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Sci-Fi Editorial

Is Science Fiction About The Future Anymore? 377

An anonymous reader writes "A recent Globe and Mail article looked at the state of science fiction and concluded that the future is bleak. Fantasy and science fantasy are popular but near-future predictions are not. But author Robert J. Sawyer says, 'Science fiction has never been about the future, it's always been about the present day...' 'People are looking for a simplicity in their fictional worlds where good and evil are clearly delineated, that you can't find in the real world, and that provides an enormous comfort -- and that, I think, has an awful lot to do with the reason fantasy is so popular.'"
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Is Science Fiction About The Future Anymore?

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  • Fantasy vs SF (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 11, 2004 @10:48AM (#10220585)
    Overall, I think SF has run out of ideas. It's great and all but considering SF is a product of the Industrial Revolution, it's almost out of date. People deal with technology and science daily, love it or hate it. Overall, people want escapism that makes them think and fantasy that can set itself apart from the rest, fun to read, and not about tech will be popular for awhile.
    • Re:Fantasy vs SF (Score:3, Interesting)

      by kusanagi374 ( 776658 )
      Pretty much. Since tech and science are already something we see in our daily lives, SF became more of an "alternate reality" than a guess of the future.
    • Re:Fantasy vs SF (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tsa ( 15680 )
      I think that is the main reason why people now love fantasy so much. In the decades before us people dreamed of a world made better by technology. Now we have all the technology we can imagine (well almost) so we have to dream about something else.
      • I mean decades past... sorry.
      • Re:Fantasy vs SF (Score:3, Interesting)

        by kfg ( 145172 )
        Now we have all the technology we can imagine (well almost) so we have to dream about something else.

        Ironic that it's pastoralism that we dream of now, isn't it? David Brin deals with this as something of a side issue in his Glory Season, making the story metascience fiction. I suppose somebody had to take that step and better Brin than most.

        Not that there's anything unique to the present about dreaming of pastoralism. Many of the great writers of the Industrial Revolution did that. What's different is t
      • Re:Fantasy vs SF (Score:4, Insightful)

        by mbrother ( 739193 ) <mbrother@uwy[ ]du ['o.e' in gap]> on Saturday September 11, 2004 @01:03PM (#10221298) Homepage
        OK, I'll bite along with everyone else. If you think we have "all the technology we can imagine," you should get a job flipping burgers. Please, find something mindless and repetitive requiring no imagination that thinking people would hate to do. And then don't talk to those of us with more imagination than a gumball because you have little of interest to say.

        Sorry if this is harsh, but, come on! This is the appropriate response assuming you're not a troll.
      • Now we have all the technology we can imagine (well almost) so we have to dream about something else.
        You need to work on your imagination. ;)
    • Re:Fantasy vs SF (Score:2, Interesting)

      by grikdog ( 697841 )
      Jules Verne, H. G. Wells... Yup! That's hit the old nail on the cabeza. Who the hell gives spock about science anymore? Boring, life threatening, comfort eroding, rule delineating Know It All Science, anyway. Oh, wait. No, that's Engineering Fiction! Science fiction is about fantasy.
    • by Toresica ( 788403 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @11:28AM (#10220758)
      Overall, I think SF has run out of ideas.

      That's why you're not an author.
    • by js3 ( 319268 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @11:41AM (#10220830)
      nobody watches or reads science fiction to learn about the future. Science Fiction is usually a present day story told in the future. Good and bad sci-fi movies totally depend on how well it is told. Take minority report for example. Even non sci-fi fans enjoyed this movie not because of the sci-fi elements but because it was a good story. Compare that to a movie like "The Red Planet" another boring space movie that brings out the yawns. Unforunately critics tend to bitch about the technology in bad scifi movies that the actual story itself.

      Sci-fi isn't dead, good sci-fi authors are dead (or not born yet)
      • See ... unlike apparantly everyone else here on /., I did read scifi for the science ... Asimov's short stories, Frank Herbert's first Dune novel, etc. really stimulated me as kid. I thought, "will that be possible", "will that be what it's like", "will that be what happens to society when we achieve that technology level". I dunno what happened. Some ST:TOS, and ST:Next Gen, Bab 5 episodes, took this tack for a while. Then it all became soap operas/political correctness/overdramatic love interest in sp
        • You're my hero!
          Seriously, at some level. I've just pitched a large grant proposal to the NSF for my astronomical research (on quasars). The NSF demands significant public outreach/education efforts as well. I strive for accurate science in my own novels, and do want to teach science while I entertain. I learned about relativity first from THE FOREVER WAR by Joe Haldeman, and tidal forces from NEUTRON STAR by Larry Niven. I want to learn things when I read.

          The main focus of the educational component
      • by brianiac ( 772618 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @02:51PM (#10221875)
        Wrong. That's *fantasy* (by definition).

        Science fiction is a form of fiction which deals principally with the impact of imagined science and/or technology upon society or individuals.

        The job of SF is to ask "what if", and examine the effects. It's a way of auditioning scientific priorities socially. Remove the science and you just have fiction.

        This attitude infuriates me for two reasons: First, it anti-intellectual to regard the whole of science; all mathematics, physics, information theory, sociology, cosmology, ...; as a minor implementation detail. Second, it lulls the general populous into thinking that science is "indistinguishable from magic", and is utterly unknowable (and cannot be trusted).
    • Re:Fantasy vs SF (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Tarwn ( 458323 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @12:45PM (#10221180) Homepage
      SF can't run out of ideas until all writers run out of ideas.

      Sure, some SF books explore an SF world, pointing out all the wonders and tragedies that have and will occur. But many of them build a SF world and then intertwine a story with that world, in many cases doing such a good job of it that the story itself is not truly SciFi but more of a cross-genre story that just happens to have it's environment in (and be affected by) a futuristic setting.

      Love stories, detective stories, horror stories, etc. They have all been represented in the SF world. I often find the most amazing SF books to be the ones that build an entire environment but then center the story on the characters living inside that environment, not really ignoring it, but treating it like an environment instead of "hey look, it's a laser blaster!".

      There are even cross-genre books between science fiction and fantasy (Stasheff's Wizard and Warlock series's?).

      I don't think Scifi or Fantasy is dead. Other genres cover the past and present, Sci-Fi and Fantasy cover the future and the never-have-been, it's a much wider territory.

