Saturday, 22 November 2008

The Current State of SF

As a literary genre and a social phenomenon, science fiction has hit something of an impasse. While science and culture thunders along at an ever increasing rate, our beloved genre needs to evolve alongside real life in order to remain a viable concern. It is doing so to a certain extent, but writers and editors need to be looking to the future, as it were, instead of relying on tried and tested old ways of thinking and storytelling. I don’t mean so much in the stories themselves, more their political, technological and sociological threads, the things that give them some grounding in reality.

Space travel, instant communication, cloning and more are all a reality now. Heck, even teleportation has been achieved on a molecular level. The things that seemed so far off in the golden and silver ages of the genre are now very real, and it is only really a matter of time before more of them become commonplace, leaving science fiction looking ever more quaint. Yet, as a genre, SF was built for change and we all, as fans and creators, need to remember that we can’t just rely on a few gadgets and a few odd words to turn a story into a piece of speculative fiction.

Actually, I could be wrong. Perhaps SF is indeed moving along with the times, but the perception of the genre from the outside certainly isn’t. While we in the SF world continue to enjoy stories that blur the boundaries of SF and fantasy, or stories that feature ever harder science elements to them, the image of the SF genre remains largely unchanged in many eyes. The interesting thing is that over the past few years we have seen SF being taken a little more seriously. This is thanks in no small portion to TV properties such as Doctor Who and the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, showing us that invention and ingenuity can still be brought to the masses.

But, are we, as fans and creators, partly responsible for any stigma attached to the genre? Do we not perpetuate some of the myths of fanboys and girls with big dreams and a tenuous grip on reality? Perhaps so on occasion. The fact remains that speculative fiction remains the most vibrant place to find new ideas, new concepts, and as the world moves on, I do believe SF will continue to have a place in the cultural landscape. Not only that, but I can see it becoming more important once again. After a period of such difficulty in the world, maybe it is time for a new age of optimism like that of the 60s SF boom. We’re living in the future now, people. Lets start making it come alive.

It comes as no surprise that it is primarily the realms of SF and fantasy that seem to have embraced the New Media movement. Using new technology to get stories, audio books, and even films out to audiences is a wonderful thing that ties in with the basic core elements of science fiction itself- moving on, discovering new ways of getting content and ideas out there. It is a movement that is growing ever larger, especially in these troubled times. Being able to check out new SF as PDFs or podcasts before risking money on it is something that won’t just help readers and listeners, it will also help the genre itself as, thanks to the instant feedback that is available, writers will be able to hone their craft even further, polishing and improving their work so that people will garner even more enjoyment from it. Plus, in recent studies (as reported with figures in LOCUS magazine) there is some great evidence that the try-before-you-buy idea actually improves book sales.

As long as SF keeps looking forward, but glancing back every now and again to make sure it is still on the right path, then this genre that loves the future will most certainly have one of its own.

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