Join 3,494 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


U.K. science fiction Golden Age?
September 18, 2009 12:31 AM   Subscribe

The stories of now. An essay by Kim Stanley Robinson on the remarkable pool of SF talent currently working in the U.K.
posted by zardoz (37 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm glad that Kim Stanley Robinson has belatedly recognized something that I've been saying for many years now in various places. Perhaps next he will realize that this internet thing is really starting to catch on!

A more interesting take on this involves contrasting the amazing work being done in British SF these days with the increasingly insular and backwards-looking SF that is dominating the US these days. Metafilters Owntm Charlie Stross has written about it at length and in a more in depth fashion. I'll be damned if I can find it, though.
posted by Justinian at 12:47 AM on September 18, 2009


It feels a lot like we're walking a second-line for SF in its written form... the talent out there now is as good as its ever been, but they're walking over the same old ground, with even less to show for it than was available back when people paid for magazines.

Bearing that in mind, I'm saving my Myers' and Punch for later, y'all!
posted by Slap*Happy at 1:07 AM on September 18, 2009


Justinian: were you thinking of this polemic by any chance?
posted by cstross at 2:17 AM on September 18, 2009


On second thoughts, this one seems nearer to the mark ...

(I'll stop, now.)
posted by cstross at 2:19 AM on September 18, 2009


Robinson's article is a pleasant counterpoint to James 'If it's not about Glaswegians, it's not Scottish' Kelman's latest eruption of bile about horrid commercial books getting something as common as sales and public recognition.

Given a fair few of this putative batch of British SF authors are both Scottish (or adopted Scots like cstross) and (shudder) genre writers, it's really, really nice to read something that sees this as something positive rather than a reason to freak out. And from a popular science magazine no less.

I've devoured the books of 70% of the writers on his list, and intend to check out the others (I suspect I'd really enjoy some of the SF Neal Asher writes, but his covers are bog-awful).
posted by Happy Dave at 3:38 AM on September 18, 2009


I suspect I'd really enjoy some of the SF Neal Asher writes, but his covers are bog-awful

Asher is the over-the-top super-disco James Bond movie to Iain Banks' LeCarre novels.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:05 AM on September 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Sir, you've just convinced me.
posted by Happy Dave at 5:26 AM on September 18, 2009


the talent out there now is as good as its ever been, but they're walking over the same old ground

Well, that shows what you haven't been reading.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:49 AM on September 18, 2009


I'm still waiting for Black Mars.
posted by smackfu at 6:44 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


ISTR some medium-future SF piece where they refer to SF classics including Ultraviolet Mars.

Presumably it was about Martian vampires and the Baltimore drug dealers who hunt them.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:29 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, I know there is a Booker prize, I've heard of it even in California - supposedly given to the best fiction published in the Commonwealth every year - but there are no Woolves on those juries, and so they judge in ignorance and give their awards to what usually turn out to be historical novels.

Why is it so hard to talk about science fiction literature on the internet without it turning into a "mainstream vs. genre" pissing match? When I first got on rec.arts.sf.written back in the early 90s that argument was happening and it's taking place still. I love literature of all stripes, the kind one finds in the "fiction" shelves of my local library and the kind one finds in "crime" and "science fiction" and any other section. The first story I ever wrote that I was serious about was a science fiction novelette but my soon-to-be-published novel would be shelved firmly in "fiction." It pisses me off that people feel the need to piss on the kinds of stories other people enjoy or write.
posted by Kattullus at 7:33 AM on September 18, 2009


I haven't read any of these authors, but would like to, But I don't know where to start. Can people recommend 3-4 books by different authors where someone like me can get a start?
posted by Pastabagel at 7:39 AM on September 18, 2009


Pastabagel: any of the Culture novels by Iain M. Banks are good places to access that universe. (Note the M. Iain Banks sans M writes not-so-great regular novels. Amazing what an M can do.)

Gwyneth Jones' Rock and Roll Reich series (beginning with Bold As Love) are some of my favorite books in the world. They're not SF, more like future political drama with magic.

Others will recommend Mieville's New Crobuzon books. I am not a fan, but that's me.
posted by cereselle at 8:04 AM on September 18, 2009


Oh and hey... that essay is just an introduction to a collection of very short stories by Ken McLeod, Ian McDonald, Geoff Ryman, Nicola Griffith, Stephen Baxter, Paul McAuley, Ian Watson and Justina Robson. And you can submit your own to a competition.
posted by Kattullus at 8:13 AM on September 18, 2009


The Booker jury responds, and suggests publishers are at fault for not submitting enough SF novels. Although I don't think comments like "bought by a special kind of person who has special weird things they go to and meet each other" is doing anything to help the whole mainstream vs genre pissing match.

I think the books Robinson recommends are a good start - I like Life far more than Gywneth Jones's other books, although it might be harder to find. I'd recommend River of Gods by Ian McDonald as well.
posted by penguinliz at 8:28 AM on September 18, 2009


I first thought that SF was a city.
posted by MNDZ at 9:22 AM on September 18, 2009


Pastabagel: Ian McDonald's Scissors Cut Paper Wrap Stone was good enough-- and quick enough of a read-- that I went out and bought pretty much every other one of his books I could find. He hasn't disappointed.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:29 AM on September 18, 2009


Well, that shows what you haven't been reading.

What should we be reading?

I tend to read a lot of UK stuff, which is probably to a certain degree because being from there I have a little bias of discovery in that direction, but I’m certainly open to reading cool new US stuff. It was a little weird to me when this article about British Space Opera went out and there were all these huffy US responses suggesting the American writers that were hot in the field and the suggestions ended up being a rather weak bunch, heavy on the generic military SF.

Now, that’s just spacey stuff, maybe there are US writers doing cool and innovative longform SF right now, but I’m really not aware of them .