      I am no less interested in reading these genres now then when I was a kid. If the argument (from article) was that kids these days don't read enough and that it will dwindle due to a smaller and smaller reading (and thus writing) population, I might give it a little credit, but running out of ideas is not something I have seen even begin to occur yet. And dwindling reader base woul affect a lot more then just SciFi, if the author chose SciFi in order to get the greatest response then he is belied by his own goals. You don't choose the one of the biggest audiences and say they don't exist, it ain't logical :P

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 11, 2004 @10:50AM (#10220593)
    People are looking for a simplicity in their fictional worlds where good and evil are clearly delineated, that you can't find in the real world
    Some people try to make the real world like that nevertheless."Either you're with us, or you are with the terrorists" ring any bells?
    • On the other hand, optimistic visions of the future are routinely viewed as naive.

      It is diffuclut to maintain an optimistic view of the potentials while keeping in mind and being wary of all the screwups that people can come up with. As an example:

      Some people try to make the real world like that nevertheless."Either you're with us, or you are with the terrorists" ring any bells?

      Probably is more of an example of a typical reaction to a novel political situation, Virtual States [], using outmoded strategic

    • Agreed, from what I've seen that's exactly how it works in the real world :

      Good : us
      Bad : The USA

      Or is you happen to be in the US :

      Good : us
      Bad : the rest of the world
  • by jeephistorian ( 746362 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @10:50AM (#10220594) Homepage
    I guess only time will tell!

  • Getting Old (Score:5, Funny)

    by MikeMacK ( 788889 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @10:52AM (#10220595)
    Michael Moore appropriated the title of his classic book Fahrenheit 411 for his documentary Fahrenheit 9/11

    Bradbury must be getting old if he can't remember the titles of his own books.

    • by TimTheFoolMan ( 656432 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @11:23AM (#10220735) Homepage Journal
      Bradbury apparently misdialed when getting calling for information on Fahrenheit...

    • Actually, Ray Bradbury appeared on a local radio show and mentioned that he had spoken with Moore about retracting the title of his film. Moore refused to do so.

      For the record, Bradbury opposes Moore's theft of Bradbury's title.

    • I was browsing at B&N and noticed the Fahrenheit 451 is out with a 50th anniversary edition. After bitching about Moore appropriating his title, guess who's going to cash in on the buzz associated with the name these days?

      Unless Bradbury was complaining about his title being associated with a particular political point of view. In that case, more power to him.
  • by LostCluster ( 625375 ) * on Saturday September 11, 2004 @10:52AM (#10220599)
    Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation had very tight continuity between the two series despite the fact that they were produced decades apart. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine started off well, but seriously derailed when Gene Roddenbury died and therefore the franchise got run by people hired by Paramount who clearly didn't share the same vision.

    I can't stand the present Star Trek: Enterprise because it's so wrong... It constantly uses technology that was not present in the Star Trek series, despite being placed in timeline order as a prequel to the original series.

    I hope the series finalie of Star Trek: Enterprise comes soon and declares that the entire series was a dream sequence so that it is ejected from the "cannonical" Star Trek Universe and gets parked right next to the licenced-but-not-official Star Trek books.
    • by the_2nd_coming ( 444906 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @11:03AM (#10220642) Homepage
      like the LCD screens?

      well, you have to consider that today the technology we have was not imagined by Gene in 1967 but to make it a believable future you need to incorporate some tech that appears to have evolved from our world today.

      I think it was a mistake to make a pre-series because it had to reflects an evolution of todays society. Gene knew that and that is why his next series, TNG, took place 250 years after TOS.

      but for the non anal of us, the continuity is fine.
    • by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @11:35AM (#10220792)
      The purpose of science fiction as opposed to say historical fiction, dramatic fiction or fantasy fiction is NOT about futurology. Well of course it can be just that and some of its is pretty cool and probably what appeals to the geek crowd.

      but as a place in literature SCI fi is a context for decontextualization! It is a platform on which you can strip and re-arrange a society and see what happens when new rules are present. It allows you to make an imaginative metaphor and make it a physical possiblity. Then analyze its workings or if nothing else drive a plot.

      To pick a favorite of slashdot, consider the movie blade runner which most people mistakenly believe is an updated "do androids dream of electric sheep". In fact its the merger with a second Philip K Dick book, "the man in the high castle". The plot is from "electric sheep" but the society is from "high castle". To me the two most interesting parts of the movie are never actaully stated in the movie. First this is earth after all the vibrant heathly best and brightest have left. The future is space and what remains on earth are those who cannot leave. The buildings where the ordinary folks live are mostly empty from the population drain and decaying. The markets have become asian bazarres where all is for sale and the passges tight and twisty and everyone is hustling. there is sense of just hanging on and hustling for thenext day but not a lot of prospects for advancement through career. How would this be like to live in? ridely scott decided the closest thing we had here was the Noir era so thats how he shot it. The other question the movie asks--which is pure philip K dick- was what it the nature of reality. As I drone on on this world how do I know I'm even human. The scene where harrison ford alone tinkles on the piano keys and stars at his own photographs has no words but you realize he is questioning his own human ness. could he ba a machine too or is humanness the sum of your memories and your struggle to live on. Whether or not fords character was intended to be actualy human or actually an android is moot to that issue.

      the point is that SCI fi allowed the world to be stripped of certain thngs we take for granted that frame 90% of our lives. Going to school to succeed for example probably has occupied most slashdotters. But why bother in that world? Here was a man living in a world where the only people left either had no sense fo purpose--merely existance-- or were impaired in other ways and left behind to make the best their talents. we can ask what drives us, and what makes us humans in such contexts?

      that is sci fi.

      or it can be simple metaphors come to life like in startrek and the classic episode of the two races of people who are both half black and half white and hate each other for it. Or THX1138 where drug evasion is a crime and the masses must be contented. If you ever read bradubury's epilouge to 451 then you know his themes were the rise of political correctness leading to a society where anyhting confrontational is a crime. books and the effect they have on the mind had to be stopped. SCI fi let him take this to the extreme and create this contenment society. of course the whole plot and action is a consequence of a dissident act. but the context it what makes it interesting.

      That is the beauty of sci-fi. its decontextualization of our own society so we can see it for what it it. It is in fact the closets thing to the POP art movement I can think of. Andy Warhols Soup can was art because itrecontextualized an ordinary object and made us think about how it and its design came to be and what it means to us when something so nromally invisble becomes the dominant theme.. Its not really possible to do that in traditionl fiction which build characters who live in real world with our normal rules.

    • as a prequel to the original series

      Maybe the Star Trek universe lost some technologies.

