I'm beginning to adore Twitter. I find all kinds of articles and information I would never ever find otherwise. I feel like I'm at a major SF (or mystery [or romance]) convention every time I log on.
This means that I find a few flamewars and more than a few folks I disagree with. I try to follow my own personal convention rules, which include this one: Everyone is entitled to his own opinion (or the SF version: everything is entitled to its own opinion).
I don't live by that rule in real life, mind you. (That sound you hear is my husband agreeing vehemently.) In real life, I think that everyone is entitled to his own informed opinion—
But on Twitter, convention rules apply—
But I do encounter all kinds of links and articles, as I mentioned, and I follow them to the bitter end, and sometimes I retweet them (forward them in e-mail parlance) and sometimes I shake my head and wonder who in the heck came up with that.
I'm getting even more informed than I was, which pleases me. When I saw Stanley Schmidt's editorial in the Jan/Feb 2010 issue of Analog, I knew that the writer he aimed part of the editorial at was John Scalzi.
Back in July on his blog, John had posted that he believed proof that the print fiction magazines were dinosaurs came from the fact that these magazines didn't take electronic submissions. Anyone who has ever run a magazine understands that editors set their own submission policies—
Stan refutes John's point at length, primarily because it started a flamewar on the Analog forum. I had read the initial post, which was an expansion of something John's said before (and has in his otherwise good book on writing You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop To A Coffeeshop: Scalzi on Writing), and I shrugged. It's not that John is ill-informed. It's that he acts as a gadfly, out to poke hard at the SF establishment whenever he can. If he can get a rise out of someone, he's happy.
In this, he reminds me of Damon Knight, who liked nothing more than dropping a small pebble in the SF pond to watch the ripples. I learned early on to take Damon's most outré pronouncements with a grain of salt, and I do the same with John Scalzi.
Still, it was fun to read Stan's response, because in it, he talks about something very important indeed: the future of science fiction. First, he mentions that anyone who reads the SF magazines understands that they're not dinosaurs. The content still looks toward the future and has some extremely innovative SF.
In his editorial, Stan doesn't just deal with the submissions process. He also discusses SF as a genre, and whether or not the genre is passé. After he wrote this editorial, but before it saw print, Peter Goat Allen who is a reviewer and the moderator of Barnes and Noble's science fiction/fantasy/paranormal book clubs, published a blog called "The Season of Wither: Why Is Science Fiction Dying?"
In it, he cites declining interest on the site in SF books as proof SF is dying and then quotes George R.R. Martin at length about the decline. Those of you who've read this column for a long time, and much of my other work, know why the SF book genre has had declining sales. (See Signals 23 if you want a shorthand version of my arguments.) You also know that I believe that SF itself isn't dying at all—
So I believe that Paul Goat Allen's premise is flawed, but it is based on his perception and his worries, and I can applaud that. But I think the quotes from my friend George are just plain silly.
George opines that the reason people don't read SF any more is because people don't believe the future will be a better place. George said, "People take polls now and most people think that their children are not going to have better lives than they do; they think that their children are going to have worse lives. [...] People no longer believe on some level that the future is going to be a good place and they prefer to read about other times and other places that are maybe not so scary as science fiction."
He must have known on some level that this line of reasoning was faulty, because he mentions that he grew up during the duck-and-cover years of the Cold War—
Really? Because I remember the Cold War, with the Doomsday clock a few minutes from midnight and the whole sense that the Earth could be destroyed in a moment. Belief in the future? We weren't sure the Earth would make it to the next year let alone the year 2000. My husband, who is about George's age, never thought he'd live past the age of thirty. That's not belief in the future. That's a lack of belief in the future at all.
I read George's comments the same day I read an essay by Robert Silverberg, reprinted in his fascinating autobiography Other Spaces, Other Times in which he mentions that by the early 1970s, the stuff of science fiction didn't interest him any more. He couldn't quite believe in aliens and spaceships and traveling to other worlds.
SF tropes no longer worked for him as a writer, just like they're not working for George R.R. Martin. But they're still working for me and for millions of others, if you count everyone who watches SF tv or SF movies or who play SF games.
If you count the readers—
The problem wasn't in SF. The problem was in the SF novels that publishers passed off as SF. Reviews of my current novel, Diving into the Wreck from Pyr, which is also space opera, have fascinated me. I can actually see the dividing line in the reviewers by age. For decades, SF publisher insisted that everything in SF had to be "new," not done before. Which meant that space opera as just one example had to go by the wayside since it had been done before.
This meant that for decades, no one in the print literature built on the foundation put in place by Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke. Their ideas got lost, particularly those that never saw print after 1970 or so. The reviewers old enough to have read those writers and the others working in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, talk about my novel in that context.
The reviewers born after 1970 use only television and movie references, saying the book reminded them of Firefly (space opera) or is grittier than Star Trek (space opera). One reviewer said I was clearly influenced by Firefly because I was riffing off its tropes. (Sorry, kid. I only watched two episodes of Firefly back when Fox was airing the poor doomed series out of order. I had no patience with the way Fox was killing the show, so I didn't go back.)
Stan didn't address George's argument. Instead, Stan went after another argument that "supports" the death of science fiction: we're living in the future, so we don't need to read about it.
Stan deals with this eloquently. "We live in what people of the past called the future," he writes, "but we need to remember anybody's future is somebody else's past."
I think of this every day when I watch our African American president negotiate his way across the world stage. Not so long ago, an African American in the presidential role was a Hollywood bit part, signaling the future. But this is the present now. And the kids being born into this world will think the idea that a black man could not be president as ridiculous as the idea that a Catholic could not be president, demolished by John F. Kennedy the year I was born.
Stan's essay, written to mark Analog's 80th anniversary, is timely and wonderful. He talks about the importance of science fiction in the modern era. He still believes in science fiction as a genre of literature.
So do I. So do a lot of us.
And we still believe in the future too.