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November 14, 2008 8:43 PM   Subscribe

New Scientist kicks off it's science fiction special by asking "Is science fiction dying?", with answers by Margaret Atwood, William Gibson and Ursula K Le Guin amongst others. Meanwhile on the Nebula Awards site Geoff Ryman talks about Mundane SF, and how it was a reaction to a phenomenon he noticed in new SF coming through the Clarion workshop: A lot of it doesn't have much science fiction in it.
posted by Artw (70 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
You want to know if science fiction is dying so you ask Atwood, Gibson, Le Guin, Baxter, KSR, and Nick Sagan? Yeah, good plan.

I have the utmost respect for Gibson and Le Guin, and both KSR and Baxter have made their mark. But these are not the people you go to about where SF is at and where it is going. Le Guin's seminal work is from the late 60's and early 70's. That's more than THIRTY YEARS ago. Gibson's groundbreaking stuff is more than twenty years old. He barely even writes SF anymore, it's more technothriller stuff with an SF feel to it. The Mars trilogy is over a decade old. Baxter is a current writer but he's never been bleeding edge. Much more old school. Atwood? Atwood isn't even an SF writer. Just ask her.

I liked Sagan's _Idlewild_ as much as the next guy, I guess, but writing one or two extremely marginally popular SF novels doesn't qualify you as an expert on whether SF has a future, unless your last name happens to be "Sagan" I guess.

Seriously. You want some opinion's on whether SF is dying and where it goes from here? Ask Charlie Stross. Ask John Scalzi. Ask them here, even, since they're MeFites. Or ask Neal Asher, Alistair Reynolds, Richard Morgan, Ken MacLeod, Karl Schroeder, Ian McDonald, or Peter Watts.

Hell, ask Vernor Vinge or Robert Charles Wilson. They've been writing for a damn long time but they're still on the forefront.

Atwood, Gibson, Le Guin, Baxter, KSR, and Nick Sagan? Please.
posted by Justinian at 8:55 PM on November 14, 2008 [19 favorites]


The people who came up with "Mundane SF" really need to learn something about branding.

The problem, I think, with Sci-Fi was that it was always about "The future" as a fictional setting, just like other times and places. But now we're starting to move into something that resembles "the future" in one sense and at the same time we're learning more about what won't happen which means either writing "Mundane" stories or stories that are no longer as believable.
posted by delmoi at 8:55 PM on November 14, 2008


The problem, I think, with Sci-Fi was that it was always about "The future" as a fictional setting, just like other times and places.

I haven't read the articles yet, so I can't comment on them, but I feel like I have to mention that Frankenstein, Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Invisible Man , and many other foundational (and current) science fiction works weren't about or set in "the future." I think you have to look elsewhere for the common thread that makes science fiction what it is, and I also think that whatever you decide the benchmark is, there are and will continue to be novels and stories that meet that criteria.
posted by Nonce at 9:08 PM on November 14, 2008


Nonce has it: Thinking of science fiction just as a story set in a certain kind of future is missing the point. I think I like Damon Knight's view best:

"What we get from science fiction---what keeps us reading it, in spite of our doubts and occasional disgust---is not different from the thing that makes mainstream stories rewarding, but only expressed differently. We live on a minute island of known things. Our undiminished wonder at the mystery which surrounds us is what makes us human. In science fiction we can approach that mystery, not in small, everyday symbols, but in bigger ones of space and time."
posted by Justinian at 9:14 PM on November 14, 2008


its
posted by Ted Maul at 9:24 PM on November 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


You want to know if science fiction is dying so you ask Atwood, Gibson, Le Guin, Baxter, KSR, and Nick Sagan? Yeah, good plan.

At least they didn't ask Bradbury or Card or Herbert's kid.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:25 PM on November 14, 2008


I'm going to go ahead ans say no, science fiction isn't dying, but it is certainly changing based on the kind of realization delmoi talks about. I read Daemon by Daniel Suarez not all that long ago, and I would certainly consider it science fiction (and one of the best examples of that I have ever read) even though every (or nearly every--nova light?) bit of technology featured in it either exists currently in the form depicted in the book or in a somewhat less refined form. Great book, everyone interested in SF should read it. I don't see why our imaginings about the future shouldn't change as our conceptions of what's possible evolve.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:31 PM on November 14, 2008


So, the science is poor and the writing is poor but no matter what critics say, I will continue to insist that scifi is the best venue for philosophy, theology, sociology and ideology outside of their fields. Its because you're writing for a receptive audience.
posted by christhelongtimelurker at 9:31 PM on November 14, 2008


Justinian:

I liked Sagan's _Idlewild_ as much as the next guy, I guess, but writing one or two extremely marginally popular SF novels doesn't qualify you as an expert on whether SF has a future, unless your last name happens to be "Sagan" I guess.

