(science fiction is
alive and well and living in Malibu)
|Somebody is always predicting
the imminent demise of science fiction. Often, the Cassandra is
a well-respected, critically-acclaimed, but highly unsuccessful veteran
writer. Sometimes, it's a disillusioned fan who believes that
The New Wave (60s-70s), cyberpunk (80s-90s), media tie-ins (80s-00s),
or the Internet (90s-00s) has ruined the field for good.
The sales graphs for SF magazines resemble the trajectory
of a Buick being driven over a cliff. A common refrain is that
now that the world has become science fictional, SF itself has lost its
vitality, originality, or audience appeal.
Take the current issue of the SFWA Bulletin. In the latest edition of "The Resnick/Malzberg Dialogues", Barry Malzberg quotes "a distinguished knowledgeable figure" who told him:
"I think category science fiction is at an end because we won. We did our job too well. We did exactly what we should have done, introduced and codified the future and introduced it to the world. There is no need for us just as there is no room in civilian society for a victorious army."
"I love science fiction you understand. I just don't think it has much of a future."
Resnick disagrees, citing both the talented writers who continue to produce first-rate SF and the continued health of SF sales relative to other historical periods, and he also mentions the popular and critical success of SF films. And I think this last point deserves more attention.
While the leading SF magazines struggle to hold on to thousands of readers, SF and fantasy films are reaching millions. In 2002, Analog, the largest SF magazine, had a paid circulation of 42,115. The Matrix Reloaded made $134 million in the first four days of its release. In recent months, many most eagerly awaited films have been SF or fantasy titles: The Two Towers, X2, Spider-Man, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Terminator 3. Sure, many of these are comic books, literally or figuratively, but I don't think anyone would accuse Tolkein's work of being simpleminded.
At the same time, A-list film directors like Steven Spielberg and Cameron Crowe are making serious SF films like Minority Report, A.I., and Vanilla Sky. On television, some the youth-oriented WB and UPN networks' highest-rated shows have fantasy or SF concepts, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel,Smallville.
To anyone working in Hollywood, the idea of science fiction as a dying field would seem absurd. We live in the golden age of cinematic SF. There is clearly a very large audience that is receptive to science fiction ideas and images. So why does written SF connect with a relatively small readership?
Partly, it's because the market for books is inherently smaller than the market for movies and television shows. But I don't think that's the whole story.
SF, and even fantasy, films and television shows seem more in tune with modern culture than much of written SF. From Buffy to Vanilla Sky, media SF protagonists seem contemporary in a way that is often lacking in traditional SF. I also think there's a side effect from the "outsider culture" of SF fandom. This subculture tends to resist to resist mainstream influences, even when the mainstream has, ironically, decided to embrace science fiction.
I think we're likely to see a generational shift as a new generation of SF writers come of age. These new writers will have grown up immersed in the media matrix of music, film, games, and the Internet, as well as the world of books. These new writers will embrace integration with the modern culture, not just with sharecropped media SF, but in original works that express the multifaceted dynamism of the contemporary experience, as well as the unlimited possibilities for the future.
I believe science fiction has a future, and that future is so bright, you gotta wear shades...
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