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science fiction - what's all that about, then? - The Villages

Date: 2006-11-10 01:17
Subject: science fiction - what's all that about, then?
Security: Public
Music:cats snoring
I've been following with a great deal of interest and no little pleasure the recent debate about what's wrong with science fiction and what we should do to attract more readers. It's always a pleasure to read good writing and well-argued positions, and it's an important issue that I think has needed addressing for a while.
I wasn't going to put in my tuppence-worth, partly because the real deep thinkers of science fiction would probably beat up on me and partly because a lot of what I might have said has been said already. But my friend Lou Anders tells me never to be afraid to blog, so if you'll forgive me I'm going to put both feet in my mouth and jump in.
It seems to me that there have been two conversations going on here. The first is about what we have to do to get more readers, and the second is about what kind of science fiction we ought to be writing to capture the audience share we already have. I can't speak to the second conversation because I don't feel I belong in that debate, but on the first question, about how to get more people reading in the genre, I do wonder if we haven't done this to ourselves.
I do wonder if we haven't been guilty, in our deepest darkest hearts, of enjoying science fiction's minority status, of writing more for the science fiction community than for the general reader. And I wonder if Kristin Kathryn Rusch isn't right (and I hope she'll forgive me if I'm misreading her article) when she says that we need a more populist strand of science fiction to draw in the general reader.
I think we suffer from a bit of an image problem. It's the same problem that makes bookshops stick us on shelves in dark corners - usually along with fantasy and horror (no offence, fantasy and horror writers and fans). We give off an image of mystery, of only being accessible to those who understand "all those long words." Hyperdrives, mass drivers, quantum mechanics, singularities and The Singularity. These are all bread and butter to the initiated, but they're unlikely to tempt your average Dan Brown or Nelson DeMille fan. It's a secret language and it puts people off.
Of course, these are our tools, the things we write about, the way we deconstruct the world around us and try to put it into some kind of sense. But I think that, without some kind of gateway drug into science fiction we're just going to keep on losing readers because instead they'll be watching television series like Battlestar Galactica, which is proper grown-up science fiction but which also has to fulfill certain parameters in order to bring in viewers because otherwise it would be cancelled. Maybe we should be looking at something like this as a model.
There. Now we'll see if anybody's reading this thing...

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User: jmward14
Date: 2006-11-10 02:41 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Well, you knew I'd get here eventually. LOL
Why can't we use the SciFi.com model? Isn't communication the first rule and ultimate goal of storytelling? If we get too hermetic, what's the point?
I'm not saying write dumb, just to write so the reader can understand. If journalists pulled some of the stuff pulled by "literary" writers of all genres, we'd be out of a job.
Or teaching at university. ;-)
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User: hutch0
Date: 2006-11-10 21:56 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Hey, haven't I seen you here before?
There you go; you said in three lines what it took me two hours of frantic effort to try and put into words. I don't know what the SciFi.com model is, though (hangs head in shame)

many hugs,
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User: jmward14
Date: 2006-11-11 00:01 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The SciFi.com model is BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, FARSCAPE, STARGATE-1, STARGATE-ATLANTIS, and for science fiction lite, THE CHRONICLE and EUREKA. In essence, stories/series that have to compete for market share and sell ad space. Yes, the network can be ruthless, pulling the plug on series before they reach their natural ending (witness FARSCAPE and SERENITY) but the need to keep a certain number of households tuned in to pay the bills keeps the writing from becoming too arcane.
*the Usual Suspect*
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2006-12-21 18:41 (UTC)
Subject: addendum to old post -- news item on NPR 12/21
I heard something today that I thought warrented posting to the SF-interested, but didn't want to clutter anyone's personal email. Apologies for posting to such an old soliloquy.

Here on the fun side of the puddle, I heard an item on National Public Radio opening with "In the UK, what used to be considered something to be relegated to science fiction is being discussed by the British Department of Science and Technology: robots of the future..." It went on to touch on their eventual sentience, the future procreative ability, and their ensuing civil rights in as early a time as the mid-21st century.

Now the gauntlet has been thrown to the science fiction world, how accurate have your pronostications been?

-the girl who was shown a good time (reference to a later posting, BTW)

P.S. Yes, I am speaking in inflammatory terms in my ever-abiding quest to get a rise out of Hutch.
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User: hutch0
Date: 2006-12-22 13:30 (UTC)
Subject: Re: addendum to old post -- news item on NPR 12/21
Hey, you.
I thought it was quite funny; the Office of Science and Innovation - which I have to admit I never heard of before yesterday - commissioned a series of papers about possible technological innovations in the next 250 years. And it looks as though the authors of those papers simply sat down and watched a couple of seasons of `Star Trek.'
So we get straight-line science fictional stuff like machine intelligence, nano, spaceflight, and so on. Even robot civil rights isn't a new subject in science fiction. It's hard to know whether the future is keeping up with science fiction, or science fiction is keeping up with the future. Or if the guys who compiled these research papers are just big science fiction fans. According to the government's chief scientific advisor, these things are ``tools for government to identify risks and opportunities in the future.'' Personally, it looks as though they could have saved themselves some money and got much the same effect by raiding the shelves at Forbidden Planet.

Speaking for my own stuff, not a single one of my prognostications has ever been accurate, which may be a blessing for everybody considering some of the things I've written.
Have a happy holiday.
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