Well, Nick also wrote a number of episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and was story editor on Star Trek: Voyager for a season. And he's currently writing science fiction (I know because I commissioned a short story from him no so long ago) so in fact he is, in his own right, pretty well qualified to talk about science fiction and where it might be going.

Now, personally, I think it's silly to ask if science fiction is dying when Wall-E and Iron Man have made a billion dollars between them, science fiction has its own cable channel, and science fiction themes populate video games from BioShock to Spore to Fallout 3. The real question is, has written science fiction kept up with the success of science fiction in every other media? Remember to note the explicitly science fictional The Road winning a Pulitzer Prize and being a selection for Oprah's Book Club, as just one recent example, in your answer.
posted by jscalzi at 9:46 PM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Justinian nails it. If all you read is the "old-guard" authors, then yes - science-fiction is dying - just as they are...

But... for those who believe it is, try some of the authors Justinian notes - I am always awaiting the latest from; Stross, Scalzi and especially Morgan.

But, then again I am old-enough to have seen the "soap-operafication" of everything sci-fi/fantasy/horror, it seems to me to be a general, "dumbing-down" of everything to try and reach a "mainstream" audience.
posted by jkaczor at 9:47 PM on November 14, 2008


see... and my waiting pays off, maybe not with a full-length manuscript, but an author who is directly in touch with his audience today...
posted by jkaczor at 9:50 PM on November 14, 2008


Well, Nick also wrote a number of episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and was story editor on Star Trek: Voyager for a season. And he's currently writing science fiction (I know because I commissioned a short story from him no so long ago) so in fact he is, in his own right, pretty well qualified to talk about science fiction and where it might be going.

I believe you that he knows quite a bit about science fiction. The point I probably smothered in the hyperbole was that if you're going to ask 6 "name" authors what the future of SF is, Nick Sagan isn't exactly the first person who I'd nominate to be in that list. He's not that well known to readers of SF or to the general public. That isn't a reflection of the quality of his work; I really did like IDLEWILD quite a bit even if I am, admittedly, an absolute sucker for the whole cliched Corwinesque "man wakes up in a white room and doesn't even remember who he is" schtick.

I admit that the dig at his last name was a low blow. Too much Usenet for me. Bad me, no biscuit.

Now, personally, I think it's silly to ask if science fiction is dying

I think it rather clearly is not. Science fiction fandom, on the other hand, rather clearly is. Fandom is like the Republican party. Aging rapidly, becoming increasingly insular, and having trouble connecting with the young folk. But science fiction doesn't need fandom any more. To it's own great surprise, fandom won. SF is a very much a part of mainstream culture now. Yeah, I'm a little sad at the gradual demise of fandom as we've known it (despite not being a part of fandom, having never attended a con) because of the rich history of the subculture but it's inevitable.

The concurrent demise of the short fiction markets is much more troubling.
posted by Justinian at 10:13 PM on November 14, 2008 [6 favorites]


Science fiction is the mainstream. The top rated TV Shows are sci-fi, the top grossing movies are sci-fi, the best selling book of all time is 'fantasy'. By what possible measure would anyone say that sci-fi is dying?
posted by empath at 10:15 PM on November 14, 2008


Sci-fi is also the overwhelmingly dominant genre in videogames, as well.
posted by empath at 10:15 PM on November 14, 2008


I wonder if there is a market for a widget that detects if one is misusing apostrophes and delivers a painful electrical shock upon registering such. I sure could use one. Perhaps I'll simply hit myself with a hammer, or read a novel by Terry Goodkind. That should cure me.
posted by Justinian at 10:17 PM on November 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


empath: I'd say that fantasy is the overwhelmingly dominat genre in videogames, actually. How many subscribers does Word of Warcraft have now? Fantasy is an entirely different kettle of fish, even if there is significant overlap at the boundaries.
posted by Justinian at 10:20 PM on November 14, 2008


Perhaps the question should be, "Is sci-fi still ground-breaking?"
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:44 PM on November 14, 2008


Justinian, thanks for "Corwinian". A very apt coinage, and it really took me back to my first reading of Nine Princes in Amber.

