Sunday, July 20, 2008

Another Look at the Direction of SF

The Crotchety Old Fan has posted a response to my blog entry from a few days ago regarding the future of SF. (That is a great blog name, by the way.) He has some good discussion, including an on-topic excerpt from the introduction of an anthology edited by Lester del Rey.

When I first read his post, I got the impression that he thought I hold the opinion that SF is dead. I read it again and now I'm not sure. I think he's just making comments on my comments.

For the record, I think that SF is very much alive. I had some of this discussion with Michael L. Wentz way back in December of 2006. The question that continues to surface is two-fold. Where do we go from here, and how does SF attract new readers to itself?

The first question is something, I think, that nobody can answer. I doubt William Gibson intended to start a new sub-genre when he started working on Neuromancer. No doubt his thoughts were roughly like mine were when I started Neanderthal Swan Song. "This is a cool concept and it will make a terrific story."

Right now, there seems to be a steampunk movement that is getting far more attention than the artificial mundane movement. There hasn't been a major new subgenre since Cyberpunk, but I don't think that's a big deal. There is still plenty of room to play.

Think of it like this stock market analogy. We get long periods of prosperity called a secular bull market, followed by long periods of stagnation called a secular bear market. For the past century, the start of a secular bull market coincides with the introduction of a major technology. Even those in the business of selling the new technology don't always realize what they have.

There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.
- Ken Olson, President, Chairman and Founder of Digital Equipment Co. 1977

Literary tastes go through cycles where one genre becomes enormously popular and others limp along in near obscurity. The westerns are currently in near obscurity. The Westerns section at the last book store I visited consisted of two shelves of a four shelf book rack. Almost everything on the shelf was written by Louis L'amour. Thankfully, SF isn't nearly that bad off.

To introduce a non-sequitur with no segue, something else comes to mind that I think truly is the future of SF. In some ways, it is a Dangerous Vision in its own right. In the past decade or so, we have seen a lot of movement away from the straight white male protagonist.

Tobias Buckell writes with a Carribean flavor that enriches his novels with that something different. He is also quite outspoken about inclusion, perhaps because his appearance keeps his heritage hidden. It's not my place to go into a detailed discussion of Buckell's personal history, but he has and does post openly about it. You can get details here.

This leads neatly into the second question I posed, that is, how to attract new readers to SF. Buckell and other like-minded writers see inclusion as a way of attracting an audience who historically never reads SF or fantasy. The thought being "Nobody like me is represented in this story, so why should I read it?"

In my own work, I tend to mix the characters up a bit, too. My most successful story to date, The Adjoa Gambit, has almost no male characters at all. Adjoa is a little black girl from Togo. More recently, the POV character in Thrice Around the Earth and then Home, James, is female and Asian. Of course, the POV character in Neanderthal Swan Song isn't even human , but Greenlandic and Japanese characters also play major roles in the story along-side the white Americans.

This, I think, is the beginning of a major phase in the evolution of both the SF and fantasy genres. It may not be as loud and brash as the new wave (where SF gained literary respect), nor as fundamental as John W. Campbell insisting upon scientific rigidity for hard SF, but inclusion is really a more important step. It invites readers from a new demographic to join the fun, and that makes for a healthy market for my product.


Anonymous said...

thanks for the mention Rick. I hope I'm also sending traffic your way


Rick Novy said...

It's hard to say, but I gained think a little. I have a lot of readers that aren't counted because they read the blog from the Codex Writers Megablog: