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Sci-Fi

Response to Spider Robinson on the State of Sci-Fi 199

Posted by michael
from the future-is-now dept.
Garund writes "A day or so ago Slashdot posted a story on Spider Robinson and his lament for Science Fiction. Well, other people, including Mark Oakley, publisher of one of my favorite independant comics, posted a response to Spider on his Thieves & Kings website (scroll about a third of the way down the page). Interesting take on it, I thought."
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Response to Spider Robinson on the State of Sci-Fi

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  • by topham (32406) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @08:58PM (#6954329) Homepage
    What makes Spider Robinson a commentator on SF, Sci-Fi or anything else other than pablum?

    He doesn't write science fiction, he writes fantasy staged in the non-existant future.

    And as for the 'Speculative Fiction', well, he isn't a writer of that either.

    hand him back his toke and send him on his way.

    he's done.
    • by srmalloy (263556) on Sunday September 14, 2003 @12:40AM (#6955097) Homepage
      What makes Spider Robinson a commentator on SF, Sci-Fi or anything else other than pablum?

      You mean besides winning a Locus award [locusmag.com] for Best Critic? Besides being book reviewer for Galaxy, Analog and New Destinies magazines for nearly a decade, and continuing to write occasional book reviews and a regular Op-Ed column, "Future Tense," for The Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper.? Nothing, I guess...
      And as for the 'Speculative Fiction', well, he isn't a writer of that either.

      The people who voted to award him three Hugo awards [worldcon.org] (science fiction's top honor), a Nebula award [sfwa.org], the John W. Campbell Award [sff.net] for Best New Writer, the E.E. "Doc" Smith Memorial Award (Skylark) [nesfa.org], the Pat Terry Memorial Award for Humorous Science Fiction, and a second Locus award for Best Novella would appear to disagree with you. But you can always define 'speculative fiction' to be whatever you want, and set up your definition to exclude what he writes.
      • Uhm...not necessarily to disagree with most of your points, but I guess that since Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire won a Hugo, it must be science fiction too, right?
        • ...but I guess that since Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire won a Hugo

          Accompanied by alot of the old school fans being violently sick, me amougst them. There is no way that a Harry Potter novel should ever have won the Hugo, just because its popular doesn't mean its good writing, or had anything profound to say abotu the world. Put it along side something like "Fire Upon the Deep" or "Ender's Game" and it pales in comparison.

          Al.
  • Get off his ass (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Klinky (636952) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:02PM (#6954343)
    Any community is going to experience points of stagnation and critics who bitch about it. I think people need to face the facts that community as a whole loses that shiny interesting effect on them. Everything is no longer "WOW!", it's "Oh I've seen that before". This has happened with Anime. Miyazaki said the state of anime was critical and that less and less worthy series are being made. Well the same can be said for movies. The same can be said for Sci-Fi. The same could be said for alot of things. The thing is instead of bitching about it, he needs to get off is ass and go right some create some new great genre defining novel, or whatever.
    • Re:Get off his ass (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sparks23 (412116) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:56PM (#6954487)
      Not only that, but many genres suffer from dilution. When there's a dozen people writing in a genre or producing for it, it's far easier to separate the wheat from the chaff. I think today, there's more wheat, but there's also more chaff.

      Today when I go to the bookstore and look at the science-fiction section, I see all these new books, half of which are by authors I've never heard of before. Brand-new, first-time writer, or someone who's just not gotten coverage, or whatever. And every book has testimonials on the cover, someone saying the author is 'The most promising new writer to enter the genre since...' or whatever. So really, the only way to know what's good is to read it yourself... and since there's so much out there these days, there's much more chaff to sort through to find the wheat.

      I think it's true with anime, too -- the growing popularity over the past few years has made a number of anime pop up which, honestly, aren't all that worthy, to reference the Miyazaki quote. It's true of almost any medium of fiction and expression when the field becomes crowded; it's not necessarily that the number of worthy things has decreased, but that the number of things /overall/ has increased.

      That said, it's nice to see M'Oak get some linkage. Maybe it'll spur a few more T&K fans. :)
      • "...the only way to know what's good is to read it yourself..."

        Not quite true... [alexlit.com]
      • Re:Get off his ass (Score:3, Informative)

        by Artifex (18308)

        I think it's true with anime, too -- the growing popularity over the past few years has made a number of anime pop up which, honestly, aren't all that worthy, to reference the Miyazaki quote.

        And, to make things worse, Newtype USA [newtype-usa.com] pushes some of the most pathetic anime series through its monthly DVD (ADV Films [advfilms.com] has some real garbage). Unfortunately, new fans pick up the magazine and think, "Cool! Translated, and all about anime!" They may read about some cool anime coming out in Japan, but what gets offer

        • Actually, to be fair, Grave of the Fireflies [nausicaa.net] is one of the very few 'non-standard' anime that people /are/ more likely to have heard of; it's been pushed through enough art-house circuits that it's at least slightly more likely to be known.

          That does not, however, negate the general point you made; to build on the terminology in the post I made earlier in this thread, an overabundance of chaff in a genre does turn people off from it as it burns them on out looking for the wheat buried among it.

          With 8 mil
  • Brilliant (Score:5, Funny)

    by Autistic_Treat (704344) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:02PM (#6954346)
    I guess you have to be smart to write science fiction, but attributing lower sales to the fact that people like other sci-fi/fantasy titles better is sheer genius.
  • The demise of sci-fi (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:04PM (#6954353)
    I'll certainly grant that sci-fi isn't what it was when I began reading it a number of years ago. I'll grant that a lot of the gadgets described as futuristic then exist now. But this theme which says there's nothing else which can be imagined as a future invention reminds me of the patent clerk who quit around the turn of the last century because there was nothing left to invent!
    • I'll grant that a lot of the gadgets described as futuristic then exist now.

      One of the things I always found great about science fiction is that the best stories weren't about the gadgets. The best SF writers took one speculative idea and turned it into a story. They explored how the world and people would be different because of that idea. But at the core, the story was about ..... people, just like any other great story. I'm talking about authors like Heinlein, Asimov, Clark, Pournelle, Gordon Dickson,

  • by Henry V .009 (518000) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:13PM (#6954375) Journal
    A rather amazing reply. In essence he says: "You're right. We don't care about the future anymore. But that is because this is the future now, and there is nothing much down the road."

    Reminds me of Francis Fukuyama in a way. The important decisions of history have been made, and things will not got significantly better or worse than they are right now. Democracy and capitalism have conquered the world.
    • democracy and capitalism, in its present form, have only really been around for the life of the United States. That's only a couple hundred+ years.

      The Roman Empire was around much longer and they thought that the Roman way had conquered the world too.
      • by RLiegh (247921)
        In roman times, not even half of the world had been explored, and they had conquered that. In our times, the entire world has been mapped out and america has conquered it, economically if not physically (physically, in the cases of afghanistan, iraq and syria).
        • what I'm saying is that Rome's conquest was, too them, complete, and lasted centuries longer then we've been around. When Democratic-Republic/Capitalism has been around longer then the Roman Empire or the Persian Empire or any other empire that pretty much thought they had this whole conquest thing sewn up then I'll get cocky. In the meantime some economist/poli-sci student is out there inventing the new world and preparing for the revolution.
        • In roman times, not even half of the world had been explored...

          ... by europeans.

          There were Aboriginees in Australia, Native Americans in America and various other non-european indigenous people scattered across the globe.

          To say "not even half of the world had been explored" is very euro-centric.
          • given your predeliction for making statements of a PC nature, I imagine you probably buy into the "benevolent savage" myth. That being the case, or even if it isn't, I think that you have to agree that the aboriginees and the indians were not creating vast empires that encompassed their world.

            >>In roman times, not even half of the world had been explored...

            > ... by europeans.

            By anyone. Did the aboriginees know about egypt, or the chinese know about madagascar?
            • By anyone. Did the aboriginees know about egypt,

              No, but they knew about Australia. Most of the world was explored, but not all by one tribe or nation.

              or the chinese know about madagascar?
              Probably not, but they had universities when the anglo-saxons were still living in grass huts.

              I'm not trying to be PC. I just don't like too narrow perspectives of history.
              • Probably not, but they had universities when the anglo-saxons were still living in grass huts.

                Only for a very, very, very loose definition of "universities". A bunch of people studying together doesn't quite cut it. It's like claiming the ancient Chinese or Egyptians had "science", when they didn't even understand the difference between induction and deduction -- they just some technological tricks that they learned more or less by trial and error, and even those were mixed with a lot of mystic nonsense.
            • Have you ever heard of the Aztec, Maya, or Incan empires?

              I don't know who or what was contemporary with the Roman empire at that point in time, but there certainly were organized societies even in your world of "savages"
    • I think he has a point, insofar as people believe this to be the case. But that doesn't make it so. It's entirely possible that some grand upheaval could yet undermine global corporate hegemony. I'll grant you that the extreme capitalist dystopia has been done to death in scifi these days, but that just means that scifi writers need to broaden their own horizons a bit.
      • Empires are conquered from without. Every empire that has ever fallen has done so because of an external invader. Corporatism HAS no external invaders. Chew on that.
      • It's entirely possible that some grand upheaval could yet undermine global corporate hegemony.

        It's only a matter of time until the current order changes. There is something out there waiting to change it that we can't even see. If you look back through history, every time a civilization reached a point of diminishing returns something came along to overthrow it and bring about new opportunities for change, competition and growth. Look at the Greek culture, Rome, the various Chinese dynasties, the Mediev

  • by CrayHill (703411) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:13PM (#6954377)
    ...that the genre of SF (as many other artistic endeavors) is having creative difficulty. Walk into a bookstore these days, pick up an interesting-looking book, and see that it is 12th in a series of 18. Come on, if the authors cannot deal with new character development, like they did 40 years ago for virtually every novel, something is wrong!
    • Series Sell(TM). You can either 1) Develop the character more than you can in a single book, or 2) Sell the same stories 12 times over with the serial #s filed off. Barely.

      And there's always gratuitous sex scenes.. and romances, female porn.

      (There are still authors that do #1. There also are series where there are no continuing characters, only continuing setting.)
    • it's a shame though.. but on the plus side, i still got shitloads of science fiction to read(though i like to think of books in a one pile rather than categorising everything too much, as you indeed are narrow minded if all that matters to you is that the main character is a robot and not a 10th century peasant) from earlier years(of the later writers, zahn, gibson & banks are almost only writers that have provided enough solid material that i'd buy their new book just based on writers name if i saw it
    • Eh, some of the all time classic SF writes are most famous for their series work. In particular, Asimov often wrote stories in the same universe, if not with the same characters. I am thinking primarily of the robot/empire/foundation series. There must have been 30 unrelated robot stories that had common characters from US Robots and Mechanical Men in them.