I have to say that the internet, other very immediate and ubiquitous time-and-space annihilating technologies, and the overall pace of change in particular has cut my SF reading by about 90% in the last ten or twelve years. The world really is an attention-grabber from one moment to the next and reality itself displaces some of the role that SF played in my life growing up. But of what I have still been reading the most downright interesting SF I've read seems to be split between the extremes of very hard (Greg Egan, Vernor Vinge) and the completely fantastic (Kathleen Ann Goonan, China Mieville). I'm rather bored with the down-the-middle stuff, which has a kind of Silver Age feel to it now.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:58 PM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


(meant "Corwinesque". Must have been the rhyme that deflected me)
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:59 PM on November 14, 2008


If it isn't ground breaking, if it's just an amusing re-arrangement of tired ideas or the role of science fictional concepts is simply set dressing, is it really fulfilling the purpose of science fiction?
posted by Artw at 10:59 PM on November 14, 2008


Ask Charlie Stross.

He's expressed some trouble with it of late.
posted by Artw at 11:04 PM on November 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


The problem with science fiction is that people have sort of forgotten what the phrase means. It's fiction about science. Because science is awesome. The good science fiction writers these days effectively convey that fact (that science awesome). The bad ones do not. And unfortunately, that's most of them.
posted by Caduceus at 11:13 PM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


I was pleasantly surprised that Le Guin was so positive about comic books and animation. Also, I thought this paragraph of hers was amazing:

The distinction between science fiction and realism was never as clear as the genre snobs wanted it to be. I rejoice to think that both terms are already largely historical; they are moulds from which literature is breaking free, as it always does, to find new forms.

But I have the impression that she's mostly been writing fantasy, for decades even. Is that right?

Caduceus, I don't agree that science fiction can be reduced to "science is awesome". I think a lot of science fiction is more like "science is terrifying". Just think of the trope of the mad scientist. Plus, one of my favorite parts of science fiction is aliens. So I'd say science fiction is also "aliens are awesome" and "aliens are terrifying" too.
posted by overglow at 11:56 PM on November 14, 2008


Sci-fi is also the overwhelmingly dominant genre in videogames, as well.

Not really. In the MMO space there's... Eve-Online and... umm. Compared to the mighty machine that is WoW, and almost the whole of the rest of the MMO market is fantasy.

For standalone games, I guess you've got your Halo and whatnot, but the dominant genre there are as likely to be horror and war games. I guess Mirror's Edge is an exception.

Science fiction fandom, on the other hand, rather clearly is. Fandom is like the Republican party. Aging rapidly, becoming increasingly insular, and having trouble connecting with the young folk. But science fiction doesn't need fandom any more. To it's own great surprise, fandom won. SF is a very much a part of mainstream culture now.

Yeah, very much. TV series with a big, popular buzz in this decade? Heroes, Lost, Battlestar Galactica (of all things!). The SciFi & Fantasy sections at popular bookstores are huge.

As for the fandom - yeah, it is inevitable. And, frankly, no bad thing in most ways. Comics as a medium are mostly stuck because of fandom.

If there's a genre of fiction I read that seems to have mostly gone to pot, it would be horror.
posted by rodgerd at 12:14 AM on November 15, 2008


This quote, which has always slightly blown my mind, seems at least a little apt:
"Did you ever read what they call Science Fiction? It’s a scream. It’s written like this: ’I checked out with K19 on Adabaran III, and stepped out through the crummaliote hatch on my 22 Model Sirus Hardtop. I cocked the timeprojector in secondary and waded through the bright blue manda grass. My breath froze into pink pretzels. I flicked on the heat bars and the Bryllis ran swiftly on five legs, using the other two to send out crylon vibrations. The pressure was almost unbearable, but I caught the range on my wrist computer through the transparent cysicites. I pressed the trigger. The thin violet glow was ice-cold against the rust-colored mountains. The Brysllis shrank to half an inch long and I worked fast stepping on them with the poltex. But it wasn’t enough. The sudden brightness swung me round and the Fourth Moon had already risen. I had exactly four seconds to hot up the disintegrator and Google had told me it wasn’t enough."
- Raymond Chandler, in a letter to his agent, 1953. Damn: "Google had told me it wasn't enough" in nineteen-fucking-fifty-three.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:18 AM on November 15, 2008 [44 favorites]


