David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

On DeepGenre: The End of Science Fiction

I’ve just written a long essay on the DeepGenre blog about how long the genre of science fiction is destined to last and whether we might see the end of it anytime soon. Read “The End of Science Fiction” and post your comments there.

Some excerpts:

Here’s something I’ve noticed about futuristic science fiction stories: the characters in them never tell futuristic science fiction stories. Think about it. Can you think of a single example of a character in a futuristic science fiction story reading (or watching) a story that’s science fiction from their point of view?…

Yet I think there’s a deeper answer here, and it’s relevant to our business as writers and readers. We have a hard time envisioning futuristic science fiction characters envisioning a future of wonder because they’re living in one themselves. They’re inhabiting this theoretical future, and so they no longer need to extrapolate. In other words, there’s no need to look off to some far-off feat of scientific progress because there are feats of scientific progress all around them…

Arthur C. Clarke once said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. But will that always be true? If we’ve got the technology safely mapped out as far as we can see, and beyond that lies magic — what’s left for science fiction?

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  1. Jim Stewart on July 13, 2007 at 11:21 pm  Chain link

    I don’t know if it marks the end of scifi, but the rate information technology’s developing is definitely a problem for science fiction now. Say you’re writing a story in 2506, and your plot calls for one character to call another one to tell him something. The device he’s calling on is completely irrelevant to the plot, but you want to be futuristic about it. And you are a high school teacher who regularly sees your kids coming in with postage-stamp sized devices that function as phones, walkie-talkies, cameras, text messaging devices, televisions, music players and video game machines.

    So what is your character going to call with? A cell phone the size of an atomic nucleus? Telepathy? A superluminal ansible?

    But then maybe certain things are going to just get to a point where they can’t improve anymore, and in a thousand years people will be using the same thing. I mean, if a person from the time of Caesar came into my house, he’d be surrounded by devices that were a mystery to him. But when he looked at my broom, he’d say “oh, yeah, I know what that’s for.”

  2. George Pedrosa on July 14, 2007 at 10:15 am  Chain link

    Well, once we’ve got the technology safely mapped out as far as we can see, it’s going to be extremely hard to make hard science fiction. Soft science fiction will be considered fantasy. Yeah, that may be the end of science fiction. I hope I won’t be there to see it.

  3. Soni on July 14, 2007 at 9:28 pm  Chain link

    Well, yeah, but how many fantasy heroes do you see stuffing their saddlebags with Paolini? And really, when’s the last time a harried detective got distracted from the hunt by a lurking Grisham or a randomly appearing JD Robb?

    The point of most books (and tv as well) is that people are too busy doing exciting and entertaining things to stop and read a book or watch tv. In fact, I once penned a senryu (humanistic haiku) about that very same paradigm:

    Watching tv
    Watching people
    Not watching tv

    And that is as it should be. Sounds like someone’s doing too much recursive thinking for their own good.

  4. David Louis Edelman on July 15, 2007 at 9:28 am  Chain link

    “Too much recursive thinking for their own good”? Maybe, let me think about that a while.

  5. tommyspoon on July 16, 2007 at 10:04 am  Chain link

    The only way any genre of art can “die” is when there are no more producers or consumers of that genre. I think SF has a fantastic future! Why? Because after a 20+ year hiatus, I have read the following SF and Fantasy books in the last year:

    Infoquake by some guy named Edelman…
    Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades by some guy named Scalzi.
    American Gods and Ananzi Boys by some guy named Gaiman.

    And I’m currently engrossed by Spindrift by Allen Steele. Once I’m done with that, I’m probably going to read his Coyote trilogy. So I wouldn’t be so quick to write off SF just yet.

    But it would help matters if the sequel to Infoquake gets finished sometime soon… just sayin’.

  6. Soni on July 17, 2007 at 9:02 pm  Chain link

    Also, two more things –

    1. Many book heroes tend to be of the “action” sort, the rebel youth, the gutter urchin or the ever-popular illiterate unsuspecting-peasant-who-transition-to-hero (translate this trope to your respective genre as needed – I’m looking at you, young Mr. Skywalker) – not exactly bastions of literary devotion. For those who are more bastion-like, writers often go on about the hero possessing “walls of books” or “piles of books” or otherwise tipping a hat to the hero’s literary prowess during their scene building, and from that one infers that these books (of whatever provenance and/or genre the reader wishes to ascribe to them) are read, not bought by the pound for decorative purposes.

    2. Writing about someone reading a book, unless concretely tied into the plot, doesn’t fall under the heading of “stuff that moves the story along,” and therefore is unlikely to be portrayed regardless of the likelihood that the hero reads simply because to do so would be boring and pointless (we don’t see much about them going to the bathroom, either, no matter how many days have passed in novel-time, yet we do not assume that toilets are on the way out in the homes of sci-fi writers and readers).


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