      For anyone who is a SF buff, I suggest getting some collections of old 40's/50's short stories. Wonderful stuff, although sometimes they don't work as
  • But...why? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Otter (3800) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:21PM (#6954395) Journal
    Both the original and this completely beg the basic question -- in much of the 20th century people had a very vivid picture of The Future, accurate or inaccurate. Today, that sense has completely disappeared. Why?

    Just saying over and over that it's so, as this response does and most of the comments here last time did don't explain WHY it's so.

    • Re:But...why? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Daniel_Staal (609844) <DStaal@usa.net> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:38PM (#6954444)
      Here's an answer for you: because they are having enough trouble imagining the now. We work, day to day, to just keep up with the pace of change; we don't have time or energy to spare to try to push that change beyond the immediate necessity. It is not that the sense has disappeared, so much as it is already in use.

      For a good exploration of this idea, I would suggest the book 'Future Shock'. A very good read.
      • Re:But...why? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Otter (3800)
        That certainly seems reasonable.

        A couple of other things that occurred to me as I started thinking about it.

        1) The notion of reinventing humanity has mostly died out, after the most popular schemes accomplished little and killed 100 million or so people. On the whole that's good, but visions like, "Overalls seem practical. In the future, everyone shall wear overalls! Gray overalls!" are gone with them.

        2) There was a logical progression from airplanes to spaceships to space travel that made up a large part o

      • Re:But...why? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by John Miles (108215) * on Saturday September 13, 2003 @10:08PM (#6954523) Homepage Journal
        We work, day to day, to just keep up with the pace of change; we don't have time or energy to spare to try to push that change beyond the immediate necessity. It is not that the sense has disappeared, so much as it is already in use.

        That's a really good point. In Asimov and Heinlein's heyday, we didn't have appliances that were smarter than their users. No VCRs blinking an endless noon; no DVD players that insult [google.com] their owners. Our cars didn't have an average of a dozen CPU chips each, and we didn't have hundred-million transistor personal computers that only a few dozen people on the planet can honestly say they understand through and through. The ubiquitous Joe Six-Pack could still assimilate the technological content of his life as late as the mid-Seventies, and he had time left over on the weekends to think about what it all meant and where it was going.

        But then the Japanese figured out how to fit 10 pounds of shit in a 5-ounce box. The sales graphs at Heathkit flatlined, Radio Shack started selling toys, and some hippie named Wozniak dragged a weird-looking piece of hardware to a club meeting in a forgotten basement in Sunnyvale. We quit making stuff in the Western world, both personally and industrially speaking, around the time of the last Apollo mission. When subscriptions to Popular Electronics started to decline, how long could Asimov's Magazine of Science Fiction hold out?

        Maybe this is why the few examples of really-successful modern SF have been escapist fantasies rather than celebrations of futuristic hardware and intellectual conquest. I really liked this guy's essay, and I suspect he's a lot closer to the truth than Spider Robinson is. Fantasy hasn't replaced SF; it's just less optional today.
      • Vernor Vinge: The Technological Singularity.

        Another work is: The Spike. (I forget the author.)

        Vernor Vinge also uses the basic concepts in some of his fiction. I particularlly like Across Realtime
        • by ppanon (16583) on Sunday September 14, 2003 @03:46AM (#6955688) Homepage Journal
          Vernor Vinge also uses the basic concepts in some of his fiction. I particularlly like Across Realtime

          Across Realtime was a combination of two novels, The Peace War, and Marooned in Realtime, and a novelette, The Ungoverned. Both novels were much better than his Hugo-winning "A Fire upon the Deep" (which is probably one of his weaker novels, IMO). Each lost the Hugo because they (respectively) went up against Card's "Ender's Game" and "Speaker for the Dead". I won't contest the Ender's Game award, however I think MiR was much better than Speaker for the Dead. Both of the later novels were SF/Mystery cross-overs and MiR is more effective in both genres.

          I still haven't figured out if "Fire upon the Deep" won the later Hugo because voters wanted to compensate for the earlier decision, or because FUtD used Internet references just when the Internet was gaining mass market penetration. Probably a combination of both.

          IMO, the best new novelist of the last decade in the Hard SF genre is Wil McCarthy. Check out The Collapsium, The Wellstone, or even his earlier Bloom. I think his stories have more of a Clarke/Asimov flavour, but with better plotting and characterization. If you like Vinge's Across Realtime, chances are you'll like Wil McCarthy's stuff too. While he's got some too-cool technology ideas, he also tackles some interesting issues (i.e. how will new generations make their place in a world with widespread immortality where the old farts refuse to relinquish power and position?)
          • I still haven't figured out if "Fire upon the Deep" won the later Hugo because voters wanted to compensate for the earlier decision, or because FUtD used Internet references just when the Internet was gaining mass market penetration.

            Actually I think it was because it was an amazingly good book. I guess you just didn't like it? Sure, the net references were timely (and the grey-goo based stuff almost prescient), but it's the way things like the tine's civilisation was built so convincingly from the one rea
      • Alternative theory, the future is getting even weirder.

        In the past, we thought about improvements in transportation, weapons, manufacturing, and other fields that left us bascally as we were. But the interesting ideas of the near future are in communication and thought -- things that will change *us*. That's a lot harder to imagine.

        Yeah, this idea is largely from Vernor Vinge, an excellent science fiction writer who's still writing (but not fast enough!).

        • Re:But...why? (Score:3, Interesting)

          by ericman31 (596268)

          But the interesting ideas of the near future are in communication and thought -- things that will change *us*

          Of the "modern" writers, I like Greg Bear best. He is actually exploring the new frontiers of science, like genetics and evolution in "Darwin's Radio" but keeping to the tradition of great SF writing. Take a single idea about something new and explore how it impacts society and people. Gordon Dickson, a bit older, did the same thing in The Childe Cycle stories.

    • Both the original and this completely beg the basic question -- in much of the 20th century people had a very vivid picture of The Future, accurate or inaccurate. Today, that sense has completely disappeared. Why?

      A critical quesiton I agree. I won't pretend to know the whole answer, but I think I know part of it. I think that Daniel Quinn (Ishmael, Story of B, My Ishmael) is partially right. Back in the 1950's we had a clear cultural vision: the world was made for man, and man was made to conquer the w

    • They still do. You just have to look in different places. Wil McCarthy, Lois McMaster Bujold, Peter Hamilton, David Weber, Timothy Zahn, Hiroyuki Morioka, Yoshiyuki Tomino, Tatsuya Hamazaki, and John Barnes all have very vivid (and different) pictures of the future. And that's just authors whose works (sci-fi novels, manga, and anime) I've enjoyed lately.

      It hasn't disappeared. Its just that authors like Robinson didn't think big enough and Hollywood and TV have gotten scared of technology. They've seen wh

    • May be people are scared of the real future. They were comfortable with the old ideas like flying cars and mechanical slaves (more of the same, but shinier), but today (or today's tomorrow) is a whole different story. Like they say in ideologically wrong genre. "The world is changing. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the Earth. I smell it in the air." :) What was fun to dream about 30 years ago is scary now that the change is just behind the corner. Capitalism is going to be abandoned soon. Real world a
    • Both the original and this completely beg the basic question -- in much of the 20th century people had a very vivid picture of The Future, accurate or inaccurate. Today, that sense has completely disappeared. Why?

      Just saying over and over that it's so, as this response does and most of the comments here last time did don't explain WHY it's so.

      I disagree that people have lost their vivid picture of the future. The difference is that the picture has fragmented and there is no common vision for the futur

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:25PM (#6954405)
    So. . .

    Spider Robinson is depressed about the state of Science Fiction.

    He cites dropping sales and no new authors replacing the old, as well as a mass defection of readers to 'Tolkienesque' fantasy.

    You can read his article/rant here.

    I can understand where he's coming from. Heck, I've heard his lament on the lips of numerous other Sci-Fi writers. To be part of a fading industry isn't exactly inspiring, seeing fellow creators slip from view, watching the dizzying excitement of a once lunatic market place die down to something which actually makes sense. . . (Well, I don't know if the paperback book market could ever really be described as 'lunatic' in quite the same way comics were for a while. . . Nobody I knew ever sealed away paperbacks in vinyl bags for posterity!) In any case, I do feel for Mr. Robinson.

    Moreover, though, it got me wondering. . .

    And, ohhh, but this is a can of worms like none other!

    I'll start off small. First of all, I should explain that I have always felt Science Fiction, from the day it first began to materialize, has had an expiry date stamped across its forehead. I'm not just reiterating the tried and true, "Sci-Fi will be pointless when when there really are people walking around in space suits and zipping back and forth between the stars."

    No, no. It's much simpler than that.

    See, I think stories have only two basic purposes and that everything else is just turkey trimming. Ahem. . .

    "I believe that stories exist for no other reason than to explore and share ideas."

    It works like this; when people become curious about a subject, there is a desire to examine and to consider that subject. When desire grows enough, somebody will inevitably sit down at a keyboard and hammer out a book about it. Ideas flow, you see, whether we want them to or not, and they must be contained! Recorded. Sifted through. Shared. --And if the subject is fascinating enough, why then a lot of somebodies will hammer out a whole lot of books!

    Look at teen romance novels for instance; because there are always young women clamoring to know everything they can about love and relationships, there is a more or less permanent market for 150 page paperback novels with sappy covers about dating and first love and all that. --When young women grow up, then we see the far more prolific 'grown up' romance novels for slightly different reasons, but still driven by the desire to spin around and absorb certain sets of ideas. So long as there are heroines, (and hormones), there will be romance novels.

    Not so with Science Fiction. No hormones there. (Well, actually, there were quite a lot, but that wasn't Science Fiction's reason for being.) No. Science Fiction came into existence because the millions of minds living through the first two thirds of the twentieth century were besieged with the growing awareness that technology and industry could, and very likely would achieve terrifying and spectacular wonders! --The kinds of wonders which would change the very shape of humanity itself into something new!

    But crikey, if people had only the dimmest clue of what that something would be. . .

    Indeed, people had only the most vague notions, but with Hydroelectric dams being built, telescopes probing ever more deeply into space, rockets being erected, new materials being developed, and all manner of new technological powers being discovered. . , people quickly began to realize that whatever the change was going to be, it was going to be Big with a capital 'B' --and that they'd better start thinking about it right smart quick!

    But no fear; the trusty human mind has ways to deal with this kind of scenario. Why, the human mind when faced with sudden shocking possibilities, will Think About Them A Lot, thank you very much. --The mind will swim in new ideas and jump around with great excitement, examining the problem from every angle as though it wer
  • by ishmaelflood (643277) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:32PM (#6954423)
    Nice response, and far more sensible than the whine that sparked it off.

