan Commander Red Shirt

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    stj, I have to agree with you totally, and thank you. When I go to a book store to browse for new and interesting science fiction, I find it extremely aggravating to have to dig through piles of uninteresting and repetitive fantasy. Not that I am not a fan, sometimes of fantasy - in fact my favorite book of all time is fantasy (and it is actually a trilogy, but I cannot even consider them as separate books). Even trying to narrow down the selection by the title is of little help in the majority of cases ("Blood of My Enemies" which would that be? And man do i get tired of seeing an interesting title only to find a guy wearing chainmail on the cover or a bland ivory tower looking castle that the main character is striding through or gazing at from a distance through fog...). I would be extremely happy to see more places divide the genres, and if you can't figure out what section a particular le guin book goes, I agree, ask someone who has read the darn thing. (I don't know if it helps my case any that sometimes when I am looking for any new techno-thriller or a specific author's kinda-sci-fi book and I don't know whether to look in science fiction or regular fiction, at least i can look in those two or three most likely places, if it isn't on the "new arrivals" shelf instead, and rule that store out. But at least I am not digging through shelf after shelf looking for that one book buried amongst the chaff.)

    As to the idea that the genre is exhausted, I would say no, guardedly. I find it hard to find really good sci-fi that falls within the areas I am interested in (space opera, hard sci-fi, anything with time travel, and less of the anything-goes/no rules variety that the article's author laments) but that is the problem with all books in general. Just cause Sturgeon's Law is true now for sci-fi or other genres, doesn't mean it was ever not true. And I think that is where the industry is today and likely will always be - until at least we each get our own personal AI assistants that can read and pick the best stories for us to read (or likely download straight into our brain) helping us to avoid the 90%.
     
  2. sojourner

    sojourner Admiral Admiral

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    ^Sounds like you truly judge fantasy books by their covers.
     
  3. Stevil2001

    Stevil2001 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    So genres enable people to talk about books, pick which books they like, and market their books appropriately... but they're utterly meaningless? :vulcan: What else would you expect them to do?
     
  4. Kegg

    Kegg Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    stj - I could see what you're saying about finding new SF writers... by browsing a bookstand, although I still find that fairly easy to do (in that if there's a writer with a title released by let's say SF Masterworks, then I probably should check out that person). But given the existence of the internet and the boom of book blogs and so on it's probably easier to hear about unknown sci-fi authors right now then it has basically ever been in SF's history.

    If you mean Lord of the Rings, you're right, they aren't seperate books. Tolkein wrote a single novel which was so big his publishers convinced him the only way to sell it was as a three volumes.
    We're pretty close to that with internet recommendation systems. 'If you liked this you'll love that!'
     
  5. stj

    stj Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    The nearest bookstore is seventy miles away, so browsing time is extremely limited.

    At first glance, the suggestion that book blogs etc. are a good way to find out about new authors seems good. But we are talking about finding SF. There is a continuum from awards to publishing to magazines to fanzines to blogs. This continuum is largely delineated by the desire to advance authorial ambitions or get advertising. What we're talking about here is things like io9 or Abigail Nussbaum, reviews editor of Strange Horizons. All of this crew has an interest in lowering all critical standards and selling, instead of presenting objective views (as much as possible.) As in Charlie Jane Anders and Annette Newlin. These are the people with a self-serving interest in the SF=fantasy idiocy.

    Or to put it another way, bloggers like Matthew Cheney or Hal Duncan or Abigail Nussbaum have only brought to notice fantasists, all the while insisting that they're also doing the same thing as SF. And by the way insisting that this is something new and wonderful. Well, Kelly Link is an amazing stylist but not amazing enough to overcome having nothing coherent to say.

    The only "new" SF author I have discovered via blogger is Joan Slonczewski. I found her mentioned in an aside in Athena Andreadis' blog. But then, she's a practicing biologist. Insofar as she has a sideline in litereature, she promotes her stuff and her friends' stuff and, like Orson Scott Card, only attacks what she dislikes politically/culturally. (Different perspective from OSC.)

    Self published ebooks? Not familiar enough. Seems like reading through a slush pile, you know rationally there must be the occasional jewel but the prospect is as forbidding as climbing Mt. Everest.
     
  6. Kegg

    Kegg Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Well there you go.

    There's at least one blogger that has standards similar to yours - and actually I read a rather interesting article by her on Ursula Le Guin a while back. To say she's different from OSC smacks of understatement, though.