Historically that’s not always the case, of course – in fact a lot of the UK stuff that’s hot right now seems to be directly descended from US work of the 70s and 80s. And, you know, Sterling and Gibson are still chuffing away and there’s that big fat book by Stephenson I’ve not read yet, but it does all seem to be lacking the fire the UK has.

And in short stories it might be a different story again. Ted Chiang is of course pretty much a category of his own, but I think a lot of the really cool stuff I’ve been hearing on podcasts lately has been from US writers, but it all tends to be at the less science-fictiony end, and a lot of it from people who AFAIK are not that big in print yet.
posted by Artw at 9:45 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


And, you know, Sterling and Gibson are still chuffing away and there’s that big fat book by Stephenson I’ve not read yet, but it does all seem to be lacking the fire the UK has.

I think this nails it. Don't get me wrong; a bunch of perfectly fine SF is being written here in the US today. But it seems increasingly sterile and bloodless. There clearly isn't the same fire in the belly. Grab something by Jon Courtenay Grimwood or Richard Morgan and the anger boils off the page. Where's the the American equivalent of the Arabesk trilogy or Morgan's THE STEEL REMAINS or even ALTERED CARBON?
posted by Justinian at 10:32 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I’m surprised that no one’s really commented on how it turns out that Virginia Woolf, when not busy committing suicide or banging Vita Sackville-West (whom I must do an FPP on sometime), was a big old SF fan.
posted by Artw at 11:35 AM on September 18, 2009


Now that I think about it you're right, Artw, I suppose it is surprising, but my initial reaction was something like, Virginia Woolf, who wrote Orlando, liked Olaf Stapledon. In that context it isn't very surprising at all.
posted by Kattullus at 11:45 AM on September 18, 2009


Grab something by Jon Courtenay Grimwood or Richard Morgan and the anger boils off the page. Where's the the American equivalent of the Arabesk trilogy or Morgan's THE STEEL REMAINS or even ALTERED CARBON?

OTOH, Morgan's Market Forces is good evidence that anger gets you only so far. See also Banks' Complicity.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:51 AM on September 18, 2009


Market Forces? You mean the Autoduel fanfic?
posted by Justinian at 12:22 PM on September 18, 2009


Yeah, Market Forces was awful, I had to double check it was the same Richard Morgan. I suspect it may have been a much earlier novel hauled out when Morgan had some success with Altered Carbon.
posted by Happy Dave at 12:39 PM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Market Forces started out as a short story, which turned into a screenplay, which eventually became a novel. So it might have been gestating before any of the other novels, and might account for why it's so awful compared to the rest of his output.
posted by penguinliz at 12:56 PM on September 18, 2009


Sadly, that does not appear to be the case. Morgan simply wrote a shitty book.

Even sadder? It was nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke award for Best Novel. Even more sad than that? It won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best novel.

I don't have any idea what the Campbell jury has been smoking the last decade or so (sinice Deepness but it has clearly rendered them unable to tell the difference between a good book and garbage. Or perhaps they have all gone blind and are picking books at random to disguise this face. Although even picking books randomly would likely result in better choices than the Campbell jury.

Last 6 books picked by the Campbell Jury? McDevitt's Omega, Morgan's Market Forces, Sawyer's Mindscan, Bova's Titan, Goonan's In War Times, and Doctorow's Little Brother. Perhaps they're actually playing some sort of elaborate joke and waiting to see how long it takes us to notice?
posted by Justinian at 12:57 PM on September 18, 2009


face=fact. Damn inability to spot typos until after I've hit "post".
posted by Justinian at 12:58 PM on September 18, 2009


On the Bookers, I actually really enjoyed White Tiger. Mainly because it's a crime book (and one in a setting which, at least to me, seems pretty exotic and science fictional). Aravind Adiga has another book out now, I'll have to check it out.
posted by Artw at 1:06 PM on September 18, 2009


Yeah, Market Forces was awful.

Not as bad as BladeRunner - The Later Years er, I mean TH1RT3EN.
posted by tkchrist at 1:12 PM on September 18, 2009


I actually thought Market Forces was significantly worse than Black Man (the original title which was changed for US publication) but I don't feel too strongly about it. It does make me glad that Morgan changed it up so much with The Steel Remains because I thought it was his strongest book since Altered Carbon.
posted by Justinian at 1:15 PM on September 18, 2009


For "angry SF" and American author, I think of Paolo Bacigalupi's short work. He has a novel out now. I haven't read it yet, but Nancy Kress's review makes it sound like it might be comparable to Morgan and Grimwood.
posted by creepygirl at 2:03 PM on September 18, 2009


Yeah, he seems like a good sort. I'll be getting that one.
posted by Artw at 2:06 PM on September 18, 2009


Olaf Stapledon's First and Last Men is like reading the Silmarillion only without the benefits of an authorial poetic sensibility. It doesn't surprise me at all that Woolf liked it as she is similarly filled with brilliant ideas and totally unreadable.

who let that elephant into the room, and where's the damned mop
posted by Sparx at 3:23 PM on September 18, 2009


No worries, Sparx. There are plenty of older SF novels which are both very important and very, very bad. Van Vogt I'm looking at you!
posted by Justinian at 5:23 PM on September 18, 2009


Hated Market Forces (one of the few books I has to put down and stop reading - it was so awful).

But I loved Thirteen (Black Man). Am I alone?
posted by schwa at 6:30 PM on September 18, 2009


I really liked Black Man, and so did the Clarke Award judges.
posted by penguinliz at 3:17 PM on September 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Booker prize 2009: the shortlist
posted by Artw at 2:41 PM on September 29, 2009


« Older Inside Somalia....  |  Pavement to reunite and tour t... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments