The State of Science Fiction

Justine Diamond, this post is for you.

 

I’m going to be honest.  When Justine suggested this as a topic, I really had no idea what I was going to talk about.  I write science fiction and fantasy, and I read a lot of science fiction, but I don’t feel particularly qualified to talk about the genre in any meaningful way.

That’s a strange sentiment, isn’t it?

I’ve been reading science fiction for more than thirty years.  I’ve been writing off and on for nearly thirty years, and most of what I write is science fiction.  I’ve been attending science fiction conventions for the last seven years.  I spent many, many years writing Star Wars fan fiction with friends on a Star Wars MUSH.  And in spite of all of that, I feel like an unworthy authority on the subject.

With that in mind, take all of the following with a grain of salt.  These are just my opinions, and some of them are very loosely held.

 

Let’s begin with books.

I grew up with Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov.  I read a couple of other authors during my formative years, but I primarily spent my reading time enjoying the works of those two men.  I particularly liked Lazarus Long, and I just sort of ignored all the squicky stuff.

The last three books I’ve read are Mother Go by James Patrick Kelly, Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan, and The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons.  I tried to read The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, but I just couldn’t get into it.

In terms of quality, I think science fiction is just about as good as it’s ever been.  There is more of it than at any time I can remember.  There are plenty of stinkers, but there have always been campy, silly, or just plan bad science fiction books.  Heck, even my hero Heinlein wrote stories of questionable quality.

But I think there is greater inclusiveness with science fiction now.  Not only is the geeky material more readily accepted by the main stream, more diverse voices are getting heard.

I don’t want to get too much into the politics or the puppies, but I think the more people you have writing science fiction, the better.  One of my friends has been going on a crusade on twitter and social media, talking about how male authors have a harder time getting published now.  I disagree with him, and even if he’s right, I think the scales will eventually balance, anyway.  As a male writing science fiction, if it is harder for me to publish than it used to be, then I’ll just have to become a better writer.  I am up to the challenge.

In terms of content and subject matter, I think we’re in a better place than we were when I first got into science fiction.  For example, I really love the multi-dimensional subject matter in Jason Hough’s Zero World and in Peter Cline’s 14 and The Fold.  I think the solidly grounded work of Andy Weir’s The Martian is some of the best science fiction ever written.  There is some really great stuff being written these days.

 

Moving on to movies and other media, we have the special effects to really make science fiction look good.  Unfortunately, I think that’s where things can go a little bit sideways.  Some movie makers seem to get so caught up in making their movies look good, they forget to make their movies actually good.

For example, I’m lead to believe that Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets looked amazing, but didn’t deliver much of a story.  I didn’t go and see it, so I’m going off of word of mouth, reviews, and the poor showing at the box office.  I also heard Life was underwhelming.

It’s not all bad, though.  The Martian was almost as amazing on the screen as it was in the book.  The last Mad Max movie was exceptional.  I’ve enjoyed the latest Star Wars movies, and I’m looking forward to The Last Jedi in a couple of months.

Star Trek, on the other hand, seems to be going through a bit of an identity crisis.  The rebooted movies focused more on action and adventure and left a lot of original fans feeling like they’d been cheated out of compelling science fiction.  I haven’t Star Trek: Discovery yet, and I understand that it’s very dark, and very action oriented as well.  I’m hearing mixed things about it.

 

In general, I think science fiction is as good as it’s ever been.  Compared with fantasy, I think fantasy has been fairly dominant for a while, but I think science fiction is resurging.  I think there’s more demand for good science fiction than there was five years ago.

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