Science Fiction in the Market Place

As far as I am concerned, the behaviour of certain people has brought the Hugo Awards into disrepute, which to translate this from Britishness into plain words, the Hugo is no longer an award to aspire to. It’s dead, deceased, defunct. Which means one of the mainstays of Worldcons is gone. Whether the Worldcons can survive such a blow is a matter to be seen.

I was also disappointed by the BSFA awards. I’ve read Anne Leckie’s Ancilliary Sword. I found it enjoyable and a good read, but, and this is the important point for me, it did not have the ‘Wow factor’, the kind that makes my eyes pop out and want to read more. It did not have that extra special ‘je ne sais quoi‘. In fact the Arthur C Clarke award shortlist backs me up on this as Ancilliary Sword did not reach the shortlist.

To me the voted awards are in total disarray, driven by cliques rather than quality of the imagination. And that means all is not well with the science fiction community.

This is all the more disappointing because there is a whole heap of discoveries on its way (think New Horizons probe to Pluto and the restarting of the Hadron Collider), inventions being developed (think Skylon space plane and continuing development of robotics), and technology continues to be introduced into society (think Apple Watch and automatic vacuum cleaners, let alone the massive advances in medicine because of genetics). Yet, despite all this influx of science, science fiction does not seem to interest the ordinary person in the street. You would think it is only natural that people would be asking ‘what could be next for us?’

The world in ten, twenty years time will be a very different place from what it is today. Think back to 2005. Clunky heavy laptops, cars built like heavy tanks to save people’s lives should accidents occur, lighter and more fuel efficient aircraft, and the list could go on. Think twenty years ago… the internet was only just starting and available to a specialised few, mobile phones were heavy bricks and digital photography was in infancy.

Admittedly there have been attempts to look at what’s coming around the corner technology-wise and how it would impact people. Nature Futures is one such place. The Hieroglyph Project another. But they have not attracted the interest that I would have expected. People just do not seem to want to know.

Part of the problem is the dystopian of ‘the world will end’ emphasis we have seen in science fiction lately. It’s the kind of modern dungeons and dragons gaming of the late 1970s and early 1980s or the chess playing leagues around in the mid-1970s or the wargaming with model soldiers that used to exist earlier last century. Dystopias don’t look at modern technology, don’t want to either. Science fiction dystopias were initially warnings of what could go wrong in the future, but have since morphed into gaming, a sort of trap to snare the unwary science fiction writers.

Another part of the problem is that there is too much technology entering society. How do you combine improvements in medicine with improvements in data processing with improvements in transport with improvements in materials with improvements in miniaturisation with ad nauseum? It’s a nightmare for the writer to get right. Consequently the track record of predicting aspects of the future has got worse. Result has been that the readership are losing interest. in fact we are really left with the far future space operas that are so remote from today that the feel more like fantasy that science fiction. I would even include Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 in this space opera category.

Another part is the belief by some people that all the likely near future science technology development has been covered in science fiction. That is an assumption that is so wrong that I find it incredible. I find no shortage of ideas and developments to write about. In fact there have been times when I’ve been writing about one idea when another idea comes into the story. But what I can understand is that writers new to craft of developing science fiction stories tend to examine and explore the old ideas first. It’s called learning the craft and understanding what is already out there. It does boil down to having to take longer to develop one’s capability. But honestly, there is so much possible new technology, let alone natural phenomena to explore, that there is no shortage of material to draw on.

I can understand why Andy Weir’s The Martian has attracted such interest. It is a possible near future book that could take hold of the near term imagination and hope. But Andy had to effectively self-publish it before it got noticed by the publishing industry.

Which to me points to the publishing industry strangling off this valuable resource. Yes I call writing about near future a valuable resource for society because it helps the scientists and technologists to develop new things by showing the way and warning of problems that need solving. The industry has got itself into what I call the pure entertainment ghetto, and ghetto is the right word. It’s difficult to escape from and it’s limited to the current population of the readership. Or putting it another way, the science fiction industry has become so risk adverse to new stuff that it frightened of publishing anything that is untried and untested in the market, which means nothing really new.

It’s at this point I’d like to say that there is a thirst in the international science fiction market for identifying new technology. And yet the publishing industry has dismissed this market opening altogether.

This has been going on for so long that it is now going to take a major new initiative and financial backing to break the logjam to get near future realistic science fiction back into the readership’s focus. Is this going to happen?

Of course not… It’s going to take more successes like that of Andy Weir’s before publishers will sit up and take notice. And that will take time. Which is why the professional ‘hard’ science fiction writers have to give up in order to earn their wages from elsewhere.

But do you remember what I said earlier in this post about the development and introduction of technology?

Yes… this is going to catch the publishing industry out and those writers brave enough to continue writing this type of science fiction will one day wake up to realise they are in demand.


3 thoughts on “Science Fiction in the Market Place

  1. Perhaps not surprisingly we were talking about the Hugos in a writers group I attend last night. I find the notion of cliques behind awards disturbing, regardless of their motivations.

    I couldn’t agree more with you about dystopian fiction. I grew up near a Strategic Air Command base in the 1960s and my dad worked on the ABM project, so the idea of Apocalypse has been with me for over a half-century. I’m TIRED of it. What’s the point of writing about how the world will come to an end? I’m not even a big fan of “save the world from the Apocalypse” stories for the same reason, because the apocalypse is still the point — without it the story wouldn’t exist. What happens the day after you save the world is far more important. What do you do now that the world isn’t going to end? What do you make of this world?

    Science fiction, to me, is about solving problems, not being defeated by them.

    Good post, Rosie, and good ideas.

    1. Many thanks for your kind words, Tom.

      Unfortunately, you could say that dystopian science fiction is the zeitgeist of the gamers at the moment, which would account for its continuing popularity and its spillover into fantasy.

      What is needed is a new kind of game – the what can we do with this up and coming set of technologies type of game. The main problem with this is there are very few science fiction writers who have the capability to pull that broad and vast science together into one world… hm… this comment suggests an idea… need to think this one through.

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