Why the lack of ZING in British SF?

Robert Sawyer recently wrote: “Truth is, there’s very little ambitious science fiction left; most of what little is still published is fungible military SF or space opera, with no intellectual or emotional heft. The genre that was once rich with speculation and social comment has shrunk to a tiny puddle of escapism.”

He’s right. Where are the science fiction novels that blazed a trails through our imaginations or gave banquets for thought? Where are our modern day replacements for Frankenstein, The Time Machine,  The Day of the Triffids, Rendezvous with Rama, Consider Phlebas?

Today we have writers like Alastair Reynolds, Stephen Baxter, Adam Roberts and Ken MacLeod. But, apart from Reynolds’ Revelation Space series, do they have the same ‘zing’ as the previous great novels?

By now, most of you will have twigged that I’ve limited my choices to British Science Fiction. Nevertheless, it reinforces what Robert Sawyer is saying.

Like any other artist discipline, such greatness is only the tip of the iceberg. Underneath is a whole supporting structure that nutures the up and coming writers. It’s where they hone their art, experiment with different ideas and techniques, and generally let themselves be extended to achieve things they would not have thought possible.

I certainly started out with brittle writing, conventional themes that were already in the public domain and the cack-handedness of crashing around to find my ‘writing voice’. I now recoil in horror at the standard of my early fiction pieces. It was only with the encouragement of my tutors and fellow students on my MA Creative Writing course at Bath Spa University that I started my forays into the science fictional unknown. So yes, I can see the iceberg from the writers’ point of view.

The iceberg is more than just the writers. It includes the publishing industry. The recent financial crisis has forced many to publish with restraint. They’ve had to cut costs, guarantee returns on investment and pander to the desperately needed escapism. But industry can only survive on doing mediocre for so long before it becomes repetitive and boring. It will have to change eventually. It’s a case of when, not if.

Meanwhile, the new writers have to find the best way they can with what is available. The usual route to science fiction publishing is through writing short stories before moving onto the richer more in depth novels. Here’s a list of British science fiction short story publications (with thanks to help from fellow chronners on SFFChronicles):

Interzonesee here – the acknowledged premier British science fiction magazine. It has a leaning towards what I call the literary, which to my mind, puts off the idea-generating science fiction. Nevertheless it is useful in honing writing technique.

Nature Futuressee here – they have a specific purpose for their science fiction, which is basically being on commentary on the impact of future science and technology on our society. So it’s understandable that they have a very narrow definition window of what they want. (Whilst Nature Futures is owned by an American company, its editor is based in London – hence its inclusion here.)

Kraxon Magazinesee here – you need to be a member of SFFChronicles to be able to submit a story here. It was set up to encourage up and coming writers. It certainly makes you concentrate on keeping to within the wordcount.

The Singularitysee here – is as I write this is temporarily closed to submissions. Not sure when it’ll reopen. So watch this space.

Kzinesee here – publishes three times a year.

The Future Firesee here – a social political speculative cyberfiction publication.

The Far Horizons see here – is where you can showcase your science fiction.

There may be other magazines I am not aware of any other science fiction magazines – note I have not included those magazines that deal primarily with fantasy or horror such as Black Static. There are of course also calls for anthologies now and again. It’s a case of keeping a lookout for them.

These magazines provide a vital service to all writers. In the case of new ones, it helps give them the judgement of knowing what can be published and what can’t, and helps, through the editing process, improve their style.

But as you can see, they are few in number. So the iceberg on the magazines’ front is not all that big in Britain. Which is a contributory factor the lack of the ‘zing’ in science fiction.

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3 thoughts on “Why the lack of ZING in British SF?

  1. Useful list, Rosie, thanks.
    I feel inspired now to write a new story to Kraxon’s 1000 word limit. Like deadlines, I find word limits quite helpful to focus my efforts.
    A pity so few of the publications available in the UK pay. I appreciate their struggle to survive, but made my mind up long ago not to write for free any more.

    1. Hello – totally agree with your stance on payment of some sort – it may be in kind rather than money. So do a lot of other people. Good luck with your short story to Kraxon.

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