Progressive Science Fiction – Another viewpoint

Well, I’ve let two major open doors slip by without putting in a submission (Gollancz and Angry Robot). Instead I continued to work on my novel (which has now reached 40% of first draft) and my novella (which has also reached 40% of first draft mark). There was no point in putting in my old completed novels – the first being the one where beginners make all their mistakes and the second has already been turned down by various agents – well if it can’t get to the agent stage, what chance does it have with a publisher?

So this state of affairs naturally begs the question of why do I continue to write science fiction?

Well, let’s work from the premise that nobody does anything unless they believe it will do them some good, especially when it comes to doing things in their free time. So why do people read science fiction?

  1. Science Fiction, amongst other things, extrapolates what science might be able to do in the future. It gives us warnings about how not to use or curtail certain sciences or ideas of how we can use science in different ways. It helps the legislators put laws into place before we really need them for the embryonic science. It helps point to how we can use science to improve the quality of our lives.
  2. Science Fiction has and continues to be used for putting dilemmas into settings where those dilemmas stand out. Think about H G Wells’ The Time Machine for instance. Here we have the Morlocks thriving off the gentle Eloi. Or the Capitalists thriving off the Workers? The mechanism is to get rid of the unnecessary surrounding detail and personalise the arguments of the dilemma into characters of the story.
  3. Science Fiction lets us visualise places we can’t yet reach – like being on the surface of Pluto for instance. It’s for those who want to see the universe, but can’t get there.
  4. Finally science fiction helps the technologists identify the products that people would most like to have, but can’t yet. It gives the investors a way of identifying which research and development topics to pursue, and know that they are likely to reap a return on their investment.

There is a fifth type of science fiction – the adventure story. It’s the space operas, the dystopian survivalism, the geek superhero… well you get the idea. But these stories could be set in any genre providing the plot is right for that genre. This allows a person to dream of what they want to be, rather than face the reality of the day to day drudge or whatever.

So why aren’t there more science fiction magazines? What’s happened to the novel scene, where novels covering the first four types seem to be overwhelmed by the fifth?

As you know, I have for some time been advocating progressive science fiction – the happy ending with the help of progress in technology type of fiction.

The main problem it seems to me is that readers want characters, and what’s more they want characters they love and know. It doesn’t matter what their name is, so long as the character is someone they have come across in the here and now, like Juliet, Hamlet, Shylock, Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Lord Peter Wimsey, etc….

This is where I scratch my head rather. Over my lifetime, I’ve seen characters change. My father’s parents were born into a class society (my Grandma was a cook before she got married and my Grandpa was a carpenter) and would have had difficulty in understanding that I got into University. Today’s kids take computers for granted. Each generation has a different perspective. So will each generation following on from our great great grandchildren. And yet, where are the science fiction books that discuss these kind of issues?

They don’t (with perhaps a few exceptions) exist because we are too busy wanting our characters in the here and now.

But there is light at the end of this tunnel, a dim one maybe, but it’s there. I today had the pleasure of seeing a short story (not yet published, so won’t say who wrote it) where the characterisation fits in with the potential future.

We need more stories like these… they are important for those of us who want to guide and help build a better future.

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