J.M. Williams

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SHARE: Is Science Fiction Dying?

Aug
06

As a routine submitter to the Writers of the Future Contest, I get weekly and monthly newsletters from them with interesting articles on writing and sci-fi.

One of the articles sent out this week was from famous sci-fi author Orson Scott Card. In it, Card offers his thoughts on why sci-fi seems to be struggling as a genre, at least in traditional formats.

Card does a great job of digging into common theories about sci-fi’s decline, which you should certainly read over, but I have a couple thoughts to add.

First, sci-fi in the past was not that great. Excluding Vonnegut, most of the well-known science fiction writers never made it into the top tiers of literature. Most people lay the blame at the feet of academia for rejecting sci-fi for being different. That is certainly true to an extent, but I also think sci-fi authors deserve some of the blame. If you look back on classic science fiction–which I am doing now as a student of my genre, trying to learn my roots and improve my own stories–you realize it had a lot of problems. Even the most famous works are far from masterpieces, despite what Science Fiction teachers and critics internal to the genre will tell you. Frank Herbert’s epic Dune suffers from what would now be considered amateurish and unnecessary shifts in narrative point-of-view. Starship Troopers, Ender’s Game, and countless others suffer from cardboard protagonists that lack emotional depth or agency.

To be blunt, nothing in sci-fi has ever reached the level of Tolkien’s work, and for good reason–most sci-fi writers have been scientists or science-centric by trade rather than lit majors. Beyond Tolkien, many epic fantasy writers have writing backgrounds: George R.R. Martin in Journalism, Terry Brooks in English, Brandon Sanderson in English, Patrick Rothfuss in English, etc.

It, in fact, seems common for those who study literature and writing to drift into fantasy rather than sci-fi. I did. Sci-fi could almost be described as anti-literature. Studying lit teaches you to focus on the character above all else; the character is the vehicle of the story, the purpose of it, and the means of connecting to the reader. Science Fiction often sacrifices the character for the sake of the concept or plot, as was the case in the titles mentioned above. Though I write in both genres, I most often find myself in fantasy because when I am focused on a good character, I find the explanation and exploration of ideas to be a distraction from what I am trying to do. Even the hardest sci-fi I have written so far seems to be light on concept in favor of character.

A second idea that comes to mind is the prevalence of escapism in pop culture. Fantasy tends to be escapist, whereas sci-fi is introspective, conceptual, thought-provoking. Sci-fi does take more effort to read and appreciate. I wonder what it would look like if you looked at sci-fi and fantasy sales over time and compared that to the rise and fall of escapism in other media such as films. I feel like we are living right now at a time where people are craving escapism. The world is dark, the news gloomy. Is it any surprise that epic stories about heroes and evil being defeated are popular? Star Wars emerged at the peak of the Cold War and is about as pure of an escapist work as you could hope to find.

Well, those are just my additional thoughts on the subject. To read the rest, follow the link at the end of the excerpt below.

~J.M.


Are We at the End of Science Fiction? By Orson Scott Card

These aren’t the best of times for science fiction.

The magazines, from the venerable Fantasy and Science Fiction to the once-dominant Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine are at astonishingly low circulation levels, and even that bastion of idea-oriented (“hard”) science fiction, Analog, is hurting.

But those are the short stories, and they have long been an anomaly inside the genre. Long after short stories became a dead issue in popular reading, and the old fiction magazines either died or found new kinds of content, science fiction stories persisted. It’s possible that the decline of the magazines only means that science fiction is catching up with—or falling down with—the rest of the literary world…READ MORE

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