    There could be other bloggers p your alley, for all I know. Certainly I've found out about more potentially interesting authors in the past six months than I'd used to find for years. I'm not saying it's not ideal, and I'm not saying that major 'gatekeepers' - io9 in particular - don't make iffy calls. But the level of easily accessible opinions provides for more perspectives than one is used to, and that's generally a good thing.
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2012
  7. Greg Cox

    Greg Cox Admiral Premium Member

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    I don't know. Just the other day, in a thread at io9, people were discussing how they associated different publishers and imprints with different flavors of SF. How you generally expected one kind of book from, say, Baen Books and another from Nightshade or Del Rey. And Lord knows I've contended with bookstores that insisted on shelving all Tor books in the SF/Fantasy section even when they were actually mysteries or historical romances!

    True, I suspect the average reader ignores the colophon on the spine, and couldn't care less who puts out what, but my impression is that the more knowledgeable sf and fantasy connoisseurs do play attention to "brand names" as it were.

    (And I prefer "modern-day pulp writer" to "hack," btw.)
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2012
  8. Klaus

    Klaus Vice Admiral Admiral

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    :lol:

    Over my decades in bookstores I can't say that I've looked for a particular publisher, but it can have added value once you pick it up because you're interested in the title/author/cover or whatever... as in "Hey, these guys usually publish good books" if it was someone you were unfamiliar with. I definitely remember Del Rey having that cachet back in the day.
     
  9. stj

    stj Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    ^^^Well, I can't say anything about your editing. I might suggest that genres aren't defined by "tropes," which term is nearly as vagrant as "genre."

    But at least your written work is good enough that "modern day pulp writer" is defensible. Consider the difference between your half of The 4400 wrapup tie-in. (Or possibly let commercial discretion be the better part of literary valor.) I don't know whether Eugenics Wars was truly worth doing but I enjoyed it. You captured the screen characters vividly, and resolved reality's obliteration of Trek canon with a clever secret history. As a Star Trek fan, that was pleasing to me.

    But you didn't throw in a unicorn for Chekhov and a vampire after Spock's green blood. There wasn't a battle between the Enterprise and Laputa, and steampowered land leviathans didn't emerge from the subterranean empire of the Mole Men. Mashups like that could have been fun (but generally are not, a point eluded far too often), but as a writer you delivered on your implicit promise to write a Star Trek tie-in. Nor did you throw in a sly rewrite of La Nausee or Lord of the Flies, just to mix it up. Of course, nor was it enlivened by good speculation about real genetic engineering, easing something new at us in the guise of something old (which let's face it Star Trek is by now.) Still, as you say, "modern pulp writer."

    You have professed to believe that making an implicit promise to address genre expectations (or something even stricter, as in Star Trek tie-in,) much less keeping the promise, is pointless, only done for commercial purposes. You have claimed that in fact that your work would have been better if it had instead ignored all those foolish expectations (violation would imply taking them seriously enough to subvert them,) being richer and more interesting if your work was instead from the common heart hitherto trapped beneath the rigid crust of genre forms.

    What I know of what you've done contradicts what you say you approve. As I hope I've made plain, I think the SF=fantasy BS aims to create a cloud of ineffability over all the works of its proponents. But it's really squid ink to cover an indifference to whether the stuff's really thought through, genuinely written, i.e. whether it's really any good. The worst cases I fear sincerely have convinced themselves that "Does it make any sense?" is a loaded question betraying malice. They only seem to be concerned with whether the style is professional. No matter how much they kid themselves, that means commercial. Also, eclecticism is indifferent to whether things fit together. Inasmuch as there is far more to the world than patchwork quilts, eclecticism is indifferent to whether a work of art has integrity, i.e., indifferent to whether it's any good. Eclecticism in science, philosophy, politics is nearly universally a sign of slovenliness, not superiority. That[/i kind of stuff seems to me to be hackwork.

    Publishing houses tend to take the coloration of their chief editors and the turnover seems to be too rapid to be useful.
    Unless of course you're immersed in a milieu where professionals, semiprofessionals and fans aiming to become professionals network each other. I strongly suspect the io9 discussion was both outdated and imperceptive, no matter how desperately trendy it tried to be. But I may be exaggerating my impressions of io9? I sympathize with the Tor problem with bookstores but booksellers who haven't read the books pretty much seem to be the number one choices for seeking out the hack mentality.

    PS Crossed posts with Klaus. When Lin Carter left Ballantine, Ballantine didn't have any rep for publishing fantasy as far as I was concerned.
     
  10. montag01

    montag01 Ensign Red Shirt

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    Would it be kosher to put forward a novel I published in October? It got a fairly favorable Publisher's Weekly review. I've been thinking about how it fits into the OP's linked criticism. My own book is more science fantasy--the PW review quite rightly says I "hand wave the science," but that's partly because I was making a conscious homage to Bradbury and "old fashioned" rockets. (If it is inappropriate to make a post about my own book, then I'd ask the mods to delete this message).
     
  11. Ian Keldon

    Ian Keldon Fleet Captain

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    Argument from authority
    , sojourner?

    Legion is talking out his hoo-hah. The definitions of SF and Fantasy as genre are well-established and understood and are NOT the same.
     
  12. Flying Spaghetti Monster

    Flying Spaghetti Monster Vice Admiral Admiral

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    As a writer I spend a lot of time thinking. I want my ideas to be as fresh as possible. Why would I spend countless hours in front of a computer, giving up weekends, etc, if I'm telling a story someone has already told, or an idea that's already been used?
     
  13. Set Harth

    Set Harth Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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  14. RAMA

    RAMA Vice Admiral Admiral

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    The delineation between science-fiction and sci-tech is blurring--mind you in a technical sense, it won't be gone, because fiction is still fiction--but both the generated ideas and output of these ideas will be much closer than ever before. I think it's already at a point where many people confuse the two, hence my example of people feeling they've seen many of these amazing wonders to come. I admit sometimes I get impatient too.:lol:

    RAMA
     
  15. RAMA

    RAMA Vice Admiral Admiral

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    However, a large majority of extremely well known, respected SF writers (not all of whom wanted to be called that) have always noted a difference between SF and fantasy. I'm well aware of the marketing in bookselling, but aside from that, you can usually spot to which side a story usually veers.

    RAMA
     
  16. RAMA

    RAMA Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Speculation: Physical paper-->biological observer brain--to--Electronic viewing medium--->biological observer brain---to---interactive electronic viewing medium--->more engaged biological user brain--to--immersive, virtual experience medium---biological brain--too--totally AI immersive experience--->biological brain, electronically enhanced, information interactive--to--totally immersive, completely interactive or self generated information/story--either virtual or with real life consructs, ie "holodeck" like with potentially nano-constructed foglet tech.

    So the experience goes from processing words, to acting out the words, to becoming the words, the technology brings the experience closer. So ultimately, if you can have your uploaded AI brain in a computer "cloud" and your still human-derived brain craves entertainment, think up an adventure, your foglet/electronic system makes it so. Science fiction becomes the medium. Question is, will such an advanced human AI create science fiction stories? Will it always speculate on things far beyond their time? Will it explore endless permutations of modern technological possibilities?
     
  17. FluffyUnbound

    FluffyUnbound Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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

    This isn't really true, you know.

    There actually are no periods of art where the dominant style isn't an eclectic melange of previous styles.

    Generally the only reason historians of art and literature ever assigned some periods the role of being "truly creative" and other eras "decadent" was because of the gaps in the historical record available to Europeans. Any time they didn't know the antecedents for the work of a particular era, they declared it "creative". Any time where the antecedents were well documented and known to them, they declared "decadent".

    It's easy to look like a great creator when all the people you stole from are forgotten.

    I don't know if science fiction is exhausted or not. The problem with using the Dozois anthology to try to measure exhaustion is that its quality varies so dramatically from year to year. You pick up a copy from a bad year, and "Oh no sci-fi is dead!". But next year he could have another year like 16. 16's not that long ago, really, and after I read that one I thought we were on the verge of a new golden age.

    In general I think science fiction has suffered because there no longer is an audience that can suspend belief for its former extremes. Roddenberry-type visions are no longer very credible, and neither are apocalyptic visions. When you take those away, what's left is a muddle. One exception is work that attempts to describe a post-Singularity environment, but those of course suffer from the "anything can happen" problem the article author laments.
     
  18. Kegg

    Kegg Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    And also this all sounds suspiciously anti-Decadent, and the Decadent movement was pretty awesome. Love me some Wilde.
     
  19. stj

    stj Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Oscar Wilde, the Decadent? Plainly I've gotten lost in deep waters without a compass. My idea of decadence in literature is something like Ausonius or "eight-legged essays." I hardly see Wilde as that kind of figure. I would withdraw the remark and rephrase if I could think of any other way to put it.
     
  20. Kegg

    Kegg Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    He can quite be quite fairly called an English language example of a Decadent writer, anyway he was strongly influenced by the French decadents (of whom he makes explicit reference to in The Picture of Dorian Grey).

    It's true that 'decadence' like a lot of words is kind of flexible in what we mean. There's decadence as derivative and uninspired (which I presume is what you meant) but then there's decadence as - Mr. Wilde would put it - 'all art is immoral.'
     

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