    However, he is describing hard science fiction, ie technology extrapolation and the use and abuse of physical laws, SF is much bigger than that. There are also all the other parts of the science fiction field- for instance PKD is still completely out there. A Scanner Darkly is a technology proof novel.

    I like his point that we are living in the future. I've always extended it to "We are living in the future and it is slightly crap". My cell phone is often out of range. My whizzy looking car has a 30 year old chassis. Passenger aircraft got bigger, and less comfortable, not faster. 'We' fly to the moon. But not often. (Damn these anti-curmudgeon pills are wearing off).

  • by Crashmarik (635988) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:32PM (#6954425)
    I have never considered him a science fiction writer. His work is much more on the order of screwball comedies. He usually starts off with with some urban legend type material a bunch of crazy characters, and he finishes up with see how good things are when we get along ? In the callahans stuff he generally winds up with in the future people will be alot nicer and regularly violate the laws of physics because of the fact.

    Its not science fiction, its very good, I enjoy it a heck of alot and have bought just about everything he has written.

    His rant about science fiction dieing was annoying the first time it had been done back in the 60's when hard scince fiction writers griped about the new wave kids.

    Theres alot of great science fiction being written today more than I have ever seen before It just doesn't look like what it did 50 years ago. Theres a reaon The future isn't what it used to be. Look at the recent works out there by Greg bear, Greg egan,Ian macleod, Rosemary Kirsten, Vernor Vinge, Charles Stross, Dan Simmons, The list goes on. Its very high quality stuff and shows a greater understanding of underlying science than 90% of the golden age authors could manage.

    What Mr. Spinrad misses is that there are things that just won't fly in the genre anymore. It's no longer possible to take a crap story toss in a few bug eyed aliens a spaceship and a girl in a brass bikini and expect people to read the story. Its also not enough to do a techno gimmick story anymore. As much as I loved George O Smiths stories, they don't read well anymore.

    Elves and mythical pasts don't compete with science fiction. Theres always going to be a future and theres always going to be people speculating about it. How well the genre does will depend how well the authors bring the future to life.
    • Exactly. There are some great older authors (simak, Wyndham, Wells etc.) and lots of nostalgically overrated crap. Movies like "Pulp Fiction" get by just making fun of similar junk, the parodies work, the serious attempts end up like the original "Little Shop of Horrors."

      A number of more recent authors, such as Gibson, Sterling, Stephenson, are as good as any of their predecessors, and in part because they take writing more seriously than science fiction ("Asimov has interesting ideas, but his writing!
      • Compare what recent authors put out to the crap Heinlein wrote for most of his career (OK, I haven't read much of his older stuff, but there is a good reason for that), and see what you prefer.

        As the great quote from Wolfgang Pauli goes, "I think what you said is not even wrong."

        Your statement is turned around 100% from reality. You call Heinlein's output for "most of his career" "crap", and then stunningly declare "I haven't read much of his older stuff, but there is a good reason for that". No, there

        • And let's not forget some of the other Grand Masters from the golden age. Asimov's Foundation and Robot stories are absolutely fantastic work. "Nightfall" is probably the best short SF story ever, although "Lifeline" ranks a close second (my personal opinions, feel free to disagree). Ben Bova wrote some good stuff too. And "Doc" Smith created the space opera. When you just want some whiz-bang escapism his books are great way to do it. You might not like his literary style, but "Doc" Smith's grammar was perf

        • Your statement is turned around 100% from reality. You call Heinlein's output for "most of his career" "crap", and then stunningly declare "I haven't read much of his older stuff, but there is a good reason for that". No, there isn't. Ask 99% of SF fans (and by that, I mean all but 5 guys), and they will tell you that it is Heinlein's later output that is crap.

          Well I have read virtually all of Heinleins work, and I think a lot of it is crap. His science fiction elements were fine for the most part, as

  • Yawn (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:39PM (#6954446)
    Everything in the arts has been pronounced dead: theatre, the poem, the novel, the symphony, photography, paintings etc. You name it, at some point someone has worried about stagnation. And then embarrassed by their comments in retrospect. This is a non-story and a non-issue. In any case, it would be a mistake to uncritically equate the health of an artistic form with sales.

    BSD on the other hand is a actually dead of course... a hundred thousand troll posts can't be wrong!

    • Everything in the arts has been pronounced dead: theatre, the poem, the novel, the symphony, photography, paintings etc.

      Theatre, the poem, the symphony, and paintings are dead. Those art forms are in the "sucking mud" stage that science fiction writing is in now - latter-day nonnovators who are hoping to get paid to produce vague imitations of what was "cutting edge" fifty years or more previously.

  • Wolf is right (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    The future is here and most science fiction dates badly. If I recall correctly, Larry Niven's first science fiction story was obsolete just before publication because of new data abour Mercury.

    But I think Wolf and Robinson ignore the the new paradigm of computers and virtual environments. Science fiction was the perfect literature for the burgeoning of science and technology in peoples' lives. However, with cyberspace, I think that a better model, a better metaphor, is magic. Think about what's the

  • by dswensen (252552) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @09:46PM (#6954466) Homepage
    Any day now Bruce Sterling should be along to write a snarky editorial on how he predicted all this stuff years ago, and no one listened to his infinite wisdom...
    • Any day now Bruce Sterling should be along to write a snarky editorial on how he predicted all this stuff years ago, and no one listened to his infinite wisdom...

      If only we'd build rocket ships out of bamboo [wired.com], the future would be now!

