2003-09-24 - 11:25 a.m.
Every year or two, some hysteric proclaims the death of science fiction and bemoans the fact that it is being somehow swallowed up by fantasy, overlooking the historic truth that fantasy has been the most popular form of fiction for thousands of years, while specialty items whether the novel of manners or science fiction are more recent inventions which will always interest only a certain subset of the population. This year's hysteric is Spider Robinson, who has created much stir on the internet with such remarks as:
This being the 50th year that Hugos have been given for excellence in SF, I devoted my remarks to the present depressing state of the field. Three short steps into the New Millennium, written SF is paradoxically in sharp decline.He made these remarks in an article called, "Forward, Into the Past," published in The Globe and Mail online newspaper.
I can only conclude that Robinson has gone mad.
We are in another golden age, and there has never been so many books of such advanced quality from such a range of writers. Far from being in decline, SF offers you so many choices that it is impossible to keep up without devoting one's career to kicking back and reading SF novels. I'm almost afraid to start naming names, because I know I will leave too many people out, but how can a person gripe about the state of SF in a world where Iain ("M.") Banks, Kim Stanley Robinson, Neil Stephenson, Bruce Sterling, Connie Willis, and so many others are setting such incredible standards?
Back in the days before consolidation in the publishing industry and before competition from so many other forms of entertainment like the internet, the games, the movies with special effects that didn't make you groan, even now TV shows with decent special effects, an entire SF channel, yes, certainly, there were lots more books and magazines published. For the love of Pete and all the little green gods, there are only so many hours in the day! People with a casual interest in such matters don't have to buy books any more; they watch the Star Trek franchise. The only reason to pick up a book or a magazine story is because it is going beyond what a popular medium like TV or the movies can do. And, by definition, the majority of the population won't be, can't be, interested in the avant garde.
So, um, yes, there is very little work for the hack writer except for franchise novels aimed at the unsophisticated reader who thinks he's stepping backstage in the Star Trek or Star Wars universe. But let's be honest with ourselves. 80 percent of the old stuff just plain wasn't good enough to be publishable today. Even Spider Robinson, were he a young man starting out instead of an older man with an established franchise, wouldn't be good enough to be published today. The standards are stratospheric. And I can certainly understand why that scares him as a writer. But to claim that readers are not getting good stories about the future is ridiculous. Recently I read The Year's Best Science Fiction: 2001 : Nineteenth Annual Collection put together by Gardner Dozois. The impact of these stories -- which were indeed SF, often hard SF, not escapist fantasy -- simply blew me away. Perhaps Spider Robinson should consider investing in a copy.
Dozois has a brief introduction where he discusses the supposed decline in SF. Quite rightly, he points out that all printed publications are in "decline," if you care to see it that way. The world of the dime novel is dead in a world where the person seeking escapism can just turn on their TV, their DSL internet-linked computer, their Nintendo game device. He asks if pornography is in decline just because books and magazine sales (including industry leaders like Playboy) have a fraction of the subscribers they had back in the day. I think we all know the answer to that one.
Spider Robinson claims that people today are not interested in the future. That's only true in the sense that a fish is not interested in water. We are living in the future. I noticed some years ago that William Gibson no longer seemed so fresh. Truth is, the new-n-shiny is off the tale of the pony-tailed hacker up all night on speed to plug into the net. We can all stay up all night on speed and plug into the net. Clueless overweight teen-age script kiddies can modify a virus and attack faceless corporations. Meanwhile Granny is uploading digital photos of her grandkids onto her personal website. And that's OK. In Tomorrow Now: Envisioning the Next Fifty Years, Bruce Sterling points out that cyperbunk seems stale not because it failed to come to pass, but because it did. Life is science fiction.
Metamorphosis Update: Still nothing from the agent who expressed interest in BF's work. I don't think he can reasonably be expected to wait much longer. In fact, he is already formatting his book for self-publication, so that his fans of the online publication effort can get hard copies. Considering the numbers of people who donated, he doesn't think it's fair to make them wait much longer, and I tend to agree. I was tickled when he showed me some of the discussions of the Spider Robinson flap where people had advised the man to read MOPI before pronouncing SF DOA. There isn't much money available any more for any except the very top tier of writers, but as this seems to be the case for everything from teaching college to programming computers, I don't see the point in being bitter about it and BF seems to quite sensibly agree.
Hummingbird Report: There are some short breaks in hummingbird activity, but I can usually look out and find where a hummer is perching within a few moments. Either that, or two of them will come fighting by. The adult males seem to be long gone. It is still all adult female Ruby-Throats to the best of my limited observational skills. I noticed a bird who looks like an adult female but who has a dark feather on her heart -- not on her gorget and not a brilliant metallic red feather -- but more like a dark blacky-gray smudge. An immature or perhaps just a dirty birdie? I have examined her several times, and I'm not sure if I'm just psyching myself out with such minute details.
A nice variety of butterflies today -- Gulf Fritillaries, Cloudless Sulphurs, and an absolutely huge Giant Swallowtail visited the butterfly garden even though the mistflowers are not really that close to being open yet. The fritillaries and the sulphurs try the cardinal climber and even the hummingbird feeder but it did indeed seem as if the Giant Swallowtail was investigating the un-opened mistflowers.
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