SF Can Be Glorious Again
by Guy Hasson
When you write articles like this one you have to be respectable. You’re an author, after all.
I’ve written many articles in the weeks leading to the release of Secret Thoughts, my new book, and they’ve all been respectable, respectful, and mindful. The more I wrote them, though, the more I realized there are things I want to say and won’t, for fear of the fans’ reactions.
If I had the courage, I’d write them. But I don’t, so I won’t.
Still, if I did, the article I’d never write would look something like this:
Article Name: SF Can Be Glorious Again
Every so often an article appears, in which someone claims that SF is dead. SF, of course, is far from dead, and any genre can’t be truly dead, certainly not one that speaks about the future. After all, we have an unlimited supply of future to draw from.
Although SF is not dead and quite a bit of it is good, it lacks the glory it used to have. Here are the main reasons why:
Science Fiction Today Is Mostly Non-Inclusive
Though SF was always read by few, it was meant for all. Once upon a time, when SF was great and influential, most of the authors would write their books as if ‘regular’ people would read them. You didn’t need knowledge in physics or math to read them, you didn’t need to read ten other books about the world the author has built in order to read them, and you didn’t even need have knowledge in games, mythical monsters, or any other subject.
Today, SF books are written for SF fans who already have foreknowledge in SF matters. SF books are written knowing what SF fans like. The books are catered to those desires, while making almost no effort to bring the content of the books closer to the ‘regular’ people, the ones who fear to approach SF.
As more and more genres of SF crop up (weird ones, urban ones, zombie ones, etc.), they appeal to a specific and loyal group of readers, but most people outside the group wouldn’t know how to approach reading these books, how to connect with them, or how to enjoy them. SF has splintered into non-inclusive genres and the rest of the world remains outside, not even wanting to look in.
When you alienate most ‘regular’ readers, you make it impossible to be influential. Which brings us to the next point.
Science Fiction Is No Longer Influential
Science fiction used to be influential. It used to move mountains. It used to bring dreams to little kids who would grow up to try and realize those dreams. It used to bring new ideas to science that would influence the world of science. It used to tackle social issues, global issues, and political issues by giving us visions of the future that would hit us in the gut and warn us of what was to come, unless we did something about it. SF was the place to raise issues ahead of its time, to bring ideas to the forefront, to dare the readers to think differently.
When has that happened lately?
SF should have satire and social commentary. SF should lead the charge in directions most are afraid to look at.
When has that happened lately?
Add to this the fact that SF almost on purpose does not appeal to a wide audience, and you’ve got the most relevant and influential art form of the 20th century degenerated into non-importance and irrelevance in the 21st.
Science Fiction Is No Longer Brave
Science fiction is no longer brave because the fans are no longer brave.
Not only did SF used to be the bravest literary form, but reading an SF book used to be a brave deed. After all, brave SF would challenge the readers’ assumptions about their lives. It would raise frightening possibilities. Most of all, when you picked up the newest SF book by your favorite author, you knew that you had no idea what would be in it. Starting to read that book was the scariest thing of all, because that book may change you and your world in a way you do not imagine.
That’s the past.
Today, SF fans are split into two: the ones looking for something brave, and the ones looking for more of the same. The latter group is the more prevalent one. It is comforting to re-experience the same thing over and over. It is comforting to re-enter the same world, to know that not too many things will change, and that nothing too extraordinary will happen. It is comforting to return to a familiar place that feels almost like a family: the same starship captain having more adventures; the same sorcerer going through the motions; the same sword-wielder wielding his sword once more. And every so often, something ‘big’ would happen: a main character would die (though maybe not for long?), and you would feel like the book has rocked your world. It hasn’t. It is a comforting book, not a book that challenges you and your beliefs from page one.
Today, most SF fans are looking for more of the same, seeking to be surprised only by new variations on a familiar theme.
The non-inclusive genres mentioned above seem, at first glance, to be threatening, strange, weird, and disconcerting. But then you recall that they appeal to an audience that seeks this same experience again and again and is disappointed when it doesn’t get it. It is the same phenomenon – genres that brings comfort by supplying variations on familiar themes.
SF Genres Are Killing the Glory of SF
Variations on familiar themes are at the very definition of a ‘genre’. The publishing industry depends on genres to survive. Readers know what genre each book is in, and so they are willing to pay good money for a book they haven’t read, because it will probably help them relive the same experience.
But SF is about being brave and different and new. The more authors stick to known genres, the more they write variations on themes, the more brave SF dies.
Think about the greatest SF books of the last century (and the few that came before). What genre were they? None. Most were called SF, but were never a sub-genre of SF. Some created genres, but none were written in a genre that existed before.
SF is neither dead nor dying. It is currently losing the glory it once had and the wondrous, glorious feelings it used to convey. All these points need to be corrected: SF is now mostly non-inclusive, alienating ‘regular’ or even new readers; SF is no longer influential; SF is no longer brave; and the SF genres are the straight path to killing the glory of original SF.
Who can fix it? Authors can fix it, by trying to return to write brave and influential stories that can be easily read by those who don’t like SF. Authors can return to seek originality, first and foremost by looking outside the established sub-genres.
But that is not going to be enough. Because publishers need to want to publish brave, genre non-specific and perhaps even political SF. For the publishers to change their ways, the readers need to do something, as well. SF readers need to stop being scared. They need to find feelings of comfort in other genres and read SF for the thrill of the threat it may have on their lives. SF readers need to clamor for something brave and new, original and breathtaking, glorious and frightening.
I’m trying not just to speak about making SF glorious again, but to do. I have a new book out, Secret Thoughts, published by the brave Apex Book Company. Whether it’s glorious SF or not, that’s for you to say. But there is no doubt that you need to brave to read it.