      I remember watching the original shows and everytime the control panels sparked up, I was thinking, damn, don't they have circuit breakers, or at least a fuse box somewhere. ;-)

  • This is funny (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tsa ( 15680 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @10:54AM (#10220602) Homepage
    First Sawyer says:

    "Regrettably, with 2001 having a title that had a year in it, science fiction essentially set itself up in the public's imagination as saying: 'Here's what you get if you wait to that year.' Well, we all waited till that year and we didn't get anything at all like that . . .," said Sawyer. "So part of it is that the readership has bailed."

    And a while later he does it himself:

    Sawyer hopes science fiction will continue as a form of sociological commentary, but worries that by 2030, the genre may be a thing of the past, even if its trademarks are gradually being co-opted into the mainstream: Witness Margaret Atwood's Booker Prize-nominated Oryx and Crake, for instance, which dealt with a future world suffering from genetic engineering gone virulently wrong.

    Not so smart, that. Never predict anything concerning science or science fiction. You will always be wrong.
  • Not necessarily true (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bartok ( 111886 )
    'People are looking for a simplicity in their fictional worlds where good and evil are clearly delineated, that you can't find in the real world, and that provides an enormous comfort -- and that, I think, has an awful lot to do with the reason fantasy is so popular.'

    If you take into account that Goerge R. R. Martin' Song of ice and fire series, this statement doesn't hold water. No one is so clear cut black and white in his novels and IMO that's why he has such a huge pool of readers.

    • There'll be no need for a flying car, as you'll instantly be transformed into a hyperintelligent, pan-dimensional being.
    • The "simplicity" (which, granted, does not always exist - I haven't read that series you mention) is also the reason a lot of people dislike fantasy/SF. Readers often feel that it's not as complicated as the real world, therefore they cannot relate to the characters who just need to fry the Ultimate Evil or solve some engineering scheme.

      Moreover, half the effort of writing those books goes into worldbuilding, and that's less effort that can go into building characters, developing plot, etc. Perhaps tha
      • I would put it to you that the typical SF/fantasy villain is often far more nuanced than villains from the real world. If you put a character like Osama bin Laden in such a story, critics of the genre would not find it credible at all.

        People who say that unambiguous evil does not exist in the real world need to get a clue. Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Hussein, bin Laden, all evil. Nothing complicated, they are just evil.

        If you tell me that unambiguous good does not exist in the real world, then m
      • In the bad and mediocre ones, this is certainly true. A good scifi writer's world-building efforts don't consume much word-count though -- the outlines are set up in a page or two, then the characters simply exist in it. Good scifi should not be harder or less enjoyable than good literature from an older societal period (I'm thinking particularly of Henry James' _Portrait Of A Lady_, a book which relies completely on societal rules that have been dead for two generations).

        A book that spends page afte page
        • by mbrother ( 739193 ) <mbrother@uwy[ ]du ['o.e' in gap]> on Saturday September 11, 2004 @01:42PM (#10221496) Homepage
          A good scifi writer's world-building efforts don't consume much word-count though -- the outlines are set up in a page or two, then the characters simply exist in it.

          I disagree strongly with this statement. I do a lot of world-building for my science fiction novels, and my wife does a lot for her fantasy novels. You cannot just set it up and have them exist in it. With good, realistic world-building (and this really extends to everything, clothing, social courtesies, transportation, economics, etc.), the "existing" part reinforces the world through every single page of the book. I'm not talking about diversions to explain tangential technology (although this can be well done or badly done, depending on the story and how tangential the tech really is).

          There's some great writing in the science fiction field, but there's also some less than stellar writing. I would submit that there are so few writers who can pull off the world-building effectively that publishers forgive them their other weaknesses, at least to some extent.
  • by yotto ( 590067 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @10:54AM (#10220606) Homepage
    Is that when I get my flying car?
  • by bondjamesbond ( 99019 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @10:58AM (#10220620) Journal
    The whole deliniation of good and evil being a comfort sounds like what it preached every Sunday across the US. Does that make religion a practice of fantasy?
    • Not to start a flame war here, but I think you're absolutely right. Religion is invented by people to make more sense of their world. Isn't it comfortable to contribute everything that happens to you and everything that you see and don't understand to some all-knowing, omnipresent being?
    • by tepples ( 727027 ) <tepples@gmail.BOHRcom minus physicist> on Saturday September 11, 2004 @11:09AM (#10220676) Homepage Journal

      Historians have successfully cross-checked so much of the Christian Bible against historical facts that I'd think twice before calling it a fantasy story.

      • by BlueCup ( 753410 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @11:50AM (#10220886) Homepage Journal
        Sure, some matches up... but it's not like there aren't errors as well...

        Matthew claims that the birth of Jesus occurred during the reign of Herod the Great of Judea, a puppet king of the Romans, whom we know died in 4 B.C. Luke also tells us that Jesus' birth happened during Herod's reign. Luke even adds what appears to be detailed and historical evidence of the period. He writes that Jesus was born during a census or registration of the populace ordered by emperor Augustus at the time that Quirinius (Cyrenius) was Roman governor of Syria (Luke 2:1-3). In reality, this has to be a fabrication because Quirinius was not governor of Syria and Judea during Herod's kingship. Direct Roman rule over the province of Judea, where Bethlehem was located, was not established until 6 A.D. In other words, ten years separated the rule of Quirinius from Herod.

        Taken from [] Granted, it's a site that would be tough to claim is free from bias, however I went with the first link from google that confirmed what I was taught in college, it is a fact that is agreed on by many historians... this alone of course doesn't make the Bible a fantasy story... just not a completely historically accurate story.
      • by Hogwash McFly ( 678207 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @12:44PM (#10221172)
        I love it when posts meant to be taken seriously are modded funny :)
      • Is this funny, or sarcastic or merely ignorant? There are selected historical facts that match with the bible. The big problem with literal interpretation is the self contradictions in the stories, the multiple political directives, the politically motivated translations, and the clear allegorical nature.

        There are a great many lessons for those who wish to live a harmonous life with others. There is a great deal of ammunition for those who wish to perform selective literal extraction, usually for the p

      • by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @02:04PM (#10221610) Homepage Journal
        Historians have successfully cross-checked so much of the Christian Bible against historical facts that I'd think twice before calling it a fantasy story.

        Fiction is commonly written with historical elements used as context. For instance, "Silence of the Lambs" wrote about the FBI, which we both agree is 100% accurate historical context. This in no way makes Silence of the Lambs non-fantasy.

        In other words, historians can cross check history against the bible's use of historical context until most, or even every, contextual reference(s) are verified, and they will still not have succeeded in any way, to any degree, in showing the bible's core story elements - god, jesus and supernatural events - are not fantasy.

        Those elements, by their very nature, stand completely outside any use of historical context.

      • So how many of the miraculous bits have been "successfully cross-checked" by historians? Sure, there's lots of more or less historical bits in there, but also lots of fantasy. Call it historical fantasy then, something like Mary Gentle's books.
  • Poop-dupe? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tepples ( 727027 ) <tepples@gmail.BOHRcom minus physicist> on Saturday September 11, 2004 @10:59AM (#10220625) Homepage Journal

    SF doesn't make predictions about the next century because much of what will happen in the next century appears hidden behind a veil called the "singularity." Change happens so fast that human minds have trouble keeping up.

    Slashdot has run an article about SF's trouble with the singularity [].

  • What about Raistlin? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Überhund ( 27591 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @11:00AM (#10220631)
    People are looking for a simplicity in their fictional worlds where good and evil are clearly delineated
    If this was true, Raistlin wouldn't be such a popular character. Some of my favorite fiction books have explored moral boundaries. The Chung Kuo series by David Wingrove, for instance, has characters where you're not always sure who the good guy is, because of their human nature.
    • by miu ( 626917 )
      Raistlin wouldn't be such a popular character

      Uhm no, Raistlin is a popular character for the same that every wizard in a MUD is mysterious and powerful. Raistlin speaks to the 12 year old boy in all of us who loves Batman and Wolverine and wants to be a ninja.

      The character of Raistlin does not explore any sort of moral boundary, he is adventure story wish fulfillment in raw form.

    • If this was true, Raistlin wouldn't be such a popular character.

      Only on Slashdot would a statement like this be made. The remaining 99.99% of the world would be scratching their heads asking "Raistlin who?".

  • Hogwash! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sean Johnson ( 66456 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @11:04AM (#10220647)
    It's just that there have been made so many "crappy" science fiction movies lately that people are becoming disenfranchised with the genre. Look at Armageddon, Mars Attacks, Independence Day, Starship Troopers, name a few. There are still good science fiction books out there being written I am sure. Also, I want to know if the decline in science fiction book readership is due also to other forms of entertainment that cry for our attention. Game consoles, computers, Tivos, satellite TV, cell phones, PDA's, internet, PC's, and so on. There is just more competing leisure devices. I didn't see the story publish numbers for other book genres. It only suggested that fantasy-type books like Harry Potter and the like were being purchased or read more. I also think it may be true that the really great science fiction writers are coming to an end. Now, let me introduce another idea. How about comic books. Wouldn't some of those be considered science fiction. Aren't they extrememly popular still? Or is this discussion only about novels? Anyways, I feel that Science Fiction is not dying per say. It may be losing focus right now, but it wil always be there as a genre to delight people who as the article said, "want toperform a mental excercise to see what happens if present society continues."
    That right there is a very useful tool.
    • Mars Attacks was a comedy, pure and simple. It was a spoof of the old Sci-Fi movies. Perhaps you should pull your head out of your ass and you would see that.
    • I find most people who dislike Starship Troopers do so because they don't understand what it's about. That's not to say that it is impossible to hate starship troopers while still understanding it, it just doesn't happen quite as often.

      The reason the characters have no depth, the reason everything they say is just a corny throwaway line delivered in a manner more suitable to a porn movie (which is not far off in some of the scenes in S.T.) is actually part of the portrayal of a fascist dystopia. The societ

    • Re:Hogwash! (Score:5, Funny)

      by koreth ( 409849 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @12:30PM (#10221096)
      It's just that there have been made so many "crappy" science fiction movies lately

      That's so true. I want to return to the 1930s, when all the science fiction on the big screen was much less crappy. I mean, Flash Gordon. Buck Rogers. Intellectually fulfilling stuff, that -- the men were men, the alien women were knockouts, and the bad guys were Chinese.

      Well, okay, maybe the 1940s. Yeah. "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man." "The Invisible Woman." "One Million B.C." That's more like it.

      No? How about the 1950s, which gave us dozens of cinematic classics about giant ants/scorpions/spiders on a rampage, along with "I Was a Teenage Frankenstein," "Devil Girl From Mars," "Jungle Moon Men," "The Man From Planet X," and "Monster From the Ocean Floor?" (Everyone's from somewhere!)

      But surely the 1960s are the good old days. I mean, hey, "Barbarella" -- no cheese there. "Gill Women of Venus." "How To Make a Doll." "Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster."

      Well, okay. The 1970s gave us "Star Wars," so that's gotta be the oasis in the cinematic desert. Surely that outweighs "Meteor," "Starcrash," "The Giant Spider Invasion," "When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth," and "Dracula Versus Frankenstein" (damn that Mary Shelley and her interminable sequels!)

      The 1980s certainly produced a lot more science fiction movies than earlier decades, thanks to "Star Wars." But were they good movies? Some were. But I also remember "Interface." "Alien From L.A." "Space Raiders." And the inimitable Scott Baio's "Zapped!" -- what a masterpiece that one was.

      Then we get to the 1990s. Surely the advent of really good special effects must have led to an explosion of quality in science-fiction filmmaking. But no -- in fact all of your examples of crappy films are from the 1990s.

      So when did "lately" start again?

      Sturgeon's Law [] doesn't have an expiration date or a start date, I'm afraid.

    • Re:Hogwash! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mbrother ( 739193 )
      Science fiction always seems to "lose focus" just before the next big thing hits. The next big things appear to be hitting now, too.

      First, there's a whole wave of modern space opera, for want of a better term, led by British authors primarily. Alastair Reynolds, for instance. I'm happy for my own work to get mentioned with theirs.

      Then there's a movement being called "The New Weird." China Meieville's name comes up often there. In a few years of course, the new weird will be the old weird and people
  • by jaymzter ( 452402 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @11:04AM (#10220649) Homepage
    I wrote a paper in college comparing the elements present in the seminal German film Nosferatu to conditions in the Weimar republic at the time, and I certainly came to the same conclusion, that is, audiences using movies to cope with troubles in reality land. The parallels of the ending of the First World War with the movie's seeming rejection of moderninity (the girl offers herself as a sacrifice to slay Nosferatu), the blow of the Spanish Flu which had ravished Germany (the vampire makes his presence known in the town as a plague), and the villification of totalitarinism (all characters ultimately must bow before the relentless dread of the vampire, plus Harker is sent to Transylvania by a cruel boss, and he sets out as on a lark, but we know what became of him. I found it to be fairly interesting.
    Maybe we find it empowering when Bruce Willis is fighting terrorists and beats them with his American moxie... Opiate of the masses indeed!

    • Jaymzter,

      It seems to me that Metropolis [] would proved more furtile for analysis of German culture during that period, particularly as I find your points of comparison a litte stretched. Out of interest, what was the rationale behind the choice of Nosferatu? []

      As a layman, my guess is that Metropolis may have been done to death..
  • SF is bleak (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jandersen ( 462034 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @11:06AM (#10220656)
    Perhaps the explanation is not so much that the future is looking complicated, but simply that science fiction has itself become a tedious and bleak rattling around in repetitive platitudes?

    I personally don't think it's because people in general don't like to read about real life where nobody is 100% good or evil. Well, maybe if you're a teenager, but even so - most teenagers I have talked to recently (friends of my children - I'm THAT old;) think a lot about good and evil and are not at all convinced that things can be painted in broad strokes of black and white.

    No, I think the problem is more that there aren't any brilliant writers and/or subjects any more. Last I read SF I gave up halfway through; I believe it was one of Iain Banks, whom I normally like, but it just seemed like some dreary humdrum - like yet another replay of the same old theme, the same old political and religious prejudices and thin science. At least in phantasy there's a chance you might see a new idea, but I must say my recent experience leaves much to be desired.

    The most exciting and inspired literature I read nowadays seems to be Chinese literature. Maybe this is a question for everyone: Do you also feel that Western literature as a whole has landed in the doldrums? Have you tried something else, like eg. East Asian or perhaps Middle Eastern literature?
    • I have almost all Pratchett's Discworld novels, I read a lot of Asimov and Vance and Heinlein (never finished any of his books though, that guy is nuts), and I also have all the books written by J.V. Jones (amongst others). Now I'm tired of both SF and fantasy. About a year ago I got "Bleak House" by Charles Dickens, from a girl friend of mine. After 300 pages the coin fell. That guy is fantastic! The 19th century is simpler than our age, and that leaves a lot of room for character development, something Di
  • Neal Stephenson (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mental_telepathy ( 564156 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @11:07AM (#10220661)
    Is the first exception I can think of to this. His writing on nanotechnology and the effects of technological advancement on society is definitely predictive. And I'd be interested to see how the sci-fi reading numbers compare to any other genre. How much of the drop in readership is accounted for by people reading less in general?
  • by Lisandro ( 799651 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @11:07AM (#10220665)
    Sci-fi it's not meant to be a predictive oracle. It's literature, and good sci-fi it's story driven. The setting and underlying ideas are important, of course, but none of that matters if it's boring to read.

    What i see it's that we had very high-quality standarts set in the past for sci-fi, while most modern publications, while not bad, are simply regular (i haven't read everything published, of course - this is just my experience). In that sense, sci-fi might be experiencing a "creativity crisis", but saying the genre is dying is overreacting.
    • Thank you, yes. Most good sci-fi writers are not nearly so pretentious as to think their work is about predicting the future, but simply about exploring themes in life, and as a side-effect hopefully using the imagination to explore possibilities in future life. The best sci-fi is still about characters and character development, not about the science itself. Even Asimov, the patrician father of hard sci-fi does some great literary work in character development. Also look at Heinlein, Jack Vance, Cordwainer
  • by p-hawk42 ( 776574 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @11:11AM (#10220683)

    The big problem with science fiction isn't specific to the genre; instead, it is a problem in the whole publishing world. Books aren't being edited [] like they once were. Major chains are giving shelf space to the next Harry Potter or Da Vinci Code, and don't have the time or energy to edit books that will have far smaller circulations. That being said, authors aren't coming up with work that is both intelligent and massively popular; the last example of that was probably Neuromancer, and maybe Snow Crash.

  • by moankey ( 142715 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @11:11AM (#10220687)
    Its hard to imagine the future or an ideal futuristic world when we have no heros. Star Wars, Trek, Blade Runner, etc... were all created by people that were kids during the Gemini, Apollo runs, possibly inspiring them and dreaming infinite possibilities and helping create the technology we have today.

    Current generation of Sci-Fi would be writers saw recession, budget cuts, unemployment, NASA becoming a big bureaucrat.

    Hopefully the XPrize will inspire the next to crank out some new and interesting ideas.
    • Star Wars, Trek, Blade Runner, etc... were all created by people that were kids during the Gemini, Apollo runs

      Huh? Trek was first aired in the mid '60's (i.e. pre-moon landing). It seems unlikely that the creators "were kids during the Gemini, Apollo runs" since it was created (not by kids) in the middle of those programs.

      Philip K. Dick, the man who wrote "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" (aka Bladerunner) was born in 1928. And I'd hardly call the future depicted in either the book or movie the prod

  • True Sci Fi (Score:3, Insightful)

    by xRelisH ( 647464 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @11:12AM (#10220689)
    I've always believed True Science Fiction deals with the problems or issues of today, but during a futuristic timeframe. But also applying how things may be different in the future. Also, a lot of Science Fiction stories are written based on how things happened in the past and how they were handled.

    Just like something about say, robots. What kind of rights they should get, if they should be equal, what we would do if they became more intelligent tha us. I'm thinking the robot situation might turn out something like the holocaust, a small minority of humans wanting to eradicate a sentient robot population because they would be "tainting" humanity. I'm sure nerds would love pondering how to handle that dilemma, and it would be the same issue that a lot of our ancestors dealt with in trying to put an end to slavery.

    Really, I think Science fiction is just modern literate targetted at nerds. We like techie things, and the future, but the only way we'll look at ethical problems and such is if they take place in the future with robots and lasers :)
  • Simplicty? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by miu ( 626917 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @11:12AM (#10220691) Homepage Journal
    Maybe the mass market is looking for simplicity, but the best of both SF and Fantasy has typically been heavy on metaphor, abstraction, ambiguity, and often features the sort of conspiracies that would made Machiavelli proud. I think it is more that people are looking for the strange and wonderful, non-thinking simplicity can be found anywhere - the intentional simplicity of a well crafted story world provides a stage to present ideas you can think about for quite some time.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 11, 2004 @11:14AM (#10220701)
    By placing a story far away in space and time, you can say things you can't get away with saying otherwise.

    Gulliver's Travels by Swift is an obvious example. By placing his stories in fantastical places, he could poke fun at people who could have his head cut off otherwise.

    Star Trek is another example. All kinds of racial stereotypes are presented but because they are alien races, it's ok.

    Much of the science fiction I read as a kid predicted the social conditions we see today. Orwell's 1984 seems to have predicted that our government would embroil us in a permanent war and use that to squash our civil liberties. He also predicted the surveillance society that we now find ourselves in.

    Science fiction is by no means dead. It's a very useful vehicle for saying important things.
  • The Genre (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mr. Foofy ( 755395 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @11:21AM (#10220726)
    That article is pap and pablum. Mainstream media in its representation of science fiction has NEVER been about the social issues that need to be explored. It's mostly been about the laser blasters and the battle between good and evil with the well-defined bad guy and his maniacal laugh. It's difficult to represent the true evil of the future in an hour or two on the big screen, which will be rooted in the same place it is now. Secret government activities, secret civilian organizations (militias with weapons), and disgruntled, twisted individuals in their basements with chemistry sets and soldering irons. You're never gonna see a bad guy with white skin, green hair, and a purple suit making things bad for people. Sci-fi has always had it's silly side, but Arthur C. Clarke held things up nicely, and William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, and Neal Stephenson are still writing and cranking out the ideas in print that make me ponder just fine. I don't need two hours of laser blasters and popcorn munching to satisfy my appetite for sci-fi. The writer of that article seems too impatient to research the subject he writes of. Any other authors I'm missing?
  • I was reading an anthology recently (one of the "Year's Best Science Fiction" volumes, from a few years ago), and was struck by the fact that the majority of the stories in the volume were very, very light on the science fiction. For the most part, they were just straight fiction that happened to be set a dozen years from now, or had a plot that was incidentally related to aliens / robots / nanotechnology / other random SF topic. It left me wondering: what happened to the science?
  • I think that in part fantasy and sci fi are always in a conflict. fantasy is about eden. it is about the time before when heroes were heroes and everything was better. sci fi is about progress and about how things will be better in the future. (inknow there lots of sci fi is about a world that is worse but what im talking about is really the interest in scifi and in fantasy) so when the future dries up and it looks like it is going to get pretty bad people go back to fantasy. people want to live in the
  • bah! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by b-lou ( 175661 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @11:29AM (#10220764)


    It has nothing to do with the genre or predicting the future. If there's a decline in science fiction readership it's due to the inability of writers (and publishers and editors) to give us really good stories. Science fiction as a genre might have a hard time because of the increasing sophistication of the audience, but the ray guns and the flying broomsticks should just be the background to a good story. If the industry is going to continue publishing tons of books of which 98% are caca, then yeah people are going to lose interest in the genre and look elsewhere for their mind-stretching stories.


  • it is relationships. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fermion ( 181285 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @11:34AM (#10220786) Homepage Journal
    I think all fiction is about relationships. Science Fiction is about our relationships with the technology we create. Fantasy is about how our relationships with each other would change if certain fanciful things were different. The emphasis on sex aside, fantasy has a lot in common with the romance novel. Of course a good novel will include a number of relationship, including those between sentient, living, and created thing.

    In fact what we may be seeing is a maturing of science fiction. The great master melded all the relationship together, even sometimes focusing on sex, into a good story that was set in the future to allow the freedom created by unfamiliarity, in the same way that novel might be set in the past. Now authors like KS Robinson and the like are creating tales that rival the greatest literature, with the aspect of future or past being a critical part of the story.

    Simplicity is everywhere in literature. We can only keep tract of some many variables, like 3-7, encapsulated, so the relationships in literature are simplified. I also believe that readers will further simplify a situation to meet their mental capacity, so even if a character or story is complex, the reader will simplify it down to their needs.

    The key difference between today and 50 or so years ago is that we are literally paying for our unhealthy relationship with technology. We have massively polluted areas of the world, obese children with adult diseases, an irrational fear of drinking tap water, among other ailments. Each of these cost us untold amounts of resources, and raises the question of whether we can develop the technology to save or get us off this planter before we use it all up.

    This is all very US centric. Godzilla clearly predicted the price we pay for the misuse of technology. But even in American writers, like Pohl, have focused on the devastating effects of unhealthy relationships.

  • by bockman ( 104837 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @11:44AM (#10220852)
    Fantasy (not the one about wizards and dragons, but the mental attitude) makes the difference between growing and getting old.

    I read SF & Fantasy (the one about wzards), and other books rich in fantasy, to keep growing instead of starting getting old.

    It worked quite well for the first 40 years :-)

  • Looking through the original source article in Popular Science and looking through the article, it all looks pretty depressing. Of course, purely from my own experience, I know that there is a great deal of new and interesting SF coming out, primarily set in a near-future dystpia.

    From Morgan to Stephenson to Gibson or Macleod, the world's current condition spawns a quite wide variety of near-future dyspotian visions. This might well be a statement of the perception of now. Even reasonable fantasy is in

  • by RayBender ( 525745 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @11:55AM (#10220919) Homepage
    Remember, many of the writers and readers of SciFi grew up in an age of tremendous progress; in 50 years we went from no airplanes at all to super-sonic flight, and twenty years after that we'd gone to the moon. At the time, it seemed perfectly plausible that by 2001 there would be manned missions to Saturn. They lived in an age of exponential progress, and it was exciting. Of course it made for good story material.

    Then things just stopped. We never went back to the Moon. The Concorde stopped flying. We no long dream of flying higher, faster, better. The Shuttles blew up or were lost, space exploration was curtailed.

    Sure, there has been much progress in the area of computers, but not as much as hoped (Hal 9000 anyone?). And the progress there is just makes Orwell look more prescient than, say, Heinlein or Clarke. The future we have isn't so exciting, and certainly isn't worth writing much about. At least not if your aim is to excite young kids about adventure, science and exploration.

    It's a matter of frontiers - before SciFI there were Westerns; different setting, same basic idea. SciFi will come back if we ever enter a new age of exponential progress in exploration. Until then, the stories will be escapist fantasy...

  • by Gondola ( 189182 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @12:17PM (#10221036)
    I've been reading all these responses by self-assumed authorities on science fiction or literature who claim to know what science fiction "is".

    Science Fiction is a generic term used for fiction that takes place in the future or using technology that doesn't currently exist.

    When you computer-chair critics try to state authoritatively that "Science Fiction is about how technological advances affect people," or whatever other label you want to use, you put an artificial limitation on something that is supposed to be free-ranging and unlimited. Our imagination and creativity are beautiful, precious things, and attempting to shoehorn the unborn manuscripts of budding authors who want to write their story their way is just plain wrong.

    Science Fiction can be...

    - An exploration of possible technological advances
    - Shoot'em'ups in space
    - The affect of future technology on society/politics/individuals/religion
    - Pulp trash
    - Satire
    - Comedy
    - And lots more..

    Any writing can be written any way the author wants. The results will be according to its worth, hopefully. The only real problem is there's so much competition to be published that good manuscripts can sit in the slush pile for years.

    Of course current fashions and trends are going to affect what gets published. Ultimately, most book publishing is for the entertainment of the ordinary person, and the book publishing industry succeeds in doing that.

    Publishing "important" work with real literary impact is a hit-and-miss proposition, and always will be, regardless of the genre.
  • by PHPhD2B ( 675590 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @12:25PM (#10221076)
    The article describes what is basically a problem with fads in writing - It cites Strange Horizon's submission guidelines as "evidence" that creativity is gone within Sci-Fi. (Basically, there were too many stories along the lines of "Visitor to alien planet ignores information about local rules, inadvertently violates them, is punished" and "Office life turns to be soul-deadening, literally or metaphorically")

    Well, in screenwriting you read about fads too, one screenplay analyst said "If I read one more story about a journalist chasing a Pulitzer prize I'll gag!", does that mean that all screenwriting is now centered on journalists chasing Pulitzer Prizes? No!

    The article has no perspective - there are citations of declining readership, stale storylines, stale this, stale that. Well duh - EVERY genre has its high and low points, but trending towards a low point does NOT mean the sky is falling, nor does it mean that a new high will never be reached.

    Some try to argue that "we've done everything Sci-Fi used to promise would be in the future, so there are no more predictions to make." Excuse me? The 1900 patent bureau chief called, he wants his statement back.

    I must really have slacked off on reading the news lately, because I've missed all the stories about us being able to

    - Travel in time

    - Travel interstellarly (But hey, we've been to the moon!

    - Concquer all disease (But we're really close!)

    - Extract energy in totally novel ways (Like using decay heat to boil water to drive a steam turbine!)

    So in short, what's "wrong" with sci-fi today is that a few fads have been wrung to death, and those with novel ideas have been sidelined. Their time will come, and I predict that in the future, we will still have good, thought-provoking, evocative sci-fi.

  • by stealth.c ( 724419 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @12:50PM (#10221211)
    One thing Sci-Fi will always have a purpose for is that of authors with a passion for the sciences. Ideas in theoretical physics are always decent sources for interesting plots or complications. In the hands of a skilled author, SF based on this kind of thing is, IMHO, a great way to explore the implications of an invention before we can invent it.

    But good fiction of any kind is always about the present. If it cannot provide insight about the present, then what good is it?
  • Mixed feelings...! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mbrother ( 739193 ) <mbrother@uwy[ ]du ['o.e' in gap]> on Saturday September 11, 2004 @12:52PM (#10221229) Homepage
    I'm a professional science fiction writer, and I have the same publisher and agent as Robert Sawyer. He's correct, to a great degree. Good science fiction -- like the literature it is -- informs us about the human condition and conveys basic truths that inform the lives of those who read it.

    There does exist, surely, science fiction with the intent of predicting the future and not much else, at least not overtly. But there is certainly a subtext present, if only to inform the minds who must enter this future world.
    My first novel, Star Dragon, got great reviews, particularly at One of the points that the reviewer made there was that my future was NOT bleak, and that this was a refreshing change from most recent books. Certainly there is a long tradition of cautionary tales (Soylent Green based on Make Room Make Room!) comes to mind, but there is also an optimistic tradition of mankind using its intelligence and technology to flourish across the stars.

    Somehow in recent years, and cyberpunk is probably to blame, at least in part, the dark futures of the cautionary tales have become standard even in stories not explicitly made out to be cautionary tales. Cyberpunk is style as much as content. Dark and gritty settings have emerged across the entire culture, not just in science fiction. Dragnet and NYPD Blue are both cop shows, but no one would confuse the two.

    As long as the field of science fiction is diverse enough that the interested readership can find what they like, things will be okay there. You get stories like this when there is the perception that the diversity has vanished, which would be a crime. One of the joys about reading science fiction is that you always have a chance of getting something new and wonderous.
  • What sci-fi is.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tangurena ( 576827 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @01:04PM (#10221304)
    "Good science fiction" is about what does it mean to be human. Bad sci-fi is only about ray guns and spaceships. An example of a great sci-fi author would be Lois McMaster Bujold, and her Miles Vorkosigan series of books. Are there spaceships and rayguns in them? Sure, but the stories are about the people.

    What would a human be if you removed this trait? Characters like vulcans are humans with emotions removed. Other "aliens" are likewise variations of humans, with human traits/foibles either removed, or dialed up to 11.

    Book stores are flooded with junk books, like The Davinci Code or the for dummies series. Publishers are pushing these books and as gresham's law would put it, bad books are driving out good books. As someone who spends about $200 per month on books, I have seen this decline in what is available for quite some time. The amount of money that publishers spend on promoting fad books (like the davinci code) is appalling. It is becoming like the record industry where good musicians get pushed aside, so that this month's fad band can get all the promotion. I find more new science fiction books at the library than I do at the bookstore.

    Books about elves and wizards sell very well, thanks to the Lord of the Rings. They just are not sci-fi.

    Are book sales down? In the 1970s, paperbacks sold for around 50cents (some less, some more). Nowadays, everything is $6.99 or $7.99.

    I do not believe that Caldwell actually reads sci-fi. She thinks Singularity created the idea that technology would grow so fast that people could not cope, but instead that idea came from a 1970 book by Alvin Toffler called Future Shock. She thinks 2001 was bad because it had a date in the title? How about 1984? Perhaps she should look into the trend of publishing stories after the author dies. Ghost writing with a oiuja board, I guess.

    Are the modern sci-fi books dystopic? Yes, and that is not a new trend. Is it because that is all the publishers will publish? I don't know. In 1972, The Sheep Look Up was published, and that is about as dystopic a story as I have ever read. I don't remember a single book by Phillip Dick (some of whose books were turned into Bladerunner and Total Recall) having a happy ending. If you want a happy ending, watch tv. If you want to think, read a book.

  • "Sort of" correct (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HiThere ( 15173 ) * <> on Saturday September 11, 2004 @01:25PM (#10221402)
    It's definitely true that the basic plot of a science fiction story has to be intelligible to people of the culture that it's sold to.

    It's also definitely true that nobody can predict what kind of culture new devices will give rise to. (E.g., nobody predicted that the automobile would cause the sexual revolution. And they had decades with all the facts in front of them.)

    And sometimes people WON'T predict things that are staring them in the face. E.g., the sexual revolution lead to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Science Fiction and fantasy are often safe ways to address this point.

    Science Fiction and Fantasy are also frequently used as safe ways to make political points. And to warn about "if this goes on ..." (to quote a Heinlein title).

    But Science Fiction is also about addressing plausible futures, and seeing what they imply about "absolute ethics". This is what the best science fiction usually deals with (my bias!). Fantasy doesn't work the same way here, because it doesn't say anything about reality, but only about how we feel about reality. (OTOH, the line can be quite narrow between the genres. There's a series of 4 book called "The Dance of Gods", starting with volume 1 == Catastrophe's Spell (by Mayer Alan Brenner) which starts off as clearly fantasy. Magicians, elves, etc. Even Gods! And ends up by volume 4 as some of the hardest of hard Science Fiction. (I won't give it away, and I don't find the science totally convincing. But it's certainly plausible enough to hang a story around.)

    What makes a story Science Fiction is the background. (And time can turn a story from science fiction into we gain in knowledge.) Conventional artifices don't make a story science fiction. Stories about FTL starships, unless they are based around some novel premise, fail the test. And this includes Star Trek and Star Wars and their derivitives. They are, at best, Science Fantasy. (Note that they could be redeemed by a bit of fast talking, and a few new theories...but nobody bothers to. So this is clear evidence that they don't CARE that it's Science Fantasy rather than Science Fiction. It sells, and that's what they care about.)

    Genuine Science Fiction has always been quite rare, even within the genre. It's too easy to take some conventional solution (e.g., hyperspace drive) and use it to tell the story that you want. Even Hal Clement's "Mission of Gravity" does this, and both he and that work in particular had the reputation of writing/being "Hard Science Fiction".

    One excellent exception is George Zebrowski's "Macrolife". There've been several (10? 15?) in the last few decades, but naturally I tend to remember the earlier ones, because they are the ones that I formed the concept around. Without them, I wouldn't have known that interesting "Hard Science Fiction" was possible. And even in those, I'm fairly sure that if you looked carefully you would see fantasy elements.

    People spin fantasies by nature, and enjoy them. Anyone who doesn't, won't be able to stand most literature, much less science fiction (non-capitalized!) And without reading a *LOT* of science fiction, one won't encounter ANY examples of Hard Science Fiction. It's a continuua. (plural! There's more than one dimension.) When you say something is science fiction you are pointing in a direction in literature space, and saying "I mean the stuff you find over there", but as you look more closely "the stuff over there" breaks into a myriad of different sub-categories (mostly unnamed...where would you put Terry Prachett's Diskworld?) Science fiction and fantasy share a way of looking at the world. They aren't totally similar, but the entire spectrum has a lot of shared elements.
  • by wurp ( 51446 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @01:26PM (#10221408) Homepage
    Let me start by saying I did not RTFA... the summary was too full of shit for me to follow the link.

    Science fiction, other than pulp, has never been about a clear cut division between good and evil. Interesting stories come from complex situations. Read any old Niven, most Heinlein, modern GRR Martin, Robert J Sawyer, Bruce Sterling, John C Wright, Greg Egan, Stephen Gould, ... basically any author I would call good. While there may be a clear good and evil side, it is not a requirement. And when there is a clear good & evil, the interesting part and the focus of the story is the characters in between and their struggle. Flash Gordon and the Lensmen are not the sum total of science fiction.

    *Of course* science fiction is based on current culture - people can't relate to anything too alien, and thus it doesn't sell. The same is true for every other kind of fiction. You never see fantasy books trying to get us to relate to people who kill peasants for talking back to them as good guys, but I'm pretty sure virtually every knight would have considered that appropriate. We are never given a culture of good guys in which the firstborn child is drowned if it's a girl, but certainly major cultures that considered themselves good, and were good in many ways, did so.

    The thesis that science fiction is dying is a load of crap. I've found several good new authors over the past several years (Stephenson, Egan, Gould, etc), a few within the last few months (Sawyer, Wright) and many of the oldies but goodies are still producing (Niven, Sterling).

    This looks like a big troll. I guess I bit.
  • by gunnk ( 463227 ) <<gunnk> <at> <>> on Saturday September 11, 2004 @02:35PM (#10221789) Homepage
    The problem is that we can now see that the future is likely to be so starkly different from the present that it is difficult to create plot lines that are (a) easy enough to follow without entire chapters of background information and (b) emotionally connected to the issues of our own lives (required in order for the reader to empathize with the characters).

    Imagine a world where we all have incredibly high bandwidth data connections wired directly into our brains. We can call up huge computational resources whenever we need to and have the entire world's library of knowledge at ready recall. It is difficult to explain such a world without being overly technical, and it is hard for us to identify with a character whose very thought-processes are likely to be incredibly different from our own. This character will live in a world that has very little in common with our own. And that one piece of technology won't exist in a vacuum -- there will be many other equally revolutionary changes coming up.

    There's plenty of stories to set in the future -- it's just that if they do a good job of portraying how completely revolutionary technical change is becoming, they also tend to be little fun. In the end, don't we really look for fiction to be fun?
  • by snarkasaurus ( 627205 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @02:48PM (#10221853)
    Has anyone considered there might be a bias in the publishing environment? Sci Fi publishing and books in general have had their tax environment changed over the last few years in the USA.

    These days their back list inventory of printed books is considered a TAXABLE item instead of a deductible cost. That means they have to blow out as much of their print run as possible within the tax year or get hit with a tax on unsold product.

    So in the old days they could sit on 10,000 unsold copies for a few years, but now they can't. They have to do small runs, and if the small run doesn't fly off the shelf they remainder it and don't do a re-print.

    Avant garde books are notorious for not flying off the shelves, even the Lord Of The Rings didn't sell huge when it first came out.

    That built in systematic bias will have a stultifying effect on Sci Fi in print.

    Another bias present in the USA is that basically there are two bookstores, Barnes & Noble and Borders. Here in Canada there's ONE store, Chapters. If a book doesn't make their inventory for whatever reason, it doesn't get sold.

    This is not a conspiracy theory you understand, more like gravity. An uncaring and accidental force that constrains movement.

    Change the above constraints, change the type of stories you get.

    So basically I think Mr. Sawyer has a good chance of being wrong in his assumptions. The result he predicts may actually hold up.

    Or the whole publishing biz could go electronic or "just in time" printing. That would really shake things up.
  • by Spazmania ( 174582 ) on Saturday September 11, 2004 @10:54PM (#10224455) Homepage
    The real reason we're seeing less Science Fiction is: its all been reclassified as science fantasy.

    Seriously. The genre has become much more elitist about what qualifies as bona fide science fiction and what is mere fantasy in a futuristic setting. If Asimov's Foundation series was written today, I doubt it would make it into the club.

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