  • The high price of paperbacks may, as much as anything else, discourage purchases. I still buy books faster than I can read them and I continue to discover new authors who I consider to be breaking new ground.

    The character of Good SciFi changes with time, and some people do not like that. But life isn't static. I see this argument as akin to those who think that music stopped being good in the 60s (or 70s or 80s or pick your favorite era). How can anyone reasonably expect any genre to remain static and

    • I think you're right, but it does bring up the question "How do you find the good stuff?" With so much being published these days, it takes more effort to weed through it to find what's interesting to you.

      Same with music. The increase in the number of bands out there seriously trying to make it, compounded by less diversity on the radio, makes it harder to find new bands that are doing stuff that you're interested in. I used to be able to use what was on the radio to not only directly find new bands, bu
    • The high price of paperbacks may, as much as anything else, discourage purchases.

      Used to be that paperbacks were less than the minimum wage. Now they're 10%-30% higher. Is the minimum wage not keeping up or are the price of paperbacks outpacing inflation? And where can one find a good inflation-ometer, where one can plug in the current price of goods and see them reflected back through time?
  • it's just hard to find. I suggest reading The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect [kuro5hin.org], but you'll have to read it online.
    • I am (finally) in the process of formatting MOPI for Book-On-Demand publication as promised in the "Dead Tree" essay. I'll be updating the site when this happens. It may take a couple of more months, since I had a major personal disaster recently, but it's happening.

      I have also plotted and started writing a sequel, inspired to some degree by many of the comments about the original novel.

      I did not guess when I put MOPI online that the experiment would come to anything like the success it has seen. I p

  • If -- and it's a very big and doubtful if -- science fiction is in trouble, it is due to a dearth of good writers and good writing, not to any "end of history", "the future is now" nonsense.

    It is arrogantly stupid for anyone in the year 2003 to imagine that we've plumbed the depths of science and technology Not that that has anything at all to do with good writing, but some folks seem to think that because we can do a few of the things that H.G. Wells and Jules Verne wrote about a century ago, we've reach
  • by Cody Hatch (136430) <cody&chaos,net,nz> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @10:55PM (#6954715) Homepage
    ...for Spider Robinson to be saying this. I don't really consider him a sci-fi author, and I don't much care for his books. Indeed, to the extent that there is a decline in sci-fi, I've always thought of him as a prime exhibit. His stories are so...soft. Fluffy. Fantastic (in the very litteral sense).

    That being said, I don;t think there's really any crunch coming for sci-fi. What Spider is saying is that the type of sci-fi he likes (and that he writes) is disapearring. This is true! But sci-fi is the reflection of tomorrow on today, and is constantly changing. In times past, post-apocalytpic wastelands, or psi powers, or laser printers, or time machines, or Martians, or portable phones almost as small as your fist were fantasies that appealled. Sometimes the world moved on, sometimes we learnt they weren't plausible, sometimes they happened - but in any case, they're now no longer suitable for sci-fi.

    There's plenty of great sci-fi being written today (Baen Books [baen.com] publishes several good authours (and should in any case be supported for pioneering a content distribution model that doesn't rely on DRM. They give away some titles [baen.com] on their website, sell others cheaply [webscription.net], and include CDs with some hardbacks with dozens more.)

    But it's not the same kind of sci-fi as was being written 20 or 30 years ago (and it would be pretty worrying if it was). For some, that puts it beyond the pale - it isn't "real" sci-fi. It's space opera, or military sci-fi, or too soft, or too hard, or whatever. For these people, intent on living in the past, I suppose the appeal of Fantasy isn't too surprising. But that's not the same thing as saying sci-fi is declining. Sci-fi is where it's always been - slightly on the edge, asking question some people would rather ignore.
    • WOW! Check out Eric Flint's visionary statements [baen.com] re posting string free digital books. Someone should print that out and send it the RIAA.

      Excerpt: There was a school of thought, which seemed to be picking up steam, that the way to handle the problem was with handcuffs and brass knucks. Enforcement! Regulation! New regulations! Tighter regulations! All out for the campaign against piracy! No quarter! Build more prisons! Harsher sentences! ... I, ah, disagreed. Rather vociferously and belligerently, in fact
      • By then, Baen Books will be alive and well.

        The RIAA will be gone. While there may be a trade organization to replace it, this will be a normal political lobbying group, not an attack dog. The "surviving" labels will be under new management and ownership that decided to keep the old name in the hopes of restoring the brand someday. Possible, remember Tylenol?

  • People have had the future crammed down their throats for the last 50 odd years and can't handle the present, much less think about the future. I see this all the time (IT at small college) with faculty, staff, and, yes, students, not being able to use all the cool gadgets they think they need. Hell, there's still the blinking VCR thing happening.

    Very few people can hold or get a handle on the change in the world and project forward. To be able to do this and write and interesting book, with well developed
  • by anagama (611277) <obamaisaneocon@nothingchanged.org> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @11:39PM (#6954895) Homepage
    I've always loved Sci-Fi and I just can't imagine it completely dying out. And I think there are some good modern authors too. Here's a short list of authors I've enjoyed who published works in the last decade:
    • Ian M. Banks [iainbanks.net] (the Culture stuff - not the fantasy stuff)
    • Kage Baker [kagebaker.com] (The Company Series is rather fun).
    • William [williamgibsonbooks.com] Gibson ... obviously.

    Who else should be here?
  • where everything humanity will ever see is a linear extension of what we see now.

