Someone who will remain nameless suggested that agents are pushing their science fiction authors to write fantasy. As I know of at least two high profile promising authors who have done exactly that I have to take this suggestion seriously.
True, fantasy books earn more than science fiction because the genre has a wider readership. So I can’t blame agents and ultimately the publishers if they are doing this.
The issue is this – if fantasy is taking some of the best science fiction authors away from the genre, then science fiction is losing out big time. This would be absolutely criminal. Authors write their best if they are happy with what they are writing and pushing them towards another genre, albeit closely related, will detract from their happiness. The corollary is that fantasy is not getting the best stories they possibly can and that the fantasy readership are content overall with a lesser standard than they could and should have.
But let us look at the wider picture.
At the moment there are a lot of techno-thrillers and what I call Solar System limited space opera coming onto the science fiction market. They are both a reaction to scientific and investment pushes, the first to the development of the internet of things and its close relations and the second to the political push to return to the Moon and land on Mars. The techno-thrillers will have their reign, but I do not expect that to last more than a few years as I’m seeing reports that the technology introductions from that discipline are slowing down. The close space opera theme will only thrive if there is a continued political push in that direction – and I suspect there will be for socio-economic reasons.
Another influence is the role-playing games side of things. James S A Corey has done well with The Expanse in both the novel and TV series. This was based on RPGs that served to give the series a level of background detail that is missing in most science fiction. It was more than enough to catch the readership’s imagination. Of course RPGs also play into the techno-thriller theme mentioned above with its sub-culture of them versus us coming to the fore.
There is a lot of Earth culture pushes in science fiction at the moment e.g. afro-SF. This is how such cultures would deal with the standard themes of aliens and the like. It gives another viewpoint. I’m going to call this the culturism for want of a better word. One thing that is missing is the culturism of societies close the western world ideal (whatever you define the ideal is). The subtle differences and their implications are just not there. Some of the comments I’ve seen about my short story The Ice Man set in Sweden reflect this lack of appreciation.
The techno-thrillers, close space operas, RPG-basis and culturism are all the hot themes at the moment. So what is missing?
Let’s not talk about what I call the continuance of the once-hot themes such a dystopias, alternative histories and cli-fi (climate fiction). They will continue to be churned out as they have a following.
Let’s instead look at what new themes could come up in siren fiction:
- gene-ism – the impact of altering genes in the human, fauna and flora species
- engineering impact – the ability to alter our surroundings to make our lives more interesting or easier (this differs from science impact because it takes into account the practicalities that need to be dealt with in the story one way or another)
- life-differentials – with the difference in life-spans becoming ever greater for various reasons, how are people going to react to each other and why
- habitat influencing – where the habitat for humans changes and how their physical and mental well-being are affected over the generations
All these themes have been touched upon in precious science fiction stories and I’m sure you can name various stories that cover some aspect of any of the above four themes.
But they have only been touched upon, not gone into in depth or with feeling.
Let me give you an example for engineering impact. The Expanse series (at least the first 3 TV series) lacks space elevators and true space planes, both of which are currently in development by us mere mortals! Instead we have these clumsy shuttles with their noisy thrusters rattling the passengers. Surely they can engineer these shuttles to be much better than the stories say? Yes, Arthur C Clarke did write about the space elevator in The Fountains of Paradise, published in 1979, so you can say it has been touched upon. But we need an updated version of this story to take into account the significant research and development that has been undertaken since then, and to link its impact in with other science fiction themes in a pragmatic manner. (And while we’re at it, has anyone in the science fiction community used a space elevator to additionally act as a power generator because of the magnetic field differential against height? See what I mean about engineering impact?)
But some of these stories will never get written if as has been suggested some of the best genre authors are pushed away from science fiction. Which is absolutely criminal. It has to stop, for the good of the development of humanity.
The even more serious point I’m making is there still is a lot of sense of wonder science fiction out there to be written. It is no being given the chance to see paper or electronic print. In part because it is being starved of the talent to write it.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I feel it is time this changed…