There is currently a debate going on over at SFF Chronicles about who are the modern visionary science fiction writers. Of course the first questions to ask are:
- What do we define to be modern?
- What do we define to be visionary?
I’m going to say modern is the last 20 years – and this covers books published in the last twenty years, not when the authors first published.
Visionary is defined (at least on the web) as thinking about the future with imagination and wisdom. Well, for starters, that rules out most dystopias because they tend to cut back on what is possible rather than grow it. It rules out fantasy-biased science fiction as this is not really thinking about the future. That means no GoT of Hunger Games types. I would also rule out the straight adventure – goodies versus badies – stories as they tend to use standard scenarios or tools.
So what’s left?
- Alastair Reynolds with his Revelation Space series
- Greg Egan with his various novels including Diaspora that seems to be attracting a lot of discussion on the thread
- Iain M Banks with his culture series
- John Meaney’s To Hold Infinity and his Nulapeiron series
- … and this is where I get stuck…
Yes, I know the likes of Ben Bova, David Brin and Stephen Baxter have been publishing good solid stuff. Don’t get me wrong, they are enjoyable reads. But do they have that ‘je ne sais quoi’ to be called visionary?
What about the literary novels like those of Adam Roberts? Well, they tend to take ideas from elsewhere and examine the social consequences. Again all good stuff and very worthy of being published. But visionary? No.
With such few visionary novels being published, one has to ask the question why aren’t there more? Are they not being written? Are the publishers discouraging such novels from being written by not taking the risk of publishing something ‘new’?
My gut feel, based on experience, is the publishers see something that is out of the mould and send an immediate rejection – no ifs or ans or consideration – just an absolute rejection. This discourages anyone writing such things. It’s more than discourages, it’s absolutely depressing hitting your head against the very think brick wall of the establishment. And worse, it would not surprise me in the least if established authors of the non-visionary kind aid and abet the publishing industry to go down this track because it helps their own sales.
Can the non-visionary mould be broken?
It would take a very brave person to say yes and mean it…