Amy H. Sturgis (eldritchhobbit) wrote,
Amy H. Sturgis

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“When I die I’m going to leave my body to science fiction.”

* The Sofanauts is fast becoming my favorite podcast. Each week, a variety of guests including science fiction authors, editors, publishers, and bloggers join Tony C. Smith to discuss the latest news and gossip from the world of science fiction. It is a consistently informative and thought-provoking podcast.

The most recent show featured guests Jeremiah Tolbert, Gord Sellar, and Ray Sizemore discussing everything from the Nebula Awards to the Singularity. A series of comments made spurning classic science fiction in favor of today's publications compels me to voice my disagreement, however, just for the record.

I don't think revering authors and putting them on lofty pedestals does anyone much good, but that said, I was rather horrified by the idea that we can casually dismiss "so-called Golden Age classics." For one thing, I perceive the SF genre, perhaps more than any other, to be an ongoing dialogue about the nature of humanity and modernity; today's best authors are building on conversations with the past generation, and so on. Therefore it seems to me that people involved with SF are missing a very great deal of the context and richness of the dialogue if they only catch the very last voice in the conversation, as it were. (This conversation continues; for instance, there are nominees for the Hugo Awards this very year that draw directly upon the classic writings of Rudyard Kipling, H.P. Lovecraft, and E.M. Forster, among others.)

If Sturgeon's Law is correct (and I think it is), and 90% of everything is crap, then limiting yourself only to what is recent means continually wading through a cesspool to find that 10%. Much of that work has been done for us with the books from past generations, however, as certain touchstone texts have risen above the others repeatedly and remained there. So why not read some of the best from previous generations, too, when we can be spared much of the 90% from the past so easily?

What bothered me most was the implication that today's science fiction will be outdated and irrelevant in twenty or so years, while past SF works are now. For example, I can't believe that it really matters one bit what year Ray Bradbury suggested humans would be on Mars, or whether or not that year has passed; The Martian Chronicles isn't really about Mars anyway. It's a metaphor (just like Samuel R. Delany's Babel-17 and Ursula K. Le Guin's Gethen, etc.). Bradbury's concerns in The Martian Chronicles about everything from the mentality of imperialism to the fight against censorship to the effects of the intrusive state are as relevant today as they were when it was written, if not more. To my mind, really good SF is far less about what gadgetry is predicted and far more about what insights are offered regarding what it means to be human. These insights don't have a shelf life (unless, perhaps, we all go transhuman one of these days - I'll let Vernor Vinge and the Singularity folks handle that). That's why people still find Beowulf meaningful today, and that's also why, I submit, Mary Shelley and H.G. Wells and Frank Herbert and James Tiptree, Jr. and Robert Heinlein, etc., at their best, still have something very important to say to us.

I prefer not to think of myself as an old codger who is out of touch -- three of the last six books I read were published in either 2008 or 2009 -- but I hope we don't throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. I propose that to know where the genre's going, we need to know where it's been, and that the SF experience is most fulfulling when we try to listen to its conversation as a whole.

And that's my two cents.

* I leave you with The Agronaut, a charming animated short by Polish studio GS Animation. It's a tale of a colonist trying to sustain human life on another planet is told without dialogue, told with a great sense of timing and style.

“When I die I’m going to leave my body to science fiction.” – Steven Wright
Tags: genre literature, podcasts, sf

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