Science fiction isn't dying; it's just dreaming of electric sheep.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:19 AM on November 15, 2008


Science fiction in New Scientist? Surely not!
posted by grouse at 1:24 AM on November 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Is science fiction dead? Great! Time to break out the zombie juice and electric zappers. Damn it, where did I stash the knife switch and the Jacob's Ladder? Kids these days ...
posted by cstross at 2:54 AM on November 15, 2008


rodgerd: Horror imploded around 1989 and hasn't really recovered. Paranormal romance (shading into the fang fucker field so thoroughly fertilized by, for example, Laurell K. Hamilton) is a bastard offshoot of genre romance. Me, I'm busy cross-breeding traditional English spy thrillers with horror and SF, and it seems to be working; but pure horror? Dead, dead, I say!

But not as dead as Horse Opera.
posted by cstross at 2:58 AM on November 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


Horse Opera dead, you say? Go read Emma Bull's Territory.
posted by jefflowrey at 3:15 AM on November 15, 2008


Me, I'm busy cross-breeding traditional English spy thrillers with horror and SF

I was about to say something like "Oh, you should totally read Charlie Stross, he's incredible at it". Then I looked at the username.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:25 AM on November 15, 2008 [4 favorites]


Caduceus, I don't agree that science fiction can be reduced to "science is awesome". I think a lot of science fiction is more like "science is terrifying".

And then a huge part of science fiction is about exploring what it means to be human: think Philip K Dick or Frankenstein. You've got writers where there's real science, and it's awesome/terrifying, and that's an interesting part of the story (especially for a non-scientist like me), but then you've got PKD where the science is often ridiculous, but is used to illustrate a point about the nature of the world, and our experience of it.
posted by Infinite Jest at 5:47 AM on November 15, 2008


"Is science fiction dying?" is such an absurdly overblown way to frame the question it's hard for me to take the rest seriously. And George_Spiggott, that quote is hilarious; Chandler could really pile on the scorn when he wanted to. He does it to Agatha Christie-style murder mysteries in "The Simple Art of Murder," too.
posted by mediareport at 5:52 AM on November 15, 2008


Quick, somebody namecheck Greg Egan.

Saying "science has made science fiction obsolete" is a little like that guy who wanted to close the patent office because everything had already been invented.
posted by ook at 6:25 AM on November 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


rodgerd: Horror imploded around 1989 and hasn't really recovered. Paranormal romance (shading into the fang fucker field so thoroughly fertilized by, for example, Laurell K. Hamilton) is a bastard offshoot of genre romance. Me, I'm busy cross-breeding traditional English spy thrillers with horror and SF, and it seems to be working; but pure horror? Dead, dead, I say!

But not as dead as Horse Opera.


A thousand times "word." If you had told teenaged, horror-loving me that by 2008 the major US publisher of horror fiction would be Leisure (!) -- then-notorious purveyor of original paperbacks about evil children, Nazi werewolves, serial killers with improbable MOs, and every other genre cliche you can think of, all graced with covers that anyone would be rightfully embarrassed to find on a book they planned to read in public -- well, I don't know. I might have cried. Mind you, 2000s-era Leisure publishes some excellent work, in part because their people seem to know the genre very well and love it to death, but also because they appear to have exclusive domain over it. That is to say, just about no other big publisher is interested in touching it with a stick. Sure, they'd happily publish the half dozen big names, and maybe they'd publish a new novel by somebody else if they thought they could push it on its own terms, but an actual imprint devoted just to the genre? I don't think so.

Leisure, incidentally, also seems to be one of the only publishers that regularly produces westerns by people who aren't pushing ninety, or dead.

I guess what I'm saying here is that I want to make out with Leisure and give it hickeys.