    Good until:

    1. The oil runs out (no, conservation and renewable will NOT do it, see below)
    2. The Third World discovers that they will never have the First World lifestyle they've been told they'll get if only they'll sign on to the US "democracy and economic advancement" package. The available energy is just enough to sustain countries that are already First World and maybe countries already on their way to First World status like
  • by BadElf (448282) on Saturday September 13, 2003 @11:47PM (#6954925)
    Sci-fi was (and is) a method for exploring the possibilities of existing and theoretical technologies. We are a much more techno-savvy populace now. Even my Grandmother knows what a laser is (it'll fix her eyes).

    Society today, however, though tech-savvy, wants -- no, *needs* -- to find some reason or purpose to life other than just "moving forward" (whether toward the stars, the moon, etc.). Whenever society reaches a critical mass of "understanding" of the "known and accepted potentialities" of technology, it reverts to the "spiritual".

    This is why the fantasy stories are obliterating sci-fi. People already *know* what will most likely happen tech-wise within their lifetime. What they *don't* know is whether there is a "god", or "gods", or whatever else you can dream up in the "spiritual" realm. IMHO, the fantasy genre is more important to the average reader today than sci-fi because fantasy texts address the questions and concerns that today's readers are really interested in.

    Sci-fi is very extro-spective -- focusing on what might happen based on current scientific knowledge and theory. Sci-fi generally ignores or poo-poo's the spiritual/human concerns of us carbon-based entities, instead pushing either techno-utopian agendas, or techno-hell agendas.

    Fantasy, on the other hand, is very intro-spective -- focusing on the (usually) historic, spiritual planes of thought and existence. Fantasy doesn't care about the future, as long as it can describe a believable past.

    In a nutshell, I think what's happening is that people know enough (and have been let down enough) by technology to not have faith in the hypothetical futures described in sci-fi. Instead, these same people want an altruistic world like Tolkein offers (all is black or white, very little grey) that has the semblance of "history" or "religion", and doesn't require buying in to a specific school of futurism.

    Of course, I'm probably full of shit and don't know my own ass from a hole in the ground, but that's what I think about this.

    Peace, my fellow /.'ers
    • In a nutshell, I think what's happening is that people know enough (and have been let down enough) by technology to not have faith in the hypothetical futures described in sci-fi. Instead, these same people want an altruistic world like Tolkein offers (all is black or white, very little grey) that has the semblance of "history" or "religion", and doesn't require buying in to a specific school of futurism.

      [comic_book_guy]I wouldn't charactorize any of Tolkien's works as being "black and white". I suppose
    • People already *know* what will most likely happen tech-wise within their lifetime.

      In this you have echoed a comment from the article, "Heck, if you were to ask the average person on the street, I suspect you would probably receive a fairly detailed account of where all this new stuff will take us over the next few years."

      I'm very surprised. I am immensely puzzled over where tech will take us over the course of the next few decades. What will happen with nanotech? With biotech? With AI and augmented
  • by Ellen Ripley (221395) <ellen@britomartis.net> on Saturday September 13, 2003 @11:50PM (#6954936) Journal
    I don't know that Oakley addressed Robinson's main point: "Those few readers who haven't defected to Tolkienesque fantasy cling only to Star Trek, Star Wars, and other Sci Fi franchises." Most people don't want a challenge, they want to sit back and relax. Brightly-colored fantasy like Tolkien is just more soothing than the unknown future you have to construct for yourself.

    In the meantime, there's a news piece once a month on advances in carbon nanotubes to build a space elevator. On orbit for $5 a pound, coming right up, ma'am.

    In the meantime, there's a considerable subset of the population that wants Mars so bad we can already taste her oxidized sands. A few billion dollars (perhaps 10% of what we've spent on the war in Iraq) and ten years and we could be there.

    And no one seems to care. Where is this planet spending it's collective dollars, pounds and rubles?

    "... using perfectly good rockets to kill each other, instead."
    • Most people don't want a challenge, they want to sit back and relax. Brightly-colored fantasy like Tolkien is just more soothing than the unknown future you have to construct for yourself.

      It's kind of amazing, historically speaking, that it's now possible to make the assertion that one is a more mature and stable individual because one reads Sci-Fi. The shades of a thousand pulp writers gasp in astonishment.

      Let's try standing that assertion on its head:

      Most people don't want to think about philosophy
  • by jiri B (62962)
    On an exponential curve, every place is "the beginning of the really steep bit".

    In the last few years, mobile phones have gone from a rare and expensive device to a ubiquitous one. Similarly the Internet has become "universal" (in the West, at least).

    The future *is* happening, and it will keep on happening, and it will happen faster than it's ever happened before. There will always be a place for science-fiction.

    Jiri
  • by dlm3 (626205) on Sunday September 14, 2003 @01:38AM (#6955342)
    At the risk of injecting politics into this discussion, it seems to me that one point has been missed.

    Most hard-core SF was written during and in the aftermath of World War II and the Cold War. All of it escapist, much of it focusing on how humanity carries on after the dawn of the 21st century and presumably civilization as we know it has been destroyed.

    For people looking beyond the horrifying news on the television, SF was a ray of hope.

    Unfortunately (for SF), the Cold War ended and the world as we know it was utterly changed - but not because of world war or nuclear conflict. It was changed largely by the collapse of Communism (outside China and its satellites), removing the immediate threat, and thus the foundation for much of the SF we've all grown to know and enjoy.

    Lacking the need for escape from our current situation into the future, and given the high-tech world that has been thrust upon us in the past decade (as has been noted elsewhere), it seems not unreasonable that Fantasy fiction, especially that espoused by Tolkien and Rowling, would take the fore over hard SF, at least for the moment.

    Someone will probably point out that 9-11 and its aftermath are in fact World War III (or IV, depending upon how you count it), and this should be driving us to some sort of outlet that frees us from the daily drumbeat in the news.

    But instead of Heinlein and Asimov, we're getting Harry Potter and a fish called Nemo... And it works, because these depict simpler themes of good and evil, courage and fear, and the ability of ordinary people (or young wizards or, well, fish) to overcome incredible obstacles placed before them.

    This is not the first time such a thing has happened. During the peak of the Industrial Revolution of the late 1800's, amid motorcars, steam-powered factories, and crazy folk attempting to fly like birds, there was counter-revolution of sorts where people looked for craftsmanship and simplicity in their homes and furnishings, first in England, later in the U.S. It banished the sameness of mass-production and replaced it with objects that had the appearance of being, or were in fact, unique.

    We live in similar times - only now the personal computer and the internet are the invading technology. It should come as no surprise that people have had enough and need an escape to simpler, less stressful things.

    But I would also predict that this is only temporary. We're taking a breather as the next phase of technological development gathers itself together. When it will happen, I don't know, but when it comes to Sci-Fi, I would suggest that a gentleman and his team [scaled.com] working in the Mojave desert of all places may unleash the next wave. Or maybe not. We'll see.

  • by Jherico (39763) <bdavis@sai[ ]ndreas.org ['nta' in gap]> on Sunday September 14, 2003 @06:53AM (#6956066) Homepage
    When I was in high school I had an english teacher who told the class that science fiction served only one purpose. To warn us about the dangers of the future and technology. I didn't really believe her, but I didn't say anything. I didn't speak up and say "I read science fiction, and not so I can be warned about the future". I so wish I had. But it was high school and there are a million things I wish I could have done differently, knowing what I know now. But this one is a gem, because I already pretty much knew that she was speaking out of her ass.

    The T&K website response reminds me of that teacher. It says that stories are tools to share and explore ideas, and then seems to go on to say essentially 'Science fiction serves only one purpose, to explore ideas related to all the emergent technology of the 20th century.' The T&K website is speaking out of its ass.

    Granted, I'll agree with the statement that stories are tools to share and explore ideas. They can be used for other things. They're often used to inspire emotions, or to entertain, which is essentially the same thing.

    T&K seems to take the position that the paltry foray's we've made into integrating new technology into our lives represent some sort of plateau, if not pinnacle of achievement. Its as if to say, we've got cell phones, we've got GPS, we can occasionally send a probe to mars and not have it crash, hoorah, the future is here.

    Sorry, the future is NOT here. Never will be. We will always remain in the present, always, because if we start living in the future, we stop trying to get there. Sure, cell phones are nice, but wouldn't a subcutaneous direct neural link to all of human knowledge and all other humans be nifty? Or perhaps dangerous. I'm not sure. Lets explore and share ideas. What? You say the future is here and this is the way it will always be? Oh, perhaps I should write a book about navel gazing then.

    So long as there are heroines, (and hormones), there will be romance novels. Not so with Science Fiction. No hormones there.

    I don't know about the author of this statement, but I've definately experience a thrilling rush reading about engineering on a scale I never imagined before, like a gigantic spinning ring around a sun. Or how about one of the myriad ways of defeating death, poverty, and inequality I've read about, couched in science fiction terms.

    The need for stories examining all the possibilities of science and technology isn't really there anymore either.

    100 years ago no one could have imagined the way the world would change with the automobile. 50 years ago no one could have imagined the way the world would change with computers. We can't imagine how the world will be in 50 years, but we can try.

    Sure, today's technology is growing mature, but science fiction is like a nebula. For those who don't know, nebulas are the results of a star exploding, and are the birthplace of new stars. The remnants of a pervious generation giving birth to the next. That works for ideas as well. Maybe some of today's technology was born in some science fiction writer's mind, and maybe the next generation which we can't even imagine yet is being born right now, slowly drawing itself together.

    The idea of readers defecting to 'fantasy'. Trying to draw a line in the sand between science fiction and fantasy is like trying to nail jello to a tree. Most people call Star Trek science fiction, but its not. Not to me. Star Trek has always been about people, at least when its been good. If you watch the 5 series you'll see that they're each set in the era they were produced in. Watch the original and look at the way people act and interact and try to believe you're not in the 60's. Look at 'Enterprise' and try to believe you're not living in an America that is living in fear of terrorists. The fact is that technology molds society just as much as socie

  • I think Mark Oakley is quite right. At least his ideas look believable. We switch from sci-fi describing technologies to sci-fi and fantasy describing revolutionary social change, because that's what we are going to see.

    Still, I think not enough attention is (and was) paid to the technological side of things. There simply wasn't enough sci-fi describing the reality (not the fiction) of modern technologies, such as genomics, nanotechnology, AI, etc. Yes, there is much more certainty now, but that doesn't me
  • The thing that defines sci-fi is not the fiction part. Anyone can make up any old story and it's fiction. What makes it science fiction is supposed to be when *science* plays a major role in the story. Mark Oakley makes a big to-do about how science and industry have given us just about all they're going to, and so that's why science fiction is diminishing.

    He's wrong. Science will always be with us. The "industry" part may have played itself out (capitalism might be dying, too), but science won't go a

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