I don’t usually get into the long and ongoing discussion about the future of science fiction. Partly this is because I have enough grief in my life without dipping my toes into this particular tank of piranha, but mostly because I just don’t know enough about the subject.
I write science fiction. Or I call what I write ‘science fiction’ for want of a better term, anyway. But I’ve never really felt that I understand science fiction. It’s something I do and something I enjoy reading, but I lack the…I don’t know, the vocabulary, the intelligence, the hardwiring to do criticism. There are some very fine science fiction critics out there, and I am not among them.
But one thing I’ve noticed about science fiction, watching all these years from the sidelines, is that it never stops questioning itself. It’s constantly tasking itself to improve, respond, react, evolve. It’s constantly watching the world and asking itself how it should reflect it.
I’m not exactly familiar with other genres, but I’m not sure that romantic fiction or crime fiction or erotic fiction stare quite so deeply and implacably into themselves, demand so much of themselves. It seems to me that science fiction has always been in some form of crisis or other, for as long as I can remember.
I’m not sure quite why this should be, but it strikes me as a wholly healthy state of affairs. There’s a vibrancy to science fiction and its associated fandom and criticism that I don’t find in other genres, an urgency, an eagerness to be questioned, to have rows about what should be done next. Some of the rows are pretty robust, which is why I don’t say stuff about science fiction very often. I’m far too fond of a quiet life. Most of them come from a love, a concern, for the genre. What do we do now? Where should we go? Are we still relevant? How should we fix it?
The most recent discussion has been sparked by Paul Kincaid’s review, in the Los Angeles Review Of Books, of three ‘Best Of’ collections – Gardner Dozois’s Year’s Best Science Fiction 29, Rich Horton’s Year’s Best Science Fiction And Fantasy, and the most recent Nebula Awards showcase. The review has, it’s probably fair to say, caused some debate.
Paul’s review is careful not to predict the death of science fiction, but it does present a picture of a genre that’s feeling a bit tired at the moment, unable or unwilling to directly engage with the world we see around us, resting on its laurels, looking back into its past for inspiration. He senses a lack of danger, of…I don’t know, would bravery be the right word?
This is all brilliant stuff. Paul is one of the best critics of science fiction working today – and I don’t say that because I’ve known him for a very long time, or because he said nice stuff about ‘The Incredible Exploding Man,’ which is in the Dozois collection. He is genuinely very, very good, and people should listen to what he’s saying, even if – maybe especially if – they don’t agree with him.
I’ve seen science fiction’s death pronounced so many times down the years that I’ve lost count, and it’s still here. I don’t worry too much about it any more. I just write what I want to write, when I want to write it. People read it or not, as they want. Not, mostly, but that’s life. But science fiction is still here, and I think it’s still here in large part because of people like Paul and many others asking questions like this. It keeps the genre healthy. It keeps it on its toes.