Here's what's weird, though, and bodes ever so scarily for publishing as a whole -- though westerns have been comatose with occasional twitching for decades and decades now, horror's been big business in TV and film in the past few years. All without much of a blip in the publishing world. I'd like to think this is evidence of a publishing world that is dully unaware of larger media trends, but my guess is it means that success in media that don't require, like, any reading, doesn't necessarily translate into book sales. For writers, this isn't a happy thought.

Anyway: Relatively speaking, SF novels seem to be doing pretty damn well, I think.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:28 AM on November 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Is the internet killing words? the answer may suprise(sic) you!
posted by jepler at 6:47 AM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


@scalzi:"[S]cience fiction has its own cable channel".

Not really. Have you watched it recently? It's mostly 'reality' television, save for Friday nights. And wrestling.

For many, Farscape's cancellation not only broke the camel's back, but it also allowed all of the bilge to seep in. They've been trying to 'mainstream' the network for years, now.

And Kring's struggles with Heroes is no measure that the genre has hit mainstream.

(Unless 'mediocrity' is the new 'success'.)
posted by vhsiv at 7:45 AM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


At first SF was an extension of Oz

I know what he means. The fairy stories I liked best were the ones where the principles of the magic were laid out clearly and adhered to in developing the plot. In a way SF is the same, but with speculative science instead of magic.

Some of the traditional domains of SF are sort of difficult now, irrespective of the Mundane principles. I don't think it seems as easy as it once did to believe in star ships plying between planets the way sailing ships once did between continents. It's hard to write about martians any more.

Of course it is still possible to put aside everything we know about Mars and write as if it were the nineteenth century. But that's not very appealing, just as it isn't that appealing to write about how Europeans got to America or Australia and found talking dinosaurs, or blue ray-gun wielding arachnomorphs there.

Although...
posted by Phanx at 8:07 AM on November 15, 2008


Didn't we have this argument when Cyberpunk showed up in the 80's? It was a pretty derogative term, and the whole sub-genre a clear sign that SF was corrupt, decadent and on the ropes. There was much snarling and showing of fangs over "soft sci-fi" like Star Wars and Star Trek, whose movie franchises were suddenly enormous.

In short, we are eternally heading into corruption and decay, and the golden age is perpetually behind us.

(I also like how William Gibson denies he was ever a SF writer... just like a good punk rocker denies what he plays is punk. "It's post-modern, man, it's its own thing, man.")
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:26 AM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Didn't we have this argument when Cyberpunk showed up in the 80's?

Yeah, and with New Space Opera in the 90s...

Now SF just mutates like a virus, spawning multiple variations... infecting itself into the mainstream.

As for 'mundane'... I'll give you my blaster when you take it from my cold, dead hands.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:33 AM on November 15, 2008


Slap*Happy:

Didn't we have this argument when Cyberpunk showed up in the 80's?

Science fiction literature has been kvelling about its future since the 1950s. Seriously, there are fanzines from that era declaring the genre dead. It's possibly the most nerdishly suicidal lit genre that has ever existed.

Which is the real difference between lit SF and every other form of SF:

Lit SF: "Holy crap! We're dying! Let's run around in circles!"

Every other form of SF: "Holy crap! There's a shitload of money to be made from fanboys and fangirls! Someone hand me a shovel!"
posted by jscalzi at 8:49 AM on November 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


Not sure about writing KSR off as yesterday's news - sure, the Mars Trilogy was a decade ago, but Forty Signs of Rain et al were more recent. While they weren't as critically or popularly successful as the Mars books, they were quite interesting in painting a near-future perspective of massive environmental change (plus it had a stay-at-home dad, which was cool).
posted by adrianhon at 9:23 AM on November 15, 2008


I am at an SF convention right now.

This afternoon, in the dealer room, I bought a second-hand hardcover titled "The Science Fiction Novel: imagination and social criticism" -- a collection of four critical essays, copyrighted 1959. The authors are Robert Heinlein, C. M. Kornbluth, Robert Bloch and Alfred Bester.

I just got through the intro and it's all about the arguable failure of SF as a genre of social criticism ...

Nothing to see here, nothing changes, everyone move along now!
posted by cstross at 9:48 AM on November 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Perhaps the question should be, "Is sci-fi still ground-breaking?"

The answer to that question would be, "No. The ground was broken, the foundation poured--indeed, the SF Tower was completed decades ago, and has changed hands several times over."

The question being asked in the link is, "Just how long does reinforced concrete last, anyway?"
posted by Sys Rq at 9:52 AM on November 15, 2008


rodgerd: Horror imploded around 1989 and hasn't really recovered.

That bodes poorly for the online horror magazine I am starting.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:58 AM on November 15, 2008


SF isn't dying. It can't, because it is an beast stitched together from the moldering corpses of its past incarnations, brought to life with the electricity of big ideas, and it has the capacity to learn. It has become larger than what it was, more intelligent, and has learned how to interact with the mainstream.

It might take periods of time alone on an ice flow, but it will be back (fantasy and horror also take their turns doing this). And the attempts of fandom, traditionalists, and critics to banish it for good will never completely succeed - no matter how many pitchforks and torches get brought to the party.
posted by never used baby shoes at 10:06 AM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Today, Le Guin is writing strange little parables that are "science fiction" inasmuch as they are set on other planets with exotic civilizations, but don't concern themselves with matters of science particularly.

I personally love 'em.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:07 AM on November 15, 2008


New Scientist is doing a Science Fiction special? How is it different from New Scientist's regular content?
posted by happyroach at 10:23 AM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


New Scientist, I think your model’s a little shaky*. Personally, I think the future is imploding into the ... whatever**.

I have the weird feeling that we are not really talking about a supposed death of SF but about the transformation of the slow business of book publishing market under the pressure of the quick firing Web.

I am quite sure that my buying habits of SF books are typical: 10 years ago, my SF hunger was fed with buying 20 to 30 SF books a year, more or less evenly divided between hardcovers and pocket books; hardcovers from loved authors, pocket books from new ones.

Today, I have in my RSS Bruce Sterling, Warren Ellis, Cory Doctorrow, Charlie Stross, John Scalzi, Kevin Kelly, Ray Kurzweil, Rudy Rucker, The Long Now, Bill Gibson. Most of them are posting daily. And I am limiting my feeds to those few: hundreds more are available. So of course, without delving into the "economy of attention" stuff, I am reading less SF books, maybe 10 a year at most. (And during the same time, my magazines reading habits have plummeted from 12-15 a month to 2 or 3.)

Despite New Scientist's presence on the Web, its feature about SF dying shows that its editing and publishing model stays firmly planted in the (very slow) paper and print paradigm. Readers and especially SF readers are already elsewhere. It's where we are, right now, right here, interacting with Stross and Scalzi, all the other authors being just a blog or an email away.

My science fiction world has never been so richly embedded in my daily life.

* Scalzi, Whatever, 1h ago.
** Stross, Charlie's Diary, November 11, 10h45.

posted by bru at 10:27 AM on November 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


Personally, I would find Le Guin's input fascinating as her essay before The Left Hand of Darkness was wonderfully eye opening for me. She attempts to explain what science fiction is by addressing common ideas about what it's suppose to do (predictive, perscriptive) and finally settles on descriptive. Writers are liars, my friend, writers are liars. Anyway, it's a must read for the gerne, especially with the "SF is about Science!" crowd.

As for the future, I just think that we're a state of technological stalenss. Things are advancing, true, but most people feel that they can accurately gage what is possible and impossbile when it comes to the future. The laws of physics, which were seen as liberating at first ("Look at what's possible!") have turned to most people as a sign of statis ("That's not possible nor will it be every possible"). I suppose it's a sign of modernity viewpoints; the future of science fiction will continue to be in the postmodern or other anti-Modern veins.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 10:40 AM on November 15, 2008


Bru:

It's where we are, right now, right here, interacting with Stross and Scalzi, all the other authors being just a blog or an email away.

Well, you know. We'd like you to buy our books, too. It's how we pay for our Internet access. And mortgages. And food. Mmmmmm... food.
posted by jscalzi at 10:52 AM on November 15, 2008 [5 favorites]


That bodes poorly for the online horror magazine I am starting.

Depends on whether it's an (online) (horror magazine) or an (online horror) (magazine). I expect there's a market for...

