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Last week Charlie Stross posted this response to Kristine Kathryn Rusch's call in her article (published in Asimov's) "Star Wars on Trial" in which she suggested that SF return to its roots (pulp fiction) to try and hold on to shrinking readership.

I have to agree with Mr. Stross on this one. Pandering to nostalgic longing for the lost, pulp past might cause a temporary bump in readership among readers who grew up with the carrot of technocracy dangling before them while they dreamt of being the heroic polymath engineer, but it won't last and will make the genre even less relevant to the modern reader.

Why have i kept reading sf (and for the moment, let's read those initials as "speculative fiction", not necessarily "science fiction" ) for all these years? Certainly not because it summons up a vision of the future that was dragged from somewhere in the past. That type of attempt at scientific fortune-telling is probably my least favorite type of sf (well, next to straight military sf that recasts famous military encounters of the past somewhere else in the universe). That's not the "what if?" that appeals to me. I don't necessarily believe that "what if?" is what makes sf unique. After all, isn't all fiction about "what if?" when you come right down to it. So it's got to be something else. What is it?

For me, though I will admit to being a science geek, it's the potential for freedom and exploration that keeps me coming back for more. It's the same reason that I love Borges and Marquez - Burroughs and Boyle every bit as much as I love Stross, Banks, Stephenson, Zelazny, and Wolfe. Good fiction has the power to explore humanity's strengths and foibles in a way that other media can''t (or hasn't figured out how to yet). Fiction challenges every reader to see through different eyes - think different thoughts than they normally do. Speculative fiction can simply do it on a potentially much larger palette and pick a different color set with which to work (to extend a metaphor to the breaking point).

So, yeah, those of us who read and write sf are definitely slaving away in an increasingly smaller ghetto, if you look at the strict numbers of what's sold as "science fiction", and it may get smaller still. But I look at a number books being sold as mainstream, and I see threads that not that many years ago would have consigned the book to the sf racks at the back of the store. What's being sold as sf may getting smaller in number, but what' s being sold as something else that's really specfic - that seems to be growing.


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May 2009

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