Living in the Science Fiction world
Award-winning British SF author Alastair Reynolds is featured on the BBC site this morning, discussing how the increasingly rapid changes in society and our technological abilities affect the writing of SF, something Alastair is doubly qualified to do, being not only an inventive (and bestselling) SF author but a scientist who spent years working for the European Space Agency. Some critics comment that Science Fiction is a dying genre because much of it is outmoded by real-life advances in science and changes in society within a short time of a new story being written, but Alastair takes the opposite view: “Society has probably always felt this way. To some extent this is when science fiction should thrive – when the world is changing at a bewildering pace. I certainly don’t think science fiction is being overtaken with real world events.”
(Alastair Reynolds being chomped on by the Plush Cthulhu at last year’s EasterCon in Glasgow, borrowed from Antipope’s gallery of SF&F writers devoured by the Plush Cthulhu)
I’d agree with Alastair here – no surprise an SF and comics geek would defend his genre, is it? However, I don’t think the idea of rapid technological advances in the real world (whatever that is) making the fictional tech in SF outmoded is really an issue, at least not for those of us who know and read the genre widely. Why? Because most readers read fiction for a good story and to spark ideas in their imagination (something SF&F is remarkably good at), not to read about new imaginary technology and wonder when we can get it for real – we can read any number of scientific and engineering journals for that. As Alastair himself says, despite his scientific background the technology and science in his stories is only there to service the story and the development of the characters; I suspect people who make the technologically outmoded argument against SF simply don’t read the genre and have that blinkered assumption that it is all robots and rocket ships – it isn’t.
(The Prefect, Alastair Reynolds’s latest novel, published recently by Gollancz)
The good books, as with any genre of writing, tell tales that explore the human condition. That’s why we still read older SF like War of the Worlds and why much of it is still relevant to 21st century life. It’s why the wild, dark fantasies of Kafka are read again and again and reworked by new generations of writers and artists. It’s why Philip K Dick continually beckons us back like a weird and twisted lighthouse beacon of the imagination. And it is why books by modern SF&F authors like Alastair continually surface in the national bestseller charts for fiction. Hard to do that with a dying genre, I would have thought. I don’t think SF&F is in any danger of dying out or being outmoded because it isn’t a monolithic structure, it is composed of many individual writers experimenting in all sorts of notions and ideas, which makes it incredibly adaptable and able to evolve. And if that puts you in the mood for some new top-notch SF then have a look at my SF Book Picks in the new FPI catalogue for some (in my humble opinion) good suggestions, including Alastair’s new book, The Prefect as well as the incredibly inventive Glasshouse from Hugo nominee Charlie Stross, the disturbing near-future of Ken MacLeod’s Execution Channel, Richard Morgan’s gripping Noir Black Man and the start of a new space opera series from the creator of the kick-ass heroine Parrish Plessis, Marianne de Pierres in Dark Space among others. The genre is alive and well and as a long-time reader I think we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to good writers right now. Go on, have a look.