And there, lurking on his desktop, was a POPUP! A squamous popup straight from the rugose server-farms of R'lyeh, offering to make his genitals so huge that they would drive women into mindless gibbering! He moved his mouse over it, but the wily popup scurried away, leaving an almost visible trail of mucosal slime behind it as it went.

So then he opened a terminal window and kill-9'd the process, but it was still annoying because he had to reopen his tabs when he restarted the browser.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:54 AM on November 15, 2008 [3 favorites]


We'd like you to buy our books, too.

And not used, you freeloaders.
posted by Justinian at 12:00 PM on November 15, 2008


Yeah, I don't think SciFi is 'dying' so much as 'escaped.'

Right now in another room in my house, my wife, who claims to never had read a SciFi book in her life, is writing her NaNoWriMo novel about time travel. She's 30k words in and her characters are, last I heard, stuck in a dystopian future.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 12:07 PM on November 15, 2008


the best selling book of all time is 'fantasy'

The Bible? It sure is — except for Ezekiel 1 which is science fiction.
posted by nicwolff at 12:26 PM on November 15, 2008


jscalzi: We'd like you to buy our books, too.

I do: the lists of authors whose blog I read and whose books I buy overlap, natchally.

The fact remains that the paper book economy is under crisis while no model has yet emerged to "monetize writing stories on the Web". The relationship between authors and readers has already changed, so the way we are paying for your stories is bound to adapt to the new medium.
posted by bru at 1:59 PM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


"We'd like you to buy our books, too."

Well, this is a delicious opportunity. I've never read anything by you or Stross (aside from that free online thing of his about the Basilisk). If [each of] you had to pick one book of your own for a new reader (new to you, not new to sci-fi) to read, what would it be? What about one of each other's books? And then one book [again each] by any author. Cuz I haven't read any new/decent sci-fi in ages. The last sci-fi I read were a couple of books by Bester a year ago. I'd hardly consider that new.

I'd appreciate the suggestions if you feel like providing them!

*hopes they don't figure out his fiendish plan to get the books at his local library*
posted by Eideteker at 2:50 PM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Eideteker: that's a problematic question. I haven't read every one of John's books (yet -- he keeps writing new ones), and indeed there are bright up-and-coming stars by whom I haven't read anything, simply because there's just too much stuff out there. I only read 40-50 novels a year -- that's nothing. Yes, I've read something like 48 of the first 50 Hugo winners. Yes, I know the Canon well. But the field exploded some time in the 1980s, and today there are about 2000 SF novels published in the English language per year, and it's just too much to keep track of. I have favourite authors, in other words, who I have fallen behind with.

So I'm not going to recommend any of John's books, because I'm not qualified to, although I like what I've read.

(As for my own work, I write in different styles. Some of which may not work for you, even if others do. Like hardcore hard-SF? Try "Accelerando". Like near-future and/or crime? Try "Halting State". Like spy thrillers and/or H. P. Lovecraft? Try "The Atrocity Archives". Like soap opera and/or alternate history? Try "The Family Trade". Like Heinlein? Try "Saturn's Children". )
posted by cstross at 3:06 PM on November 15, 2008 [6 favorites]


That bodes poorly for the online horror magazine I am starting.

Oh man! This pretty much never happens, but...I think I do wish to subscribe to your newsletter!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:07 PM on November 15, 2008


Speaking for myself, Eideteker, of Charlie's books I'd recommend GLASSHOUSE. I actually think that the novella A COLDER WAR is one of the best things he has done but it's very much unlike any of his other writing in tone. Even the other Lovecraft inspired writings are much lighter. A COLDER WAR is unrelentingly bleak.

For Scalzi, OLD MAN'S WAR would clearly be the place to start.
posted by Justinian at 3:55 PM on November 15, 2008


I notice that Charlie didn't even mention GLASSHOUSE. It certainly isn't the most accessible of his novels, but I do think it's one of the deepest.
posted by Justinian at 3:56 PM on November 15, 2008


I read this thread in hopes of finding some evidence of ideas I was missing.

.
posted by humannaire at 4:16 PM on November 15, 2008


Eideteker:

Old Man's War is probably indeed a good place to start with me, although if you like humor in your SF, The Android's Dream could be good for you. For Charlie's work, I like Accelerando. I'm also big on Iain Banks' work, so one of the books from his Culture series would be good. The most recent is Matter, and it's very good.
posted by jscalzi at 7:40 PM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


"I haven't read every one of John's books"

For heaven's sake, man, just recommend a book! Your literary reputation is not on the line with me. Pretend I'm asking as a chum. ;)

Thanks for the feedback, fellas. When I'm a rich and famous author*, I hope I find the time to remain as accessible. And to someone who's not even a fawning acolyte (yet).

* a million monkeys holding a million breaths...
posted by Eideteker at 8:43 PM on November 15, 2008


As for the future, I just think that we're a state of technological stalenss. Things are advancing, true, but most people feel that they can accurately gage what is possible and impossbile when it comes to the future.

I dunno, LC. I think people have become accustomed to an extremely rapid pace of technological advancement. I don't think it's so much that what's around the corner is predictable, but that people have become used to new (to them) unforseen developments. They pick up the paper and there it is -- some new piece of science fiction. It's lost its surprise value, and with it, some degree of wonder.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:12 AM on November 16, 2008


Justinian: "Ask John Scalzi. Ask them here, even, since they're MeFites."

I just grabbed one of Scalzi's books yesterday, just based on the fact that you said he's on here. "Old Man's War." I really dig Haldeman's War books and Dickson's Dorsia books. This has that feel. Hope it's as good.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:10 PM on November 16, 2008


'Is Science Fiction Dying?' Please. The only way to make enough money to live on and still retain even the slightest bit of self-respect is to write SF. I'd be much more worried about the people who still are deeply invested in crime. Much less westerns.
posted by Football Bat at 10:04 PM on November 16, 2008


Scalzi heavy piece on the decline of SF pulps.

'Is Science Fiction Dying?' Please.

I did an FPP on the pulps previously as well, so I guess posts on the supposed death of SF is a bit of a theme for me now.

It certainly comes up enough that it makes me worry that somethings going on. Part of it’s a change in the media and formats – the pulps circling the sinkhole of oblivion, the market for short fiction disappearing – and part of it is a qualitive thing: Less and less of the science fiction I see is of the sciency kind Ryman mentions – stuff that extrapolates from the world as we know it. I like Star-Warsy stuff that’s just wizards in space dressed up a bit as well, but that doesn’t really do the same thing for me. And the counter examples of SF doing strongly in this thread have all been very wizards-in-space (or wizards-in-contemporary-settings – Heroes? Lost?) .

I wonder if the qualitive difference and the format-die off are linked - SF short stories have always seemed like the natural home of the braincandy stuff, and TV and film the oposit of that (Wall-E was the last film with a proper science fiction film plot I can remember seeing at the box-office, I’ve no idea what the one before that would be) but the Ryman article suggests otherwise.

Still, it's probably not dead as such for a long time, if ever.

I’m surprised no ones called me on the FPP title though, the central conceit of the story referenced there is basically “what if there was a big long spell that would turn off the universe?” (well, I suppose there’s also the AWESOME POWER OF COMPUTING used to generate 9 billion character combinations, which would have been a bigger deal back in the day).
posted by Artw at 1:00 PM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well, you know. We'd like you to buy our books, too. It's how we pay for our Internet access. And mortgages. And food. Mmmmmm... food.

Dude, you're on the Internet, you should have read enough justifications for piracy to understand the notion of making money from your art makes you a filthy whore and you should be happy to, you know, give shit away to freeloaders who'll tell you what you ought to be earning at the 7-11.
posted by rodgerd at 1:38 PM on November 18, 2008


Heh. From the PBS article: ""I've been watching individual authors [promote online] and the three that have been successful at it are John Scalzi, Cory Doctorow, and Charles Stross, They immediately grasped what the Internet was about and they figured out that it makes much more sense to give stuff away and cause viral marketing than anything else. And it's worked great for them. In all three cases, though, they're writers whose work is very accessible to people who do spend a lot of time online. And you're not hearing about the people who have tried these things and the attempt flopped."

Clearly Jscalzi is a leet copyfighter just like Doctrow.

(Actually I was under the impression* that his work was more traditional sci-fi than the computer-heavy stuff of Doctrow and Stross, so I'm not really sure why it would be deamed inherently more appealing to online nerds)

(* Ok, I'll read some. I've been busy.)
posted by Artw at 1:54 PM on November 18, 2008


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