The State of Science Fiction

A lot of people are sounding off about the state of SF lately. It's too dystopian! It's too old-school! It's lost its way! It's dying! (Apparently this last has been happening for decades.)

I don't normally join in on trends, but as it happens I have a couple of thoughts.

I'm partway through listening to Mike Resnik's short story "The Homecoming" on the StarShipSofa podcast. This is the second time I've heard it (Escape Pod used it a few episodes back), and listening to it again I was struck by something.

Resnik started his career in the 1960s. Apart from the fact that he's been writing incredibly prolifically for the intervening 50 years and, therefore, is presumably a much better writer now, there's not a word in this story that couldn't have been written at the start of his career. It even features a holochannel which has "stopped broadcasting for the night", which as far as I'm aware is something no TV station has done for, what, 20 or 30 years?

Now, it's an excellent story that thoroughly deserved its 2012 Hugo nomination. It's moving. It's beautifully observed. The SF elements are absolutely essential to the story, too. But there's not a single thing in it that reflects anything that's happened in science, or for that matter society, in the past half-century.

Does this mean it's timelessly classic? Perhaps it does. I don't want to knock Mike Resnik's wonderful story in any way at all. But to me it also reflects the fact that the stories that get published in some of the leading prozines, like Asimov's (which, I was unsurprised to discover, is where "The Homecoming" was published), are often stories which could easily have been published there back when Asimov himself was alive. Which is kind of funny in a genre that's all about the future.

Asimov was no great prose stylist, and he never approached the emotional breadth and depth of Resnik's story. What he was, though, was a bold explorer of ideas. It's as if the magazine named for him is now a kind of memorial ideas park for the great explorer, in which visitors stroll along well-worn paths.

Now, I'm not advocating dropping the standards of craft, of course. Pretentious, confusing, plotless stories and unappealing, passive characters can stay in literary fiction, as far as I'm concerned. (ZING!) But surely we can incorporate current science into our science fiction and still tell well-constructed stories about relatable characters who do interesting things? Charles Stross does it, after all.

In an attempt to be the change I want to see, I've started a notification circle on Google+ called SpecFicQuestion (the link gets you to the hashtag, which will show you all my posts so far). We discuss "what-if" scenarios drawn from up-to-date science, like: what if you could print meat? And then what if you could print human meat?

If you're on G+, just comment on any of the posts or contact me directly to ask to be added to the circle. The posts are all public, so anyone can read them, but if you're in the circle  you'll be notified when I do each post.

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