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What happened to science fiction?

February 3rd 2009 00:32
Frank Frazetta science fiction space gun

I'm a deep admirer of science fiction, even since I was a little kid, clutching copies of Ray Bradbury books and Star Wars comic books.

I've continued to read sci-fi as I've aged, but my tastes have gotten more selective, opting for the cream of the crop, not satisfied with the hundreds of mundane, churned out novels about strange aliens and starship gun battles.


For example, we've posted on Cormac McCarthy's novel "The Road", a look at a wasteland future. It's arguably sci-fi, but it doesn't sit on the shelf next to the Space Monkey Armada series at Barnes & Noble.

The Guardian has noticed the same thing, that books that are ostensibly in the science fiction genre are desperately ensuring that they don't get classified as such...

"Jeanette Winterson has leapt into the fray too, commenting: "People say to me, 'so is the Stone Gods science fiction?' Well, it is fiction, and it has science in it, and it is set (mostly) in the future, but the labels are meaningless. I can't see the point of labelling a book like a pre-packed supermarket meal. There are books worth reading and books not worth reading. That's all.""


Writers and publishers are most likely keen to avoid the tag as the phrase 'science fiction' summons up images of spectacled nerds dressing up as Ewoks and going out for a night on the town.

While this is not an accurate image, it's popular enough to affect sales of the books, which is what we're really talking about. "The Road" is marketed as general fiction, or even as contemporary American literature since it was penned by Cormac McCarthy, who rose to even greater heights of fame when "No Country for Old Men" did big business in America.

When I read it, I quickly understood that it was an awesome addition to the science fiction collection. Less sci-fi oriented readers were probably enthralled by the idea - 'What? A book about a future where everything is burned out and wrecked? This is amazing! They should make movies, comic books and video games about this!'

Perhaps the point is that the classification of novels is really a futile exercise:

"Is it feasible, as Jeanette Winterson seems to be suggesting, to do away with all categories on novels, and simply file them all in an A-Z of general fiction? It might conceivably give every novel a fighting chance, but would the reader who visits a shop or library looking for the latest crime, war or, indeed, science fiction novel really be well served by such a move?"




*this image is from The Flea
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6 Comments. [ Add A Comment ]

Comment by Bryn

February 3rd 2009 00:50
If you want some truly stunning hardware futurist sf read Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan (the new Neuromancer) ... or the utterly unique and uncompromising time and space nightmare House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.
... But I'm also a huge fan of The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, Solaris by Stanislaw Lem, and the hard-nosed adventure style of The Stars, My Destination by Alfred Bester.

Comment by Tania Crivellenti

February 3rd 2009 05:35
Hi Cibbuano, you reminded me of an old sci-fi TV series that was very good but I think was finished because of a wrong classification and advertisement… have you seen Dark Skies? I will write a post about this later. Thank you for getting me thinking, it’s a good idea for a post

Comment by Cibbuano

February 3rd 2009 21:07
Bryn, I loved My Stars, My Destination and The Time Machine, too...

...but I also really enjoyed Foundation, which is very scarily relevant at the moment, and Day of the Triffids!

I'll check those out, if I can find them at the library...

Tania, haven't heard of Dark Skies...?


Comment by Bryn

February 4th 2009 01:39
Foundation is Isaac Asimov?? What's the relevance?
I also loved the World of the Tiers series by Philip Jose Farmer, brilliant imagination! Have been meaning to read his Riverworld series for years, which my father loved (and he was a HUGE sf reader)

Comment by Bryn

October 13th 2009 22:09
Queensland,
Really? Salvation was good? I missed it, and heard it wasn't crash hot, but looked great.
Just downloaded Clair Noto's screenplay to her unfilmed movie The Tourist ...

Comment by Sam Uretsky

July 30th 2010 15:49
Regarding the original topic, it would simply be a matter of potential sales. If a book is labeled SF it will be on bookstore shelves that are viewed only by genre readers. We can make reasonable claim to Orwell's 1984, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, and even Shakespeare's The Tempest, but should they be classified as science fiction (of those examples, remember that The Tempest was actually turned into the movie Forbidden Planet in 1956) or should they be available to a wider audience.

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