Is science fiction withering?

I had one of those crazy moments of inspiration today – science fiction is being starved of BIG new ideas, and unless something isn’t done about it soon, it will wither and eventually die as a genre.

Before you good people all decide I’m talking a load of tosh, let’s look at things in the cold light of day, shall we?

First of all, just what are the main themes of science fiction? Well, for scientifically based (as opposed to fantasy or truly wishful thinking such as faster than light travel that doesn’t cost very much) science fiction there’s

  • space travel, exploration and colonisation,
  • the impact of climate change,
  • how to avoid other natural disasters such as Earth being hit by an asteroid, the emergence of a deadly very infectious virus and eruptions of super volcanoes
  • dystopias of one form or another (the how to survive manual as I call it),
  • cyberpunk, robotics with computers
  • impact of minor technical inventions (though this is a small proportion)
  • military with all their super-horrible weapons etc
  • dealing with realistic aliens in all their forms and guises
  • …and what else?

Whilst I’m sure you can think of some odd stories that don’t fit into any of these categories, I bet you they are far and few between.

There is one very big omission – and I do mean BIG! It’s one of those pervasive themes that like the above themes can strike in many different ways. There have been stories edging around it, as a kind of side-thought, but never really getting into the meat if it.

You know what… I think we are frightened to explore such a subject. Stories may have been written about, but publishers would be reluctant to publish for fear of losing their readers. Can you blame them? They are, after all, in the business of making money, which means having readers buy their stories. But there could be another reason why it’s not come out of hiding so to speak. It is actually very difficult to write clearly about it, without giving a heavy mislead. [Well, you don’t think I wouldn’t have tried, do you?]

But if science fiction as a genre doesn’t go there, we will be left with variations and combinations of variations on the old themes. Yes, they will be entertaining in their own ways, but they’ll be lacking the super-wow factor…

So is it time to boldly go where no man (or woman for that matter) has gone before? Into the unknowns of what could become science fiction?


9 thoughts on “Is science fiction withering?

  1. The answer to your question is yes. The reason is also simple, 99.9% of SF authors are now navel gazing rather than looking outward.

    Why there is this inward looking I am not sure, it is almost as if they are afraid to look outward and speculate about what might happen in the future.. Is this because the publishers are now so afraid of the PC brigade that publishing anything controversial is frowned upon after all most of the latest SF books are based on ‘safe’ themes.

    If this trend continues it will only be the indi author/publisher that will produce the outward looking stories – working cold fusion, a quantum jump drive etc., both of those are considered a no no because someone has maybe proved they can not be, maybe we should apply a little ‘what if’.

    1. I have a suspicion that a lot of SF authors do not know where to look next, which is why they mix and match what they are familiar with. I also think this is compounded by the publishing industry only wanting to publish what has already got a good selling record theme-wise – hence the rehash of many old SF films we are currently seeing at the moment. The problem with indie authors are there are so many of them now, that finding the good ones takes real effort and time. So indies have to become very good at publicity… I think it’s now got to the point where being goos at publicity is more important than the writing… all very sad.

      1. I disagree with this as well. Yes, there are the standard films and remakes and sequels (50s B-films followed similar patterns as well but we would never say the 50s was an era of intellectual sterility in SF). Have you seen Upstream Color (2013) or Moon (2009) or Mr. Nobody (2009)? There are plenty of intriguing SF films coming out if you look…

    2. Hello Joachim, I must admit not having watched any of the three films you mentioned – two came out in 2009, which was basically my year from hell – I won’t give you details or I’ll have you crying – and I certainly haven’t caught up with the Upstream Color one. However, looking at the wikipedia summaries of all three, I don’t see what’s the new idea in any of them. Yes the acting, settings, music etc may be brilliant, but… Take Moon for instance – mining helium 3 on the moon has been pursued since the 1980s to my knowledge – deteriorating clones known about since the demise of Dolly the first cloned sheep – using clones for nasty jobs – read Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (came out in 2005). Yes there are twists and melds between existing ideas… but apart from possibly the films have been put together, where’s the wow factor?

  2. I do not think so. I think, if anything, SF is more popular than it ever has been. That said, perhaps certain subgenres of SF are. While others, YA dystopia (which is still SF), are growing in painful directions.

    1. Whilst I agree that more new SF novels were published last year than for several years prior tot that, I look at the awards (BSFA, Nebula, Hugo – we haven’t had the Arthur C Clarke yet) and go: ‘Meah, so what?’ as far as themes go – yes there are variances, but nothing that gets the ‘Wow. this is really new’ squeal out of me. It sounds as if your experience is different, and long may it continue for you!

      1. No, I dislike most new SF…. But, I would never proclaim that it is “withering.” Especially since lots of worthwhile books do not make award lists.

      1. Personal taste. Mostly a disgust with technobabble/singularities/space battles, etc… It’s not all new SF of course — I enjoy Mieville, Beckett, etc.

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